Dear friends near and far

Greetings to you all from the Kathmandu Valley. By the time you receive this mail from me, many of you will be getting ready to go to bed and many will be waking up. But wherever you are, I hope that you and your loved ones are happy and healthy. Today is again the 10th day of the lunar calendar and hence Guru Rinpoche day! And like the many other mails that I’ve been dropping in your mailbox on each GRD over the last three years, I hope this one also reminds you to not go astray from the dharma.

And now to continue on where I left off last month from Calling the Guru from Afar. Last time we went over the four preliminary contemplations: samsara, precious human birth, impermanence, and karma. Today we will go over the eight faults followed by the antidotes (perhaps in the next mail).

The Eight Faults

1. Pride

Though my faults are as great as a mountain I keep them to myself.
Though others’ faults are as small as a sesame seed I proclaim them far and wide.
Though I lack the least of qualities, I boast about how great I am.
I call myself a Dharma practitioner but behave to the contrary.
Guru think of me, regard me with compassion.
Bless me to pacify my selfish pride.

Now, the pride here is different from the normal pride, when you think of yourself as a great person and looking down at other people. Here the pride is hidden. You have countless faults, but you try to hide that fact.

Now someone has a problem, but you try to tell other people that fact, not in a critical manner, but in a way that indirectly shows yourself as free from the said fault and therefore, pure. You don’t have many good qualities, but you think you have a lot. And that is a very common way of seeing yourself: you call yourself a dharma practitioner, but what you are doing is non-dharmic.

The great master Atisha thought that he knew tantra very well. In Bodhgaya, he saw two dakinis flying in the sky, carrying a set of texts that was very radiant, and Atisha asked, “What are those texts?” The dakinis answered, “These are tantric texts that you have never seen or read before.” He felt very shocked. And then another pair of dakinis came, carrying a smaller set of texts, these ones less radiant. He asked, “What are those texts?” The dakinis answered, “This is the set of tantric texts that you know.” In that way, his pride about his knowledge on tantra was diminished.

In Dharma practice, you first need to be sincere to yourself. I saw a movie where they have a group called Honesty Group, where everyone talks honestly. There was one member, a clown, who took off his red nose, and said to everyone, “I hate all of you!” Honesty and sincerity is not like this though, not blaming everybody. Honesty means knowing your own negative emotions and habits: that is the first step.

Secondly, when you see the faults of others, you need to have pure perception. For example, all of Khenpo Ngakchung’s students have the trait of pure perception. They never ever criticize others. Here to criticize means to have some way of proving that another person is wrong, in an aggressive manner.

Thirdly, you need humility. You can see this trait in all the ancient masters – great masters like Shantideva and Vimalamitra. In The Way of Bodhisattva, Shantideva says that he is not a great master, nor is he a learned one. And the great master Vimalamitra said, “I do not know the buddhadharma. I cannot explain through my own understanding, but I have to use the Buddha’s quotations and explain whatever I can.” And this is the great Vimalamitra! Therefore, to be a good practitioner without boastful pride, you need sincerity, pure perception and humility.

2. Ego-Clinging

Within, I conceal my nemesis – the demon of ego – clinging.
All my thoughts only cause disturbing emotion to increase.
All my action result in non-virtue.
As I have not so much as turn towards the path of liberation,
Guru think of me, regard me with compassion.
Bless me that self-grasping be severed at the root.

The path of liberation actually means the path of cutting your ego. Look at how the ego-clinging functions. When you think carefully, you will see that ego will be your downfall. However, you hide your ego-clinging deep inside you. How do you see this? We usually say that we have a face, but when asked whether you can see your own face, we know we can’t because our eyes only look outwardly, in front. We need a mirror to look at our own face.

In that way, the mirror is used in order to see our own ego-clinging. The mirror is mindfulness. We need to notice that when we have good thoughts, we are attached to them and when we have bad thoughts, we get angry. We cannot let go of our own opinions, so basically any thoughts that arise in our mind have some kind of negative emotion tied in with them. And that is the proof that you have very strong ego. Also, for example, we feel good when we have compassion and we feel bad when we have anger. But who is the one who feels good or bad? When you look closely, you can see that you have very strong ego-clinging, but from far away, it may look like you do not have ego-clinging at all.

Whatever action you do, thinking, talking, or moving, it mostly has non-virtuous results. Because you usually have negative emotions and judgment in whatever that you do. For example, when you listen to a Dharma teaching, did you think about pure, genuine bodhicitta: that you are receiving this teaching to benefit all the sentient beings and in order to attain enlightenment? You should feel that deep down, in a genuine manner from the bottom of the heart, where you do not have anything to hide or to lose. This is important.

All the dharma that we have done so far has no results because our motivation is not correct. Why? We have ignorance in front, obstacles to our left and right, and ego in the middle. All your thoughts are linked with negative emotions, and all your actions may look like Dharma but are actually non-Dharmic. For example, many people do “korah” (circumambulation) around the Boudha stupa, but along the way, they are busy gossiping, flirting and so forth.

They are doing “virtuous activity” for the sake of ego-based happiness. This is not the right way of Dharma. Please guru, bless me to cut my ego so that my path becomes liberation.

3. Impatience

With the little praise or blame comes that much joy or sorrow.
With a few harsh words I let down my armour of patience.
Although I see the afflicted, I feel no compassion.
When I have chance to be generous, I am bound by the knot of greed.
Guru think of me, regard me with compassion.
Bless me to mingle my mind with the Dharma.

There are four different points here. First, we feel joy when people praise us and sorrow when people criticize us. Secondly, if anyone says anything bad to us, we lose our patience. Thirdly, when we see somebody towards whom we should gain compassion, we do not feel compassion. Fourthly, when we want to give something to someone, we are caught by stinginess.

The first point reflects how others easily affect our feelings, and it shows that we lack an understanding of emptiness. When you can maintain emptiness in the right way, if people criticize or praise you, it will not affect you. There are several levels to this. At the beginning, you will be affected emotionally. But if you practice well, the emotional effect is less, and you are mostly affected by feelings only. After that, even the feelings will not affect you; you will just notice what the person is actually saying to you. The fourth level, you will not have any thoughts when someone does something good or bad to you.

Secondly, our mind is judging all the time: we look and search for others’ opinion towards us. For example, when someone has a black face, we think, “Why is he angry with me?” But he may not be angry with you; he is just having a bad day. So basically, we have too much judgment here.

Thirdly, we have a lack of compassion.

And lastly, we do not make effort to cut our attachment. So we need to practice mandala offerings. Please, guru bless me so that my mind is inseparable from the Dharma.

4. Attachment

Though insubstantial, I ascribe substance to samsara.
For the sake of food and clothing, I abandon what has lasting value.
Although I have all that is needed, I crave for more and more.
I deceive myself with unreal, illusory phenomena.
Guru think of me, regard me with compassion.
Bless me to abandon any interest in such a life as this.

When you have attachment to this life, you are not a practitioner, because you have not actually crossed over the first hurdle. This verse actually embodies the famous teaching Parting from the Four Attachments.

The first one is when you have attachment to this lifetime, you are not a practitioner. Here, samsara has no value, no essence, and there is nothing to hold onto. When we have the opportunity to get some food or profit, we can give up the Dharma. Here giving up actually means giving up the time to practice just to follow some samsaric aims.

Secondly, you have enough to survive but you want to get more and more and more; actually I am like that.

Thirdly, there is no truth to samsara; appearances are illusions that are very skillful in deceiving or bribing us. One of my teachers used to say, “Appearance is the best way to deceive and bribe you, and our mind is very good at getting distracted.” So in order not to waste this precious life, you need to cut attachment to this lifetime. Whatever you have, just feel content with that and know that appearances are very good at deceiving and our mind is very good at falling under the power of delusion.

From the Vinaya point of view, to achieve freedom or enlightenment, you must be a monk or nun. However for those of us who have a family, we cannot actually be a monk or nun. But we must embrace the actual meaning or essence behind monkhood or nunhood – renunciation and giving up all attachment towards samsara. Sometimes people misunderstand and think that being a yogi means you are allowed to have attachment to your family, because of the so-called high view and path of the yogis. This is absolutely wrong, you cannot cling on and still expect to be enlightened.

The great master Khenpo Ngakchung did the practice of “Pongdag” (abandoning and giving) three times in his life. By this practice, he gave away every single thing that he owned except for the one set of clothes that he was wearing. Similarly when you do mandala offerings, the purpose of it is to sincerely cut your mental attachment to every single thing.

In short, even though you cannot technically be ordained, in your heart you should embrace the actual essence of being a monk or nun.

I am not criticizing anyone, but because most of you are new practitioners, I just want to clear up this misunderstanding that monks lead a boring life and yogis lead a life full of joy. Yogis who do not follow the actual essence of the yogi path actually have quite a difficult time, because they have desire which cannot be fulfilled fully: they have lots of women who give them a difficult time, and they suffer from the various illnesses that come from drinking too much alcohol and eating too much meat.

So whether you choose to be a monk or nun or a yogi, that is your choice. The bottom line is you have to embrace the meaning of the path, cutting your attachment towards samsara.

5. Non-virtuous activities

Unable to bear the slightest physical or mental pain,
With jaded heart, I don’t hesitate to take inferior rebirths.
Even though I directly perceive that cause and effect are unfailing,
Instead of doing what is right, I only perpetuate harm.
Guru think of me, regard me with compassion.
Bless me that I gain conviction in the law of karma.

Here, do we really believe in the law of karma? We may think that we do but our careless behavior is actually proof that we do not believe in the law of karma. Some people tell me, “I believe in the law of karma but I hate everybody, and that is my right!” That is actually totally contradictory. I just want to clarify that hell is not created by Buddha; hell is the result of your own actions and that is actually the law of karma. You create your own hell by your own actions. Some people tell me, “I don’t believe in the lower realms so even if I go down, I don’t care.” And some say, “I believe in the lower realms and I don’t really want to go, but even if I do, I think it will be okay.” But if you cannot take a headache even for one hour without taking some aspirin, how are you going to take the hell realms where you will suffer twenty-four hours a day for eons and eons?

When you can see the unmistaken result of cause and effect, you will not give rise to negative actions: physically, verbally and mentally. Giving up negative actions is actually the proof that you believe in the law of karma. So we should ask the guru to please bless us so that we have complete trust in karma so that we do not perpetuate our mistakes.

Some of us try to play around with the law of karma thinking like this: “I believe karma, but I knowingly commit misdeeds because I can purify them later.”

Guru Rinpoche and Buddha Shakyamuni said many times that creating the problem because you know how to solve it is actually worse than somebody who is ignorant. And purification by confessing it later is not the right confessing because to confess properly you need to have a complete commitment not to do the negative action again. So better to trust the law of karma right now when you are still alive because at the time of death it will be too late.

6. Laziness

I hate my enemies and cling to my friends.
Groping in dark delusion as to what to accept and reject,
When practicing the Dharma, I fall prey to dullness and sleep.
When involved in non – Dharma, my senses are clear and sharp.
Guru think of me, regard me with compassion.
Bless me that I may destroy my enemy – disturbing emotions.

We have people that we like and dislike, and we think that there is nothing wrong with such attachment or aversion. We think, “It is my right. That makes me human so I am happy to have that.” That is actually total ignorance.

Whenever you come to learn Dharma, you feel sleepy, you feel very tired, bored and unhappy. Whenever you come to non-Dharma, your mind becomes so clear and joyful. The reason behind this is that you cannot see how much Dharma is benefitting you.

I see one problem nowadays. When people change for the better after learning the Dharma, they credit that improvement to themselves and not the Dharma. They think, “Oh, I worked very hard, you know.” But without the guidance of the precious Dharma, you would not be improving. So that is actually a wrong way of thinking. You should see the actual benefit of the Dharma, and see how these precious teachings actually increased your good qualities and reduced your bad qualities. That is very important. Don’t think that Buddha or the Dharma needs this credit, and by giving credit, the Dharma will get better or without it, it changes for the worse. Appreciating the benefits of the Dharma shows that Dharma is valid and you gain more trust in the Dharma. Giving the credit to yourself, you increase your own ego and slowly that will be your downfall.

7. Anger

On the surface, I appear to be a pure practitioner;
While inwardly my mind isn’t mingled with the Dharma.
Like a viper I hide my disturbing emotions within,
But faced with trouble, my faults are exposed.
Guru think of me, regard me with compassion.
Bless me that I may tame my own mind.

We are all good in hiding our own faults, so on the outside we may appear like a good practitioner, chanting mantras and doing other practices. But inside, we are filled with anger and disturbing emotions. We have no sincerity towards ourselves.

The great Milarepa says, “Samaya is not different, whether inwardly or outwardly.” Samaya does not have an outer face and an inner face, so sincerity or honesty is what we really need. Nowadays we are blessed by having many great teachings available to us, so on the surface we know how to practice the Dharma. But if we don’t reflect on our inner emotions and thoughts, we will be like the viper, mentioned in this verse. From the outside, the snake can look very beautiful, but if you touch it, the snake will bite you. So exactly in the same way, you may look like a great practitioner on the outside, but when conditions arrive then you will see whether you are a real Dharma practitioner or not.

8. Instability

Failing to notice my own shortcomings,
Pretending to be spiritual, I am anything but.
Naturally skilled in negative emotion and karma,
Again and again good intentions arise, again and again then come to naught.
Guru think of me, regard me with compassion.
Bless me that I may see my own faults.

Basically, we don’t see our own faults. Then what happens is, you have the form of a Dharma practitioner, but you commit a lot of mistakes. This is because we have such strong negative habitual tendencies that cause virtuous actions and thoughts to disappear so easily.

So here I have shared my simple understanding of the verses pertaining to the eight faults contained in Calling the Guru from Afar. For those of you who know me, my style is nothing new to you. For those of you who don’t know me and somehow have gotten on this GRD mailing list, this is how I am. And finally for those of you who don’t know me, who didn’t even sign up for this list, and this mail just drops into your junk box, I humbly apologize and request that you unsubscribe from this list!

Lastly but not least, every morning I wake up to the magnificent Boudhanath Stupa. I’m sure many of you know about the Great Sacred Stupa, which is a cause for tongdrol (Liberation on Seeing), but to those of you who are not aware of it and have never stood in front of it, I’ve placed a picture of the stupa for our sight above in order to make an auspicious connection.

With my palms together, I stand in front of the Great Stupa on the 10th day of the 8th month of the Iron Rabbit Year, aspiring for the well-being of all sentient beings. May I along with all those who are on the path never stray from the precious dharma.

May the strength of virtue increase!
May the power of aspiration grow!
May negativity be swiftly purified!

Sending you all much love and prayers.

Sarva Mangalam,


Phakchok Rinpoche

Note: To all my Nine Yanas and Mahamudra students, don’t laze around, but instead try to be diligent in putting more time in your practice!