The Four Pillar of Buddhism


Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche is one of the grand son of HH Dudjom Rinpoche and a accomplished Master in his own right.

You will find his biography on his site which has many very useful links and information. The freshness of his presentations is so pervading, I could not resist posting these two articles from this site, hoping it will prompt you to seek more on the site itself and among Rinpoche’s growing published writings



In April 1999 Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche gave a teaching entitled "What is Buddhism? And What is Not?" in Sydney, Australia. In this and the following issue of the Gentle Voice we will feature excerpts from that teaching, which was both extremely profound and delightfully entertaining.

How should I start now? This is going to be academic sometimes, sort of very intellectual… "What is Buddhism and what is not?" Maybe a more appropriate way of saying it is, "What is the path of Gautama Buddha and what is not?" … Often I have been asked by people, "What is Buddhism?" "What is Buddhism in a nutshell?" "What is the unique view or philosophy of Buddhism?" I’m sure you’ve also encountered these kinds of people, asking such questions…

Now before we talk about this, I think it’s good to talk about the classic Buddhist way of categorising things. They categorise things into three departments: view, meditation and action. And this is quite a good way of understanding the path. And this view, meditation and action, even though we may not use them in our mundane, day-to-day life… Actually, we do have this view, meditation and action if you think about it carefully. For instance, what’s the best car we have now? BMW, let’s say. We have this BMW. It’s advertised as the best car, the fastest, the most sleek, posh, the most comfortable and all of that. And the view, in this case, is somehow trusting in all those advertisements and thinking that, "Yes, BMW is a good car." That’s the view. Having an idea. From an academic point of view, when we say "view", we’re talking about an idea. BMW is a good car. That’s it. That’s the view. And then, when we say meditation, contemplating it, admiring this car, the colour, the shape, the way it runs… I don’t know. I’ve never owned a BMW, so I don’t know how it works. But usually those who are obsessed with whatever view you have… Or learning or beginning to become obsessed with whatever idea you have, that’s the meditation actually. Getting accustomed to this obsession or, in better words, getting accustomed to this idea. Getting familiar with this idea. That’s the meditation. That’s all there is. And then the action is actually going out and buying a BMW, driving it, inviting friends to ride in it and flaunting it. Those are what we call action. So that’s it. So when we talk about view, meditation and action, this is how we understand it. So this way of categorising is quite helpful in understanding the Buddhist philosophy…

So now we ask the question, "What is the unique Buddhist view that Buddhists are trying to get accustomed to?" So this is where our subject begins. There are four different views that are unique to Buddhism, that you cannot find anywhere else. If you find all these four views within a path, within a philosophy, within an idea, then whether it is called Buddhist or not really doesn’t matter, because the word Buddhist or Buddhism is very unimportant. You can call it whatever you like. But if this path contains these four unique views, then that is what someone like me would consider the path of the Buddha, the path of Siddhartha, the path that is taught by Siddhartha Gautama…

Briefly, I’ll run through them. Anything that is compounded is impermanent. Now that’s unique. We will talk about why it’s unique later. The second one (slightly more complicated than that and also painful to listen to) is that all emotions are pain, all emotions are suffering, all emotions are dukkha. Now that’s something we don’t want to hear. And it’s something unique to Buddhism. I think only Buddhists talk about this. Many other religions or philosophies worship things like love, celebration, songs and things like that… Buddhists think this is all suffering. We will talk about that later. And then the third view is much more difficult. No phenomenon has inherent existence. Some of you worn-out, jaded Buddhists must have heard this thousands of times. But for those who are new it might be quite interesting. But it’s also quite difficult to chew because there’s a lot of blockage within us. The fourth one (and the most difficult to understand and the most difficult to accept) is nirvana is beyond extremes. Now that is a very, very difficult one. Not only difficult to understand, but difficult to accept because, as religious people, we all think that we will somehow go to a place where we have a better sofa, a better shower system, a better sewerage system… Something like that. Some kind of a nirvana where you don’t even have to have a remote control, where everything works the moment you think. And when Buddhists begin to say that nirvana is actually beyond extremes, that’s something quite difficult to accept…

So let’s talk about the first one, all compounded things are impermanent. That’s a big statement, this one. For instance, when we talk about impermanence, there are certain things that we human beings accept as impermanent, like weather. That’s quite easy to accept… There are a lot of gross things that are impermanent that we accept quite easily. But then there are certain gross things that we do not accept even though they are visibly impermanent. We still don’t accept them as impermanent things, such as our body. It’s visible that every day, every year, we’re getting older, we’re getting more deformed, more crooked, but we cannot accept it…

Let’s concentrate more on the word "compounded"… It’s the Buddhist view that all compounded things are impermanent. Now that includes a lot. Every compounded thing! … When you are talking about compounded things, you are talking about more than one. You are assembling or gathering. Anything that is assembled, anything that is gathered, anything that is joined or put together, sooner or later, it’s going to fall apart! That’s the common language. And when we say, "Anything that is joined", this is where Buddhists include things such as time, space, dimensions. Even time! When we talk about time, we are talking about past, present and future. So we are talking about impermanence. That’s the Buddhist logic, the Buddhist way of thinking. Time is a compounded thing. That’s why it’s impermanent. This is also where the Buddhist logic of karma comes in here. For instance, today, this moment is impermanent. Why? Because this moment is made out of many things, especially it’s made out of the past and the future. If the past does not exist, this present does not exist. If the future does not exist, this present does not exist. This is the Buddhist logic. Therefore, this present moment is impermanent. That’s how the Buddhists would put it. There’s quite an important logic to it, because if this present becomes permanent, there will be no future because present is always there. So we will never know how to plan. There is no system of programming, making appointments. Even having a date is not possible if time does not exist. But time does exist. But when time exists, it exists only as a compounded thing…

Let me tell you this in another way. When Buddhists talk about compounded things, they are talking about three things: the beginning, middle and end. Every act that you do, let’s say you plant a flower or sing a song, has a beginning, a middle and an end. Now again, you’re talking about time: beginning of singing a song, while you are singing and the end of the song. If one of these three does not exist, such as the middle, then there is no such thing as singing a song. So to sing a song you need to have a beginning of the singing of the song, the middle of the singing of the song and the end of the singing of the song. So that makes it compounded. Compounded of what? Three things: the beginning, the middle and the end.

So now we ask questions like, "So what?" "Why should we bother about it?" "What’s such a big deal about it?" "Okay, it has a beginning, it has a middle, it has an end. So what?" Well, it’s not so much that Buddhists worry because it has a beginning, a middle and an end. That’s not a problem here. The problem is when there’s impermanence involved, when there’s compounded matter involved, when there’s time involved, for instance, then there is so-called uncertainty involved. When there’s uncertainty, that’s the cause of the insecurity. And this is what you have to know. That’s all they’re saying. Many people think that Buddhism is pessimistic, always bringing bad news like death, dying, everything’s impermanent, ageing. It’s not. In fact, as I always say, the word impermanence is a relief. It’s a big relief… For instance, we were talking about a BMW. Today I don’t have a BMW. And it’s thanks to this uncertainty, and it’s thanks to this impermanence, that I can have one tomorrow! If this so-called impermanence does not exist, I’m stuck with the non-existence of the BMW. So I can never have it! So impermanence is not necessarily bad news. But it’s the way you interpret it and the way you understand it that’s important.

So what do we meditate on? When we meditate, we contemplate this reality, this fact, this truth. That’s all there is. We try to contemplate this truth of impermanence, the fact that everything is changeable. And what is the action? The action is very interesting here. The action is when you begin to know and accept the truth, even if your BMW gets scratched by some juvenile, you will not care that much. You understand, that kind of "couldn’t care less" attitude will come. And this is where the person is quite happy. Why? Because, you see… Okay, Buddhists also talk about enlightenment. And what is enlightenment? Enlightenment is freeing oneself from a net of delusion. And what is the delusion? The delusion in the first category is when you don’t know that all compounded things are impermanent. That is the delusion. When you know this, not only intellectually, but actually with meditation and you practise it, then you will be free from this delusion.

Let’s go to the second one. All emotions are pain. All of them! Why? Because they involve dualism. This is a big subject now. This we have to discuss for a while… From the Buddhist point of view, as long as there is a subject and object, as long as there is a separation between subject and object, as long as you divorce them so to speak, as long as you think they are independent and then function as subject and object, that is an emotion, which includes everything, almost every thought that we have. This is why the great master Jigmé Lingpa said, "We human beings, the moment we part our lips and utter words, it’s all contradiction. The moment we think something, it’s all confusion." …

You see, I think when you guys talk about emotion, you’re talking about a bigger level, like crying, having aggression, things like that. But that’s just the maturity of a subtle emotion. That’s what Buddhists would say. And, in fact, Buddhists would think that these are the least dangerous. The real ripened dualistic mind, which is like anger or jealousy actually manifesting. By then it’s almost going to exhaust itself! It doesn’t need any other antidote! It’s going to tire itself out! But the cause of that, which is the real emotion, which is the dualistic mind, all of that is pain…As long as there is dualistic mind, that is emotion, and that emotion is pain…

Why does dualistic mind create pain? You see, as soon as there is dualistic mind, it also creates a lot of preconceptions, a lot of expectations, a lot of fear, a lot of hope. As soon as there is dualistic mind, there is hope and there is fear. And when there’s hope and there’s fear, isn’t that pain? Hope is very much a pain. Think! Hope is a very systemised, organised pain! And then, of course, fear we don’t even have to explain.

And how does pain manifest? … You know, the first thing Buddha said after he achieved enlightenment was, "Know the suffering." That’s the first noble truth. (You know, he taught about the four noble truths.) The first noble truth was "Know the suffering." He never said, "Abandon the suffering." Neither did he say, "Adopt the suffering." He only said, "Abandon the cause of the suffering." He said, "Know the suffering." That is a very important message because many of us misunderstand the pain as pleasure… How does this pain manifest? I’m afraid for people like you and me, probably more for me than you, it manifests as pleasure for the time being…

When we talk about the definition of pain, all that you have said is good. But there’s something that we have to add here. The definition of pain is all the things you have said like impermanence, something you don’t want, something unpleasant and all of that. But on the top of that, something that does not have an inherently existing quality. That’s what Buddhists add. That’s a good one, actually, because it’s like a mirage. You are thirsty here, you understand? You’re in the desert and finally you see this big mirage, you know, like water. And you feel relief. "Ah, there’s the water." And then you go there. The closer you get, the more the true quality of this water, this mirage, will disappear. And that’s the ultimate disappointment, isn’t it? That’s it. That’s one quite important aspect of the definition of pain according to Buddhism. Something that does not have anything that is essential. Something that does not have independent existence. Therefore, now that you have heard the definition of pain, you can see why Buddhists conclude that all emotions are pain. Because they’re impermanent, which means they’re uncertain. And because there’s hope and fear, which is always in itself a bit of a paranoia, (quite a lot of a paranoia in fact). And then towards the end it never has inherently existing nature. So there’s nothing that is worthwhile, so to speak. Almost every effort that we create by this emotion, at the end it’s for something completely futile. That’s why it’s pain. The second one is finished now.

The three-tape set of this teaching, "What is Buddhism? And What is Not?", is now available from Siddhartha’s Intent, P.O. Box 1114, Strawberry Hills, NSW, 2012, Australia. Please refer to the audio tape catalogue page for details

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