May bodhicitta, precious and sublime, arise where it has not yet come to be. Where it has arisen may it never fail, but grow and flourish more and more.
Unbroken lineages of wisdom traditions are rare in these times, and Kongtrul Rinpoche descends from a pure lineage of the Dzogpa Chenpo Longchen Nyingtik tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.
We have two main study and practice centers in America: Phuntsok Choling in Colorado and Pema Osel in Vermont. Rinpoche teaches the core MSB programs at these two centers. In addition, MSB has several city centers or groups around the world where people gather for group meditation and study, and to listen to the LINK teachings together.
Browse to any of the calendars to find out more about the teaching schedules of Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, Dungse Jampal Norbu, or Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel. View the upcoming events at Phuntsok Choling, Pema Osel, or find out who is giving the next LINK talk.
MSB is a part of the Longchen Nyingtik and Khyen-Kong-Chok-Sum lineages. (Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, and Terton Chokgyur Lingpa, collectively known as Khyen-Kong-Chok-Sum, were the heart of the Rimé, or nonsectarian, movement, which did so much to preserve and harmonize all schools of Tibetan Buddhism in the nineteenth century.)
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All sentient beings want to feel bliss and not to feel pain. But at the same time, we’re duped by our habitual, deep mental fog. Sadly, we don’t have the agency to discern very sensitively what causes us to suffer. If we want to walk north but somehow end up walking south, our mental capacity isn’t functioning very well. If we want to go to north, we should be walking north. Why would we head in the opposite direction unless something is wrong?
The Tibetan word for this deep mental fog is timuk, and muk means fog. It’s not an emotion in its own right, but it actually makes up all the other emotions. Timuk is the root of anger. Timuk is the basis of jealousy. Timuk is the essence of attachment—not its ultimate essence but its temporal, ignorant aspect. Timuk is pervasive and causes us to get confused in situations when we need to respond but don’t know how. Like a blind person in the middle of a busy intersection, we sense danger and realize we could be hit at any minute. But because we’re blind, we don’t know what to do and feel very vulnerable. We’re unable to see how to navigate in the situation, whether to go as fast as possible to the other side of the street or backward to where we started. It’s not a pleasant experience.
So timuk causes us to suffer and is the base and the essence of disturbing emotions. Because our timuk is so strong and pervasive in our mind, confronting it directly can be painful. The Dharma gives us the eyes to discern how to respond, what to do, and how to meet our intention with our action. If we do not have that intention, if we just love indulgence, then Dharma has no use for us. This is what most people choose to do since they love to indulge. It’s true in our own sangha and even in our larger Buddhist sangha, where there’s knowledge of the Dharma and how to practice it seriously and take it personally into our own mind stream to change and transform our minds. But when there’s a love of indulgence, the Dharma becomes just intellectual knowledge rather than personal.
For example, some Dharma students love to win. They value the feeling of being right more than they value having peace in their mind and heart. This makes them very defensive or angry when somebody challenges their point of view, and they aren’t open to considering what taking this stand does. Very often their attitude leads to disputes that cause conflict and alienation. This is not the fault of the Dharma. It’s the fault of the individuals who say they intend to take the Dharma seriously and to transform their minds, but actually they prefer to be lazy when it comes to doing the work of taking the Dharma into their mind. It’s easier to be lazy and just stay with the old pain and carry on with what they know, not thinking that there’s anything wrong with that.
Something that creates pain is called a poison, which consumes us in pain. Experiencing those painful states thickens the veil that makes it harder for us to see the truth. Truth reveals itself in the peace and equilibrium of the nondual emptiness of the Dharma. But when we get caught up in the dualistic mind, delusion consumes us. It reinforces the tendency to view the world as real. Even meditators who have developed some sense of nondual equilibrium, peace, and emptiness of self can get caught up in dualism and strong emotions, and want to make their case against others and win arguments. Their attachment to that view takes priority over emptiness, equilibrium, and a peaceful mind.
How the Poison of Timuk Perpetuates Suffering
First, when we’re consumed by negative or poisonous emotions, the veil that obscures the truth becomes even thicker. It obscures even the absolute truth. His Holiness the Dalai Lama cites a famous psychologist who said that when we get angry, 99.9 percent of what we experience is actually our own projection. With such projections, not only do we lose touch with the relative truth, we also lose touch with the absolute truth of emptiness and with the equilibrium and peace that emptiness brings to our mind. So that’s the second thing the poison does.
The third thing the poison does is perpetuate itself. Anger perpetuates anger. Attachment perpetuates attachment. Jealousy perpetuates jealousy. Envy perpetuates envy, and arrogance perpetuates arrogance. Impatience generates more impatience. A poison strengthens itself, becoming dominant in our mind stream, and that’s very dangerous because it pushes positive states out of our mind. The point of being a Dharma student is to rid ourselves of the deep attachments that rob us of our freedom. Once we had no concerns, but now we’re full of concern. Once we had no paranoia, but now we have a lot of paranoia. We’re talking about attachments to things that we’ve struggled to gather in this life, like family, wealth, name, status, security, and friendships. But to serve us fully, these things have to serve us in our mind stream, in our being. If having these things only makes us more insecure, paranoid, fearful, and in bondage, how are they serving us? As practitioners, we must at least ask ourselves that question. And if we find they’re not serving us, it’s not about getting rid of them. It’s about reducing our attachment to them so that our mind stream is flowing purely, gently, with poise, and with the wisdom that guides us to relate more cleanly with the world.
Therefore, it is very helpful for us as bodhisattvas to dedicate our body, possessions, and merit to the benefit of all beings and to make huge prayers to have a positive effect on the larger world and on all mother sentient beings. People often think attachment comes first, but it’s deep mental fog that comes first. We have no reason to get angry if we’re not attached to something, and we have no reason to get attached to anything if we don’t have a deep mental fog. So, the root poison is this deep mental fog, and attachments arise because of it. These attachments are all interrelated and are always “cooking” inside of us like a stew brewing inside our mind. It’s very sad to lose this precious human birth because we’re constantly stewing in these negative, afflictive emotions, ruining our own peace and joy to be on this earth.
The fourth thing this root poison does is to create karma, which causes us to be reborn in samsara. Positive karma brings rebirth in the higher realms, and negative karma brings rebirth in the lower realms. Either way, there will be payback in the future for what’s cooking in our minds right now.
Another analogy is that we’re all sowing seeds, cultivating a garden, and planting different beautiful plants. We know that unwanted weeds may grow and that we’ll eventually have to pay attention to the weeds. Unless we pull them out, we won’t have the garden we want. Like gardeners, practitioners who want to make bodhicitta pure and clean need to remove all the “weeds” that grow inside, so benefit to the self and others will follow. Otherwise, if bodhicitta gets mixed in with all these weeds, it’s difficult to feel the power and peace of bodhicitta and a deep sense of liberation. The practitioner’s work starts with being very honest with ourselves while seeing our efforts very joyously.
Conquering Timuk with Honest Self-Reflection and Bodhicitta
People have a lot of resistance to seeing themselves honestly. But the point of being a Dharma practitioner is to joyfully and universally look at ourselves. To look at ourselves universally means to see that everyone is like us. No matter who they seem to be on the outside, like us, they could still be miserable inside. Learning to confront ourselves universally also means not taking things so personally. The work that we have to do personally is the work we have to do universally. That’s how one gets enlightened.
It’s not that we alone have to get enlightened and others are exempt because they don’t have these problems. Every sentient being has problems with negative emotions like anger, jealousy, and pride. So, we shouldn’t take it personally if we see lots of anger in ourselves. Instead, we must figure out how we can do the work that will get us out of the state of anger. If we find we have a lot of attachments, we shouldn’t be surprised. We must focus on how to get rid of those attachments and negative emotions without being hard on ourselves.
Those are the four things that make timuk. First, it consumes us in suffering. Second, it thickens our obscurations. Third, it propagates itself to be more dominant in our mind stream, and fourth, it creates karma that causes rebirth in the suffering of samsara. That’s why the Buddha and all the sages of all traditions say that getting free from those will make it possible to find peace, tranquility, and the great state of nirvana.
So, instead of claiming to be practitioners, we should check to see how much we’re cooking those negative feelings inside or how much we’re really free from them. And if we confirm that we are free of them, we can say we’re great practitioners. One master said that whether we have eaten nourishing food or not will show in our face. So, if we have a face like that of His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, who’s always smiling, always joyous, always so curious and open to engage with the world, and so contented with himself, then we’ll know that the blessing of the Dharma has entered into our mind stream.
Bodhicitta is the way to get that done. In that sense bodhicitta is a medicine. It’s medicine that we only find in the teachings of bodhicitta, which provide a single point to relate with our habitual self. To have bodhicitta, we don’t have to attain a state of emptiness of the self. We only have to acknowledge that we’re no different from others. In any respectable judicial system, no matter how much we think we’re in the right, we also have to respect that the court is not going to be as biased to us as we are biased to ourselves. There has to be neutral ground for the judges and the juries to understand the case based on all parties who are in conflict. Both the defender and the prosecutor should have equal rights. Bodhicitta is like that. Just as we wish to be happy, so all sentient beings wish to be happy. Just as we long to be free from pain, so all sentient beings long to be free from pain.
Because we think we deserve to be in the state of happiness and free from pain, we think that’s our right. All sentient beings have the same rights, which is a universal, natural law. The question is, who respects it? If we inflict pain on others in favor of our own happiness, how could that ever be justified by the universal law of karma? We must respect that—just like us—all beings deserve to be happy and to resolve not to do wrong just to gain advantage for ourselves. We must resolve to do right for the sake of what’s right, without harming or taking advantage of others. This is the Hinayana discipline.
On top of that is the Mahayana discipline. Beyond not harming others, we try to assist and add to their happiness because ultimately, we see that focusing only on ourselves has no great advantage. We understand that expanding ourselves to include others—first our family members, then our friends, our relatives, our community, citizens of our country, the human race, and, ultimately, all sentient beings—allows us to revolt against our old habit of only caring for ourselves. If we don’t extend ourselves to all sentient beings, we’re still keeping a boundary that is unhealthy because it is fundamentally based on ourselves. Saying, “I’m a human being; therefore, the human race is the most important and other beings are not as important,” is egocentric.
Challenging the Limits of Ego by Cultivating Bodhicitta
How could an egocentric approach allow us to extend universal love and care? That may be the only way we know how to operate, but in the end, we have to transcend it for our loving care to become immeasurable. Until it becomes immeasurable, it’s biased, and that bias poisons the natural law, which is to respect all lives, all sentient beings who desire happiness and have the right to be happy. That immeasurable, universal love and care is what will make us extraordinary human beings. Even universal monarchs like the Brahmans in India are not extraordinary human beings; they care only for their own subjects. But bodhicitta transcends such limits and extends love to all beings. This is what we should value, wish for, and hold deeply in our heart—to acknowledge and respect the rights of all beings. When we extend ourselves to living beings, we should acknowledge our own wish and right to be respected, and always hold deeply in our heart their equal right and wish to be respected and acknowledged.
But then, even when we extend only to ourselves, which we do all the time, we realize it’s very hard. We realize that we can manage only small things for ourselves and for this life, and even that is difficult. When we try to achieve what we want to achieve, we encounter so many problems and troubles, and lots of cooking in the afflictive emotions. That’s because we start with a poisonous root. If our mind stream continues to be poisonous, it will affect us in negative ways, and the outcome will be small. We will not have much deep mental peace, nor will we have anything to carry into the next life. We’ll leave everything behind—our name, fame, wealth, everything—and we’ll be forgotten, just as everyone who passes from this world is eventually forgotten. Many great beings who have had important roles in the world have been forgotten within a year. We, too, will be forgotten. We won’t be remembered by anybody because that’s the nature of the path we chose.
But if we take the path of bodhicitta and do not exclude the rights and the wishes of all sentient beings, if we regard their rights and wishes just as we regard our own and do anything and everything to enhance their well-being, then our heart will be purified over and over. Our mind will be purified over and over. And that is what we will take with us—a purified mind and a purified heart. There’s nothing of greater value than the purified mind and heart, which give rise to the peace of cessation. We will carry that merit and peace, and they will support us in the next life, and the next, and the next. They will support us until we are completely free from the suffering of samsara and become fully enlightened like the Buddha Shakyamuni.
Cultivating the Merit to Support Our Aspirations
So why wouldn’t we want to choose the path that is the most advantageous to us, that offers us the possibility to grow and reap great benefits for ourselves and others, benefits that never leave us, that will always follow us? People are so confused about what sonam, or merit is, but if we have merit, all our wishes will come true. What propels all our wishes to come true is not labor or intelligence. If it were only labor, the coolies in India would be yielding the most benefits because they work hard twelve hours a day. If it were simply a matter of being smart, all the smart people that graduate from Harvard and Oxford and all of those Ivy League schools would have all their wishes coming true. No. Some of it depends on hard work and intelligence, but mostly it depends on our own merit.
There’s a story about the Fifth Dalai Lama having sent one of his ministers to troubled places to manage affairs of state. One particular minister was very intelligent, the most intelligent among his cabinet, and also a very diligent and vigorous worker. The Dalai Lama and his cabinet all cherished him, yet whenever the minister was sent to complete a job, he wasn’t able to get much work done. This led the Fifth Dalai Lama to ask, “Why isn’t my most intelligent and hardest-working minister able to finish this work?” So, he sent another minister who was less intelligent, less diligent, and less vigorous. Wherever he went, this minister completed all the jobs with ease. This puzzled the cabinet members, but the Dalai Lama said it was because this man had more sonam behind him, which is what gets all the work done. The other minister who lacked sonam wasn’t able to succeed.
People who are honest and humble and willing to tell the truth will admit that a greater force is helping them to accomplish all they’re able to do. It’s not only them. They know that other people who may be much more capable and smarter somehow lack the positive energy that enables them to get things done. Bodhicitta and sonam will carry us through this life to the next life, and the next, purifying all we need to purify until we attain enlightenment. Bodhicitta will enable us to feel the deep sense of equality, peace, universal love, and nondual care that make our lives peaceful and joyous. And with bodhicitta inside, there are no impediments that we cannot overcome.
It’s not like bodhisattvas don’t encounter people who hate them. Historically, bodhisattvas have always faced challenges. For example, some people oppose His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, like the Chinese Communist Party. America and Europe are afraid of China’s growing power, and the whole world is getting a little nervous about it. But His Holiness is not afraid. The Chinese Communist Party is not able to do anything to suppress the Dalai Lama or his support of non-violence, peace, and the Middle Way, and his initiatives to have a dialogue with China on behalf of Tibet. Ever since he left Tibet, Tibet has only grown more powerful, more prominent on the world stage, and gained more recognition from all the governments of the world, including a lot of Chinese intellectuals and educated people there.
The Chinese government is afraid of His Holiness because of his bodhicitta. He doesn’t harbor any ill thoughts and feels only compassion for their regime’s wrongdoings and how they’re hurting themselves in this life and in the next. So, if we work seriously with our own bodhicitta, we will have no internal impediments. And even if some mysterious external force rises against us, in the end, with the power of bodhicitta, we will be able to overcome that force as well. The power of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s bodhicitta clearly shows the truth of this.
In a nutshell, enlightenment is a state we attain when we have purified all obscurations and allow this great potential to blossom fully. It’s available to us and is there to support us. It gives us the power and strength to benefit ourselves and enables us to benefit all other living beings, just as the earth and the elements support and help humankind. We have the potential to be greater even than the elements, which only support us in a temporal manner. But as enlightened beings, we could help others to find their own enlightenment. To have a wish to be enlightened is the highest of all aspirations. Among living beings, humans are supposedly capable of having the highest aspirations, and there is no higher aspiration than the wish to attain the state of enlightenment for the benefit of the self and all sentient beings.
Excerpt from talk 1, Brazil Shedra, 2022.