The historical Buddha Shakyamuni was born around 560 B.C.E. to a royal family. From early childhood, he was surrounded by wealth and beauty, and enjoyed a sophisticated education. The texts describe him as tall, strong, and blue-eyed. When he was 29 years old, he left the palace for the first time and encountered an old person, a sick person, and a dead person, experiences he had never known before. He then realized that nothing was permanent and left his palace to meditate in the mountains and forests of Northern India. After a 6-year search for lasting meaning, he recognized the nature of mind while in deep meditation and reached enlightenment in what is Bodh Gaya in Northern India today.
Buddha teaches about ultimate and conditioned existence in a way that makes Buddhism directly relevant to our daily lives. Understanding this makes the experience of lasting happiness possible. Buddhism does not proclaim dogmas; rather, it encourages critical questioning. Using the right meditations, the intellectual understanding of the teachings becomes a personal experience. Additional methods solidify what is reached in meditation. The goal of Buddha’s teachings is the full development of the innate potential of body, speech, and mind. Through his teachings, Buddha is seen as a timeless mirror of mind’s inherent potential.
The Buddha’s teachings, which make beings fearless, joyful, and kind, are the main religion in several East Asian countries. Since the early seventies, the profound Buddhist view with its vast number of methods has inspired and fascinated a growing number of people in Western cultures.
The Buddha enjoyed unique circumstances for passing on his teachings. Born into a highly developed culture, he was surrounded by exceedingly gifted people. After reaching enlightenment, he shared his methods for discovering the mind for a full 45 years. It is for this reason that his teachings, called the Dharma, are so vast. The Kanjur, Buddha’s own words, consists of 108 volumes containing 84,000 helpful teachings. Later commentaries on these, the Tenjur, amount to another 254 equally thick books. This makes Buddha’s final evaluation of his life understandable: “I can die happily. I did not hold one single teaching in a closed hand. Everything that may benefit you I have already given.” His very last statement sets Buddhism apart from what is otherwise called religion: “Now, don’t believe my words because a Buddha told you, but examine them well. Be a light onto yourselves.” Such statements show the practical approach of Buddhism which is meant for real life. When people asked Buddha why and what he taught, he replied: “I teach because you and all beings seek happiness and try to avoid suffering. I teach “the way things are.”
So, what is Buddhism? “Buddha used the best description himself. During the 1,500 years the teachings existed in India, they were called Dharma, and for the last 1,000 years in Tibet, the name was Cho. Both mean ‘the way things are’. Understanding ‘the way things are’ is the key to every happiness. Buddha himself is both teacher, example, protector and friend. His help allows beings to avoid suffering and to enter a state of increasing bliss while also liberating and enlightening others.” – Lama Ole Nydahl
The Buddha gave methods by which full enlightenment may be attained. In a way that makes Buddhism directly relevant to our lives, he explained what exists ultimately and what is conditioned. The Buddha showed his students how to use all experiences in life as steps towards enlightenment, giving teachings which lead to deep and lasting happiness. He encouraged his students to be sceptical, inviting them to thoroughly check for themselves whether his teachings were dogmatic or truly liberating. Buddhist meditation methods can generate powerful inner change enabling experiences to be integrated directly towards enriching our lives. These skillful methods allow the levels of consciousness already reached through meditation to become anchored in a way that they are never again lost.
Buddha’s highest teaching, Vajrayana, involves the deep transformation of body, speech and mind. It moves on from the level of concepts and ideas to complete identification with enlightenment and spontaneous activity. Vajrayana allows us to open to the experience of total non-separation between subject, object and action. Acting from this level one does whatever brings growth, meaning and joy.
Karma is the universal law of cause and effect, meaning, that what we experience now is a result of our previous actions of body, speech and mind; and what we will experience in the future is determined by our current actions. This knowledge naturally encourages us to act in a meaningful way and to help others as much as we can.
Karma is not a fate. The understanding that each of us is responsible for our own lives, makes it possible to consciously generate positive impressions, which brings happiness and helps us to avoid the causes of future suffering. Positive states of mind may be strengthened effectively through the methods of the Vajrayana, while negative impressions waiting to mature, can be transformed into wisdom. It is important to remember that accumulation of positive karma is instrumental in the beneficial circumstances for the future practice to arise. In the similar way the purification of negative karma eliminates obstacles to Dharma practice.
In Buddhism, meditation means “effortlessly remaining in what is”. This state may be brought about by calming and holding the mind, when compassion and wisdom are realized, or by working with our bodies’ energy channels and meditating on light forms of Buddhas.
However the most direct way to recognize the true nature of one’s mind is the Guru Yoga meditation, as practiced in the Karma Kagyu centers around the world. Also called “the way of identification” – this is the essence of the Kagyu transmission where students realize their full potential in the stream of their teacher’s blessing. Since a total identification on the level of perfection presses countless “enlightenment buttons” in one’s subconscious, it is a very fast way to realize one’s original awareness. Here, the mutually conditioned, dependently originating nature of things is clearly recognized – a precondition to the ultimate insight that seer, seeing and object seen are inseparable parts of the same totality.
Being able to maintain this view during and between the times of meditation brings about the goal of Vajrayana – realization of the Mahamudra. All concepts fade when it is imparted, and the self-liberation of all dualistic processes becomes completely natural. Translating as “The Great Seal” the Mahamudra authenticates the mind’s space, clarity and limitlessness to be the only reality.
Liberation and Enlightenment
In the process of becoming liberated, one first discovers that body, thoughts and feelings are in a constant state of change and flux. There is therefore no basis for a real existing ego or “self”. One stops feeling like a target, taking one’s suffering personally. When one thinks “there is suffering” instead of “I suffer”, one becomes invulnerable and free.
Enlightenment is the second and ultimate step. On these highest levels of realization one stops to separate things according to one’s likes and dislikes. One’s projections, attachment and ill will disappear and for the first time things are seen the way they really are. Here, the clear light of mind radiates through every experience. Past, present and future, “here” or “there”, – all are expressions of mind’s timeless richness. In enlightenment, mind naturally manifests fearlessness, joy and active compassion while remaining effortless and spontaneous in whatever happens.
Different Buddhist Schools
Buddha gave instructions for three different types of people. Those who wanted to avoid suffering received the instructions about cause and effect called the Small Way (skt. Hinayana). Those who wanted to do more for others were given the teachings on wisdom and compassion called the Great Way (skt. Mahayana). Where people had strong confidence in their own and others’ Buddha nature, Buddha taught the Diamond Way (skt. Vajrayana). Here, he manifested as forms of energy and light or directly transmitted his enlightened view as a flow of awareness. On this highest level, the aim is the complete development of mind, the spontaneous effortlessness of the Great Seal (skt. Mahamudra).
The Diamond Way offers the modern world “effective methods that lead to a direct experience of mind,” as explained by Lopon Tsechu Rinpoche, one of the most experienced teachers of Tibetan Buddhism. One learns to experience the world from a rich and self-liberating viewpoint. Diamond Way meditations develop a deep inner richness and lead to a non-artificial and unwavering mind where every enlightened activity can unfold.
Diamond Way Buddhist Centers
Among many Buddhist centers of various lineages active in the West, there are more than 600 lay Diamond Way Buddhist centers of the Karma Kagyu Lineage which have been started by Lama Ole Nydahl. These groups have a democratic structure and function through unpaid, voluntary work on the basis of idealism and friendship. The members share the responsibility for guiding meditations, answering questions and passing on the teachings.
The Diamond Way opens the most skillful methods of the Buddha to the modern world. Using them one learns to experience the world from a rich and self-liberating viewpoint. Its meditations develop a deep inner richness and lead to non-fabrication and an unwavering mind. They help us to discover and finally unfold all our enlightened qualities for the benefit of all beings as well as ourselves.