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Explanation of Atisha's Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment

Alexander Berzin
Prague, Czech Republic, January 2003

Session One: The Initial Scope

Unedited Transcript
Listen to the audio version of this page (0:46 hours)

This text was written by Atisha, a great Indian master who lived about a thousand years ago. He had studied in Indonesia, the island of Sumatra; he’d made a long journey there, a very difficult journey. Buddhism had spread there long before and he went there particularly to get the teachings on compassion and bodhichitta and these type of topics from this famous master who lived there. Those teachings were not so strong in India at that time, so some of those lineages he brought back.

He was at one of the great Indian monasteries in north India, Vikramashila. And he was invited by the king of western Tibet to come to Tibet because there was a lot of confusion about Buddhism at the time and they wanted him to help to revive it. There are various versions of the history: there’s the so-called pious Buddhist version of it, the holy Buddhist version; then there’s a more historical version of what actually took place:

There had been a repression of Buddhism about a hundred and fifty years earlier, but actually it was a movement against the monasteries there and the excessive policy of the previous king. This previous king had assigned many houses and villages to support the monasteries and to support the monks and no money was coming into the government and so this was a problem. He was a bit of a religious fanatic. And so his brother assassinated him and took the throne – this was the infamous king Langdarma.

And he closed the monasteries, but he didn’t destroy them and he didn’t kill all the monks or anything like that, so libraries were still very much intact when Atisha came. But, in any case, what happened was that there weren’t great centers of learning, and so over the years after the empire of Tibet broke apart and so on, then the people no longer really understood terribly much about the teachings. That was the situation. And they had some very strange ideas about what Buddhist practice was, taking many things in the teachings, particularly concerning tantra, very literally in a way that it was never quite intended.

So it was at this time that a king in western Tibet, Yeshey-wo, decided to invite translators and sent people down to India to learn the languages and eventually he invited Atisha. There’s a long story in the Buddhist histories of the sacrifice of King Yeshey-wo in order to bring Atisha to Tibet. From a historical point of view, it seems quite doubtful that that actually occurred; but it doesn’t really matter. In any case he got to Tibet through a great deal of hardship, particularly by one of the next kings, the nephew of Yeshey-wo called Jangchub-wo; that’s the disciple mentioned in the text.

And he stayed there for quite a few years and he helped to clarify a lot of misunderstanding. So he was one of the main figures for what’s called the second flourishing of Dharma in Tibet. And he wrote this text there in western Tibet and, as he said, also to hopefully help the Indians. This text is considered a very important text for a whole genre of literature or teachings that came afterwards called lam-rim, the graded stages of the path to enlightenment.

These stages can be presented in many different ways; you find them in all four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. And although the content is the same of this graded path in all four traditions, the actual structure with which it’s presented is slightly different. The structure that Atisha uses are these three scopes of spiritual aim. This was then followed in the Kadam tradition, which traces from Atisha, and then the Gelug tradition, which was the renewed Kadam tradition after it had split into many branches. And the same structure of these three scopes is also used in one of the Kagyu traditions, the Shangpa Kagyu.

So, anyway, a little bit of its background. Atisha starts here:

I prostrate to the Bodhisattva Youthful Manjushri.

He gives the name in Sanskrit and then the name in Tibetan and here in our Western languages the name is A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment. The tradition is always to give the Sanskrit title first and presumably he wrote it in Sanskrit. Out of respect, you give the Sanskrit title first, then you give the Tibetan. And the standard Indian texts always start off with a homage or a prostration. Manjushri is the embodiment of the wisdom or clarity of mind and understanding of all the Buddhas. Often prostration is made to him at the beginning of texts.

Promise to Compose

In the West we often have a little summary in the beginning of some sort of article that says what’s going to be in it; this is also the Indian tradition. So Atisha gives what’s called the promise to compose. It says what he’s going to write about.

(1) Having prostrated most respectfully to all the Triumphant
   of the three times

To their Dharma and to the Sangha community,
I shall light a lamp for the path to enlightenment,
Having been urged by my excellent disciple, Jangchub-wo

The Triumphant” are the Buddhas. The teachings always start with prostration, we pay homage; so he starts with prostration to what’s called the Three Supreme Gems. They’re called “gems” because they’re very rare and they’re very precious, and we call them in Sanskrit the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. I’ll explain that a little later what that’s referring to. Then he says he’ll “light a lamp for the path to enlightenment” – that’s the actual title of the text – trying to illuminate what’s going on on that path.

And he was requested by this king that followed Yeshey-wo, Jangchub-wo; he was requested by him as his disciple to write this. That indicates a basic Buddhist principle, which is that a Buddhist teacher only teaches when requested, except under exceptional circumstances, when there is an exceptional disciple and the teacher sees some special connection. Then a teacher can offer to teach, but normally the disciple has to request. It’s not a missionary type of religion the teacher tries to push on people.

In the second verse Atisha says more specifically what he’s going to write about. He says:

(2) Since (practitioners) come to have small
    intermediate, and supreme (scopes),
They are known as the three types of spiritual persons.
I shall therefore write about these specific divisions,
Clarifying their defining features.

When you talk about the Buddhist spiritual path, there are different spiritual scopes that one passes through, and often this is referred to with “different levels of motivation.” But this word “motivation,” I don’t know about in your language, but in English it doesn’t quite give the correct meaning here. When we talk about motivation in our Western languages, we’re talking about the psychological or emotional reasons of why we do something – you’re motivated by greed or by anger or by jealousy or these sort of things, or by love and compassion.

But although those are important factors to examine what’s the emotional state that is motivating us to do something, particularly our spiritual practice, that’s not what the Tibetan word is referring to. The Tibetan word is referring to the aim: what it is that you’re aiming for, the goal. And so when we follow a spiritual path, our goals are going to grow. This is what it’s talking about when he says that “come to have” these different scopes of aim. He uses a word that means that they develop, they grow, from one spiritual aim to another.

What this implies is two things: it could be that there are various people that you might meet who have one or another of these spiritual aims, but that’s not really the main point here, to go and classify people according to their spiritual aim. But the fact that it says “the small, intermediate and supreme scopes” – it’s not like they’re value judgments of others, but it’s referring to an organic process that each of us needs to go through in order to mature on the spiritual path.

It’s like a flower opening: it starts small and then intermediate and then it’s wide open. In this way it grows larger and larger and more full. Likewise, the scope or aim of our practice similarly may start very small, very limited. It might be, for instance, that “I have a lot of problems and I’d like to be happy, somehow improve things.” And that may be how we begin; it may be the aim to become happier. But as we grow and mature on the spiritual path, our minds and our hearts open more and more and our scope, our aim becomes wider and wider.

This is what Atisha says that he will speak about, about these levels of growth. And what is very important here is that, although for various reasons we might be naturally inclined to one or another of these scopes, it is very important for a stable spiritual path to actually go through each of these levels. There are some people who very naturally are very loving and thinking of helping everybody and so on, which is very nice. And we might think that, “This is the advanced scope, Mahayana, so I can skip the first two levels. I don’t really need that because I’m advanced. I already have an advanced level of aim.”

There are a lot of people who go even worse. They see all this tantric stuff with these various figures and they hear Buddhist propaganda about that, like the advertising outside a movie theater advertising the movies makes it look really exciting to draw people in, so that they should see it. Some people present tantra like that. People were doing that at the time of Atisha. This is one of the reasons why the king invited him, and they do that today as well, I’m sorry to say. And people might feel, “Oh, I’m attracted to that, so I don’t have to do anything that comes before that. I’m an exceptionally advanced person.”

But if we do that and just immediately jump into either regular Mahayana practice or tantra Mahayana practice, without really seriously working on these initial levels, then we have quite serious problems on the spiritual path. We not only don’t have a foundation, but we don’t have any roots in the ground. And so what we’re doing in the end turns out not even to be Buddhist, but often becomes some sort of Disneyland fantasy trip, in which we go off into our tantric fairyland. Atisha states here very clearly that the spiritual path is one of gradual growth, maturity, as I said, like a flower. So, he says he’s going to “write about these divisions and clarify their defining features.

What’s really a little bit odd, I must say, is that Atisha only spends one verse each on the initial and intermediate scopes and all the rest of the text is on the advanced scope. He wrote a commentary, his own commentary to this text, and even in that commentary he doesn’t write anything about the first two scopes. He says that’s discussed elsewhere. It really raises a question: why did he write it like that? What’s going on here?

We find that the teachings which would need to be filled in for this initial and intermediate scope, we find them already in quite an expanded form in the next major lam-rim type of text that was written – that’s Gampopa’s Jewel Ornament of Liberation. That was written – I didn’t do my homework very well, I don’t remember how many years afterwards – Atisha was a contemporary of Marpa, who lived a little bit afterwards, and Gampopa was the disciple of Milarepa, who was the disciple of Marpa. So it must be about a century later it was written.

Anyway, Gampopa is famous for having combined the lineages of Kadampa, what followed from Atisha, with mahamudra lineages. What that means is that Gampopa didn’t make up the teachings for these initial and intermediate scopes. Even though Gampopa doesn’t use those terms – he doesn’t speak about the three scopes – it’s the same material, but he doesn’t use that structure. But what it implies is that those teachings were there in the Kadam tradition. So that means that they needed to have come from Atisha.

Therefore the logical conclusion is that Atisha taught much more extensively about the initial and intermediate scope while he was in Tibet, but he didn’t really write about it here because, as he says in his commentary, it’s elsewhere. What he puts here are basically the bodhisattva teachings, which were what he went to Indonesia for, to Sumatra, to bring back. So this was what he felt was more rare to write down.

Why I mention that is I think it’s wrong logic to conclude from the text that since initial scope is one verse, intermediate scope is one verse, and then advanced scope is sixty-four verses, to conclude from that that the first two scopes are really very trivial and unimportant and we don’t have to spend much time on them. That, I think, is false logic.

So, what are the defining characteristics of these three levels?

Initial Scope

(3) Anyone who takes keen interest in himself or hersel
(Achieving), by some means, merely the happines
Of uncontrollably recurring samsar
Is known as a person of minimum spiritual scope.

Initial scope is aiming for the happiness of samsara, only the happiness of samsara for oneself alone. So, we would think, when you look at the lam-rims that follow from this, that this is a bit different here, because in the later formulations, where it’s spelled out a little bit more fully, it says quite specifically that the initial scope is aiming for improving future lives. And when we see here “improving the happiness of samsara,” wouldn’t that include happiness of samsara in this lifetime?

And since samsara would include both this life and future lives, we might think that both of these aims – happiness in this life and happiness in future lives – would be included here in the initial scope. As I say, that’s a very, very crucial point to the spiritual path, because we read: “What is the dividing line between spiritual persons, somebody into the Dharma and somebody not into the Dharma?” And the dividing line is if you’re more interested in improving future lives than this life.

Working just to improve this lifetime... Well, an animal does that as well. There’s nothing terribly spiritual about a squirrel putting away nuts to survive the winter – that’s to be happy and improve this lifetime. Or somebody building a house to be happy in this lifetime, that’s not particularly spiritual. An actual spiritual person is one that is thinking in terms of improving future lives.

This presents a major obstacle for most of us Westerners, because most of us don’t believe in past and future lives. We do have in our Western religions discussion of an afterlife, going to heaven or hell, but one really wonders how many people who approach Buddhism believe in heaven or hell.

So, one has to look at this word “samsara” which is used here, “uncontrollably recurring samsara” I call it here. It actually is talking about rebirth that occurs over and over again and we have no control over it.

Now, I make a distinction between Dharma-Lite, which is like Coca-Cola Lite, and Hard-Core Dharma, The Real Thing. And Hard-Core Dharma, The Real Thing, is talking about rebirth. It absolutely assumes that everybody believes in past and future lives. I believe they take that so for granted that they don’t even discuss it. Dharma-Lite is what we in the West often feel much more attracted to, which is talking about the practice of Dharma basically in this lifetime and the scope of our practice being restricted to this lifetime.

And we are not just thinking limited in terms of immediate gratification and happiness, but we are looking to try to improve our situation later in life, but still in this life. And when we speak about samsara, we talk about it in terms of “uncontrollably recurring situations.” I myself translate it like that. We get into an unhealthy dependency relationship with someone and that has lots of problems; it doesn’t work out, we break up, and then we get into another one. It’s the same dependency again and then that breaks up and then we get into another one. It recurs uncontrollably – that’s samsara.

And we turn to the Buddhist teachings in order to help us to break out of this uncontrollably recurring syndrome because it brings lots of pain and suffering. And we even look at these three scopes in terms of this lifetime. The initial scope, we want to make things better, a little better; the intermediate scope, we want to gain liberation from all problems whatsoever, not just make it a little better; and then the advanced level, we want to help everybody else achieve that same goal. And that does describe a progression of aims and from a certain point of view we could say these are spiritual aims. But are they really spiritual aims?

I don’t know. Or are they the type of aims that we would also progress through if we were going to some form of a Western therapy? I think that there’s not very much difference here between a Buddhist training in this manner and a more sophisticated form of therapy. In other words, this reduces Buddhism to just another form of therapy. And this is what I call Dharma-Lite, like Coca-Cola Lite, with basic teachings that we all like, which is fizzy like Coca-Cola, “Be a nice person” and “Don’t hurt anybody,” and so on. There’s nothing wrong with Coca-Cola Lite. And this type of Dharma-Lite also, there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s very helpful. But if you look at the real definitions of what is Dharma practice, that’s not quite it.

Hard-Core Dharma, The Real Thing, we talked about these three scopes, is first wanting to improve future lives, which obviously assumes that we understand and believe in the existence of future lives, otherwise why would we want to improve them? And of course that requires understanding past and future lives according to the Buddhist explanation, not according to the Hindu or Christian or other type of explanations. And then the intermediate scope is wishing to gain liberation from rebirth completely, no rebirth anymore. Obviously, how can you aim for liberation from rebirth if you don’t even believe in rebirth?

And then the advanced scope is to work to help liberate everybody else from rebirth. Obviously, if you don’t believe in rebirth, why would you help anybody get liberated from it? And if you look at the highest class of tantra, anuttarayoga tantra, then what we’re doing is that we’re meditating in analogy with death, bardo, and rebirth in order to overcome that and help others overcome that. If we don’t believe in rebirth, what are we doing in tantra practice? It’s a complete joke.

Then we go back to Atisha’s text. So what is he saying? Obviously rebirth is a very central point, which is totally taken for granted in the Buddha’s teachings. So, if we talk about aiming for the happiness of samsara in the initial scope, especially since Atisha doesn’t spell it out what he means, we have two possible ways of understanding this. One would be that what he really means is improving future lives – and this is the way that all the later lam-rims that elaborate on this interpret it. But I think that there’s another way of interpreting it, which would be to work for the happiness of samsara both in this life and in future lives.

However, this wouldn’t mean to work only for this lifetime with absolutely no interest in future lives. But I think that in order to be faithful to the tradition, we would have to say “working for the happiness of this lifetime as a stepping stone on the way to working for the happiness of future lives.” At our stage we’d say, “I don’t really understand the Buddha’s teachings on rebirth...”

Actually they’re very complicated. To understand the teachings on rebirth we have to understand the whole explanation of how mind has no beginning and no end, and we’d have to understand what actually passes from moment to moment, which fits into the whole Buddhist teachings on there being no solid self. So we’d say:

“OK, I admit that I really don’t understand this yet. I acknowledge that rebirth is very important, very central for the Buddhist path. I have sincere interest and intention to try to understand the teachings on rebirth, to learn them, and to really think about them, meditate on it, and try to understand them so that if I speak in terms of working to improve future lives, that that actually means something to me on an emotional level. It’s not just words and I’m not just thinking in terms of a Christian idea of going to heaven, which is not what Buddhism is talking about at all. But in the meantime, I’m going to do Dharma-Lite and work to try to improve this lifetime as a stepping stone.”

And I think that Atisha has phrased this defining characteristic of the initial scope so that it would allow that second interpretation, even though that’s not the standard Tibetan interpretation, because – now we have to get into a quick debate – if working for the happiness of samsara did not also include the happiness of this life, then the absurd conclusion would follow that this life was not samsara. That we can’t accept.

It’s for that reason that I speak of these stages of Dharma-Lite and Hard-Core Dharma. And I think that’s very important for us Westerners approaching material like Atisha’s text, otherwise we get really a very unstable idea of what he’s talking about. We could just leave it totally in terms of, “He’s just talking about this life; forget about future lives or anything like that,” but really from a great deal of experience that I’ve seen of Buddhism in the West, that’s not The Real Thing, it doesn’t go in the proper way. There’s something missing, very strongly missing here.

So, what are the teachings of the initial scope? I don’t want to spend a great deal of time on the initial and intermediate scope, because Atisha doesn’t spend so much time. So let’s do it in brief. Basically, what one needs to do in order gain the happiness of samsara – alright, so we’re talking about improving this life and future lives – we need to have what’s usually called “refuge.”

“Refuge” is too passive; it implies going to Buddha and saying, “Oh Buddha, help me, save me,” and then we’re saved. It’s not that at all. But rather it means “a safe direction in life,” so it’s something active. We go in that direction, we have to go in that direction, and going in that direction is safe in that we save ourselves from problems. And what indicates that direction? Three Rare and Supreme Gems. The Dharma is the main thing. Dharma is talking about the total removal of all problems and their causes and the state of mind that will eliminate them and the state of mind that results when these problems and their causes are eliminated. That’s the third and fourth noble truths – we refer to the teachings of the four noble truths – the state of the problems being removed and the mind that removes them and has them removed. That’s what we’re aiming for.

Now, that doesn’t just exist abstractly; it has to exist on the mental continuum of somebody. So, the Buddhas are those who have achieved this in full and they teach us how to do that ourselves. And when we talk about the Sangha, this is the community of highly realized beings who have achieved this goal in part, not completely yet, but in part, because they’ve had nonconceptual cognition of voidness, of reality. So they’re very, very advanced. This is what is going to be the first thing that we need in order to gain the happiness of samsara. We have to have a safe direction in life and a clear direction of what are we doing in life, what are we aiming for, what is the purpose of our lives.

People often trivialize refuge into a little ceremony where you cut a piece of hair and repeat some words in Tibetan and get a Tibetan name and that’s it and now you’ve joined the Tibetan Buddhist club and you can wear a red string around your neck. That is so unbelievably trivial that it’s a joke. Really having a safe direction in your life, knowing what that direction is, clear about it, and being confident that it’s possible to achieve this goal and confident that I can achieve it myself, not just these Buddhas in the past, and then actively, “I’m going to put that direction in my life. This is what I’m working toward. My life has a meaning, has a direction,” this is a huge change in life, an unbelievable change in life.

So, first thing in order to gain the happiness of samsara, we need to have some positive safe direction in our life. We’re working to get rid of our problems and their causes and to get this state of mind that will remove them and that has them removed from it – the way the Buddhas have done in full, completely, and the way the Sangha have done partially. Now, to do that, to achieve this goal, we need some conducive circumstances, circumstances that are favorable for this. So first of all we have to look at our situation now and if we have favorable circumstances. It’s called the precious human life.

We need to appreciate that, recognize it and appreciate it. And we have to take advantage of it and use it to follow this path, because it will end someday, death will come for sure. Now, if we think in terms of Hard-Core Dharma, then once we die, there’s going to be rebirth and things could be a lot worse. We could be born in a situation, like being born a cockroach, in which we have no real chance to improve our situation. As a cockroach, everybody who sees us just wants to step on us. That’s not very nice. Because we want to avoid that, we need to really do something now to prevent that. And that brings us to the teachings on karma.

Karma is talking about impulses, the impulse that drives us to do something compulsively, and these impulses come because of habits from our previous behavior. And so if we act in a destructive manner – and there’s a lot of teachings on what are the different types of destructive actions, there’s no need to go into detail – killing, stealing, lying, thinking constantly, “How can I get what somebody else has?” All these sort of things are destructive, which will cause us compulsively to repeat these type of actions and get into situations where other people act like that toward us, and generally it causes us to feel unhappy.

Whereas if we act constructively, which means to restrain from acting destructively, then it’s just the opposite. One thing I need to point out: just the fact that I don’t hunt or fish, that in itself is not constructive, so that’s not the constructive action we’re talking about. The constructive action is: when the impulse comes to kill something, like a mosquito is buzzing around your face and the impulse comes to kill it – at that time, to decide not to kill it, because you realize that that would be destructive and would lead to future unhappiness and difficulties. It’s actually restraining yourself from acting destructively when you want to act destructively – that’s what’s constructive.

So, if you act destructively it brings unhappiness; if you act constructively it brings happiness. But when we observe our lives, it doesn’t bring that immediately, does it? Somebody steals something and they never get caught and they get a lot of money and they’re able to buy a lot of things and are happy. What’s this? Or a monk in Tibet: he’s been meditating and doing all sorts of positive, constructive things and then they get thrown in a Chinese prison and are tortured to death. Where’s the karma in that?

Or, “I’ve been such a good practitioner and I’ve been trying so hard in my lifetime, and then I get some horrible cancer and die a very painful death.” If one doesn’t think in terms of future lives and just practices Dharma on the basis of thinking of this life, then you have very serious questions and problems with karma, “I was practicing so well and now I got this horrible cancer,” and you think, “Oh, the Dharma was useless. I was supposed to experience happiness as a result of this practice that I did and it didn’t work.”

This is why it’s very important from the beginning to have some understanding of future lives, because karma ripens mostly in future lives; some can ripen in this life, but more in future lives. Otherwise these teachings are very difficult to really have confidence in.

So, if we want to have favorable circumstances in the future – here in the initial scope particularly in future lives – following restraint from destructive actions will help us to achieve that. But that’s not the final goal. The goal of Buddhism is not to be reborn in a heaven or a paradise: that’s not Buddhism. There are many other religions to achieve that. The whole initial scope actually isn’t terribly Buddhist by itself. We can think about, “Well, I have a precious life and I want to use it because I’m going to die and I don’t want to go to hell, I want to go to heaven. So I’m going to be a good person.”

That’s not necessarily Buddhism, is it? One could follow that course and be a Christian. What makes it Buddhist is that improving future lives is to continue to have conducive circumstances so that I can achieve this goal that we’re talking about in terms of safe direction. And we can practice a valid Dharma-Lite version of this by saying:

“OK, I’m going to try to avoid destructive behavior now, because I want to continue in this life to have the circumstances that’ll be most conducive for Dharma practice, because death is going to come. Whatever amount of time I have, I want that to be the most productive for the spiritual path, and if I just act destructively, I’m wasting my time really. But I realize that what I will experience in this lifetime is not determined or shaped solely by what I do in this lifetime; a lot is going to be ripenings from past lives. So I’m going to try to purify negative karma as much as possible, realizing that I can’t get rid of it completely until I get liberation – and liberation is a long ways away.” And “I’m working like that with this safe direction, working with karma and so on.”

This is the initial aim with the provision that, “Yes, I want to understand future lives and I see that this is a necessary step for working to improve future lives. And if I really want to make progress on this path, I’m going to have to really face this whole issue of rebirth and really look into it very seriously.”

OK, so that’s the initial scope. Do you have any questions?

Questions and Answers

Question: Could you read it again, the scope?

Answer: The verse is:

(3) Anyone who takes keen interest in himself or hersel
(Achieving), by some means, merely the happines
Of uncontrollably recurring samsar
Is known as a person of minimum spiritual scope.

All that Atisha says is: working by some sort of method to gain the happiness of samsara for oneself. But obviously he’s not talking about, “Just get rich by any means that you can, cheating others and so on, in order to be able to buy everything and be happy.” Actually it raises a very interesting question, “What is the happiness of samsara?” That’s something to think about. What do we mean by happiness? “I want to be happy.” What actually is that happiness that we’re looking for? That’s a topic to contemplate by oneself.

Question: That’s a good question because if you steal some money and build a house for your old mother, you can be happy from that.

Answer: If we steal money and build a house for our old mother, we will be happy? Again, I ask the question, “What is that happiness that you experience? How long will it last? And what is that feeling like?” “I’m sitting in my room and I don’t feel very happy. I don’t particularly know why, but I don’t feel very happy, I feel unhappy, and I’d like to feel happy.” Well, what is it that we would like to feel? And what would make us feel that? And would it last? As I say, it’s not a question to answer just like that, superficially. And when Atisha says “by some means,” does he mean by destructive means?

It gets into the teachings on karma; it’s very complex. The act of stealing the money has given you one type of result – you got the money. Now, as a result of that, you built a house and your old mother has a house. And seeing your old mother now have a nice house, you feel happy. But from a Buddhist point of view, when we talk about happiness coming from a constructive action and unhappiness coming from a destructive action, they’re not talking about this type of result. What you’re talking about is more like a mechanical result: you steal the money and then you have money – that’s the mechanical result of the action, that’s not the karmic result of the action.

You could build a house and your mother could hate it. Whether your mother likes the house or dislikes the house, that’s a result of her karma. And whether you feel happy at that or not is also a result of your karma; it’s not the result of the action. The action of stealing just enabled you to build the house; what you feel is something else. You could still have lots of arguments with your mother and not be very happy.

Question: So it means it doesn’t matter what happens, but just how we feel about it?

Answer: No, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is: what happens and what we feel about it can be coming from different causes.

You could steal the money, you get the money, you try to build the house, but the house collapses. There’s lots of things: the house could burn down, all sorts of things, it’s very complicated. And each of those things comes from a karmic cause. And that’s not just talking about the mechanical cause of “you knocked over the lamp and the house caught on fire.”

Any other questions?

OK, then let’s end here for the evening. Tomorrow I’ll speak, again just briefly, on the intermediate scope and then we’ll get into the rest of the text, not just spend all our time on this.

So, the way we end is with a dedication and this is very important when we think in terms of karma. If we do something positive or constructive, like listening to a teaching, trying to understand it – we wanted to go to the movies, but we restrained ourselves and came here instead, or whatever – there’s a certain positive force that is built up by this constructive action. That’s usually translated as “merit,” which, at least in English, is a very silly word, because it sounds as though, “Well, I got three points for coming here,” and we keep score and at the end, maybe, if we get enough points, we’ll win the game. That’s not what we’re talking about, but there’s some sort of “positive force,” energy.

Now, what does positive karma do? It will ripen into the happiness of samsara. So if we don’t do anything after we do something constructive, if we don’t dedicate it, then that positive force will automatically contribute to improving samsara. We can use the analogy of a computer. The default setting on our internal computer is that the positive force gets saved in the “improving samsara” folder. If we want it to contribute to achieving enlightenment, you have to actually save it in the “enlightenment” folder.

You have to press the button and save it in the “enlightenment” folder, otherwise it’s automatically going to go in the “samsara” folder. So that’s the dedication, saving it in the “enlightenment” folder. So that’s what we do at the end. We say, “Whatever positive force is built up, may that contribute to achieving enlightenment to be able to benefit all.” It’s giving a push in that direction to that energy, to that positive force, so that it’s not just going to contribute to being able to have an interesting conversation about this over a cup of tea and everybody will be entertained – that’s improving samsara, no big deal.

We think, whatever positive force has built up from this, may this truly help us and contribute to achieving enlightenment for the benefit of all.