Dharma and Suffering

A Teaching by Geshe Ngawang Phuntsok

Your body is here. I don’t know about your mind. Where is your mind? We say in logic that your mind is hidden phenomena. The opposite of hidden phenomena is manifest. Your mind is hidden phenomena for me, manifest for you. I know my mind. You know your mind. The first requirement of your mind is "Please, don’t go outside." This is your basic house of liberation. We come here voluntarily. If you want to learn the dharma, you listen. You need mind control, learning time.

There are two geshes. I’m not very good at the English language. This Friday, our own Geshe-la (Geshe Dakpa Topgyal) will come here and teach very subtly. I try to teach very subtle dharma, but when I try to teach, I think I teach rough dharma.

A Story

You want a story? Many years ago in India, there were two sadhus, two Indian devotees. They could look at your hand and tell your future. One could not speak very politely; he was rough, coarse. A king’s son came to see the rough-speaking sadhu. The sadhu checked the hand of the prince and told him, "In the future, you will see the dead bodies of all your relatives." This was bad news, and the prince was very angry and sad. He slapped and kicked the rough-spoken sadhu. The prince came again, and this time he spoke with the well-spoken sadhu. This one said, "Oh, you are very lucky. You are the one with the longest life." Then the prince was very happy and gave this sadhu many gifts. But the only difference in the fortunes was the words, the sentences. The meaning was the same: If the prince has a long life, he will see all the dead bodies of his relatives. I am the first one. Our Geshe-la is the second one.


Now, dharma. First, there are many religions: Hindu, Christian, Buddhism. We need religions. If you can train your mind, control your mind, this is religion of dharma. This trained mind is the protector of yourself. This mind is your god, very precious dharma. There are three jewels, the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha. Then everybody says, "God is not in heaven; God is in my heart." We don’t say God is in our mind or "I." This is how I think; god is in my heart. We need an explanation of how this trained mind is god, how god is dharma, god is protector.

It is not easy to train the mind. It is very difficult. That’s because the mind is crazy. What the mind does has no discipline, no government, no society. If you say harsh words, the police might come. If you think harsh words, no police will come. Dharma is discipline for the mind. We say Buddha is the doctor; dharma is the medicine; the sangha is the nurse. If you understand dharma, you see it is the protector to us in this life. If you want more dharma, you need to believe in the next life. If you want more benefits from dharma, you need to accept there is a next life. If you don’t believe in the next life with a blind mind, you need reason, logic. First, you need a good understanding of cause and effect. After that, you will know what is the cause of the mind.

So we study pramana, logic, and valid perception; prajnaparamita, wisdom of perfection; madhyamika, the middle way; vinaya, the discipline of the monastery; and Abhidharmakosh, ethics, metaphysics, and cosmology. Pramana: "man" means mind in Sanskit. (And "tra" means refuge. So mantra means a "mind refuge.") In pramana, we learn there is no one cause of the mind. The mind is not caused by materials. The cause of the mind is past mind. So the mind is beginningless; it has no time. If mind causes mind, then one question would be, if you have twins, who have the same mother and father, but grow up with different habits, one is honest, one rude, what is the difference? Why? After one year, I will tell you.

Dharma means we can train the mind. The trained mind is our protector, our god. I say our god is in my heart. If you want more benefit from dharma, if you have an interest in dharma, if you want to learn dharma, you need to believe, with reason, in the next life. If you don’t believe in the next life, okay, but you need a trained mind. Vasubandhu said in the Abhidharmakosh that most people argue on emotions, feelings. He said--you check--in the Abhidharmakosh that lay people mostly argue and fight on feelings, but monks argue and fight on the view. Monks say, "My view is the best. Logic says if there is no next life, then some element forms the mind, and it would be difficult to say why differences in minds occur."4r tn

Question: If the mind has form, would it start some place because the form must be created?

Answer: Yes.


In his first teaching, Buddha said, "This is the truth of suffering." We know the pain of suffering. If we understand the truth of suffering, it’s a big benefit to practice dharma. There are three kinds of suffering: 1) the suffering of suffering. 2)the suffering of change. 3) the suffering of pervasive conditioning. Within the suffering of suffering, there are eight kinds of suffering:

1) the suffering of birth. When someone is born, first he cries. He doesn’t laugh. Why?
2) the suffering of aging.
3) the suffering of sickness.
4) the suffering of death.
5) the suffering of separation from cherished objects.
6) the suffering of meeting with revolting objects.
7) the suffering of not finding the desired object.
8) In brief, the five aggregates are a source of suffering. They include 1) the suffering of uncertainty. 2) the suffering of dissatisfaction and 3, 4 and 5 are too difficult to explain now.

The suffering of suffering is the suffering of pain. We experience this; so do animals. The suffering of change is the contamination of joyous feelings. The suffering of pervasive conditioning is the contamination of neutral feelings. There are three kinds of feelings: 1) joyous, happy 2) painful 3) neutral. (And there are two kinds of mind: 1) mental factors and 2) sense factors.) A contaminated neutral feeling is the suffering of pervasive conditioning, but within neutral feelings are contaminated and uncontaminated feelings. We have contaminated neutral feelings in samsara. Enlightened beings have uncontaminated neutral feelings.

In Buddhahood there are feelings. You praise the god or blind the god, no difference because the feelings are neutral and uncontaminated. The suffering of change is the suffering of uncertainty. There are no guarantees. When we go outside, the weather is hot. Inside, we use the air conditioner. We come inside, and the feeling is so nice, but there is no guarantee. After two hours, we need a heater. In wintertime, it is very cold. When we come inside, we use the heater. After one hour, we feel so very good; after two or three hours, we want to be cool. There is no guarantee.

If you want one way to achieve permanent happiness, train your mind. There are many people here, and each has a different workplace, and samsara is everywhere. People in the office say, "Oh, my problems." The taxi driver says, "Oh, my problems." Everybody has a big story of problems. That shows that where you are is not comfortable for you. Whatever you do has suffering. There is no comfort in samsara.

In suffering, you don’t get what you want. In suffering, we get what we don’t want. The truth of suffering is dhukka. The suffering of suffering is not difficult to understand, but we need to understand suffering better than animals do. So we try to understand the suffering of change and the suffering of pervasive conditioning.

Within constant change are the five aggregates: form, feeling, thought, discrimination, and volition or will. I can’t explain this well in English. It’s not my fault or your fault. The mind is like a traveler. The body is like a guest house. Our mind can come here and go. But our body can be a very negative guest house, so we need life insurance, health insurance, exercise. If you don’t do that, the five aggregates will give you suffering. Think of food. If you don’t have food, you don’t have health. Without health, you can’t learn religion. If you can’t learn religion, you don’t get the path of dharma. If you don’t get the path of dharma, there’s no way to get liberation. So we need everything. But we follow the crazy mind. And the crazy mind follows delusion. Delusion is our leader so we have suffering.

If you know delusion, you need dharma. If you can contain your mind, control your mind, this is our religion, this is our protector, this is our god. Why do we need to practice dharma? To learn anything, we need to practice. If we don’t practice, we won’t come to liberation on time. Maybe we’ll come like the police, long afterward.

Shantideva said if somebody takes a stick and beats you, you’re angry at that person. But what touched your body? The stick. Why not be angry at he stick? You say, "No the person took the stick; the stick was not autonomous." But you don’t need to get angry at that person. Get angry with anger. Oh yeah, this is logic.

Notes from a teaching by Geshe Ngawang Phuntsok in Columbia, South Carolina, July 3, 2002.

A Teaching by Geshe Ngawang Phuntsok


The meaning of dharma is "transform the mind." Ordinarily, we may have love; we may have honesty. Sometimes, we have an honest mind. We see a beggar, and we give him fifty cents. This is very simple compassion. Most of the time we are looking for our own happiness. We will go anywhere to find happiness; we will go everywhere to find happiness. We think we will get happiness from attending a big party, so we go there. Sometimes we think we will get happiness from being at the beach, so we go there.

Education will help. If a person has education, oh, then this is a little bit different. We say an educated mind can have a good understanding of the dharma. For example, you have a pound of iron. If you put the pound of iron in water, then the iron goes directly to the bottom of the ocean. An educated man will know he can make the iron thin and flat, and it won’t sink; it will float on the water. We have two kinds of people, educated and uneducated, and the results are different.

It is the same with dharma. A person who has an understanding of dharma, after he does something nonvirtuous, he will regret it. If he regrets it, he starts purification. Purification is a very good way to negate nonvirtuous actions or sins. If you don’t understand dharma, there is more energy for nonvirtuous acts.

In this world, an educated man has patience; a silly man immediately argues and fights. A virtuous man can smile even when he’s annoyed because he’s educated in dharma. We need happiness, and we will go everywhere to get it. If your mind is not at peace, then wherever you go, it’s still not comfortable to you. We need peace, happiness to be a good person, to have everyone like us. Our aim is happiness, and there are two kinds of happiness, temporary and permanent. We try for permanent happiness.


First, we need to realize all is suffering. Then we must try to abandon the origin of suffering. Before we abandon the origin of suffering, we need a path to wisdom. I have told you there is the suffering of birth; all children at birth cry. Then there is the suffering of aging, the suffering of sickness, the suffering of death, the suffering of separation from the cherished object, the suffering of meeting with a revolting object, the suffering of not finding the desired object, and finally, the five aggregates.

It is important to understand suffering or dhukka. We experience the suffering of change, which is contaminated joyous feelings, and we experience the suffering of pervasive conditioning, which is the contamination of neutral feelings. The suffering of suffering is easy to understand; it is pain; even animals know it. There are six kinds of suffering: the suffering of uncertainty, the suffering of dissatisfaction, the suffering of discarding one’s body time and again, the suffering of frequent conception for rebirth, the suffering of frequent changes of fortune, and the suffering of loneliness.

If you know all this is suffering, you understand it is difficult to find happiness. But you don’t need to be discouraged. If you have dharma understanding, that gives you courage because you know there is an antidote. You can prepare for suffering before it comes. Encompassed in the origin of suffering are two kinds of suffering, karma and delusion. Karma alone does not cause suffering to arise. If there are delusions, there is karma. Karma cannot produce suffering without delusion.

When we consider the suffering of impermanence, there are four causes: direct cause, indirect cause, substantial cause and auxiliary conditions or cooperating factors. Delusion is an auxiliary cause of suffering. When a delusion comes into our mind, it disturbs your mind’s peace. An example of a direct cause of suffering would be a sickness. For example, bad food causes stomach pain. An indirect cause is a cause once removed; my grandfather is an indirect cause of me. A substantial cause is a physical condition that can cause pain. It is a problem that is already inside you, such as jaundice, and eventually, it causes pain. A substantial cause is the most important cause, so sometimes it is called the principal cause. For example, gold is the substantial cause of a ring. The ring is the result; a hammer is an indirect cause; the jeweler wielding the hammer is an auxiliary cause.

There are many delusions: six root delusions and twenty secondary afflictions. The six root delusions are desire, attachment, hatred or anger, pride, ignorance or the misconceptual mind, and wrong view. There are three kinds of ignorance: grasping, obstruction of liberation, and obstruction of enlightenment. To really know about suffering, we need to understand delusion. If you don’t understand delusion, then you can’t know the cause of suffering. If you don’t know the cause of suffering, you’ll believe there is no solution. If you don’t try to solve the problem of suffering, there is no way to become happy.

So, first you need to know, "What is suffering?" Second, you need to know the cause of suffering. After that, we see what the solutions are; we call this the path. Mostly, with dharma you try to become a good person. A good understanding of dharma benefits you. Then, if you do something wrong, you are not satisfied. You experience regret. Then you should try purification, which is one solution. But first, you need regret. If you regret nonvirtuous acts, that, in itself, is virtuous. If you regret virtue, then that mind is nonvirtuous. So regret is a method.

It’s difficult, very difficult to abandon delusions. Day One, Day Two, we try. But this is not about one or two days; this is about your whole life. There is no retirement from delusions. Also, there is no retirement from dharma. From birth to death, here come attachment and anger. It’s very difficult to abandon delusions. We know they are bad, but it’s difficult to abandon them. After doing something wrong, we experience regret, and then we purify. That mind is virtuous, and the result is happiness.

There are many methods or solutions that yield happiness. First, we think we did something wrong. Then we regret it. Then we try purification. Then we meditate. Then, one day, when the deluded mind comes, we try an antidote. But this depends on practice. Just as education or exercise needs practice, so does dharma. And practice means "on time;" it does not mean after the fact. We play tomorrow; today, we practice.

Notes from a teaching by Geshe Ngawang Phuntsok in Columbia, South Carolina, July 3, 2002.