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]

The Rimé Movement

Jamgön Kongtrül

Jamgön Kongtrül (1813-1899)

The Rimé movement arose in the late 19th century. While many have considered the Rimé approach to be that of a homogenizing eclecticism, minimizing differences, and trying to blend the unique characteristics of the various lineages into one, this is a misconception. Great luminaries of the Rimé movement would often cite the primary lineage they were initiated into, though they also studied other lineages in depth as well. I think this is an important distinction. Rather than dismissing the differences between the teachings and methods of the various lineages and schools as inconsequential, and trying to promote an ‘everything is really the same’ approach, the Rimé movement emphasized the uniqueness of the various lineages, while simultaneously making the teachings available to others who might not have been exposed to them due to sectarianism. See more here.

[Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thayé was one of the founders of the Rimé movement]


“Bodhicitta satisfies with all the varieties of happiness
And cuts free from all suffering
Those who are deprived of happiness
And those endowed with many sorrows.”

[Shantideva, from the Bodhisattva-caryavatara]



What is this strange word, bodhicitta? Where does it come from and what does it mean? Etymologically speaking, we can break it down like this: It is a Sanskrit term that combines the word for “awakened” (bodhi) and the word for “mind” (citta). Taken together, this reads as Awakened-Mind. It is sometimes also translated as the Mind of Enlightenment. This is helpful for us to begin to apprehend what bodhicitta is about, and yet, this is only a beginning, an initial step in the right direction, an intimation towards a reality that is beyond all words, beyond all dictionary definitions, and beyond all abstract thought processes.

The seed of bodhicitta is compassion, which is the wish for all beings to be free of suffering and its causes. Yes, all beings, not just those who are close to you, or those who treat you like you want them to; not just those who reciprocate your kind feelings, or say nice words to you, but all beings (even that punk who cut you off on the road the other day, even that lover that left you sad and lonely, even that father/mother/sister/brother that doesn’t talk to you anymore, even that co-worker or associate that just grates on your nerves, even that…well, you get the point).

Bodhicitta is an orientation, a direction, a motivation that infuses and informs our body (what we do), speech (what we say) and mind (what we think/feel). When we have firmly established bodhicitta, everything we do, everything we say, everything we think and feel will be dedicated to the liberation and enlightenment of all beings. At that point bodhicitta becomes second-nature, it arises spontaneously and effortlessly in all aspects of our lives. Yet we have to begin where we are. For most of us (including myself), we have not yet fully established this level of bodhicitta. But I’ll let you in on a little secret, that is OK. We can get there. It takes time, but we can get there. Keep working on it.

We start out by cultivating compassion. As mentioned above, compassion can be thought of as the wish for all beings to be free of suffering and the causes of suffering. One method of cultivating this is through meditation. You can sit quietly, calm your mind and then begin to generate compassion. You can think of those you love to get you started. Think of someone close to you, someone you really care about. Feel the compassion arise in your heart and mind. In time, you can begin to add people who you have an aversion towards, someone who makes you angry, or someone who has hurt you. Begin to generate compassion for them as well. Then you can also add people who you are indifferent towards—people you don’t feel one way or the other about. Generate compassion for them as well. Once you have stabilized compassion in your mindstream then you can begin to cultivate bodhicitta. Whereas compassion is the wish for all beings to be free from suffering, bodhicitta is dedicating all of your energies towards attaining enlightenment so that you can aid all other beings towards liberation and enlightenment as well.

There are two main levels of bodhicitta. The first level of bodhicitta is called Aspiring Bodhicitta. This is where you want to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, but yet, you still are not quite ready to engage in all of the practices to get there. Yet this is still a valuable step. Informed by the compassion you have generated, you sincerely want to do it. You are moving in that direction. The second level of bodhicitta is called Engaged Bodhicitta. This is where you not only want to do it, but you actively engage in the Dharma practices that will carry you all the way to enlightenment, for only a Buddha, an Awakened One, can really help all beings to become Awakened as well. And to get to this state, to attain Buddhahood, we are guided by bodhicitta.