Khenpo Tsultrim Lodrö is one of the most important Tibetan Buddhist masters alive today. As demonstrated by his many writings, he is not only exceptionally learned in the traditional Buddhist teachings, but is also deeply familiar with science, western philosophy and the modern world. Here in this short text, drawn from a series of lectures, he encourages us to remember the Buddha’s fundamental message on the real meaning and purpose of life: the cultivation of genuine wisdom and compassion. I am a deep admirer of Khenpo Tsultrim Lodrö and supporter of his work.

In this early 21st century, man has succeeded in building an advanced material civilization with hands and brains, and along the way have managed to overcome many of life’s challenges. However, the fundamental question regarding cyclic existence remains an enigma which modern science is still scrambling to understand. Great scientists like Newton, Einstein and other luminaries, all must succumb to the inevitable process going from life to death just like you and me, without exception. Science, as we know it today, is not the answer to our ultimate longing for absolute freedom from samsara. This true liberation is beyond the cycle of birth, aging, sickness and death; it is where life rests, the natural state where every living being will eventually return. Those masters who had already attained this enlightened state conducted their lives with such contentment and equanimity, and carried themselves with tremendous dignity and grace until the very end. They experienced no suffering nor harbored any negative thoughts. Because once mind is free from all obscurations, external influences of the four elements (earth, water, fire and wind) cease as well. Only then can true freedom and happiness be had. To realize this ultimate ideal, man’s self-awareness and inherent wisdom must be explored and developed. As for the critical questions regarding the origin and the nature of cyclic existence, and the ways to go beyond its bounds, only the Dharma has the answers. For this reason, people from all walks of life really should familiarize themselves with Buddhist teachings somewhat. We believe that everyone can learn something valuable from it.

Khenpo Tsultrim Lodrö was born in 1962 in Drango (Luhuo) County in Sichuan Province’s Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. In 1984, he received monastic ordination at the world-renowned Larung Five Sciences Buddhist Institute (Larung Gar) in Serthar, becoming a disciple of the preeminent spiritual master, H.H. Chogyel Yeshe Norbu Jigme Phunstok. After many years dedicated to the study of the five main sutric treatises and tantric scripture, he was awarded the title of Khenpo in recognition of his scholarship.

To many dharma friends in China, Khenpo Tsultrim Lodro is known for conducting the activity of liberating live beings for 100 consecutive days every year for the past fifteen years. This activity has attracted numerous participants over the years, Buddhists as well as non-believers, both from within and out of China. As most of the participants were lay practitioners, Khenpo felt that it would be of great benefit to them to point out a more systematic approach to practice the Dharma. Thus the lectures, given in Mandarin, began around the same time.

You may wonder why this topic is chosen. The reason is simply because even some veteran Buddhists in both China and Tibet do not know the real meaning and the scope of Buddhism. Other than the monastics, most farmers and nomads in Tibet think that to be able to help build a stupa or a magnificent temple from time to time, or to recite the six-word mantra of Avalokitesvara, will make them good enough Buddhists. But all these are just doing good deeds, not learning or practicing the Dharma. So, further explanation about Buddhism is certainly necessary.

In the teaching today, we will examine in more details the differences between Buddhism and non-Buddhism, the mundane and the supramundane phenomena and, lastly, Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. The questions regarding these three differences seem quite easy to some, but the answers may not be so obvious to everyone. For someone who wants to practice the genuine Dharma, it is imperative that one understands the answers to these questions beforehand, as different answers will engender greatly different results in whatever actions one undertakes, be it doing good deeds or sitting down to meditate.

I. The necessity of foundational practice

Though the Three Supreme Methods is the most foundational practice of Buddhism for the beginners, many probably have not even heard of it. It is by no means complicated to explain, but quite a difficult matter to execute properly even for those veteran Buddhists. Nevertheless, once we understand the philosophy and the aim of Buddhist teachings, we should try our best to apply what we have learned in order to make progress and be benefited from them.

This is intended as a brief discussion of the nature, distinctions, ramifications and questions regarding causality.

What is cause and effect? For example, if a person commits theft, in terms of the person’s body, speech, or mind, which one is the cause? The word “karma,” which we often use in our speech, connotes the same meaning as “cause” here. A thief uses hands to grab something and puts it in a bag. Is this action the cause? When someone thinks, “I’m going to steal this.” Is this thought the cause? In the case of stealing, should the action of the hands be construed as the cause or the thought?

What is the difference between the Four Noble Truths and the Two Truths (relative and absolute truth)? The Two Truths delineate the doctrinal view on phenomena whereas the Four Noble Truths, though also contain some elements of that view, focus mainly on the practicable ways to attain liberation. Therefore, both are very important Buddhist doctrines that can lend certain help to one’s practice if understood well. Of course, one may choose to learn only the theories necessary for undertaking specific practice rather than the more extensive knowledge of various Buddhist doctrines such as the Two Truths or the Four Noble Truths. But chances are one may be prone to mistakes more easily this way except for those with the sharpest faculties.

The importance of mastering the doctrine of the Twelve Nidanas

The doctrine of the Twelve Nidanas is a key Buddhist thought. It mainly delineates how the past, present and future lives of human beings or other viviparous animals of the desire realm2 come about. In other words, it explains how we enter and leave this world.