Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Advice for Daily Practice

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Lama Zopa Rinpoche is often asked for advice regarding which practices should be done daily. Below are Rinpoche's suggestions for establishing a daily practice.

Also refer to the Buddhist Practices section of Rinpoche's Online Advice Book.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche after the first US course in California, 1975. Photo: Carol Royce-Wilder.
Lam-rim Meditations and Deity Practice

The most important and best way to benefit others is to develop your heart and mind on the path to enlightenment. When you complete the path to enlightenment you will be fully qualified to liberate numberless sentient beings from oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to full enlightenment. This is what sentient beings need and this is what is most beneficial for them. There is no greater success than this. This depends upon your actualizing the path to enlightenment by meditating on the lam-rim.

Base all your lam-rim meditations on guru devotion and meditate every day for whatever length of time you can—15, 20, 30 minutes or an hour—until you receive stable realizations.

  • Guru devotion
  • The graduated path of the lower capable being
  • The graduated path of the intermediate capable being
  • The graduated path of the highest capable being:
    • Bodhicitta
    • Emptiness
  • Shi-nä: object of meditation1

Keep circling in this way until you have gained stable realizations.

To gain a background understanding of and for detailed information on the lam-rim and how to meditate on it, read Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, by Pabongka Rinpoche,  the Middle Length Lam-rim,2 by Lama Tsongkhapa or the Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, with commentary by Geshe Sopa, from beginning to end. Some parts might be difficult to understand without a teacher, especially those on emptiness, but you can still read it; that will leave a positive imprint on your mind and will help for future understanding. Make a note of things you don’t understand and when you meet a geshe or senior student you can ask your questions.

For everyday use I recommend Geshe Rabten’s The Essential Nectar, which provides instruction on daily lam-rim meditation and also contains the root text by Yeshe Tsondru.

The other way to meditate is to follow the outlines from the Great Treatise, the Middle Length Lam-rim or Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand.3 It is very beneficial to memorize the lam-rim outlines, which is what most serious Tibetan lam-rim meditators do, and use them as the basis of your meditations.

HOW TO DO DAILY LAM-RIM MEDITATION SESSION

You can base your lam-rim meditation on a guru yoga practice such as the Six-Session Guru Yoga, Guru Puja or Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga, or on a lam-rim prayer such as The Foundation of all Good Qualities, The Three Principal Aspects of the Path, Calling the Guru from Afar, Hymns of Experience etc. When you reach the verse in the prayer that accords to where you are in your lam-rim meditations, this is where you stop and do the meditation. You can also do the meditation before the guru absorbs into you.

HOW TO MEDITATE ACCORDING TO THE TIME PERIOD

First go through the outlines on the subject you’re going to meditate on and divide them up according to the time you will spend on that subject. If you don’t finish one day, next time pick up from where you left off.

According to the number of months or weeks that you have received on each lam-rim topic, this is what you mainly focus on for that length of time, but this does not mean that you meditate only on that subject. It just means that this is your main focus.

The length of your meditation sessions is up to you. You can meditate daily for fifteen minutes, half an hour or an hour or two according to your situation. If you have more time during the day or are in retreat, you can do two, three or four sessions a day. The most important thing is continuity; this really helps. If you meditate a lot one day then take a few days off, your mind won’t develop continuously.

Regardless of where you are up to in the lam-rim, you should still do one meditation on guru devotion and one meditation on emptiness every day, using any unmistaken text, such as the Heart Sutra or any authentic Mahamudra teaching.

When you have finished on cycle, start from the beginning again. Continue in this way until you have gained stable realizations.

LAM-RIM REALIZATIONS

Meditate on guru devotion for as many months or years as it takes for you see the one guru as all the buddhas and one buddha as all your gurus—complete oneness; no separation. You must realize this from the bottom of your heart and it has to last for not just a few days, but for weeks, months and years, however long it takes for you to gain the stable realization. After that, you don’t have to spend as much time meditating on it but you still need to continue meditating on guru devotion to stabilize it.

Then meditate on the lower graduated path, from the precious human rebirth up to karma, focusing mainly on impermanence and death, which is the most important meditation because it helps you gain realization of all the others.

When you are meditating on the perfect human rebirth try to achieve the various realizations within the perfect human rebirth one by one, no matter how long it takes, however many weeks, months or years it takes for you to gain a stable realization.

When you have realized the perfect human rebirth, you feel that this life is most precious, like a wish-granting jewel. If you have a wish-granting jewel you receive whatever material object you pray for; when you realize the perfect human rebirth you understand that it is much more precious than numberless wish-granting jewels, even more precious than the whole sky filled with numberless wish granting-jewels, and naturally feel like that all day and night.

This is the feeling you need to generate through analytical meditation; when it arises, focus on it single-pointedly with fixed meditation. Feeling deeply that this perfect human rebirth is incredibly precious, hold that feeling. It’s wish fulfilling, unbelievable; through it you can achieve any happiness—that of this and future lives, liberation from samsara and enlightenment. It is most precious because you have met the Mahayana teachings, met the sutra teachings, met the tantra teachings and met the virtuous friend. It is more precious than limitless skies of diamonds, gold and wish-granting jewels. Also you have met the stainless teachings of Lama Tsongkhapa; this is even more precious than skies filled with wish-granting jewels.

This perfect human rebirth can bring you any happiness whatsoever but a wish-granting jewel cannot even prevent rebirth in the lower realms let alone help you achieve the ultimate happinesses of liberation or enlightenment. So you should have the strong feeling of how unbelievably, unbelievably precious this life is and this feeling should arise naturally for not just a few days but for weeks, months and years.

The next meditation is on the great usefulness of the perfect human rebirth. When you realize this, you can never engage in meaningless activities for even a minute or a second. Should any of your actions not become Dharma you have a feeling of incredible loss; you feel it’s an incredible loss to waste even a minute of this life. Keep meditating on this until you achieve a stable realization of this topic that lasts for weeks, months and years, no matter how long it takes.

Next meditate on how difficult it will be to find a perfect human rebirth again. When you realize this, again, you can’t waste even an hour, a minute or a second of this life. If minutes or seconds of this life pass without your practicing Dharma you feel as if you’ve lost a big sack of gold, as if you’ve just thrown away millions of dollars. Meditate until this feeling arises naturally and remains stable for weeks, months and years.

When you meditate on impermanence and death you realize that you can die this week, even today. Every time you leave your house, think that you might die before you get back. If you’re inside, think that you might die before you get the chance to leave. Death can arrive any minute, any hour. Practice this until the realization of the imminence of death arises naturally and remains stable for weeks, months and years, not just for a day or two. In this way try to realize impermanence and death. Along with this, try not to be attached to your family, possessions or even your body. These realizations should accompany each other.

Also do the full nine-round death meditation, thinking that death is certain, its time uncertain and that nothing but Dharma can help. Therefore, you have to practice Dharma right now and practice only Dharma. But practicing Dharma doesn’t mean only sitting in meditation. If it did you wouldn’t be able to practice Dharma when going out, working, eating or sitting on the toilet. You can practice Dharma no matter what you’re doing; it’s a big mistake to think otherwise.

The next topic is refuge. Recollect the qualities of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and totally rely on them. In your mind, rely on nothing else. Take refuge only in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. After reflecting on their qualities they should become the most important object of refuge in your life and always remain in your heart. That feeling should arise naturally and remain stable for weeks, months and years.

Then try to realize karma. Even small positive karmas should be created and small negative karmas avoided. Meditate on the four outlines of karma.4 Remember, you definitely have to experience the result of any karma you create—any karma created never gets lost and has to be experienced. Understanding this, you abandon even the smallest negative karmas and practice even the smallest positive ones. This is very important.

The realization of the suffering of the lower realms is that you can’t stand not purifying negative karma even for even a minute or a second.

The realization of refuge is to totally rely on Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. For example, if you have cancer, you look for the best medicine, the best doctor and the best support in the world. Here, in our life, we have to rely on Buddha, Dharma and Sangha strongly, all the time, and not rely on worldly or mundane beings, spirits or friends. Refuge is completely relying solely on Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, who are beyond samsara.

The realization of karma is feeling that even a small negative karma created is very heavy and must be purified without even a second’s delay, as quickly as possible, and that it is important to create even a small good karma; that nothing is too small but is extremely important. You put all your energy into purifying negativities and creating good karma, with a sense of great urgency.

You have realized renunciation when you don’t have even the slightest interest in the happiness of this life, no clinging at all, and seek only the happiness of future lives, liberation or the happiness of others. Then meditate on the graduated path of the middle capable being.

When you are meditating on the graduated path of the middle capable being, following the lam-rim outline, you renounce both this life’s samsara and that of future lives by meditating on the different types of suffering such as the three, six and eight and on the twelve links of dependent origination.

Once you have gained spontaneous renunciation of all of samsara, dedicate your life to realizing bodhicitta by meditating on the graduated path of the highest capable being. Following the lam-rim outline, meditate on the two techniques of generating bodhicitta—the sevenfold cause and effect meditation and the technique of exchanging self and others. When you have realized bodhicitta you don’t have even the slightest thought of seeking your own happiness but want only the happiness of others, feeling like this day and night.

Then meditate on emptiness, using the different techniques.

In this way, please try to use your whole life to develop the lam-rim realizations.

GENERAL ADVICE MEDITATING ON THE LAM-RIM

Reciting a lam-rim prayer every day is the fundamental daily practice that renders each day of your life most meaningful. When you recite a lam-rim prayer mindfully from beginning to end, your recitation becomes a direct meditation on the entire path to enlightenment and leaves imprints, or seeds, of the realizations of the path on your mental continuum. With each recitation you draw closer to enlightenment and, therefore, closer to enlightening all sentient beings, which is the main goal of your life, the purpose of being alive. This is the unbelievable benefit of doing direct meditation on the lam-rim every day of your life.

There are various lam-rim prayers that you can recite in this way, such as Lama Tsongkhapa’s Three Principal Aspects of the Path, Foundation of All Good Qualities and Lines of Experience and Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo’s long version of Calling the Guru from Afar. You can also meditate on any other prayer that contains the essence of the entire path. If it mentions the practice of tantra at the end, that is particularly good.

The more direct meditations on the entire lam-rim you do each day the more advantages you receive. If you have received a highest yoga tantra initiation, it’s also good to recite a prayer of the graduated path of tantra, such as that found at the end of the long Yamantaka and Vajrayogini sadhanas. Again, if you recite it mindfully, it plants the seeds of the entire path in your mind.

Thus there are two different direct, or glance, meditations: the one on the lam-rim, which is the foundation of the common path, and the one on the tantric path, which is the extraordinary path. Practicing these helps prepare your mind for all the realizations of the path, perhaps in this life but definitely in a future one.

When you meditate on the lam-rim, bring into your meditation whatever teachings and other information you have learned from reading authentic Buddhist texts. This makes your meditation much more effective. When meditating on guru devotion, for example, you can augment the outline with whatever you have learned from studying various teachings on guru devotion. Similarly, you can enrich your meditation on the nature of samsara, bodhicitta, emptiness and so forth by studying different teachings on these topics. This makes your meditation more effective.

However, following your guru’s instructions is what makes your meditation practice most productive in bringing quick realizations.

During the break times—which means your life between sessions of sitting meditation, not breaks from Dharma practice—whether you’re standing, walking, sleeping or doing anything else, try to live with the experience generated by your morning lam-rim meditation. Live with a mind transformed by your daily meditation on guru devotion, impermanence and death, the meaningfulness of this life’s body, the suffering nature of samsara, bodhicitta or emptiness—whatever was the main focus of that session.

By doing so, not only do you make your life highly meaningful during your sessions but also during the rest of the time. This is mainly because your lam-rim experience gives you a positive attitude and, as a result, you avoid creating negative actions; you are always careful to practice Dharma and avoid creating negative karma. Thus all your actions become causes of liberation and enlightenment and, therefore, the remedy to samsara.

This instruction also to practice in between formal meditation sessions is extremely important—if you follow it, your sessions will help make your life during the breaks highly meaningful and fruitful. This is specifically what Lama Tsongkhapa meant when, in the Foundation of All Good Qualities, he talked about taking the essence of the precious human body day and night. His Holiness the Dalai Lama also explained that this verse means that we should live in the experience generated by our morning meditation and strongly recommended that we do so.

In this way whatever actions you do, when you are not sitting in meditation, should all be done with lam-rim. With your mind in lam-rim, you connect your normal daily actions with whatever lam-rim meditation you have done in the morning.

The very bottom line is to do all your actions with bodhicitta. That is the best, most meaningful way to think during your break-time. This makes your life most beneficial. With awareness keep your attitude and thoughts in bodhicitta, the thought of benefiting others, trying to do all the activities with that mind. Then everything you do becomes the cause of happiness.

Otherwise you finish up using your most precious life to create the cause of suffering. Your whole life becomes like that—so sad, the saddest thing. While you had every opportunity to attain enlightenment, the highest success, the most beneficial thing for all sentient beings, you wasted it instead.

If you can do this, even your working life becomes meditation. It will be unified with the Dharma and, especially, your lam-rim meditation. Your mind will always be peaceful and stable, not up and down; you will have peace, satisfaction and fulfillment in your life and will be able to benefit others more.

Of all practices, the main one is meditation on the lam-rim in order to gain lam-rim realizations. Tantric practice is secondary.

DEITY PRACTICE

The purpose of practicing Highest Yoga Tantra is to achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible in order to liberate sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric sufferings and bring them to enlightenment in the shortest possible time.

When your mind is ready, take the initiation(s) when available5 and train your mind in the practice of the generation stage. You can do a little completion stage practice just to plant the seeds of it, but initially your main emphasis should be on the generation stage. You might like to meditate on the completion stage just for fun but you cannot accomplish it without accomplishing the generation stage. Do that first and then practice the completion stage.

Please understand that you and I don’t often have the chance to meet to discuss your practice, so whether we meet again in this life or not, you must make your life meaningful through practice.

Thus your request for practice is done. I have put off other things—prayers and so forth—to spend time checking all this for you. Therefore you must consider doing these practices in your life. Take this advice seriously; otherwise it would have been better that you hadn’t asked me.


NOTES

1  Study texts on shi-nä well: the relevant sections in the Great Treatise on the Stages of the PathLiberation in the Palm of your Hand and Calming the Mind, by Gen Lamrimpa. You need the right conditions to succeed in shi-nä so don’t plan on doing it right away—first purify and collect merit and then study to gain as much knowledge of the practice as possible. When you have more experience in the lam-rim you can do shi-nä retreat, basing it on highest yoga tantra. If you do it in this way it will become very rich, like ice cream with sugar, cream and many things; your retreat will be very yum-yum delicious. If you don’t have much merit you can get sick or have other obstacles arise.  [Return to text]

2  Study materials for the Middle Length Lam-rim as well as the root text can be found here in the Stages of the Path, available from FPMT. [Return to text]

You can get the lam-rim outlines from materials@fpmt.org   [Return to text]

Karma is definite; karma is expandable; you can’t experience the results of karma you have not created; karma created is never lost.  [Return to text]

Refer to Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s schedule[Return to text]