What is Dharma?
Dharma in Los Angeles
Buddha's Teachings are known as Buddhadharma, or Dharma. Dharma means "protection". By practicing Buddha's teachings we protect ourself from suffering and problems. All the problems we experience during daily life originate from negative states of mind, and the method for eliminating negative states of mind is to practice Dharma. Practicing Dharma is the supreme method for improving the quality of our human life. The quality of life depends not upon external development or material progress, but upon the inner development of peace and happiness.
Buddhism, or Buddhadharma, is Buddha's teachings and the inner experiences or realizations of these teachings. Buddha gave eighty-four thousand teachings. All these teachings and the inner realizations of them constitute Buddhadharma. Dharma does not stay in one place but moves from one country to another. Just as gold is precious and rare, so Dharma is precious and very hard to find.
Buddha taught how to examine our mind and see which states produce misery and confusion and which states produce health and happiness. He taught how to overcome the compulsively non-virtuous minds that confine us to states of discontent and misery, and how to cultivate the virtuous minds that liberate us from pain and lead us to the bliss of full enlightenment. By learning Buddhadharma, we will have the opportunity to gain the happiness we seek and to fulfil all our temporary and ultimate wishes. You can learn more about the mind and how to control it from Understanding the Mind.
For example, in the past many Buddhists lived in poor and underdeveloped countries, but they were able to find pure, lasting happiness by practicing the Teachings of Buddha. If we integrate Buddha's teachings into our daily life, we will be able to solve all our inner problems and attain a truly peaceful mind. Without inner peace, outer peace is impossible. If we first establish peace within our minds by training in spiritual paths, outer peace will come naturally; but if we do not, world peace will never be achieved, no matter how many people campaign for it.
An extensive presentation of Dharma can be found in Joyful Path of Good Fortune.
The Dharma Wheel
Buddha’s teachings, which are known as Dharma, are likened to a wheel that moves from country to country in accordance with changing conditions and people’s karmic inclinations. The external forms of presenting Buddhism may change as it meets with different cultures and societies, but its essential authenticity is ensured through the continuation of an unbroken lineage of realized practitioners. Buddha’s teachings are said to be like a precious wheel because, wherever they spread, the people in that area have the opportunity to control their minds by putting them into practice.
Turning the Dharma Wheel
After Buddha attained enlightenment, as a result of requests he rose from meditation and taught the first Wheel of Dharma. These teachings, which include the Sutra of the Four Noble Truths and other discourses, are the principal source of the Hinayana, or Lesser Vehicle, of Buddhism. Later, Buddha taught the second and third Wheels of Dharma, which include the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras and the Sutra Discriminating the Intention, respectively. These teachings are the source of the Mahayana, or Great Vehicle, of Buddhism.
In the Hinayana teachings, Buddha explains how to attain liberation from suffering for oneself alone. In the Mahayana teachings he explains how to attain full enlightenment, or Buddhahood, for the sake of others. Both traditions flourished in Asia, at first in India and then gradually in other surrounding countries, including Tibet. Now they are also beginning to flourish in countries throughout the world.
Each year Buddha turning the Wheel of Dharma is celebrated in Kadampa centers around the world on a special day called Turning the Wheel of Dharma Day. More information on Buddha’s turning the Wheel of Dharma can be found in Heart of Wisdom and Ocean of Nectar.
Representations of the Dharma Wheel
The Dharma Wheel appears above the door of traditional Kadampa Temples between a male and female deer. These symbolize the stages of the path of Highest Yoga Tantra.
The eight auspicious signs symbolize in general how to progress along the Buddhist path. The Dharma Wheel, deer, and top vajra teach you the stages of the path of Highest Yoga Tantra. The male deer symbolizes the realization of great bliss. The female deer symbolizes the realization of emptiness. The Wheel of Dharma symbolizes the union of these two. Through progressing in this union of great bliss and emptiness, finally you will attain the five omniscient wisdoms of a Buddha, which are symbolized by the top five-pronged vajra.
There is also a large Dharma Wheel in the lantern tower of the Temples containing precious scriptures, symbolizing the Holy Dharma spreading throughout all worlds. The Dharma Wheel is also used in Tharpa Publications logo to symbolize the pure Dharma of Kadampa Buddhism spreading throughout the world through the works of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.
In the center of the Dharma Wheel is the logo of International Kadampa Buddhism – a radiant sun rising behind a snow-clad mountain. This symbolizes the sun of Kadampa Buddhism, which came from behind the Eastern Snow Mountains, now radiating to many countries throughout the world through the power of Geshe Kelsang’s deeds.
To practice Dharma means to apply Buddha’s teachings in your daily life.
The purpose of this Dharma practice is to enable us to attain permanent liberation from lower rebirth. At present we are human and free from lower rebirth, but this is only a temporary and not a permanent liberation from lower rebirth. Until we gain a deep realization of refuge, we shall have to take lower rebirth again and again in countless future lives.
We attain permanent liberation from lower rebirth by sincerely relying upon the Three Jewels: Buddha – the source of all refuge, Dharma – the realization of Buddha’s teachings, and Sangha – pure Dharma practitioners who help us with our spiritual practice. Dharma is like medicine that prevents the sufferings of the three lower realms, Buddha is the doctor who gives us this medicine, and the Sangha are the nurses who assist us. Understanding this, we go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha and sincerely apply the Dharma to our lives.
Dharma centers are places where people can improve their understanding and experience of Buddha’s teachings through study, practice and the observance of moral discipline.
There are 1100 Kadampa Buddhist centers and branches in 40 countries around the world where people can study and practice the teachings of Buddha.
See the Centers section for more information
The Four Noble Truths
The first teaching Buddha gave was the Sutra of the Four Noble Truths, in which he explained about true sufferings, true origins, true cessations, and true paths. Samsaric rebirth, such as our present rebirth, is called "true suffering" because it is the basis of all other suffering and delusions. Delusions and actions motivated by delusions are called "true origins" because they are the origin, or source, of all sufferings. Liberation (Sanskrit-Nirvana) is called a "true cessation" because it is a permanent cessation of delusions and suffering. The paths that lead to liberation are called "true paths" because by following these paths we attain true cessations. Buddha said:
You should know sufferings
You should abandon origins
You should attain cessations
You should meditate on paths
The meaning of this is that we should first understand that samsaric rebirth is the nature of suffering and develop renunciation for it. Then we should abandon the delusions and negative actions that are the source, or origin, of samsaric rebirth and all its suffering, and make our human life meaningful by attaining liberation. To attain this permanent cessation of suffering, we should practice the paths that lead to liberation.
The four noble truths can be understood and practiced on many different levels. Directly or indirectly, all Dharma practices are included within the practice of the four noble truths. At a basic level, we can begin the practice of the four noble truths by reflecting on the sufferings caused by anger. Anger destroys both peace of mind and peace in the world. The root cause of the two World Wars and of all the wars being fought in various parts of the world today is anger. On a smaller scale, anger destroys our personal relationships, our reputation, and the harmony within families and communities. Most of the arguments and most of the day to-day difficulties we experience with our family, friends, and colleagues are due to anger.
Recognizing the terrible and unnecessary sufferings that arise from anger, we should develop renunciation for them and then strive to abandon their cause, the mind of anger, by practising patience. In this way, we can attain a cessation of anger. The sufferings caused by anger are true sufferings, anger itself is a true origin, the practice of patience is a practice of true paths, and the permanent cessation of anger is a true cessation. We can also apply the same principles to the sufferings caused by attachment and ignorance.
From the book Introduction to Buddhism - by Geshe Kesang Gyatso
© Geshe Kelsang Gyatso & New Kadampa Tradition-International Kadampa Buddhist Union