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.

5. The Importance of Motivation (Lama Zopa Rinpoche)

Before listening to this teaching you need to cultivate a pure motivation, because the action of listening to teachings has to be different from your usual life activities. If your listening to teachings - an action that you feel is special compared to what you usually do - is no different from or higher than your regular daily activities, such as eating, drinking, sleeping and so forth, then this particular action, listening to teachings, is actually not special, higher or holy.

The actual antidote to suffering
As I mentioned briefly before, the practice of religion, spirituality or Dharma - whatever you call it - has to be a method that completely destroys all suffering, a method that can bring about the complete cessation of suffering, and not just temporarily. For example, the simple, everyday sufferings that people and even animals recognize as suffering - fever, headaches, other kinds of pain - can be temporarily stopped by even external things, such as medicine, without the need of Dharma, or religion. So, if that were all we could do, there’d be no purpose for religion to exist.

However, religious activity should go to completely ceasing the continuity of suffering, and that depends upon completely eradicating the root of all the billions of sufferings that exist - ignorance and all the other delusions that spring from the root of ignorance.

So true peace - everlasting happiness, real freedom - is received whenever we completely cease the root of suffering: ignorance and the other delusions. In other words, cessation of ignorance, attachment and anger is real freedom, true peace - the peace that never changes; the peace that once received can never change, is everlasting.

Why is it impossible for true peace to change, or disappear? Why can we never come down from that? Why is it impossible to fall from true peace back into suffering? That is because once we’ve attained everlasting happiness there’s no longer any cause to make us once again get caught up in the bondage of suffering.

Why is that we’re happy one day but sad the next? For instance, one day we receive some good news or find ourselves in a beautiful, desirable place or receive a nice gift or meet a special friend and as a result feel extremely happy - so happy that we almost don’t know what to do with ourselves, so happy that we can even do crazy things that endanger our life - but then after a while, a day or two, that happiness we received by meeting certain conditions goes away, doesn’t last. When we meet a desirable friend, eat delicious food or put on luxurious clothes, at first we feel happy but that happiness does not last. Why does the initial happiness we experienced by meeting certain conditions not last? What makes it change? Why do we get tired of sense pleasures instead of continually experiencing pleasure, feeling happiness?

That is mainly because our mind is not free from the root of suffering. Why? Since our mind is under the control of ignorance, attachment, anger and the other delusions, the pleasure we receive by meeting certain conditions changes, does not last. However, from the Dharma point of view, the feelings that we identify as pleasure are considered to be merely samsaric pleasure - as certain heavy temporal sufferings decrease, just that decrease itself is labeled pleasure.

For example, if you are carrying a heavy load on your back and after some time get tired, that’s a type of suffering. Thinking that the heavy load is causing you to feel tired, you put it down. At that moment you feel light and the suffering you were experiencing diminishes a little; it doesn’t completely go away, but it decreases a bit. So, we label that small decrease of suffering “pleasure”; we call that feeling of less suffering that the uncontrolled mind and body experience “pleasure.” Also, although that pleasure is felt quite strongly at first, it doesn’t last.

Similarly, a person who has been sitting cross-legged for a while starts to get pain in his back and legs and thinks it might be better to stand up. When he stands up, because of that change in the conditions, the pain he felt while sitting diminishes and he thinks, “This is pleasure.” But, thinking that standing is pleasure, if he tries to remain standing all day and night, or even for just an hour or two, he gets tired. Again, the pleasure he felt at first does not last; it changes. At first, sitting became a problem; he stood to relieve it; but then standing became a problem so he thought that he should sit down again to relieve it.

So, these are just a couple of examples, but our life is full of similar ones. We always try to change. “Maybe this is better,” so we try something else. But then we get bored with that; another problem arises. Then again we change, “maybe that is better.” We change people: “Maybe I’ll like him, maybe I’ll like her, maybe I should live with him, maybe I should marry her....” We’re always changing food, clothing and other objects of the senses.

All this shows clearly that there’s something wrong with our body and mind, that our body and mind are the root of our suffering.

So what is the mistake we make? Why is it that no matter how much we enjoy the pleasures of the senses, there’s no end? No matter how much we experience sense pleasures, there’s nothing to complete, nothing to finish. We experience one thing, it finishes; we try something else, that finishes too; we have another experience, that doesn’t last either.... We try and try again and that’s what we’ve been doing from the time we were born until now. And not just in this life - since beginningless time, we’ve been experiencing one temporal, samsaric pleasure after another, chasing experiences that are not true pleasure and always change and finish, and we’re still not satisfied. Furthermore, the effort that we’ve had to put in to gain these pleasures of the senses, again and again, by trying different methods, this too has not ended since beginningless time; this work is also unfinished.

So what causes these pleasures not to last and for us to have to seek one pleasure after another, continually exerting effort and experiencing the suffering and misery of diminishing pleasures? Why does this happen? The reason we are in this situation of dissatisfaction and suffering is that our mind is under the control of delusion and karma.

What is karma? Karma is action produced by delusion. Because our mind is under the control of delusion and karma, our body is also under the control of delusion and karma; as long as our mind is not free, our body is not free either. Therefore, real freedom is the mind’s being completely free of delusion and karma, and when the mind is free from the bondage of delusion and karma, the body, which is the house of the mind, also becomes free from the bondage of delusion and karma. When the body and mind are both free from suffering, the bondage of delusion and karma, at that time, whatever different bodies the mind takes, those bodies don’t experience sufferings such as rebirth, illness, pain, aging and death.

For instance, at the moment, whenever we meet an undesirable object of the senses, we suffer: when it’s raining or snowing and we don’t have enough clothes or a heater, we feel cold and suffer; when it’s hot and we don’t have air conditioning, again, we suffer. It’s like this with our other senses. With respect to our sense of taste, when we encounter food that we don’t like, we’re unhappy and suffer. Similarly with our sense of hearing: when we hear bad news or some other sound we don’t like, again, we’re unhappy and suffer. It’s the same with our senses of sight and touch: whenever they contact undesirable objects, we suffer. When we sit for a few minutes with crossed legs, they hurt. So all the time, continuously, we’re experiencing one problem or another. All the time, as we meet the different sense objects, we experience all kinds of different problems.

Just look at our body: there’s not one tiny part - not even the size of a pore or the tip of a needle - that doesn’t feel pain, that’s not in the nature of suffering. Therefore, when thorns, needles and the like touch our body, even though they’re so fine-pointed, so small, we feel great pain. Even though the external conditions are so tiny, virtually nothing, the pain we experience is incredible.

This clearly proves that our mind is not free, that it’s living in suffering, and because of that, our body is also living in suffering. Why are our mind and body living in suffering? Because they are bound by delusion and karma, controlled by delusion and karma.

When we attain nirvana - complete freedom, cessation of the bondage of delusion and karma - no sense object can cause us problems or unhappiness. Even if thousands of atomic bombs were to be dropped, they could not bring unhappiness or suffering to any living being whose mind had reached that level, complete freedom from delusion and karma.

The teachings divide the sufferings of beings living under the control of delusion and karma into three: pervasive, or all-embracing, suffering; changeable suffering, which means temporal pleasures, which are not real, true happiness; and suffering of suffering, the heavy, gross sufferings that even animals recognize as suffering.

Why is pervasive suffering called pervasive, or all-embracing? It’s because not only are our feeling, discrimination, compositional factors and consciousness under the control of delusion and karma but also there’s not one single tiny part of our body that’s free of delusion and karma.8 Since our whole body is under the control of delusion and karma, that type of suffering is called pervasive. Because our whole body is under the control of delusion and karma, we find problems everywhere. As long as our mind and body are living in pervasive suffering, controlled by delusion and karma, all the other different types of suffering arise constantly, continuously, one after the other.

So basically, it’s like this: all suffering results from impure, or negative, actions; impure, negative actions are created by the impure, or negative, mind, that is, the delusions. All happiness results from virtuous, or positive, actions; virtuous, positive actions are created by the virtuous, or positive, mind. So the evolution of happiness, where happiness comes from, and the evolution of suffering, where suffering comes from, are completely different. Happiness and suffering arise in completely different ways.

Since we desire happiness and do not desire suffering but are living in suffering, it is extremely important for us to understand this evolution. But mere intellectual understanding is not sufficient. To really stop the continuous experience of suffering - in the present and into the future - and to continuously experience happiness, intellectual understanding is not enough. We have to act; we have to make an effort.

Seeing other people, meditators, with a pure mind creating good actions that result in happiness and believing and expecting that through their effort we can also experience happiness is mistaken. Thinking “I don’t have to do anything; I can experience happiness, the good result created by other people’s positive actions” is wrong. Without making an effort ourselves, without changing our mind, without making our mind virtuous, positive, and on that basis creating actions, there’s no way we can experience any kind of happiness - temporary or everlasting. Without individual effort there’s no way to experience any kind of happiness. This kind of misconception is like a hungry person expecting to feel full after his friends have eaten.

However, the main point I want to emphasize is that we have to act right now. If we do, if with wisdom we change our mind, make our motivation positive, virtuous, then even though our present action might be being created by the poisonous mind, the delusions, the cause of suffering, right away that present action becomes positive, virtuous. In other words, to use the Sanskrit term, it become good karma, which brings only happiness.

Generating the pure motivation of bodhicitta
But experiencing temporary happiness is not enough. We need to gain everlasting happiness, the complete cessation of all suffering. However, just one person, oneself, attaining everlasting happiness is also insufficient. There’s a higher goal than individual liberation, the mere cessation of suffering. That goal, the highest goal, is enlightenment, the most sublime happiness: a state where all delusions have been completely purified, there’s not a trace of dualistic mind, and one has gained all knowledge, all realizations, and nothing is missing.

Also, all sentient beings are experiencing continual suffering and have neither the wisdom nor the method to know how to escape from it. They don’t know what is the cause of suffering, what is the cause of happiness or what real, everlasting happiness is. They have neither the wisdom to understand these things nor a method to practice; they have no path to follow.

Each of us needs to think like this: “All sentient beings have been extremely kind to me in the past, they’re kind to me in the present, and they will continuously be kind to me in the future. They are the field from which I receive all my pleasure - past, present and future; all my perfections come from other sentient beings. Therefore I must attain enlightenment. Seeking everlasting happiness for myself alone, not caring about other sentient beings, giving them up, having no concern for their welfare, is selfish. Therefore, I must attain enlightenment, the most sublime happiness, in order to release all the sentient beings from suffering and lead them on the path to enlightenment by myself alone, as this is my responsibility.”

So irrespective of the motivation or thought you had before, at this moment, right now, strongly dedicate your action of listening to these teachings to the benefit of other sentient beings, to their happiness. Feel deeply in your mind, “I am going to listen to the teachings in order to gain the most sublime happiness of enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings,” feeling in your mind that you are the servant of all sentient beings, feeling in your mind that releasing all sentient beings from suffering and leading them on the path to enlightenment is your principal goal, the most important thing you can do. “For that reason, I am going to listen the teachings.”

Today’s subject is a Mahayana teaching that explains the graduated path to enlightenment, the path that all past, present and future buddhas have traversed on their way to enlightenment; the path that the entire lineage of followers of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, all those previous, fully-realized Indian and Tibetan pandits, all the high lamas, have also traveled to enlightenment. As all these great masters gained all the realizations of the path to enlightenment completely, this is a teaching that has been handed down with their full experiences and is not just words.

To attain enlightenment for the sake of other sentient beings quickly, to attain this most sublime happiness, this completely pure state, complete knowledge, depends upon receiving the principal cause of enlightenment, bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is a realization, the intuitive determination to attain enlightenment for the sake of all other sentient beings. The pure thought of bodhicitta is never concerned for oneself but instead is always concerned for other sentient beings, how to free them from suffering and lead them along the path to enlightenment. Bodhicitta is always thinking of how to benefit other sentient beings in the wisest, most extensive way. It is a realization concerned only for other sentient beings, giving up oneself and taking most care of others.

The pure thought of bodhicitta is the complete opposite of the self-cherishing thought, which is only concerned of oneself, which always thinks about how to take care of oneself, which doesn’t care about other sentient beings, which causes other sentient beings to suffer. Self-cherishing is a thought that doesn’t care for other sentient beings but for only oneself; self-cherishing thinks, “Only I am important; I am the most important of all.” Bodhicitta is the complete opposite of this.

So what is the most important thing to do in order to receive enlightenment quickly? Try to receive the pure thought of bodhicitta. But receiving the pure thought of bodhicitta depends on receiving preliminary realizations, such as compassion.

Just having partial compassion, compassion for your friends but not other living beings, compassion for desirable objects, living beings that look beautiful to you, but not those who appear ugly or violent is not enough. Anyway, what we normally believe to be compassion is usually not compassion but attachment; it’s based on attachment. The compassion we need to receive bodhicitta is impartial compassion, compassion for all sentient beings excluding not even one; equal compassion for all sentient beings, not just the suffering humans and animals we see with our eyes. We have to have compassion for all suffering sentient beings.

At our present level of mind there are many sentient beings that we can see but there are also many different types of sentient being that we can’t see. For example, ours is not the only universe; there are huge numbers of universes, many different worlds, that we can’t see, and in many of those live other sentient beings. Even today scientists are discovering and describing new galaxies that they didn’t believe existed before. In those galaxies are planets upon which live different sentient beings leading different lives that we don’t see because of our limited intelligence, limited power of mind. Even on earth there are beings that we don’t see, beings that we will see when our mind is ready, when it has the power to see them, in the same way we presently see humans and certain kinds of animal. So there are many different types of sentient being and they live in six different realms. In order to generate compassion for all sentient beings it’s necessary to understand the different sufferings that sentient beings experience.

Notes
8 See note 6, page 62. [Return to text]