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The Essence of Buddhism

By Geshe Rabten Rinpoche (1920-1986)Geshe Rabten

Buddhism is not a strange tradition that is typical of certain distant lands, nor is it a collection of dry words in books and libraries. So many people in the West do not recognize what Buddhism is really about.

All beings in this world, both humans and animals, are constantly driven by the same basic objectives: achieving happiness and removing suffering and problems. But while we strive for these goals throughout our existence, we can never fully realize them. The true, lasting happiness we desire eludes us, and deep in our minds we continue to experience problems. In our quest for satisfaction, we build houses, roads, schools, hospitals and so on. But while these do give us some relief, they are unable to remove the real causes of physical and mental pain. On the contrary, we see that mental turmoil tends to increase with technological advancement. But why is this happening, despite our enormous efforts? We generally consider that the source of all our problems is outside of ourselves. We then try to overcome these circumstances by manipulating them.

Of course, external circumstances affect our lives and cause us to suffer, but we need to understand that the true causes of our painful experiences are deeply embedded in our own minds. The external situation merely constitutes the circumstances that contribute to what is happening in our own minds. In this light, it becomes clear that no matter how much we change the outside world, we will never come to a truly satisfactory solution [when we only address the external circumstances].

But what is in us that keeps causing trouble? It is selfishness, the attitude with which we cherish ourselves while effacing others [from this life or past lives]. Selfishness and an attachment to our own self-interest creates an aversion to the interests of others. This is the basis of all conflict. If selfishness did not exist, conflict would never arise. As long as the mind is dominated purely by egoism we will never be satisfied. Even if our situation is pleasant, there will always be a restless desire for something else, preventing lasting peace and happiness from finding their place in our lives. When this selfishness is diminished, anger and attachment will also diminish in strength. And as these factors diminish, we will begin to care more about others, and our mind becomes more content and peaceful.

Where can we find the means to transform the mind in this way? It is found in the teachings of the Buddha. So, the methods shown by the Buddha are very valuable to anyone who is truly seeking happiness, Buddhist or not. Buddhism can therefore be seen as a method to prevent mental suffering and to increase the sense of well-being for ourselves and others. We all appreciate it when we are treated kindly by others. We should realize that others also experience great pleasure when they are treated kindly by us. As concern for others grows stronger, egoism, anger, and attachment decrease. Our minds experience more peace and joy, which others really benefit from as well.

All conflicts between individuals, groups of people, and even nations are resolved once caring for others takes the place of caring only about ourselves. The concern for others is thus the source of all individual and collective well-being, both secular and religious. It is the essence of Buddhism to achieve this.

Geshe Rabten Rinpoche was an important teacher of Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche. He gave the above speech in 1977 to clarify the objectives of the Rabten Chöling Monastery.


See next: Buddha, Dharma, Sangha and taking refuge - the three juwels and 'becoming buddhist'.