joanne sales



Interview with Tulku Gesang Dorje
“How can we become more conscious?”
Suggestions from the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition

Published February 2008 in The Beacon, Vancouver Island

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon in January, when I was able to sit with Tulku Gesang Dorje at the Kathok Gonpa, a Tibetan Buddhist temple in Coombs. Tulku is the resident lama (teacher) at the temple, sharing his time between Canada and Tibet, his homeland. While Tulku speaks very good English, he prefers to speak in his native language and to have a translator when he is sharing teachings, to avoid misunderstanding. (The word “Tulku” is actually a title. But in Tulku’s usual lighthearted manner, he said, “You can call me that. It’s not my name but that’s ok.”)

I asked Tulku, what can you tell us about “conscious living” from the Tibetan Buddhist perspective? What advice can you share with those of us “ordinary people” who are striving to become more conscious in our lives?

“Mindfulness and awareness are two core practices of Buddhism. These two practices are the basic nourishment the mind needs to be conscious. As important as food,” Tulku says. “Like giving milk to a baby.”
Awareness is “knowing what you should be doing.” Mindfulness is “knowing what you are doing.”
“On the most common level, awareness refers to basic ethics - knowing the situation around us and the rules. For example, we know we aren’t supposed to drive on the sidewalk. This is the most basic level of awareness needed to live in a society.”
But to live more consciously, we will raise the standard that we set for ourselves. Then, mindfulness, actually being aware of what we are doing, can lead us to the very highest levels of consciousness.
“It depends on how conscious you want to be!” Tulku says.

“How conscious are most human being?”
“Most people are dominated by the discursive mind. They are talking to themselves all the time. That is discursive consciousness. ‘Namshe.’”
Our goal as humans on the Path is to return to the natural state of mind, “Yeshe,” pure consciousness, “pristine awareness.”
“How do we do that?”
In our Western culture, we are familiar with the Ancient Greek aphorism “Know yourself,” that was said to have been inscribed in the court of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Tulku used the same phrase - “Know yourself” - as the key to a successful life according to the Buddhist tradition as well.
“Know what your mind is doing. Know what kind of desires you have. What kinds of thoughts are you having? This awareness will help you to see yourself more clearly, and understand yourself better.”
Becoming aware of our thoughts sounds simple, but it can become very subtle. “With mindfulness, one can learn to recognize hatred, obsessive and negative thoughts as they arise. “

How then do we change those thoughts?
By becoming conscious of them! All the afflictive emotions have one antidote - mindfulness. Look within. Examine the mind. Be “mindful.”

We change our minds by learning to think more about others. Our problems are based on selfishness and ego clinging. So the reverse is not to think about ourselves but to think about how we can benefit others. This changes the “rules of awareness” - and raises the mind. What we should be doing now includes benefitting others.
“Think of a small glass with space in it, which is like the ordinary person’s mind. Then break the container. Now the air that was in the glass is everywhere! Shift from self interest to concern for the welfare of others.”

This exchanging of concern for self with concern for others is the key. All happiness arises from thought for the happiness of others. The highest level of mind is Boddhicitta, the awakened mind of compassion. To reach this level of consciousness, we want to develop loving kindness, compassion, empathy, rejoicing in the happiness of others, and equanimity.
“The most important thing is to have a good heart and a benevolent attitude.”

There are practices we can do which will broaden our world, and raise our consciousness. Practicing generosity breaks the habit of clasping. In the Buddhist practice of Tonglen, “sending and receiving”, a person breathes in the suffering of others and in return, sends to them light, happiness, joy, and well being.

Motivation is of utmost importance, as well. We can always ask ourselves, “Why am I here? Why am I doing this? What is my intention?” We always want to have the highest possible motivation. Ultimately, the motivation for all our actions will be to benefit all sentient beings.

Tulku says to use His Holiness the Dalai Lama as a model.

As a conclusion, Tulku said through his translator Eric. “Few words but clear meaning. Less words but without missing the point.” Those words of advice were spoken to me in my writing assignment, but they seem to have a much broader application as well!|

I bowed simply in gratitude, left the temple, and walked down the long driveway in the gentle sunlight of that cold January day. Tulku’s words made it all seem so simple!
“It’s a step by step process,” he said.

If you are interested in learning more about the Kathok Gonpa, please email, or call 250-752-1280.

Om mani peme hung.