Talk Categories Happiness | Talk Locations George Washington University

The Tibetan Code of Happiness

Achieving happiness mainly depends on being content with fewer desires. In addition to this, the key to happiness is an altruistic mind. Meanwhile, if one can study and practice Dharma, ultimate happiness can be obtained.


“The key to happiness is having an altruistic mind. If we can do altruistic things, which is called Bodhichitta in Mahayana Buddhism, the merit will be immense. Through altruism, everyone in the world can find happiness.”

Speech by Khenpo Sodargye

Happiness: Tibetan Style!

Introduction by Professor Eyal Aviv

Good evening, everybody. Thank you for coming. My name is Eyal Aviv and I am a professor in the Department of Religion here at George Washington University. Today I am delighted to welcome our distinguished guest speaker, Khenpo Sodargye of the Larung Gar Buddhist Academy.

Khenpo is a writer, a translator, a distinguished scholar of Buddhism, and a religious leader. He was one of the closest disciples of Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, who, as many of you know, was one of the most distinguished Buddhist teachers of our time.

Khenpo himself has more than 1 million followers on Weibo and is also a best-selling author.

Khenpo writes on a variety of specialized topics in the fields of Buddhist studies, such as Buddhist metaphysics, Buddhist tantra and Buddhist logic, subjects in which he has demonstrated his mastery of the deeper teachings of Buddhism.

His talk tonight, however, is on a topic that is very close to my heart: the teaching of happiness and how happiness is defined by Buddhism and Tibetan culture, which I think is a very timely topic with a universal appeal.

Khenpo has also promised to introduce us to the Tibetan Code of Happiness. I am sure that we are all eager to learn to use this code to open the gates to happiness for ourselves and for others. So please everyone, let’s all welcome Khenpo Sodargye.

A Bittersweet Return

Thank you. I am really delighted and very pleased to have had this opportunity to meet with Professor Aviv earlier today, and for the chance now to have this discussion with the students and scholars of Georgetown University. At the same time, I return to Washington, D.C. with a feeling of sadness and a sense of personal loss. Twenty years ago, in 1993, His Holiness Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche came to this capital city to give Dharma teachings and lecture on Buddhism and science at a nearby convention center. At that time, I accompanied him as his attendant. Ten years later, our lama entered parinirvana. So coming to this same place 20 years later, I can’t help thinking about Lama Rinpoche’s teachings and his impressive and dignified demeanor, and so a great many memories and feelings have continued to arise in my mind since my arrival here.

As for today’s talk, I first want to thank Professor Eyal Aviv and the university for organizing and arranging this event, and for which they have suggested that I talk about the Tibetan Code of Happiness. Somehow, I think it is difficult to deliver the Code of Happiness and to bring you inner peace and happiness in one lecture. But I do believe that the understanding of happiness and on how to find happiness has a universal appeal. Since many people are studying this subject and have asked me to elaborate on it, I am happy to honor this suggestion and to offer you some of my thoughts. After my talk, we can have some discussion around this theme.

So the whole lecture will take about two hours, and I will try to do my best, but if there are questions or differing opinions regarding the things I say, please don’t hesitate to bring them up during the discussion period. I might not be as open-minded as many of you Americans, but in Tibetan Buddhism, we do have the tradition of debating, and because of this training, I don’t think there is anything I cannot accept, so please speak to me directly regarding any of your concerns.

I consider this event to be an intellectual exchange between the East and the West. Of course, I am not able to represent all eastern people, but through my many years of study I am pretty familiar with Buddhism and its teachings. However, I do have relatively less exposure to new ideas and knowledge of the West, and in this way, I am similar to western scholars who may have familiarized themselves with certain understandings of Buddhist doctrines and the methods of meditation but have not been able to study and practice Dharma year after year as I have. Therefore, this could be a rare opportunity for all of us to have a true exchange. I personally feel that having discussions, such as this, which allow the East and the West to exchange ideas and experiences from the perspectives of Buddhism and science, helps to meet the needs of the 21st century.

People of the 21st century should not only accept new ideas that are in keeping with the times, but also need to understand the traditions and religions of previous centuries. This is very essential. New ideas alone cannot solve all humanity’s problems. That is why we want to explore the subject of happiness from both the western and the eastern perspectives and also from both the Buddhist and secular points of view. So I believe this discussion is a very good opportunity for all of us.

Happiness: Tibetan Style!

Speaking of the Tibetan Code of Happiness, we Tibetan people, in some aspects, do enjoy more inner happiness than either the Han Chinese or the Western world. Our inner happiness is admired by, and attracts many people who over time have been influenced by us. At first, they might be curious: How is it that such an exotic people can handle all kinds of pain in their lives and yet retain the appearance of strength in the face of great suffering or even the relatively minor pains of illness, frustrated passion, failure to attain elevated social status, or disappointment in business? No matter what we run into, it is the power of the Buddhadharma, the teachings of the Dharma that gives us strength. We rely on its extraordinary guidance to handle and overcome suffering, and are proud of the courage and wisdom that it imparts to us. Even though I am a Tibetan, I am not just standing here heaping empty praise on my own people; I truly believe that as a people we have been a positive influence to others all over the world.

What are the main reasons for this? Generally speaking, we Tibetans have a natural inclination towards Mahayana practice. For more than 2,500 years, the Dharma, taught by Buddha Shakyamuni, has been preserved intact in the Land of Snows, and every Tibetan, from a very young age until death, takes refuge in the Three Jewels and then continues to practice them for the rest of their life. The power and blessing of the Buddhadharma is deeply embedded in everyone’s heart, and because of this, the Dharma plays an important role in facing the suffering that we all have in our daily lives.

These days, religions such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and so on, all have an unimaginable worldwide impact. The U.S., for example, is predominantly Christian, with more than 95% of the population holding religious beliefs, which is an unusually high percentage for one of the most highly developed countries in the world. The U.S. is as much a country of religious beliefs as it is a country with the rule of law or a country of freedom and equality; religion plays a major role within all of these areas. Likewise, most Tibetans share a unique characteristic, in that we can face and counteract suffering as a benefit of the influence of the Mahayana. In this capacity, Tibetan Buddhism can play an important role in every country, for every ethnic group, and especially for college students.

As students studying here, you are in an extraordinary group of select individuals, because in order to be accepted, you had to prove that you were exceptionally smart and diligent or you would not have been granted acceptance into this extraordinary place. Without meeting stringent qualifications, no matter which school you might have applied to, you would not have been accepted. Therefore, you have to be excellent and intelligent enough in all respects.

I have been told that students come to attend school here from more than 130 international countries and from all of the 50 states in the U.S.; this is one reason that this is a very open-minded university, where people are free to study different religions and pursue different religious faiths. It is very important to have this kind of open-minded thinking, because those future graduates who enter the government will find that when trying to create policy or to govern a state, it is impossible to rule with politics alone. In a world of more than seven billion people, only a little more than one billion state that they are not religious. This is to say that the remaining six billion people on this planet have or acknowledge the value of religious beliefs. This is one reason that I am so pleased with the religious studies taking place at this university. It benefits our society and it benefits humankind.

From the Buddhist point of view, do external objects such as wealth and relationship contribute to happiness? Of course they do. However, although they are beneficial, can external objects cultivate a feeling of 100% happiness within you? Not necessarily.

The Essence and Cultivation of Happiness

East and West: Where the Twain Meet

The American people, in particular, have a strong sense of responsibility toward the wellbeing of the world. This has been borne out and acknowledged by every nation on earth. Students in this country have been taught to strive for freedom and justice and to create a brighter future for the world. They have also been trained in the skills necessary to benefit all mankind. It’s my belief that the only way to accomplish these goals is to rely on the inconceivable power of religion.

There are many differences between the East and the West; we can see this in the differences of lifestyle in different ethnic groups. For example, in the U.S., people like to wear red clothes because they are bright and cheerful, but there are other places where the color red is avoided, as it is considered to be a sign of danger. In Tibet, the color white is associated with auspiciousness, while, in the Han Chinese areas, white symbolizes mourning. So, as we can see, there are many different customs, traditions and lifestyles around the world. However, all people in all places pursue happiness and have an aversion to suffering; this is not only the case for human beings, but is also true for all living beings, including small insects like ants. They all want to be happy and they all dislike suffering.

However, all sentient beings do not know how to obtain happiness or how to engage in methods to dispel suffering, thus creating a state of affairs that has become one of the biggest problems and worries of present-day society. In Buddhism, there are two kinds of happiness: temporary and ultimate. People may not understand this, but what is most important to understand is that, over the course of our lives, from birth to death, we will experience many kinds of suffering. When suffering befalls us, do we know how we shall face it? The understanding of and preparation for suffering is very important for each individual.

It is also true that, how to be free from suffering and how to obtain happiness is perceived differently in different countries. A few days ago, I read a report called What is Happiness?, which described, from the point of view of 155 people from around the world, their understanding of happiness, their efforts to obtain happiness and so forth. Some said that they believed that happiness meant having a great fortune, others that it was the good health of family members or a feeling of harmony between husbands and their wives. Some believed superior social status would bring happiness, and still others that the external satisfaction from material objects or possessions would bring happiness. A great many of those interviewed shared similar opinions.

From the Buddhist point of view, do external objects such as wealth and relationship contribute to happiness? Of course they do. However, although they are beneficial, can external objects cultivate a feeling of 100% happiness within you? Not necessarily.

If, for instance, we compare the current economic achievement of the U.S., to that of 50 years ago, the GDP may have increased several-fold, but the happiness index of the society has been gradually decreasing. If happiness were proportional to wealth, people’s internal well-being would have improved along with external economic development. For example, if I didn’t have a car before, but now I do, does this bring me more happiness? Well, buying a new car comes with the obligation of filling the gas tank, keeping it maintained, along with all the inconveniences of driving in cities, so along with owning this car, a lot of trouble comes with the luxury and convenience that it provides. So, for all of us, it is very important to analyze and investigate the roots of suffering.

The Essence and Cultivation of Happiness

To free ourselves from suffering and obtain happiness, it is useless to just think about it; rather, we have to truly learn how to accomplish it, since, as in Buddhism, it is very important to familiarize ourselves with the method at a deep heart level. What does Buddhism teach us? The essence of achieving happiness mainly depends on being content with fewer desires; the importance of which cannot be understated. If one cannot be content with fewer desires, and instead becomes more and more attached to having more and more things, the suffering will be endless. Why is that?

There is a story about an American professor, who invited his students to take a test. He asked them to write down the names of the 20 people they cared most about. One female student wrote down 20 names, including her relatives and husband. Then the professor asked her to pick 4 of those names that she cared about the most, so she picked her husband, her child, and her parents. Then the professor asked her to pick only the name of the one who brought her the most happiness. As she thought it over, she considered that her parents would likely die before she did and that her children would eventually have their own life, so it seemed that her husband was the most likely to bring her happiness in her life. So she put her husband’s name as the one who could bring her the most happiness.

The professor said, “Your choice was not so wise. Why? You believe that your husband will bring you happiness for your whole life, and so you feel a great attachment to him. If you have this kind of attachment in your heart, you will be watching every detail of his life like a policewoman, and he’ll have no freedom. Thus your concern about losing the cause of your happiness, will not only deny you any happiness, but might also cause him to leave you before anyone else.”

This test carried out by a professor in the U.S. teaches us the same thing that Buddhism teaches, namely, that attachment to money or love, in the end can only bring you pain. Everyone should understand this point. Tibetan Buddhism has many teachings regarding the cultivation of inner happiness. We should not only try to understand the words of these teachings, but also to practice them, in which case they will bring us great benefits in this life.

Today, regardless of which city or place we choose to look at, people are experiencing great suffering. Many people in the big cities are driving luxury cars, wearing expensive clothes and living in high-rise apartments, so by this it might appear that modern people should be happier than before. In Tibet, however, when we see the housing, food, clothing, conditions and climate, we may feel that they are not so favorable. Nevertheless, their lives are just like the lives of the people in Bhutan, where the happiness index ranks among the top in the world. Similarly, in many places in Tibet, such as in the areas of Qinghai, Amdo, Lhasa, as well as my region, Kham, many people have a very happy feeling in their hearts. Why? In my opinion, it’s solely due to the effect of the teachings and practices of Buddhism.

Why do people in big cities have so much suffering? Very simply, it is caused by their excessive desires. In contrast to this, in some Tibetan areas with much poorer living conditions, people are very happy. How can this be? On the one hand, they have fewer desires; but most importantly, they have taken refuge in the Three Jewels from childhood, and often pray to the Three Jewels and to their gurus. This really benefits their mind.

At present, not only have Buddhists realized this, many neurobiologists have acknowledged it as well. They have conducted extensive research comparing people with or without religious beliefs, with or without meditation practice and so forth and their results have shown that religion can indeed bring inner happiness to humankind. This is widely acknowledged in the academic field.

In Buddhism, there are many definitions of happiness, some of which are harder to achieve than others. But for most people today, happiness can be interpreted in terms of body and mind. From my point of view, the Buddhist methods of meditating on emptiness—viewing all phenomena as empty by nature—will steer us away from suffering and towards the cultivation of happiness. We could also practice meditative concentration by examining our mind in calm abiding meditation. That is another important approach.

Meditation & Altruism Lead To Happiness

Dharma Is the Antidote

Nowadays, many people praise this life with beautiful words that actually have no real meaning. In fact, each one of us, including the professors and students here, may be experiencing some amount of suffering. No matter whether we are rich or poor, powerful or powerless, we all suffer. Whenever suffering arises, how should we face and recognize it? This is the most important issue. The Buddha taught that we as human beings suffer from birth, old age, sickness and death. Everyone experiences these sufferings, which can be further classified into primary and secondary sufferings, these are the kinds of sufferings that definitely exist in our life. That is why it is particularly important to learn about them first.

I have been invited to give lectures in many places, and I’ve accepted all invitations. Why? Although I myself am not a very good practitioner, I have familiarized myself with the Dharma to a great extent and as long as my lectures have given even a little benefit, it means a great deal for a monk like me. That is why I like to give talks anywhere that I am asked, regardless of how small the audience is, or where the invitation comes from. I enjoy having intellectual exchanges with people about the Dharma and tell people that if they study the genuine Buddhadharma, it can dispel suffering and help cultivate happiness, as it is a most extraordinary approach.

So in general terms, what is happiness? It is a special feeling in the mind stream. Wealth, power, relationships and other aspects of life have absolutely nothing to do with happiness. It is most important that we have the feeling of contentment in our mind stream; having fewer desires is the key to obtaining such happiness.

In Buddhism, there are many definitions of happiness, some of which are harder to achieve than others. But for most people today, happiness can be interpreted in terms of body and mind. From my point of view, the Buddhist methods of meditating on emptiness—viewing all phenomena as empty by nature—will steer us away from suffering and towards the cultivation of happiness. We could also practice meditative concentration by examining our mind in calm abiding meditation. That is another important approach.

I read a book by the scholar Carl G. Jung where he talked about a Tibetan tulku with whom he studied and had many conversations. Before passing away in 1961, he practiced visualization and meditation according to The Tibetan Book of the Dead. It was during this time that he propagated the psychology of the Tantrayana of Tibetan Buddhism in the West—he was very likely the first scientist to do so. The Rinpoche, whose name was not mentioned, later said that the most important things for attaining happiness are: for the body, it is essential to meditate using the Vairocana 7-point posture; for speech, to chant mantras and sutras; and to rest the mind, to visualize and meditate on buddhas and bodhisattvas. The Tibetan teacher told Jung that only in these ways could we obtain genuine happiness. Jung stated that he really benefited from this knowledge and that this method can benefit anyone.

Meditation & Altruism Lead to Happiness

Nowadays, at many schools in the U.S., knowledge of meditation is integrated into the study of psychology. Through tests on many Tibetan Buddhist rinpoches and monastics, researchers have recognized the benefits of meditation. Much of this research is often carried out in universities. Today, many Han Chinese people have alleviated the stress in their life through meditation. It also helps them to find inner happiness. Therefore, I suggest that you practice meditation often, at school or in your daily life, for 20 minutes a day. It will even help if you practice for 5 minutes in the morning. Five minutes of meditation is equivalent to 1 hour of rest; this is confirmed by scientific research. Meditation brings peace and happiness to our minds. Sometimes we run into troubles in life and our minds become filled with anxiety and afflictions. It may even be that we sometimes lack the courage to live on. While these days, there are many terrible examples of this, this would never happen to a true Buddhist practitioner.

In addition to this, the key to happiness is having an altruistic mind. Many of my Dharma friends, some of whom are monks, take altruism as the sole purpose of their life. When they run into trouble in their lives or when they undergo physical pain, they never regard it as suffering. Similarly, for every student, professor and scholar here, if you could conduct your life with a belief in the value of altruism, your own suffering will be much alleviated. On the other hand, a life lived without an altruistic mind, where one cares only about one’s own selfish interests, will only multiply this suffering. If we can do altruistic things, which is called Bodhichitta in Mahayana Buddhism, the merit will be immense. Through altruism, everyone in the world can find happiness.

Yesterday was March 20th, the United Nations International Day of Happiness. For there to be only one day of happiness each year, is not right—after all, there are 365 days in each year. So we should seek happiness every single day. Everybody wants to experience happiness. But again, in order to obtain ultimate happiness, I personally believe the key is to study and practice the Dharma. It will not only bring us happiness in everyday life, but it will also help us handle any kind of suffering.

That’s all for my talk, now I will open the floor to any questions you may have. Thank you.

Question & Answer Session

Is Contentment an Attitude of Laziness?

International Happiness Day

Professor Eyal Aviv:

Regarding what Khenpo Sodargye just mentioned, the first International Day of Happiness, as some of you may know, was initiated by the U.N. It was inspired by a Bhutanese practice. Instead of measuring their domestic GDP, they measure their gross national happiness. This is rooted in the Mahayana tradition. So this practice of honoring the universal desire for happiness that we now celebrate around the world, even if it is just for one day, is rooted deeply in a tradition that comes straight from Tibetan Buddhism. I think it is indeed auspicious.

We will now use the rest of the time that is left for questions.

Is Contentment an Attitude of Laziness?

Question #1:

Khenpo-la, Tashi Delek. I am a Tibetan living in here in D. C. I have a question. From the Buddhist perspective, the source of happiness is referred to as a quality of contentment with fewer desires. But westerners treat such an attitude as an attitude of laziness or complacency. What’s your opinion about this?

Khenpo Sodargye:

In Buddhism, we talk about less desire, being content, the mind of renunciation and so on. When you really go deeply into these teachings, you’ll find that it is neither laziness, lethargy nor complacency. The quality of contentment can be understood as a way to keep yourself away from endless desire. But you shouldn’t go to the other extreme of becoming lazy, complacent or inactive in life. Both the Vinaya (the basic vehicle) and Abhidharmakosha mention that accepting necessities is fine, but one shouldn’t accept offerings for accumulation. This is clearly stated in various other scriptures.

However, many modern youths believe that Buddhism completely deviates from the norms of everyday life. For instance, when talking about ordination, some people in China and other countries believe it is a choice made only at the most difficult of times. We often see scenarios such as this portrayed in movies. But this is not the actual case. Buddhism itself is positive and holds an optimistic attitude towards life. However, too much desire will only bring us suffering instead of happiness. We need to understand it from this perspective.

About Karma, Merit and Habitual Tendency

Question #2:

I am a Tibetan, born at Amdo Repkong, and now living in Washington D.C. I want to say a couple of things. Firstly, I appreciate you, Khenchen Tsultrim Lodrö and other great Mahayana masters for propagating the Dharma in China and other places and bringing happiness to so many people. I really appreciate it.

Secondly, I have a few questions myself. Khenpo just compared the views of the West and the East. I am now in the West but my mind is still an eastern mind, because I was born in Tibet. I was very happy at that time, just like Khenpo mentioned. Now, my material enjoyment is 70–80% better than what I had in Tibet, but when comparing my spiritual to my material happiness, my spiritual happiness is kind of depleted. Why do I always feel pain and unhappiness? As we all know, it is karma, so would you please first explain the term “karma”?

And the second question is that in our daily life, we say this or that kid has a particular habitual tendency. How should we understand “habitual tendency”? Would you please comment on this?

And last, we usually talk about merit: this person has great merit, that one doesn’t. This is commonly used in daily life. But the exact meaning is hard to understand.

Regarding these three terms, would you please give a brief introduction? Thanks.

Khenpo Sodargye:

Your question is about the Buddhist terms. Concerning the term habitual tendency, some people like to do good deeds from a young age, while others like to do evil deeds. Such predilections are called habitual tendencies. Many scholars are studying this. If we study the scriptures of the Mind-Only School, we’ll better understand the existence of habitual tendencies. Today’s science can neither refute nor explain it, but it is very well explained in Buddhism.

You just said “no merit”; actually, this is just a Tibetan folk expression. It does not mean no merit at all, rather, it means little merit. Karma, as we know, is very important. For some people, no matter how valiant their pursuit, they cannot obtain riches or good health, while others are healthy and happy with little effort. This is related to karma.

This is not just a common idea in Tibet. If you really want to understand the details of karma, you should study the Abhidharmakosha, particularly chapters 3 and 4. You will find that there are various categories of karma; there is positive karma, negative karma and mixed karma. After studying, you’ll develop a deep conviction about it. However, without earnestly studying the Dharma—even for Tibetans, and especially for today’s younger generation—because of habitual tendencies, we cannot understand these terms accurately, and as a side effect, many incorrect interpretations may arise.

Learning Knowledge: No Gain Without Pain

Question #3:

Thank you for your speech. My question comes from my own experience. I sometimes suffer from ‘too much knowledge’. By that I mean that when I explore something and find it is not as good as I expected, I’m really unhappy. So my question is, isn’t being intelligent and aware of more things also important? What do you do when you face this kind of situation? Do you just give up exploring things? Thank you.

Khenpo Sodargye:

First of all, I want to say I’ve been standing for more than an hour, but you only need to stand for a few minutes to ask a question, so I suggest that when you ask questions, kindly stand up, as it does not take very long.

To answer your question, when acquiring any kind of knowledge, some pain or displeasure may arise. But if the knowledge is valuable, the more we learn, the more we can pacify our pains and troubles.

Like the skills taught in school, if we do not study, then we remain uneducated or ignorant. From middle school to college, even up to a doctoral degree, our knowledge gradually broadens and increases. In the course of learning, there are certainly hardships and toil, but we also reap benefits as our intellect grows.

Of course, all these benefits depend on the foundations that they are built on. It is important to build a strong foundation. Whether it is Buddhadharma or worldly knowledge, we should apply the Dharma teaching, which states that, you must learn even if you are certain that you will die tomorrow. We should have such determination. Why? There’s much valuable knowledge, and it is impossible to learn all of it in one short lifetime. But I believe that spending one’s entire life in learning is of great value and it is also my wish for myself.

Of course, there are different interpretations. But indeed, in the end, valuable knowledge should not cause pain but only bring you happiness.

How to Part from Suffering When in Pain?

How to Part from Suffering When in Pain?

Question #4:

My question is a personal one. When you experience suffering, how do you detach yourself from that suffering? Do you have any advice for someone who is westerner and would like to find happiness and contentment? Thank you.

Khenpo Sodargye:

We Tibetans have an old saying: practitioners who live with ease and abundance become even more vulgar when disasters befall them. It means that at the time of ease and abundance, some claim themselves to be Dharma practitioners and able to handle all forms of suffering, but when suffering befalls them, since the Dharma has not merged with their mindstream, their response may be even worse than an average person.

Tibetans receive education regarding death from childhood, but many westerners and Han Chinese people are afraid to talk about it, let alone accept it. Tibetan Buddhism has introduced to the world, how to face the arrival of death, the suffering of death, and the method to deal with such suffering. In Mahayana practice, we are taught to accept suffering in this way. We take in the sufferings of others and, in exchange, give them our happiness. This is a practical antidote to suffering. When you exhale, you visualize giving away your happiness to others; when you inhale, you visualize taking away the suffering of others. This will bring you peace and bliss of body and mind.

As is said in Buddhism, we should understand that everything is imbued with suffering and learn the method to eradicate this suffering. Buddha taught that the nature of samsara is suffering. Because of the suffering of samsara, babies are all born crying; no one comes to the world laughing. This is a manifestation of suffering. When a person dies, scientists have also found that there are three stages of crying in the physical response to death. Therefore, not only are we born crying, we also die with tears in our eyes. There is a lot of suffering just in everyday life. What we call happiness is sometimes actually suffering as well.

Given these teachings, we should take them into our practice; just understanding them theoretically and without actual practice will not enable us to handle suffering. I often use this example: everyone can drive when the road conditions are good, but in dangerous conditions, it is difficult for those lacking good skills. Similarly, if practitioners always practice earnestly, when suffering befalls, they will be able to handle it by using one of the many pith instructions. Without earnest practice, however, when suffering arises, it ends up controlling you.

How to Deal with Guilt?

Question #5:

Thank you so much for your very enlightening teaching. Though I was born and raised in Beijing, I live and work in the D.C. area. I just have a quick question. As human beings, we make mistakes, we do wrong things and many times these mistakes and wrong things have a negative impact on other people. Therefore, we feel very sad, we feel guilty. And this is especially true for people who have a kind heart, who have a conscience. So my question is what do you do when you’re overwhelmed by this sense of guilt?

Khenpo Sodargue:

Usually, people can be divided into different groups. For instance, some like to practice virtue, and so on. The categories that people fall into and the different values that each category embodies, is a very common topic in Buddhism.

In the Buddhist scriptures, there’s a story of a woman selling rotten fish. She was walking beside the Ganges River and it was getting late so she stayed at a floral shop for the night. The fragrance of flowers in the shop kept her awake. When she finally put her rancid fermented fish next to her nose, the smell finally helped her to fall asleep.

Among human beings, there are some people who often feel guilty, yet there are others who have never had a moment of regret. There is a biography of a well-known figure in China, whose name I will not mention. He said that he has never had a single moment of regret. For normal people, however, the importance of confessing our bad actions is taught as an important Buddhist practice.

Confession through chanting the Vajrasattva mantra is essential to purifying our negative karma. By confessing and vowing not to do it again and applying the four opponent powers, the negative karma caused by the improper thought or action, will gradually be purified. Even if the negative karma has been purified, our conceptual thoughts will continue to bring us more negative karma. Whatever we do, as human beings, we can hardly avoid all mistakes or remain 100% perfect. Buddhism stresses that negative karma has no merit in itself, but its good quality is that it can be purified through confession.

Many urban people in the East and in the West are fettered by this kind of pain and are not able to live an active life. The main problem is their attitude, not the suffering caused by regret itself. Therefore, they must stay strong, purify their negative karma with repentance and face their future life with full energy. This is very important for everyone.

Therefore, whether you are a Buddhist or not, studying Buddhist philosophy helps you to act altruistically. As I mentioned earlier, blindly feeling guilty without following it with proper action is called pessimism and, as such, has no value. These days, many people in big cities suffer from a variety of mental illnesses, which are very hard to cure with drugs. However, within the collection of Buddha’s 84,000 teachings, are all the different appearances of wisdom, wherein you will always find an antidote. So if we actively confess our negative actions, our mind can gradually calm down, and everything will once again begin to flow smoothly.



Professor Eyal Aviv:

Once again, I would like to thank Khenpo for his enlightening perspective. The code is not just for happiness, but also offers some very important tools to deal with the suffering that we experience in life.