Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind Toward Dharma

Illuminated Mind

Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind Toward Dharma

1) Precious Human Life
2) Death and Impermanence
3) Karma (Cause and Effect)
4) Suffering (Unsatisfactory Nature of Samsara)

In Buddhist terms, a “precious human life” signifies specific freedoms and endowments, such as a reflective mind (the ability to reason, contemplate, analyze, etc.), having all the human sense faculties, having access to Dharma teachings (living in a time and place where the teachings are available), and cultivating an interest in those teachings.

Death is certain. All beings who are born will experience death. We may try to put it out of our minds, trivialize it, or exaggerate it, yet you and everyone you have ever known will die. Honestly embracing this reality can transform your perspective of life itself.

Karma means “action”. Actions arise due to causes, and actions give rise to their attendant effects. This applies to deeds, but also to speech, and thoughts – what Buddhists call “body, speech, and mind” (i.e. what you do, what you say, and what you think). Actions of the body, speech, and mind can be skillful (positive), unskillful (negative), or indifferent (neutral). The motivation and intent behind ones actions is an important factor. With wisdom we can discern between skillful and unskillful actions, cultivating the former, and diminishing the latter.

Life is pervaded with many types of suffering. There are obvious examples (such as physical pain, sickness, mental anguish and so forth) which are all referred to as “suffering of suffering”. These are apparent to everyone.

There are also more subtle forms of suffering. For example, things that bring you happiness. This may seem counter-intuitive, yet consider for a moment anything that you take great pleasure in – money, sex, status. It could be anything really, even people or other beings – like a loved one, a family member, friends, or a pet. Let’s say it is a loved one (a partner, spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend). This more subtle form of suffering is due to the nature of impermanence. This means that any pleasure or happiness you might feel in regards to your loved one is ultimately tinged by the fact that nothing remains, nothing endures and there are no guarantees. Your partner might change or you might change. There might be infidelity, irreconcilable differences, breaking up, divorce, death, etc. These types of things happen all the time. This is called “suffering of change”. What this means is that anything in which you find great pleasure or happiness in, anything you hold onto, grasp after, cling to, will ultimately cause suffering because it changes, ceases or passes away.

There is also another type of suffering that is even more subtle than this. It is called “all pervasive suffering”. This third type of suffering means that all experiences within conditioned existence – whether painful, pleasurable, or neutral – are ultimately pervaded by suffering due to ignorance, attachment, and aversion.

From a Buddhist perspective this whole cycle happens again and again and again. Over and over since beginningless time our mindstreams experience birth, life, death, and rebirth. Once reborn, we again face old age, sickness, and death, as well as all the other types and forms of suffering. This recurring cycle is called samsara. It is often depicted as a wheel, spinning round and round unceasingly. Liberation, in a Buddhist sense, means liberation from suffering.

For further information, consider investigating the Four Noble Truths.

I offer this writing to my venerable Dharma teachers, known and unknown, for the kindness they have shown me and countless others. All mistakes and errors are my own. I also offer this to those who are interested in Buddhadharma, yet may not know where to begin to navigate this wonderful Path.

May all beings be free from suffering, and the causes of suffering.

A humble householder striving in the Way, Namgyal Dorje (aka Bill Z).

Emptiness and Existence

H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama

“When training to develop wisdom, you are seeking through analysis to find the inherent existence of whatever object you are considering—yourself, another person, your body, your mind, or anything else. You are analyzing not the mere appearance but the inherent nature of the object. Thus it is not that you come to understand that the object does not exist; rather, you find that its inherent existence is unfounded. Analysis does not contradict the mere existence of the object. Phenomena do indeed exist, but not in the way we think they do.”

[H.H the 14th Dalai Lama]

Pabbatopama Sutta


Just as a mighty mountain range,
Scraping the sky with rocky crags,
Might advance from four directions,
Crushing everything before it —

So also do old age and death
Roll over all living beings.
Nobles, brahmans and working folk,
Peasants, outcastes and garbage men —
None of them can escape [this end]:
Everybody surely gets crushed.

Nothing on earth can defeat them:
Not elephants, chariots or troops;
Nor the use of a magic spell;
Nor [can you buy safety] with gold.

So the person who’s firm and wise,
Seeing what is best for themselves,
Will place their faith in the Buddha,
The Dhamma and the Sangha too.

One who practices the teaching,
With body and speech and with mind —
That one is praised here in this world,
And after enjoys the pure realms.

SN 3.25

Qualities of a Dhamma Teacher

Buddha Teaching

“It’s not easy to teach the Dhamma to others, Ananda. The Dhamma should be taught to others only when five qualities are established within the person teaching. Which five?

“[1] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak step-by-step.’

“[2] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak explaining the sequence [of cause & effect].’

“[3] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak out of compassion.’

“[4] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak not for the purpose of material reward.’

“[5] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak without disparaging myself or others.’

“It’s not easy to teach the Dhamma to others, Ananda. The Dhamma should be taught to others only when these five qualities are established within the person teaching.”

AN 5.159

Accessing the Grounds through Application


Accessing the grounds through application
Should be known to involve four points:
Through the full application of interest
One accesses the grounds of inspired conduct,
The phase of ascertainment;
Through the full application of discerning realization
One accesses the first ground,
The phase of contact;
Through the full application by means of cultivation
One accesses the six impure grounds
And the three pure grounds,
The phase of recollection;
Through application of perfection
One accesses the spontaneous accomplishment
Of uninterrupted buddha activity.
Therefore, this is the phase of
“Arriving at the identity of that.”

[From Distinguishing Phenomena from Their Intrinsic Nature by Ārya Maitreya]

The Purpose of Dharma Practice

H.H. the IVth Dalai Lama

H.H. the IVth Dalai Lama

What is the purpose of the Dharma? Just like other spiritual traditions, Buddhadharma is an instrument for training the mind–something we use to try to work out the problems that we all experience; problems that originate mainly at the mental level. Negative emotional forces create mental unrest, such as unhappiness, fear, doubt, frustration and so forth; these negative mental states then cause us to engage in negative activities, which in turn bring us more problems and more suffering. Practicing Dharma is a way of working out these problems, be they long-term or immediate. In other words, Dharma protects us from unwanted suffering.

Buddhadharma means bringing discipline and inner tranquility into our mind. Therefore, when we talk about transforming our mind and developing inner qualities, the only way we can do this is to utilize the mind itself. There is nothing else we can use to bring about such change. Thus, we should realize that much of what we do not desire–unwanted events, unhappiness and suffering–actually comes about as a result of our mistaken way of viewing the world and our destructive thoughts and emotions. These negative minds create both immediate unhappiness and future suffering as well.

Underlying all of this is a fundamental ignorance, a fundamentally flawed way of perceiving reality. In Buddhism, this is called “self-grasping,” or “grasping at self-existence.” Since this is the case, the way to eliminate negative aspects of mind and the suffering they create is to see through the delusion of these mental processes and cultivate their opponent–the wisdom that is correct insight into the ultimate nature of reality. Through cultivating this insight and applying it as an antidote, we will be able to dispel the suffering and undesirable events in our lives.

[From Illuminating the Path to Enlightenment by H.H. the IVth Dalai Lama]

Hidden Yogis

Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche

Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche (1932-1999)

“Even in this world, and even now, there are said to be many hidden yogis or discreet yogis, called bepay naljor in Tibetan. It means those realized ones who are not generally recognized as great spiritual sages or saints, but have deeply tasted the fruit of enlightenment, and are living it. Perhaps they are anonymously doing their good works here among us right now!

“The infinite vast expanse is one’s own inconceivable nature. Who can say who has realized it and who hasn’t? When we travel around the world or experience other dimensions, there are so many beings who have tasted it. We can see it in their behavior, in their countenance, and in stories that are told–not just in the Dzogchen tradition or the Buddhist tradition, but in any tradition, and in our Western world too.

“This true nature is so vast and inconceivable that even some birds and animals and beings in other unseen dimensions can be said to have realized it, as in some of the ancient Indian Jataka stories and other teaching tales. It is always said that everything is the self-radiant display of the primordial Buddha Samantabhadra. There are infinite numbers of Buddhas and infinite numbers of beings. Who can say who is excluded from it?”

[Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche, from Natural Great Perfection: Dzogchen Teachings and Vajra Songs]

Seeing the Buddha, Seeing the Dhamma

Buddha Eyes

“Then the Blessed One dressed and, taking bowl and robe, approached the Venerable Vakkali. The Venerable Vakkali saw the Blessed One coming in the distance and stirred on his bed. The Blessed One said to him: “Enough, Vakkali, do not stir on your bed. There are these seats ready, I will sit down there.”

“The Blessed One then sat down on the appointed seat and said to the Venerable Vakkali: “I hope you are bearing up, Vakkali, I hope you are getting better. I hope that your painful feelings are subsiding and not increasing, and that their subsiding, not their increase, is to be discerned.”

“Venerable sir, I am not bearing up, I am not getting better. Strong painful feelings are increasing in me, not subsiding, and their increase, not their subsiding, is to be discerned.”

“I hope then, Vakkali, that you are not troubled by remorse and regret.”

“Indeed, venerable sir, I have quite a lot of remorse and regret.”

“I hope, Vakkali, that you have nothing for which to reproach yourself in regard to virtue.”

“I have nothing, venerable sir, for which to reproach myself in regard to virtue.”

“Then, Vakkali, if you have nothing for which to reproach yourself in regard to virtue, why are you troubled by remorse and regret?”

“For a long time, venerable sir, I have wanted to come to see the Blessed One, but I haven’t been fit enough to do so.”

“Enough, Vakkali! Why do you want to see this foul body? One who sees the Dhamma sees me; one who sees me sees the Dhamma. For in seeing the Dhamma, Vakkali, one sees me; and in seeing me, one sees the Dhamma.”

[From the Samyutta Nikaya 22.87]