Teachings at the Kadampa Deities Retreat

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
(Archive #1413)

These teachings were given by Lama Zopa Rinpoche at a retreat held at Institut Vajra Yogini, France, from 18 April to 11 May 2003. The retreat was on the four Kadampa deities, however, Rinpoche taught on a broad range of lamrim topics.

Read the first, second and third discourses, in which Rinpoche discusses how to achieve real happiness, sets the motivation for the retreat and leads a meditation on the emptiness of sound. Lightly edited by Sandra Smith.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore, 2016. Photo: Bill Kane.
3. The Emptiness of Sound

[Sound of rain pouring down]

We are going to do shinä meditation on the rain, on the sound of the rain. We are going to do one-pointed meditation on the sound of the rain. Meditation on the conventional nature of the rain and the ultimate nature of the rain, two things. Two meditations of the rain. [Rinpoche laughs] Conventional truth of the rain and emptiness of the rain, OK, or the sound of the rain. So, it becomes a very big meditation, very important. Can you hear?

A very important meditation, the basic philosophy of Buddhism, is the base, the path and the goal. The base is the two truths, the path is method and wisdom, and the goal is dharmakaya, rupakaya. So meditate on the base, the two truths of the rain.

[Long pause]

Analyze that, how does the sound appear to our own mind? Whether the sound of the rain falling down, whether it is appearing to your own mind as merely labeled by mind or not merely labeled by mind, so analyze that. So, analyze that, whether it is appearing to you as merely labeled or whether it is appearing to you as not merely labeled by the mind. Ask yourself that question and then analyze your view of the sound of the rain falling.

Then, similarly, use the same technique that I mentioned last night, when you generate the process of purifying in emptiness and generate yourself as the deity, Chenrezig, with one face and two arms, so like that. Use the same technique to meditate on emptiness, the sound of the rain dropping.

The first question is, how does the sound appear to your mind? So analyze that.

[Long pause]

What is sound? What is the sound? It is what is merely imputed on the base, that which is the object of the ear sense. It is the object the ear sense hears; it is the object, for us, anyway. It’s not an object of the tongue sense; the sound is not the object of the tongue sense. [Rinpoche laughs] It’s not the object of the eye sense. It’s not the object of the body sense. It’s not a tangible object. It’s not any of these. It’s only the object to be heard by the ear sense; it’s only the object of the ear sense. It is only the object of that particular sense, the ear sense, what the ear sense hears. What the ear sense hears. So that is the base.

That is the base and because that object of the ear sense exists—what the ear sense hears, it exists—so after the ear sense hears the object, then that becomes the reason for the mind to make up the label “sound.” First there’s the base, the object, what the ear sense hears, then because of that, it causes the mind to make up the label, sound. The label comes after the ear sense has heard the object. The mind makes up the label, sound.

So, what is sound? Sound is merely imputed because of the object of the ear sense, because of that. Because that is happening. Therefore, what is sound? Therefore, sound is nothing except what is merely imputed by the thought, by our own thought. Now here, there’s differentiation between the label, sound, and the base, the object of the senses. There are two different phenomena, the label, sound, and the base to be labeled. Oh, it’s getting stronger. [Rinpoche laughs] What the ear sense hears, the object, in Tibetan it is called …, the object to be heard by the sense of the ear. That is the definition of the sound. Actually, the definition is the basis to be labeled sound. You’ve got the idea, how to do analysis.

We’ll meditate on this meaning, what I’ve just briefly mentioned or introduced, the label sound and the base to impute the label sound, so meditate in this. Then we come to know what is the hallucination. Then we come to know by having some idea about this; then gradually we come to know what is the hallucination of the sound. When we hear the sound, we will know what is the hallucination and what is the reality, what is false and what is the truth of our view of the sound. Sound is related to our mind, false and reality. So then it leads to that, to be able to differentiate. By recognizing what is false then that leads to the reality, the emptiness of the sound, what is sound.

That’s how we meditate when we recite the Heart Sutra, “no sound,” that’s the way to analyze in a little more detail. That’s the process of analysis, that recognizes the hallucination that we have on the merely labeled sound, that hallucination, and the ultimate nature of the sound, which is emptiness.

Madhyamaka Philosophy

Anyway, this is meditating on the, other way is Prasangika. There are four schools of Buddhist philosophy, and the fourth one, the Madhyamaka philosophy, has the Svatantrika school and Prasangika school. According to the second one, the Prasangika school, according to that school, the very, extremely subtle dependent arising, the way of meditating on the meaning of the Prasangika school, the extremely subtle dependent arising, which is extremely subtle one. So we’re meditating on this, OK. We can use the sound of the rain for the Heart Sutra meditation, the emptiness. Anyway, [meditate] like this, to get some idea of emptiness or to come to that point.

So, meditate, trying to discover the differences between the sound, the label and the base to be imputed on that label, sound. So that’s the key point, that one, to meditate on that.

[Long pause]

Oh, I forgot! I forgot to begin the meditation with bodhicitta, completely. [Laughter] Even though meditating on emptiness breaks samsara, cuts the root of samsara, it still doesn’t make the life most beneficial. That alone doesn’t make life most beneficial, without bodhicitta motivation, even though we can be free from samsara, we can cut the root of samsara, delusion. That alone still doesn’t make the life most beneficial or productive for sentient beings, even though it helps, it benefits, even though it’s the direct antidote to the root of samsara. Anyway, we can still do a little bit of meditation, so we will begin with the bodhicitta motivation. We will begin with the bodhicitta motivation, OK.

The purpose of my life is to free numberless sentient beings—to free numberless hell beings from all the suffering and its causes, and bring them to enlightenment; to free numberless hungry ghosts from all the suffering and its causes, and bring them to enlightenment; to free the numberless animals from all the suffering and its causes, and bring them to enlightenment; to free the numberless human beings from all the suffering and its causes, and bring them to enlightenment; and to free suras and asuras from all the suffering and its causes, and bring them to enlightenment, as well as intermediate state beings. Therefore, I must achieve enlightenment, therefore, I’m going to meditate on emptiness.

Now, the sound, for your view, for your mind, the label “sound” on that base, which I mentioned before, that is a hallucination, that is the object to be refuted. According to the Svatantrika, the Madhyamaka Svatantrika school, rang gyu pa, that is the correct view. There is the label sound on the base, which is heard by the ear sense. That is correct according to that philosophy, because if anything exists, there should be something from its own side.

So the label exists on the base, but the differences between the Prasangika and the Svatantrika school philosophers are differences like the sky and the earth. The Prasangika school philosophers and what the Svatantrika school philosophers believe, for example, in order for sound to exist there should be sound on the base, the label “sound” on the base, findable. Otherwise, how can the sound exist? It’s impossible if there’s not something from its own side. Anyway, if there’s no sound on the base and if we cannot find sound on that, then sound becomes nonexistent.

But the Svatantrika school’s [assertion] that there is sound existing on the base [according to] what the Prasangika school [Tib: tel gyu pa] believes, that’s totally wrong. That becomes truly existent according to Prasangika school view, truly existent, that becomes truly existent. But in the Svatantrika school it doesn’t become truly existent. They don’t accept truly existent, but they accept existing from its own side, existing by nature, existing by nature, rang zhin gyi drub pa existing from its own side, they believe. So the Svatantrika school’s point of view of truly existing and the Prasangika school’s view of truly existing [are different.]

The Object to be Refuted

The Prasangika school’s view or definition of true existence is that if anything is slightly more, if any phenomena is slightly extra, more, beyond; if it’s slightly beyond from being merely imputed by the mind, then it is truly existent. Anything slightly beyond, slightly more than what is merely imputed by the mind, then it’s truly existent, according to the Prasangika [tel gyu pa] Madhyamaka school. And that is the Prasangika school view, that the object to be refuted is that which is extremely subtle one. And that is slightly more than what is merely imputed by the mind.

Not being satisfied that it’s being merely imputed by mind and that it should be something extra than that, additional, beyond from that. The Svatantrika school philosophers, rang gyu pa, their point, their definition of truly existent is, for example, that the sound or any phenomena that exists totally from its own side without appearing to the valid mind, the undefective valid mind and the undefective valid mind labeling. They don’t use the word “merely labeling” even though, but even though I did hear, one geshe told me that, do use merely labeled. But anyway, however, that’s normally what we hear. They don’t use merely labeled; they accept that it’s labeled but there should be something existing from its own side, so therefore they don’t use the words “merely labeled.”

In the Prasangika school, tel gyu pa, the philosophers, what the Svatantrika school believe—that there’s something on the base; that there is sound on the base, or slightly beyond what is merely labeled by mind—that is a totally wrong view. That is totally the object to be refuted, gag cha, [according to] the Prasangika school philosophers, that is the gag cha, the object to be refuted. What is believed as correct view by the Svatantrika school philosophers, that’s a total hallucination, that is the object to be refuted according to Prasangika school philosophers. That’s a total hallucination and that means, for example, the sound, that sound on the base is a total hallucination. Appearing as slightly more than that, not appearing as merely labeled by mind, but appearing as something beyond from that, however, is a total hallucination and totally nonexistent. The meaning of that is totally nonexistent right there. Totally nonexistent right there.

Now, the next meditation. What happens here, there is definitely a sound, but the sound is existing on the base. The sound existing on that base is what your ear sense hears. That’s one way of saying it. The meaning is the same, but that’s one way of saying it. Another way to say it is that there is sound but the sound is not merely labeled by the mind. There is a sound, but the sound is not merely labeled by the mind, so it is a hallucination, appearing and we are believing that way. It’s appearing like that to our mind and then we are believing, apprehending that way, so that is a total hallucination.

Now we will continue to meditate on the sound of the rain falling, so now we are meditating on the object to be refuted, the hallucination. The object to be refuted, there’s sound on the base; there is sound but how it appears to you is not merely labeled by mind. So, one-pointedly concentrate on that and while you’re concentrating, while your attention, awareness, is on that, at the same time, there should be mindfulness, accompanying that, that this is hallucination. There is this recognition, this understanding, at the same time.

So we’ll do this.

The Emptiness of Sound

[Long pause for meditation]

Now while you are thinking that this is a hallucination, that this is the object to be refuted, this is a hallucination, the sound on the base or that is appearing to you, which is believed [as true], as not merely labeled by mind. While you are looking at it as a hallucination, that which is a hallucination, now continue that and at the same time think about the meaning of the hallucination. At the same time, have awareness of the meaning of the hallucination, I mean, such as this sound is totally non-existent. Such as this sound is totally non-existent, completely non-existent right there. From where it is appearing, it is completely non-existent right there.

So just meditate on this intensively, one-pointedly, on this emptiness, which is the emptiness, the ultimate nature, of this sound, the sound of the rain falling.

[Sound of bell]

Now another sound, again meditate on this. [Rinpoche laughs] I’m joking.

The other one, the other example, after you recognize the sound that is appearing to your mind not merely labeled by mind, then use the example of the dream. Bring the dream, use the dream for that, because the dream is one of the best examples. Things that we see or that we hear in the dream—for example, sound that we hear in the dream—is the best example for understanding the present sound that we hear without the dream. That’s how to recognize that this is a hallucination and this is totally non-existent, empty, because the sound that we hear in the dream also appears not merely labeled by mind and is also believed. As it appears that way, it is believed by our mind that it’s true. So when we hear sound in the dream, we have exactly the same belief, that the sound that we hear even in the dream is totally true.

That is the best example, that becomes the best example to recognize the false sound, the object to be refuted. The sound is what is merely imputed by the mind, and there’s this extra projection that we put on it. First our mind merely imputed sound, as I explained at the beginning, then right after that we project from the negative imprint left on our mental continuum by the past ignorance apprehending sound as inherently existent, so we project or decorate the truly existent appearance.

By knowing the example, the sound that we hear in the dream, it appears as not merely labeled by mind, even though it is merely labeled by mind. We believe a hundred percent that it is true, that it exists from its own side, that [belief] is also there. Therefore, it’s easy to understand that the sound we hear in the dream is totally non-existent. What is believed and appears from its side as not merely labeled by mind, that is totally empty, totally non-existent, empty.

So now here, exactly just like that, exactly the same, the sound that we hear here right now. It appears not merely labeled by mind and we believe it’s true one hundred percent, but it’s totally, totally, completely non-existent, empty.

That’s the way to meditate, when we meditate on the Heart Sutra, “no sound.” Similarly, any of those other subjects, when we recite the Heart Sutra, that’s the way to meditate.

But, while you are meditating on the sound as empty, then you hear the sound at the same time, no? Does it happen like that? Or you don’t hear the sound? You don’t hear the sound? When you meditate, when you look at the sound as empty, while you are focusing, one-pointedly concentrating on that, do you hear the sound? Or you don’t hear the sound? Huh? You don’t hear? You are in another world? [Laughter]

At the same time, you hear the sound or you don’t hear the sound? Huh? What? [Student: I hear.] You hear? Oh, I see. So that is wrong. You hear the sound, so that is wrong. No? That is wrong, because the sound is supposed to be empty. So while you are meditating on emptiness and you hear the sound, that is wrong. Huh? Why is it not wrong? [Inaudible comment from a student]

While you are meditating on emptiness, while you are looking at the sound as empty, meditating on that, if you hear the sound, isn’t that mistaken? You shouldn’t hear a sound. Isn’t that mistaken? [Inaudible comment from another student]

You hear only the base? You can hear the sound? [Student’s answer is inaudible] That is still good what you said. It has some taste. You said that you hear the base. There is some mistake, there is a mistake, but it’s good. [Laughter] You are using the reason, the base, so that is good. That helps gradually, that helps to understand. Once you are aware of that, then you come to know the label. The sound which is imputed on that, because you hear the base there is no other reason why you believe, hear sound, “I’m hearing sound.” There’s no other reason except because we hear the base, so that’s why it is believed, that’s why our mind labels hearing sound and believes in that.

Your bringing up the base, so that has some taste. Huh? Mistake that I already mentioned just now.

You don’t hear sound now? For you the sound doesn’t exist? [Student’s answer inaudible]

Oh, just the thought? Thought of sound is there? [Student’s answer inaudible]

Yes, labeled the thought, you mean your mind labeled the thought, labeling sound? What? What did he say? [Student’s answer inaudible]

Your mind labeled the sound. [Student’s answer inaudible]

Yeah. So there’s sound or no sound? Is there still sound or no sound? Huh? Only in your head? What? [Student’s answer inaudible]

Oh, I see. Only in your head? Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Is the war in Iraq in your mind? Killing all those people, is that in your mind? [Student’s answer inaudible]

If all that is in your mind, why do so many people demonstrate, why do all these millions of people demonstrate? It doesn’t make sense. That’s what I think. It doesn’t make sense.

If this sickness, what is called SARS, if this is in your mind, if this sickness is in your mind, or wait, maybe we’ll say cancer. If the cancer is in your mind, why do you need to have an operation? Why do you need to do an operation on the body? If it is in the mind, why do you need to do an operation on the body? Same. [Student’s answer inaudible]

So, is there war or is war not happening? Huh? [Student’s answer inaudible]

Huh? Yeah. Oh, I see. The base is outside, and the label is in the mind? Right? The people who are with the tanks shooting and killing, bombing, all those things, so all those exist outside? [Student’s answer inaudible]

All those bases that you call “war,” all those bases, when you think it is a base, isn’t that labeled also? When you are thinking it is the base, isn’t that labeled also? So then that exists, then that also is in your mind. That base is also in your mind.

I think you are totally inside your mind. Your whole body is inside your mind. I think especially your nose is in your mind. [Laughter]

You don’t need clothes. You don’t need food, you don’t need clothes or shelter, you don’t need anything. No car. Because your body is in your mind, right? So if you don’t have a body, you don’t need shelter, you don’t need clothes, you don’t need a car, right? You don’t need parents. Are your parents in your mind? [Student’s answer inaudible.]

No, anyway, just analyze.

That’s it, I think. Analyze, okay.

Mindfulness of Lamrim

This gives you an idea, this wasn’t the subject, but the rain came. This wasn’t the subject. We were going to do walking meditation. I thought we could do walking meditation and do different meditations. One day maybe discussion, another day we could do walking meditation, with renunciation, or one time with bodhicitta or emptiness, so different meditations, like that.

As a part of awareness, not just for walking, actually. That is done in the Vipassana or the Theravada, the mindfulness, but here we do walking with lamrim. Not just awareness that, “I’m walking,” not just that. Like people who are stealing, robbing, they also have awareness that they are going to steal or that they are stealing, same. They don’t apply the antidote for that, but there’s awareness that they’re stealing. They need a lot of awareness of the time, the right time, the right place, and they need to know a lot of things so that they can succeed. If they don’t have all this awareness of the right time, the right place, where the things are that they want to get, anyway, so they need a lot of awareness when they’re stealing. Sorry, not only stealing, there are other examples like that.

Therefore, what I’m saying is that, for example, during a war, you need a lot of awareness of the target, the right time, the right place, you need a lot of awareness of that. Anyway, it’s like that. It is there.

But here, we use lamrim as an antidote for the delusions, because what causes us to suffer in samsara is delusion, therefore, we need mindfulness of the lamrim, along with the action. So, it’s not just only for walking. The idea is in the daily life, twenty-four hours, even at the times when we don’t do sitting meditation on lamrim, we need to practice awareness of the different parts of lamrim. That’s an idea.

But because the rain came, then I thought maybe good to use the sound of the rain, since we hear so strongly the sound of the rain falling. Since we hear it so strongly, we can use that to meditate on the Heart Sutra, the Heart of the Wisdom, that wisdom which directly ceases the defilements and causes us to achieve liberation, and combined with bodhicitta, accompanied by bodhicitta, it causes us to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings.

I think I have to run away, so anyway, thank you so much.

Jang chub sem chog rin po che….

[End of discourse]