Kopan Course No. 42 (2009): eBook

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal (Archive #1793)

Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave these teachings during the 42nd Kopan lamrim course in 2009. In this Kopan course, Rinpoche discusses our potential to bring benefit and happiness, including full enlightenment, to all sentient beings.

Visit our online store to order The Path to Ultimate Happiness ebook or download a PDF. You can also read Lectures One and Three online. Lightly edited by Gordon McDougall and Sandra Smith.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche near Ajanta caves, India, November 2008. Photo: Ven. Roger Kunsang.
Lecture One
Dharma is one-time work

I’m not sure what I’m going to say. I’m not sure what you are going to hear. The thought that came into my mind is that every one of you came from different parts of the world, very far, from beyond the Atlantic Ocean, beyond the Pacific Ocean, by crossing those oceans. You’ve come so far, from beyond the Pacific Ocean to Nepal, to Kopan Monastery. It’s amazing. It’s kind of unimaginable.

You came from very far away, from beyond the Pacific Ocean. Amazing. From very far countries, from the other end of the world. Is there the end of the world? You can go right around the world, so is there an end? Most of you came from very large cities where many millions of people live. For example, in Mexico City there are twenty million, right? Is that correct? In other cities maybe there are fifteen million, ten million, five million. So, it’s really amazing, from places like that, this one person comes all the way across the ocean to Nepal, to Kopan Monastery.

I was just thinking of Boston. I have been to Boston quite a number of times. One time, the person who was driving the car was an old student, Tim, who now runs Wisdom Publications. Before, it was Dr. Nick, the Australian doctor who became a monk for some time before he achieved arhatship. He achieved arhatship and now he no longer runs Wisdom Publications but Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive, the archive that collects the teachings of Lama, who is kinder than all the three-time buddhas and who founded this organization, FPMT. Dr. Nick is collecting all of Lama’s and all of my berserk teachings and he’s putting them together, making them available to the world.

Anyway, Tim was driving the car when suddenly the thought came into my mind of how well-developed Boston was, with so many external things developed. It is such a city. And yet this person came all the way from there. Among so many millions and millions of people this person came all the way to Nepal and then Kopan, so I was very surprised. He came here to attend this course in order to benefit his mind and then go back to try to help his friends, there in his country, to introduce Dharma to them, to help others get the same benefit he got.

There is so much more to happiness, what can be achieved, what to look for, than what people in the West believe it is, which is only the happiness of this life, nothing else other than that. That is only very short-term happiness. Everybody is looking for very short-term happiness. We can achieve much greater happiness than this, the happiness beyond this life. That is the happiness that needs to be achieved, the happiness of all the future lives and ultimate happiness, liberation from the oceans of samsaric suffering and the cause, karma and delusion.

The mistaken thoughts we have, our obscuring, disturbing attitudes, our obscuring, disturbing thoughts—what they do to our mental continuum is to cause only suffering. We can even obtain ultimate happiness, total liberation from the oceans of samsaric suffering and its causes. Imagine how, once the causes of the karma and delusion have ceased, we experience only everlasting happiness, a happiness that never changes, that never diminishes. Then the cause of suffering can never arise because we have completely ceased the cause of delusion, the negative imprints which are left on the mental continuum. Because there is no cause for delusion to arise there is no cause for suffering to arise.

So, this is one-time work; this is one-time practice; this is one-time accomplishment. It’s not at all like the work for this life, seeking to achieve the happiness of this life. Working for samsara has no end; it goes on and on without end, continuously, and then it results only in continuously suffering. Working for future lives’ happiness is one-time work. Attaining the path to liberation is a one-time achievement. Once we’ve achieved that, we are forever in the state of the liberation, the total cessation of suffering and its causes. Since the cause of delusion, the negative imprints, have been removed, there is no cause for delusion to arise so there’s no cause for suffering to arise. Because Dharma practice to achieve liberation is one-time work, it’s most worthwhile to bear any hardship to accomplish this.

Not only that, we can achieve the total cessation of even the subtle mistakes of the mind, the subtle defilements, the cessation of the dualistic view, and attain this perfect state, with the completed qualities of realizations, achieving peerless happiness, full enlightenment. When we have perfect qualities of the holy body, perfect qualities of the holy speech and perfect qualities of the holy mind then we can do perfect work for all sentient beings without the slightest mistake. We can bring happiness to each and every single sentient being—to each and every single hell being, to each and every single hungry ghost, to each and every single animal, to each and every single human being, to each and every single sura, asura and intermediate stage being—to every sentient being. We can bring them from happiness to happiness to the full enlightenment.

There is so much happiness we can achieve—all these different realizations included in the five paths: the path of merit, the path of preparation, the right-seeing path, the path of meditation, and the path of no more learning. There are five paths to achieve liberation from samsara, bringing greater and greater peace and happiness, but there are also the five paths to achieve full enlightenment, great liberation, the five Mahayana paths. Then there are the ten bhumis. There is so much greater peace we can achieve, so many higher realizations we can achieve, where we have greater and greater power, greater and greater qualities, greater and greater knowledge to benefit other sentient beings, to bring deeper and deeper benefit to other sentient beings.

And that’s just talking about the Sutra path, the Paramitayana. There is also the tantric path, Secret Mantra or Vajrayana path, which contains greater and greater realizations, deeper and deeper knowledge. Then, we can offer deeper benefit to sentient beings. So, life is never hopeless. There’s so much we can do to benefit ourselves and to benefit other sentient beings. There are so many ways we can benefit other sentient beings, we can help other sentient beings. It’s just amazing.

The happiness we should be looking for is not just for this short-term life, the happiness of this very short-time life. It’s not only that. If we analyze through meditation, we’ll see that this happiness is only suffering. To the hallucinated mind it’s happiness, but with Dharma wisdom, with inner wisdom, we see only suffering. If we analyze we see it’s just temporary samsaric pleasure, which is only suffering. The hallucinated mind apprehends it as pleasure. Because in the view of the hallucinated mind it appears as pleasure, and that’s what we believe, we become attached to that.

This view only cheats us; it only deceives us. Then continuously, that attachment makes us become caught in samsara. Like a drug addiction, the more we take the more we need. With desire, attachment, having more grasping doesn’t make us free from attachment; it only causes us to become more caught up in attachment, trapping us in that whole package of problems. It brings a whole package of problems. Just using that as an example, it doesn’t make us free from that; it only makes us become more caught up in it.

We need to study the path to achieve liberation, those five paths I mentioned before. To achieve liberation we need to study all the details that each path contains, so we can achieve the antidotes to the cause of suffering, delusion and karma. Then later, by ceasing the cause of delusion, the negative imprints, it becomes impossible to be reborn in samsara and to experience suffering. We achieve the total cessation of suffering and its causes. Of course, it’s much more worthwhile to achieve full enlightenment. For that, we need to study these five paths and the ten bhumis and then the tantric path. By practicing the Paramitayana path we can achieve full enlightenment, and then we are able to liberate the numberless sentient beings in each realm from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to full enlightenment.

If we don’t practice tantra but only the Mahayana Paramitayana path, the gone-beyond path, we have to collect the two merits—the merit of wisdom and the merit of virtue—for three countless great eons in order to complete the amount of merit that is needed to achieve the goal, the Buddha’s holy body, the rupakaya, and the holy mind, the dharmakaya. To complete the merit of wisdom and the merit of virtue is like having a huge project where we need a billion dollars to be able to complete it. It’s like the Maitreya Project that many of you know about. That project needs many millions of dollars to be accomplished.

Similarly, to achieve full enlightenment for sentient beings we need to complete all the merits—the merits of wisdom and virtue—which takes three countless great eons, during which time sentient beings have to suffer. While we are becoming enlightened sentient beings have to suffer for an unbelievably long time. Thinking about how sentient beings have to suffer for three countless great eons, our mind feels this is unbearable. They need to be liberated from the oceans of samsaric suffering and brought to full enlightenment quicker than using the Mahayana Paramitayana path. We need to bring them to enlightenment quicker, therefore we need to practice tantra, which has greater skill than the Mahayana Paramitayana path and leads to enlightenment quicker.

Even within tantra we need to practice the fourth of the four levels: Kriya Tantra, Charya Tantra, Yoga Tantra and Maha-anuttara Yoga Yantra. Even by practicing the lower tantras we can achieve full enlightenment in one lifetime. Then we are able to liberate sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to enlightenment quicker. By practicing Maha-anuttara Yoga Tantra correctly we are able to achieve enlightenment much quicker than through lower tantra. We can achieve full enlightenment in a brief lifetime of degenerated time, within a number of years. That means we are able to liberate sentient beings from oceans of samsaric sufferings and bring them to enlightenment in the quickest possible time, much quicker than by using the lower tantras.

That is more and more amazing! The things we can achieve, how we can use our life, how we can dedicate our life, not just for ourselves but to benefit numberless hell beings, numberless hungry ghosts, numberless animals, numberless suffering human beings, numberless suffering gods, demigods and intermediate state beings—that is unimaginable. We can’t imagine how we can make our life so beneficial, so useful for these numberless sentient beings. Most amazing!

Therefore, we need to learn all this, to learn and hear and reflect and meditate on all these paths. By doing that correctly, all the realizations come. It’s like a mirror covered by dust. The mirror already has the potential to reflect things back. That does not come from outside. The potential does not come from outside; it is there already. All that is needed is to remove the dust that covers the mirror, that obstructs the mirror from reflecting. All we need to do is clean the dust from the mirror. The cleaner we make it the more it can reflect back. Our mind is exactly the same as the mirror. It has all the potential to achieve all those realizations I have just mentioned, to bring the most unbelievable benefit to all sentient beings and to cause them all happiness—the happiness of this life, the happiness of all the future lives, liberation from samsara and ultimate happiness, full enlightenment. We are just one person but we have that potential to cause all that happiness to numberless sentient beings, even full enlightenment, and we can do it quicker and quicker. All the potential is within our mind. Our mind is most amazing.

The more we learn the Dharma the more we know about our mind. The more we learn the Buddha’s teachings, the deeper our understanding of our mind. It’s most amazing what this mind can do. We can’t see this mind. There’s nothing to touch. It has no color, no shape; it’s formless, colorless, shapeless, but what it can do—the happiness, the benefit it can offer to numberless sentient beings—is like the limitless sky. Can you imagine the benefit we can offer because of this mind?

There are skies of happiness and benefits we can offer others but if we close our mind, not learning, not reflecting, not meditating, we are fools. To cover the mirror with dust, there is nothing more foolish than that. An animal can’t do anything because it’s trapped inside an animal body. Because it doesn’t have a human body, it can’t communicate, it can’t understand our words, it can’t express itself. But we have a human body. That gives us the opportunity to take away the dirt from the mirror, to see all the reflections, to gain all the realizations and to have all the unimaginable qualities of the Buddha’s holy body, the unimaginable qualities of the Buddha’s holy speech and the unimaginable qualities of the Buddha’s holy mind. All this comes from this mind, which is like a mirror. The more we clean the dirt from it, the more it can give a reflection back.

That’s why I am saying how amazing our mind is, just amazing. We have to learn about the potential of our mind, that it can bring greater and greater happiness and peace, and especially ultimate peace and happiness for all sentient beings. This human body gives all that opportunity, so we can use the mind to benefit others, to offer all these skies of benefit to sentient beings. By having this human body we can use the mind, we can clean the mind, and then manifest all the realizations and benefit numberless sentient beings.

Therefore, while we have this human body and we can do this, if we don’t do it there is nothing more foolish. If we were born as an insect that would be different, but while we’re born as a human being we have this incredible human body that we can use in this capacity. We have this opportunity to purify our mind, like cleaning dirt from a mirror. By actualizing the remedy, by cleaning all the defilements, all these amazing, wonderful things come. Therefore, this human body is precious; it’s rinpoche. In Tibetan “rinpoche” means precious. This human body we have is called “precious”—this precious human body.

We can attain great meaning in our life

There was a great lama who studied and practiced all the four traditions—Nyingma, Kagyü, Sakya and Gelug—who said that by receiving this human body we can achieve all the happinesses and all the great meanings. We can achieve whatever future life happiness we wish for as well. If after death we wish to be born in pure land of a buddha, where there’s no suffering and especially where we can achieve enlightenment, this can happen. If achieving enlightenment doesn’t happen in this life, we can be born in a pure land, such as the pure land of Chakrasamvara, Heruka or Vajrayogini, and we can definitely a hundred percent become enlightened there.

With this life, based on guru devotion—the root of the path to enlightenment—and then with renunciation, bodhicitta and right view, we can create the particular cause to be born in one of those pure lands and become enlightened there. Or we can become reborn in Amitabha Buddha’s pure land. Once we are born there, it’s impossible to be born in the lower realms again, as a hell being, a hungry ghost or an animal. Many lamas did it this way. I wrote to my root guru, His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s younger tutor, asking whether you can practice tantra there and achieve enlightenment.

With regards to the happiness of future lives—the first of the three ways a perfect human rebirth is meaningful—if we wish we can attain the seven qualities, such as having a high caste. Not every country discriminates according to caste but generally the higher the caste the more people will respect us and listen to what we say, so we can help them by bringing the Dharma, allowing them to enter into the path to liberation and enlightenment. Having other qualities like wealth, a perfect body with nothing missing, freedom from sicknesses and such things makes it easy to practice Dharma and to have realizations. All these conditions—the seven qualities of the higher rebirth—together enable us to benefit other sentient beings.

Lama Tsongkhapa emphasized the eight ripening qualities—a long life, a handsome or beautiful body, noble caste, wealth and so forth—in his short lamrim. He wrote The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Lamrim Chenmo), the Middle-length Commentary on the Stages of the Path and a short lamrim text called Hymns of Experience of the Graduated Path. In the short lamrim he explained that if we achieve the seven ripening qualities of the human body it’s very easy to achieve realizations, to have great attainments on the path to enlightenment. It’s very easy to advance our mind and have higher realizations. He also explained the cause of each one. Perhaps you may have gone through that already. That’s good to know. You might be doing that already, especially by attending this course. It’s good to recognize this in order to create the cause of the eight ripening aspect qualities and so make it very easy to gain the high realizations. Lama Tsongkhapa emphasized the eight ripening qualities as well as the four Mahayana Dharma wheels, the four external qualities we need in order to achieve a favorable future life.

I’m talking about the future lives but we can make many of those qualities happen during this life. I want to say that.

Anyway, we want to achieve the four Mahayana Dharma wheels, where we have all the conditions that make it very easy to have realizations on the path to liberation and enlightenment. These four are: having met a Mahayana virtuous friend who shows us the path to enlightenment and gives us advice; having a harmonious place that supports our practice, where there is water and nothing harmful to our meditation or retreat. Also, having a supportive family, and lastly, having collected merits and having done prayers. Thus, the four Mahayana Dharma wheels make it easy to practice and achieve realizations.

The prayers that come at the end of the extensive, most secret, profound Guru Puja, Lama Chöpa, dedicate to achieving the four Mahayana Dharma wheels in all the lifetimes, to be able to complete Mahayana training in the renunciation, bodhicitta and right view and to achieve the unified state of Vajradhara, full enlightenment. And to receive a perfect human rebirth which has eight freedoms and ten richnesses to practice Dharma—five received from our own side and five received from outside. The Tibetan jor wa literally means “wealth,” what we have received, so we can say the ten receptacles or ten richnesses. To achieve these again in the future lives, the Mahayana guru reveals not only the lesser vehicle teachings, but also the Mahayana teachings, both the Sutra Paramitayana teachings and the Secret Mantra Vajrayana teachings, which reveal all three different levels of the path to enlightenment, allowing us to listen, reflect and meditate and actualize the path.

On the basis of keeping the pratimoksha vows, bodhisattva vows and tantric vows, we have the opportunity to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings, not only in one life but even in a few years, by practicing the result vehicle, Maha-anuttara Yoga Tantra. This is based on practicing the causal vehicle, the lamrim, the three principal aspects of the path to enlightenment, all of which are based on the root of the path to enlightenment, guru devotion. Like this we can also create the cause to achieve a perfect human rebirth next time, which gives us the opportunity to achieve enlightenment. That is the first great meaning.

The precious human body is like a wish-granting jewel

The second great meaning is to achieve ultimate happiness, liberation from samsara and full enlightenment, great liberation.

The third great meaning is that in every second of this human life we can create the cause to achieve those happinesses. Those are the three great meanings. Because we have this human body and because of what it can do, we can achieve these three great meanings. We are able to liberate numberless sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to enlightenment quickly. By attaining the lower tantras we can do it quickly and even more quickly by attaining the highest tantra, Maha-anuttara Yoga Tantra. Through that we are able to liberate sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to enlightenment extremely quickly.

A great lama, Tsokdrug Rangdrol, said that this human body we now have is more precious than a wish-granting jewel. In other words, diamonds are more precious than gold, skies filled with diamonds are more precious than skies filled with gold, but nothing compares to the value of this human body that we now have, that we have today, that we have this hour, this minute, this second. Compared to that, skies filled with gold and diamonds are nothing.

What this lama and many other teachers have mentioned is a wish-granting jewel possessed by wheel-turning kings. Not everybody can have one! People can have gold and diamonds but not everybody can have a wish-granting jewel. In the past wheel-turning bodhisattva kings, who had collected unbelievable merits, were able to find wish-granting jewels in the ocean. You have to clean the jewel in three ways, and the last one is for the stain of smell. You clean the jewel with cotton and then put it on top of a banner on the roof of the house on the evening of the full moon. Then, whatever prayer you make is immediately actualized. But what you achieve from that is only material possessions, external enjoyments. By praying, that is all you get. From that alone you don’t get a good rebirth in your next life, you can’t purify past negative karmas, you don’t get liberation from samsara and you won’t get enlightenment. You won’t get all the realizations just from that.

But, we can still achieve enlightenment if we have this precious human body, even if we don’t have a single jewel, even if we own no gold, no diamonds, no money, nothing. We can be penniless like Milarepa. I don’t know how many of you know about Milarepa. He was not Indian or Nepalese but a Tibetan man. In Tibet there were women who achieved enlightenment, but here I am just talking about Milarepa.

Milarepa had nothing. He just lived in a cave, eating nettles and nothing else. There was no salt, no chili, no olive oil, no peppers, nothing—just nettles he boiled in water. That’s all he ate for years. He didn’t even have one rupee, he didn’t even have one Tibetan coin, but he had received a perfect human body that he used to practice Dharma, exactly as he was advised to by his guru, the enlightened being Marpa. He completely sacrificed his life with total faith and devotion to his guru and he achieved enlightenment in a brief lifetime of degenerated time.

Of course, it wasn’t only Milarepa. Lama Tsongkhapa’s disciple, Gyalwa Ensapa, also achieved enlightenment very easily. There is also Drubchen Chökyi Dorje, who is still supposed to be on Mt. Everest. His Holiness Dalai Lama mentioned this when we requested a commentary on the Guru Puja and, I think, some mahamudra teachings at the First Dharma Celebration. Lama Yeshe, who is kinder than all the three times’ buddhas, was there, so we requested it. There were maybe three hundred people from many countries, but at that time there weren’t any Chinese people from Singapore, Hong Kong or Taiwan. It was a long time ago. Anyway, at that time His Holiness Dalai Lama said Drubchen Chökyi Dorje, the practitioner who achieved enlightenment in one lifetime, was still on Mt. Everest. So if you are planning to climb Mt. Everest you should expect to meet him!

Anyway, many have achieved full enlightenment in one brief lifetime of degenerate times. You have to understand how they practiced. You have to read, you have to study, then you can understand what made them achieve enlightenment in a brief lifetime of degenerate times. It is very important to study their life stories and then you will know it was all from the same cause. They all had unbelievable dedication to the virtuous friend. Their way of correctly devoting to the virtuous friend was to cherish them more than their own life.

For all those who achieved enlightenment in a brief lifetime of degenerate times it’s like that. Reading their life stories, you can see the similarities. There was always so much sacrifice, so much dedication. Their guru devotion was unbelievably strong. The essence is that. They all cherished the virtuous friend more than their own life; they all followed the advice and the teachings exactly and practiced without any anger or heresy arising. Their strong guru devotion protected their life from anger and heresy, from all those negative thoughts that are obstacles to achieving realizations and enlightenment.

As I was saying, Milarepa had nothing. He didn’t have even one Tibetan coin, but he used his body to practice Dharma and achieved full enlightenment. Therefore, our human body is unbelievably precious. It’s most amazing. Our precious human body is more precious than a wish-granting jewel. With a wish-fulfilling jewel we can’t achieve the three great meanings but with this human body we can. Therefore, this human body is more precious than the sky filled with wish-granting jewels. The value of all those is nothing compared to the value our human body gives us.

We can’t give ourselves any freedom if we never explore this, like the scientists who are experimenting all the time. Meditators are called “inner scientists.” We give ourselves freedom to explore what things in the world are useful for life, are beneficial for our mind. We give ourselves freedom to open our heart. Without examining, without exploring, we are closed, we don’t give ourselves a single freedom. Having attained this human body we have this unbelievable opportunity to benefit ourselves and other numberless sentient beings as well, by exploring Buddhism, by learning and meditating and seeing what happens to our mind through meditation, through practice. There are huge differences between having an intellectual understanding and not practicing, and the big discoveries we can make through our experience of meditation. His Holiness the Dalai Lama often says that after learning, after examining, then our choice is whether to practice or not. But even just having an intellectual understanding helps a lot and brings so much peace in the mind.

We have a monk here called Thubten Sherab. He was here for many years and was one of the best students. He could memorize and was a good debater. We sent him to translate Dharma at Nalanda, our Western Sangha monastery in France. I haven’t really heard of other real Western Buddhist monasteries but our organization has one, Nalanda. Lama gave it this name, the same name as the great monastery in ancient times which Lama Atisha, Shantideva and over three hundred great pandits attended. They were highly attained beings, not just scholars who were wise in the words but had no experience. It was not like that. The Nalanda pandits gained realizations on the path to enlightenment. So Lama gave the same name as Nalanda University to the monastery.

We sent Thubten Sherab to interpret for the resident teacher there and to translate the Dharma for the Sangha. He translated for many years and then after some time I think he was unable to stay as a monk, so he went to Spain and worked for many years. He told me that the Spanish people working around him had many problems, many difficulties, but because he had heard some Dharma he didn’t have any problems. Because he had studied so much Dharma philosophy here, so many texts, so many scriptures and he had a good intellectual understanding, he said, “Because I had heard so much I have peace, but the people there suffer so much.” That is what he said. This is true not only for him but it has also been many other people’s experience.

Even just having an intellectual understanding of Dharma makes a big difference in our life. There are a lot less problems because our problems come from concepts, how we label things. We label something one way as a “problem” but if we change the label there’s no problem. We put on a negative label and there is a problem; we put on a positive label and there is no problem. By thinking of the benefits of the problem we can put on a positive label, and then we see happiness. That is not the only story. I think this is the experience of many people who have learned the Dharma even if they haven’t practiced. In our life we can see the difference between ourselves and other people who do not know Dharma. Even just an intellectual understanding makes a big difference in our life.

The conclusion is that this human body is more precious than the whole sky filled with wish-fulfilling jewels. Tsokdrug Rangdrol Rinpoche said that’s why the human body is called rinpoche—precious.

This is the great discovery that is needed in the West. The big problems that face the West are relationship problems and so much depression, the feeling of being hopeless. Is that correct? Anyway, relationship problems and depression are due to a lack of this knowledge, how our human body is very precious, not knowing that it is rinpoche. We need this human body to have successful realizations of the general graduated path of the lower capable being, the general graduated path of the middle capable being and the general graduated path of the highest capable being, the whole path to enlightenment, the three principal aspects of the path and the two stages of tantra. To have successful realizations of all this depends on discovering how this body is so precious, so rinpoche.

This Rinpoche is going to have chai!

You have to know that having chai here at Kopan Monastery is a result of the past karma, of the virtuous actions we have done in the past. It’s all the result of past good karma, the virtuous actions we have done, having made offerings to Buddha Dharma and Sangha, or charity to sentient beings.

[Rinpoche chants offering prayer]

Dr. Nick and the beginning of the Australian Dharma centers

What I was trying to tell you before was that it was not only Tim who came to Kopan. That was just one example. Dr. Nick also came. He was an Australian doctor who decided to do a world tour with his friends and that’s how he and his friends appeared at Kopan in about 1971—I’m not sure of the year. They came to the third one-month course and then for the fourth course his mother came, maybe his and somebody else’s mother came. There was Nick and his friend, Yeshe Khadro, and two other friends, Tom and Kathy. They had decided to go around the world. They had bought an investment property in Queensland—I don’t know the particular area—and then they started their world tour.

They were lying on a beach in Thailand when a person came with a coconut and a knife. As they were cutting the coconut and drinking its milk, somebody came along and told them about a meditation course at a place called Kopan. Just from that they decided to come to Kopan. That’s it.

The world tour didn’t happen! I think they had just started the tour but the rest that they had planned didn’t happen. During the first course Nick gave Lama Yeshe treatment. At that time many courses were done in the Chenrezig gompa, there outside. We were staying in an old British-style house built by the Nepalese king for his astrologer. Nick was giving treatment to Lama. Even during the first course and then right after the course he became very busy with the course book. So, with the course book, he was already starting to be busy working on the Dharma books. I worked with him for some time to add more subjects. After that year, he kept busy totally running on the Dharma books.

He did the fourth course with his mother. Yeshe Khadro was there, and I think Tom and Kathy, his friends, came to the fourth course. After that, they invited Lama Yeshe and me to Australia. That might have been the first time we went to the West, I’m not sure. They organized the course in Diamond Valley. Roger was also there. There were about two hundred people on course. I think I probably spent more than a week on the eight worldly dharmas. The eight worldly dharmas is a very sweet subject, very sweet, more delicious than ice cream. I’m just joking. The eight worldly dharmas and the lower realms. When we meditated on the hells I said, “If you don’t meditate now on hell, there won’t be any time to meditate.” The next evening when I came, we did a meditation on hell and then the next day when I came back there were some empty spaces, some empty spaces there and some empty spaces over there! The people who weren’t at the teachings were at the back with their backpacks ready to leave. As the teachings started and I saw their backpacks, I tried to think, “Merely labeled by mind, merely labeled by mind.” That brought some peace.

There were a lot of people on that Diamond Valley course. We then went to the mountain where four of these people had bought a lot of land, which they offered for a center. That became Chenrezig Institute, the very first Dharma center in Australia. Very soon after that there was Tara House, the big center in Melbourne. For many years there’s been a resident teacher there, Geshe Doga, who is very learned and also a very great meditator on the tantric path.

Many great teachers went to Chenrezig Institute. Geshe Loden, a great teacher from Sera Je, taught there for three years, with an incarnate lama, Zasep Rinpoche, translating. After that, Geshe Lama Konchog went there. You’ve seen all the relics down there. He was a great yogi who had completed the path to enlightenment. He was supposed to be there for a year, but he stayed for six months. He taught the complete Liberation in the Palm in Your Hand, Pabongka’s lamrim. Geshe Loden taught Madhyamika and lamrim, Lamrim Chenmo. Many teachings were given. After that Lama Yeshe’s brother, Geshe Thinley, who had a very good understanding of Dharma, taught for five or six years before he passed away.

And then there was Geshe Tashi Tsering, also a very learned teacher from Sera Je, who taught there for many years and also started the Masters Program. The Basic Program has also been given three or four times. Geshe Tashi Tsering had to leave because he was appointed by His Holiness Dalai Lama to be the abbot of the Lower Tantric College. After he left another younger teacher went there.

So, Chenrezig is a key meditation center that has been teaching Dharma—sutra and tantra—offering so many teachings for many years, benefiting an unbelievable number of people. Each year so many people benefit, getting the opportunity to purify their negative karma collected from beginningless rebirths and to collect extensive merits and make their life meaningful by receiving teachings, studying and meditating, bringing their life closer to enlightenment. It has been unbelievably beneficial to so many sentient beings

Many other centers started in Australia. Those two centers are a kind of root and then there have been many others in Australia. Vajrayana Institute in Sydney, started by Roger, has benefited many sentient beings up to now. There have been great teachers up to now. The organization has had great fortune to receive very qualified teachers. That’s been extremely important for sentient beings to receive the correct teachings, not only lamrim but also the commentaries on lamrim, to really understand the philosophy on a deeper level.

Nick’s life has been extremely busy since the time of the first course, working on Dharma books, making them available for people and later working at Tushita Centre in Delhi for quite a number of years. In Australia and in the West he has mainly worked on the books, first with Wisdom Publications, making Dharma books available, spreading the Dharma to the rest of the world. Now he does the Archive and Tim does Wisdom Publications. Like that, he has been benefiting so many sentient beings.

The conclusion is this. What I am talking about is karma. We are gathered here at this time because we have created the karma to come to Kopan to do the course. There’s a seed planted. I don’t know, it could have been sometime in a past life as a human being. It could have been while in an animal form as well. Maybe at a different time something happened.

Padmasambhava subdues the spirits

I just remembered a story. Maybe it doesn’t relate much but anyway, it’s just some story of when I was in Dharamsala, just before I left for here. There was Pari Rinpoche, a high lama, who in his past life was the guru of Lama Yeshe and many other great lamas. He was with a young Tibetan lady who came to offer service to His Holiness Dalai Lama. She was called a dakini, Khadro. She’s an actual living dakini, somebody who is a highly attained being.

I forgot the story! So Pari Rinpoche was talking about the daughter of the Dharma king of Tibet, Trisong Detsen. I don’t know what the story was about, I don’t remember now, but something happened to the daughter. The king was down below at the stupa that was built by the mother, Machig Sema, who looked after chickens. Externally looking, there is no way she could build a stupa. She had no wealth, nothing; she just looked after chickens. She was poor; there was no way you could judge externally that she would be able to build this large stupa. 

She sent a petition to the Nepalese king asking if she could get land for a stupa and from the mouth of the Nepalese king slipped out the word, “OK.” The Tibetan means something like, “It can be done” and it just slipped out of his mouth. Generally, whatever comes from the mouth of the king is law, even to kill somebody. Once it had come from his mouth it had to be done. I don’t know but my brother, Sangye, said that. If the king told a bodyguard or somebody to kill somebody, if they couldn’t find the person they would have to kill something once the king mentioned killing, even a chicken or something. Anyway, that’s what he said.

However, generally it’s impossible to get the land, but her request went to the king who just said quickly, “It can be done,” and the ministers later found out about it so what was usually impossible had to happen. That’s why the name of the stupa is something like, “Can be done, slipped from the mouth,” in Tibetan.

Anyway, the mother built up to the vase base of the stupa and then passed away. She had four children and they completed the rest: the thirteen dharmachakras and on top the banner, umbrella, sun, moon and all that. While the four brothers were standing, making prayer to the stupa, numberless buddhas and bodhisattvas entered the stupa, and their wisdom absorbed into it. Because they built the stupa the elder brother made a prayer, dedicating the merits collected by building the stupa to be born in the Snow Land, Tibet, and to become the Dharma king of Tibet. Then, hearing the first brother’s prayer, the second brother made a prayer to be the abbot, to be able to pass the lineage of the vows, the ordination. The third one, who was going to become Padmasambhava, prayed, “If there are any obstacles to the king, to Dharma activities, to spread Dharma in Tibet, may I be the powerful yogi to pacify the obstacles, the interferers.” The fourth brother prayed to become a minister to help the king.

In their next life, the brothers became these things; the first one became the Dharma king of Tibet, the second became the abbot who passed on the lineage of vows and so forth. The Dharma king tried to build the first monastery in Samye but at that time the humans built it in the daytime and at night the spirits came and tore what they had done down. This happened many times.

A minister or the king mentioned that there was a powerful yogi in India called Padmasambhava who they should invite. So, Padmasambhava was invited to Tibet to tame all the spirits that were harming the building of the monastery and to spread Dharma in Tibet. He came and, by arising as a wrathful deity, hooked the spirits. According the karma of the Tibetan people, three ran away, leaving twelve, who he subdued, giving them orders to become Dharma protectors. After that there were no obstacles and the monastery could be completed. Not only that, in many different parts of Tibet landlords laid down arms or knees or different parts of their body, like the heart, so Padmasambhava went all around and subdued all the spirits who interfered with the spread of Buddhadharma in Tibet.

Buddhism was able to last for so many years and many enlightened beings—many buddhas and bodhisattvas—happened in Tibet by practicing Buddhadharma. For many years, in different parts of Tibet many caves or mud houses in the mountains, like ants’ nests, even whole mountains, even the earth, were blessed so much by all these unbelievably strong Dharma protectors. Now so much has fallen down or been destroyed. But even the place is very blessed.

Due to His Holiness’ kindness, monasteries have been established in India and Nepal and not only that, Buddhadharma has spread all over the West where there was none, where it was completely dark. Now the light of Dharma shines all over the West and now tens of thousands of people including us are able to meet Buddhadharma every year, with the opportunity to wake up and follow the path to enlightenment. This incredible opportunity, like a dream, is based on Buddhism being preserved in Tibet by the Tibetan people and achieving the realizations of path to enlightenment. This is all due to Padmasambhava’s kindness by purifying the land of Tibet, in order for Dharma to be able to spread. He was the third brother who said, “If there are any obstacles to the king, to Dharma activities, to spreading Dharma in Tibet, may I be the powerful yogi to pacify the interferers.” This is what happened due to the prayers said at the stupa.

I’m telling this story because we have the intention of visiting Swayambhunath. We did it last year but before, in the previous courses, there wasn’t the structure set up to allow us to do it. But seeing that people have come all the way from so far, it is a wonderful experience to go to Swayambhunath, this unbelievably powerful, holy object, to circumambulate and pray where these four brothers made prayers that were actualized in their next life exactly as they had prayed. This stupa has benefited the world so much, bringing Dharma and unbelievable peace and happiness to others, including us. This is the benefit of the stupa, of their making prayers. We are still receiving the benefits, by meeting the Dharma, coming to Kopan and all that.

Therefore, it’s very good to go around the stupa and make prayers; it’s something very small which brings very powerful purification. Many years’ negative karma gets purified and all the prayers for success become very powerful, like those four brothers.

During that time, one of the brothers, the future king of Tibet, had a mosquito going around him, landing on his face. When he saw that the mosquito had died, he made a prayer for the mosquito to be born as a human being in his family. Due to his prayer, the mosquito’s consciousness was born in its next life to his family and became his daughter, the daughter of the Dharma king of Tibet. I just remembered that, so I thought to mention it.

Our karma has ripened here to come to Kopan, to meet Buddhadharma, and our life that was turning toward the lower realms, samsara, is now turning upward toward the happiness of future lives and not only that, toward liberation from samsara and then enlightenment. Our life is turning upward, the correct way, rather than turning toward samsara and the lower realms. By learning the Dharma here and meditating, our life will change. What I’m saying is this is the karma, the very interesting karma from the past, either created while we were a human being or as an animal. I think this is very interesting karma; this itself is a teaching, this itself is a karmic story about ourselves, our own life. This teaching on karma is most amazing.

Practicing at break times

I thought at this time to do oral transmission of the Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga with the lamrim prayer. This meditation is maybe something auspicious. Have you done this meditation before—how things come from mind right now, how things come from karma? OK, it doesn’t matter. I’ll just give you an example. I want you to do a very intensive meditation on what Neil has been talking about—true suffering, the true cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering and the true path—the four noble truths.

The other thing, when you go out at the break times and in the times before sessions try to recollect what I sometimes explain: how what you see comes from your mind, what you hear comes from your mind, what you smell comes from your mind, what you taste comes from your mind, what your mind thinks comes from your mind.

This is the practice of mindfulness. This is not to intellectually understand but to really meditate on it. You can practice mindfulness like that in the session and also when you go out, when you are eating, when you go to the toilet, when you go out and so forth. I think this is very, very, very, very, very important. When you meditate on this, that itself becomes an antidote to anger. When somebody looks down at you or speaks rudely to you; if they are thinking negatively toward you in some way, showing they don’t love you or whatever, normally it immediately affects your mind, making you get angry, upset or sad. But when your mind is in this mindfulness meditation it won’t happen. When you know it comes from your mind it doesn’t depress you, it doesn’t make you angry.

It’s like watching a movie of your mind. Your life, what you see, what you hear, all the things, is a movie of your mind. It’s like when you’re dreaming, all these things come from your mind. It’s just like that. When you’re aware, it’s like that. As much as you can, continuously practice mindfulness, then your mind is continuously in peace; it’s not up and down. This is not just a boring mindfulness meditation; it becomes very interesting, a very interesting mindfulness practice.

The emptiness of the A

The example for emptiness I normally give, which is easy to understand, is this. When you were a child, you haven’t learned ABCD, OK? Then somebody, a teacher or somebody, writes three lines on the blackboard. [Rinpoche draws the three lines of the letter A in the air.] At that time, you had no idea that this meant anything; you didn’t see this as an “A” at all because there was no appearance that this was an A. There was no appearance that this was an A to you at all because your mind hadn’t labeled it “A” yet. Why? Because you had not yet been taught this was an A by your teacher. You had not yet been taught the label “A.”  

You saw the design, but you had not yet been taught that this was an A. First, make that very clear. You could see the design there, but you had no idea what it was. Understand?

Now, when you see those three lines you think, “Oh, there is an A,” but you need to go back to your childhood and see that before you were taught the meaning of the design, the A was not there. That makes it clear.

Now, somebody introduces you to this design, telling you it is an “A.” Somebody teaches you the label and then you believe in that. Then, in your mind you make up the label “A” and you believe it because of that particular design After you have been taught the meaning your mind makes up the label based on the design and you believe it.

After that, the A appears to your mind. If your mind had labeled it but you didn’t believe in the label, then I’m not sure whether there would be the appearance of the A. That’s something you would have to analyze.

When the A appears back to you in the next second, it should appear back to you as merely labeled by mind. That is what happened the second before. Your mind made up the label; it was merely imputed by your mind. That’s what it is—it is nothing more than that. The A doesn’t exist more than that, what is merely imputed by mind. The A cannot be more than that which is merely labeled by mind. Just the second before, your mind had merely imputed it as that. So, when it appears back to you, it should appear as merely imputed by mind, but that is not what happens. That is the reality, but it does not happen to you.

That’s the big question to analyze. The reality is that it is merely labeled by the mind, but it will only appear to a buddha as merely labeled by mind. There can be some discussion but I think, generally speaking, this mere appearance that is according to reality, merely imputed by the mind, only happens for a buddha, except when you have achieved the exalted path, the wisdom directly perceiving emptiness. With the exalted path, this happens when you have achieved the third level, the right-seeing path.

There are five paths to achieve liberation and enlightenment: the path of merit, the path of preparation, the right-seeing path, the path of meditation and the path of no more learning. When you achieve the third Mahayana path, the right-seeing path, and the fourth Mahayana path, the path of meditation, there is equipoise meditation and post-meditation. During the equipoise meditation, that wisdom directly seeing emptiness in the equipoise meditation does not have a dualistic view; it doesn’t have a truly existent appearance. Things appear as mere name only to a buddha because a buddha doesn’t have the cause which projects the dualistic view of the truly existent appearance, the subtle negative imprint. A buddha doesn’t have the negative imprint that projects the concept of true existence onto the merely-labeled object. A buddha has totally ceased the subtle negative imprint, therefore there is no projection, there is no truly-existent appearance. Everything that appears to a buddha has to appear in mere name, merely imputed by the mind.

The second after we see that the design has been merely labeled by the mind as an A, it should appear back as merely labeled by the mind, because that is the reality, but that is not how it appears to us. The A appears back to us as something totally opposite to the reality. The reality is that it is merely labeled by mind but when it appears back, it appears as a completely false A.

The purpose of our coming here is to discover what we haven’t discovered in the past, what we haven’t discovered in all our past lives from beginningless rebirths. Here, a totally false A appears due to our hallucinating mind, due to ignorance. Not all ignorance but this particular ignorance, the ignorance believing in things as truly existent, that phenomena are truly existent. Due to that ignorance.

You can take time to analyze but this is how it happens. When the A appears back, it is totally false; it is completely the opposite of reality. In Tibetan this is nang ne me tim pa. Nang is “appearance,” ne is “reality” and me tim pa is the opposite, not harmonious, not the same, contradictory to each other. That is the definition of “false”—how the appearance is totally the opposite of the reality. How the A appears to us is totally false, completely the opposite of the reality, which is merely imputed by the mind. The A that appears to us is slightly more than what is merely imputed by mind. That is the false A, that is the gag cha, the object to be refuted, which is mentioned in the teachings on emptiness. That object to be refuted, gag cha, is the false object that we should realize is empty; it doesn’t exist there at all.

The A appears to us as a real A existing from its own side, which means it is not merely imputed by the mind. This is the total opposite of what happened a second before; the appearance is totally the opposite of the reality. This totally false A comes from ignorance. The ignorance believing in true existence leaves an imprint on our mind. Then immediately after our mind merely imputes the “A” it projects the hallucination, true existence. This is decorated or projected onto the merely-imputed A. This is how the A appears as something real from there. Now you can see how it happens.

In the first second our mind merely imputes A but in the next second the A appears as something totally wrong, nothing to do with our mind, as if it never came from our mind, it exists from its own side. There’s the appearance of A but this came from our own mind. That is very clear. This appearance of A that is not merely labeled by the mind is totally false. It does not exist at all. If we analyze we can see there is not even a single atom of existence there.

There are two things we need to understand. The basic thing I am trying to say is that the appearance comes from our mind. Whether it’s merely imputed or not merely imputed, both come from our mind. After our mind merely imputes this, we believe that.

It’s very important to realize this truth because we don’t want to suffer in samsara; we want this suffering to cease, we want to be liberated from this forever. We want to cease the cause, karma and delusion, therefore we need to cease the ignorance that holds phenomena as truly existent whereas they are not; they are totally empty.

The way we cease that ignorance is by realizing the truth, which is emptiness or shunyata. This is a very important meditation in Buddhism. The realization of emptiness, especially the wisdom directly perceiving emptiness, ceases the disturbing-thought obscurations, the defilements. Then we can be free forever from the oceans of samsaric suffering and its causes, even the subtle defilements which interfere with the achievement of enlightenment. The wisdom directly perceiving emptiness ceases all this with the support of bodhicitta, which collects inconceivable merits and helps us complete the merits. Then, we are able to achieve full enlightenment for sentient beings.

Now you can see how important it is to attain the realization of emptiness, shunyata. To eliminate the root of all the suffering and karma and delusion, the ignorance holding true existence, we need to recognize that the object ignorance believes in is totally false. That is the object to be refuted, gag cha, the one we have to recognize. By recognizing this we are able to see that in reality it doesn’t exist at all, that it is a total hallucination. We see that the object which ignorance believes is truly existent is totally non-existent. This ignorance is a wrong concept and what we have believed is true—what we have believed from beginningless rebirths and from the beginning of this rebirth—we can now see is totally false.

When we meditate on this and develop this wisdom, we are able to cease not only ignorance but the cause of ignorance. Even the negative imprints are completely ceased, and at that time we are free forever from the oceans of samsaric suffering.

the I and all phenomena are empty

We can consider the I in the same way that we looked at the A. The I is exactly the same, merely labeled by our mind. Our mind thinks of the aggregates and then merely labels “I” and believes in that. Then, in the next second, there are all the hallucinations. There is a real I falsely appearing—false in the sense that it appears to exist from its own side, by its own nature, not merely labeled by mind. Like the A, this real I is totally false, completely false. There is no such thing there.

The merely-labeled I which exists does not happen. What appears is totally false. Holding on to this false appearance as true becomes the root of samsara. It’s the same with the aggregates. The mind thinks of the aggregates, the bases of the aggregates, then merely imputes “aggregates” and believes that. In the next second the aggregates appear back as real, as nothing to do with our mind, as never having come from our mind, as existing from their own side. They appear as real aggregates, not merely labeled by mind. Holding onto this, believing all this to be true, is the root of samsara, the root of all karma and delusions, of all the sufferings of samsara.

In the same way, everything appears as real: the body and mind, all the mental factors, all the different parts of the body. Everything appears real, not appearing as merely labeled by mind but appearing as not merely labeled by mind. All this is a total hallucination, starting from the I down to the atoms of the body. The way it appears is a total hallucination. Similarly, all the different mental factors—there are fifty-one mental factors—are the same, all appearing as real. They are all merely labeled by the mind but appear back as real. All these are hallucinations, total hallucinations.

It’s the same with this place: the form, the colors, the light, the pillars and the thangkas and so forth, and outside, the trees, the sky, the sun and the animals—the dogs and cats—and people. Whatever we see, the evolution of how they appear to us is exactly the same as I described for the A. They do not appear back to us as merely labeled by the mind but as something existing from their own side, as real—real trees, real sky, real houses, real food, real toilets. Everything appears to us as not merely labeled by the mind. Much grosser than that, it appears as if it has never come from the mind, it has nothing to do with the mind. That is very, very gross. That is a total hallucination.

The characteristic or definition of sound is what the ear sense hears or listens to. Then what happens is that our mind labels it as “bad sound” or “good sound” and so forth. If we’re listening to music there is bad music or good music, however, first we have to hear the sound, then the label comes afterward.

After this, I’ll stop. When the A appears to us, that real A, that hallucination, is the object to be refuted. What appears to us is a real A, meaning existing from its own side, not merely labeled by the mind. When the A appears to us it looks like it has been always like this, from beginningless time. It just started now, our mind has just merely imputed it and then it appeared, but it appears as if it has always been there, permanent, which is totally false. We have this permanent, true appearance just now, a second after our mind has merely imputed it, so that’s the hallucination, that is completely untrue. If it were true, it should exist before our mind labeled it “A.” The A should be there before our mind labeled it “A.” It shouldn’t depend on our mind labeling it, but it should be there from very beginning, maybe even before the person wrote it for us.

It’s the same thing with sound. What we hear is the object our ear sense hears, then after that our mind merely imputes “sound.” That is the base and this is the label, the base and the label, two different phenomena. They are not the same, they are not one; they are two different phenomena. You can understand from that. Therefore, again, it has to come completely from our mind. Our mind merely imputed it, but it appears back as something real—a real sound existing from its own side with nothing to do with our mind. It’s like it never came from our mind. That is a total hallucination. That’s the gag cha, the object to be refuted, the false sound. The sound that exists is what is merely imputed by the mind.

And it’s the same thing with taste, smell and tangible objects. We need to analyze these things in the same way. It’s not only truly-existent appearance that comes from the mind, but all these also come from the mind: form, sound, smell, taste, tangible objects and objects of the mind.

With this mindfulness practice, there are two things. One is how everything that appears to our senses comes from our mind. That includes ourselves, the I, the action, the object, the mental factors—everything comes from the mind. The other one is this. First there is the appearance, then specifically there is the truly-existent appearance, the real appearance from its own side. This is totally false. The absence of this is emptiness. This is the truth we have to realize. This is how we get liberated from samsara, from the oceans of samsaric suffering and its causes.

I’ll stop here. Thank you very much.

This is the mindfulness practice you can do in the break times or within a session. It is very, very good to do.

Next Chapter:

Lecture Three »