17th Gyalwa Karmapa"Buddhism is a way of life through which we develop the qualities of our mind.
This way of life is very unusual, as it is a means to attain happiness without harming others.



The Foundations of the Spiritual Path 

by Lama Gendun Rinpoche
 (English translation of an extract from the book 'Mahamoudra', éditions J C Lattès)

Anyone who is interested in following a spiritual path must first examine what it is founded upon, the objective it proposes, and the methods used to get there. The aim of the buddhist path is the complete liberation from all forms of suffering and the realisation of the mind's enlightened nature, a state of unchanging, permanent bliss.

Sooner or later we will be confronted with the inescapable reality of death. If we practice the teachings during our lifetime it is in order to be beyond all fear at the time of death. We will be able to approach this finality with confidence, completely certain of what to do and what to avoid and how the mind can use this particular opportunity to free itself from the cycle of death and rebirth. This should be the awareness underlying daily practice throughout our life. 

It is absolutely essential to set out on the spiritual path with a correct motivation. Our practice is not animated by a desire to obtain better conditions of existence for this life. Our motivation must be free from all desires of gaining riches, power, fame, respect or any other personal, worldly achievements. Such concerns are completely opposed to the practice of dharma. All these goals linked to this life alone are of no long term benefit. Furthermore, the aim is not to obtain a higher rebirth after death, either as a human enjoying a life of ease, or in the illusory happiness of the divine realms. The pursuit of personal gain does not constitute a satisfactory motivation for a bodhisattva*. When we turn towards practice, letting go of all considerations for this life, our only desire should be the attainment of ultimate enlightenment, as this alone will give us the capacity to work for the benefit of all beings. At the time of death, all of our attachments, everything we have accomplished and accumulated must be left behind. Our possessions, riches and property will be of no use whatsoever. The beings we love the most will be unable to accompany us. We will not even have the capacity to take our own body with us ! All types of happiness connected with this life are nothing but temporary enjoyments. As a long term goal they are insufficient. Our only objective, in following the Buddha's example, must be to obtain the permanent happiness of the state of enlightenment.

To attain enlightenment means to base one's life on accomplishing the benefit of others. If we persist in the pursuit of our own interests we will continue to wander in the cycle of existences. Firstly it is necessary to develop the highest aspiration, that of attaining enlightenment. Once this pure wish has been established, we must then carry it out. Through putting this bodhicitta* or enlightened mind into practice we truly start to advance towards enlightenment. The aspiration is analogous to the initial instant when we have the wish to travel somewhere. If our desire is to go to India for example, the moment this idea is formulated represents the wish or aspiration, and the actual journey represents the application. The wish to attain unsurpassable enlightenment means developing the aspiration to realise buddhahood as quickly as possible in order to have the real capacity to help beings. This is the commitment relating to the fruit or result.

We put this commitment into application making a practical effort to accumulate truly positive actions with our body, speech and mind. This is called the causal phase since these are the actions that will lead to the enlightenment that we are seeking.
In order to develop this understanding we should reflect on the following points:
Everywhere that space exists there are beings. All beings are conditioned by their karma. Their minds are occupied by all sorts of emotions which lead them to experience all sorts of sufferings in all sorts of worlds and conditions. All of these beings, whether they are humans or non-humans, have been fathers and mothers for each other, an incalculable number of times, throughout an infinite succession of existences.

When these beings were our parents they showed us the same tenderness and devotion as our parents of this life. If we do not appreciate the true value of their kindness, we may think that they merely raised us in their own self interests making them therefore responsible for our present suffering. This shows we have no understanding of the nature of their kindness and that we should meditate on it.
This kindness started in the bardo* when we were desperately seeking to be reborn. At this time our mother offered us the refuge of a womb. Then we appeared, naked, without any resources, without defence, incapable of looking after ourselves and left completely to the mercy of our environment. However our mother washed us, clothed us, gave us warmth and cherished us. She cared for us in many ways, for example she fed us, brought us up, gave us money, an education and her love. She also protected us from all sorts of dangers that could have put our life in danger, such as burns, drowning, falls, injuries, accidents and fears. If we were sick she would do her best to make us well again. She cared for us with complete devotion giving no importance to the difficulties this caused her. She even committed many negative actions for our benefit alone. The abilities we now have, to communicate with others, to walk, to provide for our needs and to lead a normal human life, are all due to the kindness of our parents.

All beings without exception have been our parents. Furthermore they are just like ourselves in that they all desire happiness and all try to protect themselves from suffering. Even though their wish is to be happy they cannot achieve it. Imprisoned by ignorance, they are unaware of the causes of happiness and suffering. They do not realise that if one desires happiness one must engage in positive actions and that if one wishes to avoid suffering one must also avoid negative actions. Neglecting this relationship between actions and their results, beings continue in their quest for happiness creating negative actions for which the only outcome is always even more suffering. This is the reason why they turn in the never ending cycle of existences, going from one life to the next, suffering eternally in different forms. Being aware of this situation we formulate the wish of all bodhisattvas: to free all beings from cyclic existence and from all the suffering they experience. Therefore we decide to dedicate completely all the energy of our body, speech and mind, to accomplishing our only goal, which is the liberation of all beings. Our intention is thus to free ourselves from our own suffering as quickly as possible in order to be able to free others from theirs. This sincere and extremely profound state of mind is not merely a meaningless formula that we recite from time, but an authentic motivation that we develop from the very depths of our being. We must have this attitude in mind whenever we practice the dharma.

If we have this authentic motivation in mind, every time we listen to teachings, when we reflect on their meaning and when we practice them in meditation, then we are certainly following the bodhisattva path that leads directly to enlightenment. When we practice the Buddha's teachings we should always have a clear idea present in our mind that we will bring our practice to its conclusion, without giving up half way. This means continuing until we have truly attained the ultimate goal, the state of enlightenment and the capacity to establish all beings in this same state. This commitment needs a great deal of courage and resolution of mind. One has to persevere without doubting one's ability to realise enlightenment and establish all beings in this state. When we commit ourselves to the path to enlightenment, a deep confidence should be cultivated. If we constantly keep this pure motivation in mind, our spiritual activity as well as our daily activities all become perfect means for attaining enlightenment. If our mind is turned continually towards asking how we can be of assistance to others, we no longer have to worry about our own welfare, as it is spontaneously realised as a result of this openness. Furthermore, through applying the methods destined for helping others, we also develop progressively towards realising the ultimate nature of mind. This realisation of the true nature of mind enables us to manifest in diverse forms and innumerable situations in order to help beings. In this way we become a buddha* with the ability of manifesting this realisation in the aspects of the formal bodies or kayas* which work for the benefit of beings.
We may wonder if completely forgetting all self interest and devoting ourselves exclusively to the welfare of others will truly lead us to enlightenment.
There should be no doubt about this. The perfect example is Buddha Shakyamuni who abandoned every type of personal concern in order to totally dedicate himself to realising enlightenment. He said: 
'The childish think only of their self interest and wander in the cycle of existences. The wise think only of the welfare of others and attain enlightenment.'

Acting in the same way as the Buddha, we abandon all thoughts of self-satisfaction, all personal concerns, in order to devote ourselves completely to benefiting others. All favourable circumstances, success, or good reputation that we may enjoy are dedicated entirely to be useful for others. Conversely when setbacks, problems or obstacles arise, we take these difficulties upon ourselves.
In this way we are certain to realise perfect buddha nature. Otherwise we remain immature and ignorant, continuing to act under the sway of the egocentric attitude whilst ignoring the possibility of acting beneficially for others. Our only concern is to be greater, richer and more powerful. We try to preserve a good reputation by attracting pleasant situations and success towards us whilst endeavouring to make others put up with all the difficulties that arise. We give up any inclination of working for the benefit of others, our only preoccupation being in preserving what is beneficial for us. If anyone gets in the way of our interests we do not hesitate to cause them injury or harm. This type of attitude serves only to reproduce the causes of cyclic existence and all of its suffering.
Therefore, whatever we are doing, the mind should never stray from the basic qualities of loving kindness and compassion. Loving kindness is the wish that all beings be established in a state of permanent, definitive happiness. Compassion is the wish that all beings be freed from suffering and the actions which create suffering.

We should always question what goes on in our mind and be able to analyse our motivations in every situation. Is our underlying motive really to be of help to beings or are we not simply trying to gain some personal satisfaction through them? It is important to question ourselves in this way otherwise we run the risk of cheating ourselves, believing that we have a positive attitude and thinking that we are acting beneficially when in fact we are driven by egotistical concerns. Carrying out a thorough investigation of our true motivations with an unbiased mind is essential before undertaking any action.
If we observe what happens when we think only of ourselves and act out of self interest, we see that our actions maintain and strengthen our egocentric fixation which is the root cause of our wandering in cyclic existence. If our activity has no other purpose than reinforcing and maintaining this fixation then all we are doing is simply continuing our suffering. This is why it is very important that we develop in our mind stream the firm intention to hunt out and reduce this egocentric grasping. To do this work, from now on we should completely dedicate our body, speech and mind to accomplishing the benefit of beings. We should try to give up all forms of personal satisfaction and never bring harm to anyone.

It is absolutely essential to examine our mind with great care and to question ourselves incessantly to see if we are really trying to help others or if we are just trying to manipulate them and use them for our own ends. In this way, the moment we recognise a negative state of mind we can immediately act upon it and develop an altruistic motivation which becomes more and more stable. However, if our desire is to help others whilst leaving our self centred tendencies intact, our efforts are sure to fail. This is why it is so important to free the mind from all the negative habits which hold it back so that its benevolent qualities are truly able to flourish.

Loving compassion is not something which is simply limited to an aspiration. It must also be manifest through actions. Therefore we need to undertake an apprenticeship of the practice which consists in training our body, speech and mind in the accomplishment of virtuous actions. The positive result of these actions is dedicated to all beings so that they attain enlightenment as quickly as possible. In this way we can be sure that our positive aspiration is translated into action and beneficial results for all beings.

When developing compassion we understand that throughout the past beings have accumulated a vast number of actions, of which some were positive and others negative. The result is that now, in this life, they experience all sorts of favourable and unfavourable situations. Due to the great variety in their negative behaviour beings now undergo many different forms of suffering. The different types of experience that beings have, act themselves as the conditions for the creation of new negative actions which in turn are the causes of future suffering. In short, despite the great diversity in conditions and states of existence, all of them are characterised by suffering. This is the reason why we formulate the wish that all beings be totally liberated, not only from suffering, but also from their habitual tendencies. For it is these tendencies that provoke them endlessly to create the actions which result in suffering. Day and night, we should constantly make the wish to be able to free beings completely from suffering. Our wish is to have the capacity to help them to adopt the truly positive state of mind, which is the mind of enlightenment, as this will be the cause of their future happiness.
Reproduced here with kind permission.
Talk originally appeared in Dhagpo Kundreul Ling

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