We often find heartfelt requests for the help of all the Buddhas and the lineage teachers at the beginning of traditional meditation texts. Asking for these blessings gives our spiritual activity the best support. We pray for our good habits and actions to increase and for our training to be effective. We have made the decision to set off in a new direction. We will be successful if enlightening our mind and releasing all beings from suffering is the inspiration for everything we do in our practice,

First, Train in the Preliminaries

If our foundations are not right, whatever we build will not be right and our dharma training will not go very deep. These preliminary points give us a secure and correct basis for beginning our work. The delusions and errors that we have fallen into are so obstinate and elusive that we hardly ever notice or stop and think to question them. This is why establishing a correct attitude is so important.

We begin with the four thoughts or contemplations. They are not sermons; they are a way to revise and clarify our thinking about the world. They make us aware of our true situation and give us a sense of urgency about going forward on our spiritual path. Understanding the four preliminary thoughts is the first step in refining and directing our compassion. They are the ground of liberation.

Precious Human Birth

This is traditionally always the first principle we think about. No matter what our hardship or handicaps, it is important to appreciate the life we have been given. Even if we have nothing, no home or wealth or education, we are human and that in itself is a very great blessing. The Buddha said that it is more difficult for a being to obtain human birth that it would be for a turtle coming up from the depth of the ocean to put its head by chance through the opening of a wooden yoke tossed around by huge waves on the surface.

Imagine the whole cosmos of a billion universes as a vast ocean. Floating upon it is yoke, a piece of wood with a hole in it that can be fixed around the horns of draught oxen. This yoke, tossed here and there by the waves, sometime eastward, sometime westward, never stays in the same place even for an instant. Deep down in the depths of the ocean lives a blind turtle who rises up to the surface only once every hundred years. That the yoke and the turtle might meet is extremely unlikely. The yoke itself is inanimate; the turtle is not intentionally seeking it out. The turtle, being blind, has no eyes with which to spot the yoke. If the yoke were to stay in one place, there might be a chance of their meeting; but it is continually on the move. If the turtle were to spend its entire time swimming round the surface, it might, perhaps, cross paths with the yoke; but it surfaces only once every hundred years. The chances of the yoke and the turtle coming together are therefore extremely small. Nerveless, by sheer chance the turtle might still just slip its neck into the yoke. But it is even more difficult than that, the sutras say, to obtain a human existence with the eight freedom and ten advantages.

A human birth is not more valuable than any other life form but it has greater possibility and responsibilities. Human beings can destroy the world, animals and tree cannot. Our actions can be very positive or very negative. We are in a position to help thousands of beings or to harm them, and this is why we need to understand the significance of this birth and use it mindfully.

It does not take any special talent to manage ordinary survival; even a worm can do that. Our human consciousness gives us exceptional potential. We are aware of our own thoughts. We can examine and reflect on the shortcomings of life. We have freedom of choice and can make our own decisions. We understand the difference between good and bad. Finally, our physical existence is not so harsh or precarious that it prevents us from following a spiritual path. Only human beings can fully recognize the misery of birth, old age, sickness and death. This realization was the first step in the Buddha's liberation. We can develop the same enlightened strength and use the advantage of this birth by training our mind. Just being alive is a great thing. It is such a pity when we break down or become self-destructive and forget all our advantages.

Impermanence

According to Buddhist thinking, something can only be permanent if it exists independently of everything else, is not caused by any condition, and does not change. It is actually impossible to find anything like this. Everything that exists is interdependent, conditional, and subject to change. We can see this for ourselves. It is obvious, nothing around us remain the same. We know things are impermanent but we do not always accept it.

Our lives are fragile. The physical and mental capacities we have taken for granted are gradually wearing down. Our body can be damaged or destroyed in a second. We will all die. That is certain, but we do not know when our death will take place. The suspense about our time of death allows us to feel eternal and gives us a false security about time. We behave as through our life will last forever. A sense of having endless time makes the mind passive and lethargic. It also causes insecurity and impatience in our daily lives. Life would be unbearable if everything stayed the same because human beings find situations that are fixed and predicable very hard to tolerate. Even in small matters, we become uneasy if we feel there is no end in sight. I know of couples who live harmoniously together for ten years than marry and are divorced within a year. As soon as they feel bound to each other for the rest of their lives, they begin to fight.

Impermanence removes our reason for quarelling with each other. Arguments only break out if we imagine that our relationships are endless. When we appreciate that our time with our families, parents, and friends may be shorter than we think, we get on better with each other. Awareness of impermanence gives us extraordinary inner strength and resilience. Bearing impermanence in mind pacifies our anxiety and fear. The factors causing our troubles are temporary and only here for a short time. Even in the lowest state of despair, there is the solace of knowing that things will sooner or later get better. We will also take greater pleasure in things and enjoy ourselves more if we realize that our joy will soon fade. This thought is not about passively allowing events to control us or surrendering to circumstance. On the contrary, a sense of how transitory our lives are works against wishful thinking and lethargy. Nothing can be held back.

The basis of our lives is change, so there is no time to lose. We should make good use of every moment. So many complications come from holding on to the past. It is already gone, let it go. What will happen next? We do not know. By contemplating the impermanence of everything in existence, we discover a basic truth about the nature of mind.

There is story about a wise man from Kashmir who gave two instructions to his son when he died. The first piece of advice was his son should marry a new wife every day; the second was that he must never walk to or from his shop under the sun. The boy was obedient, he respected his father and promised to follow the directions faithfully, but he could not decide how to take this advice. He searched everywhere for a woman who would marry him for one day until at last he found a beautiful girl who agreed to the condition and they spent the night of their wedding together. The following morning, he thanked her and told her she must leave. She protested, Don't be so foolish. He insisted that he had to keep his promise to his father and find a new wife. She explained that he had not understood his father's words. Your father would not be so unwise. He did not expect you to find a different wife each day! He meant for you to love your wife anew every day, as if you had only just married her. After considering this carefully he saw that she was right, so he asked her what his father meant by telling him never to walk to or from his shop in daylight. She said, It is clear: you should go to your shop before sunrise and come back after sunset. Do not waste any time, use every minute. He meant for you to be hardworking. He followed his father's advice and had a very nice life.

Deficits of Samsara

Samsara is not a place or a situation but a painful state of mind, dominated by confusion and ignorance. This ignorance is subtle; it is not so much lack information as lack of clarity. We do not know who we are or what we are doing. We wander in samsara and return again; cyclic existence is samsara. Our true nature is absolutely pure and luminous. We lose sight of this purity when conflicting concepts from our senses and the ego cloud our mind. Our awareness is dulled by the repeating cycle of pleasure followed by pain, expectation followed by dismay, and desire followed by loss. The illusions and conflicts of samsara do not really exist. They are myths, constructed by the mind.

We will soon fall under the power of impermanence and death. If after that we just disappeared like a fire burning out or water evaporating, everything would be over. But after death we do not varnish into nothing. We are forced to take a new birth - which means that we will still be in samsara, and nowhere else. The term samsara, the wheel or round of existence, is used in Words of My Perfect Teacher to mean going round from one place to another in a circle, like a potter's wheel, or the wheel of a water mill. When a fly is trapped in a closed jar, no matter where it flies it can't get out. Likewise, whether we are born in the higher or lower realms, we are never outside samsara. It is said that samsara is a circle because we turn round and round, taking rebirth in one after another of the six realms as a result of our own action which, whether positive or negative, are tainted by clinging.

The mind creates samsara because it is the mind which interprets what the body experience in an incomplete and deceptive way. Our eyes are engineered to picture something visually. We respond to the object with our sense of sight but when we close our eyes, we can only see what we mentally recall, not the original vision. We are never able to reproduce exactly what our senses received because the mind records the information in our imagination, under the influence of former association and memories. These subjective mental patterns shape our whole perception of reality.

Each of us has a characteristic blueprint for the external world and the impressions which do not fit into this model are simply ignored or overlooked. When we are introduced to new ideas, we try to adopt them or cut mental expectation, they will be discarded. I encountered this in a very vivid way when I was in Bhutan. I was told about something called airplane and that can eat food inside and never spilled it inside. I have never heard of one before. Before 1976, there was no such thing in Bhutan. We have no airplane and train there. People told me the airplane was made of light metal and could fly very high with a loud noise. You could ride in it with more than hundred people, sleep in it and eat food. I tried to imagine this. I pictured a paper bird flying over and over on the empty space but I couldn't imagine drinking a cup of tea, eating food without spilling it because the image my mind produced gave me only a very partial understanding of the airplane. With his practice, we can confront the delusion of cyclic existence and free ourselves from them. Being human means we are likely to be happy but it is possible to look for a way out: to renounce the suffering of samsara, to transcend it.

Karma: Action; Cause and Effect

Karma means action, and refers to actions that we do with our body, speech and mind. These actions leave imprints or seeds upon our mental continuum which ripen into our experiences when the appropriate conditions come together. The seeds of our actions continue with us from one lifetime to the next and do not get lost. However, if we do not create the cause or karma for something then we will not experience that result: if a farmer does not plant seeds, nothing will grow. If an action brings about pain and misery, it is called negative, destructive or non-virtuous. If it brings about happiness, it is called positive, constructive, or virtuous. Actions are not inherently good or bad, but are only designated so according to the result they bring.

The function of cause and effect on our mental continuum is scientific. All result comes from cause that has ability to create them. If you plant apples seeds, an apple tree will grow, not a chili. If chili seeds are planted, chili will grow, not apples. In the same way if w do positive actions, happiness will ensure: if negative actions are done, problems will result. Whatever happiness and good fortune we experiences in our lives comes from our own positive actions. All of our problems come from our own destructive actions.

Just as each seed has a flower, every action has a consequence. This is the law of karma. Our karma is everything we are from our past lives; through this lifetime from birth until now, today and yesterday. Our karma can be plus or minus. We do negative things when emotions like anger, pride, jealous, and greed take over and this leads to negative results. The effect of our positive or negative actions may not be immediately evident and identifiable, but they do not fade away. We will experience each one of them when the right condition comes together. When a bird takes off and flies high into sky, its shadow seems to disappear. But that does not mean that the shadow no longer exists. Whenever the bird finally lands, there is its shadow again, just as dark and distinct as before. In the same way, even though our past good and bad actions may be invisible for the moment they cannot fail to come back to us in the end. Indeed, how could this not be so for ordinary being like us, when even Buddha and Arhats, who have rid themselves of all karmic and emotional obscurations still, have to accept the effect of past actions?

Memories of the virtuous things we may have done before or our plans to do better in the future are not going to make any difference now. The impact of our immediate thoughts is what truly matters. This moment is the outcome of our previous action and if our situation is unfavorable, it is the effect if our past negative activity. The future is created by what we do now. This makes liberation possible.

By recognizing and regretting negative conduct, our karma can be changed. The best way of improving our actions and their outcome is to purify the way we think. When our mental attitude is more wholesome, our physical and verbal behavior will be better. It is always possible to turn bad mental habits into good habits but we have to be skillful to remedy our karma. We can't push too hard. The mind is very sensitive and subtle and too much pressure will not work.

People sometimes have the impression that Buddhist philosophy is dull and serious but it is actually an extremely optimistic way of life. If we follow the preliminary thoughts, we are in no doubt that our human existence is valuable. We know that nothing in the world is permanent or lasting and we recognize suffering as an inevitable result of our own negative actions. These are all insights which lead to peace of mind.

What to Practice in Daily Life

The teaching of the Buddha is vast. Just the word of the Buddha's alone is fills over hundred volumes. Then the commentaries and treaties by the great Indian scholars fill another two hundred and more and this not even counting all the works of the great Tibetan and Bhutanese masters. Yet, at the same time, the teaching of the Buddha can be essentialized in a very profound way. I remember my master His Holiness Kunzang Dechen Lingpa and other great masters like Khechen Pema Tsehwang Rinpoche used to say, The teaching of Buddha is both vast and profound. The vast is the approach of the learned pandit and the profound is the approach of the yogi. When Buddha himself was asked to summarize his teaching he said:

Commit not a single unwholesome action, cultivate a wealth of virtue, tame this mind of ours, this is the teaching of all Buddhas.

To say, Commit not a single unwholesome action, means to abandon unwholesome, harmful and negative actions, which are the cause of suffering for both us and others. To cultivate a wealth of virtues, is to adopt the positive, beneficial and wholesome actions that are the cause of happiness, again for both us.

As well, His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche has summarized all the essential teachings of Buddha in the same way, as spoken to one of his students in Bhutan. The sacred dharma, as we have been saying, is extremely vast and profound, containing innumerable instructions. It is said that to suit the different mental capacities of individuals, the Buddha set forth no less than eighty four thousand doctrines. When we practice, our task is to condense all these teachings into a single, essential point. But how are we to do this? In fact, although the Buddha gave innumerable teachings, the crucial message of all them is contained in one verse:

Abandon every evil deed. Practice virtue well. Perfectly subdue your mind: This is Buddha's teaching.

The Buddha did indeed say that we should not do evil but practice virtue. Well, then, what is an evil action? An act of body, speech, or mind is evil when it brings harm to others. And as the Buddha said, we must refrain from doing anything that injures others. Conversely, actions are positive or virtuous when they bring benefit to others.

The root of all virtue is the mind, when it makes positive use of body and speech, its servants. The doer of all evil is also the mind, when it uses body and speech negatively. The root and cause of good and evil is in the mind itself. Nevertheless, in a sense, this mind of ours is something unknown to us. It follows anything and everything like a lunatic running here and there at the slightest impulse. This is how it accumulate karma.

The mind is the root of every defilement. It is here that anger is born; and from anger, every kind of hurt and injury to others: fighting, beating and the rest. The mind is the soil in which all this grows: all malevolence, envy, desire, stupidity, arrogance, and so forth. This is why the Buddha told us to get a grip on our minds. Having realized that mind is the root of all afflictions, we must be vigilant in keeping in under control, holding down our defilements as much as we can. We have to be completely focused on this, gaining mastery of whatever arises.

I found these words in His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche's treasure;

The mind is like the powerful King that controls our whole body and speech as servants to work.

It has its own power whether it can be intended to have faith, to doubt and to motivate. As a result, whatever works we process, it is very important to investigate our mind not to intend into negative way but to positive means. The mind is something that can be possible to place wherever we focus or desire. For example, a crystal stone can be place on the top of any objects. When the crystal stone is placed on the particular object, the crystal stone become change its colour in different way depending on the objects colour. Similarly, our mind has the capability to place its energy wherever we wanted to intend for good or bad action.

Essence of the Great Perfection

In the Kun-Jeyed Gyalpo, a tantra of Dzogchen, it is said that:

The Mind is that which creates both Samsara and Nirvana, so one needs to know this King which creates everything!

We say we transmigrate in the impure and illusory vision of samsara, but in reality, it is just our mind that is transmigrating. And then again, as far as pure enlightenment is concerned, it's only our mind, purified that realizes it. Our mind in the basis of everything and from our mind everything arises, samsara and nirvana, ordinary sentient beings and Enlightened Ones.

Consider the way beings transmigrate in the impure vision of samsara: even through the essence of the mind, the true nature of our mind is totally pure. Mind is temporarily obscured by the impurity of ignorance; there is no self-recognition of our own state. Through this lack of self-recognition arise illusory thoughts and actions created by the passions. Thus various negative karmic causes are accumulated and since their maturation as effects is inevitable, one suffers bitterly, transmigrating in six states if existence. Thus not recognizing one's own state is the cause of transmigrating, and through this cause one becomes the slave of illusions and becomes strongly habituated to illusory action.

And then it's the same as far as pure enlightenment is concerned. Beyond your own mind there is no dazzling light to come shining in from outside to wake you up. If one recognizes one's own intrinsic state as pure from the beginning and only temporarily obscured by impurities, and if one maintains the present of this recognition without becoming distracted, then all the impurities dissolve. This is the essence of the path.

Then the inherent quality of the great original purity of the primordial state manifests, and one recognizes it and becomes the master of it as a lived experience. This experience of the great knowledge of the authentic original condition or the true awareness of the state is what is called nirvana. So, enlightenment is nothing other than one's mind in its purified condition.

For this reason Padma Sambhava said:

The mind is the creator of Samsara and of Nirvana. Outside the mind there exists neither samsara nor nirvana.

Having thus established that the basis of samsara and nirvana is the mind, it follows that all that seems concrete in the world, and all the seeming solidity of beings themselves is nothing but an illusory vision of one's own mind. Just as a person who has jaundice sees a shell as being yellow even though that is not it's true color, so in just the same way, as a result of the particular karmic causes of sentient beings, illusory visions manifest.

Thus, if one were to meet a being of each of the six states of existences on the bank of the river, they would not see that river in the same way, since they each would have different karmic causes. The beings of the hot hells would see the river as fire; those of the cold hells would see it as ice; beings of the hungry ghost realm would see the river as blood and pus; aquatic animals would see river as an environment to live in; human beings would see the river as water to drink and the gods see it as nectar.

This shows that in reality nothing exists as concrete and objective. Therefore, understanding that the root of samsara is truly in the mind, one should set out to pull out the root. Recognizing that the mind itself is the essence of enlightenment one attains liberation.

Thus, being aware that the basis of samsara and nirvana is only the mind, one takes the decision and determination, it is necessary to maintain a continuous present awareness without becoming distracted.

If, for example, one wants to stop a river from flowing, one mind must block it at its source, in such a way that its flow is definitively interrupted; whatever other point you may choose to block it at, you will not obtain the same result. Similarly, if we want to cut the root of samsara, we must cut the root in the mind that has created it; otherwise there would be no way of becoming free of samsara. If we want all suffering and hindrances arising from our negative actions to dissolve, we must cut the root in the mind which produced them.

If we don't do this, even if we carry out virtuous actions with our body and voice, there will be no result beyond momentary fleeting benefits. Beside, never having cut the root of negative actions, they can once again be newly accumulated in just the same way that if one only lops off a few leaves and branches from a tree instated of cutting its main root, far from the tree shriveling up, it will without doubt grow once gain.

If the mind, the king which creates everything is not left in its natural condition, even if one practices the tantric method of the development and completion stages, and recites many mantras, one is not on the path to total liberation. If one wants to conquer a country, one must subjugate the king or the lord of the country; just to subjugate a part of the population or some functionary won't bring about the fulfillment of one's aim.

If one does not maintain continuous presence and becomes dominated by distraction, one will never liberate oneself from endless samsara. On the other hand, if one doesn't allow oneself to be dominated by neglectfullness and illusions, but has self-control, knowing how to continue in the true states with present awareness, then one unites in oneself the essence of all the teachings, the root of all the paths.

Because all the various factors of dualistic vision such as samsara and nirvana and suffering good and bad, etc, arise from the mind, we can conclude that the mind is their fundamental basis. This is why non- distraction is the root of the path and the fundamental principle of the practice.

It was by following this supreme path of continuous presence that all the Buddhas of the past became enlightened. By following this same path the Buddhas of the future will become enlightened. In the present the Buddhas following this right path are enlightened. Without following this path, it is not possible to attain enlightenment.

Therefore, because the continuation in the state of presence is essence of all the paths, the root of all meditation , the conclusion of all spiritual practice, the juice of all esoteric methods, the heart of all ultimate teachings, it is necessary to seek to maintain continuous presence without becoming distracted.

What this means is: don't follow the past , don't anticipate the future and don't follow illusory thoughts that arise in the present. Turning within oneself, observe one own true condition and maintain the awareness of it just as it is, beyond conceptual limitations of the three times.

One must remain in the uncorrected condition of one's own natural state, free from the impurity of judging between being and non-being, having and not-having, good and bad and so on.

The original condition of great perfection is truly beyond the limited conceptions of the three times. But those who do not yet have this awareness find it difficult to experience the recognition of their own state. It is very important not to allow oneself to be distracted. But if one tries to eliminate all thoughts, becoming fixated on the search for a state of calm or sensation of pleasure, this is an error. The very fixation is itself, nothing but another thought.

One should relax the mind, maintaining only the awakened presence of one's own state, without allowing oneself to be dominated by any through whatsoever. When one is truly relaxed, the mind finds itself in its natural condition.

If out of this natural condition thoughts arise, whether good or bad, rather than trying to judge whether one is in the calm state or in the wave of thoughts, one should just acknowledge all thoughts with the awakened presence of the state itself.

When thoughts are given just this bare attention of simple acknowledgment, they relax into their own true relaxedness. Last, one should not forget to keep the mind present. If one becomes distracted and does not simply acknowledge the thoughts, then one's awareness is not truly present.

If one finds that thoughts arise about finding oneself in a state of calm without abandoning simple presence of mind, one should continue by observing the state of movement of the thought itself.

In the same way, if no thoughts arise, one should continue with presence of the simple acknowledgment that just gives bare attention to the state of calm. This means maintaining the presence of this natural state, without attempting to fix it within any conceptual framework or hopping for it to magnifies in any particular form colour, or light, but just relaxing into it in a condition understanding by the characteristic of the ramifications of thought.

Even if those who being to practice this find it difficult to continue in this state for more than an instant, there is no need to worry about it, without wishing for the state to continue for a long time and without fearing the lack of it altogether, all that is necessary is to maintain pure presence of mind, without falling into the dualistic situation of there being an observing subject perceiving an observed object.

If the mind, even though one maintains simple presence, does not return in this calm state, but always tends to follow waves of thoughts about the past or future, or becomes distracted by the aggregates of the sense such as sight, hearing etc, then one should try to understand that the wave of thoughts itself is an insubstantial as the wind. If one tries to catch the wind, one does not succeeded, similarly if one tries to block the wave of thought, it cannot be cut off. So for this reason one should not try to block thought, much less try to renounce it as something considered negative.

In reality, the calm state is the essential condition of mind, while the wave of thought is the mind's natural clarity in function, just as there is no distinction whatever between the sun and its rays or a stream and its ripples, so there is no distinction between the mind and the thought. If one considered the calm state as something positive to be attain and the wave of thought as something remain thus negative to be abandoned, and one remain thus caught up in the duality of accepting and rejecting there is no way of overcoming the ordinary state of mind.

Therefore, the essential principal is to acknowledge with bare attention, without letting oneself become distract, whatever thought arise, be it good or bad, important or less important, and to continue to maintain presence in the state of the moving wave of thought itself.

When a thought arises and one doesn't succeed in remain calm with this presence, since other such thoughts may follow, it is necessary to be skillful in acknowledge it with non-distraction. Acknowledge does not mean seeing it with one eyes or forming a concept about it. Rather, it means giving bare attention, without distraction to whatever perceptions of the senses may arise, and thus being fully conscious of the wave while continuing in the presence of the pure awareness. It absolutely does not mean modifying the mind in some way, such as by trying to imprison thought or to block its flow.

It is difficult for this acknowledgment with bare attention, without distraction, to last for a long time for someone who is beginning this practice, as a result of strong mental habits for distraction acquired through transmigration in the course of ultimate time. If we only take into consideration this present lifetime, form the moment of our birth right up until the present we have done nothing other than live distractedly, and there has never been an opportunity to train in the presence of awareness and non-distraction. For this reason, until we become no longer capable of entering into distraction, if through lack of attention, we find ourselves becoming dominated by neglectfulness and forgetfulness; we must try by every means to become on the presence of mind.

There is no meditation that you can find beyond this continuing in one's own true condition with the presence of the calm state or with the moving wave of thought. Beyond recognition with bare attention and continuing in one's own state, there is nothing to seek that is either every good or very clear.

If one hopes that something will manifest from outside oneself, instead of continuing in the presence of one's own state, this like the saying that tells about an evil spirit coming to the Eastern gate, and the ransom to buy him off being sent to the Western gate. In such a case, even if one believes one is meditating perfectly, in reality, it's just way of tiring oneself out for nothing. So continuing in the state in which one finds within oneself is really the most important thing.

If one neglects that which one has within oneself and instead seeks something else, one becomes like the beggar who had a precious stone for a pillow, but not knowing if it for what it was, had to go to such great pains of begging for alms for a living.

Therefore, maintaining the presence of one's own state, and observing the waves of thought, without judging whether this presence is more or less, and without thinking of the calm state and the wave of thought in terms of the acceptance of the one and the rejection of the other, absolutely not conditioned by wanting to change anything whatsoever, one continues without becoming distracted and without forgetting to keep one's awareness present; governing oneself in this way one gathers the essence of the practice.