Freedom Through Understanding

By Lama Thubten Yeshe, By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
UK September 1975 (Archive #169)

In Lama Yeshe’s and Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s first trip to Europe in 1975 they offered a seminar based on their Kopan meditation courses. Preceded by Lama Yeshe’s lecture on meditation, these teachings encompass the entire Buddhist path to enlightenment.

These historic teachings are also available on DVD. Watch video excerpts in Chapter Three and Chapter Five, or go to our YouTube channel. Several chapters of this book are also now available as a multimedia series.

Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Royal Holloway College, England, 1975. Photo: Dennis Heslop.
10. Making Life Meaningful (Lama Zopa Rinpoche)

In order to make the action of listening to teachings the cause of everlasting happiness, complete freedom, it is necessary to make that action Dharma. Furthermore, in order to make the action of listening to teachings the cause of enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, it’s necessary to cultivate pure motivation, the pure thought of bodhicitta.

So it’s necessary to feel, or at least think, as follows: “Releasing myself alone from all samsaric suffering is not sufficient. There are numberless other sentient beings who have been extremely kind to me, and those sentient beings are in continual suffering, not having the wisdom or method to escape from suffering and receive everlasting happiness. As it’s my responsibility to release all sentient beings from suffering and lead them to the most sublime happiness of enlightenment, I must first receive enlightenment myself. For that reason I’m going to listen to these profound teachings.”

The subject that you’re going to listen to is a Mahayana teaching that contains the graduated path to enlightenment that all past, present and future buddhas have traveled on their way to complete awakening and is a path that has also been experienced by the disciplic succession of the lineage.

The perfect human rebirth
This present human rebirth is extremely meaningful with respect to attaining both temporal and ultimate goals and highly meaningful every hour, minute and second. How is this perfect human rebirth so precious and useful in attaining even temporal goals? For example, if we want to receive a perfect human rebirth again in future so that we can continue practicing Dharma and following the graduated path to enlightenment by once more meeting a spiritual friend, we can create the cause for this result in this life by living in pure moral conduct, practicing charity and making stainless prayers. This present perfect human rebirth offers us the capability of doing this.

This perfect human rebirth also gives us the opportunity of creating the cause to be reborn as the king of a country, a wealthy person, or as a god in the sura or asura realms - where lives are long and enjoyments transcendent - by practicing charity, living in moral discipline and making prayers to achieve such temporal goals.

This perfect human rebirth is also highly meaningful in that it allows us to achieve the ultimate goals of either the everlasting happiness of complete freedom from samsara or the most sublime happiness of enlightenment.

And this perfect human rebirth even offers us the opportunity of attaining enlightenment in this life or within a few lives rather than taking many eons. How is that possible? The graduated path to enlightenment has two divisions: the sutra graduated path, or Paramitayana, and the tantric graduated path, or Vajrayana. Since all the teachings of both divisions exist at this time, this perfect human rebirth gives us the chance to practice them: by following the Paramitayana path we can reach enlightenment after many eons but by following the Vajrayana path, the shortcut path to enlightenment, we can reach it much more quickly, without taking that much time.

Furthermore, this perfect human rebirth is extremely useful every second, every minute, every hour. This is especially so these days, when the Mahayana teachings still exist, have not degenerated, and we have had the great fortune of meeting these teachings and can practice their essence, bodhicitta. Since we are able to generate the pure thought of bodhicitta, in even a minute we can purify the obscurations and negative karma collected over eons, in our countless beginningless previous lives in samsara. With this perfect human rebirth, by generating the pure thought of bodhicitta we are able to purify negative karma collected over billions of eons and create infinite merit as vast as space, in the shortest period of time.

Therefore this perfect human rebirth that we have received this time is extremely useful. It is so precious; much more precious than a universe filled with jewels. Even if we had a universe full of jewels they could not bring us what the perfect human rebirth can. They could not even bring us a future perfect human rebirth let alone supreme enlightenment. The value of the perfect human rebirth we now enjoy is beyond compare with a universe full of jewels.

Also, as meaningful as this perfect human rebirth is, that much difficult it is for other rebirths, such as those of the animals, pretas, suras and asuras, to be as meaningful in achieving those goals. Those other rebirths are nowhere near as meaningful or precious as this present perfect human rebirth.

However, even though we have received this perfect human rebirth, from the time we were born until now we have not recognized it as meaningful or precious. Not only have we not recognized it as precious, we have actually thought that it’s meaningless, that being born human has no meaning. In other words, all we’ve done is make ourselves more ignorant. Instead of encouraging ourselves we’ve put ourselves down, which has served only to make our life not meaningful.

The way we’ve been using our perfect human rebirth is like a child who has an extremely precious jewel in its hand but doesn’t recognize its value so throws it down the toilet. We waste our perfect human rebirth in exactly the same way. We have this extremely precious thing in our hand but, not recognizing its worth, completely waste it.

Even though this perfect human rebirth is highly meaningful, if we don’t use it to attain goals that other sentient beings find extremely difficult to attain - such as the highest goal of enlightenment, everlasting happiness or temporal goals such as a human rebirth - and instead use it simply to pursue the happiness of just this life, the happiness of today, our actions are no higher than those of animals, whose sole concern is temporal pleasure and whose aims are always directed toward that end.

As this perfect human rebirth has meaning, if we don’t use it accordingly, if we live our lives the way animals lead theirs, always striving for temporal pleasure, then it’s as if we weren’t born human but as one of those lower realm beings. Why? Because our actions are no higher than theirs; what we do is not more special than what they do. From tiny creatures too small to see with the naked eye all the way up to the largest of animals, all their daily activities, all the things they do with their body, speech and mind, are done with attachment to the transient pleasures of just this life.

So now check up within yourself: “Since the day I was born, have I created any meaningful actions with my perfect human rebirth, any actions worthy of this human rebirth, any actions higher than those of animals, any meaningful actions done without attachment to temporal pleasure, actions that lead to the higher goals of better future lives and the ultimate goals of liberation and enlightenment?” Check how many meaningful, worthwhile actions - if you can find any - you have done with this perfect human rebirth from the time you were born until now; check to see if any of the actions you’ve ever done have been higher than those of animals.

Also check like this: “All the daily activities of the twittering birds flying from tree to tree and the insects crawling around on the ground are done with attachment to temporal pleasure. Are any of my daily activities - eating, drinking, walking, talking and sleeping - any different? Do I do anything without attachment to temporal pleasure or are all my actions the same as those of birds and insects, who do everything with attachment to temporal pleasure?” Check this.

Check everything you do from morning to night, your usual daily activities.

Check one day’s activities to see if there’s even one action that’s higher than an animal’s, done without attachment to temporal pleasure.

When you check like this you can clearly see whether you’re living the life of a human being or that of an animal; checking the actions of your daily life in detail makes it obvious.

However, when we investigate in this way we can hardly find one single action that is pure - higher than the actions of dumb animals. The way our minds think is the same; the way we lead our life is the same. We can’t find anything higher. The only difference is that our body has a different shape and we live in a house; there’s no difference in the way we think. Basically, we’re no different from the dog that lives outside. If we check properly, this is what we find; it’s very upsetting.

The difficulty of receiving a perfect human rebirth
Now, if we could receive this perfect human rebirth again and again and again and again, easily, one after the other, again and again and again, then perhaps we wouldn’t have to worry. If perfect human rebirths came as easily as rice grows - you plant rice seedlings, they grow, produce more seeds, you plant those and get more rice - if when we died we automatically received another perfect human rebirth, we wouldn’t have to concern ourselves that much with making this life meaningful. It wouldn’t be so dangerous to waste it. But it’s not like this; it’s not like this.

It will be very difficult to receive such a perfect human rebirth again; very difficult. Why will it be so difficult? Why is it extremely difficult to find another perfect human rebirth? That’s because we have not received this present perfect human rebirth without reason; this perfect human rebirth is not without cause. Why in this lifetime have we received a perfect human rebirth, met the teachings and had the chance to meditate, to control our mind? It’s because in many of our previous lives we observed the law of karma, lived in moral discipline, created much charity and made many prayers to receive this present human rebirth. Many of our previous lives worked very hard, expended much effort, to create the cause of this precious human rebirth.

So this human rebirth is not something that has been received without cause, kind of independent, self-existent. It’s not like this. Therefore, receiving a perfect human rebirth in future depends upon whether we, in this life, create the cause of a future perfect human rebirth; it’s in the hands of our present human rebirth. If in this life we don’t create the cause for a perfect human rebirth, we won’t receive one in future; if in this life we do create the cause of a perfect human rebirth, we will receive one in a future life. It all depends upon our present life.

Why, then, is it extremely difficult to receive a perfect human rebirth? It’s because the cause is extremely difficult to create. For instance, let’s check like this, from the point of view of moral conduct. If we check in this way we’ll be able to figure out whether or not we’ll receive a perfect human rebirth again. Think, “From the time I was born until now, have I observed any moral conduct such as not killing, not stealing, not engaging in sexual misconduct. In this life, have I observed such moral discipline or not?”

Also check, “Have I not told lies, not gossiped, not spoken harshly, not slandered others? Have I observed any of these moral disciplines in my life or not?”

As well, check, “Have I not generated ill will, covetousness or the heresy of believing there’s no ultimate reality, no Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and no past and future lives? Have I observed any of these moral disciplines in my life or not?”

Now think, “Have I observed any of these moral disciplines for even a day?”

If you find that you have observed such disciplines, then that’s something to feel happy about, rejoice over.

So now, after checking, think, “If I were to die now, could I receive a perfect human rebirth again?” Question yourself.

So that’s checking to see whether or not we’ve observed any moral discipline in our life. We don’t need to investigate that carefully to see whether or not, with negative mind, we’ve done the opposite: the three immoral actions of body - killing, stealing and sexual misconduct - the four immoral actions of speech - telling lies, speaking harshly, slandering and gossiping - or the three immoral actions of mind - generating ill will, covetousness or heresy. If we check how many such actions we’ve created from the time of our rebirth until now we don’t need to worry we won’t find any. It’s easy to see that we have; we don’t have to spend much time looking.

Anyway, what I mean is this: it’s not sure that we’ll receive another human rebirth let alone a perfect human rebirth in our future lives. Therefore, now that we have received a perfect human rebirth we absolutely must extract its essence. What is the essence of the perfect human rebirth? It’s the three temporal and ultimate goals I mentioned before, the highest of which is enlightenment. So while we hold the jewel of the perfect human rebirth in our hand, we have to ensure that we create the cause for enlightenment, because it’s most uncertain that in future we’ll have this chance again.

We can see that it’s most uncertain because it’s so easy for us to find how many negative actions we have done in our life, the various action of our body and speech done with negative mind, with ignorance, attachment, anger and the other delusions. Since we have created these negative actions so many times, the ten immoral actions that I just described, it’s inevitable that we will experience their result.

What makes actions such as killing, stealing and lying negative is that they are done out of delusion. If we do the same actions without delusion or self-cherishing, with bodhicitta, they are not immoral. Buddhadharma explains that what makes an action immoral is not the action itself but the mind that creates it.

The results of negative karma
So, there are four karmic results of immoral actions. Take, for example, the immoral action of killing, causing the death of other living beings. One of the four results is called the ripening result: rebirth in one of the three lower realms, the hell, hungry ghost or animal realms. The second result for the person who has killed others is, even if - after a long time, as the result of some previously created good karma - he is born in the human realm, his life is short; he gets killed by another person. This is called the result similar to the cause in experience. What you do to another eventually comes back upon you.

The third result of the immoral action of killing, killing with a negative mind, is even if - after some time, as the result of good karma - the person is reborn human, he again kills other beings. This is called the result similar to the cause in action, or habit. The previous action of killing created the tendency to kill again. For instance, in this life we sometimes find it difficult to control certain violent actions - those habitual impulses come from similar previous actions.

The fourth result of the immoral action of killing has to do with the place in which one finds oneself; this is called the possessed, or environmental, result. Even if, after some time, the person who has killed is reborn human, he loses the essence of his enjoyments; the enjoyments where he lives have no essence. Also, the environment is very dangerous, with much fighting and life danger.

It’s also like this with the other immoral actions of body, speech and mind. For example, every day on television or in the newspapers we hear about problems all over the world. Some places are very wet, muddy and prone to flooding; others are always rife with factional fighting and disharmony.

Even on the family level we always see examples of fighting between parents or children. Some men can never get on with their wife, no matter how many they have; their relationships always fail, there’s constant disharmony. And some women are the same; no matter how many husbands they have, their marriages never last, they always fight, they’re never happy. Some people are always getting abused or criticized by others; no matter where they go other people always speak badly of them, causing them much suffering. These kinds of disunity or disharmony, not getting along in relationships, are especially the result of the immoral action of slandering others, causing disharmony between others.

Then there are other people who - no matter how much they try to accumulate material possessions, no matter how much money they receive through making business - always lose what they have, can never hang onto it. No matter where they go, their possessions always get stolen. Even if they stay in one place they get robbed again and again, or if they don’t lose their possessions, they don’t have enough time to enjoy them. Problems such as these result from the immoral action of stealing in previous lives.

Other people, even though they have a good house or excellent material possessions and so forth, their things don’t last; they wear out quickly or easily get broken. And there are others who can never get good enjoyments; whatever they get is always of poor quality. No matter how hard they try they can never get anything good. Others can’t find work or always get fired from their job. Many things like this happen.

There are people who have to live in areas where it’s hard to find food or water. Others have to live in very ugly places full of thorns, or on very high, steep mountains that are difficult to move around on, or in dry, barren deserts. Even though life in such places is very difficult, somehow, without choice, they have to spend their lives there.

There are many other examples that could be given, however, all such experiences are the result of immoral actions that have to be experienced in the human realm, not to mention the other results of even greater suffering that come from rebirth in the lower realms. 12

And opposite to the ten immoralities is observing the ten moralities. Because in the past we did that, at the present time we find ourselves in the upper realms receiving many enjoyments. Whatever we try to get, we receive. If we want food, we get it; if we want clothes, we get them; if we want to be in a beautiful place, we can go there. Things come easily to us; our life is easy. Other things like having intact sense organs, a beautiful looking body, a good personality, patience and the respect of other people and having control over others, where they do what we tell them - all these are the results of previously created good karma, adhering to moral discipline.

The root of suffering
Now let’s do a short meditation.

All the suffering in the six samsaric realms - the hell, hungry ghost, animal, human, asura and sura realms - comes from ignorance, which is the creator of samsara. Ignorance creates samsara, the world of pain.

What is that ignorance that is the creator of samsara? That is the ignorance that does not realize the true nature of the self, the absolute nature of the self.

Therefore, to not experience all the sufferings of samsara and be completely free from their cause, ignorance, we must completely destroy ignorance, the cause of all samsaric suffering. To do that, we must realize the true nature of the self.

Realizing the true nature of the self depends upon recognizing ignorance, the mind that is unclear as to the nature of the self.

It’s like this: if your body is dirty and you want to clean it, you first have to identify the dirt. In the same way, in order to realize the true nature of the self, what the self is, you first have to recognize ignorance, the mind that makes us view the I in completely the wrong way, a way that is opposite to the reality of the self. The way we view the self is the way ignorance conceives of the self.

So first concentrate on the thought, whatever you’re thinking now. Just watch that thought and as your mind gradually becomes relaxed, calm, then check up how you see the self, how you conceive the self, or how the I appears to you. First concentrate on thought; as your mind gets calm, relaxed, check carefully how the I, the self, appears to you, or how you conceive it.

If you find something, if you find the truly existing I, the truly existing self, search for where it is. When you find the truly existing I, the real I, check whether it’s the body or the mind and whether it’s within your body-mind or outside of it. Check in this way. If you can’t find it, if you see the emptiness of the self, then just concentrate on that.

If you do find a real self, then check whether it’s the body, the mind or the mind-body combination. You have to look for this truly existing self from head to foot, searching in every part of your body to try to find exactly where it is. If you don’t find it and then come to the conclusion that the self does not exist at all, then that’s a wrong conception; you’ve fallen into the extreme of nihilism. That conclusion does not make you free of suffering.

But if the feeling of the emptiness of the self comes to you more or less effortlessly, rather than running away from that you should practice concentrating on it, just for the auspiciousness of meditating on emptiness, seeking the true nature of the self.

That’s all I have to say this time. If, as a result of having come to this seminar, you now see that your human life has great meaning and that there are many good things you can do with your life that you were not aware of before, things that benefit all sentient beings, then that gives meaning to your having come here. If you now know that you can again receive a perfect human rebirth, completely release yourself from your delusions and attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings and you wish to attain those goals, and you wish to study continuously and meditate in order to escape from suffering and receive enlightenment for the sake of others, then it’s most worthwhile that you attended. That’s extremely important for your own peace of mind and that of others.

However, the most important thing is to try to keep your mind away from giving harm to others as much as possible; to try to control your mind as much as you can. Keep your mind away from the harmful mind - that is the essence of Dharma, the most important thing. Whether you meditate or not, the essence of meditation is to stop the harmful mind from arising as much as possible. That keeps you and those around you in peace.

I’m happy to have made a Dharma connection with you all and to have had the chance to help you a little with the Dharma but it’s important that you maintain a continuous wish to meditate and study the Buddhadharma more deeply. Then, if you have time, perhaps you will have the chance to practice the meditations more and more deeply.

12See the Sutra of Causes and Effects of Actions on the LYWA website, [Return to text]