Kopan Course No. 20 (1987)

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche, By Khen Rinpoche Lama Lhundrup
Kopan Monastery, Nepal, 1987 (Archive #399)

These teachings were given by Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche at the 20th Kopan Meditation Course, held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, in 1987. Also included is a discourse on the bodhisattva vows by Khen Rinpoche Lama Lhundrup, late abbot of Kopan Monastery. The edited transcript of these teachings is now available for download as PDF file.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s teachings were edited by Namdrol Adams; second light edit by Sandra Smith. The teaching by Khen Rinpoche Lama Lhundrup was edited by Sandra Smith.

Lecture Eleven: Equanimity

Please listen to the teaching well by generating at least the effortful bodhicitta, thinking, “I must achieve the state of omniscient mind for the sake of all the mother sentient beings who equal infinite space, who have been kind from beginningless time; therefore, I’m going to listen to the teaching of the graduated path to enlightenment.” Also clarifying the righteous conduct of listening to the teachings according to the traditional practice of the lineage lamas.

The mind training in bodhicitta, equalizing and exchanging oneself for others, in order to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all the kind mother sentient beings. Now, the great equanimity, the extensive meditation which makes the mind to become the great equanimity, there are six ways of reasoning by depending on the all-obscuring thought and three ways of reasoning by depending on the absolute mind.

There are three reasons from our own side. I’ll just finish the three reasons from the side of others, why we should have equal thought and actions to benefit all sentient beings. So, from this section, the third one.

The example is of criminals in prison, who are going to be executed tomorrow. There’s no point at all in giving some help and not giving others help. There’s no point at all. It’s the same. There is no point in being angry at some people and grasping at some. No point at all.

Same thing, sentient beings are in the prison of samsara. We and other sentient beings are caught in the prison of samsara by karma and disturbing thoughts, and this is particularly related to this. It is definite that everyone will die, but the actual time of death is uncertain. We are all exactly the same in being caught in the mouth of impermanence and death. Here there’s no Wheel of Life, is there? Where? Others who cannot see it can visualize it.

The Wheel of Life is the painting that shows the true cause of suffering and the result, true suffering, and the evolution of the suffering, how we enter samsara, and how we circle in samsara. The Wheel of Life is held in the mouth of the Lord of Death. That signifies any being who is born in the six realms is not beyond the nature of impermanence and death. To show this, the Wheel of Life is held in the mouth of the Lord of Death.

In other words, we are living in the mouth of the Lord of Death, in the jaws, in the mouth of the Lord of Death. We are living in this, but we are not sure when the jaws will close. Like in the oceans, there’s the largest animal, the whale, as large as a mountain, and for fifteen days it opens its mouth, and during those days, many birds and animals come to live inside the mouth. Then on the special day, on the fifteenth, on the full moon, this animal closes its jaws so that all those inside are killed, and the ocean becomes red. It is like this.

In reality we are living in the mouth of the Lord of Death and we are not sure when the jaws will close. Death is definite but the actual time of death is not certain, when it will occur. This is the nature of life and this is very good, very powerful, very effective for the mind, very effective to control the mind. Therefore, there’s no reason at all to give up some sentient beings, to not give help to some, and to care for some, to cherish them; to be angry to some and to grasp others, be attached to them. There’s no point at all. Think, “I must have equal thought and action to benefit all sentient beings.” Make the determination like this.

Equanimity means simply cutting off the anger and attachment, the discriminating thought. During this mind training in great equanimity, when we do meditation, if we have an enemy now, somebody who hates us, either here or somewhere else, somebody who dislikes us, somebody who hates us, that’s what is labeled “enemy.” So, if we have one, it is very good for us. It is not good for them but having an enemy is very good for us, so that we can apply these meditations. For us it’s very useful because in this way we can practice, we can train the mind, we can use that for meditation and we can train the mind and later there is no attachment, no anger, no discriminating thought; there is equal thought and action benefiting other sentient beings.

Is there anybody who doesn’t have an enemy? It doesn’t have to be here, but it can be anywhere.

[Reply inaudible]

Yeah, what?

[Reply inaudible]

No! I’m saying, does that include the Buddhas?

[Reply inaudible]

When I say, is there anybody who doesn’t have an enemy, does that mean all living beings? Is there? Oh, it’s here, it’s not there.

[Reply inaudible]

I’m not asking the being who doesn’t have an enemy whether he has got an enemy, I’m not asking that. I’m not asking the being who hasn’t got an enemy whether he’s got an enemy. I’m not asking that.

Anyway, like the military training, before the army joins the real war, actually fighting the enemy, they have to train for some years, acting as if the enemy is coming. Then, they act like they are fighting, they do some years of training to prepare themselves for when the actual enemy comes, to win over the enemy, to destroy them.

Even if we cannot think in the present of a particular person who criticizes us, who talks about our faults, who hates us, remember somebody who hurt us very much in the past. Even if there’s no person we can think of at the present, think that someone is talking about our faults. Either think of the friend talking about us, criticizing us or talking about our faults—whatever is the most hurtful for our mind, think they are doing that. Then use the reasons—think that they are criticizing us, talking about our faults, this and that. Then the mind reacts with superstition. Dislike and anger arises. By interpreting what the person is telling us is bad, that they are bad, anger arises. Anger arises by interpreting, “This is hurting me, this is bad, this is criticizing me.” When we think this is bad, what the person is doing is bad, then that makes anger arise. But if we think what this person does is beneficial, not harmful but beneficial, good; if we label it that way, if we interpret it that way, like the examples I gave in the past, that wouldn’t arise. Even if there are the same words, if we understand it in that way, if we look at it in that way, it doesn’t cause anger, because we’ve labeled it beneficial, good, so this doesn’t cause anger to arise.

In this way we should train the mind in equanimity.

Now, the three reasons depend on absolute mind.

Because somebody helps us, we discriminate them as a friend, and because somebody criticizes or harms us or doesn’t give us material things, we discriminate that person as an enemy. So now what the illusive mind labels as “enemy” or “friend” appears. As the illusive, superstitious mind labels friend and enemy, that is what appears.

Now the question is this, if this appearance were true as it appears to the superstitious, illusive mind, then Buddha should have also enemies and friends. But for Buddha, even if somebody offers perfume or massage, or if somebody cuts the flesh in pieces with an axe, for Buddha, there’s no discriminating thought, “This is a friend,” discriminating closer, or “This is enemy,” discriminating far. Buddha doesn’t see the slightest difference between these two persons, one who is offering perfume on one side of the holy body and the person who takes off the flesh in pieces from the other side. For Buddha’s holy mind these two sentient beings are exactly equal. There’s compassion for both and there’s the thought to benefit and the action to benefit, equal for both sentient beings. The friend and enemy are only the appearance of the superstition, the hallucinated mind. So there’s no point at all in discriminating, giving up some sentient beings and caring for some sentient beings, with anger and attachment discriminating the friend and enemy.

The second reason. The enemy and friend that appear, appear as if they are fixed. When we analyze the appearance, when we think of the enemy, when we remember the enemy, when we look at the enemy, it looks like they are the enemy forever. It is a fixed enemy, they are an enemy forever, they are a permanent enemy. When we think of friend, when we look at the friend, it looks like a fixed friend, permanent. This is a friend forever. If we look at the appearance, if we analyze the appearance, it appears like that. If that were true, if the enemy and friend existed in reality, not just as the appearance of the hallucinated mind or the projection of the hallucinated mind, then Buddha should have an enemy and friend, you understand? Now here, in the second reason, if the friend and enemy that appear fixed existed, the friend would be a friend forever and the enemy would be an enemy forever. In the reality there wouldn’t be any change: the enemy could not become our friend and the friend could not become our enemy.

But the enemy and friend do change. The enemy becomes the friend when they see that you are benefiting them, when they see that you are kind, when they see that you are benefiting them, helping them. The enemy becomes a friend when you take their side and do what they wish. When you take their side, and do what they wish, that’s OK. When you take their side, they become your friend. When you don’t take their side, then they become the enemy; when you take their side, they become your friend. That is the condition. So, with this enemy, when you take their side, they become your friend.

Now with this friend, if you don’t take their side or do what they wish, in that minute when they see this, they see that you are against their wishes. Either you change the condition from your side or the friend interprets that you are against their wishes. Either you change the condition or the friend interprets it that way. By that change of the condition, the friend becomes the enemy.

The present friend and enemy happened basically with these reasons, with these conditions. Whether the enemy or friend interprets it or you from your side change the condition, if you don’t take your friend’s side you become the enemy, and when the enemy takes their side again, they become the friend. So it is a dependent arising.

The relationships with friend and enemy have changed from beginningless time until now and will change from life to life. It changes within a year—a friend becomes an enemy, an enemy becomes a friend even within a year, even within a month, even within a week, even within one day, even within one hour.

It is said in the sutra text Ting Nge Dzin Gyalpo, The King of the Concentration, “The father becomes son, the mother becomes wife and the person who has been the enemy becomes the friend. All these are only in the nature of changes; therefore, nothing is definite in samsara.”

There’s no reason at all to discriminate that this sentient being is enemy and renounce them; and this is friend and help them. There is no point at all. Think, “I must have equal thought and action benefiting all sentient beings.”

You have visualized the friends and the enemies, and then you must make the decision to have equal thought and action to benefit them, and then the same for all the rest of the sentient beings. When you meditate, you should make the conclusion like that.

Here you apply the meditation, that nothing is definite, the friend and the enemy, and bring up the meditation, the six ways of thinking of the sufferings of samsara. The first one is that nothing is definite.

There is a story about Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s disciple Shariputra, who among the disciples was regarded as one who had supreme wisdom. One day Shariputra went for alms, and as he was looking through the door of a family inside the house, he saw the son and his wife who was carrying a child on her lap, and they were eating a fish, giving bones to a dog and beating the dog. He saw all the changes in those relationships. The father of the son used to catch fish from the pond behind the house. When the father died, he was born as a fish in the water pond behind the house. The mother was attached to the house, and when she died she was reborn as the dog of the family. And the son’s enemy was attached to the son’s wife, so he was born as their child. The fish they were eating was their father. Shariputra, seeing all this, said, “Eating the father’s flesh, beating the mother, because that dog is the son’s mother. Carrying the enemy, who was born to them, on the lap. I laugh at samsaric existence!”

Like this, the relationships were completely changed. It is exactly the same with our present family, our relationships are like this. Cows, cats, dogs, whatever we have at home, there has been a relationship like this. Therefore, those fish, those lobsters, the red ones, huh? Crabs, lobsters, those things that we see in the restaurants, in the water, that we eat—it is similar to this story.

Normally when I sit in the restaurant or see people who are catching fish with so much craving for this, I think that these fish, these lobsters or these crabs, could have been sitting next to the pond carrying the long stick, waiting there for hours in their past lives. Comfortably sitting on their chair, spending their whole day like that—and now they are in the form of fish or lobsters or crabs. It makes me think that.

Just before this life as a fish, they might have been human beings, but they didn’t get to live their life in virtue and were unable to practice morality and things like that. Some of the recent karma is actualized, and some may be from many lifetimes.

Without a reason, however many people there are in the family, including cats, without a reason they wouldn’t be there, they wouldn’t be with us—without a reason from the past, without causes and conditions. The present families, these people, these animals, wouldn’t be with us.

So, the conclusion I explained before.

Now the last one, the third one. It is said in Nagarjuna’s teaching, Lab du, “I and others are dependent, like here and there.”

I left out that one. I left out the previous one, when we think, there is nothing definite in the changes of the friend and enemy. But in the past each time there was the appearance of an enemy or a friend, it appeared to be fixed forever, as if this was an enemy forever or a friend forever. We did have those appearances, but in reality, it did not become true, because the friend has not been a friend all the time and the enemy has not been an enemy all the time, from life to life. Now same thing—even if we have them now, even when we look at the appearance, it looks like they are completely fixed, that the friend is the friend forever, the enemy is the enemy forever. It looks like this, but they will continue to change in the future. Therefore, this perception, this appearance, is a complete hallucination, it’s wrong.

The third one. Where you are, from your side, you call “here.” Where I’m sitting, from your side, you call “there.” Where you are sitting, you call here. From your side where I am is what you call there, and where you are, you call here. You call here and there as if they existed from their own side, as if they are independent, without depending on where you are, without depending on the base, and without depending on your thought labeling “here” and “there.” So without depending on the base, where you are, and without depending on your own thought labeling here and there. Without depending on these things, if there’s a here and there existing from its own side, if here and there are independent, then when you come here to where I’m sitting, this one should be still there and the other one should be still here. The place where you came from should be still here. When you look from where I am, it still should be here and this one should be still there. You see now the mistake that arises if it’s independent, without depending on the base where you are and then your thought labeling.

If you call this one “there” and that one “here,” if you say it like this, you may get an injection, the doctor might give you an injection, or you may have to go to the institute. Because where you are, if you call “there,” that’s not conventional truth, that doesn’t exist—calling that point “here” is not conventional truth, that doesn’t exist. Many people might get worried, parents and friends.

When you come here where I am, then what you used to call “there” before becomes “here” and what you used to call “here” becomes “there.” So it is a dependent arising. Depending on here, there exists, so they depend each other. Similarly, exactly like this, this is also very good meditation on shunyata. Normally when we talk about here and there, it looks like here and there is something that exists from its own side, but when we analyze this, how it is merely imputed on the base by the thought, depending on where you are, here and there that appears to you exists in mere name. Here and there exist in mere name. When you see here and there exist in mere name, you can feel the emptiness—that the concrete here and there that are independent and real are empty.

Similarly, by depending on others, you label “I” on your aggregates. Then on the aggregates possessed by others, which belong to others, on those that don’t belong to you, on the aggregates that you haven’t taken, that you don’t possess, that are possessed by others, on those aggregates you call “others.” But the others and I exist in mere name like this, by depending on the base, the aggregates, and your thought that labels. The I exists being merely imputed on your own aggregates by your own thought, and the others exist on the other’s base, the other’s aggregates, and your thought that labels. But I and others do not appear to us as merely imputed by thought. I and others, which you have merely imputed, appear to you as independent, really existing from their own side. This appearance, the way the I and others appear, is completely empty, a complete hallucination.

If they were true—the I and others, what you label I and others, the I and others that are merely imputed on the base by your thought, that appear as if they are independent, as if they really exist from their own side—if they were true, then for others you would be I and they would be others. If these existed from the object’s side, not from the mind, then for others it should be the same thing—for others you would be the I when they point or talk to you, I, and they would be others. Except you, every other person would be others. From your side others and also from their side others.

Then when your parents died, you wouldn’t get the money, because others would get the money. I’m sorry, it’s a bad example. When you relate this to the conventional truth or to life, it doesn’t fit. Then, even if they left a will for you, it would be for others, because you are others. No, what I’m saying! Now I’m confused! You, the I, wouldn’t get it, so this mistake would arise. From the other’s side, they think their own being is I and you are other, from the other’s point of view, they think like that. So, now same thing—as this appears independent, as if they were independent, what others think of themselves, the person themselves, I, then the rest are others, so then, independent. If it’s independent, then from your side also you have to be other. Then, anything that you want to get, you have to ask others to give. Anything that others need, you have to ask the I. So, it becomes like this, contradictory. So the independent I and others as it appears to us now is a complete hallucination.

Like the here and there, from your side, you, the I, then separate beings, others, and from their side their own being is I and you are others. They depend on each other.

There’s no I and others that exist independently, except what is merely imputed by thought. Also, what you think and see, everything is only how you look at it, how you look at the object and how it appears to you. There is no true existence, there’s no I and others, there’s no friend and enemy that exist from their own side. How you see things depends on how you look at them, how your mind looks at them. You look at the self, the I, and you look at the separate being as others, so you see I and others. You look at one person as a friend and you look at another person as an enemy—you look at it that way so that’s why you see friend and enemy. One person you look at as an enemy, one person you look at as a friend, and by judging, by labeling what one person does as good and what one person does as bad, you see friend and enemy.

One hour before you looked at the person who is angry at you, who harms you, you looked at that one as the enemy, so you see enemy. But in the next hour, you practiced thought transformation, you practiced patience, and you meditated how that person’s action is not harming, it’s actually benefiting, so you look at that person as your best friend. After, by looking at them as best friend, you see them as best friend.

All these things are up to how your mind looks at them. It’s up to how you look at them and see them. Seeing them depends on how you look at them. The conclusion is that nothing exists from its own side, therefore there is no reason at all to have a partial mind, to give up some sentient beings, to care about some sentient beings, to give help to some, and not give help to some. Think, “I must have equal thought and action to benefit all sentient beings.”

This discriminating thought of not giving help to some and giving up some sentient beings, this discriminating anger and attachment is the butcher of the naraks. This leads you to the naraks, and to suffer, to experience being cut and chopped, all that, hot and cold, all these things. This discriminating thought of anger and attachment is the butcher of the narak realm. It is your worst enemy, who cuts off liberation and enlightenment, who never gives any happiness in the past, present, future, or any peace in your life.

Having equal thought and action toward all sentient beings is the one path that all the buddhas of the three times have proceeded through. This is the heart practice of all the three-time buddhas, all the bodhisattvas, the holy beings, so it doesn’t matter whether sentient beings help you from their side, or whether they harm you, it doesn’t matter what they do from their side—from your side, think, “I must put every single effort into having equal thought and action to benefit all sentient beings.” Make a very strong determination.

Khunu Lama Rinpoche, a great bodhisattva, gave the commentary on the Bodhicaryavatara to His Holiness the Dalai Lama during the teaching of equanimity. I don’t remember word by word, but Rinpoche talked about the communist philosophy of equanimity, people sharing material things, physical things, from the outside, but with no equanimity from the mind, from the inside. Equanimity with force, from outside. Therefore, as long as there’s no equanimity in the mind, equanimity never works. That does not bring peace.

I think this is what His Holiness meant, that the original idea is good—Marxism? The Marxist idea is the same as Mahayana practice. When the equanimity comes from the mind, there’s no need for force from outside. Equanimity comes with free will, when it comes from the mind it comes with free will, so there’s much happiness. That’s how there’s equanimity, more peace.

I’ll stop here.

[Dedication prayers]

I thought to mention last night that nowadays there’s much danger in Lhasa. When I was in Sera Monastery, there were about thirty-five or sixty or seventy young monks. They were not very small, maybe twenty years old, very peaceful, debating in class, having an incredible time, enjoying Dharma so much, preserving the teachings by living in ordination, purely. These days there aren’t many left in Sera College. Most young monks are put in the corner of the mountain somewhere, way inside the corner of the mountain. Most of them have had their legs, limbs or hands broken, and have had electric shock. When they are given electric shock their bodies are banged on the other side of the wall and the brain is broken, and then they are unconscious, their backs are broken, so most of them cannot function. They were made kind of useless and put in the very corner of the mountains.

These days there is even trouble at Ganden College, where they are capturing the monks and all that. Even the small number that were allowed to study, a very small number, nothing compared to the past—even that was destroyed. People are living full of fear with so many armies coming from mainland China and guarding them day and night on the roofs and in the streets. They cannot go outside with their robes on, it’s very dangerous. Many people get captured unexpectedly. They come to the house to capture them and many of the monks get killed secretly.

So please strongly dedicate all the merits to generate bodhicitta, equanimity, equalizing and exchanging oneself for others, and bodhicitta. Dedicate for those who terrify, who harm, who terrify the world, especially for their minds, and then for the rest of all sentient beings, and then to fulfill immediately all the wishes of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

[Jang chub sem chog....]

On this earth we have the complete teachings of Buddha existing for us to achieve enlightenment. According to the level of mind, we can practice the teachings of Buddha and then gradually achieve enlightenment. The whole entire teachings of Buddha existing on this earth now is solely by the kindness of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Without His Holiness it is like the body not having the head. Without His Holiness there’s nobody who can keep it all together or preserve the whole teaching of Buddha. It is difficult to find such a good example.

 By meeting Buddhadharma we can make everyday life highly meaningful, even just by understanding lamrim, the very abbreviated teaching, which is the essence of the whole Buddhadharma. We know how to meditate, we know every day how to make life highly meaningful, and we have the great opportunity to make preparation for the happiness of future lives, liberation, and enlightenment. All of this is completely by the kindness of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. By his existence, by his keeping together the teachings, preserving the teachings, spreading the teachings, starting the monasteries and continuing the education of Buddhism, many people receive an education and are able to benefit many sentient beings. So it is very important that we are responsible and pray for the success of His Holiness’s wishes—his wish is for all sentient beings to be free from all sufferings, and to have all happiness; for sentient beings to have all happiness and be free from all sufferings.

[His Holiness’s long-life prayer, gang ri ra wai....]

[End of Discourse]