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 teaches on a broad range of lamrim topics and gives a thorough explanation of meditation on emptiness. Read the first seven discourses, lightly edited by Sandra Smith.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching in Singapore, 2010. Photo: Tan Seow Kheng.
7. Everything Comes from the Mind

Today, maybe it’s better outside than inside. So maybe we can do some walking meditation outside. In this meditation have the awareness that things came from the mind. With that awareness do walking meditation.

We’ll start with a little bit of walking meditation, having the awareness that everything comes from the mind. However, each time you are walking you can do a different meditation.

Merely Labeled Z

There is one example that I often mention to introduce how things came from the mind.

When we think of the letter Z, for example, or when we see the letter Z, we think there is a letter Z not merely labeled by the mind. We think it’s not merely labeled by our own mind or by others. We believe there’s a real Z appearing from its own side, existing from its own side. When we see Z it appears that way; we see it that way and believe it exists in that way. When we think of Z we think of it in that way, we believe it exists in that way.

In reality, going back to our childhood when we didn’t know the alphabet; going back to that age before we were taught by our school teacher or parents or somebody that “This is Z,” it didn’t appear as Z to us. We didn’t see that this is Z—we just saw the line; we just saw a design like this. Maybe from your side it’s like that and from my side like this. [Rinpoche draws Z in the air] From my side it should be like this, but from your side it doesn’t become Z, right? From my side this is Z but from your side it’s not Z. Depending on how these pieces are put together, in your view it’s not Z but for me it’s Z.

Anyway, we saw the lines like this, like that, like that, like that. We just saw the lines, this design. That’s all, we saw nothing more than that. One day, when the teacher had written Z on the blackboard, we just saw the design. Then after some time the teacher introduced it to us by giving a label to the design. The design which was there received the name Z. It could receive the name Z because the label was given or imputed by the teacher. The label was imputed by the teacher and was introduced to us by the teacher.

First we saw this design. That idea is very important. The very beginning of the evolution of the label Z is very important. Then we will know what is a hallucination and what is reality.

At the start, the label Z and the base—this design—do not come together. Even in our view they don’t come together. We mentioned this a little bit in our previous discussion about the label, but our dear friend still has to give an answer saying where the label is. Anyway, even in our own view they don’t come together; we don’t see them at the same time. That’s not the evolution.

We don’t see the Z before seeing the base; there’s no way to see the Z before seeing the base. Seeing the base at the same time as seeing the Z is also not possible; that doesn’t happen. We see the Z only after seeing the base. First we see the base, then we impute the label on that base. How it happens is that the teacher introduces us to the label. We didn’t have any idea of the label relating to that base, but the teacher introduces the label to us and we believe what the teacher said. Then our own mind imputes Z and we believe in that.

First our mind sees the base, the design which can receive the label Z. That has to be the preliminary. Seeing a particular phenomenon which carries that label then causes our mind to decide on the particular label Z;  to choose this particular label. We see that figure or that design, and that is the reason or the cause for making up the label Z. Why not A? Why not B? Why not I? Why not label I?

Then our mind imputes that label and we believe in that. Right after our mind imputes that label, we think that this appearance is Z. Right after the mere imputation we believe in that. Right after the mere imputation we have that belief. We can check, but if we don’t have the belief, I don’t think there will be that appearance.

We have the appearance of Z only after the mere imputation of the label. Only then we see Z; only then. The very last thing is that we see Z and we think, “This is Z.” There are these gradual stages which are the evolution of how the Z comes in existence. Here we can see Z comes from the mind by imputation. If it’s not imputed by the mind, then we don’t see it.

Going back, when we see Z—that which appears as Z—and we think, “This is Z,” it came from our mind merely imputing and believing in that, because we were introduced to it by somebody and we believe in that person’s label. So there’s a whole thing there. It didn’t just come like that, [Rinpoche snaps fingers] existing from its own side. It’s not like that. There’s a whole gradual evolution.

Differentiating the Base and the Label

 Again here, as we discussed that one time, this example helps to differentiate the label and the base. It becomes an example to be able to differentiate the two phenomena, the base and the label Z. In this way we can differentiate those two phenomena, whereas normally in daily life when we don’t examine this, when we are not aware, then those two seem undifferentiable. That is one definition of “object to be refuted.” These two seem sort of mixed and we can’t differentiate.

This is according to His Holiness Ling Rinpoche, when Rinpoche explained the seven-point thought transformation commentary at Drepung Monastery many, many years ago. His Holiness Ling Rinpoche used to say that we see the base of the table mixed with the label “table.” We can’t differentiate—the label is kind of mixed with the base of the table. These are wrong views. Now we can get some idea by going through the evolution that these are the wrong views; they are hallucinations of the table which are not true.

In our view it appears that the base and the label are undifferentiable. We’re unable to differentiate. Even though they exist, they don’t exist separately but they exist differently. This is an important point. They don’t exist separately, for example, the I doesn’t exist separately from the aggregates. The I doesn’t exist separately from the aggregates. If the I existed separately from the aggregates, then, as I also mentioned the other night, if the I doesn’t depend on the aggregates there’s no body and the I doesn’t need food because the I doesn’t have a stomach. The I doesn’t need clothes because there’s no feeling of cold and there’s no body. If we don’t have a body, why do we need clothes? We don’t need shelter. We don’t need to worry about buying or renting a house, having a mortgage and all those things. If we don’t have a body, we don’t need to build debt and all those things. We don’t need car and all that.

If we don’t have a body; if the I doesn’t depend on the aggregates but exists separately from the aggregates, that means the I exists without a body. That means we don’t need parents, we don’t depend on parents and on  our mother to give birth. What we have is just the mind, consciousness. The I existing separately from the aggregates would exist without depending on the body and mind, without the aggregates. Since it would exist without depending on the body it doesn’t need parents; it doesn’t need a husband or wife; it doesn’t need any friends; it doesn’t need anything. If it’s only the I existing without depending on the aggregates, then the I is not a substantial phenomenon. The I wouldn’t have a body, so nobody could see the I. Anyway, like that.

When that design is drawn on the wall or on paper, by seeing that particular base we merely label Z and we are satisfied with that. By seeing that base then we label Z. If that design is not there, we don’t see Z. We label like that. Depending on whether the base exists we label that and we believe that label exists. If the base is not there, then also the label is not there. Depending on what’s happening with the base, we put the label on that.

The base and the label don’t exist separately, but they exist differently. Same thing, by having the base, the table—whether it’s a round table or whether it’s square or another shape, that has the function of putting things on the top—by somebody bringing that base, then our mind labels it because we were introduced to the name, the label “table” before, in our childhood. It’s exactly the same for everything that we label now in our daily life, twenty-four hours a day. If we’re introduced by somebody, just like the Z, we believe that and then our mind labels this and that.

If somebody brings a table into the space and then that person took this thing back out of the tent, then we label, “The table is taken away.” Or if the table is burned by fire, if somebody is burning this base, then the mind labels, “The table is burning.” Or if the base is destroyed, we label, “The table is destroyed.” So we label like that. We merely believe in that, we are satisfied with what’s merely labeled.

Here we can see the Z came from the mind. Like this, all the phenomena, I, action, object—the sky, trees, roads, cars or any other phenomena that we see—in the same way, exactly like this, they came from our own mind. They came from our own mind, by believing in somebody’s introduction. Somebody introduced us to the label and we believe in that. Our own mind merely imputes and believes in that, then the object appears and we label it.

It’s like that for everything—whatever we see around here, every object, all these different foods and different fruits, for example bananas. We can meditate on how the banana or another piece of fruit came from the mind or how all these different colors—white, blue, green and red—came from the mind. If there were no mind, there would be no label, no red, white or blue color, all this. There wouldn’t be all these labels if there were no mind labeling. And without the label we wouldn’t see that this is red, this is blue, this is yellow, this is black. We wouldn’t have this appearance of blue and black and white and red, all these things. We wouldn’t have this appearance without the label coming from the mind. Everything comes from mind.

The Object to Be Refuted

Here the object to be refuted—since this subject came up—when we are looking at the yellow flower or yellow object, even though it came from the mind, it’s appearing from there. That is the object to be refuted. The nature of that object is emptiness, shunyata. It’s nature is emptiness, shunyata; it doesn’t have an inherently existent nature, rang zhin gyi drub pa.

Inherent existence is not the nature of the object, but it’s what we believe is the nature of the object. We believe it is inherently existent, rang zhin gyi drub pa. The object appears to our hallucinated mind but in reality it is not there; it’s totally nonexistent, empty.

Buddhas don’t see this; buddhas see our hallucination but they don’t have this hallucination. A buddha sees that this object is totally empty, totally nonexistent. This yellow existing from its own side is not there and this is what a buddha’s omniscient mind sees. So that means how we are thinking and what we believe, the way it’s appearing and what we believe now is totally wrong. If it truly exists, then the omniscient mind should see that, but the omniscient mind doesn’t see that.

A buddha sees our hallucination, our vision—the inherently existent yellow, blue or any color. Even though it came from our mind and is merely labeled, when we look at it, all this is appearing from there. All this is a hallucination, the object to be refuted. In reality all these phenomena are empty right there. This is a little bit about another extra subject, that these things came from the mind. This extra subject needs more analysis.

Regarding Z there are three lines—like that, like this, like that. [Rinpoche draws Z] So then you cannot find Z. It appears that there is a real Z from its own side, but when we analyze exactly where it is on this line, there’s no Z. On this line there’s no Z. When we analyze it, we cannot find it on any of these pieces of the design. We cannot find Z on any of these pieces.

The whole design is also not Z. It is the basis to be labeled Z. This one piece is not the basis to be labeled, but all together the pieces become the basis to be labeled Z. That’s what causes our mind to label Z, but this whole design, even put together, is not Z. Why? Because it is the basis to be labeled Z. After seeing it we label Z, but it is not Z. After seeing this we label Z, but it’s not Z, just as  the body is not I.

In the same way, regarding each of the aggregates, the body is not I; the aggregate of feeling is not I; the aggregate of compositional factors is not I; discriminative awareness, that mental factor, is not I; and consciousness is not I. All together these are not the I; if they are gathered together they are also not the I. They are not the I but they are the basis to be labeled I. The label I is imputed because the aggregates are existing and depending on what function the aggregates have, the mind sees the aggregates and depending on their function, makes up the label. There is the merely imputed I and the merely imputed action of the I. We can see very clearly that the aggregates, even all together, are not the I. It’s the same as Z.

The other day John [a student] was saying the label is in the mind. He analyzed this and thought it’s not there anywhere, it’s in the mind. John came to the conclusion that the label is in the mind.

Instructions for Walking Meditation

So I think maybe you can do some walking meditation and analyze whatever phenomena you see, [peacock cries out] including the peacock. Anyway, maybe you can go around the stupa three times. You don’t have to walk in just one line; you can be in two or three lines because that way it’s quicker. You can have three lines today because it’s quicker. Maybe you can go around the stupa three times, then I don’t know where you will go. Maybe not in the jungle, where you might hit the trees or something. Maybe that’s a very quick way to realize emptiness. [Laughter] Maybe that’s a very quick way to awaken the mind. Anyway, I’m joking.

The main thing is you don’t need to close your eyes. Just keep them open and look around. Look around and meditate on whatever object you see, thinking how it came from the mind, whether it’s another person or the sky or an insect or the trees, anything that you see. Also, as I mentioned, the first thing is that it came from the mind; it’s merely imputed by the mind. Think about the whole thing, the process.

Next, as I also mentioned, things are appearing from there. You can use the example of the colors. Even though they are merely imputed by the mind, they appear strongly as real yellow or real blue. All these things are appearing from there as real, which is totally opposite to the evolution, how they came in existence. Totally opposite. That means all these things are hallucinations. So many things are strongly appearing as real but all these are hallucinations. That means they are totally nonexistent. This is what the Buddha sees, this is what the Buddha discovered. This is how the Buddha sees phenomena, as not existing from their own side. Thinking about how the Buddha sees things is also helpful, because it gives us some idea that phenomena don’t truly exist. For us, appearing from there is so strong, so habituated in our mind from beginningless rebirths, that we think it’s true.

Again, things appearing as real is coming from the mind. Also, as I mentioned a few times, the real one appearing from there is a projection of the mind and is coming from negative imprints left on the mind by ignorance. Things which exist also come from the mind; things which are a hallucination also come from our own mind.

First think, as I used the example Z, how it came from mind.

Then think that things appearing from their own side—never coming from mind, never labeled by the mind—are empty. Think that in reality they are empty there, nonexistent there. Think that they came from the mind, from negative imprints, however, they are empty there, nonexistent there. You can think like that. All phenomena—hell, enlightenment, samsara, liberation, everything—came from the mind and how they appear to us is totally contradictory to the reality of what they are.

The secrecy of the mind or the point is that if we let our mind believe all these are true, then that becomes the basis for the delusions and gives rise to all the other negative emotional thoughts. All those superstitions, all those hallucinated minds for example attachment and anger, arise. Then according to our motivation we create karma and that’s how we create samsara and the cause of samsara.

But we can practice mindfulness that all this came from the mind and especially that this appearance is a hallucination and is the object to be refuted. It is nonexistent; it is empty. By thinking that, we don’t allow our mind to believe in or hold on to these phenomena which appear as truly existent from their own side. We can meditate and practice mindfulness that they are a hallucination, that they are empty. Then, we are not allowing the mind to create samsara, by creating the cause of samsara.

This is the wisdom that destroys samsara and the cause of samsara and is the cause of achieving liberation, everlasting happiness, liberation from samsara. With this experience we are able to guide and liberate other sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering. We can do this when we have realized emptiness, especially when we have directly perceived emptiness.

So that’s it.

How a Positive Label Creates the Cause for Happiness

[Inaudible question from a student]

Rinpoche: Collective karma? Whether it involves collective karma?

Student: When you analyze, you find that the base has been labeled by the mind, but when your neighbor labels the same thing in the same way, it strengthens the perception of true existence.…[Inaudible]

Rinpoche: I don’t think this is collective karma. I don’t think so. I don’t think the neighbor or another person is supporting this. No, I don’t think so, putting the label.

Here, in this case, putting the label is not the mistaken part. In our daily life, we should look at the suffering as positive; look at any unfavorable conditions as positive and good. If somebody criticizes you, think, “Oh, this purifies my negative karma. I have created the karma to receive criticism and this purifies my negative karma.” Like that you can look at the situation as positive. When the person criticizes you, you see the criticism as positive. You see it as benefiting, not harming, because you can see it’s purifying negative karma.

Whether you made a mistake that the person criticizes or even if you didn’t make a mistake, you are still purifying the negative karma which you created in the past. So like that, look at the situation as positive.

You can think of [patience] as a weapon. Think that the person is helping you destroy your ego and practice patience so that you can overcome anger and be free from anger forever. Think, “This anger is the greatest obstacle to my happiness and merit.” So think that you are destroying the ego, just as a bullet or missile is dropped from a United States airplane. The airplane drops this long missile or bomb—it goes this way and then hits [the target.] Whether it’s called a bomb or missile, whatever it is, think your patience is a missile or bomb to destroy your ego.

Anyway, just as we label, “This is a table,” or “This is a cloth,” or “This is yellow,” or whatever, here in this kind of situation we should put a positive label on that person, thinking, “This person is extremely kind.” So put a positive label on them, like that. This helps, instead of putting a negative label by following attachment and the self-cherishing thought.

When you put a negative label on the person and their actions, you are following your attachment and self-cherishing thought. You are a friend to the attachment and self-cherishing instead of harming them. By following patience you only see the positive and you put a positive label on that person and their actions.

Similarly, with the view of compassion and bodhicitta, you can put a positive label. By putting a negative label, it affects to your mind, it disturbs your mind immediately. If you put a negative label on the person, their actions and the situation, it disturbs your mind. But if you put a positive label on the person and their actions, your life situation becomes different from what you expected. Something becomes different; your life situation changes when you label positively. Immediately, there is a positive effect, peace. By putting a positive label there’s immediate peace in your heart.

I think that’s one reason why it’s important to practice thought transformation. The immediate effect, the immediate benefit, the profit to your mind—besides helping you avoid anger or strong negative emotional thoughts, such as desire or the self-centered mind—is that it protects you from engaging in heavy negative karma. It protects you from negative karma—it doesn’t allow you to create negative karma and it inspires more good karma, the cause of happiness.

If everybody together criticizes that person it becomes collective karma. The harm to that person becomes collective karma. In a country, along with the leader, if a whole nation agrees or if many millions of people agree to harm others with anger, to make war and to harm others, then that becomes very strong collective karma.

I think that’s it. Maybe you can do some circumambulation and then do some walking with mindfulness.

See you later.

[End of discourse]