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 Two: Cherishing Others

[Preliminary prayers in Tibetan]

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

So, in regards mind training in the bodhicitta, which is the root of the Mahayana path to achieve enlightenment, there are two techniques, two advices about the mind training in bodhicitta.

There is mind training in bodhicitta through the seven techniques, the Mahayana cause and effect, that has been passed from Guru Shakyamuni Buddha through Maitreya Buddha, to Asanga, and then through the pandits. Then, there is the mind training equalizing oneself and others, exchanging oneself for others.

In the first one, by meditating, by realizing how every sentient being has been one’s own mother and has been kind to oneself from beginningless time, generate the thought of loving kindness toward the mother sentient beings, thinking how they are devoid of happiness. Then generate great loving kindness, not only wishing that all sentient beings have happiness, but for oneself to cause this happiness toward all sentient beings, generating the realization of great loving kindness, OK?

Thinking how the kind mother sentient beings are suffering, we should not only wish them to be free from suffering, not wishing that somebody else, such as the buddhas, bodhisattvas, or some other holy beings will help sentient beings be free from suffering—great compassion, loving kindness, is not that way. You sit comfortably, enjoying, completely relaxed, and then you wish that they are free from suffering. The mind just wishes them to be free from suffering. “How wonderful if they had happiness,” then you are completely relaxed, laying down, sleeping. Not in this way!

In everyday life, the responsibility that one takes through action, in the actual work, is nothing else than to obtain happiness for self, nothing else than sacrificing the life for and serving to the selfish mind—nothing else besides that. Day and night, serving oneself, one’s body, speech, and mind serving oneself, the selfish mind. Nothing else. “If I’m happy, then it’s OK, it doesn’t matter about others. If I’m suffering, that is very bad. If I have problems, that is terrible, that’s very bad. If I can be happy, then that’s very good, that is the best thing.”

So instead of thinking that, think that if others have success then this is the best, if others are happy then this is the best. Instead of thinking that way and working for that, serving that, then think if I’m happy that’s the best, I will succeed in my wish. If I do not have the happiness that I am looking for, if it didn’t happen, if I failed, if I’m miserable, that’s the worst thing.

As long as we have this attitude, if we do not change, as long as we lead life with this attitude, concerned only with oneself, then there is no happiness, there is no peace of mind, there is no happiness in our life. If that is the attitude, day and night, if this is the main aim, others don’t matter—however much they have problems, unsuccess, whether they are happy or unhappy.

It is said in the teaching, the Guru Puja, the teaching on the guru yoga practice, the guru offering, “Please grant me blessings to feel happiness when others are happy. By understanding that there is no difference between myself and others, not desiring even the slightest discomfort, suffering, and having no satisfaction in happiness, having no satisfaction at all in happiness.”

So, what it is saying is that, from beginningless rebirths we have followed the selfish attitude, “It’s better if I’m happy, rather than others being happy.” So we are constantly only thinking, only concerned with our own problems, with eliminating our own suffering and obtaining happiness only for oneself. Therefore, from beginningless rebirths until now, we are still not free from the problems we have been experiencing over and over, all the samsaric problems, all the sufferings, over and over, again and again, still they didn’t end, still we didn’t reach the end, still we did not finish experiencing the problems.

Therefore, now, the main mistake we have been making, the root mistake, is following the self-cherishing thought, renouncing others and cherishing oneself.

So now we see why we have constant problems in my life, life to life, day to day, month to month, year to year, life to life. Why? Now we see all this failure, unsuccess, undesirable things, came from our wrong attitude, from the mistaken thoughts. So therefore, from now on, if we change our attitude from this minute, if we change our attitude from the self-cherishing thought that is the root of all unsuccess, failure, undesirable things, depression—all the bad things—from there to bodhicitta, the thought of cherishing others, which is the root of all the happiness, all the success, the root from which we receive all benefits. The other one is the root from which we receive all harms.

So in this way, by changing this attitude, right this minute, we can obtain all the happiness for every sentient being, fulfilling the wishes of all sentient beings, and lead everyone to the peerless happiness of enlightenment.

Therefore, from now on we should rejoice if others are successful. Between oneself and others, if others are successful, we prefer that one. Between oneself and others, others should be happy, so happy. If others get the profit, we are happier.

Instead of others experiencing the problem, the loss, the undesirable thing—you experience it, instead of others, you experience it on behalf of them. Between you and others, if there’s a choice—you experience the problems, the suffering, and dedicate, give the happiness to others, instead of taking the happiness for oneself and giving the loss, the problems, to others.

So then, request the merit field to bless the mind to be able to do this, to be able to change the attitude in this way, to be able to act, to be able to live life in this way.

My thoughts are getting a little bit mixed with the other bodhicitta training. But the main point that I was trying to tell you is not this way. Changing the mind—our stomach fills up with delicious food and then we lie down on a soft comfortable bed, relaxing, and the mind wishes for others to be free from suffering, for others to have happiness. This is not what is called Mahayana great loving kindness, or great compassion. Great compassion is when oneself is the cause for all the sentient beings to be free from all the sufferings.

Then after that, generate the realization, the special brave attitude—to do the work to free all sentient beings from all suffering, the whole cause, the obscurations, and to cause all the happiness, which includes peerless happiness, enlightenment, by oneself alone. Taking the whole responsibility of the work for other sentient beings, upon oneself alone.

This is what is called the thought seeking the works for other sentient beings. After having generated this, then comes bodhicitta, the thought seeking enlightenment for sentient beings.

Then the second mind training in bodhicitta advice—equalizing and exchanging oneself for others. Here one meditates on the extensive kindness of other sentient beings. By exchanging oneself, by realizing the shortcomings of self-cherishing thought and the benefits of cherishing others, this contains the meditation on the extensive kindness of mother sentient beings. In the other bodhicitta meditation, there is only one part about kindness—sentient beings are the mother and kind, but here we think about their extensive kindness in this life and other lives, when sentient beings are not our mothers in that particular life. This includes generating the realization of loving kindness and great compassion—all are included in this. This includes repaying the kindness, the realization of great loving kindness, great compassion, the special brave attitude—all these are contained in the second bodhicitta technique, exchanging oneself for others by realizing the shortcomings of self-cherishing thought and the benefits of cherishing others.

Now, before doing the mind training in bodhicitta, exchanging oneself for others, we need to equalize oneself for others, to lay the foundation. So, now here, the equilibrium meditation coming before exchanging oneself for others—that is the great equanimity. There is also an equilibrium meditation before mind training, realizing that sentient beings are our mothers and kind. So there are differences like this. We wish sentient beings to be free from anger, attachment, and from discriminating sentient beings far and closer through anger and attachment.

So, wishing the sentient beings free from anger and attachment, and free from discriminating far and closer, realize the mistake, how the problem comes to other sentient beings. The mistake is having anger and attachment, discriminating sentient beings—some sentient beings as far, some sentient beings closer. The mistake is this—this is why they have problems in life. The mistake is this. The problems are not only day-to-day life problems, but life to life—the mistake is this. In other words, they made a mistake in the way of thinking in everyday life.

This wish is immeasurable equanimity. The equanimity that is the foundation of the seven techniques of the Mahayana cause and effect, that equanimity is cutting off your own attachment and anger—your own attachment discriminates some sentient beings as being close to you, and anger discriminates some sentient beings as being far. So cut off this discriminating thought of anger and attachment. This equanimity of the advice of mind training in bodhicitta, the seven techniques of Mahayana cause and effect, is just this. This equanimity is general equanimity, common equanimity. This is nothing special, this is not a special particular Mahayana thought transformation, not a special Mahayana practice. This is practiced also in Theravada—the training in this equanimity is also revealed in the teaching of the Lesser Vehicle path.

What is the way this equanimity is practiced, the way one cuts off the anger that arises by reasoning, “This person gives me harm,” and the attachment that arises thinking, “This person benefits me.”

Now I have one question—the person gives you a present of $1,000 this morning, and this afternoon he kicks you—he comes along and beats you. How do you regard the person? Do you regard that person as an enemy or do you regard that person as a friend? What do you call him?

[Student’s answer inaudible]


[Answer inaudible]

Enemy. But why do you care more about what is recent, why do you count as important the nearest action that he has done to you? Why do you count that as important? Why do you think in the mind that the nearest thing that he did is important?

[Answer inaudible]

Yes, why?

[Answer inaudible]

What happens if you make what he did in the morning to benefit you stronger? What happens if, instead of making the present stronger, what he or she did in the present, you make what he or she did in the morning, the benefit, stronger?

[Answer inaudible]

But why do general people care more about the nearest action, what people do? If the nearest action is the benefit, he is the friend. If the nearest action is harm, then he is the enemy. Why? Why don’t we refer back to the past?

[Answer inaudible]

But he might do the same thing again.

Some people might think that way, but it doesn’t mean that person will harm again.

Is that thought beneficial or not? That you only care about the nearest action that the person does for you, whether that is benefit or harm. You don’t care about what the person did in the past. Is that a useful thought or not?

[Student’s answer inaudible]

What? Is that thought something we need or don’t need? Is that thought beneficial for the person’s life?

[Answer inaudible]

Did somebody see it as beneficial? You see? Huh?

[Answer inaudible]

Then do you remember somebody’s faults, or do you receive the fault of attachment?

[Answer inaudible]

Yes, yes, you’re talking about the technique. Not relying on my question. I think it’s very useful to analyze like this, just to check. Then you see that this thought is completely useless, only problem.

[Student’s comment inaudible]

I think it is not so much labeling, I think it is more to do with attachment, anger.

[Comment inaudible]

You can realize all sentient beings are your friend, your own mother, but without clinging, without grasping mind. That only helps you to have loving kindness, without the grasping mind. So you mean there is something wrong in thinking that this person is kind?

[Answer inaudible]

So I think the last one.

[Comment inaudible]

Yes, to care about the nearest action, to count that as the most important, rather than remembering the past ones, rather than thinking the past is most important. Why do the people in the world care about the nearest action? Is that a useful thought or not? Useful for himself, for herself, for others’ happiness?

[Answer inaudible]

I think the other one has also the help that was given this morning.

[Answer inaudible]

I think that generally among sentient beings, most cannot remember their past lives and cannot remember the relationships that have caused harm or benefit in the past. Therefore, if this present life’s birth is the only life, they consider harm and benefit from those sentient beings only in terms of this life, because this is only what they can remember. And then mainly I think, referring to how much they can remember, even in this life, the ones that they have forgotten, they think about that. So this year, this month, how much they can remember, they refer to that—the friend, enemy, benefit, harm.

Then, I think one thing, the basic thing, why do we have the discriminating toward friend, enemy, why? Why do we have basic discrimination in relation to the nearest action? Why? One thing might be because in general, for ordinary sentient beings, there is much grasping and care in relation to their happiness—the present happiness, this minute’s happiness, today—that is so important, the mind grasps on that.

Since this is the attitude and general mistake, if one is able to change, able to establish the happy life—the general mistake we have now is thinking that if there’s harm, it’s bad—that is the attitude. If somebody criticizes you, it’s bad. If somebody disturbs you, it’s bad. If there are miserable conditions, if there are difficulties in life, if there is a miserable situation, it is bad. You establish the mind to dislike that. But if we establish the mind that likes the difficulties, if we establish the mind that likes miserable conditions, if we change the attitude, then the whole problem is stopped.

[Tape ends]

[Recording very soft and difficult to hear]

…actually doesn’t need so much change outside. Now, how much we need to change outside depends on how much—there is a simple example—somebody who is so selfish, unbelievably selfish, with nothing else to think about day and night except, “How can I be perfect?” Thinking of happiness, every comfort, concerned with every comfort—when you eat, when you sleep, everything comfort, so much comfort.

Now, for that person with a very selfish mind, no matter how much change is done outside, it is very difficult to satisfy. No matter how many friends the person has, no matter how many possessions the person has, no matter how much they try to fix the place, they are very difficult to satisfy. It is very difficult for things to be perfect for that person. Therefore you can see it came from the mind.

So, the person thinks, “Still it’s not right, still this is missing, it should be this way and that way.” There is so much, he is concerned about every tiny bit so much. Therefore, for the life of that person ever to be perfect is very difficult. That person’s mind is so difficult or so strongly selfish, such a difficult mind, so life becomes very difficult to satisfy, and it is very rare for that person to be happy.

So the basic psychological method, the one thing, the one change that makes every outside thing change without worry or fear—we are unable to do it, unable to get it, so many things in the life.

So, the one answer to solve all the thousands, the billions of problems in that city, so many people depressed, the whole day and night there are problems with telephones, the people going through change, people in nighttime, daytime, talking to people to explain the problems, what’s that called?

[Answer inaudible]

And there is the person that you can call? One person?

[Answer inaudible]

They sit in the corner of the room, beside the telephone, day and night, one person...

[Answer inaudible]

Isn’t that called psychiatrist?

[Answer inaudible]

You hear their problems in the small radio, the people talking to each other, you hear this from the small radio, the talkback radio.

[Comment inaudible]

Talk show, like that.

So basically, not only these people, but if you want the one change that covers all the problems, stop establishing the mind that dislikes problems, and instead of that establish the mind that likes problems, that likes difficulties in life. If one is able to do that, by meditating, by thinking of the everyday life benefits of the problems, how the problems are useful to develop your mind, to pacify all the disturbing thoughts, the cause of sufferings, the shortcomings of the luxury life—when there are difficulties, make it worthwhile. When there are problems, misery in life, make it beneficial. When there is happiness, make it beneficial for oneself and other sentient beings. So, I am just giving the summary.

This is for the non-religious person—but there is the utmost need, especially for the Dharma practitioner, because when there is happiness, the mind is excited and cannot do practice. The mind is in the lifted-up aspect and again cannot do practice. And when the life is in misery, with difficulties, again one is unable to do practice. It is very difficult to continue the practice.

Therefore, with this psychological method, the one most important thing is to change all the undesirable things. Having this one change, establish liking problems, instead of disliking problems by meditating on, understanding, and always being aware of the benefits of the problems, thinking it is good. So, this way, instead of not wanting all the problems in life, all the difficulties, instead we want them. Instead of undesirable, the difficulties in life become desirable. This is for everything.

Now, the other thing is, if the person thinks more of.... Let’s put it this way—the person may have stolen one million dollars or one thousand dollars last year. But today you’re starving, and that person gives you food. Or you are so exhausted, so thirsty, and you are traveling, you are looking so much for a cup of tea, so the person gives you a cup of tea, and that brings incredible joyfulness in the mind. So then you see that person as a friend.

The other thing is that because the general basic idea, the concern, is moment-to-moment happiness, what the person does to you in the present, moment-to-moment, becomes very important. So that becomes discrimination.

Is that right or not?

[Answer inaudible]

So now you can see that it completely came from your own mind—how you think of that person. That person could be your friend if you think about this morning’s help, if you concentrate more on that, if you think how he was very kind this morning, what he did for you. For example, that person doesn’t think so much of his giving a cup of tea and how this is joyful, how he gave relief from your exhaustion. But if the person thinks more of the past, the stolen one thousand dollars, if he concentrates completely on that, then I think it is very difficult.

So I think stop here.

[Quality of recording improves]

Even though their natures are completely impermanent, they appear as permanent, and completely cling to this as true, however, believing that they were permanent.

So, if we don’t get to practice Dharma, to achieve ultimate happiness, the fully enlightened state for the sake of other sentient beings, with this body, if we don’t get this done, then having taken birth, having taken this body, looks simply like suffering longer. The purpose of taking birth is continuously to suffer, nothing more than that. We have taken this birth, this body, just to continuously suffer longer—as I just described the suffering of changes, and those other sufferings, other problems, and simply to make the place dirty.

Until we get liberated from samsara we have to continuously experience suffering. So therefore, due to this, being under control of these wrong conceptions, if you think of yourself and other sentient beings, we have been suffering in samsara without beginning. If you think of beginningless suffering, it is something that cracks the heart—if you look back, the beginningless suffering of samsara. If you think it is endless, the continual suffering of samsara, if we do not abandon these four wrong conceptions, then it is all heavy, unbearable and endless, such a long time that one has to experience all this suffering of samsara again. If we think of the future, even if one eats food, it makes us vomit, unable to sleep. It is like this.

So it is not sufficient for oneself alone to achieve liberation from samsara. This attitude, seeking liberation for oneself, is no different from that of a dumb, mute animal. Tiny creatures—ants, worms—whatever they eat or drink, whatever they do in their life, they have this attitude to use all this for themselves alone, for their own happiness.

Mother sentient beings are the originators of all my past, present, and future happiness. Even day-to-day life, our enjoyments, this happiness, is completely dependent on, completely came from, and completely given by sentient beings. Even without the long run, just checking the day-to-day enjoyments and happiness, one can see that it very clearly and completely came from sentient beings, from their kindness.

The comfort of the place, having protection in life, not having harm to the body, having this enjoyment, comfort, by living in the house—this is received from so many sentient beings being killed. They had to die, had to suffer, when the house was built. So many other sentient beings created negative karma killing these other sentient beings. Without all these sentient beings creating negative karma, without others suffering, there is no way that we can receive these enjoyments and comforts in day-to-day life—the protection of life—there is no way to receive these enjoyments at all. This enjoyment, this comfort is completely received by the kindness of sentient beings.

Same thing—the clothes that we wear to protect us—wearing them, we have enjoyment, comfort. Again same thing—we received these by so many sentient beings creating negative karma, harming others—human beings, creatures—and then so many others get killed, had to suffer. These enjoyments completely came from the kindness of mother sentient beings.

Now, the comfort and enjoyment that arises from drinking one cup of tea—again the same thing. Without so many of these creatures, so many of the tiny creatures living in the water, suffering, dying—also when we put medicine we kill many creatures in the water, for people’s health. This is all received from so many sentient beings' suffering, from harming other sentient beings. All this comfort and enjoyment of drinking is given by them.

It is the same thing with eating one tiny, single grain of rice. In order to plant this, to grow this, the field is made, the land is fertilized. However, uncountable numbers of creatures were killed, sentient beings were killed, and many other sentient beings created negative karma harming others, and so many others suffered. So this single grain of rice came from other rice. Again, so many sentient beings suffered for that. So like this, it is inconceivable—we can’t believe, it is unbearable, if we look the whole way through. For this one single grain, how uncountable numbers of sentient beings suffered. Therefore, all this comfort and enjoyment is completely given to oneself—the enjoyment of eating food given by the sentient beings. So like this, day-to-day life’s enjoyment and happiness is completely received from sentient beings.

Therefore, it is impossible to live life with the selfish attitude. To use all the sentient beings’ enjoyments, to take all the sentient beings’ enjoyments, so many sentient beings suffer and we use all the enjoyments received from them only for our own happiness. So it is unbearable to live the life for self even for one minute, to live the life for one’s own happiness. It is impossible—it is so unbearable to not live life for others, without having the thought to eliminate suffering, to obtain happiness for other sentient beings. To live life with the selfish attitude even for one minute is impossible, it is so unbearable!

Mother sentient beings have the utmost need, and beginning Dharma practice is dependent on them and continuing Dharma practice is dependent on their kindness. Even achieving enlightenment depends on the kindness of mother sentient beings. Therefore, mother sentient beings are extremely kind, unbelievably kind. What they want is happiness, what they do not want is suffering. Therefore, to eliminate all suffering, which they do not want, and to obtain all the happiness that they want, the highest enlightenment, is my responsibility. This is completely my responsibility. I need to accomplish this work for all sentient beings, so I must achieve enlightenment.

If one does not subdue one’s own mind, speech, and body, one cannot achieve the realization of the path to enlightenment. Only by subduing this, by living in virtue, can one achieve realizations, the path to enlightenment. So therefore this is the foundation.

Therefore, I’m going to take the eight Mahayana precepts.

Now, please make three prostrations. Think of the lama who grants the ordination as the essence and aspect of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, OK? Then make three prostrations.

Now, please kneel down, those who can, if you don’t have a disease or something. Put your palms together like this in the mudra of prostration, holding your palms…