(Illustrations by Ugyen Dem)

"Rely on the Dharma; Never give up on the Dharma" – Milarepa (one of the greatest Yogis)

For the last seven to eight months since the Padyatra in Nepal in November 2017, I have been contemplating on this teaching wondering what it really means.

What does it mean to rely on the dharma, and never give up on the dharma? Does it mean that every day, we must do chanting and sit in meditation? I feel that it has quite a few meanings. Firstly, we have to ask ourselves what do we rely on in our life.

“We are so dependent on our job, relations, health, fame, all of which can never be secured. Depending on these external factors make us so weak. Depending on Buddha Dharma is depending on our mind, which is the source of our happiness.”

Usually, we rely on things which are very unreliable to support our life.

For example, we rely on our fame to give us happiness, but that fame is very much impermanent. We rely on our emotions, to make us feel happy, but our emotional ups and downs are quite frequent. Nobody has constant emotions, if anybody has a constant happy emotion, most probably that person could be what they say high on drugs or something you know. Sometimes, we rely on relationships to give us happiness but relationships are also impermanent, because relationships build on emotions and thoughts, which also change and then relations also change. And finally, we do not have control over our life, and death separates us. Basically, when we look at what kind of support system we have in our life, we are relying on very unreliable support systems. For example, it is like relying on a very thin stick which might break any time and not on a pillar. 

All our support systems such as our family, our relationships, fame, wealth, status, job, even the weather might change anytime. If you are happy, just relying on the sunny day, it might become cloudy any time, like it rained just a while ago. If you are someone happy in the rain, you will be disappointed that now the rain has stopped. We are relying on things that are very unreliable by nature. So, we must ask ourselves, what are we relying on.

This is not to say that as a Buddhist, you should not love your family, be successful, have fame or wealth. You can have all these but when we make these the whole center of our life, our whole world suddenly turns upside down when these are taken away from our life. Let’s say that you suddenly lose your husband, wife, wealth, etc. suddenly, we feel like we are nobody, our life has no meaning, we should kill ourselves, because that is the only thing that we have relied upon, and it is unreliable. 

Everyone relies on different things

I used to joke with my friends saying that you can know what you are relying on. Some say, “I can give up anything but this. I can give up anything but my pride, my wife or my husband, my job, etc.” So, we all have something that we rely on. Our whole life, present, future, what we dream of relies on something. What we must ask ourselves is whether that something that we rely on is totally reliable or not. Even this very temple, came about because of the unreliableness of the earlier temple. The earlier temple got damaged during an earthquake a few years ago which is why we have a new temple now. So, even the very house we have is not 100 percent reliable. And when we are relying on something that is unreliable, there is always a sense of fear, because it is beyond our control.

So now coming to what does relying on the dharma mean? There are three levels of understanding the essence of this teaching.

The first level is relying on karma.

As a Buddhist we believe that, whatever happiness we have in our life, whatever suffering we are going through, it is not caused by a divine being above us or happened accidently. It is a result of our own positive and negative actions, be it in the past lives or present life. This means if we want a happy life, we have to make sure that we are creating the conditions for happiness. Religiously speaking, it can be doing prayers, doing good deeds such as life release, etc. but in our day to day life, it means to be good to the people in our life. Be honest to others, be caring, loving, understanding, so that we can create the conditions to create love and harmony in our day to day life. It is the way we lead our life. If we rely on karma, if we have this understanding of relying on the karma, it is a reliable thing because everything is a result of action. Nothing happens by accident. For example, if you want a very harmonious family, you have to create the karma or the condition of tolerance, forgiveness and understanding. I don’t think there will be any family which is perfect, without any fault because we ourselves are full of faults. Therefore, if you want a harmonious family, we have to be ready to forgive each other, even before the other people in our life make a mistake. Like that we have to create the condition for

happiness. In this way, relying on karma is one way of understanding the meaning of relying on the dharma. 


Second way of understanding the meaning of relying on the dharma is understanding how to appreciate what we have and at the same time realizing its impermanence.

When we do the meditation on the four ways of transforming our mind, the first one is appreciation meditation. Instead of saying that I don’t have this and that, I lack so and so, have so many difficulties and challenges, we try to look at the many things that we have in our life to be happy about. The very fact that we are alive to complain about these things mean that you can appreciate that you are alive. If you are not alive, you would not be complaining. The fact that we are alive, the fact that we have relatively good health or wealth, etc. whatever we have are things to appreciate. Appreciation gives us a sense of satisfaction in our life, and satisfaction gives happiness. This kind of positive development of our mind is also relying on the dharma. The sense of appreciation and satisfaction is something that is within our own capability.
Similarly, by practicing impermanence, we will learn to be less grasping. If we really think of impermanence, everything that looks unchanging, for example, if we look at this pillar, it is the same pillar that was there a few minutes, a few seconds ago, but actually the pillar is changing every second. The buildings have a life time, when the timber gets rotten, it is not like it suddenly expired but the process happened continuously. It is going through changes every second. Every second our body is also going through changes. Every time the second hand moves on our watch, our life is changing, every moment. So, there is nothing that is permanent that we can really get attached to or grasp. When you have this kind of understanding, then we understand that whatever we have in our life, we should be utilizing it for giving happiness to others rather than having a fanatic view of our body, health, wealth, etc. Basically, the second level of relying on dharma is relying on our own mind to make us feel happy through appreciation and understanding impermanence.

Now the third level of understanding what it means when we say rely on the dharma is relying on the truth.

This is for little bit higher level practitioners. Relying on the truth means right now whatever experiences we have in our life, is not really the truth. Our experiences are the kind of the truth that we really want it to be. For e.g. when you see somebody that you like, you immediately say that he/she is my friend; whenever you see your friend, you feel a sense of joy. On the other hand, whenever you say that you don’t like a person, we feel a sense of unhappiness when we see that person.  What happens is when we say that “I like or dislike”, basically we are not giving the other person or whatever thing, the opportunity to show its nature. It is like, somebody comes and instead of asking him what is his name, you say your name is Tashi, or Dhendup, you are not giving him a chance to speak.


Another example is, if you look at a house, someone will say this is a very nice house, or this is a very ugly house, you do not give the house the chance to tell you it’s nature. If you really give the house a chance, it’s nature is beyond ugly and beautiful. Its nature is clear and empty. Its nature is empty because if you break down any physical thing, it can be broken down into atoms, protons and neutrons, matter and antimatter level. It is empty. Yet, when it all comes together, it looks so solid and real. 
That is why we call it empty, yet appearing. Then on top of that we put value on it. We say oh this is a nice perfume, this is my husband, my ex-husband, my friend, enemy, etc. We never let the things tell us their nature. We are busy telling others and ourselves what it is. Furthermore, if we follow the concept of the media, designer, you are piling concept on concept. So, we never let the things tell us its own nature. Similarly, whenever we hear a sound, it is said that the true nature of the sound is empty, yet we can hear it. For e.g. when we hear someone speaking, we immediately assume that the sound is real and on top of that judge whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, depending on if he/she is complimenting or criticizing you, etc. But if you try to decipher what is sound made of and from where it comes from, it can be made of oxygen, whatever phenomenon, did it come from the throat, tongue, mouth, ear, it did not come from anywhere. Somehow when all these come together, a thing called sound appears, and if we really break it down, there is no such a thing as sound. Yet, its nature is empty. But for us it becomes very real and solid.

Similarly, for emotions also, we do not let the emotions tell us who they are, we tell the emotions. For e.g. yesterday I was saying that from my perspective, of course I find bungee jumping very amazing, I wish one day I will have the courage to do it. But probably I will not be able to do it. It is amazing that for some, bungee jumping is a suffering but some people have convinced themselves that the fear that they feel is excitement. They call it excitement, courage, living your life with thrill. So suddenly the fear and the pain becomes thrill and excitement because we have defined it as such. Similarly, the so-called happiness, excitement, etc. We never let the emotions tell us its nature but we define it. For example, in our culture, we say gold is very expensive. If gold being expensive is its true nature, then the gold price will never go up and down. Recently I was in Nepal buying silver bowls for the Tara statue that we are getting here. He was telling that I should buy the silver bowls right now because the silver price is gone down. If the value of the silver is its nature, it will never change. The fact that it goes up and down is something that is conceptual, something that is conditional. But we never realize it. We feel that value is in the silver, value is in the gold, beauty is in the person, happiness is in our labelling. A true practitioner’s meditation does not mean that you fabricate something, yes at the beginning you have some visualizations, etc. but the real essence of meditation is you let the things tell you who or what they are. Right now, you don’t let that happen. For example, I think in the Tibetan tradition, if you show your tongue, it means respectful. But I think in England if you show your tongue, it is very disrespectful. This shows we have defined what is respectful, what is not; what is happiness what is not; what is rich, what is poor; what is success, what is failure. We have defined it, and on top of that the society also help us to kind of supposedly make it real with their reinforcement. Recently, there was a very interesting article, regarding one of the most famous bag designers, Kate Spade who had committed suicide. In this article, Jim Carrey, actor and comedian who did the Mask movie, etc. talked about “getting to the place where you have everything everybody has ever desired and realizing you are still unhappy. And that you can still be unhappy is a shock when you have accomplished everything you ever dreamed of and more.” We feel that until we become a millionaire, we still have this goal of becoming a millionaire, after which we feel that we will be happy, so you have something to look forward to. Jim Carrey said that when you have everything that you dreamt of and you realize that you are still not happy, realize that it is not what you thought it will be because happiness is never in becoming a millionaire, or in a position, it was a label that we projected, this is one of the most depressing things. And he said it is so devastating because now you don’t know what to do with your life. You have reached the so-called happiness and, everybody says now you should be happy. And it will never be because happiness is not something that is outside but it is something that we have projected. I heard that many tourists when they come to Bhutan say, when will I feel the Gross National Happiness, when will the happiness start, as if the happiness is in the country. I would say that Bhutan creates the conditions for us to feel happiness, yes but actually happiness is in ourselves.

What is the true nature of emotions?


Actually, the true nature of emotions is undefinable. It is beyond happiness or sadness. In Buddhism we call it true nature or emptiness or you can just call it the undefinable nature. It is beyond definition, like gold is beyond expensive and cheap. Our definition makes it expensive, our definition says gold price has come down and it has become cheaper. And now artificial diamond is going to come out so the price of real diamond is going to go down. That is why the meditation on relying on the dharma at the deepest level is actually to let the nature tell you what they are, who they are.

Now how do you practice this?

Whatever you see with your eyes, you let it tell you by itself without fabrication. Right now, when you see something, you say “oh this is beautiful, ugly, nice, etc”. We never let it tell us its own story, we are telling it. Similarly, whenever you hear a sound, you don’t let the sound tell its own nature, you tell this is the nature of the sound, pleasant, unpleasant and so on. As I have said many times before, if someone whom you love calls you stupid, you find it endearing, but if someone you hate calls you stupid, you will be ready to fight with that person. The word stupid is the same but it is your perception that makes it different each time. Actually, the word stupid is neither a compliment nor a criticism, it is beyond criticism or compliment. But our definition makes it so. And similarly, whatever emotions come in our mind, we define it as happiness, sadness, excitement, suffering, although the true nature of all the emotions is beyond definition, but we label it. If we do not understand this, we will always end up with disappointment. We will always be looking for happiness in the wrong place. It is our own mind that is projecting it and we are not understanding the nature of the things. We are looking for something that we artificially create and we are artificially searching for it everywhere. So that is why, finally relying on the dharma means to see things as they are because all the things that we see are by nature beyond definition, beyond dualism.

Leave it in its own nature, enjoy it. You enjoy the gold and stone equally; you enjoy the appearance of a friend and an enemy equally; you enjoy the sound of compliment and criticism equally; you enjoy the happy emotions and sad emotions equally; they are equally empty, equally real. By looking at and understanding the nature of these emotions, you kind of remain or understand the nature of emotions. That is relying on the ultimate dharma. Meditation also means that. 
That is why yesterday I was saying that, I do not think that meditation really gives happiness because happiness is something that is an emotion, a sensation, and happiness is something that is opposite of suffering. If you want happiness, you must experience suffering. Without suffering, there is no happiness because without suffering, how do you define happiness. Without sense of poverty, there will be no body who is poor. There has to be someone called poor and then only someone else will be defined as rich. One exists because of the other because these are relative things. Happiness is something that is dependent on the concept of suffering. I would not say that the true goal of a meditator is to search for happiness. Rather it is to search for freedom from the very concept of happiness and suffering, which is the true nature of things

When I say, rely on the dharma, when we have this understanding of the true nature of things, then what you have doesn’t matter. You don’t have to give up anything. If you say that I am a Buddhist, I have to give up so many things, that means that again you are defining something. You are defining something as a so called positive, something so called negative, which as a Vajrayana follower is not recommended. As a Vajrayana practitioner, you accept everything. If you have family, you don’t have to give up your family, but you have to see the family as they are, not as what you want them to be. Similarly, whatever sound you hear, whatever experience you are going through, wealth, you don’t have to reject them or throw them out of your life. But you are very much recommended to see them as they are. Let them tell us their nature, rather than we tell 

them. This is relying on the dharma. And one of the great things about this is that once you have a deep understanding about that, we are not influenced easily with the ups and downs. For example, if you know that the true nature of gold is neither expensive nor cheap, gold will not be moving you so much. You will not be like, I lost my gold ring, what should I do now? Or today I won a lottery, I might get a heart attack. We might find it like a joke but there are many stories of people who died after they won lottery. So next time if someone wins a lottery, you should tell him/her slowly, raising the amount slowly because the concept of wealth is so real and they might get heart attack.

When we cannot see the true nature of things, the pain is also real, excitement is also real; criticism is also real, compliment is also real. But if you are able to see the nature of the things, you may be wearing a gold Rolex or whatever, it may be the same for you wearing a fake Rolex. Because you know that the value of both are beyond valuable and invaluable. When we have that understanding, then you are relying your happiness on your wisdom, the truth which will never change and even if billions of people come to you and say that the gold is truly valuable, still it will not become the truth. When you rely on the truth, so called the fake ups and downs in life will not be able to shake you. That is the foundation of your happiness, foundation of your life. On top of that, if you are successful, why not; if you get good family, why not; you should welcome these. Tomorrow if you go to the US, Australia, why not? You get a baby why not? Baby is also like that. When you are in college, if you conceive a baby, it is suffering; when you are married and you can’t get a baby, it is suffering. Baby is a baby but it is dependent on your concept. At one time it is happiness and at another time it is suffering. It is ok, why not have two babies also, but always with the understanding of the true nature of things.

The true nature of the mind is beyond definition; the true nature of the sound is beyond definition; the true nature of things is beyond definition. So-called happiness, unhappiness is our definition. So, relying on the dharma means, relying on that sort of understanding to lead your life.

Right now, we are relying on girlfriend, boyfriend. Then, tomorrow girlfriend goes and your life is upside down; you lose your job, your life is upside down; tomorrow you are no longer famous, someone younger who is more handsome has come, your life is gone, you are no more famous. What will happen to my life if she/he leaves me, if I lose my job? We are relying on somebody or something which is so unreliable and fragile. Because we are relying on things which are very unreliable and fragile, there is so much fear and insecurity. Relying on dharma means relying on the wisdom and understanding and on top of that if you have success, congratulations. A beautiful wife or handsome husband and two beautiful children, congratulations but always rely on the dharma. This is the essence of Milarepa’s advice. I thought it sounds so simple when we say rely on the dharma but it has such deep meaning. Directly, it sounds like relying on dharma means always doing mantra recitation but this is superficial reliance. 
Yes, you should do chanting but real relying on dharma is the understanding of the true nature of things that you see, hear, feel. Let them tell their nature, you do not fabricate them, realizing that the very happiness and suffering is nothing other than creation of one’s own mind. One’s own mind is the master, the magician which projects the sadness and happiness. And by knowing this, one becomes the master of one’s own mind. This is the ultimate truth.