Kopan Course No. 31 (1998)

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal (Archive #1087)

Lamrim teachings given by Lama Zopa Rinpoche at the 31st Kopan Meditation Course, held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, in Nov–Dec 1998. 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.

3. The Root of Samsara

December 4, 1998

The emptiness of the tall finger

That is similar to the chicken and the egg! The chicken and the egg. Can you repeat it? What’s your name? [Student replies.] Eric asked about that yesterday, and I made a big noise about the label and the base, yeah? So how is it possible to clarify the base not being labeled? Is what I’m saying correct?

Do you have children? No children. In the future? No, I’m joking. Now I’m going to use that as an example. You are the son and how you relate to your parents. You are the son, but if you have a child then you are the father. Right? You’re the son of your parents but that doesn’t mean you are a son to your child, right? In relation to your son, you’re the father. Then if your child has another child, anyway, it’s similar, like that. It’s similar if the parents have a daughter, and then the daughter has a child. Relating to the parents, she is a daughter, but relating to her child, she’s the mother. So that is the same.

Now take a very thin person. I was going to use somebody as an example, but that person is not here today! So anyway, let’s use Roger. If we compare another person who is even skinnier than Roger, Roger is fat. He’s fat compared to the other person who is skinnier. Right? He’s fat, he’s a fat monk compared to another person, the one who is skinnier. But compared to somebody who is fatter than him, he is skinny. When somebody asks us about Roger, what he looks like, whether he is skinny or fat, we don’t say, “He’s both, skinny and fat.” We don’t normally say that. We say one thing or the other, whatever you feel, either “fat” or “skinny.” We don’t say “skinny fat.”

Or like this. We’re not questioning the whole hand. Of two fingers, we’re asking which is taller and which is shorter. This one is taller. Right? This one is taller, so we call it “tall” in relation to something else. We’re labeling this “taller” in relation to this shorter finger.

These are good examples to understand dependent arising, to understand how things exist being merely labeled by the mind. It helps us understand emptiness, how things have no inherent existence, how things do not exist from their own side. These simple examples are quite useful to get an idea how things come from the mind, how things exist in mere name, how they do not exist from their own side—how everything comes from the mind. Everything comes from the mind in the sense of everything being merely labeled by the mind, as in the example here of a taller finger. Without comparing something, there’s no way to make the label, “this is taller.”

By seeing these other fingers and comparing them to this finger, our mind makes the label, “taller.” That’s solely how “taller” exists, how something tall exists. That’s all. There’s nothing else. We label it and we believe in that. That’s it. There’s nothing more than that. There is nothing more to how “tall” exists. From this analysis—I will repeat it—from this we can understand that “tall” comes from the mind. There is no “tall” there. Our mind sees and by comparing it with others, our mind just makes up the label “tall” and believes in that. The “tall” is not there; it is not on this. When we do not analyze the nature of the phenomena, how they exist, it appears as if “tall” is there on this finger, but when we analyze it, we see how this “tall” came into existence. Especially when we analyze in a subtle way how it exists, how it is just the thought, by seeing this finger and comparing it to those others, then the mind just makes up the label, the name “tall” and believes in that. That’s it.

In reality there is no “tall” there. On this finger there is no “tall.” Maybe I don’t need to use the other fingers, just this one! This is a good example for us to realize what is the false view, to recognize what is called in the texts the “object to be refuted.” It is the false view, the false object. What is the inherently existent appearance of the object is that which is called the object to be refuted. It’s that which we have to realize is empty, as it is totally non-existent in reality.

Now, if that is true, when we do not meditate, when we do not analyze how “tall” exists, in daily life when we let our mind be hallucinated, after the label “tall” is merely imputed by the mind, there’s the appearance, which is a projection of the inherently existent “tall” finger. After the label, there’s the appearance of “tall” to us. We have the view of the tall finger.

While that appears to our mind as merely imputed, how does it appear back to us? Does it appear back to us as merely labeled by our mind? Or does it appear as having nothing to do with our concept? Nothing to do with our mind, nothing to do with our concept, with the mind labeling it. When the tall finger appears back to us, it appears as if it never came from the mind, it has nothing to do with our mind. It appears as coming completely, totally from its own side. It exists totally from its own side, which is totally not true, which is completely false! Right after our mind labels “tall,” immediately after that, we have the false view of “tall.” The way “tall” exists is what is merely labeled by the mind, but it doesn’t appear to us as that. It appears back to us as totally nothing to do with the mind, not in the slightest way. It appears as totally existing from its own side. There is a tall finger there completely existing from its own side.

That is a very gross hallucination, a total hallucination. That real tall finger completely existing from its own side is totally non-existent. It is totally false according to reality, according to the way it exists.

Not only that, even the view that the tall finger is labeled by mind, this view should exist, it should have something from its own side. There should be something from its own side. How is it possible that “tall” or “tall finger” exists in mere name? It’s not possible. Even though we might understand that it is labeled by mind, we can accept that, it should have something. Therefore, it’s not merely labeled by the mind.

In that way, we accept some dependent arising, but not this very subtle dependent arising. We still can’t see how this is merely labeled by the mind, how this tall finger exists being merely labeled by mind. What blocks us is believing that there should be something that exists from its own side. That wrong notion blocks us from seeing the emptiness of the “tall,” the very nature of the “tall.” It blocks us from seeing that “tall” doesn’t have any inherent existence at all. This tall phenomenon doesn’t have even the slightest inherent existence; not even one atom exists from its own side.

Seeing the very nature of “tall finger” or “tall,” seeing its emptiness is blocked by incorrectly thinking that it cannot exist in mere name, that there should be something from its side. There must be something slightly more than what is merely labeled “tall” by the mind. There must be something slightly more than that, something not just merely labeled by the mind.

This is a very subtle hallucination. This incorrect way of thinking—the wrong concept, the ignorance—as well as the appearance appearing there, this object to be refuted is very subtle. Even though we might not accept that this tall finger does not completely exist from its own side, that it depends on the mind labeling it, that it is empty of existing from its own side, we still feel there should be something extra than what is merely labeled “tall finger.” There should be something additional than what is merely labeled by mind. Believing this projection of the very subtle hallucination is ignorance, an unknowing mind.

I’m using the example here of “tall,” but if we use that same example on the I, on the self, we are satisfied that the I exists in mere name. There’s a projection, there’s something extra, something beyond that I. Where the I exists is something beyond what is merely labeled by the mind. So there’s this projection, this very subtle hallucination there. This is what is called the very subtle object to be refuted, according to the last of the four Buddhist schools of philosophy, the Prasangika Madhyamaka school. The first school is Vaibhashika or Jedrag mawa in Tibetan, then Sautrantika or Do de pa, then Mind Only school, Cittamatra or Sem tsam pa. Then there is the Madhyamaka or Middle Way school, which has two subschools, Svantrantika Madhyamaka school, Rang gyu pa, Um ma rang gyu pa, and Prasangika Madhyamaka or U ma thäl gyur pa.

This very subtle false view is that the way the I exists is not just merely labeled by mind but something slightly beyond from that, something more than that. Here we are describing that the appearance exists from its own side. It is not just merely labeled by mind but something slightly more than that, then that’s what happens—it exists from its own side.

This should actually be explained from the four schools. From the first, second, and third schools, it starts from a very gross false view. Maybe that can be another time. But now this, the way the I appears to us as something slightly more than what is merely labeled by the mind, this projection, this false I that is not there, this is the very subtle hallucination.

The definition of ignorance

It has been projected by our own ignorance, by the unknowing mind. How? The ignorance, the mind that is unknowing, does not realize that the I that appears in this way, as slightly more than what is merely labeled by the mind, that this is totally non-existent, totally empty. It’s not there. It’s totally non-existent. It is not space but like space.

This ignorance does not realize that which is the truth of I, the ultimate nature of the I. This ignorance, the mind not seeing this, leaves a negative imprint on the mental continuum. The reason it is called negative is because the result is negative. The result is samsara, it is suffering. That’s why I call this imprint negative. Having left a negative imprint on the mental continuum, this imprint projects this hallucination, this I that is not just merely labeled by the mind, that exists by its nature, that exists from its own side.

In our daily life, we have not realized this emptiness of the I, what the I, the self, is, and we do not even practice mindfulness in this, looking at how the I is empty of existing from its own side, or we do not practice mindfulness looking at how the I that appears to us is a total hallucination, how it is false. We do not look at that which is false as false; we do not look at that which is a hallucination as a hallucination. I mentioned this yesterday and at other times. Even this mindfulness meditation is not there.

The minute we let our mind to hold on to and believe that this projection, the I existing from its own side, is true, without a meditation practice, there’s no protection for our mind. We also lack the mindfulness that sees the subtle dependent arising, how the I is a dependent arising, so there’s no protection for our mind. The minute, the second we let our mind believe that this is true, we create the cause of samsara. At that moment, with that concept of an inherently existing I, that ignorance, we create the root of samsara, the root of all suffering, of all the delusions, of all afflicted emotions and karma.

This ignorance that is the first limb of the twelve dependent related limbs, the first one, this unknowing mind is a mental factor, which is sem jung in Tibetan. I don’t think “mental factor” is a satisfactory translation. It’s very rough. Worlds like “mental factor” and “consciousness” help but they are nor exact translations. [

A mental factor is a mind that arises with a principal consciousness, harmonious in five ways, in aspect, object, time, substance or essence, and maybe element, I’m not sure. Again, there are slight differences. I don’t remember clearly, but the Abhidharmakosha and different texts explain that some of the things are different, that there is a slightly different way of explaining them. Anyway, the definition of a mental factor, sem jung, is that which arises in five ways in harmony with the principal consciousness.

Anyway, with this sem jung, this mental factor, that which is ignorant, the way of apprehending the object is totally the opposite to wisdom, to the wisdom realizing selflessness. For example, relating to the I, the emptiness of the inherently existent I is realizing that the self is totally non-existent. This mental factor of ignorance apprehends the I in a totally contradictory way, the complete opposite of the wisdom realizing that this I is empty. Empty of what? Not empty of the I, but empty of the additional thing that is not there, empty of inherent existence.

There may be one word for it, I’m not sure, but this is the general definition of the root of samsara, the definition of the first limb of the twelve dependent related limbs. If we talk about this samsara, this human body, it has twelve limbs. The evolution of this samsara happens through twelve dependent related limbs, and the first limb of this human rebirth is ignorance, [the root that creates] beginningless ignorance, beginningless suffering. Knowing this is so, how can we stand that everything is like this? We must get out, we must be free from all this, liberated from all this. It is unbearable for even a minute, for even a second to not be free, to not be liberated from this ignorance, this hallucination, from all these sufferings.

The way we can be liberated from this is the lamrim, through studying and learning the lamrim. Studying doesn’t just mean studying words but studying includes gaining experience on the path. That has to come through meditation. Meditation is not just thinking, not just sitting like this. Even if we know the subject of the whole path to enlightenment, even if we know all the teachings of the entire path, even if we know by heart the entire scripture, the hundreds of volumes of sutra and tantra taught by the Buddha, if we can remember them all, that alone cannot allow us to achieve realizations. Just thinking of the path alone is not enough. Our mind needs to be free from obstacles, from defilements, from negative karma. Therefore, we need to practice purification.

Then we need to create the necessary conditions, which means collecting merit. This is like putting water on the field. When the rain comes, when we water the field, the seed can grow by being moistened by the water. All the realizations come from buddha nature, but for all the realizations to come out we need the blessings of the guru. And for that, we need to practice guru yoga or guru devotion, correctly devoting to the virtuous friend. And for that, we need to find a guru.

After we have met the guru, through correctly devoting to the virtuous friend with a guru yoga practice, from our side, from the disciple’s side, we see the guru as a buddha. Whether the guru is a buddha, whether he or she is a bodhisattva or not, by looking at the guru as a buddha, this pure mind of devotion causes us to receive the blessings of the guru. With that we see their inseparability from the Buddha. And then, from that, all the realizations come, up to enlightenment. Then we are able to do perfect work for all sentient beings.

There’s one word left, then I’ll stop!

One word. So, you see now, our mind with ignorance holds very intensely onto the belief that this I is true, that there is such an I. Due to the support of the practice of purification, reciting the names of the Thirty-five Buddhas, which is unbelievably powerful, and doing prostrations, or a Vajrasattva practice, and so forth, the negative karmas are purified. Those are the main ones but there are also other purification practices with sutra and higher tantra. However, with this help, by doing the analytical meditation, looking at the guru as a buddha from our own side, we develop strong devotion. When the devotion is very strong, so many obstacles, so many negative karmas are purified.

When the mind is in such a very positive state, due to all these conditions coming together, then even hearing just two words of a teaching on emptiness or an explanation of what is the object to be refuted, just one or two words from the guru, it just clicks. It awakens our mind when our mind is in such a positive state, when all these conditions are brought together.

For example, from the instruction of an experienced guru, even just two or three words like, “There’s a vase on the vase” or “There’s the I on the I” or something like that, this suddenly awakens our mind. Generally however, “vase on the vase” doesn’t make any sense! “I on the I” doesn’t make sense! But at that time it makes sense. It’s not talking about putting one vase on top of another vase. It doesn’t mean that. It’s an analysis, describing the false view.

During such a time, it doesn’t depend on the whole text, we just hear one or two words and it clicks; it awakens our mind. Suddenly we are able to feel, we are able to identify, like when we see a picture of a person, we are able to identify with that person. Due to a few words from an experienced lama, we are able to identify the meaning of what the text is talking about.

The fear of realizing there is no I

We can start with external objects such as colors. Because the colors are very bright, it’s easy to recognize the false view, the false object, the object to be refuted. For example, looking at the colors in the room, whatever color there is, there are especially bright objects. It’s very useful to use those to recognize the object to be refuted, to recognize the false object. From the colors of a brocade, like a brocade around a thangka, we can see exactly what these two or three words mean. We actually see in that way. Then we identify an external object, and immediately, when we analyze the I, it is like that. The refuting object, the false I, has always been there but we have not recognized it as false. From beginningless rebirths, and from our birth [in this life], we have never discovered that I, that which is false, is false. Suddenly we start to see the I is also that way.

I thought it might be twelve o’clock! I’m just trying to finish but it’s kind of taking time.

At that time, after this recognition, we suddenly discover that which we haven’t discovered before. “Oh, this is the false I. This is what is called the object to be refuted in the teachings.” We identify with that. Right on top of that, with single-pointed concentration, we see that in everyday life, with the language that we commonly use, when we say “I” we mean the real I, the I that appears from its own side, and we think that this I is there. As I mentioned before, we believe it exists on these aggregates or in this body.

In everyday language, we call this the “real I” but Western psychology calls it the “emotional I.” In the Dharma texts, this object is called the “inherently existing I.” It appears to exist by its nature, to exist inherently, to exist from its own side. This is the object to be refuted. Describing the false I in the texts, it’s exactly like that. But when we are able to recognize the false I, all these words mentioned in the philosophical texts are exact.

Before that, although we may be using these terms, our recognition of it may not be the same. Before we actually identified those words with our own view, the view of the I, even though we may be debating about this subject, talking about it, in our heart the real recognition is not there. It’s like there is a thief in the house but we recognize the thief as somebody else, as somebody who is not the thief. We regard the person who is not the thief as the thief, but we regard the one who is thief in a positive way. We don’t regard the one who is the real enemy as an enemy, but the one who is not an enemy we regard as an enemy. It’s like that. With that wrong recognition, with that incorrect kind of thinking, there’s no way to meditate on emptiness correctly.

However, after single-pointedly concentrating on this I, this emotional I, we can now recognize how it is false, it is the object to be refuted. While we are single-pointedly concentrating right on that, at the same time, we practice the mindfulness that this I is a hallucination. We then think about the meaning of the hallucination, that it doesn’t exist.

At that time, it’s just a second. What we see in that second is that this I cannot stay. This I that we have been holding onto so intensely, without choice, without freedom, because it is false, it doesn’t exist at all. At that time, it doesn’t go anywhere. It’s not as if it was there but we cause it to go somewhere else. This I doesn’t go anywhere, it’s just non-existent. The I doesn’t go anywhere, it doesn’t come out of the ears or the hands. It’s just here and we have been holding onto it. But suddenly there’s nothing there. There’s no I there. Suddenly there’s nothing to hold onto, there’s no I to hold onto.

It is extremely important to remember this, because we have been holding onto this I, not just from this morning, not just from the time of birth, but from beginningless time, from beginningless rebirths. We have been holding onto that there is something there. That there is a real I to hold onto. From beginningless rebirths, we have been holding onto this.

Only now we can see it is non-existent. Therefore, when they see this, those who have less merit, lower intelligent beings, have unbelievable fear, like no other fear. It’s not the fear of somebody threatening you. This fear is a much, much deeper fear because we have been believing this from beginningless lifetimes. Sorry! I’m repeating it over and over! But because we have been holding onto this as true from beginningless rebirths, only now, we see this I which is non-existent as non-existent. So, of course, unbelievable fear would come. Not for everybody though. It is said in the teachings that the higher intelligent beings, whether they are bodhisattvas or not, those who have much merit, for them there is incredible joy. There is so much joy, there are tears and the hairs stand up. I’m not sure which hair! I don’t think it’s this hair that stands up!

For them, there is unbelievable bliss or joy. Tears come out. But for those who have less merit, who have lower intelligence, unbelievable fear comes at that time. So, at that time, we have to be very careful. Therefore, it is very important to have a complete understanding of the teachings on emptiness. We need to have received the teachings as extensively as possible and know how to guide ourselves.

Unless we have a complete understanding of the teachings on emptiness and especially what happens to the mental state when we start to realize emptiness, this unbelievable fear comes. Then we are so scared as we start to realize emptiness. We are just about to really become the most fortunate being, but then, because we don’t have guidance, because we have no idea what’s happening to us, what we are going through, unbelievable fear comes as we start to lose the I.

Because we haven’t heard of this experience, we fear we might be falling into nihilism. Actually, we are starting to become the most fortunate being by realizing emptiness. This is the time we cut the root of samsara, the root of the oceans of samsaric suffering. But, not having received or not having understood the teachings of this experience, we may make a huge mistake, thinking that this is not realizing emptiness but falling in nihilism. Then we may try to escape, try to stop the experience. Stopping the experience becomes an obstacle to realizing emptiness.

The fear is something very intense. What can happen is we are so fearful we don’t want to think about it, to analyze the emptiness of the I. An example is having eaten some food that makes us so sick for weeks and months, that almost kills us. After that, we don’t want to even think about that food. Anyway, that’s an example. What can happen is that we completely stop. Nobody is stopping us, but we stop. We become an obstacle to ourselves realizing emptiness. This is the only way we can achieve liberation from samsara, the only way to be totally liberated from all suffering and its causes, and we become an obstacle to this.

What should we do? We should remember the teachings if we have received them, especially the experiential teachings, the teachings on what kind of experience will happen at that time. Then, if we are of lower intelligence, we will already know this incredible fear will come and we will know that we will have to go through it in order to realize emptiness. It’s like crossing a river. So, there is no problem. We don’t have to become an obstacle to ourselves.

The Buddha said

The Great Ones do not wash away sin with water;
they do not rid beings of suffering with their hands;
they do not transfer realizations of suchness onto others.
They liberate by teaching the truth of suchness.

This is how the Great Ones guide sentient beings, not by washing the negative karma of sentient beings with water, not like taking a thorn out with the hand, and not by transferring their realizations to sentient beings, like in a hospital transplanting the brain or heart from a monkey’s heart into a human or a human heart into a monkey. The way the Buddha guides and liberates sentient beings from suffering is by revealing the truth.

As we are about to realize emptiness, this is what is happening to us. Now we are realizing the truth that the Buddha revealed, we are experiencing it. Therefore, if before we go through this, if we don’t have an idea beforehand, our attitude can become a great obstacle to realizing this very precious truth. That is the purpose of the Buddha coming into this world, why he descended in this world. He revealed the truth of suffering and the truth of the cause of suffering, karma and delusion.

Realizing the object that this ignorance apprehends and holds onto is the way to cut this ignorance. Our ignorance holds onto this I, not this merely labeled I that exists but this real I, which appears to exist from its own side. We hold onto this real I and believe it is true a hundred percent.

Why is this mental factor a wrong concept? Why is this a false mind? Because if we analyze, the minute we analyze whether this object that ignorance believes in and holds onto is really there, it becomes unclear. Instead of finding that it really exists, instead of discovering it is really there, it immediately becomes unclear. The existence of that real I, appearing from there, becomes unclear. When we start to analyze, what we discover is that it is not there. Not the slightest atom of it is there. It is totally non-existent.

There is no part of the inherently existent I that exists. Not even the slightest atom of it is there; it’s totally non-existent. When we analyze, when we do the meditation, what we have to realize is that it’s totally non-existent. That disproves the concept that believes in the projection of the inherently existing I, the mind that thinks the aggregates, the association of the body and mind, are the I and makes up the label, “I.” The mind first thinks of these aggregates, the base. Now I’m coming down to the base!

The mind thinks of the base, the aggregates, and then makes up the label, “I.” That mind merely imputes the I. Then, right after that, the negative imprint left on the mental continuum by the past ignorance decorates, projects inherent existence. It decorates the inherently existent appearance on the merely labeled I. I often use the example of putting paintings or the frames on the wall or putting a carpet on the floor or a brocade on the table, covering it. It’s similar to a movie camera taking pictures of many people, mountains, countries, so many objects, then it leaves a negative on a roll of film, then later through a projector, with electricity, this machine is able to project the images on a movie or TV screen.

Also, with photos, using chemicals and things, I don’t know how it is done exactly, many things can be printed from the negative film. That’s like the imprint left on the mental continuum by ignorance. Now, from that negative roll, when it’s processed with chemicals or liquid or whatever, it gets printed on paper and appears back to us. So the photo happened, then appears to us. Like that, the past ignorance left an imprint on the mental continuum and, right after the mind that thinks the aggregates, the base, exists, it makes up the label “I.” Then depending on what the body or the mind does, it also makes up the label, “action” for the I—walking, sitting, sleeping, working, and so forth.

The moment the mind merely labels the I, the negative imprint left by the past ignorance immediately projects this hallucination, this inherently existent appearance. Actually, when the I appears back to us after being merely labeled, it should appear back as merely labeled by the mind. It should appear back like that, but why doesn’t it?

There’s a big question there, a very important question. When it appears back to us, when it comes into existence, it’s merely labeled by the mind but when it appears back to us, why doesn’t it appear merely labeled by the mind? Why does it appear as something else that is totally the opposite, as not merely labeled by mind? There is a big pile of hallucinations on that. There are many levels of hallucination. It is because we have many wrong concepts. There is the very subtle one I explained before. Realizing that very subtle one, something which is a little extra than what is merely labeled by mind, by realizing that, only realizing that very subtle hallucination is an empty object, that is the object to be refuted, according to the Madhyamaka school, the fourth one, especially, particularly the subschool, the Prasangika school. In that school’s view, that is the object to be refuted.

By only realizing this, the emptiness of that little something left there, after all these analyses, it shows the many other wrong views held by the other schools. When we see this is empty, only then can we realize the ultimate nature of the I, only then can we see the middle way view, the Madhyamaka view. Otherwise, we either fall into nihilism or externalism. Nihilism is where nothing exists; there’s no I. If we fall into nihilism, it is extremely dangerous. There’s no I, no karma, no reincarnation, all these. The other dangerous view is externalism, seeing the I in a very gross way, like the atman, something that is permanent, inherently existent. Here we’re talking about something very subtle, the I not merely labeled by mind, existing from its own side. We fall into the other extreme, externalism. Both of these views are false.

When we analyze what the ignorance holds onto, I mentioned about the projection on the merely labeled I. Why is there this hallucination? Why does the I appear not merely labeled by mind? Because there is a projection of inherent existence on the merely labeled I from the negative imprint left by ignorance. That is the reason why, in our view when we do not analyze, when we let our mind be hallucinated, there is the appearance that there is a real I inside this body. However, without adding the word “real,” there is an I inside this body, on this group of the five aggregates, on this association of body and mind, like a tablecloth covering a table.

That is the reason why we have this view that there is an I there, inside this body—I’m not sure where, maybe inside the chest or somewhere—or on this association of body and mind. There is an I there on this base. But when we analyze we don’t find the I there. There are two types of I and we cannot find either. We cannot find the false I, the inherently existent I, the independent I, the one not merely labeled by the mind, the I on this base inside the body. We cannot find it anywhere, from the tip of the hair down to the toes. Besides that, we cannot even find the I that exists, that which is merely labeled by the mind. We cannot find the inherently existent I, the I that appears to us not merely labeled by mind, which means a real I appearing from there, and besides that we cannot find the one on the base, the aggregates, the association of the body and mind. Neither on these nor anywhere. We cannot find this anywhere.

But we can find the merely labeled I in this world. We can find it now in Nepal. We can find it at Kopan. During these few days this merely labeled I is in Nepal, it’s in Kathmandu, at Kopan. Maybe it can be found at Kopan! It can be found in this gompa, in this meditation hall on this cushion!

But you cannot find it in this body. We can find the merely labeled I even on this cushion but we cannot find it in this body. We cannot find the merely labeled I on this association of the body and the mind, or the base that is the collection of the five aggregates. We cannot even find it on this. What normally exists is the merely labeled I, but even this we cannot find in this body, on this association of body and mind, on these aggregates, on this base. This collection of the five aggregates is the valid base that can receive the label “I,” but this I cannot be found on this base; it doesn’t exist on this base.

The two analyses are that. Since we were born, since this morning, according to our recollection, the I that has been appearing to us is the I in this body or the I on these aggregates. We assume that there is an I on these aggregates, on this base. As I mentioned before, this is the projection, the hallucination, the inherently existent appearance not decorated by the ignorance. It appears like this to us, and then we apprehend it that way, we believe that, we hold onto that, thinking it is real. Our mind thinking this is true and holding onto it is the ignorance.

This has been happening not only from this morning, not only from birth, but from beginningless rebirths. Why? Why are we born in our mother’s womb holding this package of hallucinations and wrong concepts? Why did we come from our mother’s womb like this? Why were we conceived in our mother’s womb with this ignorance, with this hallucination of a false I?

That is because in previous lives we didn’t realize emptiness and therefore we are now unable to recognize that this false I is false. We have also never ceased the imprints by actualizing the remedial path, method and wisdom. We have never ceased the subtle imprint of the ignorance, this unknowing mind, by actualizing the remedy, the whole path. If we had been able to destroy that imprint by purifying it with the remedy, the path of method and wisdom, we wouldn’t have any more hallucination. There wouldn’t be this dualistic view, this projection of an inherently existent appearance, because there would be nothing to project from the mind, there would be no negative imprint. That subtle negative imprint that projects this hallucination would not be there. We would be totally free from this hallucination. But because that didn’t happen in our past lives, we have been born into this life with all this total hallucination and ignorance.

From time without beginning we have had this hallucination. Even the Buddha’s omniscient mind cannot see the beginning of our hallucination, the beginning of this ignorance. That means there is no beginning. That shows how long we have been suffering. Without beginning, we have been reincarnating in samsara, we have been suffering of samsara.

Seeing this hallucination brings compassion

I started this talk a few days ago but never completed it. I meant to emphasize how to do the best in our life, but I didn’t mention that. I mentioned the conclusion but although I meant to talk in this way, to bring this out, it didn’t happen.

Anyway, this how our life has been. The continuation of our suffering of samsara has no beginning. The cause did not have a beginning, the continuation of the cause—the ignorance, the hallucination—did not have a beginning. When you think about it, it’s unbearable, unimaginable. It’s like a prisoner caught in a prison who wants to be free. Every second, they want to get out of this prison. Like that, we can’t stand it for even a second, we want to be out of this. If we analyze like this, thinking how much we have been suffering by being in samsara with all this hallucination, this ignorance, we can’t stand being in samsara for even a second.

Then of course if we think of other sentient beings, who are numberless, they have been suffering in exactly the same way from time without beginning. So of course, then we feel it is so unbearable and, besides that, when we meditate on their kindness, we feel they are so precious. Besides meditating on their kindness, we feel them in our heart. By feeling how unbearable their suffering is, we develop compassion. Having renunciation to our own suffering and the cause of suffering helps us generate very deep compassion.

This is not just compassion for somebody who is sick, for a sick dog or cat, or for a bird or a butterfly—a compassionate butterfly! It’s not like that. This is also compassion for our enemy, for the one who abuses us, who treats us badly, very unbearable compassion. As I mentioned yesterday, that compassion makes us have bodhicitta because it makes us want to bring them to enlightenment, to free them from all their suffering. Our compassion makes us do the work for others, to lead them from suffering and bring them to enlightenment.

There are two aspects of the altruistic mind. The first is seeking to work for others due to the compassion that comes, to bring them to enlightenment. Then, the second is the means to do this, the thought of seeking enlightenment for ourselves to be able to do this. So before that, there is the thought of seeking to work for others. Because of that, there comes the thought of seeking to achieve enlightenment. So there’s bodhicitta. By having that realization, we enter the Mahayana path. Then we become a real holy being, a real fortunate being. We take responsibility for the numberless sentient beings: the numberless hell beings, the numberless hungry ghosts, the numberless animals, the numberless human beings, the numberless gods and demigods, and the numberless intermediate state beings—to free the numberless obscured, suffering sentient beings from all the sufferings and to bring them to enlightenment. We take that total responsibility on ourselves, determining, “I will do it, I will do it by myself.”

Having that attitude, taking universal responsibility from the heart, we become a bodhisattva, a really holy being. Even if every person in the world, even if every sentient being criticizes us, becomes unhappy or angry with us, even if they don’t love us, from our side, by having this realization, we feel only compassion and loving kindness toward them. We feel even stronger compassion for those who abuse us. Even if everyone criticizes us, is unhappy with us or hates us, from our side, we especially feel even stronger compassion; we cherish them even more. That stronger bodhicitta makes us achieve enlightenment more quickly and be able to enlighten other sentient beings more quickly so that they don’t have to suffer for a long time.

What I was trying to say at the beginning of the talk was how important it is to do this course. That was what I was going to say before! This is a lamrim course, not just what is called meditation. There are many things called meditation. Unless we really know the Dharma, we really know what Dharma is, how to practice the Dharma or how to meditate, even these simple things, we may believe we have been meditating our whole life, but actually we have completely wasted our life. We may believe we have been meditating for thirty, forty or fifty years, but actually we have been totally wasting our life. Even the action of meditating did not become virtue. Our whole life meditating has become nonvirtue, just another additional negative karma, another cause of samsara, even of the three lower realms. If we don’t know how to meditate, even on the very basic understanding of what the Dharma is, we can waste our whole life while believing that we have been meditating all the time.

So now, here comes the importance of the lamrim. With our own experience, we first realize the truth. Then, with our own wisdom, we can liberate other sentient beings from the oceans of suffering of samsara. And not only liberate, but by revealing the skillful means, bodhicitta, the Mahayana path and then the six perfections, we can bring other sentient beings to enlightenment.

So, I think I’ll definitely stop here.