Classic and Contemporary Buddhist Works

The Door to Satisfaction - Selections

The Heart Advice of a Tibetan Buddhist Master

1. PROLOGUE

Like molding dough in your hand, you can definitely turn your mind whichever way you want.

Opening the Door of Dharma

In 1974, while I was staying in the cave of the previous Lawudo Lama in the Solu Khumbu region of Nepal, I decided to check through all the texts that had belonged to him. They were mostly Nyingma texts relating to the practices of various deities, but there was one text that is a fundamental practice of all four Tibetan sects. The text I found was Opening the Door of Dharma: The Initial Stage of Training the Mind in the Graduated Path to Enlightenment.

A collection of the advice of many Kadampa geshes, Opening the Door of Dharma is by Lodrö Gyaltsen, a disciple of both Lama Tsongkhapa and Khedrub Rinpoche, one of Lama Tsongkhapa’s two spiritual sons. This text describes the initial stage of thought transformation, or mind training—in other words, the first thing to practice if you want to practice Dharma.

Only when I read this text did I come to know what the practice of Dharma really means. During all the years of my life up until then I had not known. Practicing Dharma is usually regarded as reading scriptures, studying, memorizing, debating, saying prayers, performing rituals, and so forth. It was only when I read this text that I found out how to practice Dharma. I was very shocked that all my past actions had not been Dharma. When I checked back, all those past years of memorizing and saying prayers were not Dharma. From all those years, nothing was Dharma.

I was born near Lawudo, in Thami, in 1946. When I was quite young, three or four years old, my mother sent me to a monastery near my home to learn the alphabet from my uncle, who was a monk in the Nyingma tradition. But this didn’t last long. Because I was very naughty, I escaped from the monastery many times and ran back to my mother’s home. So my mother decided to send me away to a much more isolated place, called Rolwaling. Rolwaling is a secret holy place of Padmasambhava where there are many wonderful, blessed caves.

Another uncle, Ngawang Gendun, took me from my home to Rolwaling. We had to cross very dangerous rocky mountains, with rocks falling down and water rushing past, then cross over snow for one or two days. While crossing the snow, we could see many deep crevasses going down hundreds of feet, with what looked like a sea at the bottom. It was a very, very hard journey.

I lived at Rolwaling for seven years, learning the alphabet again and then learning to read. My teacher was Ngawang Gendun, who at that time was also a monk. After learning to read the Tibetan letters, I spent the rest of the time memorizing prayers, as well as reading the Kangyur and Tengyur and doing pujas for people in their homes.

In Solu Khumbu, many lay people cannot even read the alphabet. The lamas usually allow them to come to initiations, but they can’t take retreat commitments. The monks who are able to read and can understand the texts are given retreats to do, and the lay people are given a commitment to recite many millions of om mani padme hungs or some other mantra. Since these people cannot understand the texts, the lama gives them something that they can do.

These lay people are supposed to recite the mantras themselves, but often they go to the monks living nearby and ask them to help with the commitment. Offering a basket of potatoes, which is what they grow and eat, they come and say, “I received a commitment from this lama to do this many million mantras. Please do this many for me.” Some people recite a few themselves, then ask other people to do the rest.

So, I spent those seven years reading texts such as the Kangyur, Tengyur, and Prajnaparamita in people’s homes, when my uncle was asked to do pujas. Sometimes we would do a puja for someone who had died. In that region, the custom when someone dies is to have a special puja done and make large money offerings to the lamas and other people.

When I was about ten, I went to Tibet, to Domo Geshe Rinpoche’s monastery near Pagri. I stayed there for three years. I spent the mornings memorizing texts and the rest of the day doing pujas in people’s houses. I did my first examination there, with my manager making offerings to the monks. Pagri was a very active business center, where many traders came from Lhasa, Tsang, India—everywhere.

In March 1959, the Chinese took over Tibet, but because that area is close to India, there was no immediate danger. Later that year I was instructed to do my first retreat, on Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga, at a nearby monastery called Pema Chöling, a branch of Domo Geshe’s monastery. I didn’t know anything about the meditation; I just recited the prayer and some migtsemas. I think I finished the retreat, but I don’t know how I did it or how many mantras I counted.

At the end of 1959, when the threat of torture was imminent, we decided to escape to India. One day we heard that the Chinese would come to Pema Chöling in two days. That same night we secretly left. We had to cross only one mountain to reach Bhutan. One night, because it was very wet and we could not see the road clearly, we had a little trouble, sinking into the mud and slipping over. There were nomads at the border. If they had seen us, it would have been difficult to escape, because we had heard that some of them were spies, but even though their dogs were barking, the nomads did not come out of their tents.

Eventually we reached India. We went to Buxa Duar, in West Bengal, where the Indian government housed the monks from Sera, Ganden, and Drepung monasteries who wanted to continue their studies. During the time of the British, Buxa was used as a concentration camp, with both Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru imprisoned there. Where Mahatma Gandhi had been imprisoned became the nunnery, and where Nehru had been imprisoned became Sera Monastery’s prayer hall.

My study of Buddhist philosophy began with Geshe Rabten Rinpoche teaching me Collected Topics (Dura), the first debating subject. But Geshe Rabten had many disciples and was very busy, so one of his disciples, Gen Yeshe, who has since passed away, taught me. After that, I received teachings from Lama Yeshe.

While I was living at Buxa, because the conditions there were very poor, I caught TB. (Of course, that was not the only reason—there was karma as well!) Lama Yeshe and I then went to Darjeeling for nine months so that I could have medical treatment. It was at that time, in 1965, while we were staying at Domo Geshe’s monastery in Darjeeling, that we met our first Western student, Zina Rachevsky. Zina’s father had been a prince in Russia, but the family had escaped to France at the time of the Russian Revolution. Zina was born in France and later moved to America.

Zina asked us to move to Sri Lanka and start a Dharma center there. We obtained permission to do this from His Holiness the Dalai Lama and from the Tibetan Government, but Zina had some problem that prevented us from going. Instead, since I was born in Nepal, we decided to visit Nepal.

We stayed in the Gelug monastery near Baudhanath Stupa, just outside Kathmandu. Every day Lama would look out through the window at a particular hill. He seemed very attracted to it, and one day we went out to check that hill. It was the Kopan hill.

During this time my mother and all my relatives came down from Solu Khumbu to Kathmandu on pilgrimage. Every twelve years there is a special occasion when all the Himalayan people come down from the mountains to go on pilgrimage to the holy places in the Kathmandu valley. They asked me to come back to Solu Khumbu, so I returned there.

It was at that time that Lawudo Cave was returned to me, and I began to build Lawudo Monastery. And Lama was gradually building Kopan Monastery then also. The two monasteries were being built at the same time. And it was then that I discovered Lodrö Gyaltsen’s text.

Transforming the Mind

Opening the Door of Dharma describes mainly impermanence and death, and the shortcomings of desire, the obstacles created by the eight worldly dharmas. These eight worldly concerns are:

  1. being happy when acquiring material things,
  2. being unhappy when not acquiring material things,
  3. wanting to be happy,
  4. not wanting to be unhappy,
  5. wanting to hear interesting sounds,
  6. not wanting to hear uninteresting sounds,
  7. wanting praise,
  8. not wanting criticism.

I don’t know whether this text has been translated into English; it is not difficult to understand intellectually, but there are many old terms that need commentary.

Reading this text was very helpful. It showed me that, like molding dough in your hand, you can definitely turn your mind whichever way you want. It can be trained to turn this way, that way. Now my mind is completely degenerate, but at that time, having thought a little about the meaning of this text, I hated it when people came to make offerings to me.

After finding Opening the Door of Dharma, I did a deity retreat. I think because I understood from this text how to practice Dharma, even the very first day of retreat was unbelievably peaceful and joyful. Because of a slight weakening of the eight worldly dharmas, my mind was more tranquil and slightly purer. Like having fewer rocks blocking a road, there were fewer obstacles in my mind, which means less interference from the eight worldly dharmas. This is what makes a retreat successful. Even though I hadn’t read carefully the commentaries of this tantric practice, the deity’s blessing was received because of fewer problems in my mind.

Trying to control your mind clears away obstacles, and the pure Dharma that is in your mind brings you closer to the deity. Even though you may not be very familiar with the meditations, the blessings of the deity come. Experiencing good signs in the daytime during sessions and at night during dreams shows that the deity is pleased with you and is bestowing blessings. The success of a retreat seems basically to depend on this. It seems that receiving the blessings of a deity does not depend solely on knowing the meditations of the generation and completion stages of the tantric path.

(Of course, you may be unable to continue your retreat if the more you do retreat, the more lung, or wind, disease you develop. After meeting Tibetan Buddhism, you know all about lung! Before that, lung was not so famous. The main cause of lung, by the way, is the inability to practice the essence of this text, the real meaning of Dharma.)

As Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche, holder of the entire holy Buddhadharma, has said, “All the teachings of the Buddha [Tibetan, Kangyur] and the commentaries by the pandits [Tengyur] are to subdue the mind.” All of these teachings are mind training, thought transformation. All the teachings of Buddha are to transform the mind, to subdue the mind.

Opening the Door of Dharma is a thought-transformation text, as I mentioned. Why is it called “thought transformation”? What is it that interferes with and renders ineffective our practice of listening to these teachings, reflecting on their meaning, and meditating on the path they reveal? The eight worldly dharmas, desire clinging to this life. The particular aim of this text is to control the eight worldly dharmas—this is thought transformation.

The whole teaching of the lam-rim, the graduated path to enlightenment, is thought transformation. Its main purpose is to subdue the mind. This is why listening to and reflecting and meditating on lam-rim teachings are so beneficial. When other teachings have no effect, hearing or reading the lam-rim can subdue your mind. The graduated path to enlightenment has a special arrangement that subdues the mind.

The lam-rim, as set out originally by Lama Atisha in his text, Lamp on the Path to Enlightenment, begins with the meditation on perfect human rebirth—the eight freedoms and ten richnesses. Lama Tsongkhapa, however, begins the lam-rim meditations with guru devotion, the root of the path.

Now, what blocks the generation of the graduated path to enlightenment within our mind? What doesn’t allow us to have realizations, beginning with guru devotion or perfect human rebirth? Again, it is the eight worldly dharmas. Worldly concern does not allow the practice of lam-rim to become Dharma. What doesn’t allow our everyday actions to become Dharma? From morning until night, what doesn’t allow the actions we do to become holy Dharma? The eight worldly dharmas, desire clinging to this life. This is the obstacle that prevents the generation within our mind of the lam-rim from the very beginning up to enlightenment, that doesn’t allow us to have realizations such as guru devotion or perfect human rebirth.

We need to train our mind by reflecting on the shortcomings of worldly concern and the infinite benefits of renouncing it. Especially we need to train our mind by meditating on impermanence and death. If this initial thought training is done, you open the door of Dharma. Then, without difficulty, you are able to practice Dharma. Every action you wish to do, whether retreat or other Dharma practices, you are able to do. And generally all your actions become Dharma. Not only that, you are able to begin to generate within your own mind the realizations of the path, from guru devotion or perfect human rebirth up to enlightenment. You are able to begin to generate the path to enlightenment within your mind, and to continue and complete it.

All these results come from this very first thought training, Opening the Door of Dharma. If you practice the meaning of this text, you will control the eight worldly dharmas instead of allowing yourself to be controlled by them. Instead of giving yourself no freedom, you will give yourself freedom. Otherwise you have no freedom, no independence.