Khenpo Tsultrim Lodrö is one of the most important Tibetan Buddhist masters alive today. As demonstrated by his many writings, he is not only exceptionally learned in the traditional Buddhist teachings, but is also deeply familiar with science, western philosophy and the modern world. Here in this short text, drawn from a series of lectures, he encourages us to remember the Buddha’s fundamental message on the real meaning and purpose of life: the cultivation of genuine wisdom and compassion. I am a deep admirer of Khenpo Tsultrim Lodrö and supporter of his work.
I would like to thank the directors not only for creating this opportunity to honour Khen Rinpoche, but also for giving me the chance to write a few introductory words for this auspicious occasion. Actually I am not the right person to do this. First, Khenpo Tsultrim Lodro Rinpoche needs no introduction. He speaks for himself by his example. Even if you need someone to give an introduction, it should not be done by someone shady like me who eats betel nut and is found wearing very colorful clothes, and hanging around with colorful people in colorful places.
Death is a reality that no one wants to face or think about but eventually must deal with. Near the end of life, all the success and glory in one’s lifetime lose their luster. Just as Steve Jobs said, “Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.” “Almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride,all fear of embarrassment or failure -- these things just fall away in the face of death,leaving only what is truly important.”
Khenpo Tsultrim Lodro was born in 1962 in Drango (Luhuo) County in Sichuan Province’s Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. In 1984, he received monastic ordination at the world-renowned Larung Five Sciences Buddhist Institute (Larung Gar) in Serthar, becoming a disciple of the preeminent spiritual master, H.H. Chogyel Yeshe Norbu Jigme Phunstok. After many years dedicated to the study of the five main sutric treatises and tantric scripture, he was awarded the title of Khenpo in recognition of his scholarship.
This book is the translation of part of Khenpo Tsultrim Lodro’s lecture series Wisdom Light Vol. 10. In view of the two main topics, one on the three poisons, the other on death and rebirth, they seem unrelated. As lectures, they were given on different occasions but during the same time frame, so perhaps they were intended as paired teachings on living—how to deal with the three root kleshas in life, and on dying—how to view, face and transcend death.
Although our living conditions today are much better than in the past, mentally we tend to feel empty, restless, anxious and inadequate, now more than ever. Distress from being destitute can end a life while mental suffering can be equally deadly. According to a report from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are currently more than 100 million people in China with mental illness, 287,000 suicides and two million attempted suicides annually, plus anxiety disorders, manic depression and various other types of mental disorder. We can attribute this alarming situation to the high pressure from work and everyday life, but the fundamental cause, in Buddha’s words, is the three poisons—desire, aversion and delusion.
I. The urgent need to extinguish anger Greed, anger and delusion are prevalent in our daily life and in the work environment. We the beginners of Mahayana Buddhism oftentimes act like some of the uninitiated who cannot keep emotions contained. This not only makes the motto of delivering all sentient beings something tenuous but may also discredit Buddhism as a whole. Among the so-called three poisons, anger is the most harmful. It not only destroys one’s own virtuous roots but also invites negative opinions on Buddhists or even Buddhism in general.
I. The harm of ignorance In both Mahayana abhidharma and Sarvāstivāda’s abhidharmakosa, the term used for our negative emotions is kleśa or defilement, and different kinds of defilement have been clearly classified. Even in psychology and medicine, there are not nearly as many terms to describe the various aspects of negative emotions. However, no matter how it is classified, the origin of all defilement is ignorance. Ignorance also means being deluded. Defilement arises because we don’t know the truth of this world and of ourselves. If the truth is known, there will not be defilement—the reason why ignorance is the origin of defilement.
In recent years, natural disasters such as earthquake, tsunami and hurricane have occurred more frequently while suicides and mental problems have become more widespread. Increasingly, people come to realize how fragile life is and begin to focus more on the subject of life and death, which everyone must face eventually. To the majority, death is a very heavy topic as it signifies great fear and trouble. But there is no escape from death, no matter what. Understanding what death really is can help us not only quash fear toward death but also find the opportunity to be free from death completely. With this in mind, I’d like to explain to you what life really is.
Death is an important issue to everyone as it is a reality that everyone is reluctant but has to face. To ordinary people, death represents a dark unknown filled with despair, mysteries, pain and sorrow. In the face of death, almost all of us are panic-stricken and terrified. It is really due to a misunderstanding of death itself. To know correctly what death is can thus eliminate fear of death and help us better prepared for it.