Kopan Course No. 36 (2003)

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal (Archive #1441)

These teachings were given by Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche at the 36th Kopan Meditation Course, held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, in 2003. Lightly edited by Gordon McDougall.

Rinpoche teaches on a range of lamrim topics, including refuge, motivation, Medicine Buddha and seven-limb practice, the purpose of our life, emptiness and much more. The edited transcript is freely available for download as a PDF file.

Lecture 1: Universal Responsibility
Motivation: Dedicating for all sentient beings

So, I want to say hello.

The reason why all of us are here—you are here or whatever— it’s not just for our individual peace and happiness. It’s not just for that. Even though you may have come for that purpose at the beginning, in reality it’s not just that. Not even just inner spiritual growth—not cancer growth, spiritual growth—spiritual improvement, spiritual development in our own mind, for ourselves. The purpose is not even just that. It’s for the benefit of numberless mother sentient beings.

I am sure I can say “mother,” by now you must have gone through bodhicitta, the seven techniques of Mahayana cause and effect, you know, the bodhicitta technique, developing the mind in bodhicitta. You know what’s called seven techniques of Mahayana cause and effect, based on the equilibrium meditation, the equilibrium mind—after equalizing the mind, how all sentient beings have been our own mother, and then repaying kindness.

Then we generate affectionate loving kindness, the loving kindness seeing the sentient beings. The preliminary reason is our mother has been so kind and seeing it’s wonderful, like a son or daughter who realizes how our mother or father is so kind and precious—that is our view. Or the mother who sees her beloved child as something very precious, something very wonderful. So like that, how a mother feels for her most beloved child. By using reason, by proving to our own mind which doesn’t realize all sentient beings have been our own mother and kind to us numberless times, numberless times. The mind does not see that, then we prove to that mind and then we are able to see it and feel it. Loving kindness is the nature of that, seeing them as very precious, very wonderful, then wishing only happiness to others.

And then compassion, which is wishing others to be free from suffering. Then to cause that by ourselves. That is the special attitude to take the whole responsibility, to cause them, to free from all the sufferings and to have all the happiness, especially full enlightenment. Taking that whole responsibility to do that, taking whole responsibility upon oneself, that is special attitude.

Then for the success of that, without ourselves first becoming a buddha, an enlightened being, free from all the gross and subtle mistakes of mind, all defilements, by that then having all the qualities, all the realizations, fully perfected in all the qualities—that’s what’s needed to benefit, to be able to do perfect work toward numberless sentient beings.

Anyway, since you are going through those, meditating through these stages of meditation, the purpose that we are here is not just for one person alone, for ourselves. Among the numberless sentient beings, we are here for just this one person’s happiness—it’s not just that.

[We are here] to benefit each and every single mother sentient being, who wants happiness and does not want suffering. Listening, reflecting, meditating—what we are doing here—taking the eight Mahayana precepts, which is so essential, so important for the world peace, and not only our own happiness, not just for the peace and happiness of this life, which is just a very short time, like last night’s dream. It happened and it’s gone, just something for a very, very short time. Not just that—the happiness beyond from this life. Of course it benefits that but another very important practice that benefits to numberless sentient beings, as we motivated when we took the eight Mahayana precepts, we took that motivation and also we dedicated to the end of the day, or after the precepts also we dedicate to all the sentient beings. Of course, each precept that we have taken, that we practice, definitely benefits for the peace and happiness of numberless mother sentient beings.

It brings great happiness in the world, in the country and especially to develop the economy and not have recession and also not have all these difficulties of life. For the people in the country to not suffer or to have less poverty, to have great enjoyment, to have an easier life. It definitely benefits for that.

The Story of the Four Harmonious Brothers

There have been stories in the past that maybe you might have heard already. There happened in India, I think maybe in a country called Kashika, before there was much poverty then after some time a lot of enjoyment happened, with crops growing well, and the rains came at the right time, anyway, so much enjoyment, so much development happened. So the king of that country thought, “I did it, I am the one who developed the country.” But the ministers thought they did it. Everyone thought they did it. A minister suggested to the king that they should ask a sage who had clairvoyance. So they all went to see the sage and ask him.

The sage told them that it’s not because of the king, it’s not because of the ministers. There are four harmonious brother animals living in the forest, it’s because of them. The harmonious brother animals: one is an elephant, one is a monkey, one is a rabbit and other one is a bird—I don’t know whether it’s a particular bird, I’m not sure. Anyway, it is a bird. I think the bird is a manifestation of the Buddha and then the others are the Buddha’s disciples, Ananda, and one is Chungawo, maybe, Ngegawo, Buddha’s disciples. So the elephant spread five precepts to other elephants for the other elephants to practice. And the monkey spread the five precepts to other monkeys to practice. And then rabbit made the other rabbits practice the five precepts and then the bird made the other birds practice the five precepts. And not only that, also to respect each other—whoever was the elder, they respected.

Actually that story is mainly for advice, I think, for the people in this world to respect each other and to live an ethical life and to avoid living a life of nonvirtuous actions which harms ourselves and harms others. When we harm others, that itself means we harm ourselves. When we harm others there are immediate consequences, we receive harm from others. The other one, the long-term result is the karmic result, we create the negative karma of harming others, then we have consequences. Even if the other person doesn’t harm us, if they don’t take revenge on us, we still have to experience the suffering results of our karma sooner or later, at any time. Unless we purify before experiencing the result, then that’s a different case, that’s a different situation. But if it is not purified then we definitely have to experience the suffering result of negative karma, the action that we have done that harmed others. By harming others, we harm ourselves—we have to understand that way. Whenever we harm others, that means harming ourselves.

Non-harm means peace for ourselves and others

Those actions of committing harm to ourselves and others, those nonvirtuous actions, those immoral actions came from and are motivated by the impure mind or negative thought, nonvirtuous thought, mistaken thought, the wrong way of thinking.

It not only affects our life, it affects the world. Those unethical, negative actions, those nonvirtuous actions, immoral actions, not only affect our personal life, but they also affect the world, they affect other sentient beings. They affect the environment, they affect other living beings, they affect the environment. Then the environment is made impure, polluted, then it affects back to us, it affects back to the people, then they get sick, lots of sicknesses, and even the doctor can’t tell how many sicknesses, even they cannot tell exactly.

Respecting each other brings so much peace and happiness in the life, in the family, in society, in the office, and there is so much peace and happiness in the country, in the world. Practicing respect brings so much peace and happiness within individuals, within each individual’s life. It has a positive effect on others; it makes others happy. Sincere respect—not political respect, not diplomatic respect—sincere respect by thinking of the qualities of others.

As His Holiness says, even flies can’t give much harm to others. They can’t think that many evil thoughts, as we can. We can think so many evil thoughts, we can generate so many evil thoughts, but not this fly; it doesn’t generate so many. That is because we are a human being, and that fly is not a human being. We have this precious human body; we can achieve all the happiness up to enlightenment for ourselves. We can achieve all these different levels of happiness up to enlightenment; with this human body we can cause all the happiness to numberless other sentient beings, which is an incredible opportunity. It is something which is higher, which has all this freedom or opportunity. There are limitless skies of benefit, good things that we can do with this human body that they can’t with their body. [We can achieve so much] with this human body which has so many qualities, much higher, but using this to generate so much ill will to others, then engaging in actions to harm others—the harm we can do to ourselves and others—this fly cannot do that. His Holiness says, by thinking that way, respect the fly. So we can compare and think in this way.

When we respect others sincerely, then we create good karma, virtue, which of course makes others happy. It has an immediate effect because we see it makes others happy then that affects back to our mind and makes us happy. The immediate effect is it makes our life happy. So there is this. Then of course, there is the karmic result of happiness later, either in this life or after this life, in the future.

Kindness is the cause of a beautiful body

In one text it is said, when we smile at other sentient beings with loving kindness, with compassion, with a sincere heart we will achieve a beautiful body. For example, when His Holiness sees anybody, old or young, poor or rich, educated or uneducated, he shows respect to everyone. He smiles, first. Not smell, smile! [Laughter] Smell, smile. It’s very dangerous to get it mixed. Always giving smiles, giving a smile. In one text it is mentioned that, if the motivation is loving kindness and compassion—not political, not with the evil thought of the eight worldly dharmas, when of course it becomes nonvirtue whatever you do, smile or what—the text says that smiling at somebody sincerely from our heart to make that person happy is the cause in the future to have a beautiful body. You can see that from the cause. The cause is showing a pleasant face to somebody, which makes that other sentient being happy, so you can get some idea from the cause, from that good karma, that the result we will achieve will be a beautiful body.

So then what happens, what’s the big deal if you have a beautiful body? What’s the big deal, what’s the use of that, what’s the big deal, what’s important? Guru Shakyamuni Buddha himself, and many other of those great pandits, the highly attained yogis like Lama Atisha, many of them purposely reincarnated with total freedom, not under the delusions and karma. If we have a beautiful body it’s easy to draw people, it’s easy for other people to listen to us. Then this way we can bring them into the path, into the right path to happiness, we can use that as a means to bring them to happiness, and not only temporary happiness, but by causing them to practice morality, charity, and to practice the good heart, and ultimately to bring them to full enlightenment.

Let’s say, in the world somebody has a very beautiful body, and so many people get attracted to him, get drawn to him. By reincarnating and taking such a body, we can very easily help others; it is so easy for them to follow us or listen to us. That way it’s much easier for us to benefit them, to cause them happiness. If they don’t follow us, if they don’t listen to us then we can’t help them. No matter how much they suffer we can’t, if they don’t listen to us, if they don’t follow us. That blocks us from benefiting them, from bringing them into the path to liberation, to full enlightenment.

Eight Mahayana precepts: Rinpoche adds “in order to benefit and liberate”

Definitely, because you have been taking the eight Mahayana precepts, not just for one day but for many days, for half of the course, every day for about two weeks, that becomes a great contribution for the world, for world peace, for the world and Nepal.

Recently, during the ceremony prayer, I added, “in order to benefit, in order to liberate….” “In order to benefit” is temporary happiness, to cause others’ temporary happiness, and “in order to liberate” means to cause others ultimate happiness. Then, it says, “to not have famine, to not have sickness.” It’s good to remember many parts of the world where there are famine, like there has been famine in Africa for so many years, and many millions of people died of starvation. Many have still not developed enjoyment well, but that’s what’s happened. For quite a number of years, many millions of people, young and old, died due to famine, in so many different parts of the world. Remember all that, and not only in this world but all the sentient beings. There are numberless universes, not only explained by Buddha but scientists explain there are numberless of universes. So you shouldn’t think only this world, just this one, you should think of all the universes, you should think as extensively as possible, cover as many sentient beings as possible. When you take the eight Mahayana precepts, think who you are doing this for, and you should cover all sentient beings.

Think that those who are suffering from poverty now, who have the karma to experience poverty and to have famine, they stop experiencing it. Then sicknesses. It’s good to remember all the hospitals. I don’t mean you need to have clairvoyance and see all the hospitals, I don’t mean that, I’m not saying that! Almost everyone must have visited a hospital, so the minute you enter a hospital, how is the feeling? How is the environment? So depressed, so sad, so much sorrow. When you come in from the outside, the minute you enter the hospital, the feeling is totally different, the feeling is totally different. It is exactly what Buddha explained in the teachings about the sufferings of human beings, exactly what is explained in lamrim, the teachings of the graduated path to enlightenment. In this one hospital there is so much going on, so much happening, all the suffering and the different people. Some are having heart attacks, some are having operations and are not sure they will ever come back. They can’t say. The person has to sign for that. Some are in a coma, and it’s not sure how many years it will take, even on a machine. And the parents, the families come to see them.

There is nothing you can do; the karma is already experienced. What is not purified before has already happened; the result is already experienced. There is nothing you can do. So it’s very sad. The hospital is full of that [ suffering]. So unimaginable.

This is not all the human problems there are. What you see in a hospital is not all the human problems, just the sicknesses and then death—the end of the life and death, separating the consciousness from the body due to delusion and karma.

In the hospital, that’s the reality of life. You can’t pretend, you can’t cover it up. The other things you can cover up a little bit. When there are more and more wrinkles coming—one wrinkle, two wrinkles, three wrinkles—those you can stretch out, you can operate to stretch them out. But I think there are still some differences; it can still look a little bit funny. [Laughter] It’s not exactly the same even after the operation. It’s not exactly the same; it’s just a little bit funny on the face. It’s not natural.

Even in one country there are so many hospitals, so many. Even in one city, even in one country, there are so many. How many are there in this world? So many, you see. It’s very good to not have sicknesses. It’s very good to remember what you have seen in the past, remember when you went to hospital how you saw things. So all that, you see, in this world and in any universes, and also at home.

[Think] everyone who is sick now and who has karma to get sick, to get sicknesses, you are taking precepts for everyone, to benefit everyone, to pacify, to not experience sicknesses.

Eight Mahayana precepts: Rinpoche adds “to not have war”

After that I added “to not have war.” Even though it’s not mentioned there, because of the recent world situation, I thought very good to add those words after the bit about sicknesses, to add “to not have war.” That also makes you feel you are helping, you are doing something by taking precepts, by collecting this merit and living in the vows yourself, to not harm others. You yourself are living in the vows to not harm others, to not commit eight negative karmas, to abstain from eight harmful actions.

This is one way of starting peace within yourself. Then when you have peace within yourself, you are giving peace to the world. This is also like that. You are giving peace to yourself and you are giving peace to the world, by living in the vow to not harm.

Therefore, it is an extremely practical thing to do. For example, you can have meetings, you can have lots of meetings for world peace but you yourself are not living in the vow to not harm others. You engage in harming others, but you attend a lot of meetings for world peace. Here, it’s very practical, here, you start from yourself. You start giving peace from your side, by living in these vows to not harm others. So definitely, definitely, such a practice, definitely benefits, adds to the world peace. And not only for this world but for the peace and happiness of all the sentient beings.

As His Holiness mentioned, when a country or the people don’t fight, they keep quiet because of the fear of weapons, of bombs, because they are afraid of being killed, destroyed, that is not real peace. That’s not real peace. The real peace has to come from the individual’s heart.

The need for compassion in the world

If there is more education about compassion in the world, in the country, if there is more education, educating people in compassion and how to practice it—the more that happens then the more real peace happens. It comes from within their own heart, from compassion, from the good heart. By having compassion, a good heart, we don’t harm others, and on top of that, we only benefit others. We become the cause of happiness for others and we also don’t harm ourselves. Peace comes from each individual being with the freedom.

Just by saying there is a need for compassion, just by lecturing there is a need for compassion, that alone doesn’t generate compassion in the mind. Just by lecturing that we need compassion, that alone cannot generate compassion in the hearts of the people in this world. We need to learn how to develop compassion. Compassion, like rain falling, doesn’t just happen. Even if the rain comes from the fogginess due to the vapor from the ocean or whatever it is, it’s all dependent arising. It’s not just happening instantly, it’s not happening without causes and conditions. Even that. Compassion doesn’t just drop into the brain or into the heart like that.

The mind has to be trained in compassion. There is a graduated method to develop compassion. There are preliminary stages to have the realization of compassion. There is a whole graduated path; there are whole stages the mind has to develop through—then we can have the realization of compassion.

How much peace and happiness within our individual life, how much fulfillment and high esteem, having a happy life, a meaningful life, then our life is meaningful, worthwhile, beneficial—it is not meaningless, not depressing—there is peace and happiness within our individual life. Then peace and happiness in the family, in society, in the neighborhood, in the people around us, peace and happiness in the country, in the world, global peace and happiness—all this depends on compassion. When there is less compassion in the world, in the hearts of the people, there are more problems, more wars. It is similar in the family, even in a small group like a family. Even in one person’s life there are more problems, so many more problems and disasters. Body disasters, mind disasters—there are two kinds of disasters: body and mind. The whole world peace depends on how much a good heart is educated and practiced.

As I often say, if one person has compassion, then that attitude doesn’t produce a harmful action; it doesn’t produce an action that harms others. Starting from the family, from an animal or human being, whoever is nearest to us in everyday life, starting from there, to all the rest of the sentient beings, they don’t receive harm from us, and that absence of harm is the peace and happiness they receive from us. Then, on top of that, with compassion, with stopping giving harm, the more we develop compassion, the more we benefit others. So, numberless other sentient beings receive peace and happiness. From our compassion, the numberless other sentient beings not only receive the happiness of this life, but more importantly, they receive peace and happiness in all future lives. For numberless others, their long-term happiness in all the coming future lives is received from us. By having compassion, it can cause this.

And not only that, an even more important happiness, we cause other sentient beings to receive ultimate happiness, the everlasting happiness having pacified completely the whole oceans of samsaric sufferings. By pacifying the cause which is within them, delusion and karma, or the mistaken thoughts, wrong concepts, the emotional, afflicted thoughts, and then the actions, karma, by pacifying them completely, including the seeds of the delusions, which are within their mental continuum. By ceasing all that, including the seeds of delusion, which is the nature of the imprint, by ceasing all that completely and making it impossible for those negative emotional thoughts, the wrong concepts, those disturbing emotional thoughts to arise again. Due to that, it is impossible to create karma again and impossible then to experience the result, suffering. That is ultimate happiness, everlasting happiness. They are free from suffering forever. Numberless sentient beings can achieve that happiness from our compassion.

If we have compassion, then we also develop wisdom. If we have compassion then we look for wisdom, we put effort into learning Dharma wisdom, to know what is right, what is beneficial for others and ourselves, and what is wrong, what harms others and ourselves. Wisdom knows this. Wisdom knows karma, what is the cause of suffering. Without knowing, without wisdom, how can we achieve happiness? How can we prevent suffering without knowing the cause of suffering?

If we have compassion we continuously put effort into developing wisdom so that we can benefit others more deeply, we can be of better service to others. And with that compassion, we are able to bring the numberless sentient beings to great liberation, to full enlightenment, which is the cessation of even the subtle mistakes of the mind, the subtle defilements, the subtle negative imprints, which project the hallucinated appearance, the truly existent appearance. By ceasing that, then the realizations are completed, all the qualities are achieved. Then, there is nothing more to develop, that’s the end, it’s completed; there is bliss, peace. The spiritual work, the attainment is finished, is completed. Our compassion causes numberless sentient beings to achieve peerless happiness, full enlightenment. That which is the highest success, the most important happiness—that should be achieved. That is what sentient beings need to achieve.

Therefore, all this happiness that numberless other sentient beings receive from us, all this up to enlightenment—is in our hands. All this happiness is caused by us. Our compassion is the cause of all this; it is in our own hands. It is up to our own mind, what we do with our mind. It all depends on what we do with our mind. If we develop compassion for other sentient beings, then that compassion becomes the cause for all those numberless sentient beings to achieve happiness up to enlightenment. All that comes from us. If we don’t generate compassion, then all these benefits, all those skies of benefit, the numberless sentient beings cannot receive from us.

Meditation on universal responsibility

Therefore, all of us here, every one of us here has full responsibility. Every one of us here has full responsibility for numberless hell beings—to free them all from those most unbearable sufferings and cause all this happiness. We all have full responsibility.

We just meditate on this universal responsibility, try to feel this.

“I have full responsibility to numberless hell beings, to free them from the most unbearable of all the sufferings of hell, and to cause all this happiness.” So, feel that way.


Now feel, “I have full responsibility to numberless hungry ghosts to free them from the most unbearable sufferings of the preta realm and for them to achieve all the happiness up to enlightenment.”


Now feel that, “I have all the responsibility to numberless animals, to free them from all the most unimaginable sufferings of the animal realm and for them to have all the happiness up to enlightenment.”


Now think, “I have full responsibility to free the numberless human beings from the oceans of problems of the human realm.”


As it is mentioned in the teachings, all those problems that you yourself have gone through and all the problems that you hear about from your own friends or family, from people you know, who are suffering. All the human beings’ problems that you see every day on TV, all the problems that you see in newspapers—global problems, countries’ problems, individual people’s problems, relationship problems—including the cause, delusion and karma and the three types of suffering—the suffering of pain and the suffering of change or the temporary samsaric pleasure which is only in the nature of the suffering, but they believe is real happiness. They have no idea there is happiness beyond this, that there is long-term happiness, liberation from samsara and full enlightenment, that there is real happiness by developing the mind in the path, through the different stages. There is all this freedom, all this bliss—incredible peace, happiness and bliss that they can achieve—but they have no idea.

There is so much we can achieve. Happiness is not just the temporary samsaric pleasure, not only sensual pleasure—the pleasure of sleeping, the pleasure of eating, the pleasure of sex, the pleasure of singing, the pleasure of having wealth, the pleasure of being famous. What they know as happiness is only suffering, but they believe that there is nothing more than that. Due to lack of wisdom, due to ignorance, due to lack of discriminating wisdom, they believe that this is pure happiness.

[Think, “I have full responsibility”] to free the numberless human beings from all these sufferings—the suffering of pain, the suffering of change and pervasive compounding suffering, all these. The body and mind are in the nature of suffering, experience suffering, are pervaded by delusion and karma, the contaminated seeds of delusion, the contaminated aggregates, the imprints, the seeds of delusion, so pervaded, like that. Constantly, the aggregates are only in the nature of suffering. Think, “I have full responsibility” to bring sentient beings freedom from the oceans of those problems and bring them all the happiness up to enlightenment.


Then, “I have full responsibility for the numberless sura beings, the same, to free them from oceans of their sufferings, from all their hallucinations, all their ignorance, all their desires, which continuously create the cause of samsara and again cause them to be reborn in the lower realms. After higher realm rebirth, again they are reborn in the lower realms and suffer, circling again and again.”


This is similar, as I mentioned about human beings’ suffering, as far as the hallucination.


Think, “I have full responsibility for the numberless asuras, to free them from all the oceans of their sufferings and cause them to have all the happiness up to enlightenment.”


Think, “I have full responsibility for the numberless intermediate stage beings, to free them from their most terrifying karmic appearance, all those sufferings, the violence of the four elements, the karmic appearance and all those unbelievable fears, then I will cause them to have all the happiness up to enlightenment.”


Now the conclusion: “Therefore I must, I must practice compassion. Whether the other person practices compassion or not, first I myself should practice compassion. Whether the enemy practices compassion or not, whether another companion practices compassion or not, first I myself should practice compassion.”


“Whether the person who I call enemy changes their mind or not, or the companion changes their mind or not, first I myself should change my mind. I should start from my own side. That is the change to compassion from the ego, the self-cherishing thought, and from the angry, impatient nature.”


Think, “Therefore, in order to be able to offer all this service, up to enlightenment, to other sentient beings, all this happiness, then I need to actualize the graduated path of the higher capable being. I need to be fully qualified to do all perfect work for all sentient beings, therefore I need to actualize the graduated path of the higher capable being, therefore I need to actualize the graduated path of the middle capable being and in general I need to actualize the graduated path of the lower capable being. So, the lamrim, the stages of the path to enlightenment, starting from the beginning of the path, the perfect human rebirth, starting from there. I need to have realization of all these paths. And what makes successful realization of all these paths, attaining all these paths up to enlightenment and causing all this happiness to all the sentient beings up to enlightenment, that is the root of the path to enlightenment, guru devotion, having that realization and correctly devoting to the virtuous friend.”

After you have analyzed like this, you should conclude like this. “And then I should live my life for others, to offer service, to obtain happiness for others.

 I should live my life for the numberless other sentient beings.”

That’s the conclusion.


So drinking tea with compassion should be more delicious.