Three Approaches of Zen

The Three Divisions of Ch’an Buddhism by Zen Master Zongmi (Tsung-mi)
There are various schools of Ch’an mutually conflicting with each other. The doctrines preached by these established sects are contradictory and obstructive to each other.
Some of them

  • Regard Emptiness (sunyata) as the foundation
  • Some regard Wisdom (prajna) as the source.
  • Some say that only Silence is true;
  • Some that [all actions such as] walking and sitting are right.
  • Some claim that from morning to evening all actions arising from the view (drsti) of discrimination (vikalpa) are false
  • Some say all discriminate doings are real.
  • Some preserve all the myriad practices;
  • Some suppress even Buddhas.
  • Some give free course to their will;
  • Some restrain their mind.
  • Some respect the sutras and the vinayas as authorities to rely on;
  • Others regard both of them as obstacles to the Tao…

Essentially speaking, when these doctrines are viewed in a limited perspective, each of them is wrong; while looking at them from a comprehensive perspective, all of them are right
One has to use the words of Buddha, to show the meaning and the advantages of each school, and thus to classify these teachings into three divisions corresponding with the three teachings [of Buddhism]. Unless this is done, how can one become a skilful teacher of the age and make all the schools important and wonderful entrances to the law (Dharma)?
The Sect Which Taught the Cessation of Falsity and the Cultivation of Mind
Firstly, the sect which taught the stopping of falsity and the cultivation of mind.
Although it is said that all sentient beings innately possess the Buddha-nature (buddhata), yet the Nature cannot be seen as it is covered up by the beginningless ignorance (avidya), and they are, therefore, dragged within the wheel of birth and death (samsara).
When Buddhas have eliminated false thought, they see their Nature in its fullest extension; they are freed from the bondage of birth and death and acquire super-natural powers and independence.
One should be aware of the different functions of common men and saints, and this difference exists both in their treatment of external objects and in their mind within.
It is, therefore, necessary for [disciples to]

  • rely on the spoken teaching of a master,
  • to detach themselves from outward objects and
  • contemplate their mind,
  • thus to extinguish false thoughts.

When thoughts are completely extinguished, one immediately attains Enlightenment (bodhi), which is omniscient.
It is like a mirror obscured by dust; one has to cleanse it diligently; only when the dust is wiped out completely, does the mirror become bright and able to reflect all things.
One should also have a clear understanding about skillful means to enter into the realm of Dhyana: to keep oneself far away from confusion and noise, to stay in a quiet place, to harmonize one’s body and breath, and sit cross-legged in silence, putting the tongue upward against the palate and concentrating the mind on one point.
Zongmi explains that the Buddha has seen that the Six Ways of sentient beings (the six conditions of transmigration) in the Three Worlds (of Desire, of Matter and Immaterial) are all Characters of the True Nature itself. They originate from the sentient beings being deluded about the True Nature substance in itself; and do not have any substance of their own; therefore their nature is said to be Dependent (paratantra).
For those whose faculties are dull, it is impossible to be awakened (from the delusion). So the Buddha discourses on the Law according to the Characters which they see, in order to ferry them over gradually. Therefore it is called discourse on Characters. As Ultimate Truth is not expressly revealed in this teaching it is called esoteric (mi-i – having a hidden meaning)
Scholar Jan Yün-Hua mentions that, “This sect destroys the attachment to external objects by the theory of Consciousness-only. When people understand that external objects are merely projections of subjective consciousness, they will not attach themselves to phenomena. They will then devote themselves to the cultivation of consciousness. This is what he calls cessation of falsity and cultivation of Mind.
The Sect of Emptiness
Secondly, the sect which taught absolute annihilation (cessation), this is to say that everything, both profane and sacred is dreamlike illusion and entirely non-existent. Original non-existence does not begin from the present. Even the knowledge which leads one to attain to nothingness is unobtainable.
In the Dharmadhtu which is all identity (samata) there are no Buddhas nor sentient beings; the Dharmadhatu itself is merely a borrowed name.
If the mind is non-existent, who will talk about Dharnadhatu?
As the cultivation itself is non-existent, one should not cultivate; and as Buddhas are non-existent, so their worship is unnecessary.
If one claims that there is a Dharma which is better than Nirvana, I would still say that it is a dreamlike illusion.
There is no Law to follow, nor a Buddhahood for one to attain.
Whatever the effort, all is deluding and false. To avoid going against truth, the only way is thus to understand thoroughly that originally nothing exists, and that one should not attach his mind to any thing.
Only after this is one called liberated. From Shih-t’ou and Ox-head down to Ching-shan, all preached this doctrine.
They consequently asked their disciples to practice mentally in accordance with this doctrine, and not to let their feelings be hindered by any single Dharma.
In course of time the defiled habits would be eliminated by themselves, and one would be without any obstacles from hate or affection, sorrow or happiness.
Because of this doctrine, there were a kind of Taoist priests, Confucian scholars and idle Buddhist monks who had some vague knowledge of Ch’an and liked to speak such words and regard them as the highest.
These people are, however, not aware of the fact that this sect does not regard only these words as being its law.
The disciples of Ho-tse, Chiang-hsi and T’ien-t’ai are also preaching this teaching, though they did not regard it as their principal doctrine.
Zongmi clarifies this as follows:
According to the ultimate meaning of Truth, the false tenets are originally empty, so there is nothing to negate. All pure Dharmas are originally the True Nature, and have forever their wonderful functions in accordance with circumstances. Therefore, they are also not to be negated. However, there is a kind of sentient beings who are unable to awake, as their vision is obstructed by attachment to empty Characters. So the Buddha negates all Characters without distinction of good and evil or pure and impure. He considers both the True (Buddha) Nature and its wonderful functions as not non-existent; but he cannot discuss it explicity and he says they are non-existent. That is what is called esoteric teaching. It also means that the intention of the teaching is to reveal the True Nature, but its linguistic expression only negates Characters. Since the intention is not explicitly expressed, that is why it is called esoteric (secret).
(This is also the teaching of inference. Where the nature isn’t directly pointed to but can be stumbled upon. This is characterized by the Zen stories featuring Masters lifting fingers, raising eyebrows, shouting, hitting, Joshu’s MU)
The Sect of the Direct Discovery of Mind-Nature
Thirdly, the sect which taught direct revelation of the Mind-nature: this is to say that all Dharmas, whether existent or empty, are nothing but the absolute Nature (Buddha Nature).
The absolute Nature is characterless and nonactive, and its substance differs from all phenomena; it is neither profane nor sacred, neither cause nor effect, neither good nor evil.
Nevertheless, the functioning of the substance is able to create all kinds of manifestations, meaning that it is capable of manifesting itself as profane or sacred, as material forms or other characters.
Here, one may point out two kinds of manifestations of Mind-Nature.
First, things such as language and action, desire and hatred, compassion and patience, good and evil deeds, suffering and enjoyment, all these are the Buddha-nature in yourselves; they are the original Buddha [in you] apart from which there is no other Buddha.
When one understands that this natural reality is spontaneous (svayambhu), the longing for cultivation of the Tao does not arise in one’s mind. The Tao is the Mind itself; one cannot use the Mind to cultivate the Mind.
Evil also is the Mind itself; one cannot cut off the Mind with the Mind itself. Non-cutting and noncultivating, following one’s self-nature freely, may be called liberation (vimoksa).
The (Mind-) Nature resembles emptiness; nothing can be added to it nor taken away from it.
What necessity is there for completing it?
The only thing one has to do is to stop one’s own Karma and to nourish one’s own spiritual power, at all times and places where one lives, thus to strengthen the womb of holiness and to manifest the wonder of spontaneity.
This is the true awakening. the true cultivation and the true realization.
Second, they say, all Dharmas are dreamlike illusions, and this has been taught by all saints.
Originally, therefore, false thought is calm, worldly phenomena are empty, and the empty and calm Mind is self-knowing and never obscured.
This empty and calm knowledge is your own real Nature; whether deluded or enlightened, the Mind is always self-knowing.
It does not depend on other conditions for birth, nor does it arise from external objects.
The one word (awareness) is the gate to all wonders.
Being deluded by the beginningless ignorance, one wrongly grasps his physical body (rupa) and mental elements (nama) as the Self, from which thoughts of desire, hatred and so forth arise.
If one has a good and learned friend to open and indicate the empty and calm knowledge of Sudden Enlightenment, and [to indicate] that the knowledge itself is thoughtless and formless, then who will make a distinction between self and others ?
When one realizes that all characters are empty, thoughts will naturally not remain in his mind.
When a thought arises, one is immediately aware of it; and with this awareness, thought becomes nothing.
The wonderful gate of religious cultivation is here and not elsewhere.
Although a myriad ways of cultivation are available, yet the Absence of Thought is the principal.
Only when one becomes aware of the Absence of Thought, do love (raga) and hatred (dvesa) naturally become calm; compassion (karuna) and wisdom (prajna) naturally become brighter; evil karmic effects are naturally cut off, and meritorious actions naturally advance.
After one thoroughly understands that all characters are no characters, one naturally cultivates without cultivation.
When passions are ended, one is freed from the bondage of birth and death.
When birth and death are annihilated, one is confronted with Nirvana-illumination, whose responses to the needs are inexhaustible; and this is called Buddha-hood.
[Despite their differences] these two views are both aimed at the unity of all characters and the return to (Buddha-) Nature. They are, therefore, to be considered as having the same principle.
The third type of Buddhist thought is termed by Tsung-mi as “the exoteric teaching revealing that the True Mind itself is the (Buddha) Nature”.
He comments this formula as follows,

“This teaching directly points to the Mind as being the True (Buddha) Nature. The revelation of Truth is limited neither by phenomenal nor by mental Characters, so it is said that Mind itself is the (Buddha) Nature. As this teaching is not through the skillful means of esotericism, it is called exoteric revelation.”

Scholar Jan Yün-Hua mentions that,

“These passages show that Tsung-mi considers all the doctrines and practices of Ch’an Buddhism as devices only. In other words, while he recognizes that the fundamental problems of the phenomenal world are basically the same, yet the spiritual needs may be different from man to man. Therefore, there is no dispute about the painful aspect of worldly life, but there do exist differences about the means or the ways helpful to each individual.

The three divisions mentioned above are further divided by their attitudes towards traditional “teaching”: either looking up to it or looking down on it, either following its characters or destroying them. Their methods for the refutation of external challenge, their skillful means towards the lay community, their modes and manners of teaching disciples, are varied and different. All these differences, however, are modes of action beneficial to and adapted to circumstances. There is no loss therein. The principle which they respect is non-dual. This is why they should be understood comprehensively in accordance with the words spoken by Buddha.

Each of these devices are useful and helpful only to certain groups of people to which the device is suitable and adopted. As far as these people are concerned, it is correct and productive; however, if one proclaims the device to be the only absolute or ultimate way to salvation, and imposes it upon other people, then the device becomes an obstacle rather than a help. After all, there is no single medical formula that is capable of curing all kinds of diseases.

This recognition of the individual need is one of the most distinct contributions of Ch’an Buddhism. Ch’an Buddhists pointed out that if any religious man chose an unsuitable device for spiritual cultivation, it would be impossible for him to attain the expected fruit. In that case, religious practice may become a source of suffering, rather than of liberation from suffering. Ch’an therefore laid stress on the freedom of choice as to the means adopted to reach the religious goal.”



The Precepts

Our natural state is empty, open, aware, vast, cognizant luminosity, spontaneous freedom, stable calm, active compassion and contended joy.
As we unfold this natural state in our lives we need to guard ourselves from our unskillful habits, patterns and tendencies. The most fundamentally basic way to do that is to be aware of and keep a watchful eye on our thoughts, words and deeds knowing well how we are still bound by karma.
The great Tibetan Guru Padmasambhava said,

“Though the view should be as vast as the sky, keep your conduct as fine as barley flour.”

And Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche commenting on the above saying,

“When training in the view you can be as unbiased, as impartial, as vast, immense and unlimited as the sky. Your behaviour on the other hand, should be as careful as possible in discriminating what is beneficial or harmful. One can combine the view and conduct, but don’t mix them or lose one in the other.”

And Zen Master Thich Thien-An said,

“Even Enlightened Ones do not act contrary to the laws which they have transcended; how much more do these laws apply to the unenlightened.”

How can we expect to achieve awakening if we are living unethical and unskillful lives? If the great masters of the past kept a watchful eye on their own behaviour and they were enlightened what makes us think that we shouldn’t do the same?
Sila (ethics) can be seen as paying attention to our life in such a way that we are living it wisely so that we may be free from remorse and blame. And how we do that is by being mindful of our behaviour. We let go of unwholesome behaviour and cultivate wholesome behaviour.
The Essence of the Buddha’s Teaching

“Commit not a single unwholesome act.
Develop a wealth of virtue.
Tame, transform, and conquer this mind of ours.
This is the essence of the teachings of the Buddhas.
Peace. Compassion. Wisdom.”

Our Inherent Power – We Are What We Think
The Buddha reminded us that there is an inherent power within us. A power to help or to harm. He said,

“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world. Speak or act with an impure mind and trouble will follow you as the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.

We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world. Speak or act with a pure mind and happiness will follow you as your shadow, unshakable.” (
From the Dhammapada translated by Thomas Byrom)

We all can see that when our thoughts, words and deeds are loving and kind our lives take on a special kind of glow. We can also see when our thoughts, words and deeds are harsh and unkind our lives become dark and grey.
Hellish Habit Energy
Our daily habits build deep grooves for our energy to flow through. Most of us have dug deep grooves of unskillful and selfish habit energy. This habit energy is inherited from our families, our countries, our societies, our communities, our culture, from the media, from our friends and from our tendencies to believe that we’re separated from all of life so we need to fight for and cling to what we believe to ours.
These energies push us to perpetuate a pattern of pain. A pattern that most of us never really see but which rules our thoughts, words, and actions.
Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh shared a story about habit energy involving one of the Buddha’s previous lives,

The Buddha, in one of his former lives, was in Hell. Before he became a Buddha he had suffered a lot in many lives. He made a lot of mistakes, like all of us. He made himself suffer, and he made people around him suffer. Sometimes he made very big mistakes, and that is why in one of his previous lives he was in Hell.

The Buddha was in Hell because he had done something wrong, extremely wrong, that caused a lot of suffering to himself and to others. That is why he found himself in Hell. In that life of his, he hit the bottom of suffering, because that Hell was the worst of all Hells.  It was dark, it was cold, and at the same time it was very hot.

With him there was another man, and together they had to work very hard, under the direction of a soldier who was in charge of Hell.

The guard did not seem to have a heart. It did not seem that he knew anything about suffering. He did not know anything about the feelings of other people, so he just beat up the two men in Hell. He was in charge of the two men, and his task was to make them suffer as much as possible.

I think that guard also suffered a lot. It looked like he didn’t have any compassion within him. It looked like he didn’t have any love in his heart. It looked like he did not have a heart. When looking at him, when listening to him, it did not seem that one could contact a human being, because he was so brutal. He was not sensitive to people’s suffering and pain. That is why he was beating the two men in Hell, and making them suffer a lot. And the Buddha was one of these two men in one of his previous lives.

The guard had an instrument with three iron points, and every time he wanted the two men to go ahead, he used this to push them on the back, and of course blood came out of their backs.

He did not allow them to relax; he was always pushing and pushing and pushing. He himself also looked like he was being pushed by something behind him.

Have you ever felt that kind of pushing behind your back?

Even if there was no one behind you, you have felt that you were being pushed and pushed to do things you don’t like to do, and to say the things you don’t like to say, and in doing that you created a lot of suffering for yourself and the people around you.

Maybe there is something behind us that is pushing and pushing.

Sometimes we say horrible things, and do horrible things, that we did not want to say or do, yet we were pushed by something from behind. So we said it, and we did it, even if we didn’t want to do it.

That was what happened to the guard in Hell: he tried to push, because he was being pushed. He caused a lot of damage to the two men. The two men were very cold, very hungry, and he was always pushing and beating them and causing them a lot of problems.

To help us along the path we need some guiding principles to help us break free of the mental, emotional and physical patterns that lead to us thinking, speaking and acting in unskillful ways. We need help navigating the troublesome spots of life so that we can live it nobly – like an awakened daughter or son of the Buddha. We need help to break free of the hellish habit energies that push us to cause suffering to others and ourselves.
The Five Precepts or Mindfulness Trainings help us to do that.
The Theravadin teacher Ajahn Amaro said that,

“What you find in the Buddha’s approach towards sila, or virtue, is that it is not an imposition upon life – as if he were thinking, “All religions are about telling people that they can’t have fun, so I suppose mine will have to be that way too.” His approach was neither an effort to put the dampers on everything people find enjoyable, nor was it a gratuitous imposition of rules upon people.

But my experience of it (and what initially attracted me to the Teaching) was that it was a simple effort to pinpoint the areas of life where we get ourselves into trouble most easily, where life is most karmically loaded; so it’s more like pointing out the danger spots and encouraging us to be careful.

The Buddha wasn’t saying that something is inherently bad or wrong, but that if we don’t develop some kind of sensitivity to these difficult areas of our lives, if we don’t look out for trouble spots and problems, it’s like driving with your eyes closed, or like driving without brakes.”

Many people who are committed to the way of awakening take on the precepts as a way to help guide them as they set out on their journey to having a more wholesome and beneficial life.
The precepts are simple. If you want to live an awakened life:

Please, please don’t kill
Please, please don’t steal
Please, please don’t abuse sex
Please, please don’t lie
Please, please don’t take anything that will dull or fog up your mind

The precepts are not rules or commandments but can be seen as principles of training.
The Thai Monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu had this to say about Sila (ethical training),

“When our actions don’t measure up to certain standards of behaviour, we either
(1) regret the actions or (2) engage in one of two kinds of denial, either (a) denying that our actions did in fact happen or (b) denying that the standards of measurement are really valid.

These reactions are like wounds in the mind. Regret is an open wound, tender to the touch, while denial is like hardened, twisted scar tissue around a tender spot.

When the mind is wounded in these ways, it can’t settle down comfortably in the present, for it finds itself resting on raw, exposed flesh or calcified knots. Even when it’s forced to stay in the present, it’s there only in a tensed, contorted and partial way, and so the insights it gains tend to be contorted and partial as well.

Only if the mind is free of wounds and scars can it be expected to settle down comfortably and freely in the present, and to give rise to undistorted discernment.

This is where the five precepts come in: They are designed to heal these wounds and scars.

Healthy self-esteem comes from living up to a set of standards that are practical, clear-cut, humane, and worthy of respect; the five precepts are formulated in such a way that they provide just such a set of standards.”

Ananda the Buddha’s cousin and attendant for his whole life once asked him, “What, O Venerable One, is the reward and blessing of wholesome morality (sila)?
The Buddha replied, “Freedom from remorse, Ananda.
But that wasn’t all, having a solid foundation of Sila in your life would not only make you free from remorse, it would lead to joy, rapture, contentment, true authentic happiness, and then finally Samadhi and Wisdom. We started with Sila and ended up with Samadhi and Wisdom.
Ethics is an Inner Practice
Nick Seaver Co-Founder and Board Member of the Community Mindfulness Project, went through a profound transformation as he and his wife embarked on a journey of awakening that had them both do extended retreats separately for long periods of time.

“Ethics is inner practice, and, magically, this practice acts like a balm. It soothes the mind. You’re still more or less crazy, but it’s a few degrees easier to practice now. In fact, the first of the three steps towards a successful practice – before you even hit the meditation cushion – is sila, ethics. Not ethics because someone said you should. Ethics because living by ethical intention sets the condition that allows the cultivation of an exceptionally stable mind which can then be turned, like an electron microsope, inward.”

The Five Blessings of Those Who Live a Virtuous and Awakened Life
The Buddha said that there are five blessings that build up for lay practitioners who live virtuous and awakened lives,

“Five blessings, householders, accrue to the righteous person through their practice of virtue:

1) great increase of wealth through their diligence
2) a favorable reputation
3) a confident demeanor, without timidity, in every society, be it that of nobles, brahmans, householders, or ascetics
4) a serene death
5) and, at the breaking up of the body after death, rebirth in a happy state, in a heavenly world.”

— DN 16 Maha-parinibbana Sutta: Last Days of the Buddha

We need Sila. We need to come back to living noble, upright, virtuous and awakened lives. The precepts help us along the way toward our goal of full complete awakening for the benefit of all beings. They help us to stop creating suffering in our lives and generating Karma that will hinder us in our progress. They free us from remorse and help us sleep easy at night which then helps our turbulent minds begin to stop raging because we know that we are doing our best to live an awakened life.
The precepts are simple. If you want to live an awakened life:

Please, please don’t kill
Please, please don’t steal
Please, please don’t abuse sex
Please, please don’t lie
Please, please don’t take anything that will dull or fog up your mind

The precepts are not rules or commandments but can be seen as principles of training.

Tradition Version of the Precepts

I vow to abstain from taking life.
I vow to abstain from taking things not given.
I vow to abstain from misconduct done in lust.
I vow to abstain from lying.
I vow to abstain from intoxicants taken to induce heedlessness.


(To be said and practiced daily)

I undertake the training to abstain from taking life and I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion.
Just for today I will have reverence for life. I will do my best to be mindful of those moments where my mind may be swayed toward violence, dualistic thinking and seeing the world and other people as separate from me. I will cultivate openness, non-attachment and see my interconnectedness to all that is. I will be a healing balm to others, a helpful friend and do my best to abstain from harmful activities especially those that take life.

I undertake the training to abstain from taking things not given and I am committed to practicing generosity in my thoughts, words, and deeds.
Just for today I will be generous, giving and open in all that I do. I will trust that all I need will be given to me. I will remember that true authentic happiness cannot be found external to me. I will be vigilant in my efforts to not be wasteful, to not use resources beyond my needs and to see and know that consumption must be joined with compassionate wisdom. I will be mindful of those moments when I’m overcome with craving and selfishness and do my best to refrain from taking what is not given.

I undertake the training to abstain from unskillful behaviour done in lust and I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society and to do what I can to foster togetherness and meaningful connections.
Just for today I will be still, live simply and find contentment in every moment. I will cherish and build meaningful connections with everyone I meet. I will strive to protect all people and use my energy wisely to help people heal, grow and awaken. I will be mindful of those times when I may be overcome by the energy of lustful desire and neurotic craving which may lead me to harm others and myself and I will avoid following through with any thoughts, words and deeds that may be fueled with that energy. Instead I will use my energy to be a benefit to all beings.

I undertake the training to abstain from lying and I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening toward others and myself.
Just for today I will use words that are truthful, kind, beneficial, endearing and agreeable to others. I will speak words worth treasuring, seasonable, reasonable, and connected with the goal of Dharma and awakening. I will speak words that are soothing to the ear, that are affectionate, that go to the heart, that are polite, appealing and pleasing to people at large, reconciling those who have broken apart or cementing those who are united. I will be silent when I need to be. I will be aware of and avoid idle chatter, abusive speech and saying things that are untruthful or that make me appear greater than I am.

I undertake the training to abstain from intoxicants taken to induce heedlessness and I am committed to cultivating good health, both physically, emotionally and mentally, for myself, my family, and my society.
Just for today I will rest in the radiance of my calm and clear mind. I will awaken from moment to moment. I will be mindful of those things that I read, watch and consume so as to not be swayed into heedless behaviour that may cause harm to myself and others due to being lost in a clouded mind.


Going for Refuge

Going for refuge and taking the precepts is the cornerstone of all the Buddhist paths. It usually becomes a turning point in a person’s life. One where they work toward an ideal – this ideal being shown to us through

  • The Buddha – a human being that showed us the actualization of minds potential
  • The Dharma – the teachings that guide us there
  • and the Sangha – our friends that help us on the way.

Going for refuge and taking the precepts are an active and conscious act – a choice by us where we consciously make the decision to start to really show up in the world as a blessing and minimize the ways we burden others and the world.
To help us do that we use as guiding lights or ideals the Triple Gems of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
The Buddha walked around a lot.
He would go around from city, to village, to town – all over the countryside, making known the Dharma or truth that he had discovered.
He spoke form his heart.
He had an uncanny knack of truly being able to see people clearly. He would pierce through all the walls that we throw up to protect ourselves and would be able to see and know our hopes and fears, our biases, our pain and then he would speak directly to you.
The Dharma would emerge in the moment. The Buddha would speak from the depths of his spiritual experience and would connect that to you in a way that would leave most people he encountered speechless.
It was a heart-mind transmission.
The Master Sangharakshita put it this way,

The Buddha would speak from the depths of his spiritual experience. He would expound the Truth and show the Way leading to Enlightenment, and the person to whom he was speaking would be absolutely astounded and overwhelmed. In some cases he might not be able to speak or do more than stammer a few incoherent words. Something had been revealed to him. Something had burst upon him that was above and beyond his ordinary understanding. For an instant, at least, he had glimpsed the Truth, and the experience had staggered him.

And then in response to that Heart-Mind transmission the individual would go for refuge to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.
The Meaning of Refuge: The root meaning of refuge is – “shelter or protection from danger or distress, hiding place or to flee back to,” It also means “To seek asylum.” The word asylum refers to “a place of refuge, a sanctuary” and it’s interesting to note that the word asylum is Latin for “sanctuary” taken from the Greek asylon which means “refuge, fenced territory,” and if used as a (asylos) means “inviolable, safe from violence,”
What is it that we need to take refuge from? Samsara. From the world that is lost in the great forgetting. And even from ourselves. We take refuge from the three poisons of greed, hatred and delusion.
In this topsy turvy world we need something stable to rely on. We need something that we can point to and say,”That over there, that’s safe.” We need a safe harbour.
And we need to realize that we need it.
In Buddhism that safe place is the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

The Buddha: was a human that showed us our true potential
The Dharma: are the teachings shared by the Buddha and realized teachers that help us guide us to awakening
The Sangha: helpful friends that support us on the way

Sangharakshita on the Three Jewels
Sangharakshita said that,

The Buddha: When we go for Refuge to the Buddha it’s as though we say, “That is what I want to be. That is what I want to attain. I want to be Enlightened and develop the fullness of Wisdom and Compassion.” Going for Refuge to the Buddha means taking the Buddha – taking Buddhahood – as our personal spiritual ideal, as something we ourselves can and want to achieve.

The Dharma: The Dharma is not to be identified with this or that particular teaching. According to the Buddha’s own express declaration the Dharma is whatever contributes to the spiritual development of the individual. When his maternal aunt and foster mother, Gotami, asked him for a criterion by means of which she could distinguish between what was his teaching, his Dharma-Vinaya, and what was not, he replied,

“As for the teachings that promote the qualities of which you may know, these qualities lead to
dispassion, not to passion;
to being unfettered, not to being fettered;
to simplifying, not to accumulating;
to modesty, not to self-aggrandizement;
to contentment, not to discontent;
to seclusion, not to entanglement;
to aroused persistence, not to laziness;
to being unburdensome, not to being burdensome.
You may definitely hold, ‘This is the Dharma, this is the Vinaya, this is the Teacher’s instruction.’”
[AN VIII.53]

So we see that the Dharma are teachings that will eventually lead to: Equanimity, Freedom, Simplicity, Modesty, Contentment, Release, Persistence and Helpfulness

When we go for Refuge to the Dharma we commit ourselves to the path of higher evolution. We commit ourselves to whatever helps us to develop spiritually – to whatever helps us to grow towards Enlightenment.

The Sangha: Sangha means ‘Spiritual Community’. Primarily this is the community of all those who are spiritually more advanced than we are: the great Bodhisattvas, the Arhants, the Stream Entrants, and so on. Together they form the Aryasangha, the ‘noble Sangha’, the Spiritual Community in the highest sense.

Secondarily, it is the community of all Buddhists, all those who go for Refuge to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

In the case of the Aryasangha, Going for Refuge to the Sangha means opening ourselves to the spiritual influence of the sublime beings of whom it consists. It means learning from them, being inspired by them, reverencing them.

In the case of the Sangha in the more ordinary sense, that of the community of all Buddhists, it means enjoying spiritual fellowship with one another and helping one another on the path.

Sometimes you may not need a highly advanced Bodhisattva to help you. All you need is an ordinary human being who is a little more developed spiritually than you are, or even just a little more sensible.

Only too often people are on the lookout for a great, highly developed guru, but that is not what they really need, even if such a person was available. What they need is a helping hand where they are now, on the particular stage of the path which at present they occupy, and this kind of help can generally be given by an ordinary fellow Buddhist.

Four Foundational Factors of Freedom
In the Raja Sutra the Buddha shared four foundational factors that lead to freedom when we’re starting out on the path.

There is the case where the disciple of the noble ones is endowed with firm confidence in the Awakened One – The Buddha:
They think to themselves, “Indeed, the Blessed One is worthy and rightly self-awakened, endowed with understanding and conduct, well-gone, an expert with regard to the world, unexcelled as a trainer for those people fit to be tamed, the Teacher of divine and human beings, awakened, blessed.”

There is the case where the disciple of the noble ones is endowed with firm confidence in the Dharma:
They think to themselves, “The Dharma is well-expounded by the Blessed One, to be seen here and now, timeless, inviting verification, pertinent, to be realized by the wise for themselves.”

There is the case where the disciple of the noble ones is endowed with firm confidence in the Sangha:
They think to themselves, “The Sangha of the Blessed One’s disciples who have practiced well…who have practiced straight-forwardly…who have practiced methodically…who have practiced masterfully — they are the Sangha of the Blessed One’s disciples: worthy of gifts, worthy of hospitality, worthy of offerings, worthy of respect, the incomparable field of merit for the world.”

There is the case where the disciple of the noble ones is endowed with firm conviction in the subduing of unwholesome states and the development of a wealth of virtue:
They think to themselves, “I am working diligently at the subduing of unwholesome states and the development of a wealth of virtue. My thoughts, words and deeds are agreeable to the noble ones. Whatever virtue there is, it is unbroken, faultless, unspotted, unblemished, productive of freedom, well-obtained, well-undertaken and praised by the wise.”

Faith & Going for Refuge
Faith Meaning: Great trust or confidence in something or someone
In Pali (the original language of the Buddhist texts) the word for faith is saddha. While sometimes translated as “confidence” or “trust,” the literal meaning of saddha is “to place your heart upon.”

Our hearts are squishy, tender and vital to our survival. To entrust it to someone or something means that we know and have faith that it will be kept safe. That it will be protected from harm.

When we place our heart upon the Three Jewels we entrust them with our most important treasure. We give it over knowing well that we have found a safe and secure place for our fragile and tender heart. A place that will protect us. That will guide us. That will show us how to take care of this delicate and essential piece of ourselves.

We look at the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha and say, “I see that you are wiser than me, stronger than me, further along than me. I see how you live, how you speak and how you think. I’ve felt the power of potential and possibility emanating and radiating from you and I want that for myself.

I, as I am right now cannot be trusted with this precious heart. Sentient beings lost in samsara cannot be trusted with this precious heart. This world lost in greed, hatred and delusion cannot be trusted with this precious heart.

But in the midst of all that madness I have found you – Buddha, Dharma and Sangha – a safe harbour from the storms of samsara.

So please, keep this tender and precious heart of mine safe and show me how to heal it, how to nurture it and how to unlock its radiant lustre and power so that it may be a shining light for others as you have been for me.

Sharon Salzberg shared a story from a Pali Sutra to help explain faith in the Buddhist tradition:

We experience faith on many levels. In a classical text entitled “The Questions of King Milinda,” a monk named Nagasena uses an allegory to illustrate this. A group of people gathered on the edge of a flooding stream want to go to the far shore but are afraid. They don’t know what to do until one wise person comes along, assesses the situation, takes a running leap and jumps to the other side. Seeing the example of that person, the others say, “Yes, it can be done.” Then they also jump.

In this story the near shore is our usual confused condition, and the far shore is the awakened mind. Inspired by witnessing another, we say, “Yes, it can be done.” That is one level of faith. After we have jumped ourselves, when we say, “Yes, it can be done,” that is quite another level of faith.

Patrul Rinpoche said that, “Just as taking refuge opens the gateway to all teachings and practices, it is faith that opens the gateway to taking refuge. As the first step in taking refuge, therefore, it is important to develop a lasting and stable faith. “
The Four Kinds of Faith *
Faith itself is of four kinds: bright faith, eager faith, confident faith, grateful faith
Bright Faith: Bright faith is the faith that is inspired in us by thinking of the immense compassion of the Buddhas and great teachers. We might experience this kind of faith on visiting a temple containing many representations of the Buddha’s’ body, speech and mind, or after an encounter with a great teacher or spiritual friend we have just met personally or whose qualities or life-story we have heard described.
This type of faith opens us up briefly and changes something in us. It gives us a flash of insight or softens our heart for a moment. It stirs within us a longing – a desire to discover a potential that we can now feel within us. This type of faith is not stable and does not last.
Eager Faith: Eager faith is our eagerness to be free of suffering and to experience happiness. Our eagerness to engage in positive actions when we hear and actually see what benefits they bring to ourselves and others; and our eagerness to avoid negative actions when we understand what harm they cause to ourselves and others.
Confident Faith (Mature Faith): Confident Faith or mature faith arises in us after we’ve seen the actual effects of practicing the dharma in our own very lives. We’ve tasted the chocolate. We’ve seen some results. This type of faith is anchored by or own experience. It’s rooted in our own hard-won insights on and off the cushion. is anchored in our own experience of the truth, centered in the deeper understanding of the nature of the mind and body that we come to in meditation practice.
Confident faith is the faith in the Three Jewels that arises from the depth of our hearts once we understand their extraordinary qualities and the power of their blessings.
Grateful Faith: This is the faith and reverence that arises when we think of all that the Buddha’s Bodhisattvas, masters and teachers of the past, present and future have given to us. All they have sacrificed for us. We now really see and know that the only true safe-harbour is the Three Jewels. If we have a teacher we help them with a humble and grateful heart knowing how rare and precious they are. We hold dear to us our new family – the sangha. And we cherish all the 84,000 different teachings seeing how they’re all special and different types of medicine for the many afflictions that arise for countless sentient beings.
In the book “The Words of My Perfect Teacher” Patrul Rinpoche said that,

“It is the total trust in the Three Jewels alone that comes from the knowledge that they are the only unfailing refuge, always and in all circumstances, whether we are happy, sad, in pain, ill, living or dead.

Faith, then, is like a seed from which everything positive can grow. If faith is absent, it is as though that seed had been burnt.”

The sutras say:

In those who lack faith
Nothing positive will grow,
Just as from a burnt seed
No green shoot will ever sprout.

Faith is the most precious of all our resources. It brings an inexhaustible supply of virtues, like a treasure. It carries us along the path to liberation like a pair of legs, and gathers up everything positive for us like a pair of arms. The compassion and blessings of the Three Jewels are inconceivable, but nevertheless their ability to reach into us depends entirely on our faith and devotion. If you have immense faith and devotion, the compassion and blessings you receive from your teacher and the Three Jewels will be equally immense.

If your faith and devotion are just moderate, the compassion and blessings that reach you will also be moderate.

If you have only a little faith and devotion, only a little compassion and blessings will reach you. If you have no faith and devotion at all, you will get absolutely nothing.

Without faith, even meeting the Buddha himself and being accepted as his disciple would be quite useless, as it was for the Buddha’s cousin, Devadatta.

It is also upon faith alone that actual realization of the absolute truth, the natural state, depends. It is said in a sutra:

“O’Sariputra, absolute truth is only realized through faith.”

As you develop a faith quite beyond the commonplace, by its power, the blessings of the teacher and of the Three Jewels will enter you. Then true realization will arise and you will see the natural state as it really is. When that happens you will feel an even more extraordinary and irreversible faith and confidence in your teacher and in the Three Jewels. In this way faith and the realization of the natural state support each other.

Padmasambhava said that, “The faith of total trust allows blessings to enter you. When the mind is free of doubt, whatever you wish can be achieved.”

Samantabhadra’s Declaration on the Power of Faith
An enthusiastic ode to faith can be found in the massive Avataṃsaka Sutra, where, to the delight of all the Buddhas, the bodhisattva Samantabhadra proclaims the following verses in a great outpouring of a bodhisattvas’ faith:

Deep faith, belief, and resolution always pure,
Bodhisattvas honour and respect all Buddhas …

Deeply believing in the Buddha and the Buddha’s teaching,
They also believe in the Way traversed by buddhas-to-be,
And believe in unexcelled great enlightenment:
Thereby do bodhisattvas first rouse their will.

Faith is the basis of the Path, the mother of virtues,
Nourishing and growing all good ways,
Cutting away the net of doubt, freeing from the torrent of passion,
Revealing the unsurpassed road of ultimate peace.

When faith is undefiled, the mind is pure;
Obliterating pride, it is the root of reverence,
And the foremost wealth in the treasury of teachings …

Faith is generous …
Faith can joyfully enter the Buddha’s teaching;
Faith can increase knowledge and virtue;
Faith can ensure arrival at enlightenment …
Faith can go beyond the pathways of demons,
And reveal the unsurpassed road of liberation.

Faith is the unspoiled seed of virtue,
Faith can grow the seed of enlightenment.
Faith can increase supreme knowledge,
Faith can reveal all Buddhas …
Faith is most powerful, very difficult to have;
It’s likened in all the worlds to having
the wondrous wish-fulfilling pearl.

Three Different Types of Motivation in Going for Refuge *
There are three different levels of motivation for taking refuge with this sort of faith.

The Motivation of Fear & Happiness
There are those beings who fear the suffering of the three lower-realms (animal, hungry ghost, hell) and take refuge with the hope to be reborn in one of the three higher realms (heavenly, demi-god, human)

The Motivation of Personal Happiness and Freedom
There are those that have the knowledge that it doesn’t matter which realm they are born into all of them are still part of samsara which means there’s no freedom from suffering so that motivates them to take refuge with the aim of personal nirvana and to be free from all of samsara’s sufferings.

The Motivation of an Open Heart
Seeing how all beings are lost in the great forgetting, whipped by the winds of karma, lost in the ocean of samsara and undergoing an unimaginable variety of torments motivates them to take refuge with the idea of establishing all sentient beings in the unsurpassable and omniscient state of perfect and complete Buddhahood.

Different Layers/Types of Refuge *

  • One takes refuge in the Buddha as the teacher, in the Dharma as the path, and in the Sangha as companions along the way.
  • One takes refuge by offering body, speech and mind to the teacher, and asks for help and support from the Bodhisattva’s and spiritual beings from the lineages
  • One takes refuge in the rapid path whereby one uses the channels as the nirrnanakaya, trains the energies as the sambhogakaya and purifies the essences as the dharmakaya.
  • The ultimate and infallible refuge in the indestructible natural state is based on the primal wisdom inherent in the refuge.That wisdom’s essential nature is emptiness;
    its natural expression is clarity;
    and its compassion is all-pervasive.Taking refuge here means to realize in one’s own mindstream, with total confidence, the great inseparability of these three aspects of primal wisdom.

Going for Refuge – Seeing a New Possibility
As we prepare to go for refuge we may have discovered that something has shifted in us. That we’ve begun to see the fleeting changing nature of samsara – everything changes and nothing stays the same aside from the clear light nature of Mind – but we’ve also discovered another aspect of impermanence – that because all things change that means that we too can change. That anyone can change. That each and every one of us has the potential to be a true blessing to the world.
You can start to see the possibility for all of humanity to awaken because you’ve experienced it firsthand in your own life.

As you grown in wisdom, peace and compassion
Then your home begins to be filled with that energy
As your home is infused with awakening – so will your family be influenced by that power
When the family is wise, peaceful and compassionate then the community changes
As the community becomes wise, peaceful and compassionate then the country changes
As the country becomes wise, peaceful and compassionate then the world changes
So as you grow into your own inherent potential you are actually growing the whole world

Sangharakshita said,

This is what you see when your Dharma eye opens. You see not only the fact of impermanence, the fact that everything changes, but also the possibility of human growth and development, the possibility of the transformation of ordinary humanity into Enlightened humanity or Buddhahood.

When that kind of Insight is developed, and your Dharma eye opens, something tremendous happens. To use another traditional Buddhist image, you ‘enter the stream’ – the stream that leads directly to nirvana. Your whole being now flows irreversibly in the direction of Enlightenment. This is the ‘real’ Going for Refuge, the ‘Transcendental’ Going for Refuge’.


  • (Slightly Adapted from the Words of my Perfect Teacher by Patrul Rinpoche)

The Best Pointing Out Instructions

An Anthology of the Best “Pointing Out” Instructions

Lama Gendun on the Nature of Mind, “The recognition of the nature of mind is the only thing that we actually need – it has the power to liberate us from everything and to liberate all beings in the universe, too. All phenomena of the external world are only the manifestations of the luminosity of our own mind and ultimately have no reality. When we allow our mind to rest in the recognition that everything that it experiences is its own projection, the separation between subject and object comes to an end. Then there is no longer anyone who grasps at something and nothing that is being grasped at –subject and object are recognized to be unreal. In order to experience this, we allow our mind to remain in its ordinary consciousness, the awareness of the present moment, which is the deep, unchanging nature of mind itself and which is also called “timeless awareness.” (yeshe) That is the natural insight that arises spontaneously when in every moment we look directly at the true nature of mind. In seeing the nature of mind, there is nothing to “see” since it is not an object of perception. We see it without seeing anything. We know it without knowing anything. The mind recognizes itself spontaneously, in a way beyond all duality. The path that leads to this is the awareness of the present moment, free of all interference. It is an error to think that the ultimate truth is difficult to recognize. The meditation on the nature of mind is actually very easy, as we do not have to go anywhere to find this nature. No work needs to be done to produce it; no effort is required to find it. It is sufficient for us to sit down, allow our mind to rest in itself and directly look at the one who thinks that it is difficult to find the nature of mind. In that moment, we discover it directly, as it is very close and always within easy reach. It would be absurd to worry that we might not succeed in discovering the nature of mind, as it is already present in us. It is sufficient to look into ourselves. When our mind directs its gaze upon itself, it finds itself and that the seeker and the sought are not two different things.”
The following quote is from the famous cycle of teachings known as the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The text was discovered by Karma Lingpa (born in Tibet around 1329). It was considered to have been originally written by eighth-century Master Padmasambhava, who hid the text before he left Tibet. It was later discovered by Karma Lingpa. It is part of what is called “The Direct Introduction to Awareness” teaching of Dzogchen and is meant to “awaken” those who simply read and understand the text without need for any prior or subsequent practice:
Padmasambhava said, “And in the present moment, when your mind remains in its own condition without constructing anything, Awareness, at that moment, in itself is quite ordinary.
And when you look into yourself in this way nakedly, without any discursive thoughts,
Since there is only this pure observing, there will be found a lucid clarity without anyone being there who is the observer, only a naked manifest awareness is present.
This Awareness is empty and immaculately pure, not being created by anything whatsoever. It is authentic and unadulterated, without any duality of clarity and emptiness.”
(From John Reynolds’s translation, Self-Liberation Through Seeing With Naked Awareness.)
Khenpo Gangshar, “Simply rest naturally in the naked ordinary mind of the immediate present without trying to correct it or replace it. If you rest like that, your mind-essence will be clear and expansive, vivid and naked, without any concerns about thought or recollection, joy or pain. That is awareness (rigpa).”
Sri Ramana Maharshi, “You are awareness. Awareness is another name for you. Since you are awareness there is no need to attain or cultivate it.”
Longchenpa, “Awareness abides as the aspect which is aware under any and all circumstances, and so occurs naturally, without transition or change.”
Longchenpa wrote in his Choying Dzod, “There is only awareness, pure in being free of adventitious distortions; there is no essence of buddhahood other than this -mind itself; nothing to seek through causes or conditions, effort or achievement, because the term “buddhahood” is being used merely to describe pure awareness.” P. 84
Longchenpa, “So once you rest in awareness, to then make an effort or engage in view and meditation is beside the point and will lead to error and obscuration” P. 85
Tulku Pema Rigtsal said, “But in actuality, the intrinsic awareness of Dzogchen is not produced or initiated by causes and conditions, for the potential of pure being and primal awareness is intrinsically present and manifests spontaneously.”
Longchenpa, “The Philosophical Systems” (p.305) “Natural great perfection, the essence of utterly lucid basic space, is naturally occurring timeless awareness. Since it involves neither cause nor effect, neither something to develop nor an agent to develop it, nor any attendant conditions, it is timelessly present such that its nature is like that of space.”
Rigtsal, Tulku Pema (2013-02-19). The Great Secret of Mind: Special Instructions on the Nonduality of Dzogchen (p. 119). Snow Lion. Kindle Edition, “In The Heart-Essence of Vimalamitra, Longchenpa says, “It is taught by the Lama Vimalamitra, that Buddha will never be attained on the paths of the nine graduated approaches by engaging in their view, meditation, and conduct. Why not? Because in the views of the nine approaches, there is only intellectual conjecture that is sometimes convincing and sometimes not, but which can never induce the naked essence.”
Rigtsal, Tulku Pema, “Until we realize that intrinsic awareness is already present, we must understand that striving to generate that awareness is a wrong path.”
Tulku Pema Rigtsal, “When all discursive thought and concepts and all constructs of the dualistic mind dissolve into their spaciousness, the real luminous mind in all its clarity shines in its own space, and there is no need to look for it anywhere else.”
Tulku Urgyen, “Rigpa simply means uninvolvement in thoughts of the three times (past, present, future).”
Tulku Urgyen, “Rigpa is neither caught up in the object perceived nor with the sense organ through which perception takes place. It is not caught up in the perceiving dualistic mind. Rigpa is not caught up in anything whatsoever. Rigpa is therefore described as immaculate dharmakaya, which means flawless. If rigpa were even slightly affected by some habitual tendency, you would not call it flawless. Rigpa means the state that is totally untainted by any obscuration, negative karma or habitual imprints, just like mercury remains unaffected by whatever it touches.”
TulkuUrgyen, “There is some innate stability in this (rigpa) that is present all by itself —it is not kept up deliberately. It is not that one thinks, “Now I must make myself undistracted.” That is not necessary. There is a natural sense of being undistracted.” “As It Is” volume 2
Garab Dorje taught, “Empty Awareness” (rigpa) is always primordially present equally during moments of empty stillness as well as during moments of mental activity and turbulence.”
The Dalai Lama wrote, “As Dodrubchen says, mere ‘luminosity and knowing’ (rigpa) pervades all consciousnesses and can even be identified during the generation of a strong afflictive emotion without having to cease the six operative consciousnesses.”
Longchenpa from his “Commentary on Basic Space”), “When something appears or arises, recognize it as naked, unobstructed rigpa. It should not be looked upon as an “other” at all.”
Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, “Do not divide appearances as being there and awareness (rigpa) as being here. Let appearance and awareness be indivisible.”


Everything is the Buddha

When we see the great light through complete enlightenment, we see the non-duality of the eternal and the momentary. Everything we see is Kwanseum Bosal, and everything we hear is the mystical Dharma sound.
There is no truth aside from seeing and hearing. Do you understand? Mountain is mountain. River is river.
Let us respect all forms of life as we respect the Buddha. The true form of everything in the universe is brighter than sunlight, clearer than sky, and immaculate.
Such terms as “evil” or “lowly” are but superficial judgments. Everything is Buddha, everything is magnificent, everything is sublime.
Let us respect not just people, but all forms of life—even the lowly flies and ants, and ferocious wolves and tigers—just as we would the Buddha.
When we respect even the most vile criminal, we come to see life as it really is. We come to live in true fundamentality.
Everything in the infinite universe is Buddha, and every nation is a Buddhafield. If you look into the true nature of reality, you will not find a trace of misery. You will only find eternal happiness everywhere.
Seon Master Songchol


Essentials of Cultivating the Mind

Daman Hongren – Essentials of Cultivating the Mind
The essence of cultivating the Way is to discern that one’s own body-mind awareness is inherently pure, not subject to birth or death, and without division.
Perfect and complete in its self-nature, present awareness is the fundamental teacher.
Focusing on it exclusively is superior to reflecting on the awakened ones of the ten directions.
How do you know that one’s own awareness is inherently pure?
To use the bright sun as a metaphor: even if the clouds and mists of the world were to arise together in all directions so that the world became dark, still, how could the sun ever be extinguished?
The sun’s light is not destroyed, but merely deflected by the clouds and mists.
The pure mind possessed by all sentient beings is like this – simply covered by the layered clouds of discriminative thinking, false ideas, and ascriptive views.
If you just distinctly maintain awareness of present clear mind and don’t manufacture false thoughts, then the reality-sun of nirvana will be naturally manifested.
That is how you can experience that your own mind is inherently pure.
How do you know that one’s own awareness is inherently not subject to birth and death?
The Vimalakirti Sutra says: “Suchness is without birth, suchness is without death.”
The term “suchness” refers to the nature of awakened presence, the mind which is the source of all phenomena.
Suchness is fundamentally, originally existent, not conditionally produced.
The sutra also says, “ordinary beings all embody suchness; sages and wise ones also embody suchness.”
Although the names and characteristics of ordinary and awakened beings are different, the essential reality of suchness embodied in each is identical and is not subject to birth or death.
This is how it is realized that one’s own mind is inherently not subject to birth and death.
Why is the mind the fundamental teacher?
The true mind exists of itself and does not come from outside. As a teacher, it does not even require any tuition fee!
If you discern the “suchness” of the mind and maintain awareness of it, you reach the shore of nirvana.
By clearly maintaining awareness of the mind, the false mind (of attachment to ideas) is not activated and you reach the birthless.
Therefore we understand that the mind is the fundamental teacher.
Why is focusing on your own mind superior to reflecting on the awakened ones of the ten directions?
You cannot transcend birth and death by constantly imagining awakened beings divorced from yourself, but you reach the shore of nirvana by maintaining awareness of your own fundamental mind.
The Buddha says in the Diamond Sutra, “Anyone who views me in terms of form and seeks me by sound is practicing a mistaken path and is unable to see the one who is ‘thus-come.’”
Therefore we realize that maintaining awareness of (your own) true mind is superior to reflecting on awakened ones divorced from oneself. (But this word “superior” is only used for encouragement in the context of practice – In reality, the essence of the ultimate fruit of awakening is harmoniously inclusive and without opposing dualities).
If you can maintain awareness of the true mind without generating false thoughts or the illusion of personal possession, then you will automatically be equal to the Awakened Ones.
The nature of true presence is the core of both ordinary beings and awakened ones just the same.
Why, then, are awakened ones liberated, while ordinary beings are deluded?
At this point we enter the inconceivable which cannot be understood by the ordinary mind.
You awaken by discerning the true mind, you become deluded by losing awareness of this true nature. If the conditions (for awakening) come together, then they come together – it cannot be definitively explained.
Simply commit to your conviction of the ultimate truth, and maintain awareness of your own true mind. Do this constantly with focused energy, without fabricating false thoughts or the illusion of personal possession.
Awakening then manifests of itself.
If you ask a lot of questions, the number of conceptual terms will simply become greater and greater.
If you want to understand the essential point of the Awakened Way – then know that maintaining awareness of mind is the fundamental basis of nirvana, the essential gateway for entering the path, the basic principle of all the scriptures, and the teacher of all the awakened ones of the past, present, and future…
The essence of what is called nirvana is serene dissolution.
When one’s mind focuses on the true, false thoughts dissolve.
When false thoughts cease, correct mindfulness arises, generating the wisdom of serene illumination, or the total comprehension of reality-nature, which is also called the experience of nirvana.
All concepts, and all affairs of past, present, and future, should be seen as dust on a mirror – when the dust is gone, true nature naturally becomes clearly visible.
That which is learned by the deluded mind is completely useless.
True learning is what is learned by the unconditioned mind, which never ceases perfect awareness. Although we can call this “true learning,” ultimately there is nothing to be learned.
Because “self “and “liberation” are both insubstantial, they are neither different nor the same.
Thus, the essential principle of “nothing to be learned” is evident.
All the Awakened Ones of the past, present, and future are born within your own consciousness.
When you do not give birth to false thoughts, when your illusions of personal possession have been relinquished, the awakened one is born within your own consciousness.
You can only experience awakening by maintaining awareness of true mind.
My only desire is that you discern this fundamental mind for yourself.
Therefore, I employ you: Make effort! Make effort!
All the myriad scriptures and treatises say nothing other than that maintaining the true mind is the essential way to awakening.
Do not try to search outside of yourself – this only leads to the suffering of continued conventional patterns.
Just maintain the same mind of awareness in every moment of thought, and in all phases of mental activity.
When you sit…you may experience all kinds of good and bad psychological states…when you perceive such things, concentrate the mind and do not become attached to them. They are all insubstantial manifestations of deluded thinking.
A scripture says, “The triple realm is an empty apparition that is solely the creation of the individual mind.”
Do not worry if you cannot achieve special concentration or do not experience the various states of meditative absorption – just constantly maintain clear awareness of the present mind in all your actions.
If you stop generating delusive ideas and the illusion of personal possession, the you will realize that all the myriad phenomena are nothing other than manifestations of your own mind.
The awakened sages only preach with extensive and verbal teachings because the mental tendencies of sentient beings differ, and require a variety of responses. In actuality, the (present) mind is the basic subject of all the myriad teachings and philosophies.
Make effort and remain humble.
It is rare to get a chance to hear this essential teaching.
Of those that hear it, very few are able to practice it.
With great care keep your self calm, moderate your sensory activity, and attentively view the mind that is the source of all phenomena. Allow it to shine distinctly and clearly at all times, without letting yourself fall into mental blankness.
What is mental blankness?
People who practice special concentration exercises can inhibit the true mind by being dependent on particular sensory activities, dulled states of mind, or restricted breathing.
Although they may practice constantly, they cannot experience true clarity; they cannot reveal the mind which is the source of all phenomena. This is called blankness.
One can have success with minimal exertion by merely donning tattered robes, eating simple food, and clearly maintaining awareness of the present mind.
Deluded people of the world do not understand this truth and put themselves through great anguish in their ignorance.
Hoping to achieve liberation, they cultivate a broad range of superficial practices to gain merit – only to fall into the inevitable discontent of habitual cyclic existence.
(So just) make your body and mind perfectly empty and peaceful, without any discriminative thinking at all.
Sit properly with the body erect.
Regulate the breath and concentrate the mind so it is not within you, not outside of you, and not in any location in between.
Do this carefully but naturally.
View your own consciousness tranquilly and attentively, so you can see how it is always moving, like flowing water or a glittering mirage.
After you have perceived this consciousness, simply continue to observe it gently and naturally, without getting fixed anywhere inside or outside of yourself.
Do this calmly and attentively until its fluctuations dissolve into peaceful stability.
This flowing consciousness will disappear like a gust of wind.
When this consciousness disappears, all illusions disappear along with it…one’s own mind becomes peacefully stable, and pure.
I cannot describe it any further.
Anyone who can keep this mind in sight during all activities and in the face of the desires for forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch, and in the midst of the winds of success and failure, criticism and praise, honor and abuse, suffering and pleasure, has established a pure practice (brahmacarya), and will never again be born into the realm of birth and death.
My disciples have recorded this treatise from my oral teachings so that readers might intuitively resonate with the words and perceive the meaning behind them.
I want everyone to discern their fundamental mind and experience awakening at once.
The basic principle of this teaching is the the manifestation of the one vehicle.
It’s ultimate intention is to lead the deluded to liberation, allowing them to become free from the realm of birth and death themselves, and to help others to cross over to the other shore of nirvana.
But this treatise only speaks of the benefit to oneself, it does not elaborate on how to benefit others.
It should be understood as a gate of direct practice.
Anyone who practices according to these instructions will realize awakening immediately.
From the Xiu Xin Yao Lun (c.700) written by members of the “East Mountain School” (Hongren’s students) as a summary of Master Hongren’s teaching. Based on a translation by John R. McRae.


Intro to the Four Immeasurables Dharma Talk

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Video of the Four Immeasurables Dharma Talk
We now start the new Awakened Heart Series of talks. These talks will gently guide us to open up and heal that tender heart of ours. We will be working toward the discovery of the Buddha’s Four Immeasurables or the Four Elements of True Love.
A first step though is to stop and to rest. So in the Dharma talk and meditation session we will look into the Meditative Practice of Calm Abiding.
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(Dana) Giving: The practice of giving is universally recognized as one of the most basic human virtues, a quality that testifies to the depth of one’s humanity and one’s capacity for self-transcendence. In the teaching of the Buddha, too, the practice of giving claims a place of special eminence, one which singles it out as being in a sense the foundation and seed of spiritual development.


Right Samadhi Dharma Talk

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Video of the Right Samadhi Dharma Talk
RIGHT SAMADHI (samyak-samadhi)
At long last we finally come to the eighth stage or limb of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. Here once again we come across the gnarly issues that translators face in their work.
For the most part Samadhi is usually translated as concentration but this totally misses the mark. Samadhi is a hard concept to pin down for most people. It’s slippery and illusive. Abstract and profound. Not easily conveyed.
This is an introductory talk on Right Mindfulness from the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. For a full explanation of the path be sure to checkout:
Live Stream
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(Dana) Giving: The practice of giving is universally recognized as one of the most basic human virtues, a quality that testifies to the depth of one’s humanity and one’s capacity for self-transcendence. In the teaching of the Buddha, too, the practice of giving claims a place of special eminence, one which singles it out as being in a sense the foundation and seed of spiritual development.
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Right Mindfulness Dharma Talk

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Video of the Right Mindfulness Dharma Talk
RIGHT MINDFULNESS (samyak-smrti)
In Sanskrit the seventh stage or limb of the Eightfold Path is called Samyak-Smrti (Pali samma-sati). Smrti, or sati, is normally translated as ‘mindfulness’, or sometimes as ‘awareness’.
In this Dharma talk will explore three aspects of Mindfulness and how to use it in your own life.
This is an introductory talk on Right Mindfulness from the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. For a full explanation of the path be sure to checkout:
Live Stream
We Live Stream the weekly Dharma Talks over on facebook so join The Awakened Community so that you’re instantly notified of the next time we’re live.
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(Dana) Giving: The practice of giving is universally recognized as one of the most basic human virtues, a quality that testifies to the depth of one’s humanity and one’s capacity for self-transcendence. In the teaching of the Buddha, too, the practice of giving claims a place of special eminence, one which singles it out as being in a sense the foundation and seed of spiritual development.


Right Effort Dharma Talk

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Video of the Right Effort Dharma Talk
This is an introductory talk on Right Effort from the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. For a full explanation of the path be sure to checkout:
RIGHT EFFORT (samyak-vyayama)
This weeks Dharma talk is on Right Effort from the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. This aspect of the path is about dropping our frantic hectic ways so that we can find that sweet spot of the perfect amount of energy to help us press forward in life.
Live Stream
We Live Stream the weekly Dharma Talks over on facebook so join The Awakened Community so that you’re instantly notified of the next time we’re live.
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(Dana) Giving: The practice of giving is universally recognized as one of the most basic human virtues, a quality that testifies to the depth of one’s humanity and one’s capacity for self-transcendence. In the teaching of the Buddha, too, the practice of giving claims a place of special eminence, one which singles it out as being in a sense the foundation and seed of spiritual development.


Right Livelihood Dharma Talk

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Video of the Right Livelihood Dharma Talk
RIGHT LIVELIHOOD (samyak-ajiva)
This is an introductory talk on Right Livelihood from the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. For a full explanation of the path be sure to checkout:
I think it’s very significant that the Buddhas first two disciples were everyday working people.
So often we may think that Buddhism or the pursuit of a spiritual ideal is only for monks, nuns or priests.
But we can see through the example of Tapussa and Bhallika that this notion is far from the truth.
Transformation and the pursuit of this ideal can be taken up by people from all walks of life.
If we are to truly transform our lives we have to look at making changes to every aspect of it and that includes our work lives.
Everyone has to work. This is a plain and simple truth. It’s the way things are. Our journey of transformation must come into our work lives as well.
We Live Stream the weekly Dharma Talks over on facebook so join The Awakened Community so that you’re instantly notified of the next time we’re live.
Like the Video? Support the Work!
→ Click here to give
(Dana) Giving: The practice of giving is universally recognized as one of the most basic human virtues, a quality that testifies to the depth of one’s humanity and one’s capacity for self-transcendence. In the teaching of the Buddha, too, the practice of giving claims a place of special eminence, one which singles it out as being in a sense the foundation and seed of spiritual development.


In the Beginning

In the beginning
There was neither existence nor non-existence then.
All this world was unmanifest energy.
There was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond.
There was neither death nor immortality then.
There was no distinguishing the sign of night nor of the day.
Oneness breathed, without breath, by its own impulse and power.
Other than that there was nothing beyond.
Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning,
With no distinguishing sign.
All this was pure potentiality.
And then something stirred in the deep.
An impulse, a desire, a thought,
“Let us explore all the possibilities of our potential. Let’s play.”
And from that infinite stillness arose a thunderous sound.
And light came to be.
And in an instant all of existence came to be.
And we gazed at the splendour, beauty and magnificence of it all.
We wanted to explore and play.
To become lost in the effulgence of our creative display.
Then to find our way back home to truth.
And so it was that the great forgetting began.
We dove into the ovean of ignorance.
Believing ourselves to be small, separate from each other and alone.
We tasted suffering for the first time
And became lost in a sea of selfish despair.
But don’t worry, this isn’t where our story ends.
Remember this is just the beginning.
For deep within us sleeps the wisdom of the truth of who we truly are.
And if we become silent for a moment we may hear a soft voice whispering,

“Awaken my love awaken.
You’ve forgotten who you truly are.
Don’t you remember that this is a game?

All this is consciousness.
All this is illuminating suchness.
All that you see, hear, smell, touch and taste is nothing but suchness.
All reality is shimmering, radiant, joyful suchness.
Words cannot truly describe it.

But know that all of this is just the free play of mind.

The true essence of who you are my beloved is suchness.
A magnitude of magnificence that is the basis and becoming of all.

That is your true self.
Your natural essence.
Your first face.

You can feel it..
Deep within – you can feel it.

The truth of you
Is timeless, vast and beyond words.

When you gaze upon all of existence you are really looking upon yourself.

This blissful, radiant compassionate suchness is the reality of everything and is the truth of who you are.

But you’ve forgotten my beloved.
You’ve been lost in the game we created for ourselves.

And in this forgetting you have suffered.
You have wandered.
And you have believed that you were alone and separate from it all.

But all of it is you.

Remember my dear remember.
All that you are is all that is.
And all that is, is pure illuminating suchness.
And suchness is you.