The Open Dimension

Commentary on social issues; politics; religion and spirituality

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Location: Laguna Hills, California, United States

I am a semi-retired psychotherapist/psychiatric social worker and certified hypnotherapist. Originally a practicing attorney, I changed careers during the 1980's. My interests include history, constitutional law, Hindustani classical music, yoga, meditation and spirituality.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Meaning of Dharma ( By Tulku Dolpo Rinpoche )

The meaning
of Dharma, the spiritual teachings and their effect

We shall listen to the following teachings with the intention to
attain ultimate enlightenment for the sake of all sentient

Today I would like to talk about three main points: the Dharma, the
way in which it is practised, and the fruition, ie the effect of that

What is the Dharma?

Without the right understanding what the Dharma is, though we may
wish to practise the Dharma it will not be effective. So, rather than just going
into what we think is Dharma practise, we should first make sure to understand
exactly what the Dharma is.

The Tibetan word Chö is the translation of the Sanskrit word Dharma,
which has the sense of “to hold”, “to grasp” something - to grasp the
negativities of the body, speech and mind, and to hold an individual back from
falling into the lower realms, in the long run, and in the present to refrain
from those negative actions. The Tibetan rendering has the flavour of "to
change" or "to transform". If we ask "What is it to be transformed?" it is none
other than our mind. Naturally and effortlessly, our mind goes towards
negativities, led by afflictive emotions. What we want to transform is this
tendency of the mind, so that it will follow in more positive

If we are to enquire, “Well, among things to be transformed then,
should we transform the activities of the body, or the activities of the speech,
or of the mind - which one of the three is the most important?” Well, the most
important is the mind, because the body and the speech follow after the mind,
they are the mind‘s followers. So by the word Chö, or Dharma we mean the
transformation of the mind in a positive direction.

Then we may ask: "When does our practice of Dharma begin?" It is our
own mother and father, who first teach us how to transform towards positive
directions, so it can be said our Dharma practice begins with our

It is also important to understand that the meaning of the word Chö,
or Dharma does not pertain to religion. In fact, the sole cause of happiness or
suffering for anybody anywhere in the world is whether or not they act according
to Dharma. It is not that only Buddhists can have happiness, or that happiness
only comes from practising Buddhism. The cause of happiness, of genuine
happiness, is to transform the mind in a positive way, or to bring the mind into
positivity, which is common to all people and it is part of our common human

Most people see the Dharma as something very difficult to accomplish,
or as something far off in the distance, far from where we are now. But that is
not, in fact, the case. The reason why they mistakenly believe this is because
they have not understood the real meaning of Dharma as, simply, improving the
mind. Dharma is not something that the Buddha taught only for a select few of
incredibly diligent, incredibly intelligent people. This is not the case. The
Dharma that the Buddha taught was something that especially those with the most
suffering and difficulties would also be able to practise, something that anyone
at all could practise. When it comes to topics such as Emptiness, we may find
ourselves learning that this kind of teaching is only for "those of the most
advanced faculties". But this is not to say that the Dharma is only for those of the most advanced
faculties. Rather, this is a way of praising those specific teachings and not to
say that all Dharma is for those
of the highest capacity. As Mipham Rinpoche says on the subject, in a prayer
called the Dzogchen Prayer: "The nature of the mind is unbelievable in its
simplicity". As it is the very nature
of all phenomena, it is simple - the natural way of abiding in
phenomena. For example, even seemingly difficult philosophical subjects such as
Emptiness, can be exposed directly and in a very simple way, because their very
nature is of the “unbelievable simplicity” that Mipham Rinpoche speaks about.
Their nature is, in fact, simplicity.

So as we have seen, one of the reasons why it is easy, or possible
for us to practise the Dharma, is because the Dharma is something the Buddha
taught for all beings to be able to practise, for people like you and me, and
even for beings who are suffering. The second reason why the Dharma is easy,
then, is because it is something which is conceivable to us ordinary beings. If
the Buddha only taught for the most advanced practitioners and did not teach
something that could be understood by people of lesser and middling faculties,
then it really wouldn't benefit us at all, only the Buddha himself would be able
to understand what he was talking about! So, to state it simply: the Dharma is
conceivable to us - it is something that we are capable of understanding. We can
think about it, we can spend some time engaging in it, just like any other
activity, Dharmic or non-Dharmic, which we get engaged in; we can understand it,
we can think about it. The Dharma is not something that is far away. Were it the
case, it would be like trying to speak about Emptiness to a cow. It would be
something inconceivable to him and therefore totally pointless. That is not the
case. The Dharma is taught for people like us in mind and it is something we can
understand. That is why the Dharma is not far away, it something that is very
close, something that is very approachable and

The way to
practise the Dharma

I’m not sure what the word “practice” really means in English, but
the Tibetan word “Nyam Len” means „taking into experience“, and it has the sense
of “right now”, that it is happening in the present, what I am doing right now.
Whether I am practising the
Dharma, observing the mind, bringing the mind into positivity, there
is this sense of practising right now or of observing the mind right

Practice means transforming the mind. There are a lot of people who
think "I am a practitioner" because they spend maybe one or two hours reciting
prayers. But for the rest of the day they fail to mix their body, speech and
mind with the Dharma. They consider themselves practitioners on the basis of
their reciting a lot of prayers.

When we pray, we aspire for something to happen in the future, ie for
happiness to occur in the future. Although prayer is an aspect of the
Bodhissatva's practice, practice itself is active and transforming the mind now,
whereas prayer is to do with the future. So, if someone is only doing a couple
of hours of prayers, thinking "Oh, maybe I'll be happy in the future, maybe I'll
have happiness in the future" but failing to bring the Dharma into their actual
life of the rest of the day by the actions of their body, speech and mind, then
they cannot be considered a practitioner. Just praying "I wish I had a car, I
wish I had a house", no matter how hard you pray, that in and of itself will not
get those things for you. So, starting from now, if you want those things, you
will have to start accumulating the actual causes to bring them about. Some
people have the sense that just praying for things is enough. There are people
these days who use a lot of fancy words to describe their practice, and they
think "I received the pith instructions from the lama, I am doing that" and feel
satisfied. They use words like Generation Stage, Completion Stage, meditating on
the deities, doing yoga, practising Dzogpa Chenpo, the Great Perfection or
whatever, but forget about transforming the mind. The thing about some of these
people who claim to be practitioners of the Great Perfection or this or that, is
that if the practice is not affecting their minds, and when they meet some kind
of a person they should have patience with but they get angry and their face
turns red just like an ordinary person‘s, then they might as well have not have
received the teachings.

Some people also see practice as something which occurs in their
temple, monastery or Dharma centre. They think "Oh, I'm going to go and practise
in the temple now" and they do not see Dharma as something that could occur just
in their daily lives. Or they say, "I want to practice but I don't have time to
practice, I have too much work". The problem here is that they haven't
understood what the Dharma actually is. So when I hear that, I exclaim "Well,
that‘s great!" because I think that is the best situation in which to practise
the Dharma, a situation full of opportunities to develop patience, kind heart,
and the wish to benefit others.

Until we reach retirement we will have spent about 60 percent of our
lives working. This doesn’t have to be an obstacle to practice. Practice is not
something we can do only in the temple, in our free time, on the weekends or
when we have holiday. It is during the working time that we actually have a good
opportunity to mix our life with the Dharma and work on improving our mind in
place of increasing our anger and jealousy. And as a result we will also spend
that time being happy.

So for example if you do some administrative work in an office, you
have a choice of attitude: You can work with a genuine good-hearted intention to
benefit the company, not only for the sake of getting paid for the work. You
will then practise generosity. Likewise, if you work with people, there are
opportunities to practise patience, rather than getting exasperated. And when
our colleague gets a promotion or pay rise we don’t have to be jealous but happy
for them. The thing about jealousy is that no matter how much time we spend
being jealous of others, we cannot bring them down and harbouring hatred will
only bring mental discomfort and suffering upon ourselves. Instead, we may
consider they deserve to receive this prize for good and hard work and their

The point I am trying to make here is that it is possible for anybody
in society to practise the Dharma. You may have read in Dharma texts that it is
essential to practise in remote locations, but that refers to particular
practices for developing the states of one-pointedness, Shamatha and Vipashyana.
For those you do have to rely on a remote place. But the Dharma is actually much
faster than just those practices. The Dharma is something that the people in the
regular world can practise, something that anybody anywhere can

As practitioners we look at what is happening in our mind. If it is
improving, we can rejoice. If it is not then the question is, are we a

Some people who are involved in the tradition of the Secret Mantra
are attracted to activities like beating on drums and playing with Damarus and
so on. These are actually branch practices of the Dharma. What we need to be
careful of here is that we do not ignore the root of the Dharma and only
practise the branches of it. As a practitioner does the root practise, the
understanding of the words arises and, naturally, the instruments will basically
play themselves, spontaneously. Otherwise, if you are too involved with the
technicalities of playing the instruments, while you are thinking about the
words the Damaru will stop, while you are thinking about the Damaru the bell
will stop, and it is all just a joke, something worth laughing at. In that case,
it’s better to concentrate on the actual, root practice and leave the branches.
If you really do want to play the instruments during the different practices or
Sadhana, you should learn to play them properly beforehand, so when it comes to
using them, they will enhance your practice. Then you arrive at the ideal
situation where you can read the words, think about the meaning, and also have
these material things going on, simultaneously and in harmony. Otherwise, if the
branches are there with no root, if you play the instruments with no meaning, it
is like branches with no trunk!

So what I have been trying to explain here, is a general sense of
practising the Dharma, based on the word “Nyam Lneen”, which roughly means
"taking into experience". Of course, you may have received specific teachings
from specific traditions, and they need to be practised in accordance with the
instructions you have been given.

Fruition of
the Dharma

From the Hinayana point of view, the ultimate fruition is one's own
mental stream free from suffering. In Mahayana, on the other hand, we wish not
only for our own happiness but for the happiness of all sentient beings. This is
taught very clearly in the opening lines of the text by Maitreya called the
Abhisamayalankara, that the ultimate goal for Bodhisattvas is the benefit of all
beings. Since the ultimate goal is to benefit others, the Bodhissatvas wish to
obtain enlightenment because enlightenment is a state in which the maximum
benefit for beings can be accomplished.

Let’s use the example of somebody wishing to become a tailor. If you
did not know how to sew clothing you wouldn’t be of much benefit. But if you had
already mastered the craft, you would be in that position to teach them. In the
same way, in order to liberate sentient beings, one becomes enlightened to show
them the way.

When we study the teachings about the fruition of the three Buddha
bodies (kaya), for example, we may think that the goal of the path is to attain
enlightenment. We may forget that the goal of the practice is in fact to bring
benefit to all beings. The goal is not to attain enlightenment but to attain
enlightenment so that the vast enlightened activities thus acquired may be of
benefit. We should not only understand that the ultimate result of the path is
the accomplishment of the three (or four) Buddha bodies, but that with this
accomplishment there will be the manifestation of Trinle, the Buddha activity,
which is the best and fastest way to benefit

I have spoken in relation to the ultimate fruition of the path. Next,
I will explain the more immediate effects of the practice. If we do not know
what the short-term effects and results of the practice are supposed to be, how
can we be sure of our practice at all? If we know what to expect from our
practise, we can be confident we are on the right track, and it will not be
necessary to rely on supernatural signs or dreams, or keep asking the Lama’s

There are two short-term effects of the practice: For oneself, it is
that the interest in the Eight Worldly Concerns decreases, and in relation to
others, there is an increase in compassion that naturally, effortlessly arises.
So if we notice those occurring, we can be confident that our Dharma practice is
on the right track. Even if we have bad dreams or bad luck, we should still have
no doubt that the Dharma is being practised according to the Dharma. But, if we
have no signs of these two coming to presence, rather the opposite, if one is
becoming more and more interested in oneself and one's own benefit, and less and
less interested in the benefit of others, then even though one is having very
amazing dreams and a lot of good luck, the practice of the Dharma is not
actually there. Based on those two signs, you will know whether or not your
Dharma practice is on the right track, whether or not you are going in the right

So today, I have talked about the nature of the Dharma, what it is,
how it is practised and what its fruition is, in a general way that can be
broadly applied. Other than that I do not have anything else to

from Tibetan by Daniela Hartmann