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Distilling the Dharma – Three Core Principles

Please take a few moments before watching or listening to this clip to settle yourself physically in an upright position. Listen to the teachings thinking, "I am extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to listen to the precious Dharma. I am doing this for the benefit of all sentient beings so that they may be free from suffering and attain complete awakening".

Distilling the Dharma into three core principles is an important teaching for us as we begin to learn about Buddhism. Likewise, it can be a timely reminder for all practitioners already on the path. By remembering these three elements and checking our own behavior, we know if we are are practicing correctly. In this video teaching, Phakchok Rinpoche shows how distilling the Dharma focuses our practice. Rinpoche underlines that these are the Buddha’s own instructions. So, as he expresses it, “What is the Dharma”?

Distilling the Dharma

  1. Do not do evil actions that harm others and yourself
  2. Do good actions that benefit others and yourself
  3. Tame your mind

Rinpoche observes that if we want to learn Dharma, we must first examine our own behavior. We may think we are practicing “meditation,” but sometimes meditation actually means diagnosing. We say that meditation means transforming. And most importantly, it means seeing the truth.

Three Pillars or Perspectives of Meditation

  1. Diagnose your problems so you can heal
  2. Transform through meditation — actually change
  3. See the truth

We need to know where we are starting. This means we must be honest about our flaws. However, we need to be clear that this does not mean we should become depressed or beat ourselves up. In our current situation, we can think that we are suffering from an illness. So if we are sick, we need to know what our disease is, right? If we take the medicine of meditation but we aren’t honestly diagnosing our own situation, then how do we expect to transform? And our behavior is easy to observe because it is at a gross, or rough, level. For this, Rinpoche suggests that we can observe our conduct by thinking about the ten non-virtues explained by the Buddha.

Three Non-virtues of the Physical Body

  1. Killing
  2. Stealing
  3. Unrespectful Sexual Conduct

Four Non-virtues of the Speech

  1. Lying
  2. Harsh Words
  3. Divisive Talk
  4. Gossiping

Three Non-virtues of the Mind

  1. Covetousness (meaning “I want”)
  2. Harmful thoughts
  3. Emotional blind spots

Here, Rinpoche explains how this last non-virtue (often expressed as ‘wrong view’) means we do not see or acknowledge when we are behaving wrongly. Rinpoche explains this as a blind spot because we are unaware. Even worse, sometimes we don’t care if we are harming others. When that is the case — that is ignorance. Rinpoche notes that these are not “rules” made by the Buddha. Instead, these are common-sense ethical principles. And, by examining our own behavior, we can easily identify where we can improve. That is how we apply meditation as a diagnosis!

Related Teachings


At the end of the teaching, please remember to dedicate the merit of receiving a Dharma teaching. As you go through your day, take a few moments from time to time to recall these instructions.

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