Kadampa Teachings

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Root Institute, Bodhgaya (Archive #1404 1470 1588 1683 1677)

In this book Lama Zopa Rinpoche explains how to practice Dharma the way the famous Kadampa geshes did. These lamas were exemplary practitioners of Buddhism in Tibet, renowned for their extreme asceticism and uncompromising practice of thought transformation in order to develop bodhicitta. As ever, Rinpoche covers a vast amount of ground, teaching on many other topics as well.

Kadampa Teachings 1: Bodhgaya, January 2003

January 24

Good afternoon everyone. A few years ago I advised Root Institute to have some Kadampa statues made, and there are now statues of Lama Atisha and the Kadampa lamas: Dromtönpa; Geshe Potowa; Geshe Langri Tangpa, who composed The Eight Verses of Thought Transformation; and Geshe Chekawa, whose teaching, The Seven Points of Thought Transformation, is very commonly taught everywhere, in the East as well as in the West.

There are statues that you commonly see in monasteries and meditation centers, but you don’t normally see statues of the Kadampa lamas, even though their teachings are often taught and also mentioned in Lama Tsongkhapa’s The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, as well as in Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand and many other lam-rim teachings. I thought it would be very good to have statues of these Kadampa lamas, great Tibetan meditators who attained the path and whose teachings, which we read and study, express their own experiences during their many years of practice, when they sacrificed themselves to experiment on the path.

The purpose of having the statues of these great Kadampa geshes is to pray to them to develop devotion and to rejoice in their attainments and in the extensive benefit they have brought sentient beings in this world, including us, and all other sentient beings. We are very fortunate to be able to see the statues of their holy bodies, which remind us of how they practiced Dharma, particularly bodhicitta, the good heart, letting go of the I and cherishing others. Since we have these precious statues, my wish is to go over their life stories, the stories of how they practiced and of how they benefited sentient beings and the teaching of the Buddha, to inspire us to be like them and to rejoice in their activities.

The Kadampa geshes give three pieces of advice on how to go about the path to full enlightenment. (I’m supposed to be giving teachings on the Kadampas, so I’ve finally come to some words of the Kadampas.)1

Look far ahead.
Generate a vast mind.
Don’t squeeze yourself.

I don’t remember which Kadampa geshe said this2—it’s mentioned in the Kadampa thought-transformation teachings and also as a conclusion at the end of Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo’s commentary to The Three Principles of the Path

The first piece of advice is mig gyang zig, or Look far ahead. Since your objective is to achieve enlightenment, you have to look far ahead, just as when you’re traveling to somewhere very distant, you have to generate a strong determination to go there.

The second advice is lo gya kye, or Generate a vast mind. For example, you could be a small child in kindergarten, but your final objective might be gaining a university degree. You have to look far ahead and generate a vast mind, thinking that you are going to do all the preliminary study in primary school and high school and finally study in university and get your degree. With a broad mind, a vast mind, you make a plan to study all these things.

The third advice is kong sang lhö, or Don’t squeeze yourself. Don’t allow yourself to become stressed out, thinking, “Oh, I have to do all this!” With a vast, brave mind, think, “I’m going to do all this. Even if it takes many, many years, I’m going to do it.” When you do follow the advice, Don’t squeeze yourself, your mind naturally relaxes. Your mind is not stressed, not uptight, which causes lung, or wind disease. I think the new people here don’t know about lung, but you’ll soon be introduced to it.

You should have a vast mind, planning to study and learn everything about the whole path to enlightenment, as well as to practice it and actualize all the realizations. While you have that plan, you also have a relaxed mind; you don’t stress yourself. You think, “No matter how long it takes, I’m going to do it. I’m not going to give up.” You have the plan inside your heart, but at the same time your mind is calm and relaxed.

These are essential pieces of advice from the Kadampa geshes about how to go about achieving enlightenment. And if you follow these instructions you will definitely achieve enlightenment, even though you might think it’s impossible. You might think, “I can see that I have many delusions. My mind is like a garbage can completely filled with garbage or like a septic tank completely filled with excrement, gas and other stuff. Since my mind is filled with all these negative emotional thoughts, how can I become an enlightened being? How can I even generate bodhicitta? It’s not possible for me to completely let go of the I and only cherish and benefit others!” Because at the moment the only thing you see in your heart is selfcherishing, the wish to do everything for your own benefit day and night, you think, “How’s it possible for me to change my mind into only cherishing others, only benefiting others?” However, if you follow the Kadampa geshes’ advice and learn Dharma and practice it correctly, it will happen, even though you now believe it’s impossible. As Kadampa Geshe Dölpa said:

If you collect merit, purify your obstacles and practice guru devotion, which causes you to receive blessings in your heart, and put effort into meditating on the path, even the difficult realizations you believe won’t happen will happen within a few years.3

This can happen because your present mind is only temporarily obscured; your obscurations are not oneness with your mind. All your negative emotional thoughts are temporary, not permanent. Since they happened because of causes and conditions, they can be changed by other causes and conditions, by purifying negativities, collecting merit, practicing guru devotion and meditating on the path. With a long-term plan to learn and to practice Dharma, your mind can completely change, and you can achieve realizations.

January 27
Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment

Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment is the root text composed by Lama Atisha. I didn’t get to go over Lama Atisha’s life story, even though that was my wish; but since many of you have read Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, you already have an idea of who Lama Atisha is, of all his qualities and his incredible benefit to sentient beings, including those in this world. Every day, whenever we meditate on lam-rim or go over a lam-rim prayer, Lama Atisha is helping us. Even the term lam-rim came only after Lama Atisha had composed Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment. Before that there was no such text that condensed the whole 84,000 teachings of Buddha, the teachings of the Hinayana, Paramitayana and Mahayana tantric paths, and that was set up as one person’s graduated practice to achieve enlightenment. There was no such thing that enabled one, easily and without confusion, to go about achieving enlightenment. Nothing else was so clearly arranged. Even though the vast volumes of the Kangyur and Tengyur contained the subjects of the whole path to enlightenment, there was no integration of the subject material. Lama Atisha made it unbelievably easy for us sentient beings to practice; he taught us how to go about achieving enlightenment in accordance with the level, or capacity, of our own mind. He made the way to follow the path to enlightenment very clear and very easy.

Every day when we read a lam-rim prayer as a direct meditation or meditate on lam-rim, we plant seeds of the whole path to enlightenment, and each day we become closer and closer to enlightenment. Each time we meditate on lam-rim we become closer to the realizations of the path and to enlightenment, and this is by Lama Atisha’s kindness, which is as limitless as the sky. The benefit he has brought us—our lives, our hearts, our minds—is like the limitless sky. No words can express the kindness of Lama Atisha in this degenerate time.

Somebody requested me to give the oral transmission of Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment. The oral transmission can be given in English if it’s a correct translation; but if the translation isn’t correct, you can miss some of the words. Since everything in the Tibetan might not be there in the English, it might be safer to do the oral transmission in Tibetan.

Think that you will listen to the oral transmission for the benefit of all sentient beings and then think, “May each word that I listen to immediately cause me to have realization. May the effect of each word on my mental continuum be to liberate me from the oceans of samsaric suffering and its cause, karma and delusion. May each word be like an atomic bomb on the sufferings of samsara.”

Each word of Dharma, of lam-rim, has that power to affect your mental continuum. If you think in this way you can then see the value of each Dharma word you hear; you can see how precious each word is. It also helps you to pay attention to the words, to put all your effort into listening so that you don’t miss any words. Understanding the benefits encourages you.

Then think, “May each word of Dharma that I listen to enable me to benefit all sentient beings.” When we are about to listen to a teaching, it’s very good to pray like this at the beginning.

Also think, “When I then teach on this text, may each word of Dharma cause realizations of the path to be immediately actualized in sentient beings’ hearts.” If we dedicate in this way, it can then happen, because of the power of mind, the power of prayer.

[Rinpoche gives the oral transmission of Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment in Tibetan.]

Thought Transformation Eliminating Obstacles

This is a short teaching called Thought Transformation Eliminating Obstacles, which we can use to deal with obstacles in our daily life. (See appendix 1.) I’m not sure which lama composed it. There are a few other pieces of advice, but it doesn’t say who wrote them. However, at the end of one of the teachings, it says it was composed by Pel Narthang Khenpo, the abbot of Narthang Monastery. On the road from the Nepalese border to Lhasa, you pass through Narthang before you arrive in Shigatse. It’s one of the places where the Kangyur and Tengyur are printed and where original wood blocks for them are kept. I heard that during the Cultural Revolution all the wood blocks and many unbelievably precious teachings were piled up in a field and burned. It took them weeks and weeks to burn everything. I also heard that rainbows came from that site. Wood blocks of the Kangyur and Tengyur were kept and printed at three places in Tibet: Narthang, Lhasa and Derge. There are editions of the Kangyur and Tengyur according to Narthang, Lhasa and Derge.

I’m not completely sure, but this teaching might have been composed by Chim Namkha Drak, the abbot of Narthang Monastery.4

I prostrate to Guru Compassionate One.

The Mahayana thought transformation eliminating obstacles means taking inauspicious signs as good fortune….

Ordinary people, thinking that an inauspicious sign is bad, become so worried and upset that they then have mos5 and pujas done. But a practitioner of thought transformation uses any inauspicious sign, any bad omen, that happens in their life to destroy the ego, the selfcherishing thought, and to develop bodhicitta and achieve enlightenment to be able to enlighten other sentient beings. For them, the inauspicious sign becomes good luck.

I will read the text quickly in Tibetan.

[Rinpoche gives the oral transmission of Thought Transformation Eliminating Obstacles in Tibetan.]

The Eight Verses of Thought Transformation

I was also requested to give the oral transmission of The Eight Verses of Thought Transformation by someone who said that they were going to practice it in their life, which means use it to benefit all sentient beings. The Eight Verses was composed by Kadampa Geshe Langri Tangpa, whose statue is here in the Root Institute gompa.6

[Rinpoche gives the oral transmission of The Eight Verses of Thought Transformation in Tibetan.]


1  Rinpoche has returned to the subject of the Kadampas after a long discourse on many other subjects.  [Return to text]

2  Pabongka Rinpoche attributes this quote to Geshe Kharag Gomchung in Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand and to Geshe Dolpa in his commentary to The Three Principles of the Path (see The Principal Teachings of Buddhism, p. 139 and note 174, p. 190). Others attribute it to Gompa Rinchen Lama.  [Return to text]

3  This passage is cited in both The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment and Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand.  [Return to text]

4  Thupten Jinpa attributes the authorship to Shönu Gyalchok. See note 367 in Mind Training: The Great Collection.  [Return to text]

5  The Tibetan word mo means a divination in reliance upon a meditational deity, usually performed with dice.  [Return to text]

6  See Teachings from Tibet, pp. 159-179, for the root text and a short commentary by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  [Return to text]