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 Seven: The Eight Mahayana Precepts

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

I thought this evening to explain a little bit about the benefits of taking precepts, and in particular the eight Mahayana precepts, and then to continue the explanation on equanimity.

The basic idea is how to benefit others directly and indirectly by living in the precepts. As I mentioned the other day, it is very important to remember the days, even if you do not live in the precepts, even if you haven’t taken vows. This is very good to remember, and you can easily understand, even without religious faith, without talking about karma and reincarnation, without going over that, even if there is no foundation, faith, reincarnation, and karma.

As I mentioned the other day, when you live in one vow, one precept, not to kill, for example, then every other sentient being does not receive the harm of killing from you. Every other sentient being does not receive the harm of killing from you. The harm that they receive becomes less, and that is happiness. That is happiness, that itself is benefit. Giving materials makes them happy, and explaining the truth, revealing the truth, explaining the cause of happiness, the cause of suffering, what is to be practiced and what is to be abandoned, what is right and wrong—this benefits them. You are benefiting them.

So now, here in this case, by not killing, by stopping the harmful action of killing on the object of sentient beings, by sentient beings not receiving that harm from you, they have happiness, they have peace. That is what they are receiving from you.

If you are living in two precepts, not killing and not stealing, then all the rest of the sentient beings receive less harm from you, and they have more peace. If you live in three precepts, including sexual misconduct, then the rest of the sentient beings receive less harm, and have more peace. If you live in the precept of abandoning the harmful action of telling lies, the rest of the sentient beings receive much less harm from you, and greater happiness. Then comes abandoning taking intoxicants—by living in this precept other sentient beings do not receive harm from you being an alcoholic—direct or indirect harm, now and in the future. They receive much greater peace from you. It is the same thing for the rest.

Then, for example, a doctor needs the complete capacity, the complete understanding of the diagnosis and the methods, not only understanding the disease and its details, but also knowing completely all the methods, how to cure the disease. You need wisdom and method. If these are limited, then to be able to perfectly cure the disease is very difficult. Even though everyone relies upon you, from your side, if your wisdom is limited, if your method is limited, you cannot help everyone perfectly, even if people rely upon you.

So now, similarly, in this case somebody who doesn’t have the complete understanding, the complete capacity, somebody who has only a very gross understanding, who understands only a few means to cure, or only some part of the diagnosis—then they can help a small number of people, not everyone. They cannot help perfectly. Because of not having complete wisdom and method, other sentient beings have to suffer with that disease. So from this example you can see that the doctor has complete responsibility, and the patients are dependent on them.

Now, same as this example, with those other precepts that have to do with attachment—following desire obscures the mind seeing the shortcomings of desire. When the mind is overwhelmed by strong attachment, even if you normally know the shortcomings of desire, at that time you don’t remember the problems that can arise from desire. This obscures the mind from seeing the problems of desire, now and in the future, now and in the long-run. And then, during that time, the mind becomes very gross and superstitious. It is obscured to seeing emptiness, the absolute nature of the I, the absolute nature of existence. That also interferes with the mind feeling the sufferings of others. During that time, you cannot feel the sufferings of others, and the mind becomes very foggy, overwhelmed by attachment, so it is difficult to feel the sufferings of others, and difficult to generate bodhicitta.

Without the realization of shunyata and bodhicitta, there is no way that you can liberate others from all the suffering and its cause, and no way you can lead sentient beings to the peerless happiness of enlightenment.

Even though there are so many sentient beings with whom you have karmic contact, whom you can benefit, because of not having completed the Dharma wisdom and method, all the realizations, you cannot guide them. Even if the sentient beings are relying upon you; even though there’s a connection, you cannot perfectly guide other sentient beings if the mind follows the delusions, if the mind follows the disturbing thoughts. Doing so interferes with the development of your own mind, and then you cannot understand their level of mind, characteristics, and every single means that will fit them, so you cannot perfectly guide them. That’s how oneself following the disturbing thoughts interferes with other sentient beings’ achievement of enlightenment. It interferes with oneself leading other sentient beings to temporary and ultimate happiness.

So, the conclusion. When you are living in the eight precepts, all the rest of the sentient beings don’t receive the eight harms, directly or indirectly. So therefore, all sentient beings receive that much peace, they have that much peace. This happened by depending on you, by depending on your change of action, your change of attitude. Therefore, all the happiness and peace of all the rest of the other sentient beings is dependent on you, dependent on each of us.

Therefore, how much we’re able to develop good heart, some good quality there in our mind—some have more, some people have less. However, there’s something! It is a question of smaller or greater. The more we develop this good heart, the more our actions become subdued, doing less harm to others, and bringing more and more benefit. So all the rest of the sentient beings receive greater and greater benefit or peace. Here, each of us is completely responsible for all sentient beings’ happiness and each of us is completely responsible for eliminating other sentient beings’ suffering.

I think this point, for example, anybody can understand, except if the person is crazy. If you’re going on a road or in the office, if you respect others, if you act humble, if you respect others with body, speech, or mind—in the office or on the road, or in the family, wherever it is—it pleases the other person. If you do the opposite, if you show arrogance to that person on the road or in the office, or the home or wherever it is; if you show arrogance or disrespect, or keep the nose in the sky—is that right?—you know, hanging the nose in space; if you show an arrogant manner and disrespect with the  body, speech, and mind, it upsets the other sentient being. Everybody can understand this, except if the person is crazy.

The other person’s happiness is dependent on how you act toward them. If you act with loving kindness thought, with compassion, if you smile at that person, it makes them happy. If you show them a dislike-face, it upsets that person, and makes them angry. In the family, in the office, in the Dharma center, wherever it is, even in day-to-day life, the happiness of other sentient beings is affected by how you act. Their happiness is completely dependent on you.

Even from this example we can see how we’re completely responsible for the happiness of other sentient beings. This attitude is very important. The reason I repeat this again is that this is very important to feel in everyday life. It is a very simple thing, not like the merely labeled shunyata, or emptiness. If you try to think of merely labeled, it looks like it doesn’t exist—but this is not like that, coming to the point that it doesn’t exist. And then when you try to accept that it exists, it has to be independent, it should exist from its own side. It is not complicated like this. It is not like the subject that the mind can find complicated.

If we keep this idea, if you keep this attitude in your mind and heart continuously, thinking, “I’m responsible for all the sentient beings’ happiness,” then wherever you are, in the family, or office, east or west, wherever, there’s always a thought to not harm others and to benefit them, and to give your happiness to others. So you are always aware of your manners of body, speech, and mind.

If we can bring happiness to others, those whom we see in everyday life, those with whom we eat in everyday life, those whose faces we see after we wake up, day and night, if we are able to bring happiness to them, and gradually if we are able to develop the good heart with them, then we’re able to bring happiness into the world, into the minds of all sentient beings.

This is easy to understand, and the way sentient beings receive so much happiness by living in the precepts is the same. That’s the basic thing. So this is something that we can easily understand even if we don’t believe in reincarnation or karma. How it is extremely important, and how from this everybody can understand how we are completely responsible and how it is extremely important to develop the good heart and change the bad attitude, to abandon bad attitudes and actions, such as these nonvirtuous actions.

Taking the eight Mahayana precepts has great benefit according to the time. It is mentioned in the sutra text called The Victory of Concentration, ting nge dzin gyalpo, that a person with a calm mind who offers food, drinks, umbrellas,  par den, which is one particular flag, part of the offerings— and garlands of light offerings, which means many lights lined up like when you look from an airplane at the city at nighttime, garlands of light offerings, towards many millions of Buddhas, cha wa tak tik—there are ways of counting but I don’t know exactly, I don’t remember, for eons equaling the number of the sand grains of the river Ganges. One explanation counts it also as the sand of the Pacific Ocean. A person living in one precept, day and night, during the teachings of the One Gone to Bliss, which means Buddha—anyway, when the teaching of Buddha degenerates, this merit is much greater.

What it is saying is that in a bad time, a very evil time such as this, the teaching of Buddha has degenerated, and if you live in one precept for one day, this has much greater benefit than making countless offerings with a calm mind of food, drink, umbrellas, banners, lights, and flowers to millions of buddhas for as many eons as there are grains of sand in the river Ganges, or the Pacific Ocean. It looks like the latter should have much greater merit, but actually, in reality, the person who lives in the precepts for one day in this very difficult time, this very degenerate time, this very evil time, has much greater merit than the other one.

Therefore there is no question that in this incredibly degenerate time, if one takes the Mahayana ordination, reviving and purifying, if one protects these vows even just once in life, the merit one receives equals space, equals the infinite sky. As one is able to receive that much merit, that much one will experience perfect happiness.

Then, having a perfect body, having nothing wrong with all the organs, the senses, having all the needs, of a higher race, handsome, beautiful, with all qualities, and with perfect surroundings, all the wealth that one wishes, perfect surroundings, with people who are helping wherever one wishes, obedient.

However, if there’s much good karma accumulated, if one continuously attempts to accumulate extensive merit, even in this life, now and in the future, especially in later life, then in the lives after this, until one becomes liberated from samsara, one always receives the body of a happy migratory being—whatever perfection that’s needed, one receives. Then, highest enlightenment.

People who have much merit, much good karma that they have created in the past, now, just by thinking, just by the thought coming, the wish coming, things naturally happen, even without asking others. Things naturally happen, like somebody arranging it, like somebody knowing what you want. Actually, it’s your good karma and merit that has been accumulated in this life and in the past. Who arranges your good karma? Your own thoughts—the virtuous thoughts that you have generated in the past.

You get surprised when miracles happen, when good things and success happen without expectation. Simply by wishing it, things happen. All this is due to having accumulated good karma. So actually, even though people don’t talk about karma, or use the language of karma, or of cause and effect, they do talk about good luck and bad luck. Even the person who never heard Buddha’s teachings, who has no understanding of them, who never heard any religious teaching about karma, normally in their daily lives talk about good and bad luck. When they don’t succeed in the football match, when they don’t win the football gambling or the lottery, or when they have a lot of difficulties when they travel, they talk about bad luck. And when everything runs very smoothly, when they are able to climb over the snow mountains going the difficult way where there is no road, if they are able to climb, then they talk about good luck. Actually they are talking about karma. They don’t use the word “karma,” but they are talking all the time about karma.

The person who succeeds, who wins all the football matches or the lottery, or the horse race or whatever it is, is a very lucky person. That means the person has created much good karma for success. The person has created much luck. But the problem is they don’t know how to create luck. Sentient beings want the result of good karma, they want the success of the good karma, success of the luck, but the problem is they don’t know how to create luck. The result that they expect is happiness but the cause that they create in practice, with their actions, is nonvirtue, due to ignorance, due to not having Dharma wisdom, or knowing what is the cause of happiness and suffering.

In this evil time, this degenerate time, if we are able to take this Mahayana ordination, reviving and purifying once, even just once, it is extremely fortunate and has greater meaning than having found a wish-granting jewel equaling the number of atoms on all of this earth.

Now, comparing like this, we can understand. Even if we don’t understand the wish-granting jewel, we can understand diamonds or dollars. If we own diamonds or dollars equaling the number of atoms of this much earth, but if we do not practice morality at all, then this much dollars, this many diamonds can’t stop the negative karma that has been accumulated in the past, and cannot stop rebirth in the lower realms, or the rebirth of suffering migratory beings. After death, that alone cannot help us to not be reborn into the realm of the suffering migratory beings. This alone cannot cause us to receive the body of the happy migratory being.

Even if we don’t own even one dollar or one diamond, leave aside the eight Mahayana precepts, if we practiced even one precept in this life, it would protect our own life. When death happens, it will protect us from the rebirth of the suffering migratory beings, and that becomes the cause to receive the body of the happy migratory being in the next lives—not just one life, but many lives. Even if we do not own one dollar or one diamond, if we practices, if we lived in precepts, practiced morality, we will be able to succeed in all the temporary happiness and ultimate happiness.

Is the number of people or the ants on this earth more? The number of the ants or the people?

[Answer inaudible]

Yeah? Why is this?

[Reply inaudible]

Why are the number of human beings very little when you compare them to the number of ants. The number of people, for example, in Australia or America, the number of people and animals, shells. Which is more?

[Reply inaudible]

Sorry, snails. The number of the people and the number of snails. You didn’t go to the beach? Huh?

[Reply inaudible]

On the rocks, in whole piles, in the sand, shells, shellfish. So, in America, the number of people are more or shellfish? Australia? I think it’s a very good meditation. This point, I think, is very important, a very, very important meditation, just to watch the ants and the number of people, then shellfish…

[Tape ends]

…the very, very tiny creature that stays on the leaf, this tiny white one—what do you call it? The tiny, white one that stays on the flowers, on the leaves, and is green. Aphids. Even that is unbelievable, in the very small flowers, in the plants, in the wood, especially the old wood—it is so easy for them to be born.

Compare by the numbers. If you don’t compare, and just look at people, it looks like it is so easy to be born. It looks like a lot of human beings, but if you compare—perhaps you are thinking of birth control pills, but think of the time before birth control pills were made. If you compare, it shows that to be born as a human being is more difficult. If you compare with the animals, the creatures, even with just one type, generally in the world the number of human beings is very little. That shows that to be born as a human being is very difficult, but to be born as an ant is very easy, to be born as a chicken is very easy, to be born as a cockroach is very easy. I think this is a very good meditation, just this point.

Then, among the human beings, those who have received a perfect human rebirth—who have received a human body qualified with the eight freedoms and the ten richnesses—is very, very rare. Being a human being doesn’t mean having a perfect human body, having all the eight freedoms and ten richnesses. We see so many suffering beings and so few happy beings, so this describes the minds of sentient beings.

These teachings are telling us that now in our everyday lives, if we do not watch our mind and take care of our mind, with remembrance and awareness, if we do not apply our body, speech, and mind in virtue, it is very difficult to be born as a human being and very easy to be born as one of those suffering beings—a narak being, a preta being, an animal being. Even one type of creature is unbelievable, uncountable, even at one place they are very difficult to count, even the ants just at Kopan are very difficult to count. The preta and narak beings are like this.

So there is no question about those who do not practice, those who do not know how to accumulate, how to practice Dharma, to practice virtue and to abandon nonvirtue, who don’t know and who don’t practice, no question. Even if we are trying to practice the virtuous thought, it is very rare. Even if we are able to generate a virtuous thought, it’s very rare. Not all the time—mostly nonvirtuous thought, mostly attachment, and then the other ones, anger, jealous mind, pride, ignorance—many other disturbing thoughts arise.

It is so difficult because from beginningless lives our mind has been habituated with delusion, with the disturbing thoughts, therefore, it is so easy to be selfish, to be a friend of selfishness. It is difficult to renounce the self-­cherishing thought. So it is difficult to protect the mind away from ignorance, anger, and attachment. The attitude is like this, so it is unbelievably easy for the nonvirtuous thought to arise—the nonvirtuous thought arises like rainfall, like a waterfall, uncontrollably.

There is no question about those other sentient beings, those lower beings, the devas, the human beings—there is no question about those who do not know Dharma, do not practice Dharma—it is extremely difficult for a virtuous thought to arise for them, a thought unstained by ignorance, anger and attachment. Therefore, there are uncountable numbers of suffering beings, migratory beings—even the spider eggs are many hundreds, she carries all those eggs. It’s unbelievable.

If you think like this, if you look at those natures, and at the suffering of other sentient beings, all these things came from the mind. All those that we see in the ocean, in the ground, in space, in the house, in people’s bodies, even in human beings’ bodies, in the animals, worms, in the food, the octopus, what do you call this? In the restaurant? The lobster, the red one that they bring in a big dish—in the restaurant they keep them in water, and then the person comes along and chooses whichever he wants to eat, and the hotel waiter takes it away and puts it in the boiling hot water. All these things are the result of the unsubdued mind. The conclusion is that karma is very important. The essence of the Buddha’s teachings is to subdue the mind, all the emphasis is on the mind. As it is explained in the Bodhicaryavatara, “What is the need of so many other practices, so many other conducts, except the practice of protecting the mind.” That is why the Buddha said to not accumulate even one nonvirtuous action, but to live in perfect virtue. Subduing our own mind is the teaching of the Buddha.

If we are able to subdue the mind, then we are able to protect our karma, and abandon negative karma and practice virtue. If we do not subdue our own mind, then we cannot abandon negative karma. So, continuously every present life, every minute of life, watch the mind to protect the karma. Even if we know the entire teaching of Buddha, sutra and tantra, billions of thousands of words, spoken or not, if we do not take care of this point, watching the mind and protecting karma, if this most important point is missed, not taken care of, left out, then nothing happens. Now and in the future the birth that we experience, the birth that we will take after this life—everything will be undesirable—it’s not what we expect, it’s not what we wish. Then also, we cannot benefit other sentient beings. It is very difficult to benefit them. We cannot benefit other sentient beings extensively.

I’ll stop here.

[Dedication prayers]