The Key to Observing the Mind

AUTHOR: Khenpo Tsultrim Lodro Rinpoche
HITS( 1356)

After all the preliminary and samatha practices are completed and before starting the main practice of Dzogchen, there are some quasi-Dzogchen practices to be done. One very important practice among these is a pith instruction on observing the mind by Mipham Rinpoche.


Specifically, there are two phases:

1. All phenomena arise from mind

What is the origin of the world? What is the relationship between matter and mind?

Some suggest the world is made of matter. Mind is created by matter, a product of matter.

But nowadays, this opinion is increasingly untenable. As science continues to progress, scientists have found it very difficult to define matter because more and more of their studies show that matter is illusory. It has no real substance.

In fact, the world is neither matter nor mind, nor the aggregate of matter and mind. It is but an illusion. Matter or the world is created by the mind, a product of the mind. Everything from a great chiliocosm and the six realms of samsara down to things in everyday life are illusions of the mind. All phenomena of the desire realm, the form realm, and the formless realm are actually projections of the mind (called self-manifestations in Madhyamaka). They are not external entities that exist objectively.

This viewpoint is not as complicated as that of the Yogacara School, nor is it equivalent to that of Idealism or the view held in the exoteric scriptures on this subject. It is a unique point of view of Unsurpassed Yoga Tantra.

Additionally, we can also think of the relationship between mind and the world in three stages: first, mind is the creator of the world; second, mind is the perceiver of the world; third, mind is the destroyer of the world. Just like during a dream, mind is the creator and the perceiver of the dream, as well as the destroyer of the dream upon waking up.

Firstly, matter itself, including insentient things like stones, bricks, rebar, cement, cars, etc., is without consciousness, so it cannot engender illusions. Only mind can do that. As the world is a massive illusion, it can only be created by mind.

Secondly, matter cannot, but mind can, perceive what’s good and bad, big and small, virtue and non-virtue, suffering and happiness in the world.

Mind first creates a world, then perceives it. No one would know the world exists if the mind doesn’t feel it.

For example, without eye consciousness, one sees nothing; to this person, it’s as if the world doesn’t exist. Without ear consciousness, one hears nothing; to this person, it’s as if no sound exists outside. By the same token, all other external objects are thus perceived.

If someone is taken as one’s beloved, one would be distraught with grief if an accident were to happen to that person; if the same person is seen as one’s most hated enemy, most people in general perhaps would consider that person’s death or bad luck to be great news; if this person is viewed as a total stranger, one would feel indifferent, even toward his or her death. Thus, it can be seen objectively there is no such thing as friend or foe. It is purely our mind that decides who is a friend or a foe. This decision is made not by the five sense organs or the alaya consciousness. The sixth consciousness, or mind consciousness, calls all the shots.

If enemies and friends are objectively existing entities, an enemy should always be an enemy, and a friend always a friend. However, in reality a friend this month may become an enemy next month; an enemy this month may turn into a close friend next month. For instance, we usually think of parents as loved ones, but it may not be the case because parents and children may become mortal enemies if they mismanage their relationship. This is not caused by external changes, but changes taking place in the mind.

If your mind doesn’t like a person, you will not fall in love with this person even if he or she cares for you more than your own family; conversely, someone may be very cold to you and often try to bully or hurt you, yet you cannot help but like the person. It is your mind that’s haunted!

If mind does not perceive the world around us, no matter how great the happiness and suffering may be, they are irrelevant to us.

For example, if one’s relative died horribly of a car accident, one will not feel anything before hearing the news; it is like nothing happened because mind has yet felt anything. Once hearing the bad news, mind begins to feel, and suffering ensues. There would not be so many complicated things and relationships in the world if the sixth consciousness did not create and perceive.

Take the example of dancing. Dancing itself is not a person but a kind of exercise. If dancing were a person, a dancer would be dancing all the time. Likewise, happiness is not an external object but a human feeling. If happiness were an external object, this happy “object” would always bring us happiness. But the reality is not so.

If mind cannot feel happiness, happiness does not exist. For example, some feel elated to be a high official in the government, others shun such position. If high position in the government equates to real happiness, the leader of every country in the world must be the happiest. But the two are not equivalent. If one is forced to be a government official, one cannot feel happiness one bit, and may be miserable instead, because one’s sixth consciousness does not perceive this as happiness. However, if later one changes one’s mind believing power represents happiness, a high position in the government will then bring temporary happiness. Conversely, if one is forced to be an ordinary citizen or to meditate in a quiet place, against his or her will, one will be full of complaint. Nevertheless, if after a few years of being an ordinary citizen or a meditator in the mountain, one can adjust to and appreciate this stress- free way of life along with the opportunity to pursue more meaningful goals in life, one can experience happiness.

Likewise, many people think going to jail is the most unbearable because it takes away their freedom. But there are also those who can take things easy in jail, even make use of this time to meditate single-mindedly.

A Chinese book titled What is Happiness compiles the viewpoints of 155 experts from around the world on what happiness is. Some claim a happy family is happiness, some say a stable income is happiness, and so on. But these are not at all the nature of happiness.

People who have amicable family relationships and a stable income still may not feel happiness. Happiness is in fact a special sense of the mind that cannot be found anywhere outside of the mind.

It can be proved that happiness and suffering are mind’s creations. For example, when our mind feels satisfied, we can still enjoy life no matter how difficult the external condition may be. Many ordinary practitioners take pleasure in their simple way of life, let alone an accomplished master like Milarepa. Their happiness index, if measured, is much higher than those living in luxury. On the other hand, if our mind is not content because we lack purpose in life, luxury itself cannot bring happiness, not even a genuine smile to our face. The difference is in the power of the mind.

Some people think living in a villa or driving an expensive car means happiness. If one were to be locked in a villa every day or made to drive an expensive car all day long, it would turn out to be an unspeakable pain for anyone to bear. This is all due to the change of mind. Although many people envy the rich and the powerful, still some don’t. If money and power are objectively appealing, the whole world should like them unanimously; but it is not so. Therefore, without examination, happiness and suffering seem to be related to external phenomena, but they are not.

In their research of fifty years, psychologists, economists, and sociologists have reached the conclusion that happiness and suffering depend not on a person’s living standard nor the quality of his or her external environment.

Thus, it shows that happiness and suffering are not objective reality but subjective perception. Happiness consists of happiness itself and the cause of happiness. The cause of happiness is objective; happiness itself is a subjective perception of the mind. The same applies to suffering. In fact, the Buddha said long ago happiness and suffering are not due to objective causes but subjective consciousness. As the Buddha had attained ultimate wisdom, he understood the human mindset. The teachings he left behind are filled with wisdom far beyond our reach.

However, we consistently think happiness and suffering come from objective elements. Western culture such as the Enlightenment and other intellectual movements furthered this fallacy and led countless people onto the wrong path of materialism. This is also the basic reason why developed countries in the West have not been able to pinpoint happiness so far.

It is stated in Tibetan logic as well that from the perspective of relative truth, cause and condition exist. But the fact is no real cause and condition exist amid all phenomena. The so-called cause and condition are all constructs of the sixth consciousness.

The logical thinking is where there is smoke, there is fire, and vice versa. As a result, the sixth consciousness believes the two are related, that fire is cause, smoke is effect. In fact, this is just an illusion on the macro level. In the micro-world, these are all phenomena created by the sixth consciousness; none of these really exists.

Because the sixth consciousness first creates a world, the world as an entity is a rather solid one, relatively speaking. After it is created, even if the sixth consciousness wants to change the world, it may not happen right away. Nevertheless, big changes can still be brought on by long-term meditation practice.

Some may ask that according to Abhidharmakosa, all phenomena are caused by karmic force or are manifestations of karmic force. Is karmic force the creator of the world?

Karmic force is also created by our minds. There is no karma without a mind.

When learning the theory of Madhyamaka, one needs to observe the external world, such as the five aggregates, the twelve sense bases, the eighteen elements, etc., which include conditioned and unconditioned phenomena, that is, all that which is known in the world.

‘ That which is known,’ a Buddhist terminology, covers a wide range of things including matter, mind, and the movement of matter and mind. All that our minds can perceive, ideas such as conditioned and unconditioned phenomena, nirvana, buddha, sentient beings, etc., are included. The ‘knowables’ are also creations of the mind.

Before realizing the external phenomena are one’s own creations, mind can also be tricked into thinking the world is something external and not related to oneself. As a result, one would chase the self-proclaimed wonderful goal, make decisions driven by karmic force leading to all sorts of good and bad karma being committed, and sink even deeper into the web of illusions, the same as how a silkworm locks itself in a self- made silk cocoon. We impute the existence of a world which originally is non-existent to personal experience derived from our own sense organs. Here, to “impute” means something is not existent objectively, but the mind makes something out of nothing. We develop strong attachment to things we create ourselves because we don’t know the world is our own creation, just like how we take a dream for real while in the dream.

Thirdly, when mind discovers the world is not discrete, but an illusion created by itself, it will destroy the illusion, that is, the world.

Mind is in samsara when creating the world; it is creating karma, that is, creating the cause of samsara when perceiving the world; it is on the way to liberation when destroying the world.

By way of hearing, pondering, and meditating on the Dharma, mind begins to doubt, then recognizes its previous mistakes. Afterward, mind attains realization of the illusory nature of the world and sets out to destroy this illusive world.

The whole process is conducted by the mind. It is the mind that is hearing the Dharma, pondering the questions, and undertaking meditation.

Without examination, we think humans share one common world, but the fact is this is just a mixture of many similar feelings, not a singular whole. The Buddhist view is that because of shared karma, we all see the world today in the same way. But it is not really one unity, just similar. We all have our own world; if we destroy it, we are free. If we fail to attain freedom, our own world lives on indefinitely.

We should try to destroy illusions after attaining realization. Besides the mind, even the Big Bang or the so-called apocalypse cannot destroy the world, because when the old one ends, the new one will be born. However, the power of the mind can destroy the world instantly and effortlessly.

2. The nature of mind is emptiness

If the solar system, the Milky Way, and the boundless universe are all created by the mind, what does this mighty mind look like? According to the viewpoint of Madhyamaka, the essence of mind is devoid of fabrication, its nature vast and infinite.

When Madhyamaka explicates the concept of “no-self,” especially about “no-self in phenomena,” it says the mind inside and the world outside are all emptiness. The existence of a physical world from mountains to rivers, emotions of joy and sorrow, even a particle, is not acknowledged.

From the point of view of Madhyamaka, our minds arise and cease every moment, stopping not even for one millionth or ten millionth of a second. If we take ten millionth of a second as the present, the mind before this is already gone like last night’s dream, and the mind after this is not yet born; neither exists. That leaves only the present. The so-called present may last just an unimaginably short time, perhaps ten millionth of a second or even shorter, and it can be further divided down to nothing at the end.

If mind itself doesn’t exist, what world can it perceive? We realize at this point our suffering, happiness, family, enemies, ideas of good and evil, etc. are all built on a base that never existed. Now the world will begin to crumble, and mind becomes the one that destroys the world.

In the macro world or in terms of relative truth, there is suffering and happiness. But in the micro world, mind lasts too short a time to bring any sense of happiness or suffering.

The so-called suffering and happiness are considered phenomena of dependent arising in Buddhism; they are completely illusory.

Those who have learned Madhyamaka know the mind cannot truly feel happiness, because when two things exist simultaneously, there can be no connection between them. From the macroscopic perspective, the left hand can touch the right hand, but this is only an illusion. If mind and happiness exist sequentially, when the former exists, the latter has not yet arisen; after the latter arises, the former no longer exists. As there is no connection between the two, how can mind feel happiness? The so-called feeling is a misconception derived from the sense perception.

Both logic and psychology consider reason superior to sense perception because reason is sensible. However, in Buddhist logic, perception is superior to reason in the realm of direct perception because logical reasoning is based on information provided by perception. If the perception is not reliable, reason is without its base, like being led by the blind.

From time immemorial, we have always thought the world is something external which we sometimes fear, other times yearn for; we are either lost or engrossed in this world, a world we never knew created by ourselves before we heard the teaching of prajnaparamita. Not until life nears its end do we finally realize there is nothing meaningful in this world. This is the delusion and regret of ordinary people.

The fact is all these are just like a dream: We created everything in the dream Out of fear or want, we commit evil deeds such as killing, stealing, lying, etc. as well as virtuous deeds like the practice of bodhicitta and the six paramitas. We tend to suffer or lose hope if we fail to obtain the good things in the dream; for fear of running into even bigger suffering, we try everything we can to crush all possible causes for pain. But this is just a dream; there is neither anything to chase after nor to avoid because all is mind’s creation.

Taming the mind as a wild elephant

Mipham Rinpoche then asked, “From time immemorial until now, haven’t we suffered enough? Are we not fed up?”

Mind is creating the world as well as happiness and suffering. If we don’t tame the mind by force, it will affect us life after life.

Except those practitioners who have transcended suffering and happiness, our whole life’s work can be summed up as seeking happiness and avoiding suffering.

We believe all happiness comes from perfectly beautiful things, all suffering from poor, defective things. Our mind draws the line between perfection and imperfection, but such distinction does not exist objectively. Once our mind is fixated on an object or a person, we wishfully think that must be perfect, devoid of any fault. This is how desire causes delusion, and delusion conceals the truth. When mind hastens to grasp at the mere stirring from outside, no force, not even the force of one thousand elephants, is strong enough to make it turn back.

For example, we may all wish to be perfect. If someone points out our shortcoming, we may see it as an insult and become angry instantly. At this point, not even one thousand elephants have the strength to stop this anger. But words themselves are mere sound waves being transmitted from the other person’s mouth to our ears. Why should we be bothered so much?

It is the same with a person. If we love someone whom others deem unworthy, we will only think they are jealous or have an ulterior motive.

There is no commonly recognized standard to judge what is good or bad. Everyone is entitled to his or her own view− a good person is when I say he or she is good, and vice versa; something is pretty when I think it is pretty, ugly when I think it is ugly. One’s mind creates one’s own view on beauty and values.

The way people think is like the tip of grass which swings to the right when the wind blows right, to the left when the wind blows left. Each one will do whatever appeals to him or her the most, be it gathering wealth or practicing altruism.

Since time immemorial, the world created by our mind has been changing constantly, but we have yet been able to go beyond it. Besides the unruly mind, nothing else from the physical side such as brain, internal organs, blood circulation, breath, and so on is powerful enough to take us to samsara because these lack the characteristic of mind. The essence of the world cannot be changed back and forth even with all the money from the national treasury or all the weapons in the world. This is the unique power of the mind.

Mind is unfathomable, having both positive and negative capacity. It allows us to be reborn in the relatively pure world like the realm of celestial beings as well as in the impure saha world, even hell. But once realization is attained, one can easily change the world into pure phenomena, even being non-existent at all.

These concepts are too profound and too different. If one were to discuss this with certain groups of people, one would likely be seen as abnormal. If these ideas were presented to a relatively more mature group of people, some may think these ideas make some sense and consider them seriously; yet in another group, these ideas may fit exactly with what people have in mind. This is the outward display of mind’s varied levels of maturity.

Because the power of the mind surpasses all other powers in the world, we must make it do the right thing. If it continues to make one mistake after another, we will have no hope in the future. As it is said in Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of  Life, “What else is there to do besides taming the mind?”

Saraha, one of the greatest among the eighty maha-siddhas of India, was also the vajra master of Nagarjuna. He once sang, “Samsara arises from the mind, so does nirvana; mind is like the wish-fulfilling jewel, pay homage to this jeweled mind.” There is nothing in the world that exceeds the mind. Before we set out to practice meditation, mind is easily led astray by the material things outside; it is weak for lack of the right view and awareness. Its tremendous internal power is not released.

Buddhism also places importance on charity works because they can relieve the difficult conditions in life for some people, but they provide no solution to the fundamental questions of birth, old age, sickness, and death. Compared to doing charity, it is far more meaningful to let people know the truth of life and the world so that all can take the path to liberation. For this reason, Buddhist training emphasizes more on hearing, pondering, and meditating on the Dharma to beginners.

The nine vehicles of the Nyingma school are like a flight of stairs. As one takes each stair up, there will be new discoveries and gains. At the level of mahayoga, external mandala and offerings are still important; the next level of anuyoga emphasizes not the external mandala, only the internal mandala; then atiyoga focuses just on the mind, as mind is already the mandala of the buddha while the body is merely a projection of mind and an illusion. The most critical is still the mind.

Any Buddhist study, practice or activity is meaningful and especially virtuous so long as it can transform the mind; if it is not related to transforming the mind, it is not as important, even though it is a good deed. Because that which rules the world is mind, when mind is not pure, the world is not pure. The reason one’s practice has not seen any qualitative change is not because of insufficient recitations of sutras or the quantities of lives being released. It is because the mind has not been trained adequately.

The path to enlightenment − different means, same destination

From Theravada to Mahayana and from exoteric to esoteric Buddhism, the Buddha delivered sentient beings in a way that was never dogmatic but varied according to each one’s capacity and suitable conditions.

When the Buddha observed some people were receptive only to the view that the world is made of matter, he would not reject this view immediately; instead, he would offer some methods of observation so that gradually people would realize external physical phenomena do not really exist.

To another type of people who were more receptive to the idea that all phenomena are mind, not matter, the Buddha did not emphasize whether the world outside is matter but expounded on Yogacara theory which then served as the basis for them to practice emptiness and enter the state of emptiness.

Considering people’s varied capacity, the Buddha also taught three different ways to attain realization: first, Madhyamaka reasoning to establish the nature of mind is emptiness; second, the tantric practice of channels and winds; third, Dzogchen and Mahamudra practices in Tibetan Buddhism and Ch’an practice in Chinese Buddhism. The same goal can be reached by different means.

One of the tantric practices is the following: for a start, practitioner should not examine anything outside, just ponder the point that mind−the creator, perceiver, and the destroyer of all phenomena−rules the world. The external environment and the internal emotions are created by the mind; all are illusions of the mind. Then what in fact is this thing that creates all phenomena? What is the essence of mind, the ruler of the world? At this point, there is no need to follow or observe the externalities; just examine the nature of mind and abide in that state. Here, the methods are aplenty, such as the Dzogchen practice relying on the teacher’s pith instructions, or practices based on the reasoning in Madhyamaka.

It is stated many times in the teachings of Longchen Nyingtik. such as Longchenpa’s The Seven Treasuries. that the external world is not mind, not mental phenomena.

Jigme Linpa mentioned in the Dzogchen practices, “Now I know why external phenomena are not recognized as mind in Longchen Nyingtik.” Like Prāsaṅgika Madhyamaka, it offers no definite view on whether external phenomena are mental or material. Rather, it just follows the conclusion derived from the senses. Our eyes, ears, nose, etc. perceive things, but it is up to the sixth consciousness to decide later if they are matter or not. What are perceived at the very moment of seeing or hearing are just superficial phenomena. Based on recognizing these as mere phenomena, Prāsaṅgika Madhyamaka proceeds to refute all attachment. Likewise, it is also the view of Longchen Nyingtik that the external world is an illusion, neither mind nor matter. Once it is determined the world is illusory, there is no need to conduct the many examinations and debates in exoteric Buddhism regarding this question.

When practicing Dzogchen, the teacher will first tell the disciples the world is created by the mind, then ask the disciples to contemplate the question: Is matter or mind the most important in the world? And report back to the teacher afterwards.

Dzogchen practitioners of the Pith Instruction class do not classify the essence of the world into twelve sense bases (ayatanas), eighteen elements (dhatus), matter, mind, etc. Instead, all perceived objects are subsumed into an illusion created by the mind. This way, when the empty nature of mind is realized, the nature of all phenomena is also realized. No further investigation is necessary. This is their pith instruction.

Because the nature of mind is inconceivable and inexplicable, realization of mind’s nature needs no logical reasoning, only the practice of Guru Yoga. At the end of the practice, when the lama merges into our mind which then becomes one with the lama’s wisdom, abide in this state. If there is strong faith in the lama and the Three Jewels, and the preliminary practices are well completed, it is possible to attain realization of emptiness in the abiding state.

Relative to the pointing-out instruction of Dzogchen, the preliminary practices such as the preciousness of human birth or impermanence are not considered the ultimate view. If it is already determined the world is essentially illusory, there is no need to examine impermanence of the natural world, albeit impermanence of the natural world and the sentient world is to be contemplated in the preliminary practice. Practitioners with superior capacity can just rely on the teacher’s pith instructions to practice without having to take a detour to ponder on impermanence. However nowadays, almost no one can enter the state of Dzogchen directly, so some detour is unavoidable.

It is no longer necessary to observe the external world if the viewpoint mentioned above is firmly established. But to most people with strong attachment to the solid existence of this world, observation is still a must. We have strong attachment to the realness of the world outside because we think the world is material. Buddhadharma, on the other hand, offers ways to counter such attachment by way of analyzing all there is in the external world and ultimately establishing the truth that all is emptiness.

Meditation is premised on hearing and pondering the Dharma. After a certain time, meditation should be practiced concurrently with hearing and pondering the Dharma teachings. Then gradually increase the effort spent on meditation and eventually exceed that of hearing and pondering. This is necessary because Buddhadharma is too vast and profound, we cannot possibly learn everything within this lifetime. Absent meditation, all the theories and viewpoints we have learned will not be enough to help us at the most crucial moment.

In terms of eliminating defilement, there is no difference between those who know theoretically all external objects are illusions of the mind and those who know nothing about; they all still have greed, anger, and delusion which cannot be removed simply by immersing oneself in hearing and pondering the Dharma theories. The world still looks very real when actual practice is missing. From the point of view of planting virtuous root, it is still a great merit to just hear the teaching of emptiness, even with a bit of reasonable doubt, and be able to end samsara in the future. However, from the standpoint of eradicating defilement, the effect is minimal.

The result of practice

Realization of emptiness is like the pinnacle of a pyramid; outer and inner preliminary practices are at the bottom of the pyramid; Yogacara and Madhyamaka the lower middle part; tantric practices like Guhyagarbha Tantra the upper middle part; Dzogchen the top part of the pyramid.

Before examination, we think mind is a carrier; after examination, mind as a carrier of the world cannot be found anywhere. It is like when a bowl is broken, the food in the bowl is also gone. When realization of the true nature of mind (Dzogchen) is attained, one may exclaim, even with laughter or tears, “So this is how the world really is!” Attaining realization is thus.

The state of realization cannot really be described. This is all we can say before attaining realization. Having attained realization, every word in this text can engender strong feelings and resonate with one’s own experience; its many-fold meanings will then be known. Because the state of realization is indescribable, for us who have not gained realization, we can only try to experience that state literally from the words.

It is often stated in the Theravada texts that it makes no difference to an arhat whether to bathe his right side with sandalwood infused water or to cut his left side with a sharp knife – he neither covets the sandalwood water nor abhors the knife because afflictions of desire and anger have been completely eradicated from his mind. If an arhat can achieve such a state, all the more so with buddhas and bodhisattvas.

A bodhisattva does not treat someone who beats him or abuses him with vile words as an enemy, nor treat someone who gives complements or shows extreme deference to him as a close friend. The external objects are different, but there is no difference in reaction because the mind stays still.

To an enlightened person, the past, such as the 4.5 billion years of the history of Earth, is like history in a dream because there is no actual place of Earth’s coming and going. As all phenomena arise according to cause and condition, when the right cause and condition come together, the universe, the Milky Way, the solar system, and Earth will all manifest in the sky. However, these are all just illusions – there is no real past, no real future either.

Sentient beings, not knowing the essential nature of the world, let alone the luminous nature of mind, are thus very much attached to this world. Under the sway of ignorance, not even our luminous mind can free us from samsara. We ordinary people will still wander in the cycle of existence and remain in a bad dream of samsara.

People often ask if all is emptiness, neither sentient beings nor buddhas exist, for whom should bodhicitta be aroused, loving-kindness and compassion be generated?

Nagarjuna once said great compassion will naturally arise and grow, not weaken, after attaining realization of emptiness. Because sentient beings don’t know the nature of all phenomena is emptiness, they commit tremendous karma to seek “real happiness” and escape from “real suffering” in this self-made real world, which in turn leads to endless cyclic existence and great suffering.

After buddhas and bodhisattvas attain realization of emptiness, they discover sentient beings, suffering, and samsara do not actually exist. Nevertheless, sentient beings believe samsara is very real, so buddhas and bodhisattvas engender an uncontrollable compassion toward the illusion-like sentient beings and keep considering the best way to deliver them from samsara.

The way of a bodhisattva is to manifest an illusory body in an illusory world to free illusory sentient beings from suffering. Nirvana in Mahayana Buddhism is one that does not fall into the two extremes. One extreme is getting stuck in samsara like sentient beings who involuntarily remain in cyclic existence due to their defilement and ignorance; the other extreme is only seeking nirvana like arhats of the Lesser Vehicle who have transcended samsara but are unwilling to return to samsara to help free sentient beings. Bodhisattvas can avoid these two extremes with their renunciation and bodhicitta.

Mahayana Buddhism also recommends acts of charity which can alleviate suffering and bring joy and happiness to sentient beings temporarily. But the most crucial is to explicate the ideas of no-self, emptiness, and the Four Noble Truths to sentient beings so that they understand the world is not real – it is their own creation. Only this realization can help sentient beings eliminate suffering completely and wake up from the long dream of samsara.

Attachment to self will be quashed and all questions resolved following the attainment of realization of emptiness. Foremostly, how the buddhas and bodhisattvas help sentient beings is not by supernatural power or charitable donations but by a special type of education that teaches the way to leave samsara. This is the reason why the Buddha turned the wheel of Dharma three times in some forty years.

Practice of emptiness, the most important

Ignorance commands great power. It deludes us not only in this lifetime but also in every lifetime and keeps us trapped in cyclic existence.

All that we have gone through since birth, be they joy, anger, sadness, or happiness, are like dreams from last night. Every person is a stand-alone entity, comes alone and will leave alone as well. Therefore, the one thing we must do is to strive for self-reliance, and the best way to strengthen the mind is through meditation practice.

Although money is needed for our survival, it can never serve as a mental support for us. The real master of the world is mind. As long as mind is strong, there is no difficulty that we cannot overcome. Realization of emptiness represents the ultimate strength. When the power of mind reaches its peak, buddhahood is attained, as all afflictions of greed, anger, and delusion are rendered powerless then.

Greed, anger, and delusion do not come from outside; they are mind’s ideas and attachment. If mind stops grasping, no external objects, even if they are real, can cause greed, anger, and delusion in us, and vice versa.

Just like when under poor light, one may take a rope for a snake. Our sixth consciousness perceives the rope to be a snake even though it is not. Because of our attachment to the rope as a snake, the fear of seeing a snake naturally follows; this fear is as great as seeing a real snake.

While in samsara, we work hard to avoid suffering and enjoy some happiness in life. But we don’t just try hard to manage worldly matters, we also forgo many mundane pleasures to conduct virtuous practices such as staying up late to recite mantras or to meditate, making offering to the sublime, giving to the needy, and so forth. Nonetheless, Mipham Rinpoche dampened our spirits by stating in the text that there can be no real happiness before attachment to self is abolished, no matter how many tasks one undertakes or how much effort is made. Instead, one should give up performing virtuous deeds without inner awareness as they are virtuous only on the surface, and focus all attention on hearing, pondering, and meditating on the Dharma for the sole purpose of removing attachment to self. When attachment to self is destroyed, real happiness and freedom will follow. This is the only way to attain liberation.

It is like when dreaming of a flood, the best way for flood relief in the dream is not to run around building an embankment but to find ways to wake up from the dream. The Buddha realized this and turned the wheel of the Dharma to teach that emptiness is the true nature of the world, to wake us up from the samsaric dream. Accumulating worldly merit through good deeds, just like building an embankment in the dream, cannot resolve the fundamental question, no matter how much charitable work is done.

Ignorance and wisdom are like darkness and light; they are opposite and contradictory. The world is formed as such because we used to have only ignorance. But the world looks so real to our senses. Can the practice of Dharma make it disappear? The answer is yes. No matter how big the world is, it is still within the boundary of the five senses. Once ignorance of the five senses is eliminated, the world as it stands will no longer exist or be transformed into a pure world.

Therefore, Mipham Rinpoche said there is nothing more important than the practice of emptiness. Regarding the practice, one should ponder just two points: all phenomena are creations of the mind, and the nature of mind is emptiness. Nothing else.

It is important not to take the wrong path when learning the Buddhadharma, that is, to learn and to seek the wisdom of Buddha Sakyamuni. Even if realization of emptiness arises for just a moment, it also signifies learning the Buddhadharma in the real sense. Just doing worldly good deeds to acquire worldly returns is not considered learning the Buddhadharma nor is it the core of Buddhism.

Renunciation, bodhicitta, and realization of emptiness represent the core of Buddhism. Among them, the most crucial is realization of prajnaparamita, the nature of mind.

We should not take scriptures such as The Heart Sutra, The Diamond Sutra, Prajñāpāramitā in 100,000 Verses as the transcendental wisdom itself; these are called the verbal prajnaparamita. The real essence of prajnaparamita is the nature of mind. In the exoteric texts of the second turning of the wheel of Dharma, the nature of mind is called emptiness; in the texts of the third turning of the wheel of Dharma, the nature of mind is luminosity, or luminous mind; in Buddhist tantra, emptiness of the second turning and luminosity of the third turning of the wheel of Dharma are combined into an inseparable unity called ground, as in ground, path, fruition, or ground tantra. Ground means the foundation which has existed since beginningless time; it is the foundation of all pure and impure phenomena, because all phenomena manifest from our minds. The union of luminosity and emptiness is the most sublime path in Buddhadharma. Although luminosity and emptiness can be separately expressed in speech and writing, in fact luminosity is emptiness, emptiness is luminosity; the two are inseparable. The root of all phenomena is this inconceivable state wherein our world abides, and whence vanishes as well.

From the standpoint of luminosity, the nature of mind has neither cognitive nor afflictive obscurations. All the obscurations and thoughts arise unexpectedly; they are not part of the nature of mind. The nature of mind, like empty space, is always luminous, pure, clear, inconceivable, and inexpressible. This is the best we can describe in words and conceptualize in thoughts. As ordinary people, our words and thoughts can never break the confines of the four extremes: existence, non- existence, both existence and non-existence, neither existence nor non-existence. All concepts, negative emotions, and various odd views are born from the four extremes. It is why Nagarjuna never asserted anything in all his writings on the Middle Way because the nature of mind cannot be found within the boundary of the four extremes; any one of the four extremes is a mistake, a fabrication, not reality. The four extremes will be completely overturned upon attaining genuine realization. Such destruction is not to establish a new point of view or the fifth extreme but to break all points of view.

The universe, the daily life, the horrible hell, and the pure land that everyone so yearns for all manifest from, not exist in, the inexpressible, inconceivable state of luminosity. Like images of people and sceneries in a movie that appear on the silver screen, besides the images on the screen, there is nothing else. Or like the buildings appearing in a dream, they don’t exist in the dream. Because things in dreams don’t really exist; they are just illusions. After attaining realization of the nature of mind, all external objects are manifestations in the inconceivable, inexpressible state of emptiness, having no real existence at all under close observation.

To those who have not gained any realization, all of these words may sound farfetched. One can only grasp their true meaning after realization is attained. By attaining realization, one will naturally possess the merit of enlightenment, that is, the merit of a buddha. From the standpoint of the shentong (other- emptiness) tradition of Madhyamaka, the merit of dharmakaya, the truth body of the buddha, is already in the nature of our mind and is indestructible; there is no need to look for it. We do not see it only because we are blinded by defilement. With realization of emptiness to eliminate all defilement, the merit of dharmakaya inherently existing in our basic nature will then manifest. This is the attainment of buddhahood.