(photo: Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive)
Today, I’m unfortunate—and today, you’re unfortunate as well, because you have to put up with me, the garbage man.
You have to put up with my garbage; I’m the garbage man. Due to circumstance, His Holiness is experiencing some discomfort with his health, so we should all pray for his good health…and so that it won’t be necessary to be in this situation, where you have to put up with my garbage.
However, due to these circumstances, His Holiness has given me permission to babysit you.
Now, His Holiness has chosen a particular text by Lama Je Tsongkhapa, which we call The Three Principal Paths to Liberation, or Enlightenment.
So today I’m going to try to give you an introduction to this text, but going into it in detail is not my business.
In Tibetan, we call this text Lam-tso nam-sum. Historically, this book derives from Lama Je Tsongkhapa’s direct, visual communication with Lord Manjushri. Manjushri gave him this teaching and then Lama Je Tsongkhapa gave it to his disciples: Lam-tso nam-sum, the Three Principal Aspects.
This is a small text, but it contains the essence of the entire teaching of Lord Buddha. Also, while it is very simple and practical, it is a universal teaching that everybody can understand.
Now, the three principles are renunciation, bodhicitta and the wisdom of shunyata; these three are called the principal, essential paths to liberation.
I want you to understand why they are called the three essential, or principal, paths to liberation, because in the Western world, the word “renunciation” has a different connotation; people get scared that they will lose their pleasure.
But without renunciation, there’s no way out.
First of all, all of us consider that we would like to be free from ego mind and the bondage of samsara. But what binds us to samsara and makes us unhappy is not having renunciation.
Now, what is renunciation? What makes us renounced?
The reason we are unhappy is because we have extreme craving for sense objects, samsaric objects and we grasp at them. We are seeking to solve our problems but we are not seeking in the right place. The right place is our own ego grasping; we have to loosen that tightness, that’s all.
According to the Buddhist point of view, monks and nuns are supposed to hold renunciation vows. The meaning of monks and nuns renouncing the world is that they have less craving for and grasping at sense objects. But you cannot say that they have already given up samsara, because monks and nuns still have stomachs! The thing is that the English word “renounce” is linguistically tricky.
You can say that monks and nuns renounce their stomachs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they actually throw their stomachs away.
So, I want you to understand that renouncing sensory pleasure doesn’t mean throwing nice things away. Even if you do, it doesn’t mean you have renounced them. Renunciation is a totally inner experience. Renunciation of samsara does not mean you throw samsara away because your body and your nose are samsara.
How can you throw your nose away? Your mind and body are samsara—well, at least mine are. So, I cannot throw them away. Therefore, renunciation means less craving; it means being more reasonable instead of putting too much psychological pressure on yourself and acting crazy.
The important point for us to know, then, is that we should have less grasping at sense pleasures, because most of the time our grasping at and craving desire for worldly pleasure does not give us satisfaction. That is the main point.
It leads to more dissatisfaction and to psychologically crazier reactions.
The grasping attitude and useless actions have to be abandoned and things that make your life meaningful and liberated have to be actualized.
But I don’t want you to understand only the philosophical point of view. We are capable of examining our own minds and comprehending what kind of mind brings everyday problems and is not worthwhile, both objectively and subjectively.
This is the way that meditation allows us to correct our attitudes and actions. Don’t think, “My attitudes and actions come from my previous karma, therefore I can’t do anything.” That’s a misunderstanding of karma. Don’t think, “I am powerless.”
Human beings do have power. We have the power to change our lifestyles, change our attitudes, change our habits. We can call that capacity Buddha potential, God potential or whatever you want to call it.
That’s why Buddhism is simple; it is a universal teaching that can be understood by all people, religious or non-religious.
The opposite of renunciation of samsara-to put what I’m saying another way-is the extreme mind that we have most of the time: the grasping, craving mind that gives us an overestimated projection of objects, which has nothing to with the reality of those objects.
However, I want you to understand that Buddhism is not saying that objects have no beauty whatsoever. They do have beauty-a flower has a certain beauty, but that beauty is only conventional, or relative. The craving mind, however, projects onto an object something that is beyond the relative level, which has nothing to do with that object, that hypnotizes us.
That mind is hallucinating, deluded and holding the wrong entity.
Without intensive observation or introspective wisdom, we cannot discover this. For that reason, Buddhist meditation includes checking. We call checking in this way analytical meditation. It involves logic; it involves philosophy. So Buddhist philosophy and psychology help us see things better. Therefore, analytical meditation is a scientific way of analyzing our own experience.
Finally, I also want you to understand that monks and nuns may not be renounced at all. It’s true, isn’t it? In Buddhism, we talk about superficial structure and universal structure.
So when we say monks and nuns renounce, it means we’re trying, that’s all. Westerners sometimes think monks and nuns are holy. We’re not holy; we’re just trying. That’s reasonable. Don’t overestimate again, on that.
Lay people, monks and nuns—we’re all members of the Buddhist community. We should understand each other well and then let go; leave things as they are.
It’s unhealthy to have overestimated expectations of each other.
Watch Lama Yeshe give this teaching on YouTube.
From Lama Yeshe’s The Essence of Tibetan Buddhism, a series of lectures given in California in 1980 and France in 1982. Edited by Nicholas Ribush. Freely available from the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise