Basic Philosophy of Buddhism (Audio and Unedited Transcripts)

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal 2008 (Archive #1746)

This teaching is excerpted from Lecture 10 of the 41st Kopan Course held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, in December 2008. In Part One, Lama Zopa Rinpoche outlines the fundamental Buddhist path. In Part Two, Rinpoche discusses the great meaning of the precious human rebirth, with reference to a verse from Calling the Guru From Afar, and the story of Milarepa, who achieved enlightenment in one brief lifetime.

Click on the audio links to download or listen online to the teaching, and read along with the unedited transcript. Read the lightly edited version of this teaching here.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching in Singapore, 2010. Photo by Miss Seow.
Basic Philosophy of Buddhism: Part Two

Nye ka dön chhei ten zang khe nyen kyi dug dam ga
Ma nor nying po len dö sam kyin la ma drän no

Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo, the great enlightened being, Tibetan great enlightened being, the author of Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, mentioned in Calling the Guru From Afar. It’s composed by him, the very effective teaching, which contains sutra and tantra.

Nye ka dön chhei ten zang. Nye ka is this human body, which is extremely difficult to find again, nye ka, because to create the cause is not easy. Living in morality, that’s the main one, and then practicing charity, make prayer, dedicate the merits to achieve this perfect, this human body which is qualified with eighteen precious qualities.

This perfect human rebirth, which is extremely difficult to find again. If it’s found, it has great meaning, dön chhei ten zang, if it is found, it has great meaning, dön chhei ten zang so therefore it is good, the human rebirth, good human body. So, with that you can achieve three great meanings.

“Which has great meaning” means with this body you can achieve three great meanings, three great meanings: you can achieve any happiness of future lives, to be born in pure land, to be born in pure land. If you wish to achieve the human body which has seven qualities, you can achieve that, which has seven qualities, which allows to practice Dharma.

Then the higher caste; not all the countries they have caste but like India, Nepal, in this world certain countries, they have a culture, sort of caste, lower caste, higher caste, all that, but that is according to that culture, according to the country.

If you are higher caste then people respect, then you can benefit many people, people listen to you, then you can benefit many people, help, spread Dharma and then they create cause of happiness, virtue, then this way they can achieve happiness in future lives, happiness in future lives, liberation from samsara, enlightenment, all that.

Anyway, the good rebirth, good human body, and then, however, I don’t remember the whole thing, long life, no sicknesses, wealth and so forth. There’s about seven, which make easy to practice Dharma.

Then also the higher rebirth which has the eight ripening aspects, that which Lama Tsongkhapa emphasized, how they are so important, so important to have quick development, actualizing the path to enlightenment. One can have quick realization on the path to enlightenment if you achieve this human body which has eight qualities, so then explained how to create the cause of each one. The long life, perfect body, higher caste, then having wealth, then the power, having powerful words. Abstaining from gossiping or negative actions of the speech, so your speech is so powerful, has so much power. Abstaining from those then your speech has so much power. So then, when you explain Dharma to other sentient beings or when you ask for, when you tell others, “This is negative karma, don’t do this; do this virtuous action, benefit others, yourself,” other people listen to you.

Then, man’s body, man, generally talking like that, not in every case, but it’s general. Even the leaders of the world, there’s more men, less women, more men, but however, even you think in the worldly way it’s like that, but now it’s become more female.

However, this is generally, less obstacles for men, less danger for men, generally speaking, not talking everybody but generally speaking, so gives more easier opportunity to practice Dharma. But, of course, how to say, but of course there are many women who can, of course can achieve, can attain the path, can achieve enlightenment, there are many holy beings, there are many holy women. But this is related, according to the world situation, it doesn’t mean forever, not every universe. It’s related to this world, people.

Anyway, then having powerful mind, body and mind, powerful body and mind like Milarepa, like that, who can bear, who can bear so much hardships to practice Dharma, constantly practice, whatever difficulties.

Like, after he did the black magic, he met, after following his mother’s advice, they were tortured, they had a very hard time with their uncle and aunt, who really gave hard time to Milarepa’s mother and, that time, the family members.

So Milarepa’s mother advised to go to learn black magic. Went to see the lama, to learn black magic, then he did retreat, after he learned then he did retreat in the area on the mountain for seven days, by digging a hole in the [ground.] Then after that he used, then the whole family, his auntie, uncle’s house completely collapsed and all the animals, so many animals, I think during the time of a wedding, so all the animals, many horses, so many, I don’t know, so many under the house were killed and house collapsed, then thirty or sixty people were killed, I think. So many people upstairs who were dancing or, having party, wedding, whatever, then collapsed.

I think, after that, Milarepa was unhappy, so then who taught black magic said, if you want to practice Dharma you go to see Marpa, so then guided, you know, he guided.

Then he met Marpa. Milarepa went to see Marpa, and he had nothing, he had nothing, so he offered his body, speech and mind to his guru. As he had no offerings, he offered his body, speech and mind to his guru, then also he asked for food, food and Dharma, place to stay.

So Marpa asked Milarepa to build the three towers, nine-story tower by himself alone, nine-story tower to build by himself, by Milarepa, alone, he was not allowed anybody to help.

So Milarepa built a nine-storied tower by himself, alone. After he completed, then Marpa asked him to tear down and then bring the stones back from where he brought, bring all the stones, take back from where he brought.

After Milarepa did that, then Marpa asked him to rebuild again. Again he rebuilt, then again Marpa asked him to tear down, so again he tore down, put back. Then again asked him to build, three times.

It still might be existing in Tibet, the tor-kha. I haven’t seen, I haven’t been to that place, maybe somewhere where there’s many Kadampa geshes’ caves, somewhere there, maybe, not sure.

So, anyway, I haven’t seen yet, but maybe still existing the nine-storey tower. When Tibet was, when the uprising happened in Tibet, the wars and mainland China took over Tibet, when that happened, people in Tibet escaped, the monks, and I think that time, that tower was still existing.

There are two great lamas, Serkyong Dorje Chang and Serkyong Tsenshab Rinpoche. Serkyong Dorje Chang, and Serkyong Tsenshab Rinpoche. Tsenshab is not actual guru of His Holiness the Dalai Lama but kind of a substitute guru, sort of like helping to learn philosophy, extensive philosophy, it’s called Tsenshab.

So, they came there, they escaped from Lhasa and they were there. They came from Ganden Monastery and they arrived there where Milarepa built the tower, nine-story.

All around there’s nowhere to go because there’s a Chinese army, all around, so then they went, very quietly went to the nine-story tower built by Milarepa, then climbed up.

There’s a statue of Marpa, Milarepa’s guru, inside, and Milarepa’s guru, Marpa’s wisdom mother. Milarepa’s guru Marpa is not a monk, he’s lay aspect, enlightened being but lay aspect. The wisdom mother, the wife, the wisdom mother, the statue is there, so the two great lamas went there.

Then His Holiness Serkyong Tsenshab Rinpoche offered a mala to the wisdom mother, I think a crystal mala, then the damaru to the Marpa, then he said, “Father,” he called “father” to Marpa, then offered the damaru to Marpa. That’s what I heard, then the mala to the wisdom mother. “Mother, please help us, way to get out,” like that, Serkyong Dorje Chang.

This Serkyong Dorje Chang is the incarnation of Serkyong Tsenshab Rinpoche’s father; this Serkyong Dorje Chang is Serkyong Tsenshab Rinpoche’s, the other lama’s father. The father was a monk, studied in Ganden Monastery, become expert and then, after that, went in an isolated place to do retreat, to actualize the path for many years. Then, because he achieved very high level of tantric path, he was allowed by His Holiness the Thirteenth Dalai Lama to have wisdom mother to complete the tantric path.

So, His Holiness Serkyong Tsenshab Rinpoche, this great lama, son of the Serkyong Dorje Chang’s past life. But in this, Serkyong Tsenshab Rinpoche who is the son of Serkyong Dorje Chang from past life, he became the teacher of the incarnation of his father. Actually he’s an enlightened being.

So why he called Marpa “father” and the wisdom mother “mother” was, I think, His Holiness Serkyong Tsenshab Rinpoche, he’s the son of Milarepa’s guru, Marpa, called Dharma Dodé, so that’s why he called Marpa’s statue “father,” then his wisdom mother, “mother,” called by Serkyong Tsenshab Rinpoche.

Serkyong Dorje Chang is the embodiment, he’s the incarnation of, embodiment of Marpa, but that one came, lived in Nepal but he passed away, now there’s a reincarnation exists, but Marpa, like that.

Then the incarnation of Serkyong Tsenshab Rinpoche also passed away, there’s a reincarnation. So anyway, this is quite elaborate, but anyway, sad(?) story.

There is also an incarnate lama who’s incarnation of Milarepa, Tse Chog Ling.

So, anyway, Marpa asked him to build the tower three times, alone, Milarepa. Milarepa’s backside, by carrying stones so much, the skin becomes like thick and kind of blue or black, some kind of color, become thick like that.

Then never gave teachings, no initiations, nothing, only hard work, and only scold, beat, scold, sometimes beat, didn’t receive teachings for a long time, didn’t receive teachings for a long time. One day he came with the other disciples for teachings, but then Marpa saw Milarepa, he came with the others, saw Milarepa among the disciples then immediately Marpa scolded him. Marpa immediately scolded him and Marpa asked him to leave immediately from the teachings. For years and years like that, so on. Then after some time, Marpa’s wisdom mother insisted to Marpa, “Please give teachings, initiations,” so then did.

Then, of course, Marpa is enlightened being so he manifested in the mandala and the deity, and then you see, also so much defilements, so much defilements, negative karma was purified by doing, by building the tower three times by himself alone and all the beatings, scoldings for years, unbelievable defilements and negative karmas purified because of that. Marpa can see, so then gave initiations, teachings, all the teachings, then Marpa guided Milarepa which mountain, which holy place to go to do retreat, then sent, Milarepa was sent away to the mountain to do retreat.

Then Milarepa, in those isolated places, teaching was given by Marpa, then he actualized, then completed the whole path to enlightenment, the whole tantric path including the tantric path, completely actualized. Just lived on nettles, just food, just lived on nettles, there’s no sugar, no chili, no sugar, no chili, no pepper, chili, nothing, just cooked nettle in the water, that’s it, just lived on that. Lived in retreat for years and years like that, bore so much hardship to practice Dharma and to achieve, to complete the path to enlightenment, for the benefit of sentient beings, bore so much hardship.

One day a thief came to Milarepa, a thief came in Milarepa’s cave and then cooked the nettles, then asked, “Where is the salt, where is the butter?” So he put one, he put nettle in that container, “This is chili, this is pepper, this is salt.” Everything is nettle, he didn’t have anything.

So, anyway, he completed the path, he completed the whole path to enlightenment in that very brief lifetime of degenerated time. So, why, all this inspiring, most inspiring, unbelievable story of Milarepa, the life story, there are two, one is all the hymns that he sang, all the hymns from his realizations, from his experiences, the life story, advised different students or like that. Then another text of all his life story.

So, due to his prayer, his motivation bodhicitta and due to his prayer, his name, even though, who achieved full enlightenment in a brief lifetime of degenerated times is not only Milarepa, there are many others. There are many others in the traditions, such as Gyalwa Ensapa, so even the Lama Tsongkhapa tradition, the Gelugpa, there are many others. In the four traditions, Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism, there are many others who achieved enlightenment in a brief lifetime of degenerate times.

So, Milarepa, somehow, due to his, correctly devoted to his virtuous friend, never arose anger, heresy, even one time. No matter how much scold, beat, the hard works given for years and years, the power of body and mind, so never arose heresy, anger toward his guru, you see, like that, unbelievable devotion.

So anyway, Milarepa’s name even become known in the West, not only the East. Commonly known in the East but known also in the West, even though who achieved enlightenment in a brief lifetime of degenerate times, there have been many, but somehow Milarepa has become known also in the West, those part of the world.

If you chant Milarepa’s mantra every day, you hear, you chant, that helps to get reborn, that helps when you die you get reborn in the pure land, [Tib], Milarepa’s pure land, and then you’re able to see Milarepa and receive teachings from Milarepa directly.

According to Marpa, he wanted even longer, Milarepa to bear hardships, so that he can achieve enlightenment even earlier, so that he can achieve enlightenment even earlier, but his wife, wisdom mother pushed Marpa so much to give initiations, teachings earlier, so then he did. But if Marpa was able to do his wish, then, he wanted Milarepa to bear even longer hardships so that Milarepa can achieve enlightenment faster, quicker, quicker than what happened.

Marpa is enlightened being, so to purify all those negative karmas, killed many animals and many human beings through black magic, then also negative karmas collected in the past lives. Marpa, incredible skillful master, each time he scolded Milarepa, obstacles get purified, many lifetimes’ negative karma get purified each time he scolded or beat. Building the towers, all this, purifies negative karmas collected. Negative karmas collected from beginningless rebirth get purified. That’s why Milarepa achieved enlightenment in that life, in a brief lifetime of degenerate time.

So here, I’m talking what it means “powerful body and mind,” like example Milarepa, like that.

So what I’m saying, what I’m saying here that, first great meaning, attaining the happiness of future lives, so as far as perfect human rebirth, there are different, as I mentioned before, seven, which has seven results, allows us to practice Dharma.

And then, what Lama Tsongkhapa highly admired, emphasized, the precious human body which has eight ripening qualities, so if you have that then able to make, achieve the realizations of the path to enlightenment.

Then, human rebirth which I mentioned last night, the human rebirth, which has Four Mahayana Dharma Wheels: relying upon the holy being and that which is the virtuous friend; then, you’re born in the right environment or the area or the family who do not cause obstacles to practice Dharma, to achieve realizations, who are supportive, who has devotion, karma, devotion to Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, who has faith in reincarnation, karma; then the place, harmonious to the body—water, earth harmonious, not harmful, that becomes obstacle to achieve realizations; then, having done prayers, having collected the merits. The Four Mahayana Dharma Wheels, then again you are able to practice Dharma and achieve enlightenment, so like that.

Then, the perfect human rebirth, which has the eighteen qualities; all this happiness in future lives you can achieve, which allows to practice Dharma and then achieve liberation, enlightenment.

So, first great meaning.

The second great meaning, then able to achieve ultimate happiness, liberation from samsara, liberation from samsara and full enlightenment, full enlightenment, the great liberation. The second great meaning of life.

Third great meaning, then even each second, with this perfect human body, even each second, if you have this perfect human body, even with each second you can achieve any of those happiness, because you can create the cause. The third great meaning of the human life, the perfect human life.

So, what Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo is saying, Nye ka dön chhei ten zang. Dön chhei  is great meaning. Human rebirth which is a perfect human body, which is extremely difficult to find again. Dön chhei, which has great meaning, if it is found, what has great meaning, then ten zang which is good body.

Khe nyen kyi dug dam ga. Khe means profit, nyen is loss, kyi is the happiness and dug is the loss, say, suffering; kyi is happiness and dug is suffering. Dam ga is choice.

So, you have choice of happiness and suffering in your life, which one you’re... khe nyen kyi dug dam ga. What it’s saying is what I mentioned before, you have choice, not only choice, not only choice, today, now, if you want happiness, if you want problems, because it depends on how you think, it depends on how you think. If you think in a mistaken way, you have problems. If you think in correct way; if you think mistaken way, you have problem.

If you think the thought cherishing I, if you think that way, mistaken way—this I is important than others—okay, if you think this way you have problems. You have problems in the life, you find problems, you have problems in your mind.

If you cherish others, that problem goes away. You have happiness, peace, you have inner peace and happiness, you have fulfillment in your life, not only satisfaction but you have fulfillment in your life, fulfillment. Because if you cherish others you do actions, you benefit others, you do actions for others, so from that you get fulfillment, not only satisfaction. The minute when you stop desire, the minute when you stop attachment, the minute when you stop following desire you have satisfaction, so not only that, even higher, fulfillment in your life, right now, here, right now here.

If you let your mind get attached to something real, something real, independent one existing from its own side, you look at it totally, totally false way, totally wrong way, totally wrong way. Then on that, on the basis of that, all these, how this is nice, how this is beautiful, how this is nice, mind exaggerates, you see, so then attachment arises, attachment arises on that, after you rationalize “oh how this is beautiful,” this, this, this, then attachment arises, then it has its own false view on the object, so that, that you get attached to, then get attached to that.

Anyway, what I said also, I think mentioned yesterday, basically what it means is, it’s built on the object of ignorance, it’s built on the object of ignorance, means on the view of the ignorance, object of ignorance, the view of the ignorance holding things as truly existent. It’s built on that. The object of attachment is built on that, the view of the object, view of the attachment, built on that, before the foundation, the view of the ignorance, okay?

So, that doesn’t exist. So now, that object of ignorance doesn’t exist, so the object of attachment cannot exist.

So this is a very, extremely essential…. Now here, thinking in this way, attachment, you have problem, you have suffering, now your mind becomes painful.

So now, when you think of the object, as I mentioned the other day, these causative phenomena, the nature of causative phenomena, the illusion and so forth, the wrong view of the defective senses or however, like stars. If you look at that nature of impermanence then attachment doesn’t arise, your attachment doesn’t arise, you have peace, you have inner peace, you have peace right now, inner peace, satisfaction, inner peace you achieve. So, it’s totally in your hands, you want happiness, you want suffering, now in your hands, you see, it depends on how you think.

So then, not only that, not only the slightest suffering problem but also future you have in your hands, what kind of future life you want next life. You want lower realms or deva, human rebirth, higher realm—it’s completely in your hands, you have choice, which you want to achieve.

Then same, samsara or liberation, which one you want to achieve. You want to be samsara or achieve liberation. It is in your hands, you have a choice, you have a choice. If you want to achieve liberation, then you actualize the path, the renunciation, the three higher trainings, like that, then you have freedom, whether you want to achieve enlightenment or, whether you want to achieve enlightenment or the lower nirvana. You want to achieve lower nirvana or you want to achieve enlightenment, so you have a choice.

If you practice bodhicitta, then you’re able to achieve enlightenment. You don’t have to be stuck in the lower nirvana for so many eons, so like that, totally in your hands, you have a choice.

Nye ka dön chhei ten zang khe nyen kyi dug dam ga
Ma nor nying po len dö sam kyin la ma drän no

Ma nor means without mistakes; mar nor nying po means wishing, without mistakes wishing to take the essence of this body. Ma nor, without mistakes, ma nor [?], choice—with the thought of taking the essence of this body, without making mistake, choice, with choice, without making mistake.

While you’re thinking this, then, you say, Lama drän no, “reminds me of the guru,” because everything has to come from the guru, everything depends on the kindness of the guru, depends on the guru, so Lama drän no “it reminds me of the guru.”

I don’t know why I’m talking this, I don’t know.

Generate bodhicitta: “The purpose of my life is to free all sentient beings from all the suffering and causes and bring them to enlightenment. Therefore, I must achieve enlightenment, therefore I’m going to offer this nectar, you know?” Don’t think offering tea, think nectar. Then you visualize oceans of nectar, this purified into emptiness, then, it’s a jeweled container, nectar, oceans of nectar, numberless, even that, numberless. Then you offer to Guru Shakyamuni Buddha or whichever deity that you are praying normally, so do that, Tara, Chenrezig, this is one, is all the Guru, Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, all the numberless buddhas, all the numberless Dharma, numberless Sangha, numberless statues, numberless stupas, numberless statues of Buddha, numberless stupas, scriptures, everything, you offer.


La ma sang gyä... [Group chants food offering prayer]

Then generate, after offer then generate infinite bliss, that’s the essence of the offering. In the holy mind, merit field, generated infinite bliss.

The next one, generating infinite bliss within you.

[Tea time]

So, going back, I was talking about the very heart or the basic philosophy of Buddhism, about life, about life, basic philosophy of Buddhism about life, so what I said is, everything, your world came from your mind, I mentioned already, your world came from your mind.

[End of tape]


1  In this teaching, Rinpoche recites and gives commentary on the following verse from Calling the Guru From Afar by Pabongka Rinpoche:


Thinking of this excellent body, highly meaningful and difficult to obtain,


And wishing to take its essence with unerring choice between gain and loss, happiness and suffering – reminds me of you, Guru.

[Return to text]