The Three Principles of the Path (transcript)

A commentary by Gelek Rimpoche

A fragment from chapter 1

My need for a spiritual path and practice
Why do people need a spiritual path? I suggest you first ask yourself the question: "Why do I need a spiritual path?" I am sure many of you have thought about that and many may not have thought about it. My feeling is that the very first step is to find out why you need a spiritual path.

You may have different answers. Some will say, "I do need a spiritual path, because..."- I don''t know what purpose you have. Some will say, "Yes, I have a problem, I have pains, problems and misery and I would like to get rid of that." Some people don''t even think about having a problem, some people think, "I need a spiritual path, because I know that is the right thing to do and the other things are the wrong things to do." I am not sure how much you know it is the right thing to do. You have to question yourself about these sorts of things.

The first and foremost step is this: you need to know, you have to make clear to yourself why you do need a spiritual practice, why you do need a spiritual path. I think that this is very important. Then you will begin to know what you are doing it for. Otherwise, you may do it like a lot of people, just for fancy''s sake, out of curiosity, for whatever reason, or for some funny reason half known and half not-known and then tell yourself it is something you need.

I suggest you first ask yourself: Is a spiritual practice necessary for me? Do I really want a spiritual practice? If so, what is my reason? Maybe you don''t need it. After all, this is quite a nice country. There is peace, everybody has nice people around, there is no economic hardship, you get enough food to eat, and to waste, too, you have a comfortable place to live and a car to drive, so why should you need it? Is there any need for it? Some may say, "Yes, there is a need, because I want happiness." Then I would like to raise the question: What is happiness? Everybody wants happiness; there is nobody who doesn''t want happiness. What are you really looking for? That is the second important thing you have to consider: What do I call happiness?

When you want to be happy, how far do you look? We do have methods for keeping ourselves happy. We have securities, social security, savings, and all this. They are going to give you happiness, aren''t they? Or won''t that be the happiness you seek? Some of you may say, "Well, I have money, I have a house to live in, I have everything, but I don''t have peace of mind." A lot of people say that. And then, again: What is peace of mind? What is it I am looking for?

In short, the first thing I suggest is this: find out within yourself why you yourself really need a spiritual practice. That is so important! I know you do want it, you do need it, otherwise you would not be reading this. But what for? There are a lot of things to do outside that are more entertaining. You are reading this, that itself indicates that you need something. Why do you need something? Because you are not satisfied with something else. So the first step is to find out: What is it that I am not satisfied with? What is this need of mine, really? Why? What for?

Think about that! We have plenty of time. It is the beginning of moving towards a spiritual path, right? You have to find the reasons why you want to do it. If you have good reasons, your spiritual practice will be good. If you have medium reasons, your spiritual practice will be of medium level and if you have so-so reasons, your spiritual practice is also going to be so-so. That is why it is important.

You can meditate on it, think about it, and draw your conclusion. But do not make a decision without consulting yourself or someone else. If you know, fine. If you don''t know, discuss it with others, read, listen, collect more information and then make your decision.

What the tradition says about why we need a spiritual practice
What I have been told about why you need a spiritual practice is this: material benefit is not the only thing human beings need. Not only that; material things will not be able to provide people with the happiness they seek.

What happiness do I seek? Different-level people seek different sorts of happiness. Take the case of Buddha. Buddha was seeking happiness before he became a buddha. He wanted a permanent solution for taking care of the problems that he encountered; not only for himself, but for the problems he saw other people encountering. He needed to find some kind of total solution for those problems, and that''s what got him started on his path to becoming a buddha.

When we talk about humans, we tend to look outside. Never look outside, always look within yourself! You know, spiritual practice is not a sort of scientific engineering skill where you look at external things and play around with them. It may be scientific, but it is something you play with within yourself, because you are the one who needs help. So you have to work within yourself!


When you need something from outside, work outside, play outside, use machines – they work outside anyway – and from the beginning focus outside. When you want help within yourself, for yourself, you have to focus inside.

When I say "Look at human beings and what they need," I don''t mean to look outside at other human beings. Look at yourself, look at me as a human being. Always look in. Never look out; that is none of our business. When we want spiritual development for ourselves, we need to look in, look individually and see what I need.

When we look within our life, within ourselves, we find dissatisfaction with life. There is not a single human being who does not feel dissatisfaction. Nobody, unless you are a fully developed person; then it is a different matter. Otherwise, people are always dissatisfied. No matter how high you go, how rich you may become, how well known you may be, you have that much dissatisfaction, you face that many problems. You may find yourself at the top of your career -or whatever- yet even then you are full of dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction we encounter brings us unhappiness, discomfort. In other words, it brings us pain, a lot of pain. When you look at mental pain, physical pain is not so bad by comparison. Mental pain is much worse than physical pain. I am sure you people know that. If you have physical pains you can go to the doctor or whatever you want to do. When you have to help yourself with mental pains, what can you do? You have to deal with it through spiritual practice. That is really what the answer to "Why you need it" boils down to.

© Jewel Heart 2001