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The Tibetan word for Buddhist is nang-pa, which literally means "one who is focused on inner reality."  This refers to someone who concentrates more on his or her inner world than on external phenomena.  This is perhaps the most important point regarding Buddhist practice.  Our primary goal is to subdue and transform our state of mind, our inner reality.  In this way, we seek to improve all our actions of body and speech, but especially those of mind.

I occasionally observe that some people modify their external actions while internally there isn’t any kind of positive change going on at all.  Things might even be deteriorating.  Even as we try to practice the Buddhist teachings, our delusions of ignorance, attachment, anger and so forth become more rampant.  When this happens, it is not because there is something wrong with our spiritual path. It is because our own faulty actions contaminate the teachings and therefore we cannot experience the complete results of our practice.  When such things happen, it is very important not to let go of our practice.  Instead, we should understand that in some way we are not properly applying the teachings to ourselves.

How do we distinguish Buddhists from non-Buddhists?  A Buddhist is someone who has gone for refuge from the depths of his or her heart to what are known as the Three Jewels or the Triple Gem, the Jewel of Buddha, the Jewel of Dharma and the Jewel of Sangha.  Having gone for refuge to the Jewel of Buddha, we should be careful not to follow misleading guides or teachers.  Having taken refuge in the Jewel of Dharma, we should not harm any sentient being no matter what its size. Furthermore, we should cultivate compassion, the wish to ensure that all beings are free from unwanted mental and physical problems.  And having taken refuge in the Jewel of the Sangha, or the spiritual community, we should not participate in a club, group or organization that brings harm to ourselves or other beings.

         We need to try to discover the source of our own and others' suffering and then find out what path or method we can use to destroy it.  The next thing is to apply ourselves enthusiastically and consistently to this method.  If we do that, we will be able to free ourselves from all kinds of suffering, which means that we will free ourselves from samsara, help others free themselves from samsara and eventually attain the state of highest enlightenment.

From ‘Mirror of Wisdom: Teachings on Emptiness,’ a new book byVenerable Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen,  founder of Thubten Shedrup Ling.