Nyung-nä Teachings at Lawudo

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Lawudo Retreat Centre, Nepal (Archive #133)

Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave these teachings during a nyung-nä retreat at Lawudo Gompa, Nepal, in April 1978. Edited by Ven. Ailsa Cameron.

The Index Page provides an outline of the topics discussed in each of the lectures. Click on the headings below to go directly to a particular lecture.

For more advice on nyung-nä practice, see Nyung-nä Practice: Prostrations and Offerings and Rinpoche's Online Advice Book. You can also listen online to Rinpoche's teachings from a nyung-nä retreat in Taiwan, 2007.

Sunrise at Kopan Monastery, 1972.
1. Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion

If you look at it with one type of mind, it might be beautiful, but if you look at it with another type of mind you might see it as suffering place, an ugly, uncomfortable place full of thorns or a desert where no plants are growing. I often mix up the food, dessert, and desert. Sometimes people hear the word dessert when I mean a very hot, dry place with burning hot sand.

Rinpoche suggested to visualize all those in the form of darkness, or black fog. After you have transformed all those things into black fog, you breathe it in. You take in all the ugly, filthy places. I’m not sure about in the winter time, but in the summertime certain countries are always very muddy. Somehow, due to their karma, some people have to live in such places all the time. You take them in in the form of black fog, like the fog that comes up from the valleys when you look down from here. If you are meditating on the tong-len practice in relation to your breath, you can then visualize the black fog coming in through your nostrils and going right into your heart, where you give it to your self-cherishing thought.

The self-cherishing thought is the source of all your own suffering, past, present, and future. Therefore, we give back all the undesirable things—all the suffering, pain, disease—we are experiencing. It is like taking the weapon off an enemy who is shooting at you and shooting him with it. That is a wrong action. When ordinary people fight an enemy for peace and happiness, they usually try to take the weapon belonging to their enemy and then use it to destroy their enemy. Ordinary people think that that is a very intelligent and skillful thing to do. Actually, their method accomplishes the complete opposite. What they are actually doing is not fighting for peace, but fighting for suffering. If you think of the karma, it looks as if they are fighting to get more suffering, even though they believe they are fighting for peace. Their method is completely wrong.

We use this as an example. All the problems we experience are given to us by the self-cherishing thought, which is like an enemy shooting us. The self-cherishing thought lets us experience all the difficulties of life, all the sufferings. It is this devil, the self-cherishing thought, that produces all the problems of life and lets us experience them. Therefore, we give all our problems, even those of our daily life, give back to the self-cherishing thought and let it suffer instead of us. We do this instead of being worried and thinking, “Oh, I feel terrible! What can I do? I have this problem, I have that problem. My feet have this problem, my hand has this problem, my head has this problem, my stomach has that problem.” We then feel depressed or aggressive, making so much noise that we disturb all the people around us, making them unhappy even though they were peaceful before. Instead of useless worrying, instead of taking possession of the suffering by thinking, “This is my suffering—I am suffering,” give your suffering and also that of other sentient beings back to the self-cherishing thought. Give even the suffering of being in undesirable places that other sentient beings’ experience. Take upon yourself all this suffering of other sentient beings and use it as a weapon to destroy the self-cherishing thought, as there is no use at all in keeping the self-cherishing thought in your heart for even a second.

It is extremely worthwhile to always try to destroy the self-cherishing thought. That is the best method to close the door of suffering of all your lives. Trying to defeat the self-cherishing thought as much as possible and to let cherishing others win is the one door to all your own happiness in this life and in all future lives.

Actually, whether you can make your practice of tong-len, or taking and giving, really effective depends on how strong your love and compassion are for other sentient beings. If the love and compassion you practice tong-len with is like food that has no taste or chai that doesn’t taste sweet, the result of your tong-len practice will also be very dry. It will seem as if somebody has forced you to do the tong-len practice rather than your doing it willingly. Also, when you don’t feel love and compassion for others, you won’t want to practice tong-len. You won’t have any wish to take the suffering of other sentient beings upon yourself or to dedicate your body and material possessions to others. Even though you are not actually doing it but just visualizing doing it, you will also feel fear when you take other sentient beings’ sufferings upon your self-cherishing thought. Because of your lack of strong love and compassion for others, you will get frightened when you practice. If you get frightened even though it’s just a visualization, it shows that the love and compassion you have for others are just words. In the depths of your heart, you don’t actually have strong love and compassion.

However, if you get scared when you practice tong-len meditation, it’s a good sign. Why is it a good sign? It means that you are shaking your self-cherishing thought, you are hurting your self-cherishing thought, rather than leaving it to sit quietly and comfortably in your heart. The self-cherishing thought is feeling pain. Even though you haven’t completely removed it, even though you haven’t killed the enemy, you have put spears through your enemy’s body again and again, from various sides. Even though you haven’t completely destroyed the devil of the self-cherishing thought, at least you have caused it pain. It means that your meditation practice is becoming a remedy, a medicine, to cure the severe chronic disease of the self-cherishing thought, which has been developing in your heart during beginningless previous lifetimes.

So, how effective your tong-len practice will be depends on how strong your love and compassion are. And how much love and compassion you have depends on how much you feel the kindness of other sentient beings. If you don’t know about and meditate on the kindness of others, even though with your mouth you might say, “Oh, I love everyone, I love every living being” or “I have compassion for all living beings,” it will be difficult for you to feel it from your heart.

I will just briefly mention various ways you can meditate on the kindness of other sentient beings. I think almost everyone has heard or read the thought-training teachings, which explains the kindness of other sentient beings. If I start to talk about it, I won’t be able to finish.

It is extremely important to understand not only the kindness of your own present mother but the kindness of all sentient beings. Your present mother has been kind to you in this life and in all past lives. During the times she has been your mother, she has suffered so much and died numberless times in giving you your body and in protecting you. If you piled up all the bones from the bodies when she died after you were born to her in previous lifetimes, there wouldn’t be any space left.

Besides that, she showed endless kindness in facing many difficulties to take care of you in her womb. Because of you, she was very careful in her daily activities and stopped doing hard work. She gave up many foods that she liked, the very hot and the very cold ones, to take care of you, her baby.

For instance, just in this life, if she hadn’t taken care of you but had had an abortion, it would be impossible for you to now be even a human being. Your being a human being now, today, is by the kindness of your mother.

There is no doubt that your having a precious human body qualified by eight freedoms and ten richnesses is by the kindness of your mother. And you have also had the chance to meet the virtuous guide leading you in the path to enlightenment, to meet the Mahayana teachings, and to practice them. All these things wouldn’t have happened without the kindness of your mother.
You can now really see how you have received this great freedom by the kindness of your mother. It is dependent so much on your mother and her taking care of you.

Also, this is not the first time she has been kind to you in this way. Even in this life you can see her great kindness. You don’t have to talk about her kindness in giving you the chance to practice Dharma or meditation. You wouldn’t have had the chance to experience all the temporary pleasures—food, clothing, good reputation—you are experiencing today and have experienced from your birth until now if your mother hadn’t created the karma to give birth to you and hadn’t taken care of you.

When you were in her womb, if she had taken medicine or a doctor had given her an injection or operation to abort you, where would you be now? Today you would have been somewhere else, with a completely different body. You might have been born as a fish and caught by a fisherman, who would cut your body in two. Who knows? You would have no choice and control. You could have been somewhere else, having taken an ugly body.

Your mother has also been kind to you in these ways numberless times in past lives. Even after you were born, each day your mother took care of you and protected you from dangers to your life, hundreds of times even in one day. If she didn’t have time to look after you, she would pay someone else to do it.

When you were a baby, you were just like a worm, crawling around not knowing anything, not even what was beneficial and what was harmful. If your mother hadn’t looked after you, at any moment you could have fallen down and broken your head or your legs. A baby puts everything it gets in its hands into its mouth—dirt, stones, or even a knife. If the mother isn’t looking for even a few seconds, a baby will grab all kinds of harmful things and put them in its mouth. And when a baby goes outside it can be attacked by an animal or killed by a vehicle. Every day it’s so easy for dangerous things to happen if the mother doesn’t look after her child even for a few seconds.

During the whole day you were like your mother’s object of meditation. Your mother had to concentrate on you all day and all night. At night your mother also thought about you, was concerned about you.

If your mother hadn’t taken care of you and protected you from danger hundreds of times each day, you wouldn’t now have the chance to practice Dharma, or even to have samsaric pleasures.

And she has been kind in these ways numberless times in the past, during your beginningless previous lives.

To protect you from dangers to your life, she has also died many times. Even though she hasn’t given up her life to protect you in this life, your present mother has given up her body and her life for you in beginningless previous lives. She has died for you numberless times.

For example, many times, when a child is in hospital with a skin disease or burns, its mother will donate skin from her own body to be grafted onto her child’s body. If her baby needs a transplant and she can protect its life by donating the body part that is needed, even an important part of the body, the mother will donate her organ calmly and without any difficulty to help her child. A mother is always concerned about her baby having a beautiful, healthy body and a happy life. Like enlightenment, that is the main aim in the heart of a mother.

I will stop talking here about the kindness of the mother, but if there is time I will try to talk about the general kindness of all sentient beings as explained in thought training.

I have heard many times about mothers donating their skin to make a skin graft for their baby. It also happens in India. It is unbelievable. Think of how much pain you feel when you take off a small piece of skin from your fingers. When we see or hear about how other mothers are taking care of their children, we should remember that our present mother did this for us numberless times. She gave her body and died hundreds of times to protect us from dangers to our life.

When I see the incredible patience mothers have in taking care of their children, I think of how I would find it boring and exhausting to spend even a minute with those children. Even one child screaming for their mother is kind of tiring. When I see some of the students who have children, the mothers suffer incredibly and have incredible patience with their children. Even one child can be such a problem. They don’t listen to what their mother says, and they scream so much, “I want this! I want that!” After having one chocolate, they want another chocolate. After having one milkshake, they ask for another milkshake. They scream for money.

If there are two or three children, they have different interests. The child in front screams something and the child behind screams something else. If one child gets money or a present, the other children also want some, then cry if they don’t get it. From the side of the child, if they don’t make their life meaningful after they have been born from their mother, they just cause problems to their parents. They just make difficulties in the lives of their parents; they just destroy their enjoyments, wasting all the money and material possessions the parents worked so hard and bore so many difficulties with their body, speech, and mind to acquire. They were born from their mother just to cause difficulties, just to cause suffering to their parents. Therefore, it is extremely important to make your life meaningful, not only beneficial for your parents but for all sentient beings, because all sentient beings have shown you the same kindness as your present mother.

When I see mothers taking care of their children, which I myself feel would be very boring, I really feel compassion for the mother, for all the problems they experience with their children and all the patience that they have. When you see such a mother, you should think, “Just like she is taking care of these children, she took care of me in exactly the same way numberless times during my beginningless previous lives.” You will then start to feel compassion for her.

By bearing much suffering, they have taken care of us, and they have been extremely kind. After they have been extremely kind like this, how can we dare to harm our parents? Besides actually doing it, we are not even supposed to dream about hurting our mother by flicking her with our fingers. Even if you can’t repay their kindness, at least you should avoid fighting with and harming your parents. How could beating your parents be the action of a human? Even animals don’t act like that. Even puppies love their parents; they don’t harm their parents.

My conclusion is that if you don’t make your life meaningful after your parents have suffered so much to take care of you, you are born just to cause worry to your parents, because your parents have been concerned about and worried about you since you were in your mother’s womb. They worried about you when you were going to school. They worried about all kinds of things: about whether you would get a bad reputation, whether you would be happy, whether you would have food, clothing, and other material possessions. Even when you’re grown up, even when you’re thirty or forty years old, they still worry about you. So, if you don’t make your life beneficial, you were born just to cause worry to your parents and make them suffer.

Making your life beneficial doesn’t mean you have to become famous or collect a lot of possessions for your parents.

The best way to repay the kindness of all sentient beings is by practicing Dharma, by making your mind good. The Tibetan term for this, zang-po, more or less means “generous.” Among the good minds, the best mind, the most generous mind—or you could say, the most noble mind—is bodhicitta. So we should train our mind in bodhicitta, the thought of enlightenment. We should transform the best, most generous mind of bodhicitta.

To generate bodhicitta, we have to depend on a guide, a special deity, such as the Compassion Buddha, Avalokiteshvara. We should meditate on bodhicitta by depending upon Avalokiteshvara. If you are wondering, “I want to generate bodhicitta quickly, but which deity should I rely on? Which yoga method should I practice?” You should rely on Avalokiteshvara, the Compassion Buddha. Before talking about the benefits of the mantra, I would like to talk a little on how Avalokiteshvara generated bodhicitta, the thought to helping others, with this aspect; how Avalokiteshvara received the name Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig; how Avalokiteshvara does the work of the buddhas of the three times, past, present, and future; the benefits of meditating on the holy body of Avalokiteshvara and of making statues and paintings of Avalokiteshvara’s holy body, as well as meditating on and prostrating to them, and reciting Avalokiteshvara’s mantras.

In Tibetan Avalokiteshvara is called thug-je chen-po, which means great compassionate one. When did he achieve bodhicitta? And who gave him this name? At the very beginning he achieved bodhicitta in the presence of his guru, Buddha Rinchen Nyingpo.

It is explained by Guru Shakyamuni Buddha in the sutra teaching The Sutra of the Compassionate White Lotus, that in former times, numberless eons ago, or eons equal to the number of sand grains of the Ganges River...

Ganges River means the Pacific Ocean. It has two meanings. One is the river in India that is holy to the Hindus, who think that washing their body in the Ganges River purifies their sins.

...there was a world called Holding Great Eon. In that world Buddha Rinchen Nyingpo, or Jewel Heart, will descend. He will turn the Dharma wheel for many trillions of living beings and lead them to higher realms and to nirvana.

In another time Buddha Rinchen Nyingpo was in a city with a king’s palace surrounded by many hundreds of thousands of arhats. The king was a wheel-turning king. Wheel-turning doesn’t refer to driving a car. It is a king’s title, and it is given according to how much power he has. There are different types of wheel-turning kings. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is also a wheel-turning king.

The king was living in a beautiful park called Dzambu, which was close to Buddha Rinchen Nyingpo. When the king heard about Buddha Rinchen Nyingpo, he went to the place where he was with his retinue of many hundreds of thousands. He then prostrated to Buddha Rinchen Nyingpo, and they all sat down in a line. Buddha Rinchen Nyingpo made them happy with his Dharma talk.

The king then told Buddha Rinchen Nyingpo that he would like to make offerings for three months and received permission from the Buddha to do this. The king had one thousand sons. His eldest son, [Mig Me Zum], Unclosing Eye, offered much service and material offerings to Buddha Rinchen Nyingpo, exactly as his father wanted.

After that, King [Gyatso Dun] offered service and made food and other material offerings to Buddha Rinchen Nyingpo for seven years. Buddha Rinchen Nyingpo then asked the king to generate the thought of highest enlightenment. The king then generated the thought of enlightenment in the presence of Buddha Rinchen Nyingpo, who then predicted that at the end of eons equal to twice the number of sand grains in the Pacific Ocean, the king would become fully enlightened as Amitabha Buddha in the blissful realm. Buddha Rinchen Nyingpo also predicted that the king’s eldest son, Unclosing Eyes, would generate great compassion in order to liberate sentient beings from suffering and completely pacify all their disturbing thoughts. Buddha Rinchen Nyingpo said, “For these reasons, at that time you will be called Chenrezig, Compassionate-Eyed Lord, and you will liberate many hundreds thousands of sentient beings from suffering. When you become a bodhisattva, you will do a bodhisattva’s actions. In the future, you will become a fully enlightened buddha and your son will belong to the buddha’s caste. The beauty of your buddha field will be the same as the blissful realm of Amitabha Buddha.”

Just as the children of the king have the king’s caste, the children of the buddhas, the bodhisattvas, are of the buddhas’ caste. Some people translate [rig kyi pu] as noble son, but I’m not sure that is an exact translation of the term. Rig is referring to buddha, to buddha nature. The son was going to become a bodhisattva, who was going to become a buddha. That’s why he was called a son of the buddha. So, [rig] is caste of the buddha or caste in the nature of buddha. And [rig kyi pu] is son of the nature of buddha.

Buddha Rinchen Nyingpo also made other predictions, but if I go into the details it will take a lot of time. I will give you just a rough idea. Buddha Rinchen Nyingpo predicted that this eldest son would become Avalokiteshvara, the Compassionate-Eyed Lord. He also mentioned how long he would live and that, “After you have passed away, your holy Dharma will last for many trillions of years. The disciples in your retinue will equal the number of atoms of water in the Pacific Ocean.”

I don’t remember the exact details but the Abhidharma has a way to count them. This is much finer than drops of water.

That is how Avalokiteshvara generated bodhicitta in the presence of Buddha Rinchen Nyingpo, and even the name Avalokiteshvara, or Chenrezig, was given by Buddha Rinchen Nyingpo. When we close our eyes, we cannot see. It’s only when we open our eyes that we can see the people and things in front of us. It can be said that Avalokiteshvara never closes his eyes. All the time he is looking at sentient beings. In other words, the transcendental wisdom of Avalokiteshvara, the eye of Avalokiteshvara’s holy mind, looks at sentient beings all the time. That is the factual meaning. There is not even a moment that Avalokiteshvara’s eye, the holy mind of transcendental wisdom, doesn’t see every single sentient being. And there is not even a moment that Avalokiteshvara’s compassion doesn’t cover every single sentient being. Among the infinite sentient beings, there is not one sentient being that Avalokiteshvara’s compassion doesn’t cover, that isn’t an object of Avalokiteshvara’s compassion. There is not even a moment that every sentient being isn’t an object of Avalokiteshvara’s compassion. Avalokiteshvara’s compassionate eyes look at sentient beings all the time. This is the meaning of Chenrezig, Compassionate-Eyed Buddha.

Second, how Avalokiteshvara shows the works of the buddhas of the three times.

It is said in the text called The Great Mantra of the Eleven Faces, translated by [Thami Zangpo], “Chenrezig was fully enlightened unimaginable eons ago, and was called Buddha [Cho Kyi Nang Wa], Vision of the Dharma. This Buddha will appear in the form of bodhisattvas in order to bring happiness to sentient beings.”

This was explained in his text by Guru Shakyamuni Buddha.

“There are many realms where Chenrezig will show Dharma to unimaginable sentient beings in the aspect of a buddha. There are also many realms where Chenrezig will show Dharma in the form of a bodhisattva, and there are many realms where Chenrezig will show the Dharma in the form of an arhat.”

The literal translation of arhat is self-enlightened one, but it doesn’t mean someone who is fully enlightened. It is just a title.

“Chenrezig will show the Dharma to some sentient beings in the form of a hearer-listener. For some sentient beings, Chenrezig will show the Dharma in the form of Brahma.” Brahma is one of the worldly gods that Hindus take refuge in.

“Avalokiteshvara will show the Dharma to some sentient beings in the form of the king of the suras. To some sentient beings he will show the Dharma in the aspect of a spirit, such as a smell-eater.”

These are spirits who live on smells. Since some sentient beings have the karma to receive teachings from only that aspect, Avalokiteshvara shows the teachings to those sentient beings in the aspect of a smell-eater.

“To some sentient beings he shows the Dharma in the forms of spirits called nöjins.” Here means harm and jin means giving, so harm-givers.

“For those sentient beings whose minds can be subdued by a wheel-turning king, Avalokiteshvara shows the Dharma in the form of such a king.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama is an example of such a king. He is Avalokiteshvara, but with the position of a king. He can then give Dharma.

“For those whose minds can be subdued by an army leader, Chenrezig shows the Dharma in the form of an army leader. As well as this, for those whose minds can be subdued by showing the aspect of a mara, Avalokiteshvara shows the Dharma to those sentient beings in the aspect of a mara.”

Those sentient beings have the karma to receive teachings from only that aspect. It means they have the karma to see Avalokiteshvara only in the form of a mara; they cannot see a better aspect.

There are also many ways the mind can be subdued, by showing the aspect of living and dying. Avalokiteshvara shows the Dharma and subdues their mind by showing such an aspect.

“Also, for those whose minds can be subdued by the form of an animal, Avalokiteshvara shows them Dharma and subdues their mind with the form of animal.”

There is then no doubt that Avalokiteshvara shows the form of a human body.

You might have some doubts about the tong-len practice. You might think, “Oh, I’m not doing anything serious. I’m not taking on any suffering—I’m just visualizing other sentient beings’ suffering. This is stupid. This isn’t serious. They don’t get anything and I don’t get anything. I don’t take on their suffering. How can it be of benefit?”

This definitely shows that you don’t understand how to practice Mahayana teachings. You haven’t understood the vital point of this meditation.

The great bodhisattva Shantideva says in his teaching Entering into the Bodhisattva’s Deeds that in making charity and dedicating to others you first dedicate the small, unimportant things. After you have trained your mind and developed the thought of giving, you can then very easily make charity of your body to other sentient beings, like giving vegetables to beggars.

You start with a small practice, with giving small things, then as the thought of giving develops.... What is the meaning of charity? As explained in the teachings, it is the thought of giving. When the thought of giving is developed, you don’t find any difficulty in making charity of your body to other sentient beings. Even without pain you can make charity of your body to others by cutting off one of your limbs.

We first train our mind by visualizing, and as the thought of giving develops, our attachment and miserliness in regard to our body, material possessions, and merits decreases. The thought of giving, which is based on love and compassion, increases, and our attachment and miserliness lessens. After some time, you don’t have any clinging, and without any difficulty you can make charity to other sentient beings.

Actually, visualizing now helps you afterwards to actually be able to dedicate to others, to actually give things into their hands. At the moment we can’t dedicate to others. We find it difficult now to give even one dollar to a beggar. Besides being unable to make charity of our body, to give even a piece of cheese to an animal is difficult. If somebody comes to beg you for your warm sleeping bag, you can’t give it. You’re inseparable from your sleeping bag, like you’re supposed to be inseparable from Avalokiteshvara.

Afterwards, as our mind gets trained, we will actually be able to give our body without any difficulty. If somebody asks us for our heart, our eyes, or our brain, we will be able to give them whatever they need very easily. Like throwing away garbage, we will actually be able to give our body to other sentient beings.

That is one of the main benefits. To be able to reach enlightenment for the benefit of other sentient beings, we have to complete the practice of the paramita of charity. This is a method to complete the bodhisattva’s action, the paramita of charity. Also, we cease all clinging to, all thought of possessing our body, our material possessions, our merits, and even the results of our merits. We completely remove even the thought of clinging. This is one of the main benefits of practicing tong-len.