Class 11 Interactive Transcript: A Gift of Liberation 35: Insights Into The Wheel of Life (2020, Arizona)

Class 11: How it all Begins


Hi! Welcome back to the Wheel of Life online retreat. We’ve reached session 11, which is called “How it all Begins”. In our outline at the beginning of this retreat we reviewed some of the past retreats and we covered how negative emotions come up in our mind. We then covered how those negative emotions cause us to collect karma. We also examined how those karmas take us through a whole life, even to death, and to the bardo (BAR DO) and into the next birth. And then Pabongka Rinpoche, the teacher of this book, said ‘let’s go look at another way this is presented, for example by the First Panchen Lama”, and also Je Tsongkapa who both like to use the The Wheel of Life teaching.

So we’re going to start out with the Wheel of Life teaching. We’re going to go through the Wheel of Life teaching now.

The image I chose is of a blind woman. It’s an elderly woman, who cannot see well. For me personally this represents my stepmom. I lost my real mother. My stepmom Edie married my father and she’s had a long beautiful life. She’s a very fine person, and now she’s losing her eyesight. They did many operations and now they say they cannot fix it and she’s slowly becoming blind. I spoke to her two days ago and she keeps falling down, she keeps tripping on things. She has trouble seeing steps for example.

Then I have another close friend, I’m going to show you his picture now. His name is Theo. He’s kind of our son. Veronica and me, that’s our son, and he’s an old dog that somebody kind of dumped on us and we were afraid that those people would kill him so we agreed to take him. And the problem is, I don’t know if you can see, but he’s blind. He’s also deaf. So his life is very difficult. You see another picture of him here outside our house and he’s headed towards a big piece of wood, and we have to catch him because he will hit his head on it. So these blind people, blind animals, they have trouble because they cannot see and they get into danger—-dangerous situations happen to them, and that’s the story of the first link of the Wheel of Life.


Here we see the first picture of the wheel and it’s a painting of a blind man with a stick. In the Wheel of Life, it represents the first of the twelve links which is called “misunderstanding”. People have called it “ignorance” which is sort of a translation of the sanskrit, which is avidyā, which literally means “not seeing”. “A” means “not” and vidyā is related to “video” and means “to see”. And it means … people have translated it as “ignorance”.

So I want you there, wherever you’re sitting right now watching this video, I’d like you to think for a minute about the difference between the word ignorance and the word misunderstanding. In the Abhidharma, which Stanley is translating (he’s scheduled to finish in 26 years), it says ignorance, which if you think about it, it is like when you don’t know a certain person. So I was thinking about a friend in mine in college named Tom.

So I asked Stanley, “do you know Tom?’

He says, “no Geshe-la I wasn’t even born at that time”.

So that’s “not knowing Tom”. A-vidyā or ignorance. I just don’t know him. So that’s one kind of not knowing. But if I say to Stanley, “do you know Tom?” and I’m thinking about that Tom that I knew when I was in college, and Stanley misunderstands my question and he thinks I’m talking about some Tom that we both know nowadays. He says, “yeah, I know Tom” but he doesn’t understand I’m talking about the Tom from 100 years ago. So now it’s different.

In the first case I said “do you know that Tom that was in my college?” and he says, “no I wasn’t born yet Geshe-la”. Or I just say, “do you know Tom” and then Stanley makes a mistake and he thinks I’m talking about another Tom. That’s a misunderstanding, and that’s different from not knowing Tom. In the first case ignorance or not knowing is just that you don’t know this person, but with mis-knowing, mis-understanding, it’s more dangerous. So for example, he might go to that new Tom and say, “oh Geshe-la says you went to college together”. Then that Tom will get upset, “I wasn’t even born at that time”.

So it’s easy to imagine this picture of a blind person, or a blind dog, and how their life is a kind of darkness. They cannot even see Tom for example. But that’s not actually what we’re talking about in The Wheel of Life. We’re talking about how you mis-understand. So really, it’s not that you’re blind. It’s that you are seeing something that’s not there. And then you get in trouble, because the whole topic we are covering in the lam rim (LAM RIM) right now is ‘how you get in trouble’.


So we’re going to go back to the text now, and we’re going to read it together, but please keep that in mind. I always translate avidyā or marikpa (MA RIG PA) as “misunderstanding”. Not as ignorance. It doesn’t mean “you don’t know”, it means you “mis-know”. You think you know, but you don’t know, and that’s more dangerous. Okay, here we go with the text.

DANG PO MA RIG PA NI means “let’s talk about the first of the twelve links” which as we said is “misunderstanding”. Then Pabongka Rinpoche says korwar korway tsawa yin (‘KHOR BAR ‘KHOR BA’I RTZA BA YIN). It means “this is the main cause, or the root, of why we are circling around the circle of suffering life”.

Now the purpose of studying the ancient books—-for example, if you come to the mixed nuts classes, is to develop wisdom. We call it sherab (SHES RAB). In sanskrit it’s called prajñā. And in china, you know, it came to be pronounced bōrě bōluómì duō (摩訶般若波羅蜜多經).

So this wisdom, it has a special meaning in Buddhism. Wisdom in general in English is like the intelligence of an old man from living a long life. When we say “wisdom” in Buddhism it has a different flavour and it means you see the real nature of the world around you. Here it says sherab kyi dak mepar sungwa (SHES RAB KYIS BDAG MED PAR BZUNG BA) “What does wisdom see?” dak mepa (BDAG MED PA) means “it sees that things are not themselves”.


And I love the example that we learn when we go to the diamond cutter institute programs. There’s a life tool called “The Two Husband’s in the Kitchen”. It’s the story where a woman yells and her two kids on a Friday, and she hears herself yelling, which plants a seed in her mind. Next week she comes home, she walks in the kitchen, and her husband immediately yells at her and calls her stupid. Then it’s easy for that woman to think “oh my husband yelled at me for no reason”.

“I didn’t even say anything and he called me stupid”.

So she’s seeing a husband in front of her who is yelling at her, “you’re stupid” for no good reason. And she, and us, we will always say “I didn’t do anything and he yelled at me!” Now that mind which thinks the husband is yelling at me for no reason, that state of mind is link number one, it’s misunderstanding.

Why is it misunderstanding? It doesn’t understand that that husband came from the seed in my own mind. It doesn’t understand I planted that seed in my own mind last week when I yelled at my kids. So there’s actually a second husband in the kitchen which did come from her—it came from the seed in her mind. That one really exists.

It’s like the teacher we meditated on in the previous session. I did these beautiful things in my past life and because of that I see this beautiful teacher. That’s dependent origination. I yelled at my kids and depending on that, came my husband, who is yelling at me. And a person who understands that, has wisdom.

When they walk in the kitchen and the husband says “you’re stupid” immediately this emotion comes up, “Why did he call me stupid? I didn’t say anything!” She’s able to stop that emotion because she attended the online Wheel of Life retreat. She understands, that husband who is not her fault, is not real. If you want to say it in a mysterious way, she understands the husband she thought was there was not there. She understands her husband is not her husband. And that’s what the lam rim means here when it says sherab kyi dak mepar sung (SHES RAB KYIS BDAG MED PAR BZUNG)—your wisdom perceives that the person is not the person. Now you know what that means. The person who didn’t come from you in the kitchen is not a person.


Now there’s an important word here. La (LA). It’s not Los Angeles, okay. It means, “but”. Wisdom understands the husband in the kitchen who yells at me for no reason doesn’t exist. But misunderstanding, link number 1 in the Wheel of Life, it says “oh, oh, why is he yelling at me? I didn’t do anything!” It’s looking at the husband completely wrong. It is misunderstanding the husband.

Then at the same moment, it’s misunderstanding everything else in the kitchen also. The refrigerator. Who paid for the refrigerator? How did I get the money for the refrigerator behind my husband right now? Sherab (SHES RAB), wisdom, it understands. “Oh, I helped another person buy something for their home therefore I have a refrigerator.” But misunderstanding looks at the refrigerator, “that’s MY refrigerator”. Why? I worked for money, I bought that refrigerator!” It comes from the store.

Now if you don’t understand that your husband yelling is coming from you, and if you don’t understand that you got the refrigerator in your kitchen because you helped someone else to get something, then you’ll get angry about that husband. And if someone tries to take your refrigerator, you will fight with them. Then you are living in the Wheel of Life, and the Wheel of Life is always—the name of the wheel of life is the SUFFERING Wheel of Life.


Okay, so now we can go to the text. ma rikpa (MA RIG PAS) means misunderstanding things like, “oh that husband, he comes from his side, he decided to get angry”.

Gam (GAM) means “or” chu la mik ne (CHOS LA DMIGS NAS). This chu (CHOS) doesn’t mean “dharma”. It means “an object in the kitchen”. Like the refrigerator. “That came from the store. I bought it with my money”. Misunderstanding doesn’t understand that I have a refrigerator because I got money because I helped other people to get money.

Then, rang gi tsennyi kyi drupar dzin (RANG GI MTSAN NYID KYIS GRUB PAR ‘DZIN) It holds that the husband exists out there from his own side. And it holds that the refrigerator exists out there from its own side. And the pen is coming from the pen.

Then rikpa yeshe dang dzin tang ngu gel (RIG PA YE SHES DANG ‘DZIN STANGS DNGOS ‘GAL) Those two states of mind are in direct contradiction. Wisdom says, “oh, my husband is yelling at me because I yelled at my kids last week”. Wisdom says, “I have a refrigerator in my kitchen because I helped someone else to get some money”. Ignorance thinks, sorry, misunderstanding thinks “he’s yelling at me for no reason” and that refrigerator, “I worked for that refrigerator”. So there’s two states of mind and one of them is completely mistaken, therefore we call it mis-understanding.


De ni mongpa longwa tabu shik go (DE NI RMONGS PA LONG BA LTA BU ZHIG GO) And that’s similar to a person who doesn’t know what’s going on at all—they are completely blind like my dog Theo. And if you are blind in this way, if you are blind about what’s real …. my blind stepmom, she falls off the steps and recently she cut open her chin. And my blind dog walks around the house and he hits his head on the wall. Those people who don’t have wisdom, who misunderstand the husband and the refrigerator, in that sense they are blind.


Then Pabongka Rinpoche says, “you know what, there are two kinds of this kind of misunderstanding”.

De la lendre mongpa dang (DE LA LAS ‘BRAS LA RMONGS PA DANG). Some people don’t understand karma. They don’t understand that the husband came from what they did before. They don’t even know about karma. Maybe they heard the word karma or Yè lì (業力), but they have no idea about the laws of karma. So that’s one kind of blindness, here it’s called “darkness”.

Then there’s a second kind of misunderstanding about emptiness, the real nature of things. To put it very clearly, simply, and correctly, the husband I thought was in the kitchen, the husband who yelled at me for no reason, that husband was never in the kitchen, he’s not in the kitchen now, and he will never be in the kitchen. Because he cannot exist.

So there are two kinds of not-knowing. Number one: “do you know about karma, the laws of karma, the rules of karma?” “No, I never studied it”. And then the second kind, “Do you realize that the husband you thought was in the kitchen was never in the kitchen?” So obviously the second one is more dangerous. You can hit your head on the wall more strongly.


Okay, we have a few minutes left so let’s go on to the second link of The Wheel. The second link is called “fresh karma” and the picture is a potter making pots. There’s a very simple example of fresh karma. Fresh karma is the seed you planted in your mind just now. In the kitchen your husband called you stupid and you said, “I’m not stupid, you’re stupid!” Your misunderstanding about the husband, link number one, just caused you to do link number two. And you made a fresh karma.

Now Stanley, for $100. Ready? Let me think about it. I forgot the question. The wife doesn’t understand the husband. She misunderstands. This misunderstanding state of mind says, “I didn’t do anything, he just yelled at me”. And because of the misunderstanding state of mind, which is link number one, the blind man, she makes a fresh cup. She says” I’m not stupid, you’re stupid”. She just put a new seed in her mind. What will happen from that seed?

Hundred dollar question. What will happen from that seed when it opens? Of course the husband will yell at her, but the big idea is the kids will be bad next week. Then she will yell at them. She’ll plant a new seed. That seed will open in the kitchen and that’s the Wheel of Life. Saṃsāra. Kids husband kids husband kids husband. Yell yell yell yell yell yell, okay?

So we have many small Saṃsāras. Many small wheels. But right now in the kitchen, that seed is still fresh karma. And you know, I like to garden. I enjoy planting watermelons. I’m going to plant some watermelons this week in fact. When you first put the seed under the dirt, that’s link number two. That’s making new pots.


Let’s go to the text. Nyipa duje ni (GNYIS PA ‘DU BYED NI), the second link of The Wheel, which is called “making fresh karma”. le ka jepa tar (LAS KA BYED PA LTAR) It’s just like working, like building something. Ma rikpe kun ne lang te (MA RIG PAS KUN NAS BSLANG STE) You are motivated by your misunderstanding of your husband and then you do things. Yang si pungpo ngunpar dujepay le jepa yinpe (YANG SRID PHUNG PO MNGON PAR ‘DU BYED PA’I LAS BYED PA YIN PAS), And you do karma which is going to produce a new body and mind for you in the next life.

You are like a potter who’s making pots for the next life. And there are three traditional kinds of karma you can make, and this is a little different from the usual presentation. Usually we just say your good karma is what produces happy things in your life, and bad karma is what makes bad things in your life, and neutral karma made these little lines on this coffee cup that nobody cares about. But here we have a slightly different traditional presentation.

lendre la mongpay ma rikpe kun ne lang te (LAS ‘BRAS LA RMONGS PA’I MA RIG PAS KUN NAS BSLANG STE) If you have this kind of misunderstanding where you never learned about karma and the result of karma, if you never had the good seeds to meet a teacher who taught you about karma, then you will make sunam mayinpa (BSOD NAMS MA YIN PA). You will do bad things. Kill people, lie, steal things, okay?

The second kind of misunderstanding, ne luk la mongpay ma rikpe (GNAS LUGS LA RMONGS PA’I MA RIG PAS), doesn’t understand the real nature of your husband. It doesn’t understand the dependent origination of your husband which is that he came from yelling at your kids. That’s a different kind of misunderstanding and it’s possible those people can do good deeds also.

There’s such a thing as good deeds which your mom taught you to do, but you don’t understand karma. So you do good things. They’re called “dirty good karma”. You don’t understand what you’re doing and you do it. Those will take you to a good place which will finish because you don’t know why you are there. So, many of the good actions that people do are not good karma.


So there are three words in Tibetan: sunam (BSOD NAMS), non-sunam (BSOD NAMS) and what we call “unshifting karma”, or karma which will not detour you to another place.

The first one is “dirty good karma”. You’re going to go someplace pretty good but you will suffer there also. Or you do bad karma and it doesn’t matter where you go … you will go to what we call the desire realm. And you will suffer there. But there is a kind of a pretty strong good karma, here it is called mi yoway le MI G-YO BA’I LAS. It will take you to the form realm or the formless realm which we talked about already. And that karma is so good, so strong, that it won’t detour. But still it’s a suffering karma.

Okay, so there we have the first two links. You don’t understand your husband, so you yell back at him. What’s that going to cause? Find out in session 12.

See you later.

And thank you Stanley for translating.