Continually Practice Dharma


The circumstances of death are many.
Those that sustain life are few;
Those very things, too, may cause death.
Therefore, continually practice Dharma.

[Nāgārjuna, from The Precious Garland]


The Four Reliances


Guidelines for learning the Dharma:

1) Rely on the Dharma, rather than on the person teaching the Dharma.

2) Rely on the meaning or point (artha), rather than on the literal words.

3) Rely on sutras (texts) that are definitive (nitartha), rather than those that are provisional (neyartha) and require further interpretation.

4) Rely on gnosis (jñana ), rather than on discursive, everyday awareness (vijñana ).

Diversity in the Dharma

“There is a Tibetan saying that just as every valley has its own language so every teacher has his own doctrine. This is an exaggeration on both counts, but it does indicate the diversity to be found within Buddhism and the important role of a teacher in mediating a received tradition and adapting it to the needs, the personal transformation, of the pupil. This diversity prevents, or strongly hinders, generalization about Buddhism as a whole. Nevertheless it is a diversity which Mahayana Buddhists have rather gloried in, seen not as a scandal but as something to be proud of, indicating a richness and multifaceted ability to aid the spiritual quest of all sentient, and not just human, beings.”


“From earliest times in Buddhism there was a strong tendency to portray the Doctrine not as a series of tenets to be accepted or rejected, but rather as a medicine for curing quite specific spiritual ills. Mahayanists in particular see adaptation, and perhaps even syncretism, as a virtue in the Dharma, enabling the teachings to be adapted to the needs of hearers, and thereby indicating the wisdom and compassion of the Omniscient Buddha.”

[From Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, 2nd edition by Paul Williams. 2009]



Renunciation is the root of liberation. It is the decision to be free from the repeating cycles of rebirth, sickness, old-age and death, to be free from the uncontrollably spinning wheel, to be free from samsara. Liberation becomes possible when renunciation has arisen in your awareness.

I learned from my teachers that one possible translation into English of the Tibetan word for renunciation is “definite emergence”. There is a sense of great urgency about renunciation. A metaphor that is sometimes used is that your renunciation—your decision to be free from samsara—should be as strong as if you were standing in a fire and wanted to get out of it. There is no debating (Do I want to get out? Maybe I will get out tomorrow?), it is direct, immediate, and determined. Sometimes this immediacy is described as being a ‘”spontaneous” motivation, meaning that it arises naturally and without obstruction. More often, renunciation is something that requires cultivation.

Deeply and carefully reflecting on the Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind Toward the Dharma—the precious human rebirth, impermanence and death, the nature of suffering, and karma—aids in the cultivation of renunciation. Taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha is only possible with renunciation, because you must first be determined to be free of suffering before you can actively and meaningfully embrace the Three Jewels as reliable supports for liberation. In addition, we need renunciation to be able to generate Bodhicitta, the Mind of Enlightenment, or the Great Compassion.

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.

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

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]


“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.

Practice, It’s Up to Us

Many Doors


“The essence of the 84,000 bundles of doctrine is just to tame this wild mind, not letting it go under the influence of the afflictions–desire, hatred, and ignorance. When the mind is no longer polluted by afflictions or their latent predispositions, then its taming is complete. The aged should engage in a method suited for old age; the young, in one suited for youth; the learned, in a method suited for the learned, and those not so learned, in one suited for their abilities.”


“At this time, when we have a physical life-support of a human such that we are capable of many techniques and thoughts, it is very important to engage in [Dharma] practice. It is our own choice to have no belief, faith, interest, or wish to practice. Buddha did not forcibly say, “You must practice”. The great commentators will not bring guns and swords. We must ascertain the need for [Dharma] with reasoning. Once we want happiness and do not want suffering, we should engage in the means to achieve happiness and eliminate suffering. Practice is based on reasoning, not force; it is up to oneself.”

[From Deity Yoga by H.H. the Dalai Lama]