Kopan Course No. 26 (1993)

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

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

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

4. Tonglen Practice

December 4, 1993

Concentration also needs ethics

[Mindfulness conjoined with ethics] become much richer, much more meaningful, than just concentrating on what we are doing, just doing the mindfulness of something like walking—“Now I am walking.” A person who is stealing money from a bank needs a lot of concentration! To get in at the right time, at the right place, they need a lot of concentration. That person also thinks, “I am stealing” but the problem is that they don’t think about anything else after that. After the thought “I am stealing,” there is no remedy, even though they are aware that they are stealing. If that person who knew they were stealing was able to remember renunciation, bodhicitta and emptiness, it would help them stop stealing.

[Mindfulness meditations like] watching the breath or walking mindfully can help because during that time the mind is paying attention to the object—the breathing, the walking and so forth—so strong anger or attachment do not arise. But, generally speaking, when there is nothing but that mindfulness, there is no underlying moral thought. We can steal with a lot of mindfulness but there is no other mind that is a remedy to that nonvirtuous thought. Thinking “I am stealing” doesn’t stop us stealing.

Tonglen: Making charity to all beings

We’re going to recite some malas of Compassion Buddha’s mantra.

[Rinpoche and students chant OM MANI PADME HUM]

“Due to the past, present and future merits accumulated by us through having recited Compassion Buddha’s mantra and the merits accumulated by buddhas and bodhisattvas, due to all this ...” First we dedicate in this way.

All the past, present and future merits accumulated by us through having recited the Compassion Buddha’s mantra; all these merits we have accumulated and all the resulting happiness from temporary up to peerless happiness, full enlightenment, with our body, possessions, even family, surrounding people and friends—everything—we make charity of every good thing to every hell being, and that includes giving ourselves to every hell being. From this, they receive everything they want, whatever they need, including highest enlightenment.

Then, we make charity of our three times’ merits and all the resulting happiness including full enlightenment, our body, possessions, surrounding people, family, friends, everything, we give to every hungry ghost. By receiving all this, every hungry ghost receives everything that is good, all the happiness they want, what they need, including highest enlightenment.

Now, we make charity of our three times’ merits and all the resulting happiness including enlightenment, everything, [our body, family, friends,] the surrounding people and material possessions, everything, we give to every animal being. They receive everything they need.

By giving all these things to the hell beings, their whole environment—the iron ground that is oneness with fire, the whole icy ground of the cold hell—the whole suffering place is transformed into the pure land of Amitabha or the pure land of Compassion Buddha. A pure land means pure in not having any problems; not having any sufferings such as rebirth, old age, sickness and death and so forth. It has all the enjoyments and it is extremely beautiful. The whole space is filled with the scented smell. We are able to get whatever we think of immediately; it instantly materializes.

All the trees [of the hell realm] are very sharp and they cut the body. The karmic appearance of all those trees suddenly transform into beautiful wish-granting trees, decorated with the jewels. All the trees in the pure land are wish-granting trees that are able to materialize whatever we wish for.

There are extremely beautiful birds whose singing makes Dharma. They are singing very sweet songs of Dharma. The ground is lapis lazuli. There are beautiful pools and paths filled with extremely beautiful flowers, lotuses with extremely beautiful huge petals. All the weapons in the hell realm are immediately transformed into flowers. Nothing is solid; everything is very soft, blissful in nature and so forth.

As it is mentioned in the dedication prayer in A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, this also happens with the realm of the hungry ghosts. By giving all these things to them, their place is also transformed into the pure land of Compassion Buddha, the Potala, filled with so many beautiful things, so many qualities. The hungry ghosts, whose main suffering is hunger and thirst, receive many hundreds of types of nectar, food and drinks.

Then, by giving all these things to every animal being, their environment is transformed into the pure land of Compassion Buddha, the Potala, or of Amitabha, where there is no suffering at all. They are immediately liberated from the danger of being killed, of being eaten by another one and they immediately achieve wisdom and receive protection and guidance from the deity Vajrapani, who is the essence, the embodiment, of all the buddhas’ ability to protect. He immediately appears to those who are in danger of being eaten or tortured and they are immediately protected. In that way, they receive everything, whatever they want.

The wish-granting jewel and karma

In the meditation practice of taking and giving, where we take other sentient beings’ sufferings on ourselves and give them all our happiness, as well as our body, possessions and merit, it is advised by the lineage lamas that when we visualize we should not visualize giving our gross body like this, with bones, flesh, blood and so forth, but we should visualize giving a body like a wish-granting jewel that fulfills all their wishes, bringing them whatever happiness they want. We give them all our three times’ merits and the results of those merits, temporal happiness and ultimate happiness, up to and including the highest happiness, full enlightenment, by visualizing our body as a wish-granting jewel, the jewel that has eight sides. This was advised by His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche, my root guru who gave me my first lamrim teachings.

It is mentioned in the teaching that in the past, bodhisattvas went into the ocean to get these wish-fulfilling jewels. Then, they cleaned them in three ways, the first time to completely clean the mud that covered the jewels and the last one is maybe to clean the smell. Then they put the jewel on a banner on the top of a house and when you prayed on one of the special days—I am not sure, maybe the full moon, the fifteenth—whatever material possession or enjoyment you needed would materialize. If you want an example, it may be a little bit like what Sai Baba does when he turns some powder in his hand into a watch or a radio which he gives away. Similar, the person who is able to find such a jewel, by praying they can get all the enjoyment they want. They also have to have merit or karma.

It is the same as how, with one dollar, we can buy a lottery ticket and get a million dollars. The ticket might not even cost a dollar, I am not sure. Anyway, buying a lottery ticket with one dollar and winning a million dollars doesn’t happen without cause and conditions. It looks like it happens without reason, without cause and conditions created from our side, but it is not like that. There is a cause created from our side and there are conditions and when that cause is ready there is success—the result ripens; it is materialized. Similarly, for those who have that karma, these things happen. It doesn’t happen for those of us who haven’t created the cause to find such a jewel that would give us all the material needs we pray for.

In the same way, we might have been buying lottery tickets for many years, but nothing has ever happened. No matter how much we desire to get many millions or billions of dollars, no matter how many tickets we buy for many, many years, nothing happens. But somebody just buys one lottery ticket once—some poor person, some worker or servant—and they win a million dollars. This happens. This is the same. The karma, the cause, the merit that has been created is powerful enough that it is ready to be ripened for that person. Then, success happens. Whereas for somebody who hasn’t created the cause, the merit, nothing happens, even though they might have incredible desire to get millions or billions of dollars.

[With the meditation on taking and giving,] those who need a friend receive a friend. Those who need a guru revealing the path to liberation and full enlightenment meet a guru, a perfectly qualified Mahayana virtuous friend who can reveal the complete path without missing anything. Then those who need a doctor [receive one]; those who need medicine receive that, especially those who have diseases that have no treatment, such as AIDS, and those who are in a coma—who are not dead but their senses are unable to function, like becoming a vegetable—receive an immediate cure and immediately recover. Including those with AIDS, they get doctor and medicine; those who need wealth receive wealth; those who need a job find a job.

The main problem for human beings is the shortage of a means of living. By giving all the merit, the result of our own body and so forth, by having made the charity of giving everything, every human being is freed of their main problem, the shortage of a means of living, and each human being receives rainfalls of millions of dollars, like a shower of rain; all their houses are completely filled with millions or billions of dollars.

We then make charity by giving all these things to the gods and demigods. In the same way, their place is transformed into the extremely beautiful pure land of Compassionate Buddha, which has no suffering at all. There is not even the sound of problems. You cannot even hear one word of complaint.

What demigods need is the protection of armor because they always fight with the gods, so whatever they need they receive. They don’t have to experience the heaviest suffering [of the gods,] which are the signs of death. When the signs of death happen for a god, even though physically they are not in hell, mentally it is like being in hell; they have so much worry and fear, so much suffering. Due to karma, they hear a voice from space that they are going to die in seven days. After that, they experience all the five signs of death, the major ones and the minor ones. Anyway, the gods become free from these, which are their heaviest sufferings.

Receiving all these enjoyments only causes them to generate the paths of wisdom and method in their mind, and they become enlightened by ceasing all the mistakes of the mind and by completing all the qualities of the realizations.

Here, in the dedication, there happen to be more details of what we should visualize when we do the special bodhicitta practice, developing the mind in bodhicitta, the very powerful bodhicitta, renouncing ourselves and cherishing others by taking other sentient beings’ suffering on ourselves and giving our happiness and merit to others.

By hearing this explanation, when we do the practice of tonglen, taking and giving, the special bodhicitta practice, we know how to visualize when we practice giving by generating great loving kindness. The ultimate thing is the method and wisdom. Experiencing all these enjoyments causes others to actualize the paths of method and wisdom, and then to achieve the two kayas, the dharmakaya and rupakaya.

Tonglen: Give all the suffering to the self-cherishing thought

A more elaborate way of doing tonglen is like this. For example, in the human realm that I mentioned, the more extensively we can visualize giving—such as visualizing those showers of millions and billions of dollars each human being receives, filling all their houses, so all these things become charity—the more we accumulate inconceivable, unbelievable merit.

I remember one time in Paris, when there was a big recession happening in France, during one lecture in the city there was a question about what could be done for the poor, for those with difficulties in life. I remember mentioning the other solution is to practice rejoicing for all those who are having success, all those who have wealth. We should rejoice instead of generating jealousy, not wishing others to have success but wishing to have it ourselves. Generally, if we are successful ourselves, we are not jealous of others, but otherwise, if something good happens to others, we become jealous of what they have that we don’t: their friends, their wealth, their success.

If we feel jealous and generate the wish that they didn’t have these things, that itself becomes an obstacle. By not wishing for others to have success, we are creating an obstacle to our own success, whether it’s finding a job or having wealth or having a friend, whatever. Therefore, in everyday life we should practice rejoicing.

Even if we don’t have things to give others, we should at least visualize making charity to other living beings. In this way, we create so many causes for success and then we will have success—success in having wealth, in having a means of living. In this way, by creating the karma or the cause in an extensive way, the recession can be stopped and the poverty can be ended.

When we do the practice of patience, we first generate great compassion for all suffering living beings, whose minds are obscured, then, with the thought of great compassion we take others’ sufferings and its causes and we take all the undesirable places. When we do the practice of giving, the impure, ordinary places are transformed into a pure land.

So now, we take the undesirable place of the hell beings. The ground of the cold hell is unbelievably cold and the whole ground of the hot hell is red-hot iron, oneness with fire. We take in all these things, in the form of pollution, like smoke coming from the chimneys, or like when we are here on Kopan hill in the morning and all the pollution, the morning fog that covers the ground down in Boudhanath, the dirty, humid vapor that comes up from the ground and fills the space, which has very dirty, bad smell. When we are on a high mountain, the fog from down below comes up from all directions.

In the same way, all the sufferings of the hell beings and the cause of suffering, karma and delusion, everything—all the obscurations—in the form of pollution come and absorb into our heart, into the ego, the self-cherishing thought, in our heart. It goes right inside the heart, to the ego, the self-cherishing thought that gives us all the problems, all the interferences, that brings all the health problems, that brings all the relationship problems, that brings all the unsuccess, that brings all the obstacles to Dharma practice, that has not let us achieve enlightenment so far or even liberation from samsara, that doesn’t allow us to even practice pure morality, to definitely receive the body of a happy migratory being, a god or human body, in our next life. This is without talking about a perfect human rebirth; just being born as a human being, just receiving a human body we need to have lived in the pure morality. The ego, the self-cherishing thought, is the one that hasn’t allowed us to even practice pure morality and to be confident that we will receive a human body right after this life. This is due to the shortcomings of the ego, the self-cherishing thought.

The main purpose of visualizing whatever is the most harmful—all the sufferings and the causes, all the undesirable places—in the form of pollution, is to be able to visualize giving it to the ego in order to destroy it. The whole point is to visualize what is most terrible, such as in the chöd practice, slaying the ego, the special tantric practice that is the quick way to realize emptiness and develop bodhicitta and the practice of the six paramitas, in particular the paramita of charity. That practice talks about visualizing the sufferings in the form of pollution and in the form of those terrifying creatures, such as scorpions, at the heart, eating the ego, the self-cherishing thought. Or visualizing a wheel that has five or six pointed swords, such as the one that Yamantaka, the extremely wrathful aspect of Buddha Manjushri, holds in one of his hands. There is a story that you can send this weapon of five or six swords away by putting your finger through its axle and turning it, sending it away to cut off the heads of the other beings.

Chöd practice explains that we visualize this weapon and, in this way, cut the ego. The main point is to destroy the ego, like in the world when the ordinary people destroy their enemy—when they harm their enemy by doing the worst thing they can think of; they find the most harmful way to kill them. Similarly, for those of us who are seeking enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, the ego is the greatest obstacle to our success. This is our main enemy, our principal enemy, therefore we must try to destroy the ego in the most harmful way we can think of. Cutting the ego, destroying the ego, is a much more effective way to subdue our mind, to develop bodhicitta. So like this, all the sufferings of the hell beings go into the heart, are absorbed into the ego and destroy it.

It’s the same thing with animals’ and human beings’ suffering and its causes, and the impure places—places filled with thorn bushes, rocks, all these ugly, undesirable places of human beings—we take all these on ourselves in the form of pollution. We take them into our heart, onto the ego; we give everything to the ego and destroy it.

Arhats, who are free from samsara, free from disturbing-thought obscurations, still have subtle obscurations, and so do bodhisattvas. We even take on those. Then, the virtuous friends, who have the appearance of having life obstacles and so forth, the obstacles to fulfilling the holy wishes or to succeed in working for other sentient beings—the obstacles that are the appearance of sentient beings’ karma—even those we take on. We visualize taking on them into our heart, where they absorb, and we give them to the ego, completely destroying it.

After we have given the ego all these sufferings of others and their causes, all the undesirable places and pollution, after we have taken all this into our heart and onto the ego, the ego, the self-cherishing thought, becomes nonexistent. We think like this.

We can’t even find the merely labeled I, let alone the hallucinated I

First of all, there is no I on this association of body and mind, on these aggregates. There is not even the merely labeled I on this association of body and mind. Put it this way: on this association of body and mind, on this base, we cannot even find the merely labeled I, which is the I that exists and which appears to us as not merely labeled.

Even this merely labeled I that exists, that has the function of eating, drinking tea, extracting teeth—which performs all these functions, which exists, even this we cannot find on this base, on the association of body and mind. Even though it exists, if we are unable to find it on this base, how are we going to find the hallucinated I? How are we going to find the I that appears as the real one, the one not merely labeled by the mind, the one that appears to exist from its own side? How can we find it when it is a complete hallucination, it is completely nonexistent? There is no way.

This is the reality. There is no I there. This is the reality but what happens is that now, inside this chest, inside this body, our concept of the I does not correspond to reality; it is not according to reality. While on this base, the association of body and mind, there is no I at all—neither the merely labeled I nor, in particular, the real I—there is an I appearing from its own side, not merely labeled by the mind.

Even though this I is completely nonexistent on this base, on this association of body and mind, on these aggregates, there is the appearance. We have this appearance, this projection, of a real I appearing from its own side, not merely labeled by mind, due to past ignorance, to the wrong concept of inherent existence. Then, we let our mind believe that this appearance is true; we believe the way the I appears as not merely labeled by the mind is true; we believe it is real, that it truly exists from its own side. Apprehending what is false, we believe that this is the truth, that it is reality.

This is how we create ignorance. When we let our mind believe in this, we are creating the ignorance that is the root of the samsara.

After this, when we explain about the selfish mind, it is clear. First of all, we try to understand the object of ignorance, this I that doesn’t exist, that is a complete hallucination, this real I that appears to exist from its own side, not merely labeled by the mind, the I we believe to exist.

Through ignorance, we apprehend this real I to be true, but then, on top of that, there is another mind. We let our mind believe that this I exists and that it is so precious. We think that this I, which is not there at all, is the most important thing of all. We think, “Among all the numberless sentient beings—the numberless hell beings, animal beings, hungry ghosts, human beings, suras and asuras—among all these numberless sentient beings and numberless enlightened beings, I am the most precious!” We let our mind think that this I is the most precious, but this I is not there! There is nothing there! There is no I at all. This thing that is not there, we think is so precious—“I am so precious, I am so important, I am the most important one!” We let our mind cherish that I as the most important thing.

The dictatorship of the self-cherishing thought

That is what the ego, the self-cherishing thought, is. Now you can see clearly how both those concepts are completely false. They don’t make any sense at all; they are utterly illogical. Holding on to the ego is a nonsense mind, a nonsense concept. It doesn’t make any sense thinking this way. It’s a completely false view, a completely wrong concept, but the incredible thing is that with this wrong concept we can destroy the whole world. By senselessly cherishing the I that doesn’t exist at all, one person’s ego can kill and torture millions of people, or destroy the whole world. The harm is far greater than billions of atomic bombs. The harm from billions of atomic bombs is nothing compared to the harm given to other sentient beings by this ego, this self-cherishing thought, this wrong concept, this nonsense mind.

By abiding in our heart, from beginningless rebirths this enemy has been giving us harm, torturing us, like the dictator of a country who is utterly without loving kindness or compassion for others, who only follows the ego, using everything to gain power, reputation and wealth, giving so much harm to the population, so much torture. Anybody who says a bad thing, anybody who criticizes that person, upsetting their ego, is immediately killed.

How do we feel about this dictator, the person who brings no happiness, no peace to others, but who causes so much harm, so much suffering? Thinking about the suffering they bring, we feel so bad, so terrible. We should feel exactly the same about this other dictator, our own ego. We complain about those external dictators, and we should feel exactly like that when there’s the dictatorship of the ego, the self-cherishing thought that always tortures us, completely using our body, speech and mind as its slave, not giving us any rest, not giving us any peace.

The ego constants tortures and harms us. It not only harms us now, but it harms all other living beings from life to life, directly or indirectly. This self-cherishing thought is a concept that doesn’t make any sense, that has no logic, but if we are not careful to protect ourselves, it can do unbelievable harm to ourselves and to numberless sentient beings.

So, the conclusion is, after creating all the suffering and its causes, we visualize all the undesirable places in the form of pollution that goes into the heart and is absorbed, and we give everything to ego, to the self-cherishing thought, completely destroying it. The self-cherishing thought becomes nonexistent. The mind that cherishes the I as the most important thing is destroyed. Even the I, the object of ignorance, the I that appears real in the sense of existing from its own side, not merely labeled by mind, even that is not there, even that is empty.

The absence of this I that is a hallucination is the emptiness of the I. This is the ultimate nature of the I. Therefore, even this I that is the object of ignorance becomes empty as it is empty, in reality. We see empty as it is empty, there in reality. Then, we can place the mind in that emptiness for a little while. Meditate, concentrate for a little while.

After that, by generating great loving kindness, we do the practice of giving to others. In this way, combining like this, the two important fundamental practices get done, the two fundamental practices of Secret Mantra, Vajrayana, bodhicitta and emptiness. So, it becomes an extremely powerful practice.

I wasn’t going to explain this practice! I just meant to explain the dedication and the merit of having recited the mantra, but it became that way.

Anyway, from this, you can understand the meaning of the dedication prayer,

May all the suffering and causes of suffering of all sentient beings ripen upon me right now,
And may all sentient beings receive all my happiness and virtue.

This is according to His Holiness Serkong Tsenshab Rinpoche’s advice. After each practice, after we have finished making the water bowl offerings or our practice has finished, this is one of the dedications. We dedicate all our merits and all our happiness up to enlightenment that we have achieved until now, and we make charity of that to all sentient beings. When we do that, we accumulate infinite merit. And when we take other sentient beings’ suffering on ourselves, because sentient beings are numberless, again we accumulate infinite merit, infinite causes of happiness.

I think it’s the real teatime.

[Offering prayers]

Attached to this life’s happiness, we are no different from animals

I was talking about the three capable beings before. The actual capable beings are only these three. Other human beings whose attitude is seeking only the happiness of this life [are not counted in this.]

No matter how much success someone has in obtaining the happiness of this life, with an attitude seeking just their own happiness of this life, even if they have achieved the greatest reputation in this world, so much so that everybody—young and old, East and West, even babies (anyway, I’m joking)—knows them. Even if they become the world’s richest person, a billionaire or zillionaire, whatever great success they achieve in this life, whatever comfort they obtain, with this attitude, they are not counted within these three capable beings. No matter how intelligent that person is, no matter how much education that person has, as long as their attitude is just attachment to this life, just seeking the happiness of this life, even if they can perform miracles, if they can fly—I don’t mean with the hands fastened to wings and then jumping from a mountain, not that one—even if they are able to actually fly, they are not counted as an actual capable being. They aren’t in the category of these three capable beings, because the least attitude, the attitude of the lower capable being, is that of a practitioner whose mind is free from attachment clinging to this life.

Therefore, this human being, no matter how much success they have in this life, or how much education or power or whatever, their attitude is nothing special. The attitude seeking only the happiness this life is nothing special. It’s an ordinary mind. Even the tiniest insect, an ant or even much smaller, like those you can only see through a microscope, have this attitude of seeking only the happiness of this life for themselves. Even they are able to obtain happiness for this life. A tiger is able to obtain some means of living and some degree of comfort, the happiness of this life. When somebody attacks them, they attack back. They can harm the enemy back and even kill them.

I’ve told this story many times about my mouse. There are so many stories about mice, but this is just my own experience of how smart mice are, how they can obtain the happiness of this life. Many years ago, because there was a plan to go to Japan, Mummy Max, an American nun who was a schoolteacher in Kathmandu—she became our first nun with Anila Ann—bought a very thin upper robe, called a zen, because she said that Japan would be very hot. This was the only precious, new thing that I had in my room, this one thin zen folded in the drawer. This wasn’t here but in the small room upstairs in the old gompa, in a drawer. There were mice who had made a nest under my bed. I don’t know how Lama found out they were living under the bed; maybe he saw one running across the floor. At that time, the cook there had been the guide of my class at Buxa, where I was not actually studying, I was just playing. If I had really studied Dharma at that time, by now I would be living in a cave. He was asked by Lama to get the mice out of the room, so he came with sticks to chase them from under the bed. One mouse got away at that time, going straight out through the door to the other side. I followed and saw the mouse jump from the roof and run away.

Then somehow, I don’t know when, one day I pulled open the drawer and saw the zen, this one new thing in the room, this precious thing, this very thin zen that was neither too long nor too short. It had been neatly folded many times and put it the drawer and it was amazing what this mouse had done. I think it must have come back all the way from outside. When I took out this zen that was folded many times, the mouse had bitten a hole right through the center, all the way down! It had not even eaten at the corners but right in the middle! With this zen folded, there was a hole right in the middle, but when I unfolded it and stretched it out, there were many holes. I think this was a very smart mouse, who knew exactly how to give harm. Something that you think of as so precious, that you keep like a treasure, something so special for you, they especially come to take it away.

It’s very interesting. There are many stories like this. You keep ornaments, jewels and things like that, things that you think are very precious, and mice somehow make holes and take the jewels, carrying them and hiding them in the ceiling. They don’t have a human body—their body is just tiny with little hands and a tail—but they have this incredibly smart mind that can do this.

So now, any human being whose attitude is nothing other than just seeking the happiness of this life, as I mentioned before, even if that person is able to fly and can perform miracles every day, whatever power or extensive education they have, it is nothing special. It doesn’t come into the three categories of the actual capable beings. Even if that person has become the most famous one, even if they have achieved the greatest reputation, influence and power, whatever, it is nothing. That person is an ordinary being, not an actual capable being. They are just capable of doing worldly activities. The actual translation, actual means “potential” or “capable,” and the three types of capable being are the lower capable being, the middle capable being and the higher capable being. This “capable” is to do with the development of the mind, the transformation of the mind, which is the most important development. I’ll stop there.