Buddhist Philosophy

~ January 12, 2016 ~

Defining Dharma: The Three Steps

Buddhist Philosophy • audio

Defining Dharma

Phakchok Rinpoche gives a clear presentation of the core principles of the Dharma. In this audio teaching, he reminds us of the core principles –and asks us to use these to determine if we truly are practitioners.


Defining Dharma: The Three Steps

The Buddha taught that the Dharma has 3 steps:

  1. Don’t engage in wrong action.
  2. Instead, perform good actions.
  3. You must tame your mind.

Regarding wrong actions: physical actions operate at a very gross level. However, verbal actions are a little bit more subtle. And then the mind, the emotional level moves quite subtly. What is the difference between right action and wrong action? The most important is intention, the state of the mind you have the moment you behave.  And intention defines if the action is right action or wrong action.

Defining Dharma: Focus on Mind

Rinpoche explains the meaning of the Tibetan term “insider Buddhism” as taught by his teacher, Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche. The term insider does not have a sectarian meaning, but refers to looking inside– at the mind. The whole experience of life depends on the mind, our own mind. Everything that arises comes from the mind. Thus, we understand that the focus of dharma is inside the mind. We don’t think that happiness or difficulties and sufferings come from the outside. Good actions and bad actions similarly are not defined by external sources, but from within–inside the mind.

Dharma means simply not doing bad actions, doing good actions and taming the mind. Action can be based on 3 poisons: agitation/anger, attachment, and ignorance. Ignorance means not defined clearly or not knowing clearly. The quality of action (good or virtuous and bad or non-virtuous) is defined by your intention, your motivation. If you are thinking something harmful, that is bad action. Good action is motivation without anger, without attachment, without ignorance. Without the three poisons, your actions are virtuous.

How to Tame the Mind?

We find two different paths to tame the mind in the Buddhist teachings. First, we apply our discerning, meditation, mind training practice.  And all of these practices are based on the mind. This includes shamata meditation and mind-training practices such as loving-kindness and compassion. Then the second path is where we really engage in practicing wisdom. Here we talk about the nature or the essence of the mind.

Are you a practitioner or not? First step– reduce bad action. Increase good action. transform the mind. That means you are a Dharma practitioner!

Reflection Exercise

This week, begin with the grosser level.  Think before you act, and consider your intention.  Try to keep a journal or some short notes to observe your progress.  In traditional stories, people often trained by piling up black stones when they did negative actions, and white when they did positive ones.  We can use all sorts of fancy apps or ways to record our efforts.  The method doesn’t matter–but we can use whatever works for us.  And every day, we can check our own actions.  Don’t be too hard on yourself, or judge yourself.  If you have a lot of black marks, then you have a great opportunity to improve!  By the end of a week, or two weeks, or a month–have your actions started to shift? In what direction?

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