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.

4. This Precious Human Rebirth

December 5, 1998

Zina and Mummy Max

Our room [in Buxa] had a door on one side, with my bed [next to it.] Every week, I watched monks carry the bodies of those monks who had died to the cemetery. In each college there were many sections, and those from the same section would carry the body and go to cemetery to pray, before they burned the body there. So, every week we saw these processions passing through. Some monks went crazy, I think because of having lost Tibet and all their things. Many things happened.

We [met Zina when we] were staying at the new monastery of Domo Geshe Rinpoche—there were two that belonged to him, built during his past lifetime. One was old, one was new. The new one was on the road from Ghoom to Darjeeling. Lama Yeshe stayed there with me, even though he wasn’t a monk from that monastery. I was a monk from [Domo Rinpoche’s monastery in Tibet], along with the monk who took care of me in Tibet and also in India, in the early times, the one I also called my actual teacher, even though I only learned the Praises to Twenty-one Taras orally. That is all that I remember, what I was taught.

So, Lama Yeshe and I were there in this monastery. Usually tourists came to take pictures. Some went inside the temple to take some pictures, and sometimes they just stayed outside. Many tourists came; there were seasons. One day, a monk called Sound of Dragon from that monastery came to say somebody was there. He actually misunderstood, probably because he didn’t know English well. Zina was looking for Domo Geshe, but when she asked this monk where Domo Geshe was, he thought that she was looking for us, that maybe she was my friend because I used to speak some English at that time. Because of his misunderstanding, he brought her to our small room. Normally she didn’t drink Tibetan tea. She didn’t like it, but that first day when she came inside, my manager or the teacher who took care of me, offered her a big mug from the monastery’s public tea which is kept in a big pot. Because it was butter tea, made with butter and salt, normally she wouldn’t drink it, but that day she drank it completely. It was the first time.

Then, she said she had bought a book and she was looking for Domo Geshe Rinpoche and she asked some questions. Because I spoke some broken English—it’s still broken English anyway—she asked questions which Lama answered, and I tried to translate. After that, she started coming every day from about nine o’clock for two hours. She asked many questions from this book about psychic powers and astral trips and this and that! Huh? Astral travel, not astral trekking! She also had a small baby. I think she came every day for about a month, I’m not sure.

Then she asked us to come down to stay with her so she could continue to receive teachings. Where she stayed belonged to a Maharaja, a rich Indian family. The Indian family lived upstairs and she lived downstairs. In the garden, there was a tiny tea-room. I think the family used the room to drink tea. It was a small room with glass around. There was Lama Yeshe’s bed and my bed and between Lama and myself there was a table, and there was the door. For nine months, she spent time with us, mainly in the mornings. At that time we didn’t know—I mean, at that time I didn’t know, that after getting up in the morning, she spent an hour in the bathroom fixing herself up, then she came for the teaching. That was her normal style!

But there weren’t many teachings. Most of the time, she told us her stories! She had an unbelievable life with all kinds of experience. Anyway, then it was lunch time! So often, the days were like that. Then, in the afternoon, Lama Yeshe studied English and astrology. Darjeeling’s weather was very heavy, very, very wet and foggy, with rain. But Lama had so much inspiration, so he went to learn English from two very old Christian or Catholic people. Their bodies were very old, bent like this, but they were still trying to learn Tibetan language. Even though their bodies were very old, they were still able to spread Christianity and still trying to learn Tibetan. Lama went there to lean English from them.

At other times, he went to learn astrology, like the [astrological] calendar, with all the details about the planets, about the right and wrong times [to do things], with all those details, down to the hours and minutes. There was so much to learn. A Tibetan calendar has so much information, so many details in one day. He studied with a very learned Sherpa. I think maybe he was a monk, one of those who produced the calendars. He was one of the learned ones, a very nice person, a very straight person. No, I think maybe he wasn’t a monk. He drank chang, wine, and Tibetan tea and sniff? What? [Student corrects.] Snuff. Beside the window there was snuff and wine and Tibetan tea, butter tea. That was his manner, but he was quite a spiritual person. I think when he passed away, he died in a meditative state.

So, Zina took care of Lama Yeshe and me for many years. Then, after that, Mama Max, who was a Negro. She had been an American school teacher for many years at different places. So, maybe she did it here for a long time. We met her due to Zina, then she took teachings from Lama. I sometimes translated for her. Later she took care of us for maybe seven years, something like that. At that time we built the two monasteries: Lawudo and here [Kopan].

Rinpoche in a Hindu cemetery

Anyway, to go back to the finish! In Delhi, near where the Tushita center had started, there was a cemetery. Once, Lama and Mama Max went to the center, but I didn’t go, I waited. I was standing at the cemetery, watching what people did with the body. When rich people came, they came with hundreds of people, with motorbikes and cars. So many people came and they had special, chopped wood, so the body would burn very easily. Before they burned the body, everybody surrounded it and paid respects to it. But when poor people brought a body, only two or three people came, and the wood was not like the rich people’s wood, but old wood, in very big chunks, and it didn’t burn easily; it took a long time.

At that time, as I was watching a very rich Indian family with many people—I think a lady brought the body—there was one man, maybe the father or husband, I’m not sure. At that time their faces were different. He asked me, “What are you doing here? Are you doing research?” I don’t remember what I said. Praying or watching, I’m not sure. So, I felt that this was the best moment to talk about Dharma to the Indians. While the family’s body was there, that was the time to discuss the reality of life. All the rest of their life is completely distracted with sense pleasures, completely occupied with worldly activities, where the mind completely thinks of something else. But now, today, this is the reality of the life, death. Because death had happened to one of the family members, their attitude was kind of so sad that this had happened, but the mind had no solution. This thing had happened, this reality of life had happened, but they didn’t know what to do. They had no answer for what to do. They were kind of lost. So I thought, normally it is very difficult to talk about the Dharma because they, especially the rich people, have no interest to listen, or they are too preoccupied with business, too preoccupied by distractions, by sense pleasures. But now today, at that time, they had time to think, they could see the reality of life. I felt that was the best time to talk to them. When death is there, it is very easy to talk about the Dharma.

I’m just talking on and on and on again. I apologize.

But it wasn’t true, because the object that the mind believes doesn’t exist. I explained yesterday why that ignorance, the concept of inherent existence, the concept of an inherently existent I, is a wrong concept. It’s similar here. This concept of permanence, regarding these things as permanent, is wrong, because the object the mind grasps on to, what it believes, is not true. These phenomena are not permanent. Their nature is transitory, even second by second, even within a second. Our mind only sees change when it becomes very gross, like when flowers wither and the colors change, when they become old, wrinkled. Only when the change becomes very gross does it become noticeable to our mind. Our mind is only able to notice the extremely gross part of the change. This is another reality of our life, another hallucination that we have in life, another hallucination in the world, looking at things as permanent, including the I, looking at the I as permanent while it is an impermanent phenomenon.

The concept of permanence cheats us

I heard a story about a Japanese boy who died in California, I think in Boulder Creek, or somewhere. Anyway, around there, Boulder Creek or Santa Cruz, a Japanese boy died. I guess he was healthy. However, he thought the world had cheated him because when death happened, it happened suddenly. Suddenly he came to know that he was dying, which he didn’t expect to happen. Therefore, as he was dying, he thought that the world had cheated him. I don’t exactly know what that means. Did it mean that the world didn’t tell him that he was going to die? Or did it mean the world didn’t advertise that he was going to die! The world didn’t advertise on TV or in the city that he was going to die. So he thought the outside world had cheated him; he thought like that.

But what he said was very interesting. He thought the outside world had cheated him because he never thought he was going to die, he didn’t really think about death before, the reality of life that he would have to go through. Then, suddenly it happened to him. Actually, the reason I say it is interesting is not necessarily because what he said was correct, but I found his comment interesting because the cheating, actually here it is not this. This concept of permanence, looking at impermanent phenomena as permanent, is just one of the hallucinations that we have. It is the long-lasting, simultaneously born thought arising that even animals have. It happens even when we are babies, before going to school, before going to kindergarten; we are born with this thought. Like the other one, the king of delusions, ignorance, the unknowing mind, the concept of an inherently existing I and so forth, just as we are born with that, we are born with this concept of permanence, with this hallucination.

The reason I find what the boy said interesting is that actually the cheating didn’t come from the outside, the cheating came from his own mind. His mind cheated him, his own concept of permanence cheated him. His concept of permanence is not the one thinking that permanent phenomena are permanent, not that one, but the concept holding onto or apprehending impermanent phenomena, transitory phenomena, as permanent. This wrong concept cheated him. This concept made him think every day that he was going to live for a long time, that he was going to live for many years. He was thinking that [he would live for a long time] even in the same year, the same month, the same week that he was going to die. While death was about to happen, even the same year, the same month, the same week, he was still thinking that he would live for a long time, for many years.

For us, this concept doesn’t allow us to think of the reality of life, how life is impermanent and that we have to experience death. This concept of permanence doesn’t allow us to think about this, to look at the nature of our life, the nature of its impermanence. It doesn’t allow us to think that not only are we going to die but that the death can happen at any time. It doesn’t allow us to learn about death, which is definitely going to come, which is going to happen to us; to learn about our death, which is going to happen, before it happens and to make preparation, to learn the methods we need to apply when the death happens. This concept of permanence doesn’t allow us to make preparations for death.

This concept makes us think that we are going to live for many years, and that delays our practice, it delays our retreat. Even though we think it is a good idea to do a retreat, to do some practice, to meditate, this concept tells us that first we need to do this or first we need to do that. First, we need to go trekking! Or first we need to do business or finish all these projects, depending on what our involvement is. “First, I will finish this project or construct this building, then later, in the future, when things are OK, I will do a retreat. When everything’s OK, I will practice Dharma!”

On the basis of the concept of permanence, attachment arises, the attachment clinging to this life, to the comfort of this life, to the pleasure of this life. Then, this mind of worldly concern is strong and the thought to practice the Dharma is weak. So, instead of thinking to practice the Dharma now, with the thought of worldly concern, with attachment, we think, “First I will do this, the work for this life, then I will do the Dharma practice later.” And so we do the work for this life, to obtain the happiness of this life.

With this idea that only when everything is OK will we practice the Dharma or do a retreat, we think like that this year and we think like that next year and the year after that. Then one day, suddenly death happens to us. Before we begin our retreat, before we begin our Dharma practice, death happens and we miss out. Death happens before the Dharma practice or the retreat or whatever, and it’s finished, life is gone, this most precious human life is gone, especially the perfect human life that is qualified with the eight freedoms and the ten richnesses, which is much more precious than all the wealth there is in this world. If we compare the value of our perfect human body with the value of all the wealth that there is on this earth, it’s nothing compared to the value of our perfect human body.

The preciousness of this body

[The value of this human body is] even more than the whole sky filled with not just gold, diamonds and billions of dollars, but the whole sky filled with wish-granting jewels. The texts use the wish-granting jewel as an example but generally we can use whatever our mind thinks of as the most precious material. Whichever one we feel is most precious is nothing compared to the value of the human body, especially the perfect human body. In the past, bodhisattvas or those who had so much merit were able to find these wish-granting jewels, collecting them from under the ocean. They then did three types of cleaning, the first one to clean off the mud and the last one with cotton to clean the bad smell. Then, they put this jewel on top of a banner on a full moon day, the fifteenth of the [lunar] month. Is it a full moon day or a full moon night? [Student: It can be both.] Anyway, on the day of the full moon night or the full moon day, or whatever, they put this jewel on top of a banner, and then whatever you pray for, any enjoyment you pray for, you are able to receive. If you want to get a Mercedes, you can. There’s another one, not a Mercedes, a new one. What? A Rolls Royce. Anyway, whatever enjoyment you request or pray for, you are able to get. The material has a power, but mainly it is because of the person’s good karma. The main answer is that the person has collected good karma in the past. That is the source of the success.

Good karma is the actual wish-fulfilling gem; it is the real wish-fulfilling gem. The real wish-fulfilling gem is the good karma, the merit created in the past with a positive mind, with a virtuous thought, having done a nonvirtuous action. Sorry! I said with a virtuous thought in the past, we did a nonvirtuous action! It just slipped out! Anyway, in the past, with a virtuous thought, we did a virtuous action, we created that merit. That good karma we created is the real precious one; that is the real jewel because our happiness only comes from that. Our happiness only comes from good karma, not from nonvirtuous actions, so that good karma is the real jewel. The real inner jewel is that.

This is similar to how, by praying to a holy being, our sicknesses are healed or we have success in business. That is similar. The idea is the same. Again, we need to have good karma from our side. So, if we have good karma, if we already have a bank of good karma, if we have opened a bank for good karma in the past, then our prayer will quickly be successful because we have already created the cause in the past. Therefore, on the basis of all that good karma, if we then make the prayer, it becomes very effective, very successful. With our good karma and the power of the enlightened beings, success comes. Whatever success we wish for, healing a sickness such as cancer and so forth, every success comes.

Now here, they [the enlightened beings] become the condition, and we are the main creator of the cause of the success. This is similar to the wish-granting jewel, how by praying we get all the enjoyments very easily—this is mainly due to our good karma, the very rich good karma we have collected. Just by wishing, just by thinking about them, we can get them. Just by thinking, things happen to us. It happens within a few days or even within the same day, or even after a few hours or even after a few minutes, things happen even without putting much effort into thinking about it.

The wish-granting jewel here is a condition. It has its own power, and that become a condition. So now, among all the materials, what is the most precious thing that we can use? We can use this comparison to realize how this precious human body, especially one qualified with eight freedoms and ten richnesses, is so precious. In order to realize this, we use something very rare, very difficult to find, or something very precious, an external phenomenon. There is nothing there among the material possessions that is the same value as our perfect human body, but the highest, most precious among all material things is the wish-granting jewel. Even though it cannot become the path to enlightenment and therefore doesn’t have the same value as our precious human body, it’s used as the only example, the most precious one among the possessions. Therefore, the wish-granting jewel is used in order to realize how precious our precious human body is, especially one qualified by eight freedoms and ten richnesses.

So now here, the sky filled with wish-granting jewels and our precious human body, even that much wealth of jewels is nothing, the value is nothing when we think of the value of our precious human body, especially the human body qualified with the eight freedoms and ten richnesses. Even the value of that much wealth, the sky filled with wish-granting jewels, is completely lost, it is nothing when we think of the value of our human body.

Why? Even though we don’t have one tiny jewel, let alone a wish-granting jewel, even though we don’t have the slightest atom of the gold, diamonds or any of those precious things, we own none of those precious materials, by having this precious human body, especially the perfect human body with its eighteen qualities, we can stop rebirth in the lower realms, the hell, hungry ghost or animal realm, and achieve the body of the happy transmigrator beings, a god’s or a human body. Achieving the perfect human body, the body that has eighteen qualities, we can practice not only Buddhadharma, but we can practice Great Vehicle teachings, the Mahayana, and not only the Mahayana bodhisattva path, but the Mahayana tantric path, Secret Mantra, Vajrayana. With this perfect human body we can practice tantra, the Mahayana Secret Mantra, Vajrayana. And if we wish, we can be born in the pure land of a buddha where there are no sufferings of rebirth, old age, sickness and death, where there are none of the sufferings, the problems we have in the human world and in the other samsaric realms. The pure land of these buddhas, such as the one of Amitabha Buddha, has no suffering. That is what defines a pure land, why it is called “pure.” It is because it is devoid of suffering. In a pure land there are none of the problems we experience.

So, if we wish to be born in one of these buddhas’ pure lands, especially the pure land of Amitabha, once we are born there, it’s impossible to be reborn in the hell, hungry ghost or animal realm. That’s the end; that’s finished. It is impossible to reincarnate in the lower realms once we are able to be born in the pure land of Amitabha Buddha. Then, if we are able to reborn in a pure land such as the Kalachakra deities’ pure land, Shambhala, we can become enlightened. There’s the opportunity to practice tantra, so we can become enlightened in that pure land in that life. And then, if we are able to reincarnate in the pure land of the deities such as Heruka, Vajrayogini and so forth, which are very blessed, very precious deities, in the pure lands of these deities, we will definitely become enlightened in that life there. That is the quickest way to achieve enlightenment. Reincarnating in such a pure land is the quickest way to become enlightened. Therefore, the practices of these deities, such as Heruka and Vajrayogini, are unbelievably precious, so unbelievably precious.

The qualities of a precious human rebirth

Other than that, we should strive to achieve another precious human body in our next life, which has seven qualities. Some countries have the culture of the caste, which is why [one of the seven qualities] talked about here is caste. It’s according to the countries where they have the culture of discrimination, accepting a caste system. According to those countries, if we have a pure or higher caste, we have much more freedom, and then we can be of more benefit to other sentient beings. Because others listen to us and respect us, that kind of thing, we can benefit others more. Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, Lama Atisha and so forth, many were born of high caste. In India, because they believe so much in the caste, those who wish to be of benefit choose to reincarnate in the higher caste so that they can most benefit others, so others will listen to and respect them. So, the main reason is to have more freedom and to be able to benefit others. That’s the main reason why somebody is going to be born in those countries. That’s why caste comes into these seven qualities.

Another quality is having a human body with a beautiful, perfect form. If we have perfect sense organs, a perfect body, that allows us to practice the Dharma if we wish to, especially taking the vows, the ordination. The other thing is that we can benefit others more. Others will follow us more, so we can benefit others more. Then having wealth and power, all this is to benefit others. Then, having the wisdom able to discriminate what is right and wrong, Dharma wisdom, the wisdom able to learn things. And then having a long and healthy life, without sickness. That’s the last one, having no sicknesses so that we can practice without obstacles.

Then also, if we wish to achieve a perfect body in the next life, having the four Mahayana Dharma wheels. That is being in a harmonious place, an environment in harmony with our Dharma practice, an environment that is also a healthy place, one that does not cause sicknesses, a good place. That is also one thing.

The other thing can be also an environment that is harmonious, in that there are no obstacles to our Dharma practice. So, it is harmonious in that way. Then there is relying upon the holy beings. If we rely upon holy beings, we become a holy being. If we rely upon the Buddha, we can then become a buddha. Normally, we rely upon a pop singer, so if we rely upon Michael Jackson, we become Michael Jackson! What’s the tall man? The basketball player. [Students: Michael Jordan.] The tall, the very tall man. Geordie? Michael what? Michael Georgie. The basketball player, the tall man? [Students: Michael George.] Michael George. Oh, there’s the tall man for running, the world’s fastest runner… What? [Student: Carl Lewis.] Carl Lu?

If we rely on Carl Lu, the world’s fastest running man, we become that! Anyway, having the most perfect human body, abiding in a harmonious environment, with good, virtuous friends—I think this refers to virtuous friends, not in the sense of the guru, but good friends who help us in our Dharma practice, who help us to be a good human being or a good practitioner—these are the four Mahayana Dharma wheels. I don’t know whether I’ve mentioned all four or not. Did I say four? [Students: Three.] Three? I don’t know the fourth one! I don’t remember. Maybe practicing the Mahayana teachings, I’m not sure. It’s gone. Do you remember? What? [Student: Inaudible.] Oh, that’s right! You’re right. Collecting merit. Merit and prayer, I think. Yeah, there’s collecting merit, but I think there’s also prayer.

So, if we wish to achieve a perfect human body that is living in the four Mahayana Dharma wheels, we can achieve that. Then, with all these conditions and without obstacles, we can successfully have the realization of the Mahayana path and then achieve enlightenment without much hardship, without taking much time.

We can also achieve [another] precious human body, which has the eight ripening aspect qualities. These are normally explained in the lamrim teachings, having a perfect body and a long life, having wealth and power and all these things. How to create the cause for each one is also explained. It is very important to know the causes of each of these qualities. Lama Tsongkhapa mentioned that in A Hymn of Experience of the Path to Enlightenment. Whose experience? Lama Tsongkhapa’s, his experience of the path to enlightenment.

This body of leisure, more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel,
Is found but once. Though difficult to obtain again,
It finishes as quickly as lightning in the sky.
Having reflected in this way, realizing that all worldly activities
Are like winnowed chaff,
You must take its essence day and night.
You, the perfect guru, practiced in this way.
I, who am seeking liberation, will also practice in this way.

I don’t remember the whole stanza but the essence of what it’s saying is that until we achieve the precious human body, the precious body that has eight qualities, we can’t have great achievements of the path, meaning we can’t achieve very high realizations. Therefore we must practice the causes of those qualities, without missing one. They have been explained in the lamrim and they are very important, so you should write them down in your notebook, in your diarrhea book!

You have a book where you write down how much money you’ve spent, what you have done today, what you experienced today—that’s your diarrhea book! So, if you have these causes written there, it reminds you all the time of those eight qualities and their causes. It reminds you to practice every day. That’s very good. Even in your room, even in your house, write down those things, make those notes. Place notes of those eight qualities and their causes around the house, wherever, in the kitchen or the dining room or wherever most people meet, or in your bedroom or even in the bathroom. Put them across from where you sit. It’s better than reading magazines!

Renounce attachment

In the teachings on impermanence, for example in A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Shantideva said we can’t be lazy but should think about death. There are words like this. There is a quotation:

You cannot be sure which will come first,
Tomorrow or the next life,
Therefore, do not put effort into tomorrow’s plans
But instead it is worthwhile to attend to the next life.

Death is definite to happen and it is uncertain when it will happen. It will definitely happen, because we haven’t reached the level of the path where we can overcome death, where we are free of death. Until we reach that level, we have to die, we have to go through the cycle of death and rebirth. When we will die is uncertain; it can happen any time. It can happen on any day, at any moment.

Because we think that we will definitely live tomorrow, we work today for tomorrow’s happiness, but we don’t work for the happiness of future lives, the happiness after this life. Then, before tomorrow arrives, if death suddenly happens, it is all finished. We have missed the most precious opportunity to achieve every happiness in our future lives, up to enlightenment. We have missed out on this most precious opportunity. We could have practiced the Dharma with this perfect human body, which is to achieve all those happinesses in the next life, but we missed that out; it didn’t get done. There was only the attitude of working for tomorrow’s happiness, which is working for this life. Working for this life’s happiness is attachment, which is a nonvirtuous attitude. Then all the actions we do, all the work we do with our body, speech and mind becomes nonvirtue, it all becomes negative karma. And the result is that there is no happiness, only suffering. The result is something we don’t like, something we cannot bear. If the result were something that we liked, that we enjoyed, that would be OK, but it’s not that. It’s something that we cannot bear. It’s the opposite to our wishes; it’s only suffering.

Therefore, it is worthwhile to work for the future lives, which means working for our future lives’ happiness. That means practicing the Dharma today, practicing the Dharma right now.

The other one is, by thinking “I won’t die today,” that doesn’t mean we cannot live a comfortable life. It’s like thinking that if we practice renunciation we must forsake comfort and happiness. It’s similar here. We have to understand the meaning of this quotation. I’ll try to translate it according to what the prayer says. It may sound like we can’t have happiness, but it’s not saying that. What it’s saying is that we shouldn’t be lazy, we shouldn’t have a grasping mind attached to comforts, attached to this life’s happiness. Being lazy in this way, not practicing the Dharma, we waste our life, spending it in distraction, with attachment. With attachment, we spend our life creating negative karma. We are using this most precious body to create negative karma, the cause of the hell realm, the hungry ghost realm and the animal realm, besides the cause of the general sufferings of samsara. This is what the quote means.

In teachings such as the Thirty-seven Practices of a Bodhisattva, it talks about renouncing home, renouncing our birthplace, renouncing so many things and going to a solitary place, relying on a solitary place. This is about what we do in the beginning; they are the preliminaries before we do the actual practice. It talks about that in the section on renunciation.

For example, when somebody is an alcoholic or drug addict, no matter how much their health is ruined, it is almost impossible to stop taking drugs. If we have no attachment, no desire, grasping onto these pleasures, even if we are living in the midst of people, in the city surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people taking drugs and so forth, no matter what happens around us, we have no problem, we are free. No matter how bad the environment we are in, we are free because we don’t have attachment grasping for those pleasures. We are free from all those problems, even though we are in this environment where everybody else is engaged in these addictions. But if we have attachment, if we are overwhelmed by the dissatisfied mind of desire, this painful mind that gives us so much pain, that only tortures us instead of giving us peace. Instead of giving us freedom and satisfaction, it only gives us dissatisfaction, it only gives us pain. Attachment only tortures us, nothing else. What it does to us is of no benefit; it only tortures us, making our life more and more difficult. It suffocates us, bringing more and more difficulties, more and more problems, like being completely drowned in the mud, like being totally drowned in the quagmire. With attachment, we become totally drowned in problems, in so many problems.

If attachment is there, even if there are no friends taking drugs, because we have the desire grasping for this pleasure, we will go to look for that. Even in a physically isolated place where there are no drugs, we might be far from the city, but we are not far from desire. We are just physically far away from the city, not far away from attachment. The attachment is there with us wherever we go, even to the highest Himalayan mountains or on the top of Mount Everest! Wherever we go, even to a place where we cannot find drugs, we are still not free from the pain. With attachment, there is so much pain grasping for this pleasure. This painful attachment makes us suffer; it tortures us.

Even if we change our external appearance—we shave our head, we wear robes—if our mind has not changed, again there is the same problem of desire, attachment and grasping, that gives us so much pain. Despite the moral discipline, the moral laws, because the mind has not changed, and there is the attachment, the strong grasping onto pleasure, no matter how far away we go, there is still pain. Attachment tortures us, making life so difficult. The worst thing is not separating ourselves from attachment.

I think maybe it’s time to stop. I don’t remember now what I was talking about. I forgot! What did I say? What? Yes! If we don’t separate, split away from attachment, if we are a friend of attachment, if we always follow it, the pain is always there, stronger and stronger. It even causes physical problems, health problems, what the Tibetans call wind disease, lung (I don’t know if there’s a Western term for this.) Usually after you meet Tibetan Buddhism, you become familiar with lung! Sooner or later, you learn about lung! Lung is very famous among the Western students who meet Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism!

The worst thing is to commit suicide because we are unable to apply the meditation, especially the meditation on impermanence and death, that we might die today. That is the best meditation, that we will die today, or within even this hour or this minute. We should not just think about death, but what happens after death in the lower realms, because of negative karma we have created not only in this life but since beginningless past lives. After death, thinking the lower realms awaits us is not a happy thing. Thinking of them is unbearable, terrifying. Why? Because of the negative karma, the negative thoughts, the negative actions of this life and of past lives. Otherwise, just thinking, “I will die” doesn’t mean much. We might know the special lamrim meditations on renunciation, bodhicitta and right view, but we don’t practice them, we don’t apply them. Then, when our attachment becomes more and more, the worst thing we can do is to kill ourselves, commit suicide.

We can achieve enlightenment only with this perfect human rebirth

We currently have this perfect human body, which gives us an unbelievable opportunity to utilize our buddha nature. As I mentioned before, with this human body we have the potential to achieve all the happiness of future lives, including being born in a pure land where we can be enlightened, or by receiving another perfect human body where, in that life, we can reach enlightenment and achieve the Buddha’s qualities. With a perfect human body we can achieve ultimate happiness, liberation from samsara. Not just that, but with this perfect human body we can achieve peerless happiness, full enlightenment, for other sentient beings. Not only that, we can cause every happiness for all our future lives. We can achieve all this with this perfect human body and by utilizing our buddha nature. This causes the happiness of numberless sentient beings, their happiness in this life and their happiness in future lives, including liberation from samsara and the peerless happiness of full enlightenment.

All this is stopped when we commit suicide. We lose the opportunity to use our buddha nature to cause the happiness up to enlightenment for ourselves, and the opportunity to cause the happiness up to enlightenment for all sentient beings. The opportunity to offer benefit like the sky to all sentient beings stops. That’s what it is when we think of committing suicide.

Since I mentioned this part of the subject, within the six realms—within the realms of the asuras, the humans, the hell beings, the hungry ghosts and the animals—we can achieve enlightenment in one life only as a human being, and even that is not all humans. Only in this one human world where we are, the Southern Continent, do we have the opportunity to achieve enlightenment. Not in the Eastern Continent, the Northern Continent or Western Continent, as in the mandala offering practice. No human beings in the other continents have this opportunity. Only we have this incredible opportunity to achieve enlightenment in this one life. How? By depending on practicing the Mahayana and the Secret Mantra, the Vajrayana. When I say “mantra” it’s not chanting mantras, not like that. It’s the whole tantra path to achieve enlightenment. Of course, the whole path is contained in mantras, the words we recite. Achieving enlightenment in one life happens only by practicing tantra. Through sutra we have to gather merit through three countless great eons. As I mentioned the other day, highest tantra gives us the ability to reach enlightenment quickly.

By practicing highest tantra we can achieve enlightenment even in a brief lifetime in these degenerate times. Our designated time is very short, like sixty or seventy years, even shorter than that, but humans born in the Southern Continent can achieve enlightenment within that time by practicing highest tantra. Why? Because to practice higher tantra we need a special body that is constituted of six elements, with three things from the father and three things from the mother. From the mother, there is blood, flesh and maybe skin (I’m not sure, I don’t remember!); then from the father there is sperm, bones and marrow. Our bodies are made up of these six things, and we need this body made of these elements as a vehicle to practice highest tantra. By using the tantric method to achieve enlightenment quickly, we are able to quickly cease the dualistic view, the subtle defilements and the subtle negative imprints.

On this foundation, we practice the highest tantra that helps to actualize, to experience the subtle wisdom called the clear light, which is like an atomic bomb. That is the quickest way to cease the defilements. If we are able to actualize that in this life, that means we can not only become liberated from samsara but achieve enlightenment in this life. Therefore, with this human body made of six elements, in the Southern Continent where the tantric teachings still exist even now—they have not yet stopped—there is an incredible opportunity to achieve enlightenment in this brief lifetime. This makes this human body unbelievably precious.

In this Southern Continent, in this world, there are twenty-four holy places of Heruka or Vajrayogini. When we practice tantra with this perfect human body, such as the body mandala practice, the highest tantra practice called Mother Tantra practice, there are numberless dakas and dakinis in those twenty-four holy places, and the minute we do this meditation, the numberless dakas and dakinis enter our body, no matter how far away we are from those holy places, as soon as we do the body mandala meditation. As they see us doing this practice, they immediately enter our body and bless our chakras, winds and drops. That makes it very easy for our chakras to function and to draw the wind into the central channel from 1,072 veins, to abide there and absorb. Then from within, the subtle wisdom or clear light is experienced, and developing that ceases the defilements, not only the gross defilements but the subtle ones too. It is so powerful that the defilements are ceased very quickly. That’s how, by being in the world with these holy places, we are able to achieve enlightenment very quickly. Nepal is one of those places where there are many of these holy places. Nepal is a very special, very holy place, especially the area around here.

The beings of the Northern Continent have fixed lives; they all live for one thousand years. They have fixed lives and they are all very wealthy and have so much enjoyment, but in the Southern Continent, in this continent where we are, there are wealthy people and poor people, and there are various degrees of happiness and suffering. We can experience so many varieties of life, we can see the suffering and can realize suffering very easily. There is happiness, but there are also many problems, therefore it is easy to realize how samsara is in the nature of suffering. That makes both our renunciation very strong and our compassion for other suffering sentient beings very strong. Therefore, generating bodhicitta in us human beings in this Southern Continent is very strong. Because bodhicitta is stronger, that makes achieving enlightenment quicker. In the text it is said that the bodhicitta that we human beings in this continent can achieve cannot be achieved by asuras or other beings. Even if I remember the whole verse, some of the terms are difficult to translate. The other reason that karma is very powerful in this Southern Continent is that if in our early life we create negative karma we experience suffering in the later part of our life; and if we create good karma in the earlier part of our life we experience the result, happiness, in the later part of our life, so if the karma is stronger it also helps us to have realizations more quickly.

Now I’m going to stop here.

The concept of permanence cheats us (back to)

Going back to where I started, before I was talking about how, even if we don’t own the slightest thing—besides not having a wish-granting jewel, or any gold, diamonds or jewelry—if we have this perfect human body, we can achieve all these things. That was what I was trying to say. But now the other way round: even if we have skies filled with diamonds, billions of dollars’ worth of gold, especially wish-granting jewels, but if we don’t have a perfect human body, with that much wealth alone we cannot stop rebirth in the lower realms, with that alone we cannot achieve a good rebirth in the next life, with that alone we cannot achieve future lives’ happiness or liberation from samsara. Even if we have that much wealth, we cannot achieve full enlightenment. All that wealth, that many wish-granting jewels filling the whole sky but—now I am able to complete the sentence—the conclusion is, the value of that is nothing compared with the value of this precious human body, especially this perfect human body.

Going back to what I was talking about before, the concept of permanence, that we are going to live long, thinking this every day, thinking this every hour, looking at impermanent phenomena, including our own life, as permanent, that cheats us. It makes our life totally empty. Therefore, when death suddenly happens, it becomes a shock and causes great fear. Suddenly we have to leave everything. Those around us leave us; everything is separated from us and we are separated from everything. We have to leave everything. Even this body that we have cherished the most is left behind; only the bare consciousness goes to the next life. Suddenly there is so much torment, fear and anger, because we think the world has cheated us.

But actually, the cheating comes from our own mind. To the Japanese boy I talked about, it looked as though the outside cheated him, but actually, even though he was quite intelligent, he didn’t see that he was cheated by his mind, not by the world. Things appear inherently existent, not transitory or impermanent, but lasting. So of course, if we believe this is the truth, that cheats us. But even though impermanent things appear as inherently existent, as permanent, if we don’t believe they are, then there is no way we can be cheated.

Therefore, every moment of this perfect human body that we waste—which means not practicing the Dharma for even one moment, the mind not becoming the Dharma, neither renunciation nor bodhicitta nor right view—wasting this perfect human body is a much greater loss than losing a whole sky filled with wish-granting jewels. When a businessperson loses a million dollars, when their business collapses, they have a nervous breakdown or want to commit suicide by jumping from the roof or from a bridge, but that is nothing compared to spending even one moment not practicing the Dharma. If we don’t get to practice the Dharma for even one moment, which means our attitude of life is not doing Dharma in that one moment, this perfect human body is wasted, and that is a greater loss than having lost a sky full of diamonds, dollars and even wish-granting jewels. Therefore, as I explained before, every moment—not every day but every moment—is the time to do our best, to practice Dharma, especially bodhicitta. The best practice is bodhicitta.

So let’s stop here.

To practice the Dharma as much as possible, to take the opportunity to learn as much as possible—even reading a philosophical Dharma text we cannot understand—does not waste our life. Reading the Buddha’s teachings always leaves a positive imprint on the mind, whereas reading magazines, newspapers, watching TV, gives rise to anger, attachment and so many negative thoughts; it gives rise to so many delusions, leaving so many negative imprints on the mind. You remember I mentioned that the imprints left by anger and attachment on the mind are much more terrifying and much more harmful than the actual hell realm, because these negative imprints left by anger and attachment cause more and more anger and attachment to arise again and again in the future, not just in the next life but from now on, from this moment on, it makes our future life difficult. Being motivated by negative karma creates hell, creates the lower realms. We have to experience all those sufferings. If there are negative imprints, this is what happens.

The hell realms are a projection of these negative imprints. Hell is just one problem that comes from negative imprints left by anger or attachment, but it’s not the only problem. There are many other suffering results that come from negative imprints. Therefore, because the negative imprints left by anger are the most terrifying, it’s so important to practice patience when we are in danger of getting angry. Similarly, with attachment, we need to practice renunciation, nonattachment, right view, and especially to practice compassion and bodhicitta instead of attachment. When attachment arises, we need to generate compassion, loving-kindness and bodhicitta.

We need to do this even if we don’t really understand the Dharma, like many Chinese people I have met, especially old people. I haven’t been to Mainland China, but in Singapore and Taiwan, people read sutras in the temple. For hours they stand reading the Buddha’s sutras like the White Lotus Sutra or Amitabha Sutra or the Medicine Buddha Sutra. They read them at home or in the temple, wearing long black robes. Even though they might not be able to understand them, there is so much benefit. It leaves so many positive imprints, and what the imprints do is, sooner or later, we are able to understand the words and the meanings, and we are able to have the realizations of the path contained in those words. Then, that brings us to liberation and enlightenment. So reading the Buddha’s teachings, or even just listening or reading, has incredible benefit. It’s not like reading novels. People spend so much of their life reading books that talk about war or sex, so many things which give rise to delusions. People spend so much of their lives reading these things, in planes, at home, whenever they have time!

So now let’s dedicate.

All phenomena are like illusions

Today is Nirvana Day! Today maybe we should go over the bodhicitta technique, the instruction given by my root guru His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche’s on the six ways to equalize ourselves with others, the technique that has been passed down from the Buddha through to the great bodhisattva Shantideva, that of equalizing and exchanging oneself for others.

The six ways are by depending on conventional truth and depending on absolute truth. There may be three ways [for each], but it will come at that time. My root guru His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche put together these different techniques, and I thought to go over that today. So before that, today we will do some of the preliminary meditation prayers, requesting prayers to the lineage lamas of the path to receive blessings.

Do not engage in any unwholesome actions,
Engage in perfect, wholesome actions,
Subdue your mind thoroughly.
This is the teaching of the Buddha.

The next stanza:

A star, a defective view, a butter lamp flame,
An illusion, a dew drop or a water bubble,
A dream, a flash of lightning, a cloud—
See all causative phenomena like this.

In Tibetan, rabrib refers to somebody who has a defective eye, like when eating food, seeing hairs falling, through hallucinations. So these things are not as they appear to our hallucinating mind; they are not like that in reality. Then like a flickering flame as a candle burns out, or a butter lamp in the midst of a wind, which can be stopped any time. All these causative phenomena, these sense objects, including our own life, even this body, everything is like a flickering light or a candle flame in the midst of the wind that can be stopped at any time. Not only that, they are changing second by second or minute by minute; they can be stopped at any moment. These things are like an illusion, they don’t exist as they appear to a hallucinating mind, as permanent or inherently existent. There are many hallucinations like this.

Feelings appear as pleasure. In reality they are suffering, but they appear to our hallucinating mind as pleasure. They are samsara, and even though samsara’s nature is only suffering, it can appear as pleasure, as if there is no suffering at all in the aggregates, in the body, as if we don’t see any suffering, only happiness, only pleasure. There are so many hallucinations. As it says it the Guru Puja, we look at samsara, this suffering realm, as a beautiful park. We look at it like that, grasping like that.

The body is the container of many dirty things, like a toilet or a septic tank that receives everything from the toilet and bathroom, but we look at the body as if it collects all the blessings, all the things from the temple. This body is like a septic tank or a toilet, filled with a bad smell and all those dirty things. This body is like that, but we look at it as though it is completely pure and clean.

So we should think that all these appearances we have are not correct; they are mistaken, like illusions. These causative phenomena are all like dew that can be stopped any time, like a bubble that can be popped, that has no essence. All these causative phenomena are very perishable, like a dream.

While all these causative phenomena are completely empty, while they do not have inherent existence even the size of one atom, they appear as if they are inherently existent, so relating to the hallucinations like being like a dream, what we see in the dream appears but is not true. There are appearances in a dream but they are not true, they don’t exist. When we think of the past, like yesterday’s life, yesterday becomes like a dream. It’s happened and is gone. From birth to now has happened and it’s gone. When we die there was an appearance of this life, but it’s gone; it’s happened and it’s gone, like a dream. Like lightning, it happened and is gone. Having a human body, possessions, relatives, friends, family—all these appearances have happened, and they are gone. They have happened to us and have stopped, like lightning. During a flash of lightning, people and our possessions vividly appear around us and then are gone; they are stopped. All these causative phenomena are like that, like lightning. Then they are like clouds, there one moment but not there the next moment. They are continuously decaying and changing; they do not last.

The conclusion of this is that therefore getting angry in our daily life is total nonsense. It’s our own hallucination, but because we believe that it’s true, that it exists on the outside, from its own side, we get angry at that person but that doesn’t make sense; it’s total nonsense. Also getting attached to these phenomena doesn’t make sense; having emotional afflictions, thoughts, toward these objects doesn’t make any sense; it’s childish. This includes ignorance, the root of delusions, the concept of inherent existence, holding onto the inherently existent “I” by believing that it’s one hundred percent true, as well as the aggregates and other phenomena.

Animal liberation

It seems that animals like the frogs and pigeons can hear, because wherever I travel, we normally liberate many thousands of animals. So many times I have seen that when we recite mantras to them, the frogs all look at us with big eyes! Every one of them is so alert, so quiet and they look at us with big eyes. I have seen that many times, so I think they can hear. Then also birds such as pigeons, when we recite mantras, they all suddenly stay very quiet, and they listen very alertly, so I think they can hear. But other animals, I’m not so sure. Like the shell animals such as conches and those that are so small we buy a huge sack of them. Those ones we bless water and then pour from the top, then the water goes through; those small shell animals that people eat, by frying, then picking up with chopsticks.

When I first went to Taiwan, we were put in a hotel, maybe a government hotel, I’m not sure. It was arranged by a Tibetan lama. One day, other Tibetan lamas came from India, some that I knew from the past and some that I didn’t know. They arrived before I came. In the hotel there was a quiet place where there was a revolving table. At that time, when dinner was served, the cook made a long fish from carrots, and different animals from carrots and other vegetables. He made a sheep from carrots or radish. What was that big one? Anyway, there were some special things which they brought around to the tables so that everyone could see. At that time, for those who were not vegetarian, they served conch shells, those small shell animals, fried with garlic. There was almost nothing there, just two or three shells put in a bowl with the chopsticks, but with loads of garlic and onion to make it very tasty.

Anyway, we bless the shell animals like that, so the water goes through and purifies them. It’s very good.

The other really best thing to help the animals, the best help we can offer to them, besides helping purify them with blessing water, is the practice of animal liberation we normally do in places in Asia, especially Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. This practice started many years ago, so now they liberate animals at those centers every month.

If there’s a way to circumambulate [the holy objects] at the center, they bring the animals to the center, then everybody carries boxes of fish, insects, crickets, worms in a packet—whatever it is—carrying them around. If there is a way to go around the altar at the center or outside the gompa, all the people carry things, while chanting mantras. Because [the animals] can hear, they take them around as many times as possible. Or they take many holy objects, such as tsa tsas, statues of the Buddha and stupas, to a beach or where you can liberate animals. They set up a large table and then, if possible, they put another table on top, and then put around many, many holy objects. On the edge, offerings are beautifully set up, with glass bowls or whatever, and beautifully arranged sets of offering flowers of all the colors, and so forth. It’s like a puja for the animals. They make these offerings to the merit field, the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, the buddhas, bodhisattvas, gurus, and then they dedicate the merits for the animals. Like we do puja for sick people or something like that, they do puja for the animals.

If there are few people and many animals, they take turns: some people carry some of them and go around certain number of times, then put them down and do the same with others. But if there are enough people, then everybody carries them.

The importance of holy objects

So, the thing is this. Normally, for our actions of body, speech and mind to become the cause of happiness, first our mental attitude, which causes the action, has to become the Dharma, pure and positive. Only then can our action become the Dharma, the cause of happiness. The cause of happiness and the Dharma have the same meaning, virtue. This is the normal procedure. If we want our actions to become the cause of happiness, we first must make our motivation, the attitude that brings about the action, into the Dharma, then the action becomes the Dharma. Then we can experience the result, happiness, either in this life or in future lives.

This is the normal procedure, but not in every case. There are exceptional actions such as circumambulating statues, stupas or scriptures of the Buddha. We are not talking about the actual Buddha, but even those holy objects, even the statues, scriptures or stupas of the Buddha. If we circumambulate them or prostrate to them, make offerings to them, even if the mind is totally delusional, totally black, full of negative thoughts, even if it’s done totally out of anger or the attachment clinging to this life, that action—circumambulating, prostrating, making offerings to holy objects—becomes virtue, and not only virtue, Dharma, the cause of happiness, but that action immediately becomes the cause of enlightenment, the highest success. And, by the way, it becomes the cause of liberation from samsara and, by the way, the cause of a good rebirth in the next life. And not just one time, not just this next life, but to have a good rebirth in all the coming hundreds and thousands of future lives.

This one action is the cause of not only the happiness of future lives, but it purifies negative karma, it purifies our mind. And because all the problems of this life came from negative karma—relationship problems, cancer, problems in the job, all these things—that negative karma is purified by this practice. Health problems, life obstacles, depression, being abused or badly treated by other people, all these problems come from negative karma, our negative karma, so because this practice purifies our mind of all these negative karmas, by the way, it also takes care of this life, helping us have a long life, health, wealth, everything. It takes care of everything because we collect merit. All good things have to come from good karma, and here we are creating good karma.

This is how these actions become Dharma, the cause of all happiness up to the cause of enlightenment, even though our motivation is totally nonvirtuous. How? The reason, the logic, here: it’s not due to our mind, not from the side of our mind, but from the side of the power of the holy object. These actions become virtue, even the cause of enlightenment, because of the power of these holy objects. The explanation is that, the power of the holy objects.

There is a story. One time, at a stupa, I don’t know either in India, Nepal or Tibet, a pig, chased by a dog, went around the stupa. It happened to do one circumambulation, only because it was chased by the dog. What happened was, after the pig died, it was able to be born in Tushita, in the deva realm, the Realm of the Thirty-three. Instead of reincarnating in the lower realms, it was born in the higher realms. There was no Dharma motivation, just the action of trying to escape, running away from the dog by going around the stupa, which become a circumambulation. That became virtue, which was the cause to have a good rebirth in the next life.

Then, there was also an old man who only began to practice Dharma when he was eighty years old but he still actualized the arya path, the wisdom directly perceiving emptiness, and in that life was able to be free from samsara. He entered in the five paths to liberation and was able to be liberated from samsara. Why did this eighty-year-old man have such incredible success? The Buddha explained that an unimaginable length of time ago, in one of his lives he was a fly. There was a stupa and there was cow dung around it! So the fly followed the smell of the cow dung. The motivation was purely attachment, but actually, because the fly followed the smell of the cow dung around the stupa, it became a circumambulation. That one circumambulation, that small merit, the Buddha said, was the cause to become a monk and in that life achieve all these realizations.

Then, after he became an arhat, when that karma finished, he entered the Mahayana path. The Buddha sends a light and there is a verse to inspire arhats to enter the Mahayana path. Then, by entering the Mahayana path, he achieved enlightenment, then he enlightened numberless other sentient beings. But before he became enlightened, before he entered the Mahayana path, before he was an arhat, before he became a monk, by going back to see how he was able to become a monk and practice, inconceivable lifetimes ago when he was a fly he once followed the smell of cow dung around a stupa and it became one circumambulation, even though the motivation was totally attachment, totally nonvirtuous. From that merit, all these things happened. From that merit, this whole process happened—the realizations of the path to liberation, becoming totally free from samsara, entering the Mahayana path, becoming enlightened, then being able to enlighten numberless other sentient beings. All this comes from this small good karma, created when he was a fly following the smell of cow dung. That is the story the Buddha used to explain the power of the object, how the merit comes not from the virtuous motivation but from the side of the power of the object, the stupa.

Therefore, when we take the animals around a holy object, if in a plastic bag we are carrying a hundred crickets or worms or whatever, or a thousand worms, each time when we go around the holy object, we are giving each of them the cause of enlightenment. If we go around once carrying a thousand worms, we are giving enlightenment to those thousand worms. So, if we go around twenty times or a hundred times, then we are giving them the cause of enlightenment twenty or a hundred times. It’s like giving enlightenment one hundred times to those thousand worms. Even if there’s one stupa or one statue of the Buddha, it’s like that. But if we have a hundred or a thousand pictures of the Buddha or statues or stupas, whether it’s pictures or whether it’s statues, then, even if we are carrying one animal—a mouse, a rat or an ant or a small insect—by taking this one animal around the thousand pictures or statues of the Buddha, we are giving them one thousand causes of enlightenment. And the same thing, we are giving them a thousand causes of liberation from samsara, a thousand causes of good rebirth in the next life. This is what the animal, the insect, the ant, creates if we carry them around. This is the best thing we can offer them to help them. In this way, from this, sooner or later they get a good rebirth. Like the example of the old man, they get a good rebirth in their next life, they meet the Dharma, they actualize the path, become liberated, and then they achieve enlightenment. This is the best gift we can give them, giving them a good rebirth in the next life, liberation and enlightenment.

I stayed sometime recently in America, trying to do some retreat at Big Sur. We found a small house near the ocean. Because there were many ants coming in the kitchen of the house, I wondered what would make it very meaningful for their being in the house. This was during a retreat, so I put three tsa tsas in the kitchen so the ants could be put in a plastic garbage bag gently with a tissue paper or with a soft cloth. The idea was to hold the three tsa tsas [in one hand] and the bag with the ants [in the other] and circle the tsa tsas with the bag of ants. This is exactly the same as a circumambulation. Then they were put outside. In this way, it makes the lives of those insects, the ants, coming into the house so meaningful. It’s worthwhile for them to come into the house.

For example, many human beings on this earth, many billionaires, have never met the Dharma. In this life they have never had a chance to create the cause of enlightenment, even once. Leave aside bodhicitta, they are like these animals; they have no knowledge of how by going around holy objects they create cause of enlightenment, liberation, and a good rebirth in the next life. There are many human beings on this earth who have never met the Dharma in their life. They have no knowledge of karma; they don’t even have a chance to go around holy objects, to purify the mind, to create the cause of enlightenment. Therefore, by their coming in the house, this makes these animals’ lives extremely worthwhile, extremely beneficial.

Anyway, this side talk happened because I was talking about the monkeys in Dharamsala. Then, these things started. But if you can do like this at home, it is very good. Therefore, it is very good to have as many holy objects as possible at home, as many pictures of the Buddha, as many statues, as many tsa tsas, as possible. The more you have, the luckier you are, the richer you are inside. Inside your life becomes much richer, rich with merit. The more of these holy objects you have, the more merit you have.

Many of our old students or Sangha took teachings in the early times in Dharamsala from a great Tibetan lama, Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, because Geshe-la was a teacher at the Tibetan Library at Dharamsala. When the students were kicked out of Nepal [because of visas], they went to Dharamsala to study at the Tibetan Library. Geshe-la was there for many years. In Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand I think it says that if we give our holy objects away we lose our fortune. I think that might be the reason that Geshe-la kept any picture of the buddhas or gurus that people gave him, not Tibetans, mainly I think Western students. Geshe-la kept every single thing that was given by people. That is what I heard. I didn’t see it but I heard he kept everything. That is probably because in Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand it says that if we give holy objects away, we are giving our fortune away. Anyway, I guess it depends on the motivation, whether or not we give them away to others in order to collect merit, to bring them to enlightenment.

We get skies of benefit from one small statue or picture of the Buddha. If we circumambulate, prostrate or make offerings every time we see a picture of the Buddha, it plants the seed of enlightenment. It brings us closer to enlightenment, to liberation from samsara. The benefit we get on our mental continuum from each holy object, even a small picture of the Buddha, is like the sky. Therefore, my usual presents to students or other people are Buddha pictures or statues, because they are very precious, very important for the mind. We can use these to fulfill all our wishes, all the happiness up to enlightenment, if we use these holy objects, by circumambulating, prostrating, offering to them or by looking at them with devotion, if possible every time we see them. When it talks about the six preparatory practices, about setting up the altar, Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand mentions about holy objects, that we should not think we just know what we have in our meditation room. We shouldn’t think like that. Every morning we should look at all our holy objects with palms together, with devotion. It mentions that, with the two palms together prostrating, when we look at all the holy objects, there are skies of benefit; it plants the seed of enlightenment in our mind. So if possible, each time we enter our meditation room, shrine room or temple, as we are looking around, we put palms together at the same time. As we go inside, we look around with palms together like that, with this prostration.

It said that, even if there is only one statue of the Buddha, if we put our palms together like that, we immediately achieve eight important benefits. There are also ten mentioned in the sutras. However, the eight are that (1) we immediately create the cause to achieve a perfect body in the next life. Then (2) we have all the freedom to practice any Dharma, even taking ordination and so forth. (3) With a perfect body we can benefit many sentient beings. Then (4) we have perfect surrounding people who all do according to our wishes. They all help our Dharma practice. They all help us serve the teachings of the Buddha, to help other sentient beings. These perfect surrounding people all support us.

Then next, (5) we are able to live in pure morality in the future, which can be in our future life or even in this life. Without pure morality there are so many obstacles to achieving the realizations of the path to enlightenment. Morality becomes the foundation for the realizations of the path to liberation and enlightenment. Then, we have devotion. Without devotion we can’t receive blessings. Without blessings we can’t receive the realizations of the path to enlightenment. So we need devotion. Then, we have a brave heart. If we don’t have a brave heart, we cannot do extensive work for other sentient beings. The next one (6) is, instead of rebirth in a lower realm, we get born in a deva or human realm. Then the next one, (7) we achieve the arya path. Of the five paths of merit, preparation, right-seeing, meditation and no more learning, if we achieve the third bodhisattva arya path, the right-seeing path, we are free from death. At that time, we have completely overcome death, old age, sickness and rebirth. That is an incredible achievement. Then next one (8) is enlightenment.

Even if there is only one statue of the Buddha in our meditation room or in a temple, if we do like this, making a prostration mudra, we immediately get these eight benefits. The last one is enlightenment. Therefore, if we have many pictures or statues of the Buddha, if we have a thousand in our meditation room on our shrine, at our house or in a temple, if we look at every one like that, we have created these eight benefits a thousand times. By depending on each stupa or each Buddha, whether it’s a painting or statue, by depending on each one, we create the eight benefits a thousand times. Especially when we go into holy places, temples, on pilgrimage. In one temple there are so many statues and paintings. Each temple is full of paintings or statues of buddhas—so many in one hall—that we should use them skillfully with all the understanding that we have of how to collect the most extensive merit and purify our mind and find the quickest way to achieve enlightenment. We should use them in this way. We should at least look with a devotional mind, prostrating like that. In those few seconds, within that very minute, we create many thousands and thousands and thousands of causes of enlightenment, and all these benefits.

Therefore, if it’s allowed or convenient having holy objects at home—if there’s no problem with other family members—we should have many, many holy objects outside and inside, but they should be respected. Once, in California, during the teaching of the Jewel Ornament of Nagarjuna, there were many small thangkas of the Buddha, arranged by the center, covering the wall behind where His Holiness the Dalai Lama was teaching. His Holiness mentioned that if they were put there just for decoration, that was creating negative karma, but if was done sincerely with devotion, it collected merit.

Putting buddha statues in the garden, with a motivation of just decoration, I think, is Japanese style. But we can put them there with a different motivation, that we ourselves, our family members or other people who come outside will collect merit, by going around them. Even for animals, going around them or seeing them plants the seed of enlightenment. Circumambulating them creates the cause of enlightenment. Because the holy objects have all these benefits, we should put them a little bit higher, out of respect. If we put them there in this way, with this motivation, there’s no problem. We collect so much merit; we benefit so many other sentient beings. But if we put them kind of very low in the rocks, like a sort of decoration, this is disrespectful and creates negative karma. We should understand that putting a holy object very low, on the floor, is also negative karma. Negative karma is not only killing people or killing insects, not only that, harming others; this is also negative karma. So there are many different types of negative karma that we have to recognize.

Anyway, going back. These animals are only objects of compassion. When we think of the meaning of “transmigratory being” as related to these animals, it has to cause compassion to arise; there is no choice. When we think of the meaning of “transmigratory” with specific animals, especially those we are afraid of, that terrify us or we don’t like or hate, that they are transmigratory beings, we see that they are completely caught in suffering, completely overwhelmed by karma and delusion. There is no choice, compassion has to arise. Due to the merits of having collected charity and so forth, we dedicate to achieve enlightenment in order to benefit all the transmigratory beings. In our mind, we think of each hell being, each hungry ghost, each animal, each sura being, each asura being, each human being, all who caught in samsaric suffering, under the control of karma and delusion. In this way, while we are reciting the words “in order to benefit of all the transmigratory beings,” we have this feeling in our heart. The meaning of these words is in our heart, and we feel compassion for them. And our compassion gives us a reason, it makes us free them from all suffering and bring them to enlightenment, and that makes us want to achieve enlightenment. That is bodhicitta, without going into many details, generally speaking that is bodhicitta.

From compassion for sentient beings, bodhicitta comes. With that, we’re going to do the recitation of the bodhicitta prayer, wishing to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings. This is according to this stanza, as I explained the meaning of the meditation. With that meditation, we will recite the prayer very slowly, then do the meditation on this. We not only recite the holy words with the mouth, but also with the heart we feel the meaning of the words as much as possible. We let our heart be transformed into the meaning of the holy words, the meditation prayer. So, remember we are practicing the resultant refuge and the causal refuge. In order to have a successful resultant refuge, we are practicing the causal refuge.

Next Chapter:

5. Mahayana Refuge »