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Our mind is like the surface on which we make a drawing

Lama teaching, CIN, 1976

Lama Yeshe teaching at Chenrezig Institute, Australia, 1976

From 1981: Public and Private Time by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:

That evening Lama Yeshe led a puja at Tara House. Two days later he gave a weekend course to eighty people on Nagarjuna’s Letter to a King. This was a letter written by one of Buddhism’s most highly realized scholar-practitioners to a king in India nearly 2,000 years ago. During the teaching Scott Brusso picked random questions from the audience out of a basket. “While he was answering one question, I was picking out the next,” said Scott. “I read it then decided it wasn’t very good. So I put it back and went to choose another. This was all quite invisible to everyone else and done below the lip of the basket. But Lama stopped in mid-sentence, turned to me and said, ‘Don’t discriminate! Give it to me now—that one!’”

From Lama Yeshe’s teachings on Nagarjuna’s Letter to a King in Melbourne, 1981:

Nagarjuna explains how we control our anger by actualizing the paramita (perfection) of patience. He also says how it is very important in the first place that we not open up the door of any situation that may lead to anger. Why? Because the minute that we generate anger energy, its characteristic is to react again and again and again, thereby leading us into a miserable life. Simple, isn’t it?! So, on the other hand, Nagarjuna quotes Shakyamuni Buddha himself, who said in the sutras that if one abandons anger, there’s no need to worry about entering any situation; there is no need to worry about having a miserable life. Shakyamuni promised, and Nagarjuna quotes from Shakyamuni’s teaching. That’s interesting for me. At this particular place Nagarjuna says, “Shakyamuni says that if you don’t have anger, you don’t have to worry about entering any miserable life situation during this life or your next several lifetimes.” Interesting, isn’t it? I feel that this is really very important. Anger is the worst karma to have. Not only does it destroy your good-quality peaceful joyful life right now, but it also destroys your good quality next life as well. There is a reason that we are born in an unpleasant place, isn’t there? Due to causation, the mental energy of anger irritates and results in our physical situation, our physical bodies. Buddhists believe that everything has a reason, that everything has a history and an evolution.     

Lama teaching, MI, 1976

Lama Yeshe teaching, Manjushri Institute, England, 1976.

So for us it is very important to control our anger as much as possible. Anger is our worst enemy, you know, our worst enemy. I think that anger destroys all the good qualities of our human dignity. For this reason, it is very important to control it. For example, one moment of anger can destroy a good friendship of twenty or thirty years, a long-time relationship in which the friends shared everything. Anger can destroy this in just a moment. The angry mind has no appreciation for any of this. Can you imagine? It’s unbelievable, but even the shortest moment of anger can destroy the collected energy of twenty or thirty years of friendship and lead to misery. All these things are part of human experience, aren’t they? Therefore, since we like to be happy, Buddhism places much emphasis on the importance of controlling anger, so we can be happy. By controlling our anger we’ll receive only a human rebirth and we’ll go from happiness to happiness, from bliss to bliss. I think this is very sensible understanding.

      Patience, on the other hand, is the opposite of anger. To be patient is to not be irritated or angry. But in order to be patient, one must first understand the anger situation. In one of Shantideva’s verses, he writes, “If somebody beats me and punches me and then I become angry and punch him back…” He says that this is nonsense. “By reacting with anger, does the pain of the punch you already received disappear? Or not?” Shantideva sort of scientifically analyzes the situation. Maybe your nose is already broken. By reacting in anger, your nose doesn’t get fixed, does it?! In just this way you can analyze all the details of the situation. And because of this kind of analysis, Buddhist anger control is unique.

      Now I’ve been talking about control, controlling our anger. But is this the correct word? Sometimes I have a problem with language, with finding just the right word in English. Here, control does not mean you repress your anger. Control refers to a way to understand, a way to express.

      In Buddhism, it is highly advised that we not manifest anger physically or verbally. Because by the time it manifests it is already super strong, super intense. So before we express our anger verbally or physically, somehow we need to stand up and control it. Somehow we need to digest or abandon the emotion of anger, through meditation, through analytical wisdom, through whatever method we can use.    

Lama at MI, 1976

Lama Yeshe teaching, Manjushri Institute, England, 1976

Nagarjuna explains how to deal with situations in which strong emotions arise. Each human being has the aspect of a different element, which manifests as a way of thinking, a way of perceiving, a kind of mentality. There are three basic types. Our mind is like the surface on which we make a drawing. Sometimes the mind where we draw an object is like water, sometimes it is like earth, and sometimes it is like rock or stone. Okay. So when this kind of superstition or delusion arises in the mind, sometimes it’s like drawing on water, isn’t it? It arises suddenly, and then phew! It disappears almost immediately. Sometimes it’s like drawing in earth; the delusion only disappears slowly, slowly. But sometimes, the impression left on the mind is like a drawing on rock or on concrete. In that case, it seems to stay; it seems like it is always there, doesn’t it? In the instance of drawing on the water, that kind of mind is unstable. Therefore, whatever deluded minds or emotions arise—anger or whatever—as much as possible we should try to make this like drawing on water. Okay? This is what Nagarjuna said. But when the profound wisdom that touches reality arises in the mind, you should make this like drawing on stone. You should develop this kind of stability so that you can become liberated. That’s very important.


Universal reality is like a seal, because there is no way out.

Meditation at Chenrezig Institute, 1975

Meditation at Chenrezig Institute, 1975.

From 1981: Public and Private Time by Adele Hulese, Big Love author:

The transition from family business to Buddhist center had not been completely easy, especially for Joyce Green, Ian’s mother. She had worked very hard for Sandhurst Town for some years. Suddenly, teams of young Buddhists had been foisted on her and were now invading her kitchen and her life. Aflame with righteousness, they threw out her mousetraps and fly-sprays and sometimes treated her less than respectfully. Her husband spent each week in Melbourne, but Joyce lived in a house immediately adjacent to the new center. During Lama Yeshe’s visit, Joyce graciously moved out so he could stay there in comfort. Max and Maggie Feldmann filled the place with orchids. Joyce Green ended up accepting the situation and generating the highest regard for Lama Yeshe, who gave her a beautiful Tibetan carpet.

About seventy people took the Heruka Chakrasamvara initiation, during which they all placed little bits of gum leaf on their heads instead of the traditional flower. Many had no idea what to do with the strip of red cotton cloth with which one covers the eyes at a certain point in the initiation. Some placed these cloth strips over their mouths, but those kinds of details didn’t faze Lama Yeshe who laughed all the way through. As he was about to give the students the bodhisattva and tantric vows he said, “These vows are a little bit dangerous, but don’t worry.”

The teaching began with a reminder that nothing could be achieved without reference to the four preliminaries: taking refuge, actualizing bodhicitta by being totally open to others, purification and the practice of guru yoga.

The term mahamudra has the literal meaning of “great seal” and Lama Yeshe explained this in his own unique style.

From Lama Yeshe’s Bendigo teachings on mahamudra, August 1981:

Universal reality is like a seal, because there is no way out. All levels of existence—organic, non-organic, permanent or impermanent—are of the nature of non-self-existence. Guru Shakyamuni said something like, “Not seeing is the perfect seeing.” Sounds strange, doesn’t it? Mahamudra is a strange thing that you have to learn. Not perceiving phenomena as dualistic is the perfect experience of seeing. Mahamudra is very different from shunyata, but the particular characteristic of mahamudra is an emphasis on how to experience shunyata, rather than explaining what it is.

When you have a small experience of mahamudra you drop out of heavy concepts, such as feeling that your body is a difficult combination of atoms rather than a transcendental experience. To develop mahamudra, concentration is not enough. Lama Tsongkhapa said, “Samadhi is not enough to eliminate the concept of ego.” We need the unity of concentration and mahamudra to achieve that, but first of all we need to neutralize the mind with breathing meditation. Then we slowly use the mind to watch our thoughts. But this is not watching in the usual sense. Language is a problem here. Take sunlight, for example. The sun doesn’t have to say, “I am shooting out sunlight.” Similarly, this “watching” doesn’t have a thinking process; it is just being.

Rainbow over the gompa, 1975

A rainbow over the gompa (meditation hall), Chenrezig Institute, Australia, 1975.

I want you to understand: Mahamudra is beyond words, beyond growing, beyond cessation. Don’t just trust my words. It doesn’t matter how much I use words, it still comes from my conception. So go…touch…then go beyond the words. Just watch and let go. Mahamudra emphasizes no intellect. At a certain point intellect is the enemy. Then the real transformation comes.

When I was first studying I thought that if one were to understand all of Buddhism—the philosophy, Madhyamaka and everything—then one would certainly knock out the ego. First I thought that, but then I checked and realized that my conception was not true. People could learn the words and ideas of the doctrine, by way of teachers, but somehow this did not stop all problems of the ego. That is possible. I was surprised. That’s why I feel that the mahamudra teaching is in touch with the heart.

Your view of yourself, your own intuition and simultaneously born ego—these have to be investigated. Fundamentally, you have to understand that anything you perceive on the basis of your five sense consciousnesses will be perceived dualistically as inherently self-existent. Everything. The moment you open your eyes everything is perceived in an entirely deluded, dualistic way.

Traditionally, when we teach mahamudra, instead of sitting inside meditating, the student walks around in order to be able to experience moment to moment. In that way the student captures the thief of the ego’s projections. So this time, even during the break times, you should try skillfully to investigate and discover the non-self-existence of the perceived absolute quality of the “I.” At a certain point, when you seek the I in that way, then you—the I that is being sought—and the seeker you, both are dissolved. Subject and object both dissolve. That is the experience. The fantasy concept of I that we hold is so built up that when it dissolves you may experience fear. This is a natural reaction. Leave it. Just let go.

Lama Tsongkhapa always emphasizes the unity of hearing, analytical checking and penetrative meditation. Take, for example, my own practice. I teach Westerners meditation, but some of my geshe friends think that first you have to study for thirty years, just as we Tibetan monks studied. After that you meditate. They negate what I am doing. But I just do. I don’t know why I do. That’s really my answer.

Now, in mahamudra the unique way of presenting universal reality is a particular emphasis on meditation on our own consciousness as the object. Normally our meditation object is something like Buddha’s image, the figure of a deity, and so on. But this time we contemplate our own consciousness. The characteristic of consciousness from the Buddhist point of view is its clean clear nature. It is like crystal, a mirror that takes on a reflection. Consciousness doesn’t have substantial physical energy. It has no color, no form. It is like space energy. Its nature is non-duality. Meditation on consciousness easily leads to mahamudra, which is why at the beginning you concentrate on your own consciousness.

Lama meditating by the ocean, Australia, 1974

Lama meditating by the ocean, Maroochydore, Australia, 1974.

First you clear your mind by focusing on your breathing. When you have reached a point where your mind is clear and quiet, then do not start thinking concepts like, “How beautiful, how wonderful.” No. You just rest there, being continuously mindful. It is not necessary to reach a state in which your mind is completely bright and clear. If you achieve the object to some extent, then that’s good enough; just let go. And at the same time use your subtle mind for analytical checking, such as perceiving whether the ego is existent or not. When you investigate such a concrete entity as the I, it naturally ends up disappearing, automatically. It cannot stand up to investigation. So at the same time you experience non-duality, or mahamudra.

This is the way to develop penetrative insight (Skt. vipasyana). Your own subtle mind moves like a fish, which swims through the water without disturbing the ocean. First it seems that the I has some sort of existence, but when you reach a certain point it dissolves. The experience is that both subject and object dissolve. At that point you let go. Lama Tsongkhapa says that at this point we should never allow any kind of object—such as form, color or deity—to arise. So even if a special fantastic vision comes, do not follow it.

Also watch Lama Yeshe answering questions on Mahamudra.



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