Abiding in the Retreat

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Abiding in the Retreat: A Nyung Nä Commentary combines several teachings given by Lama Zopa Rinpoche on nyung nä, a powerful two-day practice associated with Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion.

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The practice of cleaning has many benefits. This is not simply cleaning, but cleaning with the idea that the place you are cleaning is the abode of all the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions. As long as your mind is thinking this, it doesn’t matter whether you are cleaning a temple, a meditation room, an office, a kitchen or somewhere else. The benefits are related to cleaning with that understanding.

The first result of making a place clean is that you receive a beautiful body. If you have a beautiful body, other sentient beings want to see you and respect you, so you can then benefit them. It is a way to benefit others more.

Second, you will have a beautiful, sweet voice.

You will have thin delusions, which means less ignorance, anger and attachment.

When you have cleaned a place, other sentient beings also enjoy it and are made happy. While you basically clean with the idea that you are cleaning the home of the buddhas and bodhisattvas, you also clean for the sake of sentient beings, as having a nice, clean place makes others happy. As a result of that, in the future you will be able to be in beautiful places where there is no dirt or ugliness.

You will be able to become ordained as Sangha.

You will have great wealth.

You will be born in the deva or human realm.

You will quickly achieve enlightenment.

Visualize all the dirt and garbage you clean up as your delusions and those of all sentient beings and the vacuum cleaner, broom or anything else you are using to clean as the complete path to enlightenment, the path of method and wisdom, which cleans away all your delusions and those of all sentient beings. The path of method and wisdom removes all obscurations. In this way your cleaning becomes Dharma practice.

It is advised that you visualize throwing all the garbage, all the delusions, into the mouth of Yama, the Lord of Death, where they are transformed into nectar that completely satisfies Yama. Yama then closes his mouth and goes down under the earth. Think that Yama, the Lord of Death, is completely satisfied and will never come back. This becomes a method for prolonging your life.


I translate the Tibetan term rig kyi bu as “son of the essence” or “son of the race” rather than “son of the caste,” which is its literal meaning. This term often comes in sutra texts, such as The Heart Sutra, and some people translate it as “son of the family” and in other ways. The term also comes at the end of the Vajrasattva purification practice, where Vajrasattva says, “Son of the essence (rig kyi bu), all your obscurations and broken vows are completely purified.”

If rig is translated literally as “caste,” the meaning is not clear, as it gives more of an idea of a physical, or blood, relationship. The actual meaning is similar to caste, though. Take the example of a king’s son, a prince. He is not yet a king but he is going to be a king: he is of the king’s caste.

Why do I translate rig kyi bu as “son of the essence” or “son of the race”? Here essence refers to the essence of all the buddhas and race refers to the Mahayana race, which is entered by generating bodhicitta. It’s talking about the son who has the essence of a buddha and is going to become a buddha. It’s talking about the essence of mind: the buddha-essence, or buddha-nature. The relationship between the buddhas and us has nothing to do with a physical, or blood, relationship; it has to do with the nature of mind. The teachings normally talk about how every sentient being has buddha-nature—I’ve just used a different word, essence. There is the essence of buddha in the mind of every sentient being. Even flies and lice have buddha-nature. The mind of every sentient being is empty of self-existence, of inherent existence. That is the absolute nature of the mind of sentient beings. That absolute nature is not mixed, not one, with the obscurations; it is just temporarily obscured by certain obscurations.

This absolute nature of mind that each being has is the clear light nature of mind, which itself is the buddha-essence, or buddha-nature. But when a text says that we have buddha-nature, we shouldn’t think that the nature of our present mind is already the nature of a buddha’s holy mind, dharmakaya. We shouldn’t think that our mind is actually a buddha’s holy mind, that we are already enlightened. But the absolute nature of our mind, the clear-light nature, can be called the buddha-essence, or buddha-nature. Why? Simply because the clear light is not one with the obscurations.

There is the potential to achieve enlightenment in the mind of every sentient being. That potential is the clear-light nature of the mind, which is not one with the obscurations. Because the mind is not one with the obscurations but temporarily obscured, it can be purified. That absolute nature of the mind gives the possibility of achieving enlightenment. Every sentient being can achieve enlightenment because of that nature of mind.

By following the path, we purify our obscurations, and the absolute nature of our mind then becomes dharmakaya. For instance, after all our obscurations have been purified by following the path, we become Chenrezig, and the absolute nature of our mind becomes the svabhavikakaya (the holy body of self-nature of Chenrezig) and our mind becomes dharmakaya (the transcendental wisdom of Chenrezig’s holy mind).


The Tibetan term yidam has very profound meaning. It is sometimes translated into English as “personal deity,” but I think that sounds a little strange, as if other people can’t achieve that deity. Yi means mind; dam means seal, or bond, and can also mean promise. “Mind seal,” or “mind bound,” captures the meaning. I think mind-seal might be a better translation. It’s similar to sealing a parcel so that it doesn’t split open.

If you point to what the yidam (or deity, or buddha) is, in fact, it is the dharmakaya, the holy mind of the buddhas, the transcendental wisdom of nondual bliss and voidness. That is what we are going to achieve. Our mind becoming oneness with that, becoming that, is what we mean by achieving the yidam. Becoming the buddha, becoming the guru, achieving the guru—it all has the same meaning, even though there are these different terms.

The way to achieve that oneness is, from now on, day and night, all the time, to meditate on your own mind being oneness with the holy mind of Chenrezig (or whichever other deity you are trying to achieve). You continuously meditate on your own mind being oneness with that particular deity’s holy mind, the dharmakaya. Your yidam is the particular deity, the particular aspect of buddha, that you meditate on as always being one with your own mind.

Through this method of meditating on being oneness with your yidam, your obscurations become thinner and thinner, then in that way you become closer to the holy mind of the deity. If you are meditating on Chenrezig, you then become closer to the holy mind of Chenrezig. As your obscurations get thinner, you get closer to Chenrezig. The qualities of realization also get more and more developed. Meditating on being one with Chenrezig itself is the path that leads to Chenrezig enlightenment, that enables your present mind to meet Chenrezig’s holy mind. When it becomes oneness, your mind then meets Chenrezig’s holy mind. At that time you have really met Chenrezig. Before, while you are following the path, it’s possible for you to see Chenrezig, but as something separate. At that time, however, your mind meets Chenrezig’s holy mind, the dharmakaya.

So, your yidam is the particular deity, the particular buddha, that you meditate on as always being one with your own mind.


We need to understand that karma is definite to bring its own result. Any nonvirtue that is done will definitely bring its own result of suffering. As long as nothing is done, which means as long as the negative karma is not purified by generating the remedy of the path, which removes the imprints of delusions and negative karmas, or not purified with the remedy of the four powers, it will definitely bring its own result of suffering. And virtuous karma, as long as there is no obstacle to it, will definitely bring its own result of happiness. That karma is definite to bring its own result is the first law of karma to understand.

Happiness has to come from Dharma, from virtue. Any happiness of this life, including success in business, comes from Dharma. The main cause is Dharma, actions done with a motivation of non-ignorance, non-anger or non-attachment. All happiness comes from Dharma. And all difficulties, all undesirable things, come from nonvirtue, from ignorance, anger or attachment. Of course, the root is the ignorance not understanding the ultimate nature of the I, the self.

Happiness doesn’t come from negative karma, from nonvirtuous thoughts and nonvirtuous actions. A person might become wealthy and have some physical comfort and enjoyments for a short time by cheating other people or by stealing their possessions, but of course, that pleasure doesn’t come from stealing. That pleasure needs to come from the good karma of the person. I don’t know about the conditions, but the main cause of that physical comfort is that person’s own good karma. People in the world might think it came through stealing, but it’s not like that. The main cause is that person’s own good karma.

One cause would be having made charity to other sentient beings, but not through political charity. There are white and black Dharma politics. Charity can be done with the self-cherishing thought, for your own happiness. You could help somebody because you want to have a good reputation, to become famous, to have other people say good things about you. This kind of charity might help others to get food or children to go to school, but your making charity does not necessarily become good karma. Even though other people benefit from it, it doesn’t necessarily create good karma if you did the charity with attachment, because you wanted to achieve a good reputation. If you’re making charity with attachment to the happiness of this life, even though what you’re doing helps others, solving some problems of hunger and so forth, it doesn’t become good karma; it doesn’t become virtue. If your motivation is the eight worldly dharmas, attachment to this life’s happiness, it doesn’t become good karma; it becomes negative karma.

The happiness or physical comfort that a person experiences comes from Dharma, from past good karma, such as having made charity to others with a good heart, with non-ignorance, non-anger or non-attachment (which means no attachment to this life, but it can even be non-attachment to future life samsara). The wealth or physical comfort came from Dharma, from good karma. The stealing can be a condition but not the main cause of that.

By stealing, the person is creating negative karma, so then they will have to experience the suffering result of rebirth in the lower realms. And later, when born as a human being due to another good karma, they will also have to experience the three suffering results of stealing. The possessed result, which has to do with the place, means they will be born where there’s a lot of poverty. They will experience poverty and be unable to obtain the means of living or they will have to share their resources with other people. They will live in a place where there’s a lot of drought and other obstacles. Some years ago in Africa, one country didn’t have any water. Drinking water was flown into that country, but when the plane landed there, the water had become filthy and smelly. Before, it was pure, drinkable water, but by the time the plane arrived in that place, the water had become undrinkable. That was the result of their karma. In other cases, even though somebody tries to help by bringing food from far away, local leaders steal the food and the people who are actually suffering from starvation get very little. It will be like that until from their side, they practice compassion for others; until they collect merit, good karma, the cause of all success.

The second law of karma is that karma is expandable.

The third law of karma is that karma that has been created is never lost. No matter how long it takes—even eons or hundreds of eons—the result of karma will be experienced; whether great or small, karma is never lost. Even though it might not be experienced immediately, after some time, when the conditions come together, that karma will be experienced. It is mentioned in the sutras that even if it takes hundreds of eons, when it is the right time and the conditions are gathered, karma will be experienced.

Take, for example, Nagarjuna, the great pandit who propagated the Mahayana teachings, especially the right view of the Prasangika school. Nagarjuna was a highly attained being with very high realizations. One day somebody came to beg for his head. Nagarjuna wanted to make charity of his head to that person, but no weapon could cut off his head because he had achieved the immortal vajra holy body. With his clairvoyance, however, Nagarjuna discovered that the only thing that could cut his neck was a blade of grass. The reason was that many lifetimes ago he had accidentally cut off an ant’s head when he was cutting grass. He didn’t kill the ant on purpose. Because of this karma from many lifetimes ago, when he became the highly attained being Nagarjuna, nothing but a blade of grass could cut off his head.

When he discovered this karma, Nagarjuna then cut off his head with a blade of grass and gave it to the person who had come to beg for it.

The killing of the ant happened incidentally while he was cutting grass. Even things that are not done intentionally create negative karma. It is still possible to experience the result of even things that happened incidentally and many lifetimes ago. No matter how small a negative karma is, it doesn’t get lost.

We should relate this example to our own life; not only to this life but to our many past lives. We have created so many negative karmas. When we think of such stories about negative karma that was not even purposely created, it is scary to think about karma. It is frightening to examine karma, because karma is related not only to this life but to beginningless rebirths. There are many things we have already finished experiencing, but there are so many other things we have not yet finished experiencing.

Also, I heard a story about why Muslims have historically been opposed to Buddhism, destroying Buddhist temples, statues and many other things in India three times. For example, three times they cut down the bodhi tree under which Buddha became enlightened. Similar things happened in Indonesia, where is it hard to find an intact statue from ancient times. Most of the old statues are broken, including the ones inside the large stupa at Borobudur. Inside the many small stupas are statues of Buddha and the five types of buddhas. They have now been repaired, but when I checked there were many with broken fingers and other damage. There are huge statues, two stories high, but they also have broken fingers and other damage. One place, called Thousand Buddhas, had a thousand beautiful stone buddhas, but they were completely destroyed.

There is a story as to why Muslims have done this in particular to Buddhism. In ancient times, Buddhist monasteries in India had very strict discipline. One monk couldn’t follow the monastic discipline, and when he did something opposite to the vows, the monastery punished him severely. That monk got very angry with Buddhism and made many prayers that Buddhism, wherever it spread, be harmed and destroyed. Later, after many lifetimes, he was born as a Muslim with this wrong view, then gave much harm to the Buddhist religion.

What is called “karma” is very powerful. As a result of one person getting angry with Buddhism and making many wrong prayers for Buddhism to be harmed out of that anger, for centuries there was so much harm to Buddhism, with Muslims particularly destroying the Buddhist teachings many times. It shows how powerful prayer is. When you do prayers in the wrong way, it can be very powerful. We should use this example to encourage ourselves to do as many positive prayers as possible every day. Doing correct prayers also has much power. Again, that prayers work, bringing results for many lifetimes, up to enlightenment, has to do with karma. Enlightenment, with the infinite qualities of a buddha’s holy body, holy speech and holy mind, comes from positive prayers done out of bodhicitta, the thought to benefit others.

It has to do with the power of mind. That monk who didn’t keep his vows got angry when he was punished by the monastery, and all the prayers he did resulted in Buddhism being destroyed for many centuries. That came from the power of his mind. It came from one person’s intention, and that intention is karma. In a similar way, if you always generate a positive intention, it has incredible results; you experience happiness from life to life for hundreds and thousands of lives, and then ultimate happiness.

In ancient India in the time of King Salgyal (Skt: Prasenajit), one of his ministers disliked a woman called Sagama and slandered her to the king. Sagama was a great-grandmother, and by counting her sons, grandsons and great-grandsons, she had thirty-two male descendants. King Salgyal killed all thirty-two of them by cutting off their heads. The king then made Sagama carry all thirty-two heads back to her home.112

Why did Sagama have to experience such a karma? In another lifetime, thirty-two thieves came to her house with a cow they had stolen. They then killed the cow by cutting off its head. They had a big party and shared the meat with Sagama, who rejoiced in what had happened and enjoyed the meat. That was the karma. Simply rejoicing in that way was why she experienced the incredible result of having to carry all the heads of her male descendants. She wasn’t involved in killing the cow, but she rejoiced in the cow being killed. The karma was very small, but the result was unbelievable.

There is another story about a bhikshuni called Utpalavarna.113 Her husband was killed by a snake and of her two children, one was drowned in a river and the other was eaten by wolves. Her house was also burned down. She then met a man whose wife had died. One day this man got drunk, came back home and killed their son. He then forced her to eat her son’s flesh. She then escaped from him and married someone else. That husband died, and the country had a custom that when the husband died the wife was buried alive with him. Some countries had this kind of custom in ancient times. Such customs are very bad and were probably created because of one person’s attachment.

So, she was buried in the ground with her husband’s body. That night thieves came and dug her out of the grave. She then married the leader of the thieves. That man died, and she was again buried. I think that happened one or two times.

The reason Utpala experienced all these problems, one after the other, was that a long time before, when she was in a king’s harem, she killed the queen’s son and swore many times that she did not kill him. It was all a result of that.

However, after all these experiences, she became a nun.

As far as positive karma is concerned, even making a small offering to Sangha accumulates great merit. For example, the life-story of Buddha mentions that all the wealth that King Kaushika had came from the one karma of making offering to Sangha. A long time ago, as a beggar in one of his past lives, with devotion he made an offering of a medicinal drink to four monks. Simply from that karma he was able to be a king with incredible wealth.

King Mabhvata had control over all four human continents. Why this king had such incredible power is that in one of his past lives he offered a handful of beans to Buddha Vipashyin. I think four beans dropped into Buddha Vipashyin’s begging bowl and one dropped on his crown. Because of that he was able to become king of even the deva realm. This shows how karma is expandable—the result from a small action can be unbelievable.

From his birth, a Brahmin called Suvarnavasu had golden coins coming unceasingly from his hand. The coins could fill up a whole house. He was born like this because in one of his past lives he put one golden coin inside a clay pot and offered it to Buddha Kashyapa.114

So, karma is expandable in such ways.

Finally, the fourth law of karma is that without having created the karma, we can’t experience its result.


112 See Liberation, p. 390, for a slightly different version of this story.

113 Ibid, p. 391.

114 Ibid, p. 392.