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
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
“It depends on how conscious you want to be!” Tulku
“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.
Our goal as humans on the Path is to return to the natural state
of mind, “Yeshe,” pure consciousness, “pristine
“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
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
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
“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
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 email@example.com, or call 250-752-1280.
Om mani peme hung.