The Essence of Buddhist Practice

by His Holiness Drikung Kyabgön Chetsang Rinpoche

September 30, 1998

Ratnashri Meditation Center, Sweden  HOME  Dharma talks

Good evening my friends. I am very pleased to be here tonight to share the Dharma talk. First we are going to talk about the essence of Buddhist practice. In Mahayana Buddhism, the important essence in all traditions is bodhicitta practice. Why is bodhicitta important? It is because the past, the present and the future Buddhas come from bodhicitta for the benefit of all sentient beings. There are different kinds of practice in Buddhism and the goal is to completely free from suffering and attain Buddhahood. If we do not have bodhicitta, the seed, it is impossible. Therefore bodhicitta is the central practice and it is included in all the 84 000 categories of Buddhas' teachings. Bodhicitta can be divided into two – absolute bodhicitta and relative bodhicitta.

Absolute bodhicitta, the highest essence of our practice in Buddhism, is the realization of our Buddha nature or the nature of our mind. This is the Mahamudra practice or the practice of Dzogchen. In order to do that, it is important for us to practice relative bodhicitta. Relative bodhicitta can be divided into two – the aspiration bodhicitta and action bodhicitta. Aspiration bodhicitta, from the explanation of Nagajuna’s tradition, is the wish for all sentient beings to be free from suffering and attain Buddhahood. For example, we wish to go to Bodhgaya to pay pilgrimage. Similarly, we wish for all sentient beings to be free from suffering and attain Buddhahood. Action bodhicitta is to put into action. For example, you have to personally buy air ticket and have to go to Bodhgaya to pay pilgrimage. To accumulate merits, we practice the six paramitas – the practice of generosity, moral ethics, patience, perseverance, meditative concentration and wisdom. This is an important practice in Mahayana vehicle.

The cultivation of bodhicitta is of different capacities and attitudes. For low capacity, we can practice like a King. That is, you become a king or president then you can serve and rule the country. Likewise, you have to first attain Buddhahood, then you can help other people. For middle capacity, you can practice like a sailor. The sailor by sailing the boat brings the passengers to cross the ocean. Likewise, we help sentient beings to cross the ocean of samsara. For high capacity, we practice on totally benefiting other sentient beings, whatever you practice, whatever you do. This is like a shepherd. Shepherd protects the herds of animals and do everthing for the best of the animals, for example, bringing the best grass and choosing the best place to perform his duties during the day. Some people can pick up this kind of attitude and practice bodhicitta. Whatever we currently practice and do, may be one session of meditation, or go to do social work, we must have good attitude first, totally for them, not any benefit to yourself. You have to do it with a pure mind. This is very important.

In Ladakh, there is a medical doctor who is a very scholarly learned. But his medicine is not very beneficial to patients. His mind is not pure because he is thinking mostly about money. Another doctor, he is not a scholar, but he is very sincere and helpful to the people. His medicine is very powerful and helpful to patients. Therefore, the mind attitude is very important. Bodhicitta has great healing power. Whatever we practice, the practice of bodhicitta is very important. Whatever good deed we would like to do, we must have good attitude first. Then during our practice of Buddhism, whatever we practice during that time, we do it with concentration and lastly, we dedicate the merits for the benefit of all sentient beings to uproot their suffering and to attain Buddhahood. This kind of practice is a very important essence in Buddhist practice.

The essence of Buddhist practice is to eliminate our three poisons, mainly our ego. Why are we in the samsara? We have some strong self ego, This I is very strong, then sometimes we do not think of others. Through five senses and objects, I and my. I want this very much, so we have very strong attachment. Then someone makes some obstacles to you, because of attachment, you will be angry and hatred comes. So this attachment and hatred bring us to samsara and bring us suffering. Then how to solve this problem? We do not know. We like peace, happiness, everybody wants that. You wish that, but your way brings opposite result. The problem cannot be properly resolved and you get very angry and causes lots of suffering. This is called ignorant – do not know how to solve this problem properly. Desire, hatred and ignorance bring us suffering. To practice, mainly we have to purify and to eliminate these kinds of habits. The main important essence in our practices is to first investigation ego. 

Where is our ego? You have to find out and where your body and other things are. Not intellectually, but through your practice, try to sort out each and everyone where it is?   When we practice in this way, we find that ego does not exist. Our past lives having some tendencies. Some people have stronger tendency than others. When some causes and conditions arise, our five senses and objects are attached to that.  Actually, causes and conditions do not exist independently. They depend on many other inter-related factors.  In this way, the practice of emptiness, the realization of emptiness is helpful. When you realize and do not identify with these things and lesser you have ego and attachment. Therefore we practice emptiness.

When we talk about emptiness, it does not mean empty of house, of cups, not that. Emptiness means, for example, when we look at this cup, this cups come from some clay, some water and some other elements and put it in a model of cup, then it needs fire and burning, paint and many many causes and conditions. After all that, it comes the cup. Actually, we are giving the name, cup, but where is the actual cup, you look at each part and you cannot find the cup, the cup does not exist independently. This is the meaning of emptiness. The cup is emptiness and emptiness is also a cup. It does not mean that the cup is empty inside or outside. The cup itself is empty. Form is there and because of our delusion we see the outside form, but here we look into the nature of the form. The nature of the form does not exist in that state of emptiness. This kind of practice is important, not just intellectually. We need many different kinds of practices and through these practice, we have the realization of this thinking. This is about the causes and effects. In Sutra, it says that this realization of emptiness (cause and effect) properly depends on many years or lifetimes in the two merits. The accumulation of merits and the wisdom of merits. Until we complete these merits, there is no ground to properly understand. Therefore, it requires lots of accumulation of merits including the six paramitas.

The essence of Buddhism is explained by the Tibetan words name of Buddha. Buddha is translated as Buddha Shakaymuni, but in Tibetan, Buddha means much deeper. It explains the whole essence of practice. In Tibetan, Buddha is Sang-gye, Sang means clear and bright, something like a sky and is covered by clouds. When the clouds are cleared away then sky is clear and the sun is shining and bright. Gye means developed. When the clouds is cleared, the sun can radiate and fully develop its nature. It means that every sentient being have Buddha nature, many texts, especially the Lotus Sutra mentioned that. There are many different kinds of practice but the essence is the realization of the nature of mind itself. In Vajrayana, the fruit vechicle, work more directly with this nature of mind.

There are many different steps – first is empowerment. In Vajrayana, there is empowerment but not in Sutrayana. Of course, when one reach the tenth bhumis, all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, they have light empowerment and then at the level of complete enlightenment, they have also empowerment . But here, we talk mainly about the vase empowerment, secret empowerment, wisdom empowerment and the forth empowerment. The essence is also the realization of the nature of mind. We are always thinking that we are very ordinary people, very low and Buddha and the realization is very high and we think that the distance is too far and we cannot communicate. In order to achieve the realization, we need to do lots of purification. The meaning of empowerment, wang, in Tibetan, wang means authorize. Vase empowerment, in early India, during the ceremony, the King was put on the throne.  Then they bring in a vase with water and the hat and went through the ceremony so that he becomes a real king. Similarly, here the meaning is different but the profile is the same. Here the vase has certain enlightened deities in it that.  We visualize and also through the meditation and mantra and the wisdom nectar, then through putting it on our crown, we received the empowerment. Then after you received this, you already become not ordinary, you become an enlightened deity. As an enlightened deities, you can practice. So you are not ordinary person, you have Buddha and bodhisattva of certain stage. This is the real meaning of empowerment of Tibetan.

There are different processes of empowerment. First, vase empowerment, we are always ordinary, too low and many negatives, then we cannot communicate and achieve the realization of our mind. To achieve that, we receive the vase empowerment through the crown come to the head chakra, then you purify all the negativities of your body and you receive the vase empowerment, to plant the Buddha nirmanakaya seed. Then go further down, your secret empowerment, purify all the negativities of speech, then plant the seed of sambogakaya Buddha. Then the wisdom empowerment purify all the negativities of the mind and plant the seed of dharmakaya body of Buddha. The forth empowerment, the word empowerment is the actual introduction to the nature of mind. Through these, our body, speech and mind is purified and is inseparable of the negative karma and then achieve the nature of mind. All these steps go deeper, deeper and deeper, higher and higher and achieve the realization of our mind, Buddha nature. Therefore, empowerment is within the essence of wisdom practice.

After empowerment, we practice certain enlightened deity in the generation stage and completion stage. In generation stage, we have to visualize certain enlightened deity. In the beginning of every sadhanna contains OM SVABHAVA SHUDDHA SARVA DHARMA SVABHAVA SHUDDHO HAM. This is to visualize emptiness. This is to transform the ordinary body into an enlightened being form. The nature of your mind is transformed into that of the enlightened deities. This is the practice. You already have some steps for purification. You have the authorization to practice this. You are now an enlightened being practicing this. This practice also contains purification practice. First, step by step visualize yourself as a deity. This is called samaya body. We always think that we are ordinary body even we have gone through many steps but still we think that we are ordinary. Samaya body is still not a complete wisdom body. In order for you to become a wisdom body, we have to from the body, speech and mind send lights to the pureland bringing another wisdom body. For those who already have certain realization of this nature of mind, you do not need to invite another wisdom body because you are already in the wisdom stage. For others who do not have such realization, we have to do that. You have to invite the wisdom body for purification. In the inseparable stage, then you can become the wisdom body. Still may be because of our the habitual tendency is very strong, we still have lots of negativities, then we have to bring in another empowerment deity. The steps are similar to that of taking the empowerment. Every sadhana have that. There are different practices -- purification, do visualization, offering. This is the outer essence we have to practice. We think that we are ordinary and at that time, you have very strong self with you and whatever you see, touch is ordinary feeling there is ego and attachment, hatred always there. When we practice as an enlightened deity, in that form, you are now not ordinary, but in the meditation state of, for example, avalokistisvara, with this wisdom, during that practice, your ordinary mind being selfish not existing, it is already transformed into the enlightened. This is the way to transform or eliminate our ego. This is an essential practice. This sadhanna if you really understand this, you will see that as clear light, seeing forms and body but the nature is still emptiness. The most important thing is to get used to this. When the wisdom body of the enlightened deities practice stronger and stronger, then the negative thinking is less and less. This is the way to transform and reach the wisdom path and reach the enlightenment. Without practicing this, just intellectually knowing, some few empowerments, instant enlightenment is not really possible. Therefore, you have to go through all these steps. You have to eliminate the inner obstacles and practice this. This is the essence of Buddhist practice.

There is the completion practice. This is part of the accumulation of merit. This is particularly the wisdom part of practice. If you have certain experience of realization of mahamudra, you can combine the generation and completion wisdom practice. Actual wisdom and completion part of practice is to during the generation stage, dissolve outside light into all sentient beings and then light from all sentient beings dissolves into our body and our body dissolves into heart mantra and then dissolves into the syllables of the mantra and the syllable, for example, HUNG dissolves from bottom up into emptiness without seeing or visualizing anything. Then within this emptiness we sit and meditate. This is the start of the completion practice. Completion practice has different practices -- shamata (calm-abiding) practice which is mainly the concentration of our mind. The distinct feature of this concentration of mind is that the five senses remain very clear and open, not close. If it is closed, we cannot go further to the insight meditation and realization is impossible. The five senses are clear but not wandering. It is free from the outside disturbances. Then within the practice is to step by step search and find out the nature of mind, how the mind is connected, but not intellectually. It is necessary to have confident answers in each step of practice. This is the meaning of the practice. Then there are teachers who introduce to you the nature of mind. In order to have realization, you have to take steps to stabilize the practice and there are many different ways to do. The word Buddha, in Tibetan, sangye, means to purify all the negative things and at the same time develop our nature. This explains everything essentially. This processes the main path of bodhicitta. This is the main goal to achieve.

In Tibetan Buddhism, there are many deities and methods. It does not mean that we have to practice all that. There are different practices because people are different. Teachings are like different medicines curing sickness. For different disciples, Buddha gave different levels of teachings – sutrayana, Mahayana, vajrayana teachings. Depending on what people feel more comfortable and confident with, people choose the deity to concentrate on to practice. This is very important, otherwise, you loose the goal. Many Tibetan Buddhists have this problem because there are too many methods and they finally could not achieve. On the contrary, in the Indian circle, they practice one yidam and get achievement. Of course, we can practice different but it is important to have the main, essential practice. Certain knowledge is necessary. Also not just listening to the Dharma, we have to apply it and investigate to get the realization within ourselves. It is very beneficial to discuss and study together in study groups. We can ask questions and through discussion, we can clear things. When we organize such group, we have to set up specific time regularly so that people gather together during those time. Otherwise, sometimes, we feel like doing it and sometimes, we do not. May be weekly, once or twice, whatever in order to study and discuss together. Then together, we invite some teachers. Organizers can bring benefit to many other things, social work for example, through the practice of the six paramitas.


May all sentient beings gain the flavor of supreme victory and ride on omniscience; never turning back;
May all sentient beings gain the flavor of entry into the truth of the nondifference of all Buddhas,
and be able to distinguish all faculties;
May all sentient beings attain increase of the savor of the teaching
and always be able to fulfill the Buddhhas' teaching of nonobstruction.

Last updated on 2003-06-09