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 Twelve: The Cause of Happiness

[Inaudible question from student]

The last one, I think it’s very important, but I didn’t get it.

[Inaudible comment from student]

It depends on what you mean by free will, it depends on your interpretation of free will. If having free will means independent, there’s no such thing. If the free will is a dependent arising, it exists.

If you are expecting a free will that doesn’t exist, that’s something else, like expecting milk from a horn, like oil from sand, like pressing sand trying to get oil.

[Inaudible reply]

Yeah. But if free will is dependent arising free will, then you can make that, because it is a dependent arising. The free will that you like to have, which is dependent arising, that one you can make. That one you can make with your mind, you can make it exist, you can make it be experienced, you can make it accomplish; but the free will that you’re looking for, independent free will, which doesn’t exist, that is like trying to drink mirage water. Like running toward the mirage water to drink it. It’s like the thirsty person running toward the mirage water believing that it is real water and wanting to drink it. So, it depends on the interpretation of free will.

[Inaudible reply]

It is like that, but it is not only that.

I can say every minute that we create good karma, the causes for happiness that we desire, that we would like to enjoy. When we create good karma we are creating free will, because happiness is what we want, so by creating good karma, we get what we want.

[Inaudible reply]

Yes, it can depend on that. But you can develop it. It can depend on past good karma but in this life, while you have all the necessary conditions to create much more extensive good karma, it gives you the chance to have greater success and happiness, temporary or ultimate, whatever it is.

[Inaudible comment]

Without Dharma wisdom, it is very difficult. What I can say is that it is very difficult.

[Inaudible comment]

Yes, isn’t that? Or somebody would like to have free will to have suffering? Except if somebody likes free will for suffering, then for that person free will is different.

[Inaudible comment]

Yeah, you mean not what it appears, but what you wish to do?

[Inaudible comment]

What you wish to do and what you want to do. Oh, I see. That I missed. Because that’s a word I never use, so that’s why I didn’t understand. What?

[Inaudible comment]

Yeah, there’s always the problem of what you wish. Yes, I think sometimes maybe people who have wisdom, who are trying to practice Dharma, who have some understanding of Dharma, what is the right thing to practice, what is the wrong thing to be abandoned, who wish for the best thing and want to do the best thing, should create the causes for that, the highest goal, the most beneficial thing. For that kind of person, what they wish for is what they should do, which is similar. But for most people, what the person wishes and what they should do are opposites, so that’s a problem due to lack of Dharma wisdom—what the person wishes and what the person should do are contradictory.

[Inaudible comment]

This person’s wishes and what they should do are contradictory. There is much less opportunity for free will because of the lack of understanding and the different wishes are the opposite of what the person should do.

[Inaudible comment]

Huh? What do they do? Which the person chooses?

[Inaudible comment]              

It could be hallucinated free will. Why hallucinated free will? While the person is creating the cause of the problems during those times they are happy because nobody stopped them from doing it. Nobody stopped them from creating the cause of problems. Whatever the person wants to do, whether they want to commit suicide, that person thinks that this is the right thing to do. In the view of that person they think that’s the right thing to do, this moment, this is the only thing, this is the only solution—that’s what they think. And if somebody stopped them, they may think their freedom is stopped. But they don’t see the negative karma of committing suicide, killing oneself—the heavy karma they don’t see, because they don’t see the result. They are ignorant of the result, unable to discriminate that this is the cause of suffering. What they want is happiness, but actually that’s not the method, so that’s hallucinated, that’s ignorant in terms of means. Their interpretation is free will.

According to their own ignorance, they interpret that if nobody stops them, that is free will. If people stop them from creating negative karma, then they think they don’t have free will. That’s the interpretation from their ignorance; it is not the interpretation of free will from wisdom. Do you understand? So I think it’s like that.

Now the point is this. Is the free will that is interpreted by ignorance what we want or not? If we don’t want that, then we should not think that way—we should choose the free will that by definition is done by wisdom, not by ignorance, if we want happiness.

Student: Can we affect other people’s karma?

Rinpoche: You can affect it, yes. If somebody is sick, you can give them medicine, you can cure them, but that is also part of the other person’s karma, the result of their good karma. Not finding anybody to help or even if there are people helping, nothing curing the person’s disease—this is also their karma.

[Inaudible comment]

Yes, the reason why we are together is karma, there’s a collective karma.

[Inaudible comment]

Yes, yes, collective karma. Due to collective karma this world exists.

To repeat again, as I mentioned, we can experience dependent arising free will, we can create the cause, while we have so much free will, so much opportunity to purify obstacles and negative karmas and to accumulate much merit, to have happiness in the future lives up to enlightenment, by taking all the opportunities to create good karma. In this way there is free will and you will achieve the result of happiness that you are wishing for. But, if you think you have free will to experience happiness without depending on the mind, without depending on the creator of the free will, there’s no free will to experience. Analyze and check.

[Inaudible comment]

I think the best way to enjoy is without desire. The best enjoyment is without desire. The best enjoyment is without desire.

[Inaudible comment]

No, you can experience happiness with nothing wrong. To experience happiness does not depend on having desire.

Maybe there’s one or two questions that I can answer.

[Inaudible comments]

This afternoon the discourse was planned to be on the twelve links, so maybe you may get some idea from that. The cessation of the cause of suffering is ultimate happiness. The cessation of the cause of suffering includes the three poisonous minds, ignorance, anger and attachment. Cessation, the ever-release from the attachment, or the cessation of attachment, the cause of suffering, is the ultimate happiness, nirvana. The being who has achieved nirvana has attained the blissful state of peace, the cessation of attachment. That is the cessation of attachment, so that means for that arya being, that arhat, it is very clear that they don’t have desire and they are in the blissful state of peace, everlasting happiness.

Same thing with Buddha—the one who has complete happiness is the Buddha, the one who has complete enjoyment is the Buddha, the one who has completed enjoyment or happiness, with nothing more to gain, by completing the cause, merit, and having ceased all the mental stains, the obstacles. That happened by ceasing all the mental stains, which includes attachment, desire. The Buddha doesn’t have the slightest desire or attachment, but has peerless happiness, complete enjoyment.

[Inaudible comment]

Yes, what you are talking about, according to experience, appears like that. It appears like that to the person who didn’t have the experience of practicing renouncing desire, renouncing worldly concern. What you are talking about is according to ordinary people who didn’t have the experience of practicing renouncing desire, so it appears like that.

But the people who have the experience of practicing renouncing worldly concern, they understand, they see greater happiness by renouncing worldly concern than by having worldly desire.

[Inaudible comment]

It appears like that; that without desire there is no happiness. It appears like that for the common people who do not have the experience of actually practicing Dharma. The reason it appears like this is because that person’s every enjoyment—why it appears like that and why the person makes the definition, what makes it to appear to them, what makes them think this way, “Without desire I cannot experience happiness,” is because in their life all the time, in everyday life every enjoyment has been done out of desire. That has been their life, almost every single thing, every sense pleasure, is done out of desire. So it is understandable, according to that mental state, how their life has been. From the side of the person who didn’t have the experience of renouncing desire, it appears like that, “Without desire how can I experience happiness?”

But, after meeting Dharma, with Dharma wisdom, when we practice, when we renounce desire, as we get the experience, the happiness is not on the surface. The real happiness is inside the heart, renouncing the desire really joyfully in the heart, not on the surface. In some ways it can be said to be kind of artificial. By understanding Dharma, what Dharma means, how to practice Dharma, we have much more happiness. We have greater happiness by renouncing desire. This is talking about a different experience of practicing or not practicing.

The nature of the mind is clear light. The mind is dependent arising, depending on the aggregates, on which the I is labeled. The mind is colorless, shapeless and formless; its nature is clear and it perceives objects. Therefore, our mind, doesn’t exist from its own side—that is the absolute nature of the mind and that is what clear light means. This is what is called the potential of Buddha, the race of the Buddha or the seed of the Buddha. Some say that this is pure because it is not oneness with the disturbing thought obscurations. The nature of the mind is not oneness with the disturbing thoughts of ignorance, anger and attachment. The nature of the mind is temporarily obscured but it is not oneness with the disturbing thought obscurations.

The rest of the phenomena—for our mind, the sentient beings’ mind, the nature of things appears to be not merely imputed by the thought on the base, but as if they are existing from their own side. We don’t see everything as if it’s merely labeled—we see it as unlabeled, independent, and as if this is their nature. When we don’t analyze our perceptions, without meditating on emptiness, without analyzing, if we just examine, if we just look at the appearance, all of these objects that we see now, all of these objects that have been merely imputed appear to exist from their own side. We believe this is their nature. When our mind is not aware that they are dependent arising and emptiness, and we have this appearance that things exist from their own side, we think it is their nature. We think this is how they are in reality.

According to reality, what we think is their nature—that the way things appear is as existing from their own side—this is a complete hallucination. It is completely contradictory to the nature of things which is reality. The way things appear to us is as existing from their own side. We believe this is their nature, but this does not exist in the nature of things. This does not exist. Things appear to us to exist from their own side and we believe this is the nature of things, but they do not exist at all in their nature. So, by that it is pure.

In other words, the imprint left on the mental continuum by the ignorance of true existence projects and actualizes true existence on the things that we merely impute. So, this is a decoration—a creation that our consciousness, our mind puts there—that things are really existing from their own side. Things don’t exist in their nature. By that we say that these things do not exist like this in their nature. Why? Because their nature is empty; their nature is emptiness.

The nature of things is emptiness, which is not like ordinary emptiness. The nature of the tea in the mug is emptiness, which is not the ordinary absence of tea in the mug—not having tea, the tea not existing even in the name in the mug, the absence of tea, not that. That is not the nature of the tea. If there is the nature of the tea, there should be tea. Having the nature of the tea and the tea not existing—that you can understand is not possible.

The nature of the tea is emptiness. This is not the absence of the tea, the tea not existing in the mug. There is tea in the mug, so now, the nature of the tea that is emptiness has to be something else. The leaves that are used for the tea are put in the water, and produce the energy or the color, or the taste, and that is put into the mug. Seeing that base, such as color and taste, becomes the condition, and by seeing that liquid our thought labels “tea.” That’s how the tea exists, as merely imputed on that liquid. Therefore, there’s no tea existing from its own side. That is the nature of the tea, which is emptiness, empty of existing from its own side. This nature of the tea, which is unstained by true existence, the tea existing by its own nature, the tea existing from its own side—that is what is called pure. So it’s like that with everything.

[Question and comment]

While there’s an alarm clock there on the table, then you say this alarm is empty—it means it doesn’t exist from its own side. That’s right.

[Inaudible comment]

Yes, we can live in emptiness. The reason that I used the example that the mug is empty of tea and the emptiness of the tea was meant to clarify what emptiness means. The nature of the tea, which means the emptiness of the tea. In Tibetan, tong pa nyi, emptiness only, empty, tong pa, and “ness” is nyi. This usually means to cut off something. What it cuts off is the ordinary emptiness—meaning that there is no tea. That is what it cuts off. So something else has to be empty. Nyi cuts off the ordinary emptiness, the absence of tea. While the tea is there, something about it has to be empty. Do you understand? Something there is empty.

The meaning of the word that comes before nyi, “empty” refers to the tea that appears to exist from its own side, as independent. This is empty, because first you see the liquid in the mug, then you say, “Oh, there is tea.” Like this, the tea exists as merely imputed on that particular liquid, which has such a taste and color that you asked for. Do you get the idea? Emptiness.

[Inaudible comment]

Right, that’s right, perfect. That’s right. In reality, if you think about evolution, how the tea comes into existence, from there you see the reality, you understand? You can have some idea of the reality. How the reality is opposite to the way the tea appears to you after you have imputed it.

Maybe today we will do a little bit of meditation—sitting, then maybe walking, practicing awareness, and meditation on dependent arising, which is meditation on emptiness with the action of walking.

Before this, maybe we will have the Manjushri lung, the oral transmission of Manjushri’s mantra. All of the Buddha’s wisdom is manifested in the holy body of the deity, this particular aspect, having one face and two arms, golden in color, the legs crossed in vajra position, having a youthful aspect, looking at sentient beings with loving kindness and with a compassionate smile. He is adorned with divine scarves, dress, underskirt and ornaments, and with all the holy signs of the Buddha—the sambhogakaya’s holy signs and holy exemplifications. His left hand is in the mudra of expounding the Dharma, holding the stem of a lotus between the two fingers. In his right hand is a sword and in the left hand is a lotus that opens against the ear. On top of the lotus in the left hand is holding the Prajnaparamita scripture, radiating [light].

[Discussion about translation]

Then think, I’m going to take the oral transmission of the prayer, Praise to Manjushri, and the mantra in order to achieve enlightenment quicker and quicker.

[Oral transmission in Tibetan]

Praise to Manjushri

Homage to my guru and protector, Manjushri!

You, whose intelligence shines forth as the sun, unclouded by delusions or traces of ignorance,
Who hold to your heart a scriptural text symbolic of seeing all things as they are,
Who teaches in sixty ways, with the loving compassion of a mother for her only son,
To all creatures caught in the prison of samsara,
Confused in the darkness of their ignorance, overwhelmed by their suffering.

You, whose dragon-thunder–like proclamation of Dharma arouses us from the stupor of our delusions
And frees us from the iron chains of our karma,
Who wields the sword of wisdom hewing down suffering wherever its sprouts appear,
Clearing away the darkness of all ignorance;
You, whose princely body is adorned with the one hundred and twelve marks of a Buddha,
Who has completed the stages achieving the highest perfections of a bodhisattva,
Who has been pure from the beginning.
To you, oh Manjushri, I bow.

OM AH RA PA TSA NA DHI [Three times]

You can think that nectar beams are emitting from the Guru Manjushri, purifying all the obscurations, all the ignorance—the ignorance of true existence and the ignorance of not knowing Dharma, the ignorance of not knowing karma, the ignorance not knowing the absolute nature. You and all sentient beings are purified of all this ignorance and all the obscurations with the mantra.

Now recite together, OM AH RA PA TSA NA DHIH DHI DHI DHI DHI DHI …

Now we’ll begin the meditation with refuge, bodhicitta, and the mandala, and then we’ll meditate.

Think, “I and mother sentient beings equaling the infinite sky so far have been wandering in samsara, suffering, and this is due to the mistake of not having realized the two truths. At this time I have received a perfect human rebirth, and I have all the necessary conditions to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all the kind mother sentient beings: the perfect human rebirth and meeting the virtuous teacher and the teachings of the Buddha.”

You can think of the Mahayana virtuous teacher that you have met, that you can meet, who can reveal the complete path. Think, “I have met the Mahayana teaching, and I must make it possible to achieve enlightenment by realizing the two truths. So therefore, I am going to meditate on the two truths. Please, Guru Manjushri, who is the embodiment of the guru, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, grant blessings to me and all sentient beings right now on this seat, at this moment; grant blessings to realize the two truths.”

Refuge and bodhicitta, mandala offering, then meditate.

I go for refuge, until I am enlightened,
To the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Highest Assembly.
From the virtuous merit that I collect
By practicing giving and other perfections,
May I attain the state of a buddha
To be able to benefit all sentient beings.
  [Three times in English, then in Tibetan]

[Mandala offering in Tibetan]

Please make this request by offering the mandala to Guru Manjushri,

Due to the merits of offering the mandala to you, Guru Manjushri, and all the three time merits accumulated by me and by other sentient beings, I’m requesting you to make it possible for great bliss to arise—the transcendental wisdom of the simultaneously born bliss—within me and all sentient beings, and to cut off the stain of the hallucination that has arisen from the ignorance holding things as truly existent, which is abiding within me and all other sentient beings. May I and all sentient beings cut off this hallucination, this stain of the ignorance of true existence, and cut off the doubts, cut off the cage of doubts, and be able to quickly become like you.


Now again recite the mantra and do the purification.

OM AH RA PA TSA NA DHI [Several times]

Think that all the obscurations and all the ignorance are completely purified within our own mind, and in the minds of all sentient beings. All the obscurations, all the ignorance not knowing the absolute nature of the I, and the ignorance not knowing karma are completely purified.

Now Manjushri melts into light and descends above your crown. Manjushri melts into light and absorbs into your own heart, your own mind.

Think, “I have received all the immeasurable qualities of the holy body, holy speech and holy mind, all the wisdoms, clearly seeing all existence, all the two truths, directly perceiving all the two truths at the same time.”

Now think, as you are meditating, feeling your mind is oneness with Manjushri’s holy mind, now slowly think, question yourself, “What am I doing? I’m sitting, I am meditating. Why do I say I’m meditating, I’m sitting?” There’s no reason at all except the base, the aggregates on which the I is imputed, the consciousness is meditating, that’s all. There’s no other reason. There’s no reason why you say “I’m sitting” except that the aggregates on which the I is imputed, the body, is doing the action of sitting. That’s all. This is the definition that “I am sitting.”

Now place the mind in this state. One part of the mind is aware of the physical body sitting, that this is the reason, and a part of the mind looks at what happened with the self, the I, the appearance of the I. What happened when you put the reason that the mind is meditating, the body is sitting, that’s all, nothing else? “I’m meditating, I’m sitting.” At the same time, while you are meditating this way, a part of your mind looks at the effect on this I. What happened with the appearance of the I? Is there any change in that or not? Check!

“Where am I? I’m now at Kopan doing the meditation course.” Why do you say, “I’m at Kopan”? There’s no reason at all except your aggregates are here at Kopan. No other reason at all except that the aggregates on which you’re imputed are here at Kopan.

Whenever the mind gets distracted from practicing awareness of the dependent arising of the I, how this is merely imputed on this base by the thought, then again with awareness, remembrance, remember the meditation object, how the I is dependent arising. Have the awareness that the mind is distracted, and then bring it back and again put the same question. Whenever the mind is distracted, look at the I, and whether you see a difference there and before when you were practicing the meaning of the dependent arising of the I. While you’re meditating on the meaning of how the I is a dependent arising, merely imputed on the base by thought, and then when the mind is distracted, whether the I appears any differently. You should pay much attention this.

When you practice, when the mind is distracted, when you look at the I, the I appears to exist from its own side, as real. But when you practice awareness of the meaning of dependent arising, how the I is dependent arising, the real self and the I that exists from its own side, this appearance you find nowhere—this real I exists from its own side, and you find it nowhere, it becomes unclear, and that is excellent, that is the correct meditation, the correct result by correctly meditating on the right meaning of dependent arising.

Each time when the mind is distracted there’s the I that you see differently, a real self that exists from its own side, independently, which is different from the previous one. When you meditate, the I that you feel when you are meditating on the meaning of dependent arising, how the I is dependent arising. At that time, the real I is invisible, unclear, lost, and becomes non-existent.

It came back, the real I, the I existing from its own side, the appearance is there. When the mind is distracted from meditating on dependent arising, this I that you find different from that time, when you are meditating on the meaning of dependent arising, this I, the real one, appears to exist from its own side, and this is what is called the refuting object. This is what is empty. This is what is called emptiness.

While you are meditating, you stand up with the awareness, “What am I doing?” Continuously you see, “Now I'm standing up.” Be aware, continuously questioning yourself as you do different actions. Standing up, think, “What am I doing? I’m standing up, and there is no other reason at all to say that that I’m standing up except that the aggregates are standing up, the body is standing up.”

The body is standing up, so then when you put that reason, what you feel in the heart, what your experience tells you, is the emptiness of the I. By giving the reason that the aggregates are standing, the body is standing, when you think how this is a dependent arising, you see that I is empty. When you have the experience that the merely labeled I is walking, is standing, at the time you are seeing the emptiness of the I. The I that you saw as empty before, empty of existing from its own side, this I exists as merely imputed on this base by the thought, so the emptiness is the I. The emptiness of the I, your experience tells you.

When you go out, climb up the tree, walk around the hill, with much awareness, constantly putting questions. Go around the hill, then come down slowly, then go back to tea. And also do the same thing with the tea, think like that, meditate.