About the Authors

Title Page


1. A Book About Enlightenment

2. Comparing Religions

3. The Buddhist Framework

4. Practicing Buddhism

5. Knowing the Qualifications of a Teacher

6. Buddhism in India and Tibet


7. Recognizing Our Fortunate Situation

8. Knowing You Will Die

9. Thinking About Future Lives

10. Identifying the Refuge

11. Karma


12. Seeing the Problem and the Cure

13. The Implications of Impermanence


14. Altruism

15. Engendering Great Compassion

16. Switching Self and Other

17. Viewing Reality

18. The Way to Analyze

19. Buddhahood

20. Reviewing the Steps

Selected Readings



His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the spiritual and political leader of Tibet. Today, he lives in exile in Northern India and works tirelessly on behalf of the Tibetan people, as well as travelling the world to give spiritual teachings to packed audiences. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

Jeffrey Hopkins served for a decade as the interpreter to the Dalai Lama. A Buddhist scholar and the author of more than twenty-five books, he is professor of Tibetan and Buddhist studies at the University of Virginia, where he founded the largest academic programme of Tibetan Buddhist studies in the West.




Tibet is renowned throughout the world for distilling the essence of Buddhist practice into easily comprehensible stages. In this book His Holiness the Dalai Lama lays out in an accessible and practical way the entire series of practices leading to enlightenment. After exploring Buddha’s core teaching of interdependence, His Holiness shows how this fundamental insight leads to both a diagnosis of the human condition and the way out of the cyclic round of repeatedly moving from one life to the next, bringing our suffering with us. The Dalai Lama emphasizes the distinctive way Buddhist practices center around selflessness and seek to develop an altruistic attitude that promotes kindness and tolerance.

Formulated around a person’s increasing spiritual capacity, the stages of spiritual training begin with recognizing the value of our present situation as humans and reflecting on the endowments that afford us such a marvelous opportunity for spiritual advancement. Within that appreciation, His Holiness explains the fragile nature of life and the nature of actions (karma) and their effects, as well as how to counteract the results of unhealthy deeds already committed.

The shift to a longer-range perspective—from concentrating on the pleasures of the moment to concern for the future—constitutes the first phase in transforming your spiritual perspective. A new outlook is wrought by recognizing that happiness needs to be achieved beyond the immediate moment, and from turning away from full involvement in the temporary and superficial toward the practice of virtue, which has both short-term and long-term benefits. Instead of seeking pleasure through the activities of accumulating wealth, power, and friends, you view virtues such as the practice of compassion as a better way to ensure a healthy future in the long run. The underpinning of this phase is to stop mistaking the present situation as permanent in order to open your horizon to consider what continues beyond the present. This moves us naturally to a discussion of death and rebirth, which contributes to a longer outlook.

The practices of middle-level training deepen this perspective by exploring what it means to want to be free from the seemingly endless cycle of death and rebirth. The thrust of this phase is to overcome an exaggerated sense of your own status, the status of others, and the status of objects of lust and hatred. Ignorance of the true nature of things is seen as the root cause of all our counterproductive emotions. The Dalai Lama explains how these harmful emotions arise and in what order, and lays out the problems they create through the impressions they leave in the mind: shaping our future experience, which results in our entrapment in a maelstrom of often unhealthy effects.

By taking account of the precariousness of your situation, you strengthen your resolve to seek rescue, through spiritual practice, from the entire uncontrolled round of birth, aging, sickness, and death. This change in outlook arises from penetrating the nature of appearances, not turning away from happiness, but recognizing a deeper happiness and the means to achieve it. This greater perspective impels us to meditate on interdependence and selflessness in order to undermine the ignorance on which our destructive emotions are built.

In the final section His Holiness paints a moving picture of the altruism that causes a practitioner to rise to the highest level of spiritual endeavor. You advance to this expanded spiritual capacity by extending your understanding of your own plight to others, realizing that they are in a similar situation. Here the emphasis is on developing totally unbiased compassion through a gradual series of cause-and-effect exercises. Ordinary concern and compassion are not replaced by otherworldly attitudes, but are extended far beyond their usual scope and are thereby transformed. The Dalai Lama focuses on how to produce, maintain, and increase this enlightened attitude while avoiding what undermines it. As with the earlier steps, the quest for happiness is not forsaken but is redirected to a higher goal, the shift here being an expansion of perspective so that the suffering of others becomes our primary concern.

The process of self-education and self-help presented in this book is first a withdrawal from the path of merely seeking superficial pleasures in the present moment, then from becoming entangled in afflictive emotions, and finally from self-centeredness. Through altruism that calls for the development of wisdom, His Holiness lays out the geography of this practice, and then, in the penultimate chapter, he presents insights into the true nature of reality. The meditative steps presented in this section gradually lead to direct realization of the true status of people and things so that our counterproductive attitudes can be removed and replaced by positive emotions. At the very end, His Holiness describes enlightenment in terms of the state of body, speech, and mind that is achieved through combining wisdom with the extraordinary power of altruism.

Throughout the pages that lie ahead, the Dalai Lama explains in intimate detail how each practice is generated, step by step. His unique approach is to interweave two core practices, compassion and the wisdom of selflessness, throughout the span of exercises. Since these practices are considered the two wings of a bird flying to enlightenment, he shows us their impact and relevance from the start. This is because, as he explains, the earlier and later practices influence and deepen each other. Thus these stages of spiritual practice are not rigid categories that require full realization of each step before the next; rather, they call for acquaintance with and repeated practice of the full gamut of exercises in order to allow cross-fertilization to take place.

The Dalai Lama’s fascination with science and his three decades of interacting with international scientists have caused him to reframe basic Buddhist attitudes in terms of common approaches and attitudes, making this book highly accessible. In this way, all of us benefit from his thoroughgoing classical Tibetan education, a marvel of spiritual culture that the world so sorely needs.

Jeffrey Hopkins, Ph.D.

Emeritus Professor of Tibetan Studies

University of Virginia



A Book About Enlightenment


WE HAVE ARRIVED in the twenty-first century, a time of considerable material progress largely based on technological advances spurred on by a flurry of scientific discoveries. Nevertheless, the twentieth century was beset by a huge amount of violence, more than ever before, and at the start of the twenty-first century, murderous violence seems to be taking new forms, of ever-increasing power. This mess has been caused not by insufficient technical knowledge, nor by insufficient materials, but by an unruly mind.

While many in this world are enjoying increasing prosperity, many also remain in extreme poverty. In most countries there is a great disparity between social classes. Lacking wealth, the poor are terribly vulnerable. Consider, too, how many animals are being grown for slaughter, a number so great that the environment is being damaged.

These sad facts are due to insufficient loving care. If humanity’s sense of caring for others increased, not only would people in the world be happier but the countless animals whose lives we directly affect would also have a better life. To increase our altruism we must motivate ourselves to take into consideration the effects of our actions on both the present and the future.

If unwanted suffering can be removed and happiness achieved merely through material advancement and wealth, then rich people should be free from suffering, but obviously this is not the case. In fact, once people obtain a good bit of money, comfort, and power, they tend to become excessively proud and jealous, particularly covetous, more focused on harm, and increasingly apprehensive. Those living in a moderate way are by no means impervious to the three poisons of lust, hatred, and ignorance, but for the most part they are bothered considerably less by additional problems.

What makes us unhappy? Our minds have fallen so far under the influence of self-destructive emotions that these attitudes, far from being viewed as harmful, are welcomed and promoted. That is what makes us squirm in discomfort.

If people could enjoy both external prosperity and inner qualities of goodness, outer and inner wealth, that indeed would provide a comfortable human life. Happiness does not come just from external circumstances; it mainly derives from inner attitudes. Nowadays those countries that have achieved great material progress are beginning to see that physical health and sickness, as well as the condition of society, are closely related to our mental processes.

Analytical investigation of the ways we think and feel are very important. Over the last three thousand years the most penetrating analysis of internal mental processes has occurred in India, so it is those insights that I draw on in this book to present in an easily accessible way the full range of practices leading to the enlightenment of Buddhahood.


Some 2,550 years ago, Buddha set forth a new religion in India. Some aspects of his ideas had already appeared there earlier, but no one had delineated these perspectives and techniques as conclusively as he would. What is at their core? Selflessness. Long before him, many had sought to analyze the status of the self, but not only did they teach that the self exists, they held that it exists independent of the mind and the body. However, Buddha concluded that when we assert that the self exists independently, our innate sense of self-centeredness increases and solidifies. As a result, the lust, anger, pride, jealousy, and doubt that stem from being self-centered grow stronger and more ingrained.

Seeing that defective states of mind such as lust and hatred are rooted in egotism, Buddha taught something that had not been explained before him, the view of selflessness. This was exceptional, and indeed for the more than 2,500 years that have passed since his time, no one outside of his tradition has taught this view.

As the Tibetan scholar Jamyang Shepa wrote near the end of the seventeenth century, “Non-Buddhist and Buddhist views derive from proving or refuting what is conceived by a view of self.” In setting forth the view of selflessness, Buddha taught that a permanent unchangeable self, separate from mind and body, does not exist. Non-Buddhist schools not only accept such a self but seek to prove its independent existence through various approaches, whereas Buddhist systems seek to refute it.

It is not that the self is totally nonexistent; it is obvious that a self that desires happiness and does not want suffering does indeed exist. But Buddha taught that the self is set up in dependence upon the mind and body. In this way Buddha established the view known as dependent-arising, which emphasizes the interrelatedness of all things. Despite appearances to the contrary, nothing exists autonomously, or truly in isolation. All things have interconnections. The view of dependent-arising is Buddha’s focal teaching.

Dependent-arising means that all phenomena—whether physical, mental, or otherwise—come into being based on certain causes and conditions. The happiness that the self seeks out and the suffering that the self seeks to remove do not arise independently but are produced by their own specific, temporary, appropriate causes. According to Buddhism they do not arise from permanent causes such as a permanent self-arisen Creator, or a permanent Nature, as was a popular belief in India. Buddha taught that phenomena arise only in dependence upon their respective causes and conditions. Everything is always in flux.

I am frequently asked what the Buddhist outlook is, and I respond by saying its view is dependent-arising, and its prescribed behavior is nonviolence. Nonviolence means to be motivated by compassion, which calls for helping others and, if that is not possible, then at least doing no harm. Dependent-arising and compassion are the essence of the Buddhist religion and the keys to its highest state: enlightenment.


Comparing Religions


WHEN WE COMPARE the many religious teachers who have appeared in this world, we need to do this in terms of what they have taught, analyzing those areas in which they were particularly skilled; it is not sufficient merely to cite praises by their followers, for these are present in all religions. The process of comparison requires making differentiations, and in doing so we see that Buddha’s doctrine is unique in seeing our apprehension of self as faulty and emphasizing that the antidote is the perspective of selflessness. In addition, Buddhism calls for bringing about the welfare of all sentient beings by transforming our usual attitudes toward self and others: we should refrain from self-cherishing and instead cherish others. In these ways Shakyamuni Buddha displays exceptional wisdom and compassion.

Buddha’s emphasis on generating an altruistic intention to become enlightened by cherishing others rather than oneself and his emphasis on selflessness as an antidote to our mistaken views of the self make Buddhism distinctively deep. But would the world be better off if everyone became Buddhist? When Shakyamuni Buddha himself taught, not even all of India became Buddhist. If it were not necessary to speak to the dispositions and interests of his trainees, he could have taught the most profound system to all of them, but that is not the case; it is necessary that the doctrine be meaningful and useful for the individual trainee. Since the dispositions and interests of sentient beings are diverse, it was necessary even for Buddha to teach a wide variety of doctrines.

If the most profound doctrine—that all people and other phenomena are not established independently by way of their own character—is not meaningful for a trainee, a partial system of selflessness must be taught. Thus Buddha taught such students that people do not substantially exist but the mind-body complex does, thereby exempting it from the scope of selflessness. For those trainees for whom any level of the doctrine of selflessness could not for the time being fit in their minds, Buddha taught a modified doctrine of self, as when he said, “The mind-body complex is the burden; the bearer of the burden is the person.”

In these ways, Buddha geared his teachings to the capacities of his students. If a teaching is not appropriate to a specific trainee, then even if the doctrine is correct, there is no way it can promote the well-being of the trainee. So for students for whom the doctrine of selflessness is not appropriate, a doctrine that fits their disposition and interest is better. From this perspective, we can clearly see that the many religious systems that have arisen in this world are beneficial to a great many beings.

It may be possible to discover which religion is the most profound, but if we ask which religious system is best, it is difficult to respond. The value of a religion is relative to each individual. A religion’s philosophical view may be the most profound and comprehensive, but still it can be inappropriate for a particular individual. As I mentioned above, even to his followers Buddha did not always teach the most profound perspective. Rather than trying to force the deepest view on everyone, he taught according to individual interests and dispositions.

Thus even though the view that all phenomena are empty of independent existence may be the most profound, it is hard to say that it is the best. Teaching needs to be relevant to the student. For example, we may ask which medicine is the most valuable, and indeed there are medicines that are very expensive and others that are cheap. But if we ask which medicine is best, this entirely depends on the patient. If all sick people took the most expensive medicine, thinking it must be the best, it would harm some of them and not help others, whereas the least expensive could provide the most benefit for those in need of that specific treatment. Similarly, the value of a religious system depends on its relevance to the individual practitioner; whatever benefits that person most is best.

The question of value depends on the frame of reference, which for religious systems is primarily whether it helps or harms the practitioner. From this viewpoint, it cannot be said that Buddhism is the best in general, though it is the best for persons with a certain outlook and disposition. People need a system that fits them. This is why it is very important to value all religious systems. Although they have great differences philosophically, they all have precepts for cultivating a good attitude toward others and helping them, which means calling for the practice of love, compassion, patience, contentment, and appreciating the rules of society. Since all religions share these goals, it is important to respect them and value their contributions.

When we view philosophically based religions without bias, we clearly see that each has been beneficial for many people in the past, continues to be in the present, and will be in the future. Although a lot of problems have been caused in the name of the religions of this world, I believe they have helped more than they have harmed. When a call for better behavior is being heeded by a religion’s followers, we should respect them, no matter whether their philosophical views are valid or not.


According to an old Tibetan saying, we must value the person of a religious teacher but investigate the teaching. Even within Shakyamuni Buddha’s teaching we need to distinguish between what requires interpretation and what is definitive, the distinction being made by reasoning. If a teaching of Buddha is contradicted by reasoning, it should not be taken literally, even though it is indeed his word. Similarly, when we look at the great beings who were Buddha’s followers, it has to be said that certain teachings, such as those by the fourth-century Indian sage Asanga, which deny the existence of an external world that impinges on our senses, do not reflect reality. Although such teachings are to be found in certain of Buddha’s scriptures, they do not necessarily represent his thinking. Again, this distinction between the thought of the scripture and the thought of the speaker can be determined by reasoning. That we have faith in Asanga does not require that we accept as literal the view of mind-only with a particular purpose in mind.

In the same way it is reasonable for Buddhists to respect the teachers of other religions. From one point of view, they could be emanations of a Buddha, and from another point of view, even if they are not emanations, their philosophies are helpful to certain people and may even be helpful to you at a certain juncture in your life.

Nevertheless, among adherents to any religion, including Buddhism, there are troublemakers. Though they might claim to be religious, they take doctrines that are intended to overcome lust, hatred, and bewilderment and instead mix them with their own afflictive emotions and misuse religion, making hard-and-fast distinctions between us and them, stirring up trouble. It seems to me that when adherents to a religion do this, it is not reasonable to say that this is the fault of the religion.


Since faith and respect are different, respect for other religions does not mean we must have faith in their doctrines. For example, I have met with some Christians who take interest in certain Buddhist practices, study them, and even practice them. They take particular interest in Buddhist methods for achieving one-pointed meditative concentration as well as how to increase love, compassion, and patience. Since these practices are common to Christianity and Buddhism, I express my admiration for what they are doing. To Christians, however, who have become interested in the view of emptiness, I lightheartedly respond that this is distinctively Buddhist and has little connection with Christian doctrine. Why? Probing emptiness requires looking into dependent-arising, and if its implications are understood, it becomes difficult to accept a single, permanent, unchangeable God as the creator of the world. If one tried to have faith in Christianity and in Buddhism, one would be asserting the existence of a Creator God and at the same time the nonexistence of a Creator God. That is impossible. Therefore, while respect is both feasible and beneficial, faith is another matter.

Among the many religions that assert a Creator God there are some followers who say that Buddhism is not a religion because it does not accept a God that created the world. Some of my Islamic friends, for instance, have told me that much of the advice found in Buddhism is very beneficial to people, including Muslims, but that many Muslims do not consider Buddhism to be a religion. Similarly, some strict Christians say that because Buddhists do not accept the existence a permanent self-arisen being, they are nihilists.

Once when I visited Canada, several Christian demonstrators carried signs saying they had nothing against me personally but that my philosophy was heretical. In Sweden, as I left my car one day I encountered a man carrying a sign. I put my palms together in a gesture of greeting, and he did the same. A journalist took a picture, which appeared in the newspaper the next day, celebrating that both the demonstrator and the object of demonstration were paying respect to each other. That indeed is how it should be, although I have to admit that I had not noticed that he was demonstrating against my views!

Indeed, from the viewpoint of religions that assert a Creator God, Buddhism has a philosophy of deprecation, seen in its denial of a Creator God, as well as a philosophy of exaggeration, seen in its assertion of former and future lives. Conversely, from a Buddhist viewpoint religions asserting a Creator God have a philosophy of exaggeration, as well as a philosophy of deprecation in their denial of the cause and effect of karma over the course of countless lifetimes.

Still, Buddhists need to recognize that for some people the assertion of a God who created everything brings a strong feeling of intimacy with God and draws them into accepting that they ought to behave in accordance with God’s perspective. What is God’s perspective? Love for everyone, helping others, altruism. For instance, Islam puts tremendous emphasis on helping others, especially the poor. The ninety-nine names of Allah, such as The Most Merciful, The Peace and Blessing, and The Loving and Kind One, revolve around love and sympathy. No religion describes a supreme being that is forever angry, always ferocious. No religion calls for its followers to be belligerent and to harm other people.

My point is that for some personality types the message that they should be warmhearted because there is a loving Creator God is more effective than the Buddhist message of relativity or relationality, which we call dependent-arising. Therefore, it is crucial to identify which religion is more beneficial for a particular person, given the great variety among people in terms of their disposition.


The Buddhist Framework


THIS BOOK IS titled Becoming Enlightened because it teaches the stages of the path to full realization of our potential. “Enlightenment” is what is to be arrived at, accomplished, attained. The techniques for proceeding to enlightenment are called the path, which is set forth in stages to clarify the order of their practice, ranging from what a beginner should do on up to the ultimate attainment of perfection.

Many Buddhist texts are organized around three central topics: the status of phenomena, the practices for spiritual progress, and the effects of those practices. We call these three the basis, the path, and the fruit. The notion is that if you use certain principles as the foundation of your practice, there are advantages to be accrued, and if you implement these tenets, the fruits of your practice will help fulfill your purposes.

What are the paths, the practices, for actualizing the great enlightenment? Morality, concentrated meditation, and wisdom, enhanced by compassion. All Buddhist systems have compassion at their root. In the morality of abandoning the ten nonvirtues—the three physical nonvirtues (killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct), the four verbal nonvirtues (lying, divisive talk, harsh speech, and senseless chatter), and the three mental nonvirtues (covetousness, harmful intent, and wrong views)—the prohibition against killing includes not just humans but all living beings; it is not suitable to harm any living being. This is due to the fact that the very foundation of Buddhism is compassion.

Among the many forms of Buddhism, there is a group of systems in which compassion goes beyond empathy and extends to committing yourself to relieve the sufferings of all sentient beings throughout space. This high resolve, which is intentionally cultivated to the point of seeking enlightenment for the sake of bringing about the welfare of others, is called the “altruistic intention to become enlightened.” When morality, concentrated meditation, and wisdom are practiced within this attitude, you can attain the enlightenment of a Buddha. This is the path to enlightenment.


The core practices of Buddhism are the profound view of dependent-arising and of emptiness and the vast deeds of compassion. The practice of insight is called “profound” because it does not take place on the superficial level of appearances, but is based on the way things really are, on their mode of being. When you are not satisfied with the surface but seek the inner nature of things through investigation and analysis, you discover their true nature, which is empty of independent, or inherent, existence.

The term view can, according to context, refer to the consciousness of the viewer, or to the act of viewing, or to the object that is being viewed. The “profound view” of Buddhism often refers to the last of these: the subtle status of phenomena that is viewed, or realized, with wisdom. This is why the first set of core practices, the profound view of dependent-arising and of emptiness, has come to be called the “stages of the path concerned with the profound.”

The other set of core practices, the vast deeds of compassion, is called “vast” because its many paths, levels, and so on are practiced with all the tools at our disposal—body, speech, and mind. These are the “stages of the path concerned with vast deeds.”


In India, the stages of the path concerned with the profound were primarily transmitted through the Indian sage Nagarjuna, who lived around the first and second century C.E., whereas the stages of the path concerned with the vast deeds of compassion were mainly transmitted through the Indian sage Asanga, mentioned above. Though both of these great figures practiced the full complement of profound and vast paths, their individual interests caused them to emphasize particular aspects of the path. Nagarjuna emphasized delineating emptiness in his Six Collections of Reasonings, whereas Asanga’s emphasis was on the paths and stages of spiritual practice, as described in his Five Treatises on the Grounds.

The profound view of emptiness and the vast deeds of compassion transmitted by these two great figures, Nagarjuna and Asanga, are the principal topics of this book. Tibet was fortunate to have the full scope of Buddhist systems, ranging from those for persons aiming mainly at their own enlightenment to those more altruistically oriented methods called the Great Vehicle. I will explain the stages of the path to enlightenment keeping all of these practices in mind; they culminate in the achievement of altruistic omniscience.


Buddhist texts in general fall into three classes—science, philosophy, and religion. Buddhist science concerns the basic status of phenomena, while Buddhist philosophy details the implications of that status. Then, based on this Buddhist science and philosophy, we see extensive Buddhist spiritual practices, which are aspects of religion.

For more than three decades I have had contact with international scientists. Here the relationship is with Buddhist science, which concerns the basic status of phenomena as expressed in texts such as Vasubandhu’s Treasury of Manifest Knowledge, where there is considerable discussion of cosmology, the basic elements, minute particles, and so on; it also concerns the rich teachings of Buddhist psychology, including neurological information, detailing nerve pathways and the energy coursing through them. These topics of Buddhist science are the basis for my exchanges with modern science, along with my own belief that Buddhist sciences can benefit a great deal from contemporary international science.

It would be foolish for Buddhists to claim that the traditions we already have are sufficient. International science is amazingly deep on these topics, which are presented in terms of measurement and calculation, and I believe it is very beneficial for Buddhists to study these. International science also has a great deal to learn from Buddhist science, especially psychology. An Indian scholar such as Vasubandhu would find much to learn from contemporary international science about cosmology and the like, but it seems to me that Nagarjuna, who was more interested in the workings of the mind, would not have to alter his science or philosophy in the slightest.


Practicing Buddhism


PRACTICING THE BUDDHIST religion mainly means improving the mind. In Tibetan the word for “religion” is chö, which means to adjust, to improve, to change for the better. The basic idea is to transform that which produces pain, to overcome our unruly attitudes. In Sanskrit the term for “religion” is dharma, which means to hold back, that is to say, to protect ourselves from unwanted suffering by developing antidotes to the causes of that suffering. For instance, by adopting the virtue of abandoning killing you prevent the mis-deed of murder, thereby protecting yourself from the effects of murder, which are infelicitous rebirth, short life, and the like.

Through practice you develop antidotes for the unfavorable activities of body, speech, or mind, and by doing so you protect yourself from the sufferings that they would produce. Religion in this context comprises 1) the antidotes for destructive emotions and 2) freedom from those destructive emotions and their effects. In Buddhism, this is the basis of religion.

How can we transform attitudes? They cannot be changed by external laws, police, or armies. Consider the attempts to impose Marxism and Leninism on the Russian and Chinese people; they were failures. Then how is transformation accomplished? By internal, voluntary, and enthusiastic effort. Physical and verbal behavior can temporarily be controlled by an external force; for example, even a talkative student will sit quietly in front of an irascible teacher. However, long-lasting change comes only from within, from your own interest, not from external control.

To be motivated this way, you need to see the value of change and the disadvantages of not changing. This means knowing that if you are guided by an unruly mind you will be uncomfortable in the short run and will truly suffer in the long run, and that if you are guided by a tamed mind you will be happier in the short term and will profoundly benefit in the long term—helping both yourself and those around you. By seeing the disadvantages of unruly attitudes, you will avoid them, and by seeing the advantages of tamed attitudes, you will voluntarily wish to adopt them. These choices are made through analytical thinking.


To analyze something effectively, you need to be unbiased. If you are prejudiced so that from the outset you are committed to one side of an issue or the other, then when you analyze, the results will be twisted. You need to start within an attitude free from seeing one notion as good and the other as bad, and instead be willing to entertain the possibility that either notion could be good or bad. By analyzing without bias you will be capable of seeing advantages and disadvantages.

As the Tibetan sage Tsongkhapa, who lived in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, put it, “If you are partisan, you will be obstructed by bias and will not recognize the actual advantages.” This is why it is crucial to be unbiased and willing to face whatever the reality of a situation may be. For this you need to begin with doubt; from doubt you will question; from questioning you will analyze; from analysis the truth will become clear, and whatever is untrue will fade. Doubting induces questioning, which induces analysis, which induces ascertainment. In this process, doubt is crucial.

Nagarjuna’s student Aryadeva calls for a practitioner to have three qualities: lack of bias, intelligence, and aspiration. Bias keeps us from seeing reality; lack of intelligence prevents analysis; and lack of aspiration prevents implementation. Thus once you have successfully avoided partisanship, use your intelligence to examine doctrines and practices and then implement what you have determined is beneficial. If you try to launch into Buddhist practice with a preconceived notion that Buddhism is really great, it will be difficult to go deep; you must act from a knowledge of facts as you yourself truly see them.


Spiritual practice includes what we do in meditative sessions and what we do between sessions; the entire twenty-four-hour day is involved. When you rise in the morning, if you are a Buddhist, you should think:

I am spending my life as a full-fledged follower of Buddha. May I remove the three poisons of lust, hatred, and ignorance! Destructive emotions, of course, will arise, but I will not voluntarily rush into them. Today I will do whatever I can to read texts, reflect on their meaning, and work at developing wisdom. I will also do whatever I can to generate the altruistic intention to become enlightened and implement compassion in my behavior. May whatever obstructs the generation of these practices be pacified!

This thinking will set up a virtuous attitude for the entire day. Then you can begin the activities of your day, including having a nice breakfast! Make offering of whatever you eat or drink to the Buddha and the other great figures who teach the path to enlightenment.

Since the mind is drawn into lust for pleasant objects and into hatred for the unpleasant, it is important to control your senses by keeping away from those places where such destructive emotions are generated; this means choosing an isolated place for practice, if possible. At those times when your senses encounter pleasant and unpleasant objects, practice keeping your mind from falling into lust and hatred.