The Wheel of Conditioned Existence
Venerable Khenpo Karma Namgyal
The Wheel of Conditioned Existence
in the Context of the Four Noble Truths
I want to thank you for having come here to receive Dharma teachings and greet you all kindly. I will speak about the twelve links of dependent arising as depicted in the Wheel of Existence and the Four Noble Truths. These topics are very sacred and important and explaining them in detail would go beyond the frame of this seminar. The instructions on the twelve links of dependent arising and the Four Noble Truths are exceptional and specific to Buddhism; they are not taught in other traditions.
We are all in samsara, "cyclic existence," and see people who adopt Buddhism and others who reject it. We meet many people who follow other religions. We all live on the earth as human beings. There are religious traditions that teach its followers that mankind was created by a god. Yet other traditions teach its disciples that there is no reason or cause for the world and life, so there are various models that explain the origin of life on earth. Buddhism teaches us that the world and living beings arise due to the twelve links of dependent arising.
Many religious traditions prevailed in India before Lord Buddha turned the Wheel of Dharma more than 2.500 years ago. There are probably many explanations on how the world arose in the West, too, but I am not acquainted with them. Generally, most religious proponents believe that an all-mighty god created everything that exists. Hinduism also teaches that everything was created by Brahma and states that various other gods like Shiva, Vishnu, and Indra are responsible for specific aspects that existence brings along. Buddhism does not speak about a creator, rather teaches that living beings as well as the world arise due to living beings' karma and that is why they are bound in cyclic existence, which is the context of the teachings on the twelve links of dependent arising. Even when the Four Noble Truths are presented, no reference to a creator is ever made. So, the various religious belief systems see things differently and offer a great variety of practices that their disciples are free to follow, for instance, thinking that if the creator they believe in is pleased with them, then they will be healthy and beautiful. These same people fear that if the creator they believe in is displeased with them, then they might become blind or crippled. They think that making offerings to the god they adore will make him happy and then they will have a good life and be born in a heavenly realm after they die. This is why some people still make animal sacrifices to the god they praise, hoping to some day have a better life. The great variety of practices that people carry out are strictly based upon their beliefs.
Buddhists do not believe in a creator and are therefore not preoccupied with pleasing a god, rather understand that everyone creates his or her own experiences and is therefore responsible for whatever occurs and happens. For instance, if Buddhists fear being born in hell, then they learn that it is necessary to stop doing bad things. They also learn that if they want to experience happiness and joy, then they need to engage in wholesome actions. Therefore, it is important that teachings on giving up bad actions, in order not to have to experience hell, and on engaging in beneficial activities, in order to have a good life, must be made available to disciples.
To exemplify this: There are many offices in the West. If I was the boss of some big office and had a brother who cannot speak, write, and see, I could give him a demanding job, but it would serve no purpose. In the same manner, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have compassion for and think of us, but they cannot free us from our negative karma. How do the prayers we recite help, then? How does the recitation of the various prayers, like "The Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer" function? I think that fortitude is generated in one's own mind when one sincerely recites the prayers - one receives the blessings of the Lamas due to one's devotion.
Everyone here tries to do good and engages in Dharma activities. What does one concentrate on while trying to do one's best? There are three types of living beings: great, middling, and small. A great being is moved by a great motivation, which is to help all living beings attain freedom from the rounds of suffering that conditioned existence inevitably entails. A middling being is concerned about personally becoming free from samsara that is marked by anguish and pain. Members and visitors of the Theksum Tashi Chöling Dharma Center have experienced and seen suffering, want to help others, are therefore active by making donations, practicing meditation, reciting the Mani-Mantra, and so forth. You do this and are concentrated on helping others become free from suffering and pain.
If one understands the twelve links of dependent arising, if one studies them seriously and knows them, it will be very helpful for one's Dharma practice. Being a Buddhist, then one will mature quite
well while practicing the path of Buddhism.
Srid-pa'i--khor-lo in Tibetan (bhavanachakra in Sanskrit) is a pictorial representation of the Wheel of Existence. Many of you have probably seen it at the entrance to Tibetan Monasteries, where it is always depicted. It is not only a specific custom in Tibet to have a mural of the Wheel of Existence directly at the entrance to a monastic centre. Lord Buddha taught that every monastery should have a picture of the Wheel of Life or the Wheel of Becoming, as it is also called, readily available for people to see. Just seeing this mural awakens insight and certainty in the Dharma and will inspire and help anyone who sees it abandon unwholesome activities and do good.
The picture of the Wheel of Existence shows a huge wheel held by a monster that clutches it with its fangs. The monster is not Mahakala. Usually there is a great deal of discussion about demons. The monster in the mural is called "the demon of death" and is an example. It is a fact that the moment one is born, one is subject to death. It is certain that everyone will die one day. Just seeing this picture awakens awareness of impermanence in the mind of the one who sees it. Being aware of impermanence changes one's behaviour. As long as one is not aware of impermanence, one can see no reason to lead a meaningful life. By looking at the mural again and again, gradually a devotee wins
a better understanding of deceptive beliefs in cyclic existence.
The Twelve Links of Dependent Arising - rTen--brel-bcu-gnis
Usually there is no starting point or end to a wheel, so the rim of the Wheel of Existence is divided into twelve sections. It is good if one counts them at the start, so we will begin with the first icon that is called "not knowing," ma-rig-pa. It is represented by a blind man who is slowly working his way forwards with the help of his cane.
1) Not knowing - Ma-rig-pa
What does not knowing, usually translated as "ignorance," actually mean? Being deluded and
therefore confused. The main reason one is born in samsara is due to not knowing. What does one not know? The true nature of samsara. One resembles the blind man in the icon who is poking his way through life with his cane, believing that by going this way or that way he will get where he wants to go.
Let's imagine a huge football field and arena and think of the blind man with his cane. He may turn towards the east or towards the south. He doesn't know where he will land, so he will probably err. We, too, err. For example, driving a car or motorcycle in Nepal is a tricky matter, but I know which roads to take when driving from my monastery to Boudhanath. I know all one-way roads - where it is allowed to turn to the left, to the right, and what is forbidden. Sometimes I think that I would like to drive in Hamburg, but then I see that it is very dangerous, because I do not know which streets to take - maybe the police will catch me if I do something wrong. If we are on the road and do not know how to reach our goal, we will probably not arrive at our destination, but end up somewhere else.
As to our practice of the Dharma, we first need to learn the remedy to overcome not knowing. Of course, not knowing will always accompany us until we attain Buddhahood. It is impossible to eliminate not knowing fully until then, but when one has relinquished it, then one will no longer be entangled in samsara depicted in the Wheel of Existence, but will have surmounted it and be a Buddha. This is not the only accomplishment of a Buddha, but one of them. Practitioners will always have a larger or lesser degree of not knowing until they reach full enlightenment.
There are two categories of not knowing. There is not knowing mixed with the kleshas, "the defiled, afflictive, disturbing emotions," and there is not knowing free of the kleshas. All living beings have ignorance that is mixed with the kleshas, i.e., the kleshas arise in accordance with one's personal karma while one is confused and ignorant. This is very strong ignorance. If one looks at one's own mind, then it is very hard to realize that one is fettered by ignorance mixed with kleshas, nyon-mongs in Tibetan. It is not easy to recognize which klesha prevails in one's own mind. It is quite difficult to realize when one's mind is afflicted and when it isn't. We don't have this realization, so it is not easy for us to distinguish.
When not knowing mixed with afflictive emotions arises, one will probably not be aware of this. It is very hard recognizing not knowing mixed with emotions. One accumulates negative karma when one is angry, for instance. It is evident that the reason one accumulates very negative karma is due to not knowing mixed with negative emotions. So that describes the first of the twelve links of dependent arising, which is the basis for accumulating karma, link two.
There are various English translations for the second link, -du-byed, maybe "karmic formations" would be fitting. Karmic formations or karmic creation means to act out and accumulate karma. I will speak about karma later, will now continue spreading the news about ma-rig-pa. It is important to understand how hate, for example, arises in one's mind due to not knowing; then one can see and do something about it. Due to not knowing mixed with afflictive emotions, one accumulates negative karma, which harms oneself in one's next life as well as in this life, too. One only experiences difficulties if one acts out one's anger and then gets into trouble with the police, has trouble fighting a lawsuit in court, and so forth.
There are many divisions of kleshas, for instance, the three or five main mental defilements. They are based on not knowing. This is rather hard for beginning students of Buddhism to understand. An Arya, on the other hand, i.e., a noble, advanced practitioner, does understand the workings of the mental defilements and has surmounted them.
There is a difference between mental afflictions, though, whether they openly manifest or not. For instance, if I am very angry and riot while seated on the throne, then my anger would manifest quite clearly, but I could just as well sit here and smile and then my anger would not manifest openly. Nobody is making you angry at the moment, or? No, nobody here is angry right now. But if someone falls asleep and I were to throw my mala at that person, he or she would wake up shocked, would probably be upset, and his or her anger would somehow become apparent. Everyone here is peaceful right now, nevertheless everyone has mental afflictions.
The main purpose of practicing the Dharma is to diminish one's mental afflictions. If a follower has relinquished them entirely, then that is first-class practice. We are concerned about diminishing the kleshas and through practice would counteract not knowing mixed with the kleshas. If one succeeds, then one doesn't accumulate bad karma anymore. As a result, one isn't subject to the twelve links of dependent origination and thus does not need to experience the suffering that samsara unremittingly brings on.
Generally, the kleshas are extremely hard to give up, especially pride, nga-rgyäl in Tibetan. One does walk down the street thinking one is super and is very proud and convinced of oneself. What is so deceptive about pride? For instance, one enters the Dharma, starts practicing a bit, and eventually becomes proud of having practiced for maybe 20 years, for having completed a three-year retreat, or for having studied a lot. The more a follower practices, the more likely that person might become proud. Someone who listens to a practitioner boast of having done so much may think, "In that case, I will take refuge in him." If that same person understands the Dharma, then they will think, "Oh, I have great compassion for him, because he has practiced to reduce his kleshas and they are increasing instead." Actually, all kleshas are hard to eliminate, but I think that pride is most difficult to overcome. Of course, everyone is proud of having accomplished something - me too. I often think that I was very fortunate to have become a monk when I was very young and was able to study as much as I did. Then I notice that I have again become proud. So, there are three or five main kleshas mixed with not knowing. They are: greed, anger, jealousy, miserliness, and pride.
Envy or jealousy, phrag-dog in Tibetan, is so uncalled for and helps nobody at all, neither oneself nor others. What happens when one is jealous? If one sees that someone has something nice, one envies that person. For instance, if one day a friend bought a beautiful bicycle and I felt envious, then due to jealousy I might let all the air out of his tires after he locked his bike and left for a short while. I wouldn't do this - it was only an example -, but people do things like that because of jealousy.
Jealousy arises in people very easily when many people get together, but again, it is a mental defilement that helps nobody at all. For instance, when in a group, one might see someone and think, "Oh, she is doing something very good. She is really advancing through practice and will become very popular. I don't like that. What can I do to ruin her reputation?" If one thinks like that, then it is not knowing mixed with the mental defilement of jealousy. One can give up such a trait if one becomes aware of it. As long as one doesn't recognize that one is jealous when one is, then it will grow and grow and only get worse and worse. To summarize the impact that not knowing mixed with mental defilements has: One accumulates bad karma due to not knowing in association with the mental defilements.
Looking at the Wheel, there are five sections between the spokes that depict the five destinies of samsara, "conditioned existence." Why are there these five realms of existence and how are they created? Living beings accumulate karma and are born in one of the realms due to a specific predisposition. The godly realm is not a paradise reserved for Shiva or Vishnu and their disciples.
So far, I have spoken about accumulating karma mixed with the mental afflictions. One doesn't only accumulate karma in association with the kleshas, but one also accumulates karma when acting out not knowing that is not mixed with a klesha. For example, if a friend drops by for a visit, one offers him tea and a nice meal, because one likes him. Or one gives a beggar one sees while taking a walk through town money, because one thinks it is a good thing to do. Or a doctor helps his patients. In these cases, the intention is very good, but it is still based on not knowing and therefore is an accumulation of karma, too. Nevertheless, not knowing in the above cases is not mixed with kleshas and therefore is an accumulation of good karma. Being in samsara and experiencing the results of one's karma is then pleasant, i.e., one will be reborn as a god or in another higher realm of samsara and will experience happiness and joy. Yet, this experience is based on not knowing.
What is the opposite of ma-rig-pa? Rig-pa, which is superior knowledge won through learning that living beings are subject to and fettered by all twelve links of dependent arising. Understanding the twelve links is the antidote to ma-rig-pa. As a result, one is inspired to follow the Great Middle Way and counteracts ma-rig-pa thoroughly. If one can accumulate positive karma by making offerings to a Dharma centre, for instance, and by examining one's own mind so that one does not act in dependence upon kleshas when one sees that they have arisen in one's mind, then that is the method to swiftly counteract not knowing and to win correct understanding. The difference between ma-rig-pa and rig-pa is whether one spins around in samsara or whether one enters nirvana, i.e., not knowing causes one to aimlessly wander around in samsara and knowing enables one to pass beyond samsara and enter nirvana.
Ever since I was very young, I always asked myself, "Why do we all have a mind that is so afflicted and causes us to wander around in samsara?" This question can only be answered by practicing, by looking at one's own mind, and it is very important to recognize whether kleshas have arisen and whether one is ignorant or not.
The Perspective: The great amount of kleshas are summarized in the five main mental defilements that one needs to recognize when they arise in one's mind. They are also referred to as "the five mind poisons." You have heard many Lamas teach about the five mind poisons, but you should know that pride and jealousy are most crucial. Please remember the five main mind poisons and recognize them when they arise in your mind. When summarized as three, the main mind poisons are ignorance, attachment, and aversion. When summarized as five, jealousy and pride are counted too. One accumulates negative karma based on one's mind poisons.
Pride is a very subtle mental defilement. Sometimes one sits down and tells oneself, "Oh, I am such a harmless person and wouldn't hurt a flea. I am so good." There is a Tibetan word for this, snyam-shog, which means sitting there and thinking, "I'm such a sensible and sensitive person." These thoughts are only based on pride.
Returning to ma-rig-pa, I usually fall asleep after sitting for a long time, which is referred to as "mental dullness." It is another way of describing not knowing. In any case, I just happen to fall asleep. If someone gives a friend a present, I do think, "Why is he giving him a present and not me?" We all have kleshas and recognizing them is already very good. If one doesn't curb them because one doesn't recognize them, then they become bigger and bigger. Accumulating positive karma while having ignorance that is not associated with kleshas is good. Everyone should practice in that way as best as possible - accumulate wholesome karma that is not associated and mixed with the kleshas. If one practices the paths and works to achieve the ten Bodhisattva stages of
accomplishment, then not knowing must be relinquished, which is not possible right now. Therefore we accumulate as much good karma as we can. By accumulating positive karma, one will later have a pleasant life and can make good use of it by continuing to practice and by accumulating positive karma. It is like a businessman who invests what he has earned by selling his products at the market and then increases his wealth, until he becomes a millionaire. We, too, should work to become millionaires of good karma.
Question: How can one accumulate good karma as long as one is ignorant?
Khenpo: The difference between ignorance and understanding is that ignorance keeps us fettered in samsara, whereas understanding frees us from samsara. Positive karma does not free anyone from samsara. We are in samsara and we have a good life due to good karma. Hwa Shang, who came from China and tried to introduce his version of Buddhism in Tibet, for example, did not agree on this point. At the great debate that took place along the Tsangpo River near Samye Monastery he said that just as black clouds cover the sun, white clouds also cover the sun. "Therefore," he argued, "both non-virtuous and virtuous thoughts and actions obstruct the omniscient state of Buddhahood." He taught that for this reason it is not necessary to accumulate good karma. He brought another example and said that it doesn't matter to a prisoner if he is laid in gold chains or iron chains, but this view is not good. We should not accept his position, because we should accumulate as much good karma as possible by persevering in our practice. Good karma leads to a good existence in samsara, even though it is still based on not knowing. It is very important to accumulate good karma as long as one is in samsara and until one has become free.
Question: How does one develop shes-rab, "superior knowledge"?
Khenpo: There is superior knowledge and method. One needs superior knowledge so that one can practice the method and vice versa; they belong together, so one practices both. Bodhisattvas practice both and stay in samsara until it is emptied. Method combined with wisdom is the tool they have. Wisdom enables them to stay in samsara without suffering, whereas the method enables them to help others, i.e., they have the power due to their excellent accumulation of wisdom and merit to be wherever they are in order to help others. Method and insight is their tool. It would be very good for everyone to reach that state, so we should all hope
2) Karmic Creation - -Du-byed
Let us look at the Tibetan term for the second link in the twelve links of dependent arising, which is -du-byed. -Du means "a form" and byed means "to do, to make," so -du-byed means "to make something." In the Wheel, the second link shows a potter who is making a pot. This icon symbolizes how karma is collected and should be understood in this manner. What is the main cause for collecting karma? The main cause is not knowing, the first link.
We are always doing something and before we do anything, the thought first comes to our mind. This thought can be associated with a klesha or it might not be based on a mental defilement, as is the case when one is nice to a friend. A third way of doing something is not really thinking about it beforehand, but simply going about one's business playfully.
Since one is always doing something, one continuously accumulates karma based upon one's intention, which is necessarily one of the three kinds that one has: a negative intention of not knowing in association with a klesha, a positive intention of not knowing that is not mixed with a klesha, or an indifferent intention that is not associated with a thought or klesha at all. Every action that is carried out presupposes one of these three types of intentions: negative, positive, or neutral. It is very important to examine and be aware of one's motivation before doing anything and as a result of gathering karma. You are Dharma practitioners and therefore it is important that you examine your mind and recognize your motivation. If you are aware of what you are doing, then you will be able to accumulate positive karma.
There are many Buddhists in Tibet, just like here. There was a Kadampa scholar named Geshe Pen who always examined his own mind. It is a custom in the Himalayan Kingdoms for monks to visit people and perform rituals on their behalf. One day Geshe Pen entered the home of a sponsor he visited regularly, but nobody was there. He saw a bowl of tsampa, "barley porridge," on the table and recognized his bad intention the moment he stretched out his hand to take a handful. He shouted real loud so that the sponsor heard him from afar, "Come real fast. A thief is in your house." The sponsor ran as fast as he could, arrived, and asked, "Where is the thief?" Geshe held out his own hand and answered, "Here." We should examine and recognize our own mind just as precisely as Geshe Pen. Then we will be good practitioners, will counteract the first link of not knowing, and our mental afflictions will diminish.
When it comes to computers, viruses are another example of what awareness is like. It is possible to protect one's computer by buying an anti-virus program that checks if one's computer has caught a virus the moment one pushes the start button. When I didn't have an anti-virus program, loads of data that I had collected were one day deleted and lost. I had to start all over from scratch and learned to protect my data by buying an anti-virus program. In the same manner, one avoids much trouble and difficulties if one guards one's own mind.
As said, one accumulates negative karma based upon not knowing mixed with mental afflictions, the three main ones being not knowing or ignorance, attachment, and aversion, the other two being jealousy and pride. Therefore, one develops a mind associated with one of the five realms of existence that are depicted between the spokes in the picture of the Wheel. As a result, one finds oneself reborn in the realm one is connected with most strongly. If the klesha of desire is dominant in one's mind, then between death and rebirth one generates a mind that drives one to take on birth as a human being.
There is a great variety of human beings living in the world and consequently an immense variety of ways to think and see things, but all human beings do have karma in common. I travel a lot and leave again. In the West I see tall and well-built people with blonde hair, in Nepal short and poorly people with dark hair, but people are quite similar all over the world. If one speaks with persons from different countries, one discovers that they have similar thoughts, which shows that human beings have karma in common. When one accumulates karma, one develops a predisposition in one's mind, therefore it is good to be aware of one's actions so that one attains a good rebirth. As mentioned, there are five main causes for accumulating karma. One accumulates karma based on the five main mental afflictions and as a result is born in one of the five realms of samsara. And so, that is why five realms are depicted in the mural of the Wheel of Existence. Of course, one cannot see the entirety of samsara by just looking at the pictures, which are only examples. Let me speak about the causality of the five realms of samsaric existence now.
Causality of the Five Realms of Cyclic Existence Based on the Five Main Mind Poisons
The five realms of cyclic existence, samsara, are: hell realm (dmyäl-ba), hungry ghost realm (yi-drag), animal realm (dÃ¼d--gro), human realm (mi), jealous god realm (lha-ma-ying), and god realm (lha).
Someone who mainly has the mind poison of desire, -död-chags, and accumulates karma is born as a human being. Desire means craving for and being attached to objects that are apprehended with one's mind. Hoping to be born in the human realm by increasing one's desire is not what is meant, since birth as a human being is accomplished by having accumulated positive karma while being attached to apprehensions. One's karma hurls or throws one into a human existence. There are so very many different kinds of human existences that vary as to the degree of suffering or happiness that is experienced, which depends upon an individual's karma. It would go beyond the scope of this seminar to explain individual karma satisfactorily. In any case, every human being also has individual karma that differs immensely from one person to another.
Again, the main cause for being born as a human being is desire and craving. I could hardly believe this when I was young, because it seemed that animals have more desire. But when one looks more closely, one does see that human beings are never content, no matter how much they have. People collect so many things and never seem to have enough. If someone owns a house, they want two or a thousand. When I first visited Germany, I wanted to see other European countries and one day thought that I wanted to visit America, too - in the meantime I want to see the whole world. Human beings are hardly ever satisfied and one will hardly ever meet a millionaire who thinks he or she has enough. So, desire is the reason humans are born as humans.
Dharma practitioners should feel content with whatever they have, know that they have more than enough, and be grateful. The Tibetan term chok-shes means "contentment," i.e., one knows that one has enough.
Animals are flung into an existence in the animal realm due to the power of their own mental dullness, gti-mug in Tibetan. If one is honest, animals do not crave as much as human beings and have less desire. Taking a dog, a cat, a cow, or an ox, they are satisfied when they have finished eating. After a good meal, they go away, return to the fields, do this or that, and do not make plans like people do, who think, "I have this now, need more next year, and when I have all that, then I can use it in eight or ten years," etc. Animals are satisfied when they have had enough to eat that very same day. Mental dullness is the karma that causes living beings to be born as animals. They are born with a specific body, have a specific mind, dwell in apathy and torpor, and aren't as greedy as humans.
Being born as what is called "a god" in the realm of the gods is due to very positive karma, but these beings have one big problem and that is their pride, nga-rgyäl in Tibetan. Gods have a magnificent and healthy body, have more than anyone could possibly hope to have, but they sit around in a splendid garden all day and are proud. In fact, they are so absorbed in their pride that the thought of practicing the Dharma would not even occur to them. I have never seen anything in real life that would resemble the description of life in the gods' realm, but that is how it is said to be.
If human beings are very beautiful, healthy, and strong, and live a life without worries or needs, then they don't even think of turning their mind towards the Dharma. It is very hard for such people to see a reason or understand the necessity of practicing the Dharma. When they do happen to go to a center and meet with the Dharma, they see it as a playground - no more. Therefore it is good if you have a few difficulties in your Dharma practice. Many of the most renowned Tibetan and Indian practitioners went through breathtaking hardships in order to practice the Dharma, for instance, JetsÃ¼n Milarepa. You can read about the hardships he endured in books.
Life in the West is similar to life in the realm of the gods. Western children and young people are very healthy, are spoiled, and don't have many problems. When they get old and run into difficulties, they may regret their past lifestyle. In any case, this happens to the gods, who are extremely spoiled. When they see that their time in the heavenly realm is over and that they are about to die, they suffer immensely, whereas difficulties inspire a Dharma practitioner.
Being born in the realm of the jealous gods as a jealous god is another deceptive destiny that is due to the power of having succumbed to jealousy, phrag-dog in Tibetan. If someone is jealous but accumulates positive karma with the wish to be born in one of the three higher realms of existence, then he or she lands in the realm of the demi-gods. What is life like there? They constantly fight with the gods in the realm above theirs, because they envy the gods, and that is their lifestyle.
Having discussed the mind poisons of desire, stupidity, pride, and jealousy, let us now take a closer look at hatred, zhe-sdang in Tibetan, that everyone has and that brings on anger and all its devastating forms, like wrath, rage, grudge, hostility, maliciousness, etc. When someone is very resentful and becomes angry, khong-khro in Tibetan, then they see everything tainted in that colour. How do you see things when you are angry?
Student: In red.
Khenpo: First of all, when one is very upset and angry, one cannot remember anything and doesn't apprehend things as one does when one isn't angry. If I were to look at my friend Karin here while angry, I could even imagine how someone beats her up - of course, we don't want this to happen, it was only an example.
Question: How does one see when one is angry?
Khenpo: Based upon one's own anger, one apprehends things in that light. If one accumulates karma mixed with hatred and aggression, then that is the primary cause to be reborn in the hell realm. There is nobody who does not have aversion and isn't angry on and off.
As human beings, desire and craving are naturally very strong and there is not much one can really do about it, whereas hatred and aversion arise less often - maybe only once or twice a day, or maybe only once or twice a month. Perhaps a good person becomes angry once or twice a year. How often do you feel hatred and become angry? Please check this. It is important to look at one's own mind and notice when one's aggression becomes overwhelmingly strong. One understands that desire is a feature of being a human being and can cause much aggression in one's mind. Therefore one tries to reduce one's hatred and anger.
Miserliness, ser-sna in Tibetan, is the last of the five main mind poisons that needs to be understood well so that one can diminish and eventually give it up, too. Let us imagine that someone else wants the apple one just laid on the table and that one doesn't give it away because one is stingy - eventually the apple rots and helped nobody. Some people even have storehouses they keep stacked with goods that they do not share with the needy, while they do watch their things being eaten up in no time by worms.
A living being is later born in the realm of the hungry ghosts due to the force of the mind poison of miserliness. The realm of the hungry ghosts has that name, because there is nothing to eat or drink in that very destitute place, so beings born there are always hungry and thirsty.
We were not born in a low place like the hungry ghost realm or in a place that goes through times of war. We are strong and healthy, so we can accumulate positive karma. Looking at the Wheel of Existence encourages us to engage in Dharma practice and to always help others, especially those who are in need.
The Perspective: The main reason one wanders in samsara endlessly is not knowing, i.e., ignorance, which is the first link of dependent arising. One accumulates karma due to ignorance and consequently develops and intensifies a consciousness that is destined and driven to experience one of the five realms of cyclic existence. Through the force of the second link of karmic creation, also called "karmic formation," one accumulates karma based upon one's dominant mind poison.
One's mind at the time of death is most decisive when it comes to one's next birth, therefore it is very important to be aware of one's mind poisons while one is dying, which isn't possible if one suddenly dies in an accident. If one becomes sick and dies slowly, one experiences the gradual dissolution of one's physical elements. Should one be able to abide in ease when the physical dissolution of one's body sets in, then one will be reborn with a healthy body and in a conducive and good environment. This is explained in great detail in the Bardo instructions.
It is crucial to know what kind of mind one wants to develop. Does one wish to develop and increase a mind that experiences a higher rebirth or not? By knowing that one's future lies in one's own hands, one more likely will do one's best to accumulate positive karma. If you have any questions, please ask.
Question: It doesn't seem to be very enticing to be reborn in the realm of the gods, because I cannot practice Dharma and attain enlightenment there. It looks like it's best to be reborn as a human being. This may sound simple, but I don't want to be reborn as a god, because then I cannot develop and mature. Can you say something about this?
Khenpo: Accumulating the prerequisites to be born as a human being is not only based on desire, although it is a decisive factor. Practitioners can make wishing prayers to attain a precious human birth. Our wishing prayers become a condition and are an important factor to be born as a human being again. You will never find a Buddhist prayer in which one prays to be born in the realm of the gods; rather one aspires to attain a human birth that enables one to become free of the major mind poisons. This doesn't mean to say that one prays to have the same cup that one is using now when one returns. One doesn't eliminate desire fully, rather one tries to decrease all mental afflictions, such as pride, aversion, etc. and one furthermore tries to accumulate good karma while making wishing prayers. I think that's a very good basis to attain a good human birth. We also recite the wishing prayer to be reborn in the Pure Land of Devachen and that is a very good aspiration and thought.
Next question: What are demi-gods? It is said that they fight because the root of the luxuries enjoyed in the realm of the gods lies in their realm. They think all the luxuries belong to them.
Khenpo: The teachings speak of a wish-fulfilling tree and say that its roots grow in the realm of the demi-gods and its fruits and leaves fall to the ground in the realm of the gods. The demi-gods look up and see the gods enjoy the delicious fruits of the wish-fulfilling tree and think, "The root of the tree grows in our realm, but we cannot enjoy the fruits." They are upset, try to fell the tree, but can't, and therefore fight. Since we cannot see this for ourselves, it's hard for us to believe, but that's the way it's said to be. Similar battles are fought on earth, too. For instance, there is the big river flowing through different districts in India, so, although those districts are a part of India, they fight over water-rights.
Student: Why aren't the gods jealous when they are attacked by the demi-gods?
Khenpo: There is no reason for the gods to be jealous when they look downwards at the demi-gods, because jealousy is directed towards those who have more and are well-off.
Student: She said "suffering," Leid in German, and not Neid, "jealousy."
Translator: Oh, sorry.
Khenpo: The gods probably do not experience much suffering, because they have a huge body that cannot be hurt or destroyed by the demi-gods.
Student: This means that the gods are not very loving and kind. They kill the demi-gods.
Khenpo: Actually, they are normal living beings like us. We have been born as humans due to our dominant mind poison of desire, but we also have the other mind poisons. Gods are reborn due to their dominant mind poison of pride and dwell in their pride, which doesn't mean that the other mind poisons don't arise in their mind once in a while. Take someone who has had the opportunity to study a lot, gets good grades, and finds a good job after graduation. Everything goes well for that person, but it can happen that he loses his job and then finds himself in a bad situation - fertig, "finished." And so, Buddhists never make wishing prayers to be born in the realm of the gods. On the contrary, we pray that we aren't born there. We pray, "May I be reborn as a human being so that I can practice the Dharma." We never pray, "May I be born rich" either. If you are rich, then you are busy and then one day fertig, "finished."
The Three Main Mind Poisons - Dug-gsum
And so, we continue circling around in samsara by looking at the three figures at the hub of the Wheel of Existence in order to win a deeper understanding of samsara. The three animals represent the "three main mind poisons," dug-gsum in Tibetan. The pig symbolizes utter stupidity, the snake symbolizes immense hatred, and the bird symbolizes extreme greed.
Almost everyone is afraid of snakes. A friend of mine had a plastic snake and even it scared me. Some people aren't afraid of live snakes and let them hang around their neck. I don't know how they manage not to be afraid. The bird symbolizes extreme greed and I just don't understand why. There are many pigeons flocked together on the rooftops of buildings in Kathmandu and they are probably very greedy. Pigs, that symbolize utter stupidity, are rather lazy and only eat and sleep. Based upon the force of these three mind poisons, living beings accumulate karma and wander and err through samsara as a result, i.e., the three mind poisons are the primary cause that living beings are entangled in samsara and are therefore depicted as the three animals that seem to symbolize them the best.
We have gone through the links of ignorance, karmic creation, and a little through the third link, which is consciousness. I would like to continue talking about link two a little more, because it deals with karma.
The Ten Nonvirtues and Ten Virtues - Mi-dge-ba-bcu-dang-dge-ba-bcu
It is generally taught that there is good karma and bad karma, good activities and bad activities, i.e., "virtue and vice," dge-mi-dge in Tibetan. Karma is collected through the three gates that are body, speech, and mind. This means to say that the ten virtuous activities as well as the ten nonvirtuous activities are both carried out with one's body, speech, and mind.
The Seven Nonvirtues of Body and Speech
There are many nonvirtuous activities that one carries out with one's physical body, summarized in the three main ones, which are killing, taking what is not given, and engaging in sexual misconduct. They may seem easy to avoid, but are hard to put into practice. Buddhists have no trouble not to kill. One will hardly see a Buddhist take a knife and go out to harm the life-force of another living being. It is difficult for a butcher who has become a Buddhist to give up his profession and find a new job, though. When I was little I killed a lot of flies and insects by hitting at them. You too? No? Yes? I didn't kill big animals. Of course, everyone steps on bugs and insects when walking down the street and kills them, but one does not intend to do this, so I don't think that this is what is referred to here.
If one has accumulated very bad karma by having killed many beings intentionally, then one will have developed a consciousness to be reborn in the hell realm. Yet, having been born in the human realm now, many people are always sick or get sick for a long period of time. They run from one doctor to the next, but the doctors cannot diagnose a specific illness and therefore cannot help them. I have met many people who suffer in this way, and it is a result of having killed many beings in a past life.
A Dharma follower practices mind training, develops Bodhicitta, and meditates, thereby reducing the propensity to catch acute sicknesses and diseases and patiently accepts smaller ailments that engender subsequent knowledge. An advanced practitioner finally exhausts his or her negative karma through practicing the teachings and then doesn't get sick any more. So, there is no need for practitioners of mind training to worry about getting sick or to be overly happy when they aren't sick either - and they should not forget to take the medicine a doctor prescribes when they do get sick. It's already very good if beginners who can't engage in many meditation practices or who aren't able to make larger donations merely stop killing, because then they have eliminated the cause to be born in a lower realm of existence where they experience immense suffering and pain; they have also eliminated the cause to get sick and to die young.
The second physical nonvirtue is taking what is not given, which means stealing. There are many reasons one steals - out of hatred, greed, or stupidity, but greed is the main reason why someone steals. There are many results of having stolen in one's past life. For example, some people invest their money in a huge enterprise but lose everything, or some people seem to always lose things. I lose things easily but am not worried, because I know that it's a result of my own previous negative karma. If one thinks about it in this manner, one is less upset when one's things are lost or stolen.
The third physical nonvirtue is sexual misconduct. It's very good to take the householder vow to refrain from this nonvirtue that brings heavy problems in a family. This doesn't mean to say that sex is bad, rather one should not hurt anyone through one's sexual behaviour.
The worst physical nonvirtues are summarized in these three. If one wants to understand karma more deeply, then one can read The Jewel Ornament of Liberation by Lhaje Gampopa. Other texts explain karma very efficiently too, but Gampopa elucidated it quite clearly in this book.
There are four main verbal nonvirtues that can actually be summarized in one, namely useless talk, which is very hard to give up. It's not that hard to give up lying. I know what I am talking about, because I lied when I was young and am practicing not to lie anymore. For example, we had to get up at 5 and practice the morning ritual together with the group of students I was studying with. I couldn't wake up that early and preferred to sleep longer one morning, so I wrote a letter to Rinpoche and excused myself by telling him, "I have a headache and can't come." It was a lie. Sometimes one doesn't want to lie, but it just happens. It is said that there is nothing wrong with lying for the benefit of others while one is practicing Bodhicitta and on the path of a Bodhisattva. A lie is a big mistake if it's spoken for one's own profit.
What is the result of lying? We cannot see where someone who lies will be reborn, but we can see that people living in the realm of human beings will not believe someone who lies. They will take anything someone who always tells the truth seriously, though, and listen to him attentively. Even among Dharma practitioners, it is hard to tell who never lies. There was a lay practitioner who never lied and everyone knew this. We can practice telling the truth more and more and become like the lay practitioner - then others will believe us too. I can't judge if people in the West don't lie at all or only lie a little bit, in any case, I haven't met anyone in the West who has lied to me.
Divisive talk is another verbal nonvirtue. A result of refraining from this nonvirtue is getting along with one's friends. I do see that many people are very isolated and separated from others and think this is a result of having spoken badly about others in a former life.
Useless and irrelevant talk is another verbal nonvirtue. Sometimes I think it's better if I don't say anything, recite mantras, and count them on my mala instead, but then my mind wanders off and I start talking again.
Abusive and harsh language is the fourth verbal nonvirtue. I was a kha-tsha-po when I was young, which means "hot mouth." I have a little scar on my face and people always said that it is a sign that I am a kha-tsha-po. People didn't like me when I was small, because I always said awful things, so they said awful things back. I still have the habit of saying things that people don't like hearing, but less now. In any case, if someone says something harsh to me, I do get upset, worry all night, and cannot sleep, although I know that words have no essence. So, now I really know what it means to use harsh words and try to be very careful. If one doesn't have a violent language, then one will get along very well with other people and they will like one. Earnest and sincere people will turn their backs on those who have a bad language usage and do notice it very soon.
The Perspective: The four physical and three verbal nonvirtues are referred to as "the seven nonvirtues of body and speech." There are vows one can take that help one abandon them. There are the lay practitioner's vows one takes when one goes for refuge in the Three Jewels, the vows for novice monks and nuns, and the full-ordination vows for monks and nuns. The vows of lay practitioners, called "the vows of individual liberation," are the commitment to give up the seven physical and verbal nonvirtues. Someone who has gone for refuge should learn the seven nonvirtues, always try to remember them, and stop succumbing to them. One's practice will be very difficult if one doesn't heed one's vows. Many Lamas travel very much nowadays and offer the most profound teachings on Mahamudra and Dzogchen, instruct students how to practice, and so forth. These teachings are very advanced, but one will have problems if one doesn't give up the seven nonvirtues - a decisive reason not to break one's vows.
If the seven nonvirtues are carried out for the benefit of others, then they aren'tt really bad and no negative results will follow. For example, becoming very angry with one's child when it is about to make a terrible mistake is beneficial, so the use of harsh speech in such cases won't bring a negative result. I don't know what it's like in the West, but in the East it's necessary to be stern with children, otherwise they will not listen and will not learn to behave. How do I know? I was told.
The Three Nonvirtues of Mind
There are three nonvirtues of mind that will never benefit anyone at all. They are covetousness, ill-will, and wrong views. They accord with the three main mind poisons. Covetousness is seeing something someone else has and thinking, "That is really great. I want it. How can I get it?" and so forth. If one sees a fantastic ballpoint pen and thinks, "I really want it. Should I steal it?" then that is being covetous. Or, "Wow, that person has a beautiful earring. I'm going to tear it out of her ear." That is being extremely evil and malicious. Covetousness is based on greed and can never help anyone. Whenever I see things that others have, I don't think like that, but that changes when I go to Media-Markt.
Ill-will that one needs to give up is related to the mind poison of hatred. One can say that anyone who has ill-will has no Bodhicitta whatsoever. We have taken the vow of Bodhicitta and practice, nevertheless once in a while we have ill-will. If this happens, then it is necessary to regret and confess it right away so that one purifies one's mind of such thoughts.
What are examples of ill-will? Damaged seats in buses and trains in India and Nepal. I haven't seen this in European buses and trains, so it seems that people are not upset about small things like high prices and they don't act out their ill-will by damaging others' property here.
Question: What about Schadenfreude, "spite"?
Khenpo: One can be happy about someone's positive activities, but one can also have a sense of satisfaction if someone acts badly or experiences difficulties and pain. It is a big mistake to think like that. The fourth line in the "Seven-branched Prayer" is rejoicing in others' accumulation of merit. What is the purpose of rejoicing in others' merit? It becomes one's own merit too. The same applies to spite; feeling satisfied if someone suffers is a boomerang against oneself and is a nonvirtue. The basis for spite is hatred.
We have gone through covetousness that is based on greed and spoke about ill-will that is based on hatred. Now I will speak about log-lta, "wrong views." Wrong views are based on stupidity, mental dullness, i.e., on not knowing.
The main wrong view that one can have is about karma, "the unfailing law of cause and effect." Since one cannot see karma, one doesn't believe it. Since one doesn't believe it, one is bewildered and confused. Being bewildered and confused, one has false views and denies that karma is true.
Wrong views are deeply rooted delusions. For example, some religious proponents sacrifice living beings to the gods they believe in, thinking that they will become free from suffering or become almighty as a result. One cannot simply tell fanatics that good deeds are the cause for a better birth and bad deeds are the cause for a bad birth. If one does talk to them about the causes and results of beneficial and harmful deeds, they just won't believe it.
There is a method to avert wrong views and the method is to receive instructions on the Dharma, to contemplate what one has heard, and to examine the teachings carefully. Any other proposal to counteract false views are misleading and deceptive. Normally, people insist that their own tradition is the best and what others say may be all right, but probably isn't. Therefore, one has to receive teachings and investigate them for oneself very well so that one trusts and believes the truth of the Dharma. Just believing what someone else says can cause one to have wrong views. It is crucial to base one's view on having investigated what one has heard very carefully and to ask oneself again and again if one's view accords with one's experiences. Then no erroneous views can follow.
The ten virtues are called "wholesome and good karma" and belong to the second link of dependent arising, which is karmic creation. Abandoning the ten nonvirtues and engaging in their opposites (for example, to save life, to be generous, and so forth) is accumulating good karma that causes one to attain a higher birth.
Three types of karma are generally taught, the first two being good and bad karma. It is difficult for beginners to understand the third type of karma, which results from abiding in meditative absorption. Let me explain this briefly: A meditator who abides in concentrative absorption accumulates positive karma, but it's a static state and leads to immobility.
3) Consciousness - rNams-par-shes-pa
Based on karma, i.e., in accordance with the second link in the Wheel of Existence, one gives rise to consciousness. For example, one has a good feeling - that one is conscious of - when one engages in a virtuous activity, such as giving something away so that someone else is happy and well. The mind that one has when one accumulates karma continues into one's next life. If I look at the lid of my cup, then I first saw it, which is the basis. Then the thought arises in my mind to throw down the lid and break it, which is the motivation. There are two possibilities, the wish to help others by breaking the lid or the wish to harm others by breaking it. And it is one's motivation that continues from one life to the next.
The teachings speak about two types of consciousness: being aware of the cause and being aware of the result. Being aware of the cause is the consciousness one has while accumulating karma; being aware of the result is the consciousness one has when one experiences the result of the cause. There is a good or bad consciousness at the time of the cause. Let me explain the first type now.
Consciousness at the Time of the Cause
Looking at one's consciousness at the time one accumulates the cause in relation to the Four Noble Truths, the First Noble Truth is: "We need to know the truth of suffering." The teachings I have presented so far dealt with not knowing, the mental afflictions, and karma - they explain the origin of suffering, which is the First Noble Truth.
Question: You mentioned that unvirtuous behaviour could be changed into virtue, for example, by helping others. Is this valid for everyone who wants to develop Bodhicittta or only for persons who have already attained levels of realization on the path of a Bodhisattva?
Khenpo: It depends and varies. It is best not to even think of one's own benefit, but to only have the motivation to help others. Yet, it's hard to think like this and to be sure whether or not one does hope
to benefit oneself. It's all right to benefit oneself a little, too.
Next question: I want to ask about Schadenfreude, "spite." Sometimes I laugh over spots in movies in which someone has an accident. I'm not happy that they are hurt, but the situation looks funny. Is it bad when I laugh then?
Khenpo: I laugh at those spots in movies too. But one knows that movies use tricks and are not really true, so one isn't being spiteful if one laughs in movies.
Student: But they hurt themselves. There are cases in real life that people hurt themselves, but the situation looks funny.
Translator: So you are referring to real life?
Student: Yes. I don't laugh because someone is hurt, but it often looks funny when someone falls down, for example.
Khenpo: It isn't a big mistake, but it's also not small. There is a story in a past life of Lord Buddha, who was like us before he became enlightened. He was born as the son of a fisherman in a village of fishermen, so he lived along the coast of the ocean. One day the villagers caught a huge fish, dragged it into their village, and slaughtered it while all the villagers watched. The former Buddha saw this and laughed. Why is this story told? After Lord Buddha attained enlightenment he once had a headache. Ananda, one of his closest disciples and servants, asked him, "You are the Buddha, so why do you have a headache?" The Buddha told him the episode from his former life and added, "I have a headache now because I laughed on that occasion." So, that action had a small result - not a very big one.
The third illustration in the twelve along the rim of the Wheel shows a monkey that represents consciousness. Just like a monkey restlessly jumps from one branch of a tree to another, one's mind leaps from one thought to the next.
What is the meaning of consciousness in the context of the twelve links of dependent arising? As explained, living beings accumulate karma due to not knowing and generate a specific consciousness as a result. Consciousness is the continuity of one's own mind. One has the very same consciousness one had in a previous life when one enters a new life the moment one is conceived through the union of one's future father and mother. Since everyone here is a human being, it is clear that everyone has the mind of a human being. Although born by a mother, one doesn't remember the conditions and circumstances of one's conception and birth. If one has attained liberation, then one has also attained the ability to enter a woman's womb freely. There was a Kagyu Guru, whose name was Sabgyu Tulku. He passed away when he was about eight years old and his mother cried all night and day. He chose to be born to her again so that she would not be sad.
Ordinary beings cannot chose their rebirth, because they have no control over their mind. One's birth is subject to the wind of one's karma, which hurls one into a new life. We have attained a human birth now, so we have the mind of a human being. We can see many things with our consciousness, our mind. We can look into the sky and see the sun and the moon; we can see houses and cars all around. We can speak about what we see by designating what we saw, and we are able to do what human beings can do. For instance, I can take the card with the picture of Guru Rinpoche and the prayer to him printed on it, think it is good, and lay it down on the table. An animal cannot perceive the picture nor read the prayer. Maybe it would perceive that it has reached the edge of the card or realize that it is crawling on top of its surface if that is the case, but it could not fathom more than just that.
Cittamatra adherents (followers of the Mind-Only School of Buddhism) understand that every appearance is an appearance of karma, so they explain how animals perceive differently due to their consciousness, their mind. Madhyamaka adherents (followers of the Great Middle Way School) take water as an example and explain that it is perceived differently by each being in the five realms of samsara. A fish sees water differently, but we don't know if it apprehends its environment at all. In any case, a fish is at home in water and can freely move around there; it will experience terrible difficulties should it be taken out of the water and put on land. This is what is meant by the term "appearance of karma," which means to say that not only one's apprehension of the world, but one's body too arises in dependence upon one's karma.
Looking at the mind of human beings, there are huge differences too. Some children can naturally differentiate between good and bad, between virtue and vice, and their parents needn't go to much pains to bring them up. Other children have problems learning the difference between good and bad and behave accordingly. It seems that such a variety of differences results from the consciousness that individuals created and formed in their own past life. Lord Buddha did not set up rules and regulations that Buddhists are required to blindly believe and follow, but taught that one's body is the result of one's own past karma.
Consciousness at the Time of the Result
The consciousness of someone who has created the conditions to be born as a human being and is conceived the moment its future mother and father unite is described as a karmic result. After conception, the fourth link of dependent origination arises in the mind of an individual taking on a new birth. The fourth link is called "name and form."
4) Name and form - Ming-dang-gzugs
Depending upon the version, the icon of the fourth link of dependent arising shows either three or five people in a boat and rowing across a great river. Name and form in this context refer to the five skandhas, the Sanskrit term that was translated into Tibetan as phung-po-lnga, "the five aggregates that comprise the physical and mental constituents of a sentient being." They are physical form (gzugs), feelings or sensations (tshor-ba), ideas or concepts (-du-shes), formation (-du-byed), and consciousness (rnam-shes). In the explanation of the twelve links, name and form are dealt with separately, because beings born in the realm of the gods have no names, but human beings have both a physical form and a name.
Photos of a growing fetus can be made nowadays, which I once saw on a BBC report. The connotation "form" applies the moment an embryo has developed a form and becomes a fetus in the womb of a woman. A fetus gradually develops the five skandhas as the bases for its consciousness, but they are still merely nominal at such an early stage. This stage is link five and is called "the six perceptual entrances." Then the six perceptual entrances (i.e., the five sense bases and the mental faculty) develop further, gain their properties, and become working faculties that lead to the sixth link, called "contact."
5) The six perceptual entrances - sKye-mched-drug
The six perceptual entrances (skye-mched-drug in Tibetan) are the six bases of apprehension (also called "six powers," dbang-po-drug). They are the eye faculty (mig-gi-dbang-bo), the ear faculty (rna-ba'i-dbang-bo), the nose faculty (sna'i-dbang-bo), the tongue faculty (nye'i-dbang-bo), the bodily sensation faculty (lÃ¼s-kyi-dbang-bo), and the mental faculty (yid-kyi-dbang-bo). The six faculties develop further, until visual forms that are fit to be seen can be seen with the eyes, sounds can be heard with the ears, and so forth. When it is possible for an individual to perceive and apprehend, then his or her faculties or powers have developed fully. Many people are born with their faculties not intact or are handicapped, which is the result of their past karma. In any case, when the perceptual entrances are developed, then the sixth link arises, which is contact.
The icon in the Wheel of Existence is a house with six windows. The five windows symbolize the five sensory faculties and the sixth symbolizes the mental faculty that apprehends objects.
6) Contact - Reg-ba
Contact in the context of the twelve links is the point at which the faculties have developed fully. It refers to contact that takes place between a sensory faculty and an object that can be perceived with the respective sensory organ or apprehended with the mind. Contact is the ability to see a form with one's eyes, to hear a sound with one's ears, to taste with one's tongue, to smell scents with one's nose, to feel textures with one's physical faculty, and to apprehend objects that can be recognized and known with one's mind. The moment all six faculties or powers are developed and the six objects that can be perceived and apprehended are present, contact automatically takes place. The icon in the Wheel of Life that illustrates contact shows a man and woman embracing.
7) Feeling - Tshor-ba
A feeling or sensation arises in the person who perceives an object through contact. An immense variety of objects produced from modern scientific discoveries activate feelings, such as T.V. shows, CDs, perfumes, artificial flavours, synthetic material, internet for educational purposes, etc. One can have a multitude of feelings after having come into contact with the very many objects that can be perceived and apprehended in the world. Furthermore, one has many feelings about memories that are stored and arise from one's own ground consciousness again. The icon in the mural is a person who has been struck in the eye by an arrow, an image that certainly awakens a strong feeling when one looks at it.
One has either pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral feelings when one has contact with an object of perception. And the threefold feelings give rise to the kleshas, the "mental afflictions and defilements," i.e., mind poisons. As a result, one directs one's attention towards the future and becomes involved by developing a sense of need, which is referred to as "thirst," the eighth link.
8) Thirst - Sred-pa
Thirst is an involvement with the objective world that one encounters and experiences, so the eighth link is actually "attachment," -död-chags in Tibetan. Based upon pleasant feelings one has about the objective world, one craves to keep those experiences or have them again. Based upon unpleasant feelings, one is anxious to keep away from them and becomes involved by rejecting them. As it is, problems evolve from craving.
We have been born as human beings, so which realms do we perceive? The human and animal realms, not the hungry ghost, hell, or realm of the gods. Just looking at humans and animals, it is evident that they all experience contact, have feelings, and experience thirst, i.e., are involved in life by craving to experience physical and mental well-being. They wake up early in the morning, are busy all day, and go to bed late in order to satisfy their thirst for pleasant feelings. If one never felt happy and joyful, one would not feel thirst. If one never succumbed to thirst and craving, one wouldn't have feelings, and if one has no feelings, one wouldn't have attachment. If one has no thirst, then there's no cause to be reborn in samsara. Therefore, we need to be extremely cautious and careful when we have pleasant feelings.
Contact brings on feelings; the six perceptual entrances cause contact. If one is not careful when an unpleasant feeling arises or when a pleasant feeling passes, one can develop hatred, which is not good. But if one is careful and cautious that hatred and anger don't occur, then one will not accumulate bad karma, one's life will be pleasant, and one can accumulate good karma. As a result, one will experience a high rebirth. It is very difficult not to be thirsty and crave - everyone does. If one doesn't do anything about it, though, then one will remain enmeshed in samsara.
The first two links, not knowing and karmic creation, are causes. There are two kinds of consciousness: consciousness at the time of the cause and consciousness at the time of the result. They lead to the following links of name and form, the six perceptual entrances, and feeling. The links arise step-by-step and in dependence upon the consciousness one has at the time of the result. This process lasts until the seventh link of feeling, and all seven pertain to the First Noble Truth, the truth of suffering.
The illustration of the eighth link shows a woman offering a drink to a man. It illustrates attachment that has been stimulated by perceptions and emotions, which lead one to drink more from the world of appearances.
There is no beginning or end to samsara, rather it churns and turns endlessly. Samsara is based upon the link of not knowing. Samsara moves in one direction only. The eighth link is a mind poison that leads to the ninth link that is also a mind poison.
The Perspective: If one wishes to meditate the twelve links of dependent arising, one can learn to become aware of one's good and bad feelings. One is then heedful to remain in equanimity when a pleasant feeling arises, so that one doesn't give in to thirst for pleasant feelings. If one is able to watch and guard one's mind, then that is meditating the twelve links.
Sometimes one has good feelings and sometimes bad ones. One asks oneself where a feeling comes from and in that way examines its cause. For instance, if someone were to throw something at my head, I would have an unpleasant feeling and could ask myself, "Where does this feeling come from?" Having examined, I would understand that it comes from contact with that specific object. If I look at a form, then I could ask myself where the feeling I have from seeing it comes from and would find that it arises due to contacting that form with my eyes. There are a vast variety of ways to contact objects. It is possible to hear pleasant or unpleasant sounds with one's ears. If one hears something one doesn't like, for instance, then one can ask oneself where the feeling comes from and discover that it arises from having come into contact with that specific sound. Nobody can really become free of coming into contact with appearances in the world and not have feelings about them. What causes one's feelings? Through meditation, one finds that feelings are solely caused through contact.
Contact doesn't necessarily only involve material things. Smelling something is also a contact. Tasting is quite subjective; for instance, I really enjoy spicy food. Contact only takes place by means of the six perceptual entrances - in their absence, contact cannot occur. A blind person cannot visually come into contact with the many flowers one might place in front of him. Why? Because he doesn't have eyes to see with. Now, a blind person cannot feel attachment for the flowers one might have placed in front of him because he cannot contact them, but his blindness is based upon negative karma, so it is not good. If one can concentrate on the six perceptual entrances and notice contact when it takes place, then it is a method to meditate the twelve links of dependent arising.
How do the six perceptual entrances arise? From name and form, the fourth link. If one doesn't have the skandha of form, then the six perceptual entrances will not arise. There is only one cause for the creation of the link name and form and that is the consciousness a living being has when taking on birth as a human, an animal, etc. And the consciousness that takes on birth as a human or animal is only based upon karma that a living being accumulated in a former life.
As to feelings, every pleasant, unpleasant, as well as neutral feeling inevitably entails suffering. All feelings are based on karma, and one accumulates karma based upon not knowing (link 1). This is the reason why all Buddhist practices are focused on eliminating the initial cause of suffering, which is not knowing. Many methods are available to practitioners on the path - one can recite mantras, accumulate merit and wisdom, generate Bodhicitta, practice love and compassion, and so forth. There are many practices in Buddhism and their sole purpose is to eliminate not knowing, ma-rig-pa. Battling against ma-rig-pa is a Buddhist's main Dharma practice. Vanquishing not knowing is the reason we practice and is our goal. If you have any questions, please ask.
Question: Where is karma stored if the mind is empty of itself?
Khenpo: Good question - maybe there is some bank.
Student: Karma bank.
Khenpo: The treatises state that everyone has a ground consciousness, an all-basis consciousness in which one's karma is stored. There are four main philosophical schools in Buddhism, the Vaibhasika School that concentrates on classifications, the Sautrantika School that relies on the Sutras, the Cittamatra School that teaches that everything is only mind, and the Madhyamaka School. The easiest teachings for us to understand and that seem most logical state that there is a ground consciousness in which one's impressions and habitual patterns are stored. When one directly perceives the truth of Dharmata, "suchness," then one will directly realize how karma is accumulated and stored. Madhyamaka proponents hold that everything always arises in dependence. The different opinions of Madhyamikas and Cittamatrins brought on many disputes in Tibet, between Tsongkapa, the Lamas belonging to the Nyingmapa School, the Karmapas, and so forth. Many very big treatises explain the different views. I think that if we realize primordial wisdom, then we will directly see how karma is stored, otherwise it is good to accept the view that the ground consciousness is the storehouse of all karmic imprints.
Returning to samsara, let us look at the word rten-cing-'brel-bar-'byung-ba, which means "arisen in dependence upon causal connections," in which case the proceeding appearance can only arise if the preceding appearance has arisen. This is to say that no existent has ever arisen in the absence of a cause and conditions, i.e., nothing exists independently.
If one wants to meditate the twelve links of dependent arising, then one needs to be aware of one's feelings and recognize whether they are pleasant or not. Then one examines where the feeling one has recognized comes from, and that is the practice. As said, there are many views in the world and everyone wishes to eliminate suffering and experience happiness and joy. Buddhists investigate where suffering and happiness come from.
There is supposed to be another new religion in India that teaches that suffering and happiness are god-given. A movie on this tells the life-story of a one-legged hero whose girlfriend turns her back on him. He is mad at the god he believes in and asks, "First you made me one-legged and then you made my girlfriend leave me. Why did you do that?" He argues with the god he believes in and that's the story. The view he has is the belief that a god is actually responsible for the suffering he experienced. When such persons run into difficulties, then they get angry and quarrel. Buddhists do not believe that suffering and happiness are due to causes outside themselves, rather know that due to the law of karma everyone is responsible for the results of his or her own actions. A god cannot grant freedom from suffering and happiness, because we create our own karma.
One usually doesn't ask why one has a pleasant feeling, but drifts away when one is happy and then forgets about suffering and pain. But one usually does ask why one has an unpleasant feeling and wonders why one suffers. So one will more likely develop an inquisitive mind if one experiences suffering.
The links we have gone through up to and including "consciousness at the time of the cause" are causes resulting from a past life. The stages starting with "consciousness at the time of the result" up to and including the seventh link of feeling are results and therefore are descriptions of the mind that enters the womb at conception. Thirst (link 8), grasping (link 9), and becoming (link 10) are created in this life and lead to one's next life, which is birth (link 11). Links one up to and including seven are similar to links eight up to and including twelve; they are explained separately, though, so that one understands them more easily. Actually, there are many more stages in the process of dependent arising, but the twelve divisions in the Wheel sum them up quite clearly.
The Perspective: While on the path, a meditator practices not to succumb to the eighth link, which is thirst, and an advanced practitioner eventually breaks the chain-reaction that keeps him or her locked in samsara, "conditioned existence that is marked by suffering and pain." We all experience how thirst arises from feelings (link 7), so it is logical that when one is free of feelings, then one won't have thirst and will not remain trapped in a misleading involvement with the deceptive world of appearances.
Our present body is the result of our thirst and involvement with the skandhas in our past life that evolve into name and form in this life (link 4). We have this body now, cannot ignore it, and cannot just throw it away. All we can do is abandon the cause that leads to future suffering and pain in samsara - and the cause is thirst. In order to understand the cause correctly, one needs to understand the result. This is the reason Lord Buddha first taught the truth of suffering when he presented the instructions on the Four Noble Truths.
The Four Noble Truths - bDen-pa-rnam-bzhi
The First Noble Truth - bdug-bsngäl-gi-bden-pa - states that it is necessary to know suffering. The Second Noble Truth - kung--byung-ba'i-bden-pa - states that it is necessary to understand the origin of suffering. Yet, it is not only important to know the truth of suffering and understand how and why it arises, one also needs to accomplish cessation of suffering, the Third Noble Truth - -gog-pa'i-bden-pa. It is impossible to accomplish cessation of the origin of suffering in this life, but a practitioner can learn to patiently accept suffering and consequently have a better life.
The First and Second Noble Truths: The Truth of Suffering and the Truth of the Origin of Suffering
Why is it impossible to eliminate the origin of suffering in this life? When one gets sick, it is impossible to do anything about the cause of one's sickness, because it is a result. One can take pain killers to alleviate one's pain, but it is said that they harm one's body. As soon as one becomes used to them, they lose their effectiveness. How do I know? I get headaches and took pain pills. Instead of stifling a sickness, a competent doctor will look for the cause and try to treat it to the effect that one does not get the same sickness again.
Returning to the eighth link, called "thirst": The process that takes place from the first link of not knowing until and including the seventh of feeling resembles the process that takes place from the eighth link of thirst until and including the twelfth link of old age and death.
Everyone has feelings - everyone experiences pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral feelings. We saw that all afflictions arise from the three main mind poisons. The basis for the mind poisons are the three types of feelings.
We understand that it's natural to want to extend or repeat pleasant feelings, and as a result attachment arises, and that it's natural to want to avoid or eliminate unpleasant feelings, and as a result aversion arises. We don't really understand neutral feelings. In any case, that's how the mind poisons evolve.
If a practitioner doesn't give in to thirst, then the cause for a future birth is vanquished, but it's quite difficult to reach such a high level of realization. Overcoming thirst is what is meant by the Third Noble Truth, which is accomplishing cessation of suffering. The way to overcome thirst is called "the path," the Fourth Noble Truth - lam-gyi-bden-pa - which states that "we need to apply the path." So, those are the Four Noble Truths.
Thirst is the cause for rebirth in samsara. The defects and inadequacies of conditioned existence are contemplated at the beginning of Buddhist practices, so that one turns one's mind away from one's thirst and towards the Dharma. As long as one doesn't realize the deceptive nature of conditioned existence, one will continue remaining attached to and stuck and will not even think that it is necessary to even want to find a method to become free of conditionality. This is why one engages in the preliminary practices of the four contemplations - they inspire one to turn one's mind away from samsara. The four contemplations are a method that move one to practice the Buddhist path. If one truly sees the defects and understands that there is no advantage of focusing one's attention on samsara, then one will not be attached to it. For example, I have a nice room in my monastery in Nepal. I see half of the Kathmandu Valley when I open the door and therefore am a little attached to my monk's cell. If my room were not nice, if the stench of the city were too penetrating, or if Rinpoche were always angry with me, I wouldn't want to return home from my travels. Why am I happy to return home? Because I see no defects and am attached.
As long as one doesn't realize the true nature of samsara, sees no defects, and thinks it's nice, one will remain attached to it. Therefore it is said that one will remain in samsara as long as one is attached, i.e., one will continue spinning and circling around in conditioned existence and will repeatedly wander through the twelve links of dependent arising due to attachment. This completes the discussion on the very misleading nature of the eighth link, which is thirst.
9) Grasping - Nye-bar-len-pa
The reason one experiences suffering is ma-rig-pa, "not knowing." The reason one will experience suffering in one's next birth is thirst, sred-pa. If one thirsts for samsara, then one grasps for it, which is the ninth link, called "grasping." We needn't speak about this in more detail here, because everyone knows what grasping means from own experience. For instance, if I were attached to someone else's watch, I wouldn't just take it, but would go into town and buy the same one. In order to be able to buy the watch, I would need to take the next step, which is the tenth link, called "becoming."
The icon of the ninth link in the Wheel depicts a person picking the fruit of his tree. He takes the results he hopes will be edible and pleasing.
10) Becoming - Srid-pa
The tenth link is equivalent to the accumulation of karma. The accumulation of both negative and positive karma lead to what is referred to as "becoming," srid-pa.
Question: I didn't understand the ninth link.
Khenpo: Grasping is based upon the feelings one has for an object, the activity one exerts to acquire it, and arises automatically from thirst. One works and accumulates karma due to grasping.
The picture of the tenth link often shows a person beckoning another to give or to take. In another version, a mother holds the hand of her child.
11) Birth - sKye-ba
The step from becoming to birth is the same process that takes place from the second link of karmic creation to the moment a mind is conceived in the womb of a woman during the third link of consciousness. Karmic creation and becoming are actions that produce results, in this case the result is birth. Having been born, one goes one's way and sometimes experiences happiness and sometimes experiences suffering and pain. But having been born, one is automatically subject to ageing and death. Hadn't one been born, there would be no need to offer these teachings. But, as it is, everyone was born and therefore will die. There is no medicine on the market or means that can spare one from growing old and dying.
The icon shows a woman giving birth. The new life is determined by the fruits of the old, in that one is drawn to the parents in accordance with one's karma in the process of being born.
12) Ageing and Death - rGa-shi
Next to the suffering that ageing and death cause, there are many other forms of suffering one experiences between birth and death, and they are all subsumed in the twelfth link. The illustration shows the end of one round and the beginning of a new life in one of the realms of existence. It depicts two people carrying a burden, which is a corpse wrapped to be disposed.
The Process of Causality
Each of the twelve links is either a cause or a result. Ignorance and karmic creation (links 1 and 2) are causes. Consciousness, name and form, the six perceptual entrances, contact, and feeling (links 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7) are results of the first two. Thirst, grasping, and becoming (links 8, 9, and 10) are causes. Birth as well as ageing and death (links 11 and 12) are results of these three. We can say that consciousness (link 3), name and form (link 4), and the links that one has up to and including feeling (link 7) are results of one's karma in a former life and of not knowing (link 1). One's present feelings lead to thirst, grasping, and becoming (links 8, 9, and 10), which are causes for ageing and death (links 11 and 12) as well as for one's rebirth.
Looking at one's present life, one can see that not knowing and karmic creation in one's last life are the cause of one's present human birth. When one is reborn some day due to thirst and the other conditions discussed above, one can look back on the life one has now and see that not knowing and karmic creation brought on the life one will have attained at another time too. And so, one continues
spinning and swirling around in cyclic existence, -khor-ba, "samsara."
If one looks at samsara in the context of the Four Noble Truths, then the first two Noble Truths, the truth of suffering and the truth of the origin of suffering, address cause and effect in relation to the kleshas, "the mental afflictions." The next two Noble Truths, the truth of cessation and the truth of the path, address cause and effect in relation to perfect purification.
The Third Noble Truth: The Truth of Cessation
A small light beam is visible in the mural of the Wheel - it shines outside the realm of samsara and depicts perfect purification. If one succeeds in making one's way out of samsara, then one is not caught in the fangs of the demon of death anymore - and then the monster can't bite one and eat one up.
Being clutched in the fangs of the monster of death can be exemplified by thinking of a fluffy little rabbit caught in the mouth of a tiger. The tiger will bite and kill the little rabbit, that is definite. Had the rabbit been a far distance away from the hungry tiger, then it could have hopped into its hole in the earth and hid. Likewise, we are caught in the jaws of the demon of death and cannot hide or escape. The image in the Wheel is explicit, because it illustrates our situation clearly. It is only an image and there is no real monster out to devour us, but it illustrates our situation quite well by pointing to the fact that we are caught, cannot flee, will die, yet we don't know when.
The Perspective: Seeing the icon in the Wheel of Existence awakens one's awareness of impermanence, mi-rtag-pa in Tibetan. It is an effective reminder that causes one to practice the Dharma and become free of the three realms of samsara (the desire realm, the form realm, and the formless realm). Lord Buddha presented the method to become free of the three realms of existence when he turned the Wheel of Dharma and taught the third Noble Truth, the truth of the path of cessation, -gog-pa'i-bden-pa.
If one understands the twelve links of dependent arising and realizes that everyone continuously passes through each link, then one has won the correct view. Understanding the twelve links well is a measuring-rod to see whether one has developed the correct view, i.e., whether one has gained certainty of karma, the law of cause and effect, and whether one knows what one needs to adopt and reject. If one doesn't understand the process of dependent arising, then one has doubts and isn't sure what to do and not do. In that case, one benefits others once in a while, but often hurts others too, which is a result of having an erroneous view of dependent arising.
Having gained certainty in the correct view, a disciple is more than happy to engage in beneficial activities and determinedly rejects bad actions. Joy arises naturally if one is certain of the view. As long as one doubts whether karma is true, one will falter. This means to say that meditating the twelve links well is very important.
The First Noble Truth is the truth of suffering. The Second Noble Truth is the truth of the origin of suffering. The Third Noble Truth is the truth of cessation. And the Fourth Noble Truth is the truth of the path. If one has understood the twelve links of dependent arising well, then one has understood the first two truths correctly. When one has surmounted samsara, then suffering ceases. There are many methods to become free of suffering, so Lord Buddha taught the Fourth Noble Truth, which is the truth of the path.
The Fourth Noble Truth: The Truth of the Path - The Noble Eightfold Path
The truth of the path is called "the noble eightfold path," -phag-lam-gyi-yang-lag-brgyäd. The eight aspects of the path of noble beings are: right view (lta-ba-yang-dag), right cognition (yang-dag-pa'i-rtog-pa), right effort (yang-dag-pa'i-rtsol-ba), right mindfulness (drän-pa-yang-dag), right speech (yang-dag-pa'i-ngag-pa), right action (läs-kyi-mtha'), right livelihood (yang-dag-pa'i--tsho-ba), and right concentration (ting-nge--dzin). It will not be difficult to understand the first aspect of the Fourth Noble Truth if one has understood the twelve links of dependent arising.
I will speak about the first two Noble Truths, the truth of suffering and the truth of the origin of suffering, in more detail while explaining the first aspect of the Fourth Noble Truth, which is the right view.
(1) The right view
- The Three Kinds of Suffering
The First Noble Truth states that one needs to understand suffering. Buddhism teaches that there are three kinds of suffering, sdug-bsngäl-gsum. They are: the suffering of change (-gyur-ba'i-sdug-bsngäl), the suffering of conditioned existence (-du-byed-kyi-sdug-bsngäl), and the suffering of suffering (sdug-bsngäl-gi-sdug-bsngäl). Lhaje Gampopa explained the three kinds of suffering in great detail in The Jewel Ornament of Liberation, so you can study this book that has been translated into many languages.
One usually only perceives and apprehends suffering of suffering. One experiences suffering of suffering when one is sick, when one has to spend time in a hospital, or when friends let one down, for example. One doesn't really apprehend the other two kinds of suffering. It was hard for me to believe that change causes suffering when I first heard about the three kinds of suffering. Do you experience change as suffering?
Khenpo: For instance, I would return home, arrange the table in my room nicely, sit down on my chair, and be very happy if I had bought a lotto ticket during my visit to Germany and had won 5000.- Euro. In moments like that, one thinks, "What good luck!" But a Buddhist knows that this kind of luck is deceptive, because everything changes. It is very difficult to understand that luck entails suffering. What about you? Do you see good luck and prosperity as suffering?
Khenpo: Good. It is a wrong view thinking temporary prosperity is happiness, and this mistaken belief is referred to as "holding that which entails suffering as happiness." If one thinks like that, one will continue chasing after what one considers good luck and never be content.
What does suffering of change mean? Happiness that is subject to change, which means to say that it is instable. It's not possible to really acknowledge suffering of change from hearsay, but it's easy to understand from one's own experience that good situations don't last and that one suffers when they end. By recalling one's own life, one will be able to recognize suffering of change. Then one won't be attached to experiences that are subject to change and that do occur in everyone's life. Nobody is attracted to suffering, so by reflecting one's own life, one actually sees the suffering of change of transitory happiness and will not be attached. If one is not attached to the belief that what entails suffering is happiness and meditates this well, then the eighth link of dependent arising, thirst, will not arise in one's mind and, as a result, one won't accumulate karma that leads to the link of becoming, which, in turn, determines one's rebirth.
What does suffering of conditioned existence mean? When one has been conceived, name and form arise and develop. This is the moment suffering of conditionality begins. From among the three types of suffering, it's easiest understanding suffering of suffering. One can gradually understand suffering of change through meditation practice, but it's really hard to realize suffering of conditioned existence.
The Perspective: When one understands the truth of suffering well, then one sees that samsara only spells suffering and that it will never render lasting happiness and joy. Having understood that samsara only entails suffering and pain, a disciple turns his or her mind away and feels no attachment for it. Nobody sees a cesspool as a swimming pool and feels attached to it. Should anyone fall into a cesspool, they would certainly do their best to free themselves and get out as fast as possible. In the same way, if we see the suffering that marks samsara, we would only seek to become free and find a way out as fast as possible. This is the main reason Lord Buddha first started teaching by presenting the First Noble Truth and said that one needs to understand suffering.
As to the twelve links of dependent arising, the five links from consciousness until and including feeling (links 3 to 7) and the two links of rebirth as well as ageing and death (links 11 and 12) deal with the truth of suffering. If one understands them, then one has understood the truth of suffering. If you have any questions, please ask.
Question: Did you explain suffering of conditioned existence?
Khenpo: Sehr kurz, "real short." Suffering of conditioned existence is based upon being blind to the fact that the accumulation of nonvirtue leads to suffering, i.e., suffering of suffering. Suffering of conditioned existence is also based upon not knowing that the accumulation of positive karma causes happiness and also leads to the experience of suffering, i.e., the suffering of change. It is a fact that everyone is always ignorant and has various mind poisons, which cause them to experience suffering of conditioned existence. I spoke about karma that leads to immobility, in which case one attains the body of a god that is static and immobile. There are many types of godly lives, but those who abide in the state of immobility don't have feelings like we have - they are absorbed in a state of indifference and only have neutral feelings of indifference. We experience a similar state when we are in deep sleep and don't dream. Then we have no feelings of suffering and joy, and such a state is also called "the suffering of conditioned existence." Beginners can only acknowledge that such a state exists, but it's very hard to realize. It's already very good to understand suffering of suffering, and it would be good to understand suffering of change - sehr schwer, "very hard."
After having spoken about the truth of suffering, Lord Buddha continued turning the Wheel of Dharma, presented the Second Noble Truth, and said that one needs to abandon the causes of suffering. We saw that there are two types: causes that arise from karma and causes that arise from the kleshas. It's not hard understanding how the two types of causes arise if one understands the twelve links of dependent arising.
We saw that ignorance (link 1), thirst (link 8), and grasping (link 9) are kleshas, "mental defilements and afflictions," which need to be abandoned. Karmic creation and becoming (links 2 and 10) belong to karma and also need to be abandoned. Why is it more important to overcome the kleshas than karma? If one eliminates the kleshas, then one won't accumulate negative karma, so the kleshas are the main cause of suffering.
From the two categories of not knowing (link 1), i.e., not knowing mixed with kleshas and not knowing not associated with kleshas, it is most important to recognize and abandon not knowing mixed with kleshas. There are many degrees of kleshas, so at the beginning a practitioner needs to learn about them, in the middle a practitioner needs to abandon them, and in the end a practitioner needs to uproot the kleshas completely so that they never arise again. If one practices in this way, then one is a sincere and genuine Dharma student. When a diligent practitioner has abandoned and uprooted the kleshas, then the cause of suffering has been relinquished in his or her mind and the result, which is suffering, won't arise again. This is to say: When a noble practitioner stops creating the causes of suffering, then he or she has accomplished cessation of suffering, the Third Noble Truth that Lord Buddha taught, which states, "We need to accomplish cessation" gog-pa'i-thob-pa-byed-ba.
What does one do in order to accomplish cessation? One practices the path. And the Fourth Noble Truth teaches the path a disciple practices in order to end suffering. What does path, lam in Tibetan, mean? Usually the word "path" refers to a way one can go, and if one takes the path that leads to freedom from suffering, then it is the right path. Since everyone has to tread the path in order to become free from suffering, they need to learn about and know the truth of the path. As said, there are eight aspects of the path of noble beings, and the right view is the first aspect a follower needs to acknowledge and appreciate. All eight aspects of the noble eightfold path are very important, but first it is necessary to have the right view - lta-ba-yang-dag.
What is the right view? Recognizing suffering, recognizing that suffering has a cause, furthermore acknowledging that it is possible to accomplish cessation of suffering, and appreciating the path to accomplish this aim. If one gains certainty in these truths, then one has the right view.
Why do living beings remain enmeshed in samsara? Due to their wrong views, for example, thinking suffering is luck. Maybe many of you doubt the truth of the suffering of change. Even though one may have received many teachings, has read many books, and contemplated suffering of change again and again, one still clings to any luck and prosperity that one might have. It is important to diligently practice the path and accumulate merit and wisdom by contemplating and meditating the instructions one has received. Then one will realize that transitory luck actually entails suffering, but it's not that easy to understand.
It is said that individuals who realize suffering of change are noble beings, -phag-pa in Tibetan, Arya in Sanskrit. Beginners cannot understand suffering of change, yet if they do, then they mature and eventually become an Arya. It is merely a rumour if one hears that someone is supposed to be an important Lama or Tulku but has not understood the noble truth of suffering.
Translator: Would you clarify the term -phag-pa a little more?
Khenpo: -Phag-pa is someone who has advanced farther than ordinary living beings. An individual who has practiced and integrated the eightfold path in life is a noble being. One can look at someone sitting higher than oneself in a shrine room and think they are noble beings, but they aren't if they are not aware of and practice the noble eightfold path.
(2) Right cognition
As it is, human beings think. If they have cultivated the right view, then their way of thinking is right cognition. Beginners continuously give rise to concepts and thoughts - sometimes they are good, sometimes they aren't. It's necessary to recognize negative thoughts the moment they arise and change them into benevolent thoughts. In the absence of the right view, it's rather hard to have good thoughts, which is all the more reason to develop the right view first.
(3) Right effort
Right effort concerns one's activities. If one's thoughts are based on the right view and are wholesome and good, then one's activities will be good. If one's thoughts are not good, then one's activities will be negative and one will act to hurt others. For example, if the thought to steal something arises in one's mind, then one will probably act out that thought. It is necessary and good to always check one's thoughts before one does anything. If one succeeds, then one is practicing the eightfold path.
(4) Right mindfulness
One generates and cultivates right mindfulness by practicing meditation, so this aspect of the path is very important and central to Buddhism. There are four practices that are very easy to do. They needn't be sought outside oneself, because one uses that which is inside oneself.
The first practice is mindfulness of one's body; one takes care of one's body. The second practice is mindfulness of one's feelings and sensations, i.e., one is aware of one's feelings. The third practice is mindfulness of one's own mind. The fourth practice is mindfulness of phenomena, which are all factors, elements, and constituents of the world of appearances.
Question: I have a question concerning mindfulness of one's body. I notice that my posture is very important during meditation. My body slouches when my thoughts drift away. Would you say something about this?
Khenpo: Sutrayana does not offer teachings about the channels and winds in one's body, while Vajrayana instructs that one needs to sit upright and not lean forward, to the right, or to the left. Why is it so important to sit upright? It is taught that the mind enters life, develops, and grows. The mind is like a guest living in a hotel, which doesn't mean it is located in a specific spot in the body; rather it is connected with the inner winds that move through the inner channels that run through the body. If one sits straight, then the channels in one's body will be straight and the winds can flow easily as a result. When one's winds flow easily, then one's mind feels light. Therefore, in the meditation instructions it is said that both the points in the body as well as the points of the mind are important, and that is why the first meditation of mindfulness is on one's body.
Usually one thinks that one's body is permanent - it's not easy to accept that one's body is impermanent. As a result, thirst arises in one's mind and difficulties ensue. One usually thinks one's constituents are pure, so one focuses one's attention on one's body and meditates its parts, for instance, one directs one's attention on one's lungs and watches how they function while one inhales and exhales. This doesn't mean to say that one's body is impure and that one must reject it. One's physical body is the basis for practicing the Dharma, so it's very important. If one understands that one only wants to use one's body to practice the Dharma, then that's the result of practicing meditation on one's body.
The main purpose of concentrating on one's body during mindfulness meditation is to understand how important one's body really is. One takes one's attention from the crown of one's head and leads it through one's body to the soles of one's feet. The four practices of mindfulness are described very exactly in the chapter entitled, "Insight" in The Bodhicharyavatara by Shantideva. If one wants to meditate mindfulness of one's body, then one sits down in the meditation posture and searches by asking, "Where is the essence of my body?" If one practices well, one discovers that one's body has no essence, thus diminishing one's attachment, and one understands that one should not defy one's body either, but make good use of it by practicing the Dharma. If one has understood this, then one has realized mindfulness of one's body.
If one overestimates one's physical body, then one treats it like a Christmas tree. One buys expensive jewelry to adorn it, changes one's entire wardrobe every few years, buys fantastic jackets, and celebrates it as though one were making offerings to one's body. Of course, it's important to be heedful so that one doesn't get sick and die, to use it to practice the Dharma, and to accumulate good karma. That would be the result of having practiced the meditation of being mindful of one's body.
The second practice of mindfulness is being mindful of one's feelings, which are conditions.
If one thinks that a pleasant feeling truly exists, then one will try to hold or experience it again, thereby increasing one's kleshas and doing negative things as a result. When pleasant feelings arise, one seeks to find the answer to the questions one asks oneself, "What is that feeling? Did it arise on its own? Does it have an own nature?" and so forth. One examines the nature of a feeling and discovers that feelings have no essence and reality of their own. How does one notice that one has a pleasant feeling? There are various ways of perceiving a pleasant feeling one has, and that is the purpose of practice. When one is mindful of one's pleasant feelings, one discovers that one has them. If one examines them, then one discovers that they have no essence. That's how it is.
When one enters the Dharma, becomes a Buddhist, and practices, it may happen that one practices for many years. One day one notices that one's mind hasn't been tamed and doesn't settle down. Why? I think the reason is that one hasn't practiced enough. If one sits down to meditate, finds it's very difficult, notices that one's mind wanders off, and ponders too much about feelings, then it would be good to have a break, to take a walk, and to continue with one's practice afterwards.
The four mindfulness practices are taught in Sutrayana and do not belong to Mantrayana. It is necessary to concentrate one's attention on a deity in Mantrayana - one deity holds a bell upwards, the other deity holds it at the hip, but these aspects are not needed at this stage of practice.
The next practice is mindfulness of one's mind. Although one cannot find it, one thinks that one's mind truly exists. If one isn't proficient in the foregoing practices, then it will be quite hard focusing one's attention on one's mind. But one can try to practice by asking oneself, "Where and how is my mind? Is it inside or outside my body?" And so, one practices looking at one's mind with one's mind.
If one focuses one's attention upon one's mind and realizes its nature, then one will become an Arya, a -phag-pa in Tibetan. Beginners can practice once in a while and understand the nature of their mind on and off, but it's very difficult to realize it fully. I didn't say this to discourage anyone, seeing that the Aryas once started at the beginning and gradually accomplished the result.
The next practice is mindfulness of "phenomena," dharmas. One concentrates appearances and asks oneself, "Do things really exist as they appear to do. Are they established as they seem to be?"
The Perspective: Meditating the four practices of mindfulness are gradual steps that become bigger as one progresses to the fourth, which is the largest. If one has realized all four, then one sees that all inner and outer factors of existence have no own essence, but arise in dependence upon causes and conditions. When one has gained certainty and integrated realization of the true nature of all things, then nobody needs to teach that one should not be attached to experiences and appearances, because non-attachment will naturally have unfolded in one's mind. If one wants to practice meditating the four types of mindfulness, then I would recommend studying texts of the Great Middle Way School.
A rainbow appears in the sky when the sun shines and it rains a little. Rainbows appear when these three conditions prevail: the sky, sunshine, and a little rain. Since it's not an independent existent, a rainbow will not appear in the absence of these three conditions. One can take pictures of a rainbow, but one can't take a piece out and call it one's own. Knowing that a rainbow lacks true existence, one has no thirst and is not attached to it. But one is attached to and wants to own a piece of gold that one might see, because one thinks it is solid, valuable, and real.
The Perspective: When one has realized the Dharma due to having practice quite well, then one will have less and less painful feelings. Having abandoned thirst, one isn't involved with inner and outer appearances and doesn't grasp anymore. Having abandoned grasping, one has relinquished becoming, and this is called "cessation."
I saw a movie on T.V. called "Animal Fun," which showed a cat fighting violently with its own reflection in a mirror. Why did the cat fight with its reflection? The cat perceived its own reflection as real. Human beings look in a mirror and don't fight with their own reflection when they have a mad expression, because they know it's only an appearance and not real. Nobody is upset when they make faces at themselves while looking in a mirror, but everyone gets mad if someone makes faces at them. Why? Because they know that the reflection in the mirror is not true, whereas they think someone else is.
If one practices mindfulness meditation, one realizes that all appearances arise in dependence upon causes and conditions and therefore are not real. If one sees that all appearances are just as delusive as a reflection in a mirror, then one is an Arya, "a noble being." We should all make wishing prayers that we become a noble human being real, real fast.
Question: Outer appearances are a reflection of one's own mind. How can that be?
Khenpo: Generally, when the twelve links are explained, it is taught that one attains a human birth due to karma, so outer appearances also appear due to one's karma. Merely saying that outer appearances are only mind is a rather vague proposition. Outer appearances only appear because one accumulated karma in one's previous life, and things will continue appearing until one's karma is exhausted. For example, I need to wear glasses, since I see everything blurred without them. I have an eye sickness, which is a result of my karma. Outer appearances will appear blurred for me and I will need glasses in order to see things clearly as long as my karma lasts. In the same manner, when one's karma that causes one to see appearances delusively is exhausted, then one will be able to directly see the true nature of all phenomena. We explain this to Tibetans by using the example of jaundice. If someone has jaundice, they see everything, even the snowcapped mountains, in the yellow colour. If one tells someone who has jaundice that the snow is not yellow, they believe it, but they can't see that the snow is white until they have been healed. When one's karma is exhausted, one will be able to see the true nature of phenomena. When a Lama teaches that nothing has an own nature and doesn't truly exist, one can believe him, but one can't directly perceive this until one's karma is spent.
The four mindfulness practices are central while on the path. One begins slowly by practicing tranquility meditation and letting one's mind calm down. If one can let one's mind rest in ease, then it is possible to engage in further mindfulness practices. If one practices tranquility meditation, then one will be able to practice meditation to attain perfect and pure insight.
Generally speaking, everybody thinks a lot - while walking down the street or while driving around. One does get a headache from thinking too much; therefore it's good to practice tranquility meditation. One sits down and focused one's attention on one's ingoing and outgoing breath - it's a good method to relax one's mind. There are many methods to concentrate on one's breath, but one needn't apply complex techniques. One simply watches one's breath and sees that one is inhaling and exhaling, holding one's mind one-pointedly on one's breathing. There are stories of people who practiced tranquility so efficiently that they didn't notice that a snake had jumped onto their lap. It's sufficient for a beginner to practice two or three minutes. If one works all day and has many thoughts, then one may have many thoughts when one goes to bed and then cannot fall asleep. In that case, one can watch one's breath and then one will fall asleep easily.
If one can ease one's mind through tranquility meditation, then one reaches a state of mental absorption, bsam-grtän in Tibetan. It is said that very advanced practitioners can abide in meditative concentration for many days without having to eat, because they subsist on meditative absorption as their nourishment. Beginners can abide in meditative absorption, but they are distracted again five or ten minutes later. And so, one should generate the wish to be able to abide in meditative absorption until one is nourished by it.
(5) Right concentration
There is the stage in the eightfold path called "right concentration," ting-nge--dzin in Tibetan. There are many translations for the Sanskrit term (which is samadhi), such as "mental focus, meditative stabilization, meditative absorption, meditative concentration," etc. By practicing again and again, it's possible to abide in a state of undistracted concentration or deep holding for longer and longer periods of time.
Right concentration is different than mindfulness. The Tibetan term for "right mindfulness" is drän-pa-yang-dag, and drän-pa means "remembering, not forgetting objects of introspection." Right concentration on the other hand means adhering to undistracted evenness with one-pointed concentration.
(6) Right livelihood
Right livelihood refers to one's lifestyle. It means that one nourishes one's body by eating and drinking what enables one to survive well and not get sick. Right livelihood is not stealing the clothes one wears and the food one eats, for instance, rather earning one's living honestly. Wrong livelihood refers to pirates and bandits who take what is not given and therefore hurt others. It's easy for lay practitioners to earn their living decently, but monks and nuns depend on donations. In order to get more donations, there is the danger that they lie by telling people that they are a Rinpoche or Tulku, and such behaviour is certainly wrong livelihood. Right livelihood is an ongoing process, because one has to sustain one's body, and therefore it is important to always apply right livelihood.
(7) Right speech
Right speech means to only say that which benefits others. Nobody speaks non-stop, but when one talks and doesn't benefit others, then at least one should be careful that one doesn't say anything that hurts anyone. When I listen to people like His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche or Thrangu Rinpoche talk, then I never hear them speak a word that harms anyone - they only say things that benefit others.
Westerners teach their children to speak well. I don't know if it's always true, but I have noticed this on my trips. Many children engage in useless speech and as a result accumulate negative karma. It's very important to practice right speech.
(8) Right action
Actually, the Tibetan term that is translated as "right action," läs-kyi-mtha' in Tibetan, means "right active aim." As it is, one continuously accumulates karma, so right action means right behaviour. The basis for right action is the right view. Right actions based on the right view do render beneficial results.
The Perspective: Practicing the noble eightfold path is a very efficient method and excellent remedy to relinquish one's mind poisons. There are specific methods to relinquish specific mind poisons, for example, meditating ugliness eliminates one's craving and greed, meditating loving kindness and compassion relinquishes one's hatred, and so forth.
Diligently engaging in the practices of the truth of the path is the method to counteract one's mind poisons. Vanquishing one's kleshas means fully uprooting the cause of suffering so that it doesn't arise again. This is called "cessation" and is, in fact, liberation. We should aspire to accomplish the truth of cessation and integrate it in our lives as fast as possible.
This was a short presentation of the twelve links of dependent arising and the Four Noble Truths. If you want to know the details, then you can read the great commentaries and study these topics more thoroughly.
It would be a very good practice if you continue engaging in tranquility meditation by focusing your attention on your ingoing and outgoing breath, if you hold your mind in meditative concentration, and if you reflect the twelve links of dependent arising, so that you understand how the one arises from and leads to the other.
When one gains certainty in the process of creation and cessation, then one has the right view. The right view is truly the fundament and ground one walks on while aspiring to achieve liberation from the painful rounds of cyclic existence, samsara - there are no other means. Practicing the noble eightfold path is natural if one has the right view.
Lord Buddha turned the Wheel of Dharma three times for the benefit of all living beings and presented a vast amount of teachings. The teachings on the twelve links of dependent arising are central to all teachings and are very, very sacred. They are called "the heart of Lord Buddha's teachings." Why? If one meditates them well, then one will have the right view and will be able to practice the noble eightfold path correctly. As a result, one will realize the Four Noble Truths.
In short, whatever one studies - whether the twelve links of dependent arising or the Four Noble Truths - all teachings state that the root of delusiveness is "not knowing," ma-rig-pa. No matter what activities one carries out - whether one commits oneself to a specific discipline, or accumulates merit and wisdom, or takes part in group meditations -, they all serve to eliminate the root of samsara. One should always hope to relinquish ma-rig-pa when one arranges offerings on one's shrine and one should make wishing prayers that one vanquishes not knowing fully. One's entire practice is meant to cut the root of suffering and pain, which is ignorance.
Even if one can't understand these teachings perfectly in this life, one can hope to enter the Pure Realm of Devachen when one dies, to directly see Buddha Amitabha there, and to be able to practice the Dharma with ease then. With this wish in our heart, let us pray the Devachen Prayer together after having dedicated the merit.
Question: I have a question about the path. Are the twelve links arranged like that on purpose?
Translator: Are you asking whether they are static?
Student: Is there a reason for being arranged in that order?
Khenpo: The twelve links are arranged sequentially and according to cause and effect. For example, birth and death depend upon each other. One has feelings when one grows old and dies. Ageing and death occur due to having been born, and birth occurs due to karma. The accumulation of karma occurs due to the kleshas. One can imagine that this process covers three lifetimes. One imagines that ignorance and karmic creation led to one's present birth; they are the cause that in this life one has consciousness up to and including feelings, which bring on karma and kleshas. Based upon feelings, then thirst, grasping, and becoming evolve, which are the causes one creates to be born again in a next life. This means to say that consciousness (link 3) until becoming (link 10) belong to this life. Birth as well as ageing and death (links 11 and 12) point to one's next life. Again, one imagines that the links from consciousness (link 3) up to and including becoming (link 10) belong to this life. Ageing and death, and therefore birth, point to one's next life. This process is arranged in a circle so that one better understands that existence is based on karma that one accumulates due to the kleshas.
Student: I have another question. Is there a reason why ignorance and karmic creation are situated next to the realm of human beings in the illustration of the Wheel of Existence?
Khenpo: No. There is no static connection between the circle of the twelve links and the five realms of existence, because they all spin and turn, just like life.
Dankeschön, "thank you very much" - thugs-rje-che.
Through this goodness, may omniscience be attained
And thereby may every enemy (mental defilement) be overcome.
May beings be liberated from the ocean of samsara
That is troubled by waves of birth, old age, sickness, and death.
By this virtue may I quickly attain the state of Guru Buddha, and then
Lead every being without exception to that very state!
May precious and supreme Bodhicitta that has not been generated now be so,
And may precious Bodhicitta that has already been never decline, but continuously increase!
May the life of the Glorious Lama remain steadfast and firm.
May peace and happiness fully arise for beings as limitless (in number) as space (is vast in its extent).
Having accumulated merit and purified negativities, may I and all living beings without exception
swiftly establish the levels and grounds of Buddhahood.
Presented at Karma Theksum Tashi Chöling in Hamburg in 2006. Translated into English in reliance on the German rendering kindly and efficiently offered by Achim Bayer by Gaby Hollmann, responsible and apologizing for all mistakes. Copyright Karma Lekshey Ling Institute in Kathmandu, Nepal, as well as Karma Theksum Tashi Chöling, 2008. May virtue increase!