From 1981: Public Life and Private Time by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:
Ninety people attended Lama Yeshe’s teachings on powa at Chenrezig from June 6 to 15. Powa is the practice of transferring one’s own or another’s consciousness at the time of death to ensure a positive rebirth. Lama Yeshe taught powa in order to preserve the tradition and so his students could develop some idea of what one could accomplish through cultivating the concentrated power of the mind. Lama often encouraged his students to feel they could accomplish anything they put their mind to.
Lama supplemented his teaching on powa with an explanation of Buddha’s doctrine of dependent origination, presented in terms of the twelve links of dependent arising.
From Lama Yeshe’s 1981 Chenrezig Institute teachings:
Today I thought that my subject would be dependent origination—that is, how and why we are existent on this earth. I think that many Western people question why they have come on this earth. It is difficult sometimes to find the answer to this. Buddhism has an answer to why we are existent. That is why I feel that sharing this explanation with you is so important.
When Shakyamuni Buddha gave this teaching on interdependence, he held up one flower, like this, demonstrating that because this flower is existing, there must be a seed from which it came. Thus, because there was a seed, now there is this flower. Isn’t that true?
This is a very simple way of explaining. We have to understand that all phenomena are existent in this way, that all phenomena arise from causes. Every phenomenon is related to other phenomena; every phenomenon comes from something else. All of us have a father and a mother; we are dependent on our father, our mother, genetics and the energy of the four elements. Thus, it is important to know the interdependent cycle of existence. In this way, according to Buddhism, we can eventually discover the totality of shunyata (emptiness). If we don’t understand the interdependent relationship of all existence, then shunyata becomes just words and it’s not possible to discover this profound totality.
I’m sure that all of you have studied the science of botany and biology and those things. If you have this kind of knowledge then it is easy for us to understand the Buddhist explanation of dependence. Subjectively, this is an explanation of how we sentient beings are interdependent. Objectively, for example, science clearly explains how trees are interdependent. So simple. So, the Buddhist explanation pertaining to sentient beings is that of the twelve links of dependent origination.
First of all, in Buddhism the primary cause is ignorance. Ignorance is the creative cause of all worldly, or samsaric, beings. Ignorance means the ignorant mind. It is the mind that is unclear, that does not understand reality. This is the meaning of ignorance. Don’t think that ignorance is somewhere in space, somewhere “out there.” In very simple terms, all of our human energy—physical, mental—could not exist without interdependent causation. All our energy came from a previous energy, which in turn came from yet another previous energy, and so on. So we are linked.
So ignorance is the main cause of life existing. It is the cause that produces the seed of life. Now one can have either a good life or a difficult life. We all know this. A difficult life comes from ignorance but also a good life, a life filled with temporal pleasure, comes from ignorance as well.
We can talk about different types of ignorance and different degrees of ignorance, can’t we? If you eat muesli, then this might indicate that you know how to take care of your body. But you might not know how to do anything more than that to stay healthy. So beyond that knowledge, you are still ignorant, aren’t you? Thus you shouldn’t think that ignorance means something totally black. I don’t want you to think that way. It’s not true.
From a Buddhist perspective, we are all considered to be fortunate beings. As human beings, we are of especially profound good quality. But still our source is ignorance. Nevertheless, as good human beings we have potential, great potential. That’s why we can progress, because we can use our energy to develop that potential.
Ignorance is very dangerous because it produces extreme minds: extreme in both overestimating and underestimating reality, and in projecting mistaken characteristics on reality. Because of ignorance we judge and project wrong values, wrong motivations, and then we act mistakenly and again bring ourselves more trouble. So from ignorance arises motivation, that is, what we call karma. Karma means to make active, active and shaking. It also means to shape and to change. That is karma. So from the unclear mind comes shaking, perhaps in the form of extreme hatred or extreme attachment. That becomes our motivation. This motivation then leads to another and to another, until after an hour that motivation passes and you seem to be okay. But actually you are still not okay because one hour of extreme negative energy is still left in the ocean of your consciousness. The imprints are left there and you are still carrying them. Month after month, year after year, you continue to carry everything you have done. It is so important to comprehend this, to gain that comprehension. Most of the time we ignore this. We think that it is all gone, but it is not gone. The emotional disturbance has gone but the imprints, the reality imprints are published in our consciousness. Then, after a thousand years, because of those imprints in the mind, again we react in the same way. Our reaction comes out from this confusion left in the mind.
This is why we understand that ignorance is the first and primary cause, which then creates the reaction of karma, leaving imprints on the consciousness. Thus the potential for the cycle to continue is there.