Lama Phuntsok 2

Venerable Chöje Lama Phuntsok

in the Context of "The Four Dharmas of Gampopa"

Presented at Karma Theksum Tashi Chöling, Hamburg, in October 2008.


Before beginning to speak about Ngöndro during this short seminar, I wish to greet you kindly and thank you for having invited me. Let us recite "The Refuge Prayer" together.

The preliminary practices of Ngöndro, which can be compared to the foundation of a house, are very important. They are prerequisites that prepare students to have a stable and firm mind in order to be able to engage in the main meditation practices correctly.

Lhaje Gampopa summarized the Buddhadharma in the short prayer that has come to be known as "The Four Dharmas of Gampopa." It is:

"Grant your blessings so that my mind turns towards the Dharma.

Grant your blessings so that my Dharma may progress along the path.

Grant your blessings so that the path may clarify confusion.

Grant your blessings so that confusion may dawn as pristine wisdom."

4dharmas gampopa

The fourth line describes the goal of practice, which is transformation of all one's confusion and delusions into pristine wisdom. This isn't as easy as it might seem to appear, so the preparatory practices of clarifying one's delusions need to be practiced by following the path, which is only possible by turning one's mind towards the Dharma. One might think that Ngöndro, i.e., the preliminary practices, aren't important, which is a grave mistake. It's truly important to turn one's mind towards the Dharma, because then one's practice will go well. What does turning one's mind towards the Dharma mean?

Turning one's mind towards the Dharma is possible by understanding the purpose and benefits of practicing the Dharma. Without a founded understanding, one's wish to carry out more advanced practices won't come true. How does one turn one's mind towards the Dharma? It's necessary to contemplate the purpose and benefits of realizing the teachings. This applies to anything one does in life, too.

The Sanskrit term "dharma," chös in Tibetan, refers to every object that can be known, i.e., every phenomenon. In this context, the term "Dharma" encompasses the entire body of Lord Buddha's sacred teachings. So, if one wishes to practice the Dharma, one needs to study and understand Lord Buddha's sacred teachings and become aware of one's confusion and delusions so that one can overcome them by practicing. No matter how sophisticated a practice might seem to be, if it doesn't serve to dispel one's confusion and delusions, then it has nothing to do with the Dharma. If one truly takes to heart the meaning and appreciates the purpose of practicing the Dharma, then one will have turned one's mind towards the Dharma.

There are many different connotations of "taking to heart." Some ways of thinking are positive and pure, others are negative and malicious. The first instruction of "The Four Lines of Gampopa" -

"Grant your blessings so that my mind turns towards the Dharma"

- tells us that one needs to develop and cultivate a way of thinking that accords with the Dharma. For example, one needs medicine in order to be cured of a life-threatening illness or disease and one needs to take that medicine in order to become well. The sacred Dharma that Lord Buddha taught is like medicine and one's mind poisons are like an illness or disease. One needs to acknowledge and appreciate that the Dharma is like medicine so that one will take it. If one doesn't, one will not get well and will not attain the goal.

The way to take the medicine that is the Dharma is practicing the methods of the path, until one has authentic experiences. As long as one has no experiences, one will hardly really know why it's important to turn one's mind towards and unite with the Dharma. One's practice can only become deep if one experiences the Dharma. This applies to everything else one does, too; one needs to have personal experiences if something one does in life is to go well. There are four methods that move one to truly turn one's mind towards the Dharma.

Ngöndro - Section One: The Four General Preliminaries

Ngöndro practice is divided into two sections. To enable practitioners to realize the first line in "The Four Dharmas of Gampopa," the first section of Ngöndro consists of reflecting the general preliminaries, which are that it's really difficult attaining a precious human body, that every phenomenon in the entirety of samsara is impermanent, that every cause has an effect and vice versa, and that samsara only entails suffering. The four preliminaries are not a meditation practice, rather are contemplation practices that serve to win a best understanding of having attained a precious human birth, impermance and death, karma, and samsara.

- The First Two Preliminary Contemplations: The Precious Human Life & Impermanence

The first step is looking at one's life and appreciating that one has been born as a human being, realizing that it's very meaningful, and knowing that one shouldn't waste it. The teachings speak of "the precious human existence." It is special being born as a human being, but being born with good conditions and the fortunate opportunity to practice the Dharma is exceptional and rare, and therefore it is referred to as "precious." Being a human being offers possibilities to develop qualities or to engage in harmful deeds as much as one wants. Taking advantage of one's freedom to practice and perfect the Dharma means one can attain the state like that of a buddha in this life, but it presupposes having the right disposition.

Only few human beings from among the many living in this world have the disposition to give up their mundane concerns and turn their mind towards the Dharma. Even if it is taught that every living being can attain Buddhahood, nevertheless, they need to give up non-virtuous actions, engage in virtuous actions, and practice. Millions of people live in Germany, but how many lead their lives in such a way as to attain enlightenment? Very few. How many people are attending these teachings and are interested in the Dharma? Not many. The value of a human existence is misjudged and underestimated by most people and they live their lives preoccupied with trivialities. There are even people who don't have a fraction of an idea of how difficult it is to attain a human existence and, having an extremely low mental state, commit suicide when they go through slight difficulties.

It's very important to appreciate how precious one's life is and to realize that one is free to make the best use of the limitless possibilities to lead a worthy life. It's very important to have the wish and to resolve to develop and cultivate virtuous qualities. There's no guarantee that one will be born in such invaluable circumstances again and it's rather naive thinking that any luck one has now will last. One should again and again reflect that one's life is precious, until one is certain. Having gained certainty, one resolves to make best use of one's live instead of watching it slip away.

Certainty that one's life is invaluable is gained through heart-felt conviction that it's very hard to attain and that there is no guarantee that one will attain such a good life in the future. Being certain that one's life is a rare opportunity to do good, one will resolve and be able to lead a meaningful life. And what is the most meaningful thing one can do? To do one's best to follow and practice the Dharma.

Many younger people decide to first make lots of money and postpone learning and practicing the Dharma, even thinking it would be a good hobby for the time they get old; or they push it off for tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, or next month, or next year. Reflecting the second of the four general preliminaries, which is contemplating impermanence and death, counteracts such excuses. Actually, nobody will deny that all phenomena are impermanent, but few people really take the truth of impermanence to heart. In order to integrate the truth of impermanence deeply in one's life, one needs to contemplate death. Just looking outside oneself and seeing that everything changes isn't a strong impetus to turn one's mind towards the Dharma, whereas contemplating the inevitability of one's own death makes it personal.

Having contemplated and gained certainty in the fact that one's life is precious, one contemplates death and the fact that one will not live forever. Furthermore, one understands that nobody, including oneself, knows when death will occur and that there has never been anybody who could stop it from happening. Reflecting again and again that there is no guarantee that one will live long, one understands that one's life might be short and doesn't brush the thought of this possibility aside. There's no benefit in merely thinking that everything is impermanent and ends, rather it's necessary to clearly and definitely take to heart that one might die any moment. It is a fact that death is on one's heels the very second one was born and can occur at any time.

One couldn't walk when one was born, but grew up and learned as time went on. One went to school, learned to read and write, and so forth. When one learned enough, one took on a job - and all the while the imminence of death remained at one's side. The more one ages, the closer death is. If death never occurred and doesn't take place, then it wouldn't matter if one postponed anything beneficial one planned to do and has failed to carry it out so far. Having thoroughly realized that this isn't the case, that everything is impermanent and ends, one will feel urged to make the best use of one's time and to practice the Dharma. So it's very beneficial and refines one's mind to fully realize the truth of impermanence and death.

There are four marks that validate the truth of impermanence. They are: Whatever is born is subject to death. Whatever rises and flourishes is bound to fall. Whatever is gathered will disperse. Whatever comes together will eventually separate.

Wherever one looks, one can see for oneself that whatever is born is subject to death. For example, a seed that has been sowed grows into a sprout, then into a plant if it is watered regularly and has enough sunlight, but it definitely will wither and die. One can exert as much energy as one can come up with in order to have a nice life, but all efforts are useless when death occurs. Looking at the second mark of impermanence, that whatever rises and flourishes is bound to fall, let us take the example of a building: It, too, will eventually become a ruin, just like the skyscrapers in Manhattan that were destroyed in a matter of minutes. No matter how sturdy something seems to be, everything eventually crumbles and falls. The third mark of impermanence is that everything that is gathered will disperse. The money one tried to save will fall out of one's hands one day, e.g., through business mismanagement or bankruptcy, and the food one bought at the market and carefully cooked is gone after one's family or guests enjoyed the meal. Of course, it's natural to be sad when one experiences a loss of some kind, so it's very helpful to know and remember that everything is impermanent. It's also important to know the fourth mark of impermanence, that whatever comes together will be separated. Eventually one will part from everybody one is close to. For example, parents have to let go of their children when they have grown up, brothers and sisters also go their own ways one day, friendships and partnerships don't last either, and eventually people are separated at death. It's very painful to be separated from persons one loves or likes, so it's very helpful to realize that every relationship is marked by impermanence when one meets people and becomes friends or marries. Remembering the transitory nature of all things, especially when one suffers loss, is extremely helpful.

We have all come together for this seminar, have met each other, and will be together tomorrow and the day after. But we will part, because being together here is also subject to change. It's important to stop denying the truth of impermanence and to give up living one's life as though it is ever-lasting. Instead, it would be very good to realize that everything continuously flows and changes.

Everyone is constantly faced with problems. Most problems are experienced because one doesn't fully realize and accept the truth of impermanence. The barbs of pain that hurt when one experiences problems and pain will be dulled and merely felt like faint pin pricks if one cultivates one's knowledge of impermanence, in which case one is practicing Dharma.

This has been a brief explanation on contemplating the first two general preliminaries of Ngöndro, which are realizing and appreciating one's fortunate opportunity of having attained a precious human birth and not only acknowledging but being deeply touched and therefore moved by the truth of the transitory nature of all things. If not merely taken intellectually, these preliminaries are the foundation, i.e., the ground one stands on when earnestly turning one's mind towards the Dharma.

Subconsciously most people tend to think, "Impermanence and death don't apply for me. I won't die but will live forever." As a result of brushing off the fact that they will die too, people grasp for and cling to themselves and things as though they are permanent and lasting. The more one realizes that everything and everyone, including oneself, is impermanent, continuously changes, and eventually dies, the more the hard edges of one's belief in permanence and one's grasping will soften and eventually cease. Contemplating impermanence and death is a means to become willing and able to turn one's mind towards the Dharma.

Let me add that one's mind determines all one's actions, i.e., if prepared and mature enough, one's practice will develop well. Lacking a founded understanding and firm confidence in the teachings and aim of the Dharma, one's practice won't develop positively. For example, it's necessary to investigate and know what one is doing before jumping over a high hurdle, otherwise one will probably break one's legs if one tries.

The means that inspire and move one to turn one's mind towards the Dharma is contemplating the four preliminaries of Ngöndro. The third practice is contemplating karma, "the law of cause and effect," and the fourth is contemplating samsara, "actions carried out in dependence upon the limitations of conditionality, which is marked by suffering and pain."

- The Third Preliminary Contemplation: Karma

Karma is paramount to Buddhism. What do actions mean when speaking about karma? Karma is the result experienced when causes and conditions come together. There are many treatises that deal with the subject of karma. It's often stated that the connection between a cause and effect are quite far apart, e.g., when it is said that the causes created through one's actions in this life manifest as experiences in one's next life. But one can misinterpret this statement. The most decisive factor is being aware of one's present behaviour and actions. What does this mean?

It's important to recognize that there is a person who carries out an action that is felt by someone, i.e., there is a subject, an action, and a recipient who experiences what one does. It's necessary to look at the blending of all three factors. There are two possibilities that can occur when all three factors come together, either positive or negative. If an action binds with a positive condition, then the result will be good; if an action is bound together with a negative condition, then the result will be bad. Taking a block of wood, if it is thrown into a fireplace, it will warm the room; it won't warm the room if it's thrown into water. This means to say that if a block of wood is connected with a specific condition, then a specific result will manifest. Heat arises when wood and fire are connected, and this ability to bring about heat when causes and conditions prevail and come together is called "karma."

Turning our attention towards our own karma, it's important to understand that any actions that we carry out are based upon our motivation and the way we think. All actions are performed with body, speech, and mind, which are physical deeds, spoken words, and thoughts. An activity that is based upon a benevolent motivation will have a good effect and is said to be positive karma. An activity that is based upon a self-centered or malevolent motivation will have a negative result and is said to be negative karma. A practitioner needs to learn and know this. The meaning is the same, but formulated in terms of Mahayana: Results arise as appearances that can be apperceived when causes and conditions blend together through dependence. When a subject that can perceive and apprehend doesn't perceive or apprehend an object, then claiming that a perceptible object exists isn't valid, i.e., an object only exists inasmuch as it has come together with a subject that apperceives it.

As said, activities are carried out by means of one's body, speech, and mind. One engages in activities with one's body and one speaks with one's speech. Here, too, karma takes place when a subject and object connect. One's physical and verbal activities are carried out in dependence upon one's mind, so it's important to think carefully before acting. Activities that are beneficial are called "virtuous"; those that hurt and harm are called "non-virtuous."

It's important to check one's motivation and to know that one's physical and verbal activities are determined by and depend upon one's motivation and thoughts. If one has a good and pure motivation, then one's activities will have the same quality. If, on the other hand, one has a bad and impure motivation, then one's activities will necessarily be negative. So, it's very important to know what one is thinking and to be aware of one's motivation. Positive and negative activities are called "white actions" and "black actions" respectively and they both depend upon one's mind.

Who engages in activities, i.e., who creates karma? Everybody creates his or her own karma. Having realized that we ourselves create our own karma, it's useless worrying about past karma, but very important to see what one is doing now. One should investigate carefully and scrutinize whether one's actions are beneficial or harmful. One needs to look precisely.

It's often said that one should meditate the law of karma, but there's nothing to meditate, because one's actions have no specific form or color - actions are a force. It's important to examine the source of this force that is so powerful. Before ordering a meal in a restaurant, one also checks whether what one orders is too hot, salty, or sweet, for example.

Students really need to know that they themselves are the source of their own karma and should practice being aware of this fact. How? Let's say a negative thought arises in one's mind. When one sees that it has arisen in one's mind, one is free to tell oneself, "That's not a good thought. If I act according to that thought, then it will be harmful, so I shouldn't do that." For instance, if one sees something one likes and the thought arises to take it, then it would be important to be aware of the fact that living up to that thought means stealing and to know that it is a negative action that harms oneself as well as others. The point is recognizing a thought the moment it arises in one's mind and being able to immediately withdraw from the impulse to steal something, for instance. One realizes that stealing is negative and leads to painful results and thinks, "I should abandon such activities and instead be generous." If one practices in this way, then one is engaging in transforming negative thoughts into positive ones and the quality of one's karma will be transformed too.

When I was about 13 years old, I went to a shrine that was adorned with many wonderful things. I saw a beautiful little statue of Buddha Shakyamuni and thought, "I would really like to have it." I liked it so much. I took it and tucked it under my sleeve. The thought immediately came to me, "Wait a minute, I just stole it and that's really bad. Then I'm a thief." I took the statue out from under my sleeve real fast and placed it on the shrine again. The point of telling you this is that I remembered that stealing is really bad and turns one into a thief. When I was aware of this, I returned the statue. The decisive point is recognizing thoughts that lead to harmful actions, being honest with oneself, and knowing, "That's a bad thought. It will be really negative if I do that, so I must abandon that thought." If one doesn't just do what comes to one's mind and is aware and heedful of one's thoughts, then that's enough. One's actions will become more and more virtuous and one's negative actions will diminish as one continues being very mindful of every thought that one has. Let me repeat that meditating karma is useless. The only point is recognizing what is taking place in one's mind and realizing its worth. It's very important to appreciate and acknowledge karma and to know that the decisive factor is one's own mind, i.e., one's thoughts.

Seeing that karma is paramount to Buddhism, it won't do to just think that one knows about it, rather the truth of karma needs to become a part of oneself - like one's second nature. One needs to look at one's thoughts, differentiate whether they are good or bad, and decide whether one wants to live up to them or not. If one practices in this way again and again, one automatically gets a feeling for looking at one's thoughts and then needn't go into extensive investigations. The practice eventually becomes a habit that continuously takes place and when it does, it is a sign that one's mind has turned towards the Dharma. But, one needs to practice again and again and do one's best. This was a short explanation on how to practice.

- The Fourth Preliminary Contemplation: Samsara

Buddhism differentiates between samsara, "the cycle of conditioned existence that is marked by suffering," and nirvana, "the state free from all suffering and that is marked by happiness."

Everybody experiences suffering and happiness, but one does recall that one experienced more suffering than happiness and that one's experiences of suffering were more intense. The unpleasant feeling of bad luck and misfortune is called "suffering." If nobody experiences suffering, then there is no suffering, so there has to be someone who suffers. Who suffers? All living beings in samsara. But there are differences as to the frequency and intensity of suffering that living beings experience, and many beings suffer more than others.

There is a great variety of living beings, summarized in Buddhism as those living in the six realms of conditioned existence, samsara. The six realms of samsara are the realms of hell, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, jealous gods, and gods. Humans cannot see and perceive the suffering that hell beings, hungry ghosts, and animals experience, and for this reason non-Buddhists do have doubts about the suffering experienced in the three lower realms of samsara. One form of evidence for followers of Buddhism, who do not doubt that there are beings suffering immensely in these three lower realms, is Lord Buddha's Spoken Words.

Do beings in the human realm experience suffering? Do you experience suffering? You are chuckling, so evidently you agree. This doesn't mean that everyone experiences the same kind of suffering, seeing it is an individual matter and varies. Why does it vary? Because every person has different wants, needs, and inclinations. People feel happy when they come across and have things they like and are unhappy when they are faced with things they don't like - they suffer in the latter case. People go through such a great variety of suffering, for example, rich people may be sick and then suffer as a result, or healthy people may be poor and then they suffer. Feeling uncomfortable or deprived denotes suffering. It's important to look at the source of one's feelings. What is the source of feeling unhappy or miserable?

Pondering the suffering that samsara entails and wishing to get rid of it helps no one and is useless. One needs to know the cause for the feelings of misery and discontent that one has. If one investigates the source of suffering and misfortune, one will discover that they are due to one's karma, i.e., the coming together of specific causes and conditions. One needs to look at one's actions - if they are negative, the result will be the experience of suffering or the feeling of misfortune. If one knows that one's actions are the reason one feels the way one does, then one has something to work with. In short: Instead of blaming others or things outside oneself, it's necessary to gain certainty and become convinced of the fact that any suffering one experiences is due to one's own activities of body, speech, and mind.

The four general preliminary contemplations need to become an inner conviction. They are the means that move one to turn one's mind towards the Dharma. And if one understands them well, then one will have prepared the ground to practice the second section of Ngöndro. One would resemble someone shooting an arrow into the dark if one engages in the second section of practices without having realized the first.

It's crucial to train one's mind if one wants to progress along the path. One needs to refine one's attitude and way of thinking by contemplating the four preliminary practices that I explained. Then one will have laid the foundation to practice effectively, without being overwhelmed by hesitations or doubts.

The benefits one experiences by practicing depend upon the state of one's mind. Firstly, one refines one's mind by realizing that one has attained a precious human existence, by knowing why it is precious and that there is no guarantee that one will have a precious human existence in the future. Realizing this fully, one knows that one should not waste it and thus makes best use of one's life. Secondly, one refines one's mind by knowing that one doesn't want to sit back and be complacent and by realizing that death is one's constant escort. Realizing this fully and being aware that one doesn't know when one will die, one sees that one has no time to lose and thus uses one's time as best as one possibly can by practicing. Thirdly, knowing that one has no time to lose because death can occur at any time and realizing the truth of karma, one knows that any happiness or suffering that one will experience in one's future life are created by one's present actions and thus abandons non-virtuous actions and engages in wholesome activities. Fourthly, one refines one's mind by knowing that samsara entails a great variety of suffering and pain that is created by one's own actions. Thus one turns one's mind towards the Dharma in order to attain freedom from suffering.

It would be very good if the four thoughts become one's escort from the time one wakes up in the morning until one goes to sleep at night. One doesn't meditate them, rather one holds the four general preliminaries in one's hand and lives by them. If one sees them like the medicine one takes when one is sick, then one will have prepared the ground for any further practices. If one thinks one can skip them, one will not have refined one's mind. Thinking one can mediate a Yidam of Secret Mantrayana, or Mahamudra, or Maha-Ati, or calm-abiding, or special insight without the foundation is a grave error. The four preliminary contemplations are the foundation for any further practices. If one practices calm-abiding without the foundation, one will fall asleep and there will be no benefit. The practice of calm-abiding, or special insight, or Mahamudra, or Maha-Ati will be easy if one has fully integrated the four contemplations in one's mind.

Calm-abiding meditation is the same as one's mind; special insight meditation is the same as one's mind; Vajrayana meditation is the same as one's mind; Mahamudra meditation is same as one's mind - they are one's own "mind" - sems in Tibetan. One cannot fathom one's mind in one's present state of mind. The mind one refers to in one's present state is blo, "the conceptual mind." One needs to work with one's conceptual mind at this stage by transforming negative thoughts into positive thoughts. When the conceptual mind has become refined, then one can proceed to the next stage of practice.

It's very important not to think that the preliminary practices are ever finished and can ever be laid aside. They are part of the entire path and need to be practiced continuously so that one's everyday mind becomes more and more refined. One's mind is not situated outside oneself, rather is within. Therefore one turns one's attention inwards when practicing.

This has been a short explanation of the starting-point for all practices, which is bringing one's mind that determines all one's actions into a state that accords with the Dharma. For this, one needs a deeply-rooted understanding of the four preliminaries. It won't do to think about them casually or to speak about them as though one has understood them, rather one's understanding has to be ingrained so deeply that one naturally leads one's life in unalterable harmony with them.

Mahamudra Ngöndro - Section Two: The Four Special Practices

The second line of "The Four Dharmas of Gampopa" is: "Grant your blessings so that my Dharma may progress along the path." The methods that enable practitioners to progress along the path of Dharma are the four special practices of the second section of Ngöndro.

The very meaningful first step one takes to engage in Buddhist practice is turning one's mind towards the Dharma. Yet, one can make mistakes and err if one doesn't follow the genuine path of Dharma, i.e., if one doesn't practice just as Lord Buddha taught. Lhaje Gampopa's four-line verse that I am setting in relation to Ngöndro pertains to Mahayana.

Please do not misinterpret me when I give the example that one can make mistakes and go astray by following Hinayana while intending to be a Mahayana practitioner. Every form of Buddhism is authentic and unmistakably pure, but there is a difference between Hinayana and Mahayana in that Hinayana followers aspire to attain freedom from suffering for themselves only, whereas Mahayana followers aspire to attain liberation for the benefit of all living beings. A Mahayana practitioner knows that, like himself, there is nobody who does not want to be free from suffering and who does not want to be happy. For this reason, he or she feels that it's not sufficient to seek personal liberation but has the wish to help everyone become free too. That is the major difference between Hinayana and Mahayana. A Hinayana follower thinks, "I want to attain freedom from suffering and have lasting happiness." A Mahayana practitioner thinks, "Such a motivation is not enough. I'm not the only person who wishes to be free from suffering and wants to experience happiness. All living beings have the very same wish." This isn't belittling Hinayana, seeing both vehicles are the same when it comes to learning how to deal with the mind poisons that impede liberation.

What are mind poisons? For example, it would be detrimental, perhaps even fatal, should one eat a poisonous plant. Mind poisons are like a poisonous plant and both Hinayana and Mahayana practitioners understand that they hinder liberation. The slight difference between the vehicles is that a Hinayana practitioner thinks, "That plant will poison me if I eat it," so he throws it away. A Mahayana practitioner thinks, "If I don't remove that poisonous plant, it might harm someone" and so he removes it. Participant: Actually, the attitude of a Hinayana follower is normal. Rinpoche: It was only an example to illustrate the slight difference and to show how one can forfeit one's vast and all-inclusive motivation that defines a Mahayana practitioner. A disciple of the great vehicle is open enough to wish others the same thing he or she wishes for himself.

In order to not make mistakes while on the path and not to go astray, it's important to take the genuine Dharma as one's path. There are four methods to do this, which are the four special practices of Ngöndro. The first is taking refuge and developing Bodhicitta; the second is the purification practice of Vajrasattva. The third practice is making Mandala offerings, and the fourth is engaging in the practice of Guru-yoga. The means to avoid making mistakes while on the path is taking refuge in the Three Jewels and cultivating Bodhicitta. This is the means to counter going astray.

The basis for taking refuge is having contemplated the four general preliminaries quite well. Also, one needs a qualified Lama who himself is endowed with qualities and is therefore able to explain the special Ngöndro practices to his disciples. There is no special empowerment, but a student needs to have received the reading transmission from the Lama. Having integrated the preliminary practices in one's mind, one should request - in an appropriate manner - an authentic and qualified Lama for permission and instructions on how to engage in the special practices. In our Kagyü tradition, these practices are called "Mahamudra Ngöndro," because they are the foundation for Mahamudra practice.

- The First Special Practice: Refuge & Bodhicitta

The Mahamudra Ngöndro instructions are long and complex. The Glorious Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, recently composed a short and precise summary that I will use while explaining the special preliminaries.

The first special Ngöndro practice consists of two parts, taking refuge and developing Bodhicitta, "the exceptional mind of awakening." The text states: "First take refuge so that all your activities accord with the Dharma. Having taken refuge, give rise to Bodhicitta." Taking refuge and generating Bodhicitta guarantee that all activities carried out with one's body, speech, and mind are in harmony and accord with the Dharma.

Another designation in Tibetan for taking refuge is "seeking refuge," in that one feels that one needs protection from suffering. Who offers refuge from suffering and pain? The object of refuge needs to be able to grant refuge. It makes no sense seeking refuge without feeling the need to receive protection. In Buddhism, Lord Buddha is understood to be the One who offers refuge. He is called Sangye in Tibetan, which means "the Fully Awakened One." Having overcome and eradicated all suffering, Lord Buddha is able to grant refuge. When speaking of the Three Jewels, "the Rare and Perfect Ones," the first is the Perfect Buddha.

How was the Buddha able to overcome and eradicate suffering? He perfected the sacred Dharma, which is the second object of refuge, the "rare and perfect teachings." Is it possible to learn and practice the sacred Dharma on one's own or does one need help? The answer is, yes, one needs help and support, which is the spiritual teacher or friend. Certainly, the Dharma is present in the world, but it won't suffice to learn and practice on one's own and without receiving help. Therefore refuge consists of three aspects, called "the Three Jewels." They are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

Following the example that Lord Buddha set, we too have to work and do our best to overcome and vanquish our mind poisons. Presently, we are all entangled in a great variety of problems and experience different kinds of frustration and anguish. How do we become free? By practicing the instructions that the Buddha presented, which is the Dharma. We all need escorts we can learn from, who we can practice together with, who help us progress in our endeavour to overcome suffering and its causes. When we have dissevered the chains that keep us bound in suffering and pain, then we will have attained Buddhahood.

Developing Bodhicitta depends upon our motivation. If our motivation is pure, i.e., when we are free of self-centeredness and have great compassion, then any activities we carry out will be pure. Bodhicitta means having great compassion for all living beings. Practitioners need to have the Mahayana potential, rigs in Tibetan, in order to cultivate Bodhicitta.

Every living being has rigs, the potential to achieve Buddhahood, but everybody has different tendencies and inclinations, so a disciple needs to have the inner inclination for the Great Vehicle, the Mahayana. If one takes refuge in the Three Jewels and doesn't develop Bodhicitta, i.e., if one aspires to attain freedom from suffering for oneself only, then one's motivation is that of a Hinayana follower. If one aspires to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all living beings, then one's motivation is that of a Mahayana disciple. While reciting "The Refuge Prayer," a Mahayana practitioner includes all living beings and imagines that all past mothers and fathers and all living beings are gathered together and equally pray to attain the same result.

One begins one's practice by leaving worldly activities (like cleaning or cooking) aside and by focusing one's mind on the practice. The length of time one spends in formal practice depends upon how much time one has. If one can practice an hour or two, it would be good. If one can practice for a half-an-hour, then that is very beneficial too. The main factor while sitting comfortably in the meditation posture is keeping one's spine straight. One recites "The Refuge and Bodhicitta Prayer" slowly and with an open heart while visualizing the enlightened beings that are gathered in what is referred to as "the Refuge Tree."

It's not easy for beginners to visualize the Refuge Tree clearly. The main point is having confidence that all enlightened beings are present and being dedicated to them with whole-hearted faith and devotion. One keeps one's eyes closed lightly while imagining that all sacred beings of refuge are gathered in the Refuge Tree. The decisive point is having great faith and devotion in all sacred beings of refuge and being certain that they are present. It's difficult seeing the visualization clearly within, so it's really important being aware of their presence and of their qualities while seeking refuge in them.

Imagining the size of the Refuge Tree is an individual matter, but it isn't advisable visualizing it being as small and limited as the house of this center, rather one imagines that the great number of Buddhas and saints and sages depicted in the Refuge Tree appear in the open and vast expanse of the sky. Since it isn't easy visualizing all images of refuge, a beginner concentrates his or her attention on the central figure, Vajradhara, who is the embodiment of all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. When one's mind becomes less distracted as one becomes more and more accustomed to the visualization, it will be easier having an inner vision of all images. For instance, it isn't hard imagining people one knows very well, like one's parents, family members, and friends; it's easy seeing them in one's mind. In the same manner, becoming used to visualizations that one practices becomes easier with time. Of course, one will have times when it's more difficult to concentrate one's attention on the visualization, in which case it would be important to remember the reason why one takes refuge.

There are two aspects of refuge: general and specific. General refuge is comprised of the Three Jewels. The special refuge that characterizes Vajrayana is comprised of the Three Roots, which are the Lineage Lamas, the Yidams, and the Dharma Protectors. When one has turned one's mind to the Buddhas and the assembly of beings in the Refuge Tree and is confident that they are really present, then - imagining that one is together with all sentient beings who were once one's kind parents, no matter if in this life friend or foe - one recites "The Refuge Prayer" together with them. Practicing slowly with one-pointed concentration is a very good means to naturally open one's heart and to have true devotion. One makes prostrations while reciting the special prayer, which is:

"All sentient beings and I take refuge in the Lama.

We take refuge in the Yidams.

We take refuge in the Buddha.

We take refuge in the Dharma.

We take refuge in the Sangha."

One recites this prayer with each prostration one makes. The purpose of this practice is including all aspects of one's activities carried out with one's body, speech, and mind, i.e., one makes prostrations with one's body, recites the prayer with one's speech, and generates devotion and openness in one's mind each time one recites the prayer while making a prostration.

There are two ways of making prostrations. In both cases, one first folds one's hands together and touches one's forehead, then one's throat, and then one's chest, which is the seat of one's heart. Touching these three points of one's body with folded hands means one dedicates one's body to all sacred beings of refuge that one visualizes in the Refuge Tree while making prostrations; one directs one's speech towards them while speaking the refuge prayer, and one integrates and tries to uphold the meaning of refuge in one's mind while engaged in this practice. In this way, one takes refuge with the inseparability of one's body, speech, and mind.

Let me demonstrate how to make both types of prostrations. One can make the full prostration by stretching one's body out in full length to the ground or one can touch the ground with one's forehead by simply going into one's knees after having touched the three points of one's body with folded hands. The possibility to make two types of prostrations depends upon one's physical constitution. Older, sick, or handicapped individuals can merely imagine making physical prostrations while praying and developing their devotion. The decisive point is practicing the three aspects of body, speech, and mind together without giving in to distractions. One does as many prostrations as one can and counts them.

Why does one do prostrations? Everyone has a great number of obcurations that have been created by means of their body, speech, and mind. Prostrations are carried out in order to purify these obscurations, but one needs to know what they mean. There are many obscurations that pertain to physical activities, summarized they are the three negative actions carried out with one's body. The first very negative action of one's body is killing. One might think that one doesn't or hasn't killed, but one unknowingly does so constantly. For instance, if one simply picks up a stone and throws it somewhere, one is probably killing many little insects that lived under the stone before one picked it up. One is probably squishing to death many little insects when one picks flowers, makes a bouquet, and places it in a vase. Such actions also create obscurations that need to be purified.

The second very negative action one carries out with one's body is stealing. One might think that one doesn't steal or hasn't taken anything that wasn't given freely, but one unknowingly takes things all the time. For example, if one has a business or a job, one does try to make as good a profit as possible and keeps it for oneself. In Buddhism, stealing is understood as taking what is not given, so making a profit means taking something that isn't given freely and gladly. The third very negative action is sexual misconduct. The only thing I want to say about this is that it applies to some people and not to others.

Question: Can you explain why some people lift their hands above the back of their head when they do the full prostration? Rinpoche: Some people may do this, but it has no meaning. It is correct to recall at the beginning that one is taking refuge by means of body, speech, and mind, to touch the ground with one's forehead, knees, and hands, and then to stand up again. When one does the small prostration, five parts of one's body touch the ground: one's forehead, the two palms of one's hands, and one's two knees. Student: Can one stand up by rolling to the side when one gets up? Translator: Just like Lama-la demonstrated, otherwise he has to do it again. Rinpoche: One stands up straight. Question: Does one count with one's large Mala? Rinpoche: It's more convenient using the small one.

Which obscurations does one purify by reciting the prayer? The veils one created by means of one's speech. There are four main negative activities one carries out with one's speech, which are lying, slandering others, engaging in idle chatter, and speaking harshly. The obscurations one produced and creates by means of one's mind are having malicious thoughts, being greedy and selfish, and having wrong views.

In which way does the first special Ngöndro practice purify these ten main negative actions? One thing for sure, one doesn't engage in negative physical activities while doing prostrations; one doesn't engage in bad speech while reciting the prayer, and one doesn't have negative thoughts while practicing, because one's mind is directed towards and is concentrated on the objects of refuge.

It's important to know the purpose of doing prostrations. Some people think it's a good way to lose weight or to keep a good figure. One might also hope to train one's voice by reciting "The Refuge Prayer," which also isn't the purpose of reciting the prayer. One might even fear that the big heart one had before one started practicing will become smaller and might even disappear. One needn't have fears like this. The only things that need to decrease are the obstructive veils that one accumulated with one's body, speech, and mind, so something does diminish through practice. Everyone can find out for themselves if negative activities become weaker and diminish through practice. Discovering and experiencing that this is the case is a sign that one's obscurations are being purified. For instance, if one knows that one talks a lot, one will find that the practice purifies this tendency and one sees that it is possible to say a lot by using a few words.

Question: Does one recite the prayer while actually doing the prostration? Rinpoche: Yes. Student: But it takes longer to recite the prayer than to do the prostration. Rinpoche: It's difficult in the beginning. Student: In German or Tibetan? Rinpoche: It would be good to recite the prayer in your native language, but it's most important to know what one is reciting. The German translation is longer, so one can recite it in German until one is really sure of the meaning and then recite it in Tibetan. If one isn't aware of what one is reciting, it's idle chatter.

Question: How can one recite well if one's visualization isn't good? Rinpoche: The words aren't that important, rather having a one-pointed mind that is focused and concentrated on one object - otherwise one's mind wanders off in all directions.

I explained the objects of refuge, the person taking refuge (oneself), and how one takes refuge with one's body, speech, and mind in the Three Jewels and in the Three Roots, the latter being specific for Vajrayana. One needs to keep all aspects in one's mind quite well. Taking the example of planning to visit Nepal for a month: Nepal is the object, the person who is making the plans to visit is oneself, and making plans to travel includes getting a visa, booking the flight, making it to the airport on time, etc. One should keep the three aspects of refuge in one's mind just as clearly.

Recitation of "The Refuge and Bodhicitta Prayer" is never a finished matter and commences every Buddhist practice. It's important to know that one recites it for the rest of one's life. Any practice that doesn't include this prayer is not a Buddhist practice. Meditating Noble Chenrezig, or Arya Tara, or Guru Rinpoche will not engender beneficial experiences if one fails to bring to mind and recites "The Refuge and Bodhicitta Prayer" at the beginning. One understands this when one takes part in the formal refuge ceremony and speaks the prayer, which is:

"In the Buddha, Dharma, and supreme assemblies

I take refuge until awakening.

Through my generosity and so forth

May I achieve Buddhahood for the good of beings."

zufluchtsgebet phuntsok

The first two lines are "The Refuge Prayer" and the second two lines are "The Bodhicitta Prayer." There is a slight difference when taking refuge in the context of Vajrayana, in that one also takes refuge in the Three Roots, which are the Lamas, Yidams, and Protectors.

It is recommended to practice each of the four special preliminary practices 100,000 times while focusing one's attention on each practice, i.e., to make prostrations, repeat the Mantra of Vajrasattva, make Mandala offerings, and do the Guru-Yoga practice 100,000 times each. It's not necessary to do prostrations when one progresses to the next practices, in which case it is correct to make 3 prostrations while reciting the prayers.

Practitioners are different and need to decide for themselves whether they are able to do the prostrations that often; if one has less time, one is free to do 10,000 while engaged in the first special Mahamudra preliminary practice. In any case, it's a very beneficial act. One should not be fixated upon counting and accomplishing the number, since one always takes refuge and tries to increase Bodhicitta until one has become free from all suffering. Stopping to take refuge and to cultivate Bodhicitta before one has attained Buddhahood is not correct.

It's important to be aware of one's own experiences and to see whether taking refuge while doing prostrations is good. If one finds that it's good, then one should continue. I did the 100,000 prostrations 3 times, because I saw that it helped me. Every practitioner needs to find this out for themselves. Some people are sick or handicapped and can practice doing prostrations while reciting the prayers on a meditative basis, just like one does when practicing the Sadhana of Noble Chenrezig or Arya Tara.

It's very beneficial if one can do each special preliminary practice as often as suggested in order to accomplish the second Dharma of Lhaje Gampopa, which is described in the second line of the "The Four Dharmas of Gampopa" that he composed and is:

"Grant your blessings so that my Dharma may progress along the path."

It's not a matter of doing what one usually likes to do. One does need discipline in order to progress along the path and mature spiritually. Beginners have trouble and some people are more capable, so it's very good to help each other and to practice in a group.

It's necessary to rely on a qualified teacher and to receive exact instructions from him if one chooses to do 10,000 or 100,000 prostrations and when one continues by meditating the second special preliminary practice, which is Vajrasattva. It's also necessary to stay in touch with one's teacher, because one should discuss one's experiences with him so that he can advise one. Doubts can arise in one's mind, like, "Am I practicing correctly?" and so forth. One needs to discuss any doubts that one might have with one's teacher, otherwise they turn into big impediments. It's necessary to practice free from doubts. Speaking about one's experiences and doubts regularly also gives one's teacher the possibility to check if everything is going well. If one doesn't, one can succumb to personal attitudes. For instance, we did many prostrations very fast during retreat, got really hungry, and nibbled at Tsampa in between. One day our meditation master visited us and saw the balls of Tsampa. He asked me, "What are they doing there?" I answered, "I'm always hungry and eat a little bit in between." The meditation master replied, "That's not okay and may not be. The prostrations that you do while letting things go good for you and eating do not benefit at all." He continued, "If you're really hungry, then take a break and eat before you continue. Mixing the two is acting like a child. Where is your visualization when you are busy thinking about your growling stomach? Don't mix them." Honestly speaking, while taking refuge I took refuge in my Tsampa and this meant really going astray - it had to be corrected, so we need a helper in order to progress along the path.

Student: What can I do? I only feel hungry and think about eating when I do prostrations. Rinpoche: Then you should eat. The main thing is not mixing things. As stated in the text we are studying, one refrains from worldly activities while practicing, which doesn't mean to say that one shouldn't eat. The point is staying in touch with one's teacher so that he can correct mistakes that one makes and dispel any doubts that might arise about one's practice, e.g., while making prostrations by thinking, "What am I up to?" One also needs to ask one's teacher whether the experiences one has are valid or not.

Question: It's rather difficult communicating with one's Lama, who lives in Tibet or India and who one only sees once or twice a year. Is that enough to ask him questions? Rinpoche: Things have become easier in modern times. It's very important to receive precise instructions before beginning a practice, and if it isn't possible to meet one's Lama, then one can send an email so that he can answer. One can feel comfortable or uncomfortable while practicing, so one can write him and ask how to deal with those experiences. He will respond and tell you what to do. It's important not to feel despondent and wouldn't be good practicing while feeling insecure and uneasy. We all notice that our practice fluctuates immensely - sometimes things go well and sometimes they don't. This depends upon conditions that, like everything else, change. During such times, it's important to ask so that one's doubts can be dispelled. Of course, one shouldn't ask any Lama one meets, rather one should ask the Lama one sees as one's Root Lama, the Lama who knows you. A Lama who is a stranger would not be able to judge and help you. For example, people living in the area of Nepal where I live go to the same doctor when they are sick, because this doctor knows his patients and can recommend a treatment more reliably than another doctor can. It's the same with a spiritual teacher - if he knows one well, then he can help more effectively.

Question: What if one's Lama has passed away? My Lama died 8 years ago and I have a spiritual bond with him, but cannot ask him. Rinpoche: It depends. If you have no doubts, then you can rely upon the spiritual bond. It's important to speak with a living Lama, a Lama you trust the most, when you have inner doubts. One's Root Lama is decisive, because he helps us develop firm dedication and steadfast devotion in the practice. We can only develop spiritually if the teacher who knows us guides and helps us not mix our practice with balls of Tsampa and thus err.

Question: What if one stops in the middle of Ngöndro, because one thinks one needs to know more? Should I just continue where I left off or start anew? Rinpoche: You have to decide for yourself, but your question shows that you are aware that maybe you should start over again. It's all right to start from the beginning or to continue from where you left off. According to my experiences, practice intensifies. My experiences became deeper the second time I did the Ngöndro and even deeper the third time, so there's no harm in starting again. There is a Lama at the great Pullahari Monastery of Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche. This Lama spent many years in retreat there and engaged in each practice of the Ngöndro 100,000 times and did the entire Ngöndro 10 times, starting from the beginning every time. Having completed the first Ngöndro, he saw that it was very beneficial and did it again and again, 10 times in all. He attained unwavering, steadfast inner strength and benefited immensely. It's very important to see for oneself whether and in which way one benefits from a practice. If one discovers that a specific practice is helpful, then it is good to repeat it.

Question: Considering the small vehicle of Hinayana, it seems it teaches its disciples to attain freedom from suffering for themselves, whereas Mahayana teaches to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all living beings. There seems to be a contradiction. Do disciples of the Hinayana automatically become Mahayana followers and develop great compassion when they meditate Chenrezig? Rinpoche: It isn't possible to develop compassion by merely engaging in the practice of Chenrezig, i.e., one's sincere motivation is decisive, no matter which practice one does. Compassion does not arise by meditating Chenrezig, which serves to intensify and increase one's compassion. If one has no compassion, it cannot be intensified or increase. Of course, every follower of Hinayana can generate and develop compassion, but he needs to be open and have the wish to help others. If the seed of compassion is present in the mind of a practitioner, then meditating Chenrezig can intensify this aspect.

Question: In the explanation of karma, Rinpoche taught that three factors need to be present, the cause, the conditions, and the habit or inclination, and that followers need to have the Mahayana potential of great compassion, otherwise the practice doesn't help. Translator: I think the above question was whether a Hinayana follower is doomed never to generate slight compassion. Student: Yes, that was my question. Rinpoche: Chenrezig is the embodiment of the great compassion of all Buddhas. So, opening one's heart for this aspect of enlightenment serves to dispel our self-centered attitude and to intensify our compassion and care for others, which is only possible if one has the motivation, even though one doesn't have the ability. The motivation is wishing to learn to help others and to do good. It's useless trying to meditate Chenrezig if one doesn't have the wish to benefit others. The motivation is the wish, which is like a seed that needs to be present and tended in order to grow into a plant. This is also the reason why taking refuge and developing Bodhicitta are practiced together, i.e., both support each other and need to commence any practice.

If one wishes to practice the four special Mahamudra preliminaries, it's important to practice them in the sequence in which they are presented, which is first getting in touch with a qualified Lama one is connected with and who one trusts and to receive detailed instructions from him. Then one can do prostrations while reciting "The Refuge and Bodhcitta Prayer," meditate Vajrasattva and repeat the Mantra, make Mandala offerings, and practice Guru-Yoga. One needs to be heedful of practicing the instructions one received correctly and one will notice that one can practice more clearly the more one progresses from the first to the second stage, and so on. One will also notice that extraordinary devotion and trust arise in one's heart while practicing Guru-Yoga and that this is the main point of practicing.

As long as one has doubts, sincere trust and devotion cannot arise in one's mind. Therefore it's crucial to practice all preliminaries well, so that one doesn't doubt the words of one's Lama and so that one does as he says. The life stories of the great Kagyü Lineage-holders illustrate that anything Marpa Lotsawa told Jetsün Milarepa to do was fine - it was fine for the Jetsün when Lord Marpa kicked him out of the room and it was just as fine when he told him to enter again. Jetsün Milarepa's devotion and reverence for his beloved Lama never wavered or waned. The relationships between Marpa Lotsawa and his beloved Guru Mahasiddha Naropa and between Naropa and his teacher Shri Tilopa were so pure that nothing the glorious teachers ever requested of their dedicated students every caused them to have doubts. Jetsün Milarepa would never have fully understood the meaning of Lord Marpa's words if Marpa had not expected Milarepa to go through so many hardships, seeing Milarepa still had so many obscurations that needed to be purified before he was able to fully appreciate and take the sacred teachings to heart.

Some of you are practicing Ngöndro, some of you aren't, and yet others might think that it's time to start. It's important to know that one should finish when one has decided to take up the practice. One should check whether one can engage in Ngöndro, whether one has time, and so forth and then complete the practice that one started. Everyone is different and some practitioners see that 100,000 is no problem for them and they finish. Others are fearful and should be honest with themselves before they start; they are free to do 10,000 if they feel comfortable with that. Consistency is important, so one is free to do 100 a day if one is confident that one can. Counting 100,000, or 10,000, or 1,000 isn't the point, rather being determined and integrating the meaning of the practice in one's life. It's the same as taking exams: One was determined to learn and make it. When one has passed the exams, one is happy and takes the next step.

Question: Two years ago a Lama was here and said that one is not a Buddhist if one hasn't completed the Ngöndro. I was shocked to hear this. Rinpoche: It's not like that. It would be correct to say that someone who hasn't taken refuge is not a Buddhist. Student: I've felt tormented ever since. Rinpoche: You should have sent me an email.

I have not been teaching according to the text but have been speaking about my own experiences, because I thought it would help you. Sharing own experiences is usually more helpful.

The text tells us to take refuge in the Three Jewels as often as possible, to keep the visualization in mind, and to develop Bodhicitta. Having made prostrations as many times as one resolved for each session of practice, one sits in the meditative posture and develops Bodhicitta. It's important not to be too demanding upon oneself and to practice slowly, otherwise one can find it hard to continue. Thinking of the number of prostrations one should accomplish makes it difficult to recite the prayer clearly and to keep the visualization of the Refuge Tree upright. It's better to practice slowly and to keep the three aspects of body, speech, and mind together while aware of the meaning.

Sitting in meditation posture after having completed the prostrations, one directs one's prayer to the objects of refuge and speaks "The Refuge and Bodhicitta Prayer" again, which is:

"In the Buddha, Dharma, and supreme assemblies

I take refuge until awakening.

Through my generosity and so forth

May I achieve Buddhahood for the good of beings."

This is a Mahayana prayer. The "supreme assemblies" are the Sangha, the noble Bodhisattvas who are on one of the high levels of attainment. One doesn't take refuge for the rest of one's life, rather - being determined - one takes refuge until one has attained Buddhahood.

One recites the second set of two lines in the prayer above with the sincere wish and request to receive the Bodhisattva vows. Having recited these lines after having done prostrations, one feels that the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have granted one's wish. One repeats this practice again and again so that the visualization becomes clearer and clearer in one's mind and so that one doesn't forget. Following, one recites the prayer:

"May Bodhichitta, great and precious,
Arise where it has not arisen.
Never weakening where it has arisen,
May it grow ever more and more."


One resumes the visualization practice according to the instructions in the text and rests in the non-discursive state.

Every visualization practice is meant to help practitioners create the sacred images as clearly as possible in their mind and to feel that they are truly present. Since this practice, which is called "the creation stage," causes students to become attached to solid existents, the dissolution phase of what is called "the completion stage" is carried out. The completion stage serves the purpose of dispelling the belief in permanence, i.e., eternalism, and the creation stage is practiced in order to dispel the belief in nothingness, i.e., nihilism. Dissolving the visualization into oneself and resting in that experience doesn't mean to say that everything is experienced blank like empty space, rather is practiced in order to receive the Buddhas' and Bodhisattvas' blessings of body, speech, and mind and to be inseparably united with them.

What is it like to feel that the principles of enlightenment have dissolved into oneself and that one is united with them? For example, if there is a layer of ice above the water in a bowl and the bowl were heated, then the ice would melt into drops that drip into the water. Having melted completely, there would be no difference between the ice and the water in the bowl - they would be inseparable. Resting in meditation after having engaged in the completion stage of practice doesn't mean one's mind relaxes in emptiness, rather it means resting in the natural state of one's mind, which is the indivisibility of emptiness and luminous clarity. This is Mahamudra meditation. One simply leaves one's mind the way it is, without thinking of the past or future and without manipulating it.

One concludes the practice by dedicating the merit in that one wishes that any good one was able to accomplish through one's practice and through any beneficial actions one was able to carry out becomes the cause for all living beings without exception to achieve the best temporary and lasting peace and happiness.

This has been a discussion of the formal meditation practice, which is followed by instructions on how to engage in daily activities, responsibilities, and chores.

What does one do during what is called "post-meditation"? The text states that one should not be indifferent, should resort to the antidotes, should try to increase one's devotion in one's Guru and one's faith and trust in the Three Jewels, and let more and more loving kindness and compassion for living beings grow and manifest from within. Not being indifferent and resorting to the antidotes mean trying to maintain the atmosphere of one's practice. It would be improper to done benevolence while practicing and to return to old habits afterwards. The point is again and again checking one's motivation, developing awareness, and knowing what one is doing. One needs to recognize any wrongdoing one is about to commit and apply the antidote. For example, if one notices that one is about to tell a lie, one stops and looks, remembers the antidote, and tells the truth. It's also good to take refuge and recite the prayer when one notices that one is about to do something one shouldn't do.

We need to have clear and precise awareness and consciousness, rig-pa, which is the opposite of mental dullness and ignorance, ma-rig-pa. Noticing one is about to do something one shouldn't do and applying the antidote is being aware; not noticing is being in a state of mental dullness or ignorance. Consciously telling the truth when one sees that one is about to tell a lie, taking refuge and reciting "The Refuge Prayer," or repeating the Mantra of Noble Chenrezig or Arya Tara are good antidotes that one is free to resort to when one is aware of about giving in to negative impulses. Practicing being aware of one's thoughts before acting them out and applying the antidotes when one's intentions aren't in harmony with the Dharma, one's negative habitual tendencies diminish and eventually cease. That's how one practices dispelling one's inner obscurations that one has accumulated with body, speech, and mind. This process applies to all ten non-virtuous activities described above, in which case one engages in the respective virtuous activity instead.

The text goes on to state that one should try to increase one's devotion in one's Guru, which is a process one cannot willingly bring about. If one practices the instructions one has received from one's Lama, one will have own experiences and will then see how reliable his words are and how helpful and kind he is. As a result, unfaltering devotion in one's Lama will increase. For whom does one have unwavering devotion? Not for the outer manifestation of a Lama dressed in robes, rather for one's Root Lama with whom one is profoundly connected.

There are two Tibetan terms for "devotion," mös-pa and güs-pa. The first aspect, mös-pa, is devotion that is a deep inner longing. The second aspect, güs-pa, is devotion that is profound veneration and respect. Mös-pa is pure longing openness; without it, güs-pa can never arise in a disciple's heart. Mös-pa is something like love, of which there are four kinds that are different from each other: love for one's Lama, love for one's parents, love for one's partner, and love for the King. It's quite similar to joy; it's like the joy one experiences when one is open for the person one meets.

As to one's Lama, of course one needs to like him from the depth of one's heart; it would be strange having a Lama that one doesn't like. True openness, devotion, love, and dedication for one's Lama are born and increase by realizing his qualities and immense kindness. Compared to the love that couples have for each other, attraction of each partner for the other is not based upon recognizing qualities that the one and the other have but is based upon desire, which is a mind poison. This is referred to as "love arising from lust." So there is a great difference between the love one has for one's Lama and the love one feels for a partner. When sincere love, true devotion, and profound dedication for one's Lama are present in one's mind, it is called "the experience of great bliss."

Love for one's Lama develops and increases as one realizes that he is free from slightest faults and as one sees his immense qualities and immeasurable loving kindness and compassion. The more one sees and experiences his limitless qualities, the deeper one's feelings for him will become, and as a result one will naturally want to prostrate to him with one's body, honour him with one's speech, and revere him most deeply with one's mind. This is what having güs-pa means (translated as "respect" in the following discussion).

His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, is still very young, but he has such exceptional qualities that there are people who have perfect devotion and respect for him when they hear his voice and without having met him personally. It's their reaction to his wondrous and exceptional qualities. When he presents teachings, so many people gathered in huge crowds are touched so deeply that they cry and have spontaneous devotion for him. Their sincere devotion is born from his great qualities.

Being dedicated to one's Lama is very important and needs to be based upon differentiating wisdom-awareness, shes-rab, and not upon blind faith. Earnest dedication is born from clear awareness that a Lama is truly worthy of deepest devotion and respect. It's not right to speak of devotion and respect if somebody is not aware of a Lama's qualities.

In the same way as we develop profound devotion in and respect for our Lama, it's important to develop and increase our sincere faith and steadfast confidence in the Three Jewels by again and again bringing to mind the great qualities of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the supreme assemblies, which is the Sangha.

The text then teaches to try to let more and more loving kindness and compassion for all living beings grow and manifest from within and never to forfeit one's wish to do so. Let me stress that it's very important to cultivate and increase one's devotion for one's Lama, one's faith and confidence in the Three Jewels, and one's loving kindness and compassion for all living beings, to always bring them to mind, and to remember these three aspects of practice.

Students of Madhyamika and practitioners of Mahamudra and Maha-Ati might fall into the belief that everything is empty and therefore nothing exists, in which case they would deny and therefore wouldn't see the importance of developing devotion in the Lama and faith and trust in the Three Jewels and they wouldn't see the necessity of practicing compassion - that would be a grave mistake. It's so important to experience the warmth that arises from having compassion.

For whom should one have compassion? It's not necessary to have compassion for oneself, rather for other living beings. There's one situation in which it's all right to have compassion for oneself, namely when one is aware of the great number of negative thoughts that arise in one's mind - then it's okay to have compassion for oneself. The Tibetan term for "compassion" is sning-rje. It's appropriate to have sning-rje for oneself when one notices that mind poisons have arisen in one's mind or when one realizes that one doesn't have enough devotion for one's Lama. The term sning-rje is also used when one says, "excuse me." We should develop compassion for other living beings and help them as best as we possibly can. For example, it's appropriate to ask someone in a friendly tone to please not do something bad that we see they are about to do. In fact, we should do as much as possible to help others. Compassion mainly arises when one sees others suffer.

This has been a short explanation of the first special preliminary practice that consists of taking refuge and developing Bodhicitta. Let me repeat that the special preliminary practices are carried out 100,000 times during Ngöndro, yet are never finished but commence every next practice. For instance, one adds salt to most meals one cooks, because a dish without salt tastes dull. Are refuge and Bodhicitta like the salt in a meal? Taking refuge and developing Bodhicitta guarantee that one is following the path of the genuine Dharma. Underestimating and ignoring them while practicing can be compared to a meal without salt. If one practices regularly and consistently, one will experience that taking refuge and developing Bodhicitta change one‘s outlook positively. As a result, one will appreciate their worth and will not neglect them.

Who is really taking refuge? Our own mind. Who really cultivates compassion? Our own mind. Everything is our mind. The way one thinks and develops compassion are different, but both are one's own mind. So the mind is very important.

This has been a short explanation of the first special practice of Ngöndro, which is taking refuge and developing Bodhicitta while making either 10,000 or 100,000 prostrations and that one should never neglect in one's daily practice.

- The Second & Third Special Practices

The second special Mahamudra Ngöndro practice is meditating Vajrasattva, Dorje Sempa in Tibetan. Everybody has a great variety of obscurations that are created by negative karma and that obscure one's true nature. These veils need to be removed if one wishes to attain Buddhahood and one needs special methods in order to accomplish this goal. In Vajrayana, the purification practice of Vajrasattva is taught so that the many obscurations one has are clarified. In accordance with the instructions one has received from one's qualified Lama, meditating Dorje Sempa correctly and carefully is very beneficial.

The third special practice is making Mandala offerings, which is done to accumulate merit. There are various methods to make a Mandala and it is very profound and easy to do. One makes offerings to the Buddhas and all enlightened beings depicted in the Refuge Tree. We are the ones making the offerings, and the Mandala is the offering. The purpose of offering a Mandala is to develop and increase generosity.

People living in other parts of the world have different cultural habits. Tibetans and Nepalis find the practice of offering a Mandala quite easy. Taiwanese like it the most and are joyous when they can practice it. Westerners have difficulties. Therefore it's important to fully understand the meaning and appreciate the possibility to practice offering a Mandala so that it will be easier to be generous.

Mandala offering is an offering practice in which one imagines offering one's body, speech, mind, and all one's possessions to the saintly beings of refuge. This isn't easy - it's really hard. One needs to think about it carefully and learn to become generous slowly. Therefore one imagines that everything one cherishes is gathered in the Mandala, offers it, and requests the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to please accept it. It's a symbolic offering that softens one's heart and helps one not to be terrified when one is forced to give things away in life. As it is, the thought of giving everything away is a frightening thought. Thinking one only has to arrange the rice on the plate, offer it, and throw the rice into the air has nothing to do with the practice. Giving rice to our Lama when he asks us for it is easy enough, but we would think differently if he asked for all the money in our wallet. Our reaction would most likely be, "But I hardly have enough for myself." It's so true - most of us are stingy, hoard possessions, and do not like to share. We have trouble being generous, often regret it afterwards if we were, and then wish to have what we gave back again. The Mandala offering practice serves to dispel such an attitude, and it's important to practice imagining being generous slowly so that it becomes a habit and so that one won't have any regrets, which one has due to miserliness. The purpose of every practice is to become accustomed to the meaning of that specific practice and to purify and train one's mind.

The purpose of Mandala offering is learning to become truly generous. Generosity should be free from three aspects: one shouldn't be hindered, one shouldn't regret having given things away and want them back, and one shouldn't be proud of having been generous when one was. Practicing generosity means: giving and finished. For instance, giving one Euro gladly, not regretting it afterwards, and not being proud might seem like a small practice, but it's an immense accumulation of merit. In contrast, giving 100,000 Euros while biting one's teeth, regretting having done so, and being proud afterwards is not an accumulation of merit. So, engaging in the practice of Mandala offering is very helpful.

- The Fourth Special Practice

Guru-Yoga is the fourth special Mahamudra Ngöndro practice. One receives the blessings of one's Root Guru swiftly and effectively when one engages in Guru-Yoga practice correctly. True realization is impossible if one's hasn't received the blessings of one's Lama.

The basis for Guru-Yoga practice on the side of a disciple is having established a deep and stable relationship with one's Lama, which doesn't happen if one runs from one Lama to the next. The Lama one visualizes in this practice needs to have qualities that by far surpass one's own; he needs to be experienced and have exceptional realization. A disciple needs to be able to see these qualities in the Lama. It's important for a disciple to realize how kind and compassionate the Lama is and that his qualities are based upon his own experiences.

I see the Gyalwa Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, as my Root Lama and one needs a Lama as exceptional as he is in order to practice Guru-Yoga well. Every disciple needs to make his own experiences, but they should know that they need a Root Lama who is completely free from error. Imagining Orgyen Trinley Dorje above the crown of one's head, one recites his short Mantra


and imagines being inseparably united with him. Or one engages in the Guru-Yoga practice of Guru Rinpoche and recites his Mantra. But Guru Rinpoche, Padmasambhava, lived a long time ago and is therefore far away, and we can meet and greet His Holiness Karmapa because he is very near. If one has a good understanding of the Guru-disciple relationship, then the practice is easy. One can visualize any one of the sixteen Karmapas, starting from Düsum Khyenpa, while doing this practice, but they lived a long time ago too. A disciple can reach the present Gyalwa Karmapa by phone.


This has been a short explanation of the four general and four special Mahamudra preliminary practices in the context of "The Four Dharmas of Gampopa." They are methods by which one can tread the authentic path of the Dharma as stated in the second line of the verse composed by Lhaje Gampopa, which is:

"Grant your blessings so that my Dharma may progress along the path."

The third line is:

"Grant your blessings so that the path may clarify confusion."

Calm-abiding and special insight meditation are the means to clarify confusion in the Sutrayana tradition.

The fourth line of "The Four Dharmas of Gampopa" is:

"Grant your blessings so that confusion may dawn as pristine wisdom."

Realization of the fourth Dharma of Gampopa is achieved through the practice of Mahamudra. Calm-abiding and special insight meditation are the bases for Mahamudra meditation, but it isn't possible to see the true face of confusion and delusion through calm-abiding and special insight meditation. Mantrayana teaches the creation and completion stages of practice to clarify confusion, as stated in the third line of the verse by Gampopa, whereas Mahamudra is the means to realize that delusions and confusion are in truth pristine wisdom, as stated in the fourth line of the verse composed by Lhaje Gampopa.

If one aspires to practice Mahamudra either in reliance on the Sutrayana or Mantrayana tradition, one needs to engage in all practices of Ngöndro in the sequence in which they are presented and progressively advance to further practices after having received instructions from one's Root Lama. Thank you very much.


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.


Photo of Chöje Lama Phuntsok courtesy of Lekshey Ling Institute. Sincere gratitude to Khenpo Karma Namgyal for the Tibetan original scripts of the prayers and to Madhavi Maren Simoneit for having made the recording of the teachings available to us. Mostly in reliance on the simultaneous translation of Tibetan into German by Rosemarie Fuchs, translated into English, edited, & arranged by Gaby Hollmann, responsible for all mistakes. Copyright Lama Chöje Phuntsok, Karma Lekshey Ling Institute, as well as Karma Theksum Tashi Chöling, 2008. May goodliness increase!

Venerable Chöje Lama Phuntsok
Yidam Deities in Vajrayana

Generally speaking, there are three vehicles of practice in Buddhism: Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. Today I wish to speak about Vajrayana.

Meditating a Yidam deity is central in Vajrayana. It is crucial for Vajrayana practitioners to know that Yidam deities are not external to ones own mind, rather they are images that help us work with our own mind. Yidams are the unblemished reflection of the primordial and innate true nature of our mind that manifests in specific forms and colors. The purpose and goal of our practice is to attain perfect Buddhahood, which manifests in three aspects or forms at fruition - the Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya. It is important to know that the three kayas are indivisible.

Describing the three kayas briefly: Dharmakaya is the true nature or essence of Buddhahood that appears as the Sambhogakaya; the two kayas are not separate from one another. The Dharmakaya, that has no form and is therefore intangible, is the vast state or fundamental ground of the mind's true nature that is free from inherent existence and adventitious stains; it cannot be fathomed and cannot be expressed in words. The unblemished, vast ground of ones mind that is free from discursive thoughts, the Dharmakaya, is replete with great clarity and creativity and continuously manifests in a perceptible form, which, from the ultimate state of Buddhahood, is the Sambhogakaya, "the body of complete enjoyment." Manifestations of the Sambhogakaya are referred to as Yidam deities. A Vajrayana practitioner turns his or her attention towards a depiction of one of the many Yidams that represent the ultimate state of enlightenment.

The great variety of Yidam deities have the same essence and are images of the many manifestations of enlightenment, for example, as Noble Chenrezig, Arya Tara, Bodhisattva Manjushri or the wrathful appearances such as Vajravarahi and Chakrasamvara. It's important to distinguish between how things are and how things appear and to know that the essence of the manifold appearances of enlightenment is one and the same, namely the intangible Dharmakaya. Things appear in a limitless number of forms - thick, thin, flat, square, round, and so forth. They appear in many colors and in their combination - white, blue, yellow, red, and green. And so, enlightenment manifests in a great variety of forms and ways.

When we perceive and apprehend an appearance that accords with our propensities and inclinations - our wants and needs -, then we are happy about the appearance. When we apprehend an appearance that doesn't accord with our personal inclinations, then we are less pleased with it. The manifestation of Yidams, which are an expression of enlightenment, are free from the necessity of appearing in a specific form or in a certain color, rather every Yidam is a reflection of our personal wants and needs. Being an image of people's various capabilities and inclinations, some Yidams appear white in color, like Noble Chenrezig, others are blue, yellow, red, or green and have different forms. In truth, Yidams are the display of the immense compassion of the Buddhas.

Is the Yidam deity we meditate a truly existent, permanent entity? It is important to know that this is not the case. All Yidams arise in dependence in that they are created by our own mind. If one meditates a Yidam deity that one creates and cultivates with ones mind intensively for a long period of time and accomplishes the aim of the practice, then one will have realized the actual and true manifestation of the Sambhogakaya.

A beginning practitioner works at creating an image of a Yidam like Noble Chenrezig by imagining his color and all details of his form as clearly as possible. It's impossible for a beginner to see the image with opened eyes, so, knowing that one is engaging in the methods of practice by creating the image of a Yidam, one closes ones eyes lightly and practices seeing the inner image until one sees it clearly. If one practices diligently, then the Yidam one meditates will eventually directly manifest. A practitioner of the Buddhadharma strives to attain Buddhadhood, complete and perfect enlightenment that manifests as the three kayas at fruition.

Buddhahood is attained through the gradual process of transforming oneself into the body of perfect enlightenment by overcoming and finally eradicating ones destructive emotions that are veils concealing ones true nature. Ones body, speech, and mind manifest as primordial purity when Buddhahood has been attained. When one has attained Buddhaood, ones body will have been transformed into the Nirmanakaya, ones speech into the Sambhogakaya, and ones mind into the Dharmakaya. The three terms designate the goal that is eventually achieved through practice. Complete purification of ones impurities that conceal ones true nature is called Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya; they are called mind, speech, and body for ordinary beings who have not vanquished their impurities and who have not attained fruition. And all along, the essence of the pure kayas and the essence of the impure aspects of ordinary living beings are and always will be the same.

The main purpose of practice is to transform ones impure perception of appearances and apprehension of experiences that determine ones life into pure and untainted perceptions and apprehensions. Therefore, in order to cleanse ones impure way of perceiving and apprehending things, one repeatedly meditates the immaculate appearance of a Yidam deity. Practice consists of focusing ones attention on a pure image of enlightenment, a Yidam, until ones perception of the purity of all appearances becomes clear and brilliant and determines ones life. It isn't possible to attain this goal right away, and that is why beginners fabricate thoughts about a Yidam while cultivating it during meditation practice.

Beginners close their eyes and imagine the form, color, and ornaments of a specific Yidam, i.e., they simultaneously practice creating the pure physical, verbal, and mental aspects of the Yidam. The physical aspect of practice is visualizing the body of the Yidam as clearly as possible. The verbal aspect is reciting the mantra of the deity. And the mental aspect is concentrating ones attention one-pointedly on the image and mantra of the Yidam without becoming distracted. Of course, it isn't possible to perfect all three aspects of a Yidam such as Noble Chenrezig all at once and from the start, so one begins slowly and step by step by concentrating on the eyes, then on the head of the deity, continuing with its shoulders and entire body. One practices again and again, and, like all things in life, practice makes perfect. Through repeated and regular practice over a longer period of time the entire image of the Yidam will clearly appear in ones mind.

Practitioners can have doubts and wonder whether the Yidam exists or not and whether the practice is beneficial or not. There is no reason to have doubts if one is aware of the fact that the image of the Yidam is not born outside oneself, since one knows that one is creating it with ones imagination and with ones eyes closed. If one continues practicing, then eventually one will see the image of the pure deity as the manifestation of ones own perception with opened eyes. It's important to be assured that a practitioner doesn't walk around seeing blue or white images holding flowers in their hands, rather fruition means that a successful practitioner sees phenomena free from any personal, conceptual and emotional blemishes.

Perception of the true nature of all appearances and experiences has three aspects - clarity, unchanging, and perfect purity. This means to say that by practicing meditation diligently, a practitioner eventually perceives the essence of phenomena clearly and brilliantly. Furthermore, he or she sees that the essence of phenomena doesn't fluctuate by coming and going, but is changeless, and that it is perfectly pure, which means to say that it isn't blemished by impeding veils of disturbing emotions and thoughts.

We are followers of Vajrayana, and the heart of the Vajrayana path is meditating a Yidam deity. As said, it's important not to have any illusions and to know that it isn't easy to clearly perceive an enlightened Yidam. Traditionally, Yidam meditation practices were carried out in a three-year retreat, but if one practices diligently and becomes accustomed to generating and visualizing a deity, then eventually the visualization will arise clearly and distinctly.

Red Chenrezig is the main practice of Kagyüpa three-year retreatants. If a practitioner isn't distracted and naturally and easefully abides in one-pointed concentration on Red Chenrezig for a while, then it can happen that he or she sees the entire room bathed in a vibrant, red color. It can also happen that retreatants lose their feeling for time, i.e., they lose their feeling for morning, noon, and night, even while taking their meals. This is a sign that a practitioner's perception has become lucid, constant, and pure, i.e., he or she has become unaffected by time. These two examples are based upon my own experience. Another experience I had is that when the three aspects described above manifest, then one reaches a point at which every appearance is seen in the same way.

Meditating a Yidam is extremely helpful when it comes to dealing with daily samsaric appearances and experiences that we continuously face. Cultivating and identifying with the pure appearance of a Yidam deity again and again and over a longer period of time alleviates the impact that impure and painful experiences otherwise have. Everyone has problems and they vary from one person to the other. If a practitioner becomes accustomed to a pure Yidam that is not made of matter, then the force and strength of problems that everyone encounters and that everybody has weaken and diminish and as a result it's easier dealing with them.

There are three prerequisites for Yidam practice to be beneficial: the person who meditates, the object of meditation, and the way the visualization is practiced. All three factors need to be united. It is very important to remember that the image of a Yidam that one produces and cultivates in ones meditation does not arise and exist outside ones own mind. It would be a grave illusion to think that the Yidam one produces during meditation practice is an external entity that truly exists and is other than oneself. A Yidam is a beneficial and wholesome projection of ones own mind that one works with.

There are various ways of generating a Yidam deity in the different traditions. For example, there is the tradition of visualizing a Yidam in front of oneself in space and there is the tradition of visualizing oneself as a Yidam. A practitioner visualizes Red Chenrezig both in space as well as himself or herself in the form of the deity during a three-year retreat. One visualizes ones ordinary body in the form of a Yidam, because, as it is, one is extremely attached to ones body, speech, and mind due to thinking that they truly exist and stand for a self one believes in and clings to. The purpose of visualizing oneself as a Yidam is to diminish and slowly overcome attachment to the self that one believes in and clings to.

Meditating again and again that ones body, speech, and mind are not different than the pure body, speech, and mind of a Yidam and that they are indivisible decreases and eventually eradicates ones attachment to the ordinary idea one has of oneself that one clings to and that one is convinced really exists. It happens naturally and isn't hard identifying with ones ordinary body, speech, and mind and calling it "me," and it isn't easy giving up clinging to the impure body, speech, and mind one identifies with so strongly and points to as "I." One needs to exert energy and practice, seeing one isn't accustomed to experiencing the true and pure nature of ones being. The aim of Vajrayana is to progressively replace ones ordinary, gross perception with a pure perception of what is true.

Hinayana practitioners also learn to vanquish attachment to a self by intensively contemplating the impure substances that make up everyone's body. Vajrayana practitioners, in contrast, do not give up clinging to a self by shunning appearances, rather they learn to purify their delusive relationship with appearances and experiences and then can give up their attachment and clinging to what they call "self and others." Mahayana practitioners realize that all appearances - including their own body, tiniest atoms, and all constituents - are empty of inherent existence and only exist in dependence on other things. By realizing the empty nature of all sensory perceptions and apprehensions, they purify their impure cognition of reality and in the process give up clinging to a self and others.

Lord Buddha presented many methods of practice so that we can purify our delusive apprehensions of the world and sentient beings. Vajrayana practitioners engage in the result of the path while practicing, whereas followers of Sutrayana focus their attention on the cause that leads to the result. We saw that Buddhahood denotes realization of the indivisibility of the three kayas. Vajrayana practitioners identify with all three ultimate dimensions of reality, the result, by meditating and cultivating a Yidam while on the path to enlightenment, which means to say that they take the result as the path.

Attainment of the result, Buddhahood, doesn't mean arriving at another location or being transposed, rather it means having gradually transformed ones subtle channels (nadi in Sanskrit), winds (prana), and vital essences (bindu). At Buddhahood, the subtle channels that support ones body are completely purified and are the Nirmanakaya; the subtle winds that support ones speech are purified and are the Sambhogakaya; and the vital essences that support ones mind are purified to the extent that ones ordinary, conceptual mind that creates dualistic thoughts is purified and transformed into pristine awareness, which is the true nature of ones mind, the Dharmakaya.

There are four classes of tantra in Vajrayana: action tantra (kriya tantra in Sanskrit), conduct tantra (charya tantra), yoga tantra (yoga tantra), and hightest yoga tantra (anuttarayoga tantra). Anuttarayoga tantra is the profoundest level of practice that is carried out in the frame of the Six Yogas of Naropa, at which stage the subtle channels, winds, and vital essences are central. Practitioners of Anuttarayoga don't visualize Yidam deities anymore, but directly employ the pure aspects of body, speech, and mind, i.e., the unblemished manifestation of the self-perfected state. At fruition, our ordinary body, speech, and mind are transformed into their innate purity, in which case our mind is free of all contrivances and abides in simplicity.

Generally speaking, the subtle channels, winds, and vital essences are very powerful. When blockages in the channels are unravelled, i.e., the knots untied, and the winds can flow through them smoothly, then a practitioner doesn't become sick anymore. Sicknesses arise due to blockages and disturbances in ones subtle body. These blockages and disturbances and their interplay bring on sicknesses and diseases, which one experiences with ones mind with sadness and woe. This process is referred to as suffering. If through practice one frees ones subtle channels, winds, and vital essences of knots and disturbances, then one will be healthy and will experience happiness and bliss. If one can unite ones subtle body, speech, and mind with the purity of a Yidam's body, speech, and mind, then ones channels, winds, and vital essences will have become purified and free. As a result, one will experience less sicknesses and suffering and, instead, one will experience happiness and joy. We saw that meditating a Yidam is central to Vajrayana, just as it is central to Mahayoga, and we should know that Yidams are directly related to oneself and accomplished when one has perfectly purified ones subtle channels, winds, and vital essences. And so, it is evident that Yidams don't exist outside or are separate from us, but are images of our own purity.

It's important to distinguish between a designated Yidam and an actual Yidam. When speaking of Noble Chenrezig, for instance, we are referring to a designated deity. The actual and true deity is ones own purified body, speech, and mind. Impure appearances are impure perceptions and apprehensions. When ones impure perceptions and apprehensions have been purified and therefore overcome, then ones ordinary body, ordinary speech, and ordinary mind will have been transformed into a vajra body, vajra speech, and vajra mind, which are the three aspects of enlightenment (the Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Dharmakaya). At the moment, one isn't able to connect or experience the actual Yidam. So one identifies with a designated Yidam that one produces with ones thoughts in order to eventually experience and realize the actual Yidam. A practitioner begins by visualizing and identifying as best as he or she possibly can with a completely pure Yidam. Calm abiding or insight meditation are not topics of Yidam practice, which deals with the practice of meditating a deity.

There are innumerable practices. Since followers and practitioners have a huge amount of varying propensities and inclinations, there are a great number of Yidams in Vajrayana, starting with their various colors and forms. The great number of Yidam deities in Vajrayana can be compared to a menu in a big restaurant - every guest is free to choose the meal they prefer having. Vajrayana is like that too, seeing ones practice is enhanced if the Yidam one creates accords with and satisfies ones preferences and needs. There are practitioners who prefer meditating Noble Chenrezig, others feel more comfortable meditating Arya Tara; others want to meditate Sangye Menla, who is Medicine Buddha. Yet other practitioners want to meditate Buddha Amitabha. These deities appear in different forms, but, irrelevant of the outer form, every practice is beneficial and leads to the same result. There are many disciples who prefer meditating wrathful Yidams, such as Vajravarahi or Chakrasamvara or Kalachakra or Mahakala, and these practices bring the same result as meditating a peaceful deity. There are disciples who fear practicing Mahakala, for example, whereas other disciples really like meditating Mahakala, and this is what is meant when speaking about individual propensities and inclinations. In any case, Vajrayana practice consists of identifying with a Yidam, which is an extraordinary method when compared to practices taught in other vehicles.

Again, it's important to differentiate between a Yidam designated and created by ones mind with ones thoughts and the actual and true Yidam. Hinayana and Mahayana followers often have great doubts when they see all the Vajrayana deities and think, "What a lot of constructs that lead away from the absolute truth." So it's important to differentiate and understand the meaning and purpose of Yidam practice. Due to the exceptional methods, Vajrayana is also called "Secret Mantrayana."

I have spoken briefly about the principle and foundation of Vajrayana practice here. Thank you very much.


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.

blume rosa

Instructions presented at Karma Theksum Tashi Chöling in Hamburg in October 2008. Photo of Chöje Lama Phuntsok courtesty of Karma Lekshey Ling Institute in Kathmandu. With sincere gratitude to Madhavi Maren Simoneit for making the recording of the teachings available to us and for her immense help. Translated into English totally in reliance on the German rendering kindly offered by Rosemarie Fuchs by Gaby Hollmann, solely responsible for all mistakes. Copyright Karma Lekshey Ling Institute as well as Karma Theksum Tashi Chöling, 2008.

The Treatise that Differentiates Consciousness and Wisdom
Venerable Chöje Lama Phunstok Rinpoche

Instructions on
The Treatise that Differentiates Consciousness and Wisdom
by the Third Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje

I wish to speak about the text entitled The Treatise that Differentiates Consciousness and Wisdom - rNam-shes-ye-shes-byed-pa that was written by the Third Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, and will base my instructions on the commentary that was written by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye the Great, entitled An Illumination of the Thoughts of Rangjung Dorje. The root text by the Gyalwa Karmapa is short, but it is quite vast and profound. There isn't enough time at our disposal during this seminar to deal with the profundity of this text, therefore I will only present a summary.

The Third Glorious Karmapa wrote two large and two smaller treatises. The longer treatises are The Profound Inner Meaning and The Aspiration Prayer for Mahamudra; the shorter texts are The Treatise that Differentiates Consciousness and Wisdom and A Teaching on the Essence of the Tathagatas, the Buddha Nature. In The Treatise that Differentiates Consciousness and Wisdom, the Third Gyalwa Karmapa explained the consciousnesses on the one hand, primordial wisdom on the other, and spoke of their difference.

Homage and Introduction

To demonstrate humility after having paid homage with the line,

"I pay homage to all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas,"

Rangjung Dorje tells us the reason he composed this text:

"I gained a thorough understanding through hearing the teachings and contemplating them. I then resided in solitude, in order to engage in the process of meditation. I shall describe here the kind (of realization) that arose at that time."

He explained consciousness and wisdom very clearly and tells us that consciousness accords with samsara, the cycle of conditioned existence, and primordial wisdom with nirvana, the state of perfect and lasting peace. Although different, both consciousness, rnam-shes in Tibetan, and primordial wisdom, ye-shes, have the same basis. This means to say that the inadequacies of conditioned existence as well as the qualities of perfect and lasting peace arise from the very same ground. What is the basis that samsara and nirvana have in common? One's own mind, which is one's Buddha nature within. Then what is the difference between consciousness and wisdom, i.e., samsara and nirvana? Not knowing the way the mind abides and the way it appears.

Part One: The Eight Consciousnesses

The mind as the source of delusion

The difference between consciousness and wisdom is due to ma-rig-pa, which is not knowing and therefore being deluded as to how the mind abides and clearly appears. Not knowing how one's mind abides, gnüs-lug, and the manner in which it appears gives rise to desire, död-chags, which in turn causes one to develop mind poisons. Due to not knowing the true nature of one's own mind, which is clear light, all the habits and tendencies, bag-chags, that one accumulates subside and are stored in one's ground consciousness. And so, one's ground consciousness,in Tibetan (abbreviated as kun-gzhi, literally "the foundation of everything") is the storehouse of samsara in its entirety. kun-gzhi'i-rnam-par-shes-pa

Not knowing causes one to grasp, dzin, i.e., to cling to the false notion one has of oneself. The erroneous notion one has of oneself arises due to conceiving one's all-ground consciousness as a self, thus falsely asserting "I am." This process occurs via the defiled or afflicted consciousness, nyon-mongs-pa'i-yid-kyi-rnam-par-shes-pa (abbreviated as nyon-yid). Based upon the power of one's afflicted consciousness, one's conceptual mind, sems in Tibetan, immediately grasps at one or all of the five perceptions that one perceives with any of one's five sensory faculties and thus one becomes involved with thought processes. Consciousness of the five sensory perceptions is a faculty that arises when one sees a form, hears a sound, smells a scent, tastes, and feels textures with one's body.

The eight collections of consciousness, rnam-shes-tshogs-brgyüd, are the all-ground consciousness (8) that is connected with the defiled consciousness (7). Based on the defiled consciousness, the mental consciousness (6) is activated the moment one perceives any of the five sensory perceptions (5 - 1). The basis for the seven consciousnesses is the all-ground consciousness.

One shouldn't think that one has many minds - one's mind is always the same. Yet one apprehends progressively and successively, therefore there are various levels of apprehension, which are described in the teachings on the eight kinds of consciousness.

The all-ground consciousness is not active, rather it is the storehouse for all one's traces or habitual patterns accumulated through one's former actions. The all-ground consciousness is the state in which one's karmic traces are accumulated and have not been exhausted. Karma and its traces, that are habitual patterns, arise due to the afflicted consciousness, which is conditioned by one's foregoing conceptual mind. When one's habits and therefore karma are spent, then primordial wisdom freely shines forth as the pure and true nature of one's all-ground consciousness.

Let's look at this process using the following example: The afflicted consciousness hooks in to a visual sensory perception the moment a visual organ perceives an object. As a result, the visual consciousness arises. One's sixth mental consciousness immediately jumps in and interprets and judges whether the visual perception one has is pleasant, unpleasant, and so forth. Due to judging and categorizing (with one's sixth mental consciousness) things that one perceives (with one's first five sensory consciousnesses), one automatically feels attracted to specific objects and repelled by others, and so attraction and rejection arise in one's mind, attraction towards those things one likes and rejection of those things one dislikes. Attraction gives rise to desire, rejection gives rise to aversion, and - due to wanting things to be different - greed and hatred develop in one's mind. One can have a third reaction, which is a kind of mental dullness. In any case, the same process applies to all sensory perceptions, i.e., when one thinks a sound one hears is either pleasant or unpleasant, one automatically develops desire or aversion respectively.

One's afflicted consciousness is stirred as soon as contact with a sensory object takes place, i.e., one acts out the impulse as soon as one identifies and judges things as pleasant or unpleasant with one's conceptual mind and then develops either desire and greed or aversion and anger. This means that one will do anything in one's might to keep or get what one wants and to avoid or eliminate anything one doesn't want. Focusing one's attention on methods and means to accomplish one's aims and acting them out is called "karma."

One's mental consciousness sets the entire process in motion, while the traces of one's actions that become habits subside into one's all-ground consciousness and arise again as impulses when the all-ground consciousness is stirred. So, it's clear that any actions one carries out are based upon one's thoughts as to what one thinks is good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant. Actions lead to results that one necessarily experiences, i.e., one's positive actions lead to happiness and one's negative actions lead to suffering. One can say that due to one's habitual patterns or karmic imprints, that are stored in one's all-ground consciousness, happiness and suffering are experienced. And this is how samsara is created, not due to one factor only, for instance, not by the object that is perceived and not by one consciousness alone. Rather samsara is created due to the coming together of an apprehending subject and apprehended objects. This very coming together activates one's stored karma, i.e., habitual patterns, and leads one to apprehend appearances the way one does. One's experiences depend upon the quality of one's karma.

All outer appearances one apprehends do not truly exist, but one turns them into truly existing existents because of the way one thinks they are, i.e., one erroneously apprehends objects of perception that have no inherent existence as truly existing entities and reacts accordingly. For example, if one takes the many living beings in the six realms of conditioned existence to mind and understands that they are entangled in samsara yet experience appearances differently, one can then acknowledge that manifold experiences are a subjective matter that accord with an individual's mind and not with appearances as such. Let's take water to exemplify this: A human being checks if water is dirty or poisoned before he drinks it to quench his thirst, whereas a dog just drinks it. A hell being experiences water as boiling liquid poured over its entire body, whereas a hungry ghost experiences it as puss or blood, so it is evident that one and the same object is experienced quite differently by different kinds of beings. Another example that shows that differences do not pertain to appearances, rather depend upon an individual's mind, is eating habits: Some people like sweets, while others can't stand it. The many different judgments that give rise to the many different apprehensions are due to the great variety of karmic imprints that human beings have.

If one asks where the karmic propensities that are energies stored in one's ground consciousness come from, it is important to know that karma does not arise from one cause and one condition only, but from a combination of many causes and conditions. The immense variety of karma one collects again and again is due to the coming together of many causes and conditions. If one asks who the busy collector is, then it's the mental consciousness that discriminates, "This is nice and that isn't," and so forth. The traces of all one's activities subside into one's ground consciousness and are stored there. Understanding this process enables one to understand that samsara, conditioned existence, is created by one's own mind, i.e., samsara is not created by anything outside oneself. Had the world of appearances been created by a creator outside oneself, then the creator would have needed to have created many things, for example, pure water for human beings, murky water for dogs, boiling water for hell beings, etc.

It is clear that every living being apprehends phenomena subjectively, which is due to everyone's individual accumulation of karma - living beings create their own appearances and experiences. Let's take parents who have three children, love them equally, and treat them alike, nevertheless every child will mature differently. It does happen that one child in the family becomes a very respectable citizen, while another child turns out not so nice. Everyone has an own destiny, because their former karma is stored in their ground consciousness as energetic propensities that move their mental consciousness to perceive and apprehend subjectively and therefore differently.

All appearances that one perceives and apprehends were not created by anyone outside oneself. Appearances don't truly exist and are mind only. Followers of the Cittamatra School teach that all appearances are reflections of one's own mind and that no outer phenomenon exists of its own accord.

Why does one speak about samsara, khor-ba in Tibetan? Because the mental consciousness that is driven by the energy of one's karmic traces, yid-kyi-bag-chags, functions and causes one to accumulate new karma that again subsides into one's ground consciousness, leaving further traces that determine one's future - and that's how samsara continues to churn and spin around in circles. If one asks oneself who created samsara and investigates carefully, one discovers that one creates one's world oneself through the coming together of one's afflicted seventh consciousness with the first five sensory consciousnesses, which cause one's sixth mental consciousness to differentiate between pleasant and unpleasant feelings. This process gives rise to attachment and aversion. Attachment and aversion cause one to act and therefore accumulate karma, which subsides into one's ground consciousness as imprints or karmic traces. These energetic propensities or traces keep the wheel of samsara turning, which is one's own life. If one understands this process, then one appreciates how important Dharma practice really is - it enables one to know how to stop the chain reaction that keeps the inadequacies of conditioned existence revolving.

Should one engage in meditation practice, it is very important to know why. Just sitting down and meditating without knowing the purpose is like shooting an arrow at a distant goal into the darkness of the night. It is necessary to understand one's mind if one wishes to meditate correctly. If one investigates how the eight types of consciousness function, one will discover that the five sensory consciousness are very active during the daytime - one sees, hears, tastes, smells, and touches many things while one is awake. One's sixth mental consciousness differentiates and evaluates the impressions perceived through one's sensory consciousnesses. Then the inner chattering begins and goes on all day, such as, "Oh, today I saw such beautiful things," or, " I saw such ugly things that I never want to see again," or, "Oh, today I heard such nice things," or, "No, I heard awful things that I never want to hear again," and so forth. Mind's activities do not vanish, rather all judgments and thoughts subside into one's ground consciousness and are stored there as habitual patterns.

During the night, when one is asleep, the five sensory consciousnesses are inactive, whereas the mental consciousness continues remaining active. One goes through various phases while asleep: dream and deep-sleep phases in which case one doesn't dream. When one dreams, one's mental consciousness appears illusively. One doesn't dream if the mental consciousness sinks into the ground consciousness while asleep. And so, the mental consciousness goes through three phases: the waking phase in which one's mind is actively involved with one's active sensory perceptions, the dream phase in which one's mind is active without being involved with one's inactive sensory perceptions, and the deep-sleep phase in which one's mind sinks into one's ground consciousness. These three phases are the stream of being that characterize a living being.

Where is the mind located? Scientists are struggling to prove that it is located in the brain; others say it's in the heart, but Buddhism teaches it can never be located. While awake, the sensory consciousnesses are very active; when dreaming while asleep, the mental consciousness is very active, and while in deep-sleep the ground consciousness is active, so one will never find that the mind exists in a specific location in the body. Mind's location is extremely fleeting, for example, if we see something that we really like but something heavy falls on our knee, then our mind immediately springs from the object we were looking at to our knee. That's how it is, so it's good to appreciate and acknowledge that one's mental consciousness, one's mind, isn't seated in one's brain or heart, but is always where one focuses one's attention or notices something happening. When one meditates correctly, one employs the mental consciousness, turns it inwards, and then it will be located in one's heart.

A skilled practitioner of calm abiding meditation will reach a stage at which it is necessary to ask whether the mental consciousness can be found to exist anywhere. If a practitioner is able to hold his or her mental consciousness in the heart and abides in ease, instead of becoming involved with sensory perceptions, then it is a sign of having accomplished levels of calm abiding meditation, zhi-gnüs. It is important to meditate in order to reach this stage, and it doesn't really matter whether one practices zhi-gnüs or deity visualization at this point. The purpose of calm abiding meditation practice is to be able to hold one's mental consciousness within and to abide in an unwavering state of non-discursive ease. As long as one isn't able to keep one's mental consciousness still, one won't be able to visualize clearly. Knowing how one's consciousnesses evolve and how karma is created and accumulated is a support and prerequisite so that one's meditation practice is beneficial.

Meditation practices are remedies to overcome and relinquish one's discursiveness. One can only apply a remedy if one has understood how one fabricates thoughts. Meditation leads to attainment of Buddhahood, at which point one's ground consciousness will have been emptied of all habitual patterns that are traces of one's own karma.

Summary: The root of conditioned existence is the ground consciousness. The mental consciousness accumulates and collects karma by coming into contact with any of the five sensory perceptions that arise when sensory objects are perceived with the respective sensory faculty, by then judging those perceptions, and by reacting according to one's thoughts. The traces of actions, that are habitual patterns, subside into the ground consciousness and determine the cycle of conditioned existence that is repeatedly experienced when causes and conditions prevail.

It is very conducive for one's meditation practice to understand how the eight types of consciousness arise and function. For example, if one knows a city like Hamburg, then it's easy finding one's way around. It would be very hard for me, though, because I don't really know Hamburg. In the same manner, knowing the way one's mind functions is very beneficial for one's practice. Understanding one's mind well is the prerequisite to develop one's practice, because one will have certainty in one's practice and be able to recognize what needs to be done.

We have been looking at sems, "the mind," and saw that it goes through many phases that consist of various aspects. It's not very helpful thinking that one is dealing with a singular mind while one practices, since everything arises in dependence upon many causes and conditions.

All appearances are mind

Buddhism teaches that all living beings in the three realms of samsara exist due to being deluded about the true nature of inner and outer phenomena. Anything that appears does not exist from its own side or as it seems. Lord Buddha said in a Sutra that all appearances in the three realms of cyclic existence (the form, formless, and desire realms) are mind. This means to say that nothing really exists outside one's mind, i.e., all appearances are a result of thoughts that arise from not knowing, ma-rig-pa. Some people think a creator made everything, but Buddhists do not believe such things.

Buddhism teaches that all apprehensions are illusory, which I spoke about. Again: The basis is the ground consciousness (8) that stores all imprints of actions that one performed. The afflicted mind (7) moves the mental consciousness (6) to conceptualize sensory perceptions (1 - 5). If contact between a sensory object and the respective sensory consciousness occurs, then the mental consciousness grasps and judges that perception. It is therefore logical that all appearances are created by concepts and thoughts and are consequently illusory.

Although it's not true, due to not knowing how things are and how they appear, one thinks that appearances that one apprehends truly exist. One turns appearances that do not truly exist into truly existing objects and clings to them as real. For example, one sees many things while dreaming, such as being swept away by a river current, but the river certainly doesn't exist and doesn't consist of a single drop of water or tiniest particle. Yet, one thinks the dream-image truly exists and experiences tremendous fear. When one wakes up, one realizes it was just a dream. In the same manner, one turns things that one perceives while awake into truly existing objects.

How the eight consciousnesses cause delusion

One can say that delusiveness occurs in three stages. The basis is the ground consciousness. Then there is the conceptual mind that is activated and moved by the karmic impulses that are stored in and arise out of the ground consciousness when causes and conditions prevail. After an outer appearance has been perceived, the mental consciousness identifies and overlays that object with the karmic imprints that are created by afflictions and thinks what was perceived is a truly existent, unique, and solid entity. This is what is meant by delusion. It means to say that awareness of an appearance arises in the mind the moment a sensory perception and the respective object of perception come into contact and join. The immediate moment of perception is not tainted, but delusiveness is created when the conceptual mind overlays what was perceived with thoughts and judgments in the subsequent moment and joins both instants of perception and conception as though they were single. And so, all things that can be apprehended only appear in dependence upon causes and conditions. It will be very beneficial for one's practice if one can correctly understand how one's consciousnesses cause delusion.

The main purpose of meditation practice is recognizing and relinquishing the misleading contact that takes place immediately and directly the moment an appearance has been perceived. Meditation practitioners will benefit immensely if they are aware of the great variety of thoughts they have and then realize that they are merely bubbles of the mental consciousness.

How delusion is recognized and overcome

- Mahamudra

Mahamudra instructions of the Kagyu Tradition are generally explained in three stages. They are Mahamudra of ground, path, and fruition - phyag-rgya-chen-po-gzhi, phyag-rgya-chen-po-lam, phyag-rgya-chen-po- brüs-bu. It's very important to understand them correctly.

Ground Mahamudra employs three reasonings, dön-mkhyen-gsum, to describe the consciousnesses. The reasonings are carried out in order to know three things: how the mind abides, gnüs-lug, how delusions are, khrul-lug, and how the mind really is, nyid-lug. It's extremely important to correctly understand in which manner one apprehends appearances delusively in order to have the correct view of Mahamudra and in order to realize how the mind truly is.

Path Mahamudra consists of three profound stages, which are calm abiding and insight meditation, zhi-gnüs and lhag-mthong, furthermore the specific pointing-out instructions, ngo-spröd. The direct pointing-out instructions consist of four steps, the first being to receive the transmission, in which case a teacher introduces a qualified student to the truth that all appearances are mind. As long as devotees don't really understand how the mind functions, they won't be able to appreciate and understand the meaning of calm abiding, insight, the sacred pointing-out instructions, and yidam meditation practices. Lacking correct understanding, one's meditation practice will be superficial and shallow. Meditating these practices one-pointedly and clearly involves the conceptual mind. Yidam meditation practices are remedies to purify one's mental consciousness from delusiveness by exchanging negative thoughts with positive ones.

Difficulties to clearly visualize a yidam, a Buddha, are natural, because the karmic imprints and traces, that cause one to perceive impurely, are stirred up. One's karmic imprints will always interfere with one's meditation, notably when one begins progressing in one's practice. Interferences that disturb will occur while more and more subtle karmic traces are eliminated, but one's visualization of a yidam will become clearer and clearer during the purification process. Subtle disturbances and interferences will finally end when fruition has been achieved, and then all appearances will be apprehended clearly and purely. When a yidam is seen clearly, then it's not an appearance outside oneself, but is an appearance of one's own mind. A clear visualization is a sign that one's practice is going quite well.

Perceiving appearances either purely or impurely depends upon each individual, i.e., upon the karmic traces each and everyone has accumulated. If one perceives impurely, then it is called "samsara." If one only perceives purely, then it is called "nirvana." Pure and impure apprehensions have nothing to do with something outside oneself, rather depend upon one's thoughts, so one's thoughts are extremely important.

Anyone who practices Phowa (transference of consciousness) must understand the teachings I am presenting here. The main goal of Phowa and all other practices is to empty one's ground consciousness - one can actually say to relinquish one's ground consciousness. The more one succeeds, the easier one's Phowa practice will become. There's a moment during the dying process when all sensory organs cease functioning and one can't perceive anything anymore. At that stage in the death process, all elements have subsided into the mental consciousness that, in turn, subsides and becomes inseparable with the ground consciousness. Death has set in when the karmic wind leaves the body. If one understands these instructions, has practiced in one's life, and if one isn't killed suddenly but dies slowly, then one knows that one will die in any moment when one loses the ability to perceive anything anymore. At that point, one can cause one's mental consciousness to fall into one's ground consciousness in order to alter one's way of dying.

Summary: Everyone has eight consciousnesses. They are the ground consciousness that stores all imprints of actions that one performed. The afflicted mind moves the mental consciousness to conceptualize sensory perceptions. One can say that the first seven are the same as the ground consciousness. When the ground consciousness has been completely emptied of all karmic traces, Buddhahood will have been attained.

The aim of all practices is to attain Buddhahood. Therefore it is important to know that the all-ground consciousness determines one's perceptions and needs to be purified and emptied of any karmic traces so that one can perceive purely. Although one may experience temporary results through one's practice, one will not even be able to approach or come near the ultimate goal if one doesn't purify one's ground consciousness. The moment a very advanced practitioner succeeds, then he will have cut the root of samsara and have reached the state of nirvana.

- Zhi-gnüs and lhag-mthong

The purpose of practicing zhi-gnüs, lhag-mthong, or Mahamudra as it is taught in Sutrayana is to diminish one's habit of focusing one's attention outwards and as a result to purify one's sensory consciousnesses. One turns one's attention inwards and pacifies one's mental consciousness through zhi-gnüs practice. If one practices diligently for a long time and is able to hold one's mind inwardly without wavering - i.e., when one turns one's attention outside oneself less and less -, then that is a sign that one's zhi-gnüs practice is good. If one engages in zhi-gnüs meditation and doesn't know what needs to be abandoned, then it would be like one were throwing a stone at something one cannot see in the dark night.

When one gives up chasing after thoughts that move one to wander outside oneself and become distracted by sensory perceptions, then one will be able to practice lhag-mthong and pacify one's mental consciousness. The mental consciousness continuously dzin-pa, "conceives, grasps, fixates, and clings" to things. Dzin-pa is the basic aggression of wanting things to be different than they are. As a result, one's mental consciousness has the strong tendency to control perceived sensory objects by identifying, categorizing, and judging them.

Mahamudra meditation is based upon pointing-out instructions and addresses the ground consciousness. When advanced practitioners have transformed their ground consciousness by fully emptying it of last karmic traces, then they will have directly realized Mahamudra, which is the same as attaining Buddhahood. If one wants to engage in zhi-gnüs, lhag-mthong, and Mahamudra, then one needs to know what each method of practice purifies and eliminates. For example, one needs to take the right medicine that heals the sickness one has when one is sick - swallowing any pill one has saved in one's cupboard will most likely harm. Likewise, it is necessary to practice the right method to overcome specific adverse conditions that one does have.


This has been a brief explanation of the eight consciousnesses, rnam-shes-tshogs-brgyüd, which can be summarized in three: the ground consciousness, the mental consciousness that is plagued with thoughts, and the five sensory consciousnesses. Zhi-gnüs practice deals with the sensory consciousnesses; lhag-mthong deals with the mental consciousness; and Mahamudra deals with the all-ground consciousness. These procedural practices lead from coarse to more subtle practices as one advances from the one to the next. Let me stress again that it is very important to recognize one's real enemies, to know the remedies, and then the remedies one applies will be right. For example, if the cup in front of me has black stains, then I need to know what kinds of stains they are if I want to clean the cup. I would need to know whether I should use soap or something else to scrub the cup clean of stains. Likewise, it is necessary to know which defilements and afflictions one has so that one knows which method to practice.

Let me stress, too, that it is utterly important to understand how one's defilements and afflictions impede achieving freedom from suffering and pain, which is samsara. One needs to correctly understand what kinds of defilements and afflictions one has, how they arise, and what their negative impact in one's own life as well as on that of others they have. If one knows, then one can apply the right remedy and engage in zhi-gnüs, lhag-mthong, Mahamudra, yidam meditation, or Phowa.

It will be very beneficial to deepen one's understanding of the Dharma, especially in preparation for one's own death. The death process is taking place in this very instant. One's sensory faculties are very clear and sharp when one is 20 and 30 years old, but they are less clear when one turns 50 and become worse when one is 60 years old. When one is 70 or 75, they have become rather selective, so by brushing the thought of one's imminent death away, by fighting this fact, and by acting as though one has lots of time is useless. When the sensory faculties become weak and even weaker, it will not be long and one will have died.

One cannot see, hear, smell, touch, or taste anything anymore when the final death process has set in. At that stage, the five sensory consciousnesses have ended, and then the subtle perception of the mental consciousness appears, which is the manifestation of red and white. If one understands this vision by having practiced and became prepared during one's life, then one knows that one is dying and can continue practicing when red and white appear. Dying actually means that the eight consciousnesses dissolve, one into the other, i.e., the sensory consciousnesses subside into the mental consciousness, and the mental consciousness then subsides into the ground consciousness. At that point, it would be good to unite one's energy-wind with one's ground consciousness and to do Phowa by sending one's consciousness, one's mind, out of one's body through the crown of one's head.

The short but very profound text, entitled The Treatise that Differentiates Consciousness and Wisdom - rNam-shes-ye-shes-byed-pa that was written by the Third Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, is very important if one wishes to understand the consciousnesses and know how they arise in dependence upon each other. It was only possible for me to offer a brief explanation of the consciousnesses during this short seminary, but it would be very good and beneficial if you study the text well.

When differentiating between samsara and nirvana, it is important to know that both are only mind.

All living beings without exception have Buddha nature, are therefore always and already endowed with pure and perfect qualities of enlightenment. But individuals differ in as much as they don't realize their true nature due to their karmic traces. Those who don't realize their true nature move about and remain entangled in samsara.

What did the Buddha teach? The methods by which one can surpass and overcome ma-rig-pa, the main defilement that is not knowing. For those individuals who have overcome and relinquished their habitual patterns (that are karmic traces stored in their ground consciousness) and uprooted the seed of negativity (which is not knowing) their Buddha nature will manifest openly and their immaculate qualities of Buddhahood will have freely unfolded. The only difference between those individuals who are fettered in samsara and those who have attained nirvana is given in the connotation of the terms "consciousness" and "wisdom." Knowing this, Lord Buddha therefore taught beings: "All appearances in samsara and nirvana are only mind."

What happens as long as one doesn't realize the true nature of one's own mind and erroneously thinks it's something else? One wanders in samsara, accumulates karma, and suffers. What happens when one realizes the true nature of one's own mind? Then one no longer has an all-ground consciousness, kun-gzhi'i-rnam-par-shes-pa, rather one has realized all-basis, primordial wisdom, kun-ghzi'i-ye-shes.

The method to realize primordial wisdom depends upon understanding very, very well how one's mind is and functions. Based upon one's understanding, one diligently works to eliminate one's negativity and thus enables one's positive qualities to unfold from within. One should never forget that one's mind possesses immense capabilities and is very powerful. For example, computers are very complex. Once someone sat down and thought it all out - a slight example for mind's extraordinary abilities. If one is really connected and is certain of what needs to be abandoned and eliminated and has trust in the methods to realize what needs to be established, then - due to the power of one's mind - one will definitely attain the result, which is complete and perfect enlightenment. If one is able to establish an authentic and reliable connection and receives the pointing-out instructions, then one will attain enlightenment real, real fast. If one isn't able to make a connection and receive the instructions, then it won't be easy to practice.

Let me stress that it is necessary to again and again study and thoroughly understand how the consciousnesses arise, how they cause delusion, and how delusion can be recognized and overcome - then one will attain the result. If one studies dependent arising of one's own mind, one will develop and have the correct view. One can go astray if one becomes negligent, for example, by believing that nothing exists or that things exist forever. Studying the teachings protects one from going astray, and then it doesn't matter which meditation one practices, whether zhi-gnüs, lhag-mthong, Mahamudra, or yidam meditation. In fact, one can meditate the method one prefers, because one's practice will be to the point.

The same applies to the practices of mind training, loving kindness and compassion, or giving and taking through cultivating Bodhicitta, in any case, lacking the perspective, one's efforts will remain bereft of a purpose. It's more than necessary to know what the mind is if one wishes to practice mind training that I spoke about on another occasion. What is the mind? Our thoughts. So we need to purify our thoughts.

In the absence of the right view, one's practice of giving others all one's joy and taking on their pain, of giving them the causes for their happiness and taking away the causes for their suffering and pain will be useless if the one who receives doesn't have the karma to receive. Therefore one does need to know that one practices mind training and giving and taking in order to purify one's own mind of attachment to a self and all habitual impulses and consequences that follow.

Where do all one's negative and frequent positive thoughts come from? Exclusively from one's sixth mental consciousness that is enslaved by one's concepts and thoughts. So the mental consciousness is the enemy one attacks in order to decrease and vanquish one's negative thoughts and in order to increase and establish a benevolent mind. A great Tibetan Mahasiddha once said, "If one wants to vanquish all harmful appearances, then one needs to uproot the cause, which is one's thoughts. If one succeeds, then one has uprooted the cause of all painful manifestations." Since this is the case, then one must know where the cause is located. It's located in the mental consciousness.

The Third Gyalwa Karmapa said, "If one wants to bring the essence of the Sutrayana and Vajrayana to a point, then it is crucial to understand the difference between consciousness and primordial wisdom." Therefore, I do want to ask you to please study the profound text, The Treatise that Differentiates Consciousness and Wisdom. Teachers will visit Theksum Tashi Chöling in the future and offer instructions. It would be very good and beneficial if you ask them to present further instructions on this topic and to personally answer any questions you may have.

As long as we have not attained Buddhahood, we are like a patient who does have to find out what he needs to abandon and adopt in order to become well. Nowadays, it has become fashionable to buy a Dharma book or two, to read them, and then to practice what one has read. This is not really a good idea, because practitioners do need to receive personal instructions from a qualified and authentic teacher in order to deepen and intensify their understanding of the Dharma correctly. If one bases one's practice on books, it will be rather difficult. Even if the books are correct, they are always written from a specific perspective and in the context of a certain viewpoint. Some books explain the practice; others describe the view, yet others speak about ethical behaviour. If one doesn't receive instructions on which topics pertain to which aspect of the teachings, it will be rather difficult. Thinking it is sufficient to read books resembles a patient who just takes any old medicine he happens to have.

The text, The Treatise that Differentiates Consciousness and Wisdom is very summarized and has been translated into English. Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye wrote a detailed commentary that you can read in English. It would be good if you study these books again and again as well as the other treatises that the Third Gyalwa Karmapa wrote.

Buddhism teaches that one needs to meet preparations correctly and understand the purpose of one's practice. If one fails, one may think one is practicing meditation but will not know what the source of lasting happiness is, which is our aim. Lasting happiness is the same as perfect enlightenment. And the source of lasting happiness lies in one's own mind. In regions populated by many monkeys, one can see them seated in a meditative posture - eyes closed and hands resting on their lap, but they are
sleeping. Just sitting like that and thinking one is meditating is rather useless and helps no one at all.

karma pakshi

Part Two: The Five Wisdoms and Four Kayas

Transformation of the consciousnesses into wisdoms and kayas

We saw that there are eight consciousnesses: the all-basis ground consciousness, the afflicted consciousness, and the mental consciousness that identifies and judges the five sensory consciousnesses. One can say briefly that they belong to samsara.

- The five wisdoms

What is primordial wisdom, ye-shes in Tibetan? When the all-ground consciousness, kun-gzhi'i-rnam-par-shes-pa, has been purified of all stains, then it is called "all-basis, primordial wisdom," kun-ghzi'i-ye-shes.

Generally, all living beings without exception have Buddha nature, but as long as they don't realize it, then not knowing, ma-rig-pa, is the all-ground consciousness. The seven other consciousnesses are impure as long as the ground consciousness is stained and obscured. When the veils and obscurations brought on by not knowing have been dispelled from the ground consciousness, then the Buddha nature is free and primordial wisdom manifests in five aspects. The five aspects of primordial wisdom, ye-shes-lnga, are: (1) me-long-lta-bu'i-ye-shes, mirror-like wisdom, (2) mnyam-nyid-ye-shes, wisdom of equality, (3) sor-rtog-ye-shes, discriminating wisdom, (4) bya-grub-ye-shes, all-accomplishing wisdom, and (5) chös-bying-ye-shes, wisdom of the expanse of reality. The five aspects of primordial wisdom manifest directly when a practitioner has attained the final result of the path, which is called "fruition." As long as practitioners are on the path, traces of not knowing conceal their mind's true nature and the five aspects of primordial wisdom do not manifest.

One attains fruition, which is Buddhahood, when the ground consciousness has been totally emptied of finest and most subtle karmic traces. At that point, primordial wisdom is unleashed and manifests the five aspects listed above. As long as the purification process is not completed, a practitioner is on the path and does achieve levels of realization, but primordial wisdom will not directly manifest until fruition has been fully established. Buddhahood is understood to be the point at which the ground consciousness has been completely negated, because the last traces and finest stains that arise from not knowing have been eradicated. Then the ground consciousness manifests mirror-like wisdom.

It is important to understand that mirror-like wisdom is not something new when the ground consciousness has been purified, because mirror-like wisdom is always and already present in one's mind. We are looking at this from the viewpoint of the purification process. When the ground consciousness is free of all traces and fully negated, then it is all-basis, primordial wisdom that is like a mirror.

We saw that the ground consciousness is the basis and source for the other seven consciousnesses. Likewise, mirror-like wisdom is the root and source of the other four wisdoms. Based upon mirror-like wisdom, the three following kinds of primordial wisdom appear - wisdom of equality, discriminating wisdom, and all-accomplishing wisdom. Looking at the simile of a mirror that is free of stains, the other wisdoms appear clearly in the immaculate mirror of mirror-like wisdom.

Nothing is added to the purified ground consciousness at fruition, rather at that time it is completely transformed and appears clearly. As long as it is stained, the ground consciousness is the source of samsara. During the purification process of the ground consciousness, it is the root of nirvana. There is only a difference between the dimensions of samsara and nirvana as long as the purification practice takes place. And the mutual source of samsara and nirvana is nothing but the mind.

The next primordial wisdom that appears in mirror-like wisdom does so when the afflicted consciousness is utterly defeated and the disturbing emotions are utterly eliminated. When the afflicted consciousness is purified of all destructive mind poisons, then it is completely transformed and is then wisdom of equality.

When great wisdom of equality manifests freely, the mental consciousness that judges the five sensory consciousnesses and consequently gives rise to thoughts is defeated. Conceptualization is then transformed into discriminating wisdom. Furthermore, the five sensory consciousnesses are transformed through discriminating wisdom and when they are purified, there is all-accomplishing wisdom.

Summary: One can briefly say that samsara is characterized by the activity of the eight consciousnesses, and nirvana is characterized by the manifestation of the five primordial wisdoms. We have only addressed the first four so far and will look at the wisdom of the expanse of reality in a moment. One can describe the result of having completed the purification process by means of the five primordial wisdoms or by means of three or four kayas, the Sanskrit term for "bodies of a Buddha."

- The four kayas in relation to the five wisdoms

When the four kayas, sku-bzhi in Tibetan, are discussed in relation to the five aspects of primordial wisdom, then mirror-like wisdom is equivalent to the Dharmakaya, which is the Sanskrit term that was translated into Tibetan as ye-shes-chös-sku, "wisdom body." Two aspects of primordial wisdom, wisdom of equality and discriminating wisdom, are related to the Sambhogakaya, longs-spyöd-rdzogs-pa'i-sku, "complete enjoyment body." And all-accomplishing wisdom is related to the Nirmanakaya, sprul-pa'i-sku, "emanation body."

Summary: Mirror-like wisdom and Dharmakaya are the purified ground consciousness. Discriminating wisdom and wisdom of equality are the purified afflicted and mental consciousnesses and the Sambhogakaya. All-accomplishing wisdom is the purified five sensory consciousnesses and the Nirmanakaya.

A fifth wisdom and fourth kaya are explained so that one understands that the four wisdoms and three kayas are inseparable, since their essence is one and the same. The fifth wisdom is Dharmadhatu wisdom, chös-bying-ye-shes, "wisdom of the expanse of reality." Dharmadhatu wisdom is equivalent to Svabhavikakaya, gno-bo-nyid-kyi-sku, "the body of their essentiality."

What is nirvana, mya-ngün-lüs-'düs pa? Nirvana is the state in which the five wisdoms and four kayas manifest directly. When this is so, then it is a sign that ultimate fruition has been attained. Again, the source of primordial wisdom is mirror-like wisdom, which is the completely purified ground consciousness. What is samsara? Samsara is the state in which duality abounds - suffering as well as happiness. Karma creates both suffering and happiness. The mental afflictions create karma, and not knowing gives rise to the mental afflictions. Not knowing means being ignorant of one's true nature and as a result thinking it is something foreign to oneself. Karmic traces and habitual patterns are created as long as delusions are created. Karma is stored in one's ground consciousness. When one's ground consciousness has been emptied of all karmic traces, then the four kayas manifest. And so one sees that the source of samsara as well as nirvana is one and the same - one's own mind. The only distinction one can make between samsara and nirvana is whether one has realized the true nature of one's mind or not. Therefore the Third Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, stated in this treatise, "All appearances are only mind." It's extremely important to understand this.

In our present situation, it's not very useful receiving detailed instructions on fruition, although it's good to know where one is heading. Followers will gradually understand the result while practicing the path. Yet, from the viewpoint of Buddhism, it is important for followers to know that both samsara and nirvana are not created by anyone else, rather the experience of samsara and nirvana depend upon the state of one's own mind. The only difference between samsara and nirvana lies in the amount of defilements one has or has been able to purify and eliminate. When defilements and afflictions have been completely dispelled, then the five primordial wisdoms and four kayas manifest. As a result, an accomplished practitioner experiences the environment as a pure realm and all appearances purely, which is referred to as having "the pure view." Vice versa, as long as one's consciousness has not been purified and one is deluded, one's same old defiled mind appears again and again, i.e., one continues experiencing suffering and pain due to karma and perceives appearances impurely, which is referred to as having "the impure view."

One will not understand the significance of differentiating consciousness and wisdom by only having heard or read about it. Rather, one can only win a true understanding if one engages in the three trainings to realize discriminating awareness, prajna in Sanskrit, shes-rab in Tibetan. The three trainings are: receiving the instructions, contemplating them thoroughly, and integrating them in one's life by meditating them. It is crucial to investigate and reflect the teachings one has received carefully and thoroughly, until one has gained certainty in the truth of the teachings. Contemplating the teachings deeply is a prerequisite if one wishes to meditate correctly. Meditating the teachings after having contemplated them carefully is the method by which one perfects discriminating awareness. Having perfected discriminating awareness, an advanced practitioner has attained the knowledge needed in order to manifest the five wisdoms and four kayas.

Summary of the Treatise

Usually one has the tendency to think that Buddhahood is far, far away, but these teachings show that this isn't so. Buddhahood lies within every living being without exception in every single instant of time. As long as one remains spellbound in a dream-like state that is characterized by not knowing, one's true nature is experienced as samsara. As soon as one wakes up from the sleep of not knowing, one's mind manifests and one experiences nirvana.

It will be very helpful to gain certainty through one's meditation practice that one's practice is solely aimed at one point, which is one's all-ground consciousness, to recognize that it needs to be purified of all karmic traces, and to furthermore acknowledge that one's pure qualities of being will manifest the moment the purification process has been completed.

A great Siddha of the Kagyu Tradition once said, "Buddha resides in one's very own mind and nowhere else." In order to appreciate this fact, it is necessary to understand that samsara is based upon the one and very same source as all qualities that characterize nirvana. If one doesn't understand this and merely reiterates, "Buddha is within me," then he isn't.

It's very important to understand these teachings. Many people believe that living beings and all appearances of the outer world truly exist. Buddhists do not think like that. Nothing whatsoever contains the tiniest trace of real existence, and nirvana is not something that is newly acquired and truly exists either.

The Hevajra Tantra states: "All beings are Buddhas, but obscured by incidental stains. When those have been removed, there is Buddhahood." This means to say that the entire process of becoming free from the experience of suffering and attaining the experience of peace is nothing but a gradual purification process. When purification has been completed, the goal will have been attained, in which case nothing has been removed from one's true nature and nothing new has been added to it.


Please don't forget that the Buddha presented teachings in stages. He taught beginners that samsara exists, that karma is valid, and that suffering is a true experience. These instructions are necessary so that a devotee recognizes and is inspired to overcome the coarse inadequacies of conditioned existence. The Buddhist teachings become more and more subtle, though, until a practitioner learns that nothing really exists. One needs to become prepared by slowly and gradually learning the meaning of the teachings, so that one is able to actually experience the very profound meaning oneself. In reliance upon the Buddha's instructions, a practitioner therefore takes one step after the other, by first taking refuge in the Three Jewels, by practicing the preliminaries, by generating and developing Bodhicitta, and by practicing the further stages of the path. For example, having studied well, scientists can analyze, break an atom, and destroy anything that has been made. Our mind and mental afflictions are different, though - they can't be destroyed that easily. Even if a scientist were to shoot a rocket and try to throw a bomb on our defilements, he wouldn't succeed. If it were possible, it would really be useful and then it would be easy to attain enlightenment. Please think about this, seeing nowadays scientists and neurobiologists are spending much energy studying the mind. If one tries to clearly understand the cause of suffering, which is samsara, and the cause of lasting happiness, which is nirvana, and practices diligently, regularly, and continuously in reliance upon the knowledge one has won, then one doesn't need scientific studies.

It's very important to acknowledge that the teachings of Buddhism again and again remind us that we need to cultivate the right view joined with meditation practice. Should someone practice meditation in the absence of the correct view that is established by studying and reflecting the teachings, he would resemble someone trying to shoot an arrow at a distant goal in the darkness of the night. Should someone cultivate the correct view and not meditate, he would resemble someone trying to climb a cliff without hands.

As to meditation practices, there are very many methods available to practitioners who have boarded the vehicle of Mahayana. All methods have the same source, whereas the great variety is due to the many different inclinations and capabilities that living beings have.

Understanding the treatise we went through here is a very good preparation for one's practice. It's very important to differentiate between consciousness and wisdom. If one is then able to meditate one-pointedly in reliance upon one's correct understanding, without thinking about it, the qualities of primordial wisdom will arise and increase in and through us. A practitioner who has attained Buddhahood needn't take refuge anywhere else.

If no historical Buddha had ever appeared and offered instructions, we wouldn't be able to attain Buddhahood. It's also important to appreciate that there were many Buddhas in the past, that many Buddhas live in our presence, and that many will be born in the future, i.e., everyone without exception has the capacity to become a Buddha. Buddha Shakyamuni appeared in the world, turned the Wheel of Dharma, and showed us the way. If we practice his instructions, we will attain the result.

Please recognize and know that there isn't the slightest difference between our present mind and that of a Buddha. For example, there is a huge difference between a precious bowl made of pure gold and one made of clay, but the space in each bowl is the same. Likewise, there's no difference between the mind of an ordinary being and that of a Buddha, only the outer form differs.

It is important to see that one is entangled, caught, trapped in samsara. What keeps one chained to conditioned existence? Believing in and clinging to appearances as though they were real. Therefore Tilopa told Naropa, "Child, it is not by appearances that you are fettered, but by craving." Who grasps, clings, clutches? One's afflicted and defiled consciousness (number 7 in the list). What does grasping and clinging actually mean? For example, let's all lay our watches on a pile on the table. While noticing that the other watches are there, everyone will stare at his or her own watch and grasp and cling to it. Those who don't have a watch and therefore couldn't lay it on the table won't grasp and cling if someone threw a rock at the pile and broke all the watches. This doesn't mean that those who had no watch are free of attachment and desire, because those who wouldn't lose a watch they didn't own in the first place and see the others broken will experience joy that the watch they didn't own wasn't broken - and this is a sign of attachment. Those who have lost their watch will experience sadness - and this is also a sign of attachment. This example clearly shows that appearances are innocent, so to speak, and cause no problems, rather one's own reactions cause problems. And so, it is necessary to give up one's grasping and clinging, just like Tilopa told Naropa, "Child, it is not by appearances that you are fettered, but by craving." Simply telling oneself that one is abandoning one's attachment without knowing how it arises is useless. One needs to clearly understand that one's own afflicted and conceptual consciousnesses fetter and bind. Thank you very much.


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.

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.

Instructions presented at Theksum Tashi Chöling in Hamburg in 2006. With sincere gratitude to Khenpo Karma Namgyal and to Hans Billing, webmaster of Karma Chang Chub Choepel Ling in Heidelberg for their immense help, translated into English in reliance on the German rendering kindly offered by Rosemarie Fuchs by Gaby Hollmann, responsible and apologizing for all mistakes. Copyright Karma Lekshey Ling Institute in Kathmandu, Nepal, and Theksum Tashi Chöling, 2008.

choeje lama phuntsok
Venerable Chöje Lama Phuntsok

Entering Tantrayana

Chöje Lama Phuntsok tells us a little bit about himself and wrote: "In 1988, I was doing my three-year retreat. When the very Venerable Third Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche came to visit the retreat center, he asked me: 'What would you like to do after the retreat?' I replied: 'I have two ideas. One is to establish a Buddhist elementary school, the other is to do a life-time retreat.' Rinpoche then told me: 'Generally speaking, it would be better to do a life-time retreat, but during this generation it is actually more important to establish and enable the study of Buddhist texts. So, you should go ahead and build your school.' That's how in 1990 I began to organize the elementary school. However, financial hardships kept surging towards me like endless waves. I kept trying and striving for support and finally, in 2001, eleven years had passed by.

"Next, I started to develop higher Buddhist studies. No matter what kind of difficulties I met with mentally or materially, I just kept trying tirelessly to reach my goal.

"I was born in 1951, in a remote valley in the Himalaya region of Nepal. In this realm of snow, I spent my first 16 years like an ignorant being and never received any Buddhist or even conventional education. When the idea of becoming a monk first came up in my mind, my parents were not ready for that, because they only had one son, me, and a daughter, my sister. It was very difficult to get them to agree to my wish. My mother passed away when I was 16. Then something good happened when I was 17. My father took my sister and me on a pilgrimage trip through Nepal, and the XVIth Karmapa was there! It was such a great fortune! Although my father still didn't agree to my becoming a monk, I was determined to fulfil my wish and gain control over my own life.

"Becoming a monk doesn't mean being supported from then on. I had to support myself - there was no one there to help me. Beside the financial hardships, I could only go to the classes as an auditor. At that time I had to help with serving tea or working in the kitchen in order to get the chance to receive an education. When I reached the age of 40, I finally finished my retreat. On this path of practice, as an ordinary monk with a heartfelt wish to benefit all sentient beings, I finally, step-by-step, carved out this path of education for the Karma Lekshey Ling Institute."


I wish to greet you kindly and want to thank you for coming to the teachings that I hope will benefit you.

In Buddhism, it is understood that every living being wants to be happy and nobody likes to be unhappy or suffer. Even though everyone wants to be happy and free from suffering, they are not aware of the causes and conditions to achieve true happiness and freedom from anguish and woe. There are various methods to achieve this goal. But it is necessary to know which causes need to be established in order to be free from birth in lower states of existence and to be born in favorable conditions so that one can lead a meaningful life.

Buddha Shakyamuni appeared in the world in order to show us how to be free from birth in the lower realms that are marked by suffering and how to attain birth in higher realms that are marked by happiness and joy. Since everyone has a different predisposition and varying inclinations, Lord Buddha presented a vast array of Dharma instructions to meet the manifold capabilities and needs of followers who wished to lead a worthy life and mature spiritually.

Lord Buddha turned the Wheel of Dharma three times. He first taught the Hinayana and then the Mahayana so that followers are able to learn to become free from suffering and attain lasting happiness and joy. When he turned the three Dharmachakras, the "Wheels of Dharma," he first presented the Sutrayana, then the Mahayana, and then the Tantrayana.

There are three divisions of Sutrayana, translated into Tibetan as mdo'i-theg-pa, "the vehicle of Sutra." There are Sutras presented for individuals with highest capabilities, for individuals with middling abilities, and for students with lesser abilities. There are four sections of Tantrayana, translated into Tibetan as rgyüd-kyi-theg-pa, "the vehicle of Tantra." There are the Tantras for individuals with less keen awareness, which are the Kriya Tantra and the Charya Tantra; then there are Yoga Tantra and Anuttara Yoga Tantra for individuals able to engage in practices that address deeper awareness.

What do Sutrayana and Tantrayana have in common? A devotee of both vehicles needs to have taken refuge in the Three Jewels - the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. A devotee then needs to have given rise to "the awakened mind," Bodhicitta in Sanskrit, which is the wish to attain enlightenment for oneself and for the benefit of all living beings. The difference between Sutrayana and Tantrayana becomes clear if one understands the four sections of Tantra. Let me explain them to you.

The Four Sections of Tantra & the Four Types of Practitioners

The four sections of Tantra, rgyüd-sde-bzhi in Tibetan, are:

1) & 2) Kriya and Charya Tantra (the Sanskrit terms that were translated into Tibetan as spyöd-rgyüd and bya-rgyüd respectively) emphasize outer purification of body and speech and of disturbing emotions. Practitioners learn to become less involved with worldly activities and concentrate on attaining inner tranquillity in order to be able to roughly experience emptiness, which is the purpose of practice.

3) Yoga Tantra (translated into Tibetan as rnäl- 'byor-rgyüd) is the third Tantra. More advanced students who engage in Yoga Tantra practice focusing their attention one-pointedly on emptiness.

4) The fourth Tanta, Anuttara Yoga Tanta (bla-med-rnäl- 'byor-rgyüd) is supreme. Very advanced meditators of Anuttara Yoga focus their attention on merging Bodhicitta and primordial wisdom-awareness until they become indivisibly united in their mind-stream.

Lord Buddha taught the four Tantras because students have varying propensities and abilities. It is not the case that one single practice is applicable for everyone since everyone is different. Now, people can be classified into four types, also referred to as "four enlightened families," rigs-bzhi in Tibetan.

1) There are individuals in society who are said to belong to the priestly Brahman caste (bram-ze in Tibetan). They concentrate their attention on outer practices through ritual cleansing to purify their body and on recitation of mantras to purify their speech, which correspond to practicing the first Tantra, Kriya Yoga.

2) There are other individuals in society who belong to the warrior or royal Ksatryia caste (rgyäl-rigs in Tibetan). They concentrate their attention on spreading the Dharma by speaking about it to others with their speech or by painting Thankas with their hands for others to see, which corresponds to practicing the second Tantra, Charya Tantra.

3) Those individuals who are said to belong to the Vaisya caste (rje'u-rigs) are traditionally seen as merchants or tradesmen. Although lower in status according to the caste system, they are so advanced that they need not engage in many outer rituals anymore and can abide within the nature of the mind without exerting much effort, the reason they belong to the Buddha family. Their practice corresponds to Yoga Tantra.

4) Individuals belonging to the Sudra caste (dmangs-rigs) are those who usually work as servants or laborors. They are those persons who are seen to belong to the lowest category in the traditional caste system, but as practitioners they do not engage in any outer rituals anymore. They do not practice austerity or carry out cleansing rituals since they have fully turned their minds inwards. Their practice corresponds to Anuttara Yoga Tantra.

Seeing that there are four types of practitioners, the Buddha taught the four Tantras - the Kriya, Charya, Yoga, and Anuttara Yoga Tantras. Where can we start practicing? Lord Buddha offered three stages of teachings to students who wish to begin practicing.

Three Stages of Practice

A student of Buddhadharma first needs to receive instructions from a qualified teacher in order to learn the correct view. It is necessary to receive the teachings on karma and interdependent origination, for example. During the second stage a follower contemplates the instructions thoroughly in order to be able to practice the third stage of meditating the instructions correctly.

1) The View

There are two types of proponents of tenets (grub-mtha'-smra-ba-gnyis), Buddhist and non-Buddhist, for example, Hinduism. In Buddhism, the correct view is classified according to four philosophical schools (grub-mtha '-smra-ba-bzhi) that formulate the Buddha's doctrine in sequence while remaining related with each other. The four Buddhist schools are Vaibashika, Sautrantika, Chittamatra, and Madhyamaka (bye-brag-smra-ba, mdo-sde-pa, sems-tsam-pa, dbu-ma-pa in Tibetan). Whichever school a devotee respects and follows, everyone has the possibility to gain certainty in that specific philosophical school of thought and understand its uncontroversial and indisputable tenets.

The initial view of all four schools is based upon Sutrayana. The Vaibashika view is an introductory presentation of emptiness that is studied more deeply in every following school. Adherents of Sautrantika take their studies a step further than Vaibashikas, but both are Hinayana adherents. Followers of Chittamatra and Madhayamaka refine the view even more; both are Mahayana practitioners. The process of refining the view more and more subtly eventually leads to Vajrayana, a term synonymous with Tantrayana and Mantrayana, in which case accomplished practitioners realize the view completely.

It is utterly important to study and learn the view of each Buddhist school in the order in which they are presented, because it is rather hard - if not impossible - for anyone to begin at the end. One needs to learn und understand the fundamental teachings well in order to progress in stages and reliably. Having done so, it is possible to practice Tantrayana.

2) Meditation

The Tibetan term for "meditation" is sgom-pa; a meditator is a sgom-pa-po. The Tibetan term sgom-pa means "growing accustomed to the teachings imparted by Lord Buddha" through learning, contemplating, and meditating the four schools of Buddhism in stages and step-by-step. By becoming more and more accustomed to the teachings on emptiness that are presented in each school and deepening one's view until it becomes a personal experience, one is able to integrate the view in one's life, which is connotation of the term sgom-pa.

Practitioners of Kriya Tantra, the first Tantra, become accustomed to outer representations of the Buddha, like those depicted in Thankas and as sacred statues. Practitioners of Charya Tantra, the second, furthermore become used to merging with the meditation deity that they visualize during formal practice and learn to see themselves as that deity. Practitioners of Yoga Tantra become accustomed to realizing the essence of a meditation deity. Anuttara Yoga practitioners become even more accustomed to realizing the essence and to not dividing the deity they visualize during the meditation session into an outer apprehension and an inner apprehending mind after formal practice. They focus their mind on qualities that the specific meditation deity represents and symbolizes, thus developing and establishing values in their lives. It is necessary to progress through stages, step-by-step, in order to realize and manifest qualities in all walks of life that are, as it is, always and already present in one's own mind.

Looking at the third Tantra, a practitioner of Yoga Tantra comes to see that a meditation deity does not reside as a separate entity inside or outside what is usually thought to be the own self. Rather, a practitioner of Yoga Tantra realizes the essence of a meditation deity, which is the nonduality €“ gnyis-su-med-pa - of an apprehender and an apprehension, usually experienced as "self" in opposition to "world."

In response to a question that was placed by a participant, the biggest difference between Yoga Tantra and Anuttara Yoga Tantra is the empowerment a disciple receives, the ritual a disciple engages in during practice, and the way a student practices.

I have discussed the first two points of the three stages of practice, the view, and becoming accustomed to the view through meditation, and now want to speak about the third point, which is the actual practice.

3) The Actual Practice

How do Vajrayana followers practice Kriya Yoga Tantra? They engage in outer practices by cleansing their body and speech through ritual washings and recitation of mantras. How do they practice Charya Tantra? They engage in practices to purify body, speech, and mind; therefore Charya Tantra is not only what is referred to as an outer Tantra, because the mind is slowly purified too. How do followers practice Yoga Tantra? They engage in less outer purification practices of body and speech and focus their attention on the own mind and on realizing emptiness more thoroughly. How do followers practice the highest Tantra, Anuttara Yoga? They exclusively focus their mind on realizing primordial wisdom that every living being always and already has.

In order to become free of suffering and attain lasting happiness and peace, all three stages of practice need to be completed and perfected. Students need to learn the teachings, become accustomed to the teachings by contemplating them deeply, and integrate them through meditation practice in order to flawlessly manifest qualities of being. Having done so, a Vajrayana practitioner never separates from a meditation deity but experiences and manifests the indivisibility of the outer and inner deity.

Even though practitioners focus their minds upon deities who symbolize qualities of being during meditation, every stage of Tantra entails more and more subtle practices that enable students to realize the undivided state, and no Tantra is the same, i.e., the practices seem to be the same but aren't. Seen ultimately, though, there are no divisions.

There are many methods of practice so that a follower can realize ultimate reality. There are many methods to attain enlightenment; one can practice Sutrayana according to one's abilities or one can practice Tantrayana in reliance upon the four Tantras. Even though a specific practice is fitting for one person, this does not mean it is fitting for everyone. An adept needs to choose the practice that helps him and her progress and mature the most €“ then he and she will attain the ultimate result, which is enlightenment.

There are many non-Buddhist practices that benefit living beings. There are also big differences in Buddhist practices. Some individuals have a stronger inclination to concentrate on the Sutras and should do so. Others have more confidence in Tantra and should do so. Whether one practices Sutra or Tantra, it is important to bring one's motivation and wishes to fruition. Failing to accomplish one's aims, no practice can be considered helpful or beneficial.

Even though there are many Hinayana Buddhists in Thailand, Burma, and Ceylon and many Mahayana Buddhists in Tibet and the Himalayan Kingdoms, they differ immensely. The highest Tantra in Tantrayana is practiced in Tibet, and Buddhists there, too, are divided into different schools €“ the Kagyüpa, the Nyingmapa, the Sakyapa, and the Gelugpa. Followers of these four schools all engage in Anuttara Yoga Tantra but differ in that the Kagyüpas and Nyingmapas concentrate more intensively on the highest Tantra than the other two.

The Kagyüpa Lineage

Marpa Lotsawa, the Great Translator, travelled to India several times, received instructions from his famous teacher Naropa, and brought Anuttara Yoga Tantra to Tibet. In the Kagyüpa Tradition, he is revered as the great teacher of highest Tantra in Tibet. Marpa Lotsawa passed the teachings on to his most eminent pupil, Jetsün Milarepa, who practiced in solitude, achieved highest realizations, and therefore became renowned as the Great Mahasiddha Milarepa. Jetsün Milarepa passed the highest teachings on to his foremost pupil, Lhaje Gampopa, who became the foremost teacher of Tantrayana in Tibet. Dipamkara Atisha was the leading teacher of Sutrayana in Tibet. Lhaje Gampopa brought the instructions of Sutrayana and Tantrayana together and unified them into what has become known as Mahamudra; he passed the Mahamudra instructions on to his most worthy disciple, Düsum Khyenpa, who became the First Gyalwa Karmapa. Ever since then, the Karma Kagyü Lineage emphasizes the practices of both Sutrayana and Tantrayana and is flourishing worldwide.
Thank you very much.


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 the Kamalashila Institute in Germany, 2005. Translated into German by Hannelore Wendroth, into English and edited by Gaby Hollmann, responsible for all mistakes. Photo of Chöje Lama at Kamalashila courtesy of Host Rauprich. Copyright Ven. Chöje Lama Phuntsok Rinpoche, Karma Lekshey Ling Institute in Kathmandu and the Kamalshila Institute, 2007.

The Four Preliminary Contemplations

to Correctly Practice Mind Training - bLo-sbyong

I am very happy to be here, to see you, and want to greet you very kindly. I wish to present a short teaching on blo-sbyong, which means "mind training." In order to be able to practice well and attain "superior wisdom-awareness," shes-rab-chen-po, it is necessary to purify one's mind so that one is able to appreciate the benefits of correctly engaging in the detailed practices of training one's mind.

Lhaje Gampopa offered four lines in the short verse that has become known as "The Four Dharmas of Gampopa." This short verse describes the process of mind training and is:

"Grant your blessing so that my mind may become one with the Dharma.

Grant your blessing so that the Dharma may go along the path.

Grant your blessing so that the Dharma may clarify confusion.

Grant your blessing so that confusion may dawn as wisdom."

In the first line Lhaje Dhagpo Gampopa wrote the supplication to turn the mind towards the Dharma. The second line is the aspiration to practice the Dharma. The third line is the prayer that practicing the Dharma clarifies confusion, and the fourth line is the aspiration that confusion dawns as wisdom. The first line addresses the purpose of practicing mind training.

There are very many explanatory texts on the practice of mind training. The main text is explained in seven sections or points; the first describes the preliminaries that are the support. The second point discusses Bodhicitta, which is the actual practice. The third point teaches how to transform impediments that stop one from turning one's mind towards the Dharma. The fourth point tells us how to accomplish the entire path of mind training in one lifetime. The fifth point teaches about the proficiency of training one's mind. The sixth point elucidates the heartfelt commitments a practitioner respects and adheres to in order to accomplish mind training. The seventh section offers guidelines for mind training, step-by-step. The seven points are a very condensed form for the practice of mind training.

The first point deals with the preliminary practice that is the basis and support to practice the next steps correctly. It is a short practice to receive the blessing to practice. We imagine that our Root Guru, His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa sits upon a lotus above the crown of our head. We direct our entire attention on our Root Guru and earnestly pray, "May I practice mind training so that I can develop genuine love and compassion for all living beings and be able to help them attain liberation from suffering and pain." After having recited the aspiration prayer with the profound and sincere intention as often as possible, at least three times, we imagine that our Root Guru becomes smaller and smaller, enters through the crown of our head, and unites with us.

After having meditated the short Guru Yoga practice for a short while and rested in the fact that one is united with His Holiness, one focuses one's attention on the preliminary contemplations that reliably inspire and move one to turn one's mind away from samsara. The four contemplations one reflects again and again so that one sincerely turns one's mind towards the Dharma are the fortunate occasion of having attained a precious human birth, impermanence, karma, and the defects of samsara. When one has won a very good understanding and has conviction in the four contemplations by having reflected them quite well, then one is not only grateful for having a human body that is very useful, but one is very conscious of the fact that one has a very fortunate human existence through which one can practice the Dharma. By contemplating the first of the four preliminary practices, one appreciates and acknowledges how precious and short a human life really is and how difficult it will be to attain such a fortunate birth again. Then a follower truly understands that life may not be wasted and generates the sincere wish to lead a meaningful life by turning his or her attention towards the precious Dharma.

If one is truly aware of having attained a most fortunate human existence, one next contemplates and acknowledges the fact that birth inevitably leads to death, that life is not permanent and can end in any moment since the time of one's death is uncertain.

The third contemplation is reflecting the defects of conditioned existence, samsara. A practitioner reflects that cyclic existence only entails suffering and thinks about the manifold types of suffering and anguish that living beings experience and necessarily have to endure. Without fully understanding the various states of suffering that conditioned existence irremediably brings on, a follower will not see a reason to turn away from samsaric ways and will also see no reason to turn towards the Dharma.

The fourth contemplation is reflecting karma. When a devotee realizes that samsara unremittingly brings on pain as well as frustration and woe, then he or she understands that suffering is a result, i.e., suffering has a cause. The seed for every action is born in one's mind, and all experiences are merely a reflection of one's very own actions that one has carried out in the past or will carry out in the future.

The four preliminary contemplations enable a practitioner to recognize and appreciate that a life that is free of the eight unfavourable states of existence and that is endowed with the ten favourable acquirements is truly precious and rare; furthermore that life is transient, samsara is deceptive, and all actions cause suffering that one experiences as long as one remains entangled in delusiveness. In his major treatise, entitled The Jewel Ornament of Liberation, Lhaje Gampopa offered most precise and detailed explanations on the four contemplations that inspire devotees to turn their mind towards the Dharma.

Why are the four contemplations referred to as "preliminary practices"? Because the actual body of mind training involves other practices, but one will not be able to practice them correctly if one has not met the preparations of contemplating the four preliminaries. In fact, it doesn't matter which practice one engages in, the preliminary contemplations are always the same in all practices and consist of these four contemplations. If one thinks one can skip these steps and just sit down and meditate, it would not be correct, because one does need to know why one is meditating. Without correctly understanding the reason why one meditates, any further practices will not be beneficial.

One can meditate impermanence and death, but it will not be helpful unless one understands why one should. It is so very important to understand impermanence thoroughly and correctly. As it is, living beings are entangled and caught in samsara due to their strong attachment to a self that they think is permanent and assume will last forever. Attachment to a self is the primary cause for all the suffering that follows, so this is why it is important to recognize and know that everything is impermanent.

There are many ways to describe impermanence, which can be summarized in four topics. In short: First it is evident that after birth has occurred there is death. Secondly, it is evident that whatever comes together eventually disperses. Thirdly, anything that is collected is lost at some point. Fourthly, whatever rises and grows eventually collapses and ceases. How does this apply to us?

First, concerning the purpose of reflecting the fact that whatever is born dies: It is a fact that we have been born, so that phase has ended for us. What follows is our death. Denying death by brushing its imminence aside and making numerous far-flung plans for the future is not helpful at all. So, contemplating impermanence and death is very beneficial. Why is it beneficial? Usually one postpones one's plans, because one thinks one has lots of time at one's disposal. By realizing fully that the moment one was born leads to death and by acknowledging that nobody knows when they will die, one will not neglect one's responsibilities but will make good use of the time one has and try to lead a meaningful life.

Secondly, concerning the purpose of reflecting the fact that whatever comes together eventually disperses: We are deeply connected with our father and mother, have many family members, a husband, or a wife, children, and friends, but everyone separates at some time. Not every partner in a marriage is friendly with the other, for instance, so it is good to contemplate impermanence and realize that nothing lasts, not even those relationships one does not like anymore. Nobody is condemned to tolerate each other forever. If a couple understands that death will definitely separate them, then they will be more friendly and will find less excuses to quarrel, insult, and hurt each other. On the contrary, they will be grateful for the time they can spend together and be nice. If one does not like people one associates with, it is helpful to reflect impermanence and know that those relationships will also end. So, it will be very beneficial if one realizes that everything that comes together is eventually and inevitably separated. Just sitting down to meditate and telling oneself that everything is impermanent helps nobody. One needs to understand why it is crucial to acknowledge that everything is impermanent.

Thirdly, concerning the purpose of reflecting the fact that anything and everything that is collected will be lost at some point: It is very helpful to always remember that whatever is collected will be lost again, at the latest when one dies. If one denies this fact, one wastes a lot of time collecting riches, wants more and more, and never has the feeling of having enough, always being discontent. If one has 1000, one wants 2000; if one has 2000, one wants 3000, and so forth. As a result, one becomes so stingy, cannot part from anything one has, and can never give anything away, so it is very beneficial to acknowledge that whatever is collected will irrevocably be lost. One will certainly lose any wealth and possessions one has hoarded in life when one dies. One cannot take anything along when one dies, and no possessions or riches will help one at that time. One doesn't even know who will take all the things one spent so much energy craving, buying, and collecting when one is dead. Therefore, contemplating impermanence again and again diminishes one's greed and miserliness. The impulse to want so and so many houses, cars, and luxurious things will also be pacified and eventually overcome if one contemplates impermanence and death.

Contemplating impermanence really helps one's mind. If one is honest with oneself, one wants to be happy and content and can easily see that material things do not really make anyone happy. If one awakens truthful recognition and realization of impermanence in one's mind, then one has done justice towards oneself. Simply reiterating that one has contemplated impermanence, without having integrated its truth in one's life, is of no help whatsoever.

Fourthly, concerning the purpose of reflecting the fact that whatever rises and grows eventually falls and ceases: For example, any more-storied house collapses at some point. Anybody who has managed to finally get a job they are proud of is eventually subject to mobbing, too, and loses the job. By understanding that whatever rises eventually falls helps one be less frustrated when such things do happen.

Recalling the four contemplations again and again and having integrated them in one's life correctly diminishes one's attachment to oneself. If one has diminished and finally given up being attached to what one thinks is permanent is a sign that one has reflected impermanence quite well.

Even though it is more than evident that all objects one perceives in the world are impermanent, it is most beneficial to realize one's own impermanence, especially when one feels inclined to be impulsive. For example, contemplating that everything that is built eventually collapses reminds us of the recent destruction of the Twin Towers in New York. Just thinking of this very negative and extremely tragic instance in time is of no big help, rather it is very important to contemplate impermanence in one's own life deeply so that one remains stable when one finds oneself forced to accept painful changes that life inevitably brings. We will meet many people in life who are very friendly and kind to us as well as thieves and robbers who plan and will manage to hurt us. In both cases, remembering impermanence pacifies one's attachment on the one hand as well as one's frustration on the other hand.

Returning to the example of a high position in life, most of you have a job and usually things go well, but it can happen that suddenly and unexpectedly one loses one's job or experiences difficulties at work. Remembering impermanence and that all things that rise fall at some point helps one deal with those situations when they occur, instead of becoming frustrated and sad.

It can be generally said that meditation is very helpful for one's mind. Merely saying that one meditates emptiness and impermanence is of no help. If one's practice doesn't change one's usual way of thinking and seeing, then that is a measuring rod to be truthful with oneself and know that one's practice is faulty.

This has been a very short discussion of the four ways of contemplating impermanence. Now I wish to speak about the inadequacies of conditioned existence, i.e., samsara. If one wants to describe samsara using a few words, then it is appropriate to say that the nature of samsara only entails suffering and pain. The state free of suffering and anguish is nirvana.

Just like in the contemplation of impermanence and death, it is of no use merely looking at suffering in the world, rather contemplating samsara is only beneficial if one looks at one's own suffering and frustration. For example, sometimes one suffers pain because one is sick, at other times one suffers mental anguish and is sad. One needs to deal with these situations and face them instead of turning one's attention outwards. It is important and necessary to ask oneself whether appearances and experiences entail suffering or not. The moment one acknowledges that one is suffering, it means that one is in samsara, since suffering defines samsara.

Now, happiness and suffering are emotions that vary immensely and are therefore relative. Happiness and suffering are not experienced alike by everyone. One person experiences something with joy and that same experience can cause someone else pain, and vice versa. The experiences of happiness and suffering are a very individual matter, which is evidence for the fact that they are context-bound. It is quite clear that happiness and suffering depend upon an individual's interpretation and attitude. For example, taking my monks and me, lay practitioners may think we suffer and might say to themselves, "Oh, how awful. No wife, no children." Taking it from the other side, my monks might think, "Oh, heavens. Always together with that woman and those nagging children. Having to go to work everyday must be terrible." So, that's how it is that everyone experiences suffering and happiness differently.

It is important to understand that everyone experiences mental and physical pain differently and to know that happiness and suffering have a cause, i.e., are due to past positive or negative karma, and that one's actions are determined by one's own thoughts. And so, the root of all negative experiences is one's thoughts. Appreciating and acknowledging this fact is the key one holds in one's hand for one's personal future experiences, i.e., one's negative thoughts determine one's future actions that lead to future painful results. Everyone thinks and acts differently, so everyone's experiences are an individual matter. In the same way, it will not help very much to think about the immense suffering those beings in the hell, or hungry ghost, or animal realms, etc. endure, because one will not have the experience oneself. When it is taught that one should know about and see the inadequacies of conditioned existence, it means one needs to look at one's own suffering and recognizing its causes.

Taking each other, everyone lives under different circumstances and experiences varying situations and events. Some of you live alone and want a partner; others may be married and have children. Yet others may be unemployed and want a job. Some of you have a job that you don't like, while others have a wonderful job that they like. There is such a huge difference among living beings and this difference is due to the inadequacies of conditioned existence, which is samsara. If one goes deeper and truly understands that samsara can never be a goal of one's aims, then one will have realized that any happiness one may experience in samsara is deceptive, since the nature of samsara is suffering and pain.

The third preliminary contemplation is reflecting karma, the law of cause and effect. One can say that it is a specific teaching stressed in Buddhism that is not taught in other belief systems. In short, it is easy to understand that nothing arises and happens without a cause. If one investigates more deeply, though, one will find that a single cause cannot give rise to a single result and that a single condition does not give rise to a specific result either, rather a result necessarily arises when causes and conditions that coincide come together and mingle and mix. Investigating appearances and experiences from that angle enables a devoted practitioner to understand the law of cause and result quite well. To exemplify this: Taking two sticks and hitting them against each other gives rise to a particular clicking sound; it is impossible to make the same sound unless both sticks are hit against each other. This is called "the meeting of an arisen energy-force," i.e., karma. The coming together of smallest instants of time is also a prerequisite so that a sound can arise. It follows that a dissimilar cause cannot engender a dissimilar result that does not coincide with a cause.

Speaking about happiness in this vein, it is logical that the experience of happiness is a result that arises from a similar cause, i.e., a positive cause gives rise to positive actions that, in turn, lead to happiness and joy. Likewise, when speaking about suffering, it is logical that the experience of suffering is a result of a similar cause, i.e., a negative cause gives rise to negative actions that, in turn, lead to suffering and pain.

It is extremely important to know who is responsible for one's experiences of suffering and joy. One's present experiences accord with one's own former actions. It is also very important to know that many causes always give rise to a specific result, because the actual evil-doer is one's thoughts. Thoughts determine and drive one to act and speak the way one does. The many kinds of thoughts one has determine all one's physical and verbal activities. One has various positive thoughts that move one to act beneficially, which will bring positive results. One also has a great variety of negative thoughts that move one to hurt others, which will bring negative results. If one understands this, then one realizes that one's thoughts are the driving-force that lead one to experience life the way one does.

For example, I am convinced of the truth and benefit of practicing the Dharma, so I am in the Dharma and offer instructions. Therefore you trust me, listen attentively, and believe me. Let's assume that I suddenly had negative thoughts, like the wish to steal something and I do so. If you were to see me steal something, you would lose all your trust in me and conclude that I am not a good Lama but a thief and bad person. I only brought this example to show the chain of causes and results that arise from the wish to do something and all the painful consequences that follow from the initial thought of stealing something. This applies to the opposite, too. The example clearly shows that the father of all positive and negative karma is one's attitude and thoughts.

One engages in the practice of blo-sbyong, mind training, in order to purify and clarify one's thoughts and feelings - that is the main purpose of mind training. When one's thoughts are positive, nothing can go wrong. Pondering, "Oh, heavens, what did I do wrong?" when one experiences suffering and difficulties is not very helpful. Rather, it is most important to understand and acknowledge that anything negative one experiences presently is the result of past negative thoughts that moved one to perform negative actions. Understanding this fact well enables one to be aware of one's present thoughts and feelings. In short, pondering the past when speaking about karma, actions and their results, is useless. Contemplating karma is most beneficial when it relates to one's present situation, for example, when one is asked to take on responsibilities in one's job. It would be especially good to direct these kinds of thoughts towards the future instead of dwelling on what has passed.

This concludes my short presentation on reflecting the four preliminary contemplations so that one earnestly turns one's mind towards the Dharma. The four contemplations are: the fortunate occasion of having attained a precious human birth, impermanence, the defects of samsara, and the infallible law of karma. Contemplating them pertains to one's own mind and has nothing to do with anything outside oneself. They are practiced in order to help one change one's thoughts and attitude, too. Certainly, there are many explanations about practicing mind training. I did not speak about the intellectual aspect, rather hope to have offered the aspect of practice so that you can integrate these instructions in your life. Thank you very much.

Let us recite the dedication prayer together now.

"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 Theksum Tashi Chöling in Hamburg in 2006. Photo of His Holiness courtesy of the Kagyu Office website, photo of Venerable Chöje Lama with Rosi Findeisen courtesy of Horst Rauprich, President of Kamalashila Institute. With sincere gratitude to Khenpo Karma Namgyal for his immense help, translated into English in reliance on the German rendering kindly offered by Rosemarie Fuchs by Gaby Hollmann, responsible and apologizing for all mistakes. Copyright Karma Lekshey Ling Institute in Kathmandu, Nepal, as well as Theksum Tashi Chöling, 2008.