Introduction to Buddhism

BUDDHISM IS A DISCIPLINED PRACTICE of mental and spiritual development designed to develop compassion and loving-kindness for all beings, and awaken our own inherent insight into the nature of reality. It is the path that was first taught more than 2,500 years ago by the Buddha Shakyamuni, who succeeded in achieving complete realization of perfect wisdom and compassion. It is a path that leads to the cessation of sorrow and the experience of supreme joy.

Introductions to Buddhism can be framed in many different ways: according to the view or disposition of the teacher, his or her assessment of the audience, or according to particular aspects of Buddhist teachings for which some emphasis has been requested. There is an extraordinary benefit to being able to connect with the rich variety of ways in which Buddhism is introduced through the wisdom of the Kagyu masters who have taught at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra. Some excerpts follow.

Awakened Heart, Brilliant Mind

By His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche

AMONG THE MAJOR RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS of the world, Buddhism has continued as a living tradition for over 2,500 years. It was founded in the East by Shakyamuni Buddha, yet that fact does not mean that Buddhism is simply an oriental custom or culture. From a Buddhist point of view, spirituality is basic and fundamental to all people without exception. Each person has the inherent potential to attain the highest possible sanity--the complete awakened mind. What is introduced through Buddhism is the means to recognize and experience this potential, no matter who we are. It is important to recognize that true spirituality can be assimilated into and permeate a culture, but on the other hand a particular set of customs and beliefs cannot become assimilated into what is spiritual. Since Buddhism addresses what is basically and fundamentally true of the phenomenal world and our own existence, it is not confined to a set of beliefs or customs designed for a particular group or locality.

There are two ways in which we can relate to the phenomenal world and to ourselves. One point of view is the way we normally perceive the phenomenal world and ourselves, and the other is the point of view of knowing things as they really are, fundamentally and ultimately. Most of the time our relationship to the world around us accords not with its basic nature but with our perceptions of it. We do not experience our own basic nature, the potential for the completely awakened state of mind; instead we experience only what we see. The result is that we experience tremendous conflict in our lives. No matter how hard we try to work things out, there is always disorder and dissatisfaction, always something missing. No matter how much we seem to have accomplished, there is still more to achieve. This dissatisfaction continues and its scale increases, because what we are fundamentally and how we perceive are not the same.

When we act according to our mistaken perception of the world and cling to it as fundamentally true, we react to chaos and dissatisfaction as if it came from the outside. We feel threatened or victimized by external situations, and feel that we must run away from the causes of dissatisfaction. Our confusion is compounded by the fact that we take these problems to be very real. We try many different means to escape, but never really think about the possibility of working with ourselves.

There might be a more workable situation if we began to work with our own existence rather than some external reference point. Our present situation includes both the object outside, something to be held by consciousness, and consciousness itself, which holds and acknowledges, accepts or rejects these objects. We fail to recognize this dual involvement of subject and object, fail to recognize that it is not simply the thing out there, on its own, that is threatening us and causing chaos, and so we blame the object as the cause of our chaos, our problems, our dissatisfactions. When we begin to have some sense of the relation between subject and object, we may begin to see that it is our own mental projections that are reflected back into our mind. Instead of recognizing them as our own, however, we think of them as problems existing outside of us and try to work them out externally. The fact that the chaos and dissatisfaction continue shows that going along with our perceptions is really mistaken.

The Tibetan word for Buddhism, nangpa, has the meaning of internalizing, indicating that we need to turn inward and work within ourselves. By doing so and gaining a clearer sense of who we really are, we develop a sense of our existence as it relates to all that surrounds us. If we look outside and try to figure out what is out there based on confused mental projections, we will never recognize who we are. What is fundamentally true is that the experience of pain or pleasure is not so much what is happening externally as it is what is happening internally: the experience of pain or pleasure is mainly a state of mind. Whether we experience the world as enlightened or confused depends on our state of mind.

Another cause of our confusion is a misunderstanding of how things originate. As far as our relationship to the world is concerned, this phenomenal world exists based on interdependent origination. Nothing whatsoever, not even the most minute particle, exists independently or permanently on its own. No matter how truly, how permanently, or how reliably an object may seem to exist, as far as the true nature of world and phenomena are concerned, it lacks true existence. This also applies to our own mind. When we relate to the phenomenal world from a point of view contrary to its real nature, we create problems for ourselves.

From a Buddhist point of view, any problem, any dissatisfaction comes directly from ourselves. We must understand this in order to establish a healthy basis for our lives and come to see dissatisfaction as an expression of our mental habits. We have become addicted to these patterns, because we have not recognized our own resources. We have inherited a basic richness and wealth, but through habitual clinging, we have acted contrary to who we are and what we have, and so experience conflict. It is like a child who has been spoiled: the child did not start out that way, but was exposed to all kinds of influences that made him or her into a spoiled child.

It is also interesting to recognize that we constantly go about making the claim that 'I' am doing this or that, but the basic expression of our life in the world is that we are completely powerless. We have no control, as our thinking and knowing mind is constantly distracted. We have no real knowledge or memory of what is happening. We are a machine run by the play of external phenomena, by the glamour of what we see, and yet we maintain the fixation that 'I' am doing it, that 'I' am in charge of any particular situation. When we have proper mindfulness--an alert and attentive mind--then we really begin to have power, in the sense that we understand what is happening within and around us. It is a matter of being alive or not being alive. The way we run our lives seems like an enormous joke, as if each one of us were a big, important leader in name and credentials, but had no power at all and didn't even know what was happening. We certainly do have a big name, 'I.' 'I' wants the world to know 'me' but it is all parroting, the machine is being operated from behind, because there is no alertness, no sense of being present or really alive. Our life is governed, dictated by our habits of confusion, obscuration, and distraction.

In order to change this situation, Buddhism introduces the skillful means of meditation practice. We must begin to learn to sit with ourselves and feel more comfortable with who we are. Meditation practice does not mean that we have something to meditate upon, or that something new or totally different is going to happen in our lives. Meditation simply means cultivating a wholesome and sane habit, which becomes an antidote for the unwholesome, confused, destructive habits that we have developed. Meditation practice enables us to experience our own thinking and knowing. Meditation is mindfulness, and in order to experience this we must repeatedly apply the methods, because any habit, wholesome or unwholesome, is developed by repetition.

In short, Buddhism is something universal, based on what is fundamentally true of the world and ourselves, no matter who we are, what problems we might have, or what our particular historical background might be.


This teaching was given by His Eminence at NY State University, Albany, on October 7, 1985. It was translated by Ngodup Burkhar and edited by Laura Roth, and appeared in Densal Vol. 7 No. 1.

On Confidence in Dharma: An Interview

 An Interview with the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, Rigpe Dorje

ONE EARLY MORNING [in 1980] His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa generously granted an interview to the readers of Densal. What follows is the text of that interview, word for word, as translated by Ngodup Tsering Burkhar. In it, His Holiness touches on many important aspects of spiritual practice, the Kagyu lineage, and life in the world today for the Dharma practitioner. It is a timely and most valuable teaching for Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.

Densal: This is your third tour to America. Do you have any observations you would like to share about it, and about the growth of the Dharma in the United States?

H.H.: The responsibility of the teacher is to always give the teachings. It doesn't matter that only a short time has passed, or a long time has passed; what matters is that the teachings are continuously given. Sometimes it may seem to be more appropriate to teach because most people are at leisure and have a lot of time, and it appears to be a good time to give teachings. Maybe at other times it may appear that the teachings should not be given because people are busy and perhaps they are not interested. It is important not to discriminate in this way as to time or to place, but to make the teachings constantly available. If only one person is interested, the teaching must be made available. Whether there are just a few people, hundreds of people, or even millions of people interested, the Dharma teaching must go on without any sense of satisfaction or discouragement. The Dharma teaching must continue at all times, transcending the appearances of the time.

Another situation that might arise is that because of time or what we may have done or accomplished, we feel that maybe now we should stop practicing or listening to teachings. This is not the Dharma path. You keep going. That is the bodhisattva's way. As long as it benefits even one being you have to, without any sense of discouragement, go on.

If you have 100 percent dedication and confidence in the teachings, then every living situation can be a part of the practice. You can be living the practice instead of just doing it. Regarding the establishment of the Dharma anywhere, it happens as a result of what takes place on an individual basis; it is the practitioner's responsibility. It is understanding the Dharma properly, respecting the truth of Karma, the truth of cause and effect. One respects the truth of the teachings and knows that this is something that one must live up to and preserve. But if beings fail to respect the truth of the teachings, or the truth of cause and effect, which is also the truth of the teachings, then that would not further the establishment of the Dharma.

Densal: More than anything I think one problem Westerners in the Dharma face is the desire to achieve ultimate spiritual realization in this life, coupled with the fact that they must work full-time in the world at various time-consuming careers. How can one handle this life situation and travel the Mahamudra path effectively? It has been said that action can also be meditation. Could you please clarify this?

H.H.: We have for many, many lifetimes been caught up in the samsaric existence because of fascination with our habitual patterns, and are compelled for this reason to continue the patterns in the same way that we had in the past. At this time in our lives, as a result of whatever virtuous actions that we have formerly performed, some degree of awakening has arisen. A very precious waking state has come about in our consciousness, and that is our connection with the Dharma.

Once we are connected with the Dharma in such a way that we have some understanding, we also have some sense of direction as to where we are going. It is like wanting to go to California. You know that there is a particular train, and that train takes you to California. You have that understanding. Then it becomes a matter of individual realization of the need, the urgent need perhaps, to get to California. Then there is boarding the train. It is possible for one to do such a thing, to make the decision, "Yes, this is it, I am going to travel."

And there is the greater possibility that you will get to California once you have boarded the train. And maybe there are certain possibilities of your not getting there, of something happening on the way. And if something happens on the way, an accident or something, you know that the possibilities of getting to California are still there. You haven't yet reached it, but you have some sense of direction as far as your knowing that it is possible to get there.

And this is, one could say, like the blessings of the Dharma: that even though one is not able to realize enlightenment in one lifetime, the blessings of the practice and the Dharma are continuous. There is a sense of optimism about the possibilities of getting to California, even though you haven't arrived. That is the same situation that takes place in your Dharma life. The blessings continue, even though you could not attain the experience of enlightenment in this lifetime.

If you have a proper direction, in the state of the Bardo, there occurs what is like the meeting of the mother and son. It is an opportunity to rely on your own ability to understand and to realize, and utilize the Dharma blessings at that moment in the Bardo in order to recognize the "mother," so to speak. Your experience of clear light takes place. And realization is very much possible. This has been witnessed by the teaching and is guaranteed by the teaching. It is definitely possible for people to experience that sort of thing.

Densal: Even though people find themselves caught up in a samsaric whirlwind, they can maintain their equanimity and attain the realization in Mahamudra?

H.H.: Yes, it is possible. It is a matter of confidence in the teachings. If you have 100 percent confidence in the teachings, your realization is not purely dependent on just formal practices. If you have 100 percent dedication and confidence in the teachings, then every living situation can be a part of the practice. You can be living the practice, instead of just doing it. But the more you lack the confidence, the more you will find yourself separated from the Dharma.

Densal: Part of the training within the Kagyu lineage is the three-year, three-month retreat. At KTD already there is one nun in such a retreat. Does the monastery project include plans for a three-year retreat center here in the U.S.? And could you explain how the three-year retreat relates to the American people, many of whom are oriented toward activity and have difficulty in seeing the practicality of such an undertaking?

H.H.: Actually the monastery project itself is to facilitate the practice. The purpose of the monastery is to be able to help create a proper environment, to establish a solid, structured environment for the practice of the Dharma. And the practices of the three-year retreat are definitely included. Not only are they included as far as the outer facilities are concerned, but in terms of providing the basic needs. I have in mind much concern as to how that could be worked out.

Before I leave this country, it is my plan and vision to talk to many people about this, to awaken their interest and make Dharma benefactors aware of the situation. If they could help and support the three-year retreat, it would be very beneficial for them, though they themselves might not be able to do the three-year retreat. They will actually accumulate equal benefit, as much as those who will do the three-year retreat. As far as those who are able to do the retreat are concerned, of course they will have tremendous benefit coming as a result of the practice. And it is also my vision that gradually people will find more time in their lives to do retreat, as we are able to provide the facilities for people to take advantage of. Unlike some time ago, we now see many people trying to make time for the practice, and many are seeing the possibility for making time. There is much more interest.

I see in the future many people doing these kinds of practices, and they will be given the opportunities to do them. For those who are not able to do it, it is possible for equal experiences to be achieved. The thing is that during the three-year retreat, one does a lot of meditation practices: the fulfillment-stage and development-stage meditation practices, and the recitation of the mantras, and many other things. No matter how ignorant a person is, it is guaranteed that the three-year practice will bring a reasonable experience of the teachings to the mind of the person. The retreat situation involves relating to the preliminary practices as well as the main practices, and when one has that kind of grasp of both the preliminary and the main practices, certain experience is guaranteed. Now, if someone has a greater wisdom and capacity for penetrating the teaching, then even without doing a three-year retreat, it is possible for one to experience definite understanding and realization.

Densal: Do you see more Westerners being trained as qualified teachers and holders of the lineage?

H.H.: Yes, I feel it is important that people become able to take care of the Dharma, and are not always in a position of dependence. I am confident that we will be able to produce such teachers, and producing such people is very important.


Densal: You are the recognized head of an important lineage, the guru to many thousands of people. There are frequently misconceptions about what a spiritual teacher is in this tradition. Could you explain, in your own words, what is the guru?

H.H.: I will tell you what a guru is not. That is, somebody who is interested in fame, teaching for the sake of notoriety, for the sake of wealth; or one who, when he is in the presence of many people, puts on all the qualities of goodness that might be appropriate for a teacher: wearing the mask of the Dharma, so to speak, using whatever appearances are necessary, but insincerely. The reality is much different. When he is away from a crowd of people, he actually needs as much as anyone else needs, wants as much as anyone else wants, if not more. Discrimination between beings, selfishness, all these negative states are present in him, and have not been transformed. That is, unfortunately, what takes place too frequently these days, and that brings a negative influence to the spiritual path and spiritual friends in general. It fosters a negative view altogether among people who are ignorant as far as who should be regarded a true guru. They might encounter someone who is a true teacher, but they fail to relate to him because of having gone through other experiences of the negative nature I have already explained. Now these days, actually, to encounter a very true guru is difficult.

So if you encounter a spiritual friend who is a guru, look to see that he is willing to help himself at the same time that he is willing to help you; also, if he is capable of helping you. He should have a desire to help you as much as he helps himself. In times like these, such a one may be considered a spiritual friend. The actual quality of a guru should be a willingness to work for the benefit of others, along with the ability to work for the benefit of others. And there are different levels of gurus, as well. There are different degrees of being able to benefit others, different degrees of having the strength and the wisdom to reach beings. It is difficult, then, to be specific about qualities of gurus, yet we can come to the conclusion that as long as the teacher is selflessly benefiting beings somewhere, that this person may be worthwhile to be recognized as a spiritual friend and as a guru.

Densal: Your Holiness, do you have any special message you would like to give to your students, disciples, and interested people who will read this newsletter; some advice, perhaps, in these difficult times?

H.H.: The practice of the Dharma is a matter of serious importance; people have to realize that. It is a precious opportunity that has come about, one that has never come about before. It is very precious because it is so rare. The time in which you can use the opportunity is quite limited, and this makes it even more precious. I would like to repeat that a rare and precious opportunity which has never come before has manifested when you find the Dharma in your life. It is a historic situation, a landmark. But the time to take advantage of this opportunity, again, is limited. Therefore we have to realize the great value of the opportunity. The best way to do this is to engage oneself in the practice of the Dharma as sincerely as possible. Otherwise the opportunity could fade away. There is this danger, most certainly, that one could lose this opportunity. It could become more and more distant, and this would be a very unfortunate situation.

It is like crystals that are put together with a piece of a diamond in the same container. They are all regarded as the same. They are neglected, dust settles on them, and they cannot be appreciated any more. But if, on the other hand, they are cleaned and the diamond is placed on a gold stand with light shining on it, then you will, of course, be able to appreciate it. You will see very clearly that it is a diamond, and that it is not an ordinary crystal. That degree of understanding and recognition is very important.

Now, in sincerely practicing and studying the Dharma, whatever particular line of study and practice one is pursuing, it is important to retain respect for other schools and religions. An example can be found in Buddhism itself, where people try to discriminate between Hinayana and Mahayana. That is very much against the Dharma, an entirely wrong view. One must have equal respect for the Hinayana as well as the Mahayana teachings.

Also respect is necessary for the established religions, the religions that have been prevalent in this country for hundreds of years. These religions have played a significant part in the lives of many people. If one is going to practice some other religion, it must not be in denial of any existing religion. One has freedom of religion, freedom of practice, and so one chooses to practice a particular faith. But that choice must not include rejection, denial, or a sectarian disrespect for other paths. That is not in accordance with the practice of the Dharma.

Since an individual does have the freedom to choose, however, it is important to commit oneself to a particular spiritual practice and teacher, taking advantage of the teachings and practices that one receives, and being oneself worthy of the teachings through one's continuous practice. There is even the possibility of certain students becoming more realized than their teachers. This can happen. So one can see possibilities and take advantage of them, knowing that one has the ability to actually master the teaching.

Having a very definite relationship with the teacher, the teaching, and putting effort into studying is essential if one wishes any attainment. It is not done out of or sectarianism. If one goes to a teacher and tries to study and practice a little bit, then goes to another and does the same, one would not experience definite improvement and success. So from that perspective, consistently relating to a particular line of practice and teachings is vital.

Densal: Do you see this training in an established religion as a good ground foundation for one who then chooses the Buddhist path?

H.H.: There is a general benefit in all practices as long as they have a religious or spiritual orientation, and as long as the tenets of the tradition are followed. It is in some way or another beneficial. But it is a different path.

Again, respecting all schools of teachings is important, be it Buddhism or any other. At the same time, you are free to choose. Choose a path with a meaningful experience in mind. For instance, if something tastes sour, you will want to taste its sourness, or if it is sweet or bitter you also will want to be able to taste it. Whatever practice you do, do it to the point of being able to experience its essence. Experiencing is very important. To develop a capacity for experiencing, a relationship with a particular teaching and practice is needed.

One of the reasons all the criticism comes from people is because they are so impatient and so confused that they go here and there, they try to relate to a teaching, get infatuated and try to do something fast, and they don't get anything reasonably understood, achieve any experience. How could they? How could they experience anything? So they go to another place and spend some time, a short time, and expect that something will happen immediately. If it is a true path and a true teaching, it doesn't come about just like that. It takes time.

The Mahayana teaching, for instance, is very precious. It takes a lot of output in the way of your sincerity, your commitment, and your genuineness. It doesn't happen instantly. It is not that cheap. So then what happens is you start criticizing this or that particular school, saying that it is not worthwhile, the practice is not good, or the teaching is not good, or whatever. You don't have any ground for criticism. And besides, having such an unhealthy attitude does one no good at all. Such an unhealthy attitude expressed in the open causes a lot of harm not only to yourself but to others. You place obstacles in the path of others who are making attempts to connect themselves to some kind of higher teaching. So that becomes a problem.

Along with devotion to your study and practice, and sincere openness toward others, there is another attitude to maintain: simply, no political games. That is, not going about with a friendly appearance on the outside, while inside it is something else again. Outwardly and inwardly you must lend whatever friendship and support to others that you are able, and at the same time do your practice. Respect and live your own life, and do your own practice properly. You have to have some confidence and trust in the teaching and a sense of commitment, which is like surrendering to the teaching. That is absolutely important. It does not come in an easy way.

So what I would like to get across is this: people enter the Mahayana path and expect some instant realization, without having any confidence in the teaching, any respect toward the teaching, or any genuine commitment, and they are under a serious misunderstanding. If your commitment is sincere, and you have genuine confidence and trust, then something can take place in the way of experience. The validity of the teaching is witnessed by thousands of years of practice and continuity.

If you cannot have trust and confidence, then I can frankly say that you are fooling yourself. You must have a certain amount of patience, a certain amount of confidence. The greater the confidence and trust that you are able to have, the quicker your realization, and within one lifetime you could make a significant achievement and experience a satisfactory realization. It is something that you could feel was worth all the time and energy that you put into it. If you are able to have total trust and confidence and exert yourself, then definitely within one lifetime you could have an extraordinarily meaningful accomplishment. If you are not able to have total trust, but have some, and also do some practice, even then you can achieve something.

You have heard as well as seen monks who have done some practices, but in their daily life you do not see anything different about them, until they die and sit in meditation for three days after death. If not during one's lifetime, there is a point during the bardo when there occurs a very pure moment. When that very complete, clear moment arises, the ability you have developed may bring the realization of a higher state of mind.

The third thing that I would like to say is that people have to definitely work and support themselves. When you have the enlightened attitude you have a responsibility to the people around you, to your country. You care about them. You are always with your practice, you are inseparable from it, you seize opportunities to benefit others and you will benefit others in whatever way you can. You have been in this country, you were born in this country. Many people who will read this are from families that have been here for generations. This country has been an important place for you. You have to offer respect for your grandparents, and you must live a decent life, a dignified life that upholds the traditions of your ancestors, that meets the approval of society, your parents, and yourself.

Also you have to set a decent and dignified example for generations to come. If you are really going to serve this country and help its people, this seems like a reasonable way, rather than belonging to this party and that party, and getting involved in this competition and that competition, and all kinds of politics. As practitioners of the Dharma we don't have to deny politics and reject politics, but we don't have to play those games, either. It is not necessary, it is not important, it is not needed.

If you are working maybe in a hospital, you can see how you might have the opportunity and responsibility to help people. In the same way, whatever work you have taken, there are definitely people that you can benefit. So you should serve your people, serve your country, not expecting your country to serve you. And that's part of the practice of the Dharma. Not working is not taking responsibility. If you are a practitioner of the Dharma practicing the Mahayana teachings, that means you have something to be proud of, something to be worthy of, something to be decent about.

But many people go around like some kind of outcast. That is not in accordance with the teaching, to come on like some kind of outcast, in rags, with long hair, unwashed, as if you are a drug addict or something. This is not the proper way to present yourself. You are not maintaining self respect, you are not respecting the Dharma that you are practicing, and you are not creating the proper outlook that the excellent Dharma is worthy of.

This is the message to the practitioners of the Dharma: that they must be dignified internally as well as externally, and that their internal dignity must reflect outwardly also. We are not drug addicts. Wearing decent clothes, and being a decent human being, and serving your country, your people, serving the Dharma, and also yourself, being a self-respecting person is the Dharma path. How are you to benefit beings by looking as if you are completely discarded from the society? By putting forth that appearance, you are not being responsible or reflecting the enlightened attitude.

If you are practicing the enlightened attitude, you should naturally be able to attract people so that seeing you, people might think, "Yes, these people definitely seem to be decent people, I think I could relate to them, and could ask something of these people. They might even be able to help me." So that you appear capable of giving help, or at least capable of giving some direction toward help. We are proud of ourselves as examples of the Dharma. If you are going around in rags, not taking care of your body, and going in the world like a misfit, it makes a very bad impression of you, of the Dharma center that you are involved with, and also of you as a person of this country, which means that you bring disrespect and a bad impression to this country and its people.

These are certain points that before I leave I would like to offer for people to use. I hope that whoever hears these words, whether you are a Dharma practitioner or not, or involved in Buddhism or not, that it will make some sense to you. It comes sincerely and truly, not with any put-on, or masquerade or diplomacy, but truly straight and clean. With integrity and sincerity you can serve beings, and as you work in the Dharma you will serve many beings, and that is the greatness of the Mahayana teaching and practice. You don't have to be a dropout from the community, the society or the family. You are not. You have dignity.

Health and Well-Being of Body and Mind

By His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche

EVER SINCE HUMAN BEINGS HAVE EVOLVED, the purpose of any religion, any culture, any way of life, always has been to take care of the body and the mind.

When we look at a place like New York City, we see many millions of people who walk around and who do all sorts of things. With all respect, if we look from one perspective, it is just like looking at ants. But what is happening is that they are all just trying to take care of their body and their mind, what else? So this is a rather vast subject: the importance of a healthy body and a healthy mind and the connection between the two. First of all, let's look into the Buddhist concept of enlightenment and try to relate that to this subject. Enlightenment, or Buddhahood, means that a person reaches finally to their potential or destination, and that the person fully awakens and fully develops. So that particular person, whoever he or she is, when he or she fully awakens and fully develops, they reach Buddhahood. Reaching Buddhahood means a state of consciousness totally awakened and developed. So that means that such a person has a perfect and healthy mind.

Who has the healthiest mind on this planet? It may sound dualistic, but with the limitation of our language and vocabulary, I would not feel guilty by saying that the Buddha has the healthiest mind. And below Buddha, one person may be healthier than another, but there is a little bit of something there, so their mind cannot be considered ultimately healthy. Now don't take this literally; I am just using our title tonight and trying to combine this with it and make some sense out of it.

So now the mind-body connection can be explored by going into a little bit of detail about the Buddha. When a person becomes a Buddha, what is supposed to happen to that person? When we don't learn about Buddhism deeply, it sounds like when we attain enlightenment, we just disappear or something--we become nothing. That isn't the case. Enlightenment means that the mind reaches the ultimate level. So the physical manifestation, the spontaneous manifestation beyond limitation, that is what a Buddha's body would be. In Vajrayana Buddhism there is a very appropriate term for it, and the mind aspect is expressed through this word--dharmakaya. The physical aspect, energy and all that, is indicated through the words sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya. So what is the healthiest body and mind on earth? The sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya. So if we relate the idea of a healthy mind and a healthy body to the Buddhist principle, then the ultimate of the purest and highest level of the mind and body is indicated through the dharmakaya, sambhogakaya, and nirmanakaya principle of the Buddha.

Dharma practice means doing things and saying things and thinking about things that will help a person to develop the healthiest aspect of mind and body. Therefore we have centers, membership, program--you know, we have all kinds of things. But the main purpose, the main core is doing every thing we can with our body, with our speech, and with our mind to reach that level of being fully awakened and fully developed.

Now, as knowledge, the Buddha taught many sutras and many tantras, and they are all words--words of advice given by the Buddha, the enlightened one who reached that level. Now all of his words can be interpreted on many levels, for the very simple reason that every single human being is at a different level of inner development. We all have different levels of mental health, let's say, to use our term of tonight. Therefore the particular method has to be the most beneficial instrument for us to proceed further. Because of this reason, the teaching of Buddha, called Dharma, was given at many levels. Those levels are sometimes described as the nine yanas, sometimes as the three yanas, sometimes even as the two yanas. (I think when people's time is so precious, like a New Yorker's time, nine yanas might be two yanas.) Anyway, those different levels, those different yanas, can sometimes even become a different sect: the Hinayana sect, the Mahayana sect, the Vajrayana sect. And in the Hinayana sect itself there are many sects, and then among Mahayana and Vajrayana there are also plenty of sects.

The reason for all those sects is quite simple. It is because different levels of individuals received different levels of teachings to help them, and they continued that particular style and it became their particular sect or particular kind of lineage. But all these particular lineages have a very simple belief in common: That is, to refine and purify and develop the mind, one has to apply the right methods and the right kind of discipline that will make it happen.

The practices that involve discipline, physical discipline, deal with causes and conditions that will result in physical negativity. In Buddhism, everything has a cause and condition. It can be a distant cause and condition, it can be an immediate cause and condition, it can be an accumulation of millions of things, but there must be a cause and condition for anything to happen. Therefore, these physical disciplines deal with those causes and conditions of negativity.

There are two ways to overcome negative physical manifestations. One of them is to dissolve the negative causes and conditions, while the other is to develop positive causes and conditions. It is actually the same thing, like two sides of a coin, but one is heads, and the other is tails. Those physical disciplines, then, are actions such as trying not to perform harmful physical acts against others, and trying not to perform harmful physical acts against yourself as well. Against others would be something like killing, and against yourself would be abusing yourself. So these are the basic disciplines.

Then, there are also disciplines for the speech, like not to say negative things, and on the positive side, to try to do beneficial things for yourself and others. Now look at these two. When you look at them, they are just two sides of the same coin. If you try to do positive things, you do not have to make two efforts--trying not to do negative things and then trying to do positive things. It's the same thing when you avoid negative things. How will you avoid doing negative things? Anything you do to avoid negative action itself is positive. So in that way the method of discipline involves the physical and verbal in dealing with the causes and conditions of negative manifestations. And it involves the causes and conditions of positiveness.

When you do something physically, you have to involve your mind: You cannot do something positive without involving your mind. You cannot say something positive with out involving your mind; therefore your mind is involved there as well. But there is another method that involves the mind more than the body and the speech, and that is meditation. When I talk about meditation here, what I am referring to is a particular method that involves a special discipline of the mind. It can be just sitting and not following thoughts, or just sitting and thinking of a particular thing. But there are very specific methods of meditation. When it comes to meditation, we don't have to think, "Now I want to meditate, but I don't know what to meditate on, or how to meditate." That question does not exist in Buddhism. If you want to meditate there is a meditation method, and you don't have to invent it. (Inventing is supposed to be risky, actually, from the Buddhist point of view). So in the Buddhist tradition, all the methods of meditation are already prepared; one just has to follow them.

So what happens during meditation? First, the mind must become calm. The reason is that our mind has all the capabilities--capabilities to understand, to think--everything is there, but it is like a precious thing that is locked in a safe. What appears is just a solid unmanageable safe; you don't see what is in there until you open it. In the same way, our mind has all the potentials, but without letting those potentials manifest, there is no guarantee that it will work. Because of that, we make lots of mistakes; we have ignorance and so forth. And worse than that, we are not even helpful to ourselves most of the time. So the number-one step in meditation is to make your mind calm. And because of the calmness, a clarity will happen; calm mind will be clear. (Generally speaking, people are always saying, "Don't disturb me right now, I have important things to think about," or "Don't make noise, go away; I want to think, I have some important decisions to make." So that is one expression of common sense.) After developing some clarity, then there will be the next method, the continuous method, to use that clarity, implement that clarity, and to develop further clarity.

Let's look into two particular terms: ignorance and wisdom. What do they really mean? Ignorance means that there is no understanding, absence of clarity. But what is wisdom? It is knowing, the absence of not knowing; and it is clarity. Through practice of meditation, you make your mind calm and clear, and you gain wisdom.

I come across people who like to ask tons of question. With all respect, they mean very well, because for them it is very complicated and they want to ask questions, but I end up asking them the questions back, because the question itself is not clear. I don't mean I am better than they are. I have been through meditation, and practices, and I have met many teachers. I have been fortunate, I think most unfairly fortunate, and therefore I have had all these advantages in the early part of my life. Because of that, I have gained some kind of understanding, and somehow I will be able to see the questions clearly, a bit more clearly than some people who are asking them. (Not every person's questions are like that. Some people ask me questions that give me a headache. I have to think: they give me a hard time. I appreciate that, because I learn from them; those kinds of situations are my classroom.)

But anyway we have a saying, "Where is the answer? Where is the answer? The really true answer is in the question." If you are able to phrase your question clearly in your mind, that is the answer. Of course, if you take it literally, certain kinds of questions will not follow that. If you ask me "When were you born?" even if you know how to ask that question with super clarity, it won't answer itself. But most of the important questions, the questions that are related to insight, more advanced questions, they contain the answers. What I am trying to say here is that to develop the clarity of the mind is the most important first step of meditation, which will naturally develop wisdom.

An average person might ask how we define a healthy mind. Healthy mind does not mean stubborn mind; many people think that healthy mind means stubborn mind. And in some places that are very liberal, they think healthy mind means the most emotional, sensitive mind--for example, a huge man who can cry just like a kid. That is culture, but it doesn't really mean very much when we talk about a healthy mind.

Anyway, when we talk about the body and the mind and its healthy quality, and also about well-being and all of that, they are all connected; they are definitely connected.

Now let's touch on one part of our title, "well-being." What is well-being? Well-being means a principle. When you have a valid principle, and you center your entire physical, mental, and verbal activities around that principle, then I think that is the definition of well-being.

I have been asked several times in different places to talk about "the practice of Buddhism in lay life in North America." There are a lot of specifics in it: "The practice of Buddhism in lay life in North America." So people want to talk about it. Now what really makes sense in that is the well-being. That makes sense. Of course I can say when you wash your hair (because you wash your hair every morning in America), then you can think of your soap as the blessing of the Buddha, washing away all the negativities; I can talk like that, but that does not make too much sense.

Of course there is benefit if we have that kind of practice; we call it "Beginning to end, the circle practice." When you eat, you think of something, when you talk, you talk of something, when you sleep--everything. But that is too much for most of the people in North America. I think I would be responsible for making quite a few people quite crazy; I think some people could develop paranoia--imagine thinking like that for every single thing! It is not invalid; for a person of that level it would be very good; but what makes sense to me (and also there is no risk) is the well-being. If you have that principle, and if you are able to place every single effort that you make, even just to survive, around that principle, then I think you could consider your life very meaningful. That way, everything that you can do has some kind of benefit for yourself and for others, and everything that you do will have less chance of becoming harmful for yourself and for others. That would be a very good beginning.

And if you are able to carry on with that kind of well-being, that principle, then you can expect that just by living a normal life, and by doing a little bit of meditation every day, and some kind of study and further exploration into knowledge and wisdom--putting some kind of effort there, but for the rest just living a normal life--you will get great benefit out of it, because your life will be lived with a most valid principle and everything that you do will be involved with that principle. So my understanding about well-being means living with a valid principle.

Now how do we define that principle? Of course, according to each person's state of mind, according to each person's involvement in reality, there will need to be a slight alteration or adjustment, but one principle that always remains is having faith and trust in the truth. Truth is the most important thing, for me. The reason I have faith in Buddhism is because everything that Buddha said is true. So because of that, I have faith and trust in the teachings of the Buddha. That is why I try to do something meaningful, even if most of the time I don't manage, and I have to work hard at it. I do it because that is the truth; to do something meaningful is beneficial, is good; doing something meaningless is harmful and not good. If somebody says a bad word to you, you don't like it, you don't feel good; if somebody cheats you, you don't like it, it doesn't feel good. It's the same for others: if you do something that is not good, people will not feel so good, they will suffer.

So believing in that kind of truth, having faith and trust in that kind of truth, is what I mean by the principle. That principle can become almost spontaneous, so that you try not to do anything that would be harmful to yourself and to others, and try to do everything beneficial, try to be as helpful as possible to yourself and to others. In that way, one can live a life with the most appropriate kind of positive qualities and good will.

Therefore I think it is most important as a Buddhist, or as a person who tries to be a good person, to discover the most essential principle, the most personal and simple, and then proceed from that principle and involve your entire actions and intentions in applying that principle. Somehow that covers this subject.


This article is an edited version of a teaching by H.E. Tai Situ Rinpoche given in New York City on November 24, 1987. It was edited by Kathy Wesley.

The Four Noble Truths

By Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche

WHEN THE BUDDHA FIRST TURNED the wheel of Dharma at Sarnath, he taught what are known as the four noble truths, presenting them in three stages. First, he simply named them: The truth of suffering, the truth of origin (of suffering), the truth of cessation (of suffering), and the truth of path (to the cessation of suffering). Second, he taught what kind of action is appropriate of each of the truths: Suffering is to be known, and its origin is to be removed; in order to do that, it is necessary to practice a method, or path, so that cessation can be experienced. Third, he taught that if one knows suffering, there is nothing else that one needs to know; if one removes its origin, there is nothing else that one needs to remove; if one applies the practice, nothing else need be applied; and if one experiences cessation, there is nothing else to experience. Upon hearing this teaching, the Buddha's listeners attained the realization of arhats and bodhisattvas, but we, who are not so fortunate as to hear the Buddha speak, require a more detailed explanation.

Whoever has a body and feelings of pleasure and pain experiences suffering. Beings may enjoy varying degrees of happiness, but no happiness is everlasting, and the loss of happiness itself is suffering. The reason it is called the truth of suffering is that it is inescapable.

Those who suffer are the beings of the six realms, which are the six possible ways of experiencing samsara (the cycle of rebirth, existence unliberated from suffering).

Beings experiencing the hell realms suffer from intense and unremitting heat or cold, and beings experiencing the hungry ghost realm are constantly deprived of food and drink; these beings of the most unfortunate realms must endure their extreme torment for unimaginable lengths of time without actually dying, until the negative karma that brought about such existences is exhausted.

In the animal realm, beings suffer particularly from ignorance or stupidity and are unable to relate their suffering to others. Beings existing in the human realm experience a mixture of happiness and sorrow as a result of having accumulated both positive and negative karma.

The sufferings of human beings include: birth, sickness, old age, and death; the suffering of being separated from that which one loves, and of not being separated from that which one hates; and the suffering of not getting what one wants and of getting what one does not want.

Beings of the demigod realm are more fortunate, but they suffer because of quarreling, fighting, and warfare. The most pleasant existence is that of the gods, who do not experience suffering until the last seven days of their lives. Then they see signs that the end of their life of ease is approaching; they are abandoned by their attendants, their magnificent bodies deteriorate and their beautiful complexions fade. Finally, they foresee the pain of their next rebirth in the lower realms, which they are bound to experience because their positive karma has been used up.


Thus, there is no existence in the cycle of samsara that is free from suffering. There are six realms because there are six poisons, or defilements of the mind (Skt. klesha; Tib. nyon-mongs) that are the seeds or causes of the experience of the various realms. There are no more than six realms because there are no more than six poisons to act as seeds. The six poisons are:

1. hatred, or anger, which creates the experience of the hell realm;

2. greed, or miserliness, which creates the hungry ghost realm;

3. ignorance of how to act virtuously is the cause of rebirth in the animal realm;

4. attachment (virtuous action performed with attachment to the meritorious results) is the cause of human rebirth;

5. jealousy (virtuous action sullied by jealousy) causes rebirth in the demigod realm; and

6. pride, or egotism (virtuous action performed with pride) causes a godly rebirth.

The defilements lead to unskillful actions, which generate karma, the infallible operation of cause and effect in the mental continuum of each individual. The negative karma caused by the defilements is the origin of the sufferings of the six realms. The only way to eliminate suffering is to practice the path, method or remedy that will remove the defilements and the negative karma that they produce.

By developing loving-kindness and compassion it is possible to diminish the defilements, but in order to uproot them completely, it is necessary also to develop the discriminating awareness (Skt. prajna; Tib. she-rab) that arises from the wisdom of emptiness. The development of loving-kindness together with wisdom is the result of following the path of Dharma, otherwise known as the five paths: path of accumulation, path of unification, path of seeing, path of meditation, and path of no learning.

The first, the path of accumulation, has three subdivisions. The first stage consists of taking the first step in the right direction, that is, taking refuge and practicing tranquility meditation (Skt. shamatha, Tib. shinay). The aspect of wisdom that is involved is that of listening to teachings (called the wisdom of hearing), and of reflecting on them with the analytical mind (called the wisdom of contemplation).

The contemplation appropriate to this stage is known as the four applications of mindfulness, which is an examination of the true nature of (1) the body, (2) the feelings, (3) the mind, and (4) all phenomena. By logical analysis it is possible to come to the intellectual understanding that all of these are merely names for interdependent occurrences that lack any true self-existence, this prepares the way for an acceptance of the idea of emptiness (Skt. sunyata; Tib. tong-pa-nyi).

The second stage of the path of accumulation involves the abandonment of negative actions and the cultivation of virtuous actions, by which merit is accumulated. The third stage consists of the development of four qualities, without which further progress on the path will not be possible: (1) aspiration (strong determination to practice Dharma), (2) diligence (enthusiastic effort), (3) recollection (not forgetting the practice), and (4) meditative concentration (one-pointedness of mind without distractions). What was developed on the first path becomes stronger on the second, the path of unification, which is a linking of the ordinary level to the exalted. On this path the practitioner experiences greater tranquility, more joy in virtuous action and fewer negative thoughts; confidence, energy, reflection, concentration, and wisdom increase, and tolerance of obstacles is developed.

Finally the highest possible mundane realization is reached, a momentary experience that occurs during meditation, in which the nature of emptiness is perceived directly. After having this perception, the practitioner is called a noble or exalted one (Skt. arya; Tib. pag-pa), one who has immediate insight into the four noble truths. This experience is like that of blind person whose blindness is cured and who sees colors for the first time; therefore, it is called the path of seeing.

On this, the third path, subtle obscurations remain; the practitioner directly perceives emptiness when in a state of meditative concentration, but when not meditating continues to perceive as before, only with the awareness that the perception is illusory, like a person watching a magic show and seeing through the magician's tricks. This is the level of the first stage (Skt. bhumi; Tib. sa) of the bodhisattva path, and from this stage there is no possibility of falling back.

The fourth path, the path of meditation, is a process of familiarization with the experiences of the path of seeing which stabilizes the realization. It includes the second through tenth bodhisattva bhumis. By the seventh bhumi, all defilements have been removed, and by the tenth bhumi, even their subtle traces, which are like lingering scents, have disappeared. For the benefit of beings, bodhisattvas manifest eight qualities known as the arya eightfold path: right view, conception, speech, action, livelihood, exertion, reflection, and meditative absorption.

At the highest level of the tenth bhumi begins the path of no learning, it is so called because there is nothing more to develop. Actually it is not a path, but a fruition, a result, complete enlightenment, Buddhahood. At this level, as a result of the accumulation of wisdom, the mind is omniscient, meaning that everything is known simultaneously as it really is (ultimate truth) and as it manifests (relative truth); there is never any separation of the two truths. This mind of a Buddha is called the truth body (Skt. dharmakaya; Tib. cho-ku), the ultimate reality. The body of a Buddha, resulting from the accumulation of merit, can manifest in two forms, the emanation body (Skt. nirmanakaya; Tib. thrul-ku), like that of Buddha Shakyamuni, or the pure enjoyment body (Skt. sambhogakaya; Tib. Iong-ku), with the ability to teach higher realized beings or beings in the pure realms, or buddhafields.

However remote this may be from our own samsaric experience, we are basically no different from such enlightened beings. Our enlightened nature is covered by obscurations that can gradually be removed, that is the essence of the teaching of the four noble truths.


Based on a seminar given by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche on November 24 and 25, 1984, at Karma Thegsum Choling in New York City.

The Way of the Buddha

By His Eminence Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche

WHEN SHAKYAMUNI BUDDHA EXPOUNDED his wisdom to people to show them the noble and profound ways they could conduct their lives, his intention was not to impress them with how much he knew or how well he could express himself. It was because of his infinitely compassionate concern for the benefit and liberation of all beings without exception, that he revealed the way of liberation from all suffering. Like the love of a mother who cherishes her only child, this was the loving-kindness of the Buddha's teaching.

In his infinite wisdom the Buddha Shakyamuni recognized that although beings may be bewildered and struggling with the results of their bewilderment, their situation is not hopeless. As he saw the workability of the human condition, the Buddha's compassion became overwhelming. Had the plight of beings been hopeless, if there was nothing that could have been done, the situation would have been entirely different.

The Buddha had the insight to recognize that in essence all beings have the same potential to become equally realized, and to become fully awakened Buddhas. The Buddha saw that the potential of sentient beings is like a treasure hidden from sight. Unfortunately, we continually fail to recognize this potential, or Buddhanature as it is called, buried within each of us. Because of our habitual patterns and bewilderment, we find ourselves constantly involved with and entertained by the superficial appearances of pleasure and happiness. For instance, we usually think of increased popularity and fame or the accumulation of material wealth as sources of happiness. The Buddha pointed out that these aspects of the relative phenomenal world are perpetually subject to change, deceptiveness, and impermanence. As a result, while it is possible to be temporarily entertained or distracted, we constantly meet with obstacles and limitations in our pursuit of transitory pleasures. This is due to our failure to direct our efforts toward the unraveling of our own confusion and bewilderment.

Most of our confusion is caused by our assumption that the causes of liberation must come from somewhere or something outside of ourselves. We assume that only by accumulating this or that, or only through associating with someone or something else, can we gain the cause of happiness. Our preoccupation with external concerns causes a tremendous sense of impoverishment, as though we were devoid of the slightest possibility of enlightened intelligence. Our bewilderment derives from our failure to turn inward and really examine the workings of our own minds. It is only when we begin working with our minds through meditation practice that we become practical as far as the search for enlightenment is concerned.

It is very important that we have some understanding of our potential to awaken, that we understand the workability of our situation and the richness of our resources. And once we have some understanding of this, it is important that we begin the practice of the path.

Formal meditation practice is important because our minds are constantly involved with any number of preoccupations, misconceptions and fixations. There is a sense of having spread ourselves too thin. But through the practice of meditation we can begin to experience a sense of groundedness and simplicity. We can begin to have some idea of who we are and what it is we are doing. Fundamental issues, which were previously sources of confusion for us, can begin to take on clarity and certainty. When we practice meditation, we think and analyze more clearly and effectively.

Formal practice is made more effective through a proper application of discipline and conduct. Proper discipline in this sense means the constant practice of mindfulness; while proper conduct means the practice of generosity, proper motivation and so forth. These two can greatly increase the effectiveness of meditation practice.

If we consider how impermanent things are, then we must face the fact that we can die at any moment. If we were to die right now, what credentials, wealth or friends could we take with us? No matter what our plans for the future might have been, all of them will be meaningless at the time of death. The only thing that will matter is how much we understand ourselves and our own mental attitudes. How much we are able to unravel the bewilderment of our habitual patterns alone will be meaningful.

Some of you are already doing these practices. Some of you, however, may only be just beginning to show a sincere interest. This is very exciting. It is as if the sun were just beginning to appear from behind the clouds for you. Through your sincere interest you are for the first time beginning to appreciate how rich and resourceful your lives are. This is quite an historic event. This is also a very realistic and sensible interest. I am hopeful that you will find these words that I have spoken to be worthwhile to ponder. It is my deepest wish also that once you have thought about these matters, you will be able to take a sane and healthy direction for your own good as well as for the good of others.


From a talk given for the Columbus Karma Thegsum Choling at Granville, Ohio, in 1982. Edited by Dona Witten, and published with the assistance of David Barnes, Duane Harris, and Kathy Wesley. The complete transcript is in its seventh printing. Contact the Columbus Karma Thegsum Choling for more information.

The Life of the Buddha

By Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche

THE BUDDHA OF THIS AGE, Buddha Shakyamuni,was born Siddhartha Gautama approximately 2,500 years ago to Suddhodana and Mahamaya, king and queen of the Shakya clan in Northern India near Nepal.

When the queen was sixteen, she dreamed that a six tusked elephant entered her womb; from that time on, she was changed, feeling great peace. She wanted to go on retreat, and the king allowed her to do so. She went to stay in a great forest, and after nine months and ten days she felt something unusual. Suddenly, she grasped the limb of a tree, and the Buddha emerged painlessly from her right side. Having emerged, the Buddha took seven steps toward each of the four directions, and pointing at the sky, He said, "In this universe, I have come to purify the confused mind of all living beings." These events prompted the king and queen to take their child to a great seer, who predicted that the child would become a universal king if He chose a mundane path, or a Buddha if He chose a spiritual one.

Determined to perpetuate the royal lineage, King Suddhodana did everything in his power to prepare the young Siddhartha for the life of a ruler. The child was schooled by carefully chosen tutors in all fields of learning and the arts, traditional to Indian royalty at that time, and He excelled to such a degree that He became a teacher to His own tutors.

At the customary age of sixteen He married Princess Yasodhara and began the life of a householder. The king, in an effort to protect his son from unhappiness, devised all sorts of entertainments and diversions, but Siddhartha was introspective by nature and often withdrew from the company of friends and family to sit quietly in the gardens surrounding the palace. Sensing his son's growing dissatisfaction with a life of luxury, and fearing that the prophecy of His Buddhahood might come to pass, and thus the termination of the royal lineage, the king forbade Siddhartha to leave the royal compound.

His father's efforts failed, however, and Siddhartha made four clandestine trips outside the palace grounds, where He encountered what are known in Buddhism as the four signs. During His first three ventures, He saw an old man, a sick man, and then a corpse. Profoundly affected by such distressing sights, from which He had been previously sheltered, He began to question the nature and causes of suffering. On His fourth trip, He encountered a monk who was seeking liberation. Shortly after that, Siddhartha decided to forsake His royal life.

Accompanied by his attendant, Chandaka, Siddhartha slipped out of the palace one night while everyone was asleep and rode away. After riding many hours, they stopped long enough for Siddhartha to exchange His princely clothes and jewels for Chandaka's simple garments. He asked Chandaka to return to His family with a message of comfort, explaining that there was no reason for them to grieve for Him since He was setting out to put an end to old age and death. He pointed out that the meeting of all living beings must inevitably end in parting and that it is best to let go of all attachment. Then, with unshakable resolve, Siddhartha said He would not return home until He had attained complete enlightenment.

For the next six years, the prince led a spiritual life, diligently studying the various yogic systems that prevailed in India at the time. In an effort to achieve a tranquil mind, He engaged in many ascetic practices, which culminated in a period of strict fasting that left Him extremely emaciated. Even though He was on the brink of death during this fast, His mind was brilliant and clear, and at a certain moment He discerned that excessive deprivation was not the way to become enlightened. He concluded that if the body is worn out by hunger and thirst, inward calm is not possible. He broke the fast by drinking some milk offered by the daughter of a local farmer. The other ascetics who had been His companions during the six years of austerities decided that He must have abandoned the holy life and expelled Him from their midst.

Siddhartha took a ritual bath in a nearby river, and thus renewed, He went on to Bodh Gaya. There, at sunset, He sat down in lotus posture on a cushion of kusha grass under a great spreading tree and vowed that He would meditate until enlightenment, even if His flesh and bones should rot away. During the night, many distractions arose. In the course of His meditative concentration, He was beset by visions of countless armies attacking Him with fearful weapons, but because His indestructible meditation could convert negativity into harmony and purity, the weapons all turned into flowers. When other visions and distractions arose, through the stability of His meditation, He remained unmoved. Sitting in a state of total absorption, He passed the four watches of the night, attaining all the degrees of realization up to and including full omniscience. The earth shook and rain fell from a cloudless sky in response to His supreme achievement. With the dawn, He arose as Buddha.

For the first forty-nine days of His enlightenment, the Buddha remained silent, refraining from speaking because others would not be able to understand the nature of His experience. Eventually, certain beings of the god realms requested the Buddha to teach all who were capable of comprehending. In response to their request, He went to Benares, where His former companions were staying in the Deer Park. When they saw Him coming from a distance, they joked among themselves, determined to mock Him; but as He approached and they saw His radiant form, they naturally and spontaneously treated Him with great respect. When they asked for teachings, He began, at the age of thirty-five, to expound the Dharma.

Abandoning What is Not Worthwhile

 By Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche

THIS TEACHING IS ABOUT THE BASIC ideas of the Buddhadharma--what the Buddha taught. There is really no limit to the Buddha's teachings. He gave limitless teachings because there are limitless sentient beings, all with different intentions, interests, and affinities. In order to fulfill the wishes of all sentient beings, Buddha gave limitless teachings.

Actually, the Buddha himself taught one Dharma and individuals have understood it differently based on their intelligence, awareness, or depth of wisdom. Buddha not only gave the teachings in human language but in the language of the gods and the nagas. The primary language at that time was Brahmin, so he used Brahmin and Nujin, one of the languages of the gods. The Buddha began every teaching by saying, "I expound teachings in the language of humans, nagas, gandharvas, and so forth"--in other words, the languages of all beings, since each being understood Buddha's teaching based on the depth of their wisdom. This capacity to expound teachings differently, according to different levels of wisdom, is one of the qualities of enlightened beings.

To elaborate further on the qualities of the Buddha's enlightenment, when he was giving a teaching each individual who heard it was satisfied. For example, those whose capacity or wisdom was to be able to understand at the hinayana level heard the Buddha giving teachings at that level. In the same session, those who were at the mahayana level understood the Buddha giving mahayana teaching. Those who were highly advanced, such as in the tantrayana level, understood tantric teachings in the same session. These are the qualities of the Buddha's enlightenment.

This is the meaning of SANGYE, which is the primary word in Tibetan for a Buddha. SANG means "elimination" and GYE means "development." What did he eliminate? The meaning of SANG is the absence of any stain at all. "Elimination" means there is absolutely no stain, obscuration, or fault. Because of this stainlessness--the immaculate nature of the enlightened being--there has never been a case in which the Buddha was unable to fulfill someone's wish or answer someone's question. The absence of these shortcomings shows the complete removal of obscuration and stain. Therefore, SANG also means the absence of such inabilities in the enlightened state of the Buddha. If someone has a weakness, he or she is not SANG, because all faults are not removed.

GYE is translated as "developing." This means that all the enlightened qualities are fully developed. Because of the power and strength of the full development of enlightenment, Buddha was able to understand the needs of each sentient being. This omniscience is the quality of full development. Not only did he understand the need, he was able to provide whatever remedy would fulfill the wish of every sentient being.

When we understand these enlightened qualities, we do not use the term Buddha or SANGYE lightly. We learn to respect what it means when we understand all of these qualities. Otherwise, we often fail to recognize the full meaning of SANGYE, and once we gain a little experience we think, "I am enlightened." When we develop a little power or strength, we think, "I am enlightened." We must understand the full meaning of enlightenment, and that there is no weakness in an individual who is fully enlightened, or SANGYE.

Understanding that "Buddha" means fully enlightened in all these qualities, and understanding the nature of those enlightened qualities, we can see the reasons that we need to take refuge. We take refuge in the fully developed qualities of the Buddha until we reach that level ourselves.

Of the limitless teachings Buddha gave, the limitless words Buddha used, the limitless meanings Buddha has made available, there is not a single word or single meaning that is not helpful to living beings. That is another extraordinary quality of enlightened beings. Since all the limitless words and meanings Buddha gave are very helpful to all living beings, those words are known as CHO (Dharma). The meaning of CHO is that it develops qualities and totally abolishes confusion and any causes of faults. CHO is that which, when it is applied, removes all faults and confusion, and develops qualities. Be assured that if you apply the Dharma diligently and seriously in your life, it cannot act in a contradictory way, developing faults and eliminating qualities.

Of the limitless Dharma teachings that Buddha gave, if we could combine all the teachings into one set, we could say that Buddha gave 84,000 collections of teachings. You might ask, "How is it possible that there could be 84,000 collections of Buddha's teachings available?" Buddha gave 84,000 volumes of teachings to apply a remedy to the three powerful mental afflictions (kleshas) within sentient beings at three levels of understanding.

There are three kinds of people based on the depth of wisdom, courage, and will power. The Buddha provided three levels of teachings to remedy each individual's mental afflictions of attachment, aggression, and ignorance. To overcome whichever klesha is predominant, there are the vinaya, sutra, and abhidharma teachings. These teachings are known as the three baskets (tripitaka).

To condense the meaning of all 84,000 collections of teachings of the tripitaka into short form, it is expressed by three sentences:

1. "Abandon all unvirtuous actions."

2. "Practice virtue perfectly."

3. "Tame your mind."

The cause of all sentient beings experiencing fear, illness, misfortune, and suffering is having indulged in unvirtuous actions in past lives. Therefore, if we wish to not experience suffering we must abandon all unvirtuous actions. Conversely, the cause of all sentient beings' experience of happiness, good health, prosperity, and so forth is due to virtuous action, and therefore we are taught to practice virtue perfectly. How can we perfect the possibility of avoiding what is not virtuous and adopting virtue? The path is to tame our own minds. Our minds should be well disciplined to not be caught up in the mental afflictions and to engage in virtue. When these three lines are given as a prayer, a fourth line is added which explains that an individual conducting his or her life in the manner above--avoiding what is not virtuous and practicing virtue and taming the mind--is following the Buddha's teaching. The fourth line says simply, "This is the Buddha's teaching."

To condense the Buddha's teaching still further, all four sentences could be expressed in one syllable: the syllable AH, in either Sanskrit and Tibetan. The syllable AH is the nature which is free from any creation, any condition, and any fabrication. In this context, AH symbolizes the essential nature of emptiness. The limitless teachings of Buddha are intended to convey the completely empty nature of all phenomena to us. The Prajnaparamita, the very well-known teaching with which we are all familiar, also explains the nature of emptiness. The syllable AH symbolizes that emptiness, so the Buddha's teachings, which are limitless, could be condensed into just one syllable!

The nature of emptiness is not separate from us. The Buddha qualities we described earlier are also not separate from us. In fact, we are inherently inseparable from the nature of emptiness as well as from all the Buddha qualities. However, we fail to recognize our inner qualities as enlightenment, as well as the nature of emptiness. We are completely distracted toward outer phenomena. Not only are we distracted toward outer phenomena but we develop a strong fixation and attachment toward outer phenomena. Because we develop fixation and fail to recognize enlightenment, we are unable to abandon unvirtuous activity. Therefore we are unable to practice virtuous actions seriously or consistently. These factors further prevent us from recognizing our potential enlightenment.

I have said that the Buddha's teaching are both limitless and expressible in just one syllable. From among the teachings of the Buddha, whether we describe it as limitless or as just one syllable, what we will be discussing in this teaching comes from the first line, "Abandon all unvirtuous actions," from the three-line set that was just mentioned.


Unvirtuous Actions

Whatever culture or spiritual tradition we belong to, not committing negative actions means learning to abandon what is seen as improper for ourselves or others. "Negative" or "unvirtuous" is defined as anything that is harmful or destructive to beings, including ourselves.

Unvirtuous actions can be divided into two classifications: (1) natural or automatic (RANG SHIN) unvirtuous actions; and (2) developing (KYE PAY) unvirtuous actions.

Natural Unvirtuous Actions

Since beings have body, speech, and mind it is possible to do negative things unintentionally and without choice. Simply because of the particular circumstances we have been born in, we engage in unvirtuous activity of body. We try to communicate with concepts through our speech, and whenever we talk there is the possibility of creating harm unintentionally in that process. Similarly, mind produces positive and negative thoughts that lead to activities of body and speech. These natural possibilities of accumulating what is not virtuous through body, speech, and mind are known as natural or automatic karmic accumulation.

The assumption of the second type of negative actions is that we are engaged in some religious system and have made certain commitments or taken certain vows. If we have the ability to keep those commitments, but break them, that is unvirtuous action. The idea here is that we have alternatives: we may choose not to take the vow, or we can choose to not break the vow. Breaking a vow we have willingly taken creates a "double" negative karma, since there is the karma of breaking the vow as well as the karma of the negative action.

The question might arise, "How do we accumulate or commit unvirtuous actions?" Unvirtuous actions can be committed through body, speech, and mind. Physically, we could become violent and cause harm. That is unvirtuous action of the body. Verbally, we can say very powerful words that could be harmful or harsh, words that could be painful to others. Regardless of whether the actions are physical or verbal, they must originate from a negative thought in the mind. Therefore, unvirtuous actions are committed through the body, speech, and mind.

Unvirtuous Actions of Body

There are three unvirtuous actions of the body we can accumulate: killing, sexual misconduct, and stealing. These three unvirtuous actions of the body are the main or most powerful unvirtuous actions.


The first negative action is killing (literally, taking life) and involves the three emotions: hatred, attachment, and ignorance. When we regard someone as an enemy, or the enemy of someone we are trying to protect, the mind develops tremendous hatred. Regarding this individual or group as an enemy, we destroy them. This destruction involves the emotion of hate or anger (SHEDANG). We could also kill beings through attachment, such as having attachment to their meat or fur. When we kill a being because of their meat, skin, or fur, the emotion of attachment is involved. It is also possible to kill through ignorance. Ignorance is the neutral state of not knowing why we are killing--we just enjoy killing. We do not regard the being we are killing to be our enemy. We do not have anger or hatred toward it. We are not killing because the being's fur or meat is useful to us. We are simply enjoying the act of killing, which is killing through ignorance. These are the unvirtuous actions of killing.

When an individual engages in any type of killing, the result of this unvirtuous action is the certainty that this individual will experience inferior rebirth after their own death. A higher birth is never experienced as a result of killing, whether through attachment, anger, or ignorance. Not only will the individual experience an inferior rebirth, but during the next lifetime no matter what that individual tries to do, he or she will be unable to accomplish all of his or her goals. The individual will experience obstacles in life or career, which will prevent accomplishments. These obstacles are the result of the negative karma of killing; therefore, this is called unvirtuous. We must learn to prevent that sort of unvirtuous action, as it is threatening to our lives and development.

Sexual Misconduct

The second unvirtuous action of the body is engaging in sexual misconduct, which can be based on two emotions: attachment and anger. Not much could be caused through ignorance in this case. The general definition of sexual misconduct here is anything that is improper, including anything that is done forcibly (without the consent of the other person) in order to satisfy ourselves or in order to hurt someone else (the reason does not really matter). You might ask how the emotion of anger could be involved. Someone could try to commit sexual misconduct with a person (using seduction) for the purpose of destroying their reputation. That would be sexual misconduct done out of aggression. Sexual misconduct with the mental affliction of attachment simply means committing improper sexual actions in order to satisfy our neurotic desires.


The third unvirtuous action of the body is stealing, which means taking something that does not belong to us.

Stealing again involves the three mental afflictions: attachment, ignorance, and anger. When an object is very appealing and we feel attachment to that object and feel that we need to have it, and then take it without the owner's knowledge, that is stealing through attachment. Stealing through ignorance corresponds to what is described by the English word "kleptomania." The person does not have a feeling of attachment or aversion. They just keep picking up other people's belongings because of a habitual pattern. Stealing out of anger means wanting to hurt, harm, or give difficulties to someone else. A person who does this does not need the object, but they know the other person will suffer from its absence. In order to hurt that person, they take away the person's belonging.

To clarify what is meant by taking what does not belong to us, suppose we are living in a community where everyone is sharing something. In this situation, if we take something that is meant to be shared without the other people knowing about it, that is not stealing. Everyone knows it is meant to be shared. Other than that, if it is not understood as shared, if it does not belong to us, and we have no right to have it, then taking it through any means is stealing.

Unvirtuous Actions of Speech

Next are the unvirtuous actions of speech, of which there are four main categories: lying, creating disharmony, harsh and offensive speech, and frivolous speech.

Telling lies also involves the three mental afflictions of attachment, anger, and ignorance.

Lying out of attachment occurs when we lie to gain something, like a better reputation. Lying out of anger occurs when we lie to keep another person from gaining something or accomplishing something--the lie is told to harm someone. Lying out of ignorance means compulsive lying. It occurs when we lie without reason, simply because we have developed a habit of lying. There is neither a hope for personal gain nor the wish to harm someone in this type of lying.

Creating Disharmony

The second unvirtuous action of speech is creating disharmony. This involves a strong pattern of jealousy. Because of the influence of jealousy, we are unable to tolerate the friendships among other people; therefore, we have a strong tendency to create separation among people who seem to be friendly. That is the general definition. Creating disharmony also involves attachment, anger, and ignorance. Creating disharmony based on jealousy but also to achieve personal gain indicates attachment. Creating disharmony to give pain, suffering and misery to someone else indicates aggression. Creating disharmony through ignorance means being a chatterbox. We keep on talking and eventually say something we are not supposed to say, creating a big problem or disharmony. It is not always the case that we are intending to gain something from it or to harm anybody, but if we simply enjoy talking too much (the Tibetan for this is KHA MANG, which literally means, "big mouth"), that is a problem.

There are three classifications of creating disharmony: direct, indirect, and manipulative. The direct way is quite simple, so it does not need a lot of explanation. It just means that, in the presence of the person or people involved, we say all the bad things we feel. The indirect way of creating disharmony means that when the people are in front of us, we say very good things; then when they go away, we say negative things behind their backs. The manipulative way of creating disharmony depends on being very skilled with words. Although the words we use in this case seem to have no direct bad connotation, the overall effect is very offensive. This sort of manipulation takes a lot of cleverness.

Harsh and Offensive Speech

This type of unvirtuous action of speech means engaging in speech that is generally offensive. It includes obscenity and other kinds of coarse talk that tend to upset people. Harsh speech is involved mainly with the emotions of anger and ignorance. It is possible, but not very likely, for this to involve attachment. Speaking harsh words out of ignorance often happens for those who are raised in an environment where such words are common and they become very accustomed to such language. People may develop a habitual pattern of harsh words that are offensive to others without really having any intention of hurting anyone. On the other hand, harsh and offensive speech under the influence of anger means using such language to hurt others, to give them pain and suffering. There is also the possibility of harsh words involving attachment. If we are very attached to relatives or friends and fear losing them, we may think we can control them by using harsh words.

The Tibetan word TSIK TUK, which means "harsh words" also means "criticism." It has a lot to do with the intention of the words being used. Some words may seem to be very gently spoken, but if their intention is to misguide someone, that is regarded as harsh words. In contrast, someone may speak in a very rough, angry or aggressive way, but if their intention is to help we must not misunderstand that. Speaking with an aggressive intent is what is meant by harsh words.

Frivolous Speech

The fourth unvirtuous action of speech is that which is frivolous or useless. The Tibetan word for this, NGAK KHYAI, also has the meaning of "rumor" or "gossip." The emotions of ignorance or attachment are involved. Any of our emotions can be stirred up (anger, jealousy, and so forth), but the principle reason for wanting to gossip is ignorance or attachment. Because we are so attached to ourselves, our family, friends, or children, we like to talk and gossip about them. We talk at length about the intelligence of our son or daughter or spouse. That is based on attachment, because we are attached to thinking about them and want someone else to think about them, so we talk endlessly about that individual. Gossiping out of ignorance is a habit that is built into our system. We intensely enjoy talking and we cannot sit still for one moment without talking. In fact, we even go out of our way to find someone to talk to and, whenever we find someone who will listen, we keep talking and talking. If we were to look back and ask what the purpose was of all this talk, we would find there was none; we just wanted to talk.

All these unwholesome or unvirtuous actions have no positive result. By performing unvirtuous actions of speech and body, we are accumulating negative karma, which leads us to more problems and suffering.

Unvirtuous Actions of Mind

Mentally there are also three unvirtuous actions: envy and spite, harmful thoughts, and wrong views.

Envy and Spite

Having envious thoughts means craving things other people have, and it is connected with attachment. We are attached to worldly situations or possessions, such as material belongings, success, power, or fame--things that we are not able to obtain for ourselves. It involves imagining or wishing that we had these things that the others have, things which in reality we are unable to obtain. Making ourselves miserable by these cravings and wishes is the unwholesome pattern of envy.

When this pattern is associated with anger and aggression, there is what is called "spite" in English. This means wishing hardship, misfortune, death, illness, and mental suffering on our enemies.

Harmful Thoughts

Second is harmful thoughts, which are connected to the emotion of anger. Due to disliking or hating someone or simply being angry with them, we develop harmful thoughts directed at that person. Though these thoughts are related to anger, due to our habitual patterns, we sometimes have such thoughts for no reason, in which case they can be regarded as involving the metal affliction of ignorance.

If you naturally enjoy the misery or pain of others without any purpose at all, that is harmful thought. For example, upon hearing that someone has had misery or has died, whatever their relationship is to you, you simply enjoy the death of that person and the pain of the person's family, for no reason. There are some individuals who constantly, without any reason, wish to see pain and suffering happen to beings. Because of that, the moment they hear some negative news (such as that someone has died or is going through suffering), they enjoy it.

Wrong Views

The third unvirtuous action of the mind is wrong views. To define this generally, wrong view means not recognizing or knowing that we have the capacity to do positive things, as well as not recognizing or knowing that we have the capacity to do negative things. Wrong view also means not recognizing that when we engage in positive activities, the result is positive and not knowing that when we engage in negative activities, the result is negative or suffering. All that ignorance is wrong view. Because of this ignorance, there is no belief in anything at all. In particular, if someone tells us that a positive thing is good and will bring a good result, we do not believe it. What we are doing here is like accepting poison as a medicine and medicine as a poison; it is a completely backward understanding. Since we have believed poison to be medicine, we are accepting the poison. Since we have believed medicine to be a poison, we try to avoid or distance ourselves from healing or medicinal things. That is the situation with wrong views.

Among the ten unvirtuous activities of the body, speech, and mind, the worst of all is the wrong view. When we are engaging in activities that are harmful to ourselves and others, we have no remorse since we have a wrong view. As long as we do not accept that we are doing something wrong, we continue to do it, free from any feeling of regret or guilt. That is why wrong view is the worst of the ten unvirtuous actions of body, speech, and mind.

If we do not have wrong view, then although we are in samsara and may engage in any of the other nine unvirtuous actions, the moment we realize that we have engaged in something improper and harmful to others, we repent. Feeling remorse, there is always the possibility of applying the remedy to purify any wrong we have done. The fact that it is always possible to cleanse the negative karma of negative actions is the reason that freeing ourselves from wrong views is so important. Otherwise, we would never recognize that negative actions are, in fact, negative.

The Consequences of Unvirtuous Actions

If we engage in any of the ten unvirtuous actions through intense hate, our rebirth will be in the hell realm. If we engage in any of the ten unvirtuous actions through intense attachment, our rebirth will be in the hungry ghost (preta) realm. If we engage in any of the ten unvirtuous actions through ignorance, our rebirth will be in the animal realm. In particular, if we engage in any of the ten unvirtuous actions with the intensity of anger and wrong view, you will experience rebirth in what is known as the lowest hell realm, known as NAR ME in Tibetan, which means ceaseless. It is a realm of uninterrupted or ceaseless suffering. These are the results of engaging in unvirtuous actions.

Because the results of engaging in unvirtuous actions are not positive but are very painful, the first line of the Buddha's teaching we discussed says, "Abandon all unvirtuous actions." That is the reason for introducing the idea that unvirtuous action is very negative.

We have talked about a total of ten unvirtuous activities of the body, speech, and mind. Because we all have the capacity to engage in those ten unvirtuous activities as part of our systems, the first definition or classification of the unvirtuous activities, as I said earlier, is natural what is not virtuous. The second classification is developing what is not virtuous.

I mentioned that the developing what is not virtuous involves having taken commitments or vows (such as tantric samayas or other different kinds of vows). There is one thing we should understand from the start: There is a tremendous advantage in taking vows, as well as a tremendous disadvantage. Virtuous action is multiplied by learning to keep vows. Therefore, we may want to expedite our enlightenment and cleanse our negative karma by taking vows. Taking vows is very positive, if we can keep them. We may take several vows (tantrayana, mahayana, hinayana, or whatever) because we want to expedite our development. This is what I meant by saying there is an advantage. If we can keep the vows, it is a very powerful step toward cleansing or developing toward enlightenment. However, if we are unable to keep them, and break the vows, we have committed quite powerful negative karma. There is the negative karma connected with the action, and there is the additional negative karma associated with breaking the vow. That is why the word KYE PA (developing) is used here for this negative karma. It is developed or expanded in scope by breaking the vow.

Often in ancient times there was what we could safely refer to as a "heretic." (This does not happen so often nowadays, because people are more intelligent.) What happened was that at the beginning the person was very much intrigued with seriously studying, learning, and practicing the Buddhadharma. Then after some time, perhaps a month or a year, the person came to totally dislike the whole concept of what he or she had previously respected and whatever vows or commitments he or she had taken. Not only did the person lose respect but he or she no longer had any belief in the positive result of the virtue whatsoever. Not having belief in the positive result of the Buddhadharma in particular is the worst negative karma. When there is this sort of situation, rebirth is in what is known as the vajra hell, which is the lowest of the lowest hells and is very powerful. This situation really does not happen much, but I just wanted to give you the information.

When we talk about the negative karma that results from breaking vows, often the thought arises, "Well, in that case it would be much safer not to take on any particular commitments. I will be safer that way because I cannot break the commitment, and by not breaking a commitment, I am not accumulating any heavy negative karma. Isn't that safer?" Not really. As Sakya Pandita, one of the most learned masters of the Sakya tradition, explains in his poetic way, "The negative karma of learned people is the lightest, and the negative karma of the ignorant ones is the heaviest of all."

To explain what Sakya Pandita meant here, it is very true that for those who engage in all sorts of practices, taking commitments and so forth, there is the possibility of committing heavy negative karma by breaking the commitments. However, the advantage and the qualities of the Buddhadharma are such that, though we may have accumulated heavy negative karma, we have the means to apply the remedy to purify that negative karma. With these methods, we can actually put the remedy into practice, and thus we may not have to experience the fruition of the negative karma.

On the other hand, the spiritually ignorant ones (those who are not learned in this sense) are those who do not engage in the taking of vows or commitments. Their negative karma may not be as heavy as that accumulated by breaking a vow, but they have no remedy to purify it either, and the piling up of small negative karma becomes extremely heavy in the long run. That is the meaning of Sakya Pandita's explanation that the negative karma of the learned ones could be light and that of the ignorant ones could be heaviest of all.

The Five Immeasurable Crimes

Based on the Buddha's teaching, "Abandon all unvirtuous actions," we have been discussing the ten unvirtuous actions of body, speech, and mind. Having discussed all of these, you may wonder if those are the only negative actions people can commit.

Unfortunately, there are also what are known as the five immeasurable crimes. The term for this in Tibetan, TSA ME PA, means "no barrier." This could also be translated as "without barrier," meaning that beings who commit such actions experience the result without going through the barrier (the intermediate experience) of bardo at the time of death.

Why are these five called immeasurable crimes? If we commit any of the ten unvirtuous actions we have talked about so far, it is possible that we may experience the ripening of the negative karma of those actions in the bardo state after death, during the first, second, third, or fourth week of that state. If that ripening does not happen in the bardo state between death and rebirth, we may experience the result of that negative karma in the next lifetime.

However, the crimes we are now going to discuss are called immeasurable, or beyond barrier--beyond the intermediate state (bardo)--because there is no gap after death before the experience or fruition of the negative karma. The moment the person dies, that very instant, they get into the result of the negative karma. Because of that quickness, they are know as immeasurable, or beyond barrier.

The first of the immeasurable crimes is patricide, killing one's father. To have the negative karmic accumulation we are discussing here, four conditions must be met: 1) The person must have full knowledge that the victim is their father; if there is some confusion, and they do not know it was their father, that would not be regarded as this particular action; 2) intention or preparation to kill; 3) carrying out the plan to commit the murder; and, finally, 4) feeling satisfaction that he has been killed. If all these conditions are met, the person has committed the first immeasurable crime, and it is a very heavy or intense crime. Although it is a very intense crime and the result comes in an instant after death, if the perpetrator has regret or remorse, there is always a possibility for purification.

The second immeasurable crime is matricide, killing one's mother. Again, the person must commit this crime with definite intent, knowledge, and then a feeling of rejoicing or satisfaction after having committed the action. We might ask why these two--the killing of one's father or mother--are regarded as immeasurable crimes. Our physical existence is based on our father and mother; we could not possibly have it without them. Because of this, if, instead of repaying that kindness with gratitude we destroy them, that is categorized as an immeasurable crime.

The third immeasurable crime is quite similar. Our spiritual master (or lama) is someone from whom we obtain teachings and advice, particularly that which is healing and beneficial to our minds. Having obtained such assistance, if instead of repaying that person or feeling gratitude, we kill that person, we have destroyed the person who has helped us mentally. Therefore the third immeasurable crime is killing one's teacher.

The term spiritual friend here refers to someone that we have taken as our personal teacher. Having taken that person seriously, to then kill such a person would be an immeasurable crime. To kill other teachers who we have not taken as our personal teacher is very negative, of course, but it would not fall in the category of an immeasurable crime.

While we are on that subject, I would like to add one point: It is important to judge the authenticity of a lama or spiritual friend. Authentic spiritual friends or lamas would only be concerned with wanting to help or benefit us and all their students, with almost no regard for their own fame, fortune, and well-being. Having found such a teacher and having obtained instruction and teaching from such an individual, we can then regard that person as a true teacher. However, in samsara there are many others who are false teachers or who pretend to be spiritual friends. It is important from a student's point of view to recognize that falsity, because such people could be quite deceptive and selfish, lacking the altruistic mind. Even if we obtain teachings from such people, they cannot be regarded as spiritual masters or lamas.

The fourth immeasurable crime is something we do not have to worry about, but I will mention it just to give you the information. It is known as shedding blood from the body of an historical Buddha. During the time Shakyamuni Buddha was living and giving teachings, if someone threw a stone or anything at him out of anger or hatred, shedding blood from his body, the person would have committed this crime. Since Shakyamuni Buddha's physical body is not present at this time, we do not need to worry about this crime. This type of negative action refers to any historical Buddha, not only Shakyamuni Buddha, who turned the wheel of Dharma for us.

The fifth immeasurable crime is known as creating disharmony in the Sangha. That possibility was very powerful during the time of the Buddha, and we must be careful ourselves, because we could engage in such a crime now as well.

When there is a community of at least four ordained nuns or four ordained monks, that fulfills the meaning of Sangha as we are discussing it here. Creating disharmony within such a Sangha is based on jealousy or dislike. Based on that jealousy or dislike, someone develops a motive or intention to create separation within the community. Sometimes this is due to partisanship, when a person feels attached to their own tradition. Attempting to support their own tradition, they create disharmony in another group, feeling that by creating a split they would obtain strength or advantage for their group. With these kinds of intentions, people create disharmony.

Creating disharmony within the Sangha is regarded as an immeasurable crime for several reasons. First of all, wherever something negative like this is created in any group, it is certainly not at all positive. In this case, within that group of four or more nuns or monks, who were quite harmonious and happy practicing together, negative feelings and separation between them jeopardize all of their spiritual progress. When there is disharmony and anger or jealousy among them, the calm of their minds has been disturbed. Disturbing their ability to maintain the state of calm necessary for meditation causes obstacles in their progress toward the awakened state. Having done so, whoever does this has harmed not only that group of individuals but those individuals' ability to benefit beings. Thus it is an immeasurable crime to create separation within the Sangha.

These are the five immeasurable crimes, which are very intense and powerful. If we have committed such a crime and then, realizing that we have made an enormous error, feel remorse or regret, and apply the remedy, the result of the negative karma can be prevented. If we have committed such a crime and do not feel remorse or regret, and we do not apply any sort of remedy (purification practice) before the end of our lives, we will go through tremendous, unbelievable suffering as the result of the such crimes.

We have all engaged in every sort of unvirtuous action, either the ten unvirtuous actions or the five immeasurable crimes. Based on those unvirtuous actions, we are still in samsara in this life. We have never liberated ourselves in the past. Because of this, we cannot even imagine the beginning of our confusion. There is no beginning. From beginningless time until now, we have been constantly engaged in unvirtuous action. As a result of unvirtuous action, we are constantly in samsaric existence.

How did we end up being in samsara, unable to liberate ourselves? We know we do not want to suffer, but in our efforts to overcome suffering, we actually create more karma, which leads us to experience additional and perhaps more powerful pain and suffering. Accumulating this, we end up in a continuous pattern of existence.

There is a proverb in Tibet that could be related very well to the reason we are unable to liberate ourselves from samsara. This proverb is, "You cannot wash blood off your hands with blood." Someone with bloody hands would want to wash them, but washing them with blood only makes them bloodier. Similarly, when we are in samsara, we want to get rid of our suffering and liberate ourselves, but by our efforts to liberate ourselves. We are creating more karma.

Karma is infallible; we cannot escape from our actions. There has never been a case in which someone committed negative actions and somehow the karma failed to ripen, or a case in which, during the gap between the commission of the negative actions and the ripening of the karma, that karma deteriorated. It never happens. Once karma is accumulated, it never fails to ripen for that individual. Also, if we commit negative actions, that particular karma never ripens for someone else. We are responsible for all our negative karma, because we are the one who has engaged physically and verbally in committing our actions.

It often happens that when we commit negative actions, we also develop what are known as habitual patterns. When that habitual pattern develops, it seduces us into doing more negative actions, so we engage in a continuous process of accumulating negative karma. These habitual patterns are very powerful. Realizing that the result of the negative actions we engage in physically and verbally is infallible, the proper way to prevent negative karmic accumulation is to overcome and reverse such habitual patterns.

We take rebirth in accordance with the negative karma we accumulate based on our habitual patterns. If the result of the karma is such that it causes us to take rebirth in the animal realm, we experience animal birth. If we have accumulated enough karma to take rebirth as a human, we take human birth. Whether we take human birth or animal birth, the habitual patterns of what is not virtuous that we are so familiar with are quite powerful within us. When we hear about the possibility of experiencing a totally different birth from human or animal, we may think, "then who is experiencing the suffering?" The mind is the experiencer of suffering, not the physical body. The physical body varies from human or animal to any other realm but, in any case, that which experiences the result or outcome of the karma is one's mind. Realizing that, we need to try to reverse all the negative habitual patterns in which we have engaged from beginningless time.

We should understand that the result of negative action comes about in accordance with its foundation or cause. When we commit a negative or unvirtuous action, it might seem to be quite a minor or inconsequential thing and the time during which we have engaged in that action may be very short. This does not mean that the result will be light. In the sutras it says that even though the time that a person has engaged in a negative action may be short, the result is quite intense. For example, suppose that out of tremendous anger you hit someone over the head with a stick, creating pain for that person. The time you took for this action might be very short. You simply became angry and struck the person's head. If you fail to purify such an action, the result of such negative karma is that you will experience about a thousand years in the hell realm. During those thousand years, you will experience suffering 24 hours a day. This is very long, intense suffering that resulted from a moment of anger.

It is often said that sentient beings are ignorant and confused. When we say they are ignorant or confused, there is also the implication that they have the potential to be free from ignorance, to be free from confusion. In fact, all sentient beings have that potential of being free from ignorance and confusion. Although that potential exists within every one of us, we may not fully succeed in realizing our potential--the purity of freedom from confusion--until we learn to avoid or abstain from all unvirtuous action. First we must acknowledge that we indeed have a propensity within our minds toward unvirtuous action. Acknowledging that, we must develop an intention to be free from unvirtuous action. That is where the second line of the Buddha's teaching comes in.


Practicing Virtue

The second of the three lines discussed earlier is this: "Practice virtue perfectly."

In order not to commit any what is not virtuous whatsoever, we must first recognize that we are committing what is not virtuous. Recognizing that fact, we develop the intention to avoid it. We lessen or minimize it, abstaining from engaging in all that is not virtuous. Then we are able to turn toward practicing virtue perfectly. Whether or not we acknowledge the result of unvirtuous action to be suffering, we will still experience suffering. That does not change at all, but what does change with the acknowledgment is that an individual who does not know and acknowledge that the result of unvirtuous action is suffering will always believe that the cause of his or her suffering is someone else. He or she tries to blame every mistake, every what is not virtuous, or the cause of all suffering, on an external cause. They do this with a sense of anger and negative emotions. By doing this, they fail to recognize that they are piling up more negative karma which leads them to experience more suffering, and they go through their lives constantly finding someone else to blame.

When an individual does realize and acknowledge that the outcome of unvirtuous action is suffering, they experience suffering the same as someone who does not acknowledge this. However, they do not tend to blame anyone else. They realize that the suffering is their own responsibility, and that whatever negative things they have done in the past are the cause of their pain and suffering in the present. Realizing that, they abstain from engaging in further unvirtuous action. At the same time, feeling a sense of regret or remorse for whatever they have done in the past, they apply the practice of virtue in their lives. That is the big difference between those who acknowledge this fact and those who do not.

The various paths or vehicles that are practiced in the Buddhist tradition all start with this acknowledgment that the result of what is not virtuous is negative karma. Realizing that the cause of all negative karma is engaging in those ten unvirtuous actions, with the power of the three most powerful emotions: attachment, hatred, and ignorance, some individuals develop a longing to free themselves from such a cause and to free themselves from samsaric existence. They try to practice quite seriously to liberate themselves from such a cause and from such suffering.

When individuals realize that the suffering of samsara is very painful and work toward liberating themselves alone from the suffering and cause of negative karma, that is known as following the hinayana, or lesser vehicle tradition. They develop a very pure sense of renunciation toward all samsaric conditions (such as possessions, wealth, or fame) and they develop a strong sense of discipline toward their conflicting emotions. With that sense of strong development, they achieve the practice quite successfully, but their goal of wanting to liberate themselves alone places them in the lesser vehicle.

How do these practitioners develop such a strong sense of renunciation? They realize the nature of samsara, which is suffering. When food that is being cooked has a very delicious aroma, looks very delicious, and has been prepared extremely well, but we know for sure that is has deadly poison in it, we will not touch it, regardless of how tempting or delicious it may seem. Likewise, realizing the true nature of samsara and realizing with certainty that by engaging in the three conflicting emotions, or the ten unvirtuous actions, the result will be suffering, this confidence helps these beings to have a true sense of renunciation.

Practitioners of the bodhisattvayana (mahayana) have the same knowledge and understanding as the practitioners of the lesser vehicle. However, in addition to the understanding of the lesser vehicle, the bodhisattvayana practitioners have the realization of the empty nature of all phenomena. They have the realization that there is no solid concreteness in all phenomenal existence, and that the nature of phenomena at the absolute level is emptiness. We perceive phenomena to be concrete or real because of strong fixation and based on our confusion. Beyond fixation, when there is freedom from confusion, the real or absolute nature of phenomena is seen to be free from any solid concreteness, which is emptiness.

Having realized the emptiness of all phenomena, unlike practitioners of the lesser vehicle (the shravaka and pratyekabuddha practitioners), the bodhisattvayana practitioners have strong love and compassion toward all sentient beings. Based on that intense love and compassion, practitioners of the bodhisattvayana do not try to escape from the suffering of samsaric existence. Practitioners of the bodhisattvayana are determined to work for the benefit of all beings. Without any hesitation, they are prepared to help all beings escape or be liberated from the suffering of samsara. That is the difference between practitioners of the lesser vehicle and those of the greater vehicle.

You might ask, "How could that happen?" Suppose you have a child who is blind. Further, suppose the child is playing in a very dangerous location, one that is filled with poisonous plants and animals, with water or fire that the child could fall into, and so forth. First of all, this is your child, and you have love for your own son or daughter. Second, this child is blind, so you have even more concern since they cannot see. With your concern doubled by knowing that the child is blind and in a dangerous place, you would not be in a state of ease or calm but would be watching very carefully to protect the child from danger. Similarly, because of the intensity of their compassion and their realization of emptiness, bodhisattvas do not try to escape but watch intensely, trying to help and protect all living beings and to liberate them.

Beings who are not aware of the negative aspect of the ten unvirtuous actions, and who therefore constantly engage in those unvirtuous actions because they are not aware, are known as ordinary sentient beings. Beings who realize that the nature of samsara is suffering and that the result of the negative actions is painful, and who then try to abandon all the unvirtuous actions and liberate themselves from such a cause of suffering, are the practitioners of the lesser vehicle, that of individual liberation. In some sense, the practitioners of the lesser vehicle have the same intention as the bodhisattvas of wanting to liberate themselves, but they lack the courage and compassion to liberate others. Lacking the courage to liberate others places them in the category of the lesser vehicle.

Bodhisattvas, because of the intense development of their love and compassion, have come to understand sunyata, the emptiness of all phenomena. Realizing the intensity of suffering of all living beings in samsara, bodhisattvas have developed limitless compassion and love. Based on their development of the knowledge of sunyata (emptiness) and their love and compassion, they have no concern whatsoever for their own pain, suffering, and misery in the world. They have realized that their pain and suffering are groundless and empty in nature. Instead, they are willing to totally dedicate themselves to liberate only sentient beings. Because of that dedication, they are regarded as bodhisattvas.

The more we engage in unvirtuous actions, the thicker are our mental obscurations and the greater is our ignorance--it is all connected with our unvirtuous actions. The thicker our obscurations and the greater our ignorance, the more we fail to recognize the power and strength of the wisdom (prajna) that is within us. When we are very ignorant, though, it does not mean we are totally separated from our wisdom. It is quite similar to the sky. The darker the clouds, the less we can see the clarity of the sun and the more darkness we experience. However, even when it is very dark due to the thick clouds, the sun above the clouds is still there. What prevents us from experiencing the clarity of the sun is the thickness of the clouds. The less thick the clouds are, the more we are able to see some of the sunlight. When there are no clouds at all, we see the sun in its fullness; it was there all along.

Likewise, based on our accumulation of negative karma, there is intense ignorance. At the same time, we must understand that, based on the degree of ignorance and the individual's will power, compassion, and development or realization of wisdom, we categorize practitioners as being of the hinayana or mahayana. It is not the case that we will always remain in one group. By practicing in the hinayana, a person can also develop wisdom and understanding and get into mahayana. It is not the case that a practitioner is always in the same vehicle. We must develop.

I have presented the vehicles here to show that there are different approaches to the practice based on an individual's will power, understanding of emptiness, and wisdom.

Purifying karma, abstaining from engaging in unvirtuous activity, and applying the practices is very much the individual's responsibility. This brings to mind Buddha's teaching in which he said to his student, "I cannot take away the suffering of sentient beings, like picking up an object with my hands. I cannot transfer the realization of enlightenment into the heart or mind of sentient beings." What the Buddha can do comes in the next line: "What I can do is show you (instruct you in) the method of the practice--the means to purify obscurations--by introducing to you what brings freedom from pain and suffering and what brings happiness and liberation. There is the need to continue refraining from what is not virtuous. The rest depends on how quickly an individual achieves realization, which depends on his or her diligence, seriousness, and sense of responsibility." In other words, realization is based on the individual's consistency in the practice and on his or her consistency in avoiding unvirtuous actions.


Taken from a transcript of a teaching given by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche in December, 1991 at KTD. The transcript is available in its entirety from Namse Bangdzo Bookstore

Questions & Answers

Q: What is the essential characteristic of Tibetan Buddhism?

Thrangu Rinpoche: One tends to associate Tibet with the quintessential path of the Vajrayana. Generally speaking, people tend to class the Buddhism that took root in Ceylon, Burma, and Thailand as 'Theravada', that which took root in China and Japan as the 'Mahayana', and that which spread through Tibet and Mongolia as 'Vajrayana'. However, it seems to me that one finds the Vajrayana present in all of those lands and traditions.

In the meditation instructions of the Theravada and in the artwork of their temples there can be found traces of what is normally associated with Vajrayana. For instance, they have temple protectors, and in China and Japan there are Vajrayana sadhana practices to Amitabha, Vajrapani, and others. They also sometimes recite mantras. However, it was mainly in Tibet that Vajrayana spread. There were very many buddha-aspects venerated and meditated upon, all to suit individual choices and needs. People have very different aspirations and capacities, and if the teachings only offer one sort of practice (that they all would have to do), then they would feel very restricted, very uncomfortable.

Lord Buddha taught a very wide variety of techniques so that anyone would be able to have a practice that suited just their preferences and capacities. Some want to meditate on an aspect of Buddha that will help increase wisdom, some seek particularly the Buddha's protection, some have faith in his compassion, etc.

This is why there are so many forms upon which they can meditate--male forms, female forms, peaceful ones, wrathful ones, etc. By fulfilling their aspirations then Lord Buddha helps them all to develop in the quickest way.

Q: I'm sure His Holiness could answer this question for hours, but I felt the need to ask it anyway. Just, perhaps, a little insight into the birth and death cycle that might give us a better understanding.

H.H. 16th Karmapa: His Holiness says that there are many people in the world who believe in rebirth and many who do not. But believing in rebirth goes along well with believing in the law of Karma, or cause and effect. In Buddhism, the quality of one's birth is dependent on how sincerely one has respected the law of Karma. If within this particular lifetime you perform virtuous activities, beneficial activities in terms of helping other beings, and activities of kindness and compassion, then it is possible, even certain, that you will experience a fortunate rebirth in the next lifetime.

It is like sowing a good seed and then facilitating its growth by giving it the necessary water, fertilizer and so on. By putting forth this sort of effort it's quite certain you will have a beautiful flower.

It's the same in life. If you perform beneficial activities and respect the law of Karma, there is a possibility that you will be reborn as a human being, with the opportunities and the prerequisites necessary for you to understand the profundity of the spiritual path and the spiritual practices, thus enabling yourself to progress in a non-returning direction. Whereas, if you spend your life indulging in negative activities, activities that are destructive to yourself and others, then even if you are born as a human being in the next lifetime, you may be deprived of the possibilities of further progress. You could be born into a situation of complete destitution. This sort of rebirth, unfortunately, leads to further negative activities which means suffering the consequences and then again suffering the degradation in quality of your rebirth. Putting it simply, the quality of your rebirth depends on how honestly you live up to the universal law, the law of cause and effect and result.

Q: How can we, in our present life or each life, best fulfill our destiny and be of the most service not only to mankind but to the universe in general?

H.H. 16th Karmapa: His Holiness says that the best way to fulfill your destiny in life, as well as benefiting others, is to follow the Dharma by learning and putting into practice the Mahayana teachings. But for this practice to become the foundation of your life, you must first understand the process of rebirth and gain confidence in the truth of Karma--the truth of cause and effect.

If you apply the Mahayana teachings in your life, with understanding and confidence, you will fulfill your destiny by experiencing awakening or enlightenment. Having done this, there is no doubt that you will be in a position to benefit others. Not only could you benefit human beings, but also sentient beings in general. In this respect, the teachings are very fruitful. There are many different methods or skillful means which we can apply to our own lives. The teachings speak of the six perfections of the path: perfection of generosity, perfection of discipline, perfection of patience, perfection of meditation, perfection of effort, and the perfection of wisdom. We can work toward perfecting ourselves in such a way that through inherent potential we develop our destiny while spontaneously benefiting others. Willingness as well as capability to benefit other beings comes through the development of the remaining four perfections of fruition (another of Buddha's teachings) which concern the perfection of skillful means, perfection of strength, perfection of prayer, perfection of wisdom, and the perfection of fruition.

Q: You spoke this morning about the confusion, neurosis, and suffering that we all live with, and the fact that it is intensified because it has been going on for so many lifetimes and because we live in an environment where others are in the same situation. I was wondering if you could say more about the original cause: how it got started and why it caught on the way it seems to have.

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: Both samsara and confusion are known in Buddhism as beginningless, so there is no real how or why as to the beginning of samsara or how we became caught in confusion. That is a big part of confusion, because not being able to know that is itself confusion. The positive side of confusion is that there is an end to it. If you practice, and if you get some realization, and if you achieve enlightenment, that is the end of confusion. We cannot really talk about a beginning, though.

Many traditions, actually, teach that whatever we experience in this lifetime, whether good or bad, happiness or sadness, is the outcome of good or bad activity in past lives, and whatever good or bad you do in this life affects the next life, and so forth. It is possible we may have been great practitioners in the past and, therefore, our neurosis or confusion may not be so strong in this life, and our ability to understand and achieve enlightenment will be greater than it is for others. This is because of our previous connections.

Other than that, the nature of confusion is that it has no particular beginning. Various religions in the world, thinking that there is the need to talk about a beginning to confusion, tend to blame it on a superior being, saying that such a being has punished us, and therefore we are in this particular situation. But Buddhism does not teach that there is anybody punishing us except our own karma, which is confusion.

Q: Within the different lineages of the Tibetan tradition, is it just the fact that they have been handed down through different people that separates them, or are there fundamental differences in them and how they developed? What are the differences between them?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: In the various traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, concerning the idea of the union of compassion and wisdom, there is no difference at all. Concerning the objects of refuge--the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha--there is no difference at all. The teaching, or the transmission, originated from the same source, and the goal is the same: enlightenment. What is different between the different traditions in some cases is the presentation of the order of the practice. It has been set up slightly differently, according to the insights of the various skilled teachers, so there are what are called different traditions. It is like a father having four sons. If you ask any of them who their father is, the answer will be the same, but they might live differently, and they might have different numbers of children. It is similar to that.

Q: Could you clarify for me what the differences in technique are between Buddhist meditation as practiced in Tibet versus, say, Zen Buddhism that we've heard about from Japan?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: From the point of view that the practices of different schools are all in accordance with the teachings and experiences of the Buddha, there is no difference between them--they are essentially, basically the same. Thus both Japanese Buddhists and Tibetan Buddhists relate to the Buddha as the ultimate example and source of inspiration. Yet because of the way Buddhism spread in the world and the way it was preserved, there are differences of completeness, of being more complete and being less complete or incomplete.

For instance, in Tibet what are traditionally referred to as the three yanas or three vehicles of Buddhism--the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Tantrayana or Vajrayana--are equally practiced and preserved and emphasized, whereas in many other Buddhist countries they are only partially practiced. So from that point of view, yes, there could be some differences. Then from another point of view, there are various techniques on all levels--preliminary as well as advanced levels--and because of particular lines of practice and practitioners, and also because of particular needs, certain techniques are emphasized more by some lines or schools of practice than others. So here again, there may seem to be some differences, though essentially there is no difference.

Finally, there is also the cultural aspect: how a particular gesture is done, what particular attire is put on, how certain things are set up and so forth, you know, more the physical level. In these areas, there may be some differences but again, the essential point of view is that there is not so much of a difference.

Q: There are a lot of differences between Western culture and traditional Buddhist culture. Is it necessary to believe in or understand all of the beliefs that go along with Buddhism (for example, reincarnation) in order to be a good practitioner?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: Culture is really not the key to enlightenment. There are many academic teachers who have mastered Eastern culture and have not even reached the beginning of enlightenment. Cultural beliefs do not bring people to the enlightened state. No matter what culture we belong to, everyone wants to enjoy happiness and get rid of the cause of suffering. It is not a matter of East or West. Knowing that, if you practice with the intention to provide well-being, goodness, enlightenment, and freedom from suffering and the cause of suffering impartially for every being, then you can be a good practitioner, even if you have no knowledge of Eastern culture at all.

Q: What is the viewpoint of soul in the Buddhist teaching, and what is the aim of the teaching?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: In terms of the view about soul--the Buddhist term used might be mind or consciousness. This could also be referred to by quite a number of different terms, depending on how you are relating to it. The thinking mind--this knowing ability that we have as we are living right now--is referred to as the mind or consciousness. And this mind, this consciousness, is not anything material.

Yes, we have this knowing ability, this experience of consciousness, but it is nothing material or substantial. It has no color or dimensions or form of any kind, yet it is happening all the time. And the aim of Buddhism--although it's not usually put in these terms--is to experience perfect joy and the total ability of the mind.

Q: What is faith? Is it only faith in buddha nature?

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche: I would use the word confidence rather than faith. In general, faith is not a proper term in Buddhism. The word faith can give the sense of blindness. When we say you have to have devotion to a teacher, we actually mean that you have confidence that the qualities of the teacher, of the Buddha, and of the Dharma have something that will benefit you. I think faith is different, but we might need faith in the Vajrayana.

Q: Aside from apparent doctrinal differences, is there a fundamental congruity between the quality of enlightenment the Buddha taught and the experience of universal love that Christ taught?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: Not having had much personal experience in comparative religion, I cannot definitely say. Based on what you have said, however, there appear to be similarities as well as differences. I understand that both paths teach that you should gear your actions and thoughts towards the well-being of others, so there is a common goal in this sense. On the other hand, it would seem that if there are differences in the doctrinal view, then there is going to be a difference in the experience, because the purpose of the practice is to experience what is seen as the ultimate philosophical view. For example, if someone wants to get to the east and somebody else wants to get to the west, they both may decide to walk, but still, the destinations are going to be different. So there may be similarities, but there are also key differences.

Q: Are there women scholars and teachers in Buddhism?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: Oh yes, definitely. The fact is, as I already mentioned, that differences between people are not made by things like the color of their skin or their sex or their age, but by who can generate a nobler state of mind.

Q: What makes a being sentient? Is a tree a sentient being?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: Sentient beings are those with consciousness like ourselves, and other beings who experience happiness or unhappiness, pain or pleasure. Trees are not sentient, because they lack consciousness. However, a being in the form of a spirit or something like that could inhabit a tree; you could think of this as a sentient being, but not the tree itself. For example, you do not think of someone's clothes as a being; rather, it is the person within them.

Q: Some native peoples, such as Native Americans or other shamanic tribal people around the world, believe that sentient beings or spirits exist within trees and plants and herbs and things like this. I had asked a lama about this, and he said that according to the Buddhist point of view, it is not that those trees actually have a spirit, but that there are spirits from perhaps the hungry ghost realm who take something such as a tree as their home. If we need to cut a tree down or pick herbs or whatever, is there something we can do at our level, that is very simple, to try to ensure that we are not causing harm to beings?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: Yes. According to the vinaya system, when you need to cut a tree down, you first obtain permission from the people to whom it belongs. After that, you try to get permission from the local deities through prayer or making offerings or doing a prayer of praise (TO PA). Then you cut the tree down. Until then, according to the vinaya system, you cannot just chop down trees without meeting all those conditions.

What the lama told you is very true. We should not believe that all plants or all trees have a spirit (in Tibetan we say consciousness) in them. It is not necessarily a hungry ghost. It is also possible that a being attaches to such a thing, that the being's consciousness attaches to the particular object, whether it is a tree or plant, with the belief that the plant is their own physical body. When you do not make such an offering or praise prayer as I described, these beings, or the consciousness that is being held there, will feel pain and suffering just as if someone were destroying or cutting your own body. In order to prevent such pain, these offerings and praise are necessary.

Q: ...I am asking this because we just discovered the other day that my two lamas with whom I spend most of my time are going to be leading a fire puja. They have asked us to get a lot of different types of wood, and if we cannot find it through other sources, it may be necessary for us to go and cut it ourselves. Are these prayers available so that we could use them for this?]

The prayer is not necessary. Take with you a variety of grains, all mixed together--all the sorts of grain that you have (medicinal grain)--and a little powder of precious stones. Whenever you need to cut a tree or its branches, before doing so, throw the grain and the powder of the precious stones, telling for what purpose you are going to cut it. Your cutting has a purpose. You are using it purposefully. You are not just cutting it without a goal. Make a request, just as though you were talking to a person, telling the spirit (if you want to call it that) or the consciousness not to be possessive of that tree or whatever you are going to cut; not to be attached to it. Having said that and having made those offerings, you can proceed.

Q: ...What do you mean by the powder of a precious stone?]

Translator: It can be any precious stone, such as turquoise or coral--not ordinary ones you would find on the ground. You make a powder of them and mix them together.]

Q: I have two questions. The first question concerns the different realms. I wonder if the six different realms are all on this earth or in the earth or around this planet? Are they around this planet, because you mentioned that the gods also take dwelling places on this planet? Or is there some other location? And the other question is: when you talk about "limitless," such as limitless kalpas, is that because it is really limitless or because it is limitless to our minds?

Translator: It is the name of a kalpa. "Limitless" constitutes sixty zeros. That is one limitless kalpa. Because there are sixty zeros, there is no word for that big a number, so we call it limitless.]

Q: Is it the same, concerning the hell realm, which eventually you will get out of, but it is so long that it is almost limitless?]

Translator: Sixty zeros, yes.]

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: The answer to your question about the location of the realms is that it varies. The Buddha gave teachings such as the vinaya and abhidharma which are concerned with the relative existence or appearance of phenomena. In accordance with that approach, the Buddha gave the locations of realms to help ordinary beings to relate to the idea.

In that explanation, the hell realm was in the depths of the earth. Higher up, encompassing places in the earth and water, is the animal realm. The hungry ghost realm is between the hell and animal realms. The human realm is on the surface of the earth. The jealous god realm is above that of the humans and below that of the gods. The god realms are up in the sky like the stars, and they could also be on the earth.

However, at a more advanced intellectual level, in the higher teachings, Buddha has explained that there is no definite location of the realms. It is all karmic perception. Wherever we are, based on our karma, we conceive that realm. For example, think of this room. For us, this room is a nice, comfortable room. That is a human karmic perception. If a hell being came here, for that being, this room turns into molten, boiling lava. It is no longer a room. Similarly, for a hungry ghost, this room would become a very hot and painful experience. If a god came here, this room would become a palace or a paradise. One place can be perceived differently by different beings, so there is no particular location in terms of the higher teachings.

Q: For practitioners, aside from individual practice, are there any particular pujas or practices that we could perform that would help beings who have descended to the lower realms?]

There is no particular sadhana, chant, or prayer. Every prayer of Mahayana Buddhism is based on beginning with developing what is called altruistic or enlightened mind (bodhicitta), wishing to benefit limitless sentient beings (limitless in the sense of the beings of the six realms). Beginning with that motivation, any practice of Mahayana is aimed in that direction. It further depends on how intensely we practice, how intensely we believe in benefiting others, or how sincerely we want to help limitless sentient beings. That is very much individual. With proper motivation, any practice of Mahayana would have that benefit.

Q: What are your views on abortion?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: In general, abortion is killing. It accumulates the negative karma involved with taking life. Abortion is definitely a matter of taking life, since the Buddha said that once a being is conceived it is complete life, even though the being has not completely developed physically. We discussed earlier that killing one's father and mother are immeasurable crimes. Therefore, from a spiritual point of view, it is not appropriate to destroy one's own child or any life, for that matter. The negative karma is very serious. Personally, I would not encourage anybody to do it.

Q: Today there is political controversy over this issue, concerning whether it should be legal. Would Buddhism stand behind making abortion illegal?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: The Buddhist teachings we have been studying here are about avoiding the ten unvirtuous actions, and taking life is one of those unvirtuous actions. Therefore abortion is certainly not regarded as positive, spiritually speaking. Making abortion against the law is a different matter, however. I think people need to understand why abortion is negative, rather than simply making a law against it. In the past in Tibet, the need for abortion and the problem of overpopulation did not really exist. The problem of abortion is a present problem, and we have to go along with what we can do best to solve the problem.

Q: What about birth control?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: In Tibet there was no birth control either. They just went along with fate. They believed in karma. If a child was to be conceived, they accepted that, and if there was not any conception, they thought there was no karma for them to have children. However, from my personal point of view again, preventing pregnancy beforehand (with whatever method you use) is much, much better than abortion, and I do not think it is negative. I am just giving you a suggestion or advice about what we could do at present, but in the past no such problem existed.

Q: If you have had an abortion, do you just sit and wait until your life is over to go to hell?

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche: No, and that is the advantage of having knowledge of the Dharma. In the Dharma it is taught that although the negative karma is definitely negative, the positive aspect of the negative karma is that if we acknowledge it, there is always a method to purify it. If you are a practitioner (or a religious person) and have engaged in such a thing, you need to apply the practice of purification to purify it. That is the advantage of being a practitioner. A non-practitioner may not be able to acknowledge and apply such a technique, so we must make use of our religious knowledge in that way.