Tibetan Buddhism: An Overview


In order to prove that enlightenment is possible, we base our argument on the fact that the nature of the mind is sheer luminosity and awareness. This means that enlightenment is attained, by knowing the true nature of the mind.

If the mental poisons –attachment, hatred and ignorance –were inherent to the nature of the mind, then it would be impossible to counteract them for this would mean that hatred, for example, would be constantly present in us. It would only dissolve when our consciousness dissolved, which clearly is not the case. This proves that the nature of the mind is not sullied by the defects of the poisons and therefore there is nothing to prevent us from eradicating them altogether since they are distinct from primordial consciousness.

Mind has no beginning. Mind cannot be the cause of matter nor can matter be that of mind. The substantial cause of the mind must be pre-existing mind. There is a ‘subtle mind continuum’ that exits that has the ultimate goal of Buddhahood.

The human mind lacks control and is weak. Our ordinary minds are not able to understand the nature of reality. We must shape our minds into instruments that are able to discern reality, like a microscope. We can turn our minds into an effective weapon to cut through to the root of suffering, like a knife.


When the Buddha spoke of the roots of suffering he was also referring to our ‘state of being’ that makes us vulnerable to misery. Our goal is to uproot the sources of discontent in this life and all future lives.

Emotional outbursts can’t be attributed to insignificant outer irritation or sensory deprivation, rather they originate from the mind’s imbalance. It is a harmonious mind that we strive for, so that we can overcome the temporary imbalances that we experience.

We are thrown into conditioned existence by two things: 1) mental distortions and 2) the actions influenced by them. These actions place impressions upon our mindstreams, which in turn generate future rebirths. These impressions influence our rebirths when they are stimulated by mental distortions such as attachment.

In other words, if a person were to have no mental distortions, they would remain latently inactive. Even if we have a huge store of unwholesome imprints, if we free the mind of all distortions, those imprints could not produce karmic results.

Even if our mindstreams were free of karmic impressions, if we were still subject to distortions, we would still be compelled to act in unwholesome ways. That is why it is more essential to get distortions even before the imprints of our tainted actions.


  1. ignorance
  2. hatred
  3. attachment

Ignorance is the root distortion from which hatred and attachment stem. All other mental afflictions derive from these three poisons. (Here it would be a good idea to acquaint ourselves with the 5 Dyhani Buddhas and their antidotes.)


The most common response to suffering is to blame it on something external. Instead, Introspective Contemplation will give us the wisdom needed. Insight into the depths of human nature is essential, along with compassionate concern for others. Since the essential source of all suffering, fear and conflict, is ignorance.


1) A state of unknowing or an absence of clear awareness-- Sensory and mental forms of consciousness arise in a constant state of flux. These are joined by thoughts, inclinations, memories, feelings, etc. All these mental events fluctuate with each moment as they arise and pass away, conditioned by events in the body and the environment, as well as by previous thoughts and emotions. Here we have ‘lack of clear awareness in body, mind and in our environment.’

2) The second form of ignorance is more dynamic, it actively misconstrues events. Here we believe that we are our bodies, consciousness, emotions and thoughts. They are all regarded as “my possessions.” ’I’ coordinate the transitory events of my body and mind. Here we believe that ‘I’ am in control.

We are born with this false sense of ‘I’. (This must be the ego.) The key here is that the false ‘I’ grasps at inner and outer attractive objects, craves them and becomes absorbed in them so that is becomes difficult to disengage attention from them. Attachments, filters out disagreeable qualities from our awareness of the craved object, and accentuates and embellishes the agreeable qualities.

The less supportive an object appears to one’s own well-being, the less attached the one is to it. Hatred filters out the agreeable and enhances the disagreeable. The roots of all discontent are found in the mind-the three poisons control the mind-ignorance, attachment and anger.

By using the Buddha’s teaching as a tool in our quest for truth. We will forge ahead on our path to understanding. There is little room for doubt. Can we freely decide not to have a conceptually and emotionally turbulent mind? Can we make choices free of ignorance, hatred and desire?

We do have the potential but we must have our own direct and personal insights, in order to affect change in our inner being. After all, the fundamental antidote to ignorance is insight. So instead of ignoring or repressing mental distortions, we should instead, develop insight into their nature and functioning

In order to ascertain these mental events it is necessary to cease identifying with them. Inspect them carefully and observe their effects on us. Note the manner in which they disappear from one’s consciousness. These patterns and distortions are not innate qualities of the mind.

We must develop discriminating alertness. We can have compassion for ourselves and clearly realize that the source of disharmony is not our essential identity. Then, we can begin to heal ourselves and heal the world.


What is the relationship between our behavior in this life and our future existences? The Buddha observed relationships that exist from one life to another by using his own mind as a research instrument, finely honed by Contemplative Discipline.

Karma means action and it refers specifically to intention. Intention, (the intention itself and the intended action), is a mental factor that directs one’s awareness to a given object or a given activity.

Whenever we engage in intentional activities of body, speech and mind, whether wholesome or unwholesome, impressions are placed upon our mindstreams. They are like seeds or potencies and are called karma. In certain situations, these seeds act as propulsive karma. This karma is imprinted upon the subtle mindstream that carries on after death. When it is stimulated by an appropriate catalyst, it propels one into another rebirth. As the seed bears fruit, it is fully ripened into a type of life-form that reflects this seed-potential.

The karmic results are from both behavioral and environmental causes. Behavioral results refer to patterns created in one life that carry over into the next. For instance, habitual ways of responding to life’s circumstances, ie. , attachment, hostility, equanimity or anxiety. These positive or negative behaviors can be accentuated and built upon from one lifetime into another.

Environmental results of karma follow the principle that what we put out into the world comes back to us. As we have sown, so shall we reap. When a human dies and is propelled into rebirth, it is not the former human being who dwells in the new body. The subtle mindstream that departs at death is not a human consciousness. That ‘I’ that was designated on your present body and mind, vanishes. This continuum of awareness is now able to join with a new human life. It is like when a candle burns out and a new candle is lit. It is really a transfer of energy and not the same candle. It is the heat of desire that re-embodies. Our passionate desire for survival is heat. It is simply a transfer of energy.

When asked, ‘what happens to enlightened beings after they pass on?’, the Buddha had the questioner build a fire and then add sticks to the fire in order to keep it burning, and then stop adding sticks and the flame went out. The heat was no longer compelling them to re-embody, but they had a choice to re-embody, through their Great Compassion for all sentient beings.

Karma is our Judge. We need to have recourse to our inner judge.


Buddhism states that man can become his own master. This is the goal-to reach self-mastery. Mind is the creator of our world, in every moment. That is why responsibility is so crucially connected with our mind.


I am the owner of my karma, everything else is on loan. We can only take karma with us. We bring tendencies with us that create our opportunities. The choice us ours, constantly, every single moment.


If we don’t watch every karma-making moment, it is going to get on the credit side. Mind moments and choice moments always have possible karma-making in them.


The more profitable and skillful our choices, the more opportunities we have. Each mind-moment has to be watched. Total attention to every moment is necessary. The past is like a dream and the future 'is not yet come.'

In the book, “Being Nobody and Going Nowwhere,” Ayya Khema desribes karma as a moment-to-moment experience: The Buddha said, “Kamma, O monks, I declare, is intention.’ It is not just any action but the intention behind it. Intention is not only what we do, but what we think and speak.

What we intend brings results and our actions are caused by what we think about them first. So our thinking is one facet that must be watched most carefully. This is what we try to learn through meditation. Unless we get to know our thinking process, we won’t make good karma, and we won’t know our intentions behind our actions.

We get exactly what we deserve. It is not an accident nor is it chaotic. Everything acts according to a pattern.

Karma is impartial, it doesn’t have preferences. We bring certain tendencies from past lives, yet most of the things that happen to us are a result of actions in this life and the results are right here and now. We can make the connections. What skilful and profitable actions have we taken and what are the results? They show in our abilities, our health our strength and our character. The only thing of interest is now. Everything else is a dream-world, never being totally awake, there is no joy in that. We can only be alive now. But we must be totally aware of our intentions.


What hasn’t been created by thought doesn’t exist. Thought is the underlying cause for all of our karma. The three doors-thought, speech and action, are the ways we contact the world. We acknowledge a certain higher state of being—Buddhism is an experience—The basic approach to Buddhism is similar to a scientific approach. One is in accord with known facts.


The Buddha attained total purification of his mind, speech and body. It was through his own efforts that he became a Buddha. After reaching complete enlightenment, he gave us teachings with the goal to liberate all living beings from suffering. He taught the path of cause and effect. He taught that our future is in our own hands, not in the hands of God or Buddha.


We take take refuge in the three Jewels-(Buddha, Dharma, Sangha) accept the Four Seals characterizing any doctrine as Buddhist.

4 Seals:

  1. All composite phenomena are impermanent
  2. All conditioned phenomena are by nature, unsatisfactory
  3. All phenomena are empty of self-existence
  4. Nirvana is true peace

4 Antidotes for negative actions:

  1. power of regret
  2. power of purification
  3. power of resolve
  4. supreme power of meditation

Why Meditate?

The Dalai Lama says, ‘We need to face life with a positive, balanced spirit. The mind is simply clarity and awareness. With gradual training, all of its qualities blossom. Even if you only spend a short time everyday, it will be very nourishing and you will lose the habit of being scattered.’


Profound darkness or “fundamental ignorance” lies at the root of suffering. Slowly we transform the mind. Anger, attachment, ignorance and pride must be fought as a battle within with the weapons of wisdom and meditative concentration. We need to learn peace of mind and tolerance


The practice of Great Compassion. Sustained and continuous effort is extremely important! Through the vigor of applying compassionate methods, There are no thoughts in the Buddha’s mind. He plants the root of well-being in people’s hearts. He can perceive the personal capacity of every being. He knows their past lives, when they will die and how they will be reborn, according to their karma. His mind is never separate from Reality.

The Dalai Lama’s prescription for peace of mind is:

  • A good diet
  • Refraining from excessive desires
  • Meditation

And To Question Ourselves:

  • Who am I?
  • What is the nature of my mind?
  • What can I gain from harmful thoughts?

According to the Dalai Lama, every human being has the same potential. To feel “I am” worthless is wrong. We are lazy and hide behind numerous activity, which vibrate at a coarser level of the mind Happiness is related to the way we think. ‘If we do not train our minds and if we do not reflect on life, it is impossible to find happiness’.

He continues, ‘Love and compassion are fundamental. Love based on attachment mainly involves projection. Anyone who feels overwhelmed, has no power over reality! Knowing how to accept blows dealt by fate means never giving up!’

Find yourself behind your thoughts and rest there.’

‘Deep within a human being abides the wisdom that can support him in the face of negative situations .

‘We experience suffering more often than pleasure. If a situation cannot be changed, there is no point in worrying about it. If it can than change it.’


Our deepest fears have been produced by our past actions. Depending upon whether the object of your fear is emotional suffering or physical pain, examine it well and ask yourself whether there is any remedy for it. If there is nothing you can do, don't worry about it. Look for the person who is afraid. Look at the nature of yourself, where is it? Who is it that says I? What is the nature of this self?


Moderation in all things. Be mindful that you do not fall into negative states of mind. Put half your energy on inner affairs and the other half on outer affairs.

The Dalai Lama envisions a “lay spirituality” comprised of secular ethics. He feels that if more people believed in the law of karma, we would never need a police force or peace treatise.

His Goal: “We stand at the dawn of a new age, where concepts and extremist dogmas no longer dominate our affairs. We should replace them with spiritual and human values and ensure that these values become the fabric of the great human family that is beginning to emerge.”

He continues, ‘Without qualities such as faith, compassion and kindness, we cannot survive. They are essential to our own peace and mental stability…’If we attain our efforts through violence, it is only at the expense of another persons well-being.’

SAMSARA- The wheel of suffering we call Life. The cycle of existence conditioned by karma.

NIRVANA is the state of being free from this cycle of rebirth.

DHARMA- A way of life and practice that can be relevant and useful to everyone. Understanding and behavior that lead to the elimination of suffering. It tells us how to experience a lasting state of happiness by freeing us from suffering. Dharma and motivation leads to fulfillment. It is very good to meditate but it is even better to practice dharma. Give up attachment to this life and let your mind become dharma. Dharma depends solely upon one’s motivation. No longer shall we let the eight worldly concerns dominate our lives.


  • Gain and loss
  • Pleasure and pain
  • Praise and blame
  • Fame and disgrace

We must discern our intentions. Are we practicing for the sake of relieving the suffering of mankind? Or are we practicing in order to achieve one of these eight worldly concerns? All if this affects us internally—we strive to provide well-being for us and for others. Strive to serve others.


We want to overcome the distortions of our mind and cultivate wholesome qualities such as kindness, insight, mindfulness and concentration. Soon Dharma will become our minds.

Cultivate the mind like a crop. Like a good crop, it requires time and patience. We look for serenity and good cheer and an awareness that maintains equalibrium in good times and in bad, alike. It is an attitude of calm cheerfulness and a sense of well-being that is not reduced by pleasure or adversity.


Joy arises from the mind and ultimate joy, arises from a mind free of suffering, distortion and obscuration. Meditation does not eliminate the causes of suffering, but the insight helps us to tune into them.

The path of Dharma requires conscious skillful effort. Without Dharma, each one’s continuous behavior seems to continue without end, moving from one dissatisfaction to the next. The goal then, is to escape Samsara, an inner condition, by the conscious effort of freeing ourselves from the mental afflictions of attachment, confusion and hatred. When we banish fear, anxiety and pain, we will reach Liberation or Nirvana, a condition where we no longer are stuck in the wheel of re-birth.

We cultivate a ‘spirit if emergence’ when we meditate on the truth of suffering as it applies to ourselves. As our insight into the truth of suffering deepens we begin to cultivate compassion for those who are subject to this suffering. Joy arises from the mind. It does not have its source in any other stimuli. Ultimate joy arises from a mind that is free of suffering, distortion and obscuration


The contemplative science inspired by Buddhism in exploring the nature of the mind and its afflictions is designed to provide us with an Inner transformation. It is this inner transformation that will bring peace in the world. The Dalai Lama says, ‘We have to contend with the powerful depths of human nature- Which is made of goodness and generosity.’

To fully realize the Buddha’s teaching, one must embrace a healthy questioning attitude for himself to prove or disprove his findings. But in order to do this one must also have faith. It is wise to follow our own intuitive wisdom in order to affirm what our reason tells us.

In Buddhism, both reason and faith are crucial as the Buddha himself instructs:

The wise take faith and intelligence
For the security in life
These are their finest wealth
That other wealth is just commonplace

The Buddha seed is in all of us. This seed is true goodness and generosity. It is our goal to germinate this seed by awakening ourselves lifetime after lifetime through contemplating on the truth of our inner being.

by Jeanne M. House

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