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 6: Refuge and Bodhicitta
Refuge: The useful fear of death


This is one of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s most precious sutra teachings, left in this world to benefit us sentient beings, to purify all the negative karma and to pacify obstacles, mainly to develop the mind in the path to enlightenment and also to wish for happiness and success, for peace and happiness in the world, in the country and family, and within ourselves. So I think that it brings skies of benefit to listen to them. It is incredibly powerful purification to listen to each word. Therefore we visualize Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, either the elaborate merit field or refuge merit field, or Guru Shakyamuni Buddha in the center and all the numberless buddhas, all into one aspect, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha. Then you take refuge and generate bodhicitta.

[To Ven Antonio:] Did you introduce the twelve links? Did you finish the twelve links? In the Nepalese way or Italian way?

I was just joking, asking whether Venerable Antonio introduced the twelve links in the Nepalese way or the Italian way. I’m just joking, I’m teasing, I’m just joking.

[Taking refuge the Mahayana way has] three causes. The Hinayana way of taking refuge has two causes. This is not mythical, not just belief or superstition. There may be different levels of superstition, but this is not mythical, not just mere belief, not existing in reality, not like that.

[The first cause is] intelligent fear or useful fear. For example, many people may think of death, but if they haven’t met the Dharma, they can do nothing. Even if they remember death—how others have died or how they will die—because they don’t know the meditation practices that show what to do with it, they haven’t met the Dharma, they haven’t met the teaching of the Buddha, there is nothing they can do. It just becomes frightening, that’s all, nothing else. Of course, because of that, some people then look for a path, trying to find what to do to make their life better. Because of that, they are persuaded to make their life a better quality and more beneficial for others.

It can happen that somebody is in total danger of being killed, like in a car accident or somebody is about to kill them, but they don’t die. This can happen to a person in a car accident who doesn’t die. The shock makes them realize; it wakes up their mind, making them think that since birth until now, their life has been totally under distraction, there has never been one thought about what really makes it meaningful, worthwhile, beneficial to others. This really didn’t get done; their life has been totally lost in distraction.

From childhood, the mind has been distracted; then growing up, there have always been so many different problems, such as relationship things, and life goes, lost in distraction, only thinking of the outside. They never get to examine their own mind, their own needs in life; they never get to really check what is missing, what they need to accomplish. Then, they have a car accident and there is a big realization, a big shock. It makes them suddenly realize, discover, that all their life so far has been wasted; there has been nothing worthwhile.

This can also happen not only from a car or plane crash but from a sudden sickness, when suddenly facing death, it brings attention to the inside of our life. Then we realize our whole life has gone and we didn’t really make it worthwhile, beneficial, something that made us feel satisfied. That didn’t happen. Now, there is no time. Now, you see, we are going to die; there is no time. Many times it happens, and it is very sad. There is nothing sadder than that wasted life, than wasting what is an incredible opportunity. So, a car accident can give us a big shock, waking up the mind, the sleeping mind, the distracted mind, the mind sleeping in ignorance and with hallucinations, with all the delusions.

I have heard many people say that because some good karma ripened and they didn’t die at that time [when they were in great danger], that really gave them the strong determination, now, to make their life useful for others. Even if for such a person there is no meditation, there is no Dharma path to enlightenment, they still think, “Now, I must do some service for others.” They at least think that. They decide they must do something for others, and then go to do social service, whatever they can do. Before, they were working for themselves, now, you see, that person can think to work for others, to offer something for others.

If we have met the Dharma, especially the lamrim, then the essence of the holy Dharma is remembering death, having a useful fear of death. If we have negative karma, if we have the negative karma that is the cause of rebirth in the lower realms, there is the fear of death. If we don’t have negative karma, there is no fear of death. Whether we have a fear of death or not is a question of whether our mind is very obscured, filled with negative karma, negative action, negative thoughts, whether we have done a lot of negative karma in this life.

If we are a nonbeliever, not believing in any religion, the day we are going to die we will have a lot of fear. Normally, even if we don’t believe negative karma exists, at that time, from those consequences, from those actions, suddenly the result exists. Even if we don’t believe, our heart tells us, expresses it, at the time of death. The day we are about to die, there is fear; something is going to happen after this, something very heavy. Some very heavy thing is going to happen after this. This is something our heart expresses. Something very dark, something very heavy is going to happen. It’s some natural fear our heart feels. Even if intellectually we don’t believe in reincarnation, this happens, so you can see how there’s a contradiction here.

What I was saying, even in the West, even those who haven’t met the Buddhadharma, there are people who have lived a sincere life, and no question about having a good heart, who have lived with a good heart, always generous, always giving, always caring for others. Even if that person doesn’t meditate, hasn’t met the Dharma, the Buddha’s teachings, for such a person who has such characteristics of mind and who has lived life like that, there is no fear of death at all. When death comes, there is no fear of death at all in the depths of their heart; that person is very happy. Even when death comes, the person’s mind is very happy, with no fear at all. Maybe they instinctively feel there is a good future. This natural thought arises. There are people like that.

One time in Australia I was doing a retreat. Actually, it was a retreat watching TV. A watching TV retreat, TV retreat. The altar was the TV. [Laughter] The merit field was the TV. Anyway, I was also listening to the radio, and a Dharma student was doing some radio work. She had 60,000 people, or something like that, listening to her program. I was curious how she was doing the work, so I listened to radio. When she was having a conversation with people about problems or things like that, from time to time she let slip from her mouth words like “meditation.”

There was another friend—the name sounds a little bit funny; I don’t know exactly how to spell it—who was on the radio, interviewing a lady. This lady said that she was not afraid of death. She said, “I know where I am going.” I don’t think this is particularly a person who has met the teachings of the Buddha, I didn’t get that feeling, but she was somebody who had lived a genuine life, a good-hearted and sincere life. She expressed her mind, what she felt toward death, the end of life. I was very curious if the interviewer—I am not sure how to spell his name—would ask any question but he didn’t. He just stopped. I was quite disappointed because after she said that, he never asked further questions. It would have been very interesting to find out the reasons why she had no fear of death.

Anyway, this is the main point. If we have committed so much negative karma and we haven’t purified, then there is fear of death. That doesn’t mean there is fear for anybody who experiences death; it is question of how much negative karma—negative actions, negative thought—was generated in the life. The question of fear is dependent on that.

Therefore, if we have met the Buddhadharma, especially lamrim, if we have a clear idea how to practice Dharma, how to go about it, it brings not just some peace of mind in this life, not just the happiness of future lives. Of course, we know all that, what to do to achieve the happiness of future lives and then liberation from samsara, but even more important than that, we know how to achieve enlightenment, to be able to enlighten numberless sentient beings, to liberate them from the oceans of samsaric suffering. This is our main goal in life, the purpose of being born as a human being at this time. We have an idea how to go about the path to enlightenment, how to practice it. Therefore, thinking of, reflecting on death, on our own death, we can relate it to karma and the lower realms’ sufferings, the results of the negative karma and the results of good karma.

Having met the Dharma, that only persuades us, gives us courage, like fuel for a plane, like fuel for a car to function, to be able to take different people to their destination. Without fuel, the plane cannot function; it is the force. By thinking [about death] we understand, and that persuades us to practice Dharma, to do something. Rather than living life with fear, we do something, we practice Dharma. That way, we start to make our life most beneficial for sentient beings, which by the way is also most beneficial for ourselves as well. We start to actualize the graduated path of the lower capable being and we start to actualize graduated path of the middle capable being, then we start to actualize bodhicitta, the graduated path of higher capable being.

After that, with that foundation, we put our effort into mainly achieving enlightenment in the quickest possible time, so that sentient beings don’t have to suffer for a long time. In order to enlighten them as quickly as possible, we need to practice tantra. So, [this fear of death] persuades us to do tantric practice.

There are four levels of tantra, and the highest, the fourth one, is Highest Yoga Tantra, by which it is possible to achieve enlightenment in a brief lifetime of degenerate time. In the case of the lower tantras we achieve immortality and live for thousands of years—many hundreds of years or thousands of years—and then we achieve enlightenment, but in Highest Yoga Tantra we don’t need to do that. Practicing Highest Yoga Tantra enables us to achieve full enlightenment in a brief lifetime of degenerate time, within a few years, if we practice it correctly, as Buddha Vajradhara explained. Buddha Vajradhara explained that the qualified guru, the vajra master, guides us in that form.

Reflecting on death, the fear of death and the lower realms—related to how the result of negative karma is the suffering of the lower realms, those unimaginable sufferings, and the sufferings of samsara—persuades us to begin to practice Dharma, to continue to practice Dharma and complete our Dharma practice, to actualize the path and to cease the defilements, the delusions, completely. Then when that happens, we have finished the fear. There is no delusion and karma, there is no cause for fear. Once we are free from delusion and karma, there is no cause for fear, so we are free from fear forever.

This is like Milarepa, who became enlightened in one brief lifetime of degenerate time. He was one of the great Tibetan meditators, a yogi who achieved enlightenment in a brief lifetime of degenerate time. As he mentioned,

First, I was afraid of death, then I escaped to the mountains. Now that I have actualized the primordial nature of mind, emptiness, even if death comes to me I have no fear.

This is what he experienced and this is what we have to experience. This is how we should go forward, what we should put effort into.

At the beginning, through the meditation on impermanence, fear comes, [but we must be able] to bear all the hardships, to realize the nature of the primordial mind, emptiness. Then we are able to overcome delusion; we are able to overcome fear. Then we are not only free from fear but free from death, from the suffering of death and rebirth. So, here, the fear of death is related to karma, the sufferings of the lower realms and of samsara. As I mentioned before, the benefits of remembering death are to achieve happiness in all the future lives, to achieve liberation from samsara and to achieve enlightenment, to be able to enlighten all sentient beings. So, as a meditator, a Dharma practitioner, there are skies of benefit meditating on that, remembering that.

Other people who haven’t met Dharma, who have no Dharma education about what to do with death, for them the fear of death is just torturing themselves, causing depression and so forth, but here it becomes a useful, intelligent fear.

Refuge: The fear of suffering

Here, it is the same. This useful fear is not only of the suffering of the lower realms, but of the suffering of samsara. Understanding our own suffering of samsara is one cause of refuge. We not only see how we need to free ourselves from samsara but, using that as an example, we see that all the six realms’ sentient beings are also tormented by the suffering of pain, the suffering of changes and pervasive compounding suffering, that there is this continuation causing unimaginable suffering. Even just the suffering of pain in the human realm alone is enough. Or the deva realm—where the suffering caused when the signs of death happen is unbelievable suffering. It is said to be mentally heavier than a hell beings’ suffering. Even the suffering of pain of the deva realm is unbearable.

This is like an extremely wealthy person who has tried everything in this world, who has got everything but still hasn’t found satisfaction, and so feels unbelievable depressed. He has tried everything but didn’t find satisfaction. He is unbelievably depressed; he has so many problems. His mind is more painful, it has more suffering than a beggar who lives from day to day searching for food. Mentally, there are far more problems. This is a similar example.

It’s unbearable just to think of a human being’s suffering of pain, even if we don’t think of the suffering of change or pervasive compounding suffering—just the suffering of pain. If we look at somebody who has a very severe sickness or something, with unbelievable pain, we think that it’s so unbearable, we can’t stand it. Life is full of this, besides the suffering of change, that suffering where even pleasure is actually suffering, in the view of wisdom. In the view of the hallucinatory mind it appears as pleasure, it is labeled pleasure and believed to be pleasure but in the view of wisdom, of Dharma wisdom, by analyzing we discover it’s only suffering. In the view of wisdom it is only suffering; it’s a hallucinated pleasure. And in addition to that suffering, there is pervasive compounding suffering—the body and mind being in the nature of suffering, under the control of delusion and karma.

Just there is the most extensive, unbearable suffering of pain of the hell beings, as we were going through the outlines, then there is the preta realm where for hundreds of thousands of years the pretas are unable to find food and drink, unable to find one single drop of water or one spoon of food. But then they don’t die, they have to suffer. Due to heavy karma, they must endure the unbelievable suffering of pain. And then there are the animals, incredibly ignorant, being eaten by another one, all these problems. Then human beings have all these oceans of human beings’ problems, all these six or eight types of sufferings, such as rebirth, old age, death and so forth. Each one has so much suffering, so much suffering.

Besides the suffering of pain there are the two other types of suffering.

Here, we include all those in the form and formless realms, which are not free from pervasive compounding suffering—there is not even one second’s break; they are only in nature of suffering. Before, you only meditated on your own suffering but now, here, there are numberless others in each realm, each with so much suffering. So now, compassion. Seeing this, compassion is generated for them, wishing them to be free from suffering, by knowing, by meditating, by listening to the teachings of the Buddha, the enlightened one, the omniscient one. By listening to the teachings, by studying, first we need to understand, then we need to meditate, so that we actually feel that compassion. The more we feel others’ suffering, by knowing all the sentient beings in those other realms have suffering, then through meditation we really feel how they suffer, then the more our compassion arises, wishing them to be free from all the suffering and its causes.

So now here, not only is this fear of our own suffering of samsara a useful fear, an intelligent fear, but it also creates compassion for all sentient beings, who are suffering in samsara.

Refuge: The doctor, the medicine and the nurse

The third cause is faith in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, who have all the power, the qualities to liberate us and all sentient beings from the oceans from samsaric suffering and the cause, delusion and karma. With this intelligent or useful fear of our own suffering of samsara and with compassion for other sentient beings’ experience of suffering of samsara, we then have faith in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, understanding that they have qualities and the power to liberate us from the oceans of samsaric suffering and the cause, delusion and karma. Then with our whole heart, we rely upon them.

These are the three causes that make the Mahayana way of taking refuge: the fear of samsara, our own samsara, then faith in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and then with our whole heart, with our mind being perfectly with these two causes, relying upon the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, that’s taking refuge. That mental factor is refuge. That might be both the principal consciousness and mental factor. The extra cause of taking refuge, which makes it the Mahayana way of taking refuge, is compassion toward other sentient beings.

So first, we have to reflect on our own suffering of samsara. Think, “This not the first time I have suffered; I have experienced suffering numberless times, from time without beginning, due to delusion and karma.” We have experienced the six realms, one after another, without beginning.

Then think of the numberless other sentient beings who have similar suffering, who have also been suffering from time without beginning in samsara. There are numberless others. We ourselves are nothing, how important this self is, is nothing. Now, we think of others who are numberless, suffering in samsara. So now, you see, now, with our whole heart we rely upon the numberless buddhas, we rely upon those who are totally free not only from the oceans of samsaric suffering but from the cause, delusion and karma, all the obscurations. They are totally free, and only they have all the qualities to liberate us and all other sentient beings. So, with our whole heart we rely upon them.

The Buddha is like the doctor, the Dharma is like the medicine. The actual path removes all suffering; it liberates us from all suffering and all delusions and karma. With our whole heart, due to the reason I explained before, the fear of our own suffering in samsara and recognizing all sentient beings’ suffering, we rely upon the Dharma like the medicine.

Then Sangha are like the nurse. We need to rely upon the Sangha just as a serious patient needs the help of a nurse. The Sangha are the example, the inspiration, who help us practice and guide us on the path to liberation and enlightenment. So, we totally rely upon the Sangha.

Now here, we can see that relying upon the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha is not just a custom. It is not just some custom that we act out; it is a really serious thing. There is utmost need to take refuge, utmost need.

The person who has a heart attack runs to the emergency hospital. Taking refuge here is billions, billions and billions of times more important than that because here it’s a question of liberating ourselves, not only from the oceans of suffering of samsara, the true suffering, but liberating ourselves from the true cause of suffering. You see, in the emergency hospital, they can do nothing for the cause of suffering. No matter how many operations they do, they cannot remove the cause of suffering. They cannot find the cause of suffering, delusion and karma. First of all, there is no education about that in societies such as the West. There is no education about that.

The purpose of refuge is to liberate ourselves from all the causes of suffering, delusion and karma, all the causes including our negative karma. Now here, you see, taking refuge is not something small, it is really serious. There are no words to describe how utterly important it is. It is not just some fashion, like going to a church or a temple or lighting some incense or doing this or doing that, as a custom of that tradition or that religion. If we follow this religion, we have to do this and this, all the external things—it is not like that. Of course, in Buddhism there are rituals and they have great meaning however, what I am saying is that refuge is not just the outer acts, the external things you are expected to do if you follow some religion. Here, it is a very serious matter, a matter of great urgency, of great urgency.

If a snake bites us and we can’t get medicine immediately, it will spread all over the body and we will die. That is regarded as very urgent but that is nothing; that is nothing. Here we are talking about liberating ourselves from all the oceans of suffering of each realm and from all the causes, delusion and karma. It is a question of freeing or liberating ourselves from not just one type of sickness, not just from all the sickness, but from the whole entire suffering of samsara and its causes and freeing ourselves from the cycle of death and rebirth. Taking refuge is like that—freeing ourselves from the cycle of death and rebirth.

But the reason for taking refuge doesn’t finish right there. Numberless sentient beings are suffering like ourselves and in order to free all of them from all those oceans of samsaric suffering and its causes, we take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, who have the qualities and the power to liberate us and all sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and its cause, delusion and karma.

With this vast understanding, this deep understanding of suffering and the cause—of your own and numberless sentient beings’ suffering—you generate compassion toward them, then rely upon Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. With that, you recite the prayer. Then the words and your heart go together.

“I go for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha until enlightenment is achieved. I rely upon the numberless buddhas, the numberless Dharma, the numberless Sangha.”

The conventional Buddha is the sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya aspects of the rupakaya, that is the conventional Buddha. Then the absolute Buddha is the dharmakaya, the Buddha’s holy mind, within which there are two: the omniscient mind, that wisdom, and then its ultimate nature, which is totally free from defilements, the svabhavakaya, the holy truth body or the holy body of the essence.

Conventional Dharma refers to the scriptures, not just any scriptures but the Tripitaka teachings, which contain the lamrim. Absolute Dharma is the cessation of all suffering, of all delusions and karma. That includes not only lower nirvana, liberation from samsara, but also great liberation, full enlightenment, the cessation of even the subtle defilements. Then the path, the wisdom directly perceiving emptiness, which directly ceases the defilements—that is the true path. That’s also the Dharma, and we should rely upon it.

Then, we rely upon the Sangha who support us, who guide us to actualize the Dharma and to achieve enlightenment, to become a buddha—those who have the qualities to do that. [The absolute Sangha] have the realization of directly perceiving emptiness, the right-seeing path and path of meditation, then no more learning. The conventional Sangha is four or more nuns or monks living in full ordination but not having realization of the exalted path, the wisdom directly perceiving emptiness. That’s conventional Sangha. Here, we take refuge in both of them.

refuge prayer: We should recite it for all sentient beings

"I go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, until enlightenment is achieved."

With the reasons, then take refuge. The reasons for taking refuge are so vast, to relieve not only your own suffering but that of numberless sentient beings who are experiencing oceans of samsaric suffering and its cause, to free them.

“Due to the collections of merit of having done charity and so forth, of practicing morality and so forth, may I achieve full enlightenment in order to benefit all the transmigratory beings.”

Now here think, this is to liberate numberless hell beings, the transmigratory beings who transmigrated and are now in hell, experiencing the most unbelievable suffering. Also the numberless preta beings, the transmigratory beings who transmigrated and are now in the preta realm, experiencing the most unbearable suffering. Then, the numberless animals, the transmigratory beings who transmigrated to the animal realm and are now experiencing the most unbearable suffering. Then, the human beings, the transmigratory beings who transmigrated and are now in the human realm and experiencing all the oceans of human problems, with all the causes, delusion and karma. The same with the sura and asura, the transmigratory beings who transmigrated to the sura and asura realms and are experiencing most unbearable suffering in their realms.

Other than fear of death and all that, their minds are totally distracted by all those sense pleasures, comfort, enjoyments. They are totally distracted and everything becomes negative karma. Everything becomes negative karma because of attachment, their motivation is only attachment, so whatever enjoyment they have—even a billion times more than human beings’ sense pleasure—the devas have billions of times much greater sense pleasure [than humans] but their motivation for enjoying that is only attachment. They are totally distracted. Therefore, all their actions of enjoying sense pleasures, of having sense enjoyment, all this is negative karma creating the cause to be born in lower realms, to again reincarnate in samsara, so it is nothing special. Therefore, their whole life is only suffering; it is nothing special, it is only a suffering life, even though they have billions of times much greater sense pleasure than we do.

We take refuge to benefit all those transmigratory beings, who are under the control of karma and delusion, causing them to transmigrate all the time, one time after another to each of the six realms, and experience the oceans of suffering of each realm again and again, again and again, from time without beginning. We take refuge to benefit them, to liberate them, not just by giving shelter to the homeless, not just by giving money to the sick, not just by giving food to those who are dying of starvation, not just that. Here, the main thing is to liberate them from all suffering and its cause, delusion and karma. Therefore, we take refuge for the benefit of all the transmigratory beings.

“Transmigratory” has great meaning. The Tibetan term is dro la. Dro is transmigratory being. They must transmigrate not with freedom, but without choice, by being under the control of karma and delusion. That’s why it’s only suffering. Then, they experience all the suffering results. They transmigrate through the twelve dependently related links. So, whenever we recite the prayer, dro la phän chir “in order to benefit all the transmigratory beings” we should always remember the meaning of “transmigratory being”—all those numberless sentient beings in each realm who are under the control of karma and delusion. Not one of them can enjoy even one single freedom at all. They are totally under the control of karma and delusion, then they reincarnate and have to experience all these sufferings. When we think like that, there is no choice—compassion has to arise.

We can take the example of a monkey. It’s not that the monkey has total freedom, that it wanted to reincarnate as a monkey. It didn’t choose that life. Taking such a body happened without choice. Similarly, the worms, or the ringworms in the stomach, or the insects that are born when the rains come, all those insects, like those whose bodies are like thorns, such terrible ugly forms, living in the rocks in the desert—there are unbelievable kinds. None of them transmigrate by choice. They didn’t really want to have that particular body, with the thought that they could enjoy it. It’s not that; it happened without choice due to delusion and negative karma. Now the reincarnation has finished, they have to suffer until the karma finishes, no matter how much they don’t like it.

If we look at each sentient being, how they transmigrate, if we understand the meaning of transmigratory, dro la, then there is no choice, compassion has to arise.

Therefore, we take refuge to be able to benefit all the transmigratory beings, to liberate each and every single transmigratory being. There are numberless beings in each realm and to liberate all of them and not just liberate them from the oceans of samsaric suffering but bring them to full enlightenment. So think this.

“Due to the collections of the merits, having done charity, practiced morality, so forth, may I achieve enlightenment in order to benefit all the transmigratory beings.”

Here, you can think like this—your own three times’ merits, the past, present and future merits, and the three times’ merits collected by others, you can think of that as very vast, you can put everybody’s merit together, so it becomes very powerful.

Then, “May I achieve enlightenment in order to benefit, to liberate and enlighten those numberless suffering beings, the transmigratory beings—those in the hell realm, the hungry ghosts, the animals, the suras, the asuras, the human beings, and the intermediate stage beings.”


Refuge Prayer: The merit of generating bodhicitta

It is said if you put your palms together, then generate bodhicitta: “May I achieve enlightenment in order to benefit all the sentient beings,” the merit you collect is actually much greater than the universes equaling … how many universes? Equaling the number of sand grains of the Pacific Ocean. Visualize that many universes filled with the seven types of precious jewels and then you make offering. Also, the buddhas, I don’t remember exactly now, but equaling the number of sand grains of the Pacific Ocean—so many buddhas, you make it an unbelievable number. So, you put your palms together and then generate bodhicitta: “May I achieve enlightenment in order to benefit all the transmigratory beings.”

By doing this [with bodhicitta motivation] you collect far more merit than having made offerings of universes equaling the sand grains of the Pacific Ocean—that many filled with diamonds, gold, the seven precious jewels. Also think you are offering to not just one buddha but to all the buddhas equaling the number of the sand grains of the Pacific Ocean. Those merits are unbelievable, mind blowing, unbelievable, mind blowing, blowing the mind.

Even offering one jewel to the Buddha, I normally say, offering even one tiny flower, one tiny grain of rice to the Buddha, or even to a statue of the Buddha, a stupa or a scripture, the benefit you can get is inconceivable. If you offer one grain of rice, one single flower or one tiny flower, to a statue or picture of the Buddha, or a stupa—not necessarily with a virtuous motivation, even if it is done with anger, or with attachment to this life, even totally nonvirtuous thought—as long as it’s offered to the Buddha, or to a statue of the Buddha, or a scripture or stupa, even those holy objects of the Buddha, the benefit is inconceivable. It contains all the happiness of samsara that we have experienced so far from beginningless rebirth, and what we will experience in the future, and all the samsaric pleasures that still haven’t finished. The benefit of offering one grain of rice or one tiny flower, even to a picture of the Buddha or a statue of the Buddha, doesn’t finish.

It is said in one sutra, I don’t remember the name of the sutra, it is said by the Buddha, maybe when he explained to Kungawo [Ananda], that the benefits don’t finish until the happiness is complete, only when you achieve liberation, the sorrowless state. Here, liberation is not just the Lesser Vehicle liberation, not just freedom from samsara, not just that, but great liberation, enlightenment.

But I think, the good karma or merit still doesn’t finish. The result of the merit of this offering of one tiny grain of rice or flower to a picture or statue of a buddha, or a scripture or stupa still doesn’t finish, because after you achieve enlightenment then you benefit all sentient beings, you liberate them from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to enlightenment. Therefore, you are still enjoying the result of offering that one tiny grain of rice, that one tiny flower to a statue or picture of a buddha, a scripture or a stupa. You are still enjoying the result of that. That is what I think.

Therefore, the numberless past samsaric pleasures we had, also those in all the future lives, counting like that, it doesn’t finish the benefit of offering this one grain of rice or one tiny flower to a picture or statue or a scripture of a buddha. TIf you offer a jewel instead of a flower, there is no question that the merit is much, much greater. If it is a whole gompa filled with jewels, making an offering to a buddha, you can’t imagine the merit. So now here we are talking about making offerings of that many universes equaling the sand grains of the Pacific Ocean, filled with seven types of jewels, and offering to not just one buddha, but buddhas equaling the number of sand grains of the Pacific Ocean. So, you can’t imagine these merits; it’s beyond imagination; it’s really mind-blowing.

Anyway, if you compare this with the benefit of bodhicitta, simply putting your palms together and saying, “May I achieve enlightenment in order to benefit all the transmigratory beings,” with feeling in your heart, this collects far greater merit than all those other [offerings]. All those others become small. Therefore, for this reason, every day—as you remember I mentioned yesterday—our project in life should be to achieve the realization of bodhicitta. That should be kept in your heart; you should write it down in your daily diary, in your diary or diarrhea book. [Laughter] You should write it in your diary book. The benefit is like that.

With bodhicitta you collect so much merit. Every time you generate bodhicitta, you collect limitless skies of merit, in order to achieve enlightenment, especially to be able to enlighten all sentient beings, to be able to do all these projects, to enlighten numberless sentient beings. It collects so much merit. The bigger the project, the more money you need. You need many billions of dollars, many millions or billions of dollars. Here it is the same. To complete the project, you need so much merit. Therefore, collecting more merit means you are closer to enlightenment. Without bodhicitta you can’t collect that extensive merit and it is only with bodhicitta that you can achieve enlightenment.

To achieve enlightenment, you have to complete the two merits, the merit of wisdom and the merit of virtue. There is no question of that. Every time you generate bodhicitta, you collect extensive merit. With bodhicitta every single activity you do, you collect limitless skies of merit. So that’s why enlightenment is possible. You can achieve enlightenment if you have bodhicitta. Without it, it is not possible. To complete the two types of merit in order to achieve enlightenment, in our everyday life we should put all our effort into bodhicitta motivation in whatever activity we do.

So, we offer praise, homage to the Buddha, the seven-limb prayer and the short mandala offering to the Buddha before we do the short oral transmission.


We dedicate the merit of having offered mandala and all those other practices, the seven-limb practice, refuge and bodhicitta.

May all the past, present and future merits collected by me and the three times’ merit collected by others, that this time I have met the teachings of the incomparable peerless founder, by your kindness, by this then may all the transmigratory beings also be able to meet you, the sublime leader, the guide, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, and your teachings. Like this may all the other transmigratory beings be able to meet this sublime guide, this leader, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, and your teaching. You who trained the mind in compassion for all us sentient beings for so many eons and sacrificed your life, your family members or possessions, you sacrificed everything and bore hardships for so many eons to actualize the path, to achieve enlightenment and to reveal the teachings, to reveal the path to us. May I also be able to lead the numberless transmigratory suffering beings in this pure path shown by you and cause them to achieve enlightenment.


The mandala offering to the lama who offers the teaching was already done at the beginning.