His Eminence Tokden Rinpoche gave the teaching on the "Essence of Dharma" on 26 and 27 May 2018 in Gaden Shartse Dro-Phen Ling, Singapore. I would like to share his teaching here.
The below are my own notes transcribed during Rinpoche's teachings and if there are any mistakes, they are due to the ignorance on my own side.
The essence of Dharma is the three principles of the path: renunciation, bodhicitta and wisdom. The best and most important is bodhicitta. Whether you are practising sutra or tantra, bodhicitta must be your main guide. This is the backbone of Mahayana teaching. Avoid causing harm to sentient beings. Bodhicitta makes your mind more kind and noble. Your transformation in this human life will make your life meaningful.
The most kind mind is bodhicitta, extracting the essence of Dharma. All of us do not wish for suffering. We experience physical and mental suffering. When we experience this, we have to ask why. Where do those things come from? These are due to our afflictions.... jealousy, pride, ego, those activities we do which create negative karma. We should change from the negative to a positive mind. A noble mind results in positive karma, both physically and mentally. Then once you have extracted the essence of Dharma, know that we have afflictions, and think if we can remove them. Recognise that they are only incidental and that they can actually be removed. The nature of the mind is not polluted. So now when we have obtained the precious human rebirth in this life, we meet the gurus... now is the time to take the essence of Dharma into practice. We find that we are constantly engaging in worldly activities. It is like the beard, we keep shaving yet it keeps growing. So the thing for us is we must be aware of that and be conscious of engaging in worldly activities.
Know the meaning of Dharma and that it is important to practise. The Lamas and the great masters say it is the entry into the path and the Dharma is your guide. When you are walking in the path, you will need someone as your guide. You need something to sustain you. The path is a very long road. We need the Dharma and it is our provision along this path. In order to reach the goal, it is true there are many worldly activities which we have to take care of. But we must also think about the next life. Will this activity help me in my next life? Will this activity contribute to my enlightenment? If there is no future life then you can be excused. It all depends on us. If we practise positively then the result will come. As you go along in daily life, keep this in mind what you will bring to the future.
All sentient beings wish for happiness. They do not want suffering. When you achieve the complete state of perfect happiness, there is no other attainment, which means there will be total freedom from suffering. This is ultimately the state of Buddhahood which is established by causes and conditions. The state of Buddhahood does not come just like that. There is a lot of effort but we must follow the path that leads to Enlightenment. This includes training in the small, middle and great scope. We must have training in both sutra and tantra. We must practise tantra. The path is very important. The next question is which path? What is the essence of the path?
Yesterday we talked about the essence. We must generate a kind mind which is bodhicitta. Besides bodhicitta, in order to achieve the state of Enlightenment which is beyond great compassion, you need the 3 principles of the path. One of the 3 principles is Renunciation - the wish to leave samsara. We must examine the faults and shortcomings of samsara in a structured manner. Lama Tsongkhapa's method is to contemplate and to remind ourselves of death and impermanence. We need to reflect on this preoccupation of this life. So that we can overcome attachment in our future life.
It is important to generate renunciation. We must train in renunciation in order to overcome attachment to this life and to overcome attachment to future life. At the same time, we should remember death and impermanence. The first step of how to do this is to value our precious human rebirth. Recognize that the precious human rebirth is so valuable, like a gem. Unless you recognise it is a gem, you might not treat it as a gem. Likewise, once you know the essence, you would want to extract the essence. This comes with a full set of the 18 qualities; the 8 freedoms and 10 endowments.
To have these 18 qualities, you have to consider what a fortunate situation this precious human rebirth is. That state is not achieved unless we train in the mind of renunciation. This life of a precious rebirth means we have the ability to achieve ultimate goals by practicing. Train well in the common path with sutra and tantra, and this precious human rebirth has the potential to bring about one's enlightenment within one lifetime. We have the 6 elements which make up our physical basis for practising tantra and to reach Buddhahood within one lifetime. There are many great practitioners who actualized Buddhahood in one lifetime, such as the great master Milerapa, and great practitioners like Lobsang Dodrup. How did they achieve that? They have a body just like us. They have achieved the type of rebirth that we have. What was exceptional was the amount of effort, determination and practice that they did. We are not lacking the body, we are not lacking the opportunity. What we are lacking in, is the effort.
The 3 conditions for a precious human rebirth are:
1. Immaculate morality
2. Practice of 6 perfections
3. Stainless prayers
The truth is we have found the precious human rebirth now. We must have worked very hard in our previous life due to these necessary causes for a human rebirth. What will happen from now if we do not practise well? Recognise the result you have established in the previous life. The state you have now is due to the kindness of your past life. Once you understand this, you will want to extract the essence.
Then the next thought is we should begin practice today. We must remember death and impermanence. Death is certain but actual day of death is uncertain. Death can happen anytime. No one escapes death. Even the Buddha dies. All of us have to die. Every being born will die. Depending on what practice we did in our previous life, it will determine what we practise in this life. At the time of death depends on the karma we created at the end of life. If we had created good karma then we will have good rebirth. We do not want negative karma. At the end of life, status and fame will be of no benefit to you. Whatever happens, your experience of suffering is yours alone. It is not transferable. We should create as many good imprints in our mind as much as possible. Wherever we go, we will carry with us these imprints. By considering death, we must practice the Dharma now. We must try to make this life as positive as much as possible. Keep in mind we want a good rebirth and we want enlightenment.
How do we achieve this? To work towards enlightenment, the first we need is a good rebirth. Through causes and conditions, we need more virtues than non-virtues. Do your best to establish virtues through the 4 antidotes. We must take refuge in the 3 jewels. We must engage in the training, understand what should be done and what should be abandoned. We are talking about the law of cause and effect. How rare it is to get this life. It is important to arrive at our death, with as much virtues as possible.
By observing these we can be sure of a human rebirth. However, even if we have this human rebirth, we are still in samsara. There is no pleasure at all in samsara. We have to contemplate on the 3 types of suffering......
1. Suffering of suffering.
2. Suffering of change.
3. All pervasive suffering.
Aggregates are created through karma and afflictions. As long as we have our aggregates, we are carrying a very heavy load. They are the nature of suffering in this life and also suffering in the next life. Only you can rid of it and be free from that suffering. By considering the third type of suffering – pervasive suffering – renunciation becomes the essence of the path.
Lastly the third principle of the path is correct view, which means the understanding of emptiness. What is the mechanism? It is karma and affliction. The root of it comes from ignorance and grasping at self. Basically, it is a misunderstanding merely imputed by the mind. We think they exist by itself. We see them established in their own side. Thus, it is very important that we engage in training. The 3 higher types of training are:
1. Higher training in Pure Morality
2. Higher training in Concentration
3. Higher training in Wisdom
Emptiness can destroy the root of suffering. Training is important. Recognise that emptiness is important, and that the object is established from its own side. The self does not inherently exist. As long as we do not recognise this, we will remain in cyclic existence. Thus, it is important to realise emptiness.