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 8: A Direct Meditation on the Graduated Path
Finding the fourteenth Dalai Lama

Before the oral transmission of the Golden Light Sutra, I want to do the oral transmission of a lamrim prayer, The Condensed Essence of the Path to Enlightenment.1 I received the oral transmission of this from the Mongolian lama, Geshe Senge Rinpoche, who was in Tibet, studying at Sera Monastery.

After Mao Zedong passed away, there was a little freedom and a small number of monks could do some study. During the twenty years of revolution, the hardest time, they had to do many terrible things; they were obliged to kill animals such as goats and many things like that, otherwise they would be badly punished. Geshe-la wasn’t like others who had to do many things and the monks all had high respect for him, so when a little freedom returned to the monasteries they appointed him to be the abbot of Sera Je Monastery in Tibet. He was abbot for five years.

I wished to receive the complete teachings of the special deity of Sera Je, Most Secret Hayagriva, and I was looking for somebody to give these complete teachings so I went to Geshe Senge Rinpoche, who in his previous life had been Ketsang Rinpoche, the incarnate lama who found the fourteenth Dalai Lama.

After the thirteenth Dalai Lama died, Ketsang Rinpoche went to Amdo in disguise to look for his reincarnation. He disguised himself as a beggar to examine what the very little child, the possible incarnation, could recognize. He was wearing the thirteenth Dalai Lama’s mala and had his stick. Ketsang Rinpoche went to Palden Lhamo Lake, the lake that belongs the protector of the Tibetan government and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Palden Lhamo is another manifestation of Tara in the form of a protector.

There are many lakes in Tibet, not only that one, with different protectors, such as the Twenty-one Taras lake that gives prediction for your life. If you have a question, it’s like watching TV. In the West, it’s TV; in Tibet it’s the lake. In Tibet the lake gives you a prediction; it answers whatever question you have, and that is how these lakes are usually used. It shows your future. Many people who want to look for the incarnation of their gurus or lama of their country or monastery go there and then they wait, spending many hours. They do their protector practice and then some hours later they find the answer. Sometimes it comes in the form of syllables; sometimes it shows the actual person or the family, the mother or the father.

At one time, after a lama from Makhamba [?] passed away, the lama’s manager went to look for the incarnation in that lake. He went with other people but he didn’t see anything even though he stayed all day, but then, after everybody left, when he was alone he saw everything. He saw the family, the mother and child—the incarnation—playing, running around. He also saw the protector of that lama of the past life was also there guarding the child, also playing, running around. The child and the protector were doing this together.

I think he and his manager were in Lhasa when I went to Tibet for the first time. I got a relic of Lama Tsongkhapa from that lama. Lama Tsongkhapa gave a tooth to his disciple, Khedrup Rinpoche. Usually there are two statues of his heart disciples, Khedrup Rinpoche and Gyaltsab Rinpoche, on either side of a Lama Tsongkhapa statue. There are nine relics, like a mala of pearls, that came from this tooth. The manager might have had quite a number. I got one and the lama wanted to give me more, but the manager stopped him.[Rinpoche laughs]

So anyway, when the little child who became the fourteenth Dalai Lama heard that somebody had come, he immediately said the name of the incarnate lama, “Alak,” in Amdo dialect. This little child called that, and he said, “This is my mala.” He took the mala the lama was wearing and put it around his own neck. Then after that he said, “This is my stick.” He was able to recognize all this. He was very happy to meet this lama, Ketsang Rinpoche, who came there to examine him. Even though Rinpoche saw this in the lake, he still wanted to examine the incarnation, so he disguised himself in the form of a beggar.

I heard this story from an old monk when we visited His Holiness’ palace, the Potala, in Tibet. There are six rooms they don’t normally show people but at that time they showed us everything. They have a very clever way of disguising these rooms so other people don’t see them. They showed us the rooms where His Holiness had his meals or received teachings from His Holiness Ling Rinpoche, the elder tutor, where he memorized, where the government met, where there were official functions and things like that. The monk was very elderly and very spiritual. Although it is very dangerous, he recited the long-life prayer for His Holiness for our group. There was a security camera there, like you have in supermarkets to check if anybody is stealing. I’m sure he knew he was being filmed but he still recited the prayer.

When the old monk told us the story of the finding of the fourteenth Dalai Lama, in the end he said that when His Holiness was about four years old, he said, “I am the one who does the work for all sentient beings.” When I heard those words, I burst out crying and cried for some time. I cried so much the old monk had to help me wipe my nose. All because of those words: “I am the one who does the work for all sentient beings.”

It’s true. If you look at the qualities of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, if you look at the work he does, you’ll see it’s true. He represents all the buddhas, he is the embodiment of all the buddhas’ compassion, working for sentient beings, taking full responsibility—not only for Tibetans but for the whole world, and not only people but all sentient beings, taking full responsibility to liberate all beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering. This is what we have been hearing about and what we have been meditating on. There is still the outline of the sufferings we have been reading and hearing about—all those oceans of samsaric suffering. So, it is very true when the four-year-old Dalai Lama said, “I am the one who works for all the sentient beings.” That shows the extent of his compassion, the compassion that makes all the buddhas work for sentient beings and not even for one second working for themselves. With the great bodhisattvas and the buddhas, seeking happiness for themselves does not even arise for one second.

There are numberless sentient beings who have different characteristics, different levels of intelligence, different karma, therefore because of the buddhas’ compassion, they manifest in various forms of tantric deities. Even Chenrezig, the Compassion Buddha, has many hundreds of different aspects. There are many different aspects of Vajrapani and many different aspects of Tara. Even with the Twenty-one Taras, there are different sets of Twenty-one Taras. Even with one buddha, there are many different aspects. And then there are the thousand buddhas of the fortunate eon. For example, there are the Thirty-five Confession Buddhas, particularly to purify the negative karma of sentient beings. Some have different functions for developing wisdom and long life and many manifest in certain forms to protect sentient beings against certain harm, such as disease and things like that. All this is compassion. So, His Holiness is the whole essence of the compassion of all the buddhas. This fits exactly with what the child said and what His Holiness now does. We can see that when we see the qualities of His Holiness and the work he does.

So Ketsang Rinpoche’s incarnation told me when I met him in Dharamsala, in the room of this deity, Most Secret Hayagriva, that in Tibet there is a lama called Geshe Senge who has the whole lineage of this deity. I hoped to meet him and receive the whole lineage, all the transmissions of this deity. Then, at a Kalachakra initiation in Bodhgaya, surprisingly, there was Geshe Senge. He was the ex-abbot of Sera Je and a very senior monk, but he came as a friend, not as a teacher. He is one of the main teachers of this world, so learned in the extensive philosophy of Buddhism, in the pure forms of debate, in special study. He is so special, in this world, on this earth. There are other monasteries that debate, but nothing like the extensive forms or with the depth that happen in Sera, Ganden and Drepung. There are also smaller ones, but the major ones, the biggest ones, are like universities. He was one of the main teachers who educated many hundreds and hundreds of young monks. Many of our Kopan monks went there and he was the main teacher who educated them, who gave them a very good understanding of Dharma, very clear and deep, with very good debating and analytical skills. He was one of the main teachers who taught all the monks who went from Kopan to Sera in south India.

Ketsang Rinpoche’s incarnation informed me that Geshe Senge was there, and he sort of persuaded me to go see him. So I spent two or three days checking because I hadn’t made the Dharma connection yet—I was checking whether it is good or not. I did many divinations. It’s good to make sure before you make a connection. Of course, that doesn’t mean I am a good example for the guru devotion practice.

Liberating animals

When I was coming from the airport there was a goat on the road, going off to be killed, so I said I would buy it. It took a little bit time for Shenphen, the monk driver, to check, because the husband was upstairs. He had to explain to the wife, then the wife told her husband that they would collect merit if they offered the goat to the lama but the husband said no, that people would pay good money for the meat. He put the price at 6,000 rupees, something like that, but we bargained it down to 4,000 rupees. [Laughter] That’s why I took my time. I was sitting in the car and I didn’t realize how long it took. The husband was saying that the goat was just about to be killed and people would come to get the meat, and he and his wife would have no meat, and things like that, so that takes time.

I was going to chant some powerful mantras for purification. When you liberate animals, it is good to save their lives but it is extremely beneficial if you can also recite prayers in their ears, some lamrim prayers and the Heart Sutra and especially purifying mantras. Any buddha’s mantra but especially those mantras of deities who are powerful in purifying, especially if you can recite those in the ear of the animals. That makes it extremely meaningful; it purifies so much negative karma and plants the seed of enlightenment. It plants the seed of enlightenment and it causes them to receive a higher rebirth in the next life. This way is much more worthwhile; it makes the life of the animal extremely worthwhile. By leaving positive imprints on mind, it directs them in their next life to meet the Dharma, and then their life gets better and better, all the way to enlightenment. This way you really liberate the animal. You really liberate the being from the lower realms, not right away like that, but reciting these prayers is what affects the mind, what prepares the mind, all the way up to enlightenment. It is good to just save their lives but if you can do this extra thing, it makes a huge difference, the difference between the earth and the sky.

Since I am reading the Golden Light Sutra, what I wanted was to get the cows and all the other creatures to come around, assuming that they can hear, so I could chant some mantras, but that never happened. So to combine two things, while I am reading the sutra, we’ll have a few goats here.

Lamrim prayer: Introduction

I did two or three days of divination whether to make Dharma connection with Geshe Senge or not. Then the ex-abbot who is my friend, Geshe Lobsang, said he is so inspiring. He told me, “Go! Go! Go!” So, I went to see him. He was in a tent, not in a hotel, with so many monks. He was sitting in the door of the tent, facing out. When I saw him, it looked like he was an old friend, not like seeing him for the first time. The feeling was we had met before. Anyway, he is a great, great teacher, who is learned, good-hearted and pure and everything. So, it is very fortunate to have met him and made a Dharma connection with him. I have received this short lamrim prayer, this lamrim teaching, from Geshe-la’s holy mouth in Dharamsala.

It was composed by a very high lama from Sera Je, called Dorje Chang Lozang Jinpa Rinpoche, who is the embodiment of Maitreya Buddha. So this is a very, very good prayer. I translated this many years ago, at the beginning of the book called The Wish-fulfilling Golden Sun,2 that we used in the early times of Kopan courses, when Kopan was very primitive. I taught the eight worldly dharmas for many days and the hell realms for many days—the eight worldly dharmas and the hell realms. The people then were very aware of the hell realms. They went for lunch under the bodhi tree and then all the smell of kaka, all the smell of toilets down below, all that deep toilet smell, comes. Here they were all eating food and here was the smell from the toilets, so that’s what I meant by “primitive,” that Kopan was very primitive.

There was an American nun called Thubten Pemo who was leading the course. She told me it was not easy to sit in the room, with all the teachings on the eight worldly dharmas and the hell realms, followed by lunch and the smell from the toilets as they were eating. Anyway, with all those conditions, people did the courses.

Here, with the title, it says “Here is the complete meaning of the importance of the direct meditation on the steps of the path to enlightenment.”

The aim is to attain enlightenment

I want to bring up the issue I mentioned yesterday again. You shouldn’t be satisfied with just some peace of mind. The purpose of meditation is not just for some peace of mind, like when you go to the beach and your mind is distracted from your problems by the water. You don’t think of your problems, so you have some kind of peace. Your mind is distracted from the problems when you see the water, so you think you don’t have any problems, which gives some kind of peace. There are many examples like that. Meditation shouldn’t just be like that. The happiness of this life is just for a very short term, and it is only some partial happiness.

As I mentioned, if you only look for the next second’s happiness but you don’t look for the happiness of all the coming seconds—you don’t prepare for that but only for this moment’s, this second’s happiness—that is totally silly, totally ignorant. Likewise, seeking only the happiness of this life is just silly. We don’t know how many hours we have to live. We’re not sure how many more minutes there are in this life. The happiness of all the coming future lives, that’s very long-term happiness. Of course, it is good not to suffer, but even if you have to suffer in this life so that you do not have to suffer for all the coming future lives and you have happiness, that is much wiser. To bear hardships in this life, then to have happiness all the coming future lives, that is very wise.

This is good to remember when we feel bored or tired or we become lazy and don’t want to practice. It is said in the texts:

One who only seeks small happiness cannot achieve great happiness.
One who seeks comfort now cannot achieve the happiness of all future lives,
Nor can they achieve liberation from samsara or full enlightenment.
One who bears the hardships now and renounces laziness,
Can achieve the happiness of future lives,
Liberation from samsara and full enlightenment.

I don’t remember the words exactly. If we can renounce comfort and laziness now, if we can bear the hardships now, we can attain great happiness, up to full enlightenment. This is how practitioners like Milarepa attained enlightenment in a few years. You will see this if you read his biography. You must read his life story.

I want to tell you this. When you meditate on the lamrim every day you must use it to develop your mind, even if you are studying philosophy extensively, otherwise you are just collecting information, like putting information into a computer or recording things on a tape recorder. You are just collecting information. So, when you meditate on the lamrim, at the same time you are developing your mind in the path. That’s what the lamrim is for, to integrate the vast teachings of the Buddha. While you are doing that, it gives you energy, it gives you courage to overcome delusions, attachment, emotional problems, any obstacles that happen.

The other thing that is very helpful to support your mind, to help you continue to practice the Dharma, to give your courage, [is to read biographies like Milarepa’s]. When your mind is weak and you get overwhelmed by attachment, you can’t practice, you can’t meditate, you can’t keep the vows—the lay or ordained vows. If you are weak, then you give up everything. This is one example. What gives you courage, continuous courage, is reading Milarepa’s life story or Lama Tsongkhapa’s life story, reading the stories of many great Indian and Tibetan pandits or yogis from the past and also maybe the present. To read their life stories—how those high lamas practiced Dharma, how they achieved realizations and attained enlightenment—is very important. As much as possible, this protects your mind and inspires you to practice continuously. Now there are more and more translations in English, and of course if you read Tibetan, there are so many.

The inspiration you get from reading life stories like this is like the fire on the stove that keeps burning until the food is cooked. When you read their life stories and see how they renounced their delusions, their attachment, it is so inspiring; it gives you so much courage and devotion. The stories of the great lamas give you so much advice on how to live your life, how to solve your difficulties. Seeing how they gave up their lives for others, you get the courage to let go of the I and cherish other sentient beings. You get the courage to practice renunciation.

So anyway, I just mentioned Milarepa’s life story. I thought to bring up that issue. As a source of inspiration, that’s a very good technique to continue your life in Dharma. If the happiness you want to achieve is the happiness of future lives, then you must practice the lamrim, the graduated path of the lower capable being in general. And if the happiness you want to achieve is the liberation from samsara, then you must practice the lamrim, the graduated path of the middle capable being in general, renunciation of samsara and the three higher trainings. If the happiness you want to achieve is full enlightenment, then you must practice the graduated path of the higher capable being—bodhicitta, the six perfections and so forth, and you must learn and practice the five Mahayana paths.

On top that, if you want to achieve enlightenment quickly so you can enlighten sentient beings quickly and so they don’t have to suffer for a long time, what you need is to actualize tantra, the tantric path, and especially Highest Yoga Tantra, where you can achieve enlightenment in a brief lifetime of degenerate time within a few years. If you can, that is the quickest way to enlighten sentient beings.

Achieving enlightenment by practicing the graduated path of the higher capable being, including tantra, depends on the preliminary, actualizing the graduated path of the middle capable being, and that depends on the preliminary, actualizing the graduated path of the lower capable being.

What makes actualizing the whole path successful, from perfect human rebirth to enlightenment, the root of it all, is guru devotion, correctly devoting yourself to the virtuous friend. After you have found the guru by analyzing, then correctly devoting yourself to the virtuous friend with thought and action. That is the root of the whole path to enlightenment.

Lamrim prayer: Oral transmission

I will read the English translation so then you get the oral transmission and it also becomes a commentary at the same time.

Essence encompassing all the buddhas,
Originator of all the holy Dharma of scripture and realization,
Principal of all the aryas intending virtue:
In the glorious holy gurus, I take refuge.3

So, then next one:

Please, gurus, bless my mind to become Dharma,
Dharma to become the path,
And the path to be without obstacles.

These three requests contain the whole lamrim. “My mind to become Dharma” becomes the graduated path of the lower capable being and general. “Dharma to become the path” is the graduated path of middle capable being and general. “The path to be without obstacles” is the graduated path of higher capable being. So, the whole path to enlightenment is contained within these three requests.

Then, the next one:

Until I achieve buddhahood, please bless me
To be like Youthful Norsang and Bodhisattva Always Crying
In correctly following the virtuous friend with pure thought and action,
Seeing whatever is done as pure,
And accomplishing whatever is said and advised.

When you have pure thought, devotion—by looking at the guru as a buddha, by seeing the guru as a buddha, with devotion—then your actions also become pure. Whatever action is done, to be able to see it as pure, and whatever advice is given [by the guru], to be able to follow it exactly. So we ask for that blessing.

That part is a section on guru devotion, correctly devoting to the virtuous friend.

Now, the next one:

Please bless me to see that this greatly meaningful body with freedoms and richnesses
Is difficult to find and easily perishes,
That action and result are so profound,
And that the sufferings of the evil-gone transmigratory beings are so difficult to bear.
Therefore, please bless me to take refuge from the depths of my heart in the Three Rare Sublime Ones,
To abandon negative karma, and to accomplish virtue according to Dharma.

That section of the lamrim, the steps of the path to enlightenment, is the lower capable being.

In dependence upon that, even if I achieve the mere higher rebirth of a deva or human,
I will still have to experience suffering endlessly in samsara
Because of not having abandoned, and being under the control of, the disturbing thought obscurations.
Therefore, please bless me to reflect well upon the way of circling in samsara
And to continuously follow, day and night,
The path of the three types of precious trainings—
The principal method for becoming free from samsara.

“In dependence upon that,” means by depending on the previous practice—realizing the body is so precious, qualified with eight freedoms and ten richnesses and highly meaningful, difficult to find again, impermanent and easy to perish. Then, understanding karma and the unbearable sufferings of the lower realms. With this understanding we go for refuge, then by protecting karma, we practice Dharma. By depending on that, even if we have achieved merely the state of a higher rebirth, as a deva or human being, but have not abandoned the delusions, we are still in samsara and we will have to experience suffering without end. By reflecting well on the circling in samsara, the way we evolve in samsara, we then ask to be granted blessings to be free from this. The principal method to liberate oneself from samsara is the three higher trainings and to be able to practice this, day and night, not only daytime practice, but the whole circle, day and night.

This section of the lamrim is the graduated path of the middle capable being.

Then it says:

In dependence upon that, even if I achieve mere liberation,
Since there is no sentient being of the six types who has not been my father and mother,
Please bless me to think, “I must fulfill their purpose,”
And turn away from the lower happiness of nirvana.
Then, please bless me to generate precious bodhicitta
By equalizing and exchanging myself with others,
And to follow the conduct of the conquerors’ sons, the six paramitas and so forth.

By depending on the previous practice, we no longer have to suffer continuously in samsara, because of not having abandoned delusion and being under the control of karma and delusions, and having practiced the three precious higher trainings—the higher training of morality, the higher training of concentration and the higher training of wisdom. So now, even if I myself have achieved this mere liberation, of all the sentient beings of the six types, there is not one who has not been my father or my mother. Therefore, I will generate the thought that I will do the work for all these sentient beings.

In this way, we change our own mind from the mind seeking liberation, lower nirvana, seeking liberation just for oneself. We change the attitude that is seeking only ultimate happiness for oneself and ask to be granted blessings to be able to generate bodhicitta through the method of equalizing and exchanging oneself for others. Then, we ask to be granted blessings to be able to practice the bodhisattva’s conduct, the six paramitas and so forth.

That section is the graduated path of the higher capable being.

Now, the next:

Having trained my mind in the common path in that way,
I will not be upset even if I have to experience the sufferings of samsara for a long time.
However, please bless me to look at sentient beings with extraordinary unbearable compassion,
And to enter the quick path of the Vajrayana teachings.
Then, please bless me to protect my vows and samayas more than my life,
And to quickly accomplish the unified Vajradhara state
In one brief lifetime of this degenerate time.

What it is saying is this: normally, we always cherish our life, we always try to protect it every second of every twenty-four hours. We are always so careful to protect ourselves from any harm, even from wrong food or diet, getting sick, the cause of death—there are so many conditions that are harmful. So we always protect our life, that we cherish the most. So, here it says that we protect our samaya vow, taken during an initiation, just as we protect our own life.

Then, “Please grant me blessings to be able to achieve the unified state of Vajradhara quickly in this brief lifetime of degenerated time.” That part is the graduated path of the secret mantra Vajrayana of the great capable being.

This is a direct meditation on the whole of the lamrim, the steps of the path to enlightenment. It was composed by Vajradhara Lozang Jinpa. I think maybe, I am not a hundred percent sure, but maybe he was Lama Tsongkhapa’s disciple, a direct or indirect disciple, one of the lamas that completed the path to enlightenment. I received this lung from Geshe Senge Rinpoche. This is extremely good to use to meditate on lamrim or to use as a motivation.

This way you have received the oral transmission of this, which is in The Wishfulfilling Golden Sun. which I taught so long ago that now even I can’t remember.

Anyway, please have tea.


1 This prayer now has the title A Direct Meditation on the Graduated Path Containing All the Important Meanings. It is composed by Dorje Chang Lozang Jinpa. [Return to text]

2 Read The Wish-fulfilling Golden Sun online or download a PDF. [Return to text]

3 The verses quoted here are from an updated translation of this prayer. You can find this on our website and in the FPMT booklet The Method to Transform a Suffering Life into Happiness (Including Enlightenment) (2018 edition). [Return to text]