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 One: Refuge and Bodhicitta

I’m happy to meet all of you and I would like to thank you first for coming here to study the teaching of the Buddha. By opening your mind, by opening your heart to the teachings, by analyzing, practicing, you have a great opportunity to experience and develop not only temporary happiness, but also to achieve ultimate happiness, ultimate peace of mind. So therefore, I have great rejoicefulness and I think all of you are highly fortunate. The more we study the teachings of Buddha, the more and more we realize how we are fortunate. The more you study, the more you understand, the more you practice—the real experience comes from practice, but in order to practice you need to study.

The real study is not just words, not just collecting intellect, like establishing a library in the mind, not just collecting intellect but meditating. We need to put together the listening, reflecting, and meditation practice. This is the only way that we can have the experience and complete the experience of the path to peerless happiness and the fully awakened mind.

Before the discourse, in order to pacify the outer obstacles, which arise from the inner obstacles, and the inner obstacles, the disturbing thoughts, and even the subtle obstacles, the mental stains—all the obstacles that interfere with the realizations of the graduated path to enlightenment within one’s heart—we recite the Essence of Wisdom, the essential method, the most powerful purification, the best protection, the inner and outer harm. So, either we can recite it together—the important thing is to meditate on the meaning of the Essence of Wisdom, just even the sound, OK?

[Rinpoche recites the Heart Sutra in English, and the Lion-face Dakini prayer]

Before the discourse, just a very brief preliminary—refuge, bodhicitta—so do the most simple visualization. One can visualize Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, then offering, accumulating merit, and doing the practice of purification with the seven-limb practice, then the short mandala, then after that the requesting prayer to the lineage lamas, then Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s mantra, then the mandala to receive teachings.

[Refuge, seven-limb prayer, short mandala]

For those who are familiar, those who can do it, nectar rays emit from the merit field, seeing Guru Shakyamuni Buddha as the embodiment of all gurus, and the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. The nectar beams are emitted, and they purify all the obscurations, particularly the self-cherishing thought and the ignorance grasping at true existence.

So ordinary conception, appearance, and all the obscurations within one’s own mind are purified, and all the obscurations in the minds of others are completely purified. Then as a replica absorbs into oneself, you generate the whole path to enlightenment, the method and wisdom from sutra, the method and wisdom from tantra—in your mind and in the minds of all other sentient beings.

[Requesting prayer to lineage lamas]

Now Guru Shakyamuni Buddha descends above one’s own crown, and then visualize the mantra at the heart with nectars being emitted, purifying oneself and all other sentient beings.

[Praise to Shakyamuni Buddha, then mantra]

Now Guru Shakyamuni Buddha melts into light and absorbs into one’s own heart, blessing one’s own mind.

[Long mandala offering and Request to Turn the Dharma Wheel]

By actualizing the Dharma, the actual refuge, the Dharma that actually frees oneself from all sufferings and the cause of sufferings in order to actualize the actual refuge, Dharma, within one’s own mind, and for oneself to become the Sangha, and then to become the Buddha, in order to free all beings from suffering and to lead them to peerless happiness, the fully enlightened state. It is impossible for this to happen without relying upon the cause of refuge, the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha—that which is possessed by the outer Buddha, the Sangha, and that which is possessed by other’s minds, Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

Absolute Buddha, the Buddha’s omniscient mind, Buddha’s holy mind, and also the absolute nature of the omniscient mind—then the relative Buddha or the truth of the all-obscuring mind, the embodiment of the absolute Buddha, that is the relative Buddha, sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya.

Then the true path, the wisdom directly perceiving shunyata and the cessation of suffering that is achieved by developing the true path—this is the absolute Dharma. The relative Dharma, or the Dharma that is the truth of the all-obscuring mind, that is the teachings of the three baskets, the essence of the teachings of the graduated path to enlightenment.

The absolute Sangha, who has the absolute Dharma, the actual refuge, the absolute Dharma, the true path, the true cessation of suffering, those who have this absolute Dharma, they are the absolute Sangha—lay or ordained people. The relative Sangha means four ordinary—“ordinary” meaning those who do not have the actual refuge, the Dharma, achieved in their minds, so they are ordinary, they are not arya beings—so, four ordinary members who are living purely in full ordination can do the activities of granting the vows. This is the relative Sangha, from among the two truths, the relative or all-obscuring mind.

However, without having achieved the actual refuge of Dharma in one’s mind, without oneself becoming Sangha, without becoming Buddha, without achieving the three resultant refuges, one cannot perfectly lead or guide sentient beings to liberation—which means the state free from the bondage of karma and disturbing thoughts, which binds oneself to samsara. For great liberation, one must achieve the resultant refuge, the actual refuge, the Dharma. For oneself to become Sangha and Buddha, it is only possible by relying upon the cause of refuge, which exists in the mind of others, the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

So, “Until I achieve enlightenment, I go for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Due to the merits of my listening to the teachings and the other merits I have accumulated, may I achieve the fully enlightened state in order to benefit migratory beings.”

You should feel strong compassion as much as possible for all sentient beings equaling infinite space. On the basis of this then, as you think of migratory beings—“migratory” which means that the sentient beings are not free but are overwhelmed by karma and disturbing thoughts and continuously experience the three types of suffering of samsara. Even if they do not experience the suffering of suffering or the suffering of change, they experience pervasive compounding suffering, being under the control of karma and delusions. They are migrating in samsara through the twelve links—dro wa, migratory beings, migrating in samsara continuously through the twelve links.

Remembering this meaning, feel great compassion in your heart. If you feel great compassion toward all other sentient beings, then there is a reason—the great compassion is not only wishing other sentient beings to be free from suffering and cause, “I want all the sentient beings to be free from all the sufferings and the cause.” This is great compassion. If you feel the root, great compassion, in your own heart, that gives the reason for bodhicitta, and causes you to generate bodhicitta. If there is compassion then there is a reason to achieve the fully enlightened state, this state that is completely pure, having ceased all the mental stains, all the obscurations, complete in all the realizations. This is called the fully enlightened state.

Having great compassion in the heart gives you the reason to achieve the fully enlightened state for the sake of all the migratory beings who are experiencing suffering.

Like this, you feel great compassion, that, “I want to cause all the sentient beings to be free from all suffering and its cause. At the moment I cannot guide even one sentient being to enlightenment, to liberation, and maybe not even lead them to the happiness of future lives. Correctly guiding even one sentient being to temporal happiness in dependence on oneself is not sure. The one who can perfectly guide sentient beings to temporary happiness, ultimate happiness, liberation, and the fully enlightened state is only the Omniscient One. Therefore, there is no other means at all, except myself achieving the omniscient mind, the fully enlightened state. After achieving the omniscient mind, I will be able to perfectly guide all sentient beings. Therefore, I must achieve the state of omniscient mind.”

This thought naturally arises day and night, without effort. Even if you see an enemy, somebody who is harming you, who is badly treating you, criticizing you, even if you see that person, you feel naturally to achieve enlightenment for that sentient being. Even toward your friend, or the stranger, you naturally feel this thought, which is the altruistic mind to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, naturally arising day and night. Like the mother who has a beloved daughter or son in prison, who feels day and night, all the time, the thought to liberate her child from prison, to liberate the child from that problem. She feels it is so unbearable that her child is in prison, and because of that, has the thought to help, to liberate that child by herself, to release him or her from prison. So day and night, this is constantly arising, and then she attempts that.

As the mother feels when her most beloved child falls into the fireplace, into the hole where there is a fire—it is so unbearable, day and night, so unbearable, she can’t stand it without doing something for her child, to liberate that child, to take that child out of the fire. Whatever activity she does, even if she talks, even if she eats, she constantly has this thought, without effort, spontaneously arising, to take her child out of the fire. So if you feel this, if you have such a thought to achieve enlightenment for the sake of other sentient beings, then you have the realization of bodhicitta.

However, at least you should generate creative bodhicitta, the thought to achieve enlightenment in order to benefit all the migratory beings.

“I go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma, the Supreme Assembly, until I achieve enlightenment. Due to the merits of listening to the teachings, from your side, and from the Lama’s side, the merits of explaining, may I achieve enlightenment in order to benefit all migratory beings.”

[Refuge in Tibetan]

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

Within the teachings of the graduated path to enlightenment, the main body is bodhicitta. Then, having bodhicitta, following the bodhisattva’s conduct, the six paramitas, which ripens one’s own mind, and practicing the four factors that ripen the minds of other sentient beings.

So, according to Paramitayana, by proceeding on the five paths, the ten bhumis, one achieves enlightenment. For one who wishes to achieve enlightenment in one lifetime by practicing tantra, Vajrayana, secret mantra—having actualized the common path, completed the preliminaries—the mind renouncing all of samsara, bodhicitta, and the wisdom of shunyata—then if one practices tantra it is possible to achieve enlightenment in one lifetime.

Tantra has four aspects. According to the lower tantras, Kriya and Charya tantra, one seeks to attain a long life of one thousand years and during that time one practices tantra, and becomes enlightened. Taking the great initiation from a qualified vajra master, one trains the mind in the path with signs and the path without signs—creativity or non-creativity.

Then, if one who wishes to achieve enlightenment within a few years, in a short, brief lifetime of this degenerate time, one takes the great Maha-anuttara Yoga Tantra initiation from a qualified vajra master. The four initiations of Maha-anuttara Yoga Tantra  definitely plant the seeds of the four kayas in one’s own mental continuum. Receiving these four Maha-anuttara Yoga Tantra initiations from a qualified vajra master, the mind is ripened. It allows one to practice the path, the two stages—the generation stage and the completion stage.

Again, these practices are done with bodhicitta—the common, general path of bodhicitta. One can train the mind in the generation stage and the completion stage, and then one is able to achieve the unification of no-more-learning, the fully enlightened state in a short life of degenerate time.

“I want to make my life meaningful. I want to benefit other sentient beings. How should I benefit other sentient beings?” These questions are common. The happiness that other sentient beings want is only a question of—for those who don’t talk about the state of omniscient mind, the fully enlightened state, having ceased all the stains, all the obscurations, and having all the realizations, peerless happiness, it is only a question that do not know that such things exist. The reason sentient beings don’t talk about the path to achieve the highest benefit, or happiness, is not because it doesn’t exist. The reason they don’t talk about is because they do not know.

For example, when people go shopping, if they know the best quality, they ask for it—even food for one meal, for one hour of pleasure—if they know the place where they sell the best fruit, the best pizza, the best ice cream, that which has most the flavor, the most taste—those who know that such things exist look for that.

Those who do not know don’t question it. They don’t attempt to look for it. They buy the best quality food or material that they can understand. That which they think is the best quality, they buy. Even though there is better than this, which they don’t know about, they don’t buy it. So like this, in the same way, the reason the majority of the people don’t come to buy the best quality it is not because it doesn’t exist in the shop. So it is similar.

If sentient beings know the path, if they know the state of omniscient mind, peerless happiness, if they know, definitely they will seek it. Not seeking that is due to ignorance. So like this, so many of these new subjects—when we hear Dharma, Buddha’s teachings, there are many things, so many new phenomena—but it is not so much that it only exists today, as that it is new to our mind. It is there, it exists, but it is new to our mind.

However, in the mind of the sentient beings, they have the wish to be free from sufferings and to achieve the highest, longest happiness. As they have a limited understanding of what suffering means, thinking that suffering means only relationship problems or starving, not having a job, the husband left the wife, the wife left the husband, or having a disease. The understanding of suffering is very limited—they do not have the understanding of the whole entire suffering of samsara, only part of it. Therefore, the liberation that they want is very limited. So the understanding of suffering is very limited, and therefore the cessation of suffering that they seek is very limited. What they are seeking is not real, with limited understanding of true suffering, the true cause of suffering, and the cessation, the liberation that they seek does not become complete, it does not become ultimate liberation. They make the mistake in the goal, liberation, that they are seeking.

It’s only that they don’t understand, that they don’t see it—otherwise the wish is to be free from all the sufferings, and all its cause, and to achieve the highest happiness, that is the fully enlightened state.

Therefore, for oneself to lead sentient beings to the fully enlightened state, this is the greatest benefit. But there is no way for oneself to offer this greatest benefit to all sentient beings if one does not have the realization of bodhicitta, if one does not practice bodhicitta.

Therefore, we need to do listening, reflecting, and meditation practice on the bodhicitta teachings. Without doing listening, reflecting, and meditation, and the preliminary stages, the preliminary path, the foundation for bodhicitta, again, one cannot generate bodhicitta. Bodhicitta does not come by talking, “Bodhicitta, bodhicitta.” One has to establish it within one’s heart by following step by step.

So I think stop here.

[Dedications in Tibetan]

Maybe I will do the lung of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s mantra, OK?

Please think, “I’m going to take the oral transmission of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s mantra, the founder of this present teachings, in order to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all mother sentient beings.”

[Oral transmission of Guru Shakyamuni’s name and mantra]

Reciting La ma ton pa chom den de, reciting Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s holy name once has the power to purify negative karma. It is said in the teachings that 84,000 eons of negative karma that have been accumulated get purified. The mantra contains the whole path, the Lesser Vehicle path of method and wisdom, the Paramitayana path of method and wisdom, and the result of the path, the three kayas—Buddha’s holy body, holy speech, and holy mind, which has immeasurable, infinite qualities to benefit sentient beings.

Each time one recites the mantra, it plants a seed in one’s mind, the imprint of the seed is left on the mental continuum, and then sooner or later one is able to fully understand the teachings of the path that is revealed by mantra. One fully understands the meaning of the mantra, which is the whole teaching of Buddha. Then that way, one is able to sooner or later to have the realizations of the path, and it gradually leads to enlightenment. That’s the very short benefits of the mantra.

SOHA—to take the root, to protect, to establish the root of the path within one’s heart. OM—the infinite qualities of Buddha’s holy body, holy speech, and holy mind, the three kayas, and then by actualizing the path of method and wisdom, relating to the lamrim, the graduated path, the first MUNÉ—the graduated path of the lower capable being; the second MUNÉ—the graduated path of the middle capable being; MAHAMUNA-YÉ—the graduated path of the higher capable being. By actualizing these paths within oneself, within one’s own mind, there is no teaching of Buddha that is not included in these three mantras—MUNÉ, MUNÉ, MAHAMUNA-YÉ.

This completely purifies the ordinary impure body, speech, and mind, and transforms it into the completely pure vajra holy body, holy speech, and holy mind, which is signified by the OM—A, U, MA—the three syllables compound together and become OM.

So, thank you very much.