3. Many People Misunderstand Buddhism


A Dharma Teaching by His Holiness Rimay Gyalten Sogdzin Rinpoche


Section 3


Many People Misunderstand Buddhism

Clarifying with a Buddhist Approach to the Religion



The majestic presence of the glorious Root-Guru, embodiment of all the Buddha's, is the highest peak of a mighty snowy mountain, only the radiant sun of a disciple’s faith and devotion,



Can melt the pristine snow, and cause the holy waters of blessing to flow and a rain of wisdom to fall.

May I always hold in my heart, the pure aspiration, faith and devotion to the Rimay Tradition.


Commentary: The magnificent, snowy mountain penetrating the infinite sky symbolizes the Root-Guru. One’s own faith and devotion are like the rays of the sun that shines upon the snowy mountain. The sun of faith and devotion shining on the glorious Root-Guru gives rise to a spontaneous flow of blessings, an ever increasing treasure. This, in itself, is the main practice. Seeing the Root-Guru as the embodiment of the Buddha is the vital point.  

Many people misunderstand Buddhism. Even some professors of Buddhism studies look at just the words and interpret the Buddha’s teachings literally. They don’t understand his methods, which are the real essence of his teachings. In my opinion, the most important aspect of any religion is its methods, how to put that religion into your own experience. The better you understand that, the more effective your religion becomes. Your practice becomes so natural, so realistic; you can easily come to understand your own nature, your own mind, and you don’t get surprised by whatever you find in it. Then, when you understand the nature of your own mind, you’ll be able to control it naturally; you won’t have to struggle so hard; and the understanding will naturally bring control.

Many people will imagine that control of the mind is some kind of tight, restrictive bondage. Actually, control is a natural state. But you are not going to say that, are you? You are going to say that the mind is uncontrollable by nature, that it is natural for the mind to be uncontrolled. But it’s not! When you realize the nature of your uncontrolled mind, control arises as naturally as your present state of uncontrolled. Moreover, the only way to gain control over our mind is to understand its nature. We can never force our mind, our internal world to change; nor to purify our mind by punishing our self physically or by beating our body. That’s totally impossible. Impurity, sin, negativity or whatever else you want to call it, is totally psychological, a mental phenomenon, so you can’t stop it physically. Purification requires a skilful combination of method and wisdom.

To purify our mind, we don’t have to believe in something or someone special up there—God, or Buddha. Don’t worry about that. When we truly realized the up and down nature of our everyday life, the characteristic nature of our own mental attitude, we’ll automatically want to implement a good solution.

These days, many people are disillusioned with religion; they seemed to think that it doesn’t work. Religion works! It offers fantastic solutions to all our problems. The problem is that people don’t understand the characteristic nature of religion, so they don’t have the will to implement its methods.

Consider the materialistic life. It’s a state of complete agitation and conflict. You can never turn things around to the exact way you want. We can’t just wake up in the morning and decide exactly how we want our day to unfold. Forget about weeks, months, years, or your whole life; you can’t even predetermine one day. If I were to ask you right now if you could get up in the morning and tell exactly how your day was going to go, how you were going to feel each moment, what would you say? There’s no way you can do that, isn’t it?

No matter how much you make yourself materially comfortable, no matter how you arrange your house---you have this, you have that; you put one thing here, you put another there----you can never manipulate your mind in the same way. You can never determine the way you’re going to feel all day. How can you fix your mind like that? How can you say, “Today I’m going to be like this”? I can tell you with absolute certainty, as long as your mind is uncontrolled, agitated and dualistic, there’s no way; it’s impossible. When I say this, I’m not putting you down or criticizing anybody. I am not denying anything either, I’m simply being honest and giving you the facts. I’m just talking about the way the mind works.

What all this goes to show is that, no matter how much we tell our-self, “Oh, this makes me happy, today I’m going to be happy all day long,” it’s impossible to predetermine your life like that. Automatically, your feelings keep changing, changing, changing, etc, etc.... This demonstrates clearly that the materialistic life doesn’t work. However, I don’t mean that you should renounce the worldly life entirely and become an ascetic. Also, I’m not saying that you should give up everything and give me all your belongings. I’m just asking you to think about the long term and develop more bodhicitta. At the same time, if we have enough to share with others, we should always practice generosity. My point is, if we understand spiritual principles correctly and act accordingly, we will find much greater satisfaction and meanings in our life than we will by relying on the sense world alone. The sense world alone cannot satisfy the human mind.

Therefore, the only purpose for the existence of what we call religion is for us to understand the nature of our own psyche, our own mind, and our own feelings. Whatever name we give to our spiritual path, the most important thing is that we get to know our own experiences, our own feelings. Therefore, the Lama’s experience of Buddhism is that, instead of emphasizing the belief itself, it places prime importance on personal experimentation and examination. By putting Dharma methods into action and assessing the effect they have on our minds, we can see whether these methods are effective. The primary method of checking the mind is called meditation.

It’s an individual thing; you can’t generalize. It all comes down to personal understanding, personal experience. If our path is not providing solutions to our problems, answers to our questions, or satisfaction to our mind, we must check our own mind. Especially if we are talking about Vajrayana, this method, or practice of checking our mind is very personal and private, and very powerful.

Perhaps there’s something wrong with our point of view or in our understanding. We can’t necessarily conclude that there’s something wrong with our religion, just because we tried but didn’t work. Different individuals have their own different ideas, views, and understanding of religion, and might have wrong interpretation. Therefore, make sure that the way we understand our religion’s point of view, or spirituality, is correct, and the methods we used are effective and beneficial. If we make the right effort on the basis of right understanding, we will experience deep inner satisfaction. Thus, we’ll prove that satisfaction does not depend on anything from external, and true satisfaction comes from the mind. We are so fortunate to be able to put much effort of body, speech and mind into seeking the inner reality, or our true nature. When we checked out how we have spent most of our life, we can see how fortunate we are, just to have the chance to make this search even once. So fortunate! I’m not making it up! “Oh, you’re so good,” and I’m not trying to make you feel proud or to slack off. It is extremely true. However, to really discover that all human problems, physical and mental, come from attachment is not an easy job. It takes a long time.

You see, too much attachment to our own selfish desires prevents the arising of bodhicitta, which we also call the Mind of Enlightenment. Right view, right meditation, and right action are lost when there is too much grasping and attachment.

The less attachment we have, the more opportunity we get to practice the Dharma properly and effectively. If we are less attached to worldly existence, then we will have the proper renunciation to practice the Dharma and attain full realization. If we are free of selfishness, we will have the mind of enlightenment. When we are free of grasping and attachment, we will naturally practice right view, right meditation and right action. In that way our Dharma Practice will be pure and complete.

For example, if you’re having difficulty at a meditation course, you might start thinking about home: your warm house, your comfortable bed, chocolate cake, and butterscotch ice cream. You remember all these nice things. Then your ego and attachment get to work, “Oh, I don’t know about this course. I’d be better off at home. At least I know I can enjoy myself there.” But we all know what’s going to happen when you get home.

Still, attachment follows our ego’s view, “My bed is so good, I will be so comfortable back home; my family is there, I can relax and do whatever I feel like, I’ll be free. Here I’m not free and I have to try being serious, formal, and try to cross my legs, etc... Anyway, my serious mind doesn’t seem to be functioning, so I might as well just leave.” Our dualistic attachment kicks in, giving us so many ideas in convincing us, until we say, “Yes, yes, yes,” and then we leave. So we went home! And when we’re sitting in our room and look around, we think to our self, “How silly! Nothing’s new here.” So now we regretted and become upset with our self, because we feel we should have stayed in the course since we are interested in meditation, dharma, and spirituality. But now we are even less satisfied. Patience will be helpful in these situations. If we say we are going to do something, then we should do it. Even if we are not in the mood, we should be strong. The benefits will arise later. Sometimes by not doing what we want, later we can do what we like.

There’s no place on earth where we’re guaranteed to find real satisfying enjoyment. Don’t think that Tibet must be a fantastic place, a paradise where everything is full of pleasure. Never! Never! Since dissatisfaction and attachment inevitably come with this body and mind, our samsaric mandala of dissatisfaction accompanies us wherever we go. Even if we leave our own country and go to a cave in the mountains, attachment comes along. We can’t leave it back home. Trying to face our problems is far more worthwhile than trying to run away from them without understanding their root. We’ve been that way before; it’s not a new trip. If we think about it, we will realize that it is more difficult than being patient, generous, gentle, and to put others’ welfare in priority.

Selfishness and confusion; it’s the same old trip. We go, we change, we go, and we change, on and on with that. Our hunger for material wealth and our desire for pleasure will never be satisfied because it concerned only with the individual self and, sadly, neglects other beings. In this life alone, we’ve already taken so many attachment trips. And yet, when looking back, don’t they all seem the same? And did any of them ever bring genuine satisfaction? With effort, everything is possible.

In order to attain the realization of indestructible, everlasting peace, we have to have an indestructible mind for training. We call this state of mind as determination and confidence. Without determination and confidence, nothing will change for the better. Realizations do not come without training our mind to the right way. First we have to create the determination. We say to ourselves, “For such a long time, I have been a servant to the two mental departments of attachment and ego, trying hard to please them. But in fact, they are my greatest enemy, the root of all my problems, the destroyers of my peace and satisfaction.” We have to understand how these two states of mind have occupied and controlled our internal world.

According to Buddha Shakyamuni’s teachings, as long as we don’t realize that our real enemy is within, we will never recognize that the mind of attachment is the root of all the problems our body and mind experience. In essence, all we have to be fear of is our self. All our worries, our depression, everything comes from that. Even though we might occasionally have an hour’s of good concentration, but not until we truly recognized that root of problems, concentration will never last. However, if we can recognize the psychological origin of our problems and understand the nature of attachment, how it works to bring upon the Five Poisons of desire, hatred, jealousy, pride, and ignorance, our mind becomes very powerful. Maybe you’re in a peaceful environment and think, “Oh, I’m so peaceful, my meditation is so good, and I have such good realizations.” But when you’re out shopping in the street or in a supermarket, and when people bumped into you, you just freak out, because you’re not sitting in meditation, but walking around with your mind completely uncontrolled.

If, however, you understand the psychology of attachment and how it lies at the root of your various reactions, you will not freak out so easily and will really be able to control your mind, no matter where you go or who you’re with. Regardless of the situation or condition we are in, we will always remain calm and peaceful and happy. That’s what we call being a yogi. At the same time, we always show the fullness of our bodhicitta and Compassion, and display the warmth of heart that benefits others. You see, this is what we need to develop, in order to really conquer the Five Poisons. Then, I can guarantee that we will have the proper Dharma realizations.

This is not just some philosophical theory either. It is absolutely true, based on real life experience. In fact, not only Buddhism, but all religions recognize the shortcomings of attachment. Even though worldly people talk about its drawbacks, but you know, when we say the words, “Attachment to this, attachment to that,” we don’t really recognize it as the biggest problem on earth. Therefore, what I’m trying to say is, it would be wonderful if you could recognize that your own attachment is the very cause of every single problem that you had experienced. Problems with your husband, wife, children, society, authorities and everybody! Having a bad reputation, your friends not liking you, people talking badly about you, you hate your teacher, your Lama or your priest. All this truly comes from your own attachment. We really have to check on our-selves, be critical of ourselves, and be honest with ourselves! Of course, it is not always easy, but it is worthwhile if we consider the long term or the big picture. You know, it is funny; we don’t like it when other people are selfish, so why do we like it when we are?

As human beings, we usually blame something or someone else when things go wrong. I’m not happy, so I’d better change this situation, or change somebody else. We’re always trying to change the world around us, instead of recognizing that it’s our own attachment that we have to change. We should think the best change we can make is within ourselves. It is our own selfish ideas and desire that we should change. Then, we would definitely make some positive contributions and changes in the world. Just take a simple example, when someone hurts you by telling you that you’re greedy, though you blame that person for your feelings, the hurt actually comes from your own attachment. First of all, other people, perhaps even your parents or your spouse, don’t like your attachment-driven behavior, so they complain, “Oh, you’re so greedy”, this hurts your ego, and because the ego cannot accept that it is ever wrong, the ego gets hurt.

And then, instead of accepting their pointing out of your selfish behavior, your attachment of always being right and being perfect; causes you angrily rejecting whatever they say. The fact that your ego, your wrong mind, your conceptually wrong mind, cannot accept criticism is itself a big problem. Our ego wants us to be right all the time, and our attachment creates its own philosophy, and never listens to advice no matter who gives it. This closes off the mind. It is very important that we learn to deal with these problems in the best possible way.

I hope we have learned something valuable from this teaching.  Remember, if you find something useful, keep it in your mind and always make use of it and apply it in your life. And in the same manner, if there is something that you disagree with or cannot use at this moment, you can throw it out or leave it alone. My personal experience says that this kind of teaching always gives me satisfaction and some special protection.

So may you always have the opportunity to learn more Holy Dharma.

May you always be happy—as you should!

And may the Three Jewels and Three Roots protect you and provide you with whatever you wish for.