The Five Precepts – The Buddha Dharma Series

I have been asked on numerous occasions to lay out, in an understandable manner, the teachings of Buddha. So, over the coming months I will articulate the Buddha dharma in an order that I hope you will find both informative and easy to understand and implement. I am going to begin with the five precepts.

Gautama Buddha said:

‘Now, there are these five gifts, five great gifts—original, long-standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated, unadulterated from the beginning—that are not open to suspicion, will never be open to suspicion, and are unfaulted by knowledgeable contemplatives and Brahmans.’

So, what five gifts was he talking about? He was talking about the five precepts.

The precepts are the gateway into Buddha dharma. They are like the training wheels on a kid’s bike. That doesn’t mean they’re elementary and easy to do, because they’re not. They are also not commandments and we are not being told ‘thou shalt not’ do something. They are more like guidelines that will help keep us on the straight and narrow. If we follow these guidelines, we will not bring harm to ourselves and others. These guidelines are undertaken so we can work towards reducing our suffering and the suffering of all beings – this is a theme that runs all the way through the Buddha dharma. If we really want to be a responsible person within society, we have to ensure we are not harming anyone or anything. These five precepts will help us achieve that goal.

I have told this story before, but I believe it is helpful to mention it again. When I first decided to become a Buddhist monk, I was given these five precepts and told to hold them for six months. After six months I had to return to my teacher and discuss how I got on. Only after that was I allowed to take my full vows. I found them easy to understand, but not so easy to keep on a day to day basis. I would recite them before I got out of bed each morning as a kind of a mental reminder and to set my intention for the day. If I strayed during the day, which I invariably did, I would retake the precepts and strengthen my resolve not to break them again. Having this experience has helped me understand how hugely important these precepts are, and what a great springboard into the Buddha dharma they are.

The precepts are:

  • Refrain from taking life
  • Refrain from false speech
  • Refrain from taking what has not been freely given
  • Refrain from harming others with the sexual act
  • Refrain from intoxicants and illegal drugs

The Dhammapada (verses 246–247) explain the precepts in this way:

‘One who destroys life, who speaks untruth, who takes what is not given, who goes to another man’s wife or woman’s husband, who gives himself/herself to drinking intoxicating liquors, he/she, even in this world, digs up his/her own root.’

So, let’s go through each precept individually, but bear in mind these are my interpretations and may differ from a more traditional approach. I have tried to make the precepts relevant to today’s world and I have also added my own personal perspective. As with all Buddha dharma, you will have to decide for yourself what does or doesn’t work for you.

Refrain from taking life

This one seems obvious, but it means more than not killing other humans; it includes all sentient beings. It also covers refraining from getting others to kill on your behalf.

For me this goes much further than just killing. I personally believe it covers not eating meat, mindlessly killing insects, picking flowers and cutting trees. It means being mindful of all of Mother Nature’s inhabitants and their contributions to our ecosystem. I believe we should reflect before we chop down a tree, pick a flower or squash a bug. Remember, all actions have consequences, some may be seen and others unseen, but there will be a consequence somewhere down the line.

Everything on our planet has an intention for living, being peaceful, happy and not suffering and their lives are just as crucial as our own when it comes to maintaining our world. 

This precept, for me, means not causing harm to humans, animals, plants and all other living things.  

It is talking about intentional killing and not unintentional killing. It is impossible to go through life without unintentionally killing things. If you go for a pleasant walk across some fields, you will be unintentionally killing small insects. Your intention was to go for a walk, it wasn’t to kill insects, so this precept is not talking about that. Having said that, we must be careful wherever we walk and make sure we don’t mindlessly step on insects.

On a personal note, this precept is talking about not killing or harming things, and so I find it hard to accept the fact that we are breeding animals, keeping them captive and then killing them for food. Eating meat and adhering to this precept are not compatible. I understand this precept is a guideline and not a commandment, but I would ask you to please spare the animal a thought and try to work towards becoming a vegetarian or vegan.

Refrain from false speech

Words hold power and using them carelessly can cause destruction.  Do not say anything until you mentally confirm it to be true, helpful and kind. Don’t gossip, exaggerate or lie. Instead, practice responsible honesty with only good intentions. Dedicate yourself to loyalty and share only useful and credible news and information. 

Once we have lied to someone, we invariably have to tell another lie to cover the first one, and then another, and another, until we have created a web of lies. Before we know it, we have unwittingly become a liar and that is a label that is difficult to shake off.

I know that people say they lied so as not to hurt the other person’s feelings, but do they consider how that person will feel when they find out they have been lied to? Maybe the truth is painful or difficult to say, but it is possible to say it in a kind and sympathetic way. You can support them once you have told them the truth. I believe, it is always kinder in the long run to tell someone the truth.

On a personal note, I get upset when I have been lied to, as most people do, and so I keep this fact in mind when I am talking to others.

Refrain from taking what has not been freely given

Do not take what has not been given to you, whether it’s materialistic, opportunistic or emotional. There are a number of activities that are considered stealing, including participating in underhand deals, fraudulent activities, cheating or committing forgery. Borrowing another person’s belongings without permission is also considered forms of stealing.

If we take something that has not been given or belongs to someone else, this is stealing. It may be a pen from work, a magazine from the doctor’s waiting room or fruit from someone’s orchard. No matter how big or small, it is still stealing.

We seem to have accepted certain forms of stealing and do not see it as a problem. I am talking about taking things from our place of work, such as stationery items from an office, bread or milk from a catering establishment and nuts and bolts from a factory. We shouldn’t fool ourselves: these things have not been given to us, and so it is stealing.

Again, on a personal note, I believe taking eggs from chickens and milk from cows constitutes taking what has not been freely given. The animal has had no choice in this process and so I feel it is a form of stealing. As I have said before, these precepts are not hard and fast rules, so you have to see how far you are willing to go to adhere to them. I am just giving my own personal view point here and you are free to take it or leave it..

Refrain from harming others with the sexual act

Generally speaking, this precept refers to committing sexual indiscretions such as adultery, rape, incest and sex with a minor. If we physically, emotionally or mentally force someone into sex, this is causing him or her harm. There are many people today still carrying the scars of sexual misconduct. So, this precept should not be taken lightly.

I personally believe that Gautama Buddha taught the precept on sexual misconduct to help us refrain from harming someone through the sexual act. He did not teach it to be moralistic or make people feel guilty for their sexual orientation. If the sexual act is not going to cause harm it should be consensual, affectionate, loving and not break any marriage vow or commitment. It does not have anything to do with sexual orientation. We cannot choose our sexual orientation, as we cannot choose our race or gender, so it is cruel to penalise someone for something out of his or her control.

I think another aspect of this precept that should be looked at whilst considering sexual misconduct is people trafficking, that is, taking people and forcing them to enter the sex industry. It is estimated that around 1.2 million children are forced into prostitution or pornography, and their average age is between twelve and fourteen years old. The human suffering in the trafficking industry is staggering.

Refrain from intoxicants and illegal drugs

The last precept is to avoid abusive use of alcohol and avoid illegal drugs altogether, as well as other substances that impact mindfulness and fuel irresponsibility.

I have deliberately put ‘abusive use’ of alcohol because I believe drinking in moderation is not a problem. Nobody is saying you cannot have a glass of wine with dinner or a pint after work. What is being said is that when we are completely inebriated, we lose control of our body, speech and mind. This precept is quite often the cause of the previous four precepts, so is very important to adhere to.

You may be driving home under the influence of drink or illegal drugs and have an accident and kill someone; you may steal money to cover our drink or drug addiction; come out with a pack of lies because you have no control over your mouth; or have unsafe sex with someone you met in a bar, not even considering that you or they may be married, underage or haven’t consented.

Alcohol and illegal drugs are very additive and can destroy your life and the lives of those around you. So, it is important to ensure we don’t lose control of our thought processes because we are under the influence of drink and drugs. 

These are the guidelines Buddha advised us to follow and I believe they are of great help to us in life and on our path to follow the Buddha dharma. It goes without saying that we will fall short sometimes, but that is all part and parcel of the learning process. If you fall, get up and try again. Don’t give up. The more we try to adhere to these precepts, the more they will become a habit, and those habits will eventually become our behaviour, who we are. We all need boundaries in life, and I think these five are a wonderful starting point.  

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play.

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Why Did That Happen?

Buddhism does not talk about destiny or god’s will. Instead, they understand that things happen through a complex web of causes and effects.

Let’s start at the basics. If you plant a rice seed, you will get rice. You won’t get wheat or tomatoes. So, the cause of rice is the rice seed. Things do not just appear without a cause. For example, look at yourself, you are here because of our parents. You didn’t just miraculously appear. You were born because of cause and effect. Now, all of this is probably easy to understand, but it’s when we go a bit deeper people start to get confused.

When I teach this subject people always say, ‘If everything comes from a cause, why did this happen or why did that happen.’ The truth is there isn’t usually just one cause. Let’s take the rice seed again. The rice planet cannot just grow from a seed. It needs soil, water, air and many other things. So, there isn’t just one cause. There are so many causes each crossing over each other like a giant spider’s web. This is why it is quite often impossible to find out why things did happen. But that isn’t good enough for us humans, we want answers and that is why it is easier to dismiss things as simply destiny or god’s will than it is to understand cause and effect.


I like this teaching because it stops me playing the blame game

Let me give you an example. Ruth is always woken up at 7.00 a.m. by her electric alarm clock. She washes, gets dressed, has a cup of coffee and is out the door at 7.45. She walks down the road to the bus stop, which usually takes 10 minutes, and she crosses the main road and catches the 7.55 bus to work.

On this particular morning, her alarm did not go off because there was a power cut. This meant she didn’t get up till 7.30. She quickly washed, dressed and ran out of the door at 7.50. It was raining so she had to go back inside for her umbrella. This made her even more late. As she was running down the road, she saw the bus pull up. At the same time, Dave was going into work early because he had a lot to do. His wipers needed replacing and so he couldn’t see very clearly. Ruth in her desperation to catch the bus, ran out in front of Dave. He didn’t see her and so ran her over.

Now, Ruth’s friends will say the cause of the accident was Dave’s fault, and his friends would say it was caused by Ruth. But let’s look at all the causes that led to the accident. The power cut, alarm clock not working, Ruth getting up late, it was raining, so she had to go back inside to get her umbrella, Dave going into work early, his wipers not working properly, Ruth running in front of him and him not seeing her. So, you can see it is not always clear what causes things to happen. All we can say is that there was a cause or causes and it wasn’t destiny or god’s will. 

Another thing people tend to say is, especially if they are talking about karma, which is just another way of saying cause and effect, ‘If you do good, good things will happen to you, and if you do bad, bad things will happen to you.’ Well, this would be true if we all lived in our own personal bubbles, but we don’t. What you do will affect others, and what they do will affect you.

This is why good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. It is because we all get affected by other people’s actions. So, the cause of your bad fortune may not even be your fault. Here is an example, you may be the best driver in the world and you always stop at red lights and you never go above the speed limit. Again, that would be fine if you drove around in a bubble. But we don’t and we could end up having an accident because of someone else’s bad driving. So, the cause of your accident was their dangerous driving of someone else. The effect was you ended up with a damaged car.


Once you understand the concept of cause and effect, so many other things

start to fall into place

For me, I like this teaching because it stops me playing the blame game. I understand that there is not going to be one thing or person I can say caused what happened. So, that stops me asking why, why, why. It also teaches me that whatever action I take there will be a consequence. So, I always think before I act.

I understand this concept may seem a little difficult to understand at first, so I would suggest you contemplate it during your meditation practice. While meditating ask yourself questions like this:

Can things appear without a cause?

Can things have more than one cause?

Do my actions have consequences?

I can assure you, once you understand the concept of cause and effect, so many other things start to fall into place.  

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.



Buddhism Guide Crisis Resource

Listed below are videos, podcasts and guided meditations that have been taken from Buddhism Guide archive. They have been specially selected to help you during difficult and challenging times.

Coronavirus: Coping Mindfully

The Coronavirus is making many of us work from home or self-isolate. This can cause mental health issues and even lower our immune system. In this video Yeshe Rabgye introduces various mindful meditation practices that will help you deal with anxiety and a sense of panic. View the video here.

Guided meditation to reduce coronavirus fear and anxiety

The world is going through a very challenging time, due to the Coronavirus. Many people are becoming sick and having to isolate. This is causing huge amounts of fear, anxiety and panic. All of these ultimately stem from our minds. It is not possible to control the spread of the virus, but it is possible to control our minds and the way we respond to it. This guided meditation will help you deal with your thoughts of fear, anxiety and panic by showing you they are just thoughts and so we can learn to let them go. View the video here.

Let’s practice together through the crisis: Livestream #1 Breathing Awareness Guided Meditation

This video was recorded live and Yeshe Rabgye leads you through a guided meditation on breathing awareness. View the video here.

Let’s practice together through the crisis: Livestream #2 Compassion Meditation

This video was recorded live and Yeshe Rabgye leads you through a guided meditation on compassion and explains the importance of such a meditation during these difficult times. View the video here.

Let’s practice together through the crisis: Livestream #3 Forgiveness Meditation

This video was recorded live and Yeshe Rabgye leads you through a guided meditation on forgiveness for you and others. He also explains that forgiveness is to help ourselves let go and move on. View the video here.

Guided Meditation to release stress, anxiety and obsessive thoughts

Whenever you blindly follow each and every thought that arises it is easy to become stressed, anxious or even obsessive. This beautifully crafted meditation gently guides you through a process of seeing your thoughts like a flowing river. By letting your thoughts come and go naturally you are able to simply observe the thoughts and not get tangled up in them. This takes the pressure off of your mind and allows you to relax and untangle from obsessive thoughts. View the video here.

Guided Meditation – Letting go of anxiety

This is a mindful body scan meditation. It will gently guide you through different parts of your body. If you are feeling anxious, overwhelmed, stressed or are over-thinking it will help you let go and refocus. View the video here.

Dealing with Isolation: Podcast

In this podcast, Yeshe Rabgye gives us some very useful tips on how to deal with working from home or being in isolation. Please stay home and stay safe. Listen here.

Emotional Suffering: Podcast

What would you say if I told you the largest part of your emotional suffering was caused by yourself? I expect you would be doubtful or even shocked, but it is true. The way we live our lives, our beliefs, biases, concepts and social conditioning all cause us to mentally suffer. By suffering I mean our minds get disturbed, we become disillusioned, dissatisfied, discontented. This often results in stress, anxiety and depression. None of these are helpful or healthy. Listen here.

Ambrosia of Mindfulness: Podcast

This podcast was recorded live at the Prajna Meditation Centre, Northern India. In this episode Yeshe teaches mindfulness from The Hundred Verses of Advice. Listen here.

How to Reduce Your Suffering: Podcast

In Buddhism, there is a practice called Mind Training and within this practice there is a section on reducing one’s suffering. Now, suffering here means a dissatisfaction with life, an unease, a discontentment and a feeling that life could be better. The following four methods are described in mind training as the best way to stop the suffering of all beings, and bringing them, and ourselves, happiness. Of course, we have to be realistic and understand that life is not always going to be happy, and it is an unsatisfactory part of life that suffering is always lurking around the corner. However, these four methods will help to reduce our suffering and give us the tools to be able to cope with whatever comes our way. Listen here.

Cultivating Patience: Podcast

Patience is a virtue and needs to be practiced. In this podcast Yeshe Rabgye explains the best way to cultivate your patience. Listen here.

How to Deal with Intense Emotions: Podcast

In this podcast Yeshe Rabgye explain the R.A.I.N technique, which allows us to mindfully deal with our strong emotions. Listen here.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.



Dealing with Isolation

So many of us are having to work from home or self-isolate and we are starting to get overwhelmed by it all. That is no surprise because being confined in our homes for days on end can have a detrimental effect on our mental health. We start to over think and focus on the negative and forget the blessings. If you have an obsessive nature or are prone to anxiety attacks, this time can be particularly difficult for you. So, what can we do? Here are a few things you may like to try.

Keep to your routines

It may be tempting to stay in bed longer, go to sleep later, not wash and get dressed or eat at wrong times. All these things will eventually lead to a feeling of desperation, despair and it could even lead to depression. Try to stick to your normal routines where eating and sleeping are concerned. In other words, try to do what you usually do, but without going outside. It would be helpful to create a plan for each day and try to stick to it. As human beings, we crave a little structure – so coming up with a plan for each day will help pass the time and give you a sense of control.

Don’t overdo your devices

Doing a digital detox and limiting the amount of time spent on your phone or laptop can help reduce anxiety and prevent you from feeling negative.

I understand that stopping using your phone completely isn’t very practical, so set yourself time limits. Make a commitment each morning to only use your phone at certain times and for a set duration. Maybe, 30 minutes in the morning, again in the afternoon and then in the evening.

It is true to say that social media can be a great way to keep in contact with friends and family during self-isolation, but we must keep in mind that overuse is known to have a detrimental effect on mental wellbeing.

News overload

There is such a thing as being too well informed. News overload can cause a lot of anxiety and stress. As with social media, you should limit your exposure to it. Rolling news only unsettles us. So, limit your news updates to mornings and evenings.

Start a hobby

There may be something you have wanted to start doing for a long time. Now is the perfect time to start. You could learn cooking, painting, sewing, writing or podcasting. It will not only keep your mind occupied; it will also teach you how to be mindful. When we are focusing on something it prevents our minds from wandering off to dark places.

Do daily exercise

It is a well-known factthat exercising releases all-important endorphins which boosts our mood. There is no need to set up a home gym. You could do Tabata, Pilates or Zumba – there are many good videos on YouTube that will help you with this.    

Get some fresh air

You may be in isolation, but it doesn’t mean you have to shut out fresh air. If you have a private garden, then go outside each day. If you have a balcony, go and sit on that. If all you have is a window, then open it wide and go and sit next to it. Just feeling the sun on your face and breathing in fresh air will boost your mood and help you shake off mental health issues.

Time to meditate and be mindful  

Meditation and mindfulness are great ways to banish feelings of anxiety or restlessness. When we allow our thoughts to control us, they can take us into some deep, dark places, especially when we are having to isolate. So, meditation and mindfulness help us to take back control of our minds.

One reason to meditate is to stop the endless chitter chatter in your head, and to find the stillness and silence that lurks within. It will help you let go of those destructive thoughts that lead to anxiety and panic. In this guided meditation called ‘Allowing Your Thoughts to Flow,’ you will learn to see thoughts as just thoughts and so you don’t need to blindly follow everyone.

Mindfulness practices will also bring your mind back under your control through bringing awareness to whatever you are doing. The quickest and most simple way to bring yourself into the present moment is to watch your breath or your five senses. All you need to do is stop whatever you are doing, close your eyes and focus on your breath. Just become aware of it flowing in and out of your body. There is no need to judge or change the rhythm of your breath, just observe it. You could also focus on what you can see, hear, smell, taste and touch. Again, do not judge, just observe. So, look around you at five things of different colour, touch four different textures, listen to three different sounds, become aware of two different smells and see if you can taste one thing in your mouth,  

Both these practices will bring you into the present moment and help you to stop fixating on the past or the future.  

All of these points may sound quite simple, but even the smallest of changes to your daily life can bring about substantial results when it comes to our mental health.

During this time of isolation, I am conducting live mindful meditation practices on The Buddhism Guide Facebook page, so go to their page and check out the timings. If we can’t connect personally, at least we can do it virtually.   

Please stay safe, stay healthy and stay informed.  

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

Experiencing Gratitude

Most neuroscientists agree that the left-hand side of our brain is used to interpret the world. It does this through language, categorising and patterns. It is probably through this process that our fictional self is born. The left-brain groups things by some common feature and then treats it as one unit, such as our thoughts, emotions and bodies, which it puts together and labels it ‘self.’

Our right-hand side of the brain doesn’t see things in parts, like the left-brain does, it sees things as a whole and processes the world as a continuum. It doesn’t use language or patterns like the left-hand side, it is more intuitive. It is focused on the present moment and doesn’t split things into past and future, like the left-brain. During deep meditation or deep sleep, we move from our thinking mind into the non-thinking right-hand side. Remember this side sees things as a whole and this is possibly what the ancient masters meant by ‘oneness.’

A neuroscientist had a stroke and for a while lost the use of the whole of her left-hand brain. During this time, she felt enormous gratitude. This shows us that gratitude seems to be inherent and is also a feature of the right-hand brain.   

Why I am mentioning this is because I feel gratitude is more about experiencing the sensations and less about thinking. It is more about being thankful for reality and less about acceptance of it.

A few years back I did a guided meditation called ‘Experiencing Gratitude’ and at the time many people thought it was strange I was asking them to experience it, as they had been so used to expressing it. But I felt that more can be gained by non-verbally feeling gratitude and not merely thinking about it. Neuroscience these days seems to back up that claim.

In modern mindfulness practices we are encouraged to think of three things we are grateful for and that is obviously a good thing, especially if we are stressed or anxious. But once we have brought them to mind, I believe we should feel the sensations in our body and the warmth in our hearts, without judgement, labelling or categorising. In fact, without thinking at all, just feel. Of course, this is not an easy task, but beneficial things never are.

The best way to achieve this is for you to think of something you are grateful for. It may be a person, a place, your health, your life – it really doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, bring it to the forefront of your mind and sit with that thought for a moment. Now, stop thinking about whatever you are grateful for and start fully experiencing the gratitude. Ask yourself these questions, ‘How does this gratitude make you feel?’ and ‘What body sensations are tied up with this gratitude?’ Just sit with your experience of gratitude for a moment. Let yourself be engulfed by your feelings and body sensations. Truly experience what gratitude feels like. I believe this is how we should be working with gratitude.

The more you do this type of practice, the more you will be able to experience gratitude and not just think about it. Give it a try by visiting Buddhism Guide meditations page and listen to the Experiencing Gratitude guided meditation.   

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

Don’t Do That!

We are usually told about things that will benefit us but Gampopa, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher from the Kagyu school of Buddhism, taught ten things that are of no benefit to us.

  • No matter how much respect and honour are payed to your illusory body, it is certain that it is impermanent and will perish. Hence, such things are of no benefit.

It does matter if people show you lots of respect or shower you with honours, your body is impermanent and at the time of death that respect and honour will count for nothing. So, don’t let your ego and pride lead you down a wrong path. The kind and respectful things people say to you are just their perspective, so don’t believe the hype, because it is of no benefit to you.

  • No matter how much greed and stinginess we feel towards wealth and possessions, we will leave naked and empty-handed once we cross the threshold of death. Thus, such things are of no benefit.

A life spent accumulating vast amounts of wealth is going to be of no benefit at the time of death. You may have lots of money in the bank or in offshore accounts, but when you die that money will instantly belong to someone else. Surrounding yourself with lots of possessions you don’t really need is only going to clutter your life and mind. Instead, live a simple, contented life. So, don’t waste this life hording money or possessions, because neither are going to be of benefit to you when you die.  

  • No matter how much effort we put into building nice homes and mansions, we cross the threshold of death alone with our corpse being taken out the door. Hence, such things are of no benefit.

Spending all of your time, money and effort on building a big house is not going to benefit you when you die. You will not be able to take it with you. So, build a simple house that suits your needs and not your ego. You may like showing your beautiful, big home to others, but once you die the home is going to belong to someone else. So, there is no benefit of wasting your time and money on a luxury home.

Je Gampopa
  • No matter how many gifts you lovingly bestow upon your children and grand-children, there’s not even an instant of benefit at the time of death. Thus, such things are of no benefit.

It is always nice to give gifts to our children and grand-children but spoiling them with lavish gifts is of no benefit to them or you. You are not helping them by being over generous. You are just feeding their egos. Nobody is going to benefit from such acts at the time of death.

  • Since all of your children and grandchildren are impermanent, even if they keep the things given by you, it is certain they will be left behind. Thus, such things are of no benefit.

Even if you do spoil your children and grand-children, they will not be able to find any use for your gifts once they have died. This means your gifts are of no benefit.  

  • No matter how much love and care you have for friends and relatives, when you die you depart without anyone to accompany you. Hence, such things are of no benefit.

Getting attached to family and friends is not going to help you on your deathbed. In fact, they will disturb your mind be crying and telling you not to go, which is going to make your departure from this world extremely painful. When we go, we go alone, so don’t allow yourself to get attached to family and friends, because it is going to bring you more suffering at the time of death.

  • No matter how much one strives in working for the nobility and their subjects for the aims of this life, one will cross the threshold of death having been completely cut off from their land. Hence, such things are of no benefit.

You may spend your life accumulating land and property. What benefit will they be once you die? They will become someone else’s land and property. This means you have wasted your time and money on things that have no lasting benefit.

Novice monks learning the dharma
  • Even though one may have faithfully entered the gateway to dharma (Buddha’s teachings), if one does not practice according to the dharma, the dharma will become a cause for one to take rebirth in the lower realms. Thus, it would be without any benefit.

Instead of wasting this precious life on wealth, family, friends, property, etc., we should study the Buddha’s teachings. But if we only study them and don’t integrate them into our lives, what would be the benefit? It would mean you will have a lot of knowledge about Buddhism but would not have gained any wisdom.

  • No matter how much dharma you know, having trained your mind in study and contemplation, without putting it into practice there is no way to take such things with you at the time of death. Hence, it would be without any benefit.

If you have had many teachings on Buddhism and you have trained your mind to study and meditate, but you don’t actually use the practice in your daily life, why bother? Buddhism is not a belief system or a religion, it is a way of life. So, we need to study, meditate and then take what we have learned and use it to help ourselves and others. There really isn’t any benefit in being able to recite Buddha’s teaching from memory if you are not going to put them into practice. The world doesn’t need intellectual Buddhists, it needs practicing Buddhists.  

  • No matter how long you stay in the presence of a spiritual master, if you yourself do not believe what they are teaching, you won’t receive any of their qualities. Thus, it would be without any benefit.

We cannot just surrender to a teacher and think, ‘Job done.’ The teacher is there to guide, mentor and support you. They are not there is magically pass on blessings or do the work for you. It is your path and only you can walk it. Of course, at first, we have to have faith in the teacher and teachings, but once we have experienced for ourselves what the Buddha taught, we no long need faith. Remember, the teacher is there for us to learn from and not lean on. So, find a teacher, study Buddha’s teachings, meditate and implement them into your life, that is the way to benefit from the Buddha dharma.

The point Gampopa is making here is that we are all heading towards death and so we should not waste our time on unimportant things. By that I mean, things that are not going to help us at the time of death. Studying and implementing the Buddha dharma is one thing that can help us at that point. This is because it trains our mind to be peaceful, stable, open and compassionate. So, when we are on our deathbed our mind will be calm and able to let go without any regrets. I can’t think of anything worse than being scared to take your last breath because you didn’t want to leave behind your big house, luxury car and impressive bank account.

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