1) The explanation given in this chapter will bring great benefit to those wishing to practise the very profound and blessed instructions presented in the following chapters. The subject of this book is how to put Buddha’s teachings, or Dharma, into practice.

2) The first point we should think about is, ‘Why do we need to practise Buddha’s teachings?’ The answer is very simple. It is because we want to be happy all the time, and we can fulfil this wish only by putting Buddha’s teachings into practice. We therefore need to practise Buddha’s teachings, Dharma, sincerely and purely.

  3) Although we normally want to be happy all the time, even during sleep, we do not know how to do this. If someone were to ask us how to do this, we would have no clear answer. Do you have a clear answer? Some people may say, ‘I will be happy all the time if I become wealthy, enjoy a good reputation and have the opportunity of a relationship with the person I desire.’ I am very sorry, but this is not true! We can see that people who have all these things also experience great unhappiness and many problems. Many wealthy people and those in high positions experience great suffering and many dangers. We see and hear news about such things all the time.

4) Also, we should know that when, for example, we enjoy a holiday we may feel happy, but this enjoyment is not real happiness; it is just a reduction of our previous problems. If the happiness we experience by going on holiday were real happiness, it would follow that the holiday itself would be a real cause of happiness. But this is not true because, as we know, holidays can also cause many problems. We can apply this to other enjoyments, such as eating, drinking and sex. For example, if the happiness we experience from eating were real happiness, it would follow that eating in itself would be a real cause of happiness. If this were so then the more and more we ate without stopping, the more our happiness would increase. But in fact the opposite is true. Through this we can understand that in this impure world no-one has real happiness and freedom. This is because everybody seeks happiness from the wrong objects, and everybody experiences the problems of uncontrolled desire and ignorance.

5) The only way we can make ourself and others happy all the time is through practising Buddha’s teachings. This is because happiness depends on a peaceful mind. Through practising Buddha’s teachings we can develop and maintain a peaceful mind all the time, so that we will be happy all the time; regardless of whether our external conditions are good or bad, if we maintain a peaceful mind all the time we will be happy all the time.

6) We should know that right now we have a human life and we have met Buddhadharma. Through putting Buddha’s teachings into practice we have the opportunity to maintain a peaceful mind all the time throughout our life, and in life after life. This is a wonderful and precious opportunity, which we should never waste. Understanding this we should encourage ourself to practise Buddha’s teachings, Dharma, purely and sincerely. In this way we should guide ourself to the spiritual path, which gives us great meaning in this life and in life after life. Only Buddha’s teachings, Dharma, are the real method to make ourself and others happy all the time, not only in this life but also in countless future lives. Therefore they are the source of all happiness.

7) We should also think, ‘Why do I need to be concerned for my future lives?’ We need to be concerned for our future lives because the happiness and freedom of our future lives are more important than those of this life. Our present life is just one single life. If we died today it would end today, but our future lives are countless and endless. We know that most people are concerned only with this life, not with future lives, and therefore they neglect the happiness and freedom of their countless future lives. This is because they do not understand about the existence of future lives.

8) If we understood the nature and function of our mind correctly we would clearly understand the existence of our future lives. We often say, ‘My mind, my mind’, but if someone were to ask us ‘What is your mind?’ we would have no correct answer. This is because we do not understand the nature and function of the mind correctly. The mind is by nature something that is empty like space, always lacking form, shape and colour. The mind is not actual space because produced space possesses shape and colour. During the day it can be light and during the night it can be dark, but mind never possesses shape and colour.

9) The mind is empty, but it is not correct to say that the mind is emptiness. What is the difference between empty and emptiness? In Buddhism, emptiness has great meaning. It is the real nature of things, and is a very profound and meaningful object. If we realize emptiness directly we will attain permanent liberation from all the sufferings of this life and our countless future lives; there is no greater meaning than this.

10) An additional explanation is as follows. We should know that emptiness and selflessness are synonymous. Selflessness is divided into two: (1) selflessness of persons, (2) selflessness of phenomena. Examples of the selflessness of persons are the mere absence of our self that we normally see, and the mere absence of other persons that we normally see. An example of the selflessness of phenomena is the mere absence of other phenomena that we normally see. In Guide to the Middle Way the great scholar Chandrakirti says, ‘Yogis negate the self.’ In this context, Yogis negate our self that we normally see, our I that we normally see, other persons that we normally see, and all phenomena that we normally see. The object of negation of emptiness or selflessness that Chandrakirti mentions here is more subtle than in other explanations of this subject, and is very profound. Chandrakirti also said that Buddha explained the two selflessnesses – selflessness of persons and selflessness of phenomena – to liberate living beings from suffering permanently. When we study these subjects in detail or precisely we should be patient and skilful, never allowing ourself to develop more confusion, which will cause obstacles.

11) So emptiness is a very meaningful object, but empty is just empty – it has no special meaning. Therefore, we say that the mind is empty, which means that it always lacks form, shape and colour; and we say that space is empty, which means that it lacks obstructive contact. And when we say, ‘My purse is empty’, this means that there is no money inside it. Through this we understand that empty and emptiness have very different meanings.

12) The function of the mind is to perceive or understand objects. We normally say, ‘I see such and such’; this is because our mind sees that object. Because our mind understands things we say, ‘I understand.’ So our perception and understanding of objects are functions of our mind; without mind we are powerless to perceive and understand them.

13) Another main function of the mind is to impute things. Without a name things cannot exist. Names are imputed by mind through thinking, ‘This is this’. So things exist only because mind imputes them. Through this we can understand that everything including the world is created by mind. There is no creator other than mind. This truth is not difficult to understand if we examine it with a positive mind.

14) Thus, in summary, the mind is something whose nature is empty like space, always lacking form, shape and colour, and whose function is to perceive or understand objects. Through understanding the nature and function of the mind correctly we can understand that our mind is completely different from our body, and this proves that after our death, although our body will cease, our mind will not. The mind leaves the body and goes to the next life like a bird leaving one nest and moving to another. Or, for example, during sleep when we are dreaming our body remains on our bed while our mind goes out to the dream world and sees and experiences so many different dream objects. This shows that when we die our body will remain in this world but our mind will go to its next life and, like a dream, see and experience so many different things of its next life. Through understanding this we will have no doubts about the existence of future lives.

15) Immediately after our death we will possess a new body, the body of an intermediate state being, a living being who is between its past life and its next rebirth. Generally the life span of intermediate state beings is only forty-nine days. Within that time they will take their next rebirth as a human being, god or demi-god, or in lower realms as an animal, hungry ghost or hell being. If we are born as a human being we have to experience human suffering, and if we are born as an animal we have to experience animal suffering, and so forth.

16) We should know that we have taken rebirth as a human being in this world because in our previous lives we performed contaminated virtuous actions that caused us to be born in this impure world as a human being. This is why we are here. No-one sent us to this world saying, ‘You should go and live in the human world.’ In the same way animals have taken rebirth as an animal in their own realm because in their previous lives they performed non-virtuous actions that were the main cause of their taking that rebirth.

17) No-one has the power or authority to say to living beings, ‘You should go to the human realm, the animal realm, the hell realm, or the god realm.’ Because of our previous different actions, or karma, accumulated since beginningless time we all take different rebirths and experience different sufferings.

18) Buddha gave detailed explanations through which we can understand the connection between our actions performed in previous lives, either virtuous or non-virtuous, and our experiences in this life, either happiness or suffering.

19) To prove this connection Buddha also gave many examples. There was once a man called Shri Datta who committed many extremely negative actions. Later, when he was old, Shri Datta requested Buddha to grant him ordination. It is said that to receive ordination we need at least some small virtuous potential within our mental continuum that is a cause of liberation, the supreme permanent inner peace called ‘nirvana’; but when clairvoyant disciples of Buddha examined Shri Datta they were unable to find a single such potential and so they declared him unfit for ordination. However, these disciples could not see the subtle karmic potentials that are seen only by enlightened beings. When Buddha looked into Shri Datta’s dark mind he saw a tiny potential for virtue. He told his disciples, ‘Many aeons ago Shri Datta was a fly who landed on some horse dung near a stupa of Buddha. It was raining heavily and the water carried the dung, together with the fly, around the stupa. Although the fly had no intention of circumambulating the stupa, it nevertheless received Buddha’s blessings just by seeing the stupa, and this left on its mind a virtuous potential to attain liberation.’ Buddha then granted him ordination. As a result, Shri Datta’s virtuous potentials increased and he attained liberation in that lifetime.

20) In the Lamrim instructions it says that just seeing an image of a Buddha places in our mind a potential or mental imprint that is a cause of enlightenment. This is because Buddhas are completely pure, beyond the cycle of impure life, samsara. This potential is inside our impure mind; although the container, our mind, is impure, its content, the potential that comes from just seeing an image of Buddha, is always pure. This potential will give us great meaning, as we can understand from the story of Shri Datta.

21) Another question we need to ask ourself is, ‘Why do we need permanent liberation from suffering?’ It is because temporary liberation from a particular suffering is not enough; even animals can have such a liberation. At the moment we may be free from physical suffering and mental pain, but this is only temporary. Later in this life and in our countless future lives we will have to experience unbearable physical suffering and mental pain again and again without end. Therefore there is no doubt that we need to attain permanent liberation from all the sufferings of this life and our countless future lives. In Buddhism, this permanent liberation is called ‘nirvana’. We can attain this liberation only through practising Buddha’s teachings, principally his teachings on selflessness, or emptiness. An essential explanation of emptiness is given in Part Two of this book in the section Training in Meditation on Emptiness, and an extensive explanation can be found in the book Modern Buddhism.

22) Buddha’s teachings, or Dharma, are the practical method to find the real meaning of human life. Because Dharma is very profound, when we are reading Dharma books we should contemplate their meaning again and again until it touches our heart. This is very important for everyone.

23) Some additional explanations are as follows. Regarding The Mirror of Dharma, we first need to receive the blessings of the transmission of this book. This will open the door to the practice of these instructions and give us the opportunity to practise The Mirror of Dharma. Secondly, having received the transmission blessings, we should continually maintain strong faith in both the teachings and Teachers. This is because faith in Dharma teachings and Teachers is the root of Dharma realizations. Through this faith we develop the intention to practise Dharma, through this intention we apply effort in our practice, with effort we can accomplish Dharma realizations, and through Dharma realizations we will fulfil our own wishes as well as the wishes of others. We all wish to be happy all the time. This wish will be fulfilled only through attaining Dharma realizations. Thirdly, we need to sincerely practise the actual training, which is training in contemplation – Part One of this book – and training in meditation – Part Two of this book.

24) The purpose of training in contemplation is to make the meaning of the instructions touch our heart so that we can easily make progress in training in meditation. If we do not sincerely practise training in contemplation our Dharma understanding will remain only intellectual. Thus, it will have no power to solve our daily problems of uncontrolled desire, or attachment, anger, ignorance and other delusions. Understanding this we should apply great effort to sincerely practise training in contemplation.

25) How do we train in contemplation? According to The Mirror of Dharma we should first train in the instructions presented in the introduction of this book, the first chapter. I would like to suggest that we memorize all these instructions. Then we should repeat the instructions mentally, not verbally, while continually concentrating again and again on their meaning. On this basis, when we contemplate the instructions presented in the remaining chapters our understanding and experience of the meaning of these chapters will become clearer and stronger, so that the entire meaning of these instructions, The Mirror of Dharma, touches our heart. In this way, we will accomplish the realizations of these precious instructions.

26) Those who have the opportunity to practise the precious instructions of The Mirror of Dharma, please make the strong determination: ‘I will delight all the Buddhas of the ten directions through my sincere practice of this oral instruction, The Mirror of Dharma, which came from Teachers who are emanations of all the Buddhas of the ten directions.’

27) At this point we should contemplate the meaning of the last verse of The Three Principal Aspects of the Path to Enlightenment, the advice from Je Tsongkhapa’s heart:

When, in this way, you have correctly realized the essential points
Of the three principal aspects of the path,
Dear One, withdraw into solitary retreat, generate and maintain strong effort

And quickly accomplish the final goal.

28) The meaning of these words is as follows. Regarding the first line there are two essential points: one is correctly realizing and gaining experience of the three principal aspects of the path, and the second is correctly realizing and gaining experience of the union of appearance and emptiness. Je Tsongkhapa is advising us, ‘With these two essential points you should engage in solitary retreat, develop and maintain strong effort free from laziness, and in this way you will quickly accomplish the final goal.’