Kopan Course No. 32 (1999)

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal (Archive #1156)

Lamrim teachings given by Lama Zopa Rinpoche at the 32nd Kopan Meditation Course, held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, in November-December 1999. Lightly edited by Gordon McDougall.

Go to the Index page to view an outline of topics and click on the links to go directly to the lectures. You can also download a PDF of the entire course.

10. The Power of the Holy Object

December 5, 1999


[Rinpoche and the students offer a short mandala]

Maybe there’s a question or a half a question?

Student: Rinpoche, what does it mean to say, “due to the power of the object,” the sacred object, like a holy statue?

Rinpoche: The power of the holy object. So, what’s the question exactly?

Student: Rinpoche, what does it mean to say that it’s the power of the object? What does it mean?

Rinpoche: Yes. We can take some ordinary examples. First, I would like to mention that in our daily lives, what we wish is happiness and what we do not wish is suffering. How do we stop the sufferings that we don’t like and always achieve the happiness that we like? We have to do something about it.

Now, happiness has to come from our actions, our good karma, and that has to be motivated by the virtuous, pure thought. The pure action has to be motivated by pure thought. That’s one way of saying it.

How does an action become pure? The action has to be made pure by the pure mind. If the action is motivated by negative thoughts, then that action becomes negative. That’s the general evolution. Then, from that negative action, suffering arises, the suffering result arises. And from that virtuous thought, that pure action, the virtuous action arises, resulting only in happiness. In other words, the virtuous action is motivated by the virtuous thought.

From the medicinal seed, the medicinal plant and medicinal fruit come. From the poisonous seed planted in the ground, the poisonous plant and the poisonous fruit come. It is exactly the same with regards to happiness coming from good karma, from the pure mind, from the virtuous thought, and suffering coming from negative karma, from the negative thought.

In our daily life, that’s how it is. That’s how happiness and suffering come. That’s the only way the happiness that we wish for comes. First, we have to put in effort for the actions to become pure virtue. We have to put effort into making the mind, the attitude of that act, pure. And similarly, we have to put effort into ensuring our actions do not produce suffering. Generally, we must put effort to stop our mind being stained by ignorance, anger and attachment of this life.

But there are exceptional actions we can do, such as circumambulating holy objects, prostrating to holy objects, offering to the holy objects, besides the actual Buddha, even to paintings and statues that show the form of holy objects, such as scriptures and stupas. Even if these actions done with the holy objects are done without a Dharma motivation, even if the motivation for doing this act of circumambulating, prostrating or offering to the holy objects is done with ignorance or even with anger or attachment clinging to this life, these actions still immediately become the cause of enlightenment. Even though these actions are done out of ignorance, anger or the attachment clinging to this life, they immediately become the cause of enlightenment.

For example, offering one stick of incense, one tiny grain of rice or one tiny flower to a statue or painting of a buddha, no matter what size it is, whether it is a tiny one or as big as a mountain, as long as the holy object—this statue, scripture, stupa or whatever—signifies the Buddha’s holy body, holy speech and holy mind, that action immediately becomes the cause of enlightenment. That means, by the way, it becomes the cause to achieve liberation from samsara for ourselves and, by the way, the cause to achieve a good rebirth in the god or human realm, not just once but for hundreds of thousands of lifetimes. We achieve a good rebirth like this for so many lifetimes from this one good karma.

This is because we collect so much merit doing this action that it not only has all these positive results in so many future lives, besides liberation and enlightenment, it becomes the cause of success in this life, health, long life, wealth, and so forth. And because it purifies negative karma, the difficulties and problems of this life decrease. So, there’s an effect even in this life.


There are many stories that show this, not just one or two. I’m sure there are numberless stories about this.

For example, once a pig was chased around a stupa by a dog. This story was written in the sutra teachings. I always had a feeling that it might be in Nepal, but I don’t know why. Anyway, chased by the dog, the pig went around the stupa to escape. By going around, it became a circumambulation.

When the pig died it was not born in the lower realms, which would have been the normal case. Even for us humans who want to practice the Dharma, who think the Dharma is good, that doesn’t mean we can practice it twenty-four hours a day; it doesn’t mean all our actions become Dharma twenty-four hours a day. We have to put in so much effort to transform the mind into Dharma. Even if we have met and studied the Dharma, having an intellectual understanding doesn’t mean all our actions twenty-four hours a day, our entire attitude, becomes Dharma.

Therefore, how is it possible for an animal to do so? The consciousness that has taken an animal body blocks understanding. I might have mentioned this already but I don’t remember. An animal’s consciousness blocks understanding of even the words, let alone the meaning of the words.

As I often mention, the cause of happiness is virtue. What is the definition of virtue? It is the action that has the result of happiness, only happiness, motivated by the attitude of non-anger, non-ignorance and non-attachment. That is the cause of happiness. But, even if we explained it for hundreds of thousands or billions of eons to a pig or dog, repeating it over and over, there is no way they can understand. The consciousness having taken an animal body, as a dog or a pig, they are blocked from understanding not only the words but the meaning.

Whereas, within a few seconds, we human beings can understood the meaning of what is the cause of happiness. We can have the correct understanding of the cause of happiness and the definition of virtue. We can understand it within a few minutes, within a few seconds, because our consciousness at this time has taken this precious human body which has the capacity, which gives that opportunity to understand the definition of virtue within a few seconds.

So, the differences between those other non-human beings and us human beings is like the sky. We have the opportunity to work for happiness, the opportunity to create the unmistaken cause of happiness up to enlightenment, which they don’t.

So, now you can understand with just this example the unbelievable freedom we have. It’s like skies of freedom, how much opportunity or freedom this human body gives us. Conversely, these sentient beings, the animals who have no human body are very pitiful. Animals like tigers, snakes and so forth are very pitiful; their ability to achieve any happiness is unbelievably limited. Therefore, normally, after their death animals will be reborn in the lower realms, either in the hell or hungry ghost realm or as an animal again.

So now here, this pig that was chased just once by a dog around the stupa, which became a circumambulation, then after it died it was born in the god realm, I think the Heaven of Thirty-three.

The pig’s motivation was trying to escape the dog. The motivation was simply attachment, looking for comfort, for protection in this life, but because it went around the stupa, that became a circumambulation. And that became virtue, not from the side of the motivation but because of the power of the holy object.


[Part of this story is missing due to change of tape]

Similarly, [a fly rested on a pile of dung that floated on a stream of urine, causing it to go around a stupa. An inconceivable length of time later it was born as a human who,] at eighty years old, began to practice Dharma. He then became an arhat and was liberated from samsara in that life, even though he only began to practice Dharma after eighty years old. In that life, he became an arhat, which literally means “foe-destroyer,” having destroyed the enemy. The enemy is the delusions, including the seed of delusion.

How did this happen? You have probably heard this already, so maybe I’ll only mention it a little bit.

This eighty-year-old man was at home, being bothered every day by the children making fun of him and teasing him all the time. He got so fed up that he thought if he went to a monastery his life would be so peaceful. Therefore, one day he left home and he went to the monastery to become a monk. He went to the monastery where the abbot was Shariputra, the Buddha’s heart disciple, an arhat who, among the Buddha’s disciples, was excellent at wisdom.

Shariputra checked with his clairvoyance whether this old man had the karma to become a monk but he could not see that he had any good karma. So he said, “You are too old, and you won’t be able to study. You also won’t be able to do any service at the monastery.” So Shariputra did not accept him.

The old man got so upset that he put his head on the door of the monastery and cried. Then he went into the park and cried and cried and cried. At that time Buddha was somewhere else in India. The Buddha’s omniscient mind always sees sentient beings and whenever the karma is ripened for the Buddha to guide us, he helps without delay of even a second. So, the Buddha immediately appeared there for that old man to guide him.

When he asked the old man what had happened and the old man explained everything, and the Buddha said, “Because I have completed the two types of merit, the merit of wisdom and the merit of virtue, I can see you have the karma to become a monk.” As an arhat, Shariputra had not completed the two types of merit, so he could not see the old man had that karma.

Then the Buddha explained how the karma was created, how inconceivable eons ago, this old man was a fly, and there was a stupa, and the fly floated on the cow dung around the stupa.

There are two stories about this! I’m not sure which one I’m telling! One is the fly was in the ditch in the water with some cow dung and, I guess, some dirty water. Then, the water went around, so the fly went around because there was this ditch around. The other story is the cow dung. I think the usual story is that the cow dung went around, and the fly followed the smell of the cow dung. Anyway, like the pig, it became a circumambulation. And that merit it created by the circumambulation was the cause for the old man to become a monk. This is what the Buddha explained.

Then, the Buddha checked who could guide him, who could look after him, who had a karmic connection to the old man. He saw that his other heart disciple, Maudgalyayana, had a karmic connection to the old man, so the Buddha handed him over to Maudgalyayana, who was the abbot at another monastery.

So, he became a monk there. But again, every day in the monastery the young monks made fun of him, always teasing him. One day he got so fed up, he ran away from the monastery and jumped in the river.

When he jumped in the river, his guru, the abbot of the monastery, Maudgalyayana checked where the old man was and could not find him in the monastery, so he checked with his clairvoyance and he saw the old man just jumping into the river. Then he immediately appeared there, grabbed the old man from the river and asked him what had happened. The old man was completely shocked because he never expected that his teacher would come there and grab him.

He could not speak for a little while, he was so shocked, but then he explained all his problems. Maudgalyayana explained that this was because he did not have enough renunciation. Then he asked him to hold the corner of his robe and they both flew away. They went on and on and on over the ocean. Then there was a huge mountain which they landed on. It was a huge mountain of bones. After they landed, the old man asked Maudgalyayana whose bones they were. Maudgalyayana explained that they were his past life’s bones.

In a past life, the old man was born as a huge whale, the largest animal in the ocean. As soon as he heard this from his abbot, Maudgalyayana, hairs from the pores of his body stood up, and he generated the realization of renunciation to samsara. He realized how samsara is in the nature of suffering, with the six shortcomings, such as nothing is definite, nothing gives satisfaction and so forth. He realized how samsara is in the nature of suffering. Then he entered the path and in that life he ceased the delusions and became an arya being.

As I mentioned yesterday or the day before, when the merit to enter the Mahayana path is ripened, the Buddha persuades the arhat to enter the Mahayana path. Then they can cease the subtle defilements and become enlightened, and then enlighten numberless other sentient beings.

So, this person was able to enlighten numberless other sentient beings. Before that, he himself became enlightened, and before that, an arhat. Before the arhat, he was a monk, and why he was able to become a monk was because of that tiny good karma, the merit collected not from the side of the motivation but from the action—due to the power of the holy object, following the smell of cow dung became a circumambulation of the stupa.

That small good karma, that merit, that came from that one circumambulation which became virtue was not from the side of the motivation, but only from the power of the holy object. From that virtue or from that circumambulation, all these things happened, all this evolution, becoming a monk, achieving all the realizations of the path to liberation, achieving all the Mahayana path, then enlightenment, and then enlightening all sentient beings. You have to understand this point.

From that one circumambulation of the stupa, that action did not become virtue from the side of the motivation, just from the power of the holy object. From that small merit all this evolution happened, all these results, up to enlightenment, and then being able to enlighten numberless other sentient beings. Do you understand?


I’ll just finish this. Therefore, whenever we ourselves circumambulate, prostrate or make offerings to holy objects, we have to understand the effect it has, what it does to us, like the story of this old man. Every single action of circumambulation, prostration or making offerings to the holy objects, every single thing that is done toward the holy object, gradually leads us to have realizations of the whole path to enlightenment, and then to achieve the infinite qualities of the Buddha’s holy body, holy speech and holy mind, and to be able to cause all the happiness for every sentient being, to be able to enlighten all sentient beings.

We have to understand, like that story, the merit is much, much stronger because we not only have the power of the holy object but we do the action with a virtuous thought. Understanding the power of the holy object and so forth, the merit is much stronger when the action is done with a virtuous motivation. If we can remember it in our daily life, every single action that we do has this effect through our present and all our future lives.

Like this old man’s story, even without a virtuous motivation, just from the power of the holy object it becomes virtue, and this affects all these things. Therefore, every single holy object, even a tiny photo, statue or painting, where there are many hundreds of thousands of buddhas, very, very small figures of buddhas—no matter whether it’s so tiny or the size of a mountain—by doing a circumambulation, a prostration, or making offerings to this holy object, it affects our life. The benefit we get from this one action toward even a tiny drawing of a buddha is not only temporary happiness, all the temporary happiness of this and future lives until we are free from samsara, not only that but all the realizations up to enlightenment. Then, we will be able to enlighten all sentient beings. All this is what we achieve, even from a tiny picture or drawing of a buddha.

This is true of every single object, besides an actual living buddha. Statues, stupas, scriptures are all so unbelievably precious. These holy objects are the real wish-fulfilling objects, wish-fulfilling for sentient beings’ happiness. It is very important to understand this.

Many people ask questions about my building a five-hundred-foot Maitreya Buddha statue in Bodhgaya. Many people ask, “Isn’t it better to spend that much money on beggars?” I can understand their point of view.

I think I already mentioned before on one of the days about Africa and all those stories on the subject of karma, how giving only food, clothing, shelter and so forth, only external help without Dharma is good but it doesn’t do anything to purify any negative karma, the defilements, where all life’s problems and suffering come from. It doesn’t change the cause of the poverty, of sicknesses, wars, killing, all this. It doesn’t change the cause of their problem, their suffering. The cause of their poverty, sicknesses and so forth, all these problems, can only be purified by the Dharma, nothing else.

Having these holy objects existing in the world makes it so easy to purify negative karma, so easy to create the cause of happiness, not only health, long life, and so forth, the happiness of this life, but also the happiness of future lives, liberation, all the way up to enlightenment. By these holy objects existing, even without depending on our motivation, our attitude, becoming Dharma, it makes it so easy. The actions of sentient beings circumambulating, prostrating, offering and even looking at holy objects, all becomes virtue.

Therefore, the existence of holy objects makes it so easy for sentient beings to purify the cause of suffering and create the cause of happiness, to be liberated from samsara; it makes it so easy to achieve enlightenment. Using the holy objects by circumambulating, offering, prostrating, even just looking at them, purifies negative karma. Otherwise, no matter how much shelter, food and money is given, the cause of suffering can never change; it can never stop the cause of suffering that is within their minds, not outside.

That’s the reason I’m trying to answer that question. Besides the Maitreya Project giving jobs to many thousands of people, meaning those thousands of people can earn their living from it, even after it is finished, besides all other reasons, such as preserving art and so forth, the main reason is this.

Every object has its own power. That is the power of the object. Electricity has its own power to affect things; water has its own power to affect things; fire has its own effect on things, it burns things. It can destroy things but also keep us warm. We can use electricity for communicating, to have cinema, the movies, TV and so forth. Each phenomenon has its own power. In exactly the same way, holy objects—stupas, statues, even statues of buddhas—have their own power.

Even though these holy objects such as buddha statues or stupas are made of substances, they have the power to transform sentient beings’ minds. Without our mind becoming Dharma, without us creating virtue by circumambulating, prostrating or making offerings, our mind becomes virtuous through their power. Do you understand? As I explained before with the examples of water, fire and electricity, which have their own power, which can do their own functions. Does it help you?

Student: Yes, thank you.

Rinpoche: It took a long time! I think I’m going to stop and say goodbye. Let’s do the dedications. Did you raise your hand?

Student: Did you want to stop?

Rinpoche: It depends on your question!

Student: It’s related to the last one.

Rinpoche: Yes, please.

Student: I still don’t understand.

Rinpoche: Oh, I see.

Student: Can you explain why?

Rinpoche: Maybe you need to explain why.

Student: If karma is volitional action and a stupa has no stupa essence to it, there’s no stupa from the side of the object, and the power of the object is created by the minds of the people who circumambulate it, then how can an animal with no volitional action and no perception of the benefits of the object create any merit?

Rinpoche: But that would be the same thing with a human being.

Student: Well, there would be perception of the benefits.

Rinpoche: No, but there are human beings who go around holy objects, in the same way as animals, without knowing the benefits. There are so many human beings who go around holy objects, like tourists wandering around or people just passing by, they go around without even knowing that it’s a holy object.

Student: Why would the tourists also get merit in that case?

Rinpoche: If there’s no benefit?

Student: If the tourist doesn’t perceive the benefit?

Rinpoche: No, sorry, I didn’t say that. I said that, like an animal, human beings go around without any knowledge [it is a holy object]. That’s what I’m saying. Even if they have no knowledge that this is a stupa or no knowledge of the benefits, it’s the same as animals, they still get the merit.

In your talk you started saying that the stupa does not exist from something. What was that?

Student: It does not exist from its own side.

Rinpoche: From its own side! And because of that, how do the animals get merit? Is that what you meant?

Student: Yes.

Rinpoche: Because it doesn’t exist from its own side.

Student: Yes, pretty much.

Rinpoche: In that case, it will be the same with human beings. Why would human beings get any benefit, because it doesn’t exist from its own side? It not only applies to animals, it would also apply to human beings. Because it doesn’t exist from its own side, how could human beings get benefits.

Student: It seems to me that because of the volition of the human thought, perceiving that he or she is doing a virtuous action, that virtuous action brings happiness.

Rinpoche: Yes, yes, that’s right. What?

Student: So, virtue is the cause of happiness.

Rinpoche: Now, I’ll give you an example. I’ll ask you a question. For a person who has no idea of computers, who has no knowledge of computers, does the computer function for that person or not? 

Student: It depends.

Rinpoche: Depends on what? So, people who have no knowledge of computers, for some the computers function and for some they don’t, yeah?

In the same way, if people have children who have no knowledge that fire is hot, no concept that the fire is hot, then when the children come into contact with the fire, it doesn’t burn them, yes?

Children who have no concept that fire can burn, jump into the fire, but the fire doesn’t burn them because they don’t have that concept, they have not yet been introduced to the fact that fire can burn. Is it correct?

Student: No, no, no.

Rinpoche: It’s the same thing with electricity. If we have no knowledge of electricity, in the wrong conditions—if we don’t have proper shoes or whatever—if we touch electricity, it can kill us. But you’re saying that if somebody has no knowledge about what electricity does, it is not dangerous. Even if they touch electricity, it won’t kill them, yeah? What?

Student: That’s also not true.

Rinpoche: Oh, you agree! Oh, great! I’m so shocked that you agree!

So, it’s exactly the same with the effect of the holy object. Whether we have the concept or not, whether our mind labels it or not, that object still affects our life, our body and mind. It’s exactly the same with this holy object. It can affect our mind, we can get this benefit, whether we know it or not. But, if you know, there’s more effect! Did that help you a tiny bit, just a tiny, tiny bit?

Student: Yes.

Rinpoche: So maybe just one more question.


Student: I was wondering if you could tell us a good way of practicing renunciation when we go back to the West?

Rinpoche: You can write a big book on that subject! A very large book, the size of a table!

This is a very important question, not only for liberation and enlightenment but also to rescue ourselves from this life’s problems. It’s very important. Renunciation is very important even for day-to-day life peace of mind. It’s important for many things, for health, for long life. Renunciation is needed in every case, otherwise there can be danger. Without renunciation, desire can endanger so many aspects of our life. It can harm us.

The shortest answer! The shortest answer is to try as much as possible. That’s the shortest answer! Try to practice renunciation, try to practice the remedy for desire as much as you can. All the subjects of the lamrim can help with that, especially impermanence and death and the suffering of the lower realms. That’s for us beginners. We should meditate on these things in our everyday life as much as possible. That is most important.

Then there are the higher meditations on bodhicitta and emptiness. For some people to meditate on emptiness is extremely powerful; it becomes a great protection in their life. But this is some people, not most. I mean I’m talking as a beginner. For us beginners, these meditations in the first section of the lamrim, the graduated path of the lower capable being, are so helpful because they are to control the delusions, to control desire. They are very helpful, very powerful. It is very important in our daily life to meditate on them as much as possible, to remember them. Of course, to have realizations of them is the best. But, even if we don’t have realizations, meditating on them as much as possible can help a lot.

Then, there’s the section on samsaric suffering, the graduated path of the middle capable being, which talks about the shortcomings of delusions. In the graduated path of the lower capable being, impermanence and death and the suffering of the lower realms is related with karma, with negative karma and lower realms’ sufferings. That is extremely powerful. And, with the graduated path of the middle capable being, there are meditations on the general and particular sufferings of samsara, the shortcomings of delusions, especially desire. We should always meditate on that. This is also very helpful, very powerful.

As well as meditating on the shortcomings of delusions, we should also meditate on the shortcomings of the object of delusion. For instance, the object of attachment is the human body, so we should reflect on the shortcomings of the body, the mistakes of the body, as it’s explained in the teachings, looking at the body as dirty, like a container of garbage or a septic tank, a toilet. There is the skin outside but inside it’s like a septic tank or a toilet, or a garbage can filled with all kinds of things. In case of attachment to the body, there are specific things. To practice mindfulness on these things is very helpful.

One thing is to think of the shortcomings of delusions and desire, how that obscures us from realizing the truth. Each time we follow desire it obscures us from realizing the truth, and if we don’t realize the truth, we will never get out of samsara, we will never cease the suffering of samsara and its causes. We will never be able to do that if we cannot realize emptiness, the truth, the ultimate nature.

Each time we follow the delusions, it obscures us from seeing ourselves, the very nature of the I, the very nature of the mind. It stops us from achieving liberation from samsara; it stops us from achieving enlightenment. It blocks us from having realizations of the path to enlightenment. That means it blocks us from offering infinite benefit to all sentient beings, bringing them every happiness up to enlightenment.

There are many ways to think about the shortcomings of delusion. The delusions, desire, create the hell realm. By leaving imprints on the mind, it produces all the heaviest sufferings of the hell realm. There are many ways to think like that.

And then, we can think of the shortcomings of [attachment to] the body, by meditating on going beyond the skin, inside the body, and seeing how dirty it is. We can practice mindfulness on all the bones, all the pieces of flesh and all the dirty things in the body, blood and so forth. In the teachings Nagarjuna described the body as a container of thirty-two dirty things. We can count all the things that are inside, that come from the body, from the upper and lower doors. It is especially helpful to think about the inside of the body. If we just go a little bit beyond the skin, it’s frightening! With the blood and flesh and so forth, there’s nothing to be attached to there. We should think like that.

And even when a thorn or some tiny thing goes into the skin, when blood comes out, even that terrifies us. Like this, looking at the bones, the skeleton, there’s still nothing to be attached to. All the pieces of flesh, the intestines and all the blood—there’s nothing to be attached to.

And if we are attached to somebody’s skin, we can meditate on putting all the skin separately, to one side, separate from the bones and flesh. Seeing it in this way, as a separate heap, we won’t be attached to the skin. We will just want to throw it in the garbage.

It’s only when the skin is covered by all the bones and flesh that it seems worth being attached to, but really the skin is like a plastic bag that covers a pile of garbage. We can wrap garbage or kaka in plastic and it will seem attractive. Only when all this is wrapped with skin, only at that time does it seem worth being attached to.

This might look good to us but being attached to it cannot benefit us at all. And the attachment is harmful to even achieve liberation for ourselves or the happiness of future lives. It stops us even achieving a good rebirth and the happiness of future lives. Thinking in that way might be powerful.

The other thing is this. If we have a compassionate nature, it might be helpful to see that following desire, being attached to this object, blocks us from benefiting all sentient beings. It can also be very powerful to see that this stops us developing our realizations to benefit other sentient beings.

Generally, which meditation technique is more powerful depends on the individual. For some people this meditation is more powerful; for some people that meditation is more powerful. For some, bodhicitta is more powerful, for others it is emptiness, and for others it is impermanence and death or the suffering of the lower realms.

The other thing is this. Remember how I mentioned how the appearance of the letters—A, B, C, D, E, F, G, all these up to Z—all come from our mind. Remember I explained this before. I used one object before to say that is how all appearances come from our mind. I don’t remember what object I used before the alphabet.

Student: Number one.

Rinpoche: Oh yeah, number one. Huh? Number one. You have a very excellent memory. I think you brought it from Chechnya. Which country?

Student: Chyornaya.

Rinpoche: You’ve brought a good memory from Chyornaya.

So, I mentioned how all appearances come from the mind, how this and that all come from the mind after the concept. Remember? Here, with the object we are attached to, it’s exactly the same thing. With this appearance we think, “This is beautiful, blah, blah, blah. This nose is beautiful; this hair is beautiful,” and this and this and this. In our view, whether it’s to do with the voice or the body, we have the appearance that this is beautiful. Without first having the concept, without our mind making it up, we won’t have this appearance that this is beautiful, that this is beautiful and that this is beautiful. We won’t have all this without the concept, without making up the concept by ourselves. So, all this has come from our concept.

So, we should think like this. “What I’m attached to is my own appearance, the appearance of my own mind. There’s no such thing outside of this creation of my mind. I’m just attached to my own view, to my own projection. All these appearances of beauty come from my own concept; they are projections of my own concept.”

That analysis is so helpful. The other one is explained in Madhyamaka teachings, also in the great insight section of Lama Tsongkhapa’s Lamrim Chenmo [The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment.] First, we project on the merely labeled body and so forth, on everything we see there, that this is beautiful and that is beautiful. All that is merely labeled by the mind. Then, right after the mere imputation, the imprint left by past ignorance, the concept of inherent existence, immediately projects [inherent existence onto the object], just as an image is projected on a screen from film put into a projector and light is shone through it.

That beautiful body, that beautiful hair, that beautiful voice, that beautiful this and that—that is a mere imputation but, right after that, the negative imprint left by ignorance immediately projects, decorates, on that the sense of inherent existence, making us believe there is something really beautiful out there from its own side.

We don’t get attached to the merely imputed one. Merely imputed beauty does not cause attachment to arise. Generally, does beauty exist or not? Beauty exists, but it is what is merely labeled by the mind. Merely imputed beauty doesn’t cause attachment to arise, but now here, on that mere imputation, this negative imprint decorates, projects, the whole hallucination of inherent existence, that all these things truly exist from their own side.

Then, after the ignorance holds on to that, believing that this is true, attachment, desire, arises and clings onto that. This is how attachment develops. After all that, when desire clings onto that, that makes it so painful to separate from the object.

This is a very profound meditation. It makes us go very deep into the emptiness, the mere imputation, and how we built up this hallucination. All of this is a projection from the negative imprint and the attachment.

It not only gives us a deep understanding but also a surprise. It’s like when a magician has transformed something into a beautiful house, with a car, a swimming pool, a very beautiful park and things like that, and we believe this to be real, that it has really existed for a long time, and then suddenly we realize this is not true. The magician has illusioned our mind and we see it’s not true. This can give us a deep understanding of the hallucination.

We can also think that as we get closer to the object of desire, we get closer to the hell realm. This is Dromtönpa’s advice. When we are closer to the object of desire, we should think we are closer to the hell realms, because by creating negative karma in relation to that object, the motivation is just nonvirtuous. It is desire clinging to this life, which is just nonvirtue, negative karma. This is the cause to be reborn in the lower realms, the hell realms and so forth. This is the advice of Dromtönpa, Lama Atisha’s great translator, who was the embodiment of the Compassion Buddha.

Now the conclusion. These are the different meditations we can try. Whether we are physically with the object of desire or whether our object of desire is in the West and our body is in the East, in Solu Khumbu or Lawudo or Tibet, no matter whether the object is physically close or very distant, if we don’t meditate, our mind suffers all the time. Whether we are close or far, if we don’t practice the meditation on renunciation at least, we will have stronger desire and greater pain in our life.

Even if we are unable to completely cut desire, we can at least reduce it. However, if we don’t practice the meditation on renunciation, if the remedy to desire is not practiced, we might physically be very distant, like the distance from America to Tibet, but the mind will continuously suffer. We won’t have any peace and happiness. We will always be sick with the sickness of desire. Therefore, this meditation is extremely important.

The other thing is this. Generally speaking, for us beginners who have no control over delusions, who have no realizations of impermanence and death or the renunciation of samsara, who have no realizations of the three principal aspects of the path, the general advice for us as beginners is to look after our mind, to protect it all the time with meditation. And, at the same time, we should try to be physically separated from the object or the delusion, desire or anger. At the same time as we are looking after our mind with meditation, which are antidotes to the delusion, we should specifically try to keep away [from the object]. Doing these two things together is very helpful. In that way, there’s more mental stability and less obstacles. Then, realizations can come.

After some time, after we have achieved these fundamental lamrim realizations, with stable realizations of the three principal aspects of the path, then even being close to the object of desire, mixing with others and so forth, because our mind has stability due to the realizations, we are able to control the delusions, to stop them from arising. Then, the object cannot harm us. Of course, when we become an arya being, then no question.

Generally, the advice is like that. These two things are important. Not everybody can do this. This is how to do it, especially in the case of the danger of desire and so forth, but since everyone does not have karma or since everyone—I’ll put it this way, since everybody cannot become ascetic, with total renunciation, cutting the desire clinging to this life, since every human being in this world does not have karma, the merit, to become a Buddhist, the answer that I gave at the very beginning applies. Do your best! The answer that I gave at the very beginning, the shortest answer, is to do your best.

Not everybody can be a monk or nun, not everybody has the karma, not everybody can live in celibacy, but you can all do as much as you can. As a couple, living together, with that style of life, both sides must decide to use your life together to benefit other sentient beings. I think it’s very important to have that basic motivation to serve others. Living together is to benefit other sentient beings; I think that motivation is essential. If you have that motivation then you can do many good things together for others.

If you are living that style of life, you should try to make that life as beneficial as you can, as much as possible. From both sides there should be a motivation like that. I think it is of utmost importance. Your own pleasure or comfort is not the first thing. The first thing is to benefit others. Trying to bring happiness to other sentient beings, not your own happiness and comfort with your companion. That’s not the first thing. The first thing is the happiness of other sentient beings. This is the attitude you should have.

Then, there can be a lot of peace and happiness; you can help each other grow, but it is most important to benefit others, which also helps you develop your Dharma practice. If the first thing in your attitude is your own comfort and pleasure in this life, that brings many problems. Even if you are physically living together, there can be always disharmony, fighting, distrust, uncertainty. There will always be problems.

So, even if it’s difficult to control desire, to not engage in negative karma, even though we can’t stop completely, it’s very important to try to reduce it as much as possible. Even though we can’t completely stop it, we should try to practice renunciation and reduce desire, which means our negative karma becomes less.

Renunciation is the minimum Dharma practice. Anyway, I think it’s time to go to bed!


Dedicate all the three-time merits collected by yourself and by others, and generate bodhicitta, the source of all happiness and success for yourself and for all sentient beings. In your own mind and in the minds of all sentient beings, may that which has been generated increase.

“Due to all the past, present and future merits collected by me and by others, may the Buddha of Compassion, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and all the other holy beings have a stable life; may all their holy wishes succeed immediately.”

[Long-life prayer to His Holiness the Dalai Lama]