Teachings From the Vajrasattva Retreat

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Soquel, CA USA 1999 (Archive #1055)

This book is an edited transcript of Lama Zopa Rinpoche's teachings at a three-month Vajrasattva retreat held at Land of Medicine Buddha, from February 1 to April 30, 1999. The teachings cover many lam-rim topics, purification practices, mantras, pujas and more.

Chapter 44: April 17


Good afternoon, everybody. Somehow, it seems as if you’ve been waiting for eons!


Think, “No matter what, I must achieve enlightenment in order to free the numberless other sentient beings, who are the source of all my past, present and future happiness, including enlightenment; who are the source of all my comfort, every single comfort, happiness, and all desirable things; who are the most precious thing in my life; who are just like me, wanting only happiness and not wanting suffering. But, even though all they want is happiness, they are totally devoid of happiness. Hell beings, hungry ghosts and animals are devoid of even temporary happiness.

Devas and human beings, who at least have the opportunity of experiencing temporary happiness, are still devoid of ultimate happiness, everlasting happiness—the cessation of all suffering and its causes in their entirety; even those sentient beings who have the opportunity of experiencing temporary happiness are still devoid of ultimate happiness.

And even those who are free from samsara are devoid of the great liberation, the peerless happiness of full enlightenment. However, what sentient beings want is happiness but they are devoid of happiness. What they do not want is suffering, but they constantly experience pervasive compounding suffering and on top of that, the suffering of change and the suffering of pain.

“To free those numberless sentient beings from all this suffering and bring them from happiness to happiness to full enlightenment is the ultimate goal of my life, the real purpose of my being alive, why I have been born human at this time, why I have taken, or received, this precious human body at this time. To succeed in this, I need to achieve full enlightenment—cessation of all mistakes of the mind, all gross and subtle defilements, and the completion of all realizations. For that, I need to actualize the graduated path to enlightenment, which ceases all defilements, all the mistakes that are on my mental continuum. Therefore, I am going to listen to the holy Dharma.”

Please listen to the teaching well, with the purest motivation of bodhicitta and the proper conduct for listening to teachings.

Buddha's Intent

Why did Guru Shakyamuni Buddha descend to this earth? Why did the Buddha come onto this earth, into this world? The main purpose was to reveal the Dharma, to guide us sentient beings—to guide sentient beings including you, including yourself. To guide you, Buddha descended to this world.

Buddha came into this world for you. For you, Buddha collected merits for three countless great eons. It is said in the texts that even under one tree, Buddha sacrificed his body to other sentient beings numberless times. For three countless great eons Buddha sacrificed his life, his body, his limbs, to other sentient beings so that he could complete the two types of merit—the merit of wisdom and the merit of method—and achieve enlightenment for you, for yourself.

For three countless great eons, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha also practiced morality; he also practiced morality for that great length of time, for three countless great eons. He also practiced patience, perseverance and so forth for three countless great eons for you; to achieve enlightenment for you; in order to reveal this Dharma that we are studying now, that we have been studying so far, that we have been listening to, hearing.

For this purpose. So, as much Buddhadharma as we have learned, for this to happen, Buddha bore much hardship, for many lifetimes over three countless great eons; bore so much hardship to achieve enlightenment in order to reveal the whole path to us, to you, and bring you to enlightenment. To bring each of us to enlightenment.

How does Buddha guide?

The very foundation of the entire Buddhadharma, the very foundation of all Buddha’s advice, Buddha’s teaching, is the Four Noble Truths. As Maitreya Buddha mentioned in Do-de-gyen, the sicknesses are to be known; the cause of the sicknesses to be abandoned; comfort, or happiness, to be achieved; and the medicine to be taken. Like that, suffering is to be known; the cause of suffering, which is called kun-jung,all arising— the delusion and karma from where all suffering arises—to be abandoned, removed; cessation to be achieved; and the path to be actualized.

Therefore, liberation, the whole thing, taking the opportunity to achieve liberation, starts by knowing suffering. It’s not only that we have buddha nature within us—we have to take the opportunity, by using our buddha nature to achieve, to actually experience, liberation. That comes from the determination to be free, liberated from suffering. For that, you need to know suffering. Knowing suffering, the suffering of samsara, makes you seek the cause from which it comes. Thus arises the wish to abandon, or remove, it. Then you come to know cessation, that which is to be achieved, ultimate happiness. Also, from knowing suffering, both the wish to achieve liberation from samsara and the wish to follow the path derive. Everything starts, comes, from knowing suffering, the First Noble Truth.

However, as Buddha mentioned, the way Buddha liberates sentient beings is not by washing away their sufferings with water, by eliminating their suffering by hand or by transplanting his own realizations into others.

Sentient beings get liberated by Buddha’s revealing the truth, by revealing the ultimate nature. By his revealing the truth, the ultimate nature, we sentient beings get liberated. That is to be realized. The truth is like an atomic bomb in eliminating our sufferings of samsara.

A Mediation on Emptiness

Let’s concentrate for a few moments on what I’m saying. [Silence.] We believe, “I am here, in this building.” We believe, “I am in America, Soquel, Land of Medicine Buddha, Land of Medicine Buddha, Land of Medicine Buddha! I’m in this gompa, I’m in Vajrasattva retreat, I’m on this cushion, I’m in pain! I’m tired! I’m sleepy! I’m exhausted from a long day! What is he talking about? What is he mumbling about?” Anyway, thinking like that.

We think there’s a real one, a real I, a real me, here doing Vajrasattva retreat, or listening to teachings. Here, sitting on this chair, or on this cushion—a real me listening to teachings. Now, I is your label; me, I.

You point to your body and label it I: “I am going out.” You don’t pick up a book and point to it and say, “I am going out!” No. You point to your body and apply the label, “I am going out.”

And as your mind does the activity of thinking, you label, “I am thinking.”

As your mind meditates, “I am meditating.” By first thinking what kind of activity your mind is doing—for example, it’s wandering—you say, “I am wandering. I am not meditating.” “Are you meditating now?”

“No.” You check the mind, then you say, “I am wandering,” or, if it is meditating, being transformed into virtue by analytical or fixed meditation, you say, “I am meditating”; you call, or label, it, “I am meditating.”

In exactly the same way as in this example, when you say “I,” instead of pointing here [at your chest], point at this table; label I on this table.

So now, you have labeled I on the table, but where is that I on the table?

You cannot find I on the table. Even though you label I on the table, you cannot find it anywhere, on any corner of the table, inside the table, above the table—you cannot find I anywhere. Not only that, but this corner of the table is not I, this other corner is not I—no part of the table is I. Even all the parts of the table together are not I.

So now, like this, it’s exactly the same, exactly the same, even though our mind constantly labels I on this association of body and mind [Rinpoche pointing to his chest], constantly, twenty-four hours a day, labels I on this association of body and mind, exactly as in the example where your mind labels I on the table—even if you label I on the table, you cannot find I on the table—the table is not I, nor is I on the table, inside the table, or anywhere else; you cannot find I on any part of the table, and even the whole thing is not I—in the same way, I cannot be found anywhere on the association of body and mind. If you look for your I, you cannot find it, from the ends of your hair to the tip your toes—your little toes, your big toes—nowhere can it be found. You cannot find your I anywhere. It is neither inside your nose nor on the tip of your nose! I’m joking!

Anyway, I is nowhere to be found, not even inside your body.

Normally you believe I to be inside, but even if that’s what you normally believe, apprehend—that there’s a real I inside the body, there’s a real me inside the body—if you look for it, you cannot find it. When you start to analyze, it cannot be found. Where is it exactly? Look for it. Where is it exactly, inside the body? Where is it exactly, inside the chest—the part of the body where we normally believe the I to reside? It’s somewhere there, within the body. We don’t think that the I is outside—we think that it’s inside, inside the chest. But if you try to identify exactly where the I is located, it cannot be found. There is no particular location. You can’t find it. If you look for the I, you cannot find it or its particular location.

I heard that Japanese people point to their nose when they say “I”, but I don’t know whether at that time they actually believe, or feel, the I to be there, inside their nose. I’m not sure about that, but I don’t think so. That may just be their habit, how the majority of people in that society behave. I haven’t actually seen people doing that, but that’s what I heard—Japanese people point to their nose when they say “I.” I, here [nose]. Does anybody know about Japanese people doing this? Anyway, they don’t point to their tongues!

Even though you normally believe that the I is there, somewhere inside your body, inside your chest, if you really check inside where it is, its exact location, you cannot find it.

Say you are doing the meditation where you travel up and down through the channels of your body, meditating on the chakras. When you think that you are in your navel chakra, at the beginning it looks as if you are in the navel chakra, that there is a real I in the navel chakra. At the beginning it appears like that. But then you think, “What is this I that I feel? The I in my navel chakra? That there’s a real I in my navel chakra? What is this I?” and analyze that I. Analyze the I that you feel at that particular spot, at that location in your body. What is that I?

If you think, “What is this I that is traveling, going up and down through the channels, dwelling in the navel chakra?” it’s nothing other than that which is merely labeled by the mind. When you look at the real I that appears at that particular spot, in that chakra, even that real I is not there. When you analyze, “What is that I abiding there?” when you meditate like that, you find that it is nothing other than what has been merely labeled by the mind.

When you think that the nature of the I is dependent arising, subtle dependent arising, the real I that appeared to you at the beginning and that you apprehend, disappears. It immediately becomes empty. It becomes empty, as it is empty in reality. If that real I that appeared to you were true—that you believed at the beginning to really be there—if that were true—according to the way in which it appears, the way in which you believe—if that were true, then even after analysis it should still be there. Even after your analysis of its dependent arising, it should remain. You should be able to find it. But it is not there.

Even when you meditate on the chakras, a real I seems to exist, but there is no real I existing in this body the way it appears to exist, the way you apprehend, or believe, it to exist. That I is not there, neither on the body nor inside the body. The body is not I; nor is the mind. Even the association of body and mind is not I; these aggregates are not I.

Without going through the Madhyamaka or lam-rim analyses of emptiness—for example, if the aggregates are I, then what happens, what illogical consequences arise? If the body is I, what illogical consequences arise? If the mind is I, what illogical consequences rise?—without going through all those detailed analyses, what I have just mentioned gives you an idea of how the aggregates are not I. From that, you can understand, or get the idea of, the rest.

Even this association of body and mind is not I. As the texts state, the aggregates—this association of body and mind—are what is received.

They are what is received, and I is the receiver. I received these aggregates this time; I is the receiver. I is the subject who receives these aggregates, who has received, or taken, them. The I is the receiver. Can you say “taker,” that I is the taker? Like take-away food! I is to be taken away, like take-away food! I is to be taken away. Anyway, I’m joking...well, there is a way in which this can be true.

In Tibetan, we say nye-wa lang-cha lem-pa-ko. Nye-wa lang-cha: what is to be taken, the aggregates. The aggregates are what is to be taken, and I is the taker, who takes them. I is the subject and the aggregates are the object, what is to be taken. I is the taker of the aggregates. Nye-wa langcha, and lem-pa-ko; lang-cha is what is taken and lem-pa-ko is the taker.

So, there are two. The I created the cause of these aggregates; the continuity of this I created the cause of these aggregates, this samsara. Then this I has received, or taken, these aggregates. So the aggregates are what is to be taken and I is the taker. Subject and object. Therefore, they are not one. Therefore, the aggregates are not I, cannot be I, the subject.

Because aggregates are what is to be taken—the object. I is the taker of that object. So they cannot be one.

Similarly, an ax and the tree it cuts cannot be one. One is the object, the other is the subject, so they cannot be one. The cutter—the ax—and what is to be cut—the wood—cannot be one. The wood that is to be cut is not the cutter, the ax.

In that way, there’s one reason. The other reason is similar. [We say] “My aggregates, my aggregates, my aggregates.” Even from the common, language point of view, “my aggregates” shows that the aggregates are the possession, and my, or I, is the possessor. “My aggregates, my mind, my body.” Even normal language shows that these two are completely different; two completely different phenomena. They are not one. They are totally different phenomena. “My aggregates, my body, my mind” shows that they are possessions, and from that it follows that my, I, is the possessor.

Again, through that reason, you can see that there’s no way in which the possession, that which is possessed, can be the possessor, I.

There is no way. The two are totally different phenomena. They don’t exist separately, but they exist differently.

Perhaps another thing to mention is this. The aggregates, the association of the body and mind, is the base to be labeled, and I is the label to be applied—what the base is to be labeled with. Again in Tibetan, I is dagchö, the label to be applied, and the aggregates are dag-shir,what is labeled, the base to be labeled. The aggregates are the base to be labeled, and I is the label, what is labeled on the base. Thus again here, one is the base, the other is the label. Two totally different phenomena; two totally different phenomena. They don’t exist separately, but they exist differently.

If they did exist separately, it would help a lot if you were a criminal!

It would help a lot. Because then you could say, “It wasn’t me that did it; it was the body. I didn’t do it”! Or you could say, “This mind did it, not me”! You could have many arguments! In court! You could argue in court, “I didn’t do it—the body did it; the mind did it.” If what you did was criminal or something for which you’d get punished, you could say, “The body did it; the mind did it. I didn’t do it.” But if it was a situation where you had something to gain, then you could say, “I did it”!

Say your body did something that normally brings millions of dollars, but nobody saw it. If your I had no relation to your aggregates, you could say, “I did it”! Since doing the action that brings millions of dollars didn’t depend on the body or the mind doing it, you could take the credit, “I did it. I should get the money”! You could argue like that. If there were something good to gain, something that you like or want to acquire, you could say, “I did it.” But if what you’d done were criminal or subject to punishment, you could say, “It wasn’t me”!

Anyway, I’m saying that if the I existed separately from the aggregates, it could be very helpful. You could do that. Maybe you could still argue, “I didn’t do it because I cannot find the I anywhere. I cannot see the I, so how could I have done it?” I’m joking!

What I’m trying to say is that since the aggregates are the base to be labeled and I is what is labeled on them—the aggregates are the base and I is the label—they are two totally different phenomena. Therefore, they are not one; the aggregates are not I.

Similarly, the mind is not I. It’s the same—you can use all those reasons that I mentioned regarding the aggregates, with the mind, to understand that the mind is not I. Your mind is not you. My mind, your mind—that shows it is not you. Your mind is not you; my mind is not me.

If something that the I possessed had to be I, were the I, then everything you possessed would be you. Your car would be you. Your kaka would be you!

It’s exactly the same with the table, as I mentioned before. You can find the I nowhere on these aggregates. Neither are the aggregates the I.

Exactly the same. Even though you label I on the table, you cannot find I on the table. The table is not I. Exactly as you cannot find your I on the table even though your mind labels the table I, exactly like that, even though your mind labels I on the aggregates, you cannot find I anywhere on the aggregates. Neither that, nor are the aggregates I.

When you get a feeling that the aggregates are not I, when you cannot find I on the aggregates, this understanding makes very clear what is the base and what is the label; you are able to differentiate. Now you are able to differentiate between the base and the label. After this analysis, you are able to differentiate what is the base and what is the label I.

Before, it was unclear to your mind; these two things were unclear. His Holiness the Dalai Lama would say those two are mixed up, as if the table were mixed into the base, as if the table were inside the base.

His Holiness Ling Rinpoche used to say that the definition of the object to be refuted is the appearance of the base and the label as undifferentiable.

For your mind, in your view, the base and the label—for example, the base to be labeled “table” and the label “table” itself—are undifferentiable. His Holiness Ling Rinpoche explained during a commentary on the Seven Point Thought Transformation at Drepung Monastery many years ago that this is the object to be refuted.

You are unable to differentiate between the label and the base. Your mind is very confused. Your mind is in a state of confusion. What appears to your view is that these two—the base, the aggregates, and the label, I, are undifferentiable. Now, through this analysis, you can see clearly that they—the label, I, and the base, the aggregates—are two totally different phenomena.

Now, even if you have one hundred percent understanding, or recognition, that the base, the aggregates, is not I, that the I exists nowhere, I would not call that having realized emptiness. In other words, you understand through the four-point analysis, the analysis of the four vital points, that if the I is inherently existent, it should exist either as oneness with the aggregates or as completely separate from them; it has to be pervaded by being either oneness with the aggregates or existing separately from the aggregates. But simply understanding that the inherently existent I is neither oneness with the aggregates nor does it exist separately from them—having a clear idea that the aggregates are not one with the I but also don’t exist separately from the I—this awareness alone, the ability to distinguish between label and base, is not the realization of emptiness. Even if you had this awareness—the ability to distinguish label from base—even if the difference between the base and the label had become clear for your mind, still I would not say that you had realized emptiness.

When you realize emptiness—not just that there is no I, not just the feeling that there is no I—you should feel something very intensive. It should be very much more than that. Your understanding should be something very intensive. Not just the feeling that there is no I. The feeling should be something very deep; the feeling “there is no I” should be very intensive, very deep. You should feel as you would if you’d had a vision that you had received a million dollars, that somebody had put a million dollars into your hands, and you had totally, one hundred percent believed that you actually had all that money—and then suddenly realized it was just a hallucination! It’s gone! Like that, suddenly you realize that it’s not there, it has totally gone.

What you have believed, were one hundred percent convinced of, and so strongly clung to, grasped at, is suddenly, totally non-existent.

There’s nothing to grab onto, nothing to hold onto. Suddenly, it’s totally non-existent. Nothing of what you have been holding onto, cherishing as if it really exists, is truly there. Nothing of what, so far, you have never had any doubt about, have been grasping at continuously, holding onto like a cat grabbing a mouse—all its claws clutching tightly together— nothing of that I exists. Suddenly, that about which you have never had any doubt since beginningless rebirths—even since this morning or since you were born into this life—suddenly, it doesn’t go anywhere. Suddenly, there’s nothing there. Maybe it’s gone to the beach! Or to the mountains!

To a retreat center! Anyway, it doesn’t go anywhere.

Just there! Suddenly! You realize there is nothing there. Suddenly, it is not there. You realize that it’s totally non-existent. Totally non-existent.

There’s nothing to hold onto. It’s lost. Totally lost. Just right there— where it was—totally lost. Not that it’s gone somewhere, but right there, it has become totally lost. There’s nothing to hold onto. You feel something very intensive—not space, but empty, like space. During that time, there’s no dual view, there’s no “this is I and that is emptiness”; no “here is the subject, perceiver, realizer and there is the object, emptiness.” It’s not dual; non-dual. At that time, the view that should appear should be non-dual, not “this I is meditating on emptiness, seeing emptiness. Oh, that is emptiness.”

Instead, there should be a very intensive understanding, seeing very intensively that the I is empty. It’s not just thinking that there’s no I; it’s not just that. It’s not like, after searching for the table, the labeled table, the general table—not the inherently existent table but the general table, the labeled table—looking to see if any part of the table is the table—it’s not that—or if perhaps the whole collection of parts together is the table—it’s not that either—and only after all that, then thinking that the table does not exist. It’s not that kind of experience. Nor is it like analyzing the body to find if the I is inside the body or on the aggregates, or understanding that the aggregates together are also not the I, then, after all that analysis, at the end, coming to the conclusion that there’s no I.

Because you cannot find it, thinking that there is no I. It’s not just that.

The right way of perceiving that the I is empty is an extremely deep, intensive experience, but there are basically two kinds of experience you can have. You can feel incredible, that you have discovered the most precious thing, such as a wish-granting jewel. Or like a person who has been looking for or waiting to meet a dear friend for many, many years—praying, wishing, to meet that person for many years—and then, after all these many years, suddenly meeting that friend. Or like you’ve been waiting to get a billion dollars for a long time and then suddenly you get the money. In other words, when you see emptiness, you feel unbelievable joy; incredible joy that makes you cry.

The second kind of experience is one of unbelievable fear, incredible fear. Not just any kind of fear. Not just the fear of being attacked by somebody; not that kind of fear. It’s a very deep fear; something deep inside your heart, in the very depths of your heart. A very deep fear. The other fear is not fear of losing the I—something is going to happen to this I, but it’s not losing the I. The ordinary is fear that this real I is going to receive some harm, but here, something that you’ve believed in—not only from birth but from beginningless rebirths up until now—something that you’ve believed in one hundred percent, only now, only now you realize that it’s not there. Only now you realize that it’s totally nonexistent.

This can cause an incredibly deep fear to arise.

As I often say, even when you recite The Heart Sutra, when you say the words, “No ear, no nose, no tongue...no ice cream! No coffee, no chocolate, no cigarettes, no drinks...!”—if fear comes into your heart when you say “no this, no that,” if fear arises, that’s a good sign. Fear arising means your recitation of The Heart Sutra, The Essence of Wisdom, is hitting, or touching, the root of samsara, hurting it. Your recitation of The Heart Sutra has touched the root of samsara, ignorance; has hit it.

Your recitation of The Heart Sutra, your way of thinking when you recite The Essence of Wisdom, is fitting—like an arrow or a bomb. As an arrow hits its target, as a bomb or a torpedo hits its target, the enemy at which you aimed, like that, your recitation of The Heart Sutra, those teachings on emptiness, your way of thinking, your meditation, has hit its target, the object of ignorance, the inherently existent I—the I that is apprehended by simultaneously-born ignorance. You have hit the target you’re supposed to hit. The target that you are supposed to hit with the arrow or bomb of your recitation of the words of The Heart Sutra and thinking on their meaning is the object to be refuted, the inherently existent I.

Fear in your heart means that you have hit the target.

The texts explain that it is highly intelligent practitioners who have the experience of incredible, blissful joy, tears running down their cheeks, and feel as if they’d found an unbelievably precious jewel, and less intelligent practitioners who feel fear when they realize emptiness. At that time, you should not try to escape from this fear—trying to do so is your greatest obstacle to realizing emptiness. Instead, you must realize that this is the one time, the one opportunity, to realize emptiness—the only wisdom that can directly cut the delusions, the root of samsara, the gross and subtle defilements, bringing liberation from samsara and full enlightenment. Knowing this, you must go through the fear; you must complete your experience. Go through the fear like crossing a river.

Otherwise, if you block your own progress the one time that you have the opportunity of realizing emptiness, if you run away from that, like running away from teachings, from meditation courses, especially my meditation courses—of course, those are good to run away from!—if you run from the fear that arises when you realize emptiness, that is no good at all.

However, you never have to worry about the I ceasing, because the I never ceases. The I that is the label never ceases. The I never stops, never ceases. Why is there always continuity of the I, the label? Why is there always continuity of the self? Because there is always continuity of consciousness.

Even after enlightenment, the consciousness continues forever.

Even though the body might change—one body stops, another body is taken—the continuity of consciousness is always there, even after enlightenment. Therefore, the continuity of the I never ceases. It always exists because the base, the continuity of consciousness, always exists.

Therefore, thinking, “I’m going to cease, I’m going to become non-existent” is totally wrong.

When that feeling arises, the appearance of losing or having totally lost your I, you shouldn’t be worried that that appearance means you’re falling into nihilism. Because of that appearance, you should not be worried that you are falling into nihilism—just as you should not be worried that the I is becoming non-existent. There are two things—one is the fear of falling into nihilism; the other is the worry, “I am becoming nonexistent.”

You should not be scared of those things. If you do get scared, you’ll block yourself from realizing emptiness; this one opportunity to realize emptiness will have arisen and you’ll have blocked it yourself.

A very clear commentary on the Mahamudra by Ketsang Jamyang (I’m not hundred percent sure that’s his name), which is regarded as a very effective teaching, explains why this appearance of the self becoming non-existent happens. It happens because it has to happen. Furthermore, it is a sign that there is no inherent existence on the I, the merely labeled I. There is no inherent existence on that I, and the experience of its becoming non-existent shows, proves, that. When you have this experience, you see the Middle Way, the Madhyamika, view. You see the Middle Way, devoid of the two extremes of nihilism and eternalism.

I would say that realizing that the object of ignorance—the concept of the inherently existent I—is empty, realizing the emptiness that is the negation of the object to be refuted, is the first step towards liberation.

I’m not saying that by that alone you have entered—of the five paths to liberation—the path of merit. I’m not saying that. But it’s like you’ve taken a step towards liberation, because that wisdom is the main thing that directly ceases the defilements.

Just to conclude now—before we all go to sleep!—as I mentioned before, how when you label I on the table, it’s not there—in exactly the same way, when the mind labels I on these aggregates, it’s not there either. The aggregates are not the I; the I is not there. I exists, but it’s not there. The I that is labeled by your mind exists, but it’s not there. Even that is not there. Even that. Besides the real I that you believe to reside in the heart, inside your body, not being there, even the I merely labeled by your mind, which does exist, is not there either. I’m not saying it’s not here [in this room], I’m saying it’s not there [on your aggregates].

So now, the I that is merely labeled by the mind exists. That is here, that exists, but even that cannot be found on these aggregates, on the base of the aggregates. It doesn’t exist on these aggregates. The merely labeled I exists because the base, the aggregates, exists. In the same way, the base, the aggregates, which are merely imputed, exists, but it doesn’t exist on the gathering of the five aggregates; it doesn’t exist there. The merely labeled aggregates exist, but they don’t exist on the collection of the five aggregates. They don’t exist there; they cannot be found there. So that’s clear. The merely labeled aggregates cannot be found on the collection of the five. They don’t exist there.

In exactly the same way, for each aggregate—for example, the aggregate of form, the general aggregate of form—it’s exactly same. The same logic applies. The merely labeled aggregate exists but it doesn’t exist on that base. Empty. It doesn’t exist there; it’s not there, not existent on this base. The aggregate of form does not exist on the collection of the limbs, either in all their parts or on the whole collection together. So there’s no question about the inherently existent, real aggregate: it doesn’t exist anywhere.

The real one appearing from there—the aggregate, the general aggregate of form—exists nowhere. Similarly, if you go to the parts of the limbs, to the arms, head, legs, stomach, and so forth, all those merely labeled ones exist, but they don’t exist on their own bases. Even the merely labeled head cannot be found on the collection of its parts, the brain and everything else. If you look for head, it cannot be found there.

Like that, it’s the same for the arms, the legs, the main body—everything down to the atoms—that which is merely labeled exists, but it doesn’t exist on its own base. Even the merely labeled atom exists, but it doesn’t exist, cannot be found, on the collection of the particles of the atom. And it’s the same for even the particles of the atom—they can’t be found on their own base either.

Thus, everything from the I down to the particles of the atoms, or, from the general aggregate of form down to the particles of atoms, which appears as something real, is not there. It’s totally empty; every single thing is totally empty. What appears to your view, your hallucinating mind, seems to be something real, from there—but it’s not there.

Starting from the real I down to the real particles of the atoms, what appears is not there; it’s totally empty—not space, but like space; totally empty, non-existent.

That was form. How about the aggregate of feeling, that which is labeled on the thought, the mental factor that experiences pleasure, indifference and suffering? It’s the same with the aggregate of feeling— the merely labeled aggregate of feeling exists, but cannot be found on its base. It’s also the same with the aggregate of cognition, which discriminates phenomena as bad or good, as this and that, as friend and enemy, fat and skinny, long and short, and so forth. The merely labeled aggregate of cognition exists—because its base exists—but it doesn’t exist on that base. So that’s the same. Then, if you analyze the pleasant feeling, the suffering feeling, the indifference, you cannot find those feelings on their base. Similarly with the aggregate of cognition—you can do the same analysis, but neither can cognition be found on its base, even though merely labeled cognition exists.

It’s also the same thing with the aggregate of compounded phenomena.

It’s also labeled, merely imputed, because its base exists. Subtracting feeling and cognition from the fifty-one mental factors, the rest are called the aggregate of compounded phenomena, labeled that, but that aggregate cannot be found on that base.

Finally, it’s the same with the aggregate of consciousness. Merely labeled consciousness exists, but it cannot be found on its base, like a carpet on the floor. The merely labeled consciousness doesn’t exist like that. The mind, which knows phenomena, which does the function of continuing from one life to the next, perceiving merely the essence of the object, that knowing phenomenon, she-pa, because that mind exists, your mind labels it nam-she, consciousness. But using the same analysis I mentioned before, neither that consciousness nor the split seconds of consciousness can be found on their respective bases.

Therefore, starting from the I down to the split seconds of consciousness, each aggregate—form, feeling, cognition, compounded phenomena and consciousness, down to the split seconds of consciousness—everything that appears to our mind, to our view, as real, as something real existing from there, is totally non-existent. Normally, after making all this analysis, you should meditate on this emptiness; let your mind dwell in it for a while. Looking at everything as empty, let your mind stay in that state of emptiness for as long as possible. That’s extremely good, very effective.

So that’s reality; that’s how things are. This is reality, so let’s place our minds in this state for a while. Concentrate for a little bit on this conclusion that the whole thing is totally empty. Everything—from the I down to, and including, the particles of the atoms and the split seconds of consciousness —is totally empty from its own side.

[Long meditation.]

The final thing is that it’s totally non-existent—from its own side. It’s totally non-existent, but non-existent from its own side. So the second part of that expression makes the way of thinking or the experience correct —seeing it as not just empty, non-existent, but empty, non-existent, from its own side.

Like this, the nature of everything else in existence—forms, sounds, smells, tastes, tangible objects, hell, enlightenment, samsara, nirvana, happiness, suffering, life’s gains and losses, virtue, non-virtue, everything—is totally empty, non-existent. But, non-existent from its own side.

So, while things are empty—everything is totally empty from its own side—they exist. They exist in mere name, by being merely labeled by the mind—which also exists in mere name. Things exist as merely labeled by the mind, which itself also exists in mere name. Everything is unified with emptiness and dependent arising, as Guru Shakyamuni Buddha realized and Lama Tsongkhapa praised highly. Lama Tsongkhapa himself also actualized this emptiness—which is unified with dependent arising, subtle dependent arising—this right view, this wisdom, which is the only one that can cut the one particular root of samsara: the ignorance, the hallucinating mind that—while there’s no I on these aggregates, including the inherently existent I—through negative imprints left on the mental continuum, projects on to these aggregates the appearance of an inherently existent I and then believes it to be true; the ignorance that believes this inherently existent I is true, that it really exists.

This particular root of samsara—the ignorance that apprehends the I, which is merely labeled by the mind, as existing from its own side, as not merely labeled by the mind—can be cut only by this specific wisdom, only by this right view, this wisdom, this right view. Only by generating that can you be totally liberated from samsara, from the entire ocean of sufferings of samsara, which are divided into three—suffering of pain, suffering of change and pervasive, compounded suffering. Within samsara, there are the specific sufferings of each realm and the general sufferings of samsara, such as the six, the four and the three.

The specific sufferings of the six realms include those of the eight hot hells, the eight cold hell sufferings and the six or four neighborhood sufferings.

The sufferings of the hungry ghosts—the heavy suffering of hunger and thirst, and on top of that the suffering of heat, cold and exhaustion. The animal sufferings—extreme stupidity, being eaten by one another, being tortured, heat and cold. Human beings’ eight types of sufferings—the sufferings of rebirth, old age, sicknesses and death; the inability to find desirable objects; even if found, the inability to find satisfaction in them; and on top of that, the fear and worry of separating from them; and finally, the five types of sufferings of the aggregates. The sufferings of the sura and asura realms include the heaviest sufferings of the devas—the five signs of impending death, always fighting with and getting controlled by other, more powerful, devas and getting banished.

It is only with this wisdom, this particular right view, the Prasangika view, that you can be totally liberated from the oceans of samsaric suffering —all the specific sufferings of each samsaric realm, and the three, four and six general sufferings of samsara. By ceasing the cause—delusion and karma—you can achieve the sorrowless state of total liberation from samsara, and only with this wisdom, the Prasangika view, can you also eradicate the subtle defilements, achieve full enlightenment and be able to do perfect work for all sentient beings, leading them to enlightenment as well.

I’d better stop here, otherwise we won’t finish until tomorrow morning!

To escape from this hallucination, to be liberated from this hallucinating mind, we take refuge and keep precepts. Refuge is the very foundation of the Buddhadharma, the gate through which we enter the Dharma path.

We take refuge and vows to make certain that we practice, to make sure that we devote ourselves to actually practicing Dharma. That is the fundamental reason for taking refuge and vows. In order to liberate others from the hallucinating mind, ignorance, first we ourselves have to be liberated from the hallucination, from the hallucinating mind, from all these sufferings that we have been caught in since time without beginning, for beginningless lifetimes. Thus, refuge and precepts are the basic means, the very foundation of the path, for liberating both ourselves and others from the hallucination, from the hallucinating mind, from all suffering, and gaining the ultimate happiness of the highest, full enlightenment.


“Due to all the past, present and future merits collected by myself, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all other sentient beings, may bodhicitta, the loving kindness compassionate thought—letting go of the I and cherishing other sentient beings, who are the source of all happiness and success for myself and all other sentient beings—be generated in my mind and in the minds of all sentient beings, without even a second’s delay, and may that which has been generated increase.”

Dedicate for all virtuous friends to have stable lives until samsara ends and for all their holy wishes to succeed immediately.

“Due to all the past, present and future merits collected by myself, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all other sentient beings—which are totally non-existent from their own side—may the I—which is also totally nonexistent from its own side—achieve Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s or Vajrasattva’s enlightenment—which is also totally non-existent from its own side—and lead all sentient beings—who are also totally non-existent from their own side—to that enlightenment—which is also totally non-existent from its own side—by myself alone—which is also totally non-existent from its own side.

“Due to all the merits of the three times collected by me, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all other sentient beings, from now on, in all my future lifetimes, may I be able to offer extensive benefit to all sentient beings and the teachings of Buddha just like Lama Tsongkhapa did, by having the same qualities within me that Lama Tsongkhapa had.

“I dedicate all my merits in the way greatly admired by the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the three times and realized by Samantabhadra and Manjushri."

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Chapter 45: April 18 »