The Essentials of Buddhism

The Essentials of Buddhism

by Gonsar Tulku Rinpoche

When we speak about Buddhism we refer to an extraordinarily vast and deep subject. I have learned but a single drop of this great ocean of knowledge, however I shall present here a short, spontaneous introduction to some of the fundamental points of the Dharma.

Most might know that Buddhism is one of the great World Religions and that it traces back to Buddha Shakyamuni, who was born in Lumbini (Nepal) 2539 years ago. Many of you will also probably know some of Buddha's great deeds, as it would take too long to describe them all. At the age of thirty-five, Buddha manifested the attainment of full enlightenment; then, he lived on until the age of eighty-one. From the attaining of enlightenment until his Parinirvana, he had mainly spent his time teaching.

The first teaching Buddha has given was on the Four Noble Truths: the Noble Truth of Suffering, the Noble Truth of the Cause, the Noble Truth of the Cessation (or Liberation) and the Noble Truth of the Path. And after that, he also granted a variety of teachings, always in accordance to the needs and mental dispositions of his disciples.

At first, these teachings of Buddha spread widely in India. Tibetans were first introduced to the Dharma in the seventh century of western calendar; and, immediately recognising its extraordinary value, they applied great efforts into bringing the doctrine to their home country. Many travelled to India in order to study Buddhism there, and some outstanding Indian Buddhist masters were also invited to teach in Tibet.

Initially, Tibetans were "the people behind the Himalaya" and, as mountainous people, they were strong and quite wild. At that time, Tibetans enjoyed battling. They had powerful armies and waged war in all directions. Only after encountering the teachings of Buddha were these wild people tamed. Thanks to this encounter, people became gentle – and the country was also benefitted in far more extraordinary ways through the practicing of Dharma.

Let us briefly describe what Buddhism is. The actual central point of all Buddha's teachings are the beings, that is, the living beings, the sentient beings (Sattva or Prāñin). It is neither Buddha nor attainment of supernatural powers, nor is it any kind of god or philosophical theme. None of these are the central point of Buddhism, but the sentient beings, those endowed with life. That refers to those who have mind (Citta or Mana) or consciousness.

What are the characteristics of beings endowed with consciousness? Such beings’ minds allow them to perceive, acknowledge and understand, as well as experience happiness and suffering. In the range of existence there are many objects with no mind; thus, such objects, such as automobiles, are unable to cognise or undergo the experiences of happiness and suffering. Sentient beings have minds and feelings of happiness and suffering. We human beings are not the only ones who have this characteristic: there are many other beings who cognise and feel just as we do, regardless of their outer forms.

All humans and animals, down to the smallest insect experience happiness and suffering. Not only do we undergo these experiences, but also share the same wish to obtain happiness and to be free from suffering. Besides, all beings have equal right to live happily and avoid suffering.

Thus, practicing religion is an effort directly related to these experiences. Since beings with a mind have the quality of wishing for happiness and trying to avoid suffering, we can speak about the necessity and value of religious practice. Without relation to the sentient beings and their feelings, religious practice has little meaning. I do not think this is merely a characteristic of the Buddha's teachings, but an actual goal shared by every religion.

If we summarise the practices of Buddhism, we can speak of view (Dristi), conduct or behaviour (Charyā), and meditation (Bhāwanā). These are the three aspects of Buddhist practice. For any valid spiritual practice to be complete, it must necessarily contain these three aspects.

A pure and correct view is necessary. Our mind lacks clarity and is full of ignorance. We can only obtain the capacity to see correctly what is and what is not, by developing a pure view. Only on the basis of a correct view can we know the truth.

Such view cannot be just of any type. It must comprehend the basis, the path, and the goal; that is, it should present an accurate understanding of our actual situation, of the process of transformation, and of the goal to be attained. This means things should be understood according to their actual mode of existence, as the reality, free of fantasies and fabrications. This is the right view.

But right view alone is not enough: it won’t be helpful if our conduct is not in accordance with it. Therefore, behaviour of body, speech, and mind is of utmost importance because our experiences will result from it. Whether we experience happiness or suffering is determined by our type of behaviour and not by the philosophy we follow. This works both on the individual and collective levels.

That is why it is so important and necessary to act in a correct and beneficial manner and to avoid destructive behaviour. What is beneficial and what is destructive? Actions that directly or indirectly cause suffering for oneself and others are destructive. Actions that bring true well-being to oneself and others, now and ultimately, are beneficial. Therefore we should avoid harmful actions and engage in beneficial ones.

This is why ethics are a very important point in Buddhism. According to the level of development in one's mind, there are different levels of ethics, but Ahimsa, the absence of harming; that is, not to inflict harm, is the root of them all. We should absolutely avoid harming the lives of others by use of our body, speech, and mind. To remove all intention of harming others and to help them as well as we can is the meaning of ethics in Buddhism.

In order to eliminate all harm and to help others in the most complete way, we need to fully eliminate egoism. As long as egoism is not completely eliminated, it will not be possible to avoid all harm to others nor benefit them completely. Thus, egoism is one of the greatest mistakes that we want to challenge, overcome and eliminate. But it is not an easy delusion to eliminate. There are many degrees of egoism, from the very gross level down to the very subtle. We might be able to control the very gross egoism for some time, but in order to eliminate all forms of egoism down to its subtlest levels, we have to train ourselves into that direction for a long time. This is why having a pure conduct or correct behaviour in Buddhism are essential points.

Once we have obtained the basis of a correct view and of correct behaviour, then it can be very useful to practice meditation. It is of no use whatsoever if we try practicing any type of meditation without the basis of pure view and pure behaviour. Without these two, it is not even possible to practice any real meditation. This is because meditation is not just a relaxation, but rather a gradual training of the mind. The mind can only be educated and trained if we have the clarity of a pure view and if we follow a wholesome behaviour. Therefore, all of these three points must be united.

If, for example, we want to build a house, we will need the ground on which to build the house, and a stable foundation. We will then also need construction materials such as bricks and wood. Once we have the ground and the materials, we can start the actual building of the house and progress day by day. In the same way, we need the basis of good ethics, just like we need the material that comes from pure view. Once we have both, we can start the actual building of the house with meditation, which is the actual development by training the mind.

If we are to follow the path of meditation, we need a qualified master. It is only thanks to the instructions of such a master that we can walk correctly on the path of meditation and reach its goal. If we make efforts by ourselves alone and practice randomly, it will be impossible to make any real progress.

When we build a house, we need to follow the guidelines of a qualified architect. If we start construction without the aid of qualified people, it will be likely to fall apart sometime soon. Therefore, if we want to construct a building in our own mind, we need an experienced advisor who can instruct us.

Many people think that meditation is mere relaxation of the mind, but this is by no means the real meaning of meditation. Meditation is a goal-oriented training and educating of the mind. It is something active: instead of relaxing, it is more like a battle in one's mind. In meditation we try to build up something on the mental level, but there are many mental factors that arise as obstacles to prevent this. For a beginner, this would lead doubtlessly to a heavy fight. But it is only in this way – and not by spending our time being sleepy and lazy – that we can accomplish something.

To practice meditation correctly is the best method to increase and promote the extraordinary qualities of compassion in our mind and to develop the wisdom, clarity, and generate pure love. If we do it incorrectly, meditation becomes one of the best ways to totally waste one's time. Instead, it would be better to pursue some very concrete activities with one's body or speech in order to create something useful and tangible.

When starting to practice meditation, the hardest thing is the lack of control over one's mind. To start controlling the mind, it is first necessary to develop concentration. Currently our mind is never calm: it is like a flag waving in a strong wind. It has to calm down a bit at first, before it can be used to follow important thoughts and lines of reasoning. As long as the mind is constantly moving chaotically, it will be hard to follow precise or deep thoughts.

Buddha explained many methods of meditation (Bhāvanās). They can be summarised into two types: concentrative (Sthāpita Bhāvanā) and analytical meditation (Vichārita Bhāvanā). Both kinds of meditation are necessary. Concentrative meditation alone does not lead to the realisation, and analytical meditation alone also does not. It is necessary to combine them.

To do meditation, we can assume certain body-postures, but the most important thing about meditation is the position of the mind. Some people think that meditation is just a sitting posture, but this is not the case. Everybody can sit in a certain way, but it is not the body that has to meditate; it is the mind.

To practice meditation, first, it is necessary to have a corresponding knowledge (Pragyā). There are three types of knowledge: knowledge from hearing or learning (Shrutimayi Pragyā), from reflecting (Cintamayi Pragyā), and from meditating (Bhāvanāmayi Pragyā). First, we have to acquire the knowledge through learning, which opens the door of understanding the points of the practice. Then this knowledge can be deepened, leading to firm conviction, by reflecting in a clear and correct manner. This knowledge can be developed into an even deeper understanding, which leads to an experiential direct realisation through the practice of concentrative and analytical meditation.

This is not the time to explain this subject in greater depth. Therefore, we will give some further descriptions of the first of these three points: the view of Buddhism.

One of the most important points of the view of Buddhism is the description of the mind. This is because, as we mentioned at the beginning, the sentient beings are the central point of Buddha's teachings, and the mind is in direct relation to the beings' experiencing of happiness and suffering. Buddha has made it clear that the actual root of all our experiences of happiness and suffering is in the mind.

This way of looking at things does not correspond to our usual, spontaneous way of thinking; rather, we usually believe that the causes of our happiness and sufferings are somewhere out there. When we experience happiness and suffering, we usually blame other people or outer conditions. We think: Yes, I experienced this because of him; it is his fault. Or, we think that the cause of our experiences lies in our country, the house we live in, or that our problem is all the neighbour’s fault. These are usual reactions when we experience happiness and suffering. Additionally, some people have particular ideas and hold invisible forces to be responsible for their sufferings: they imagine that the experienced suffering is inflicted by evil ghosts. In short, they have a view that sees the causes of their suffering as lying outside. Most people see an enemy as the cause of their suffering, and whenever suffering arises, it is accompanied by the thought: “It is entirely this enemy's fault that I have to undergo such misfortune”.

With regards to happiness we have a similar opinion, seeing outer objects as the causes for our happiness. The source of happiness is "he" or "she", another country, money, a new object that we acquire or a new philosophy that we turn to. In such things we see the sources of our happiness. And some people, again, have somewhat strange ideas and think that good spirits or good fairies provide them with happiness.

All these opinions point for the causes of happiness and suffering outside. There is no doubt that sometimes these outer objects can work as a factor for happiness and suffering. However, we consider these as the very cause of our experiences, while in fact, they are not. Outer objects like the weather can certainly be triggering factors for our experiences, but the real cause of our happiness and suffering – as was clarified by Buddha – is not outside our mind, but within.

The outer factors can change. A factor which at once generated happiness can transform into one that causes suffering, and vice-versa. And a person who is a factor of happiness for one can be the cause of suffering for another. And he who was a factor of our wellbeing in the past can transform into a factor of suffering later on. Such changes are always occurring. Thus, enemies become friends, and friends become enemies. We often experience these.

For many people from the East, eating chili peppers is a factor of blissful experience; while for many westerners, eating chili peppers can become an indescribable suffering. For some, eating sauerkraut means pure happiness, whilst for others this is not at all the case.

In brief, these outer factors can change. Even outer sacred objects such as churches, statues of holy beings, temples and others are factors of happiness and well-being solely for those who have faith in them. Contemplating upon these objects gives them a sense of devotion which triggers well-being and happiness. Christians have churches and the Buddhists have temples. For devoted practitioners of these religions, perceiving such objects triggers confidence and well-being in their minds. But people who lack faith might not like such objects, and there are many such people in the world. For them, these outer objects are not a factor leading to happiness, and even the sight of a church or a temple might trigger their anger, annoyance or dislike.

If we ask whether these outer holy objects are useful, the answer is: yes, they are very useful, because we can get blessings from them. But whether we get blessings from these outer objects or not depends on our state of mind. Therefore, the outer holy object is only a factor, while the actual cause is in one's own mind.

Buddha has clearly described that the actual roots for happiness and suffering are in one's mind.

What are these actual causes for suffering? They are nothing mysterious or unknown to us. Rather, they refer to states of mind like greed (Rāga), jealousy (Ishiryā), anger (Krodha), pride (Abhimāna), avarice (Matsara), and so forth: states of mind we all know very well. The root of all of these are self-grasping ignorance (Ātmagrha) and self-cherishing egoism (Ahampriye): thus, ignorance and egoism are the actual roots of suffering in our mind.

Ignorance and egoism are factors of the mind. As long as these are present and strong, we will have to experience suffering, even though we wish to be free from it. Even when exposed to a very pleasant setting, the egoistic person will never be truly happy or experience real well-being. Wherever such a person goes, others will always appear as a negative factor and every place will be experienced as unpleasant because objects will mostly be considered dissatisfying. Such a person can be with anyone, go anywhere, use anything, but nothing will really bring happiness and contentment.

As my Venerable Master used to say, an intensely selfish person can be compared to someone whose whole body is covered with wounds. He will not feel well anywhere. Wherever such a person sits or moves, pain will be felt. Whenever touched, it will hurt.

On the other hand, the actual causes for happiness, the states of mind such as contentment, satisfaction, pure selfless love, sincere compassion, patience, true wisdom and cherishing others, are also in one's mind. These are states of mind that represent the real, actual causes for happiness. If these factors are strong in one's mind, then we will doubtlessly feel well when the outer circumstances are agreeable, but even when finding ourselves in adverse outer conditions, these strong inner causes will enable us to remain undisturbed.

When someone manages to rid his mind completely from anger and hatred, there are no more enemies in the entire world. This is because "enemy" is a label, a designation produced by our own mind. No objects are enemies from their own side. As long as anger is present in one's mind, there will be plenty of outer enemies.

This situation was described with the following example by the Indian Buddhist master Shantideva: We will never find enough leather to cover the whole surface of the earth so that our feet are protected from thorns. But if we cover our feet with leather, we reach the same result, as we will be protected at all places we go. Accordingly, the master mentions: if we wanted to overcome all enemies by meeting them, talking, becoming friends or giving them presents, we would never accomplish it, because beings are countless. If, instead, we overcome hatred and anger in our mind, it has the same effect as overcoming all enemies. Visiting every human being and creating a good relation with them is impossible. It is possible, however, to overcome irritation and anger completely.

The inner causes, these actual roots of suffering are called Kleshas in Buddhism, a term that is often translated as delusions. These delusions can temporarily manifest very strongly in one's mind, but they can still be removed. Everyone has the prerequisites to completely remove delusions from the mind by application of the right means.

Delusions are not a part of the very nature of the mind, whose essential nature is pure and free of faults. At the moment, the mind is covered by many defilements and delusions - much like a crystal that is clear and transparent, but that can be completely hidden by a rock. However, it is possible to break this rock and reveal the crystal’s clear, transparent nature. In the same way, it is possible to free the mind from the mistakes and obstacles that cover it and thereby reveal its pure, clear nature.

If these mistakes were a part of the essential nature of the mind, the situation would be hopeless. Then, we would not be able to change. If this was our situation, then our efforts would be like those of a person trying to wash a piece of coal until it gets white. But this is not the situation that we are in. Rather, in its nature, the mind is pure and free of defilements. This pure nature is temporarily covered by the present obstacles, and therefore, it is possible to free the mind from these obstacles. It is like the clear and empty sky which can be filled with thick clouds temporarily, that will be blown away by the wind within a short time.

This is one reason why it is possible to separate the mind from obstacles. But there is also another reason; the mistakes of the mind do not have a stable foundation. They are based on a wrong view. For example, if we build a big project on a lie, then we can get away with it up to a certain point, but sooner or later the lie will be unmasked and the project will tumble down.

The same is true for the mistakes in our mind, such as greed, hatred, jealousy and so on. These mistakes can be overwhelmingly strong temporarily, but they have no stable basis; they are based on a wrong view (Mithyadhristi) and ignorance (Avidhya).

This is the reason why Buddhism emphasises ignorance as the root of all mistakes. To fully describe ignorance, we would need more time, because it is something quite subtle. But let us describe it roughly. We know different things: we know ourselves, other people and different objects. We know these, but the way we understand them does not fully correspond to reality. There is always a factor of projection that is faulty and does not correspond to reality. And this is what is called ignorance. Greed, hatred, jealousy and so on all have their root in this ignorance.

Now, what is the mistake we make when we perceive things, ourselves, and others? We, the others, and all objects actually exist interdependently and in an interrelated manner, but we see all these objects as if they existed in an independent way, from their own side, in an intrinsic manner. When we think about an enemy, it seems to emerge from his own side, as if he existed as an enemy independently, on the basis of his own body. It appears to us that we could find the actual enemy somewhere in that body.

We might think of ourselves: Yes, I am here and I am important. And we perceive this important "I" as if it could be found inside, somewhere in the body, as a powerful, independent "I", a mysterious "I". Whether it is our own person, friends or enemies or any items, we always perceive objects in this concrete way.

We can doubtlessly investigate these things ourselves. And if we think and investigate correctly, we can recognise whether it is or not likewise. We do not have to trust the explanations of others, because we can see by ourselves how we perceive things.

If we ask whether this way of perceiving conforms to reality, the answer is no. This apparent way of existing does not at all correspond to reality and that we can recognise easily. If we take an enemy as an example, we perceive as if it was stuck inside this person in a very concrete manner. Let us investigate more precisely what in this object is our enemy. Let us search in the body of this person; is his head the enemy? Are the arms the enemy? Are the legs or nose the enemy? None of these are the enemy. If we continue investigating and start looking for the enemy inside the body, we will only find even many more problematic things to rummage through. There are many things in there, but nothing that is the enemy. If scientists examine the person down to the smallest particle, they will not find the enemy anywhere; they would not find it even in the quarks. If someone does a sharp analytical meditation and looks for the enemy in the object, he will not be able to find him anywhere.

We can look for the enemy in this concrete person whom we consider as enemy, and to whom we reacted so spontaneously with anger, irritation and dislike for as long as we want, but we cannot find him anywhere. For our own person it is also exactly the same. Sometimes we think that we are happy, that we are sad or angry; and if we start looking inside ourselves for this "I" that makes all these experiences, we might look for as long as we want, but it won’t be found. These ways of analysing clearly show that our usual way of perceiving the objects is incorrect, is mistaken.

So, how do the objects exist? They exist interdependently (Pratitya Samutpanna). Things exist interdependently and in mutual relation (Apekshita) to each other: not independently (Svatantraka), from their own side. We and the others exist in dependence upon our causes, circumstances and parts. We exist in dependence upon the consciousness that perceives these things; upon the designations that are given to these things, such as "I" and "you". They are just names, designations; the objects exist depending on all these factors.

The objects exist by the coming together of the causes, factors, the name, and the perceiving consciousness; that is why they exist in interdependence, in mutual relation. We think of ourselves as something very important. One's own "I" is very important; but on the whole world we are only "I" for ourselves, and for everyone else we are "you", "he", or "she", but not "I". For those who are very close to us, we are "you". For those that are a little farther we are "he" or "she". And for the greatest part of the other beings we have no importance whatsoever. Thus, it also depends on the point of view, on the perspective. There is a similar interdependence when we designate the two sides of a river as "this side" or "the other side". According to where we stand, "this side" and "the other side" are changeable.

This is the way in which all objects exist in interdependence. We might understand this by intellectual reasoning but still, our spontaneous way to perceive the objects is not changed by our understanding. Rather, we spontaneously see the objects as if they had an intrinsic existence; and on this basis of mistaken view, states of mind such as greed, hatred, pride, jealousy and so forth arise. That fundamental ignorance justifies all our other mistaken conceptions.

All these wrong states of mind are based on a fundamental wrong view. As I said before, if we make correct efforts, these delusions of the mind can be eliminated, and this is because they are all based on a wrong view.

Similarly, we also have the seeds, the potentialities, of the beneficial, wholesome states of mind within us. Every being has these potentialities and especially in the human state of mind are they in a good functionable state. By making the corresponding efforts, we can strengthen and promote these potentialities. There is not one among these states that could not be developed and increased through familiarisation and right efforts. All the positive factors of the mind can be developed and increased by undertaking the necessary familiarisation. And the most important of all of these positive factors of the mind are the universal compassion, sincere cherishing of others and the wisdom that understands exactly the actual mode of existence of the phenomena.

Thus, if we ask what is the essential training of Buddhism, it is cherishing others. This is because we are not the only ones wishing to experience happiness and to avoid suffering; this is a wish that all beings have. Therefore, this compassion, this wish to cherish others and that all beings may obtain desired happiness and avoid undesired suffering is the essence of Buddhism. We develop it not only by understanding that others wish for happiness and want to avoid suffering just as we do; but also by realising how we are deeply indebted to the kindness of others. By being conscious of the extraordinary gains and benefits that we are constantly receiving from others, we develop the wish to repay this kindness. And this deep gratitude toward others lets us develop the determination to make it possible for all of them to be liberated from suffering and enjoy a lasting state of happiness.

The ways in which others constantly benefit us is extensively and precisely described in the teachings of Buddhism, and it would take too much time to explain it here.

The fact that we receive incomparable benefits from others at every moment, and the recognition of the inseparable close bond we have with all beings are the key realisations that lead one directly onto the path of the heroic Bodhisattvas, who are destined to become Buddhas. As a result of the gratitude that arises on the basis of this realisation one takes the universal responsibility of liberating all beings from sufferings. This higher consideration (Adhyāshaya) leads one to seek full enlightenment in order to fulfil that courageous aspiration. This is the great vow and determination of a Bodhisattva; in other words, the generation of Bodhicitta, or enlightenment-mind.

It is not a pure attitude to seek only one's own happiness and even self-liberation from the cycle of suffering, while all other sentient beings remain in suffering and do not accomplish lasting happiness. Of course, individual liberation is a worthy goal and to aspire it is indeed a positive motive, but it is insufficient. Therefore it is necessary to overcome all kinds of egoistic attitudes that see one's own person as the central objective; instead, we should develop the attitude that places all others at the central position and pursues the well-being of the others in the first place.

The ultimate goal that we pursue is the state of full enlightenment (Samyaksambodhi). This state is nothing else than a state in which all the faults, down to the subtlest mistakes, are completely eliminated and all the positive qualities are developed to a perfect point. We do not try to achieve this state to become "the highest" or "the best"; rather, we try to achieve it because we recognise that it is only in this state that we will have the means to actualise the well-being of all. For this reason we try to reach this state of enlightenment by following the teachings of the Enlightened One.

The right approach to Buddhism

When we pursue studies of Buddhism and Dharma, it is important to develop a correct motivation and also to aim at the correct goal. It is not exactly like when we study other things.

Since we study Dharma, the motivation must follow correspondingly. This is because Dharma is not just studied in order to know more, to get more knowledge. Dharma is studied to obtain a concrete gain; and not just any gain, but a far-reaching gain from which we can profit from for all time.

And how can we achieve such a far-reaching gain? We achieve this goal by understanding what the actual roots of our happiness and suffering are and by transforming them. On one hand, if we do not understand the actual causes for happiness and suffering, and on the other hand, if we understand them, but do not bring about the necessary transformation, then it will not be possible to achieve that far-reaching and lasting gain, despite whatever other means we may employ.

To pursue other kinds of studies does not have this effect. When we follow other studies, we learn all sorts of things. But the knowledge that we acquire does not have such a direct relation to the actual causes of happiness and suffering; it cannot bring any lasting gain. It is possible that through such knowledge we may gain something temporary, but to obtain an everlasting result is very difficult.

What are the actual causes for happiness and suffering? These are explained in the Dharma, and how we can directly deal with them and change them is the essence of Dharma. This is also the reason why the study of Dharma produces a tangible and lasting result.

Sometimes we think that our ordinary activities produce real, concrete results, while Dharma-activities are something rather abstract and have no concrete results. But the truth is that somebody who really understands Dharma and applies it correctly into practice does achieve the best tangible result for oneself.

However, if one considers as Dharma something that has little to do with real Dharma, or if one approaches Dharma wrongly, then there are all the risks and dangers that one's efforts will be in vain. In this case, instead of bringing concrete, beneficial results, one will end up wasting much time and energy for nothing.

When we get involved with real Dharma in an unmistaken way, there is nothing that could produce greater results for oneself and for the others.

We think that an activity makes sense if it improves our experience of happiness and prevents our suffering, and that something is worthless or no good if it worsens our situation. There is no other meaningful criteria to distinguish what is meaningful from what is meaningless, to distinguish what is useful from what is useless.

The experience of happiness and suffering is dependent upon the causes of happiness and suffering. That which directly connects us to the causes of happiness and suffering is Dharma. And by practicing Dharma, these causes of happiness and suffering can be directly influenced. Therefore, there is nothing more useful and effective than getting involved in Dharma.

The root philosophy of Buddhism, the teachings that Buddha gave, is the statement that the actual causes for happiness and suffering lie in one's own mind, and that the outer objects may serve as conditions, but are not the actual cause for happiness and suffering. Other people, for example, are not the actual cause, nor are any other objects; gods or ghosts. There are, rather, causes in one's own continuum that are responsible for all our suffering and happiness. This is a central point of Buddha's teachings.

By understanding that the causes of happiness and suffering are to be found in our own mind, we make efforts to change these in order to accomplish the real benefit for ourselves and others. The teachings of Buddha have many aspects, but some are fundamental, and to understand them correctly is very important.

As already said before, the ultimate goal and central core point of the Buddha Dharma are the beings, and nothing else. Some people may think that the actual central point of Buddhism is Buddha or the Nirvana, that is, the freedom from cyclic existence, or the calmness of the mind. But this is not correct. All of these are surely very worthwhile achievements, but the central point of the Dharma is benefitting the sentient beings.

When we speak of "beings" we mean objects that are endowed with consciousness. Thanks to this, they are able to experience happiness and suffering. And it is because of the existence of beings that the teachings and the practice of Dharma are so relevant. Thus, Dharma exists only in relation to them.

The whole content of Dharma is a precise description of the situation of the beings, of their experience of happiness and suffering, and of the possibilities of changing their situation. It is only in relation to the beings that the explanations of Dharma have great significance. The explanations on the liberation from the cyclic conditioned existence and those on the state of Buddhahood and others are all descriptive of the various states in which beings are immersed. Without relation to the beings, they have no meaning whatsoever.

When we speak about conditioned existence or Samsara, this is a description of the current situation of the beings. When we speak about freedom or Nirvana, this is also a situation that is possible for beings to attain. All of these descriptions are nothing else than descriptions of states in which beings are found or that they can attain in the future.

The Four Noble Truths (Chatwari Aryasatyāni) are also exact descriptions of the situation of the beings. The Noble Truth of Suffering (Dukha Ārya Satya) is the description of the basic situation of the beings. The Noble Truth of the Origin (Samuda Ārya Satya) is a description of the cause of that situation of the beings. The Noble Truth of Cessation (Nirodha Ārya Satya) is a description of the liberated situation of the beings; and the Noble Truth of the Path (Mārga Ārya Satya) is a description of the valid method which enables the beings to attain the liberated state.

When we talk about the state of an Arhat, this describes a situation of the beings. When we speak of Bodhisattvas, this also describes a situation of the beings. When we speak about Shunyata, this is still a description of the situation of the beings in a deeper sense. Thus, there are many different terms in the Dharma, and all of them have a direct relation to the sentient beings.

By "dharma practice" we mean the development of love (Maitri), compassion (Karūñā), patience (Shānti), giving (Dāna), ethics (Shila) and so forth. All of these practices have a direct relation to the beings: this can easily be understood. When compassion is developed, it is compassion towards beings. In the same way, developing love is only thinkable in relation to beings. Giving is also something that only has meaning in relation to others, as a direct help for them. Ethics only makes sense in relation to other beings, because ethics means avoiding destructive actions and practicing beneficial actions. When we say "destructive actions", we mean to say actions that harm beings, and "beneficial actions" are actions that benefit beings. Thus, practicing ethics only makes sense in relation to the beings.

Therefore, all the teachings and practices of Dharma are directly related to the situation of the beings. Since there are beings, there is Dharma, and for them it is useful and necessary that Dharma exists. If there were no beings, there would also be no need for the Dharma; the Dharma would have no use. In this way, we see that the central point of Dharma is neither a god nor nirvana; rather, it is just the beings. Even Buddha is not the central point. This is because Buddha is something that is born out of a sentient being and not vice versa. Buddhahood is also attainable only by the beings and in dependence upon the beings. The beings do not come into existence in dependence upon Buddha, but Buddha comes into existence in dependence upon the beings. Thus, they are the central point of Dharma. This is one of the most important points of the Buddhist view, and it is essential to understand it correctly.

When we are asked what the central core of Buddhism is, we should be able to give a direct answer. On one hand, the answer is that the beings are the central point, and on the other hand, the causes for happiness and suffering can be found in one's own mind and these causes have to be transformed. That is another essential point of Dharma.

As long as the mistakes in the mind, such as greed (Rāga), hatred (Dvesha), and confusion (Moha) are present in oneself, we speak about the state of conditioned cyclic existence, in which there are all the manifestations of suffering. When the mind is liberated from mistakes such as greed, hatred and ignorance, then we speak about liberation, about a state that is free from all suffering and characterised by lasting peace. It is wrong not to see things that way and to think that we are in Samsara as long as we are in this world, and in Nirvana when we go to another world. To be of the opinion that we are in Samsara as long as we exist and we are in Nirvana when we cease to exist is also wrong.

As long as the delusions are present in our mind, we are a typical samsaric being of cyclic existence. As soon as we have removed delusion from our minds, we get freedom from the chain of Karma, Klesha, and suffering, thus attaining Nirvana: the state beyond sorrow. This does not at all mean that we stop existing. We continue to exist but in a state of full freedom and lasting peace. In addition to that, when even the subtlest imprint that the delusions left on the mind are completely removed and all the qualities of the mind such as wisdom, compassion, abilities, and actions have been fully perfected, we speak about the attainment of Buddhahood. It is also important to understand the fact that Buddha is a state of mind and not something like another world, or a state somewhere high up in space. Although we use the English word "enlightenment", it is not something that necessarily has to consist of light or be luminous. None of these are the meaning of Buddhahood.

Buddhahood is the state of a being when all the obstacles from the grossest up to the subtlest have been brought to a total end and all virtues or wholesome qualities have been developed to the level of perfection, infinity, and spontaneity. That is also shown by the very Sanskrit word "Buddha", which means "fully awakened" or "fully blossomed".

Another essential point in the view of Buddhism is that the mistakes of the mind are not in the essential nature of the mind and therefore, the mind can be freed from its mistakes and obstacles; thus, it is possible to remove all faults and obstacles, because they are not the very nature of the mind.

Additionally, we have to understand that the teachings given by the Buddha have various aspects. There is not just one Dharma that exists regardless of its being suitable for the beings or not; rather, according to the various capacities, characteristics, predilections and needs of the beings, there are corresponding teachings of the Buddhas. A person who understands this point correctly cannot become fanatic about one specific form of Dharma. When this point is not understood, the ignorance in one's mind creates a sense of strong attachment and of fanatic adherence to a certain aspect. Due to such a view, there is the danger to develop fanatic sectarian views. Such false views will be the source of disputes and conflicts.

Beings have different conditions, capacities and inclinations. Buddha, out of his great compassion, wisdom, and skilfulness gave a great variety of teachings that are suitable to all.

Another special quality of the teaching of Buddha is that the validity of his teaching and the worthiness of its practice are established on the ground of a sound logical basis and personal experience. It is not judged in terms of a teacher's status such as racial origin, physical shape or colour, age, social rank, titles, popularity, etc., but rather on the basis of the accuracy of the meaning, of the correspondence to reality and of the positive effects on the minds of the seekers. When the meaning is illogical and lacking real essence, it doesn't matter who teaches it and in what eloquent or poetical manner it is taught; it is of little use for a Dharma-learner and practitioner. Therefore, blindly believing and following anything that is taught is not the right approach. The Enlightened One has pointed this out very clearly when he said: "Oh monks and wise men: just as a gold seeker examines the gold through burning, cutting, and rubbing, likewise evaluate my teachings and then accept them, but not just out of your respect to me”.

The right approach to Dharma for a true practitioner should be like that of a sick man seeking treatment. For the cure of a sick person three things are indispensable: a qualified doctor, the right medical treatment and medical assistance such as nurses. What a patient should have as a motivation or impulse is knowing oneself to be sick, and aspiring to full recovery. One is determined to seek the necessary help to get well. This quest is also not because it is a tradition, not because it is fun, nor because one will gain fame, reputation, wealth and so on; rather, it is simply because one can't live as an ailing person and good health is aspired to from the depth of one's heart.

Exactly in that way should we also be sincere in our motivation for the Dharma, seeing the roots of all our suffering within ourselves and Dharma as the only treatment to cure us. Thus, one seeks Buddha as the perfect qualified physician, Dharma as the perfect valid treatment, and Sangha as the perfect, most helpful team.

This heartfelt seeking of these three indispensable helps is what is called TAKING REFUGE (Triratna Sharañā Gaman) in the THREE JEWELS! With this pure attitude all practice of Dharma begins.

  • Buddham sharanam gacchaami
  • Dharmam sharanam gacchaami
  • Sangham sharanam gacchaami
  • I go for refuge in Buddha
  • I go for refuge in Dharma
  • I go for refuge in Sangha
© 30.04.24 Rabten Choeling • EditorialData protection