Although different people have different views of what Buddhism is, I think it’s difficult to say, “Buddhism is this, therefore it should be like that.”
It’s difficult to summarize Buddhism in a simplistic way. However, I
can say that Buddhism is different from what most Westerners consider to
First of all, when you study Buddhism you’re studying yourself—the
nature of your body, speech and mind—the main emphasis being on the
nature of your mind and how it works in everyday life. The main topic is
not something else, like what is Buddha? What is the nature of God?
Things like that.
Why is it so important to know the nature of our own mind? Since we
all want happiness, enjoyment, peace and satisfaction and these things
do not come from ice-cream but from wisdom and the mind, we have to
understand what our mind is and how it works.
One thing about Buddhism is that it’s very simple and practical in
that it explains logically how satisfaction comes from the mind, not
from some kind of supernatural being in whom you have to believe.
I understand that this idea can be difficult to accept because, in
the West, from the moment you’re born, extreme emphasis is placed on the
belief that the source of happiness lies outside of yourself in
external objects. Therefore your sense perception and consciousness have
an extreme orientation toward the sense world and you come to value
external objects above all else, even your life. This extreme view that
over-values material things is a misconception, the result of
unreasonable, illogical thought.
Therefore, if you want true peace, happiness and joy, you need to
realize that happiness and satisfaction come from within you and stop
searching so fanatically outside. You can never find real happiness out
there. Whoever has?
Ever since people came into existence they have never found true
happiness in the external world, even though modern scientific
technology seems to think that that’s where the solution to human
happiness lies. That’s a totally wrong conception. It’s impossible. Of
course, technology is necessary and good, as long as it’s used
skillfully. Religion is not against technology; nor is external
development contrary to the practice of religion—although in the West
there are religious extremists who oppose external development and
scientific advancement, and we also find non-believers pitted against
religious believers. It’s all misconception.
First let me raise a question. Where in the world can we find somebody
who doesn’t believe? Who among us is a true non-believer? In asking this
I’m not suggesting some kind of conceptual belief. The person who says
“I don’t believe” thinks he’s intellectually superior but all you have
to do to puncture his pride is ask two or three of the right questions:
“What do you like? What don’t you like?” He’ll come up with a hundred
things he likes. “Why do you like them?” Questions like that immediately
expose everybody as a believer.
Anyway, in order to live in harmony we need to balance external and
internal development; failure to do so leads to mental conflict.
So Buddhism finds no contradiction in advocating both external
scientific and inner mental development. Both are correct. But each can
be either positive or negative as well. That depends on mental
attitude—there’s no such thing as absolute, eternally existent total
positivity or absolute, eternally existent, total negativity. Positive
and negative depend on the background from which they arise.
Therefore it’s very important to avoid extreme views because extreme
emotional attachment to sense objects—“This is good; this makes me
happy”—only causes mental illness. What we need to learn instead is how
to remain in the middle, between the extremes of exaggeration and
But that doesn’t mean giving everything up. I’m not asking you to get
rid of all your possessions. It’s extreme emotional attachment to any
object—external or internal—that makes you mentally ill. And Western
medicine has few answers to that kind of sickness. There’s nothing you
can take; it’s very hard to cure. Psychologists, psychiatrists,
therapists…I doubt that they can solve the problems of attachment. Most
of you probably have experience of that. That’s the actual problem.
The reason that Western health professionals can’t treat attachment
effectively is that they don’t investigate the reality of the mind. The
function of attachment is to bring frustration and misery. We all know
this. It’s not that difficult to grasp; in fact it’s rather simple. But
Buddhism has ways of revealing the psychology of attachment and how it
functions in everyday life. The method is meditation. The real culprit,
however, is a lack of knowledge-wisdom.
Too much concern for your own comfort and pleasure driven by the
exaggerations of attachment automatically leads to feelings of hatred
for others. Those two incompatible feelings—attachment and
hatred—naturally clash in your mind and, from the Buddhist point of
view, a mind in this kind of conflict is sick and unbalanced in nature.
Going to church or temple once a week is not enough to deal with
this. You have to examine your mind all day long, maintaining constant
awareness of the way you speak and act. We usually hurt others
unconsciously. In order to observe the actions of our unconscious mind
we need to develop powerful wisdom energy, but that’s easier said than
done; it takes work to be constantly aware of what’s going on in our
mind all the time.
Most religious and non-religious people agree that loving kindness
for others is important. How do we acquire loving kindness? It comes
from understanding how and why others suffer, what’s the best kind of
happiness for them to have, and how they can get it. That’s what we have
to check. But our emotions get the better of us. We project our
attachments onto others. We think that others like the same things we
do; that people’s main problems are hunger and thirst and that food and
water will solve them. The human problem is not hunger and thirst; it’s
misconception and mental pollution.
Therefore it’s very important that you make your mind clear. When it
is, the ups and downs of the external world don’t bother you; whatever
happens out there, your mind remains peaceful and joyous. If you get too
caught up in watching the up and down world you finish up going up and
down yourself: “Oh, that’s so good! Oh, that’s so bad!” If that world is
your only source of happiness and its natural fluctuations disturb your
peace of mind, you’ll never be happy, no matter how long you live. It’s
But if you understand that the world is up and down by
nature—sometimes up, sometimes down—you expect it to happen and when it
does you don’t get upset. Whenever your mind is balanced and peaceful,
there’s wisdom and control.
Perhaps you think, “Oh, control! Buddhism is all about control. Who
wants control? That’s a Himalayan trip, not a Western one.” But in our
experience, control is natural. As long as you have the wisdom that
knows how the uncontrolled mind functions and where it comes from,
control is natural.
All people have equal potential to control and develop their mind.
There’s no distinction according to race, color or nationality. Equally,
all can experience mental peace and joy. Our human ability is great—if
we use it with wisdom, it’s worthwhile; if we use it with ignorance and
emotional attachment, we waste your life. Therefore be careful. Lord
Buddha’s teaching greatly emphasizes understanding over the hallucinated
fantasies of our ordinary mind. Emotional projections and
hallucinations due to unrealistic perceptions are wrong conceptions. As
long as our mind is polluted by wrong conceptions it’s impossible to
The clean clear mind is simultaneously joyful. That’s simple to see.
When your mind is under the control of extreme attachment on one side
and extreme hatred on the other, you have to examine it to see why you
grasp at happiness and why you hate. When you check your objects of
attachment and hatred logically, you’ll see that the fundamental reason
for these opposite emotions is basically the same thing: emotional
attachment projects a hallucinatory object; emotional hatred projects a
hallucinatory object. And either way, you believe in the hallucination.
As I said before, it’s not an intellectual, “Oh, yes, I believe.” And
by the way, just saying you believe in something doesn’t actually mean
you do. However, belief has deep roots in your subconscious, and as long
as you’re under the influence of attachment, you’re a believer. Belief
doesn’t necessarily have to be in the supernatural, in something beyond
logic. There are many ways to believe.
From the standpoint of Buddhist psychology, in order to have love or
compassion for all living beings, first you have to develop
equilibrium—a feeling that all beings are equal. This is not a radical
sort of, “I have a piece of candy; I need to cut it up and share it with
everybody else,” but rather something you have to work with in your
mind. An unbalanced mind is an unhealthy mind.
So equalizing sentient beings is not something we do externally;
that’s impossible. The equality advocated by Buddhists is completely
different from that which communists talk about; ours is the inner
balance derived from training the mind.
When your mind is even and balanced you can generate loving kindness
for all beings in the universe without discrimination. At the same time,
emotional attachment automatically decreases. If you have the right
method, it’s not difficult; when right method and right wisdom come
together, solving problems is easy.
But we humans suffer from a shortage of intensive knowledge-wisdom.
We search for happiness where it doesn’t exist; it’s here, but we look
over there. It’s actually very simple. True peace, happiness and joy lie
within you; therefore, if you meditate correctly and investigate the
nature of your mind you can discover the everlasting happiness and joy
within. It’s always with you; it’s mental, not external material energy,
which always fizzles out. Mental energy coupled with right method and
right wisdom is unlimited and always with you. That’s incredible! And
explains why human beings are so powerful.
Materialists think that people are powerful because of their amazing
external constructions, but all that actually comes from the human mind.
Without the skill of the human mind there’s no external supermarket,
therefore, instead of placing extreme value on the normal supermarket we
should try to discover our own internal supermarket. That’s much more
useful and leads to a balanced, even mind.
As I mentioned before, it sounds as if Buddhism is telling you to
renounce all your possessions because extreme attachment is bad for you
emotionally, but renunciation doesn’t mean physically giving up. You go
to the toilet every day but that doesn’t mean you’re tied to it; you’re
not too attached to your toilet, are you? We should have the same
attitude to all the material things we use—give them a reasonable value
according to their usefulness for human existence, not an extreme one.
If a boy runs crazily over dangerous ground to get an apple, trips,
falls and breaks his leg, we think he’s foolish, exaggerating the value
of the apple and putting his wellbeing at risk for the sake of achieving
his goal. But we’re the same. We project extreme attachment onto
objects of desire, exaggerating their beauty, which blinds us to our
true potential. This is dangerous; it’s the same as the boy risking his
life for an apple. Looking at objects with emotional attachment and
chasing that hallucinated vision definitely destroys our own nature.
Human potential is great but we have to use our
energy skillfully; we have to know how to put our lives in the right
direction. This is extremely important.
Now, instead of my talking too much, perhaps it would be better if we
had a little discussion. If you have some questions, please ask.
Q: What is the way to make our mind aware so that we have equilibrium of mind and skillfulness in action?
Lama: Good. You need to recognize the view of your
false conceptions, which allows you to put your mental energy into a
clearer atmosphere. Is that clear?
Lama: What was his question? Wongmo: How do you make the mind equal?
Lama: You have to recognize the way your unbalanced
mind works: how it comes, what causes it to come, what causes it to
react and so forth. If you understand your unbalanced mind, it becomes
The Buddhist approach to destroying negativity is not to avoid it but
to confront it face-on and check how come it’s there, what its reality
is and so forth. That’s much more logical and scientific than just
avoiding it—like running away to some other place or only thinking
positive things. That’s not enough. So when problems arise, instead of
looking away, look them right in the face. That’s very useful; that’s
the Buddhist way.
If you run from problems you can never really ascertain their root.
Putting your head in the sand doesn’t help. You have to determine where
the problem comes from and how it arises. The way to discover the clean
clear mind is to understand the nature of the unclear mind, especially
its cause. For example, if there’s a thorn bush growing at your door,
scratching you every time you go in or out, to solve the problem once
and for all, it’s not enough to prune it. You have to pull it out by the
root. Then it will never bother you again.
Q: You mentioned going beyond thought. Could you please talk about that experience?
: It’s possible. When you suddenly realize that the
hallucinated self-imagination projected by your ego does not exist as
it appears, you can be left with an automatic experience of emptiness, a
vision of shunyata. But as long as your self-imagination—“I’m Thubten
Yeshe, I’m this, I’m that, therefore I should have this, I should do
that”—continues to run amok, it’s impossible to go beyond thought. You
need to investigate such thoughts with skillful, analytic
knowledge-wisdom. Scrutinize your mind’s self-imagination as interpreted
by your ego: what am I? What is it? Is it form? Does it have color? No.
Then what is it? The only conclusion you can eventually arrive at is
that it does not exist anywhere, either externally or internally, and
the vision that automatically accompanies that experience is one of
emptiness. At that time you reach beyond thought, but before then your
mind was full of “I’m this, therefore I need a house; I’m that,
therefore I need a car; I’m the other, therefore I need to go to the
supermarket.” All your “I’m that-this” comes from conflicted emotional
thought that completely destroys your inner peace.
Q: So then you’re beyond thought and there’s the void, emptiness?
Lama: Yes, that’s emptiness or, in Sanskrit
terminology, shunyata. But emptiness does not mean nothingness. It
refers to an absence of ego conceptualization—“I am Thubten Yeshe”—which
is bigger than Los Angeles but is a complete hallucination. When we
realize that it’s totally non-existent, that it’s only projected by the
mind, by the ego, suddenly the experience of shunyata arises; at that
time, there’s an absence of thought.
Now, “no thought” does not mean that you become somehow unconscious.
Many people think like that but that’s dangerous. Reaching beyond
thought means eliminating our usual, conflict-producing, dualistic,
“that-this” type of thought, not lapsing into unconsciousness.
Q: Does Buddhism have physical exercises similar to tai chi or yoga, to tone the body as well as the mind?
Lama: Physical exercise is good but mental exercise is better; it’s more powerful.
Q: I agree, but are there physical exercises that are a part of Buddhism?
Lama: Yes, there are, but they’re mainly to
facilitate sitting meditation. There are times that we retreat in a
small room for months at a time; at such times we also do physical yoga.
However, we normally emphasize that mental attitude is the most
important thing, whatever actions we engage in with our body, speech and
mind. So Buddhism very much stresses the importance of understanding
the nature of the mind.
Q: How do we get rid of mental pollution?
Lama: By realizing how the mind is
polluted; where the pollution comes from; that it has a deep root. If
you know that, you can get rid of it; if you don’t, you can’t. therefore
Lord Buddha always emphasized that understanding is the only path to
liberation, that the only way to attain liberation is through
understanding. And that goes for women’s liberation too!
Q: Lama, if everything is so simple and God is so perfect, why did he create all this?
Lama: Perhaps you yourself created the bad whose
creation you ascribe to God; your own mind created your uncontrolled
situation. God did not create all these bad things; they were created by
the negative mind.
Q: How do I escape the cycle of death and rebirth?
Lama: By recognizing and then cutting what it is
that causes you to cycle. Basically, if you’re free of emotional
attachment there’s no cycle of death and rebirth. The short answer: cut
Q: In one life time?
Lama: Yes. Once you cut emotional attachment, the
cause, there’s no reason to ever again have to experience an
uncontrolled situation, the result.
Q: When I read Zen and other Eastern philosophies, they all seem to be saying the same thing.
Lama: Yes, if you examine the different religions
more deeply with right understanding, you’ll find the same qualities,
but if you just check them superficially you’re more likely to be
judgmental: “This religion’s good; that one’s bad.” That’s a poor
assessment. What you need to look at is what each religion’s purpose
is—every religion has a purpose—and how that purpose can be realized in
The question is, however, do followers of a given religion know how
to put its ideas into action? This is often the problem. People might
think a religion’s ideas are good but they don’t have the key of method;
they don’t know how to put those ideas into experience.
Q: Then are you saying that your way putting ideas into action is better than the others?
Lama: No, I’m not saying that my way is the best and
that the others are wrong. I’m saying that most of us lack that
knowledge. For example, you might say, “I’m a Buddhist,” but if you
check how much you understand your religion, how much you act in
accordance with its principles, perhaps even though you say, “I’m a
Buddhist,” you’re not.
I’m not talking about any specific person; I’m talking about all of
us. So the most important thing is to know the method: how to bring
lofty ideas down to the practical level, into our life.
Q: Do you have a future vision of society? Like, do
you see in the future there being many separate countries and cultures,
like we have now only more so, or do you see some kind of unity, with a
breaking down of separation?
Lama: It all depends on time; things are always
changing. Sometimes the world comes together, sometimes it splits apart.
There’s no absolute separation; there’s no absolute linkage. It’s all
relative and therefore always changing. Just look at how relationships
between countries have changed during our lifetime. They’re always
changing. That’s the nature of the relative political mind; that’s the
way the world of conventionalities goes.
Q: Lama, do you have anything to say regarding the interpersonal problems married people face?
Lama: Yes, I certainly have something to say! The
main thing is that the two married people don’t understand each other
and this lack of understanding leads to poor communication and problems.
Also, many times young people get married for very superficial and
temporal reasons: “I like the way he looks, I like the way she looks,
let’s get married.” There’s no examination of the other person’s inner
personality or how life together will be. Because we can’t see another’s
inner beauty we judge them by the way they appear; because we lack
knowledge-wisdom we don’t understand our spouse’s essential inner
qualities. Then, when the relative world moves on and things don’t work
out as we planned, we easily disrespect our partner. Of course, most
relationships and marriages are ego-based and it’s therefore no surprise
that they often don’t work out.
It’s important, therefore, that a married couple bases their marriage
on mental rather than physical communication and really tries sincerely
to understand and help each other. A marriage based on superficialities
will nearly always break down. Small things: the husband says, “Put
this here,” his wife says, “No, I want it here,” and a huge fight
ensues…over nothing! It’s so foolish. Put it here; put it there—what
difference does it make? It’s so narrow-minded, yet we break up over
these foolish things.
Q: You said at the beginning that God is an illusion. Do you feel that inner light or inner God is also an illusion?
Lama: Illusion? I didn’t say that God is an
illusion. I said that the self-imagination of the “What I am” built up
by your ego’s conceptualization has nothing whatsoever to do with the
reality of your true nature and when you realize that, you reach beyond
thought. I did not say that God is a hallucination, nor can we.
Q: I said illusion.
Lama: We also cannot say that God is an illusion.
What I’m trying to say is that the way we discern our internal and
external worlds is wrong; we don’t ascertain them correctly, reasonably,
in accordance with reality. Our judgments are only relative, based on
hallucinations projected by our mind. I did not say that God is a
hallucination or an illusion.
: So you feel that there is an inner light or an inner God within each individual?
Lama: I’m talking about reality. God, or inner
nature, is reality. But we don’t see reality; we see only
superficialities. We say, “This is that.” Check up, for example, what
you feel you are. You’re going say, “I’m this, this, this, this.” If you
really check up, what you describe has nothing whatsoever to do with
your reality—it’s only something you’ve built up in your mind. That’s a
Q: Is our real nature God?
Lama: Well, you can say that true human nature has
God potential. If I had to say something I’d say the absolute reality or
nature of the human mind is one with the nature of God. But we’re
completely under the control of our relative, polluted mind, which never
sees unity, only separation.
Q: What is music? How does music fit in?
Lama: Music is sound! But it depends on what you’re
the music you play represents. If, for example, you present your music
in a fantastic way and it explains reality and benefits others, it’s
good. But if you play only for your own pleasure and your music simply
serves to build your ego, then perhaps it will cause you problems. It
depends on your mental attitude and the impression your music gives to
others. So you can’t say that music is totally bad.
Q: Some people in our culture say that Jesus is God. How do you see Jesus Christ?
Lama: I see Jesus as a holy man. If you understand
beyond words what he taught, fantastic. But we don’t even understand
what he said literally. Even though holy Jesus told us that we should
love everybody, we still choose one atom to love and hate the rest.
That’s contrary to what he said. If you truly understand what Jesus
taught, that’s very useful and especially helpful for mental sickness.
Q: Jesus also said, “I am the only way. Only through me can you reach God.”
Lama: He did say that and that’s also right. But you
can’t interpret that to mean that only what he taught is correct and
all other religions are wrong. It’s not like that. “Only way” means that
the only way to reach inner freedom is through the reality he taught.
That’s my interpretation, anyway. Jesus saying “Only my way” doesn’t
mean he was propounding some dogmatic view. He was talking about
absolute reality as being the only way to God. If you realize that, you
can reach inner freedom; if you follow your hallucinated, polluted,
wrong-conception mind, you can’t. That’s how I interpret Jesus’s words. I
think that’s perfect. But many people interpret what he said very
dogmatically and that’s just their polluted mind. That’s why we have to
be careful when we think we understand religions’ views. Many times a
religion’s view might be perfect but our limited mind thinks, “This mean
this, that means that,” and all we do is bring it down to our mundane
Q: You said that Christ was a holy man; how do you compare him with Lord Buddha?
Lama: We don’t need compare them.
Q: Were they both holy men?
Lama: Yes, they were both holy men.
Q: Then why do you always say “Lord” Buddha?
Lama: I say Lord Buddha; I say Lord Jesus as well.
They were both holy. They both realized the true nature of reality and
tried to show it to us. The problem is that we find it difficult to
: Is it attachment to try to plan and organize your
life and the things in it versus just letting things happen in an
unplanned or even chaotic way?
Lama: Attachment doesn’t have to be the only
motivation with which you try to organize your life. You can organize
your life with wisdom. How? You can organize your life with the aim of
making it beneficial to others rather than for your own enjoyment. When
your life is integrated and you’re a wise, knowledgeable person giving a
beautiful, peaceful vibration to others, it’s so worthwhile. That’s not
attachment. Buddhism says that it’s possible to use our life and things
in the sense world without attachment, giving them a reasonable value
and using them to benefit humankind. We have both method and wisdom.
Eating ice-cream is not always out of attachment. You can use such
worldly pleasures without attachment or confusion to discover inner joy.
Q: Eastern philosophy often talks about the healing
aspects of spirituality but is it correct that, because of karma, we
should never attempt to heal others with our mind?
Lama: Well, healing isn’t just in Eastern religion;
Christianity talks about it too. It simply means using the power of the
mind to heal disease. For example, say we’re healthy but suddenly get
some terrible news that causes pain in our heart. That’s simply the sick
mind manifesting physically, and powerful wisdom can cure that kind of
illness in others. Tibetans often use the power of meditation to heal
others; instead of always giving people pills we use psychic power.
Q: But doesn’t that interfere with the other person’s karma?
Lama: That’s not necessarily interrupting his karma.
Karma isn’t fixed; it’s impermanent and a kind of energy, something
that another kind of energy can cut and release. That doesn’t mean
you’re destroying something.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about reincarnation?
Lama: Reincarnation is very simple; it’s mental
energy. Your physical energy is exhausted at the time of death and the
energy of your consciousness separates from your body and goes into
another form, that’s all. That’s the simple explanation. Mental energy
and physical energy are different. Modern science has some difficulty
with this. They do explain some difference between mental and physical
energy but Buddhism explains it more clearly.
Lama Yeshe gave this public talk in Plummer Park, Los Angeles, CA in June 1975.