Meeting Obstacles on the Path: Signs of Progress!

Tibetan Buddhism has always recognised the importance of providing pragmatic advice for our difficulties in terms of both our practice and our everyday life. This type of help is kept alive by our own Lamas both in their teaching and personal communication with us.  In this way we have a great resource for dealing with those times when we have become despondent about how things are going for us in dharma and life in general. Applying the teachings to our situation, though, is an ongoing process as we are challenged by various circumstances. In doing so, our preconceptions and expectations about Buddhism are also directly confronted. Nevertheless students took heart from teachings Lama Jampa gave this January based on Chogyal Phagpa’s text, ‘Garland of Jewels’.

When we first encounter dharma, hear some teachings and begin to practise meditation, there is a great sense of the promise of finding peace and contentment. Hearing about blessings of the buddhas and the importance of having confidence and faith, we may think that some supernatural being or saviour will intervene in our lives and make everything perfect for us! However, as our practice develops it seems inevitable that obstacles and difficulties are going to crop up.

We probably don’t expect that things could suddenly start to seem a lot worse than they had done a short time before. As it turns out, that’s what happens from time to time. It’s not that there is something hopeless about oneself or that something has started to go wrong on one’s spiritual journey. Experiences of apparent set-backs are completely routine for someone who has genuinely engaged on the spiritual path.

It was very encouraging for us to hear this from Lama Jampa’s teaching of Chogyal Phagpa’s text. In fact, we learned, perhaps even more surprisingly, that encountering obstacles can be signs of progress! How so?

The dharma path is known as a path of awakening. As well as awakening to the potential for enlightenment there is also the gradual apprehension of habits of mind and negative tendencies that, through unawareness, have been established over lifetimes but not seen clearly hitherto.

As Lama Jampa explained,

“Over many lifetimes we have created a world around us that is in harmony with negativities. In terms of our relationships, social setting and our world as a whole.”

As we open our eyes more and more to what lies behind our own individual emotional landscape, aspects of “ourselves” begin to reveal themselves in a way that can surprise and shock us. We begin to see that we are dealing with lifetimes of karmic imprints.

The magnitude of our spiritual endeavour gradually dawns. Its essence is the work in turning around of karmic forces that have dominated, not just within our own limited lifespans but across lives. So it is hardly surprising that there will be hardships and challenges as there inevitably are in any great endeavour.  

Lama Jampa pointed out in his teaching that we need not be shocked or disappointed when confronted such difficulties, but come to see it as indeed beneficial that they have come to the surface now. It is a blessing for negative karma to ripen more quickly in the context of our dharma practice than to lay hidden with the potential to cause harm in less auspicious and viable circumstances when we may be less able to cope.

We now see that what we had perceived as setbacks are actually an integral part of the business of practising dharma: the ripening of karmic forces within our mind-stream. So we realise that it is necessary to build on spiritual resources within ourselves so that we are equipped to counter that kind of negativity. This is where “merit” comes into play. Merit is not any kind of brownie point or badge of virtue to wear and show off, but is a practical store-house of spiritual resources we build up, to apply when needed to counter negativity. We are always well advised by wise and compassionate masters that the time to accumulate merit is whenever we feel able to do so. It is said that there is no limit to how much merit will be of value to us as a resource in the future.

Clearly, it is going to take effort to apply the forces of merit from our practice to overcome negativity. The incentive to apply ourselves with effort comes from seeing that the essential point of dharma practice is to remove obstacles and negativity that cover our buddha nature. This enables natural qualities of wisdom and compassion to reveal themselves.

In one of the verses of his ‘Garland of Jewels’ Phagpa says:

“Hardship is necessary to increase one’s lifespan,
           one’s wealth and one’s dharma practice.

If any of these are not going well, overcome the difficulty with effort.”

So to sum up, Lama Jampa, like all those great masters before him, advises us to expend effort in accumulating merit and effort in applying that merit to counter the effects of the ripening of negative karma. In this way we will be able to overcome difficulties and strengthen our dharma practice along with other aspects of our life.

As Patrul Rinpoche famously said,

“Dharma belongs to those who make an effort in it.”

Lama Jampa will be teaching the second of three parts of the text by Chogyal Phagpa,  in Bristol on 8th June. Find details of this teaching event here.

Mind Training for All Life’s Ups and Downs

It is often said that all in the world wish for happiness, for themselves and for their loved ones. There is advice from Buddha to worldly people on finding happiness: live a life of virtue with loving kindness and caring for others. But, of course, such happiness never lasts indefinitely and so various states of grasping, clinging and attachment can arise, leading to negative actions that inevitably lead to suffering. How can we avoid those outcomes? In short, how can a Buddhist practitioner bring any experience of happiness in their lives onto their path?

The goddess Saraswati whose Vajrayana initiation Lama Jampa bestowed on students at Wetlands Centre, London on 9th March 2019

The goddess Saraswati whose Vajrayana initiation Lama Jampa bestowed on students at Wetlands Centre, London on 9th March 2019

A teaching from the Great Collection of Mind Training Teachings (‘Lojong Gyatsa’ in Tibetan) entitled ‘The Mind Training of Taking Happiness and Suffering onto the Path’ provides instruction on how to respond  positively to experiences of happiness so that we can be protected from falling back into negative samsaric habits.

Firstly, there is an instruction on how to see the emptiness of one’s happiness; how to come to see that there is never any true existence to be found in any experience of happiness or the person experiencing it.

Secondly, there is a special teaching for those on the Vajrayana path on how to identify experiences of happiness with their yidam, their meditational deity.

Lama Jampa explained this:

“Although there is nothing existent in the joy that you cling to and neither is there anything existent in the mind experiencing it; nevertheless, its manifestation doesn’t need to be denied. It is both empty and appearing and so it is like a yidam.It is nothing truly existent. So, the joyfulness of your joy, so to speak - the happiness of your happiness - without becoming anything substantial, has that appearance as joy just as the yidam has the appearance of a certain divine form.”

For those who are not practising Vajrayana, the Lama explained that they can substitute the buddha nature in place of the meditational deity for this instruction.

Thirdly, an essential third instruction is given for we ordinary men and women on how to dedicate our happiness for the benefit of all sentient beings.

The training is privately to say to oneself:

“When happy, I shall dedicate my virtues to all;
May benefit and happiness pervade all of space.”

The Lama explained that if one can make this dedication process part of oneself, one will be cultivating the seed of nirmanakaya, becoming a buddha who works for others. With the attitude that you will dedicate to others whatever arises that is positive for you, then little by little, you will be growing into a buddha.

The instruction for dealing with suffering when it arises is basically the same; and there is the same method given to Vajrayana practitioners to identify the appearing, though empty, experience with the yidam.

Here one says:

“When suffering, I shall take on the suffering of all beings;
May the ocean of suffering become dry.”

So, indeed, we Buddhists can authentically open ourselves up to all experiences of happiness as well as suffering.

But, what if we don’t manage to fully see the emptiness of our happiness at the time of its arising and so craving for its repetition arises? As well as reflecting on the insubstantiality of the faded happiness, one could also turn to the instructions on how to transform the negative emotions of attachment and craving.

In this way, all such experiences we can have in life are anticipated and covered by the mind training. So as ordinary trainee bodhisattvas, we do not need to fear the world. We may not yet have escaped from samsara’s clutches, but we can face it with humour and a good heart, knowing that there is, for us, a path with power to liberate all.

This blog is the work of students of the Dechen Dharma Community. Posts are typically a result of contemplation by its authors on teachings given by their Lamas. Whilst  every effort is made to accurately reflect teachings given, any misrepresentation is entirely the responsibility of the authors. Please address any communication to

Making Disturbing Emotions Fuel for Spiritual Practice

In early March this year, Lama Jampa continued his teaching from the ‘Great Collection of Mind Training Teachings’ (‘Lojong Gyatsa’ in Tibetan). This anthology of individual teachings by a range of different masters spanning over five centuries was originally compiled by two Tibetan masters, Shonu Gyalchok and Konchok Gyaltsen in the 15th Century.


Last year in London, students were introduced to the principles of ‘mind training’ (lojong in Tibetan) from the text ‘The Eight Verses of Mind Training’. See our earlier blog on this together with a link to a recording of that teaching.

This recent teaching was about what we do about strong emotions that we normally think of as obstructing spiritual progress. Amazingly, in this system of lojong, these emotions, which have up to now enslaved us in self cherishing, become the very fuel of our practice.

It is true that disturbing emotions such as desire, pride, jealousy, hatred and delusion have always been factors that alienate us from our true nature, our buddha nature. So, one may think that they are to be somehow pushed away or denied. However, that is not the approach that is adopted in the lojong. Here, they are not to be denied, but equally they are not to be indulged. By falling prey to them, we give in to habits of unskilful actions, perpetuating karma that keeps us enmeshed in sufferings of samsara.  

The lojong approach is first to acknowledge that these universal emotions inevitably  arise in our minds, in our experience of life. It is what we do next that is so radically different from anything we have done before.

In the lojong, we use the experience of whatever emotion that has arisen to draw in the common experience of others, of that emotion and its attendant suffering. We cease to see the arisen emotion as being particular to ourselves. It is a universal that others experience and so we can use its momentary arising as revealing a bond between ourselves and others; a connection that otherwise would not have been seen as positive at all.  

The example is given in the text of desire. In the particular example given, we train so that on the arisal of desire, we firstly bring to mind someone who we feel is antagonistic to us. Then, acknowledging the fact that sometimes they must experience desire, we draw this imagined desire (without giving it any specific form) into our mind to merge with our desire. We then extend this by bringing others to mind and drawing in imagined desire from them also. In this way, we grow a great heap of desire in our mind so that it is no longer just ours alone. Now, we have taken our desire in a completely different direction from the route of self-cherishing that has so entrapped us in samsara. Instead, we have taken it on a completely different route: towards bodhichitta.

From this we see that lojong, this training that we are undertaking privately within our own mind, is not a path of cool detachment at all, but one of developing an inner sense of connectedness with others.

To learn to practise this teaching properly, of course one needs to do much more than just read a brief blog post like this. One must attend teachings by a qualified dharma teacher to receive the full body of instructions and explanations necessary to embark on the training properly.  Fortunately, that is perfectly possible for us, as Lama Jampa is just such a qualified teacher and he gives these teachings regularly at his Dechen centres and also at other centres around the world. See the events page of this website for details of the former and the Lama’s website for details of teachings he will be giving in other places.

He will be presenting further teachings from the ‘Great Collection of Mind Training Teachings’ in London in the Autumn.

This blog is the work of students of the Dechen Dharma Community. Posts are typically a result of contemplation by its authors on teachings given by their Lamas. Whilst  every effort is made to accurately reflect teachings given, any misrepresentation is entirely the responsibility of the authors. Please address any communication to

Buddha’s Teachings for the Worldly: A Path to Happiness

With unsurpassed insight into the workings of the world, flowing from his enlightenment, Buddha is uniquely able to guide us on how we can find success and happiness in our lives. The guidance is not restricted to those who have made commitments to transcendental paths as represented in the Sravaka, Theravada and Mahayana paths (where ‘transcendental’ refers to that beyond the scope of ordinary worldly success and happiness sought in this life). There is a body of advice derived from Buddha’s teachings that is freely available for those whose aims and ambitions in life remain entirely worldly.

LJT Smiling.JPG

For those who have looked to dharma for guidance, since the time of the Buddha until now, motivations have varied widely from the worldly to the purely transcendental. These differences were delineated by the Indian master Atisha, in 11th Century Tibet, into a classification of three kinds of motivation: worldly, individual liberation from samsara, and attainment of enlightenment for the benefit of beings. Chogyal Phakpa used Atisha’s classification of people’s motivations to present advice to a Mongol prince in the 14th century. We today have at least one thing in common with that historic prince: we seek lasting happiness! So, let us see what this ancient text may have to offer, not just for our own benefit if we are already Buddhists, but for others in our lives who may not be.

In January, Lama Jampa taught the first part of Phakpa ‘s text, this section of which is a presentation of Buddha’s Worldly Path. This is a path for the ordinary person who is not seeking liberation from cyclical existence, samsara, as taught in the transcendental paths. This is not to say that such a worldly motivated individual will not subsequently develop a deeper and more subtle motivation upon glimpsing the nature of samsaric existence. In fact, Phakpa’s text anticipates just such a progression, as the second and third sections of his text, to be taught by Lama Jampa later in 2019, deal with the Hinayana and Mahayana paths respectively.

The worldly path as set out by Phakpa can be understood under seven headings:

  1. Recognise the danger of thinking wealth is the cause of happiness

  2. The need to repay kindness

  3. Protect others

  4. How to exercise control in all directions

  5. Rule according to dharma

  6. Use wealth wisely

  7. Accomplish activities well

The cause of happiness is virtue and not wealth. So, one should cultivate the values that accord with that understanding to achieve happiness. This is not to say, however, that wealth does not play a part as one needs some degree of wealth to protect and benefit others. Used properly, wealth can be of great benefit.

One is advised to develop a healthy attitude towards wealth, recognising that it is a temporary phenomenon. Then, if one loses one’s wealth one will not become dejected but go to work to create whatever is positive.  

Loving Kindness is a cornerstone of the whole Buddhist Path. Here one is encouraged to recall with gratitude the kindness of one’s parents who gave us our body and cared for us until able to stand on our own two feet. Feeling part of a continuity of family that stretches back over time counters the arrogance one could develop from thinking of oneself proudly as an independent entity. The sense of gratitude that flows from this kind of attitude naturally leads to a wish to repay kindness by looking after those for whom we have responsibility.

Regarding protection of others, Phakpa lists particular people who we should certainly look out for and protect: the elderly, the poor, the sick, one’s partner, one’s children and, he says, those relatives who do not deceive one. Also, anyone who you have harmed and who showed patience is worthy of your protection, as are people who we may otherwise have condemned for making silly mistakes. He says that those who don’t care for others won’t achieve their own benefit.

It is not just the vulnerable who Phakpa advises us to include in our circle of protection. He points to benefits for the worldly person in providing protection for spiritual beings who benefit others. This provides a connection between us and their powerful virtuous deeds. Recognisable signs of wisdom, kindness and compassion are qualities that make a person worthy of support and protection in that way.

To exercise control effectively in all directions is surely something we would all wish to be able to accomplish. This can be achieved, Phakpa says, with the right kind of effort. Firstly, we try to align ourselves with virtues that are in harmony with life. Then, we need to develop a determined energy that is  ready to face difficulties and obstacles that will inevitably arise. He points out that no benefits happen accidentally and all those who achieved anything great only did so by applying themselves.

Rule According to Dharma because dharma brings happiness to the world. The relevance of this advice to how we fulfil our own responsibilities - whether as leader, manager, parent or modern-day consumer - can easily be seen. We are advised to avoid quick worldly fixes or shortcuts that rely on manipulating others. Develop an inner ambition of kind heartedness to others, wanting happiness for those working for us, acknowledging their work and contributions.

We are encouraged to recognise that no-one in this world is either wholly good or wholly bad; all are mixed. So, when virtue outweighs the bad, recognise that as a good start!

To use wealth wisely, recognise four kinds of wealth:

  • Wealth like an enemy

  • Wealth like a relative

  • Meaningless wealth

  • Ordinary wealth

The first kind listed here is like an enemy because after all the difficulties of acquiring, accumulating and trying to keep it, it destroys you. Meaningless wealth is wealth that is obtained easily but that is not spent or put to any beneficial purpose. On the other hand, wealth that is likened to a relative is obtained by honest means, accumulated without effort and used for beneficial purposes with a virtuous mind. Finally, ordinary wealth is what is needed to provide the temporary benefits needed by oneself and those under one’s protection.

Wealth like a relative is clearly beneficial and ordinary wealth is common sense, whereas the other two kinds of wealth are to be avoided.

To accomplish activities well, the wise man or woman examines an action before committing it, whereas the foolish one acts and then sees what they have done afterwards. Even if actions don’t turn out as the wise man or woman wished them to, they will have no regrets, whereas the foolish one will have every reason for regrets. Phakpa says one should always apply this kind of wisdom to one’s actions.

When it comes to food and intoxicants, we are advised to take care and with regard to sexual pleasure, to avoid distracting attachment to it. Rather we should rely on contentment.

Finally, the points are summarised as follows:

  • Don’t be arrogant when wealthy nor downcast when poor

  • Repay kindness

  • Venerate those worthy of veneration

  • Protect the weak

  • Exercise control in all directions

  • Rule according to dharma

  • Utilise your wealth with care and accomplish activities in an excellent way

Phakpa said to the prince that by following this advice, he would become glorious and prosperous in during his life and acquire happiness in his next life, having gained merit in his own lifetime.

Many of us will immediately see the sense of this pragmatic advice and wish to apply it in our own lives, seeing that this is the only reliable way to happiness even in this modern world.

Lama Jampa will move on to the second part of Phakpa’s text in early June. Find details here. This next part will show how the dharma student who is motivated towards liberation from samsaric existence builds upon the foundations laid in this first section which has outlined the moral outlook that remains indispensable throughout the Buddhist path. .

This blog is the work of students of the Dechen Dharma Community. Posts are typically a result of contemplation by its authors on teachings given by their Lamas. Whilst  every effort is made to accurately reflect teachings given, any misrepresentation is entirely the responsibility of the authors. Please address any communication to

Tantra Side by Side with Sutra: The Way of Tibetan Buddhism

In his book, Diamond Sky, Lama Jampa says,

“Once bodhichitta has arisen in the space of open-heartedness, one should enter the third vehicle, the Vajrayana.”

The reason for this encouragement, he explains, is the effectiveness of Vajrayana practice as a means to achieve accomplishment on the Buddhist path.

Lama Jampa Thaye at Changlochen Ling, Dordogne, this summer when, over a period of two weeks, he bestowed a series of initiations of Tara..

Lama Jampa Thaye at Changlochen Ling, Dordogne, this summer when, over a period of two weeks, he bestowed a series of initiations of Tara..

There is no attempt in this blog to explain the Vajrayana, the path in which one puts into practice teachings contained in Lord Buddha’s Tantras. Here, we simply mention how ordinary people like ourselves can enter into this extraordinary path in an authentic manner and hence begin, over time, to realise its fruit in our own experience.

Lama Jampa quotes Sonam Tsemo, one of the founding fathers of the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism:

“Tantra means one’s mind being non-dual primordial wisdom. It is an unbroken continuum from beginningless time until buddhahood.”

The body of practices in Vajrayana cannot be explained in the same manner as the Sutra teachings. While a full understanding of the Sutra teachings can be obtained through the power of reason, Tantra operates at a more subtle and fundamental level. As such, its action is more immediate, carrying within it the fruit of the practice: enlightenment, buddhahood. It is thus called the ‘fruition vehicle’ in contrast to the ‘causal vehicle’ derived from the Sutras.

Lama Jampa explains this in his Rain of Clarity,

“This is because in the Vajrayana, rather than trying to accumulate the causal factors that will produce enlightenment in the distant future, one practises with the understanding that the very goal of practice, the state of buddha, is already present, in a sense, within one’s stream of being.”

How can we gain confidence that this is so and how can we enter into such a practice?

Being Introduced to Vajrayana

To get to the point where we are ready to enter Vajrayana, we will have discovered that Buddha’s teachings are entirely grounded in the reality of our situation in the world. They bring us face to face with the facts of life and our connectedness with others - their suffering as well as our own. We can no longer seek to live in a bubble or on some mystical trip. The teachings are not spiritually romantic, but utterly realistic.

So the Vajrayana, with its ritual and seemingly ethereal deities, is likely to seem strange in comparison to practices and teachings one may have encountered in the sutric, causal vehicle. This would certainly be very confusing were it not for the Lama who is able to put these extraordinary practices into the wider context of the entire path.

Lama Jampa does this authentically and precisely, according to the Buddhist tradition.

Having been given the authority to do so by his own Vajra Masters, the Lama opens the gateway to Vajrayana practice through initiations that have been transmitted in this way over many centuries.

In his Way of Tibetan Buddhism, Lama Jampa explains that initiations are “essentially ritual embodiments of the transference of meditative realisation”. Any initiation must take place in person between a master and student or group of students. All subsequent deity-based practices in Vajrayana stem from initiations. It is through practice of a meditational text, or sadhana to use the Sanskrit term, that the student is able to cultivate the meditative accomplishment ‘planted as a seed’ at the time of the initiation.

In his Rain of Clarity, Lama Jampa quotes from the Mahamudratilika Tantra:

“Without initiation one cannot obtain powers, just as one cannot extract butter from sand.”

Hence, initiation is the only single gateway into Vajrayana practice.

The Lama’s Teachings: Both Sutra and Tantra

Lama Jampa always introduces Vajrayana in the context of wider teachings on the Bodhisattva Path and teachings that lead us towards that path. For, Vajrayana is only for those who have gone some way towards awakening the aspiration of bodhichitta.

We readily see the sense, therefore, in the pattern of how the Lama appears to structure the days, weekends and other periods of his teachings. We invariably see his programmes to comprise of, firstly, a sutric dharma text - one that is derived from Sutras or commentaries on Sutras - followed by a Vajrayana initiation.

The teaching Lama Jampa gave in Bristol in the autumn exemplified this pattern. In the morning he presented a quintessential Mahayana text composed by an early Sakya master, Nupa Rikzin Drak: ‘Instructions on Parting from the Four Attachments’ and in the afternoon, he bestowed the initiation of Chenrezik for the sadhana entitled ‘Mahakarunika and Mahamudra Unified’.

In this way, in the morning, the focus was on why we need to practise dharma, what we need to practise and what the results of the practice will be. It surely could not have crossed anyone’s mind, listening to those teachings that morning, that there could be a more succinct and clear explanation of the “why” and the “how” of the dharma path.

Whereas the morning’s experience was one of engagement on the level of reason regarding recognition of truths of in our lives, the initiation in the afternoon opened up another level of meeting the dharma, well beyond ordinary reasoning. It was just as well that we had already understood the essential groundedness of the Lama who was giving the initiation. From his teaching in the morning as well as from his initial remarks before the initiation, those present came to understand clearly the context and purpose of the practice to which the Lama was introducing us.

This does not involve any kind of personal escape into a nirvanic state; for the purpose of the practice is to engender connection with and compassion for other beings. This is the Mahakarunika of the title of the sadhana: great compassion. The term Mahamudra refers to the awakening of the intrinsic buddha wisdom which is inseparable from  compassion.

Again, in London more recently, Lama Jampa followed his apparently customary pattern of teaching  a Mahayana text, this time on mind training, in the morning and an initiation of Manjushri in the afternoon.

Again and again, the Lama’s teaching helps us to see that compassion is not real compassion unless it is joined with wisdom. The morning’s mind training teachings showed the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of placing others within our concern. The initiation of Manjusri that afternoon introduced us to Vajrayana practice that will help us to develop the wisdom that needs to be merged with our developing compassion.

Through attending the Lama’s sutric teachings on these precious occasions we hear fresh insights into how we can further understand and develop our own dharma path. Through attending the initiations he bestows alongside those teachings, we can widen and deepen our understanding and practice of Vajrayana and, hence, of our dharma practice as a whole.

Many of us find that the more we attend initiations, the more familiar we become with the kind of ritual that we are introduced to in each one. Familiarity of this kind is a great aid towards the sharpening of our focus during any given initiation.

This was certainly the experience of many who were fortunate enough to attend the fortnight of initiations for the twenty one manifestations of Tara that Lama Jampa bestowed at Dechen’s centre in the Dordogne, France this summer.

Lama Jampa’s 2019 Programme

Look under Major Teaching Events on this website to find Lama Jampa's future programme of teachings at Dechen centres.

Included in his 2019 programme are teachings on two texts by Gampopa, 4th patriarch of the Kagyu, which Lama Jampa began teaching this year: ‘The Jewel Ornament of Liberation’ and ‘The Precious Rosary of the Supreme Path’. Gampopa himself is famed for bringing together the Sutra and Tantra teachings, and his ‘Jewel Ornament’ sets out the entire path to buddhahood as a graduated path. Hence it is a seminal text applicable to dharma as practised across the various Tibetan schools of Buddhism.  

This blog is the work of students of the Dechen Dharma Community. Posts are typically a result of contemplation by its authors on teachings given by their Lamas. Whilst  every effort is made to accurately reflect teachings given, any misrepresentation is entirely the responsibility of the authors. Please address any communication to

Seeing Scientific Truth from a Buddhist Perspective

Karma Thinley Rinpoche’s elegant dharma essay, ‘Telescope of Faith’ reveals radically differing ways in which the word “truth” is used in Buddhism and in science. In his essay, Rinpoche builds on the example of how western science, with its increasingly sophisticated telescopes, has been able to describe physical details of the sun, moon and planets beyond, with great accuracy. His thesis here is that, despite the superiority of science in terms measuring and so on, its scope is limited to describing appearances and their physical causality. On the other hand, the scope of Buddha’s wisdom encompasses and penetrates into the nature of reality in its entirety.  Thus, he shows how that ancient wisdom provides a radically different, yet abiding, understanding of what constitutes truth within the Buddhist system of practice and thought.

The cover of Lama Jampa's book, Diamond Sky, depicts a vajra superimposed on the background of a photo taken by the Hubble telescope. 

The cover of Lama Jampa's book, Diamond Sky, depicts a vajra superimposed on the background of a photo taken by the Hubble telescope. 

When Buddha Shakyamuni appeared in India two and a half thousand years ago, there was already a sophisticated cosmological description of the universe. For the Buddha, that cosmology was the scientific truth of the time, although not one that benefited from the exact measuring capabilities of the modern telescope.

As Lama Jampa mentioned during a recent presentation and explanation of Rinpoche’s text, the nature of science is that theories are held to be true only until a better and more comprehensive theory can be established. That is what has happened in the case of cosmology, albeit over a span of thousands of years; the earlier Indian cosmology having been superseded by modern western descriptions and explanations. Since scientists continue to study the cosmos, in acknowledgment that there is still more to discover about the planets and the universe, it is clear that they have not yet arrived at any final explanation about the nature of the universe.

Studying the dharma, we learn that Buddha taught what is known as The Two Truths, two ways that reality is perceived. These are firstly: conventional truth which is an accurate way of describing how appearances and phenomena manifest and function in the world. Then, on the other hand, ultimate truth that points to the ineffable, ultimately true nature of reality.  

There is no statement that can be made using conventional language that provides access to ultimate truth or that is able to define it. Therefore, in the context of the ultimate nature of reality, every single statement of conventional truth, in a sense, must be declared false simply because it cannot be said to be ultimately true. For example, if one were to test the assertion: “Reality is ultimately like an onion”, asking if that is true or false? The answer clearly must be false; as is every single assertion we can think of regarding the ultimate nature of reality, however sophisticated.  

There is, however, recognition in Buddhism that conventional truth has a practical purpose in the world even though it is not able to explain the true nature of reality. In his explanation, Lama Jampa mentioned, for example, the fact that scientists and engineers are able to develop aspects of conventional truth to great material advantage so that we are able reap the benefits of modern technology in our everyday lives.

Buddhist teaching goes further than that in its application of conventional truth by making use of the Buddha’s enlightened discovery of how consciousness arises in humans and other beings.  

His discovery was not made by chance but as a result of a vow: the Bodhisattva Vow.He made this vow in an earlier life at the time of a previous buddha to dedicate himself, through a series of lives, to discovering the cause of suffering and to attain full enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, to free them from suffering. Born as Shakyamuni, he came to show beings the attainment of the state of enlightenment as complete fulfillment of that vow. .  

Buddhist teachings known as ‘mind only’ describe how consciousness arises and how that arising operates to bring about a duality between ourselves, on the one hand, and that which is falsely apprehended as real and external to ourselves, on the other. Penetrating the cause of suffering, Buddha saw this duality as the factor which generates the defilements of desire, aggression and ignorance. Hence he was able to explain that it is these defilements, and their many variations, which are the driving force behind karmic actions that rebound on us as suffering. This has not remained as a mere theory, since the Buddha has provided us with a practical means - the dharma path - to dissolve this alienating separation and gradually open to realisation of the natural state where there is no duality: nirvana, peace.

In this context, Rinpoche quotes a short verse attributed to the famed yogin of Tibet, Milarepa, in which the first line can take one by surprise:

The lord, the perfect Buddha, is also skilled in what is false.

In the light of the foregoing discussion, this line can be understood to mean that the Buddha has fully recognised the ways that appearances of reality are misread by beings and taken to be truly existent, giving rise to emotions such as desire, pride, jealousy and aggression which are falsely taken to be an authentic experience of reality.

In this way, the teachings make use of how reality is conventionally experienced by ordinary beings owing to our faulty reading of the true nature of reality. So, although the Buddha fully understands that our dualistic apprehension of reality is, in the final analysis, false, he has used the language of conventional truth to help us recognise our own misreading. This allows us to train to free ourselves from entrapment in the delusions in which we find ourselves as a result of the misreading.

Rinpoche concludes that truth as understood through science does not refer to ultimate truth as found in Buddhist teachings; and even its body of conventional has quite a different purpose and  scope than the body of conventional truth found in Buddhist teaching. Therefore, it would seem inappropriate to point a finger at scientists, saying their version of truth false, as long as they have no pretensions that science has the capability to reveal ultimate truth.

Furthermore , it would seem ungrateful to point a finger in that way, since we all benefit from the findings of science in our everyday lives and many of their findings can be used by Buddhist teachers as material, just as Rinpoche has done here, to explain conventional truth aspects of the dharma. So, from a Buddhist perspective, scientific truth remains work in progress as a constantly modifiable subset of what we have learned through our study of the dharma to call conventional truth.

As a postscript, it is noted that many practising scientists down the ages have also seen it, from their side, in a similar way. A contemporary example of this is seen in an article entitled ‘The Many Meanings of Truth’ published by a group of scientists at the University of California.

This blog is the work of students in Dechen. Posts are typically a result of contemplation by its authors on teachings given by their Lamas. Whilst  every effort is made to accurately reflect teachings given, any misrepresentation is entirely the responsibility of the authors. Please address any communication to

What is Mind Training?

Recently Lama Jampa has been teaching the Mahayana mind training (Tibetan: lojong) at centres in the UK and America. For these particular teachings he has used a short text called The Eight Verses of Mind Training by the twelfth century master Geshe Langri Thangpa.

Lama Jampa explained that the the mind training allows us, with our ordinary self clinging and self cherishing mind, to apply its methods in our meditation and everyday life situations, and so bring about a transformation within our own being. Ultimately, that transformation will lead us to full enlightenment, buddhahood with its qualities of wisdom and compassion.

We can all take great encouragement from hearing through these teachings that, however ordinary or deficient in enlightenment  we may feel right now, diligent application of the mind training will lead us to the goal of buddhahood.

Lama Jampa showing that a sense of humour does help when it comes to practising the mind training. It can help us to lose our sense of self-importance. 

Lama Jampa showing that a sense of humour does help when it comes to practising the mind training. It can help us to lose our sense of self-importance. 

The essential method of the training is a very straightforward one for overturning our self-centredness, but our strong egos quickly find ways to duck and dive away from its unambiguous instructions.

There are several easy to recall instructions such as

‘Drive all blame into one’.

This helps me to train myself to cease looking to others or to external factors as causes of whatever seems to be going wrong in my life; I alone must take responsibility for that.

Lama Jampa explained that it is only those of us who have chosen to engage in the mind training who need to apply teachings on karma in this way. Anyone else’s karma is not an appropriate subject for our concern. The mind training is for our minds only!

In answer to a student’s question on karma, Lama Jampa noted that ‘when the Buddha attained enlightenment, unhappily for us, we did not! Enlightenment arose just in his mind stream’. In other words, mind streams are individual and this explains why the practice is sometimes called a 'secret' practice, in the sense that one's practice is private to one's own mind stream. Hence, it is an attitude we adopt towards the world that places no demands on anything or anyone external to do the changing. It is our own business and there is no need to try to re-adjust the world around us. In fact, the converse is the case. We need to try and readjust ourselves to the world. We can do things like looking for positive qualities in others and cease to elevate ourselves as we normally do. .

This is where other sentient beings come in - just as they are. Without needing them to change, we can take them into our practice. In this way, our mind training helps us actualise genuine love and compassion.

Practising the mind training involves not just changing our mental attitude but also our behaviour; for example to soften our behaviour towards others.  The practice is further deepened through specific meditation practices which we learn as we progress. A prerequisite for this is recognition in ourselves of disturbing emotions as they arise through the practice of mindfulness.

If one were to ask what qualifications does one need to start with the Lojong? Lama Jampa put it very simply and not without a dash of wry humour.

Just one's normal neurotic mind is all we need to bring to the practice. We don't need any great learning or even any great meditation power. In short, all we need to bring are our habits of self-clinging and self-cherishing; in short our neurotic  way of relating to the world. We then find a way of transforming that through the practice.

This training certainly is a radical alternative to the worldly approach we may have led ourselves to believe would lead to happiness. However, if we look carefully at our lives we may see that, as Lama Jampa said in his introduction to the teaching,

‘The only thing that will cause us to break out of what traps us in suffering is by coming to develop love and compassion for others. So, in fact, happiness, even in this life, only comes whenever I forget myself and care for another person. They evoke in me the response of love and compassion and that brings about real happiness.‘

You can listen to this teaching via this link.

Lama Jampa will continue his teaching on the text, The Eight Verses of Mind Training, in London later in the year. See the What’s On page on this website for details.

This blog is the work of students in Dechen. Posts are typically a result of contemplation by its authors on those teachings . Whilst  every effort is made to accurately reflect teachings given, any misrepresentation is entirely the responsibility of the authors. Please address any communication to

Connecting Oneself with Bodhisattva Activity

In our previous post we reflected on the nature of the lama’s blessings and how we can receive them. But what a nonsense it would be, were we to think of these as if they were just for ourselves. As explained in that post, such blessings are an element of the Vajrayana: to enter which we must first have taken the bodhisattva vow, the resolve to attain buddhahood for the benefit of all beings; hence the only valid context for seeking and receiving blessings is to help us in our development of bodhichitta.

Patrul Rinpoche says in his Words of My Perfect Teacher that if one were to distil all the qualities of a dharma teacher into one essential point, it is that, to be genuine, he or she must be a true bodhisattva. Therefore a skilful course of action for oneself as a student is to join one's own energy to the bodhisattva activity of the teacher. Traditionally, this is expressed as serving the teacher.

An aspect   of dharma teachers' work is establishing dharma centres; and this provides one of the ways that students can engage with and support their teachers' bodhisattva activity.

An aspect of dharma teachers' work is establishing dharma centres; and this provides one of the ways that students can engage with and support their teachers' bodhisattva activity.

On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Sakya Dechen Ling, London, in 2015, Lama Jampa Thaye spoke about this (hear all this short talk here) when he reminded those present that, while Buddha’s teaching shows each of us the way we can become free of suffering, as followers of the Mahayana, the root of which is bodhichitta, we must go much further than practising the path for ourselves alone. We must practise it with concern for all beings. All beings are afflicted by suffering, some having far more intense suffering at this moment than ours. All those beings are intimately connected with us, we are indebted to them. Therefore, whatever we do from this moment should be for their benefit.

For ourselves, Lama Jampa said, we could perhaps just make do with the teachings we have received and practise in isolation. But the compassionate resolve of bodhichitta means that we need to think about others - and for them to come into contact with dharma, there need to be dharma centres as there have been throughout Buddhist history. And this is certainly one area, although by no means the only one, where we can connect ourselves with the enlightened activity of our teachers.

For those wishing to pursue the Vajrayana, it is recommended to receive teachings on the classic Indian text, Fifty Verses on the Guru, using a commentary such as Opening the Door to the Precious Accomplishments by Tsarchen Losal Gyamtso. This explains how one should develop one’s spiritual relationship with, and service of, one’s vajra master. The Words of My Perfect Teacher by Patrul Rinpoche is also extremely helpful in this regard.

When teaching the latter of these texts some years ago, Lama Jampa quoted his own teacher, Karma Thinley Rinpoche, who had remarked to him that the mark of a good disciple, having strong devotion, is that they don't make a show of serving their lama. 

This blog is the work of students in Dechen. Posts are typically a result of contemplation by its authors on those teachings . Whilst  every effort is made to accurately reflect teachings given, any misrepresentation is entirely the responsibility of the authors. Please address any communication to


The Lama’s Blessings: What are they and how can we receive them?

When we see someone we admire, perhaps because of their eloquence or just because of their apparent ability to be positive and happy, it’s natural to think, “I want some of that - some of what he or she has”. Seeing an accomplished lama, we can easily have a similar feeling of wishing we had some of what he or she has. The extraordinary thing is that we can!

The wish-fulfilling tree of the Kagyu Lineage: source of blessings

The wish-fulfilling tree of the Kagyu Lineage:
source of blessings

This is why the lama is likened to a wish-fulfilling gem. The kindness of the lama is that he or she is dedicated to sharing whatever realisation he or she has, with the wish that others, all of us, may realise our own buddha nature. But of course, as with everything in life, effort is needed on our side before any qualities can begin to become a reality for ourselves.

To quote a couple of lines from a vajrayana teaching given by Lama Jampa in Manchester recently (a summary of which is available here):

"If you see the lama as an ordinary person, you will just get an ordinary person’s blessing.
If you see the lama as a buddha, you will receive a buddha’s blessing."



How can we be certain whether a lama is truly worthy of being seen as a buddha? For who knows where an unqualified and unworthy guide may lead us?  

We are well advised to put in significant groundwork ourselves in terms of learning and investigation, before committing ourselves to anyone’s spiritual guidance, let alone seeking their blessings. First of all, we must be aware of what qualities and qualifications a lama should have to be worthy of the title.

In his recent teaching, Lama Jampa quoted from the nineteenth century Tibetan master Patrul Rinpoche’s Words of My Perfect Teacher (a text he taught in full in the nineties). Patrul Rinpoche provides a whole chapter on how to find a properly qualified teacher, how to start to follow him or her in an authentic way, and thus begin to receive their blessings.

A verse early in that chapter conveys something of how we can be positively influenced by those we look to as exemplars:

Just as the trunk of an ordinary tree lying in the forest Absorbs the perfume of a neighbouring sandalwood tree,

So you come to resemble whomever you follow.

Of course, this works the other way round as well. We are all too easily influenced by those who would lead us further into the mire. So one should be very careful who one follows, who one looks to as a role model. Patrul lists four kinds of fake lama that a student is sensible to avoid.

Teachers to Avoid

Teachers like a millstone made of wood. This type of teacher has somehow been given a title, due to their heritage or some such reason, but actually has never really practised dharma properly and so has no ability to teach anyone. Consequently they are as useful as a millstone made of wood would be for grinding grain to make flour. They are all title and little else in terms of spiritual qualities.

Teachers like the frog that lived in a well. Lama Jampa retells this story of the frog in the well in his book Wisdom in Exile as an introduction to the chapter entitled ‘Conceit’. These individuals don't actually know anything beyond the narrow confines of an ordinary person's world.

Mad guides. These individuals have never studied the sutras and tantras properly under an authentic teacher, let alone been part of any lineage. But ‘though lower than ordinary beings they ape siddhas and behave as if their actions were higher than the sky’.

Blind guides. These ones lack any qualities superior to your own and lack the love and compassion of bodhicitta.

These four types of bad teacher were seen by Patrul Rinpoche, a true master in 19th century Tibet, to attract gullible followers. And so we see human traits live on, albeit in a different time and place. The power of modern communications now seems to exaggerate the confusion even more. Beware!

It is obvious that to try and see any teacher fitting one of these descriptions as a buddha would be the utmost folly.

However, there are still teachers to be found who are authentically trained, realised and free of these egoistic faults. So there is no need to be put off just because bad teachers still attract less fortunate people. Wherever there are humans ….

Training in Seeing the Lama as Buddha

The long life prayer for Ratna Vajra, His Holiness the 42nd Sakya Trizin, contains the lines:

Protector, you are inseparable from the holy lord Manjushri.
To the fortunate and unfortunate respectively, you appear or do not appear as him.

How can we become that fortunate person? The sensible answer to this question is: by gradually applying “common sense and intelligence which,” as Lama Jampa said, “are actually the same thing as each other”.

Step one is, of course, to begin learning about Buddha’s basic teachings. As Lama Jampa explains, even the highest, most subtle Mahamudra teachings rest on the basic teachings, so an authentic teacher will always return to and restate these in their original and unaltered form.

Having obtained a good grounding in the basic teachings of the Hinayana and Mahayana, one will have come to know what qualities should be evident in the teacher. His or her moral behaviour should be completely in accord with the teachings, in which they must be well versed.

After you have spent some time finding out about a teacher and decided that you can rely on him or her, from then on the Vajrayana way is to train in seeing that teacher as a buddha. In his teaching of Patrul’s text, Lama Jampa made the point that this is to be seen only in the context of the spiritual path into which we have entered. To an ordinary person, the lama is an ordinary person.

What Are These Blessings?

In the context of dharma, blessings don’t actually add anything to qualities already innate within all of us. What they do is shine a light on our buddha nature.

It is said that the lama shows us our face in the manner of a mirror. This allows us not only to get a sense of our buddha potential but also of the ‘defilements’ in us that are masking that potential.

In his recent teachings on Mahamudra from the ninth Karmapa’s The Finger Pointing at the Dharmakaya, Lama Jampa explained how the ultimate nature - buddhahood - is conveyed by the direct mind-to-mind transmission that occurs in guru yoga at the highest level:

"It is the ultimate nature that is the real guru. This is the Mahamudra itself. The human guru is simply reflecting this and alerting his student to its presence."

In the teachings, it is made clear that this is only possible when the lama is part of a lineage from which he or she has received the teachings; a lama of the words of the Buddha - sutra and tantra - having no teachings of his or her own invention; a lama of the ultimate nature, meaning that he or she has fully realised the ultimate nature.

Clearly, that is guru yoga at the highest level and it will require some years of preparatory learning and development of meditational experience before a student will be sufficiently matured to engage in it fully. However, it seems helpful and inspiring, even for a relative beginner, to know that this is where the path leads for someone who commits themselves to making the necessary effort in their study and practice.

Serving the Lama

In his text, Patrul Rinpoche explains that the skilful way to follow the lama and open ourselves for receipt of blessings as described above is to serve the Lama. That is an excellent means to join our own aspiration of bodhichitta with the enlightened activity of the Lama. A further post, to follow this one, will elaborate on that theme.

This blog is the work of students in Dechen. Posts are typically inspired by an aspect of a teaching recently given by one of our lamas and are the result of reflection and contemplation of that teaching, considered worthy of being shared. A key purpose of the posts is to stimulate readers into their own further contemplation of teachings received.


Can Science Aid The Understanding of Buddhism?

Between them, the master and scholar Karma Thinley Rinpoche, born in Eastern Tibet in 1931, and Lama Jampa Thaye, born in north west England in 1952, are very specially qualified to examine the relationship between western science and Buddhist teaching, the dharma. This is a meeting of minds that spans the two cultures of a Tibet that knew almost nothing of western science, and that of westerners  awakening to the wisdom embraced in Tibetan Buddhism.


The topic of how science relates to Buddhist teaching, when discussed by such scholars and masters as these, invokes the most profound thought. In his essay ‘The Telescope of Faith’ Rinpoche, making reference to astronomic and cosmic constellations as examples of scientific knowledge where he says:

“Just knowing the size of the universe and the distances and numbers of stars and so on is not the same as complete omniscience.

With skilful means, from his perceiving the nature of things to be the Four Noble Truths, one should know that it is the Buddha who is omniscient, possessing the unsurpassable benevolence of enlightened activities, undiminished by time”


There is clearly great profundity wrapped up in these lines. One question they raise in one’s mind is: Could any scientist, however great yet still limited to describing that which is tangible in the world, ever attain the extraordinary reach of the omniscience to which Rinpoche refers?


The reader may wonder what concern this may be of theirs?

The omniscience of a buddha, which relates to mind rather than matter, has very direct relevance to all of us; for if it were not for that, the Buddha’s insight into the nature of each and every one of our mind-streams and how they function, would no longer have any relevance. So, therefore, having confidence in Buddha’s omniscience means the world to us as Buddhists because it provides a means of removing suffering and achieving happiness and contentment.

But, why concern ourselves with how science does or does not relate to that?


Lama Jampa, in his book ‘Wisdom in Exile’ and in his recent teaching in Bristol in January on Rinpoche’s ‘Telescope of Faith’, explained that there is a need to recognise that, even as lay-people largely unversed in science, we are all influenced to some extent by the pervasive idea that a scientific approach is the most superior way of getting to the truth of things.

Science may well be the best way mankind currently has of understanding the material world and manipulating parts of it through technology based on science. But a a real understanding of mind and consciousness still eludes scientists.

In his commentary on ‘Distinguishing Consciousness and Primordial Wisdom’, Rinpoche notes the important role played by the brain that has always been known in dharma.

“It is not to be thought that the mind is the brain. Rather, the brain’s ability to perform functions is due to the power of mind’s existence.”

This is a very different perspective from that of the materialists; a point that has long been understood by Buddhist masters.

Does this mean that, from a dharma perspective, we should discount or even try to debunk science?

Nowhere does Rinpoche suggest that. During the teaching Lama Jampa gave on Rinpoche’s Telescope of Faith in Bristol recently, he related anecdotally how Rinpoche took a keen interest in the findings of Western astronomy soon after settling in Canada in the 1970s and sees no need to dispute them even though they are in stark contrast to the ancient Indian cosmology referenced in the dharma texts from which he was educated and which he mastered years ago in Tibet.

It is obviously beyond the scope of this blog to attempt to elucidate and answer these subtle points and big questions. For that, we need to study the writings of our learned teachers and, whenever possible, go and listen to their analysis and elucidation of these questions. The experience of being present when the Lama is explaining these matters cannot be bettered, if one really wants to find a way into a profound understanding of immense topics like the omniscience of buddhas and the nature of consciousness and, to bring it right on home, our own minds.

Hearing the Lama expound on such matters and then contemplating his words helps us identify, and begin to strip away, patterns of thinking that have obstructed clear comprehension of Buddha’s teaching.

There is an opportunity to hear Lama Jampa teach once again on this topic on 2nd June when he will present the second (and concluding) part of his explanation of Rinpoche’s Telescope of Faith in Bristol. See the website for full details.


Mahamudra in the Kagyu Tradition

Ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje

Ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje

Mahamudra, the ‘great seal’, is one of the two principal streams of practice in the Karma Kagyu tradition. The other is the Six Yogas of Naropa, a set of ‘completion stage’ practices. Introducing his teaching on mahamudra at the shedra in Manchester in December last year, Lama Jampa explained that both of these practices can only be done after completion of all the foundation practices and vajrayana preliminaries (Tib: ngondro), as well as some accomplishment of deity (yidam) practice. Although mahamudra is therefore clearly an advanced practice, it is extremely inspiring to hear about it, even as a beginner on the path.  This is because its truth is already present as a seed within our mind stream, so there is a sense in which one can begin to relate with it right away.

What is mahamudra?

In his book 'Garland of Gold', Lama Jampa says that mahamudra, which can be translated as ‘great seal’, is the ultimate teaching of vajrayana, transmitted by Buddha Vajradhara, the embodiment of the dharmakaya, the true nature of reality. Mahamudra is presented in terms of three phases - basis, path and fruit – though in reality these are one. The fruit, Lama Jampa explains, is simply the recognition of one’s buddha-nature mind. He quotes the Indian siddha, Saraha:

‘Mind itself is the one seed of everything,
Both samsara and nirvana flow from it.
To that which, like a wish fulfilling gem,
Grants all wishes I prostrate.’

Lama Jampa presented a comprehensive introduction to mahamudra when he was invited in 2015 to teach at the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute, New Delhi. Read a transcription here

The text that the Lama began to teach in Manchester in December 2017, 'Pointing the Finger at the Dharmakaya', is one of three manuals of practice of mahamudra composed by the Ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje (1555 - 1603).

Lama Jampa taught part of this text in the late 1990’s but this is the first time he will be giving it in full. He taught the longer text, 'Eliminating the Darkness of Ignorance', in 1983 and again more recently in 2011. And, going further back, he was already beginning to give these teachings to students informally as early as 1975, the year he founded Kagyu Ling in Manchester.

The practice of mahamudra is not unique to the Karma Kagyu, as it was transmitted in the supreme yoga tantras from Buddha Vajradhara. What is special about the transmission in the Kagyu is that here there is a ‘sutra’ transmission of mahamudra, found in the discourse (sutra) teachings given by Shakyamuni Buddha. Hence, in this tradition there is a union of the tantric and sutra teachings. This unified stream of teaching is called the ‘simultaneously arising and joining mahamudra’.

At the time of Indian and early Tibetan masters such as Marpa and Milarepa, instruction on how to practise the mahamudra was given orally direct to disciples. The stages of practice as set out by Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje in his three manuals are a distillation of the original oral teaching passed down from master to disciple up until that time. The manuals present the teaching in a systematic way, from the four thoughts that turn the mind to dharma, through the preliminary practices of the ngondro, to the main practices of calm-abiding and insight meditation that together lead to the experience of mahamudra.

At the shedra on 6th and 7th December last year, Lama Jampa explained the sections of the text dealing with the common foundations (the four thoughts that turn the mind to dharma) and the first three of the four ngondro practices. He will resume his teaching of the text in February and conclude it in July. See the Dechen website for details.

Ancient Teachings Free Modern Hearts and Minds

How remarkable that a short text composed in Tibet some 750 years ago should carry such a recognisably authentic message of liberation in this age of social media. Of course, Jetsun Drakpa Gyalten’s ‘Song of the Eight Practices of Dreams’ goes far deeper than advising on how to deal with today’s world-wide monster, as Lama Jampa clearly showed us when he taught the the text last Saturday at London's Wetland Centre. For it shows how cunning and resourceful ego follows us all into our dharma lives - and, importantly, how to watch out for it so it doesn’t keep its hold.

The Wetland Centre, London

The Wetland Centre, London

These days it seems, especially in the Twittersphere, that we have to have an opinion about everything - about every little thing and every big thing that happens. And we have to come out on the side of the good guys or else we’re seen not to care. As Lama Jampa says in ‘Wisdom in Exile’, it seems like it’s the age of compassion now. The key is to check out which team, which tribe, to support as being on the side of good and revile the other.

Or is it?

What does Jetsun Drakpa’s teaching say about this? What does Lama Jampa himself actually say about this?

Explaining the Jetsun’s advice, Lama Jampa simplified the whole business for us last Saturday. One of the song’s liberating messages is that if we develop pride in our own side as being right, as being the side of the ‘good ones’ and if at the same time we are trying to practise the dharma, then we are making a mistake.

Realising this frees us up to have compassion for both sides and all sides. We can be totally free with regard to our dispensation of compassion. The Lama even put it like this, in answer to a question: “We are promiscuous in our compassion. It’s not us versus them. Not goodies versus baddies”. So truly freeing our hearts. 

A further aspect of the teachings from last Saturday, which seems connected with this, is that if we are seriously trying to practise dharma, then sooner or later we will need to live without approval from others with respect to what we think we think about everything that’s going on. This is reminiscent of a point made by Karma Thinley Rinpoche in his ‘Lamp that Dispels Darkness’:

“Since the ways in which beings experience a thing are various, what is non-existent for one is fully existent for another and there is no need for any similarity.”

In the afternoon, Lama Jampa gave an initiation that enables us to cultivate meditation on the principal bodhisattvas of the three Buddha families: Manjushri of Vairocana’s Tathagata family, Chenrezik of Amitabha’s Lotus family and Vajrapani of Akshobya’s Vajra family. This is very special as it provides a way to cultivate the three innate qualities that we need to sustain us on the path: wisdom, compassion and power.

Those of us who have embarked on this mode of meditation can see that such practice actually does help to turn us around in our hearts. Rather than seeing the kind of teachings we heard in the morning as an onerous giving up of what we really want to do, we gain a freer way into a lighter compassion which doesn’t need to carry a heavy heart.

What is Tantra? Removing the Mystique

To all outward appearances, Buddhist tantra can seem strange and mysterious as well as, perhaps, exotic and exciting. We could easily come to believe that the essence of its power lies in its inaccessibility to intellect and reason. So we could get the idea that for its very efficacy, any detailed understanding of its methods will always remain inaccessible, perhaps as some kind of divine mystery.  We could even think that the more we are able to manufacture faith in the mystery of tantra and throw ourselves into its practices, the greater our chances of emerging as an enlightened being.

Concluding his teaching this summer, at Changlochen Ling in France, of ‘The General Presentation of the Tantra Sets’ by the Sakya master Sonam Tsemo, Lama Jampa said it would be quite mistaken to maintain any such idea.

He issued a warning to beware of mystifiers. He explained that false mystification of tantra is quite a different thing from the secrecy that is necessary in the tantric system. Elements of secrecy are essential to protect tantric methods from their premature use and misuse in general, but this does not prohibit masters of Vajrayana from explaining what Buddhist tantra is and what the requirements are for its effective practice.

There is always a meaning, a point, that is accessible to understanding even though initially aspects of the path are presented in a covered way. Finally, everything is to be understood. This protects us from mystification and mystifiers. Genuine masters share the intelligence of the dharma with their students. Mystification of Vajrayana is a betrayal of the dharma. To know that all is accessible to our intelligence in the end is good for our confidence.”

His Holiness the 41st Sakya Trizin has offered presentations of what tantra is on a number of occasions, both in print and in teachings which can be found online: eg Melody of Dharma, issues 7,8 and 12. In his article in issue 8, His Holiness refers to misconceptions stemming from the esoteric nature of tantra. Before proceeding to clarify these, he says:

Since the time of the Buddha, the tantras were always taught secretly and selectively. For their correct understanding, they have always required the oral instructions of a qualified master; without such explanation, they can easily be misunderstood in wrong and harmful ways.

He goes on to say that he is prevented from providing explanations which are only appropriate to be given to tantric initiates, but he is able to use explanations from Sonam Tsemo’s text, as Lama Jampa has done, to explain to us what Buddhist tantra is. Another place where we can hear His Holiness present an overview of what tantra is, is from a recording of a teaching he gave in Madrid in 2016.

So, a valid message for aspiring Vajrayana disciples would be: do not abandon your intelligence and ability to use reason. However, do learn, step by step, to understand and practise the tantric methods as taught and explained by your lama and vajra master in order to cut through the dualistic conceptualisation that traps us in samsara.

Upcoming Teaching Event

There will be an excellent opportunity in late September to hear Lama Jampa give teachings on Vajrayana based on his book ‘Rain of Clarity’. So, a trip to Bristol on Saturday 30th September will be thoroughly worthwhile for any serious dharma student who wants to understand what Buddhist tantra is and the benefits of practising it.  

The Essential Requirements for the Practice of Tantra

What are the essential requirements for effective practice of tantra? From the Lama’s teaching from Sonam Tsemo’s text, they can be summarized as:

  • One must begin by taking refuge in the Three Jewels and keep the moral precepts. Then one should study the Mahayana teachings on bodhichitta, since the only correct motivation for tantric practice is to pursue one’s bodhisattva aspiration.

  • One must find a vajra master who is qualified to give initiations and be accepted as a student by a lama who is able to explain details of sadhana practice and generally give one guidance on the detail of how to progress with one’s practice of the Vajrayana.

  • One should only attempt to engage in practice derived specifically from initiations one has received and then only under the guidance of one’s lama

  • One should be careful to understand whatever tantric vows one is taking as part of an initiation and be meticulous in keeping those vows in order to protect one’s practice from unwanted consequences.

  • It is important for the Vajrayana student to have confidence that his or her lama will reveal the meaning of their practice step by step and only according to their developing level of maturity in that practice. To look outside of that teacher-disciple relationship by, for example, referring to modern attempts to explain tantra or trying to study texts that are not recommended by the lama and hence are not appropriate, will only cause harm to one’s spiritual development.  

Why I Need to Tame My Mind

Reflections on a Dharma Talk By HH Ratna Vajra Rinpoche

Lama Jampa Thaye introducing His Holiness

Lama Jampa Thaye introducing His Holiness

One of the questions asked by a member of the audience at the public talk on The Power of Buddhism given by His Holiness Ratna Vajra Rinpoche in Bristol on the evening of Friday 26th May (full report here) was about anger. It is not easy to turn to love and compassion, the questioner said, when something has made us furious - how are we to deal with anger in such situations?

His Holiness began his reply by pointing out that for all of us anger and negative thoughts have been in our mind-stream for a very long time, not just in our current life but in countless lives before this. For that reason, anger is not easy to control.

He then went on to ask us to consider what purpose anger serves. If, for example, we have had something stolen from us, anger will not cause our property to be returned to us. Nor will it make us feel happy. Whichever way we look at it, anger does not help but only brings suffering for all concerned.

So, how should we view a situation when someone becomes angry? His Holiness referred to this as someone ‘showing us anger’. Anger, he said, can arise without any invitation, at any time and anywhere in our own mind or in another person’s mind, owing to all kinds of sudden factors, sometimes apparently quite trivial. What will be helpful for us when someone shows us anger is to remember that the person showing aggression is himself under the control of anger. We should think that it is not the fault of the person but of anger itself. This is a perfect opportunity for us to practise tolerance and avoid causing more suffering by returning aggression with more useless aggression.  

His Holiness gave the analogy of being hit by someone with a stick. We don’t get angry with the stick. It produces pain but has no intention of hurting us: it is the person wielding the stick who is in control. But is the angry person truly in control? No, it is anger that is in control of the person who can be likened to the stick, simply being used to act, physically or verbally, in a harmful way by this disturbing emotion.

In conclusion, His Holiness referred back to his talk, in which he had pointed out that it is mind that gives the orders for physical and verbal actions. They are merely the servants of mind. Mind is the boss. That is why, as he had earlier explained, we need to begin the task of taming our mind, so that we will be equipped to deal with situations such as those provoked by anger when they arise.

The key to success in the twin endeavours of overcoming negative emotions and taming the mind is developing loving kindness and compassion towards all beings without exception. In his talk, His Holiness emphasised the crucial importance of these long-term endeavours; which we undertake on our Dharma path with the guidance of our Lama, who provides us with more detailed explanations on how we can gradually extend the loving kindness that we already naturally feel towards those dear to us.

This, as His Holiness said at the conclusion of his talk, is The Power of Buddhism to tame our mind.

Hear His Holiness’s talk again (and again) at this SoundCloud link.

Rebirth Explained

Lama Jampa recently gave a talk in Stuttgart entitled ‘Death and Dying from a Buddhist Perspective’ and a recording of this talk can be found on SoundCloud here. This post provides a brief synopsis of the Lama's talk using much of his own introduction to the topic.

Lama Jampa (2).JPG

Learning how to live properly we need to learn how to die properly. In Buddhism, life and death are seen as twin faces of reality.

“In the modern world the sight and significance of death have been put out of view and we have come to see it as a fading away into nothingness or an abrogation of everything wondrous about life. That leads to embarrassment or fear about the subject as well as other emotions. This not only impoverishes our lives but is a foolish move, since we all will come to know death in the most intimate of ways.

“What Buddha discovered on the night of enlightenment was the state beyond birth and death, the clear light, unborn and unceasing, which is the fundamental nature of our mind. To experience this freedom from birth and death, we need to learn to pass through the gates of death.

“The way to do that is to become aware of how death and birth are woven into every moment of our existence. In this way we prepare for death at the end of this physical life. Every moment there is the opportunity to awaken to the space beyond birth and death. It is the space that is there between death and rebirth.”

The technical term for this space is bardo (intermediate state) and, in his talk, Lama Jampa goes on to describe what are known as the three bardos: the bardo of life, the bardo of death and the bardo of dream. It is possible to recognise the fundamental nature of our mind, the clear light, in each of these bardos. Hence it is possible to attain the deathless state in this life and great masters have done so throughout the history of the Buddhist tradition.

It is clearly difficult for us to awaken from the bewitchment of self into which we have fallen in this physical life but, as Lama Jampa explains, at the time of death, when the sense of physical identity dissolves, there is greater opportunity to recognise the deathless state.

We can prepare for that opportunity simply by the practice we do in this life and by knowing about the intermediate states. Lama Jampa emphasises that preparing for the bardo of death is the most natural thing in the world and not some extraordinary or esoteric excursion. In this, we are returning to the fundamental, simple state, the actual nature of mind as it really is.

In his talk, Lama Jampa delineates the processes of dissolution in some detail, including how, as explained in the Tantras, each of the dissolutions results in a kind of hallucination. Having described these bardo experiences, Lama Jampa then explains how the process of rebirth occurs. This happens through the force of karmic imprints, through which one’s consciousness is impelled forward into the ‘next life’ -  which, in the case of a human birth, is into union with the unifying male and female elements, the sperm and the ovum.

In summary, the Lama says that in his talk he has tried to highlight the parallels with our own experience in this life to show that the bardo, the intermediate state, is just an encounter with the true nature of reality, which is always there between each thought, between one moment and the next, between one emotion and the next. The bardo is always there.