Kopan Course No. 26 (1993)

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal (Archive #971)

Lamrim teachings given by Lama Zopa Rinpoche at the 26th Kopan Meditation Course, held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, in Nov–Dec 1993. Highlights include teachings on tonglen (taking and giving) in Lecture 4, a meditation on emptiness in Lecture 8, and teachings on karma and the four suffering results of nonvirtuous actions in Lecture 11 and Lecture 14. 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.

11. Understanding Karma

December 12, 1993

We need to know that everything comes from the mind

As I mentioned at other times, whether our everyday life activities become the cause of happiness or the cause of suffering depends on our attitude in life, whether our attitude for doing the action is virtuous, and hence Dharma, or not. Whether the action becomes the cause of happiness or suffering, whether it is a Dharma action or not, depends on whether the attitude of our daily life is virtuous or not.

It is not sufficient that we have heard the Dharma, the teachings that reveal the path to peace and happiness. Even explaining the Dharma is not sufficient for it to become Dharma. It is not even sufficient that the subject we are studying or explaining is Mahayana, the path that directs us toward enlightenment.

Whatever we do must become the cause to enlighten other sentient beings. So, the present action we are doing here, explaining the Dharma or listening to the teachings, should become the cause for us to achieve enlightenment, which means that itself becomes the cause to enlighten every other suffering sentient being.

Traditionally, when the lamrim is taught, the teacher follows the outlines of the text from beginning to end. That is what I used to do in the past but somehow, in recent years, I’ve broken with that tradition. In the past, I used to very much stick with the outlines, to follow the text as much as possible. I did it for many years, never finishing the whole subject but just as much as possible by follow the outlines. Somehow, in recent years, I haven’t been following the text, just jumping about everywhere, like a jumping bean. [Rinpoche and students laugh] Like that little animal that looks like half a seed and jumps!

I think basically it can be done either way as an introduction, as long as it is done skillfully. If you know how to present it, I think it can be done either way, generally speaking, either the traditional way or by depending on whichever subject is more beneficial without following the outlines. So, somehow, I prefer that way as an introduction, without following the outlines, just whichever subject is most suitable at the time. That’s the way I have been teaching, to lay the foundation.

Actually, having the part of the subject on how everything comes from the mind and those things as the introduction seems to be the main thing, the most important change [to the traditional approach]. Everything coming from the mind is the reality according to life’s experience. Happiness and problems appear to come from outside when we don’t analyze it, but if we analyze it, it does not come from outside but from our own mind. When we have problems in life, it looks like they come from the outside; when we are successful, it too seems to come from the outside. But if we analyze it, that is not so; it all comes from our own mind.

So, I think this is the very root, this is the very fundamental introduction to Buddhism, like changing the earth and sky. This is the reality, but when we live our life with the misconception of something that is other than reality, then we face big confusion. It brings fundamental problems and we suffer. We believe in something other than reality, and then, when things don’t manifest in accordance with our belief, we suffer. This is what makes the suffering of samsara endless.

In the same way, when we always obscure our mind with this wrong belief, we cannot liberate others; we cannot give them the right view, the right understanding. We cannot give the right wisdom, Dharma wisdom, to others, what is to be practiced and what is to be abandoned. We cannot really help others. The real help is helping their mind, so if we ourselves are ignorant, if we ourselves are hallucinated, we cannot liberate others.

So, this introduction is the very root or the fundamental method to liberate ourselves from the suffering, from the hallucinations, from the wrong view, the wrong concepts. We need more than an intellectual understanding, we must meditate intensely on these points to see how everything comes from the mind. Even those of us who met the Dharma many years ago, who have quite a bit of intellectual understanding of the Dharma, because we haven’t really meditated well, intensely, because we haven’t practiced mindfulness in everyday life on these fundamental subjects, according to the reality of phenomena, we have been unable to continuously practice the Dharma and therefore we have had to experience so many obstacles arising in our practice.

Actually, I’ve explained this point in recent weeks. It is a very profound subject, something that is worthwhile meditating solely on, even if we have to spend many years on it. No question about emptiness, even if it takes many hundreds of lifetimes, even if it takes eons to realize emptiness, to understand karma, it is extremely worthwhile because, by putting effort into it, we can see what is the root of all suffering, of all samsara, this particular hallucinated mind of ignorance. And we can see that the only direct remedy is by realizing emptiness. There is no other solution; there is no other way to escape from the whole of suffering and its causes, there is no other way to liberate other sentient beings from the entire suffering of samsara, from all those various problems of the human, god and demigod realms, from all the various problems of hell, hungry ghost and animal realms, to liberate others from all the sufferings by liberating them from the cause, karma and delusion, the root, this ignorance.

Another thing is that this is just one time work. It’s not that we must repeat it again and again. It’s not like the work of this life, the work of samsara, where there is no end, there is no way to ever finish it. We repeat again and again, over and over, without end. Dharma work is one time work, actualizing the path is one time, something we do once and then it’s finished. Once it’s actualized, completed, there is nothing to repeat.

Therefore, no matter how many eons it takes to realize the subjects of the Dharma, it is extremely worthwhile. We have been doing every type of samsaric work numberless times from beginningless rebirths, from time without beginning, and the result is we are still caught in problems, we are still caught in samsara. So, this meditation I have introduced is something to practice for years and years, for your whole life. This fundamental meditation is like an atomic bomb. It is the solution to even solve everyday problems.

Understanding karma is the foundation for preliminary practices

Understanding the Buddhadharma cannot happen without having created the causes and conditions, and we need to have a lot of merit to do that. Therefore we can’t expect everyone to be able to understand and practice it, especially having to listen to my language, which is broken, unclear, with lots of noises in between, lots of spaces. When there is no space, there are a lot of noises! [Rinpoche and students laugh] Noises that are disturbing to the ears and heart!

But if you know how to listen, it’s not like a professor giving a lecture. You need to know how to listen, how to analyze the essence of the talk to extract the meaning. As I mentioned before, because it depends on causes and conditions, we can’t expect everyone to understand, but if you check, if you concentrate on the essence of the subject and try to understand the point, my talks may not be entirely meaningless. Even though I repeat it many times to try to get to the point, to get clarity, sometimes by repeating more it becomes more confusing! The main thing is to check the meaning of the subject, the point it contains, and to try to understand. Then these talks can be useful. They may not be completely meaningless. Even though you might feel the talks don’t have much meaning, if you can even understand the subject intellectually, it might make sense later when your mind is ready.

With this previous subject, the introduction of karma, how everything comes from the mind, we are then able to understand karma, and then understanding karma shows again how whatever we experience in life comes from our own mind. The teachings on karma show in a more elaborate way how whatever we experience in life comes from our own mind. This can be a foundation for the preliminary practices.

We need that foundation when we talk about the preliminary practices found in the jorchö, because these are the traditional practices that all the lineage lamas of the past have practiced and used in order to become enlightened, to realize the path and become enlightened in order to be able to enlighten numberless other sentient beings. So, when we talk about preliminary practices there needs to be this strong foundation, otherwise the various specific practices we do for purification and to accumulate merit don’t have much feeling. It’s difficult to understand the purpose of doing them.

For example, making offerings to the holy objects, water bowl offerings, mandala offerings or prostrations, all these practices create the conditions for gaining realizations. Even though we might know this intellectually, even though it has been explained, we still don’t have any strong feeling for the practices. Somehow, they don’t make much sense. However, having this foundation helps to break the fundamental wrong concepts and to have a deeper feeling when the specific practices are explained. Talking about the view of emptiness and understanding karma, both of those, are supposed to be the introduction to the jorchö preliminary practices.

Positive and negative karmic results

There are some oral transmissions to be done this morning. Before that, the subject I stopped halfway through last night was explaining the five powers within thought transformation, and then more talks on how to use happiness and suffering on the path to enlightenment. I think maybe I’ll mention those another time.

For the oral transmissions, we need more details on karma. Since I explained that in a deeper way, how whatever we experience in life, happiness or suffering, comes from our mind, is explained through the twelve links. The external example is how a plant grows. That is how the twelve links were explained by the Buddha in the sutra called the Rice Seedling Sutra (Skt: Shalistambasutra; Tib: sa ly ljang ba’i mdo). Whichever way we look at it, the meditation on the twelve links basically shows how this samsara is a creation of our own mind, our karma and delusions and the root, ignorance. That’s why its nature is suffering.

But it is more effective to look at this more extensively, seeing not just how samsara comes from our mind, our karma and delusion, but also, as I explained the other night, how the sense appearances are appearances of our mind, coming from our consciousness, which comes from karma, which comes from ignorance. By meeting the objects, there is the appearance of desirable, undesirable and neutral objects, but these appearances come from the mind. We talked before about how all appearances are creations of our mind.

By our senses contacting these desirable, undesirable and neutral objects, feelings are created, pleasant, unpleasant and indifferent feelings. So, again we can see that these feelings, like the aggregates and the appearances, come from the mind. The whole thing comes from the mind, from karma and delusions, which come from the root, ignorance.

We can go into more detail on how specific problems come from the ripening of specific karma, from which specific attitude, from which specific action. There are detailed explanations of this in the sutra teachings on the ten bhumis, how these specific problems of life come from those specific negative karmas, which means that the happinesses of life, which are the opposite of this, come from the opposite positive actions, from morality.

It shows how the problems we have just being born in the human realm are the possessed results of negative karma. We have these problems such as food having very little protein, medicine being unable to cure us, crops becoming less and less nutritious. Even when we eat food we are unable to digest it, or eating food becomes a condition for contracting a disease. Sometimes I meet people who have a digestion problem. Even this is the result of past negative karma; it is the possessed result of having taken another’s life, killing.

There are four suffering results of the negative karma of killing. These results become negative karma because they are done out of the ego, the self-cherishing thought, as well as ignorance, anger, attachment. Because of this impure motivation, that action of killing becomes negative karma. It’s made negative by the impure mind.

It brings problems of life such as an untimely death happening. Even though our length of life is not finished, even though we could live longer, suddenly untimely death happens. We experience a shortish life, or while we are alive we have to live in a very dusty place, one that is not glorious, magnificent. Experiences such as this are the possessed result of the past negative karma of killing. Experiencing a short life, being killed by others and so forth, or by disease, these two things—a short life and disease—are experiencing the result similar to the cause of the negative karma of killing.

Then, creating the result similar to the cause, even if we are born as a human being again, we repeat the negative karma of killing due to the habits of our past lives, the imprints of our past lives’ negative karma. It’s like somebody who from childhood likes fishing and hunting very much and kills without thinking about it.

Then, the ripening aspect result is rebirth in the lower realms. This depends on how heavy the karma is. The heaviest result is rebirth in the hell realm, then the hungry ghost and animal realms. So again, from what Buddha, the Omniscient One, has explained, we can understand how all these problems come from our own mind, from the past karma of killing, which became negative due to the impure negative mind.

The opposite of this is the happiness and peace that we need, that we are looking for. I don’t have to repeat them one by one. Just think of the opposite of each one. For example, the opposite to the ripening aspect result of rebirth in the lower realms is rebirth in the body of a happy migratory being, such as a god or human body. And the opposite to experiencing the result similar to the cause of a short life and disease is having a long and healthy life, without disease and being in a place where there is medicine and food, and the food has a lot of protein and doesn’t cause disease but becomes the condition for a long and healthy life. All these opposite things are the happiness we want, what we are looking for every day.

For example, in the West people spend an unbelievable amount of time, effort and money on exercising to be healthy, with machines and legs moving like this. [Rinpoche demonstrates. Rinpoche and students laugh] People make up all sorts of methods, whether it is for their own business or to be good for the heart, or to benefit others. Then, people try to learn whatever method there is in the world to be healthy, by exercising or whatever. They do running in the mountains in the hot weather, running and juggling? Jiggling? [Students: Jogging.] They run in the hot sun, putting so much effort into being healthy. I was going to say something, but I’ve forgotten.

Anyway, looking for ways to be healthy becomes the greatest object of concentration, the greatest aim in life. So, all these opposite things such as peace and happiness come from positive karma, practicing morality, which in this case means living in the vow to not kill, to abstain from killing, having made the vow in relation to the object, sentient beings, and determining to achieve enlightenment in order to free all sentient beings from suffering and its causes and lead them to peerless happiness, full enlightenment.

The meaning of “root guru”

Therefore, these holy objects are called the “merit field.” In the thangkas, the paintings of the lineage lamas, there are the direct and indirect gurus, then the lineage lamas of the path, the enlightened beings, the different aspects of the deities according to the four types of tantra. Then there are nirmanakaya aspect buddhas, the one thousand buddhas of the fortunate eon, the Medicine Buddha, the Thirty-five Buddhas and so forth. Then there are the bodhisattvas, the arhats, the dakas, dakinis and protectors.

These are various aspect for different functions, and all these are manifestations of one being. If I relate this meditation to myself, all these are the embodiment of one being, my root guru, His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche, the one who first gave me the teachings on the steps of the path to enlightenment. All these are the embodiment of one being, the root guru. This is what we have to realize. All these different manifestations are the embodiment of one being, our own root guru. That is the ultimate meaning of “root guru.” But again, we have to think of the ultimate meaning of the guru. Only then can we understand how all these manifestations are the embodiment of the root guru, that is, the mind of all the buddhas, the dharmakaya or the primordial mind, that which is the unification of method and wisdom, the transcendental wisdom of nondual bliss and voidness, that which has no beginning and no end, that which is eternal.

This is exactly what it means. This is how to think of the meaning of the guru, this dharmakaya, bound with the infinite compassion embracing all of us sentient beings. This primordial mind that is nondual bliss and voidness is bound with the compassion; it has completed the compassion embracing all of us sentient beings. Because of this compassion, this dharmakaya, this transcendental wisdom, is the absolute guru.

There is the conventional guru and the absolute guru. The conventional guru is the ordinary aspect we are able to directly communicate with. We are able to see and receive teachings and guidance from this conventional guru, leading us to happiness, to liberation from samsara and to the highest state, full enlightenment. This transcendental wisdom, this dharmakaya that I have described before, is the absolute guru.

Because it is bound with infinite compassion embracing all of us sentient beings, because that compassion has been completed, and because our ordinary minds are impure, obscured, having so many mistakes and wrong views, because of that, if this absolute guru were to manifest in the aspect of the Buddha, we would not be able see them at the moment with this present state of mind. We do not have the karma, the pure mind, therefore we cannot see the guru in pure view, in the aspect of the Buddha, and the absolute guru cannot directly guide us in the pure aspect of the Buddha, which has only qualities, which has no mistakes, no suffering, no delusions, at all.

The absolute guru is bound with the infinite compassion for all of us sentient beings, therefore the absolute guru manifests in ordinary aspect. The definition of “ordinary aspect” is having delusions, having mistakes, having the suffering of samsara such as rebirth, old age, sickness and death and so forth. By manifesting in this ordinary, mistaken aspect, the absolute guru can directly guide us sentient beings by revealing the various means to happiness, to liberation from samsara and to peerless happiness, full enlightenment. This is the only aspect that we sentient beings have the karma to see at this moment.

These ordinary aspects are the conventional gurus. They are manifestations of the absolute guru, the dharmakaya, the transcendental wisdom of nondual bliss and voidness, this primordial mind that is eternal, that has no beginning and no end.

Maybe I’ll put it this way. When sentient beings actualize the path of method and wisdom by removing both the gross disturbing-thought obscurations and the subtle obscurations, all the mistakes of the mind, at that time the mental continuum becomes the absolute guru, the primordial mind, the transcendental wisdom of nondual bliss and voidness. Each sentient being who becomes enlightened achieves the state of the absolute guru at that time.

That means that the numberless sentient beings who have become buddhas, who have achieved [the state of absolute] guru, all their holy minds are one, they are inseparable. There are many different aspects of the Buddha, but the mind is one, like one person manifesting in many billions, many zillions of forms through miraculous powers. So, all the buddhas are one mind, just in different aspects.

By thinking of what I said originally, that the primordial mind, the dharmakaya—that which has no beginning and no end—is eternal, how this is the absolute guru, the rest of the ideas are easier to understand. If we don’t understand exactly what the absolute guru means, then it is difficult to understand the rest of the explanation on how all the buddhas are different aspects but one mind.

So now you can see that from this absolute guru all the buddhas happen, all the Dharma happens, all the Sangha happens, all the objects of refuge happen. They all come from the absolute guru. Without the absolute guru, there is no object of refuge to purify our negative karmas that are the cause of the lower realms and the cause of samsara. There is no way to actualize the true path and the true cessation of suffering; there is no way to be liberated from the entire suffering and its causes; there is no way to achieve peerless happiness, full enlightenment. The conclusion is that without the absolute guru there is no way to achieve any happiness.

The guru is the merit field

Now it should make some sense. All these many different aspects of the merit field that we visualize, starting from the direct and indirect lineage lamas down to the Dharma protectors, all these are embodiments of one being, the root guru.

With the previous explanation, it now makes sense, there is truth in this. All these various aspects of the merit field are all embodied into one, integrated into one, the root guru, and the root guru is one manifesting into many. Like that, one manifests into many, and many are embodied in one.

And this is visualized on the lotus, according to this particular visualization. There are eleven levels of petals, then the different aspects of the merit field are visualized in their categories. All these are on thrones and the thrones are lifted on the trunk of the tree with branches that spread out.

In the painting you see there is tree and then on the tree there is the merit field seated on it, with the lineage lamas and so forth. Because of that, many people call it the “guru tree” or the “assembly tree.” That is mistaken. The name that is written is “merit field.” The merit field, the field we get merit from, is like the external seed we get fruit from or the crops that allow us to have life and survive. By receiving crops from the field, we live our life and have all the enjoyments. This is a field like that, so we can accumulate merit, we can plant the merit seeds to achieve the stem—the realizations of the path—and then the fruit—happiness, success, the long-term happiness of future lives, liberation and full enlightenment. That is like the fruit, like the crop.

I was trying to tell you the correct label. It should not be “guru tree” or “assembly tree” but “merit field.” I meant just to say that but it’s become a long explanation. [Rinpoche laughs] But in this short explanation, the meaning of the guru contains the essential meditation, the heart, of the guru yoga practice.

When we do a guru yoga practice, whether it’s an extensive one, like the Guru Puja or a preparatory practice or the Six-session Guru Yoga practice with any deity, with this understanding of exactly what the guru means, there is a deeper meaning in doing this guru yoga practice. Put it this way, we can transform the ordinary mind that sees the guru in an ordinary aspect into a pure mind, a mind of pure devotion, by seeing the guru in the aspect of the Buddha, inseparable from the Buddha, for example, inseparable from Lama Tsongkhapa, the enlightened being.

We can see Lama Tsongkhapa as an enlightened being by understanding his amazing story, how he achieved all the incredible attainments of the whole path to enlightenment, how he practiced and was of unbelievable benefit for the teachings of the Buddha, for sentient beings, by writing, debating and explaining the Dharma. In so many ways he was of incredible extensive benefit and due to special reasons, to best benefit the teachings, for sentient beings, even though he could have become enlightened in a human body, he became enlightened in the intermediate stage.

So, we look at the guru and see them in the aspect of Lama Tsongkhapa, inseparable from Tsongkhapa or inseparable from Manjushri, Chenrezig, Vajrapani or any aspect of an enlightened being. It’s the same meaning, inseparable from any other deity or buddha.

There is more logic with this understanding. It is not just visualizing the guru from our side. We are trying to see the guru in the pure aspect of the Buddha so that we can stop our negative thoughts of heresy, anger and so forth from arising. It stops all the thoughts of looking at the guru as ordinary, the obstacles in relation to the virtuous friend, that become the greatest obstacles for developing the mind on the path to enlightenment. By receiving the blessings of the guru that come from having devotion, this positive mind transformed within the guru yoga, we stop the obstacles and have all the realizations of the path and we finally achieve full enlightenment.

This is the most important reason to practice guru yoga. There is all this purpose, but by understanding this short explanation, by having this understanding and meditating in this way, this is for our own development on the path to enlightenment.

However, I am not saying that I am a buddha! [Rinpoche laughs] That part is finished, so now we’ll go back to the original subject.

The four results of stealing

The first subject—the four suffering results of killing that become negative karma because the action was done out of ego and the three poisonous minds, as well as the results of the four successes or the four happinesses, which are the result of good karma, the morality of abstaining from killing—that is finished. That subject was explained.

So, now we’ll look at stealing. Due to the past karma of stealing, which became negative because it was done out of ego and the three poisonous minds, with one of those, the action of stealing has become a completed action. When I say “completed action” it means this. The material that was stolen does not belong to us but was owned by others. It is said in the teachings that it can be anything that costs any amount, even the smallest amount. There are some examples given using Tibetan coins, saying it could be something smaller than a zho kang, which is the smallest copper coin. I’m not a hundred percent sure of that, but anyway, it is something that has practically no value. However, I think the main thing is not that it has some value but that it has an owner, somebody possessing it.

For example, garbage. If we took somebody’s garbage away, I don’t think they would mind. What do you think? [Student: It would make them happy.] But if somebody in their mind possessed that garbage, if they liked it and felt that they owned it [that would be different.] Normally, when something becomes garbage nobody feels like they own it. It just becomes garbage for that person. If we peel a banana or an orange, we don’t think of the skin as ours. We don’t think, “That is my banana skin,” or “That is my orange peel.” [Rinpoche and students laugh] “This skin belongs to me!” People don’t usually think that way. Right or not?

Because they don’t believe it is theirs, if we take it, it doesn’t become stealing because there is no owner, no possessor, nobody who thinks, “This is mine.” Stealing is taking that which has not been given. This garbage is not that; it has been renounced.

But now, in this example, where there is somebody who feels like they own the garbage, who possesses it, thinking that the garbage is theirs, even though it has no value, not even a penny, by taking it away, we hurt that person. So, the value isn’t really what it costs but whether there is a mind that thinks, “This is mine.” And if we then take it away, that person is hurt. I think the definition of what is stealing is mainly to do with this. Sometimes it could even be something worthless, like garbage, but if somebody feels they own it and we take it away unoffered, that is stealing. This is just a small detail to clear things up.

So, there is the base, the object we have taken without it having been offered, and then there is the goal. In the case of stealing, not only is it having taken the thing that has not been offered, but then thinking that this thing is ours, that we now own it. When this thought happens, the action of stealing is completed. Not just thinking, “I have received it,” but also “I’ve got it,” with the sense of “This is mine.” To possess the object is the goal, and when that has been achieved, it is a complete action of stealing.

This has four suffering results. Depending on how heavy the action is, the ripening aspect result is rebirth in the lower realms. If it is heavier, then it is rebirth in the hell realm; if it is lighter, then it is rebirth in the hungry ghost or animal realm. Even when we are born in the human realm, we experience the result similar to the cause, which is poverty, like the people in Somalia and those places in Africa who are starving to death. No matter how much other countries try to help they are unable to receive the aid. The result similar to the cause is poverty, having little means of living, without food or clothing, or having to share what little we do have with others because we don’t own anything completely ourselves. These two things—not having enough and having to share what we do have—are explained in the Ten Bhumi Sutra.

Generally, the lamrim teachings mention poverty the most and how we lose what we have. Others steal from us or they confiscate our things. That is experiencing the result similar to the cause of our previous negative karma of stealing. Stealing becomes negative karma because it is done out of our negative mind. That’s why we have these results, these problems.

Another problem is the possessed result, which is to do with the place. Where we live, even though the crops are planted in the field and cultivated, they cannot grow. The seeds are destroyed by either being burned by fire or eaten by worms or rabbits or other animals and so forth. Either no crops grow, or they rot. Or even if the crops grow, the harvest is very small and the quality is very poor. Or it grows but then it becomes dry. In that way, there are so many obstacles. The conclusion is that even the crop grows, it is not a good one.

There are a few more things explained but I don’t know exactly what they mean from these two texts. So, this is the possessed result of the past negative karma of stealing. There is famine and drought. There is either too much rain and there are floods, or there is no rain and there is drought and nothing can grow. When there are famines like this, these are the possessed results of the past negative karma of stealing.

Now you can see from this explanation of karma how these problems come from the specific karma of stealing, that which has become negative. When there are so many rabbits or mice eating the crops, from this understanding of karma you can see how killing all those animals is not the solution. It doesn’t really become the solution to never having to experience the problem of the crops being eaten. Killing the animals not only doesn’t solve the problem, but we then creating another negative karma, killing them out of anger. We create another problem in this life and future lives.

The real solution is that we need to purify. Because this is the possessed result of the past negative karma of stealing, we therefore need to purify the karma. So, it’s work to be done with our own mind. Purification is work to be done just within the mind, purifying our negative karma, the seed planted on our mental continuum by past negative karma. There is a reason why rabbits, mice and so forth came into our field and ate our food. There is a connection between us and these animals, a connection in the past. In the past we did a similar thing, enjoying the food that was theirs, and there is a karmic debt. Just as when we borrow money from somebody we owe them that money, in the past we did something similar, eating their food or taking their food from them, and because that negative karma has never been purified from that time until now, the seed that was planted on the mental continuum has now manifested. Now, our crop of food is being eaten by rabbits, mice, worms, or animals like this. There is a reason why this has happened.

Sometimes, the neighbour’s field is unaffected. No animals come and eat their crop, or it is of better quality. People only look at external conditions—the condition of the soil, the way the seeds were planted, how they were looked after—but that is just looking at the conditions, not the cause. The cause is the mind of the owner of that field. The cause of having a successful crop, one not eaten by animals, not full of worms, is in the mind of the owner. Normally, only external conditions are considered, not the good karma of the owner having practiced the morality of abstaining from stealing and having made charity to other sentient beings. That is the cause and the result is crops growing well, without any obstacles, even though right next door, in the next field, in our field, there are lots of problems, such as the seeds being eaten by worms. These are common experiences.

It might be that it rains on the field of one family but not on another’s. Some areas don’t receive rain; other areas do. What decides the weather, whether it is hot or cold, wet or dry, windy or calm, even cyclones, all these weather conditions are the result of the karma of the people. Having weather that is pleasant and assists the crops is the result of positive karma, whereas bad weather that brings suffering is the result of negative karma.

Repaying the karmic debt

Lack of things is the result of stealing. We owe others because we have harmed them by taking food from them. So, it is this karmic debt that brings all these worms into our field to eat the crops, and things like that.

There is a practice we can do to pay off the karmic debt, which involves giving torma, ritual cake. The practice is actually called paying the karmic debt. There are also practices such as incense offerings, meditation practices, mantras and other practices specifically for paying off karmic debts. We can sprinkle blessed powder on the fields and dedicate for the beings in the fields, the worms and other animals, helping to protect them.

Particularly in South India, the Tibetan monasteries were given land because there was no other way to earn a living. Not having money to hire laborers, porters and other people to work in the fields, they had to do the work by themselves. This is what happened. They received support from the government and were given land in the early times so the monks could get food. In Tibet they never even planted flowers in the monastery because it was regarded as a distraction for their Dharma study. They couldn’t even plant flowers in pots in Sera, Ganden and Drepung. I didn’t have enough merit to go to Lhasa to study in Sera Monastery when Tibet was independent. I was about to go but it didn’t happen because it was foreseen that Tibet was about to overtaken by the Communist Chinese. Anyway, in Tibet you were not allowed to even plant flowers because it was regarded as a distraction to Dharma study. But in South India, there was no other way to get food, so they were given land and they had to work. The whole monastery, so many monks—even the very old monks—had to work in the fields. They did this for many years because there was no other way to earn a living. Those who had a little bit of money could hire other Indians to work in the field.

In the Tibetan settlement, because there were many worms, His Holiness Zong Rinpoche taught the other monks to do the practice of paying the karmic debt. I received many teachings and initiations from His Holiness Zong Rinpoche, as did many Westerners, many old ordained and lay students, especially from the early Dharma celebrations. We also invited Rinpoche to some of the centers, especially in America and Italy, especially to give tantra commentaries and initiations. Anyway, Rinpoche taught other monks to do these practices and he also did them with the other lamas and monks. When they did this practice of paying the karmic debts, they dedicated it for the worms and the other sentient beings that had been killed. Because they owed the karmic debt, they had to pay it back by doing this puja and offering incense. It involved a few different practices as well as reciting mantras and maybe sprinkling powder on the earth or the field, things like that. Then, they saw the worms leaving the field after the practice was done.

There are various methods for paying the karmic debt, such as reciting mantras over sand and so forth and then sprinkling it [on the ground], but that one seems to be an important one. The main reason this happens is that the owner of the field has done a similar thing, taking food from the animals. If the karma has not been purified, the karma ripens and the animals take and eat the person’s food.

I think there is a similar thing happening when you see, for example, families who keep chickens or pigs, feeding them and then killing them. I think there is a reason, a cause that happened between the animals and the people, karma that already happened in previous lives. When those chickens or pigs were human beings before, they must have done similar things, but now they are born as that animal and it is happening to them. The harm that they gave the now-human owners when they were humans and the humans were animals, is now happening to them; they are receiving the same harm of being killed.

Karma circles around like this between them. One being gives harm to another being and then, the next time, when the circumstances of rebirth have changed, the other being gives harm to the first being. The suffering goes on and on like that until they stop creating the negative karma of killing and harming each other. Until they practice morality, the karma just goes on and on; they experience the result then do the same thing again. This is what is happening when the farmer’s fields are overrun with insects.

When we kill, it shortens our own life. It shortens this life and many, many future lives. Even when we are reborn as a human being, we can die in the womb before we are even born. We can be given an abortion, or, even without that, conditions occur that cause us to die very young. Because karma is expandable, [with one act of killing] this will happen to us for many future lives, not just for one life. Even if we are born as a human being we will have a short life. So, killing others is the unhealthiest thing to do. Why? Because it shortens our current life and many future lives, even if we are born as a human being. We may still unintentionally kill some sentient being but we should attempt as much as possible to not kill intentionally. If we can do that, it is very good. That is the best way to have a long life and be healthy.

As I have already mentioned, the two aspects of experiencing the result similar to the cause for the act of committing the negative karma of killing are having a life and becoming sick. These things are explained in the texts. Therefore, to live in the vow of morality of abstaining from killing becomes the best way to be healthy, to not become sick and to have a long life.

I think we’ll stop here.

The need to purify and take vows

The conclusion is that we need to purify. That is one conclusion. We need to purify not only today’s negative karma, not only this life’s negative karma, but all the negative karma collected from beginningless rebirths. Because the continuity of delusions has no beginning, we have collected all the various negative karmas from beginningless rebirths, and there is so much on our mental continuum that we haven’t finish experiencing. So, the conclusion of talking about all this is that we need to purify with very good practices like Vajrasattva and prostrations to the Thirty-five Confession Buddhas and so forth. There are many very powerful practices we can do, especially in a strict retreat. That is extremely worthwhile.

But we should not feel that once we have purified so much negative karma in a retreat we are then free to do anything. It’s not like that! [Rinpoche and students laugh] “Now I am free, now I can do anything!” We should still practice purification however we can in everyday life. Even if it is small, even if it is only for a few minutes, we should attempt to do this, because we don’t like suffering, we don’t like to experience problems. That is the main thing. When problems come, we don’t like them, so, if that is the case, we need to purify.

Then, on top of purification, we need to take and hold as many vows as we can. There are many lay vows, like the five lay vows we take for life or the eight [Mahayana precepts]. Even if it is not possible to hold the vows until we die, we can take them for some years. That is extremely worthwhile; it’s much better than not taking any vows because we can’t take them for life. Not taking any vows would be a great loss.

To give just one example. Even if we don’t ever kill, when we have not taken the vow of not killing we don’t have the benefit of living in the vow, which brings us unbelievable merit. That doesn’t happen. The difference between just not killing and living in the vow of not killing is huge; it’s like the earth and the sky. I am not going to mention the details now because that will take time. I’ll mention them when the time comes tomorrow.

Once, in India, some butchers wanted to take the vow of not killing but felt they could not because their job meant that they had to kill. However, they only killed in the daytime, not at might, so an arhat, Gathayana, gave them the vow not to kill at night, to live in the precept just during the night rather than for the whole twenty-four hours. Similarly, there was a prostitute who could not live in the precept of abstaining from sexual misconduct during the night, so he gave her the vow of keeping it during the daytime. Even just keeping the vows for half of each day makes a huge difference, resulting in happiness now and in many future lives. The result is only happiness and a fortunate rebirth. There is further explanation on this topic but I just wanted to give this short example.

So, the conclusion from all this is that we need to purify and we need to protect our karma, we need to abstain from creating negative karma by taking vows, if possible. There is unbelievable merit in that. Which is more important, purifying or taking vows to abstain from negative conduct? Taking vows is more important because, unless we protect ourselves from creating negative karma, unless we change our attitude, then we will continue to create negative karma and so the need to purify will never end. We will always have to purify. In this life we will have to purify, in the next life we will have to purify, and in the life after that and so on. The need to purify will never end because we will keep on creating negative karma. Therefore, taking vows is the more important of the two because we must change our attitude and our actions. Since our life is very busy, we must choose the most important practice.