All beings wish to be happy, no one wishes to be unhappy. The Dharma teaches the methods to get rid of suffering and achieve happiness. The Dharma which we practice is, literally, something that holds us. This can be explained in many ways. It holds us back from suffering and holds all true sources of happiness.
Happiness can be either physical or mental. There are also two types of suffering: physical and mental. Many of us, though we wish to achieve happiness, we are ignorant of the methods to attain this. The methods we use lead us to suffering.
Some people rob and kill to make a living. They think this will bring them happiness. This is not so. There are many others who try to achieve happiness by being a merchant, farmer, and so on, within the bounds of the laws. Many people become very wealthy and famous through such methods. This type of happiness is not something that can last forever; it's not ultimate happiness. No matter how much happiness or material goods we have, we are never satisfied that we have enough. Even if we owned an entire country, we would want more.
The work we do to achieve happiness never ends. We try to go around by the fastest means we can, cars, etc. – this type of pursuit has no end. That's why they say samsaric existence has no end, it just goes around and around. We can all understand this: worldly pursuits never end.
A flower is fresh when new, fades when old. No matter what you achieve in this life, it will come to an end. It comes to an end as time goes on and on, to the end of our lives where we have the most suffering. For example, the automobile. You pass by junk yards where old cars have been thrown away. This is the final end, in a state where everything has turned to junk. Even when the car is in good order, we worry about it. We worry that parts will break down, tax and insurance payments, etc., etc. We can extend this example to all our material possessions. The more we have, the more worries we have about them.
Dharma is that which teaches the method for bringing about mental happiness. To achieve some type of mental happiness, we don't do physical work: we need to do work with our minds. The mind, however, has a long stream of continuity, even into future lifetimes, and from past lifetimes. In each lifetime, we have a body and we try to get happiness for that body, but at death the mind goes on. So, the happiness we need to wish for is not only a happiness that is great and stable, but one that lasts for all our future lifetimes and which has no break in its continuity.
No matter what type of activity we do, constructive or not, that's not Dharma, but positive actions that are done for the sake of our future lifetimes, that's the Dharma.
Happiness or unhappiness comes from our actions. Regarding these karmic actions, negative actions bring negative results and positive actions bring positive results. Anything we can do well in this life, planting fields, and so on, this is the result of positive actions we did in our previous lives. If we are very sick, or if we are unhappy or have short lives, this is the result of negative actions we have done in the past.
For example, there are two merchants, one is successful and one is not. This is due to previous karma. You can see two businessmen, one works very hard and is not successful while another doesn't have to work hard but is successful. Another example, if you kill living beings, you will have a short life and will have sickness. You can ask your Geshe-la here about all of this.
If you refrain from committing these negative actions, you won't be born in a lower realm, but as a human or in the god realms. But even if you are born as a human or as a god, this doesn't bring you ultimate happiness – it's all in the nature of suffering. Why is this so? If you achieve a high position, you fall to a low one; if you are in a low position, you rise to a higher one. From this, there is a great deal of suffering. For example if you are hungry, you eat food; but if you eat too much, then you get ill. If you are cold, you turn on the heat and get too hot; then you have to cool down. There are all these types of suffering.
Samsara (uncontrollably recurring existence) consists of these types of suffering. It is the result of karma and various disturbing emotions and attitudes. We need to develop the wisdom (discriminating awareness) of voidness or identitylessness.
We can see, as examples of those who have reached an end of their samsara, the sixteen arhats and various other aryas who have achieved this state. Though we can put an end to our own samsaric existence, it's not enough to do this, because no one has been kinder to us than all limited beings (sentient beings). Dairy products come from the kindness of animals. If we enjoy meat, this comes from animals slaughtered while still healthy. In the winter, we wear fur coats and wool, which come from the animals. They are very kind to provide this to us. We need to repay the kindness of all living beings by attaining the state of Buddhahood ourselves – then we can fulfil the aims of all limited beings.
Sravakas and arhats can't fulfill all the purposes of limited beings. The only one who can do this is a Buddha, and so this is what we must do in order truly to help them. We need to become Buddhas ourselves.
How do we do this? By following the Dharma. In India, there were the highly accomplished mahasiddhas, we have the life stories of eighty of them, but really there are countless numbers of them. They achieve enlightenment in their very lifetimes. In Tibet, there is the example of Milarepa, and many other great masters from the Kagyu, Nyingma, Sakya, and Gelug schools.
Once we achieve the state of a Buddha, our Dharma efforts come to an end. The work we do in the Dharma is very difficult in the beginning, but it gets easier and easier, and we become happier and happier as we progress. We finish our Dharma work in a state of complete happiness. Worldly work brings us only more suffering.
For example, when people die, their lives reaching their culmination or endpoint in death causes only misery and suffering, not only to themselves, but also to those left behind, for instance at their funerals. We need to think about this and do some type of Dharma work. Reaching the culmination or endpoint of the Dharma with the attainment of enlightenment brings only happiness, not only to us, but also to all others.
We need to refrain from committing the ten negative actions. If we do positive actions, we experience happiness, and if we do negative actions, we experience unhappiness. We need to examine the results of our actions and we need to examine our own minds as the causes of our actions. When we examine, we see we have the three poisonous emotions and attitudes: desire, hostility, and closed-minded ignorance (naivety).
From these, we get the 84,000 kinds of disturbing emotions and attitudes. These 84,000 delusions are our main enemies, so we look within, not around us, for our enemies. Of these 84,000, the main ones are these three poisons, and the worst one is the closed-minded ignorance or naivety, right in our own mind-streams.
In short, we need to look within ourselves and try to put an end to these inner enemies. That's why followers of the Buddha Dharma are called "insiders" (nang-pa), because they always look within. If we put an end to these disturbing emotions and attitudes in our mental continuums, then we put an end to all our suffering. A person who works to do this is known as one who follows the Dharma.
The Dharma activity of someone who works to eliminate the disturbing emotions and attitudes only within him or herself is the Dharma activity of the Hinayana vehicle. If we work to eliminate our delusions not just to get rid of our own suffering, but see others as more important and strive to overcome our delusions so that we can help them remove the disturbing emotions and attitudes in their minds as well, then we are Mahayana practitioners. On the working basis of this body, we need to try to become Mahayanists, and the result is that we can achieve the enlightened state of a Buddha.
The main point is to try always to benefit everybody and never cause harm to anyone at all. If we recite "Om Mani Padme Hum," you need to think, "May the positive force of doing this benefit all limited beings."
These bodies we have as our working basis are difficult to obtain: being born as a human doesn't easily come about. For example, look at the globe. The majority of it is ocean, and think how many fish there are in all these oceans. The life form with the largest number is animals and insects. If we think of the entire planet and the number of animals and insects there are, we will see the rarity of being born a human.
In the Dharma, realizations and insights come very slowly. Not just in a few days, weeks or months. Only a very few human beings even actually think about Dharma, let alone realize it. We need to work at it consistently for a long period of time. You have a well-qualified Geshe here who can answer all of your questions. In the long term, the Buddha Dharma will continue to grow and become widespread. It is still increasing and very much alive. When the Buddha first taught, he only had five disciples. It spread from these people, and now is present to such a great extent.
We now have someone equal to Shakyamuni, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who will be here in October. Whatever teaching His Holiness gives you, take to heart and practice them sincerely. The essence of the teachings is never to harm any creature and to have no harmful thoughts – try only to benefit them. This is the main point. If you act like this, it will bring about great benefit in the future.