Kopan Course No. 36 (2003)

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. The transcripts are lightly edited by Gordon McDougall.

Lecture 7: The Yoga of Offering Food
How to listen to Dharma

Every single word of the Dharma heard or read purifies your own negative karma and plants the seed of enlightenment and brings so much peace and happiness in the world and country, and prevents all violence, the turmoil of anger and delusions.

Without a distracted mind, pay attention, concentrate, meditate on the sound of each word. Normally when you listen to the teaching, think of the teacher who is giving the teaching, this is all the buddhas. In other words you listen to the teaching with guru yoga mind. This is the meditation. Think, “This is Guru Shakyamuni Buddha giving me teaching; this is Maitreya Buddha giving me teaching; this is Manjushri, this is Compassionate Buddha, this is Tara—this is all the numberless buddhas giving me teaching.” And then think what every single word does to you by listening. How listening to Dharma words affects you is to liberate you from the oceans of samsaric sufferings. It liberates you from the oceans of samsaric suffering. And it heals you; it ceases all the mental sicknesses, all the delusions from where all the suffering arises. It is as if you yourself are a patient with a severe disease, even a patient with mental sickness, the sickness of all these delusions, from time without beginning, not only from this life’s birth. So think, “What listening to every single word does for me is it ceases all these mental sicknesses, these delusions, and liberates me from the oceans of samsaric suffering.” Think like that.

Then pray, “May each word that I listen to benefit all the sentient beings. When I mention it, may they immediately be able to achieve realizations on the path to enlightenment.” You should dedicate in this way. “May every single word that I am listening to benefit all sentient beings and cause me to instantly actualize the path within myself and then also benefit all sentient beings. As soon as they hear it, may they be able to actualize the path to enlightenment.” You should dedicate like that. Normally when you listen to teachings, this is the way you should listen to every single Dharma word, whether it’s an oral transmission, a commentary or whatever. Then, you dedicate for all sentient beings.

Golden Light Sutra: Oral transmission

[Chanting]

This is the first chapter. This teaching is the secrecy of all the buddhas; it is difficult to find such a teaching, even if we searched for tens of millions of eons. I am going to explain this.

“Whoever listens this sutra teaching, whoever makes other hear, whoever rejoices, whoever makes offering to this teaching,” and then, “devas, nagas, human beings, nonhuman beings…” and then there are other beings but I don’t remember the exact meaning. “Asuras…” so many of those, the wealth-giving devas, and those called harm-givers, “…the wealth-giving devas will make offering to you for tens of millions of eons. And all these sentient beings who collect merit, who listen to this teaching and who cause others to listen to this teaching, who rejoice, and who make offering to this text, the merit that they collect is numberless, inconceivable. Also, they will be guided by buddhas and bodhisattvas, by listening this teaching.”

There is a section I don’t remember, but when the lama comes to give the teaching, it is said when offerings are made with umbrellas and banners, the merit will constantly increase during the teaching. So, the person who receives the lama giving teaching is so precious. Even the person who brings the lama purifies so much. I don’t remember the number, but inconceivable eons of negative karma get purified even just by bringing the lama giving this teaching. Those who do prostrations purify unbelievable negative karma. It is explained somewhere, but I don’t remember the number. You collect inconceivable merit like that.

When the teaching is given, many devas stay around, they even respect the throne. There are so many other instances, but I don’t remember now; I’ve forgotten. After some time, if it comes to me, I’ll explain.

[Chanting]

The number of the page is according to the Tibetan number 58 but this means, by following another text before this, this goes on the back of that page.

The yoga of eating food

[Food offering]

When we eat food, if we don’t practice the yoga of eating, making offerings, making charity, if we don’t use this opportunity to create positive karma when eating food, the mistake or the problem that arises is that it becomes another cause of samsara. All our actions of eating become another cause of samsara.

Since we don’t want suffering, we don’t want to reincarnate in samsara again and again, we need to renounce the cause of samsara. So one thing, if we eat food with delusions then it becomes the cause of samsara. This is yet one more additional cause we are creating, like rain, like showers of rain, creating so many causes of samsara all the time. This becomes another cause of samsara that leads us to the continual suffering of samsara. That’s one problem. That’s one big problem, one huge problem.

Then, the other thing is that if we don’t make our action of eating food good karma, we are constantly finishing our past merit, we are finishing our past good karma, making it less and less.

Just simply eating food with attachment is the cause of samsara. It becomes negative karma; it becomes the cause of the lower realms. It becomes the cause to reincarnate and experience the most terrible suffering, the unimaginable suffering of the lower realms.

So, there are three major problems. By eating with attachment, the attitude of eating food is only the cause of samsara, of continuous suffering, to reincarnate there. The other problem is that the action of eating food becomes negative karma, attachment, clinging to this life. This is specific attachment, not just attachment but specific attachment—attachment clinging to this life, which is nonvirtue. The action becomes nonvirtue; it makes you reincarnate in the lower realms. The third problem is that the little good karma that you collected in the past is finished.

Therefore, the action of eating food has to become Dharma. It has to become Dharma. At least, it shouldn’t become the negative karma that causes you to reincarnate in the lower realms, at least that. You have to at least prevent it from becoming the cause of the lower realms. That is the minimum. Even if you cannot make the action of eating food become the cause of enlightenment for sentient beings, the cause of happiness of all sentient beings, at least you yourself are not reborn in the lower realms.

As far as eating food, there is the yoga of eating food. There is a Hinayana way eating food; there is the bodhisattva’s way of eating food, and there is the yoga of eating according to tantra, the Secret Mantra Vajrayana way of eating food.

The yoga of eating food: The Hinayana and the Mahayana way of offering

The Hinayana way of eating food is what the Sangha normally do. They recite the food offering prayer as advised by Nagarjuna, which says you eat this food just to sustain the body in order to practice Dharma, not to develop attachment, not to have a nice, fat, slick body. Of course, in the West, fat is bad! However, in Eastern countries fat is good. So, you eat the food not to be arrogant, just to make the body flexible. The essence is not to eat to be fat or beautiful or to have a good color, just to sustain the body in order to practice Dharma.

Basically, you eat with the renunciation of samsara, not eating with delusion but with detachment from samsara. By eating food like that, you do it to achieve liberation for oneself, to actualize the path. To eat food without attachment or anger is the Hinayana way of eating.

The Mahayana way of eating food is the bodhisattva’s way. “For the benefit of all the sentient beings, I must achieve enlightenment, therefore I am going to eat this food.” That means that whatever you eat is only to benefit others, to serve others. That is the bodhisattva’s way of eating food, the yoga of eating food.

The essence of the Mahayana Secret Mantra Vajrayana way of eating food is to see yourself as oneness with the deity. Without the guru there is no deity, so you are deity and guru, all three in one. Then you purify the food in emptiness and generate it into pure appearance as tsog, communal or tsog offering, that is the combination of nectar and wisdom, which is your own mind. That is what is meant by tsog offering. Then everything you eat or drink is a tsog offering to you the guru deity—to you who are the deity, who are also the deity. Every morsel of food and drop of drink is a tsog offering. By thinking of yourself as guru and making the offering, that also becomes part of guru yoga practice.

By offering to the guru, you collect the most extensive merit, much more merit than having offered to numberless buddhas, numberless Dharma, numberless Sangha, numberless statues of the Buddha, numberless scriptures of the Buddha, numberless stupas of the Buddha. As I gave the example before of the merit collected by offering one tiny flower or a grain of rice to the buddhas, all those merits become small if you compare making an offering to guru. So here, you yourself are the guru, then you make the offering. To see yourself as the deity and make the offering creates so much merit, but to see yourself as the guru-deity creates so much more.

You can also think that in your heart of yourself is guru deity, there is either syllable hum or the deity, like body mandala, depending which deity you are practicing. Cittamani Tara, Heruka or Vajrayogini have the body mandala practice. There are many deities to visualize. But still, your heart holds the merit field, with the guru, and that is everything, that’s the embodiment of everything—all the merit field, the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, as well as bodhisattvas, arhats and Dharma protectors. Then you make the tsog offering and every time you take a spoonful of food or a sip of drink you collect the most extensive merit. Because the merit field contains numberless buddhas, numberless Dharma, numberless Sangha, you collect infinite merit.

Another way is to offer the burning puja with two hands, one is the gang sur, one is gang gu. Gang sur has butter and other substances which you hold and then give to the fire. When you offer fire puja, you offer into the mouth of the deity of whichever retreat you have done. So here you offer to yourself as guru-deity, offering to the mouth, then you experience bliss.

That tantric practice—the tsog offering or offering burning fire puja, the yoga of eating food—is done on the basis of bodhicitta. In another words, it is done on the basis of those other two practices.

With the Mahayana, the bodhisattva’s way of eating food, every single [action of] eating and drinking is for the benefit of all sentient beings. So you generate bodhicitta while you are eating and drinking, for the benefit of all sentient beings, with that continual thought of benefiting other sentient beings. Then with every single morsel of food or drop of drink, you collect limitless skies of merit. That makes your life so rich in merit; it makes life so meaningful during those hours of eating food, especially if you are eating for many hours. Ongoing, ongoing food, ongoing eating, until you become enlightened! [Laughter] Until you experience so much bliss in your stomach and it crashes the stomach, the stomach can’t stand any more bliss and it bursts.

With the tantra practice, tsog offering, you don’t receive pollution from that. People offering purely with devotion can receive pollution, especially if you are not practicing pure morality, then it becomes very dangerous. It is said it becomes the same as licking or drinking molten iron. There’s a particular iron in Tibetan, trok, I am not sure whether it’s lead or not. So it’s the same as drinking molten liquid or licking a red-hot container, like the hell realm beings are forced to do. With this pollution it is difficult to develop the realization of the path to enlightenment.

But when you eat or drink, if you do this yoga of eating the tantric way, the tsog offering or the fire puja, [on the basis of bodhicitta], then you don’t receive pollution, you have no danger to receive pollution—all those dangers, those causes of the lower realms, the hell realm. It is like turning poison into medicine. Without this practice it is like eating poison, drinking poison, but then with this practice, it becomes like medicine. With every bite and every sip, you collect inconceivable merit and it only becomes the quick path to enlightenment. It only becomes the quick path to enlightenment, to achieve enlightenment quickly.

So maybe I’ll stop there.

Generate bodhicitta. “The purpose of my life is to free all the sentient beings from all the suffering causes, and bring them to enlightenment, therefore I must achieve enlightenment, therefore I am going to do the yoga of eating and make food offering, the charity to all sentient beings.”

I left out one thing in the bodhisattva’s yoga of eating food. It is mentioned that the bodhisattva’s yoga of eating food is making charity to all creatures, to all sentient beings who are living in your own body, so you should think like this.

So here, think, “I am making charity to all sentient beings, including all sentient beings living in my body and bringing them to enlightenment by revealing the Dharma when they become human beings.” Through the connection you are making with them now, by making offering to them as they live in your body, when they finally become human beings, you will be able to reveal the Dharma to them.

Then all the food in the kitchen also becomes empty. What appears real from its own side, you see as empty, is not existing at all in reality. There is food there, but the food that appears as not merely labeled, that doesn’t exist at all. It appears as not merely labeled—the food is empty of that. So then think, as you label the jewel container, then nectar appears. So from ordinary food, it turns into nectar. Then you offer oceans of nectar, uncontaminated and in the nature of great bliss. Now offer. The simple way is to offer to Guru Shakyamuni Buddha or the elaborate way is to the merit field. Either way, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha is all the Guru, Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, then all ten directions’ holy objects.

OM AH HUM, OM AH HUM, OM AH HUM—the blessing.

Then offer to Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, all the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, all the ten directions’ holy objects. Generate bliss, instant bliss. Now you offer these oceans of nectar, food, to all the ten directions’ Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, by meditating that their essence is the virtuous friend, from one’s own side.

Then the oceans of nectar offered to all the ten directions’ statues, stupas, scriptures, all the holy objects, by seeing their essence is the root guru, one’s virtuous friend.

Generate bliss. Then offer to the seven Medicine Buddhas for success—I am not going to elaborate—and to bodhisattva Kshitigarbha, to be able to instantly fulfill the wishes of all sentient beings and for their happiness. Then offer to the Thousand-arm Chenrezig, to be able to generate compassion so that you can take full responsibility to liberate numberless sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric sufferings.

After this, make charity to every hell being. They accept it and enjoy it. Then, every hungry ghost, every animal, every human being, every sura being, every asura being, every intermediate state being. They all enjoy it and it causes them to be free from all the defilements and negative karma, delusion, and liberates them from all the sufferings, actualizing the whole path and becoming enlightened. Everyone becomes enlightened. Every hell being becomes enlightened. And the same with all the rest.

You can visualize Shakyamuni Buddha. Even if you haven’t received the great initiation you can visualize Shakyamuni Buddha. You can do the whole practice.

Dedication

Now dedicate. We collect numberless merit with the bodhicitta motivation; we collect numberless merit by offering to the gurus; and we collect numberless merit by offering to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. We collect three times’ numberless merit. Then [by offering to] all the many holy objects, [we collect] three times’ merit again. So [by offering to] all the numberless holy objects, we collect numberless merits. And then by having made charity to all sentient beings, we also collect numberless merits, many times’ numberless merits are collected.

Due to all the past, present and future merit collected by me, the three times’ merit collected by others, the numberless sentient beings who died for this food, the numberless sentient beings who died in the preparation of this food, the numberless sentient beings who created negative karma harming others in the preparation of this food. Then the numberless sentient beings who suffered and the numberless sentient beings who died in the preparation of this food that we are going to eat—every single grain of rice, every single piece of whatever food—may all those sentient beings never be separated from the Triple Gem, the Guru-Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, and always be able to collect merit by making offering, and receive blessings of the Triple Gem, that which is realization from guru devotion up to enlightenment, especially bodhicitta, clear light. May it be actualized within our own heart, in the hearts of all those sentient beings, who have suffered or died for this food, creating negative karma, and in the hearts all the rest of the sentient beings. So dedicate like that.

It is very important to dedicate for all the numberless sentient beings who died, who suffered, for this food. It is very important to offer some benefit to them because this food came from them. Numberless of them died, suffered, created negative karma giving harm to others. So pray like this.

Then the last one.

Dedicate the merits to achieve enlightenment, which makes inexhaustible merit, then also by sealing with emptiness it is protected from anger and heresy. This is the way to dedicate merits. This is the perfect way to dedicate merits.

Due to all the past, present and future merits collected by me, the three times’ merit collected by others, that which exists but which is empty from its own side, which does not exist from its own side, that which is totally empty. May the I, who exists but does not exist from its own side, who is totally empty, achieve Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment which exists but doesn’t exist from its own side, that which is totally empty, and lead all the sentient beings who exist but do not exist from their own side, who are totally empty to Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment which exists but does not exist from its own side, which is totally empty, by myself alone, who exists but does not exist from its own side, who is totally empty.

So this way of dedicating merit is so essential. Even if you don’t do any other dedication, at least one is very essential, do not miss this way of dedicating merit at end of each practice.

[Chanting]

Thank you. So, please enjoy.