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Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Online Advice Book
Practice Advice : Advice for New Students

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche (Last Updated Oct 2, 2013)
The Mahayana Path
Rinpoche gave this advice to a new student on the purpose of Dharma practice.

My very dear Frank,
Before I saw your letter, I was very happy to see you on the road. You appeared to me as a sincere person with an open heart; somebody who is very good to start on the path to enlightenment, somebody who is sincerely looking for it, trying to achieve liberation and enlightenment, and somebody who is very worthwhile to help. This is how I thought of you when I saw you coming up the road. If Dharma is explained to you, you will really follow up; you will do it.

Of course some people have many doubts. They fear losing themselves—the old self, what they believed—and they hold onto that. They fear becoming a new person, having a new experience, and they are unable to analyze which kind of life has a better effect and has the greatest benefit for oneself and others. They are unable to check and analyze that, because they have no wisdom. Fear arises after ignorance.

Therefore, I must tell you that I was very happy to meet you on the road. There must be some karma. Even that meeting on the road came from past karma. It’s quite inspiring to read about what you did in your life before—not in your past life, but in this life. It shows you are very sincere.

Resisting religion on the grounds of blind faith is good. Maybe this happened because you have the good karma to meet Buddhism. If you believed easily in religion, then you would have been involved with other religions, but that might block accepting and learning about Buddhism with an open heart.

Living with a strong sense or awareness of ethics—as long as what is called ethics is good karma—brings the result of happiness to you and sentient beings. There will be no harm to you and other sentient beings, so that’s very good, extremely important. That means there is a possibility that you can become a monk later. I think you may have the possibility and the conditions to become a Buddhist monk. Here I am talking about being a Buddhist monk seeking liberation and enlightenment—dedicating your life for that, especially enlightenment for sentient beings who are numberless.

It is important that you help other sentient beings, for example, the numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras and gods, to be free from suffering and achieve happiness—not temporary happiness, but ultimate happiness, liberation from the ocean of samsara’s suffering and its causes, and especially great liberation, enlightenment. All the numberless sentient beings in these realms need your help. Therefore your life is not yours, but for numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras and gods. Also, your life is for the buddhas and bodhisattvas.

You were already involved in helping people, rescuing people in Israel. That is amazing. So, being homeless for meditation and prayers is good. If there is nothing to be attached to, your life and mind becomes simple. Otherwise, being attached to things is like being in prison, so life has no freedom. And also having no possessions and living a simple life is amazing. Those are very good causes to become a monk. I’m not saying to become a monk now, but there is a possibility later. These are very good reasons that help you to be a good monk, a pure monk. There are much less distractions in life, so realizations can come.

You went to Madagascar. Since I met the very first Western student, Princess Zina, from that time when I stayed with her, I heard about Madagascar so many times from her friends, French artists and a French doctor. They were always talking about the places they had been to.

Doing the course in the past has given you some help familiarizing yourself with meditation. However just that is not enough, because it doesn’t explain the whole path to enlightenment. There is so much to study about the five paths—the path of merit, the path of preparation, the right-seeing path, the path of meditation and (the unification of) no more learning. Especially on the Mahayana path, there is so much to attain, so there are less and less obscurations, and greater and greater qualities.

There are five paths and ten bhumis. When we achieve the eighth or ninth bhumi, for us it is like becoming a buddha and we have extensive means to benefit sentient beings. It is unbelievable what we can do. We can manifest all kinds of forms like bridges—anything that is beneficial for sentient beings. We can manifest as rocks, trees or water. It is just most amazing—we can manifest in a zillion, trillion ways. It is inconceivable. Then of course, there is no question about Buddha, who is totally free from subtle defilements and hallucinations and has complete compassion, wisdom, power and understanding. Buddha will definitely guide us; he is always thinking of us in every second. There is not one second that Buddha doesn’t think of us. That means Buddha is working for us continuously in various forms.

This is a very important quotation to keep, from the Sutra Meeting of Father and Son. Thinking this way will help you a great deal—to wake the mind up, to discover and live life.

“I do work for sentient beings in the costume (guise) of Brahma and Indra, even as mara (an evil being) sometimes. But the worldly people cannot realize this. I also wear the costume of women. I am also in the animal world. I show attachment, even though I am not attached. I show fear, even if I have no fear. I show ignorance, even though I don’t have ignorance. I show craziness, even though I am not. I show blindness, even though I am not blind. In various forms I subdue sentient beings.”

All the suffering of samsara comes from the mind. Happiness, liberation and enlightenment come from the mind. Suffering comes from the unsubdued mind. Liberation and enlightenment come from the subdued mind, therefore, subduing the mind is essential. So what Buddha said is just an example, manifesting numberless forms naturally without effort—as impure forms to sentient beings who have an impure mind, and as pure forms to sentient beings with a pure mind.

In Buddhism, especially in Mahayana Buddhism, guru devotion is the root of the path to enlightenment. The Buddha’s 84,000 teachings have three levels. There are the Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle) teachings for the lower capable being. For those with greater intelligence and capacity, Buddha revealed the Mahayana Paramitayana teachings. Then for those with higher intelligence, merit or capacity, Buddha taught Mahayana Secret Mantra—Vajrayana.

In Hinayana, we don’t look at the guru as a buddha, but we respect the guru as if he is a buddha and we obey the guru, the abbot who grants ordination and gives teachings. In Mahayana Paramityana, we look at the guru as a buddha, having no mistakes but only qualities. In tantra, on that basis—seeing the guru as a buddha—we look at the guru in the pure form of a buddha, we look at the essence as a buddha.

Obedience is most important, otherwise we cannot achieve realizations; we cannot achieve enlightenment.

So now, the answer to your question. Your past karma has ripened for you to meet Buddhism now, so you can advance your understanding and practice with faith, which comes from understanding. Here, of course—definitely, as you have described yourself—you are ready to receive the guru.

Yes, you can learn about emptiness more and more; you can meditate and gain experience. That subject is only in Buddhism. Only Buddhism shows that the truth of the I, the aggregates, mind and everything is emptiness. Only Buddhism shows that. Even though Christianity and so forth have many good things, this is an extremely important subject. By realizing this, we can eliminate the root of the oceans of samsaric suffering, the root of karma and all delusions, which is ignorance. Only then will we be free from delusions, karma and oceans of samsara suffering. That is how we achieve liberation, free forever from the suffering of samsara and its causes.

Practicing Dharma to achieve liberation is one time, while the works of this life—samsaric happiness—have no end. Understanding emptiness is an extremely important subject. With this realization we can liberate others; we can really help others to be free from the ocean of samsaric suffering and its causes. How? By introducing the four noble truths—by introducing suffering, then looking for its causes, then seeing if the causes can be ceased, then cessation of suffering and the path to achieve that.

This path is the direct perception of emptiness. When we achieve this realization, it becomes a very important wisdom eye. That is how we can help sentient beings and liberate them from the ocean of samsara’s suffering and its causes. If we don’t have this realization, we can’t liberate others. To achieve enlightenment, we need the ultimate wisdom directly perceiving emptiness. This ceases directly not only the gross, but also the subtle defilements. Then we are able to liberate others from the ocean of samsaric suffering and bring them to enlightenment, with the support of bodhicitta, the method which collects limitless skies of merit in every second. That is how we are able to achieve enlightenment.

In Hindu philosophy, there is the soul, atman, a permanent I. In Buddhism and in reality, that doesn’t exist. There is no such thing. The I is impermanent; it exists dependent on causes and conditions. There are four schools of Buddhist philosophy, each with a different view and different explanation of the self. However, none of them accept a soul or permanent I. That is something to be realized through analysis.

I will meet you if you are here after the Vipassana course. There is a possibility to meet.

With much love and prayer

Lama Zopa

P.S. If you attend His Holiness’ teachings, the very first thing you must do is take His Holiness the Dalai Lama as your guru. He is the embodiment of Avalokiteshvara, the Compassion Buddha. If you don’t take His Holiness as your guru, this will be the biggest mistake in your life. This is most important.

There doesn’t have to be only one guru. For example, Lama Atisha, the great holy being from India, who was invited to Tibet to make Buddhism pure, had 157 gurus. I guess the reason was that he received different teachings from different gurus. He had two root gurus. One was Lama Serlingpa, from whom he received complete teachings on bodhicitta. Lama Atisha left India and travelled by boat for 12 months and arrived in Sumatra, Indonesia, where Lama Serlingpa lived. Atisha stayed there for 12 years and actualized bodhicitta by devoting to Lama Serlingpa as guru. This is the attitude of life that benefits all sentient beings. The other guru was Dharmarakshita.

This doesn’t mean we should take anybody who is teaching as our guru. Here we have to be most careful. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama mentioned, we can learn without recognizing the person as guru. Later, when we develop so much devotion—when we think we can follow the guru—then we can devote and take that person as guru. This is my general advice.

Sometimes a person can be our guru if we have a strong feeling, which means we have a karmic connection from a past life, so we feel close. Still, we can analyse this. It shows our past life connection. When that person gives us teachings, it becomes effective for our mind and easy to have realizations. So usually it means we should try to devote to that person as our guru. That is it at the moment.

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