Examining the Causes of Suffering

The following is an excerpt from a public talk given by His Holiness Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok:

The second cause for suffering is karma—– karma meaning cause and result. This begins with these negative causes:  beginning first with killing, the weightiest cause, which is to kill or to take a life.  Now according to Buddhism this means the life of any and all living beings.  In other religions it is more or less agreed upon that one should not kill human beings, but it is O.K. to kill other beings, that it simply doesn’t matter.  But this is not O.K.  This is incorrect understanding, and the reason for this is that all living beings have fear and all living beings suffer in the same way that human beings do.  So even the lowliest little ant has feelings and doesn’t want to lose its life  It feels suffering when it is being trod upon and so forth and smashed in this way.  We have to think about how we don’t want to suffer, and we have to understand that every creature that lives feels the same way.  Therefore this is the reason why we should never intentionally take the life of any living being.

The second cause to abandon is stealing. This means to take the possession of another without permission, whatever it may be.  Whether it is of great value or of little value, it simply doesn’t matter.  If it is something that belongs to someone else and they have every intention of maintaining that as their possession, then it should never be taken from them for any reason.

The third cause to abandon is to lie. Specifically it means here to really trick the minds of others with the specific intention to harm them by speaking that which is untrue. By doing so it immediately lowers one’s own honor and brings suffering to others. So this is something which is negative and must be abandoned.

The fourth cause to abandon is adultery or unclean sexual conduct.  This specifically refers to entering into a relationship with a male or female who already belongs to somebody else.  When we say “belongs to somebody else,” it means that that person is already committed to somebody else, and there is an understanding between them.  To break that understanding by intervening and having a relationship is considered to be ultimate stealing of a spouse of another.  Not only that. Those males and females who are already committed to one another usually have the most attachment for one another. So if someone else is with their partner, then there is nothing more painful than that because of the intensity of the attachment.  It produces even more suffering than stealing other objects.  Therefore it is considered to be extremely negative because it brings about such tremendous harm and harmful repercussion which arise from it. This must be abandoned from the root.

In addition to that, another action or activity which is considered to be ultimately destructive and which must be abandoned is the drinking of alcoholic beverages so as to become intoxicated.  The reason for this is because it is physically harmful to the body. Also if one becomes intoxicated one loses one’s own sense of control.  In that state of being out of control, all the other nonvirtues are easily accumulated.  Therefore becoming intoxicated by drinking alcoholic beverages must be abandoned.

These four root causes that correspond to physical conduct must be abandoned, and then the fifth, drinking alcohol, as well.  Any practitioner of Buddhism, whoever the person may be, must abandon these five.  These are five root precepts which are maintained, which means the abandonment of these negative causes.  Not only to abandon these five, but to guard oneself by taking the vow of what is called genyen, which is the vow of a lay practitioner who upholds these five precepts of formally vowing to abandon these five negative causes.  This is something that each and every one of you should consider taking on: to become a genyen or lay practitioner who upholds these five vows, because if you have these five vows you automatically accumulate virtue in whatever you do.  This also makes you somewhat similar to those who are holding the vows of higher ordination, such as the male and female novice practitioners and the male and female fully ordained, because they all have these five precepts as well.

There are two things which set the ordained apart from the lay upholders of these five vows.  First of all the fact that you are wearing the robes of the Buddha, the robes of ordination.  If you don’t wear your robes of ordination, you appear as a lay person  So the fact that you wear your robes sets you apart as an ordained.  The second point that sets you apart from a lay upholder of the vows is that in the case of a layman or laywoman, the vow is to abstain from adultery or unclean sexual conduct, but in the case of the ordained who are wearing the robes of the Buddha, you must abstain from any sexual conduct, particularly that of sexual intercourse.  So this is something that you all have abandoned before you have taken these vows of ordination.

I have spent some time here just now going over these four root precepts and the fifth, which is to abandon drinking alcohol, so that everyone here, especially those who are members of the Dharma center, would clearly understand what qualifies as a precept holder of the Buddhist tradition, and particularly those who are ordained.  If you are able to maintain these five precepts, that will be enough  Please understand that it includes the two particulars that you are already upholding.  Even if you can’t maintain the other vows, you must always maintain these five, and everyone else as lay practitioners should maintain the five as well.

The Challenge of Self Honesty


The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Art of Dispelling Anger”

We must take ourselves to task more. I don’t want to speak harshly because harshness doesn’t help, but I want to say succinctly and directly, we have to take ourselves to task regarding our faults and our poisons.   When I think of the Tibetan culture, that’s a lot easier because there isn’t that attachment to materialism.  Even in terms of the roots of the culture itself without religion, they were a nomadic people and they had things, but you couldn’t carry much.  You had your yaks and your yurts and that was it.There wasn’t that much variety in food; there wasn’t that much variety in clothing.  It’s true that the aristocratic Tibetans used to collect jewelry—some of the strangest looking jewelry.  It was intense jewelry, and that was considered a status thing. But for the most part, culturally, a Tibetan Buddhist would not have a hard time understanding that hatred, greed and ignorance and particularly desire, as the Buddha taught, keep us revolving endlessly in samsara.  We, unfortunately, are programmed quite differently.

I know in my household and in those of many people that I’ve talked to, there was confusion.  My mother was sort of a lox and bagel Jew and my father was a twice a year Catholic; and we were supposed to somehow dance in the middle. So when mama won we were going one way and when daddy won we were going the other way. I think that this happens with a lot of people.  They are raised with a lot of confusion around religion.  And even when they are taught that faith and religion should be a part of their life, and even when they are given the Western ten commandments, still there is so much confusion because we seem to find ways around that.

Thou shalt not kill.  But you can kill bugs, animals and enemies.  So who are you not supposed to kill?  I will not kill you.  That will do it.  So there is tremendous confusion around that.  How does one venerate these absolute laws that have to do with a moral and ethical human when there is so much confusion around them?  I mean, thou shall not kill but go to war.  How does that make sense to a child?   And so, as we grow up with religion, even though we have been founded in religion, or have some foundation in it, the information that we’re given is very confusing.  Thou shalt not commit adultery.  Whose family hasn’t had a little bit of that? You know, it’s just crazy.

And so, first of all, we’ve learned to be a little bit hypocritical; but most of all, we’ve learned that these laws don’t really matter, and that’s really sad.  So when we become Buddhist, we hear that there is a Vinaya and there are certain things that we must not do. And that if we take a life,  we understand that we will be giving our lives someday from having taken a life because karma works like that. Karma is exacting. When the cause arises, the results arise independently and simultaneously.  It’s our misjudgment through having the mind of duality that makes it seem like time stretches out. So even though you may not have the result of that bad karma until later on in life or even some future life, definitely we know from studying, at least. And every once in a while we get blessed with a little instant karma, so we have sometimes the opportunity to learn; but still that confusion is rampant, really rampant.

We want to practice Buddhism, so we take the teachings. We get to all the retreats; we see the right teachers; we try to do the practices. Yet we don’t really change ourselves.  It is an amazing thing to me that students can be on the path for so long and even try to go to the completion stage practices,  the tsa lung and the trekchod and togyal, and go to those levels and practice them with some part of their mind, and yet the rest of them is somehow remaining the same.  To me that is probably the worst tragedy on the path.  It’s the one that makes me not like to teach, but that’s the battle I fight with myself, you know. I’m just being honest.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Navigating Samsara – The Vows


The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamp called “The Habit of Bodhicitta”

As Buddhists, I would like you to think about what your directive is. I want to ask first those who are in robes. I want to actually ask them and give you the answer, but I’m going to pretend that I’m asking them, because I’m desperately afraid that they might not know.
Your primary directive is to follow the Vinaya. Vinaya is a set of cause- and effect-oriented rules, basically, a format that those in robes should follow, and the Vinaya becomes the heart practice of your life. You should, of course, receive teachings on the Vinaya, which you have. You gradually begin to understand the Vinaya. It is your responsibility to study the Vinaya; it is your responsibility to go after information about the Vinaya, because that’s your code. The Vinaya has a great many items that we should practice and look at. In particular, as robed persons, as monks and nuns, there are certain rules that seem very strict, but that you must follow. For instance, I don’t know if the lay people are aware of this or not, one of the rules in the Vinaya is that at a certain level of ordination, monks and nuns should not touch members of the opposite sex. Yet, here in Kunzang Palyul Chöling, one sees monks and nuns shaking hands, hugging, handing things to each other. Are we breaking the Vinaya here? Are we doing that?

We have a slightly different perspective. The Vinaya has not changed. Not in any way. What has been will always be. These are the Buddha’s words. But in Vajrayana, we have a slightly different perspective. If we have the idea in our minds, according to the Vinaya, that we should not touch members of the opposite sex in order to keep our celibacy really pure, that we should keep it very pure, yet we find ourselves [ touching] each other, how does that actually work out? If I, for instance, were a nun, let’s say, and I were to see a man that was very hungry or in need of some sort of medical help… Perhaps he fell down and he needed help getting up. Do you think I would hesitate for one moment to help that person or to give them some food? Or if I saw that a person needed the connection of a hug, needed the connection of some comfort; needed a greeting in order to feel accepted and welcome, do you think I would hesitate for one moment to give that sort of sustenance? Even if the Vinaya says not. That’s because the highest ordination that I feel as a Mahayana and Vajrayana practitioner is that of compassion. And in our tradition, compassion and love supersede everything. So the Vinaya is kept, but it is kept differently.

The way that these monks and nuns should be keeping the Vinaya is that, for instance, as a nun, whenever one sees a man, you should think of pure view about the man: You should think of the man as what we call a yidam or meditational deity. You should think that in that man’s pure form, he is the very Buddha. One should think like that. One should recognize the innate Buddha nature in each and every one; and one should think that each and every one holds that nature and that nature is actually present. We accomplish our practice by thinking of each man as the meditational deity. Those of you who are monks would think of the woman as being the goddess or the enlightened female deity, the primordial wisdom dakini. And in that way, upon touching a man or a woman, one is never actually touching a man or a woman. One is only approaching the meditational deity or the goddess. One still keeps one’s inner commitments, yet the highest commitment is that of compassionate pure view.

Of course, you can’t bend that irresponsibly, in fact you can’t bend it at all. None of you can take marital partners; none of you can engage in any kind of ordinary relationship in that way. But in order to uphold the highest ordination of compassion and the highest practice of pure view, you can engage in those kinds of activities that enhance that view.

Now for lay people, we don’t have the same strict approach. As lay people, though, we should never, never think that we can do more than them. We should never think like that. Because if we are thinking like that, quite frankly, that is a pretty schlocky practice. That’s just not going to cut it. We should never think that, ‘Oh, because I’m a lay person, my conduct can be very loose, I can do whatever I want.’ As Buddhists you have to actually move into the posture of being a Buddhist practitioner. You have also in common with these monks and nuns the highest ordination, and that is the high ordination of the practice of bodhichitta, or compassion. If you were to hold in your mind the idea that everything you do comes from the perspective of caring, of love, of kindness for others, then you’re still holding your vows. The trap that we fall into, though, as lay practitioners, is the idea that because we are lay practitioners, we can basically get away with murder. Actually, the Vajrayana point of view is very much geared and directed toward lay practitioners. Lay practitioners have a great distance that they can go and a great breadth and depth of practice that they can practice. They don’t have the strict guidance rules to the degree that the ordained people have, but in a sense, they have even more responsibility, because not having those strict rules, they must find a way to practice purely. And as lay practitioners, that’s our job: to seek out and really try to get for ourselves a way to practice purely. We may not understand how and we have to search it out. It isn’t enough to remain passive in our practice, to think that, ‘Well, eventually I’ll get the answer, and it will be clear to me, and in the meantime, I’ll just kind of scoot along.’ That would not be holding a proper view, that would not be holding our practice as a precious jewel, and that would not be doing a good job.

As a lay practitioner, we also have the responsibility of seeking out the absolute best way that we can hold our most precious inner vow, that of bodhichitta, or compassion, and we should aggressively seek out ways to do that. In order to seek out ways to do that, we must first examine how it is that we are in the condition that we are in. The Buddha teaches us that the primary directive, or motivating force, the reason for all of our suffering, is self cherishing, ego cherishing. Sometimes it looks like some of us have a lot more ego cherishing than others. Sometimes it looks as though some people are able to do a lot for others, and to be real kind and other people are only thinking about their own needs. But in the truest sense, that’s just a very superficial appearance. In fact, we are all exactly the same in that we are all in a samsaric condition, stuck on ego cherishing, stuck on the belief in the inherent reality of self nature, and therefore, suffering due to desire, hope and fear, not able to actually witness or see or relax into our own primordial wisdom nature.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

How Keeping Commitments Fuels the Path

The following is an excerpt from a teaching given by Khenpo Tenzin Norgay at Kunzang Palyul Choling. In this excerpt Khenpo Norgay discusses how rare the opportunity to practice is, and how holding the vows assists practitioners in accomplishing both their own benefit and the benefit of others:


Root Downfalls

[Adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999. —Ed.]

As the ancient literature states, there are five vows that pertain to rulers or kings, and those vows concern the ways a ruler, or really anyone in a position of authority, exercises power. Rulers who take the vow to train in bodhisattva conduct take the five special vows to ensure that they will not misuse power. The first of the root downfalls [associated with kings or rulers] is to embezzle or steal the wealth of the Three Jewels of refuge for personal gain. The second root downfall is to not allow others to practice or study the dharma. The third is to take the possessions of the ordained. The fourth is to cause harm to dharma practitioners in general. The fifth root downfall is to engage in any of the heinous nonvirtues, such as killing one’s own father or mother, killing a buddha, shedding the blood of a bodhisattva or an arhat (or engaging anyone else to perform this deed on one’s own behalf), or with deceitful intentions trying to influence others to engage in nonvirtue through body, speech, or mind. Those are the five root downfalls that pertain to kings or rulers. There are also five vows that pertain to ministers. The first four are the same as those for rulers, and the fifth concerns destroying villages or towns and harming lay people.

For beginners, there are usually eight root downfalls. The first of those root downfalls is to teach the dharma to people without being aware of the level of their spiritual development or capacity to receive teachings. For instance, if one teaches about the nature of emptiness to individuals who do not have the capacity to understand that level of teaching, those individuals may misinterpret and develop an incorrect view. Because [teaching in] that [context] is inappropriate, it is [considered] a root downfall. The second root downfall is to discourage someone from entering the path of bodhisattva training. The third is to disparage the path of the lesser vehicle of Hinayana and the followers who are the hearers and solitary realizers. That would involve, for example, saying to someone, “Your tradition is not really the true lineage of the Buddha.” The fourth is to claim that the Hinayana path is inadequate—for example, to make statements such as, “The dharma practice of the hearers and solitary realizers will not eliminate the passions.” The fifth is to put down others through slander or to speak ill of others out of jealousy in order to build up or boast about oneself. The sixth is to claim to have realization about the nature of emptiness when that is not true; that would be to speak an unsurpassed lie. The seventh is to embezzle or [otherwise] take the wealth of the upholders of virtue (those who dedicate their lives to the path of virtue). The eighth is to steal the wealth or possessions of ordained sangha (renunciants) and give that to ordinary, worldly individuals.

All those [eight root] downfalls pertain to beginners. As a beginner, if you commit any of those root downfalls, you will fall to the lower realms.

From a common point of view, a downfall involves giving up aspirational bodhicitta and abandoning the intent to work for the welfare of others because of being motivated by personal concern.

The first branch downfall is to act in a nonvirtuous manner [to be] crude and disrespectful, with wild and erratic behavior, which is exactly the opposite of how a bodhisattva should behave: a bodhisattva should always be peaceful and subdued. The second downfall is to be impolite, to behave inappropriately in the presence of others. As a practitioner in training, you must be concerned about others, which means that your conduct should reflect your mental training: your conduct, speech, demeanor, and so forth should always be in harmony with love and compassion. Those who have not rejected and have not even considered eliminating their attachment and aversion are always engaged in endless conversation and gossip based on attachment and aversion. If you are cultivating bodhicitta, you should not be like that. Instead, you should always think about love and compassion for all beings and speak in a way that reflects your training.

If you commit a root downfall, you must confess it immediately. If you postpone [your] confession of a downfall, that downfall will become more and more difficult to purify. Apply the four powers, and in the presence of the Three Jewels of refuge, confess your downfall. Pray to purify any negativity accumulated through the downfall, and then perform purification practices.

From “THE PATH of the Bodhisattva: A Collection of the Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva and Related Prayers” with a commentary by Kyabje Pema Norbu Rinpoche on the Prayer for Excellent Conduct

Compiled under the direction of Venerable Gyatrul Rinpoche Vimala Publishing 2008

Importance of Precepts


The following is respectfully quoted from “A Spacious Path to Freedom” by Karma Chagme with commentary by Gyaltrul Rinpoche

The Five Stages also states:

Upon seeing their spiritual mentor in public, they ignore him
Then they make prostrations to him in private.
Even if he is your own son, such an inferior, bad-natured disciple
Is to be rejected like anyone else.
Even if he is born of the royal class, noble class, or priestly class,
He should never be accepted in one’s midst.

–In the Tibetan region of Kham there was one Lama who was the disciple of another Lama. The senior teacher was, in fact, an extremely fine practitioner, spending all of his time in retreat and living like a beggar. One time when the student was teaching a large group of his own disciples, including many monks, his Lama came out of retreat and sat among the students. The other students, recognizing their Lama’s Lama, immediately prostrated, while the younger Lama pretended that he did not see him and began teaching. After the teachings, all of the other disciples dispersed, but the senior Lama stayed. Only when everyone had left, while feigning great surprise at seeing him, did the disciple come over and prostrate himself. “Oh, you did not see me?” asked the senior Lama. “No, I didn’t see you,” replied the student. As soon as the words were spoken, both of his eyes fell out. Immediately, recognizing the error of his ways, he began to do prostrations with great reverence. Then he confessed, “I did see you, but I was embarrassed because you look like a beggar. Please forgive me. I was completely at fault.” Instantly, his eyes jumped back into his head.

You should not even allow an inferior disciple in your midst let alone teach such a person. Beyond that, it is said in certain Tibetan texts that if you live downstream from a person with broken vows, you shouldn’t even drink the water that flows from the stream.–

First: The Initial Virtue from “Perfect Conduct” by Ngari Panchen

The following is respectfully quoted from “Perfect Conduct: Ascertaining the Three Vows” by Ngari Panchen with commentary by Dudjom Rinpoche as translated by Khenpo Gyurme Samdrub and Sangye Khandro

The initial virtue, the intermediate virtue, and the concluding virtue are the three divisions in this and in all commentaries that are written based on the Buddha’s spoken teachings. These three divisions are similar to the three pure recollections: those of motivation, nonconceptual awareness during the actual practice, and the concluding dedication of merit. In the initial virtue there are the three divisions that explain the title of the text, the homage, and the commitment to compose.

I. The Title of the Text:

A Branch on the Path of the Natural Great Perfection Called Ascertaining the Three Vows

Within the profound expanse of the innate, unaltered, natural mind, all meanings, including the foundation, path, and result, are originally perfected. This spontaneous presence, which is unsurpassed by any other, is called “great.” The unmistaken actualization of this nature is the ultimate fruit of all paths, the atiyoga. From anuyoga on down, all the paths of sutra and tantra are practiced in order to realize this nature. In this way they are established as “branches” of the path. The three vows, the essence of the practice of all these paths, are the main subject at hand. To establish an accurate understanding of the view of the three vows through the three investigations–actual, inferential, and scriptural–is the meaning of “ascertaining.”

Sastra literally means that which has the potential to sever all negative emotions and grant refuge from rebirth in the three lower realms. Specifically, a sastra is a commentary on the Buddha’s teachings written by a perfect follower. There are three levels to be considered here. Ideally, the author of sastra must have realization of the nature of dharmata. To qualify as average the author should have had a vision of a deity. At least, the author should be perfectly learned in the five major sciences. In addition, the commentary must be eloquently written with the qualities and ability to alleviate the causes of delusion, as well as to produce the results that grant protection from inferior rebirths in cyclic existence.

The purpose of the title will vary according to the sensibility of the reader. Those of superior sensibility, just by reading the title, will be able to realize the entire meaning of the text. Those of average sensibility will derive a general idea of its contents, and those of common sensibility will become interested and inspire to begin to study the text.

II. Homage:

A. General homage to the supremely kind guru:

Namo Guruve!
Homage to the Guru-Lama!

“Namo” means to pay homage. “Guru” describes an individual whose noble qualities are limitless, whose wisdom-knowledge is unsurpassed, and whose great loving-kindness is unequalled. To such a guru-lama, with great admiration and respect from the three doors of body, speech, and mind, homage is rendered.

B. Specific homage to the great master, Padmasambhava:

By churning the treasure ocean of the glorious two accumulations, the white light of knowledge and loving-kindness brings forth the all pervasive rain of the definitive secret vehicle. To the supreme crown jewel of all scholars and accomplished masters of Tibet’s Land of Snow, to the guide of all sentient beings, the Lake-born Vajra (Guru Padmasambhava), I pay homage!

It is believed by the Vedic school of Hinduism that by churning the ocean the moon arose. The author draws from this example to poetically illustrate the qualities of Guru Padmasambhava. By churning the vast ocean of accumulation of ordinary and wisdom merit, supreme wisdom and loving-kindness arise indivisibly, forming the mandala of the moon with its cooling, moist, illuminating rays. The all-pervasiveness of a rain shower is likened to the spontaneity of the concerned action that arises from such a “moon” to reveal the secret mantra teachings in order to tame the minds of beings.

This analogy exemplifies the object of specific homage, the great master Padmasambhava, who is the very embodiment of the great ocean of the two accmulations of merit, the source from which all enlightened qualities of wisdom-knowledge and compassion arise. As the supreme crown jewel of all scholars and accomplished masters in the three realms, including the snow land of Tibet, he is well known as the Lake-born Vajra.

The Lake-born Vajra, Padmasambhava, was born from the center of a lotus without depending on parents. The word “vajra” refers to the transcendence of the concept of birth and death. Because he possesses the wisdom to guide all beings on whatever level is necessary according to their specific needs, he is known as the supreme guide of beings.

III. Commitment to Compose:

This sage, skilled in knowing how to cleanse the mental stains of beings and upholding the lapis lazuli vase of supreme intelligence, bestows the ambrosia-like explanations of the three vows. May all those with sincere interest gather here to partake of this!

The author, Ngari Panchen, refers to himself as a sage, defined as one who is wise in the worldly knowledge of what to accept and reject. As is the case with all scriptural commentaries, the author’s “commitment” must reveal with superiority the four necessities of this Dharma. The first necessity is the subject, in this case the three vows. The second necessity is a superior explanation of the subject so that the meaning and purpose can be fully understood, leading readers to embark upon the path to liberation. This bestows temporary benefit. Fourth, the interdependent relationship between each of these four is demonstrated, in that one arises in dependence upon the other and accomplished accordingly.


Renunciate Vow for Lay Practitioners


The following vows were composed by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo who received permission to offer them to her students from His Holiness Penor Rinpoche:

Renunciate Vow for Lay Practitioners

From this very moment forward I offer this life as a gift to the three precious jewels. My pure intention is to accomplish the purpose of Self and Others – Supreme Enlightenment – quickly and surely. Thus I vow that all my life, every portion, shall be used to accomplish that goal.

  • All my activities shall accomplish that goal.
  • All my thoughts and feelings are directed toward that goal.
  • All my possessions shall be to strengthen and support that goal.
  • I shall seek all appropriate teachings, empowerments, and spiritual activities in order to secure that goal.
  • My own enlightenment is now considered to be equal to, and non-dual with the enlightenment of others. Therefore I vow to support fully and without hesitation the practicing spiritual community.
  • I vow to support fully and with unconditional love the three precious jewels and their manifestations: the Sangha and temple.
  • I will not kill.
  • I will not lie to accomplish selfish purpose.
  • I will not steal.
  • I will not become intoxicated and therefore forget my purpose and vows.
  • I will not engage in adultery, or promiscuous activity by which my intention will be compromised.
  • I fully intend to do all that I can to accomplish the liberation of all sentient beings and my own equally.
  • I consider the realization of all beings to be equal with my own and of equal value.
  • I fully support the spiritual community and its purpose on earth.
  • Should any activity or possession or relationship be contrary to these purposes I will systematically change it or eliminate it from my life.

This I promise so that there will be an end to hatred, greed and ignorance within my mindstream and within the three thousand myriads of universes and so that myself and all beings shall achieve the precious awakening.

Bodhisattva Vow

I dedicate myself to the liberation and salvation of all sentient beings. I offer my body, speech, and mind in order to accomplish the purpose of all sentient beings. I will return in whatever form necessary, under extraordinary circumstances to end suffering. Let me be born in times unpredictable, in places unknown, until all sentient beings are liberated from the cycle of death and rebirth.

Taking no thought for my comfort or safety, precious Lama, make of me a pure and perfect instrument by which the end of suffering and death in all forms might be realized. Let me achieve perfect enlightenment for the sake of all beings. And then, by my hand and heart alone, may all beings achieve full enlightenment and perfect liberation.

Refuge Vows

I take refuge in the Lama

I take refuge in the Buddha

I take refuge in the Dharma

I take refuge in the Sangha

The Ethics of Personal Liberation: Jamgön Kongtrul



The following is respectfully quoted from the introduction to “Buddhist Ethics” by Jamgön Kongtrul:

The Ethics of Personal Liberation

The focus of the ethics of personal liberation is to control impulses that lead body and speech to undertake negative actions. Because such actions are always linked to limiting emotional patterns, Individualists, in addition to observing ethics, must train in the discriminative awareness that realizes selflessness in order to attain perfect peace, the state of cessation of such patterns. Furthermore, for that meditation to be stable, mental concentration also must be cultivated. Thus, personal liberation ethics are essentially identical with training in morality, meditation, and wisdom. Although the aim of the monk’s vows and other personal liberation vows appears to be restraint from unwholesome physical behavior, it would be misleading to view those vows reductively, because their implicit aim is to overcome limiting mental patterns.

THe foundation of these ethics lies in the precepts relating to taking refuge and four “root,” or crucial, precepts that prohibit murder, theft, lying, and adultery. Refuge relates to the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha: the first is understood as the Teacher, the second as the teachings, and the third as the community (here the monastic one in particular). Originally, taking refuge was primarily an expression of faith that distinguished a follower of the Buddha from practitioners of other religions. Refuge marked the beginning of an earnest undertaking of the Buddhist path. In higher forms of Buddhist view and methods of implementation, refuge takes on deeper layers of meaning, and in the ultimate sense means taking refuge in “the buddha within,” the realization of the natural and unmodified intrinsic awareness lying within oneself.

The four root precepts prohibit four actions that would undoubtedly cause suffering for others and also compromise the tranquility of one’s mind, thereby destroying one’s chance to develop meditation and gain the discriminative awareness needed to uproot cyclic existence.

When the Buddhist community was first being formed, taking refuge in front of the Buddha was all that was needed for one to be accepted as a monk. Gradually, because of the misbehavior of monks and for other reasons, rules were instituted, for the most part limited to a particular temporal and social context. Many were intended not only for the welfare of the monks themselves, but also for the community’s internal harmony and external social respectability.

Rules gained more importance, to be a monk became a matter of maintaining specific rules and regulations rather than a matter of heading into a spiritual life. Eventually, to enter the Buddhist community, the aspirant needed to assume vows, and vows came to represent a commitment to abide by the entire body of rules. Such vows were not simple promises. Instead, they were “generated” in the candidate through a series of conditions and requisites, such as the abbot, and their primary requirement was an attitude of disengagement from cyclic life.

As the vow developed into an “entity,” identification of its nature became an important matter, which explains the various assertions Kongtrul presents, based on detailed analyses, on the nature of the vow. The conclusions would have little relevance to the keeping of the rules themselves but would definitely be relevant to determining at what point a vow is lost.

Personal liberation vows are basically of two kinds: those that prohibit actions such as killing and lying, which are considered unwholesome for anyone who commits them; and those that prohibit actions such as eating in the evening, which ar improper only for monks and nuns. The first kind involves a concept of “natural evil,” or “absolute morality,” which is probably influenced by the realist philosophical view held by the Analysts, to whom the tradition of personal liberation is undoubtedly connected. That also explains, to some extent, why the personal liberation vow is compared to a clay pot; once broken, it cannot be repaired.

Kongtrul discusses in detail the various classes of personal liberation: the precepts of the purificatory fast and the vows of the layperson, the male and female novices, the female postulant, and the monk. He also briefly examines the series of monastic rites, including confession. The vows of a nun, regrettably, are not included, because, as Kongtrul explains, the ordination of nuns was never introduced into Tibet.

Contempt Toward the Vajra Family: The Third Root Downfall

The following is respectfully quoted from “Perfect Conduct” with commentary by Dudjom Rinpoche:

4.b.3.(b.3) Expressing contempt toward the vajra family:

The third is becoming angry toward general, distant, close and immediate relatives; holding a grudge; and showing jealousy, disrespect and so forth.

In general, all sentient beings are considered to be our relatives. Even closer are those who have entered the path of Dharma. Closer still are those who have entered Vajrayana, since those who have the same lama are considered to be children of the same father. Those who have received empowerment together at the same time are children of the same parents. Those who received empowerment first are the elders, and those who received it at the same time are likened to twins born into the mandala simultaneously. To express or to hold anger in one’s mind toward any of these near or distant vajra relatives, or out of jealousy to harm them with body and speech, to speak harshly to them, or to argue with them and express their faults, constitutes the third root downfall. It is especially important to be careful toward the innermost vajra family, because to fight with or abuse them in any way accrues extremely negative karma that is difficult to remove.