Tilopa's 6 Words of Advice

The following words are attributed to the 11th century Buddha Vajradhara, Tilopa.

  1. Do not remember the past;
  2. Do not predict the future;
  3. Do not think about the present;
  4. Do not analyze;
  5. Do not control;
  6. Rest.

There are, of course, a number of translations, but the above encapsulates what most people will find on various Buddhist related sites.

However, there are a number of problems with this particular translation. On the surface, it might seem to be good advice, and it is, really. But the problem of how to approach the whole thing arises. It might seem to imply that one can think about the present, for example. But is that true? Can one think of the present in the first place?

Let's go into this one by one, and in the end, we will see if there is a more appropriate translation we might use.

1. Do Not Remember the Past

If the past could not be remembered, and if memory could not be utilized, I would not be able to type these words. I wouldn't know how to get to my house. I wouldn't be able to speak or relate in any way whatsoever.

The only way the past can be brought about is through remembering. It does not show up of its own accord or have a vibrancy of its own. We must remember in order to utilize the past, for better or worse.

This might mislead people into thinking that they can forcibly "forget" the past. To repress those things that the self wishes to avoid. But this kind of avoidance only attaches us further, because there is always energy present pushing away at the item of repression. This will keep you connected to it forever.

2. Do Not Predict the Future

This one is rather confusing. The only way to know the future is through the past. We invent what might be, through what we already know. There can never be a "new" future, because the mechanism we use to create it is the "old" past.

There is the tendency for everyone to put their image of what should be on top of reality, but that is not really predicting anything. It is just a fantasy based on one's prejudices and preferences.

And besides, if I do not remember the past, I cannot predict the future.

3. Do Not Think About the Present

Is it even possible to think about the present? Can we think in terms of anything other than what we already know? I need knowledge and memory - the past - in order to think, don't I? If that is true, how can I think about the present? It must always be thought of in terms of the past, because that is the medium of thought.

This could mean the projection of thought onto the present moment. But it is rather vague, and leaves one running in circles trying to not think about the present. Of course, if one is projecting onto reality, then there is no present moment. There is only the thought that keeps you out of your natural state of awareness.

Besides, is there even a present moment? Once we solidify the present into a moment, doesn't that effectively kill it? Can the present be captured at all? Can the present ever be known? Again, knowing would imply the past. Can the past and the present ever meet?

4. Do Not Analyze

This is a very important point. If one is analyzing, there is always a separation. There is always the analyzer, and the thing to be analyzed. It is a subtle way of locking one into a dualistic way of thinking.

Once we start to analyze, we believe ourselves to be separate from the thing under analysis. If I am greedy, and I try to analyze it, it is always me and the greed. We will never be able to realize that we are the greed. It is always us looking at something else.

This is an important point to consider for yourselves: If you analyze, what is it that is doing the analyzing? And in what way is it different from the object of analysis? See it for yourselves.

5. Do Not Control

Another very important point to consider. It is essentially the same danger as number 4. When we wish to control, it is always the controller and the thing to be controlled. This separation and conflict can never bring peace to a human being.

Control only keeps you attached to the thing you wish to be away from. But can you really be attached to it, or rather, are you it? You will never see it for yourself as long as you believe there are two separate entities at work, i.e., the controller, and the thing to be controlled.

6. Rest

An important point. And it not only pertains to physical rest. But our minds need to rest as well.

Human beings are in a constant state of mental fatigue, due to the wastage of energy over our problems. I am greedy, but I shouldn't be! Think of the great energy required to keep that illusion alive.

In the case of should, you see the situation, but cannot come to terms with what is happening. You create a should in order to better deal with it. But the should requires so much energy that you will never see the reality of the situation. It always keeps the energy wasted in a state of flux.

There can be no peace in a mind that divides itself.

Seeing the thing as it is, or the self for what it is, releases such a surge of energy that it is hard to believe that the human body is capable of such power. When one gives up the need to be different from anything, it is like being reborn into a powerful machine of infinite energy.

(I don't mean to qualify it, because there is nothing infinite about humanity. But having that energy released for the first time is completely beyond the experience of what you know.)

Other Interpretations

One of the better translations can be found on the Wikipedia page for Tilopa. I won't go into it, as you can do that for yourselves. Here it is:

  1. Let go of what has passed
  2. Let go of what may come
  3. Let go of what is happening now
  4. Do not try to figure anything out
  5. Do not try to make anything happen
  6. Relax, right now, and rest

These are better than the original translation I presented at the beginning of this article, as they more directly touch what is going on. However, one might become closer if one thinks of allowing these things to occur instead of letting them go.

Go into it both ways and see what comes of it.