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 Five: The Merely Labeled I

…somebody who is not crazy, somebody who is crazy is an exception. Someone who is not crazy would accept, if you explain it to them, that what is called table is a label, a name. The name has to come from the mind, the name was given by the mind, and not given by the substances. So, the I, the aggregates, you, others, samsara, nirvana, the path—everything is names. As far as debating, if the I is a name, then the I has to be a word, it has to be a sound. But for meditation, to think that everything is name is helpful. It is helpful for the experience, to lose the thought that grasps at things as concrete—meaning existing from their own side. It is very helpful to meditate like this. But all these things are names—”I,” you, buddhas, sentient beings—they are all called by name. Anything that exists, whatever it is called, is names, and they all came from the mind, not from the side of the base but from the side of the mind. If you meditate on this meaning, there’s some clarification.

Now, the whole point for us is that the I, the action, the object, anything, whatever we look at, whatever we think of, nothing appears to us as labeled, nothing appears to us to be merely labeled. So the mind is so gross.

When you look at the things that do not appear as merely labeled, which appear as unlabeled, when you think of yourself, the I, anything that appears as not merely labeled, that itself is the meaning of the refuted object, that itself is the meaning of emptiness, that itself means empty. When things appear unlabeled, that means that they are empty. This is what we should do, what we should be aware of, what we should realize. Things that appear as existent from their own side should be understood to be empty. That is the emptiness of the object.

All this “no...no...no,”—“no form, no feeling, no recognition, no volition, no consciousness,”—all this, “no...no...no...no,” when you put the “no” on all those things that appear, for example, “no form,” when you think of unlabeled form, form existent from its own side, you put the “no” on top of that. You put the “no” on that hallucination. In other words, when you say, “no form,” you’re supposed to see emptiness, “no form.” When you say, “no form,” you’re supposed to see emptiness by ceasing the hallucination, the refuted object, the truly existent, unlabeled form. So in “no form,” “no” is, in other words, emptiness. By saying “no form”, and applying “no” on the unlabeled, truly existent form, putting “no” on that, the experience that comes is the emptiness of form, stopping the hallucination of the truly existent form.

So each time we say “no,” we are not saying that form doesn’t exist, we are not saying that we don’t have form, that we don’t have feeling, that we don’t have recognition, that we don’t have volition, that we don’t have consciousness, that we don’t have an I.

If you don’t have form then you cannot fast, and there is no way to keep, to live in the precepts of not eating. Eating and not eating. If there is no feeling, then you cannot feel Kopan food. If you didn’t have the recognition that you are doing a meditation course at Kopan, then you wouldn’t be here.

Anyway, there is no truly existent form, no truly existent feeling, no truly existent recognition, no truly existent volition—so like that, no truly existent eye, no truly existent ear, and no unlabeled form, no unlabeled feeling, no unlabeled recognition, no unlabeled volition, no unlabeled eye, no unlabeled ear, nose, tongue, like that.

The most effective way to recite the Heart Sutra, to do the meditation on the Heart Sutra, the Essence of Wisdom, is you use the words. Apply the words to your perception, to your appearance, to the view of the ignorance, and then you will see that they are empty and false. This way you meditate on emptiness, and then by developing this wisdom of emptiness you are able to completely eradicate and cut off even the seed of ignorance of true existence, the root of all the cause and all the resultant sufferings. That’s how one is able to achieve liberation.

When the person does the function of president, when the person does the actions of the president, when the person takes the responsibility for the president’s work, people recognize that what he is doing is the president’s function, doing the things that the president does. In that person’s experience, he is a president, so the president exists on that base without choice. The president exists during those years when he’s doing the function of president, but when he stops the function of president, at the same time the president’s existence on that base is stopped. That president exists during those years, while his body and mind do the function as president. The president exists on that. During those years, while the base, the person, or the association of body and mind, is doing the function of president, without choice the president exists on that base. That’s why when they find the object of president they can complain.

Same thing—the nature of fire, a phenomena whose nature is hot and can burn things—when we see and experience that kind of phenomena, then without choice the fire exists. When we experience the base, when we see the base, without choice the fire exists on it.

When you fall in the fire that exists and you have the aggregates, which are samsara, caused by karma and disturbing thoughts and whose nature is suffering, when those aggregates fall in the fire, then no matter how much you try to stop to think and believe that there’s no fire, it doesn’t stop burning. By thinking the fire doesn’t exist, the fire doesn’t stop. By negating the phenomena whose nature is hot, burning you, and trying to believe that there’s no fire, there is no way that the fire can become non-existent on the base of this phenomena whose nature is hot and burns you. No way! And there is no way, by simply believing and thinking that there’s no fire that the base becomes non-existent, that that which is hot and burns you becomes non-existent, no way.

But it is possible, if one meditates on the emptiness of the fire, if one meditates on the emptiness of the I, if we meditate on the emptiness of the aggregates, it is possible that the burning become weaker, the burning becomes not as heavy as you believed it to be when you believed in the burning, and the independent, unlabeled I, the truly existent I. When you meditate on emptiness it stops burning you, or the feeling is not heavy. Meditating on emptiness itself becomes the protection to stop burning you, or your experience of the suffering and pain, even if it doesn’t stop, becomes much smaller.

As I mentioned with the example of David and the I, things exist because of the base. Things exist—the I, the action, the object—things exist because the base on which they are imputed exists.

So in reality, as I often mention, when one’s own consciousness took its place in the fertilized egg in the mother’s womb, one labeled, “I took birth.” The merely labeled I was born to the merely labeled mother, the merely labeled parents. Then…

[Tape ends]

…the merely labeled school. This is good—even if the words are nothing new, it is good to meditate. Another way, the same as the Heart Sutra here, which has “no…no…no”—“no this, no that”—now it is the same. When we meditate this way we see emptiness. The experience that comes is emptiness—the emptiness of I, the emptiness of parents, the emptiness of school. By meditating in this way, which is the reality, by being aware and meditating on the reality, the result that comes in your experience is emptiness and awareness, the understanding of the emptiness of these things, of life.

The basic mistake in our life is not so much not knowing the teaching or the words. The basic mistake is not practicing awareness, the meaning of emptiness, the meaning of dependent arising, the unification of emptiness and dependent arising, in life. From there all the obstacles and all the confusion arises. One makes life difficult in this way, by not practicing awareness, the unification of emptiness and dependent arising in life, which is involved with three things: subject, action, and object.

So one went to the merely labeled school, then did the merely labeled action of studying with the merely labeled teacher, then got the merely labeled degree, then got the merely labeled job, made merely labeled money, had a merely labeled marriage—the merely labeled I made a merely labeled marriage with a merely labeled husband, with a merely labeled wife, then had a merely labeled child, then had merely labeled worries, merely labeled fears, merely labeled separation—merely labeled meeting, merely labeled separation. Then, one ate merely labeled food, wore merely labeled clothing—ate food merely labeled from the side of the mind, wore clothes that were merely labeled from the side of the mind, then lived in the merely labeled house from the side of the mind. Then one experienced merely labeled happiness, or merely labeled problems from the side of the mind. The merely labeled I did merely labeled work in the merely labeled office, which was merely imputed and came from the side of the mind.

In Tibetan, tok pai par tak sam. Par, “there,” has great meaning; it means merely imputed by thought. Tok par gives the whole idea that the thing entirely comes from the mind, by the force of the mind, under the control of the mind.

The merely labeled I heard of the merely labeled Kopan Course from a merely labeled person or the merely labeled news, information, and came by merely labeled airplane, getting a merely labeled air ticket from the merely labeled office by paying merely labeled money. Then the person came to merely labeled Nepal, and up by merely labeled taxi to the merely labeled Kopan. The merely labeled I saw the merely labeled Kopan Gompa, and the merely labeled Kopan monks. The merely labeled I listened to the merely labeled teachings, from merely labeled Zopa, in the merely labeled hut covered with a merely labeled sheet. The merely labeled I did the action of merely labeled listening to the merely labeled teaching of the graduated path to enlightenment in order to achieve merely labeled enlightenment for the sake of merely labeled sentient beings.

When we think like this, for somebody who is familiar with meditation, it becomes a meditation on the emptiness of all these things.

Then, the other way—according to our perception, according to the projection of ignorance, according to the hallucination of ignorance, in the view of ignorance, the way our mind’s ignorance views the whole thing, which is only a hallucination, the way it believes in life, subject, action, object, the unlabeled, real I in the sense of being unlabeled, independent, truly existent…

When I say “real,” you have to know that it does not mean that those things do not exist. You have to know that I’m putting the word “real” in the sense that describes the experience without putting philosophical terms that mean that they do not exist—that they are truly existent or exist from their own side, independently, in that sense. What ordinary people think of as real, and what those who know the teachings of shunyata think of as real—those who have realized shunyata completely, who have realized the unification of dependent arising and emptiness, see everything, sees that all these things exist, but like a dream. Not a dream, but like a dream. They see that all these things exist, but like a dream, false. All these things appear to exist from their own side, but the one who has the unmistaken realization of shunyata, the unification of emptiness and dependent arising, for this person—even if this person has the appearance that things exist from their own side, there is no clinging, no grasping, no believing that they are true. This sentient being, the one who has the realization of shunyata, sees everything like a dream—all appearances are false, and things that are merely imputed appear to exist from their own side.

So, especially for those who have not realized emptiness, they experience the real I, the real this and that-independent, truly existent, unlabeled. So now, the real I was really born to real parents, who are completely empty. It went to real school, really studied from a real teacher, who is completely empty. The real I married a real husband or wife, who are completely empty, and gave real birth to a real child, who is completely empty. Then, after studying, the real I went to real university and got a real degree, which are all empty. Then the real I came by real airplane to real Nepal, to real Kopan, and is doing the real one-month course. All these things are empty. The real I listening to the real teaching on the graduated path to enlightenment, real enlightenment for real sentient beings—all are empty. All of these things that exist are merely imputed.

It is very important to really meditate. Even if we study teachings of shunyata for thirty or forty years, listening, studying, debating, even if we listen to the teachings on emptiness, shunyata, the truth, it is extremely important that we know that we are not trying to discover something that is not possible or does not exist. We are trying to see the emptiness that exists. Not realizing this, not understanding it, we hallucinate all the time. We are always grasping, believing, and clinging to that, and this makes endless problems and endless suffering in samsara. If we tie ourselves up with this ignorance, if we keep ourselves in this cage of ignorance, if we make ourselves be trapped in the iron cage of ignorance, there is no end to the problems. Then we cannot guide or liberate other sentient beings from all sufferings and its causes. Therefore we cannot give real benefit to others, which means eliminating the cause of suffering that exists in their minds.

Therefore it is very important and very good—even when we live in the city, while we’re walking, emptiness, absolute truth is there. Anything that exists, exists because of emptiness, because its nature is empty. Therefore it is a question of putting the effort into understanding the shortcomings of ignorance, the benefits of the wisdom of shunyata, that this is the main thing that can liberate other sentient beings from suffering, that can cease all the obscurations and cause one to achieve enlightenment, OK? That is the main thing.

When one can continuously practice, when one can continuously do the meditation on emptiness, even in the home, living in the city, working, one can do retreat continuously on the awareness of emptiness—retreat from ignorance, from the hallucinations.

So now, for example, relating to now, think of the subject, I, merely labeled, so you think, I. So whenever you think I, merely imputed, whenever you think of I, that is what you have merely imputed. Whenever there is a thought of I, that I is the one that is merely imputed by you. There is no other I that exists. So, think that. So sometimes you can meditate just on that—that this I is merely imputed. For hours, many hours you can meditate on that. It is unbelievably worthwhile, just simply meditating on that.

This merely labeled I doing the merely labeled action of writing on the merely labeled paper, doing the action of merely labeled listening to the merely labeled teaching, the merely labeled I doing the action of merely labeled drinking the merely labeled tea. The merely labeled I doing the action of merely labeled walking on the merely labeled path. Whatever you’re doing today, you should meditate as much as possible like this. In the break time, and also in the session, some of the sessions—in some meditate on emptiness, in some meditate on dependent arising. It is better to meditate more on dependent arising. That itself becomes meditating on emptiness. There is no danger. As much as possible, practice awareness—every minute, hour, whatever you’re doing, as much as possible, whatever action you’re doing.

While you’re doing this, the delusion does not arise, doesn’t give any opportunity, and it becomes unbelievable protection. As many times as you’re able to practice awareness, delusion does not arise, so one doesn’t create negative karma—only good karma, no negative karma. This becomes unbelievable purification. Even a doubt in shunyata arising breaks samsara into pieces, and leaves an imprint on the mind.

Meditation on shunyata is regarded as very powerful purification. The wisdom of shunyata is the only thing that can remove ignorance. Nothing else can remove ignorance. So this means you’re preparing for liberation. That many hours, you’re preparing for your own liberation. So it’s very, very important. This is the best TV, the best movie, and it is also very interesting. You’re watching a new thing, which you haven’t seen before. In the movies you always see the same thing—fighting, killing, or actions of attachment, desire, which you have seen many times, they are nothing new. Actions of anger, actions of attachment—they are nothing new. You have seen this numberless times, but this one is very new.

[Dedication prayers]