Class 23 Interactive Transcript: A Gift of Liberation 35: Insights Into The Wheel of Life (2020, Arizona)

Class 23: Three Things for Cutting a Tree


Hi, welcome back to our online retreat called “The Wheel of Life. I’d like to thank Stanley for translating. We’ve reached session 23. The name of this session is called “Three Things for Cutting a Tree.” And you see a picture of a very strong guy with an axe that he’s going to cut the tree. Let’s jump into the text.

nyipa ni (GNYIS PA NI), which means “number two.” So I went and got you what point number two, which is lam ji tabu shik gi korwa le dokpa (LAM JI LTA BU ZHIG GIS ‘KHOR BA LAS LDOG PA)–What’s the path we’re going to use to get out of the Wheel? rang chak gi korway tsawa chupa la (RANG CAG GIS ‘KHOR BA’I RTZA BA GCOD PA LA)–now if we want to … we have an idiom in English called “throw a monkey wrench into the machine.” It means take a tool and throw it into those wheels and then suddenly everything goes [breaking noises] and it stops. We had a similar thing when we were kids. If there’s a kid we don’t like–and all of us have bicycles, then we will run next to his bicycle with a big fat stick. And then we’ll push it into the bicycle wheel, and then it goes [breaking sound] and the whole wheel breaks. How do we throw a stick into the bicycle wheel?


korway tsawa de kona nyi la mongpay marikpa (‘KHOR BA’I RTZA BA DE KHO NA NYID LA RMONGS PA’I MA RIG PA)–we have to go after link number one, which is misunderstanding the way reality works. You guys have a pen? I have a pen. In Diamond Cutter Institute language–and you should go to a Diamond Cutter Institute program–we say that the pen, it looks like the pen is coming from the pen. But actually the pen is coming from me. You’ve been alive in this world for many years, and all that time you didn’t realize these are seeds in your mind making pictures that are the things around you.

This misunderstanding is called hlenkye nyi (LHAN SKYES NYID). hlenkye nyi means “you are born with it.” Bugs are born with it, whales are born with it, birds are born with it. We’ve been talking about the example of the woman who comes home and her husband yells at her. And she says “I didn’t do anything and he yelled at me.” She’s having a misunderstanding about her immediate world and her immediate self–and that’s the classic form of the first link. We are misunderstanding ourselves and our immediate world, and that’s actually the place where we can stop the machine of the suffering life. And again, it doesn’t mean you’re going to die or something like that.

It means you enter a perfect life and a body which cannot die. Some American guy–the Americans have the most funny ideas about Buddhism–“Geshe-la, I don’t want to stop the Wheel of Life.” Why? “Because I want to die.” Why do you want to die? “Even after fifty years I’ve got so many wrinkles. If I live for five thousand years, do you know how many wrinkles I’m going to have? I’m going to look terrible!” It’s not like that, okay? You don’t have to kill yourself to get out of the Wheel. And it’s not like you’re going to live for a thousand years and you got a thousand years of wrinkles. You will enter a perfect body, perfect mind, and perfect heart. And all of the people you love will be around you in their perfect form also.


That’s what happens if you stop the Wheel. And you have to reach into the Wheel and stop it at the exact correct place. If you can’t cut that exact place, nyenpo shen gyi nyonmongpa (GNYEN PO GZHAN GYIS NYON MONGS PA)–and you use some other kind of antidote–“antidote” here means some other spiritual method to become free. nyonmongpa re shik drip (NYON MONGS PA RE ZHIG ‘GRIB)–you will affect some of your negative thoughts and the things connected with your negative thoughts. The verb here in the Tibetan is very interesting. drip kyang ten du mi-se (‘GRIB KYANG GTAN DU MI ZAD)–you will slow down those negative thoughts, but you won’t stop them forever.

Like, you get angry when you drive on the road. This is one of my problems. Today, some guy was driving very dangerously. Yeah, I get like, “Why you do that?!” So then maybe if Veronica is in the car, she says, “Listen, you’re a Buddhist teacher. You shouldn’t get angry, even at the other driver.” And then I can be peaceful about the guy who drives dangerously next to me. But tomorrow if someone actually hits my car then my patience will break. So normal patience has a limit. If someone pushes you, pushes you, pushes you, pushes you, pushes you … finally you will fight. That means you didn’t find the real solution.

So maybe most of you don’t know how cement works. But my lama told me one day, “You make a sidewalk around the temple.” I said “I don’t know anything about how to make a sidewalk.” Then he looked at me like I’m crazy and said, “Well, just learn.” So I learned, and what’s interesting about pouring cement … You think like, “So how many days do we have to wait for the cement to get dry?” But that’s not how cement works. When they arrive in the cement truck, they mix together the water and the special chemical, and it creates a chemical reaction. The cement starts to react from the middle, from the inside, and it continues to get harder for thirty years. That reaction doesn’t finish. To break old cement is almost impossible. It gets harder, and harder, and harder.


And Buddhist path for patience is different from a normal path for patience. In the normal path they say, “Just try to be nice. Don’t get angry.” But the sign that a solution is not perfect is that if someone pushes you enough your patience will break. Like, if they yell at you, you’re like … “Ah, it’s ok.” And they push you, and you’re like … “Ah, it’s ok.” And they hit you. “Ah, that’s ok.” Then they hit your kid. Then you’ll go crazy. That’s the normal solution to anger. But the Buddhist solution to anger is like cement, and every day it gets stronger, and stronger, and stronger. And the more you push that person, the stronger they get.

So we’re talking about this kind of antidote. He says we don’t want the solution which works for a while, but doesn’t cure the disease. de na ngar dzin hlenkye le gewa shen gyi nu mi nupar (DES NA NGAR ‘DZIN LHAN SKYES LA DGE BA GZHAN GYIS GNOD MI NUS PAR). We have this habit inside our mind. Bad things happen to us, and like the wife in the kitchen we like to say, “I didn’t do anything! And now this thing is happening to me.” There’s no kind of good karma which can stop that thinking, except one. So when we talk about a path to get out of the Wheel of Life, of course there are many different spiritual kinds of behaviour. Be nice to people. Be compassionate. Do tong len (GTONG LEN). Exchange self and others. Many, many. But they don’t stop the root of the problem.

gewa shen gyi nu mi nupar (DGE BA GZHAN GYIS GNOD MI NUS PAR) means they don’t hurt your “I didn’t do anything” idea. The only way to stop that idea, “I didn’t do anything,” is to find dzin tang ngu gal du song (‘DZIN STANGS DNGOS ‘GAL DU SONG). dzin tang (‘DZIN STANGS) means “the way it thinks about things” should be the direct opposite–not just the opposite but the direct opposite–of the way you are thinking. So the dzin tang we’re talking about in the kitchen, the wife says, “I didn’t do anything and he yelled at me.” Then the complete opposite of that idea, is “Oh, I did do something. I yelled at my kids last week.”


So in Buddhism, in the deepest forms of meditation, we are talking about one state of mind. And we have to find a state of mind
which is the direct opposite, then it can stop the first state of mind forever. What’s the first state of mind? “I came in the kitchen and he yelled at me. I didn’t do anything!” Okay, what’s the direct opposite thinking? She walks in the kitchen, he starts calling her stupid, a real Buddhist, they’re like this … they don’t say, “I’m not stupid, you’re stupid!” They’re like this [looks around] What’s that lady doing? She’s just thinking, “How did I plant these bad seeds?” “What did I do last week?” Probably the husband is really angry, he’s all red, he’s yelling. And before she studied lam rim (LAM RIM), she’d say, “You’re stupid, not me!”

After studying lam rim–especially Wheel of Life online lam rim–He says, “You’re stupid!” and she goes … it means, “Oh, what did I do last week?” Okay? That thinking, “What did I do last week?” is the direct nuclear bomb which stops the first link. de yang dakme tokpay sherab nyi kyi nga rangshin gyi mepar tokpe (DE YANG BDAG MED RTOGS PA’I SHES RAB NYID KYIS NGA RANG BZHIN GYIS MED PAR RTOGS PAS). Then the wisdom which understands “I am not the person I used to think I was,” it understands these things are not happening to me in the kitchen for no reason at all. nga rangshin gyi druppar dzinpay lo dang dzin tang ngu su galwa yin pe (NGA RANG BZHIN GYIS GRUB PAR ‘DZIN PA’I BLO DANG ‘DZIN STANGS DNGOS SU ‘GAL BA YIN PAS). We have to find a state of mind which is opposite of “I didn’t do anything and he yelled at me.”

We need a state of wisdom which can put the monkey wrench into the middle of the machine and blow up the whole machine. di me na (‘DI MED NA)–if you don’t have that, gewa shen jindra shik la be kyang (DGE BA GZHAN JI ‘DRA ZHIG LA ‘BAD KYANG)–You can work really, really hard to develop other good qualities–good spiritual qualities. More patience. More morality. More compassion. More joy for doing good things. More general meditation. And those will help your wisdom. They will support your wisdom. No, I’m sorry I made a mistake. He said something worse than that. Okay, ready?


If all those spiritual practices don’t have wisdom in them, they become a support for the wrong idea. Let’s go back to the kitchen. She just came back from some place where they teach “just be patient.” She just came back from a place where they teach you to be patient about your husband, but they don’t teach you that the husband you’re being patient with is coming from you. So you go to some therapist and you say “I have trouble, I feel angry at my husband when he calls me stupid.” Then the therapist says, “Well, next time you walk in the kitchen and he starts yelling at you, just try to be a little more understanding. Maybe he had a hard day. Maybe he has a headache. Maybe his boss yelled at him. Just try to calm down.”

So try to imagine–that lady went to the therapist, and she comes in the kitchen, and the husband says, “You’re stupid.” She looks at him and she remembers her therapist. “Oh, maybe he had a hard day. Maybe he couldn’t get lunch, maybe he’s hungry. Maybe he had bad traffic on the way home today. I should try to just be patient with him. It’s possible something happened.” In this section of the lam rim, they’re saying something very radical. Those two minutes trying to sympathize with your husband, which the therapist told you to do–listen, they actually make the feeling that he’s not coming from you stronger for those two minutes.

So for two minutes more, in your billions of lifetimes, you are looking at the pen or the husband and you’re having the feeling that he comes “this way”. And in those two minutes of trying to be nice to him, but feeling that he’s coming not from me, will cause your suffering in the wheel of life to go on for more years. Okay, it’s a very radical statement. It means if in the middle of something frightening, or some anger, or something going on–like the virus–if you just think for two minutes, “Maybe this is coming from something I did,” then you are putting a monkey wrench in the middle of the machine and it will stop.


sherab de gyu la lekpar kyepar jepa la (SHES RAB DE RGYUD LA LEGS PAR BSKYED PAR BYED PA LA). And if you want to just keep increasing this awareness, when you walk in the kitchen remembering he’s coming from you, hlakpa ting ngendzin gyi lappa ma kyepar mi jung te (LHAG PA TING NGE ‘DZIN GYI BSLAB PA MA SKYES PAR MI ‘BYUNG STE)–unless you meditate, it’s not going to be strong enough. So if you don’t practice meditation regularly, your basic state of mind will not be strong enough to keep the correct idea going in the kitchen while he’s yelling.

Practicing meditation even just a half hour every day … by the way the key to meditation is to start with ten minutes, never start with more than that. Sit down for ten minutes and meditate, but every morning and don’t break. I have a timer here. Set the timer for ten minutes. Every Sunday increase it by one minute. Then within one year, you’re meditating for an hour. It’s perfect. But don’t try to use emptiness in the kitchen unless you are meditating everyday. You will not have enough control over your mind to keep the correct idea. So throwing the wrench into the bad machine in the kitchen, stopping the Wheel at the correct place, at link number one, it’s not going to work if you don’t have a strong and peaceful state of mind, always. It has to go together with meditation.


Now Pabongka Rinpoche goes into a famous metaphor. And I remember when I first heard it forty years ago. It’s the kind of metaphor that stays with you. I think I heard it in the first month I was studying Buddhism. He says, per na shing gi dongpo chupa la (DPER NA SHING GI SDONG PO GCOD PA LA). Let’s say you want to cut down a big tree. You’re going to need some different things. Number one, ta re nunpo (STA RE RNON PO) means you’re going to need a very sharp axe. And you’re going to need two big pungpa (DPUNG PA). So, what’s a punpa? pungpa means your arm from the elbow up to the top of the shoulder, and we don’t have a separate word in English. You can say strong shoulder, but that’s this part. You could say strong bicep, but that’s only this part. But this Tibetan word covers both. It says “you need two good pungpas.” So now you need two things. You need a sharp axe, and you need to be buff–you need to be strong here. And we have that picture right?


de yang ta re nunpo me na (DE YANG STA RE RNON PO MED NA)–if you don’t have a sharp axe, shing dong chu mi nu (SHING SDONG GCOD MI NUS)–there’s no way you’re going to cut the tree. If you don’t have the right tool, you can’t do even a basic thing. We learned that the other night. We didn’t have the right tool and we spent half an hour. pungpa tenpo me na (DPUNG PA BRTAN PO MED NA)–and if you don’t have strong sturdy shoulders and upper arms, ta re ne chik tu mi bap (STA RE GNAS GCIG TU MI ‘BAB) you won’t be able to control where the axe hits on the tree, because when you cut wood you have to cut a specific pattern.

Then he kind of gives a related example to this kind of focusing the axe on the right place. Let’s say tsen mor (MTSAN MOR)–it’s “night time” and gyang ri tawa (GYANG RIS BLTA BA)–you want to “look at something that’s pretty far away.” You need a nice strong candle, and the wind shouldn’t be blowing the candle. So there has to be some steady focus. Sharp axe. Steady focus. Stong arms. dakme tokpay sherab ta re nunpo (BDAG MED RTOGS PA’I SHES RAB STA RE RNON PO). What is your sharp axe in this case? It’s the moment in the kitchen when the wife says, “Oh, I yelled at the kid last week. There doesn’t even exist a husband in the kitchen who doesn’t come directly from me.” So that’s like a sharp axe–her thought in the kitchen that “he’s coming from me.” That’s like a sharp axe. Or you can say she has a very steady candle.

den dzin gyi shing gi dongpo chu (BDEN ‘DZIN GYI SHING GI SDONG PO GCOD). Then you can cut down that belief in fake reality. What’s a fake reality? “I didn’t do anything and he yelled at me!” So don’t get all philosophical with these Buddhist ideas. There are millions and millions of people who have lived in this world and never heard these ideas. Then there are hundreds and hundreds of people who heard them, but studied them their whole life and didn’t understand what the wife already understood. She has the candle now. And it’s not shaking. Then she can cut the tree. What’s the tree? [Stanley, “I didn’t do anything.”] Yeah, good. Very easy. “No Geshe-la, it’s too easy. The scriptures are very deep.”


If you can use the emptiness in the kitchen, you went deeper than any sutra, okay? ne luk ji shin tongwa la ni ta re dzin je kyi pungpa tenpo (GNAS LUGS JI BZHIN MTHONG BA LA NI STA RE ‘DZIN BYED KYI DPUNG PA BRTAN PO). So you need the strong arms of seeing what’s really going on in the kitchen. And to go deeply into the emptiness of the husband you used to think was in the kitchen, you need a strong state of concentration, of focus, which can hold on to that idea because every time, every minute that goes by in the kitchen and he keeps yelling at you, it’s possible you will lose your focus. You need tse chikpay ting ngendzin tenpo (RTZE GCIG PA’I TING NGE ‘DZIN BRTAN PO). You need focus which is unshakeable.

sems nang gi yengwa dang drelway ting ngendzin tenpo gyu la kyewa la-ang (SEMS NANG GI G-YENG BA DANG BRAL BA’I TING NGE ‘DZIN BRTAN PO RGYUD LA SKYE BA LA’ANG). But even if you have this strong focus, sem chi rol gyi yengwa rakpa dang drel je hlakpa tsultrim kyi lappa kye gu (SEMS PHYI ROL GYI G-YENG BA RAGS PA DANG BRAL BYED LHAG PA TSUL KHRIMS KYI BSLAB PA SKYE DGOS). A peaceful state of mind comes from living a general peaceful life all day long. You cannot live a life which is not pure, and then suddenly in the kitchen, you’re going to remember that he’s coming from you.

It’s not going to happen. Not just your morning meditation. That’s not the only support you need. You need the support of a whole day-long pure way of life where you are being kind to other people. Which we call “the ethical life.” In Buddhism it’s called “the extraordinary practice of the ethical way of life.” It doesn’t matter how good your focus is. That focus will waver in the kitchen. If he yells at you for five, ten, twenty minutes–you will lose the focus. You will lose the understanding that it came from yelling at your kids, unless your mind is already in the big comfortable bed called “all-day morality.”


dor na, tsangpe shupa say ngu shir drangpa le (MDOR NA, TSANGS PAS ZHUS PA SA’I DNGOS GZHIR DRANGS PA LAS,) He quotes a quotation found in a famous book by Asanga called “The Foundation of the Levels.” It’s a sutra called the “Sutra Requested by the Deva Bahma.”

tsawa shintu tenpa dang,
shiway sems la gawa dang,
pakpay ta dang dikpay ta,
denpar ja shing drelwar ja


Your roots should be very strong. shiway sem la gawa (ZHI BA’I SEMS LA DGA’ BA)–you should enjoy a peaceful state of mind. There’s two possibilities. You could have the viewpoint of an Arya, or you could have the viewpoint of a person who likes to hurt people. Embrace the first one and reject the second one. Think like an Arya, and reject this idea that it’s okay to hurt other people. Then Pabongka Rinpoche says, “What’s the sutra talking about?”

dak dzin gyi nyenpo yangdakpay ne luk stong nyi tokpay pakpay tawa (BDAG ‘DZIN GYI GNYEN PO YANG DAG PA’I GNAS LUGS STONG NYID RTOGS PA’I ‘PHAGS PA’I LTA BA). What do we mean “Arya’s point of view?” That point of view remembers the emptiness in the kitchen. What’s the emptiness in the kitchen? There is not now, and there was never in the past, and there will never be in the future, a husband who stands in my kitchen who doesn’t come from me, directly. Okay, that’s emptiness. By the way, that’s called hlak tong (LHAG MTHONG)–Vipashyana [Vipaśyanā]. Okay. First of all, it’s not pronounced “vipassana”, that’s a corruption of the word “vipashyana.” And it doesn’t refer to meditation. It refers to a special viewpoint. It even means “special viewpoint.” vi means “special” and pashyana means “viewpoint,” “view.” What is that?

“I thought he was just yelling at me. But now I understand he’s coming from me because I yelled at my kids. Right there, in the kitchen, he’s coming from me. The husband I used to think was there was never there.” What husband was never there? “I didn’t do anything husband.” But to hold that thought in your mind while your husband is yelling, you’re going to need meditation. You’re going to need powerful meditation. And specifically the powerful meditation which can hold the idea in your mind that he’s not coming from his side.


That powerful state of meditation which holds on to that kind of emptiness is called shamatha [śamatha]. shamatha means “a super peaceful state of mind.” In this month-long course, we were exploring shamatha when we went through the eight form and formless realm meditations. Those meditations did not have a meaningful object. Like, you cannot stop your mind, we just pretend to stop your mind. But if you work on those eight steps, which we did, your mind will become extremely peaceful like the surface of a lake at night when there’s no wind at all. And the name of that peaceful state of mind is “shamatha.”

So it’s beautiful to see a full moon reflected on the top of a lake at night with no ripples. Perfect. But it’s not going to help you. You need to turn that peaceful state of mind on a high object. What’s the high object in our case? “Oh, it looks like he’s yelling from his side, but it’s coming from me.” So we got this. Now we have a correct idea about where the husband’s yelling comes from. That’s called vipashyana.

And I have been studying shamatha, my mind is peaceful. I can keep that thought even in the difficult situation in the kitchen. By the way, did we do a vipashyana? We did a shamatha meditation when we did the eight levels. Did we do a vipashyana meditation? Yeah, we did. We did two. One was called dependent origination, meaning “in my past life, what did I do to see my lama like this?” That was a dependent origination meditation. Then we also did an emptiness meditation. We tried to imagine a lama who appeared at my house because they drove in a car from their house to my house. That’s the same as an “I didn’t do anything husband.” That lama doesn’t exist. That husband doesn’t exist. The lama is coming from you. The husband is coming from you.


So we’re trying shamatha, which is to be able to keep our mind even in the difficult kitchen, many things going on, but I have focus so I can keep my mind on an idea. What idea? Vipashyana. He comes from me, he doesn’t come from his own side. “He comes from me because I yelled at my kids.” That’s dependent origination. He’s not just coming from his own side for no reason. That’s emptiness. Now, to keep that shamatha and to keep those two parts of vipashyana, you need to, all day long, be nice to other people. And if you’re not nice to other people all day long, you will not be able to reach shamatha.

And that was the big breakthrough that Tsongkapa taught. If you’re not nice to people all day long, you can forget trying to meditate. Why? Because what you hear inside your mind is also coming from seeds in your mind. If you’re not nice to other people all day long, and you do mean things to other people, then when you sit down to meditate, those “mean things” seeds are going to open in your mind and they will disturb your meditation. No person who hurts other people can meditate. Period. Not possible. Therefore, they cannot have shamatha. Therefore, they cannot have vipashyana. And therefore, they are stuck in the prison of the Wheel of Life.

Okay, see you in session 24.

Thank you Stanley for such a great translation.