His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche the Third,
Karma Lodrö Chökyi Senge
The Unmistaken, Noble Path
The Buddha taught the sacred Dharma according to the three levels or propensities of his disciples and students, and so there are three vehicles of teachings, which are known as “The Three Dharmachakras.” At the first Dharmachakra (the Sanskrit term for ‘Turning the Wheel of Dharma’), Lord Buddha presented the teachings on the Four Noble Truths. At the Second Turning he taught about emptiness. He presented the Vajrayana teachings at indefinite places and during indefinite times when he turned the Wheel of Dharma a third time.
The teachings of the First Dharmachakra on the Four Noble Truths deal with very basic experiences. There is suffering in the world and it is a fact that we experience suffering due to an accumulation of negative actions and happiness due to an accumulation of positive actions. The origin of suffering is ignorance regarding the truth of suffering. It is necessary to abandon negativities and to engage in a positive lifestyle in order to become free of suffering. By abandoning the causes for suffering and by adopting the causes for happiness, a practitioner traverses the path and eventually experiences cessation of suffering. In order to reach a state free of suffering, the truth of suffering needs to be understood and known. By engaging in the practice of the path, the causes for suffering are eliminated. Cessation of suffering needs to be realized in order to experience fruition of the path. We see that the Four Noble Truths embrace relative and ultimate experiences of causes and results.
It is necessary to eliminate suffering in order to experience happiness. Actually, it’s not suffering that we need to rid ourselves of, rather the causes of suffering. For example, if a big tree growing in the park displeases us, it would be futile cutting away branch after branch to get rid of the tree. It would be more effective felling the tree at its root. Once the tree is uprooted, we needn’t go through the ordeal of getting rid of each leaf, twig, and branch. In the same way, by eliminating the source of suffering, which is ignorance, suffering is uprooted. It’s first necessary to know what suffering is, though.
It is very important to know what suffering is, but it can’t be eliminated without knowing what the origin of suffering is. ‘Kun-byung refers to the Tibetan term for the Second Noble Truth and means ‘the source of all,’ byung meaning ‘the source’ and ‘kun meaning ‘all.’ Now, the source of all suffering is ignorance. What does ignorance mean? It means not realizing and consequently clinging to dualistic apprehensions, i.e., dividing subject and object after having perceived something and clinging to it as real. Clinging arises from the erroneous belief in the self, the ‘I.’ Buddhism describes the self as the aggregation of the five ‘heaps’ (skandha in Sanskrit). The five skandhas are the aspects that comprise the physical and mental constituents of a sentient being. They are: physical forms, sensations, conceptions, mental formations, and consciousnesses. Clinging to the five skandhas as a self is what is meant by clinging.
The Buddha taught that it is necessary to experience the selfless state in order to become free of suffering and pain. Many people assume this means one merely needs to eliminate the five skandhas, which isn’t correct. The selfless state is experienced by becoming free of clinging to the five skandhas as a self. The skandhas aren’t extinguished at fruition, but a practitioner then doesn’t cling to them as a self. When someone strongly clings to a self, he automatically assumes any apprehended objects are other than the apprehending self. This is the point at which chaos begins; physical and verbal disruptive afflictions arise from attachment for or aversion against apprehended objects. All physical and verbal activities are determined by the mental habit of experiencing attachment and aversion. Then karma, ‘the infallible law of cause and effect,’ is created. Individuals are continuously involved in activities and create karma. As a result, samsara ensues. In the process, the habitual tendencies intensify and one continues spinning around in samsara, ‘the never ending circle of suffering.’
Having won a correct understanding of suffering and the origin of suffering, one approaches the truth of the path, i.e., the truth of selflessness, which is freedom from clinging to the duality of an apprehending subject and apprehended objects. Many explanations are presented in the various Buddhist schools and they prove, without a doubt, why the self does not exist as believed. It’s easy to intellectually explore this field of knowledge and to refute the one or other idea, but this doesn’t enhance realization of what is being referred to here. Many people understand what selflessness means, but only few devotees experience the selfless state.
We see that it is very important to realize that we don’t have much control of our mind and to engage in the noble truth of the path. We continuously give in to distractions and then lose control of ourselves. On the path, we practice taming and disciplining our mind, and through meditation practice we win control of all activities and can lead our lives conscientiously. It isn’t sufficient to know about the selfless state by receiving the teachings. It is of no avail dwelling on the thought of selflessness while failing to integrate the teachings in all one is and does. It isn’t due to what is believed to be a true self that we learn about the possibility to experience selflessness. Asserting selflessness in dependence on an existent and vice versa is easy, but it isn’t what is meant here. Clinging to a self is a habit, and what is believed to be the self doesn’t need to be eliminated in order to realize the selfless state. Selflessness is the non-existence of what doesn’t exist anyway and never existed. Ego-fixation is just a habit, nothing else, but the problem is clinging to something that never existed. We don’t need to become free of ourselves, rather, we need to become free of the misleading habit of clinging to the self, i.e., ego-fixation.
Many Tibetans enjoy snuff, which isn’t really healthy because it burns the nostrils and irritates the eyes. No matter how much pain and discomfort an addict feels, he will have great difficulties giving up this habit. Simply knowing that it’s important to give up a bad habit isn’t enough to actually stop. Habits need to gradually diminish through practice. Then the habit of engaging in negative activities decreases. In the same way, believing in a self and living a life in the discomfort of the habit of ego-fixation are very painful experiences. Intellectually understanding selflessness doesn’t enable anybody to become selfless. A beneficial habit needs to replace the bad habit so that one becomes free of the habit that causes suffering. The habitual patterns we have accumulated cannot be eliminated immediately, but it is possible to become free of them slowly. We should not lose heart but exert effort to become free of unwholesome habitual patterns. By learning about the nature of the mind and by practicing sitting meditation, it is possible to experience beneficial results that lead to the experience of special insight and cessation of suffering.
At the first of the Wheel of Dharma, the Buddha taught the truth of suffering as we experience it as well as the truth of its source. Furthermore, he taught the truth of cessation of suffering and the truth of the path. There is samsara – there is nirvana. To become free of the suffering that marks samsara, we need to abandon unwholesome activities of body speech, and mind and engage in wholesome activities of body, speech, and mind. The teachings of the First Dharmachakra enable disciples to appreciate this necessity. When the Buddha turned the Wheel of Dharma the second time, he showed disciples in which way all things lack inherent existence and are empty of a true nature. These instructions do not contradict those of the First Turning, but are a manifestation of the great skill and wisdom of the Buddha.
The basic view in Buddhism is a view free of the extremes of nihilism and eternalism. To help disciples understand the view beyond the one or other wrong view, Lord Buddha turned the Wheel of Dharma a second and third time. At the Second Dharmachakra, he taught in which way all things arise in dependence upon other things and that everything is impermanent and lacks true existence. He showed in which way no phenomenon is a solid entity, that every object that can be perceived and apprehended is free of the four limitations and eight complexities, and that every “thing” is in essence empty of an intrinsic nature. The four limitations are beliefs that things truly exist, do not exist, both exist and do not exist, and neither exist nor do not exist. The eight mental complexities are mental constructs that phenomena have such attributes as arising and ceasing, being singular or plural, come and go, and are the same or different. The Buddha taught emptiness when he turned the Wheel of Dharma a second time so that followers do not fall into the extreme view of eternalism, the wrong idea that phenomena exist independently, of their own accord, and permanently.
At the Third Dharmachakra, Buddha showed that all living beings are endowed with Buddha nature. He taught that ultimate wisdom permeates everyone and therefore all sentient beings can experience their awakened mind. Should a disciple only learn the instructions presented at the Second Dharmachakra, he or she would fall into the extreme view of nihilism. It is through the wonderful teachings of the Third Dharmachakra that we learn of the Buddha nature that is inherent in all living beings, without exceptions, and thus can gain the view free of extremes. We need to become free of the extreme views regarding existence and nonexistence.
In Buddhism, we are not expected to annihilate an existent or vice versa to have the right view. It is not a matter of playing existence against nonexistence or vice versa. Rather, liberation from the two extreme views means seeing and experiencing phenomena as they are, without additions or subtractions, i.e., without subjective interpretations, which are made due to wishful thinking, about what is apperceived. The right view is the middle way view, which means ascertaining that everyone’s inherent potential for awakening is beyond existence and nonexistence, beyond being and nonbeing, i.e., beyond eternalistic and nihilistic suppositions. As it is, we perceive phenomena from an extreme vantage point, while the true nature of all things is free of extremes. Seeing things as they really are is the middle view of the middle path. The ultimate view of supreme emptiness is the experience of freedom from the stains or shortcomings of the two extreme mental fixations.
Gaining certainty of the right view concerning fruition is the basis for practice. Dharma practice must accord with the view and may in no way contradict it. Furthermore, practice must include the skilful means of compassion (upaya in Sanskrit) and superior wisdom-awareness of emptiness (prajna in Sanskrit). Following the main stream of Mahayana, the Path of a Bodhisattva, we must first train our mind by practicing relative Bodhicitta, ‘the inseparability of loving kindness and compassion.’ There is Bodhicitta of aspiration and Bodhicitta of application, and the later is actually training in the conduct of a Bodhisattva through the six perfections. Perfection means that a Bodhisattva is free of dualistic clinging while acting with great compassion and with the wisdom that cognizes emptiness. Ultimate Bodhicitta is attained by cultivating Bodhicitta of aspiration and application.
People see the Buddhist Thangkas that depict deities alone or in union and they might be confused. It’s said that the Budddhist view is beyond the extreme views of existence and nonexistence, and yet there are all these things. Therefore, you might become perplexed. All things have a purpose.
As it is, we perceive the world and our life based upon habitual tendencies and therefore with an impure outlook. The true nature of all things is beyond existence and nonexistence, but due to habits, we perceive dualistically and insist that things truly exist. We need to apprehend with a pure outlook in order to become free. Right now, we fixate our attention on our deluded perceptions and cling to the ideas we have as true. We need to realize freedom from fixations and experience that all things lack inherent, true existence. This is one way to experience one’s enlightened mind, i.e., to have the sacred outlook. Without negating an impure outlook, we see that the sacred can be realized. It is another way of experiencing the enlightened mind.
In summary, at this time we experience that there are existents, intensify the idea of the true existence of things we apprehend, and cling to them as real. We exaggerate what in truth doesn’t exist. During meditation practices on deities, we don’t cling to perceptions as true existents but understand that nothing possesses independent existence. This is difficult for beginners, who create more and more concepts but can reach the point at which exaggerations are diminished and overcome. For example, we know that the glass of water in front of me lacks true existence and realize that we erroneously cling to it as real. We can come to realize the true nature of the glass of water by reflecting impermanence and the truth of interdependent origination. We can also come to realize its true nature through what is called “the water of auspicious qualities.” We understand that water is vital, very cooling, and quite soothing and realize that it is more than what we imagine. As our exaggerations lead ad absurdum by contemplating in this way, we lose the idea we have of water.
The Mahayana view is the view beyond the extremes of nihilism and eternalism. The path is the inseparability of skilful means of great compassion and wisdom of emptiness.
Questions & Answers
Student: “I’d like to ask a question to clarify the idea of the five skandhas. My impression is that they are always a part of how I perceive the world. Is there a time when this is not so?”
Rinpoche: As to the objects of the five senses, we have intense subjective experiences when we perceive them. By understanding selflessness and by taming the mind, we begin to see differently. Fixations that arise from dualistic clinging diminish and clinging loosens through practice.
Next question: “In reflecting the five skandhas, is one able to see the difference between delusion and reality?”
Rinpoche: Yes, one can distinguish between what reality is and what the illusions of reality are. It is necessary to experience what is beyond an intellectual knowledge concerning the difference.
Next question: “If the experience of a reflection is continuous, is that realization?
Rinpoche: Generally, you can describe it like that. But realization isn’t one thing only. There are many stages, from gross to subtle. If you reflect and practice the path correctly, your personal experiences show which level of realization you have reached.
Next question: “What is reincarnation?”
Rinpoche: Reincarnation concerns the mind. There are two types of reincarnation, that of sentient beings in general and that of an enlightened being. As to the first, when the mind separates from the body at death, the mind experiences another form of birth, which takes place due to the habit of clinging to duality. This habit is stored in the all-ground consciousness. So the manifestation of the mind is expressing itself in reliance upon that habit. Consequently, ordinary beings experience birth in the world involuntarily; their reincarnation is determined by their karmic patterns or habitual tendencies. There is also the reincarnation of enlightened beings or supreme Tulkus, who take are born voluntarily; they choose the best circumstances and situations to help others. The reincarnation of ordinary beings depends on the law of cause and effect and occurs under the power of the habit of clinging to duality. Rebirth continues due to karma and is common to all beings. The reincarnation of Tulkus is quite popular among Tibetans, but now it is starting to spread.
In discussing reincarnation, there are many hindrances since wishful thinking nurtures beliefs that are born due to uncertainty. This causes doubt and obscures direct perception. Reincarnation can be logically deduced and is not just a matter of belief. But many people are accustomed to the habit that there is no reincarnation and have many difficulties understanding and accepting it.
Next question: “Would Rinpoche tell us how he experiences his own relationship to the Jamgon Kongtrul Lineage?”
Rinpoche: I am very amazed about the works of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö the Great, about his compilation of the Buddhadharma into “The Five Treasures.” During these times of degeneration, the largest contribution towards the preservation and existence of the Dharma is tremendously impressed by the work of the physical Buddha activity of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye. Concerning the mind, I don’t know because it is his mind. The works of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye are beyond imagination.
Question: “Do all emanations know their emanations? Some people say that someone is an emanation of Chewnrezig or Dorje Phagmo. Would they know?”
Rinpoche: If it is true, they should know.
Same student: “If they are an emanation of Chenrezig, will they be more attracted to Chenrezig?”
Rinpoche: It isn’t like that.
Next question: “You talked about egolessness and egolessness of ego. Are they two things, two experiences, or the same thing?”
Rinpoche: Yes. The ego of phenomena is an extension of the ego of a self. As for the ego of things, there is the apprehended object and the apprehending subject, a separation, and thus a twofold ego.
Next question: “Is there a difference between the mind and consciousness?”
Rinpoche: Mind is sems in Tibetan and refers to the nature, whereas nam-shes is consciousness and refers to the manifestation of mind’s activities.
Next question: “By applying the wholesome habit of meditation, do you go beyond habit?”
Rinpoche: Yes, but calm abiding meditation without the Mahayana view and motivation is not sufficient. One must eventually become free of all habits.
Next question: “You talked about skilful means of compassion. Before you talked about the skilful means of exaggeration.”
Rinpoche: I am presenting general Vajrayana instructions and clarifying why there are so many skilful means used in practice. It’s impossible to practice Vajrayana without Bodhicitta. I don’t know whether all participants here are Vajrayana practitioners and whether they know what it really means. Therefore I am speaking about exaggeration, but there is more to it. Vajrayana is quite vast and profound – it is more than an exaggeration!
Next question: “The world is what we project with our neurotic mind. We all together are making a world. We need compassion and loving kindness …”
Rinpoche: The Buddha and every fully enlightened being have experienced the perfectly enlightened mind and continue perceiving. It is not the case that at enlightenment the mind blanks out and there are no more perceptions. This wouldn’t be a very desirable goal. The terms used in the teachings, “beyond existence and nonexistence,” “beyond is and is not” are deep. These descriptions do not refer to a particular thing that is nonexistent, rather to beyond what is and is not.
Buddha Shakyamuni said, “Since the Dharma pervades all beings, I did not teach anything. All beings are pervaded by the 84,000 teachings.” Since the teachings are beyond existence, the Buddha did not teach. Yet the teachings are beyond nonexistence since everyone can learn and realize them. Being beyond nonexistence and existence makes it possible for the indivisibility of compassion and wisdom, the indivisibility of the two truths, to unfold.
Question: “Is there a danger in meditating Chenrezig?”
Rinpoche: If you know who he is, then there’s no danger at all. If you don’t know, it can be dangerous. Chenrezig is the embodiment of great compassion, non-referential compassion that is free of any fixations. If you understand this, then there’s no danger. If you think that the white deity on the Thangka is Chenrezig, you will experience shortcomings.
Question: “In practicing calm abiding meditation, there seem to be simultaneous conversations going on in the mind when one is trying to eliminate all other kinds of disturbances. Are there specific techniques for getting rid of each layer of mental conversation?”
Rinpoche: In order for Shamata practice to be effective, we need to be free of expectations and doubts. The actual practice of Shamata is carried out to recognize distractions and return to the technique.
Same student: “Is there a time limit for such a practice?”
Rinpoche: A beginner should do short sessions. The longer you can sit in meditation, the better. A beginner starts with five minutes and increases the length of time. It’s also important to practice regularly. Practice only becomes effective by being patience. If you try too hard, you can become frustrated or excited. You must be flexible enough to accept the meditation.
Question: “Would Rinpoche say something about the skandhas?”
Rinpoche: In order to elaborate this topic fully, we would have to go through the entire Abhidharma. The first skandha of physical form is solidity, but there are different kinds of forms, subtle and gross. Sensations are feelings that are easy to understand. Conceptions are made because of knowing; 51 categories of mental formations arise as a result. Consciousness is roughly divided into 6, the 5 sensory consciousnesses and the 6th mental consciousness. The Tibetan word for the Sanskrit term skandha is phung-po and means ‘piled together,’ ‘a heap.’ This term points to the fact that all things are devoid of true existence, i.e., that a form does not exist independently or of its own accord but is empty of inherent existence. Form is the coming together of innumerable particles, which is what “heap” means. Consciousness is also dependent on a subject, objects, and actions.
Question: “I want to ask for a practice that I can do when my daily rhythm really gets kind of upside-down.”
Rinpoche: It’s best to have a regular practice over a longer period of time. If this isn’t possible due to daily obligations, you should make good use of the opportunity to meditate for a short time. Regular and consistent practice is most important and more effective than practicing irregularly. Consistent practice is best. If you then find the opportunity to do longer sessions, that would be very good. You must take advantage of any time you have to practice.
Question: “His Eminence said that the Wheel of Dharma was turned three times and at three places. The teachings presented the third time were at an indefinite place. How are the teachings connected?”
Rinpoche: At the First Turning, the Hinayana teachings were presented; at the second and third the Mahayana. They deal with the relative and ultimate truths. At the Second Turning the relative truth was explained; at the third Vajrayana. The Buddha taught Kalachakra Tantra to the Kings of Shambhala. Shambhala is a place beyond ordinary perception and therefore an indefinite place.
His Holiness the XVIth Gyalwa Karmapa said that Kagyü Dharma Centers and Monasteries are not his but were built so that the Karma Kagyü Tradition would flourish and benefit many beings around the world. The Sangha of a particular center consists of those persons who extend friendship and respect towards each other. It’s important to appreciate and respect each other and to give each other friendship. Harmony is important. Then you set an example for others to appreciate the Buddhadharma. As a member of a center, you have a very special responsibility towards yourself and others. You need the wholesome attitude that everybody makes the center and that everybody contributes as best as they can.
The Sangha is very important. It is those persons who study and practice the Dharma together, who help each other as best as possible to understand the teachings and the practice. A wholesome relationship among disciples is very important, and it’s also important among teachers. When a student studies at a center, gentleness and harmony are the coolness and freshness needed for good study. Practitioners need openness and care, with gentleness and harmony. No one is free of faults but become free gradually. Working together is an opportunity to practice being considerate and concerned about others. It’s a chance to practice perseverance. Discord is not wholesome and can ruin the Sangha; it can scare many people from coming into contact with the Dharma. A group of individuals in centers can become the cause that others are deprived of the possibility to encounter Lord Buddha’s teachings.
The most important point is upholding the sacred commitment and the sacred relationship with each other. One needs to be aware that one isn’t involved with the Dharma and Sangha for mundane reasons but to enter into the way of a Bodhisattva. By practicing together, by training and taming one’s mind together, one can bring goodness into others’ lives. Beginners need help. You need to work together and not think that running a center is the job of one or two people. The meaning of Sangha is working together in virtuous ways, helping each other accumulate positive merit. The conduct of a Bodhisattva is actually working for the benefit of others. Taking advantage of the opportunity to be part of the Sangha, studying and keeping the Sangha good and strong are activities of a Bodhisattva.
I feel that the Dharma can flourish very well in centers and wish all practitioners the best. I wish that you work together openly and in friendship. 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.
Long Life Prayer for Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche the Fourth
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.
These teachings were presented in 1985 at The Milarepa Dharma Center in Montreal, Canada, and were simultaneously translated from Tibetan into English by Ngödrub Burkhar. They were transcribed in 1989 and typed and edited again in 2011 by Gaby Hollmann, who is responsible for any mistakes. Photo of Rinpoche courtesy of Micky Saly from Munich; the photo of the flowers were offered by a friend.
Copyright Jamgon Kongtrul Labrang at the Great Monastery of Pullahari in Nepal, 2011. All rights reserved.