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.

5. Mahayana Refuge

December 6, 1998

The various ways of taking refuge

The first lines of the refuge prayer are this.

I take refuge until I am enlightened
In the Buddha, the Dharma and the Supreme Assembly.

When we meditate on the extensive meaning of what is contained in the term “transmigratory beings,” we should remember the evolution of samsara, the twelve links, which explains how we transmigrate in samsara from one realm to another continuously, from beginningless rebirths up to now. That is how we ourselves and others have been suffering in samsara, always under the control of karma and delusion and therefore having to experience all the sufferings of each realm over and over, again and again. Until we cease karma and delusion, until we cease the continuation of the twelve dependent related limbs, we will have to continue experiencing the suffering of each samsaric realm again and again without end. This is our situation but then, thinking of others, thinking of the numberless other sentient beings, we see that like us, they are suffering in a similar way. Seeing how the others who are suffering are numberless, then they become unbearable objects of compassion.

Then the next lines:

By my merits of generosity and so forth,
May I become a buddha to benefit transmigratory beings.

Every human being, every samsaric human being is suffering. Every obscured human being is a transmigratory being. Every god and demigod is obscured, suffering; every one is a transmigratory being. Then every hell being, hungry ghost and animal is a transmigratory being. As we think of them, we go through the sufferings of the lower realms, the general suffering of samsara, and then the particular sufferings of each realm. We try to remember the whole idea of the sufferings of each realm in particular and the general suffering of samsara.

I take refuge until I am enlightened
In the Buddha, the Dharma and the Supreme Assembly.
By my merits of generosity and so forth,
May I become a buddha to benefit transmigratory beings.

Now we’ll chant the same prayer in Tibetan.

[Rinpoche and students chant in Tibetan]

When we say this prayer of taking refuge and generating bodhicitta, there’s a Hinayana way of taking refuge and a Mahayana way of taking refuge. With the Hinayana way of taking refuge, by perfecting our own mind in the cause of refuge, we understand the fear of samsara, the useful, beneficial fear of samsara and understand devotion to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha by seeing their qualities, the powers they have to save us, to liberate us from the entire suffering of samsara, including the cause, karma and delusion. Perfecting our mind in these two, with our whole heart, we rely upon the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. That is the Hinayana way of taking refuge.

With the Mahayana way of taking refuge, the additional thing is compassion toward other sentient beings. On the basis of perfecting our own mind in these two causes of refuge—the useful fear of samsara and devotion to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha because of their qualities, their powers to save us—we have compassion by looking at how others are also suffering in samsara as we are, how they are also caught in samsara and experiencing suffering. We feel unbearable compassion that there are other sentient beings suffering in samsara. So, perfecting our mind in these three causes, with our whole heart we rely upon the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. That is the Mahayana way of taking refuge.

Therefore, whether we chant in Tibetan or English, whatever way, when we do this practice of refuge, we should try to have the Mahayana way of taking refuge. First we should think of how we ourselves are suffering, how we are caught in samsara and suffering. Then we should think of all the numberless other sentient beings who are in a similar situation, experiencing so much suffering. And then, generating a feeling of compassion, we think that there is nobody else who has the power to save me and sentient beings from all these oceans of samsaric suffering.

Without the Guru, there is no Buddha

When we add “Guru”, saying “Guru, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha” or even just “Buddha, Dharma and Sangha”, when we say “Buddha,” the way to understand that is that there is no Buddha other than Guru. To succeed in actualizing the whole path to enlightenment depends on the very root, guru devotion. We need this to be completely successful, to complete the two great purposes, working for ourselves and working for others. One interpretation of working for self and working for others is that the former refers to the qualities of the cessations, [ceasing] the mistakes of the mind, the defilements—that is working for self—and working for others refers to the complete qualities of the realizations. The other interpretation is that achieving enlightenment is working for self, and actually being enlightened and liberating other sentient beings is working for others.

To complete these two, working for self and working for others, depends on the very root, guru devotion. Without this, there can be no attainment of the path to enlightenment, whereas if this is done well we can achieve all the realizations of the path to enlightenment. That is why guru devotion is vital. We need to analyze this and, after we have has found this is true, after we have made the connection, we need to correctly devote to the guru with thought and action.

We look at it with quotations, logic and personal experiences of the master, and try to look at [the guru] as the Buddha. When we see him as the Buddha, there is devotion. We see no mistakes in reality, even though there is the appearance of mistakes, of having delusions, suffering and all that, but in reality there is no delusion, no suffering, no mistakes. When we see the guru in this way, devotion arises. This devotion is what brings all the causes. It is what makes it possible to cease all the mistakes of the mind and to complete all the realizations, and to be able to do perfect work for the numberless other sentient beings, to liberate them from all the oceans of sufferings of samsara and bring them to liberation and enlightenment. Therefore, this is called the root. Guru devotion, this realization, this experience realizing, seeing the guru is the Buddha from our own side is the root of the path to enlightenment.

Even if we just say, “Buddha, Dharma and Sangha,” just using the words without “Guru,” the guru is contained there, when we say “Buddha.” Sometimes we recite, “I go for refuge to the Guru” first, and then we say “Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.” “I go for refuge to the Buddha, I go for refuge to the Dharma, I go for refuge to the Sangha,” like that. Sometimes, like this prayer, it’s “Buddha, Dharma and Sangha”, but that doesn’t mean because there’s no word “Guru,” that guru yoga practice is left out. Those of us who normally practice guru yoga, when we say “I’m going for refuge to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha,” when we think of the Buddha as we say “I’m going for refuge to the Buddha,” we think of the guru; when we think of the guru, we think of the Buddha. For those who know how to practice correctly, this is how they meditate, how they think.

I have about twenty-five gurus, something like that, gurus from whom I have received oral transmissions or commentaries or initiations, vows and various teachings. One of the gurus I have received many initiations and commentaries from, especially commentaries on deities, is His Holiness Zong Rinpoche. Since Rinpoche was invited a few times, first by FPMT organization, our own organization, then later by other Dharma organizations, many Western students have had the great fortune to be able to meet him and to hear teachings on sutra and especially tantra from such an enlightened being, from somebody with real living experience, who has the realization. After Rinpoche was invited to the FPMT centers, more tantra teachings were able to be spread in our centers. They had happened before, but the depth and number of teachings on tantra increased after Rinpoche was invited to the Gelug centers.

During a commentary on the preparatory practice, Jorchö, Rinpoche said that this is the practice that causes us to have lamrim realizations in our mental continuum. The preparatory practice, Jorchö, frees our mental continuum from the obstacles that interfere with having realizations of the path to enlightenment. Rinpoche explained this, especially during the time he was giving commentary on the refuge practice, on the visualization of the merit field, the principal of the merit field, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, thinking that the essence of the guru is the Buddha. He explained that that meditation visualizing this aspect of the Buddha makes us receive greater blessings more quickly, even this aspect. We stop the ordinary aspect, having suffering, having delusions, all that, and then visualize the pure aspect of the Buddha. That causes us to receive blessings more quickly. This is what Rinpoche explained.

Without the guru there is no Buddha. As the great yogi or highly attained lama in Tibet, Khedrub Sangye Yeshe, explained,

When there is no guru not even the name “Buddha” exists.

In other words, the Buddha doesn’t exist before the guru. That means all the buddhas come from the guru; it contains that meaning. That also includes the Dharma and the Sangha. We have to understand that because the Buddha comes from the guru, it’s the same with all the buddhas, the Dharma and the Sangha. There is nobody else who has the power, the qualities, to guide us and all sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and its causes, only the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, who are abiding in front of us. Then, with our whole heart, we rely upon them.

What I was trying to say here is that, even though there is no guru mentioned, just “Buddha, Dharma and Sangha,” when we say, “Buddha,” it is contained within that.

Since I brought up this subject of the guru, maybe I should mention this key point. Whether more details will happen or not happen, I don’t know, but just the key point. Of course, in the thought transformation teachings there is an instruction to look at sentient beings as the Buddha. Somehow that helps us to have respect for them, to not get angry with them. It becomes psychologically helpful, helping us respect them, when we look at everybody as the Buddha. Respect comes naturally and it becomes easy to not get angry, to not harm sentient beings. This helps us protect our karma.

However, whether we are able to see other people’s gurus as the Buddha or not, when we relate to ourselves and to our guru, seeing the guru as the Buddha, there is nothing to talk about. There is no discussion whether our guru is the Buddha or not. From our side that is the practice. That is the root practice. It is the foundation of all the other practices of the lamrim, how, from our side, we see our guru. No matter how much others might debate that our gurus are not the Buddha, from our side there is no question.

If we want to have profit in our life, if we want to make our life useful, if we want the lamrim realizations, to cease all the mistakes of the mind and to complete all the qualities of the realization, and especially if we want to benefit other sentient beings, to liberate them from all the sufferings and bring them to full enlightenment, this is the practice we must do. If this is what we want, this is what we have to practice. We can only have success from this practice, from this transformation of mind into guru devotion, by looking at the Buddha, by seeing the Buddha. Through this, everything comes. So, if we want all this profit, we have to do this. But if we don’t want all this profit, all the realizations of the path to enlightenment, all this profit for ourselves, all this benefit for all sentient beings, if I don’t want all that, then that’s a different thing. If we only like to be in samsara, if we are happy to be resident in the lower realms, to get a green card for the lower realms, a passport, that’s a different matter! We have been a resident of the lower realms and samsara from beginningless lives, so if we still want to be in samsara, then it’s a different thing. Here the question of practicing guru devotion is that.

It’s like this. Without learning ABCD, we can’t go to college, we can’t go to university. Like the example, without the guru devotion practice, we can’t have all those other realizations. Padmasambhava said that if we don’t realize the guru is the Buddha, we cannot be liberated by the blessing. We must reflect on the qualities and request to the guru.

When he is talking about the guru here, he is not talking about the general guru, what is called “guru” in the world, he’s talking about our guru. If we don’t see them as the Buddha, that means there is no guru devotion, and that means there is no way to receive the blessing of the guru in our heart. And without the blessing, there is no way to have the realization of the path. Then there is no way our mental continuum can be liberated from the dualistic views, the subtle negative imprints or delusions, from karma; we cannot be liberated from samsara. These things won’t happen. So that means we cannot complete our work and we cannot complete the works for others.

Therefore, we should reflect on the qualities of the guru, looking at their holy mind, looking at them as having no mistakes, free from all the qualities. Sorry, I mean free from all the mistakes. Sorry! I think I have many negative imprints left from the past. Free from all the mistakes and having all the qualities. “To reflect on the qualities” means that. Having ceased all the mistakes and completed all the qualities, especially the ultimate one. The Buddha is that one, so therefore, by looking at the guru as the Buddha, we are naturally able to see them this way. By looking at the guru as the Buddha, we will be able to see them as free from all the mistakes and having all the qualities. So, we reflect on the qualities, and then to that guru that we see as the Buddha, we make requests. We request to receive the blessings and the realizations of the path to enlightenment, to develop our mind in the path to enlightenment.

What Padmasambhava explained shows why there is the need of a guru. To do this practice we need a guru. The first thing we need to do is find a guru. Then, after we have analyzed, after we have met and established a Dharma connection with them, we must correctly devote to the virtuous friend with thought and action. Correct devotion with thought is this one, looking at the guru as the Buddha, seeing they are the Buddha. At the beginning we do the analytical meditation, with the quotations and logic, and then, with all that, then our mind is transformed. We prove to this mind that doesn’t see the Buddha that the guru is the Buddha. By that, our mind is transformed into pure thought, into the devotion that sees the guru as the Buddha.

But again, when we are not doing the analytical meditation, using the quotations and logic, the devotion of seeing the guru as the Buddha disappears; it doesn’t last when we are not doing the meditation. However, through continuing the meditation where this mind is transformed into devotion, this happens more and more. It becomes stronger and stronger and stronger and stronger and lasts longer and longer and longer. After some time, it becomes very stable, not just that we feel that the guru is the Buddha for a few minutes or a few hours, not like that, but very stable. Very stable. That experience is not just for a short time, but very stable. When there is some experience like this that lasts a very short time, that is a sign of receiving blessings of the guru. Even for a short time we feel like that a hundred percent from the bottom of our heart, but it doesn’t last a long time. That is still the blessing of the guru. It’s a sign that our mental continuum is blessed by the guru.

By training again and again with this analytical meditation and the fixed meditation, after we have transformed our mind into the devotion seeing the guru as the Buddha, we try to keep our mind in that feeling, in that state of devotion, for as long as possible. By training the mind like this more and more, it becomes very grounded or very stable. Then, at that time, according to those who have a realization of devotion, from that person’s side, each buddha is all the gurus and each guru is all the buddhas. There are numberless buddhas; each guru is all the buddhas and each buddha is all the gurus.

Whenever that person thinks of a buddha or says the word “buddha,” in the heart there is the understanding that it is the guru. Whenever they see the guru, whenever they hear the guru, whenever they think of the guru, in the heart, there is the understanding that what they have is only the Buddha. For those who have a realization of guru devotion, it’s like this. There’s no separation of those two. For those who have a realization of guru devotion, whenever they say the word “guru,” or think of the guru, or see the guru, there is only the Buddha, nothing else. This is the understanding those meditators have in their hearts. Then, complete trust comes. Because of the devotion, seeing the guru as the Buddha, there are no difficulties in following the advice, no hardships in following the advice.

To finish this point, with such a realization, whatever subject we meditate on, it is so easy. The mind is like dough—flour dough, not dope like the sadhus take! It is like flour dough; we can form it into any shape. With dough, we can make it into bread or noodles, you can make it into any shape. Especially by having the realization of guru devotion, whatever subject we meditate on, we feel it happens easily. Normally, when we recite a prayer, the words we recite and our heart are totally the opposite. But then, at this time, our heart is living in the meaning of the words we are reciting, our heart is transformed into that. If we are reciting words of the prayer about compassion, our mind feels compassion. When we are reciting the words of impermanence and death, we easily feel that, and the same with emptiness or bodhicitta, whatever. Our mind becomes so easy to tame, like a dog. Because the mind can be transformed into whatever we meditate on, it is very easy to gain realizations and, in this way, delusions cannot arise. Due to guru devotion, that realization, in daily life delusions will not easily arise. And even if they arise they can be easily overcome. They might still arise but they are weak, they are not strong. Then, it is very easy to practice the Dharma.

The need for guru devotion

What happens without this guru devotion practice? Of course, as I mentioned before, there is no cause to receive the blessings of the guru. And that means, without blessings there is no realization of the path to enlightenment. That’s the first thing to understand.

Now the next thing to understand, without the method or the remedy of guru devotion in the mind, what happens is that, because there is not that pure mind of devotion of looking at [the guru] as the Buddha, there is no protection. Our mind has no protection. So delusions and negative thoughts arise. Negative thoughts arise toward the virtuous friend, the guru. Without this pure mind of guru devotion, the thoughts we have of the guru are only ordinary thoughts, impure thoughts. With only ordinary, impure thoughts, we project, we see the guru as only ordinary. “Ordinary” means having mistakes, having delusions, having suffering, doing mistaken actions. The definition of ordinary form is that.

Even if from the side of the guru, they are a buddha, without this devotion from our side, without this pure thought, this devotion that looks at the guru as the Buddha, even if from the side of the guru they are a buddha, a fully enlightened being, because all we have is this ordinary thought, we project [the ordinariness onto the guru], seeing them with our ordinary thoughts as only ordinary, having mistakes.

There are so many other stories. For example, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s disciple, Lekpai Karma [Skt: Sunakshatra] was a monk who served Guru Shakyamuni Buddha for twenty-two years, but he never saw him as the Buddha. Even though he lived with the Buddha for twenty-two years, he never saw Shakyamuni Buddha as the Buddha! What he saw was only a liar. This fully ordained monk, Lekpai Karma, despite being the Buddha’s attendant for twenty-two years, saw Shakyamuni Buddha as an ordinary person who made mistakes. In his view, he only told lies, even though from Buddha’s side, he was enlightened an inconceivably long time ago.

Even though according to the Theravadin tradition, the Buddha was enlightened in Bodhgaya, and that was the first time he achieved enlightenment, according to the Mahayana tradition, that was just enacting the twelve deeds for us sentient beings, showing us how to practice the Dharma. He showed us that suffering comes from a cause, delusion and karma. That is why there is suffering. And because there is a cause, it can be ceased. Because it can be ceased, because there is a path we can practice, we can achieve liberation. He enacted becoming enlightened in order to show the four noble truths and how we can achieve enlightenment, to inspire us sentient beings.

After enlightenment. how is it possible for there to be death? Even arhats, who are free from samsara, don’t have death. So how is it possible for the Buddha to have death? The Buddha explained that the Buddha doesn’t have death, but shows enlightenment, and after all that, he gave us the heart teaching of impermanence and death in order to destroy our concept of permanence, which blocks us from practicing the Dharma, to persuade us to practice the Dharma. We must practice the Dharma because life is impermanent, because there is death. It’s not just death, but everything behind death, which means all that suffering, karma, the lower realms. So, the Buddha showed death at the very end, the very last thing he enacted or showed us sentient beings was death, the very essential advice why we should practice the Dharma. The Buddha enacted all this, even though he achieved enlightenment an inconceivably long time ago.

But this attendant, Lekpai Karma, who served the Buddha for twenty-two years, living with him, didn’t see an enlightened being from his side. Even though, from the Buddha’s side, he was an enlightened being, from Lekpai Karma’s side he only saw a liar, only an ordinary being, he didn’t see an enlightened being.

There are many other stories like this. For example, the great Indian yogi, Naropa, who became enlightened in the intermediate stage, I think. He was looking for a guru. He was already a great scholar, having realizations. He was very learned but Naropa was told by dakinis, in a dream or something, that he should look for his guru, Tilopa; he should receive teachings from Tilopa. The story is that Naropa thought he was extremely learned in this and that, showing the aspect of a little pride or something like that, so when the dakinis during the night predicted that Naropa still had more to learn, and predicted to go to see Tilopa, he went to look for Tilopa.

I don’t remember the name of the area in India, but by asking other people, he found Tilopa. There was water, where fish lived. One story was that Tilopa was eating all the intestines left by the fishermen next to the water. Or the other story was that when he saw Tilopa, Tilopa was burning the live fish on the fire, eating them like a barbecue! [So Naropa doubted] whether this was Tilopa or not. Naropa thought he might not be Tilopa because of what he was doing and the way he looked. He asked him if he was Tilopa and Tilopa replied “No” but when he asked again, Tilopa then replied, “Yes.” Depending on Naropa’s attitude, having doubts or not, he gave different answers. When he had doubts, Tilopa said, “No, there’s no Lord Tilopa,” which was kind of a projection, according to the appearance of Naropa’s different thoughts.

Anyway, the end of the story is that Tilopa was an enlightened being, the deity Heruka, the Buddha Vajradhara. The way Tilopa guided Naropa to purify so many eons of negative karma and to achieve enlightenment very quickly was to make Naropa bear twelve great hardships. Each of the twelve hardships has a story where Tilopa asked Naropa to do something that almost made Naropa die. “Hardship” in this case means almost dying! And when he was almost dying, Tilopa came and blessed him and he became alive again or recovered. Then again Tilopa told him to do something, then again he almost died. This was a very heavy thing Tilopa asked Naropa to do. He didn’t ask him to go to a cave and meditate.

One of the hardships was to jump from a very high roof into a hole. He almost died, but then Tilopa came and blessed him and he recovered. One day Tilopa asked Naropa to go to somebody’s house where they were making soup, thukpa, in a pot, to bring the whole pot to him. He went there without hesitation but the family beat him so badly he almost died. Then Tilopa came and blessed him and he recovered. One time Tilopa asked Naropa to go to where there was a wedding, where the husband and wife were sitting in the carriage or on a horse, I’m not sure. Tilopa asked Naropa to run there and rub the lady’s breast! He did that immediately without hesitation but he was beaten by all the people. Again, he almost died. Then Tilopa came, blessed him, and he recovered. There were twelve great hardships and twelve small hardships. As an enlightened being, Tilopa knew the skillful means of purifying many eons of negative karmas, defilements, to achieve enlightenment quickly. So Naropa achieved enlightenment in the intermediate stage after passing away.

I found a book of Naropa’s life story in Melbourne, Australia. I don’t know how I got the book, but I read it once. Anyway, that’s the story. I read a little bit of Milarepa’s life story when I was very small, I think maybe five, six or seven years old, something like that, in Solu Khumbu. I had to read texts all day long with my uncle-teacher who taught me, who was my second alphabet teacher. I had to read texts all day from dawn until evening, before sunset, except during mealtime or when I went for pipi. I spent a little bit of time when I went for pipi, looking around. Anyway, I think when I was young, my mind was probably clearer. When I was reading texts, they seemed to make [a deeper] impression.

So anyway, Tilopa responded according to Naropa’s state of mind. When Naropa got some faith that he was Tilopa, at that time, Tilopa responded that he was Tilopa. But when he did certain things like burning live fish in the fire and eating them, Naropa doubted he was Tilopa, and Tilopa denied he was. That’s like the story that I told of Lekpai Karma who served the Buddha for twenty-two years but didn’t see Shakyamuni Buddha as an enlightened being. He only saw mistakes during those twenty-two years. This is what happens to our mind if there is no protection, no guru devotion, no pure thought. There is a huge problem if we become angry with the guru or if we have heresy. Here the “guru” means after having established a connection.

In the guru devotion meditation, there are eight benefits of correctly devoting to the virtuous friend and eight shortcomings of making mistakes with the guru. If we don’t have a guru, we don’t receive these eight benefits. That’s a powerful shortcoming. Not receiving these eight benefits without a guru, we should understand the shortcomings of being without a guru.

Now, making a mistake with the guru, there are eight shortcomings. If we criticize the guru, if we give up the guru, the karma is as heavy as having criticized or given up all the buddhas. Even if it’s just one guru we have criticized or given up, it’s very heavy karma, the same as having criticized all the buddhas.

The second shortcoming is that if we get angry at our guru, even for the duration of a youthful person’s snapping the finger… According to the Hinayana, the Vaibhashika school, one second is divided into sixty-five parts. According to the Mahayana, the second is divided into three hundred and sixty-five parts, like when you click the shutter on a camera. What is said in the commentaries by the great enlightened being, Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo, the shortcomings of having heresy or anger to the guru, even for that smallest part of a finger snap, which according to Mahayana is one-three hundred and sixty-fifths of a second, for that many eons, we are reborn in the hell realm and have to suffer there. So, the number of eons equaling however many parts of a second we were angry with or had heresy toward the guru, the parts of the snap of the fingers, for that many eons we reincarnate in the hell realm and have to experience the suffering there for that length of time.

And not only that, there are two more. For that number of eons equaling the parts of a snap of the fingers, our realizations of the path to enlightenment are delayed. And the other thing is the merits are also delayed.

If a non-bodhisattva gets angry with a bodhisattva for even a second, it creates negative karma. It destroys the merit collected by having made offerings, practiced charity, morality and so forth for a thousand eons. All the merit collected for a thousand eons gets destroyed. This is for somebody who is not a bodhisattva getting angry with a bodhisattva for as short a time as a second. All the merit we have collected in the past thousand eons gets destroyed. This is mentioned in A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.

The guru we have established a Dharma connection with is the most powerful object among all the powerful objects. For that number of eons, as many as the shortest time like this duration of the snapping finger divided into three hundred and sixty-five that we have heresy or are angry with the guru, for that many number of eons, the realization is put off, delayed.

The third thing is that so much more than that happens when a non-bodhisattva gets angry with a bodhisattva for one second, even much more. For however many parts of a second we get angry with the guru, for that many eons equaling those shortest times, our merits get destroyed.

Therefore, when we have negative thoughts such as heresy or anger toward the guru, they become the heaviest obstacle for realization. There is no heavier obstacle than this. It is not only causing us suffering during the human life—all the obstacles, the sicknesses, the many disasters, whatever happens—not only that, but all the sufferings of the hell realm. Not only that, but many eons of merit are destroyed and the realizations of the path are delayed for that many number of eons. Therefore, this guru devotion practice, this pure mind of guru devotion, looking at the guru as free from all the mistakes and having all the qualities, looking at the guru as a buddha, having this degree of devotion becomes extremely important. We have an unbelievable need for protection; it is so urgent. This is besides what I said before, that it is the cause of receiving blessings and realizations.

That’s why Lama Tsongkhapa’s way of presenting the lamrim, his way of guiding the disciples in the path to enlightenment, is to first introduce guru devotion. At the very beginning he introduced guru devotion, and then he introduced the perfect human rebirth and the graduated path of the lower capable being, the middle capable being, and the higher capable being. This way that Lama Tsongkhapa presented the lamrim teachings to guide the disciples is very skillful and very important. From the very beginning the disciples are aware of the way to have quick success and all the realizations and what are the greatest obstacles to that. From the beginning they are aware, they know how to practice the Dharma.

In the West, in America, I think nowadays, there are people, when they have meetings or they do meditations on the path, they feel that guru devotion, guru yoga, is not necessary. They feel this is a practice from the old times, from Tibet, but the United States doesn’t need it! The people who give lectures or are involved in teaching meditation, they meet and they think that the path is not necessary. But there are also stories of problems happening, people facing difficulties. I think it also has to do with that. People who say these things really do not know what this practice of guru devotion is for, they don’t know the purpose, the importance of it. It appears they have missed out the real importance of it, the usefulness of it in life, the richness of it, how when we do it, we receive all the profits like the sky. I think maybe because they didn’t get the very point, this guru yoga thing appears sort of like cultural, like it doesn’t have much value or importance, it’s kind of like, what? Is there is some word there? I don’t know, it seems to them something that doesn’t have a logical reason. I don’t know the term to use.

So anyway, they think it’s not necessary, that we can meditate on the path without it. I guess the people who are saying these things don’t know the real meaning of guru devotion, the real purpose of it and how it is connected, how it is necessary for the realizations of the path to enlightenment. I think, I don’t know that exactly, people have problems in the West and so they decide to not have this practice, thinking it’s not necessary. They think you should just meditate on the path.

Therefore, before making the Dharma connection with a guru, we should analyze. That’s why it becomes important. If the analysis is done carefully at the beginning, later there is much less danger. Even though there might be danger, it depends on how much the disciple has an understanding of the guru devotion practice, how to practice it. It depends on how skillful the disciple is, how much merit and how much understanding of guru devotion the disciple has. It also depends on understanding how important guru devotion is and how to do that, and the merit gained, all these things. So, after the connection is made, it depends on how much we can devote to the guru, how much we are able to practice guru devotion, undisturbed, unchanging, how much stability we have. All these things also depend on the individual, on how much merit, how much good karma the disciple has. For those who have a lot of merit and an understanding of how to do it, their devotion cannot be shaken, cannot be disturbed. Their devotion cannot be changed very easily; it is very strong. So then that disciple creates less obstacles, they have more success.

As I normally explain, first of all, this life’s parents are more powerful objects to us than outside people. If we do even a small service for this life’s parents, a little respect, the resultant good karma is very powerful because the object is very powerful, so powerful we can start to experience the result, the happiness, in this life. That means it will continue in future lives. On the other hand, if we disrespect this life’s parents even a little bit, that is very heavy negative karma, because this life’s parents are very powerful objects, and we can start to experience the problems in this life.

After that, a more powerful object is an ordained person. Even if it’s an ordinary being living in ordination, an ordinary Sangha, they are a more powerful object. Then, an arhat is even more powerful. But one bodhisattva is more powerful than the numberless arhats. It is said in the teachings that if we look at a bodhisattva with a respectful mind, a very calm devotional mind, this merit is much more than if we were to give charity of our eyeballs to all the sentient beings of the three realms: the desire realm, the form realm and the formless realm. If we give the charity of our eyeballs to all those sentient beings and then we look at a bodhisattva with a devotional, calm mind, in a peaceful way, we create much more merit. But if we look at a bodhisattva with an angry mind—I always have difficulty with this word—if we peer at, glare at, yeah? Glare? If we glare at a bodhisattva with a nondevotional, angry mind, that negative karma is much heavier than taking out the eyeballs of all the three realms’ sentient beings. This shows how a bodhisattva is so powerful.

Now of the numberless bodhisattvas and one buddha, one buddha is much more powerful than the numberless bodhisattvas. Now, of the numberless buddhas and one guru, this one guru is more powerful that the numberless buddhas. How does this happen? As I normally mention, even if from the guru’s side they are not a buddha or even a bodhisattva but just an ordinary being, how does this being get all this power? The minute there is the recognition from the disciple’s side that one is the guru and the other—ourselves—is the disciple, with this recognition of guru and disciple, when the Dharma connection is established, when we hear even one stanza or verse of teachings, even a few syllables of a mantra or an oral transmission or whatever—we don’t have to receive a whole teaching but even a verse or a few syllables of a mantra—the minute that relationship or the Dharma connection is established, even if the other person is not a buddha or even a bodhisattva, that being becomes the most powerful being in our life, the most powerful one related to us, not to others. Others might not have made a Dharma connection, but we have, so that person is a most powerful being for us. Relating to us, they are more powerful for us than the numberless buddhas.

I normally give this example. A battery won’t give a torch any light until we place the positive and negative electrodes together and the light happens. With the recognition of the guru, when the disciple receives any teachings, even one verse or a few syllables of a mantra, the power is created. Because the power comes from that, that other person becomes most powerful to us.

Our parents are powerful but this is the most powerful object. That guru becoming our guru, becoming the most powerful object, happens due to dependent arising. It happens due to causes and conditions, then that power happens. As I explained regarding the parents, how a small service, a little respect creates very powerful good karma, but a small harm or a little disrespect becomes very heavy negative karma. Now, there’s no question that this is the same with the most powerful object, the guru. This is the explanation that I gave before.

This is the reason why there’s so much emphasis on guru devotion in Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism. In Mahayana Buddhism, there is a whole volume, I think it’s called Dong po kö pa’i do.1 Again, the guru devotion practice is not something that Tibetan lamas made up for their benefit. There is a whole sutra taught by the Buddha, and when we read lamrim teachings on guru devotion, there are so many quotations from the pandits and yogis and from Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings. There’s a whole sutra text, a volume, talking about the guru, called Dong po kö pa’i do. It may sound like guru yoga is kind of like a Tibetan lama’s trip, something they made up for their benefit. It’s not like that. There are pure quotations from the Buddha’s teachings that verify this.

Seeing mistakes in the guru

I’ll recite this quotation from the Fifth Dalai Lama on how to practice guru devotion. When we find difficulties in the guru devotion practice or when we see mistakes, it shows us how to handle it so that it doesn’t become an obstacle for developing our mind on the path to enlightenment. Instead of becoming an obstacle, we see an apparent mistake as a cause of inspiration for us to develop devotion. Seeing a mistake not only does not become an obstacle to developing our mind on the path to enlightenment, it becomes an inspiration to developing devotion to the guru. That is a very important meditation technique. This is the solution. So I often mention what the Fifth Dalai Lama said in this stanza. It’s a very effective instruction, a very powerful, very clear practice, that when we see an apparent mistake, we turn it into something positive, so it does not become an obstacle. We do not allow that to become an obstacle to developing our mind on the path to enlightenment. It doesn’t become an obstacle for our happiness.

The Fifth Dalai Lama said,

In the view of your hallucinated mind, your own faults appear in the guru’s actions. All this shows is that your own heart is rotten to the core. Recognizing them as your own faults, abandon them like poison.

If there is some poison that makes us sick, if there’s something in the food that can kill us, we immediately stop eating it. If there’s a poison, something that makes us sick or kills us, we immediately throw it away because it’s harmful; it’s dangerous for our health or life. We discard it like used toilet paper. By understanding that “all this” means all those appearances, all our own mistakes, we need to abandon them like poison.

In the guru devotion meditation there are all the reasons, all the quotations. There are many quotations from Shakyamuni Buddha. Guru Vajradhara said,

In the degenerate time, I, who am called Vajrasattva, will abide in the form of the spiritual master. With the aim of benefiting sentient beings, I will abide in ordinary forms.

There are many quotations like this. The Buddha himself said that in the future degenerate time, which means our time, he will manifest as an abbot or a teacher, and even though he is not blind, he will manifest as blind, even though he is not lame, he will manifest as lame, in order to benefit sentient beings. There are many quotations from the Buddha like that.

When he was a bodhisattva, the Buddha made so many prayers, five hundred prayers, in front of Buddha Rinchen Nyingpo, that in the quarreling time, the time of the five degenerations, in this world, when human beings lived to a hundred and there were no other buddhas to guide these sentient beings because they were so difficult to subdue, at that time he vowed to guide them, to look after them. The Buddha generated such strong compassion and made so many prayers in the past when he was a bodhisattva in the presence of this buddha. Now, this is the quarreling time and we are those sentient beings who are in the quarreling time that the Buddha made so many prayers for. The Buddha generated so much compassion for us and said he would guide us. There are so many quotations like this that said the Buddha will guide us.

Who is this Buddha? Who is this Buddha guiding us? Where is this Buddha guiding me? There is nobody else to point to except these gurus who guide us to enlightenment by giving vows, such as the pratimoksha, bodhisattva and tantric vows, by giving us commentaries and oral transmissions, and by giving initiations and so forth. In this way, they guide us and bring us to enlightenment. There is nobody else to point to; this is the Buddha who is guiding us. It has to be these [gurus]. They are the ones who, with these activities, are definitely bringing us to enlightenment by helping us cease the mistakes of the mind and complete the qualities of the realizations.

I think, by using quotations such as these, by analyzing, by reasoning and with the quotations, we look at that virtuous friend, free from all the obstacles, free from all the mistakes and having all the realizations. When, from our heart, we look at [the guru as] a buddha, when we do that, whatever mistakes appear to us, we see this appearance of mistakes is only the appearance of our own impure mind. In this way, even if we have the appearance of mistakes, there is no belief that that is true, that the virtuous guru has mistakes. There is no such belief, even though we might have that appearance. This is similar to having the appearance of inherent existence but not believing it to be true.

The other thing is that this helps, this protects our mind so that the appearance of mistakes cannot destroy us. Because there’s no belief in it, it cannot destroy us, it cannot harm us. But if the belief returned and this ordinary mind believed that it was true, it could destroy our enlightenment, it could destroy our liberation, it could destroy our realizations.

The next thing, I don’t remember a hundred percent, but maybe in the text called Essence of Nectar by Yeshe Tsöndru, it says,

Until we are free from our obscuring negative karma,
Even if all the buddhas without exception descended directly in front of us,
We have no fortune to see the sublime holy body adorned with the holy signs and exemplification—
Only this present appearance.

That means that until we have purified all the defilements of negative karma, even if all the buddhas were to actually come in front of us, we could not see them as buddhas, in the aspect of a buddha. We could only see them in their present appearance, as ordinary beings in samsara, having all the delusions, all the suffering, making mistakes in their actions. We would have no way of seeing them in the pure aspect of a buddha.

This is how the situation is. Because of our mental state, we cannot see anything purer than we are. If somebody manifests as pure, we cannot see them. If they manifest as purer, better than this, we don’t have karma to see them. If they are lower than this, like an animal or something, they cannot communicate or receive guidance. Therefore, if we even have the opportunity to see the many qualities in the guru, we are so fortunate. That’s the instruction given by Yeshe Tsöndru.

The way the Buddha or the guru guides is the same. “Guru” here refers to the absolute guru; it refers way back to the creator, the originator, whether we say “guru” or “Buddha.” If these numberless buddhas, or the guru, didn’t manifest in this ordinary aspect—having delusions, making mistakes in action, suffering, in whichever way exactly fits our present state of ordinary, impure mind—we could not see them or communicate with them. There is no other way.

We are totally lost in samsara, totally guideless, like a baby left in the jungle where there are many dangerous animals. Like that, our life is totally guideless, lost. Therefore, it is unbelievably kind that they manifest in this ordinary aspect of having mistakes. They are so precious, so precious in our life. Because with this, we can receive teachings, guidance, all these vows, initiations, commentaries, and we can communicate with them Then we can achieve every happiness including liberation and enlightenment, and we can enlighten all sentient beings. So this ordinary aspect, this mistaken aspect, is unbelievably precious in our life.

Visualizing all those gurus we have made a connection with, by thinking of all their aspects and how precious they are, we can recite mantras. After that we can think twenty times, or fifty times or one mala, “How precious, how precious, how precious.” We can try to get a strong realization of that. Then, after that we can recall all the actions they have done for us: guiding us to enlightenment by giving those different vows and initiations or by giving commentaries on tantric or sutra teachings.

Every single word brings us to enlightenment. Every single word or mantra we receive leaves a positive imprint in our mind and that causes us to have realizations later—sooner or later—ceasing the defilements. That’s how it makes the mind enlightened. Every single word brings us to enlightenment. So, how precious, how kind they are. We generate that feeling, either twenty-one times, or half a mala, or a whole mala.

So now here, seeing a mistake in the guru, instead of causing heresy and anger to arise, it becomes a cause of inspiration, a cause of appreciation, a cause to think of their kindness and to develop guru devotion. This is Lama Tsongkhapa’s special technique, that even seeing a mistake in the guru through this meditation becomes a cause of guru devotion, a cause to attain realizations in our mind.

I think I’ll stop here. Sorry, the refuge precepts didn’t happen. Tomorrow afternoon! I think the dinner’s gone! I think dinner has become breakfast. Anyway, my subject tonight somehow turned out this way. However, if you can write down these things, you are better able to remember them. Even though I didn’t go through the whole subject according to the outlines of the lamrim, this talk contained very important points of the guru devotion meditation practice, why and how and all those things.

Knowing the cause of happiness and suffering

I am mentioning this because it helps. Now, we are just beginning to practice the Dharma, so from the very beginning we must be very careful to practice correctly, to make sure from the beginning that we can always purify. Any negative karma can be purified. There is always the chance to become enlightened, but it is better from the very beginning to practice correctly by knowing all the dangers, all the important points, what brings all the success of realizations. From the beginning it’s better to have the knowledge of what is important in order to achieve enlightenment, and then to enlighten all sentient beings. From the beginning, if the practice becomes messy, due to lack of knowledge or carelessness, our life then continues to be messy. Instead of having realizations, we continue to make so many mistakes and have many obstacles.

That’s the one reason why it is important to explain this, to know this. In other words, if we put it into ordinary language, this is psychology, protection for the mind. Of course, it sounds very strange to tell other people that they should visualize the Buddha. But we can explain this with compassion. It’s not that I have compassion, I’m not saying that. With compassion, we can explain guru devotion to protect the disciple from these biggest mistakes, the heaviest negative karmas. It’s necessary to explain this. If it’s explained with compassion, there is no problem. Even if we ourselves are not a buddha, as I mentioned before, if it’s explained with compassion, in another sense it’s psychology. It’s a very profound psychology that has benefits like the sky.

In our daily life, there are things like how to meditate, but knowing how to meditate is not the only thing. If we know how to meditate, then we also come to know how to eat, how to sleep, how to wash, how to do our job. Knowing how to meditate, we know how to do all the rest. If we don’t know how to meditate, how to practice the Dharma, we don’t know how to eat, how to sleep, how to do our job and all the rest. We are ignorant in all the rest; we don’t completely know how to do things. We may know externally how to do them, but we don’t know how to internally do them, the mental aspect. We may be professional, externally knowing how to do our job, how to do cleaning, how to be a waiter in a restaurant, in a five-star or a ten-star hotel, how to teach in a school and so forth. But if we don’t know how to meditate and how to practice the Dharma, then we don’t know how to do all the rest. We may know externally how to do something professionally, but we really don’t completely know how to do any action.

We have to know whether any action we do is the cause of happiness or the cause of suffering. In order to result only in happiness, our action has to become virtue. If the action becomes nonvirtue, it only results in suffering. What defines an action becoming the cause of happiness or the cause of suffering is not defined by being professional, by knowing how to do it externally. If we are not professional at how we do the cleaning, or how we work at being a secretary or how we work in an office, not being professional does not make the action nonvirtue. Or being professional, that alone doesn’t make the action to become virtue, the cause for it to only result in happiness. It doesn’t depend on whether the action is done professionally, whether it is sleeping, eating, working, enjoying lying down for many hours at the beach in the hot sun, or riding over the big waves on a board, getting blissed out!

A guy in Australia told me that riding the waves you can also generate bliss, you can experience bliss. I think he said clear light or bliss! He said when he experienced bliss, he thought of the Tibetan lamas who had no idea of that experience. They didn’t have the experience of riding over the waves, maybe he meant the Australian ocean waves. I think he was probably saying that the experience we can have through the Six Yogas of Naropa is the same as by riding over the waves! He was saying that in highest tantra, just as you generate the four blisses, while riding over the waves, standing on the board, you can generate bliss. Maybe that was just for himself.

If what we want is only happiness and if we don’t want suffering, our actions must become virtue, and in order for the action to become virtue, our motivation, our attitude to life, has to become virtue, it has to become the Dharma. When that action has become the Dharma, it can only result in happiness, not suffering. Like wanting to watch a particular TV channel, we turn the switch on and it lights up. Or we press it again and then it stops. Similarly, our attitude of life, our motivation is like that. With one attitude it is only suffering, it’s opening the door for suffering. The mistaken way of thinking is having a wrong attitude, a wrong motivation. Because the attitude of life is wrong, we open the door for all suffering. Like flicking this switch and the television shows only wars, only violence. We must turn the channel so it shows peaceful programs, enjoyable ones with many beautiful things, like mountains, flowers and people enjoying themselves. Our attitude of life is like that switch. We press and the whole room, the whole house, becomes completely dark, without light. If our attitude to life becomes nonvirtuous, it’s like that.

Then, even in this life, there are many worries and problems, so many things. The nature of that mind is not peaceful, it’s unhappy, due to the nonvirtuous thoughts, the afflictive emotions. When we transform your mind into virtuous thoughts, into the Dharma, it’s like pressing the button and the whole room, the whole house, lights up. When that happens, where there was no light, suddenly light comes, bringing joy and happiness. With a virtuous thought it is like that.

Four people reciting the Tara prayer

You have probably gone through this many times, but especially in case somebody’s not aware of this or needs it clarified, I’d like to emphasize this. The usual example is what is mentioned by the great enlightened being, Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo, in Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand. He uses the example of four people reciting the Tara prayer, the Praises to the Twenty-one Taras, because it is very common among the Tibetan people to recite this prayer. Now reciting the Twenty-one Taras practice is even becoming common among the Western students who practice Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism. So Pabongka generally uses this example.

Four people are reciting the Praises to the Twenty-one Taras. The first person recites the Tara prayer with the motivation to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings. Because of that, that person’s action becomes the cause to achieve enlightenment for all sentient beings. The next person recites the Tara prayer with the motivation, not to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings, but much lower than that, to achieve liberation from samsara for only themself. That person’s action does not become the cause of enlightenment, it does not become the cause of happiness for all sentient beings, it only becomes is the cause to achieve liberation, the ultimate happiness for themself. The third person recites the prayer, not to reach enlightenment, not to achieve liberation from samsara for themself, but just to achieve happiness in their future life, just that. That person’s action of reciting the Tara prayer does not become the cause of enlightenment, it does not even become the cause to achieve liberation from samsara for themself. It only becomes the cause to achieve the happiness of their own future life, only that.

All the actions up to here are Dharma. The action that becomes the cause of enlightenment, the action that becomes the cause of liberation from samsara for oneself, and the action that becomes the cause of future lives’ happiness, all those three actions become Dharma.

The fourth person recites the Tara prayer with the motivation to be healthy in this life, to have a long life, power, wealth, reputation and so forth in this life. That means the fourth person has recited the prayer with the motivation that is attachment clinging to the happiness of this life. Therefore, this fourth person’s action of reciting the Tara prayer does not become Dharma. Even though the subject is Dharma, the action is not Dharma because the person is reciting the Tara prayer with the attachment clinging to this life.

Although there can be prayers whose subject is not Dharma, here the subject is Dharma, but the person’s action does not become Dharma because the motivation for the action of reciting the prayer is the attachment clinging to this life. It becomes nonvirtue. Because the prayer has power due to the blessings, the power of the deity, it might heal a disease like cancer and so forth, it might pacify life obstacles, it might help to have the success in whatever they are looking for in this life—reciting such prayers helps, but not necessarily—however that still doesn’t mean that the person’s action of reciting the prayer becomes Dharma. The prayer might help just as when we take medicine we can be healed. If we have a headache, taking aspirins or those painkillers can stop the pain. That doesn’t prove that taking this medicine is Dharma, that it is virtuous. Even though it can heal the disease, it doesn’t mean that action, having treatment is virtue, Dharma, which results only happiness. That alone doesn’t prove it. That totally depends on our motivation, whether the attitude of taking medicine is done with Dharma or not, whether that becomes Dharma or not.

It is mentioned in Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand by the great enlightened Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo, when a practitioner of tantra, who was practicing Yamantaka, died, he was born as a hungry ghost in the same shape of Yamantaka, very similar looking, with many arms and heads. He tried to go from India to Tibet but Lama Atisha didn’t allow him to enter Tibet, where he would harm other beings. Lama Atisha gave torma, a cake, with the meditation to this spirit who was then dispelled and not allowed to come into Tibet.

He also mentions a meditator who did many years of retreat on the deity, Yamantaka, then died and was reborn as a hungry ghost similar in form to Yamantaka. His friend, another meditator, burned tsampa, barley flour—the main, real Tibetan food, not thukpa or momo noodles, which come from China and are not real Tibetan food. Tsampa, barley flour, is the real Tibetan food. In the evenings, his friend practiced making charity of the smell of tsampa to the spirits, to the smell-eaters, and to the intermediate state beings. If people died, while they were in the intermediate state, he made charity for them in this way. It’s a short practice but a very effective one to make charity for those spirits and intermediate state beings, but actually the charity is made for all the six realms’ sentient beings. He also made offerings to the Triple Gem. It is not just the smell, it transforms into the various sense objects, form, sound and so forth. It is the perfect smell which has the qualities of the five sense objects. He made offering to the Triple Gem, the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and also made charity to all sentient beings, particularly those beings who live on smells. Because it liberates them from those suffering realms, there is great benefit in doing this charity.

One day, when this meditator was doing this practice, the other meditator, his friend who died and was born as a hungry ghost, similar to the deity with many arms, came to get this smell. Even though he had done many years of retreat, reciting lots of mantras, he was born as a spirit. Why? It’s because he didn’t know how to meditate. He did a lot of mantras, he did visualizations of the deity for many years, but he didn’t know how to meditate. The mistake is not because he hadn’t visualized deities or thought about the deities or because he hadn’t recited mantras, it’s not that. It’s because while he was meditating, there was no renunciation of samsara, there was no bodhicitta, there was no right view. These things were missing. He recited mantras and visualized the deity for years, but the lamrim was missing. There was no lamrim within his tantra practice. While he did the sadhanas, the lamrim was missing, the three principal aspects of the path, the very fundamental practice of Buddhism, was missed out. Then instead of instantly achieving enlightenment by practicing tantra, he achieved the lower realms, the hungry ghost realm.

It’s easy when people have some subject to meditate on, something to think about, either breathing meditation or something else to think about. But that’s not sufficient. Even visualizing a tantric deity is not sufficient. If we just have a mantra to recite, that’s not sufficient, it’s not enough. It’s so important to know how to do it.

Is breathing meditation Dharma?

I normally also say this. We can spend our whole life doing breathing meditation, spending so many years just doing breathing meditation, just watching the breath. If the motivation is to cease the delusions such as anger, attachment and ignorance, then doing a breathing meditation is similar to achieving liberation from samsara. Here we are doing the breathing meditation with the thought of renunciation, renouncing the delusions. So, of course, that action becomes a cause to achieve liberation from samsara, liberation from the cause of suffering, the delusions.

Now, the person who is doing the meditation for day-to-day life peace of mind, the peace of mind of this life, is that virtue? Is that Dharma?

Student: If they are calm, they may not harm others as much as they may have.

Rinpoche: That’s similar to not harming others when we are asleep! When we get so angry, when we’re nagging, nagging, nagging, when we’re so angry and nagging at somebody, screaming at somebody, drilling in their ear, instead of doing that we go to sleep, it’s very useful, isn’t it? Or even if we just go away, just go out of the house for a walk alone!

Is that virtue or not virtue, is that Dharma or not Dharma? Doing the meditation for peace of mind of this life. Yeah?

Student: Not Dharma.

Rinpoche: Not Dharma, there’s no Dharma. If a person doesn’t think about future lives, doesn’t think the happiness beyond this life, just wants to have peace of mind now, today. There’s no Dharma.

Student: But what if you use that peace of mind to practice the Dharma? If you use it to pray or to create the conditions for being in touch with the Dharma in the future, I think that could be Dharma.

Rinpoche: That becomes small Dharma! Tiny Dharma!

Student: But it must be better than just sleeping away the time, isn’t it? Because it was really one very little seed.

Rinpoche: My question is that the person doesn’t think of the happiness after this life. There is no motivation of the happiness after this life; they are just wanting today’s peace of mind.

Student: What if the person does it to benefit other sentient beings? For example, if I do it to calm my anger so I won’t get angry at anybody else and be unable to generate compassion. Even though I do it with the motivation for only this life, I do it with the right motivation, so I would say that that is Dharma because it’s to benefit others?

Rinpoche: You see, if a person is trying to stop anger, that’s Dharma. If you are trying to stop delusion, that’s Dharma. Of course, that is good quality Dharma. The definition of Dharma is the action, the thought that becomes a remedy to the delusions. That’s one definition of Dharma that is usually mentioned by the Kadampa geshes, that which becomes remedy for the delusions. Here, the person is trying to stop anger, they are trying to practice patience. Of course, that’s real Dharma. That’s renunciation, renouncing the cause of suffering, delusions. That’s real Dharma. But here, the person is doing the meditation just for peace of mind, to be calm. It’s more like a sense of comfort, in that way. Not so much thinking, “Oh, I’m going to stop my desire or renounce anger.” It’s not renouncing delusions; it’s not clear like that. Just looking for peace of mind, just looking for comfort. Is that actual meditation Dharma or not? Is that virtue or not?

What about a person doing a meditation because of the pleasure of meditation? Just doing a meditation because of the pleasure of meditation. Is there no Dharma? Hmm? Isn’t there a state of peace, a liberation; isn’t that the pleasure of meditation? The state of peace, liberation, nirvana, the sorrowless state—isn’t that the pleasure of meditation?

Student: Yes, but it’s not the purpose of that.

Rinpoche: So, is it for the pleasure of meditation? That is the pleasure of meditation, the sorrowless state. But that’s not pleasure? That’s suffering! Liberation from samsara, liberation from the sufferings of suffering. Liberation from the suffering of suffering, right? So in the same way, enlightenment is always suffering? When you meditate, there’s inner peace, right? If you meditate to achieve that, that is nonvirtue?

Student: Depending on my motivation for finding peace.

Rinpoche: The motivation is just to seek that peace, to achieve that peace from meditation.

Student: That’s not Dharma. Just to seek peace is not enough.

Rinpoche: So that is not Dharma. I see. Hmm. Then in the same way, meditating in order to achieve liberation from samsara, that’s also not Dharma?

Student: For myself and others, yes, that’s Dharma.

Rinpoche: If you are meditating in order to liberate yourself from suffering and the cause, delusion and karma, that’s not Dharma?

Student: Yes.

Rinpoche: Hmm, that’s Dharma? So, meditating in order to achieve the inner peace from meditation, that’s Dharma. It’s the same, because if you’re doing meditation in order to achieve liberation from samsara, from suffering and its causes, if that’s Dharma, then same thing, in order to achieve inner peace from doing meditation, that also is Dharma. No? Because it’s the same, huh? Liberation from samsara is inner peace, it’s total inner peace, yeah? So, in order to achieve inner peace which comes from meditation, doing that meditation, that’s Dharma, that has to be Dharma.

Anyway, the person seeking liberation, seeking nirvana in this life, and doing meditation for that purpose, is that Dharma? That is not Dharma because the person is seeking liberation in this life, which is for the happiness in this life.

Student: They’re using this life to seek liberation, which is good.

Rinpoche: But anyway, the person is not thinking about future liberation in the next life but achieving liberation this life. That is the happiness of this life. It’s the same thing with becoming enlightened in this life, that person is seeking the happiness of this life!

That has to be analyzed, whether the inner peace, the quietness, the stillness, meditating in order to achieve that pleasure, whether that is Dharma or not, whether there is virtue or not. If that is nonvirtue, then with that kind of motivation, we spend our whole life meditating, and our whole life is totally wasted. Not only does the meditation not become virtue, all those actions become totally nonvirtuous. It’s not only that life becomes empty, but all those actions become nonvirtuous, the cause of suffering.

The other thing is when we get so annoyed or so fed up living with other people, we go away alone, we stay alone in a cave in the countryside or on a mountain alone, then there’s peace.

Student: One can associate peace of mind with getting rid of delusions.

Rinpoche: Even if we go far away, we can still have delusions. While we are alone in the cave and doing meditation, we have peace of mind and we are really enjoying it and we become really attached to that. What about that? Meditating with that mind. Also what about when a person’s state of mind is in bliss, due to kundalini? That is the function of kundalini and so forth, when the mind is in a state of bliss, an experience of bliss, if the person is doing the meditation for that experience, in order to experience that in this life. What about that? Is that virtue or nonvirtue? The person is really looking for that experience, that bliss. They have had that experience and they really want to stay in it all day long! They don’t want it to stop that experience, so they meditate for that. Is that virtue or nonvirtue?

Student: Nonvirtue.

Rinpoche: Nonvirtue?

Student: Unless it’s part of another practice to burn the desire, and then it could be virtuous.

Rinpoche: Because it burns delusion, because it burns desire. So it’s virtue because it burns desire?

Student: If it’s part of a practice.

Rinpoche: Because it burns delusion, because it burns desire, so it is virtue?

Student: If it is part of the practice…

Rinpoche: If it is?

Student: Yes, but if the person is doing it purely to experience the…

Rinpoche: Bliss.

Student: Then it wouldn’t be virtuous.

Rinpoche: But if it’s to finish desire, to burn desire, then that is a virtue. That is the real answer!

Student: But you reach single-pointed concentration, from the Hinayana point of view, that is bliss. From the Hinayana point of view, when single-pointed concentration is reached, there’s great peace.

Rinpoche: When you reach single-pointed concentration there’s peace, yes.

Student: So that’s Dharma.

Rinpoche: So Fabio’s saying that is Dharma, right? The motivation is for you to reach that peace of mind through concentration, but then that’s the pleasure of this life, that’s the happiness for this life. From one-pointed concentration, shamatha, you achieve this peace. Isn’t that the happiness of this life? So the person is looking for the happiness this life?

Student: You’ve saved yourself; it’s not for other sentient beings.

Rinpoche: Isn’t that seeking the happiness of this life? You are seeking happiness of this life. To experience that, you are doing this concentration meditation. The motivation is peace in this life. The person is seeking the happiness of this life, therefore that is attachment. That is a nonvirtuous thought. Then the meditation is not virtue. A person who is doing shamatha meditation in order to achieve inner peace in this life, that is nonvirtue, right?

Student: A Hinayanist would say that it’s virtue but from a Mahayana point of view, it’s just selfish. It is ignorance, and to practice ignorance is not Dharma.

Rinpoche: That’s very good. That’s excellent to think about. Anyway, you can discuss this point.

A virtuous motivation is the door to all happiness

Even a meditation one-pointedly concentrating on the conventional nature of mind, which in some traditions is regarded as a mahamudra meditation, a meditation on the ultimate nature, even that meditation does not become virtue if the motivation is attachment clinging to the happiness of this life. It becomes nonvirtue, like that. As I was saying before, the fourth person reciting the Tara prayer with the motivation only seeking happiness of this life, that action does not become virtue; it becomes nonvirtue. Even though the subject of that prayer is Dharma, the action does not become Dharma.

This is clarifying the point that it is the motivation that makes the actions we do in our life become Dharma, that determines whether our actions are nonvirtuous or virtuous, Dharma, the cause of happiness. Without any education on this, without any clarification or emphasis on this, then no matter how long people meditate, even meditating for their whole life, for hundreds of years or eons—for even that length of time—all that action of meditating becomes totally nonvirtuous, just creating more causes of samsara, more causes of suffering.

Therefore, it becomes so essential before meditating to know how to meditate. In the subject of how to meditate, there is the secret point, whether we transcend our life or whether we make our life empty, totally wasted and harmful to ourselves because everything becomes nonvirtuous. Our life becomes the creator of our own sufferings, and not just the problems and confusion in this life, but the sufferings after this life. The great risk in life is that, even though the subject of the meditation is explained, such as how to do the breathing meditation or watch the sensations while walking, we are not taught how to meditate. Even though the subject of meditation is introduced, if there is no introduction on how to meditate, meaning the motivation, there is great risk.

The danger is that the door for all the happiness, which is our virtuous motivation, is blocked; it is locked up. That door is locked up if the motivation is not explained. This is something to be aware of. It’s the most important thing to learn before spending our life meditating. In order to practice Dharma, the very first thing to learn is the definition of Dharma, what makes our actions become Dharma and what makes our actions become non-Dharma, nonvirtuous, the cause of suffering.

So now, for every day in our daily life, there are two things. We must not only know how to meditate but also how to wash, how to sleep, how to eat, how to do our job, how to dress, everything we do. If we are driving a car, we have to know how to drive; if we are cooking, we have to know how to cook. If we are working as a secretary, we have to know how to write. There are these two things. First, how to do the external things, which we can learn from schools, colleges, universities. But there is the most important thing: how to do the inner life, and that’s the motivation. That’s the most important knowledge of how to do something. As I mentioned before, we can only do this by knowing the definition of Dharma, what is Dharma and what is not Dharma, what is virtue and what is nonvirtue, what is the cause of happiness and what is the cause of suffering. By knowing what is Dharma and what is not Dharma, we come to learn what is the cause of happiness, what is the cause of suffering. This is the most important thing; it is the first thing in the life to learn. If we want happiness and if we don’t want suffering, this is what we have to learn first in life.

Without knowing this internal knowledge of how to have the correct motivation, we have no freedom to transform our mind into the Dharma, into virtue. Then what happens is all the time our mind is in nonvirtue and all our actions, whatever we do, everything becomes nonvirtue. That nonvirtuous attitude is the obstacle to achieving happiness in this life and in future lives. The only result we achieve is suffering, only undesirable things. Therefore, it is not enough to just be able to do the actions professionally, externally, just that knowledge is not enough. We need to know how to do the actions from the inside, which is to do with the motivation.

As I often mention, when we practice Dharma, even when we chant prayers like this, it is similar to the other activities in our daily life—eating, walking, sitting, sleeping, doing our job and so forth. If the actions are done with a bodhicitta motivation, they will become cause of enlightenment. All those actions become the cause of happiness for all sentient beings. And if they are done with the renunciation of samsara, the thought of seeking liberation from samsara for ourselves, those actions become the cause of liberation. Then if the motivation is the renunciation of this life, detachment to this life, the actions become Dharma; they become the cause of happiness of future lives. Even if there’s no motivation of the renunciation of the entire samsara, but renunciation for this life, detachment for this life, they become the cause for happiness in this life. Then, if they’re done only with attachment seeking the happiness of this life, all those actions of every twenty four hours become only the cause of the lower realms. They just become nonvirtuous actions and just the cause of the lower realms.

The base and the label

I thought to answer a little bit from the question about the base and the label. I just went off somewhere, so I didn’t finish that answer. Of course, the answer is that it’s like this, that the I that is the label is merely imputed. Because there is the base, which are the aggregates, these are the base to be labeled “I” and these aggregates are also labeled. These aggregates are also merely imputed.

The aggregates are also merely that base which is the base to be labeled “I.” They are also merely imputed, because there’s the collection of the five aggregates. The general aggregates, which are the base to be labeled “I” are also merely imputed because they are a collection. Among the aggregates, there is the aggregate of form, and that is also merely imputed because there is a base. All the collections are part of form.

So the analysis goes like that. It continues down like this, down to the atom. That base is the label and that base is the label and so on. Just as the “I” is the label that is imputed because there is the base of the aggregates, these aggregates are also a label; they are also merely imputed because there is the collection of the five aggregates. And each aggregate is the same: the aggregate of form, of feeling, of cognition, of compounded aggregates and consciousness. And so on, the same analysis goes down from the label to the base, that base becoming a label depending on its own base, right down to the atom. As far as form, it goes down to the atom. So even the atom, there are different schools which accept [indivisible] atoms or [partless] atoms. There are different schools that have different philosophies. Some accept atoms as having particles and some schools think atoms have no particles. I think Madhyamika Prasangika school asserts that atoms have particles. I think that is also similar to science, that atoms are also collections of smaller parts. So now an atom is also a label. What is an atom? An atom is that which is merely labeled by the mind, because there’s the base, all those smaller parts.

It’s the same thing with consciousness. This life’s consciousness depends on all of this year’s consciousnesses, which depends on all these months’ consciousnesses and all these weeks’ consciousnesses, and the hours’, the minutes’ and the seconds’ consciousnesses, then the split second’s consciousnesses. These are all labels. It’s the same as before. This life’s consciousness is labeled on all those years’ consciousnesses; all those years consciousnesses is labeled on all the months’ consciousnesses and so on, like that, going down to a minute’s consciousness labeled on the number of seconds, right down to the shortest time within a second’s consciousness.

Like this, in reality, everything, every single thing, starting from the I, starting from the self, everything exists in mere name. Everything exists in mere name in reality, like Lama Zopa. This “Lama Zopa” exists in mere name. Think of your own name. That’s merely imputed by the mind. It’s the same, all of it down to the atoms and even the particles of the atoms and with the consciousness down to each second and to the shortest time of consciousness. Everything exists in mere name. The whole thing exists in mere name. That’s the reality. But we don’t see it that way. That’s the reality, but it doesn’t appear that way, we don’t see it that way. We don’t realize it that way.

This is because we have all these hallucinations projected by the negative imprints left on the mental continuum by the past ignorance, projecting inherent existence on all these phenomena, starting from the I down to the atoms and particles of atoms and the shortest moments of consciousness, on all these merely labeled things. As I mentioned the other day, right after that is projected, the inherently existent appearance covers all those merely labeled phenomena; they are completely covered by this hallucination.

Because of this hallucination of inherent existence, when every merely labeled thing appears back to us, starting from I down to the particles of the atoms and the shortest moment of consciousness, they don’t appear as merely labelled by mind. They falsely appear back to us as inherently existent. Everything appears in a hallucinated way. Because of this, even this is not there. Starting from the I, the I is not on these aggregates, as I think I mentioned. I’m not sure what I mentioned before. We cannot find the I, the self, on these aggregates. We cannot find it on this base at all—that’s the reality—but we have a hallucination that it is there. In our daily life we have a hallucination all the time that it is there on this base.

We have this incredible heavy hallucination it is there because of this projection, this inherently existent appearance projected onto the merely labeled I by the negative imprint left on the mental continuum by past ignorance. It’s because of that. While it is not there, we have the hallucination that it’s there on this base. In reality, from form down to the atoms and the particles of atoms, nothing is there. Each of these things is not there on that base. In the same way that the I is not there on this base, everything is not there on its base, down to the atoms. The atom is not there; there is no atom on the base of those particles. So starting from the I down to the atoms and the particles of atom, everything exists in mere name. Things exist, but they exist in mere name. As I think I mentioned already, even the merely labeled I is not on this base, and it’s the same with the aggregates and from there down to the atoms and particles of atom—everything is not there. In reality, it’s not there on this base. Nothing is there on the base. Each of the labels that is imputed down to the atoms and the particles of atoms is not on the base.

Even the atoms and the particles of atoms, even the merely labeled ones do not exist on the base. That’s the reality, but we have this total hallucination, this completely heavy hallucination there is this I on these aggregates, that there is this inherently existent I on these aggregates. These two terms have the same meaning. Then, down to the particles of the atoms, it is like that. And the seconds of consciousness and even the shortest moments of consciousness in each second, it is like that. We have this total hallucination, this projection, that they are all there on the base, inherently existent, something real. All these things starting from the I appear to us as something real, appearing from that.

Then we not only have that appearance, but we let our mind hold on to it as true. We make it very concrete. Our concept makes everything appear inherently existent and by holding on to this, we think all these things are real. We make everything concrete. That’s how the delusions and all the other emotional afflicted minds arise on the basis of this.

So that’s the reason why in Buddhism, everything exists being merely labeled by the mind, everything exists in mere name. Everything exists in mere name, merely labeled. That’s the answer to the question, “What about the base? The I is the label but what about the base? Is that a label or not?” So, you see, it’s like that.

Suffering refers to all aspects of samsara

There was one question about the meaning of suffering one day. That made me think that, of course, we always talk about suffering. When we talk to the people we meet every day, we always hear about suffering. We talk to other people outside and we hear about their sufferings. We hear about a lot of suffering. And also in the meditation course, there is suffering! Also in the lamrim meditation course. There are many courses called Buddhist courses but they don’t talk about suffering. They just emphasize concentration but they don’t talk about suffering. But if it’s a meditation course on the actual fundamental Buddhist teachings, which are the four noble truths, then of course the teachings on suffering and the cause of the suffering have to come. By knowing that, we come to understand what liberation means and that there is a solution, that there is a path, a method to achieve that.

So anyway, the question made me think about the meaning of suffering. What is meant by suffering? Even though we always talk about it and hear it. Still the answer I gave before, which I think included the suffering of change, may not be complete. What did I say? [Student: It was something that we don’t want.]

An undesirable feeling, that is suffering. I mean, a person who has renunciation for the whole of samsara, also renunciation for all those samsaric pleasures, that becomes undesirable for that person, for the meditator who has renounced all this, who sees that the temporary samsaric pleasures are only in the nature of suffering. They have renunciation for that, a detached mind that sees even the samsaric pleasures as undesirable. That’s because the renunciation of samsara is a detached mind.

And not only that, not only those two feelings, the suffering of suffering and the suffering of change, not only temporary samsaric pleasure, but even these aggregates, the contaminated seed of disturbing thought and that which experiences the problems, that which is the container of the problems, that is also undesirable. They have a mind that sees the samsaric aggregates as undesirable.

So anyway, I thought to give another definition for suffering. The other one—feelings that are undesirable—is very gross. Of course, in the view of the hallucinated mind, when our mind is hallucinated, these samsaric pleasures are not unbearable. They are bearable. They are something we want, that our hallucinating mind wants, that it has attachment for, that it clings to. But when we are not hallucinating, when we are meditating on the renunciation of samsara, during the meditation when we are analyzing the feeling, we see that samsaric pleasure is only suffering.

The renounced mind especially sees that pleasure as totally the nature of suffering. It fully realizes that it is the same as pain, the same as the suffering of suffering, the first very gross level of suffering. For that renounced mind, this samsaric pleasure has become undesirable. So it depends. When our mind is hallucinated, this samsaric pleasure becomes desirable, but when our mind is not hallucinated, when it is in state of renunciation, seeing these pleasures as only in the nature of suffering through meditation, through analysis, we see they are undesirable.

So suffering is the feeling that is undesirable, but I would like to add that it is the feeling that doesn’t give any satisfaction. This is suffering in a wider sense and here the definition includes all samsaric pleasures. Suffering is the feeling that is undesirable or that doesn’t give any satisfaction. This covers more. Probably if you watch your stomach now, it may be easy to realize!

Dharma happiness gives satisfaction. We can complete Dharma happiness; we can finish the work. There’s an end to practicing Dharma. But samsaric pleasure never gives any satisfaction and the work we need to do to get it is endless.

After these two—that suffering is undesirable and doesn’t give satisfaction—what is left is the aggregates. If we want to cover everything, we include the contaminated aggregates that experience suffering. So I guess that covers what suffering is. That question, “What is suffering?” is not a common question. Even though we always hear about suffering, all over the world, we talk about it, how we suffer in this life, and also in lamrim courses there is suffering, but suddenly when we have to think about what suffering means, rather than thinking of suffering just as some kind of pain, we need to think about it in a broad way.

So now here, I thought to introduce a little bit on emptiness, and then maybe introduce the Wheel of Life before doing the refuge and precepts. However, maybe we can leave it like that. I just wanted to get this done today, but we can maybe leave that part as I want to get the refuge and precepts done. Anyway, it gives deeper meaning of what it means to take refuge and precepts, a deeper meaning when we hear about the broad view of what is samsara, the evolution of samsara, and the description of the Wheel of Life that comes into the four noble truths: true suffering, true cause of suffering, true cessation of suffering, and true path. Everything is described there in the Wheel of Life, what is the achievement and what is the path. So by going over this, it gives you an extensive view and not only of the suffering of pain. The suffering of samsara is not only the suffering of pain, there is also the suffering of change, which we sometimes see as pleasure, and there is pervasive compounding suffering. By knowing the broad view of the suffering of samsara, the purpose of taking refuge and taking precepts has a very deep reason.


1 Stem Array Sutra (Skt: Gandavyuha; Wyl: sdong po bkod pa'i mdo) is the final lengthy chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra. The narrative follows a young layman, Sudhana, and describes the inner qualities and external displays of miraculous powers that have been attained by the 50 different teachers whom he meets. You can read or download this sutra at the 84000 Reading Room. [Return to text]