Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy
Tibetan Buddhist philosophy is exceptionally rich because the Buddha’s teaching has been meticulously preserved and passed down through a continuous unbroken lineage of master meditators to the present day. Such great masters as Atisha, Nagarjuna, and Lama Tsongkhapa made the teaching accessible to all students through their enlightened commentaries. Their whole-hearted devotion and practice enabled them to demonstrate the true fruits of the Buddha’s teaching; namely, the attainment of a perfectly enlightened and compassionate mind.
The program of studies and meditation offered by Lama Samten and the teachers of Paramita Centre are based entirely on the Buddha’s teaching and specifically on the Lamrim (The Stages of the Path to Enlightenment). The subjects covered are the same as those offered at the monastic university of Ganden Jangste in South India. You are invited to browse through the various topics listed on this page. You may also want to consult Lama Samten‘s book The Esssence of the Path to Enlightenment for a more in-depth description of the same topics. The following is a brief overview:
Introduction to Buddhist philosophy
The unique qualities of Buddhist teaching
Getting ready for meditation
The importance of the spiritual guide
Precious human existence
The Three Scopes
The small scope considers such subjects as impermanence, suffering, the inevitability of death, karma, the law of cause and effect, taking refuge, and attaining happiness.
Although ‘small’ can sometimes suggest lesser, it is far from being true in this case. To the contrary, the small scope is the base, the first level of preparation to the entire Path of Enlightenment. It cannot be neglected or overlooked. What is accomplished at this level is absolutely necessary for developing the qualities and realizations in both the medium and great scopes.
Although our overall objective is total Enlightenment, there is much to be done before we can actually attain it. Thus the primary aim of the small scope is to ‘set the stage’ so to speak so as to ensure the best possible conditions for our next rebirth. Among other things, this would include for example, having easy access to the Dharma (teaching), little or less suffering, pleasant living conditions, a healthy body, etc.
The medium scope focuses on the Four Noble Truths, the three ‘poisons’, the Twelve Interdependent Links, Samsara, and the Path to liberation.
Once our motivation is well established through practice in the small scope, and we are able to persevere in working conscientiously toward creating the conditions conducive to a higher rebirth, we are ready to pass to the next level: attaining Nirvana (a state where there is no suffering and where we are liberated of all mental and emotional affliction). Medium scope studies and practice allow us to take a deeper look into the nature of suffering and its causes. As a result of this understanding, we can work more efficiently to abandon those aspects of ourselves that are counter-productive to the happiness we seek.
The great scope emphasizes the importance of developing Bodhichitta (the mind of Enlightenment) by using two meditation or mind-training techniques: Atisha’s method of seven causes and effects, and Shantideva’s interchange of self with others. Also discussed are the different ways to transform adverse circumstances into positive ones; how to maintain a daily practice of meditation; how to best develop the qualities needed for attaining enlightenment; and how to enhance our training in calm-abiding (concentration) and special insight (wisdom).
Obtaining lasting happiness for oneself through the diligent practice of the Hinyana ( i.e. the medium and small scopes combined) is a considerable undertaking in itself. However, Nirvana is not our final destination ; nor is it the ultimate end of the Path. Even though we ourselves may no longer be controlled by afflictive emotions, there is an infinite number of sentient beings - friends, family, neighbours etc. - who find themselves in very demanding and painful circumstances. We cannot remain indifferent to such suffering.
Therefore, the practitioners of the great scope (i.e. the Mahayana) seek unceasingly to rid themselves of any obscuration that limits their capacity to come to the assistance of all those who are still prisoners of Samasara and its suffering. Armed with an enlightened mind rooted in universal love and unlimited compassion for all sentient beings, the Bodhisattva can at last obtain his/her ultimate goal: full Enlightenment, Buddhahood, Illumination.
Lama Samten has often explained that happiness is the ultimate goal of life, and that this is true regardless of one’s beliefs or absence of beliefs. The main impetus of our lives is always oriented toward being happy. How can this happiness be obtained? Happiness can be found by training the mind.
When he speaks of happiness, Lama refers to the soul in which he includes our feelings, sentiments, heart, and mind. He explains how, by applying a form of inner discipline, we can transform our attitude, concepts, and even our way of being. He insists that “ every sentient being aspires to happiness and wants to avoid suffering. No one wants to suffer. This is a fundamental truth.”
Hence the aim of every life is the search for happiness. It is an objective which we all seek without hesitation. Learning how to ensure a happier life allows us to better understand how this search for happiness reveals itself to be very advantageous – as much for ourselves as for our family, and even for society in general. The key to a happy and fulfilling life is found in our state of mind.
Here it is important to make a distinction between happiness and pleasure. The two are very often confused. The highest form of happiness to be attained is that of being completely and totally free of all suffering. This is what Lama refers to as authentic and lasting happiness. Thus real happiness is that which refers to the heart and the mind, while that which depends on physical pleasure is unstable and unreliable. One day it is there; and the next, it is gone.
Lama Samten himself admits that he is greatly motivated to obtaining happiness and he insists on its importance. To assist us in our search for happiness, he suggests that we first observe and study the different aspects of happiness. We must discover for ourselves just how our negative emotions and behaviours are destructive, and similarly, how positive acts and feelings are beneficial. Since certain behaviours and emotions are always harmful not only to the individual but to the whole of society as well, we must be determined to abandon them.
The Sources of Happiness
All sentient beings share the same wish: to find happiness and avoid suffering. This need is the same for everyone regardless of age, gender, race, or culture. In fact, the need is not limited to humans; animals and all species of sentient beings seek to avoid suffering as well.
In order to find this happiness, it is important that we recognize its real causes and conditions. What exactly are these conditions? Let us use the concept of friends and enemies as an example. If we take the time to reflect on what constitutes a friend or an enemy, we will inevitably discover that all these people with whom we share our everyday existence can not be identified as friends or foes in themselves. They are called ‘friend’ or ‘enemy’ due to our perception of them as such. If a person is identified as a friend or an enemy in the true sense of the term, he/she would be that same friend or enemy for everyone. Of course, we know that this is not the case, and that identifying someone as a friend or an enemy is an entirely subjective perception.
The same applies to our problems and various forms of suffering. They too are the result of our perceptions, mental afflictions, and our exaggerated sense of self-importance. Furthermore, if we also believe that our enemies are only those that we perceive externally, and justify our seeking vengeance by resorting to anger, pride, and jealousy, we are actually overlooking the real cause of our suffering. If we choose to remain in this state, happiness becomes an impossibility.
If we take the time to honestly reflect on the subject, we will come to realize that just as a well-cultivated field is beneficial and profitable for everyone, so too are all sentient beings a source of goodness and benefit. Our material well-being, social networks, education, and even our qualities are all dependent either directly or indirectly on the presence of others. If there were no other sentient beings, where could we find similar advantages and goodness? Realizing that much of what we take for granted comes from others, makes it that much easier for us to develop compassion, which is the root of the Path to Enlightenment.
It is unfortunate, that because of ignorance, so many of our actions often become sources of unhappiness, in spite of the fact that all we really want is happiness. Happiness can only be the fruit of the positive actions carried out by our body, speech and mind. Problems on the other hand, can only be the result of the negative actions of the same body, speech, and mind. Thus as previously mentioned, it is in such states of mind as anger, jealousy, and pride that all the causes to our problems and suffering are created.
By developing such qualities as love, compassion, humility, patience, and wisdom, we are really creating the sources or causes of joy both in ourselves and in our world.
Happiness and suffering arise mostly from our mental perceptions. Hence we are dealing with inner mental states. If we can properly train our minds, we can even perceive suffering as a means of eliminating the effects of negative acts committed in the past. Rather than reacting instinctively by becoming discouraged, sad, or angry, and increasing our suffering, we can choose to cultivate joy and lessen the impact of potentially painful negative circumstances. Similarly, when good fortune comes our way, we can sincerely rejoice, because this is a sure sign that we are reaping the benefits of our practice of kindness and Bodhichitta (mind of enlightenment), thereby giving our precious human life its true significance.
Whether or not we are blessed with material wealth, family, and friends, we can always cultivate happiness by developing an attitude of generosity and gratitude. By developing these qualities, not only are we benefited, but we become a source of happiness for others as well.
Thus whatever the circumstances may be, it is important that we make the best possible use of our capacities so that when we do finally reach the end of our lives, we do so in a state of joy and serenity. It is absolutely essential that we cultivate these positive feelings so as to leave this life with a mind that is at peace.
Whether we are a man or a woman, the nature of the mind is the same. It is essentially pure, luminous and happy. Attaining the happiness of an enlightened mind depends on our motivation, not on the gender of our body.
With this thought in mind, and until we attain Enlightenment, we can whole-heartedly wish that every sentient being finds lasting happiness, free of all suffering and its causes.
Om mani pémé houm!
(The Mantra of Compassion)