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 Sixteen: The Suffering of Samsara

Generate creative bodhicitta, thinking, “I must achieve the omniscient mind for the sake of all the mother sentient beings who equal infinite space, who have been kind from beginningless time, from beginningless rebirths. Therefore, I am going to listen to the teaching of the graduated path to enlightenment.”

Also clarifying the righteous conduct of listening to the teaching according to the traditional practice of the lineage lamas.

I thought maybe to go into a little bit more detail on the graduated entrance to samsara. This is our own experience, but we are not aware. It is said by Lama Tsongkhapa in the Hymns of the Experience of the Graduated Path to Enlightenment, that if we do not attempt to realize the shortcomings of true suffering, the wish seeking liberation won’t happen.

This is the same thing that I mentioned yesterday—if we do not recognize or attempt to find out what the disease is and how the disease is harmful, there is no strong wish to find the medicine to cure it. So, if we do not attempt to think of the shortcomings of true suffering, the wish to seek liberation does not come. As the wish to seek liberation does not happen, the person is not liberated from suffering. If we do not generate the wish to seek liberation continuously, then just as we have been suffering in samsara from beginningless rebirths, we will experience suffering by circling in samsara without end.

Also it is extremely important to attempt to understand the shortcomings of all the suffering of samsara. Not just a part of it, but all of it. In that way, the liberation that we seek will be liberation from all suffering. Otherwise, if our understanding of suffering of samsara is limited, then the liberation that we seek will be limited. It doesn’t become complete liberation. It does not become actual, ultimate liberation.

Even if you don’t experience that problem, even if you are able to stop experiencing the suffering of suffering or the suffering of change, even if you live in the realm of form, where there is no suffering of suffering, or the formless realm where there’s not even the suffering of change, where you live in equanimity, nothingness, infinite sky, infinite consciousness, the tip of samsara—even in this case, because you don’t have the mind renouncing the pervasive compounding suffering, being under the control of karma and delusions, when that karma is finished, other karma gets ripened. So again you are reborn in the realm of desire and experience again the suffering of suffering and the suffering of change.

Therefore, to make it clear—as long as you don’t have the mind renouncing pervasive compounding suffering, realizing the shortcomings of that, there is no way to be completely liberated from all the suffering of samsara. No matter how much you think, “I am practicing the path to achieve liberation,” no matter how much you believe in that, how many eons you live in a solitary place, not eating, not meeting anyone, not talking to anybody, it is finished just by mere belief. There is no way to achieve ultimate liberation as long as you don’t have the mind renouncing all the suffering of samsara, which includes pervasive compounding suffering. This is the most important thing.

In this way, by realizing the shortcomings of this suffering, you can generate the wish seeking the unmistaken liberation. In other words, unmistaken, ultimate liberation.

Lama Tsongkhapa said, “If we do not reflect on the all-arising ways of entering into samsara, the graduated ways of entering samsara, we don’t know how to cut off the root of samsara. We should cherish the understanding, we should practice, we should rely upon the aversion, the regret, and the mind renouncing the samsara. Then we should cherish the understanding, what binds us to samsara.”

Lama Tsongkhapa wrote like this, “I, the yogi, practiced in this way, and I beg you, I ask you, the seeker of the liberation, to practice in this way.”

You have gone through the outlines and done the meditations on true sufferings, so you have some idea of the shortcomings of the true suffering of samsara.

Now, reflect on the graduated entrance into samsara; in other words, the graduated evolution of samsara. How you enter in samsara, from one to one. The meaning of all-arising might be—this is just my own guess—all-arising could be the disturbing thoughts, karma, and from that arises the whole entire suffering of samsara. From where? From the disturbing thoughts and karma. So that could be the meaning of all-arising. “All” is the whole entire suffering that arises from karma and disturbing thoughts. This could also have this meaning—what arises all the time is the disturbing thoughts and karma that is motivated by the disturbing thoughts, and what arises from that is only suffering. So all the time, from these two, all the time only suffering arises. It could have that meaning.

Maybe I’ll go over this, then you will get a more detailed idea, so when I explain the Wheel of Life, go over the painting, it will be easy to understand.

Understanding the suffering of samsara, if you do not wish to experience this, then what you should do is abandon the cause. Then, in order to abandon the cause of samsara, you should recognize the cause. That is the all-arising. So that has two, karma and disturbing thoughts. The principal one, the main one, is the disturbing thoughts.

Why is the principal one the disturbing thoughts, not karma? In the fertilized field, even if you have planted a seed, if it does not have water and minerals, even though the seed was planted it cannot give a result. This is said in the teachings, the Pramanavarttika, this teaching called Logic, which is meant to develop the intelligence, the analytical mind, and the wisdom. This text is studied in order to extensively, deeply understand other subjects—all other Buddhist teachings, other subjects—to be able to analyze them well, to be able to debate well, and then in this way to get a deep, unshakeable understanding, an unmistaken, unshakeable understanding.

It is mentioned in this teaching that when you have crossed over, away from the craving of the samsara, the disturbing thoughts, you cannot throw karma any more. You don’t create the karma to take another [rebirth in] samsara. If you have crossed away from the craving of samsara, you don’t create any more karma to take another samsara. So, the simultaneous-born condition is finished.

In the case of a person who has accumulated the karma to be born as an animal, a narak or a preta, before that person experiences the karma, if they achieve liberation, that karma becomes empty. It cannot bring the result, it cannot give the result of birth as an animal or in those other realms.

It is said in the Bodhicaryavatara, by the great bodhisattva Shantideva, “Even if the devas, the asuras, and the non-devas all become an enemy to me, they cannot lead me into the fire of the unbearable suffering state of the narak. But the enemy, this powerful delusion—even if Mount Meru, the great mountain, gets destroyed, it doesn’t leave even the dust.”

What he is saying is that even if all sentient beings—devas, non-devas, human beings—become our enemy, none of them can lead us into the fire of the unbearable suffering state of the naraks. But delusion throws us into the naraks in one second. In one second, as the anger arises, already the karma is created to go into the naraks. The delusions, such as anger, throw us in one second into the naraks.

Even if all sentient beings become our enemy, they cannot bring us into suffering in the next life. But if we meet this enemy, the disturbing thought, it makes us experience heavy, intensive strong suffering, and it destroys us. What the delusion, the enemy delusion, does to us is nothing other than this. So it is definite what the delusion does to us.

The definition of delusion, disturbing thoughts, are the thoughts that make our mind unpeaceful, or in other words, unsubdued.

The definition of attachment, for example, like a person who is healthy, who has a leftover disease. There are some diseases that the person has when they are healthy, but if they eat the wrong diet the disease comes out, like hepatitis. A person has not completely recovered from having something, and by eating something the disease comes out, and immediately the pain comes. Like that, the disturbing thought, attachment, is—how to say, unconscious? What’s the word? Subconscious, latent, subconscious. It is there in the form of an imprint, latent. It is very difficult to separate this from the mental continuum, like oil on paper. When oil gets on paper, it is very difficult to separate it from the paper. Seeing the beautiful object, a man or a woman, whatever we think is beautiful, whatever we might interpret as beautiful—beautiful houses, beautiful beach, beautiful sunshine, various objects, food and clothing, ornaments, whatever beautiful object we see, it’s like the wrong food that makes the diseases that are there come out, rise up. It’s  the same thing, these objects—I don’t know the word, procrastinating? Procrastinating the imprint. When you put baking powder in the dough and then the water meets the seed—activating, that’s right. These things activate the attachment. Then it gets actualized, it rises up.

Then you want to look at it, you want to touch it, you want to enjoy it. The thought painfully arises, the thought to want to touch it, to look at it, to enjoy it. It painfully arises. A kind of tightness arises. That disturbing thought is attachment. How to do the practice, to control the attachment…

[Tape ends]

…the attachment becomes visible, actualized, which means it becomes visible. The visible attachment stops all other thoughts, all other gross thoughts. What is there during that time is only attachment, so the visible attachment stops other gross thoughts and superstitions. Then, unbearable attachment rises. So we should immediately try to recognize this, then we should apply the remedy and also make a determination, “Whenever this attachment arises, I’m going to practice the remedy.” We should make the preparation and decision like this.

If you are going to kill, if someone called “Robert” or something like that is the person you are going to kill, then first you should know exactly all his figures—what he looks like, his face, everything—you should know exactly without being mixed with another person. You should make sure that you definitely understand. Then when you have that understanding, when you recognize that, then do whatever you need to do—using an atomic bomb or a spear. Kadampa Geshe Ben Gungyel said, “How I practice Dharma is, at the door of the delusions, I am holding a remedy, a short spear.” This means he is always prepared, he is always there with the remedy. If there is an enemy, a thief, who is going to come, he waits at the door, at the gate, with the spear. Then as soon as he recognizes him, as soon as he comes, without waiting he puts the spear on the head.

Same thing—always hold the spear, the remedy, all the time, at the door of the delusions. As soon as the delusion comes, then destroy it.

I’ll stop here.


There are some people who need it, so this is the lung of the prayer confessing the negative karma, the downfalls, by reciting the Thirty-Five Buddhas’ holy names. Think, “I’m going to take the lung of Confession of Downfalls in order to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings.”