Yongey Mingyur Dorje Rinpoche:
Three Vehicles, Four Noble Truths
Kagyu Samye Ling, Scotland, August 2003. Translator: Chödrak
Rinpoche would like to welcome everybody who have come from many parts of the country to listen to the teachings, tashi deleg to you all. Tonight there is going to be a general introduction to Dharma. Generally speaking, in Tibetan, when you talk about a practitioner, sanje nampa means a person who is studying something inner. We have inner and outer aspects and the inner aspect means that one is studying about one’s mind which is within. So that’s what it means to be a Buddhist.
Our mind is very important and all the experiences of happiness and unhappiness, which we experience, they all arise in the mind. So then, if we can train our mind and train in a great way, then we will give rise naturally in our minds to happiness. This happiness is the real lasting peace which you have in the external environment as well as in our inner mind.
What are the main teachings of the Buddha? The teaching is that one should pacify one’s mind. So then one should generate the inner peace within one’s mind. In order to gain or realise the inner peace within our mind the Buddha taught three different gradual paths. They are Hinayana, Mahayana and the Secret Vajrayana. This is all of the different Buddhist aspects of teaching pulled down to three special points.
So why is it necessary that the Buddha taught in a three different ways or three different paths? He presented the teaching in such a way, because the sentient beings of the world have different elements and different types of mind, different characteristics. Some people have very open, vast mind, some people have very closed type mind. For that reason the Buddha taught varying techniques, not a single technique. However, the various types of beings and the three types of path, if one reaches to the very end of any of the three paths, the result is the same, the final result is complete enlightenment.
You can have an example of this. I was in London the other day, we arrived from London today. How did I arrive? I came in a motorcar. I came along one particular path or road. It is possible for another person to have taken a plane and come from London and arrive at Samye Ling in a plain. The airport is a little bit further away. It is also possible that a man might come from London to Samye Ling by the method of walking. Who would arrive first? The person who came in the airplane would be the one you would think would have arrived first. Speediest arrival. Slowest approach to Samye Ling from London would be by walking and the medium would be in a motorcar. But the quickest and swiftest way to arrive in Samye Ling would be in a plain.
But whichever of the three methods you choose to come from London to Samye Ling, you always end up in the same place; the final destination will be Samye Ling. Some people prefer to go in a plain. Some people don’t like flying, so they prefer to go in a car. Some people are frightened of flying, they think the plain is going to fall down and they can’t drive either, because they become extremely carsick. So they have no alternative except to walk. Eventually the person will arrive here. This is the way of a human being. Likewise us as human beings want to reach the level of enlightenment. So whether we have followed the path of Hinayana, Mahayana or Secret Mantra Vajrayana, that’s up to our own feeling of connection, how our mind is with these particular paths. Whichever we follow, we get to the same final destination. That was the general explanation of the three types of vehicles, three paths.
If you want to talk about the teachings that the Buddha manifested when he turned the Wheel of Dharma, we can reduce them to Four Noble Truths. All the entire teachings of Hinayana, Mahayana and the Secret Mantra Vajrayana can be contained in these Four Noble Truths.
What are the Four Noble Truths? The first one is the Truth of Suffering and the second one is the Truth of Origination. The third one is the Truth of Cessation and the fourth noble truth is the Truth of the Path. There we have the four.
If a being wants to reach the level of complete enlightenment, they need to practise connection with these Four Noble Truths. What is the reason for that? The Buddha has given an example. The first example is that of sickness and the second one is the cause of sickness. The third one is how to live happily and in prosperity and the fourth example is that of a medicine. If you put all these together, do you think you will be free of illness? If you don’t have illness in the first place, then you can’t become free of illness, you can’t become better, can you, if there is no illness in the first instant. If we say: “becoming better” or “getting over the sickness”, it means that we have to have somebody who is sick in the first place. To be free of sickness, how do we achieve that? We need to understand the cause of sickness. If we manage to obtain the understanding of the cause of sickness and we can pacify it, what happens to us? We will have an ability to live in happiness and prosperity.
What is the method to obtain the ability to live happily and in prosperous state? It is the method of taking various medicines. You can also have a few operations! What the meaning is really, whatever the doctor says you listen to the doctor. The doctor might say: “Don’t eat sweet things because they will be harmful to your body.”
If one relies on these three points:1. the type of activity one performs, 2. the type of food one consumes 3. the type of medicine one has, then one will definitely free oneself from the sickness. To free ourselves of the sickness we combine the four examples just mentioned.
There is some connection between this and the teachings of the Buddha. What is the connection? The first example of sickness is like the first Truth of Suffering. The cause of sickness, which is second example, is related with the Truth of Origination. The ability to live happily and in a prosperous state is connected with the Truth of Cessation. The ability to live happily and in a prosperous is due to a cause. What is that cause? It is the fourth example, which is medicine, which is related to the Truth of Path. This is an explanation of the Four Truths presented by the Buddha.
If we have to understand how to practise with these Four Truths, how can we do that? We need to know about the truth of suffering. What do we need to know about suffering? The Truth of Origination means that we have to know what is it we need to abandon. The Truth of Cessation means we have to know what we need to obtain. The Truth of the Path means we have to know what we need to rely on, what is necessary to be dependable. If you can understand these four aspects, realise the meaning properly, then you will understand the general meaning of all of the buddhadharma which is taught.
I will give a brief explanation of the Truth of Suffering. How do we understand this Truth of Suffering? How do we remove the suffering? Suffering has to remove suffering itself. How do we accomplish that? First of all, we have to understand about the suffering. Normally in our minds we have misperceptions of thinking that things are permanent and also we have ignorance of the nature of suffering. As much as one has in one’s mind a fixed idea that things are permanent, as much as one is ignorant of the nature of things and has great grasping, then one’s suffering will be equal to that.
Some people think that they shouldn’t think about suffering at all, and even the word suffering they shouldn’t think about. The person who has this idea, it doesn’t occur to them that their suffering becomes less. In fact their suffering can become greater. But the majority of suffering that we tend to experience is illusory, not real. If one observes the suffering, the suffering will disappear. Also then we naturally understand the nature of suffering. If one naturally understands the nature of suffering, it will naturally disappear. So then recognizing or understanding the nature of suffering is very important. I will give you an example.
This example is to do with one particular man who is very scared of snakes. He was constantly thinking: “I don’t want to meet snakes; snakes are very bad for me.” Even if he heard the word “snake” he became scared. But he had a bad friend. So the man who feared snakes was in his house. There wasn’t good light inside, and outside it was dark. The man was at his home quite happily but then the door opened all of a sudden, and his bad friend was there. He had a thin rope in his hand, and he rushed to the man throwing the rope over his head. As the rope fell over the man who was sitting down on the floor, the man said: ”Oh dear, there is a snake on your head!.” When the rope fell on the ground the man who had the fear of snakes thought he had seen a snake, and the rope seemed to move from side to side. “There is a real snake!” He thought he was in great danger and he gave rise to a great suffering. He couldn’t move and the hairs in his pores stood on end. “What am I going to do?”
Actually, what he had seen was not a snake at all, it was just a thin rope, but the man did not recognize it. Because of that misunderstanding, the non-recognition of the fact that it was a piece of rope, he had a lot of suffering. In reality it was a piece of rope, but all the hairs of his pores were standing on end and he was unable to walk - this was all meaningless suffering, wasn’t it? At that moment, what kind of method could he use? The method would be to recognize the thin piece of rope to be just that: a thin piece of rope.
Another friend came. This was a good friend and he said: “That’s not a snake on the floor, look, it’s just a piece of a thin rope.” What a release! “Wonderful!” All the suffering he had a moment ago had completely gone. He could go where he wanted to and also he picked up the rope. In the first instant he wasn’t even able to look at the rope, because he thought it was a snake.
Related to the first Truth of Suffering, it means to be aware and really recognize the suffering: what is suffering and how to move it. This is related to the Truth of Suffering. If we understand the real nature of suffering and how it is, then this is related to the relative truth. One will naturally understand the relative truth. If one has understanding of this natural state of the relative truth, that will give one the power to dispel many types of unnecessary suffering, which one normally goes through. We have many types of meaningless suffering.
I’m travelling around the world, going to many countries and seeing many types of people. And many types of people have different conversations with me. There are many people who have all kinds of meaningless problems, meaningless suffering. Most of them are in the West. I’m not talking just about England or Scotland. So, one person came up to speak to me. He said: “Normally I like to drive car. I am very happy driving, but I have one problem. I can’t drive a car when I have this problem.” “What’s the problem?” My particular problem is that when I drive and come to traffic lights, I have the fear that the traffic lights are going to fall over and hit me on the head. That prevents me from driving, because I’m so frightened of the traffic lights. I’m driving along looking out, in case I meet a traffic light and
I can’t drive very well because I’m waiting to see the traffic light.”
That kind of suffering is completely without reason or meaning. There are many problems like that, many sufferings. But if one knew the natural state of the relative truth, that kind of suffering will be dispelled. If one understands the natural state of the relative truth and also the emptiness, then all of this meaningless suffering and problems will diminish. Also one’s grasping will diminish.
Now I have a question. I am not asking you, I’m asking myself. You don’t have to worry! So then, we had a thin piece of rope on the table and we thought that was a snake. The good friend came along and said it was a piece of rope, so therefore the suffering was removed. What would have happened if the bad friend had got the rope, which I thought was a snake, and tied it around my neck? At that moment when I knew it was a rope, it would not have been any use for the bad friend to tie it around my neck. What kind of method do we have there? This is the first stage of wisdom. So it’s not enough for one to know, one has to go into it in a deeper way.
So, just understanding that a rope is a rope is not enough, but we should understand that the rope is a rope, and there is no point in tying it around the neck. The way we progress or go deeper into understanding of the wisdom is understanding emptiness. The understanding of the nature of emptiness is connected with the third truth, the Truth of Cessation. If one really understood completely the nature of emptiness, one would not be able to have the rope tied around one’s neck. Taking an example of Milarepa, the great saint of Tibet, he couldn’t be burned by fire, he could walk through walls or rocks unobstructedly, and he couldn’t have any harm given to him. What’s the reason for that? His body is emptiness and the fire is emptiness, how can the fire of emptiness burn the body of emptiness? If one understands completely the nature of emptiness, this kind of result will happen.
If the bad friend tied the rope around one’s neck, anybody to have the rope tied around wouldn’t be there. Even though we have had a brief explanation of emptiness, it’s not completely there, so it wouldn’t be any good for you to jump into fire, you would be burned. That’s just a general explanation of the suffering.
Then we talk about the second truth, which is the truth of origination. Related to that, there are the conflicting emotions in the mind, and karma. The real source of suffering is the conflicting emotions in the mind, the anger, pride, jealousy etc. and along with that the great grasping. The grasping along with the five mind poisons causes us to experience a lot of suffering and problems. If a person has a lot of anger within them, they never gain a state of peace. When they perceive other beings, they think that these people are also looking at them with a harmful intent. So you just sit there and look at them thinking: that man is staring me strangely. If one has this great anger within oneself, these experiences will arise. If I put on yellow tinted spectacles, when I look at a house which was painted as white I won’t perceive it as white, I shall perceive it as yellow. If I put blue lenses on, I will perceive everything to be blue. If I put green lenses on, I will perceive everything to be green.
So, if we have any of these five mindpoisons to a great degree, then we will never be able to obtain a state of peace. Along with these mindpoisons we perform the activity of negative karma, and the joint result of these is experiencing lot of suffering. If we can clear away the conflicting emotions, then we won’t generate karma; that will be cut off, unobstructed. If we don’t generate karma then we don’t generate the cause to experience the fruit which is suffering, and that will be removing the Truth of Suffering. Finally the karma itself and the suffering will both be eliminated. Then if you want to jump in the fire, it’s okay. If you can dispel all your suffering, then all of the illusions will also be liberated.
In general, if anyone of us experiences illness, to get rid of the illness, what kind of method can we use? If we can remove or stop the cause of the illness, then the illness will be dispelled. Now I’m going to ask you a question. It’s not difficult.
There is a tall house and on the roof there is a small hole. Through the hole the rain comes drip by drip. It falls down to the floorboards which become rotten over the time and all carpets get soaked. What can we do at that point?
Answer: Sell the house.
Rinpoche. That’s one method. But it’s not the first solution.
Answer: Block the hole. Get a bucket. Stop the rain.
Rinpoche: How can you stop the rain actually?
Answer: That’s why I’m here!
Rinpoche: I’m going to tell you. What I think is the best method is to block the hole. If you don’t block the hole, the rain is going to continue to drop down. If you put a bucket or any container there, eventually it will be filled up and spill over. You can also wipe every drop once it drops down. It never ends, because you haven’t addressed the real problem which is the cause of the rain drops. If you recognise straight away: “There are rain drops falling from the ceiling”, you go up, see the hole, fix it and all is fine. You don’t need to get tired out by cleaning up.
If you can remove the cause of suffering or illness, the suffering or illness will not arise again. If we don’t succeed really in removing all of the causes of the illness, it will arise again at some point in the future. You might take one type of medicine and it pacifies it, but then again it will arise. So it’s not completely removed. It will go onwards like this, until one really addresses the point, which is removing the whole of the cause. That was the explanation of the second truth, Truth of Origination.
The third truth is the Truth of Cessation. Related with the Truth of Cessation is recognizing the emptiness and the nature of one’s mind. The emptiness and the nature of one’s mind, which is the buddhanature or the buddhaessence are not different, they are actually inseparable. What is the nature of this natural state of the mind, the buddhanature? It completely has happiness and joy; it doesn’t have any suffering or illness. It’s like that all the time. That is what we call resting in happiness. That is related with the example of living happily and in prosperity. The Buddha has told us, that all sentient beings who possess mind, they all have the buddhanature. Every single being has that. Buddhists and nonbuddhists alike have that. Whether you are a religious person or not religious at all, you have that. It’s the same. Also with human being and animal it’s the same. All beings of the six realms of existence possess buddhanature. Also the Buddha has buddhanature. The buddhanature that the Buddha possesses and the buddhanature that I possess or each of us possess, is exactly the same, there is no difference. You don’t say that the difference between us and the Buddha is that the Buddha is excellent and I’m bad, the Buddha is excellent and we are also excellent. But because we don’t know that, we are wandering in the samsara. It is the ignorance about our buddhanature that makes us to wander in samsara. I shall give an example.
There is a man with a big lump of gold. He is driving along in a car and the big lump of gold falls out of the window to mud. He goes up and down but he is unsuccessful in locating the gold. He gives up and drives off. After one thousand years the gold is still in the mud. One day someone comes cleaning the road. If he cleaned it with a machine, he wouldn’t know anything about the gold, but he is cleaning with his hands. While cleaning up the dirt he finds this big lump of gold. He cleans it from all impurities, mud and stains. It becomes very bright and shiny and he puts it on top of his shrine. Now I’m going to ask a question: the gold which was hidden in the mud for thousand years and the gold which is put on shrine, which one is the most precious?
Answer: They are the same.
Rinpoche: Yes, they have got the same essence. The absolute truth is like that. The essence of the gold is the same. That is the example given by the Buddha. So the essence of the Buddha and the essence of us are identical. So then, if the gold is in the mud or the gold is clean on the shrine it’s the same. Ourselves we are rather like the piece of gold which is covered by mud. The illusions are obscuring us, covering us up. There is the illusion of our impure body, the illusions of the various phenomena that appear to us, the different appearances, this is the illusion. And also we have the illusions of birth and death and sickness. But if we understand completely the nature of emptiness of phenomena and our natural state, which is nature of mind, buddhanature, then gradually over time we will completely purify all the illusions. At that point we will really be able to live happily and in prosperity and we will be like the Buddha, same. That’s the explanation of the Truth of Cessation.
The fourth truth is the Truth of the Path. The Path the Buddha has taught us in a gradual way. There are two aspects to the path. There is the preliminary practice and the main practice. Within the preliminary practice, if you divide that into two points, it will be the ordinary preliminaries and the extraordinary preliminaries. Also there are two divisions further into the main practice: shine and lhaktong. This is all related to the Truth of Path.
With all of these points related to the Truth of the Path, we depend on or rely on that. If we practise and depend upon the idea of the Truth of the Path, we will gain a glimpse of our buddhanature. Slowly slowly it will become clearer and eventually the final result is that we achieve complete enlightenment. That is the explanation of the fourth truth, the Truth of the Path. If you have questions, please ask.
Question: Is all suffering meaningless?
Rinpoche: The answer will be given in a form of an example. So, we have the rope, which we had before. The grasping of the rope to be a snake, that idea, a misperception of a rope to be a snake, that’s meaningless suffering. But then, if you think of the perception of a rope being a rope, that’s related to the conventional truth, the relative truth and at that point it’s true. It’s true because of the experience of the relative truth. But ultimately the rope doesn’t exist even as a rope. So then if one understands the nature of emptiness of phenomena and natural state of one’s mind with buddhanature, then the grasping to the idea of a rope being a rope is dispelled. If you want to put this in a brief answer: yes, all suffering is meaningless.
Q: Why does ignorance happen?
R: It is because we don’t recognise buddhanature, our essence, and therefore we engender the suffering. We don’t understand the emptiness of phenomena.
Q: How does ignorance come about?
R: There is no beginning. You can’t state there is a point when I didn’t have ignorance. Up until now I have had it. The whole space is beginningless, endless. There is no beginning and no end. Some people state with the big bang theory, that the space becomes shortened, compressed. They call that space. But the Buddha has stated that is not space, he doesn’t describe space as having that. The Buddha has said that the space is unobstructed and permeates everywhere. If you want to persist with the big bang theory, the big bang has to happen within something, it has to have some kind of paramitas to big bang in. If there aren’t paramitas, how can you big bang? The sentient beings are said to be like the endless space, limitless.
Q: If there is no beginning, how can we hope for the end of suffering?
R: You can have no beginning and yet experience end. For example, if you have a seed and you burn it, it won’t give rise to a shoot. So, there is end of samsara. There is no end to the nature of one’s mind. If we eliminate the impure perceptions or the illusions, there is no need for us to travel around in samsara anymore. If you burn a seed, the ashes will not produce a shoot.
Q: Will there be a time when all sentient beings have gained enlightenment?
R: It is actually difficult, because the sentient beings are limitless.
Q: How in the everyday life you see the purest self?
R: The best method is to understand the nature of emptiness of phenomena and to realize the nature of one’s mind, the buddhanature. I’m going to show you an example. Please look. Now I’m rolling the paper into a tube. First of all we train in realizing or understanding the nature of emptiness of phenomena. After that gradually we start to understand the nature of the mind. When one is practising the understanding of emptiness and the nature of mind, first one has little understanding of it. Then gradually one repeats again and again the training and then one’s experience or understanding will become greater and greater.
This is an example of the illusion. From beginningless time samsara has been evolving round and round like this: illusion, rebirth, samsara (the paper is rolled tightly). Holding into everything, grasping. Now we understand emptiness - it becomes a little bit loose (Rinpoche lets go of his grip from the roll which opens a little). Again one practices and one’s realization becomes greater. (He pulls the roll into a plain sheet. When he lets go of his grip the paper rolls back into a roll.) When you go outside you loose it! Again you think: “Everything is emptiness.” Then it becomes very vast. (He pulls the paper back into a sheet.) Then you drink a cup of tea. (Rinpoche lets go of his grip and the paper rolls up again.) Again you loose it. Every time you realize about the emptiness it’s a little bit better than before. (The paper starts to stay flat.) Again and again you practice until you reach enlightenment, complete buddhahood. Then one completely pacifies all the illusions. We are going to leave the teaching for today. We will all become enlightened!
© 2005 by Mingyur Rinpoche