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.

6. The Importance of Refuge and Precepts

December 7, 1998

The importance of refuge and precepts

When we see that taking refuge and taking precepts has a very deep reason, we see how this is the most important thing in our life. We come to know that by meditating on this, by knowing about samsara, this is the immediate solution. What to do now? After hearing about samsara and all this, the solution, what to do immediately, is this. The immediate thing to get liberated from samsara by taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Because we cannot do it by ourselves, we need to rely on the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, who have the power, who have all the qualities to save us, to liberate us from samsara. By relying on them, as well as by doing the practice, we can liberate ourselves from samsara.

We not only need to take refuge, but we also need to do something very practical, something we can do right now, which is taking precepts to stop the cause of suffering in the lower realms. Right now, that is what we can do, the immediate thing to protect us from the lower realms, because death is definite and it can happen at any time, any day, any moment. Therefore, we need to be prepared, and the first thing is to make sure we are not reborn in lower realms. Otherwise, if we were to be born there, there would be no opportunity to practice the Dharma. And once we are born there, we could never be sure when we could come back because, reincarnating in those lower realms, again there would be no opportunity to practice Dharma and we would continuously create negative karma. This is besides the negative karma that we create in the human realm, and besides the negative karma created from beginningless past lives, which we have not finished experiencing. Therefore, we can’t be sure when we could come back to the human realm and have the opportunity to practice Dharma.

Therefore, something really practical we can do in our life to get out of samsara is to not only rely on the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, but to do something in action. And that is protecting our karma by taking a number of vows, precepts, to stop creating the cause of the lower realms. Not only that, living in the vows means we also stop that many harms to other sentient beings. So we should understand that. Otherwise, we could cause great harm to the world, to other sentient beings. And that means [by taking precepts] we also stop the many harms to ourselves. It’s all the same thing—harming others is harming ourselves. We have to experience all the problems, all the results, suffering, on ourselves. So, harming others means harming ourselves.

So right now, without delaying a minute or even a second, to make preparation for death, to protect ourselves from reincarnating in the lower realms, the immediate thing to save ourselves is to take the vows, the precepts. That doesn’t mean to become a monk or nun, it doesn’t mean that. It means as laypeople, doing whatever we can, taking whatever number of vows we can practice.

The karma of sexual misconduct

We have already gone through this part of the subject of karma, so I just want to emphasize this, just to give an idea, an example that might be helpful for meditation, when we meditate on karma or when we do a practice such as Vajrasattva, and especially the preliminary practices, the prostrations to the Thirty-five Buddhas or a Vajrasattva retreat, or even a daily Vajrasattva meditation. Then, this is very good to remember so we can feel very strong repentance. This repentance is very useful repentance. There can be useless repentance and useful repentance and this kind is useful, beneficial repentance. Useless repentance is repentance that feels sorry for having practiced the Dharma, feels sorry for bearing hardships in practicing the Dharma. That kind doesn’t help, it only harms. But this kind of repentance only purifies any negative karma we have done, so it is useful repentance.

So anyway, I’ll give the example of one negative karma of the body, such as sexual misconduct that we have completed with the four things: base, thought, action and goal—all four things are completed.

The thought is the deluded motivation. When all these four aspects are complete for that one negative karma, the sexual misconduct becomes negative karma because the motivation, the self-cherishing thought, is negative. The main thing is the self-cherishing thought. What makes the action negative karma is the self-cherishing thought. These three negative actions of the body—killing, stealing and sexual misconduct—and four of speech—telling lies, slandering, gossiping, speaking harshly—what makes those actions negative karma is the negative mind, the self-cherishing thought.

Those bodhisattvas who have a brave heart, who have very strong compassion toward other sentient beings, who have bodhicitta, for them, when they engage in these seven actions that are normally negative for ordinary beings, because they have such unbearable compassion and bodhicitta, totally renouncing themselves and cherishing others, these seven actions only become virtue. For them, the actions only become virtue. For them, it becomes the quick path to enlightenment, not only the path to enlightenment, but the quick path to enlightenment. For them, because of the power of the mind, the strong bodhicitta, these seven actions become the means of incredible purification, they become such a powerful means of purifying negative karma, to be free from samsara in a much shorter time. These seven actions that are negative for us ordinary sentient beings, for these bodhisattvas become the means of collecting skies of merit. And it causes them to be in samsara for a much shorter time—a hundred thousand eons or forty thousand eons, or whatever, a shorter time in samsara. So, if they are real yogis, on the basis of bodhicitta and having a very high realization of tantra, there’s no question it becomes the quickest path to enlightenment. Their actions become pure, transcended by their power of mind, by the pure attitude or the realizations.

So now, just to make an example of this one completed negative karma, which has four suffering results: rebirth in the lower realms and then, even if we are reborn in the human realm after some time, we have to experience three types of suffering in the human realm. These are the possessed result, where we live in a dusty place, where there is nothing green, an unpleasant kind of depressed place, not a healthy place. The environment becomes unhealthy. Even the food has little protein. The crops don’t grow or aren’t nutritious. The food becomes a cause of sicknesses; we are unable to digest the food.

I made a mistake. I jumped! I’m talking about the possessed result of killing. Sorry! I’m supposed to do the possessed result of sexual misconduct! After experiencing the sufferings of the hell realm and so forth, the ripening aspect of the result, then after we are born as a human being in the human realm, we have to experience the three types of suffering. The possessed result is that we live in a very unhealthy environment, where there is lots of mud, lots of excrement, a place with a lot of garbage, a filthy dirty place. Sometimes when we travel, we stay in such places, very dirty places, very unhygienic, sometimes where we live and where we stay there are places like that. When we have to stay in such places, that is the result of our past negative karma of sexual misconduct. When we see dirty, filthy dirty places, unhygienic places, we are experiencing the possessed result at that time. Some people somehow happen to live in places where there’s always so much mud, so much dirt, it’s always so unhygienic, their life becomes like that. That’s the result of the negative karma of sexual misconduct.

Experiencing the result similar to the cause is that the people around us, in the family, in the office and so forth, are set against us. Their minds, their wishes are against us. The disharmony we face makes our life so difficult, with so many hardships, problems. Our friends or our partner become competitive, against us. That makes life very difficult.

By living in the vow, in the precept renouncing sexual misconduct, it’s the opposite. The people in the office and the home, everywhere, the people around us always love us; they always think the same way we do; their wish is exactly what we want. That brings harmony; it helps all our wishes be fulfilled, to have success. That is experiencing the result similar to the cause.

We are not abused. I guess the definition of abuse here is somebody doing is something to us that we don’t like. Either our attachment does not like it or our self-cherishing thought doesn’t like it. If we liked what the person did, we would not call it “abuse.” If we didn’t like it, we’d call it “abuse.” It is just up to our mind whether we like it or not. If it’s something that our ego or attachment liked, it wouldn’t be not abuse; if we didn’t like it, it would be abuse. So again, abuse doesn’t come from out there, abuse comes from our mind. The label “abuse” comes from our mind. We label it “abuse” and we believe in that, so we say “abuse.”

We believe somebody abused us. That is experiencing the result of past negative karma of sexual misconduct that we did to another person in a past life. There is a reason why that person is doing that to us. The reason existed on the mental continuum before they met us and engaged in this action. The reason existed on the mental continuum in the form of the imprint left by the past negative karma of sexual misconduct that we did to that person in a past life. Therefore, this is what has forced them to engage in this action. Having created the negative karma with that sentient being in the past was the connection that made them do it. Basically, they have no freedom. The past negative karma we created with that person obliged them to create this negative karma, and by creating this negative karma, they will disappear from the human realm and go to lower realms, to suffer.

Because this is the evolution of karma, this person is totally only an object of compassion. Thinking of the process of how this has happened, why this person has done this to us, makes us develop compassion for that person. That itself becomes a method to practice patience because we no longer get angry when we think of the process of karma, how this happened. Thinking like that never causes anger to arise, only compassion, only tolerance. What I am trying to say here is that this is a result of our past negative karma, that we are experiencing the result similar to cause, something similar to what we did with that person in the past.

In New Zealand, I met a student who had this experience and wanted to know what to do. Her mind was in such pain, filled with so much anger toward the other person. She was completely overwhelmed by these emotions. When she came to consult about this matter, I think that she hadn’t been a student for very long and maybe didn’t really meditate much on lamrim or really get to study. Otherwise she wouldn’t be that way. She had had years of grudging and pain and anger in the heart. I guess it was her father or somebody like that. So I mentioned something like this, that there is a reason why this happened, past karma. I don’t remember exactly but it was something like this. After mentioning a few words like this, after having suffered for so many years, only then she felt better. I think she met the Dharma some time before but didn’t really get to meditate on lamrim or study in depth. I think it might be that.

Or sometimes the problem is that when we have personal problems, although we know the teachings, we somehow don’t use them. We know the teachings intellectually, the texts, but when we have personal problems, we don’t apply them; they are left in a book and we somehow never think to use them. This becomes very strange. Even those situations we don’t really remember, where there is only some vague idea or some doubt it might have happened in childhood. We don’t remember a hundred percent, but we kind of assume it happened to us, and that causes us to generate hatred which was not there before, toward our parents or whoever we think hurt us. Even if we have been studying the Dharma for so many years and even doing many retreats or teaching it, when we have a problem, even if we are not really a hundred percent sure, but we have some feeling it might have happened in our childhood, at that time, somehow we don’t think of karma, that it is the result of our karma; that never comes out. Instead we think we might go to see some psychologist to help us. In the lamrim teachings, everything is clearly explained, especially in the section on karma and in the bodhicitta section, it talks about the shortcoming of the self-cherishing thought and the benefits of cherishing others. There is also the explanation that whatever problems we face come from our mind, from our ego. That comes in the extensive teachings on the shortcomings of the ego, the self-cherishing thought, such as in The Wheel of Sharp Weapons. If we read that, we can understand the extensive meditation on the shortcomings of self-cherishing thought.

But even after many years of listening to teachings, studying and even teaching, even having done many retreats, somehow when we have a problem, at that time we don’t even think that this is our karma, this is result of our past negative karma, even that doesn’t happen. At that time, we think the same way as many Hindus, Muslims or Christians do, seeing the problem as created by somebody else. Buddhism doesn’t accept this. His Holiness always explains in public lectures that Buddhism doesn’t accept a creator. However, at that time, instead of thinking this is our karma, we practice Hinduism or we practice Christianity! We think we are experiencing a problem that was created by somebody else. This is the same as Hinduism; or Christianity, where God created everything. The very basic Buddhist philosophy is that we are the creator, we are our own guide, we are our own enemy. We are the creator of our suffering and we are the creator of our own happiness. It’s our mind, our karma. This is the very basic philosophy of Buddhism, but even that doesn’t get practiced.

Then, with the four aspects of karma, there is a very dangerous, very harmful result, creating the result similar to the cause. Again we engage in sexual misconduct due to past karma. This is worse than having to experience the hell realm, because we engage in the same negative action again. This is creating the result not the cause, so that again, with this act, we produce the four suffering results. And one of them is creating the result similar to the cause, again engaging in sexual misconduct. Then that one causes the four suffering results and one of them is again creating the result similar to the cause, and that again results in four suffering results. Then that one has four suffering results. And so it goes on and on and on like this. From this one negative karma in this life, from one act of sexual misconduct, the result goes on and on and on. It will continue until we can transform our mind, until we can stop this negative karma. If we just leave it up to our mind, to our old mind, to the ego, to attachment, the suffering result of engaging again in sexual misconduct goes on and on. Like this, unless we can purify it, the suffering of samsara becomes endless. The four types of suffering of the sexual misconduct become endless.

We can’t judge the actions of our teachers

The Dharma king, Songtsen Gampo, had two disciples who came from very far to receive teachings from him, but when they arrived in central Tibet, they saw huge piles of human heads on the ground, and it appeared that Songtsen Gampo had executed them all. I think these two disciples were young monks living in the thirty-six vows but I’m not a hundred percent sure. It appeared that there were many people engaged in killing, stealing and so forth, in those negative activities. So they didn’t take the teachings. Instead, they developed so much heresy toward Songtsem Gampo for killing all these people. When they went to see Songtsen Gampo, he gave them a sack of sand. I’m not sure of the story. They returned home without taking teachings from Songtsen Gampo but when they arrived home, the sack of sand had become gold. If they had taken teachings from Songtsen Gampo and hadn’t generate heresy toward him, they had the karma to become enlightened in that life.

Because of heresy, they didn’t take teachings because of what they saw and heard. Actually, the people that Songtsen Gampo killed, piling all these human heads on the ground, were all his own manifestations. It’s not that he killed other ordinary people. The king himself manifested into many other people and then engaged in those acts, killing his own manifestations, piling up the heads to show the public so they would pay attention, they would be more careful and observe karma. This king is the embodiment of the Compassion Buddha, so these were his own manifestations. But these two monks didn’t really realize it and developed heresy. If they hadn’t had heresy but had taken the teachings from Songtsen Gampo, they would have become enlightened in that life.

In another story, there was a butcher behind the Potala, killing animals. His Holiness Serkong Tsenshab Rinpoche, from whom I received many initiations and teachings, and who is also from His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s school, used to tell this story. In a monastery, a teacher died, a monk, and he was reborn as either a lobster or a frog [so attached to his money] that his disciple found the frog or lobster with its limbs wrapped around the bundle of money. The disciple took the animal and informed a high lama in Sera Monastery, I don’t know which one, who was the embodiment of Maitreya Buddha. He suggested that the disciple should take the animal to a place behind the Potala where there was a butcher. When the disciple did this, the butcher immediately put the animal on the chopping board and cut it in half. He ate half and threw the other half into the sky. The disciple returned to the lama and told him this and the lama said that this was OK because although that butcher looked to common people like an ordinary butcher killing animals, he was the embodiment of a deity. In reality he was a buddha, a deity called Red Yamantaka. Throwing half the body in the sky means he transferred the consciousness of that animal, whose past life was the teacher of the monk. His Holiness Serkong Tsenshab Rinpoche used to tell this story to show that we really cannot judge.

Rinpoche often used to emphasize a lot how we should practice pure view with others because we cannot judge them, we can’t use our own views of behavior of the person. We can’t use what we see in our view to judge what the person is because our views are ordinary, impure. We can’t use this as a reason to prove that it’s an ordinary being. So Rinpoche normally gave many stories like this, how somebody appeared to act as an ordinary person but in fact was an actual male or female deity. There are many stories like this.

For ordinary people, when Songtsen Gampo and two princes were dying, all three absorbed into the Compassion Buddha statue. I think it was the one with eleven faces that contained sandalwood and was auspicious for maybe spreading the Dharma in Tibet. Anyway, as the king was thinking that if he put this sandalwood statue into the Compassion Buddha statue, he would not be able to see it, as he was thinking like this, another statue manifested from this sandalwood statue, naturally. So, one statue was put inside the eleven-face Compassion Buddha statue. So this statue, when it started, it still sort of grew up naturally. The artist just started it and it naturally grew up. During the time of the cultural revolution, when the monasteries were destroyed in Tibet, this statue was destroyed. But somebody took the faces of this statue from Tibet and they are now kept in His Holiness’ temple at Dharamsala. You can see next to thousand-arm Compassion Buddha statue there’s a frame where there are a few faces. These come from this statue that naturally grew up. An artist started it, but it naturally grew up and it was used by King Songtsen Gampo to worship for the success for Tibet, to spread the Dharma. When Songtsen Gampo was passing away, he and the two princes absorbed into this statue. This is how it appeared to ordinary people. So, when this statue was destroyed, I got a big piece from part of that statue. It’s very scented because it is made of many precious blessed things. From that I made many blessed pills, and also put small pieces of it in many statues in the centers in the West.

Many Dharma kings that happened in Tibet were manifestations of the Compassion Buddha. Even when the Lhasa temple was built, so many of the carpenters were not ordinary beings. The king himself manifested as all those workers.

There’s a story where one of the wives brought wine to offer the king and something happened, I don’t know what. The wife spilled the wine from the cup. It’s said the king got distracted during that time. The Buddha said that when the main mind got distracted, all the embodiments got distracted, and the old workers who were carving the wooden snow lion face hit the nose of the snow lion. In the Potala, in the Lhasa temple, there’s a snow lion at the door with a cut on the nose. I don’t know what the point is but something happened, the wife who brought the wine spilled it and the king got distracted, and then all his embodiments got distracted.

Anyway, that’s just to give you an idea of how Chenrezig guides sentient beings in all sorts of manifestations, showing various aspects like that. The Buddha explained how the Compassion Buddha would guide sentient beings in Tibet. He explained, in the past the Arya Compassionate-eye Looking Lord, when he was a bodhisattva… I say “he” because generally speaking in Tibet and Nepal, it is in the male aspect. I think it’s to do with the karma of the people in that country. In his past lives, when Compassion Buddha was a bodhisattva, doing the bodhisattva deeds, he made prayers to the eyes of the one thousand buddhas. He prayed, “May I lead the sentient beings who are in the outlying country, Tibet, where the buddhas of the three times haven’t put their holy feet, and who are so difficult to subdue, may I lead them in the path to enlightenment. And may that outlying country be my field to subdue. Then, may all the teachings taught by the three-times’ buddhas, the tathagatas, be spread and developed for a long time in that outlying country.” Then he prayed, “May all those sentient beings in the outlying country, Tibet, by hearing the names of the Triple Gem, the Three Precious Sublime Ones, may they all go for refuge to them, and may they achieve the body of the happy migratory being and enjoy the holy Dharma.” So, before becoming Compassion Buddha, during the bodhisattva’s time, he made these prayers.

A sutra says that, when the Buddha was passing away into the sorrowless state, he was requested by a bodhisattva to not pass away but to live for the sentient beings who are in the north, in the snow-land country, where the Buddha has not put his holy feet, and where the sentient beings there had not been guided with teachings from his holy speech. Although he was requested to not pass away, the Buddha answered, “I have finished the sentient beings who are the objects to be subdued,” which means there were no more sentient beings that could receive direct guidance from the Buddha. Sentient beings’ merit to receive direct guidance from Buddha was finished. He said, “I have no more sentient beings to be subdued. For the sentient beings who are too lazy to pursue the Dharma and eliminate the wrong view of the concept of permanence, I will show passing away into the sorrowless state.” The Buddha explained this to the bodhisattva.

Then the Buddha said, “Now in the Snow Land of Tibet, the sentient beings there are all animals. There are no human beings now. Just as snow falling on the ocean just sinks, all those who die go to the lower realms. In the future, when my teachings in India degenerate, those sentient beings in Tibet will be your object to be subdued.” So that would be the bodhisattva’s time. Then later, that bodhisattva became Compassion Buddha. The Buddha said at the beginning that the manifestation of the bodhisattva there would be produced, starting the human generation.

There’s a particular place in Tibet near Lhasa. I think it’s on the way to the unbelievable holy place where there’s this protector, Palden Lhamo, who is His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s or the Tibetan government’s protector. There is a lake there that predicts when people ask questions about their past and future lives. It predicts like watching TV, like Tibetan TV. Exactly like watching a movie on TV, if you ask about your next life, you see the answer from the lake in the form of letters or pictures. This is the lake that the reincarnations of many high lamas are checked by the monasteries or by the organizations. When a lama passes away, their attendant or the monastery, or people from government go to the lake to check where that lama will be reincarnated. His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s incarnation was checked there. This is one way of analyzing to find out the correct reincarnation.

So from Lhasa on the way to that lake, there is a mountain. When I was in Tibet, we went straight, we didn’t stop there. There is a mountain where Compassion Buddha manifested as a monkey and Tara manifested as a cannibal. They lived together on this mountain and started the human generation. There is a mountain where this specific story happened. I’m not sure but it seems that most of the Tibetan generations started from this, from the Compassion Buddha and Tara, like that. Manifesting in this form, they lived together and started the human generation.

The power of Chenrezig and his mantra

So, in the Buddha’s time, the Buddha predicted to this bodhisattva that he was going to be the one who subdued the sentient beings in Tibet, that they would be the objects to be subdued by him. At that time, that bodhisattva became the Compassion Buddha, Avalokiteshvara. Then by manifesting as king, he guided many different kings at different times, and guided the sentient beings in Tibet, guiding them in the Dharma, making the Dharma law, that everybody should practice avoiding the ten nonvirtuous actions and practice the ten virtues. There’s an instruction, the sixteen human Dharmas, that’s a kind of law but everything is focused on observing karma, protecting karma, respecting each other. There are many things like the sixteen human Dharmas. This has happened up to now, and the present one is His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is the Compassion Buddha, but now he not only guides Tibetans. Now, even for people in the West, he is Compassion Buddha. His Holiness Dalai Lama manifests in an ordained human form and many other forms. He guides not only the Tibetan people but also those of us who are also outside Tibet. People from many other countries receive guidance and teachings from His Holiness, either directly or indirectly. They receive guidance from Compassion Buddha, directly or indirectly. Therefore, the Compassion Buddha is not just a statue. We are receiving guidance from the actual living Compassion Buddha.

Reciting the mantra OM MANI PADME HUM once has the power to purify even a fully ordained monk or nun who broke all the four root vows, who received all the four defeats: having sexual intercourse, stealing, telling lies by saying they have realizations when they don’t, and killing human beings. Even if these four defeats, the very root of the vows, are all broken, if all the four defeats are received, reciting OM MANI PADME HUM even once has the power to purify all these negative karmas. It’s unbelievably powerful to recite Compassion Buddha’s mantra. If we recite ten malas of Compassion Buddha’s mantra a day, our children and grandchildren and so on, up to seven generations, don’t get reborn in the lower realms.

How does that happen? Because reciting ten malas of the mantra a day blesses our body. Because all those children are generations of our blood, our body is so blessed that all those generations carry the blessing of our body. When they die, somehow due to the blessing of the body, they die with a virtuous thought, and that’s how, for up to seven generations, their lives are saved; they don’t get reborn in lower realms. The mantra has unbelievable power like this. So it’s extremely good, especially if we have children, to recite ten malas a day. That benefits everyone from generation to generation.

Also, if we recite ten malas of OM MANI PADME HUM a day, if we go to the beach and go into the water, if we swim in the water, all the water that touches our body gets blessed, and that water purifies the numberless fish, insects and animals in the water. They all get purified. All their negative karma gets purified and they get liberated, they get a good rebirth in their next life. In the same way, the other people who swim in the water, who touch the water, all get purified. This mantra is so blessed; it’s unbelievably powerful.

And every day, if we recite the Compassion Buddha mantra, OM MANI PADME HUM, especially ten malas like that, especially if we are doing healing or massage for other people, when we touch other people’s bodies or other people touch our body, everything becomes meaningful. It becomes purification. Whoever’s body we touch, insect or human being, it purifies their negative karma. And if they touch our body, it purifies their negative karma, even animals and insects. When we die, when our body is cremated, whoever the smoke from the cremation touches, insects or human beings, that sentient being’s negative karma is purified.

A pandit monk broke all the four root vows and received all four defeats. He then generated much regret and recited the Compassion Buddha mantra so much. Then, as soon as the pandit did that, the Compassion Buddha and many deities immediately protected him from the lower realms; they liberated him from the lower realms.

There was a lama who could see Compassion Buddha. He was going to the Potala, the pure land of Compassion Buddha. When he told his benefactor, his neighbor, this, the lama’s benefactor family or neighbor said, “If you’re going to the pure land of Compassion Buddha, please, we also would like to come. Please take us.” He asked Compassion Buddha, but Compassion Buddha replied, “They cannot come to the pure land of Compassion Buddha because they sold holy scriptures. They sold the text of the eight thousand stanzas of the Prajnaparamita and lived on that money. They ate food, they lived their life with that money, which they got selling this holy scripture.” Then they asked Compassion Buddha what to do and Compassion Buddha replied, “Recite my mantra.” So they did a lot of purification by reciting the Compassion Buddha mantra and were able to go to the pure land. Otherwise it would not have been possible. Whatever negative karma they created, all those heavy negative karmas could be purified by this mantra, OM MANI PADME HUM.

Compassion Buddha said, “Whoever recites my mantra, at the time of death, if all the buddhas do not guide them, may I not become enlightened.” Compassion Buddha made a vow like that. “Those who recite my mantra, if all their wishes don’t get fulfilled, may I not receive enlightenment.” Compassion Buddha made vows like this, and since Compassion Buddha himself became enlightened an inconceivably long time ago, that means it’s all true, what Compassion Buddha said. Just the very essence of the MANI mantra, as the Buddha explained in the teachings, the benefits are like the limitless sky that cannot be finished explaining at any time.

The meaning of OM MANI PADME HUM

Regarding MANI PADME, the main part of the mantra, MANI refers to the method side of the path to enlightenment and PADME to the wisdom side. What it shows is that MANI is method and PADME is wisdom. The wisdom and method to reach liberation from samsara, from the Lesser Vehicle path, that method and wisdom is contained in this MANI PADME. And also the whole bodhisattva’s path of the Mahayana Paramitayana, the method and wisdom are also contained in MANI PADME. Then, within the Mahayana, the Secret Mantra Vajrayana method and wisdom, the lower tantra method and wisdom and the highest tantra method and wisdom are all contained in this. Such as with Kriya Tantra, the yoga having sign and yoga without sign, that’s wisdom. So method and wisdom in the lower tantra is contained in MANI PADME, and the highest tantra method and wisdom, all that is contained in this.

The whole of existence comes in the two truths: conventional truth and absolute truth. And conventional and absolute truth are contained in MANI PADME as well as the method and wisdom of the path to enlightenment. That is contained in this. Then also the base, path and result—the conventional and absolute truth is the base, method and wisdom is the path, and the result is the goal to be achieved: the dharmakaya and rupakaya. And the unification of these two, the holy mind and the holy body of a buddha—the whole thing is contained in this.

Now the meaning of OM MANI PADME HUM. Hum, it is mentioned it is like saying, “Hey,” when we call someone like our mother we say, “Hi Mum.” So when we say “Hi” it makes her pay attention to us. So the HUM is like saying “Hi,” to persuade Compassion Buddha’s holy mind to pay attention to us. It could also mean to establish the root of the blessing in our heart. However, by persuading the holy mind, we establish the root of the blessing in our heart and can actualize the method and wisdom contained in the MANI PADME in our heart. Then due to that, by completing the path of method and wisdom, we cease all the defilements including the seed, the subtle imprint of the delusions. So, it purifies our ordinary body, speech and mind.

Then our body, speech and mind is transformed into the vajra holy body, holy speech and holy mind of Compassion Buddha, which is signified by the OM. OM is made of three sounds: AH, U, MA. The three sounds signify the vajra holy body, vajra holy speech and vajra holy mind of Compassion Buddha. By actualizing the remedy, the path of method and wisdom, we purify our ordinary body, speech and mind, which is transformed into Compassion Buddha’s vajra holy body, holy speech and holy mind. Then we are able to do perfect work for all sentient beings, to enlighten them. This is just a tiny bit of what the mantra OM MANI PADME HUM means.

From this, however, we can understand that OM MANI PADME HUM contains the entire teachings of the Buddha: the Lesser Vehicle teachings, the Paramitayana teachings and the tantra teachings. All the teachings of the Buddha are contained in OM MANI PADME HUM.

One thing to mention, especially for those who are new, if this is the first time you have done a course here, the first time you have heard the lamrim, just knowing how to practice for one day, for those who want to continue to do the practice, to make life meaningful. I’ll explain like this just to give you an idea. First thing in the morning, there is the practice of integrating the five powers into one lifetime, integrating the practice of five powers. One of the powers is called the power of attitude, which is the motivation, how we are going to live our life, how we are going to spend our life. The motivation we have, the power of attitude, making plans for our life. So, the first thing we should do is think like that, and while we are doing this, we can chant OM MANI PADME HUM. The mind does the meditation and the mouth recites OM MANI PADME HUM. In this way, we get two practices done! If we have a commitment, we get the commitment done while our mind is doing this meditation. Anyway, especially if our life is so busy, with so many engagements, and it is difficult to find the time, this is a way of getting things done.

How to practice the Dharma

However, the first thing to do is to think something like, “According to the present state of my mind, which is filled with delusions, with superstitious thoughts pouring down like a shower of heavy rain, according to my present mental state, I would be in the lower realms. But still, I am in the human realm. How amazing is this. I rejoice at how this is amazing that I am still in the human realm.

“Since I was born up to now, it has been unbelievably fortunate that I haven’t died. So fortunate. So many people who were born on the same day as me have died already. So many have died and been born in the lower realms. So many didn’t have the opportunity to practice the Dharma. How incredible it is that I still have not died and I still have the opportunity to practice the Dharma. It has happened to me so many times that I almost died. It has happened so many times in things such as a car accident. So many times I have been about to die in a car accident, about to fall down, about to be killed, but it’s amazing that I have not died so far.

“To have the opportunity to practice the Dharma for even one second is so precious. Even one second that I have the opportunity to practice the Dharma is more precious than skies filled with wish-granting jewels. So precious. So many people went to bed last night and died and didn’t have the opportunity to wake up this morning as a human being, let alone having the opportunity to practice the Dharma. If that happened to me, what could I do? Life would be already finished and by now I would be in the hell realm or in one of the lower realms.”

It is also good to think, “I have almost died so many times, and if I had died, by now I may be a born as a worm and in the mouth of a bird, caught in its beak. My body could be in the beak of a bird or used by people to fish with. By now, I could be a worm with my body put on a fishhook.” Is a worm dead or alive when it is put on the fishhook? Huh? [Student responds.] It’s alive on the fishhook, moving in the water, and then a fish comes to eat it.

“Or if I had been born as a pig or snake by now, what could I do? Nothing. How much I would suffer, besides having no opportunity to practice the Dharma.” You can also think like that before thinking about how many times you have almost died.

Then think, “Today I have received a perfect human body. I have this perfect human body, which is much more precious than the whole sky filled with wish-granting jewels.” Then analyze even more. “Having met the Buddhadharma is much more precious than receiving mountains of gold, and I have met or have the opportunity to practice the Mahayana Paramitayana teaching, which is much more precious than having received gold the size of this earth. Moreover, I have met and have the opportunity to practice the Mahayana Vajrayana, the lower tantric teaching, which is much more precious than the sky filled with gold. And I have met and have the opportunity to practice the higher tantra, which is more precious than the whole sky filled with diamonds. Then I have met and have opportunity to practice Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings in particular, which are much more precious than whole sky filled with wish-granting jewels. Why? Because of all the special qualities of Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings on sutra and tantra, because I can hear Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings, I can practice the three deities without separation, Guhyasamaja, Yamantaka and Heruka Chakrasamvara. This allows me to achieve enlightenment much more easily and quickly.”

Now, after this, how should we practice the Dharma? The answer to that is on the basis of correctly devoting to the virtuous friend. On the basis of correct devotion to the virtuous friend, we practice the Dharma by listening, reflecting and meditating as much as possible. At least, even if we cannot achieve realizations, even if realizations don’t happen in this life, we at least need to leave imprints as much as possible to make the preparation for realizations in this life. Even if realizations don’t happen, we must at least leave as much of an imprint as possible of the whole path to enlightenment, the Buddha’s teaching on the mind. Make a strong determination like this.

The reason the prayer says, “on the basis of correctly devoting to the virtuous friend” is that no matter how much we listen, reflect and meditate, we cannot succeed, we cannot have a realization. We cannot complete the path without this. Therefore, it’s very important to think this way. “On the basis of correctly devoting to the virtuous friend, I’m going to practice the Dharma.” Then, on that basis, do as much listening, reflecting and meditating as you can, at least to leave as much of an imprint as possible in this life on your mental continuum.

Then after this, think, “I’m going to die today.” Decide you are going to die today. As Lama Tsongkhapa explained in the Lamrim Chenmo, by thinking, “I’m going to die today,” even if death happens, we made our life meaningful because we have done the preparation for death. We have done the preparation for death because, by thinking we are going to die today, we are able to practice the Dharma. Even if death happens today, before that we have been able to make preparations for death. That’s the advantage. And even if death doesn’t happen today but we think we will die today, we are able to make so much preparation for death, we're able to practice so much Dharma. So think, “Today I am going to die.” Decide in your mind. Then, what to do? Question yourself what you should do. Then you give yourself the answer, “I’m going to practice bodhicitta, renouncing the I and cherishing others. I’m going to practice bodhicitta.” That’s the answer to that question.

While you are reciting Compassion Buddha’s mantra, either the long one or the short one, OM MANI PADME HUM, you can elaborate on the meditation here by thinking of the shortcomings of the self-cherishing thought. There are different ways to meditate on the shortcomings of the self-cherishing thought. While you are doing that, you can recite OM MANI PADME HUM. You don’t have to think of them all but you can think about some parts today and some parts tomorrow. You can divide the topic. And it’s the same thing with the benefits of cherishing others, doing some today [and some tomorrow]. Think of the benefits of cherishing others, the benefits of bodhicitta and how sentient beings are so kind, so precious. Do those meditations. You don’t need to think through them all in one day. Some parts you can think about today and some parts you can do tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. Elaborating the meditation on the shortcomings of the self-cherishing thought and the benefits of cherishing others makes the meditation stronger, it helps you to see the ego, the self-cherishing thought, as the enemy. As soon as you can see the enemy, you are able to separate from that, you are able to split yourself from the ego. And when you split yourself from the ego, at that time you are able to practice the most pure Dharma, unstained by ego. And at that time there is no obstacle to practicing bodhicitta.

Advantages of taking vows

Just taking and keeping the [lay] vows brings pure peace and happiness. For example today, taking only the vow of abstaining from sexual misconduct, something like that, just one vow just for one day. Because of that you do not engage sexual misconduct today. You don’t experience sexual misconduct today and therefore, from that negative karma, you don’t experience the four suffering results again and again, going on and on and on, endlessly. That doesn’t happen. All this endless suffering from today’s sexual misconduct is completely stopped. Because you have abstained from that, all this continual suffering, experiencing the four types of suffering from life to life doesn’t happen. This brings unbelievable peace and happiness, success in all future lives. This is by living in morality today.

Not only that, as I mentioned before, there are four happy results from this one vow of abstaining from sexual misconduct today. You can experience so much happiness. Because karma is expandable, creating good karma once, you can experience the result for five hundred lifetimes or a thousand lifetimes. It’s mentioned in Aryadeva’s commentary, Four Hundred Stanzas, if you cheat one sentient being you get cheated by other sentient beings in future lives for a thousand lifetimes. Why? Because karma is expandable. For one negative karma, you experience so many lifetimes of suffering, and for one good karma, you experience so much happiness for so many lifetimes.

Therefore, even living a lay life you can take a number of vows and live in good karma, morality, abstaining from several negative karmas, whichever you can. Even if you can’t take and practice all five lay vows, from those five, take whichever you can. That’s something to do. Every day of this life until you die, that is something to abide in, to live in whatever morality you can. This becomes the most practical thing to do in daily life. It is a very important thing to do in daily life, whether it’s one vow of the lay precepts, or two vows, three vows or five, whatever.

The next thing to understand is this. You can see how essential it is, and you can do this immediately. You don’t have to have some high realizations. By having taken even one vow up to the death, you collect good karma, merit, day and night all the time. Even if you sleep for twelve hours your life is not wasted. You collect good karma continuously, even during sleep. By living in this one vow you are collecting merit all the time. While you are eating, you are collecting merit all the time; while you are walking, you are collecting merit all the time—twenty-four hours a day.

Even if you go into a coma, unable to move the body or communicate, even for years, you are still collecting merit all the time, making your life become meaningful all the time. Like that, you are making preparations for death all the time, creating the cause of happiness of your future lives all the time. It’s the same with liberation and enlightenment, depending on the motivation. Then of course if you take more vows there is no question you create more merit.

The next very important thing to understand is that after the vow is taken, even just one, in everyday life whenever you collect merit by benefiting other sentient beings or by making offerings, circumambulations and prostrations to the Guru, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, whenever you collect merit in your daily life, the merit is increased so much. Before, when you hadn’t taken any vow, the merit was like a handful of water. But now, after you have taken the vow, the merit that you collect with the sentient beings or with the holy objects is like the ocean, like the Pacific Ocean, the merit increases so much. That makes a big difference to your life, like the earth and the sky, a huge difference. Even by having taken one vow, when you collect merit in your daily life, the merit increases so much.

Another incredible profit in daily life by living in the vows is mentioned in the sutra called Heaps of Jewels. I used to imagine a heap of flowers, but I think that’s mistaken. I think it’s a jewel heap. The sutra is called Heap of Jewels, Piled up Jewels, Heaped Jewels. If all the sentient beings of the desire realm, the form realm and the formless realm were to reincarnate and they all become wheel-turning kings, the most powerful and wealthiest beings in the universe, then each of them make offerings to the Buddha of oceans of butter, Mt. Merus of wax, making light offerings to the Buddha (I think might have mentioned that) for the length of time, eons equaling the number of sand grains of the River Ganga, the river in India. For that length of time, each of them make oceans of butter, Mt. Merus of wax, and light offerings to the Buddha. Now, one person who has taken ordination makes offerings of butter the size of a mustard seed, wax the size of a hair and a tiny light offering to the Buddha. For that person who has taken ordination, their merit is far greater than all those other beings who were born as the most powerful wheel-turning kings in the world and who each make extensive offerings to the Buddha for an incredible length of time. So like this, it makes a huge difference. It makes life most profitable.

So now, those who are taking refuge, I normally emphasize taking the precept to not kill because what taking refuge in the Dharma involves is to not harm others. Therefore, I usually emphasize to take the precept to not kill but if you cannot take this precept, you can take another precept from the five, whichever is easier. For some, to take the precept to not kill is very difficult but maybe to not to tell a lie is easy or to not take alcohol is easy, or to not steal is easy. So for some people it is possible that stopping killing is difficult, but some other precept is easy. If so, you can take that. The main thing is to do less harm, to create less negative karma. That means less suffering for others and less suffering for you and more happiness.

The other thing is that, even if you take one vow, to abstain from one negative karma, whether it is sexual misconduct, whether it is killing, whether it is stealing, whatever it is, even if you take one vow, that means to not harm others. Therefore from now on, whatever number of precepts you’re going to take, that means from today you are not going to harm others. You are not going to give this harm to other sentient beings, by making the vow. That means the human beings, the sentient beings in this world, don’t receive that harm from you, whether it’s killing, whether it’s stealing or whatever it is, the sentient beings in this world don’t receive this harm from you. That means for the sentient beings in this world, there is so much peace and happiness. The numberless sentient beings in this world don’t receive harm but they receive so much peace and happiness from you. The absence of harm is peace that they are receiving. Even just one, abstaining from killing or sexual misconduct or telling lies—whatever it is—numberless sentient beings don’t receive that harm from you from today. That means they receive so much peace and happiness from you.

Therefore, however many precepts you are taking, this is the most practical contribution for world peace. From today, whatever number of precepts you’re taking, this becomes the real practical contribution for world peace, including peace for your family, for your country, for the whole world and for all sentient beings. As you take this vow for the benefit of all sentient beings, all the sentient beings get benefit from you.

Taking the lay vows

So maybe those who are taking refuge make three prostrations to the Buddha. There’s the Shakyamuni Buddha statue at the back. By thinking this is the actual living Buddha, then make three prostrations. After that the lama gives refuge. Make three prostrations. Make three exercises!

By relying upon the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, think of however many of the five lay vows you are going to take, whether it’s one, two, all five. If it’s all five, just think of taking the full upasaka [or upasika] vows.

If you are unable to take any of the five lay vows, if it’s only refuge, you can take it because the Buddha is so kind, so compassionate for us sentient beings that even if somebody cannot take any of the vows, the Buddha still permits us to take only the refuge vow. By taking refuge, there are the refuge precepts so by practicing the refuge precepts that makes our life every day so meaningful. We collect so much merit, good karma; we create so many causes of enlightenment with that. The Buddha is so compassionate, so kind. He gives us methods that we can practice according to our capacity. The Buddha is so compassionate, so kind, giving us that choice.

So now, so please repeat the ceremony. [Rinpoche gives the students refuge]

Those who are living in higher vows, the thirty-six, the three hundred and fifty or whatever, you should not think that you are taking the upasaka vow. It is normally said that taking the lower vow makes you lose the higher vow. Even though you can rely on the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in just the normal way of taking refuge, you shouldn’t think you are taking the upasaka [or upasika] vows.

[Rinpoche gives the five lay vows]

These practices are very, very important. You make this offering before you eat. Before going to sleep, you make three prostrations, at least a minimum of three prostrations. When you get up in the morning, you make three prostrations to the Buddha, to the Triple Gem. This is the practice of compassion for others. Even if it’s a small practice, following this advice of the Buddha makes your life very, very meaningful, very meaningful. It makes life very rich, and because you collect so much merit, you can achieve enlightenment quickly.

[Rinpoche concludes ceremony]