What can really cease—completely destroy—the root of suffering, the delusions? That’s the practice of Dharma.
So that’s the purpose of religion and why it exists. Why do we need to follow religion, practice meditation or Dharma, whatever we choose to call it? The actual reason is that there’s nothing other than Dharma, or meditation, practice that can destroy the root of suffering, the delusions.
However, the meditation we practice should serve to destroy our delusions, our unsubdued mind. If it does not, it’s the wrong meditation; it’s useless. In the same way, the purpose of following religion is to completely destroy the root of suffering; the unhealthy, unsubdued mind. If the path or religion we’re following does not do that, does not serve to decrease our delusions, then the path we’re following is imperfect; there’s something wrong with it. What we’re practicing is wrong.
The purpose of practicing Dharma is also to destroy our delusions. However, practicing Dharma does not mean just doing ritual things; practicing Dharma does not mean just reciting mantras; practicing Dharma does not mean just worshiping, making offerings and so forth. Just doing these things does not mean we’re practicing Dharma. Simply wearing robes is not practicing Dharma; nor does reading texts of Lord Buddha’s teachings, the Buddhadharma, mean we’re practicing Dharma.
There’s a story about the great Tibetan yogi Dromtönpa meeting an old man who was trying to practice Dharma. The old man was circumambulating a temple thinking he was practicing Dharma. But the great yogi Dromtönpa said to him, “You’re going around the temple is good, but wouldn’t it be better if you practiced Dharma?” The old man thought by practicing Dharma the yogi must mean reading Dharma texts, so he stopped going around the temple and instead started reading texts. When Dromtönpa saw him next he said, “Reading texts is good but wouldn’t it be better if you practiced Dharma?”
So the old man thought if circumambulating and reading texts aren’t practicing Dharma, the yogi must mean he should meditate and started doing that. When, after some time, Dromtönpa saw him sitting cross-legged he said, “Meditation is very good but wouldn’t it be better if you practiced Dharma?”
At this point the old man was somewhat confused and irritated and exclaimed to Dromtönpa, “Practice Dharma! Practice Dharma! What do you mean, ‘practice Dharma’?”
“Renounce this life,” the yogi replied. What did the great yogi Dromtönpa mean by “renounce this life”? He meant we should renounce suffering, which means renouncing the worst of all sufferings, the delusions—ignorance, attachment, anger, pride, jealousy and so forth—all the negative minds that are the root of all suffering.
This is what practicing Dharma really means: facing the root of suffering, the delusions.
So no matter what religion people follow—Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism or any other—as long as their practice diminishes and destroys the root of suffering, that is the real Dharma, that is the actual path. It is the real path that brings true happiness, everlasting happiness. So it’s extremely important that whatever we do, whatever meditation we practice, whatever religious actions we engage in, we use it to destroy the root of unhappiness, suffering. That’s the most important thing to concentrate on.
But releasing only oneself from suffering by practicing Dharma is insufficient.
Seeking release from suffering and everlasting happiness for oneself alone is selfish because all the happiness and perfections of our past, present and future lives have been received dependent upon the kindness of other sentient beings. Also, even if we have freed our self alone from all delusions we still haven’t received all the realizations and complete knowledge of a buddha; we still have the subtle obscurations of the dualistic mind to purify.
For example, say there’s a family where the parents are starving and their son has found some food and his stomach is full for today but there’s no food for tomorrow. So, just being fed today with nothing for tomorrow doesn’t mean he’s self-sufficient and should not make arrangements not to starve in future. Also, he should help others avoid similar problems too. Similarly, since all our happiness and resources have been received through the kindness of all sentient beings and we still have not received all realizations and have subtle obscurations to purify, we must attain enlightenment for the sake of other sentient beings.
If we attain enlightenment, the highest goal, the most sublime happiness, even each ray of light that emanates from our holy body has the power to release other sentient beings and lead them on the path to enlightenment. As a buddha, we can manifest billions of bodies and show different methods according to sentient beings’ level of mind to release them from suffering and lead them to enlightenment.
Also, with his holy speech a buddha can explain the Dharma in different languages according to each sentient being’s need and therefore enlighten numberless sentient beings. And with his holy omniscient mind a buddha can see all the numberless sentient beings’ different thoughts, different levels of mind, different personalities, different desires; the omniscient mind sees every single thing that exists, all past, present and future, and in this way can enlighten numberless sentient beings by showing different methods.
An enlightened being has that much power and knowledge—all knowledge, complete; there’s nothing missing—and no ignorance whatsoever, not a single self-cherishing thought, not a single dualistic mind, not one single defect. The enlightened mind is completely pure.
By attaining enlightenment we can release other sentient beings from suffering and enlighten them very quickly, and this is the highest goal of practicing Dharma, especially the Mahayana: to attain enlightenment for the sake of other sentient beings. The way we attain enlightenment is by following the graduated path, which includes all the teachings of the Buddhadharma.
How can we attain enlightenment through the graduated path? That is because the nature of our mind is not one with the delusions or the dualistic mind, which are the main hindrances to enlightenment, or buddhahood, which has all knowledge and complete purity. The nature of our mind is only temporarily obscured by these hindrances, so when we follow the graduated path the temporal obscurations—the delusions and the dualistic mind—gradually diminish. When they have been finally removed, our mind becomes completely pure. When the mind becomes completely pure, it becomes omniscient.
Why is our present mind not an omniscient, fully knowing mind? That is because of the hindrances, the obscurations, the dualistic mind.
When they have been completely purified, our present mind becomes omniscient. When our mind becomes omniscient, we become a buddha, an enlightened being.
Another reason is that the graduated path explains absolute nature, the right view of the nature of the mind, the nature of the self, the nature of all existence. Ignorance, the main obscuration, is ignorant of the right view, the absolute nature; ignorance does not understand absolute nature. That is the worst obscuration, the biggest delusion—ignorance, not knowing the absolute nature of the self or any other existence.
So by following the graduated path we receive the wisdom realizing absolute nature, or shunyata.
When we realize the wisdom of shunyata, ignorance, the false mind that does not see the absolute nature, dissolves, finishes. That’s one basic reason why the graduated path diminishes, or purifies, the obscurations and the dualistic mind.
Author: Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Provided by Author