Dalai Lama: end suffering by developing insight

(Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

The following excerpt is taken from the book “How to see yourself as you really are” by the Dalai Lama:

What makes all this trouble in the world? Our own counterproductive emotions. Once they are generated, they harm us both superficially and deeply. These afflictive emotions accomplish nothing but trouble from beginning to end. If we tried to counteract each and every one individually, we would find ourselves in an endless struggle. So what is the root cause of afflictive emotions that we can address more fruitfully?

In the many scriptures of the Buddha, we find descriptions of practices to counter lust, such as meditating on what lies beneath the skin-flesh, bone, organs, blood, solid waste, and urine. These reflections do indeed temporarily suppress lust, but they do not accomplish the same for hatred. And the reverse is also true: those practices taught for the sake of undermining hatred, such as cultivating love, do not act as cures for lust. Like medicines used to counteract a specific illness, they do not treat other illnesses. However, because all counterproductive emotions are based on ignorance of the true nature of things, practices that teach us how to overcome that ignorance undercut all afflictive emotions. The antidote to ignorance addresses all troubles. This is the extraordinary gift of insight…


To succeed at developing insight, first you need to identify ignorance. Ignorance in this context is not just a lack of knowledge – it is an active misapprehension of the nature of things. It mistakenly assumes that people and things exist in and of themselves, by way of their own nature. This is not an easy concept to grasp, but it is very important to identify this faulty perception, for it is the source of destructive emotions such as lust and hatred. In Buddhism we repeatedly speak of emptiness, but if you do not see how people mistakenly attribute to things their own inherent existence, it is impossible to understand emptiness. You have to recognize, at least in a rough way, what you are falsely superimposing on phenomena before you can understand the emptiness that exists in its stead. Understanding how you actually exist, who you really are without the overlay of false imagination, is the main topic of this book.

All of the Buddha’s many teachings are aimed at attaining liberation from cyclic existence-with its endless movement from one life to another-and achieving omniscience. Ignorance is the root of everything that stands in the way of these attainments. Ignorance binds us to suffering; therefore ignorance has to be clearly identified. To do so we must consider how this false quality of inherent existence appears to the mind, how the mind assents to it, and how the mind bases so many ideas on this fundamental mistake.

Ignorance is not just other than knowledge, it is the contradiction of knowledge. Scientists tell us that the more closely we examine things the more likely we are to find empty space. Ignorance, by relying on appearances, superimposes onto persons and things a sense of concreteness that, in fact, is not there. Ignorance would have us believe that these phenomena exist in some fundamental way. Through ignorance what we see around us seems to exist independently, without depending on other factors for its existence, but this is not the case. By giving people and things around us this exaggerated status, we are drawn into all sorts of overblown and ultimately hurtful emotions.

Identifying this false appearance of things and acknowledging our tacit assent to this illusion are the first steps toward realizing that you and other beings, as well as all other objects, do not exist the way they appear to; they do not exist so concretely and autonomously In the process of developing an accurate assessment of who you actually are, you need to appreciate the disparity between how you appear to your own mind and how you indeed exist. The same holds true for other people and all the other phenomena of the world.



1. All counterproductive emotions are based on and depend upon ignorance of the true nature of persons and things.

2. There are specific ways to suppress lust and hatred temporarily, but if we undermine the ignorance that misconceives the nature of ourselves, others, and all things, all destructive emotions are undermined.

3. Ignorance sees phenomena – which actually do not exist in and of themselves – as existing independent of thought.

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