A common space for harmonic peacemakers
The Three Noble Principles
“The three noble principles are indispensible to both bodhisattvayana and vajrayana practitioners.
1. AROUSE BODHICHITTA
No matter which dharma practice you engage in, from ngöndro to offering a single candle, always do it with the intention that your practice will benefit all sentient beings. In this context, “benefit” does not only mean giving practical help, such as offering food or medicine, or feeding people’s emotions, egos and delusions. Here, “benefit” includes aspiring to be instrumental in the enlightenment of all sentient beings; without such an aspiration, it is easy for dharma practice to become self-serving. It’s vital always to bear in mind that we practise for the sake of all other beings, and that the enormity of this aspiration is what makes dharma practice both extremely powerful and inexhaustible, virtually guaranteeing that the result will be infinitely beneficial.
2. APPLY THE AWARENESS OF NONDUALITY
While practising or performing dharma activities, we must remain constantly aware that everything we do is illusory—or at least try to bring that thought to mind. If we prick our flesh, our logical mind tells us we will feel pain. The pain itself will feel real because the idea that phenomena are both solid and truly existing has an almost unbreakably strong hold on us. We must therefore try to get used to the notion that everything we see, do and think is an interpretation created by our mind, which itself is an important steppingstone towards the practice of nonduality. And “getting used” to it means reminding ourselves about it over and over again. For example, when your knees start to hurt as you accumulate prostrations, remind yourself that the “I” in “I am doing prostrations” and the “my” in “my knees hurt” are both mind-made illusions.
Remembering everything you experience is created by mind is also the direct antidote to pride and ego, and once it becomes second nature, you will no longer cling to your dharma activities. This does not mean you will not practise. On the contrary, in the same way someone dying of thirst cannot resist taking large gulps of water, once you know everything is an illusion, your only thoughts will be about the dharma. Of course, the dharma itself is the antidote to ego, but for those who take pride in being good practitioners, dharma activities can be just another means of boosting their egos. And this is why it is so important to remember that absolutely everything we experience is just a product of mind, even if it’s only for five minutes a day.
The classic question students often ask at this point is, “If everything I experience is just a product of my mind, is there such a thing as ‘accumulating merit’?” In this context, the concept that merit either exists or does not exist is just another of mind’s constructions.
At first, it may be difficult to arouse the motivation of bodhichitta and remember nonduality every time you act. It’s also unlikely that you will immediately be able to meditate on emptiness for a whole hour each day. Instead, start by trying to remember that everything you see and experience is merely the product of your own perception. However simple your dharma activity, for example offering a flower to your teacher, remember that although you accumulate merit by making the offering, in reality the idea of accumulating merit is itself a creation of your mind. At every opportunity, get used to the thought that everything you perceive is produced by mind and there is no such thing as a truly existing “holy” activity.
These realisations will have a profound effect on the way you function, first and foremost because they release you from the consequences of defilements like pride and jealousy. And when your teacher throws the flower you offered to the ground without glancing at it, you won’t mind at all.
Always conclude your practice by not only dedicating any merit you may have attained towards your own well-being, but also for the benefit and enlightenment of all sentient beings. And you don’t have to wait for the end of your practice session to do it; you can dedicate at any time, for example after every prostration, so you can be sure that none is wasted. You can also dedicate the merit you may have forgotten to dedicate in all your past lives, by saying something like,
I dedicate all the merit I have just accumulated, All the merit I have no memory of accumulating in my past lives, and All the merit I will accumulate in the future Towards the benefit and enlightenment of all sentient beings.
However experienced you are as a dharma practitioner, it is crucial to bear in mind that the only way to ensure that all your actions, not just formal spiritual practice, are beneficial for yourself and others is by applying these three noble principles.
Be ambitious about the magnitude of the motivation you arouse. Don’t settle for simple kindness when nothing less than the fullyfledged mind of bodhichitta is what is needed. Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche said that dharma practice is really not that difficult, it’s all a matter of motivation. So never forget to arouse the motivation of wanting to bring all sentient beings to complete enlightenment. And the more magnanimous your motivation, the more merit you will accumulate, even when all you do is light a candle.
To consider the candle to be the light of wisdom that illuminates all sentient beings, with the aspiration that wherever its light falls becomes the mandala, is the attitude of a tantric practitioner.
Most of the time, though, we cannot seem to remember these crucial instructions, and when we do, putting them into practice often becomes unnecessarily complicated. I have heard many practitioners these days say they want to do long retreats, or make enormous offerings to their teacher, or some other grandiose gesture that will accumulate a great deal of merit in one go. In practice, however, they have neither the time nor the resources to do anything at all. And, ironically, such gestures are really not necessary. All any one of us needs to do to accumulate a vast treasury of merit is to seal our every action with the motivation of bodhichitta. Then, by offering your teacher a single flower, thinking, “May this offering ultimately benefit all sentient beings,” you will accumulate immeasurable merit. Dedication is therefore an extremely simple yet powerful method for accumulating merit.
Sadly, the majority of practitioners seem to consider it too insignificant a practice for them to notice, which indicates they lack the merit to be able to understand the profound power of dedicating merit.
So, these are the three noble principles. If you can remember to apply them to all your daily activities, you will quickly become a great dharma practitioner.”
~ Not for Happiness
A Guide to the So-Called Preliminary Practices
Plagiarised by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse