Kopan Course No. 50 (2017)

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal (Archive #2065)

These teachings were given by Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche at the 50th Kopan Meditation Course, held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, in December 2017. Transcribed and lightly edited by Ven. Joan Nicell. Second edit by Gordon McDougall.

The edited transcript is freely available for download as a PDF file. You can also visit FPMT Video Resources to watch video extracts of these teachings, or listen to MP3 audio files, available here.

Lecture 10: Refuge Ceremony
December 13, 2017
Refuge Ceremony

[This session took place in the Kopan tantric gompa as the main gompa was being prepared for the long-life puja. Although it was not livestreamed, it was filmed.]


The purpose of the mandala is that it purifies the five heavy negative karmas without break. Just seeing the mandala purifies the five heavy negative karmas without break, so no need to mention the ten nonvirtues. Even just seeing a painting of a mandala does this. This is the power of the mandala.

The way to make a mandala is to crush jewels. It is not just art; it has incredible benefits. By crushing jewels and making a mandala you collect unbelievable merit. You can pray to actualize Guhyasamaja. There are commentaries to the mandala where it is explained that this is not just art, that it has the whole path to enlightenment of the deity. The monks, the Lama Gyupas who drew the mandala, took seventeen days. Seeing it purifies a lot, by the way. Now it generated in the mandala.

In America, Namgyal monks from His Holiness’ monastery drew a mandala and when it came time to dismantle it, they did it physically like that, but they felt sorry, they felt uncomfortable when they dismantled the mandala. The Lama Gyupas have to learn this. Sangpo is not the first Lama Gyupa nor the second; he is the third. Sherab is also. I haven’t touched on it, but there are many things besides debate.

Did you enjoy going around Swayambunath mountain and then Boudha today? People must have been surprised that there were many Westerners going around the stupa. I’m not sure but maybe there are not usually so many tourists going around at the same time, so they must have been quite surprised. We never used to have this in the program. We didn’t have it with any of the courses at the beginning; it was only a few years ago that we started it, only four or five years or so. I thought [it was worthwhile] because you don’t have this is incredible, unbelievable holy place in the West.

Some people who have come here might never be able to come back again, even to Nepal. This might be the last time for some people to be able to be in this world. There are six realms, and you have to be reborn in one of them. So for some people it is like that. Some have never seen this incredible holy place. There are many holy places from ancient times, places of the Buddha and other enlightened beings—yogis, deities and holy beings. At least you can see and go around these two, praying and doing prostrations, doing unbelievable purification and collecting merits. It makes it more certain that you will achieve enlightenment; with the prayers you make a connection. What you pray for there becomes very powerful because of the power of the holy objects. We are so fortunate, unbelievably, unbelievably fortunate.

We have been doing the course for so many years but [until recently] people haven’t gone from here to Swayambunath; they’ve never gone around there. They went straight from here to the airport and flew back to their country. That is kind of very sad, to come all the way but not see these incredible holy places. You go back and you can’t be sure whether you can ever come back. Not everybody has the opportunity to do this, which is very, very sad. Many people come from very far to see these holy objects.

[Talking to some people standing at the back of the gompa] There are many places here. There are many spaces here to sit. You don’t have to be crowded at the door. There are many spaces. There is space. [Someone explains they need to sit on chairs, that they can’t sit on cushions]

The Benefits of Prostrations

As I was going around and prostrating, I just want to talk about that. Ailsa, did you ever explain about the prostrating? [Ven. Ailsa: No.] Full length. [Ven. Ailsa: No. Ani Karin explained it.] Full length? OK, all right. So, first I will explain this one.

In Tibet there was a geshe who thought that ten fingers means ten virtues, so you put them together. The thumb inside is offering a jewel, so you don’t have empty hands. Kyabje Khunu Lama Rinpoche, a great bodhisattva who gave extensive commentary on Bodhicaryavatara to His Holiness, told us that with empty hands it is namaste. With prostrations it is like this, here, you are offering a jewel, just as Chenrezig offers a wish-granting jewel. What [the mudra of two hands together] signifies is the whole entire Buddhism: the two bases—the base is the two truths, conventional truth and absolute truth—and then the two paths—method and wisdom—and the two goals, what is to be achieved—[the dharmakaya and rupakaya].

The emptiness [within the folded hands] signifies the dharmakaya, the ultimate nature of a buddha’s holy mind, the dharmakaya. And these two hands around it are the rupakaya, a buddha’s holy body. So, the folded hands contain the whole entire Buddhism—the two bases of two truths, the two paths of method and wisdom and the two goals, what are to be achieved, dharmakaya and rupakaya.

When you see any pictures, statues, stupas, mandalas, or anything, your refuge practice is to do like this. [Rinpoche shows putting the hands in prostration] You prostate like this and there are eight benefits. Have you gone through those yet or not?

Ven. Karin: I haven’t gone through in such detail.

Rinpoche: It has eight benefits. It has ten benefits also but I don’t remember all the ten benefits. Sometimes I explain it as ten, but generally there are eight benefits.

The first one is that it creates the cause to have a perfect body, zugsang. You need that to practice Dharma, and in particular to practice Mahayana tantra. To benefit other sentient beings you need a perfect body. In the past Lama Atisha and many other great pandits, great holy beings, were born to a king and had a beautiful holy body. Even if you are born as a human being but very sick, unhealthy, it’s not like that.

[The second is that you have perfect surrounding people.] In order to practice Dharma, you need perfect surrounding people, khoryab, to help you succeed in your wishes to practice Dharma.

The third one is you are able to live in pure morality. Without pure morality you won’t achieve perfect meditation. You have to know that. People talk about meditation, meditation, meditation, but they don’t talk about morality. That is missing. It is what makes meditation perfect.

Like zhi nä, calm abiding, which has nine stages, where you overcome the gross sinking thought, subtle sinking thought, and gross and subtle attachment-scattering thought, then you can do perfect meditation, otherwise you can’t do perfect meditation. Even if you are able to concentrate on the object, still there is gross sinking thought or subtle sinking thought, or subtle attachment-scattering thought. Because there are these mistakes it is not perfect meditation. To achieve that is not easy. Everyone says, “Oh, I want to achieve zhi nä,” but not everyone who wants to achieve zhi nä can—only those who have pure morality and very little desire, who have a contented mind. Then you can do meditation better. With less desire and a more content mind, there is less distraction.

We Practice the Three Higher Trainings for Every Sentient Being

You need pure morality to achieve the perfect samadhi, calm abiding meditation. Pure morality creates the cause for that that. The first of the three higher trainings is concentration. [Then there are morality and right view.]

“Higher training” means that, on the basis of refuge—with reliance on the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha—you keep precepts, pure morality, then on the basis of pure morality there is the higher training in meditation, and then on the basis of that, the third one, the higher training in wisdom, higher seeing. As I mentioned, you experience the rapturous ecstasy of body and mind with the meditation on emptiness combined or on the basis of shamatha, calm abiding. Without morality, it doesn’t happen. Then, if those three don’t happen, you have no way to achieve the resultant path, phaglam [the arya path], directly perceiving emptiness. Then you can’t cease the seeds of delusion and karma. If you can’t cease that, there is no way to be free from delusion and karma so there is no way to be free from the suffering of samsara, the six-realm sufferings. You can never be free from samsara. And this is without talking about gaining enlightenment for all sentient beings.

Of course, people who don’t have the capability of mind for bodhicitta, for compassion for all sentient beings, like practitioners of the Lesser Vehicle path who don’t have the karma, the merit, can’t even achieve nirvana for themselves without pure morality.

When you read, study or listen to the lamrim, you need to understand the big reason, that you aren’t trying to attain the three higher trainings—the higher training in morality, the higher training in concentration and the higher training in wisdom—just for yourself. It is for the numberless hell beings with most unimaginable suffering, to free them from oceans of samsaric sufferings and bring them to the peerless happiness of buddhahood, the total cessation of obscurations and the completion of all realizations. You practice the three higher trainings for that. Now you understand the big reason. It is not just for yourself, but even for yourself, you need those three. The biggest reason is for the numberless hell beings who have unimaginable suffering. You can do that. Then for the numberless hungry ghosts, who suffer the most unbelievable hunger and thirst. For ten thousand years they cannot even find a spoon of food. To free them from oceans of samsaric sufferings and bring them to enlightenment, to help them, you practice this. Then you practice to help the numberless animals—every ant, every mosquito, every chicken, every fish, every goat you eat, for every single sentient being—to free them from oceans of samsaric sufferings and bring them to enlightenment, to buddhahood, you practice this, you dedicate your life to this.

By taking precepts, as lay people you can dedicate like this, and monks and nuns can also do this. This is how you dedicate your life to numberless sentient beings. You give your life, you practice this for them, for the numberless animals. There must be a billion, zillion, trillion animals eaten every day in the world. How many hotels and restaurants are there where, every day, so many people come to eat food. Millions, billions, zillions, trillions of chickens get killed. The chickens are the majority, but then there are many goats and other animals.

Do you understand? If that many human beings were killed every day it would kind of upsetting, but animals are never counted. However, it is exactly the same. They also want happiness and do not want suffering, just like us. They are exactly the same but they are powerless, not like human beings. There are even many human beings who don’t have power and the animals are exactly the same, with no power at all. Human beings have power over them, they control them, they use them like toilet paper, which you can use for anything you want. Like that, they use them. In reality, people in the world do not know that animals suffer. Many people do not know they have no power. Even if they see the animals are scared, showing they don’t want to suffer [in the same way] human beings do, people still don’t understand. It’s amazing.

There are numberless human beings, numberless sura beings, numberless asura beings, there are numberless universes, so you are practicing these three higher trainings for every human being, for every sura and asura. The attitude is supposed to be like you would do for the person next to you, for the person sitting in front of you, for the person sitting behind of you, [expanding it out] until there is no sentient being left out. You are doing this for every obscured suffering sentient being.

That is the big way of thinking. You don’t just think you are doing it for one person. You think you are benefiting everyone. You develop your mind to achieve enlightenment for every sentient being. The monks and nuns are supposed to think like that, keeping precepts and all that, having courage, no matter how difficult the life you are going through is. That is the attitude, to benefit everybody. In this way you can overcome hardships and difficulties to practice Dharma.

Without morality there is no realization, there is no enlightenment, there is no cessation of suffering, nirvana. There is no great nirvana, full enlightenment, peerless happiness.

The Benefits of Prostration (continued)

The fourth benefit of doing prostrations is you develop devotion. Without devotion there is no success in meditation, no attainment, no realization of the path. Gyalwa Ensapa was a monk who achieved buddhahood comfortably. As His Holiness Zong Rinpoche, one of my gurus, said, he achieved the unified state of Vajradhara in a brief lifetime of degenerate times comfortably. [Ensapa] mentioned this,

In short, whether we achieve great or small realizations depends on whether we have meditated with great or small devotion.38

It is due to that, to whether you have great devotion or small devotion. Then he explained the practice. This is a very important quotation to be able to remember.

Therefore, may I keep as my heart practice the instruction to reflect only upon the qualities of the kind guru, the source of all realizations, and not look at the faults. May I fulfill this commitment without any obstacle.39

It is not that sometimes you practice and sometimes you don’t care. It’s not like that. When you always do the same, you develop better, better, better. You only look at the qualities of the guru and don’t think of any mistakes. You don’t think of that, you don’t project [mistakes onto the guru], only qualities. That is the main cause; it’s from there you achieve enlightenment.

It is very important. Gyalwa Ensapa achieved buddhahood in one brief lifetime of degenerate times. If that is what you want, if you desire to achieve enlightenment to be able to help free the numberless sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric sufferings and bring them to enlightenment, buddhahood, if you want to do that, then you have to practice guru yoga, correctly following the virtuous friend.

But if you want to stay in samsara, suffering in the six realms continuously, if you want to do that, then that is your choice. If you want to live in the suffering, that is your choice. It’s like that. If somebody wants to live in fire, that is their choice. But if you want enlightenment, this is what you have to practice. You have to know that. You start from here. That is the main cause that makes you become enlightened.

Ensapa said that whether you have great realizations or small realizations depends on how much devotion you have, whether you have great devotion or small devotion. Therefore, this creates the cause for devotion. Not just doing like this to anyone, [Rinpoche shows the prostration mudra] but to holy objects. If you see the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha [in the aspect of] statues, stupas, scriptures, pictures, drawings, relating to the holy object, this becomes prostration. [Rinpoche shows the mudra again] Otherwise just doing like this, no. I’m not talking about the benefits of holding the hands like this, I’m talking about the benefits of doing like this to holy objects. You can do it to mosquitoes like this, you can do to ants, to chickens, to fish. Hindus worship cows and buffaloes. You can bow to tourists like this. I’m not talking about this; I’m talking about holy objects.

The fifth benefit is that you develop a brave, courageous mind. You are able to help many people, to lead them away from the wrong path to happiness, to nirvana, to enlightenment. You are able to lead with courage, pobpa, a courageous mind. It develops that.

Then, you do not get reborn in lower realms, you get reborn as a human being or deva.

The seventh benefit is that you achieve the arya path, the exalted path, the wisdom directly perceiving emptiness, where you cease the seed of delusion and karma. You get that benefit by doing like this [Rinpoche demonstrates the prostration mudra] to holy objects.

Finally, the eighth benefit is that you achieve enlightenment, you achieve buddhahood. That’s the last one, the eighth one.

Then there are ten benefits, which are more or less the same.

The Correct Way to Prostrate

I usually explain to students, when you are on pilgrimage and go to a temple, there are thousands, millions, billions of holy objects—paintings, thangkas, statues, stupas. Of course, it might take many days if you prostrate to each one. So, when you are standing in the gompa, generate the motivation of bodhicitta, to not only free the numberless sentient beings from being born in lower realms, and to not only free them from the oceans of samsara but to bring them to buddhahood. Then think, “Therefore I must achieve buddhahood, therefore I’m going to prostrate to all the holy objects here.” That is the same whether you are doing a long prostration or just this. [Rinpoche indicates the prostration mudra]

Then, you think that all the many millions and billions of holy objects around you are your guru. For example, I myself think of my root guru Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche or His Holiness the Dalai Lama. So think, “All these holy objects are my root guru, which means he manifests as the statues or paintings, as all the holy objects, to free me from samsara and bring me to buddhahood.” With that thought of His Holiness related to myself, His Holiness, my root guru, manifests in all these holy objects. With this mindfulness, you prostrate [with your hands at your heart]. Don’t close your eyes, leave them open and turn around like this. Within that minute you have finished prostrating and have created a million or a billion causes for enlightenment. Depending on how many millions or billions of holy objects there are in the gompa—paintings or statues, stupas or scriptures—you have created a million causes of enlightenment, a billion causes of enlightenment. You have created that many causes of enlightenment, a million or a billion, in that very minute. For example, when you go on pilgrimage or when you go to temples, don’t close your eyes, but move your feet, going around like that, looking at the holy objects.

Generally, if there are a billion holy objects in the gompa, you then create those eight benefits I explained before a billion times. By collecting such unbelievable merit, you are the luckiest person by coming into that gompa. For example, when you go from here to the Boudha stupa, every time you see it, do this [put your hands in prostration], then say, “By my seeing the stupa, may all sentient beings achieve the dharmakaya soon.” You should pray like that. That prayer is so good, not only for when you see a stupa.

When a drangtsemodrangtse is “Brahmin” and so drangtsemo is a female Brahmin—named Paldema, “Glorified One,” saw the Buddha, she sprinkled offerings of sandalwood powder over the Buddha’s feet. The Buddha predicted that the result of that was she wouldn’t be reborn in the lower realms for eighty hundred million eons and forty million eons, forty or four million, I think something like that. He explained that to the Bodhisattva Undefeatable, that the Brahmin lady Paldema, by sprinkling sandalwood powder on the Buddha’s feet, created the karma to not be born in the lower realms for that many eons, for eighty hundred million eons and forty million eons.

You need to understand what the Buddha explained about the karma. Offering a bowl of water to the Buddha, even if you don’t visualize it as nectar, just water, you get the same benefit. That is so important to understand. Don’t forget this. You can do this to make your life meaningful, to be able to benefit the numberless sentient beings, to free them from the oceans of suffering and to bring them to buddhahood. You have to know how to develop the potential of your mind all the way to buddhahood. Even though you haven’t actualized the path you have to know how to do it.

That is how to collect merit, even offering a bowl of water or some incense, whatever offering it is. If you put some brocade around a thangka, that is the offering of a dress. It is like offering a dress. For any offering, the benefits are like that. To actually meet the Buddha and make any offering, you get that much merit, but now, making offerings to a holy object, it is exactly the same.

I don’t know the quotation by heart but the Buddha said, “Now you are making offering to me but in the future when you make offerings to statues and stupas it is exactly the same.” You have to keep that in mind. Therefore, you are so fortunate, so fortunate, understanding [the meaning of] the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and relying upon the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, knowing each time you make offerings, any offering, you create the most unbelievable merit. The purpose of offering divine dress, robes, is like that. My guru told me with thangkas, with a picture or drawing, the purpose of surrounding them with brocade is because it becomes an offering of divine dress. This is so important.

Now you can see in your life, having opened your mind to Buddhadharma, you are so lucky, so fortunate. Every day, every night, you have the most unbelievable, most unbelievable opportunity to collect merit, not just the cause of happiness but even the cause of enlightenment, all the time, day and night. You have this opportunity, lama khyen, lama khyen. When I say “lama khyen” that means something beyond your conception, something utterly unimaginable. Lama khyen, “May the guru understand.” It is an expression for something so great you can’t stand it, whether it is suffering or happiness.

Now you can see how fortunate you are. Otherwise, if you don’t notice how important this practice is, it’s like a trip. Buddhism is a trip at one time, Hinduism is a trip at another time. It is like tasting food in a restaurant. So, you must understand how you are so fortunate to have opened your mind to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. You have the most unbelievable freedom. Otherwise, “Because I have become a Buddhist, I have to learn this, I have to do this, I have to do that and so on.” Then you feel tired; you have a kind of unhappy mind, like it’s better to die or something. However, if you understand that the benefits of practicing Dharma are like this, you can realize that you are so lucky.

There is no time to think, “I’m useless,” no time to be depressed. Millions of people in the West are depressed. Now, here, you have opened your mind to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, so there is no time for depression. You practice a good heart toward others and have devotion to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. When you practice a good heart toward others, even if you are alone on a mountain in the Himalayas, numberless buddhas and bodhisattvas are taking care of you. When you die they will guide you. You don’t have to worry if you take care of sentient beings, if you practice a good heart toward sentient beings in your everyday life, toward insects, toward people, giving them whatever help they need.

I think even if you don’t have devotion to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, but you have the other one, you have compassion for sentient beings—for insects and human beings—and you help them, that is what pleases the buddhas and bodhisattvas the most, so when you die the numberless buddhas and bodhisattvas will guide you. Then, whatever you pray for has much power due to your good heart. There is no place in your mind for depression.

Helping Animals

I didn’t finish even though I have brought it up twice. I explained to you, your happiness from beginningless rebirths up to now, and your future happiness up to enlightenment, everything, you receive by the kindness of every hell being, hungry ghost, animal, human being, every sura being, every asura being, every intermediate state being. By taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, you are free from lower realms, free from samsara, even free from lower nirvana and then you achieve great nirvana for sentient beings. Then, you are able to free sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric sufferings and bring them to buddhahood by taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

Where did the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha come from? They came from sentient beings. The Buddha no question, the Dharma no question, and the Sangha no question, they came from every sentient being, even one insect, one mosquito or ant. Because all numberless Buddha, Dharma and Sangha came from them—because those you take refuge in came from them—every sentient being is most precious for you, most kind, most dear. Every one is wish-fulfilling for you. Therefore, in your life, you should help them as much as you can, even some small help, giving them some small pleasure, even rescuing an insect attacked by ants or saving one from falling in the fire or in the water, having difficulty. However you can help sentient beings, you should, even insects and animals.

Sorry, I shouldn’t say this, but in India, when you travel by car, you see many chickens piled up by the roadside, right in the place they are about to be killed. The difficulty with chickens is they are difficult to keep. Even if you buy them and liberate them in a field, they eat worms all day long. In the past on Maitreya land, we built houses with cement floors and roofs to house some chickens we bought, and we fed them grain. We bought some chickens, not many, like that.

I thought to buy some big land in south India and build a house with a cement floor. We could put trees inside, not growing but in pots, so they could go in the trees. Covering the ceiling would be Namgyälma mantras which would always purify the minds, the negative karma, of the chickens who are there, meaning if they die they won’t get reborn in the lower realms. Then the other one is the mantra you usually put above the door to purify eons of negative karma of any being that comes near it, not only people but also mosquitoes and animals. Putting it over the door and on the ceiling, the chickens moving around down there would always get purified. I thought to do like that to help them, to have maybe a thousand chickens. Even if we can’t liberate all the chickens, even if we can’t buy all the chickens, we can help some.

I found a monk known for having a good heart who accepted to look after the chickens. They have a lot of smell and things like that, so it’s not easy. Then, we would play mantras and prayers through speakers. So their lives could go toward enlightenment, I recorded different mantras and prayers such as the Three Principal Aspects of the Path to purify their karma, to be played in the morning, maybe before twelve o’clock, then two or three o’clock, and also played later in the evening, maybe around sunset. If possible they would be played three or four times a day to plant the seed to lead them to enlightenment. At the moment we are trying to buy land, having discussions about that. This is an example of how to help chickens.

There is this story. Many years ago at the back of the house we have in Washington, I saw ants’ nests. I have a text on how to make charity to ants with blessed water and mani pills. These are His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s blessed mani pills that are usually sent to Tibet and to people in prison. They are mixed with tsampa, then I recite many mantras and the tsampa is mixed with a little bit of butter. Then, a little bit of the powder is sprinkled over the ants’ nests to make charity to them.

There were two monks living there doing many big water bowl offerings in the three rooms upstairs and many light offerings downstairs. Outside there is a Medicine Buddha statue made in Indonesia from volcanic stone. There is also an Amitabha Buddha made in Vietnam. I sent a drawing, a painting and the text explaining exactly how to do it, but they were so used to their own art they didn’t do it exactly. So, an ex-Kopan monk who studied art in Dharamsala repainted the eyes. The Amitabha Buddha is made of white stone, what is it called? Marble. There were so many difficulties transporting it, but we got it there. We planted trees and flowers so people can come there to sit, relax and see the statues, to plant the seed of enlightenment and purify their negative karma.

We had a celebration twice, making delicious food for the people of the village and anybody who came. At the end we were supposed to get the children or anybody who could, to offer a dance to the Buddha. The idea was for the children and different people to make a connection with the Buddha. The second time, many Sherpas came and did a dance at the end. I made Tibetan food. No, it wasn’t that I made it, I ordered a monk, Kunsang, who died from cancer two years ago, to make it. He made some before and some on the actual day. The people enjoyed it so much.

A lady who lived a little bit far away came. She was the owner of the land where Merry and Harry stay. She said she never had such delicious food in her life until that day. We have a small center in the village, Dorje Phagmo Center, which also helped by making plenty of food.

I went to a big lake. I thought to put some Namgyälma protection mantras on the water, some floating on the water and some buried in the water in the corner. We did that for all the fish, to purify their negative karma and get a higher rebirth.

There is an organization—I don’t know the name—which John, a monk, is a member of. If you buy something with his name you get it cheaper, so I bought a small rubber boat in his name. It cost three hundred dollars but because I bought it in his name it cost two hundred dollars. I went once on the lake to chant mantras. The sound is supposed to go in the water. We made tsampa to bless the water, mixed with His Holiness’ mani pills and other pills, making them very small to make it easy for the fish to swallow. As the monk sailed the boat, I threw it in the water from a bucket to help the fish, to make charity to the fish. If this mantra goes on your body, two billion and forty million eons of negative karma are purified. As I threw the blessed tsampa outside the boat and chanted mantras, the boat went like this and this on the lake so it covered more fish.

Each month the boat goes to a different lake to help the fish. There are two flags. One has the name of the boat, the “Wish-granting Boat for the Fish,” then there is one with mantras, so for people who see the flag, it purifies one hundred thousand eons of negative karma. If they see that, after fifteen days all their heavy negative karma gets purified. So, the two flags are to help the people. On top of that, we have a banner in traditional colors with mantras inside. I told them to go on a different lake each month.

The monk at the Washington house found not only a few but ten or twenty ants’ nests on the mountain, so he makes food, tsampa mixed with blessed water and mani pills, and he makes charity with this to the ants every week.

You can also put His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s blessed mani pills into the water you give to the birds. Because the pills have had a hundred million manis recited over them, when the birds come to wash and drink the water mixed with the precious pills, it purifies their negative karma and makes it easy for them to achieve enlightenment.

So, you should do whatever small thing you can to help others. I told you the reason. They are most important, most precious, most kind, most dear. Therefore, if you are able to help them with even just something little, just some small comfort, that is so precious. It is most unbelievably precious for you to offer that. For instance, you can offer your seat to somebody who needs a seat. You should offer any offering, water or drink, big or small.

It is unbelievably important for you to save beings from suffering, whatever it is, even a small discomfort. I emphasize this. Big or small, it is so important for you. If you live your life like this, that is most pleasing to the buddhas and bodhisattvas. When somebody gives a little praise to a child that the mother loves more than her own body and life, it makes the mother so happy, and when somebody insults or harms them a little bit, it upsets the mother so much. If somebody gives the child a present it makes her so happy because she loves her child so much. Buddhas or bodhisattvas love each sentient being like the mother loves her child, cherishing all the sentient beings the most, more than themselves. Bodhisattvas live their lives totally for sentient beings; each inbreath and outbreath is only for sentient beings, not for themselves. They actualize the path to achieve enlightenment only for sentient beings.

I’m talking about how bodhisattvas cherish even one sentient being the most. We too need to free sentient beings, to save them from suffering and give them happiness and comfort, including freeing them from samsara through showing them the Dharma.

Just to give an example, we now have a hundred and sixty Dharma centers. Some are schools, the rest are Dharma centers. When you set up a Dharma center, you need a teacher and a translator, and the teacher needs to have studied extensive Buddhist philosophy their whole life, besides the lamrim. From learned teachers, many sentient beings who come to the center can learn the essence of the lamrim and Buddhist philosophy and the commentaries—everything on the unmistaken path to enlightenment.

Setting up the center, you need so many people to help in different parts, to work to spread Buddhadharma in the hearts of sentient beings. I’m giving one example of how to benefit so many sentient beings, to free them from samsara and bring them to enlightenment. That is the main thing. But there are also many other social services depending on the center and how many people there are to help.

Looking at one bodhisattva, this is the offering that pleases that bodhisattva the most; it is the best offering. Similarly, helping even one sentient being pleases a buddha; it is the best offering to that buddha. Now there are numberless buddhas and numberless bodhisattvas, and it pleases all of them the best, it is the best offering you can make to them. Of course, normally when you die there are numberless buddhas and bodhisattvas helping you, guiding you, especially if you practice the good heart. Like that, there is no place for depression.

This is how to live your life from now on. You have to understand how this is the best life. Then naturally in your everyday life all your prayers and wishes succeed by fulfilling others’ wishes, insects or people. Then your wishes to achieve enlightenment happen easily.

I’ll stop here.

Refuge: What to Abandon and What to Practice

With refuge, there are the upasika or lay vows, the precepts you can take, either all five or four or three or two or even just one precept. Or even if you can’t take any vow but just refuge, there are unbelievable merits you collect in your daily life.

Did you go through refuge, the three things to abandon and the three things to practice? [Ven. Ailsa: Yes, Rinpoche.] OK. If you rely on the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, if you just pray to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, success happens without problems. Otherwise, if you rely on ordinary people, the ordinary way, without relying on the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, it is like the cow with a ring through its nose tied by a rope, having to go wherever it is pulled. If you rely on ordinary people, it is up to them where they lead you. It becomes very complicated; you get into many problems having to rely on different people, like the cow with the ring in its nose. You become like that.

It is said in the texts that if you pray to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, you can achieve all the success up to enlightenment. That is intelligent; that is wise. Then things happen.

By taking refuge in the Dharma, one of the things you should abandon is [showing disrespect to] Dharma texts and what you should practice is [respecting them]. Any Dharma text, even if it is not even a full text but has pages missing, some parts of the subject or something, even if it is just two or three lines or it is torn, you don’t throw it in the garbage. You put it in a high, clean place, in an envelope or something, wherever you normally keep those missing or torn pages.

In Solu Khumbu there was a small square house built in a big cave, where no rain could get in. There was a small stupa but it didn’t have a roof. All the missing pages from Dharma texts were put inside that. In this way, rain didn’t come and they were respected. That is what people do in the mountains. In the West, to respect a text, sometimes I put it around a tree and then put a bandage around the tree.

The last thing is if you don’t have a place then you can burn the texts, but when you do you are not burning the text, treating the letters like garbage, like you are burning garbage. If you do that with Dharma texts, you are not respecting them. That is called casting away the object of respect; that is avoiding Dharma. It is to do with how you think. In that way, avoiding the Dharma is such heavy negative karma. If you abandon the holy Dharma it creates more negative karma than having completely destroyed all the temples, statues, stupas and scriptures in the world.

For example, if you don’t understand the teachings on emptiness or the Abhidharmakosha, which are the Buddha’s teachings, if you read them and don’t understand them, if you think, “They are useless; this is not for me,” you are kind of abandoning the Dharma. You are supposed to think, “I don’t understand it now but I hope to understand it in the future.” You’re supposed to think like that, not “This is not for me,” and completely abandon it like garbage.

You have to know what abandoning the holy Dharma means. While it is the Buddha’s teachings, if you abandon it you create so much negative karma in this life, even if you are trying to practice. When you don’t know what abandoning the holy Dharma is, this can so easily happen.

If you have to burn some Dharma, visualize that all the letters become a syllable A, then the A absorbs into your heart. Then, you think that the paper is empty. During these teachings here I didn’t get to recite the Heart Sutra, but you recite the Heart Sutra while meditating on emptiness when you burn the empty paper. That is what you have to do to not disrespect the Dharma texts. So, in general, any letters which are Dharma, you should keep in an envelope, but if there is no other way you can burn them in the fire, but without losing faith, as I explained.

In Tibet, when the Kadampa geshes, those great, great meditators, those realized holy beings, saw even one syllable of a Tibetan letter in the garbage, they would pick it up, put on their head because it shows the path to enlightenment, and then put it in high clean place, like that. This is how they practiced.

Please also understand this. In many of our centers, the person working for the center, the spiritual coordinator or something, puts prayer books on the cushions or the seats without anything on top. You can’t do that. You can’t put them on the floor or on the bed. You have to put something under them, a cloth or something, but many centers put them on chairs without anything on top of the chairs. That is disrespect; you can’t do that. You also can’t put material things on Dharma texts such as glasses. For example, you are reading an English Dharma text and then put your glasses on the book. You can’t do that. You can’t even put statues or stupas on top of texts. Normally, in a gompa the Dharma texts are highest, up there on top, and then statues are below, or the Dharma texts are on the side. You don’t put statues higher and then Dharma texts below. That is the simple practice of refuge. You have to know that.

You can’t put your malas on Dharma texts. I don’t see many Westerners doing that; it’s more Tibetan or Eastern people doing that, putting malas or glasses on top. And also, something Eastern people do that Westerners don’t is spit to make their finger wet so they can turn the page. You can’t do that. Kyabje Ling Rinpoche, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s elder guru, in an initiation in Darjeeling once, said you will be reborn in the hell realms for putting your spit on Dharma pages. Many people in the East do that because they don’t know. My teacher, Kyabje Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche, was given clean water which he touched the edge of the page with. When you read many texts, you can do like that. You have to understand all these things.

Please also be aware, when there is group sitting and there are Dharma texts on the table in front of you, you can’t step over them. That is very common in the West. They don’t know, it was not well explained. The Dharma texts are there and you should walk over them. You can go around them but not step over them. You must know you can’t do that. Also, if you are carrying a Dharma text and a cushion at the same time, you can’t carry the text in the same hand as the cushion; you have to keep the cushion separate.

Any disrespect like this becomes an obscuration to your mind, obscuring you from achieving bodhicitta, renunciation, emptiness. It becomes an obstacle to achieving nirvana, to achieving enlightenment. It blocks you from being able to benefit numberless sentient beings, from perfectly freeing them from samsara. Then, you can’t bring them to enlightenment; you can’t do that perfect benefit. It blocks that; it obscures the mind. You have to understand that.

Then, what else? The real Dharma is the wisdom realizing emptiness, directly perceiving emptiness, that ceases the seed of delusion. With that, you achieve cessation of suffering, becoming free from samsara and achieving nirvana. That is the real Dharma, so you have to respect those who explain the path to not be reborn in the lower realms, to be free from samsara and to achieve enlightenment. The actual Sangha, the real arya Sangha, are those who have realizations, who have direct perception of emptiness and achieved the cessation of obscurations and sufferings. That can be a lay person; they don’t have to be ordained, and the arya Sangha can refer to one lay person; there doesn’t have to be four.

The ordinary Sangha, gendun, are those who don’t have the direct perception of emptiness and the cessation of suffering. For that, there have to be four. Why four in number? Because when you do activities in a monastery, it usually needs four Sangha to decide which activities to do. Of course, ordinary Sangha doesn’t just mean Tibetan, with Tibetan-style robes; it can be the yellow robes of the Theravadin, or it can be Chinese style, wearing white, blue or yellow color. When you see a member of the Sangha coming toward you, you should think, “This is my guide who liberates me from samsara.” Whether you know them or not, by thinking like that, you generate respect and create so much good karma with body, speech and mind.

You can’t step over a Sangha’s robes or the dingwa, the seat cover. This is disrespect to the Sangha; it obscures your mind, blocking realizations and sending you to the lower realms. What the Kadampa geshes practice is, even if there is a piece of robe on the road, by thinking of the qualities of Sangha, they put it in high place. The Kadampa geshes do that even with a piece of yellow or red robe on the road.

For example, my guru, Kyabje Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche, was a great, learned, pure, strict, unbelievable lama, whose holy mind was like a library, rich in experience of sutra and tantra. When Rinpoche came in for an initiation, in the gompa there would be many monks’ seats covered but, no matter how crowded it was, Rinpoche would walk between the seats to go to the throne, never stepping over even one. That is refuge practice, perfect respect for the Sangha. He always went between the seats, never over them, showing respect for the Sangha. This is how these great lamas in their ordinary aspect practice, showing respect to the robes of the Sangha. Thinking of their qualities you never step over the robes.

By taking refuge in the Dharma, the thing to avoid is harming other sentient beings. That is the main practice of the Dharma, to stop harming sentient beings. You have to understand that. If you don’t have devotion for the guru or the Buddha, even if you are in front of the Buddha, from there you can get reborn in hell. The most important thing is to protect your karma, to abandon negative karma and create positive karma, the cause of happiness. That is the most important way to save yourself.

Otherwise, basically if you are in front of the Buddha without devotion, you are like the gelong Lekpai Karma, who served the Buddha for twenty-two years but always thought the Buddha was a liar. He labeled the Buddha a liar and he believed that. He saw him only as a liar, even though the Buddha had become enlightened eons before and could see all past, present and future events at the same time. Even though Lekpai Karma was with the Buddha for twenty-two years, he always labeled him a liar and saw him like that. He had more faith in his Hindu teacher.

The reason is that one day, when they went for alms, a young girl made an offering of grain in the Buddha’s begging bowl and the Buddha predicted she would become enlightened as Sangye Tenye. Lekpai Karma thought the Buddha was flattering her too much, [that it was impossible such a small action could produce such a huge result]. From that time he recognized the Buddha as a liar, even though what the Buddha said was true. The Buddha is such a powerful object, therefore offering to the Buddha creates the cause of enlightenment. That’s true but he didn’t have karma to understand that.

I have to repeat this because it is very important to understand karma. In Malaysia, there is a wealthy family I stayed with a couple of times. Tony Wong arranges venues for my teachings in places where we don’t have centers. Since Losang Drakpa Centre [in Kuala Lumpur] started, this hasn’t happened much but for places without a center he organizes the venue and finds a place for me to stay in a family’s house.

At one house I stayed in, the family’s daughter was the main person allowed to offer lights, in the house and in the father’s office where he does practice with sick people. What happened, Tony Wong would take the family to an initiation, to go to see lamas. They didn’t study lamrim, didn’t hear explanations about karma, about refuge, they didn’t get to study, they just followed people, showing devotion outside but didn’t really study karma.

One day their son suddenly died and then the family, the father and mother, lost faith, thinking the Buddha hadn’t really helped them. They had many statues in their room given to them by lamas but they threw all those statues on the floor. This happens if you just externally follow people but don’t study what Buddhism is—about karma, about refuge, what qualities the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha have, how they can guide, how the Buddha is a pure holy being that you can trust—they didn’t study any of these reasons, just following what people did. Then, when their son died, they thought the Buddha hadn’t helped them and they threw the statues on the floor. There is this danger if you don’t study. Buddhism is logic. Buddhism is the closest thing to Western science; [the connection between the two] is now getting more and more. If you study karma you won’t do that. It was due to karma that the son died; it wasn’t the Buddha’s fault. In the Samadhiraja Sutra the Buddha said,

Buddhas do not wash away negativities with water,
Clear away beings’ suffering with their hands,
Or transfer their own knowledge to others;
They liberate by teaching the truth of reality.40

The Buddha doesn’t wash away karma with water like Hindus do in the Ganga River. He doesn’t take sentient beings’ suffering away like pulling a thorn out with his hand. The Buddha doesn’t liberate us from suffering like that. He doesn’t transplant his realizations into our heart, not in that way. He liberates us by revealing the truth. Sentient beings get liberated from samsara by having the truth revealed to them by the Buddha.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to start with an explanation on emptiness but that’s the truth. I told you that you have to do the four-point analysis then you can have some idea. The Buddha has taught 84,000 teachings, the Lesser Vehicle path, the sutra Mahayana path and the tantra Mahayana path. The Buddha has taught everything, the whole path to achieve enlightenment, and even the quick path to achieve enlightenment in one life, tantra. Even that can take a long time, so he taught highest tantra which allows you to achieve enlightenment in the brief lifetime of degenerate times, the quickest way to achieve enlightenment. The Buddha has taught everything.

Now, it is up to you, whether you look for it or not. Even though sentient beings might be born human, most don’t have the karma to meet Buddhism, so now it is up to you, you who have the karma to meet Buddhism. Now it is up to you whether you learn or not, whether you practice or not. That family in Malaysia threw the statues on the floor like that because they didn’t know karma.

Refuge Ceremony

Those of you who are taking refuge, do three prostrations to the statue of the Guru Shakyamuni Buddha behind. You do prostrations like when you take eight Mahayana precepts. You can do three prostrations to the Buddha and then three prostrations to me, the one who gives refuge.

Those who can, kneel down, like taking precepts in the morning; those who can’t kneel can sit. Put your hands like this at the heart. Then, think this, “I have been under the control of delusion and karma from beginningless rebirths, therefore I have been suffering from beginningless rebirths up to now, all the suffering of the six realms.” That is what you have been meditating on during the month, all those sufferings. “If I don’t practice Dharma, if I don’t actualize the path, I will have to suffer again in samsara without end. This is one time I have received a perfect human rebirth; I have met Buddhadharma, met the qualified guru revealing the unmistaken path to enlightenment. Therefore, I must not only free myself from samsara, but also achieve enlightenment for all sentient beings. Therefore, I am going for refuge to the Buddha as founder of refuge, like a doctor. I am going for refuge to the Dharma, the actual refuge, which is like medicine that cures sickness. I am going for refuge to the Sangha, who are like nurses, helping me to actualize the Dharma, the whole path to enlightenment, to achieve nirvana in my own heart. I will rely upon the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.” From now on, think like that. Now, repeat the prayer I recite.

[Rinpoche gives the refuge ceremony]

[Referring to people pronouncing the Tibetan well, which is due to it being projected on the screen] You did very well. You get the first degree.

Since there are people who are doing different things here, maybe some are only taking refuge, still there are three negative things to abandon and three positive things to practice, there are seven or eight advices to take. Have you gone through that? [Ven. Ailsa: Yes, Rinpoche.] There is a lot of merit. Your life became so meaningful by taking these precepts—one or two or three or four, however many you have decided to take. Think that in front of me you have received that vow, that precept, mentally think that. Whatever you are taking, think you have received that.

Now you can stand and do the dedications.


“May the paramita of morality be completed without mistakes; may it be kept purely without pride.”

Then after that, “Due to all the past, present and future merits collected by me, all the three-time merits collected by numberless sentient beings and numberless buddhas, may bodhicitta be generated in the hearts of all the sentient beings who have been my mother and unbelievably kind from beginningless rebirths. The way they took care of me is with ignorance, anger, attachment, with the self-cherishing thought, creating unbelievable negative karma from beginningless rebirths. Because of that, they have had to suffer unbelievably, now and again. Therefore, if I don’t practice the Dharma, if I don’t actualize the wisdom directly perceiving emptiness, I will have to be reborn in samsara again, being reborn to sentient beings, and again they will have to suffer without end, until the end of samsara.

“May bodhicitta be generated in all their hearts, especially in the hearts of sentient beings in this world, the sentient beings in Nepal, in the hearts of all the students of FPMT, in the hearts of all of us here, including our family members. May bodhicitta be generated in the heart of any sentient being, even an insect or an animal, who sees me, hears me, remembers me, who touches me, who mentions my name, who sees my photo, who dreams of me.”

We dedicate for the world: “Due to all the past, present and future merits collected by me, all the three-time merits collected by numberless sentient beings and numberless buddhas, may wars happening now and all future wars be stopped immediately. May all disease and famine be stopped immediately, all the dangers of earth, water, fire and wind be stopped immediately. May global problems be stopped immediately. May the Buddhadharma, the source of peace and happiness, last a long time.

“Due to all the past, present and future merits collected by me, all the three-time merits collected by numberless sentient beings and numberless buddhas, may I be able to cherish every single sentient being, more precious than the sky filled with wish-granting jewels.

“Due to all the past, present and future merits collected by me, all the three-time merits collected by numberless sentient beings and numberless buddhas, may any sentient being who sees me, hears me, remembers me, touches me, sees photos of me, dreams of me, just by that may all their suffering be pacified immediately.

“Due to all the past, present and future merits collected by me, all the three-time merits collected by numberless sentient beings and numberless buddhas, which exist in mere name, may the I, who exists in mere name, achieve buddhahood, which exists in mere name, and lead all sentient beings, who exist in mere name, to that buddhahood, which exists in mere name, by myself alone, who exist in mere name.”

[Rinpoche blesses some malas to hand out] Those who have malas already don’t need these but if you don’t have a mala, you can have these. I’ve blessed them, I’ve made prayers. Also, those who need a picture can take one. This is Mickey Mouse’s picture. Please come. [Rinpoche offers all those who took refuge a mala, pictures and so forth]


38 Quoted in The Heart of the Path, p. 171. [Return to text]

39 Ibid. [Return to text]

40 Quoted in His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Thubten Chodron’s Buddhism: One Teacher, Many Traditions 2014, p. 17. [Return to text]