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Kristina Bischoff

Karma Chang Chub Choephel Ling

Opening the Heavenly Gate


 "Generally speaking, all major developments in human culture have come about as the result of hope and a clear vision. From the Buddhist point of view, our ultimate goal is to attain Parinirvana; in this process, the role of aspiration is fundamental and threefold. At the beginning it is like the seed, in the middle it is like water and manure, and at the end it is the fruit. Without an aspiration, the seed of Buddhahood will not germinate." - His Holiness the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, spoken at the Great Kagyü Mönlam 2008.

 Instructions on "Opening the Heavenly Gate"by Ju Mipham Gyamtso Rinpoche

offered by Venerable Khenpo Karma Namgyal

The great scholar Ju Mipham Gyamtso Rinpoche, who lived from 1846-1912 CE, wrote the profound text entitled, "A Comprehensive Investigation of the Mind that Opens the Gate to the Heavenly Realm," which we will look at together.

The title

The full Tibetan title of the abbreviation, "Opening the Heavenly Gate" that we will use here when referring to this text is "Sems-kyi-gdar-cha-gcöd-ba'i-gdams-pa-nam-mkha'i-grong-khyer-yangs-pa'i-sgo- byed-ces-bya-ba-bzhugs-so." It contains invaluable instructions that show how to examine one's own mind again and again. If one realizes the true nature of one's mind by having investigated carefully, then the gate to the vast expanse - metaphorically referred to as "a heavenly city," nam-mkha'i-grong-khyer - has been unlocked and opened. As a result one lives one's life with an open heart and, no longer draped in by borders or restricted by limitations, one has a clear vision of reality. Everything depends upon one's mind. If one is able to control and protect one's mind from delusiveness, then one can move around freely and be at ease in the spaciousness of a large city that doesn't consist of narrow alleys and one-way streets.

The homage

It is the custom in the Buddhist tradition of India and Tibet when writing a treatise as exceptional as this one to pay homage. This is done so that the author doesn't encounter any obstacles while writing and so that the text benefits future generations of students. Homages point to the level of teachings presented in a text. Here, Ju Mipham offered homage to Bodhisattva Manjushri, who symbolizes wisdom-awareness. Ju Mipham honoured the original language of Buddhism when he wrote the homage in Sanskrit. It is:

"Namo Guru Manjushri Ye."

Namo Guru means "homage to the Guru." Bodhisattva Manjushri is not separate from our Root Guru and therefore we bow to him as our Root Guru.

The teachings

(1) "All suffering and joy arise from the mind.
If one regards someone as one's own child, one is sorrowful when he dies.
If one thinks someone is one's enemy, one is joyful when he dies.
Suffering and happiness do not exist in dependence on (outer) things."

Everyone experiences suffering and joy and thinks outer circumstances and things in the world cause them. One assumes that material prosperity and wealth bring happiness and that poverty causes suffering and pain. If one investigates appearances and one's own mind, though, one will see that this is not true at all, rather that things do not really exist and that happiness and suffering depend upon and arise from one's own mind. This isn't easy to believe, because everyone does experience joy when they have a good meal or when someone gives them lots of money, and, likewise, everyone does experience frustration and anguish when someone is angry and spiteful towards them. Therefore, one is convinced that happiness and suffering depend upon outer things. It's rather hard believing that, in truth, all experiences are created by and consequently depend upon one's own mind.

Examples are given in "Opening the Heavenly Gate" to illustrate that everything depends upon one's own mind, the first example presented in the verse above being the death of an only child one clings to and a person one clings to as a foe. I can't speak about the example of a child, seeing I'm not married, but one does have empathcy if a good friend is sick or suffers. Who does one consider a good friend? Someone one meets, confides in, and helps when necessary. Any feelings that arise in one's mind when something good or bad happens to somebody one knows depend upon how one has come to think of this person. Let's look at another example that clearly shows that everything arises from one's mind: The baby in this room would simply play with a bundle of money that somebody might give her and drop it shortly afterwards without feeling a loss. Grown-ups react differently   they would be joyous if someone gave them the same bundle and distressed if they lost it. As long as one hasn't examined one's own mind, one will suffer immensely when one loses that bundle of money.

The hagiographies of Jetsün Milarepa tell us that as a youth his mother asked him to resort to black magic in order to take revenge on relatives who had robbed him and his immediate family of house and home. It's said he killed them and then his mother rejoiced, which exemplifies that one can be happy if one's enemies are destroyed. In our monastery, the children and monks love watching football games on T.V. Many are happy when one team wins, while the others are then dismayed. This happens in Europe, too, but let's be honest, it's a haphazard decision. Why not be happy when others win? I'm always for the German team  schwarz, rot und gold, "black, red, and gold." Another example: I eat meat. Bhutanese are fans of pork and feel nauseated when offered lamb or goat's meat. It's exactly the other way around in Nepal. This has nothing to do with the meat, but with cultural preferences and habits. Being served something one likes makes one happy; being served something one doesn't like makes one sad. Both reactions only depend upon one's mind. Another example of mental projections that have nothing to do with an object is handies. If one handy were really the best, everyone would buy it, but there are so many models on the market and everyone is convinced that the one they bought is the best. And so it's evident that one's mind determines what one thinks is good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, and that one's despair and happiness have nothing to do with objects. We experience happiness when we think that things are going well or have what we want and suffer when we think things aren't going so well and don't have what we want.

The next verse is:
(2a) "Those who are attached to their body protect it.
Those who do not cling to their body can even give it away.
Those who cling to a self have (but) little patience and are afraid of a thorn.
The wise who are free of attachment aren't (even) afraid of the fire (burning) in Avici hell.
And so, everything depends upon the mind."

There's nobody who isn't attached to his or her body. One smears expensive ointments on a wound when pricked slightly by a thorn; one hurries to put on warm socks or shoes the moment one's feet get cold; one covers one's head with a hat, cap, or shawl real fast when one feels a cold breeze. In fact, everyone is extremely concerned about their body and reacts alike in similar situations. It's reasonable to protect one's body, otherwise one can get sick. It's not a matter of being cautious, rather of being attached. Only great Bodhisattvas are able to give their body away, because they are not attached to it. They also don't need to go to the trouble of looking up a doctor, or buying medicine, or spending time in a hospital when they get sick, which is only so because they don't cling to their body.

One also worries a lot and feels insecure due to being attached and clinging to things. If one has lots of money stacked away in a cupboard at home, left, and was only a few blocks away, one often can't stop worrying whether one locked the door or not. In contrast, if one doesn't cling to things and isn't sure whether one locked the door to one's room after having left, one isn't worried or fearful and as a result doesn't suffer. These examples demonstrate in which way happiness and suffering depend upon one's own mind. Everyone has his or her own long list of similar experiences.

As said, everyone's strongest attachment is to his or her body. One isn't all too attached to specific parts of one's body, like one's fingernails or hair, which one can easily give or throw away. One is very attached to one's limbs and head, though, and certainly won't want and isn't able to give them away. Great Bodhisattvas can, which is only possible because they have fully relinquished attachment to their body. I couldn't even give my Mala away. Why? Because I'm attached and cling to it. If somebody takes the flower in the vase away, for instance, I wouldn't mind. Why? Because I'm not attached and don't cling to it. But it's really hard giving away parts of one's body and one certainly shouldn't. Yet, we can hope to be able to do this in the future after having relinquished our attachment. In Lojong, one practices giving any happiness one experiences to others and taking on their suffering, but it's only imagined at this stage in order to diminish one's attachment. Again, it's impossible to give away one's body if one hasn't realized emptiness. One shouldn't do this, just like one shouldn't just give away all one's money and possessions.

It isn't likely that one will run into aggressive people in the West, but driving down the freeways is often quite scary, and sometimes one does fear for one's life. In the second verse, Ju Mipham used the example of a thorn to illustrate that those persons overly attached to their body are even afraid of being pricked by a little thorn. Back to the streets: Everyone stops at a red light and waits, because they do fear that their body could be hit by a fast car. Ju Mipham tells us that individuals who aren't attached to their body aren't even afraid of the torments inflicted in Avici, mnar-med in Tibetan, "the hell of ceaseless torture." When Lord Buddha was a great Bodhisattva in a past life, he offered his body at Namo Buddha in Nepal to a tigress so that she could feed her cubs. This act was only possible because he wasn't attached to his body and had immense compassion. Rich people, in contrast, even have trouble being generous towards those in direst need.

Actually, one is very attached to all appearances and thinks that they truly exist. How can one overcome one's strong attachment? By studying the Madhyamaka philosophy one can learn that nothing exists of its own accord. One slowly overcomes one's attachment by realizing prajna, the Sanskrit term for "wisdom-awareness," which means knowing that all things are empty of inherent existence. One visualizes pure Buddha fields and oneself as a pure deity when one practices Mantrayana, i.e., Tantra, in order to relinquish attachment for things that one thinks are nice or pleasant and in order to overcome one's aversion against things that one thinks are appalling or painful. One creates duality due to the initial error of attachment and aversion. If one exchanges one's usual way of apprehending appearances with a pure vision of reality, then one diminishes and eventually eradicates one's impure and deluded way of seeing oneself and the world.

Ju Mipham stated in the next verse:
(2b) "The mind pursues various habits (that it creates based on) conceptual formations
and (thereby) constantly sets waves of various (kinds of) apprehending consciousness(es)
(as well as) happiness and suffering in motion."

Happiness and suffering are created by one's own mind. One will continue experiencing much suffering and pain as long as one doesn't investigate and learn to control one's mind. It's important to recognize that one's mind is totally under the influence of and driven by one's karmic patterns, i.e., habits, and that one will act badly and create further negative karma until one has learned to control it. As long as one hasn't gained control of one's mind, one continues being ruled by one's various habitual patterns that are traces stored in one's mind and that one is accustomed to acting out, thus bringing more suffering and pain upon oneself and others due to the law of cause and effect. This is the first point one needs to understand when one begins investigating one's mind. Let's look at an example that demonstrates how habits are stored in the mind as habitual imprints: If one is fascinated by a toy one plays with while awake during the day, one often dreams about it that same night. Dream-appearances show that habitual imprints of all one's thoughts, actions, impressions, and experiences are stored in one's mind and will arise to one again as an appearance in the future.

It will not suffice to hear these teachings. One needs to investigate and become accustomed to them by meditating them. For example, one considers somebody a friend but doesn't like that same person after having had a few bad experiences with him or her and as a result even thinks that same person is an enemy. From then on, every time one runs into that person, one thinks, "An enemy!" Let's not forget, this same person was once a friend. The connotation "enemy" is not inherent to that person, but has been formulated in one's own mind, i.e., it's one's own projection. Earlier one was attached to the individual one called "a friend" due to specific causes and conditions, then one clings to the same person one calls "an enemy" due to unpleasant causes and conditions, but it's the same person, and so, any thoughts or ideas one has depend upon one's own mind.

The concept "I" is very, very strong in everyone's mind. Everybody is attached to what they call "me," and this is the root of delusiveness. The purpose of practicing Lord Buddha's teachings is to realize that what one considers "self" doesn't truly exist as one thinks. It's extremely hard to appreciate and acknowledge this fact. For instance, I don't remember my former life. I do recall things that happened when I was a child in this life, but I can't remember when I started thinking "I." Some of you can remember? Shall we meditate to remember - in this life is okay, not in one's former life? We don't remember in this life, so how can we remember when the belief in a self, an "I," started in a former life? The ingrained sense of a powerful "I" is evidence that there are former lives, because one has become accustomed to this powerful feeling of a self for so very long. Nobody needed to teach us. I don't think our mother taught us this.

There's no need to say that the concepts "me" and "mine" arise from believing in and clinging to a self. When one doesn't have the notion "I," then the feeling of "mine" will not arise. Due to being attached and clinging to a self, one engages in many activities in order to confirm that one is really good - therefore one grasps at things one calls "mine." I don't know what will happen if we don't cling to "me" and "mine"  mein in German, na'i in Tibetan. One would surely have a different life, but I don't know how it would be. In any case, we are doing lots of work so that we feel good about ourselves.

The last line in the second verse of "Opening the Heavenly Gate" is:
(2c) "One clings to an apprehending (self) as  me,' to things (apprehended) as  mine,'
and - having wants and needs - acts in various ways."

Again, due to clinging to a self and wanting to feel good, one engages in various activities by grasping for things and insisting they are "rightfully mine." One thereby creates and accumulates karma, the Sanskrit term for läs in Tibetan, which means formative actions and deeds. When one realizes selflessness through wisdom-awareness, prajna in Sanskrit, shes-rab in Tibetan, i.e., when one knows that all things lack inherent existence, then one automatically thinks less of oneself and has unbearable loving kindness and compassion for all living beings who are trapped in delusiveness and necessarily experience the painful results. Due to clinging to a self, one accumulates karma by doing what one can for one's personal well-being. Everyone in the world exerts much energy for their own sake, for their own benefit and happiness. Since everyone clings to a self, it's important to practice reducing and relinquishing attachment to a self - then one can truly be happy and benefit others.

There are many religions in the world and they all offer methods one can practice and prayers one can recite so that one feels better, but one rarely finds offering-prayers that don't address one's own welfare. Everyone in the world exerts so much energy in order to satisfy their own wishes and needs and to experience happiness and joy. One will hardly meet someone who goes out of their way to experience suffering, or? We all do what we can to experience happiness, yet aren't aware of the real causes of happiness, therefore engage in activities that only bring temporary results. Shantideva taught in his major treatise, "The Bodhicharyavatara," that one mistakenly does negative things because one doesn't know the cause of reliable happiness. He taught that although one strives for well-being and good luck, one only creates causes for further frustration, suffering, and woe.

One studies texts, meets Lamas, and receives Dharma instructions. Why? In order to differentiate between true causes of suffering and happiness and to integrate the Dharma instructions in one's life through practice. As said, everyone has own karmic imprints and habits, therefore everyone runs into difficulties practicing the Dharma and finds that it's not easy to live up to it. One receives instructions, understands what the causes of suffering and happiness are, nevertheless has difficulties abandoning one's mind poisons, because they are so strong. One can't relinquish one's mind poisons that are habits right away or that fast, because they are deeply ingrained in one's being. A Tibetan saying uses the example of medicine to illustrate this, since our medicine is bitter and isn't flavoured like western medicine. The saying is that the Dharma teachings are like Tibetan medicine  the Dharma teachings help us mature spiritually, but they don't taste sweet. I hope westerners design a medicine of Dharma so that it becomes easier and more pleasant to take. It is so true that nobody has problems stopping to take the medicine that their doctor prescribed and don't like hearing that it's necessary to take it. If one really wants to become well after having become sick, I do think one should listen to one's doctor and do as he says. Likewise, if one wishes to become free from samsara that is marked by suffering, then I think one should listen to the teachers who have experienced the Dharma, realized its qualities, and made it true in their lives.

Ju Mipham Rinpoche referred to one's daily activities in "Opening the Heavenly Gate," so I think that sometimes people will be disturbed and angry when they hear this, just like a thief gets angry when he is caught. The title of his treatise also contains the words, "A Comprehensive Investigation of the Mind."  One works, but I think only few people understand what and why they do. We can see in this world that maybe 99% of the people work very, very hard in order to be happy. Some people work 18 hours a day and fall into bed when they get home, only to find themselves repeating the same procedure day after day and throughout their entire life. Only few are working for their future lives. I think it would be very good to work a little for one's next life. Ju Mipham spoke about this in the following verse.

(3) "Some (individuals) exert (much energy) making offerings, reciting meditation texts, and so forth.
Everyone is busy trying to attain happiness.
Although arduous in their wishes and ways to experience happiness in this life,
rarely does someone exclusively dedicate (themselves) to the benefit of future lives and the happiness of liberation."

Many people really try to lead a meaningful life and want to be good, but only few work for their future life. It's not easy believing in future lives. So many people are only concerned about this life and do so much to feed their ego  they buy flowers, hang pictures on their walls, buy dozens of videos, thousands of music CDs, most expensive perfume, exquisite shoes and clothes, and so forth. While trying to be happy, they become scientists of the body and turn it into their boss. Sometimes I think that our mind is like a baby - sometimes. When a baby cries, a mother tries to make it happy, and it does help a while - a few minutes later the baby cries again. This goes on and on. One buys new clothes and is fascinated when one looks at oneself in the mirror, but after a few days one's fascination wanes and one rushes into town to buy new clothes again. How often do people buy new mobiles or new cars here? They are slaves of their body, because their crazy mind always wants something new. Happy for a few days after having what they wanted, they hop on the merry-go-round again, day-after-day, are very busy, and that's how they spend their life.

The fourth verse is:
(4a) "The gate to experience transient joy is the body;
and the body is an impure tool - full of pus, a home for diseases, and beaten by old age.
It passes just as fast as a dewdrop on the tip of a blade of grass."

In this verse, Ju Mipham taught that one over-exerts oneself in total dependence upon one's body while seeking happiness. Every doctor knows how the body really looks like inside, but don't cut yourself up to see for yourself. Just look at pictures and understand that it consists of pus, blood, sinews, etc. Of course, one day everyone must leave their body behind after having spent thousands of Euros on it. I can't speak for anyone else, but I've spent so much money on my body up and until now. Mipham Rinpoche tried to tell us in the above verse not to only work for the body. Of course, one needs it. How can anyone receive Dharma teachings or practice without a body? It's certainly necessary to look after one's body, otherwise one will end up in the hospital instead of at a Dharma centre. I think Ju Mipham is warning us not to only focus our attention on our body. It's so true: If one finds it annoying to hear this, then it will be very hard to understand.

(4b) "After a short while, old age abruptly puts an end to (one's) youthful appearance
and one suffers more (and more) every day.
The sensory faculties weaken, one's hair turns grey, and one's teeth fall out.
What use are the most appealing things when they become like spew?"

You know, youth passes as fast as it takes to snap one's fingers  before one knows it, it's gone. Nobody can change this. There's no medicine or electronic equipment that can stop ageing, which every single living being will experience. Nobody knows whether old age passes faster than the time when one was young. I think it's the same. In any case, lots of people spend a fortune on dying their hair dark or blonde and getting face-liftings. There is so much of this going on in the West; I can't even count how much  less in the East. No bodybuilder can push up their muscles when they start sagging. Of what use is the best meat if one has no teeth with which one can chew it? When one grows old and one's body is weak, all one's efforts to sustain one's body will have been in vain. One has to let go of one's body before one dies in that one doesn't only concentrate on it in this life. Of course, one has to take care a little bit, but Ju Mipham warns us not to only concentrate our attention on the body. For example, Jetsün Milarepa set a wonderful example, but I don't think we can copy him. After all, we didn't kill many people in this life and therefore needn't emulate him. I think one can try, but I don't think one's mind will play along.
Participant: Milarepa's life was very nice - living in caves.
Khenpo: No, if you stay in a cave a minute without warm clothes on, then you'll know what it means.

Usually, everyone wakes up in the morning, works all day, and goes to bed at night. One needs to check what one does during the day. If one only works for the benefit of this life, then it's important to realize that it's not really the good way to go. It's very good if one only works for one's future life, but I think it's a little bit schwer, "difficult," because at the moment one has strong bdag- dzin, the Tibetan term for "ego-clinging." It's impossible not to think "me" as long as one has bdag- dzin, but one can think about one's future life and not focus all one's attention and activities of body, speech, and mind on this life only. One day one's body will decay and become a corpse, and then all one's efforts will have been of no use whatsoever. Whether one believes this or not, it's true.

In the above verses, Ju Mipham addressed the topic of impermanence. Lord Buddha said that just as an elephant is the animal that makes the largest footprint in the jungle, likewise, the biggest thought a practitioner can have is the thought of impermanence. This is what the Buddha said. I didn't believe this when I first heard it. But it helps a lot if one reflects impermanence, because it inspires one to practice. Once I, too, thought of spoiling my body, not with luxuries but by buying land in Bhutan and building a retreat house. Then I saw somebody pass away who left so much wealth behind - this inspired me to go another way. We waste so much time making many, many plans.

Understanding this section of the text that deals with samsara, i.e., "inadequacies of conditioned existence," and impermanence is the basis for one's practice, because this understanding inspires one to renounce samsara. It's not possible to turn one's mind towards the Buddhadharma as long as one hasn't abandoned one's false hopes to experience happiness in samsara. It is utterly important to recognize the suffering that samsara entails. Furthermore, one can be grateful when one experiences suffering, because it's like a teacher. It causes one to renounce samsara and inspires one to achieve freedom from suffering and attain lasting happiness.

(5) "Life is short and influenced by many uncalled-for conditions during these degenerate times.
It's not certain when one will die.
Even if one can live until (one's) natural death, (one's) lifespan is short.
What's the use of mainly working for this life?"

(6) "Oh, we must leave this body behind when we die
and don't know in which various places (we then) roam.
What use are friends made in this life if they can't even slightly (help) avert (this disaster)?

(7) "Those whose highest goal is achieving happiness in this life
will be beleaguered by the enemy of regret when they get old and die.
They have done this and that in vain,
(already) carry the burden of their bad ways and suffer,
and go to lower realms (of existence)."

Participant: Stop the train, I want to get off.
Khenpo: Yes. What should I say now? sNyigs-düs, "degenerate times, the dark age." The term "degenerate times" is foreign to westerners, but eastern people believe that during the first good age, conditions and situations were very fortunate and people lived very long, never got sick, and didn't need to work for their living. During our times, the lifespan is much shorter, people get sick, and need to work hard in order to live. But, what does this really mean? Living in a fortunate or degenerate age depends upon one's own accumulation of virtue. If one's environment is good and everyone is well off, then one experiences a fortunate time. Those who don't have good karma experience misfortune. During the times of Lord Buddha, people had very positive karma, and therefore Lumbini, his birthplace, was a very pleasant place to be. Times have changed, and today Lumbini isn't special. For example, if one enters an empty house, then it's not very hospitable. If friends come and stay a while, then it's nice. Buddhists believe that the outer environment is a result of one's personal and shared karma, the meaning of the teachings that state that everything arises from one's own mind. It's not that easy to appreciate this fact - one can't fully acknowledge that even things that one bought are created by one's own mind.

It is said that one has a long life during fortunate ages. How old do people become nowadays? Maybe 100? If they get sick, they die much younger. Seeing life is so short, why concentrate on happiness in this life only? Why hoard possessions and wealth? How many years are at one's disposal in this life to enjoy all the things one collects? Therefore, riches aren't special at all. One can't take anything along when one dies, but must part from everything, even from one's most precious possession, which is one's body. Since this is the case, why concentrate one's entire attention on this life only? Those persons who spend all their time and energy working for and running after joys of this life deny the truth of impermanence and death. Instead, they make plans, like traveling to India or buying a new house, and don't realize impermanence and death.

Participant: I think it's very difficult for westerners to understand the eastern concept of reincarnation. It's not embedded in our culture, so it's really hard to train our mind to understand this.
Khenpo: Yes. The text speaks about this later on, and I think it's a big problem. One thinks this life is the beginning and end  that's all. Every religion comes from one teacher, who wrote about what they thought and saw, that much only, and that's a problem. I think so. It's not their aim to recognize life. One must examine. If one acknowledges that there is a future life, then I think one will automatically work for it. If people don't believe in a future life, then they would hardly see a reason to sit here and receive teachings, rather they'd prefer going to some luxurious place. I'm sure that this life isn't the end of the story and that one will continue being born due to karma as long as one remains ignorant.  

A few years ago I read a western book. It seems the author did research on this topic. He wrote about a western boy who spoke about a place in Egypt that existed about 1000 years ago. Nobody believed the boy, but one day the family went there and found it. In Bhutan, some children have two mothers and two fathers. Because they die young and are born again, they tell their new parents that they want to go home. They even know the names of their past mother and father and, although nobody told them in their present life, everything they say is true. We can recognize that life doesn't end at death if we look at little children and see that even one-and-a-half-year-olds have different preferences that nobody taught them, rather they brought along habits from their past life that continue into this life. Some children in Indian villages do amazing things, because of their habits from former lives. So, I think you must trust that there are past lives. Pointing to a future life isn't as easy as seeing what will become of a table or chair after they disintegrate.

You know, everyone works during the day and everyone sleeps at night. It is taught that sleep is not different than death. I think this is true, because I don't know where I go while I sleep. A good Vajrayana practitioner will recognize how they fall asleep and wake up. Everyone has own experiences. For instance, at the moment I'm updating my website and fall asleep thinking about how to do this most efficiently. The first thought that comes to my mind when I wake up the next morning is doing just that. We can be certain that a future life will occur in exactly the same manner. And that's why we focus our mind on the right way, confident that the next life will follow in the same way as we wake up from sleep every day. I think that is the benefit of practice and that we will become just like Jetsün Milarepa if we practice diligently. But I think that we can't practice like Milarepa because of small passions that we still have. Sorry, I don't know about you - can only speak for myself.

And so, we learn that we are responsible for ourselves when we die, but I don't know how the feeling will be. For example, when I came to Germany the first time in 2004, the airplane really zoomed from Nepal and my body went along. I only knew Lama Kalzang and Lama Sönam, resident Lamas at Kamalashila Institute, but I didn't know anyone else. Maybe dying isn't different than the uncertain feeling I had traveling to a foreign country. Yet, we leave our body behind at death and only continue with our mind, not aware of the destination. If we have control of our mind, then I think we can choose our future mother. I think I should tell the story about Mingyur Rinpoche, because it's a good example.

Mingyur Rinpoche's father is Urgyen Tulku. One night Urgyen Tulku dreamt that a yogi appeared and asked him, "Lend me a home." He spoke with His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa about his dream and asked what it could mean. His Holiness recognized that the yogi in Urgyen Tulku's dream was Yongey Mingyur Dorje and told him, "You must give him a home." If we have power like that, then we can ask somebody if we may make a home there. But, forget about it at this stage. We can't even control our own body, so how can we control our own mind? But I'm sure that we can if we practice, because everyone is the same before they took the first steps. If little children are lazy, they will not mature and won't be able to choose their home.

There is a very old man I know since I was a child, who is a Dharma practitioner. He always makes jokes and when he was about 80 years old said, "All my friends are gone, and I'm the only one left. Where did they go? They must be very, very far away." We can't recognize those who return, because we only recognize the body and not the mind. The teachings instruct us that there is nobody who has not been a family member at one time or another, but only someone who has a wisdom-mind is able to recognize this.

It is certain that one day we will go alone and don't know where, but I think that we will be reborn. If one has good karma, one will attain a good body and experience fortunate circumstances and conditions. Ju Mipham didn't suggest that one shouldn't look after one's family and care for one's friends, rather he referred to those who hoard things for themselves and their close ones at the expense of others. He asked us to refrain from doing negative things, because at death nobody can help and nobody can take friends along when they start their journey to a next life. Positive activities are our only good friend wherever we go, and one will feel regret if one has failed to do good when one leaves this body behind. I don't remember who said that a Dharma practitioner is someone who has no regrets at death. If one can die like that, then one is a good practitioner.

(8a) "Since one thinks this life is permanent and clings to a self and (one's own) happiness,
one hoards riches, surrounds oneself with friends, subdues enemies, recites mantras (for this purpose), and so forth.
Those who exert (themselves) in (such) activities have succumbed to the greatest of all illusions."

What is  khrul-pa in English? Klaus-Dieter Mathes: "Confusion." Khenpo: We are always confused. We are always making confusion. I can speak about my experiences: I see many people die, but seldom think this applies to me. I think I will live a long life, concentrate on this life as a result, and meet no preparations for the next life. If one clings to the thought that one will live forever, rtag-pa- dzin-pa, then it's reasonable that one will want to own more and more property, will want to bring more and more money to the bank, thinks one can live happily on one's own, wants to have many friends and take enemies to jail. Many people in Tibet even resort to black magic to destroy their enemies, which is very difficult. rTag-pa- dzin-pa is the source of confusion, and it only occurs because people think they will live forever, the reason they try to establish happiness for themselves. That's why they are confused about how to live a meaningful life.

One feels a little bit sad when one hears about death and one thinks the teachings are not good, because they don't make one laugh. But it's really important to think about impermanence and death. One doesn't take it seriously when one is young and nothing happens by just hearing, mi-rtag-pa, mi-rtag-pa. But when I do nonsense, it's really helpful. Remembering the transitory nature of all things inspires me to do good work. When I forget, I'm the same as before. Remembering impermanence when bad things happen is very helpful, too, like when one loses one's watch or laptop. Reflecting impermanence when one loses money or there is a tsunami makes it easier to deal with the situation, instead of making matters worse.

Let us read the next verse of "Opening the Heavenly Gate":
(8b) "Whoever is born inevitably approaches old age and death.
Whoever forfeits awareness for (the sake of) the enemy and only seeks joy in this life errs."

Jetsün Milarepa said that he was always scared of death, practiced a lot, and became free from his fear. It would be good if we could also do like that. I think that some great masters who get very ill are happy when they die, because they want to change the body. It's like wanting to move into a new house when the place one lives in falls into ruins. There's nobody who doesn't get old and die. One day everybody has to say "bye-bye" to this body and life. Knowing this and still just serving one's body is a little bit stupid, I think. Ju Mipham warned students not to exert all their energy to be happy by being servants of their body. One usually believes that happiness is due to one's body - good health, good hearing, good glasses, or things like that. One's body only lasts a short time, like a little toy that children play with. Buddhism speaks about three types of suffering; one is the suffering of change, which means that the happiness one clings to inevitably changes into suffering. It's important to reflect change and know that it doesn't entail happiness, rather means suffering.

Then Ju Mipham asked:
(9a) "If those of you who cling to a self cannot even tolerate the suffering of a single death,
how can you stand the chain of births and deaths in the three lower realms of existence that are characterized by innumerable (kinds of) suffering?"

Of course, one fears death, again and again. There are insects that only live one day - Eintagsfliegen, "day flies." That's why nobody knows how often he or she will die again. I think everyone fears death, otherwise they wouldn't run away. Therefore Buddhism teaches that all sentient beings are the same in that they don't want to be unhappy and want to be happy. The only difference is that they don't look alike, which depends upon karma. I think we accumulated good karma in the past life and therefore have a human body and others did bad karma and therefore are animals. The nature of the mind of all living beings is the same.

I think the main thing is to take care of one's karma. If one doesn't have good karma, one won't get a good body to practice the Dharma with. Of course, one couldn't practice if one ignored one's body, but it's necessary to balance one's life by not only working for happiness in this life. So, also think about the next life. Yet, only thinking of one's personal future life is called bskyed-bo-chung-mo. Those who realize that everyone wishes happiness and peace, just like oneself, and practice accordingly are called Mahayana or Bodhisattva practitioners. Thinking that the practices oppose each other is made by the mind, sems-bskyed. So, I think we'll all become a Bodhisattva and our daily activities will become like Chenrezig and Manjushri. I believe this  yid-ches, "believe, trust, am confident." When I was a child and learned about aspiration and dedication prayers, I didn't believe that I could ever help others, because I couldn't even afford to go the movies. But, I developed the aspiration and tried to do good in the best possible way. So, if one accumulates bsöd-nams, "virtuous merit," and makes aspiration and dedication prayers, I think one can become like Chenrezig. His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Gyalwa Karmapa are the activities of Bodhisattva Chenrezig. I think we will also become like that.

Question: When it is taught to think about one's future life, does this mean I should practice more, make more wishes, or what?
Khenpo: Fulfilling one's wish to practice the Dharma by accumulating merit and by reciting "The Devachen Prayer" to be born in a situation so that one can practice without impediments and swiftly attain the levels of a Buddha depend upon oneself. Bodhisattva Amitabha promised that he would help anyone who prays to him to be born in his pure realm of Devachen and it will be possible to study, practice, and accomplish stages of Buddhahood real fast there. Therefore we recite "The Devachen Prayer."  This doesn't mean one doesn't think of this life anymore, because it is important to lead a meaningful life so that one can attain a good rebirth. But one shouldn't exclusively be concerned about this life.

The text then states:
(9b) "As long as the mind is not free from confusion,
no matter where living beings are born and whatever (they) do, suffering increases.
Waves of thoughts (keep them) roaming around
(and thus they have) few chances to control (their mind) and (find) happiness."

Appearances in samsara are illusory and don't truly exist. Due to clinging to a self and one's body, one discriminates between enemies and friends; one differentiates between things one wants to have and clings to the belief that they truly exist. But, in truth, everything is illusory and nothing exists the way one thinks. Since beginningless time, one has been in a state of confusion as to the way things are and erroneously believes that illusory appearances are real. Where do illusory appearances come from? From one's own mind. One creates illusory appearances due to one's own mistaken mode of apprehension and clings to an apprehending self and apprehended objects as real. As long as one doesn't gain control of one's own mind but apprehends in a deluded way, one will continue creating illusory appearances and will not stop clinging to them. One will only have few opportunities to win control over one's own mind and life and to experience reliable happiness. As long as one doesn't examine one's own mind, one will continue clinging to erroneous belciefs and as a result will remain entangled in the wheel of conditioned existence, samsara.

I think that the words in "Opening the Heavenly Gate" are true. Outer circumstances and conditions can be as good as good can be  one can live in the most luxurious house situated in a very beautiful environment -, but one will not be happy and content as long as one hasn't learned to control one's own mind. On the other hand, one will be happy living anywhere and grateful for any food and drink if one is content. One can even experience happiness when facing unpleasant situations if one has learned that joy and happiness don't depend upon outer things, rather upon one's own mind. Therefore it's necessary to win control over one's mind, rang-dbang in Tibetan. When one has become free of conditionality by having gained control of one's own mind, then one experiences everything joyfully. Otherwise, one will rarely be happy.

In the next verse, Ju Mipham said:
(10a) "Many realms of existence arise and cease again and again,
and all beings are repeatedly born (there) and die again.
I can't (even) remember the various (kinds of) suffering and happiness
(that I have experienced while on the) path of this very life."

When one really sits down and tries to think about all the happiness and suffering one has experienced and about all the hardships and trouble one took upon oneself in order to experience a little joy in one's life, one can hardly remember - if at all. One thing is certain, any happiness one experienced a while back is gone. One has no benefit from all the pain and trouble one went to in order to become happy or rich. One day, one will simply have a vague memory of everything one cherished so much and this memory, too, will ebb away, because nothing truly exists and lasts. The six realms of samsara arise and cease again and contemplating that one has gone through them all and participated strenuously up and until now inspires one to realize the uselessness of such efforts. The above verse also speaks about impermanence.

The next lines of the tenth verse are:
(10b) "The experience of all happiness and suffering of gods, humans, and (those on) lower levels (of existence) in the world is ineffable.
Even though happiness and suffering are in accord,
(beings) deny that conditioned appearances are impermanent, fluctuate, and end.
No matter how much happiness (they have, they) never get enough.
No matter how much suffering (they endure, they) aren't weary of conditioned existence
and perpetuate (further) suffering.
Oh, look at the state of the confused mind."

One cannot fathom the immense torments that beings in the hell realms suffer and doesn't really know about the immense happiness beings living in the realm of the gods experience. We certainly don't know if there really is such suffering and joy. But one can see all the suffering and happiness experienced in one's immediate environment and country and can be confident that they, too, are impermanent and pass. One needn't even look outside oneself, but only at one's own mind. Sometimes one is happy and prosperous, at other times one suffers and is in pain. One's state of well-being constantly changes, from one moment to the next, because nothing is solid and static. If one looks at one's mind, one discovers that nothing is left of all one's endeavours, and this marks samsara. The characteristic of samsara is that the great variety of experiences arises and ceases again. Samsara is  khor-ba in Tibetan, which means "the ordinary state of sentient beings who spin around and wander within the six realms of conditioned existence that are characterized by suffering, impermanence, and ignorance." In short, samsara is the vicious cycle of frustration and suffering. Who and what experiences suffering and transitory happiness in samsara? One's own mind - not one's body. In the absence of one's mind, one's body would be a corpse.

One needs to clearly recognize and acknowledge that one's mind experiences joy and pain. If one can't control one's own mind and lives one's life away, one does experience happiness now and then, is overwhelmed, but can't get enough. One also experiences suffering on and off, tries to overcome it, or is overwhelmed and gives up, instead of turning one's back on samsara.

(11a) "When (people) are happy, (their) arrogance increases and (their) desire(s) grow;
when (they) suffer, (they are) sad and strive for happiness.
Just as (they) have come to be, they do not enter the path (that leads to) stable happiness.
Oh, they wander within the continuum of suffering.
In one day innumerable thoughts arise that resemble waves on (troubled) water and are just as hard to count.
Lacking purpose, (beings) do not cut their exhaustion (of chasing their) ideas (concerning what to) accept and reject, (their) hopes and fears, which is their own despair that they themselves (create)."

This verse doesn't mean to say that one continuously finds oneself in a state of confusion, rather it stresses the importance of knowing how strongly one's mind is controlled by one's own wishes, one's hopes and fears. The trouble is, when one is rich and wealthy, one is proud; when one loses things and becomes physically weak, one does what one can to become rich or healthy again. One sways from one condition to the next and never experiences stable happiness and joy.

If one recounts and checks all the things one did and all the thoughts one had during a single day, one will discover that most of them were about achieving happiness and avoiding pain. All these thoughts and activities are impressions that are habitual patterns stored in one's mental continuum, one's ground consciousness. One's habits determine one's karma, which drives one to continue wandering in samsara. Nobody keeps one embroiled in samsara except oneself. One creates one's own suffering and joy. No god or creator will ever reward or punish one for anything one thought or did. Only one's own mind creates the results of one's own actions and deeds.

Why does one experience samsara the way one does? Because one clings to duality, gnyis-su- dzin. There are many ways to divide things and thus create duality in one's mind: self and others, big and small, pleasant and unpleasant, etc. In any case, due to clinging to the duality of an apprehending self that apprehends objects, attachment and clinging arise, which bring on suffering. It's extremely difficult to recognize that one creates duality all the time. If one does, then one has entered the state of the true nature of all things and as a result needn't experience samsara anymore. Entering the true state presupposes having been introduced to and having realized the true nature of all things, which isn't that easy. As it is, one differentiates between Buddhas and ordinary living beings. The difference is that ordinary living beings cling to duality, whereas Buddhas don't. The text reads:

(11b) "By fabricating thoughts non-stop while lacking control (of one's mind)
(beings) continuously spin around in samsara.
The mind that clings to duality is the source (of samsara).
If there is no clinging to duality, mental constructs will not continue."

One perceives sensory objects (forms, feelings, sounds, tastes, and textures) and thinks they are pleasant, unpleasant, good, or bad. This only happens because one clings to duality and divides. When a practitioner has overcome divisiveness, then usual, daily appearances don't arise the way they do anymore. In "The One Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa," there is a story about a Geshe who debated with Jetsün Milarepa. He asked him to define space, which is usually said to be that which is not impeded. Jetsün Milarepa answered that this definition is based upon duality and walked through a wall. The Geshe was perplexed and shouted, "It can't be true. That's sorcery." But, it's possible to walk through walls when one has overcome duality. If we give it a try, we will bump our head. Not being able to walk through walls is due to the habits created by clinging to duality that are stored in one's mental stream of consciousness. When activated, habits arise and appearances continue manifesting the way they do.

Another story from "The One Hundred Thousand Songs" is entitled "Entering the Yak Horn." The story is that Milarepa's pupil, Rechungpa was still rather proud, so Milarepa asked him to bring him the yak's horn he saw lying beside the road. Milarepa admired the yak horn and told Rechungpa how beautiful it was. Rechungpa thought to himself, "How silly. It's just a usual object." Milarepa carried it while they continued on their way. Suddenly a snow-blizzard came up, so they sought shelter. When it got dark, Rechungpa looked all around, couldn't find Milarepa, and was very worried. He then heard Milarepa sing a song and was more than bewildered. He looked all over the place and finally saw Milarepa sitting inside the yak horn. Milarepa didn't look smaller and the yak horn didn't look bigger. This is how Jetsün Milarepa showed Rechungpa that concepts like "big" and "small" only arise as long as one clings to duality and that it's possible to transcend divisiveness.

Due to clinging to duality (i.e., by being divisive) and the habits one creates as a result, one apprehends things in that manner. For instance, I perceive the bell in front of me as small, only because it is small in relation to my body, and I'm convinced that my body will never fit inside it. But this thought is only a habitual tendency that is stored in my ground consciousness. Nothing is fixed outside the sphere of conditionality, which is merely determined by habits stored in one's mind. And therefore Jetsün Milarepa could fit inside the yak horn, because "big" and "small" are dualistic concepts that don't truly exist. Of course, it's difficult to acknowledge and hard to appreciate this if one has never seen or experienced anything like that. But one can trust and imagine that it's true.

(11c) "Due to clinging to mental constructs, one manipulates one's mind
and construes a self, suffering and happiness, (and what should be) adopted and rejected.
The web of thoughts is (thus) not dissevered, not even dissevered in dreams.
If one investigates well, (one discovers) that (this) burden is heavy and
(one is) taxing oneself with useless suffering.
Furthermore, nobody is at the mercy of a creator.
Isn't this burden bad?"

Ju Mipham Rinpoche actually asked here: "Wouldn't it be better to give up the cause of this heavy burden?" He is addressing us.

In the next verse he went into more detail and explained:
(12) "One assumes that suffering and happiness are caused by (outer) conditions.
If one examines thoroughly, (though,) one (finds that they) are created by (one's own) mind.
Whatever the mind (imagines and) construes occurs.
Suffering and happiness are foreign to outer things."

In this verse, Ju Mipham showed that suffering and happiness are due to conditions that one creates. Most people think that pleasant outer conditions are responsible for any happiness and suffering that they experience. Due to this erroneous belief, people think that they must establish agreeable outer conditions for themselves and avoid unpleasant outer situations. If one examines well, though, one discovers that one's own mind is responsible for any joy and pain one experiences and that outer things are not at all responsible. Since I have no more examples in mind, let me tell a real story.

Everyone in Bhutan likes to make high Tulkus. Before the present Ninth Gangten Tulku, Kunzang Pema Namgyal, was found, another man called his son the reincarnation of the Eighth Gangten Tulku, who had owned much property - and owning property makes one very rich. The King of Bhutan asked the boy to identify his possessions and he was able to point to the Mala and many things that the former Gangten Tulku had owned. The King questioned the boy about a cow that was grazing in the fields outside and asked, "What about that cow?" The little boy answered, "I don't know. My father didn't tell me."

It's really hard believing that happiness and suffering are created by one's own mind. One will understand and realize that this is true if one examines carefully, as explained above. But it's not that hard understanding that what one considers "small" depends upon what one calls "large" and that one thinks the same object is large when put in relation to something else that seems small. Looking at the flower in the vase on the table: I experience joy when I see a beautiful flower. How does this reaction arise? In dependence upon the appearance of the flower in my mind, the habit of considering flowers beautiful, and feeling happy as a result. All these factors give rise to my joy, but not every living being feels the same about a flower. Some beings might even become angry at the sight of a flower. All reactions depend upon one's habits. Also, the appearance of the same flower is created by one's mind and doesn't exist as an independent entity. Taking the example of monks' robes: Some people who appreciate Tibetan Buddhism are happy when they see someone with shaved hair and wearing a monk's robe. When some people in the West who know nothing about Tibetan Buddhism see me walking down the street, for instance, they are sometimes even shocked, because I have the face of a man and am wearing a long gown. They aren't used to monks in robes and might not even have respect for a Buddhist monk, so reactions depend upon the apprehending mind and not upon the outer object, in this case me. Also, we are human beings and will move our body according to the rhythm of the music we listen to on our walkman. Cats and dogs whine and run away when one puts the earphones over their head and they hear the same music, because they are much more sensitive about noise. If a dog sees a bone, though, it goes just as crazy as we would should we see Euros lying on the street. If one doesn't think something is important, then it doesn't matter. A small child doesn't care when it sees money, because it hasn't learned and therefore the sight of money hasn't become a habit in its mind, whereas grownups can't easily stop thinking that money is most important. For example, if someone tells a friend that there are fantastic trekking routes in Nepal, then that friend might start dreaming of going there. When his dream finally comes true and he is in Nepal, walks down the streets, drinks Nepali tea, and sleeps on Nepali beds, he will think, "How nice!" I do think that we create everything in our mind and feel very good when outer situations meet up with our wishes and don't feel good when outer things don't. If one doesn't create lots of preferences and prejudices in one's mind, then I think it will be okay.

 (13) "Since beginningless time until now, one experiences limitless kinds of suffering and happiness.
Actually, there is no result and nothing is ever left of experiences;
(they) are just like experiences of suffering and happiness (one has) in dreams."

This verse is so true  the entire text is so true. We can't remember our past lives and certainly can't remember all the various kinds of suffering and happiness we experienced then. Let us look at this life and be confident that, although we did suffer and were happy very often while awake and while dreaming, we forgot so much. If one tries to recollect all the experiences one had in this life, one notices that they aren't valid anymore, because they have passed - nothing is left of them. If one doesn't examine one's mind and doesn't become aware of one's own mind, one will continue experiencing suffering and joy non-stop and will remain entangled in samsara.

(14) "By pursuing thoughts, objects appear as outer objects.
(Things) appear clearly when (one) dreams,
(and) daily appearances also manifest as (though they are) truly established.
All appearances are projections of the mind; there is no exception."

Thoughts continuously run through one's mind, and they become impressions, i.e., habits, in one's mind. Houses, mountains, rivers, and trees are nothing but outer appearances that arise in one's mind due to one's ingrained habits. It's very hard understanding this, the reason the text, "Dharmadharmatavibhanga  Distinguishing Phenomena and Pure Being," that was written by Noble Asanga in reliance upon instructions he had directly received from Buddha Maitreya, are very good and helpful. In this most profound treatise, Noble Asanga clearly elucidated that the outer world is nothing but a product of one's own mind.

Looking at the example of dreams, things one was really concerned about during the day appear again in one's dreams. If one realizes that dream-appearances do not arise in dependence upon outer things, then it's easier understanding that all appearances are just as illusory as dream-appearances. If one realizes that all outer appearances are dream-like and illusory, then one stops clinging to them and, as a result, one doesn't accumulate negative karma due to craving for things that aren't real. If one realizes the true nature of appearances, then one disrupts and cuts the chain of one's karma. As long as one hasn't realized the true nature of appearances, one thinks they truly exist and are real and, as a result, one continues craving for things, thereby creating new karma, i.e., the causes and inevitable results of one's actions to satisfy one's wishes and needs. In the process, the wheel of conditioned existence, samsara, keeps churning and burning. Our Great Kagyü Lineage Master Tilopa told his eminent disciple Naropa that it's extremely difficult giving up one's attachment to outer appearances, but one should at least try to reduce one's attachment so that it's not so powerful.

(15) "Those who have no knowledge think that all composite things in the world are continuous and unique.
Those who investigate see (that all things) are impermanent and multifarious.
Everything fluctuates like a flash of lightning,
and (what seems to be a) continuum ends."

(16) "Everything manifests in dependence upon a transitory collection of causal conditions.
Although (one doesn't) experience appearances as deceptive,
scholars who investigate well (realize that) nothing is ever born or ends,
not even in an instant."

Ever since beginningless time, habits stored in one's stream of consciousness cause one to give rise to outer appearances. Bereft of teachings, one thinks appearances are unique entities, are permanent, and clings to them as real. If knowledgeable people critically investigate appearances, they discover that no appearance is permanent, that nothing is a unique entity that exists of its own accord, but that everything is composed of many parts, and that these smaller parts and particles also consist of parts. It's not possible to discuss the entire Madhyamaka philosophy in this seminar and to present the arguments of the great scholars to prove the truth of Madhyamaka, the Middle-Way School. Let's take the singing bowl and listen to the sound made by hitting it  the sound arises and ceases again. Since we are not used to directly seeing the true nature of things, it's difficult to realize that nothing really arises, abides, and ceases, i.e., is born, stays a while, and ends. Echoes, mirages, reflections, the Tibetan custom of heaping stones upon each other so that they resemble a watchman are examples that illustrate this. Dream-appearances are the best example, space too. Habits deeply ingrained in one's mind cause one to dream of the glass on the table that one defines as a solid and concrete entity and uses in a specific manner. Let me tell a story from Tibet.

A family tried to prepare their son for ordination, but the boy protested with all his force. They took him to the monastery and asked the Lama to bless their son so that he would gladly become a monk. The Lama had a wisdom-eye, so he poured tea into a cup for the boy. In that moment, the boy envisioned himself getting married, founding a family, working hard to nourish them, and watching his children grow up  he saw the perspectives of worldly life and the inadequacies of conditioned existence, samsara, and then and there gave rise to renunciation. The boy experienced an entire worldly life in his vision, but it only lasted as long as it took the Lama to pour tea into a cup. In truth, though, the life the boy saw didn't arise, abide, and cease; rather it was a magical illusion.

(17) "(Appearances are) based upon having become accustomed to habits (stored in) one's own mind.
Even though mere appearances are experienced without impediments,
they are free of coming and going (and are) like appearances in dreams.
The (great) variety of mental formations manifest in the same manner.
Stubbornly clinging to those appearances, (one) again and again succumbs to (one's) mental formations.
If (those who are) deluded don't recognize (that appearances are) apparitions,
like (the rippling sound made by the) waves of a river, acceptance and rejection, hopes and fears, arise."

This verse again explains that outer appearances are created by habits stored in one's own mind. No matter how often one hears this, it's not easy to appreciate and acknowledge what the great scholars taught, namely that all outer appearances do not exist of their own accord and are mere appearances. Why is it so hard to believe this? Because one's habits are so very strong. When one wears tainted glasses, for instance, the pillar in this room appears in that colour, even though it is white. As long as one doesn't take off one's tainted glasses, it will be hard believing knowledgeable scholars that the pillar is in truth white and one will continue seeing the pillar in the colour of one's glasses. That's why one clings to appearances and thinks they are the way one perceives and construes them to be. If one can't take off one's tainted glasses and see things the way they truly are, at least one can reduce one's attachment to things. Clinging to appearances as true existents causes one to accumulate karma and as a result one necessarily experiences the consequences. There have been many disputes among renowned scholars whether Buddhas still apperceive appearances or not. The difference is that Buddhas are not attached and do not cling to appearances as existing of their own accord, i.e., as true existents.

Although I haven't attained this state, I think one is very lucky if one realizes the selflessness of appearances. There was an aged Tibetan man who only owned a little bowl he used for his meals. He was too old to use the lavatory far away from his cottage, so he used his bowl for that purpose too. He wasn't crazy, but had realized the insubstantiality of all things and wasn't attached to concepts such as "clean" and "dirty."  So, he was free of being attached to things that make others happy and free of rejecting things that usually appal people. If one has realized the non-existence of outer and inner appearances, then one isn't subject to the fluctuation of happiness and despair. I think it must be a very pleasant state of being. It's said that one appears to be crazy to ordinary living beings when one has realized selflessness of a subject and objects, but in truth one isn't crazy, rather, one is free. Once I had a wonderful dream when I was a young boy, that I flew onto the roof of a house. I think that if one understands the true nature of all things, then it's similar to the amazing experience I had in my dream. When one has realized emptiness, then one can fly onto the roof of a building and experience great bliss. Jetsün Milarepa could actually walk through stone walls and fly.

In summary: One has accumulated habits that are ingrained in one's mind-stream and that engender outer appearances. One fails to recognize that the essence of these appearances is empty of true existence and that nothing exists the way it appears. One clings to things as solid existents, is happy when one experiences pleasant things and is unhappy when one experiences unpleasant things. Due to one's habits of accepting what one thinks will make one happy and rejecting things one thinks will make one sad, one accumulates karma and experiences the consequences. If one overcomes attachment and aversion, then one's past karma is spent and one doesn't accumulate new karma that keeps one embroiled in samsara. One has then reached a state that is Mahamudra or Dzogchen.

Mahamudra instructions are presented according to view, meditation, and activities. The treatise, "Opening the Heavenly Gate" speaks about the view and explains how living beings are entangled in samsara and tells how to become free. Why did Ju Mipham repeatedly say that it is necessary to examine one's mind in order to become free? As it is, one turns one's attention outwards and remains overwhelmed by outer appearances, as a result one mistakenly thinks things are real and clings to them. One accumulates karma in the process and continues spinning around in the wheel of conditioned existence, instead of working with one's own mind in order to become free. The following verse describes how one wanders in samsara.

 (18) "(Appearances) manifest to the mind due to the power of the mind.
The mind imputes (their validity) and becomes attached to them.
Living beings in the three realms of conditioned existence are deluded again and again
by the uncountable appearances and thus (they) wander around."

At this point it would be important to explain the twelve links of dependent arising. Let me just give a short example: The vajra in front of me is present. It's rather hard believing that one's mind created the vajra. Why? Because one clings to a true reality of appearances in the world and thinks they exist of their own accord and separate from oneself. As explained above, dreams exemplify this most clearly. Strong impressions are collected in one's mind when one clings to specific things while awake and as a result one dreams of them while asleep. Objects one dreams about do not truly exist, but are only products of one's own mind, because one is so very attached to them. One also clings to appearances that arise in dreams, is happy if one gets what one wants and unhappy when one loses something one is very attached to. It's easy to understand that everything one dreams about  the objects and one's reactions - are only created by one's own mind. If one clings to things one dreams about, further impressions and imprints, bag-chags in Tibetan, are accumulated in one's stream of consciousness and cause one to continue clinging. Just like in dreams, one apperceives houses, mountains, trees, etc. while awake and all these things are merely created by one's own mind due to the karma one has accumulated and the imprints of one's karma that are stored in one's mind. If one examines one's mind, though, one will overcome any hesitations and doubts that one might have about this.

(19) "If one investigates well, one will never (find) that the great variety of phenomena
have a self; (one will find that they) are non-referential
and do not posses (as much as) an (independently existing) atom.
Not being established, who wanders where?"

There are two types of clinging: to an apprehending self and to apprehended objects. Firstly one clings to a self and secondly to experiences, situations, and things. If one realizes that everything is a mere appearance, then one will be free. In any case, it's not easy to realize selflessness.

Everyone clings to a purported self. Had one realized selflessness, one wouldn't think of oneself in a self-centred way. Therefore it's necessary to examine one's mind. If one does, one will discover that one consists of a combination of many causes and conditions and that one refers to the entire collection of one's habits and karma as "me." One will never find an independently existing self, not even a smallest particle that truly exists as a self when one says "I." Arya Nagarjuna explained this precisely in the Madhyamaka philosophy, but one is free to examine for oneself and search for what one thinks is a self when one insists that one can point to it. One will never find it, no matter how hard one tries. When one has realized selflessness, then one will experience no more physical pain. Again, one won't find a tiniest particle that one can refer to as one's self when one thinks and says, "I." Likewise, one won't find a smallest particle that justifies one's belief that outer objects inherently exist.

Looking at objects (chös in Tibetan, often translated as "phenomena" or "givens") in order to realize the second type of selflessness, one can understand that one's mind apperceives the object I am holding in my hand and then imputes the term "vajra" on to it. Now, the vajra does not exist of its own accord but is composed of tiniest parts that, too, consist of further smaller particles. When one apprehends an object, one sees a whole and believes it exists of its own accord and independently; consequently, one designates the collection of parts and particles and calls it "a vajra" in this case. Therefore, "vajra" is nothing but a designation that is made by one's own mind. The same applies for everything in the world. All appearances are merely discursive imputations made by one's mind. Nobody here is protesting, so it seems you are acquainted with the teachings on emptiness - that's a good sign.

It's hard to overcome and eliminate one's doubts. As it is, everyone is very much attached to things and doesn't really see emptiness directly. We can pray that we overcome and relinquish impediments that cause us to hesitate and doubt and we should pray that all living beings give up their strong clinging and see emptiness.

(20) "Here there is neither a subject nor (separated) objects.
Suffering and happiness, samsara and nirvana,
entanglement and freedom, do not exist,
nevertheless, one's mind creates thoughts and (thus one remains) entangled."

In this verse, Ju Mipham stated that there is no samsara, no nirvana, no entanglement, and no freedom from entanglement. Why speak about nirvana then? It's important to know that there is freedom from the wheel of suffering and pain so that one realizes that one wanders in samsara unnecessarily and is confident that one can put an end to suffering and pain. It  s important to know that samsara is an illusion and doesn't truly exist and that the term "nirvana" is merely a designation for not being caught in the illusion of samsara. In truth, both are empty and do not exist. Taking the example of macular degeneration of the eyes: Someone who suffers from this illness sees strands of hair or spots floating through space. When healed, these appearances disappear. Samsara is also like that. The term "samsara" refers to the illusion that things truly exist, and the term "nirvana" refers to the end of that delusion. Nirvana and samsara are only imputed in dependence upon each other and aren't independent. It's easy to understand that the imputation "this side" can only be made in dependence upon something that can be described as "the other side," i.e., there is only a left side if there is a right side. The same applies to samsara and nirvana, suffering and happiness, entanglement and freedom. And that's how things appear, illusory, as long as one is not healed. One clings to illusions as real, which is what samsara means. When one experiences suffering, one wishes to be free, and that is how hopes and fears are created in one's mind.

(21) "Like the reflection of the moon on water, phenomena are not created.
(They) have no essence, have no form, are non-referential, and so
if the way phenomena are is correctly taught as emptiness, (then)
the darkness of samsaric actions (caused) by a deluded mind is dispelled."

Ju Mipham uses the example of the reflection of the moon on water to illustrate in which way phenomena are empty of inherent existence. One could just as well use the examples of a reflection in a mirror or data displayed on a computer; the meaning is the same. Due to various causes and conditions a reflection appears, but it doesn't truly exist. All objects appear in that way. One is immediately liberated from samsara when one has realized the selflessness of a subject and objects and then one needn't carry the burden of conditioned existence any longer. Let's imagine that there is a place on earth where the sun never shone. One can dispel the darkness there with one ray of light. Likewise, suffering in samsara can be eliminated in a flash by realizing the two kinds of selflessness, that of objects and that of a subject.

(22) "This being the case, everything is a magical display of the mind.
(One is) liberated if (one's) mind is liberated; (one is) entangled if (one's) mind is entangled.
There is no liberation in the absence of a mind - no entanglement/liberation, happiness/suffering, Buddhas/ordinary sentient beings."

It certainly isn't easy to appreciate and recognize that all appearances are a magical display of one's mind.  Let's recollect that one is happy when one is together with a friend and upset when one meets somebody one thinks is an enemy. Those persons are only what one thinks they are in dependence upon one's thoughts and ideas and are not really what one thinks they are. One creates them in one's mind and so they are like a magical display of one's own mind. If one realizes this, then it's easy to understand that it also applies to one's entanglement in samsara, which is only created by one's own mind. If one realizes the true nature of one's mind, then one will discover that there is neither enslavement nor liberation. Those states are merely created by one's mind, and therefore there are no ordinary beings nor Buddhas, which are only imputations created by one's own mind in the absence of realization. As long as one hasn't realized the true nature of one's mind, one is ruled by diversity, karma, and so forth, and therefore one needs to respect karma and practice the Dharma.

(23a) "Having examined the jurisdiction of the king of all doings, the mind,
(one finds that) although it is present, (it) isn't established.
If one examines the various ways it manifests without being obstructed,
(one) sees that it is a delusion, like a mirage."

(23b) "Seek the essence of the all-encompassing, knowing mind without pursuing thoughts.
Not finding it while seeking (it)
and (finding that it) is empty
is seeing the way the mirage-like mind is appearance-emptiness."

The term "king" in the first section of this verse is a metaphor. A king makes the rules in his country, where boundaries run, and so forth. Like a king, the mind determines what happens in samsara. As said, if one examines, one will find that everything is a manifestation of one's mind and that one perceives things wrongly. Things are not the way they appear, rather they are illusory, a magical allurement, like an elephant a magician brings forth in his show. I think that there are many magicians in India.

If one seriously looks for one's mind, one will not find that it has a shape or colour. Yet a great variety of manifestations appear and are just like a magical charm. When one sees that the great variety of appearances are projections of one's own mind and in essence empty, then one has understood one's mind's true nature.

(24) "The magic brought forth by (one's) karmic energy-winds
is neither valid nor invalid.
If one rests in this (realization) and looks for the basis of its beginning
(one) discovers that everything arises in the sphere of great light since beginningless time."

(25) "Seeing the essence of the Great Vehicle by means of the special instructions,
the natural state that is not artificially contrived (and that) is free from causal conditions
but arises spontaneously (is seen).
This is self-arisen, primordial wisdom, the great perfection."

Directly seeing the natural state is Dzogchen, the "Great Perfection." As long as one hasn't realized great perfection that is free of mental fabrications and therefore isn't dependent upon causes and conditions, one only sees black letters on this page. Fanned by one's karmic winds, the great variety of appearances manifest. It's impossible to flee and hide from one's own karmic manifestations. Yet, one can remove the basis and source of one's karmic winds so that appearances no longer manifest the way they do. How does one do this? By examining the true nature of the karmic winds and realizing that they don't inherently exist but are illusory. When one realizes the true nature of all things, the ultimate truth, then one directly sees that what one considers a self is actually free of causes and conditions, was not created by anyone, and doesn't exist of its own accord. When one realizes that the essence of one's mind is emptiness, then one will have realized Dzogchen or Mahamudra. These are terms that are only designations for the ultimate truth.

(26) "From the immovable sphere of basic openness, Dharmadhatu,
(the energy-winds) clearly manifest as the eight consciousnesses that
are like reflections in the sky
and shine as the great display of the vast variety of manifestations."

Looking at the basis of the manifold variety of manifestations, one will discover that it is the immovable sphere that is openness. One will realize that - due to dependent arising - the eight kinds of consciousness arise and reflect appearances like a Fata Morgana on the distant horizon. Antelopes in the desert, for instance, run towards a Fata Morgana they see in the desert and never come near the illusory appearance, no matter how fast and long they run. If they knew that their vision is a Fata Morgana, they would stop running and rest instead. The same with us: We think samsaric phenomena are real, do everything in our might to acquire what we think will make us happy, and in the process simply chase after illusory appearances.

(27) "If one doesn't see the essence and clings to it as a self,
one's thoughts continuously reject and accept (things) and (as a result one) roams in samsara.
By seeing the clarity of Dharmata (pure being), clear manifestations are self-liberated and Buddha(hood is) attained."

As said, "sentient beings" and "Buddhas" are mere designations. The basis for separating the one from the other is one's mode of apprehension, just like seeing a Fata Morgana. As a result, one chases after things one wants to have and rejects things one doesn't like. Those who live their lives in such a manner are called "living beings." Those who realize that everything is a mere reflection of their own mind do not crave for things and therefore stop chasing after mistaken apprehensions  they are called "Buddhas."

(28) "Leave no traces behind by chasing after apprehensions that are empty reflections.
Not pursuing thoughts (related to) accepting and rejecting non-existent manifestations,
abide in your own natural state and
enter the heavenly realm of the Dharmakaya."

If one recognizes that a reflection in a mirror is merely a reflection, then one will not crave for or reject it. Likewise, if one realizes that phenomena in samsara are like reflections in a mirror, one will stop being desirous of them and will not reject other things. It's necessary not to follow after thoughts that continuously arise in one's mind and, instead, to abide in a natural state free of mental elaborations. If one succeeds, one can realize the true nature of all things, which is realization of Dharmakaya that Ju Mipham likened to a majestic, heavenly realm.

(29) "Don't hold the demon of thoughts that enslave beings in meaningless conditioned existence as a god or shun it as an evil spirit.
Having abandoned (clinging to) subject and objects, one cannot be benefited or harmed.
Those who have integrated the king of all doings are happy."

In this verse, Ju Mipham described perfection of Mahamudra and Dzogchen practice. Those who have not accomplished this goal should know that the infallible law of cause and result is valid for them and that they are responsible for their own karma. As long as a practitioner has not realized the ultimate goal, it's better to remain attached to existents than to non-existents. The great Pandit Saraha taught that those who cling to existence are reborn in higher realms of samsara, whereas those who cling to non-existence are reborn in lower states. As long as one hasn't realized the true nature of all things, one is in danger of falling into the extreme of annihilation and experiencing a lower rebirth as a result. Therefore, practitioners engage in beneficial activities and give up harming others, aspire to be reborn in higher realms, and fear rebirth in lower states of existence.

Usually, one differentiates between what needs to be adopted and what should be rejected and experiences hopes and fears. An accomplished yogi is free of adopting and rejecting things, doesn't hope to attain any results, and doesn't fear lower states. Such a practitioner doesn't think that a thought that arises is either good or bad, has no more hopes and fears, but lives without any difficulties, called "simplicity" or "free of mental elaborations" in the Mahamudra Tradition. We can only hope and pray that we will attain this realization, too. Until then, I think it's good to have hopes and fears, or not? Let's take the example of a fisherman sitting in his boat and focusing his attention on the birds flying up high instead of on the fish. He can catch neither the birds in the sky nor the fish in the sea and as a result returns home empty-handed. I've also had my doubts and thought the practices are too difficult for me. It's important to be honest with oneself, recognize that one still needs to eliminate impediments and overcome hesitations, practice what is more suitable, and hope to attain Mahamudra in the future.

The next verse in "Opening the Heavenly Gate" is:
(30) "If one hasn't thoroughly examined the mind that creates everything,
then anything one does is the cause of entanglement.
If one has examined the mind and gained control of it,
then one has attained accomplishments and is king over conditioned existence."

If one hasn't examined the mind, then one needs to respect and heed the law of cause and effect, remove hindrances, accumulate merit, and make wishing prayers to attain the state of Vajradhara.  

(31a) "If one doesn't step outside the heavenly realm
then the innumerable playful expressions of conditioned existents manifest as ornaments.
It's not important for a mind that has no reference to hold on to or suppress anything,
since prejudices that caused one to be entangled have been relinquished."

(31b) "Oh! What use is the best life if one hasn't attained great bliss?
One may have attained conditioned happiness,
but how can anyone overcome fear of death
if they haven't thoroughly examined appearances that are based on illusions?"

(32) "Those who are fearless and have an adamantine mind
are lions among men."

"We have all engaged in wholesome activity. Whether this will bring about a vast result or not mainly depends upon dedicating the merit, and so an excellent dedication is very important."  His Holiness the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa, in: Bodhionline, Feb. 2008.


Through this goodness may omniscience be attained
and thereby may every enemy (mental defilement) be overcome.
May beings be liberated from the ocean of samsara
that is troubled by waves of birth, old age, sickness, and death.

By this virtue may I quickly attain the state of Guru Buddha and then
lead every being without exception to that very state!
May precious and supreme Bodhicitta that has not been generated now be so
and may precious Bodhicitta that has already been never decline, but continuously increase!
May the life of the Glorious Lama remain steadfast and firm.
May peace and happiness fully arise for beings as limitless (in number) as space (is vast in its extent).
Having accumulated merit and purified negativities, may I and all living beings without exception
swiftly establish the levels and grounds of Buddhahood.


Photos of His Holiness Gyalwa Karmapa and of His Eminence Jamgon Lama the Fourth, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche to his right, at the Great Kagyü Mönlam in Bodhgaya, India in 2008 courtesy of Khenpo Karma Namgyal. The instructions that Khenpo generously offered were presented at Karma Thegsum Tashi Chöling in Hamburg in Dec. 2007, translated into German by Dr. Klaus-Dieter Mathes and, together with the root text (available as a download with the German translation by Dr. Mathes at Karma Lekshey Ling Institute) translated into English by Gaby Hollmann. Copyright Karma Lekshey Ling in Kathmandu, Karma Theksum Tashi Chöling in Hamburg, and Karma Chang Chub Choephel Ling in Heidelberg, 2008.

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