Lama's advice to beginners

I am not an expert or scholar in Buddhism. I am writing this text simply for the benefit of beginners in Buddhism or newcomers to the centre. It is meant to help you avoid wrong and harmful ways of thinking. I am writing this only to clarify Buddhist teachings, without any political intention. In this text I offer my opinion to everyone. Please excuse me if there are any errors or mistakes in what I am saying.

Please do not dismiss this text right away. If you find that it is of benefit to you, then pass it on to others. If you do not find it useful, then you can throw it away.

Please reflect on the following:

1. What is the reason for your interest in Buddhism? Did someone tell you to come or is it because you understand the importance of reaching enlightenment? Do you know what Dharma means or are you just curious? Are you maybe shopping around for Dharma? The majority of people come here only to look around among various religions. Maybe it is good to do this; maybe it is a waste of time. It is important to look around and check at first, but sometimes there will be misunderstandings.

A teacher of religion should not deceive or confuse people and should not do business with religion. A student of Buddhism should not criticize other schools or teachers. All Buddhist schools were taught by the Buddha. A Buddhist teacher is regarded as special and different from normal teachers because he shows the path that leads beyond suffering towards Buddhahood. He should behave accordingly, and the students should not criticize him. You should not immediately enter into a teacher-student relationship but should study and check and think critically. If you find that the teacher is good, you should follow his advice; if you find that the teacher is not good, you should leave quietly. You should equally be careful not to chop and change too much. Although generally dharma is the same, this would result in a headache for you. The right direction is very important.

2 If you have practised Buddhism for some time already, has it really changed your mind? Have you been able to reduce the ten non-virtues through your practice? If there has been no change in your mind, were you maybe only shopping for Dharma? What, for you, is the heart of Buddhism? If you were not able to achieve benefits and happiness for yourself, then how can you achieve benefit and happiness for others? It would have been a waste of time.

3 If you practise Buddhism and Christianity and Hinduism etc., then how can you carry all this together in your head? If you mix everything together, will it taste good? If you can turn your mind towards all these religions at the same time, then how can your mind be stable? If you have many partners, this will be the cause for many problems, regret and headaches for you. It is the same if you follow many religions. (And then, when you have many problems and are too busy trying to solve them, will you maybe drink too much?) Whether you look at it from a worldly or a religious point of view, if you do everything for a little while and do not commit to anything, the result will be a lot of confusion and problems. Regret and misunderstandings will come.

You have to make a clear decision about what is really important. Every day you should meditate on impermanence and boddhicitta. Boddhicitta means an altruistic attitude to reach enlightenment. When you look outside yourself, you will not find fault but rather seek to give help and support. You will encounter everyone with respect and friendliness and treat them with a good heart.

It is important to be able to control one's mind. It is good to have a stable mind rather than a mind that flits around from one thing to the next without accomplishing anything or committing to anything. If you lead a life out of balance, you will encounter problems. Instead it is important to practice mindfulness, which means to know what is good and what is bad, what is beneficial and what is harmful, and then to act accordingly. If you live without this mindfulness, there will be no difference between yourself and an animal.

4 If you have a narrow attitude, thinking only of yourself – 'my house, my country, my religion etc.' – then you will experience many problems. If you have a wide attitude, thinking beyond yourself – 'among all sentient beings, there is not one who has not been my parent at some point' – then you will be much more calm and relaxed. Practise exchanging yourself with others. Think: 'If someone beats me, how do I feel? If I beat an animal – a dog, a bird, a horse etc. – how will they feel? It is the same.'

5 Here in Samsara there are many different kinds of people with different karma – some have very good karma, some have very bad karma – and with different activities, different languages etc. But we are all the same in that we all have a mind and we all have blood. Yet our faith and our devotion are different. Some countries have very good living conditions whereas others suffer from lack of water, food, housing etc. In some countries the climate is very hot or very cold. We cannot make all this equal. These differences in the world have come about due to karma. If we live in a country that has good conditions, then we should recognize this as a great quality. European countries enjoy very good conditions. But people are generally very busy and have no time to practise dharma. Because of being so busy, their minds are not at ease, and there is a lot of mental suffering. Here in Europe, the government, the public and many people are quite wealthy. But with this wealth often comes an attitude of partying, drinking beer, taking drugs etc., which damages the mind and leads to many obstacles. The effect of alcohol and drugs is that one loses control over one's mind. It is for this reason that Buddha said one should give up alcohol and drugs. Many other religions say the same.

Modern times are not like before; we have entered the beginning of the degenerate age. Before, there were hardly any drugs, whereas now they have become very popular. Many young people damage their lives through drug use. Parents, teachers, community and religious leaders – all have a responsibility to make sure that children and young people will not take drugs. Those who have already suffered damage from drinking alcohol or taking drugs should not be allowed to display their habits in public. They should not be allowed to influence or impact other people with their negative habits. They should be aware that they, too, have a duty to protect children and young people. This is everyone's responsibility, and everyone should be working together to protect children from drugs and alcohol.
Particularly if you are a leader, you should be aware that your decisions have a lot of influence on many people, and you have a duty to protect them. You should not be harsh to any sentient being but rather treat them with gentleness and compassion. This will benefit the whole area.

Here in England and Europe we enjoy very good living conditions due to the effort of past generations, due to their hard work and study, their good manners and positive behaviour. It is now the responsibility of the young generation to do the same for the future. To the teenagers I say therefore: Please make sure that you have a good attitude to yourself and others; respect your parents and teachers; be friendly and cultivate a good heart. If you develop your personal ethical code like this and act accordingly, everyone will be happy with you and you will find happiness yourself.

All suffering comes from the body and the ego. What are the methods to overcome suffering and achieve happiness? If you want to liberate yourself from suffering, what is best to do? If you want to achieve happiness, what is best to do? It is probably not alcohol. It is not money. It is not available in stores. Friends and relatives will not make you happy forever. When you have money, they will be your friends; when you don't have money, they turn their backs. If you have food, drink, clothes and material things but are not happy in your mind, then what is the point? What use are the demons of the mind such as anger, greed, desire etc.? If you think you can carry your possessions with you when you die, you are fooling yourself. You die empty-handed with less than would fit on the point of a needle. You have no control over the time or circumstances of your death.

If you eat a lot of impure and artificial food, if you eat all kinds of different foods or drink a lot of beer, your body will become fat, you will have little energy and suffer other damage, too. It will be difficult to lose weight again, and there will be tension in the mind, too. You should be careful with this while you are young; otherwise you may become crazy when you grow old. If you know what food to eat, it is medicine; if you don't know what food to eat, it is poison. Be careful and moderate with what you eat and drink, including alcohol.

If you think nervously about all kinds of different things in the past, present and future, you will not achieve your aims and the mind will suffer damage. Therefore meditate every day at least for a few minutes. It is also good to keep a regular rhythm of sleeping and waking. This will benefit all your work. Animals keep these rhythms naturally but we humans tend to upset these rhythms, which will negatively affect our lives.

Whatever activity you undertake, without good motivation you will encounter enemies and obstacles and it will not lead to good results. We naturally have fear and anxiety, and there is no one and nothing that can protect us from this inherent fear but the three jewels Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

I, Lama Wangyal, am a simple monk living in Thrangu House. My root guru is Thrangu Rinpoche. I have no expertise or scholarship and apologize if there are mistakes and errors. I spoke this advice in Tibetan as my English is not very good, and it was translated by Ben Schmidt.

May Buddha's teachings spread; may all sentient beings experience happiness; may all illnesses be eliminated from all humans and animals; may there be no hunger or thirst; may the body be without disease and the mind full of happiness. HA HA HA HA. -- Oxford, Thrangu House, July 10th, 2005