Kopan Course No. 41 (2008)

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal (Archive #1746)

These teachings were given by Kyabje Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche at the 41st Kopan Meditation Course, held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, in December 2008. The transcripts are lightly edited by Gordon McDougall.

Lecture 13 is a talk on the beginnings of the FPMT by Ven. Roger Kunsang, who is Rinpoche's assistant and CEO of FPMT Inc. See also the Basic Philosophy of Buddhism, to listen to the audio files and read along with the unedited transcript for Lecture 10.  You may also download the entire contents of these teachings as a pdf file

Lectures 14-17: Mahayana Refuge

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Lecture 14
[Rinpoche’s entire talk is in Tibetan]

Lecture 15


[During the short book signing, the recording microphone was switched off, so the tape has only picked up the public microphone, therefore the quality is very poor and transcription errors and missed words are certain.]

And then sometimes maybe it’s possible, I’m just a bridge, I’m just the container, the mug, I’m just the vessel, like train, like a truck.

As I’ve been saying this past week about a buddha’s actions—this is what I think, but I’m not saying that doesn’t happen—as I mentioned before, like a train, like a truck, like a donkey, like a rickshaw, these things carry people, but I think it depends on the karma of the person, and then certain things are done, they make it possible. There’s a possibility.

So, anyway, what this book contains is the very, very gross, very gross. To achieve happiness for yourself, don’t forget, the very essence, the very essential meaning, how to get there, it is very, very essential to transform the mind from the selfish mind into the good heart, the pure heart, cherishing others. That’s very important, very essential; that’s the main key point.

You practice, you apply it to yourself, and then you experience the Dharma, transforming suffering into happiness, using the problems in the path to enlightenment. This is what it means deeper, transforming suffering into happiness, this is what it means really. The deep meaning is that you transform your problems, you use your problems to transform your mind, you use your problems as the path to achieve happiness for numberless sentient beings, and that is not just temporary happiness but ultimate happiness, enlightenment. You liberate them from oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to full enlightenment. The deeper meaning of transforming suffering is that.

What is contained is that very deep meaning, very vast, like limitless sky, like oceans, very deep meaning.

If you don’t practice thought transformation, you can’t do the practice, right view or conventional bodhicitta and ultimate bodhicitta. The main key technique is transforming suffering into happiness.

The bodhicitta motivation is cherishing others, letting go of the I. The minute you cherish the I, your mind becomes problems. You have problems, your mind has problems in life. The minute when you cherish others, all the problems are gone. The minute you cherish others, the problems stop.

So, there are skies of happiness, up to enlightenment, and then you cause happiness to numberless sentient beings and bring them to enlightenment.

This way is giving you real holidays, real holidays. When you live your life cherishing yourself, that’s giving trouble to yourself, problems to yourself, cherishing yourself. Living the life cherishing others, there’s release, it releases all the tension, like you’re getting out of prison.

Real happiness comes when you cherish others. There’s real happiness, inner peace and happiness. You not only achieve satisfaction, but you get fulfillment, real happiness.

Otherwise, when you go to Tahiti or you go to Goa, go to Burma, Thailand, to a beach, you spend six thousand dollars for lunch, but in your heart there’s no happiness, there’s no inner happiness, there’s no satisfaction, because of the self-cherishing thought. The thought of attachment arises, and that means you’re tortured by the self-cherishing thought. If attachment arises, you constantly are tortured by the selfish mind, the self-cherishing thought, and by ignorance, the concept of permanence. It’s a trap. Your life is trapped in that, like a mouse trapped in an iron cage. You are trapped in the iron cage of ignorance, like Lama Tsongkhapa mentioned [in The Three Principal Aspects of the Path],

Swept away by the current of the four powerful rivers,
Tied by the tight bonds of karma, so hard to undo,
Caught in the iron net of self-grasping,
Completely enveloped by the total darkness of ignorance,

So, the next evil thought forces you into the iron cage of ignorance, believing in true existence, which is totally a hallucination.

The next thing, you should think that in ignorance there is no light, there are not even stars or a moon. Ignorance is like a mountain [blocking the light] causing sentient beings to suffer endlessly. Thinking like that, you can develop compassion.

There should be more books coming in the future.

So that’s it.

Lecture 16

[Oral transmission in Tibetan, untranscribed]

Lecture 17

We always begin the practice by reciting refuge and bodhicitta, this prayer. If we begin the practice with refuge, the merits increase a hundred times. It is mentioned in the sutra that the merits we collect by beginning the practice with refuge, then it increases a hundred times. Kyabje Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche also mentioned it increases the merit a hundred times. But it is also mentioned in Kabson Sonam Su [sounds like, unable to determine] that if the benefits of taking refuge materialized, even the three thousand galaxies would not be able to contain them.

[A power cut happens] I think it’s time to shine the light by the mind, not by the bulb! [Rinpoche laughs]

If the merits of taking refuge materialized, then even the three thousand galaxies would become too small a container.

This is not just one entire universe, but three thousand. I don’t know how it’s counted in the West, but I count one universe like this. Just this earth, I don’t know if it’s a universe, I think it is one small part. There are four human continents, then eight small ones, then Mt. Meru, the sun and the moon, so that one whole collection is one universe. This is what I think.

I don’t know how a universe is seen in the West. Kathmandu, Nepal is part of the universe, it’s part of the universe, but I’m not sure that you call that a universe. It’s like the part of the table is not table. The small pieces of the tables [points to the table’s parts] are parts of the table, but they are not the table. So, there are one, two, three, four thousand, then, like that in thousands, that makes a great thousand of three thousand galaxies.

Anyway, It might be that. If the benefits of taking refuge materialized, then even these three thousand galaxies will become a small container.

Student: Too small.

Rinpoche: Will be too small, too small. [Rinpoche laughs]

It’s mentioned like that. So anyway, it makes a big difference, it makes a big difference whether we’re doing a practice without refuge or with refuge. Of course, then it becomes Buddhadharma. If it’s done with refuge then it becomes Buddhadharma.

For example, there are Christians or people of other religions who live in morality, abstaining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct and so forth, who are living in the morality. They live in morality, not exactly the same as living in all the ten virtues, not exactly the same, but similar. Not everything is exactly the same as the Buddhist [idea of holding the ten virtues and abstaining from] the ten nonvirtues.

Particularly, the last one, it can be other, it doesn’t pervade. For example, the Christian scriptures say that pigs and chickens and things are given by God for the people to eat.

I remember a long time ago, in Buxa, India, the concentration camp that became a monastery where Tibetan monks and nuns stayed when we fled Tibet. Because I had TB, I used to go a few miles from the monastery to a missionary from Finland, on a high mountain. I used to go there for injections, myself and another monk. I was supposed to study Dharma texts, I was supposed to study Dharma texts. That’s an unbelievable place, because at that time there were the monks who have become the present educators in the Sera, Ganden and Drepung Monasteries. They are now very elder, senior monks, who are educating the many young ones. Among their disciples now there are many learned ones already who have already become qualified to teach. Of these top elderly monks who are in the monasteries now, there are a few from Buxa where I lived eight years. They have become the top teachers now, and they have many disciples who are learned and are able to educate the young ones.

So what I say, I forgot.

Ven. Roger: Injection, Rinpoche.

Rinpoche: Injection, that’s right. No, they didn’t come for injection. I’m joking.

I mean that was an unbelievable place to study Dharma. The place itself was most terrible, unbelievably hot. There were so many monks. After you washed you again got unbelievably hot, unbelievably hot. Then there were the mosquitoes and bugs, especially the bedbugs living in your bed. The monks went into the forest and cut the bamboo, crushing it and making a bed with it. They would make four legs, then put some material on top. The bedbugs lived in the bed. You had a mosquito net, and the corners were the safest place for the bedbugs. They stayed inside. Then, when the light were turned off, they would run down. [Rinpoche laughs; group laughs ] During the summertime, when you went out, to go to the toilet, then you get leeches, leeches, leeches. Whenever you went out for pipi, you get leeches.

There were even sometimes snakes living between the ceiling and the wall, where there was some space. Snakes lived there and they would sometimes fall down on the monks’ beds, like this. There was a ditch outside the door, and when you opened the door sometimes a snake came into the house.

So, the place was a very unhealthy place. On Sundays or during the holidays, there was some green flat area somewhere outside, where the monks would sit down and rest, but even this was small.

But the monks there who escaped from Tibet did unbelievable study there, unbelievable study, day and night. They memorized so many hundreds of thousands of texts, pages of texts, and they took classes and debated, even after midnight. It was unbelievable, unbelievable.

And then also, the extra thing they had to learn was the Tibetan writing. In the monastery, you weren’t allowed to learn Tibetan writing. It’s very interesting because if you start to learn writing or grammar, Tibetan grammar, it’s not another language, it’s just Tibetan letters, Tibetan grammar. If you start to learn, then it is recognized you are getting involved in worldly activities, in worldly manner. They recognize it like that. Even if you take an interest in arranging flowers in the house, you’re regarded as taking an interest in worldly activities.

At these monasteries, the main focus is to learn extensive philosophy to offer. The main purpose is to have realizations, to integrate into the lam-rim. By learning extensive philosophy and integrating it into the lam-rim, they put it into practice and actualize the realizations. That’s what is supposed to happen, that’s what many monks do. It’s very, very interesting. Even the texts that you keep on your bed, you’re supposed to not have sadhanas or things like that, only philosophical texts to study. So in these monasteries, main emphasis is on extensive learning, on Buddhist philosophy. Of course, individually, monks learn and practice tantra, but officially it’s not that. Individually, of course, you can do that, you develop the path, actualize the path, but not officially.

Officially, after you complete all that, then you become a geshe, and then you enter the tantric college. There are the upper and lower tantric colleges and the idea is to study the extensive meaning of tantric texts. You memorize specific tantric texts, you learn those extensive meanings, the quick tantric path to enlightenment, as well as all the ritual art, the mandalas and so forth. There are so many things to learn, so many different practices, like chanting and the meaning, all that. Then after you become fully qualified, you become the lama or abbot of the college, then afterwards you become the Sharpa Cho-je and Jangse Cho-je. There are two positions, and then after that you become the Ganden Tripa, the regent of Lama Tsongkhapa’s lineage. If you have the merit and you have a long enough life, then that’s what you reach, if you are qualified and learned—you become the Ganden Tripa, the regent of Lama Tsongkhapa’s lineage.

Additionally, you not only learn the extensive major root texts and the commentaries of the Buddhadharma, there are many other things as well. There are five major texts, unbelievable, unbelievable texts. There is not only debate but also all these root texts and commentaries to be memorized. And each year there’s an examination you offer to the abbot, which is mentioned in the puja. The abbot gives you a number, how successful you have been in reciting by heart. Many monks, those who have very good intelligence, learn many hundreds of thousands of pages and can recite them by heart. Whatever the abbot asks, you have to recite. He writes down how much you have succeeded, then it’s revealed in the puja, with all the monks. Then, maybe there’s some sort of offering, I’m not sure, maybe there’s something, but I don’t remember a hundred percent.

There is not only this extensive Buddhadharma, but there are also subjects like Tibetan writing, learning letters, learning languages, drama, poetry, those things. In some school, the monks also learn English or Hindi or things like that. So, there are many extra things to learn. Lama Yeshe didn’t study writing in Tibet but just in India, in Buxa. Lama learned writing from one Drepung Loseling monk.

When I came to Buxa none of the monks had no robes, just chu-bas, just the Tibetan lay dress, the chu-ba. When I went with monks to the puja, there was a lot of sound, woo woo woo, like this, because it was my first time, doing puja with them, woooo. Later in the puja, I don’t see nearby me, people sitting around me, reciting prayers, I couldn’t them but the majority were reciting prayers and there was a lot of noise. At that time, there were so many monks, and only one monk was wearing robes. So many were wearing chu-bas.

When they debated, they debated with chu-bas. It has two sleeves, put like this; then they put on the zen and they debated. [Rinpoche laughs] And only one monk, who was the disciplinary, the person reading the petitions of the monks—what to pray for, who died or who lived—he was wearing robes. He was from Drepung Monastery, a very tall monk.

There was the teacher who Lama studied Tibetan handwriting from. Many monks didn’t learn this in Tibet because Tibetans regard it like this, but they received advice from His Holiness, saying they must learn all these things. Then Lama learned poetry and grammar from another monk, another very good geshe from Drepung Gomang.

It was a very harmful place for health. So many monks died, mostly from tuberculosis. There were many sicknesses. At the beginning [they] didn’t know how to live because they didn’t know how to copy from Indians, to copy how the Indians ate and lived their life. If they had, many of them could have lived longer; it was a very hot place.

They didn’t look at how Indians lived. I don’t mean life, but the food. If they had copied the way Indians ate, many would have lived longer, but many didn’t do that. They did similar to Tibet. I remember because eating meat is very common in Tibet. From early times, that was the way life was lived; that’s how it started. In Tibet, I saw them, even monks. In Tibet it’s very cold, so they could eat red meat, uncooked, but when they did the same thing in India where it’s so hot, they got sick with diarrhea and they were sick for a long time.

The place itself is actually a very intense place, an excellent place to study Dharma, but I didn’t do that. [Rinpoche laughs] Sometimes, I just made drawings instead of studying Dharma. I made drawings, like of Christmas-time things or ships, things Christians think are maybe important. I used to give her my drawings, at least I remember one time.

There was a Finland lady, a Christian, who lived on the mountain in this Bhutanese village, teaching Christianity to the Bhutanese people, I mean those local people. She gave me this big piece of meat, a big piece of meat, because they killed animals, pigs or whatever it was, so, I remember, [Rinpoche laughs] as a present, she gave me some.

She had a bamboo church, a small church made of bamboo. I went there one Sunday. She had started the Sunday church, so she didn’t have time to give me medicine, so I myself went into the bamboo church; I went there to pray. There was one time during the service where you have to turn back to the wall. Everybody was sitting like this, then at one time you had to turn back to the wall for confession, something like that, but maybe I didn’t do that. [Rinpoche laughs]

The person who taught had a small box, and you put some money in that. The one time I went there I did that, but I don’t remember ever going back again. Anyway, it doesn’t matter.

I was talking about the benefits of refuge, wasn’t I?

What I was saying, in Christianity, particularly, but maybe other religions, there are people who are living in morality, abstaining from killing. The difference in Buddhism is that killing includes any sentient being, the object of the vow is all sentient beings. You make a vow to not harm, to not kill, so it means any type of sentient being, any creature.

But in Christianity, it’s not like that. I’m not sure, but I think that the Finland lady said that pigs and chickens are given by God for the people to eat. For her, abstaining from killing is maybe just human beings; it doesn’t cover all sentient beings. So, there are some similarities there but also huge differences. Even the first vow, abstaining from killing, has huge differences.

When you go into details, in some part there are great differences. Heresy especially has a totally different meaning.

Anyway, what I was trying to say is, abstaining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct and so forth, without refuge in the heart of the person, refuge to Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. Here I’m talking about refuge. I mean, Christians have refuge. Is it refuge to three, or refuge to one? I’m not sure. Refuge to one? To God? To one?

Student: Three.

Student: The father, the son, and the holy spirit.

Rinpoche: Father, son ...

Student: Father, son, and the holy spirit.

Student: Holy ghost.

Rinpoche: Holy ghost, I see, yeah. So, you see. That person’s practice is not Buddhism, but they still take refuge to, how did you say?

Student: Father, son, and holy spirit.

Rinpoche: Father, son, holy ghost, holy spirit, okay.

I think the person who lives in the vow to not harm others, I would say is practicing Dharma but not necessarily Buddhadharma. It’s Dharma, but not necessarily Buddhadharma.

But by having refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and then living in morality, abstaining from killing, stealing, whatever, the five lay vows or the eight lay vows, then chanting mantras and prayers—that becomes Buddhadharma. By having refuge in your heart, in the sense of living in morality, Buddhadharma, I think that refers to having refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

The other one becomes Dharma but not actually Buddhadharma. You have to understand that.

Then, of course, there is no question about the benefits of refuge, what is explained in the lam-rim, which I went over before giving refuge the other night. You get all those benefits.

Did I mention to you that “I go for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha” is causal refuge, and “until enlightenment is received” is resultant refuge?

I already mentioned what resultant refuge is. Our mind becomes Dharma and then we become absolute Sangha when we actualize the wisdom directly perceiving emptiness. When we achieve that, we become the Sangha. There are two types of Sangha: conventional Sangha and ultimate Sangha, so we become the ultimate Sangha by having actualized the refuge, Dharma, the true path, in our heart.

Then, by developing the true path, we cease the defilements, not only the gross defilements but even subtle defilements, and with bodhicitta we complete the Mahayana path. There are two aspects of the path: the method side and the wisdom side. By completing them we achieve a buddha’s holy body and a buddha’s holy mind, the rupakaya and dharmakaya. At that time, when we become a buddha, we have completed, actualized the resultant refuge.

Why do we do that? Because the purpose of life is to free sentient beings. By realizing how sentient beings are most kind, most precious, most kind to us, and how much they are suffering, when we understand this Dharma, this subject—realizing how sentient beings are the most kind, the most precious ones to us and how unbelievably much they are suffering—when we discover this, of course, naturally, naturally we’ll dedicate our life to free sentient beings. We want to benefit others.

What benefit? Because we realize how much they are suffering. Constantly they are tormented by the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change—temporary samsaric pleasures—and pervasive compounding suffering. Putting all the sufferings together, we can see that they are constantly tormented by suffering, being under the control of karma and delusion.

When we realize how they are so precious, so kind, and how much they are suffering, of course, naturally, naturally, without thinking, we want to take the responsibility on ourselves to free them from all the suffering and causes and bring them to enlightenment. This is what they need, this is what they need, otherwise they constantly suffer. So naturally, of course, naturally we decide this. Even though the sentient beings don’t ask us to do that, but the more we realize this, the more we naturally want to do it.

For example, because we generated great compassion and loving kindness towards sentient beings, we have the compassion to free them from suffering and its causes, to do that by ourselves, and also to cause them happiness. That’s compassion. Then, great compassion is wishing sentient beings to have happiness, but to cause that by ourselves. Not only that, it doesn’t just mean temporary happiness but ultimate happiness, liberation from samsara, full enlightenment. That’s the main thing, that’s what to cause.

They’ve had temporary happiness numberless times; they’ve had all the samsaric pleasures numberless times. There’s nothing left that’s new.

So we decide, by ourselves, to do all that, to free them from the suffering and its causes and to bring them to enlightenment by ourselves, alone, alone. This comes naturally; it’s a kind of natural process. That’s the thought, the special attitude.

To succeed at that, of course we, yourself, need to achieve enlightenment, through bodhicitta. So, basically everything becomes the reason for the next realization.

Then if we haven’t ceased the disturbing thought obscurations before, by following the Mahayana path we remove both defilements, and we achieve enlightenment. Then we liberate numberless sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric sufferings and bring them to enlightenment.

Of course, at the beginning we haven’t heard any of this before, it’s first time, so we have difficulties when we hear about the suffering of samsara. Now we can look back. We have gone through [all the lam-rim subjects] to bodhicitta, and since we have reached bodhicitta, now we can look back on the subjects, knowing about sufferings of the lower realms and so forth. Before, maybe we’d think that knowing about human beings’ problems was quite okay, but perhaps the difficulty was with the rest. “Why do I have to know about the sufferings of the hells? Why do I have to know about the sufferings of the hungry ghosts or the animals?” Maybe, because we are a human being, we think hearing about the suffering of human beings is suitable. But then, because it’s the first time to hear it, it has very deep reasons, and we cannot see the reasons, so it becomes a problem to the mind. We regard it as a problem, we label it a problem. We hear about the sufferings of those other realms and it becomes a problem for us.

The conclusion is this. The first purpose is that by knowing their suffering, by discovering their suffering which we were not aware of before, that helps us to develop the renunciation of samsara, to be detached from samsara, not only the lower realms but even the upper realms, the deva and human realms. It helps to make our mind free from attachment, grasping on to samsaric pleasure, to samsaric rebirth and the pleasure, grasping onto that. That attachment is what causes us to reincarnate continuously in samsara, to take rebirth and then experience all the sufferings, and then die. Now in this human realm, then the next one is hell realm or hungry ghost realm or animal realm or whatever it is. It goes on like this, on and on and on and on and on and on from beginningless rebirth, on and on like this, because of attachment, of your clinging, grasping at samsaric pleasure.

That’s why with refuge, when we take refuge, we attain the cessation of attachment when we take refuge in the Dharma, “the sublime one which is the cessation of the attachment,” Cho la kyab su chi wo “to Dharma I go for refuge.”

There are so many delusions, but why is attachment a problem? We can now see why attachment is specified, we can now understand. It’s because it’s attachment that ties us to samsara all the time. It doesn’t liberate us, it doesn’t give us the freedom to be free from samsara.

Discovering their suffering encourages us to renounce the cause of the lower realms. We don’t want to experience even the tiny problems of human life, even small problems we don’t want to experience. Then, of course, if we are born in the lower realms, there is no way, no way to bear the sufferings. Karma and the lower realms’ sufferings is a new subject in this life.

About karma, the very first thing is to protect ourselves from the lower realms, to save ourselves. There’s danger, because of the negative karma we create with ignorance, anger or attachment, those specific subjects, those we have been collecting one day, from morning, twenty-four hours, is such an unbelievable, unbelievable number. And then each week, month, year, from birth, the actions done with ignorance, anger and attachment, the negative karma, which causes all the many suffering results we experience in this life, and especially in future lives. When we are born a human being by doing another good karma, then we experience so many problems in that life, but the heaviest suffering is the lower realms, rebirth in the lower realms.

That is not something only done a few times in our life, not like [that]. Maybe for some people it’s possible, but for us we are unable to keep the mind in virtue, with non-ignorance, non-anger, non-attachment—this is without even talking about the selfish mind— for one day of our life. If we examine our motivations, even us who are trying to practice Dharma, there could be some time when the motivation becomes pure, with non-ignorance, non-anger, non-attachment, but much of the time, the rest of the time it is attachment, ignorance, or maybe anger sometimes, depending on the person.

For some people, it’s very easy to get angry often but generally speaking anger is less of a problem that attachment. Attachment is the one that we live probably most.

Then, there’s also ignorance. This is without talking about the root of samsara, ignorance, which is always there. We make our minds like that. We create our minds, we make our minds become root of samsara, ignorance, by holding on to the hallucination, the truly existent phenomena. Things appear real to us—the I, the aggregates—then we grasp on to that.

Now you can see the cause of the lower realms, you can see now how it is. I’m talking about one day, then there’s weeks, months, years, from birth. And not only that, from our past life, from beginningless rebirth, from beginningless rebirth. There’s so much negative karma that we’ve created. There’s negative karma where we’ve completed the result, we’ve experienced the result, the suffering, there are so many, but there are so many which are not finished yet, which we haven’t yet started experiencing the suffering result, there are numberless.

Therefore, because death can happen at any time—any day, any hour or any minute—the very first thing is to protect ourselves from the lower realms. In the lower realms we can’t practice Dharma, there is no opportunity, no freedom.

That’s the first thing to do, the immediate thing to do, to guarantee we receive higher rebirth. By receiving higher rebirth then we meet Dharma. The idea is to create the cause to receive a perfect human rebirth, to meet Dharma and then again to practice and to actualize the path. Then we can remove the defilements and achieve liberation and enlightenment. The plan is life to life, to develop the mind on the path.

Now you can see why the meditation on the suffering of the lower realms needs to be done. It’s unbelievably important, unbelievably. As well as the sufferings of the deva, human realms, you have to understand, this is the first rescue. If somebody is in danger of falling down from a cliff, instead of going the wrong way, immediately we go there, we run there and protect that person. We have to explain to the person, “This is the wrong way, it’s easy to fall down here and you will die, you will suffer.” We have to explain it to the person because the person has no understanding, no idea.

Now you can understand this point but at the beginning I think almost everyone couldn’t. Some people could because there were so many imprints from a past life. They feel at home with the Buddhadharma, they feel like they are coming home when they hear it. They feel there is nothing new, it’s familiar, there is nothing contradictory there.

But for many, it is difficult to understand. You think, “Why this? Why do we have to hear about suffering?” Do you understand? This is the first thing, this is the first thing we need to do, to free ourselves from attachment, from samsaric pleasure, from the total hallucination believing this is real happiness that brings attachment, clinging. With that attachment, all the actions become the cause of nonvirtue, the cause of the lower realms, then also later the sufferings in the human realm. So, it’s to protect ourselves from that.

Then, the other thing, the next thing, if we don’t understand the sufferings of the lower realms, those other beings, those other non-human beings, how can we develop compassion to them? It’s impossible; there’s no way to develop compassion. If we don’t get to develop compassion for them, they don’t receive our help. There are many sentient beings there, and they don’t get liberated from samsara, they don’t get enlightened until we, until we help them. Until we meet them and help them, it doesn’t happen.

In our life, older students, I mean those of us who have studied Buddhadharma, know this but if you haven’t had much experience you still can tell. Even if it’s not related with Dharma, if there’s somebody who is very hungry, until we meet that person to give help, until we give them money so they can buy lunch and get food, until that person meets us, that person doesn’t get help. We met them and give them money to buy food or whatever, or if they are sick, we’re able to take them to the hospital. This is an example. I’m not particularly speaking about bringing them the Dharma but even just like that, until we met that person, the person can’t get our help. There are many examples like this.

Even though there are numberless buddhas and bodhisattvas, and many sentient beings, but that particular person, until we met that person, only after we have met them can they receive help. Do you understand? Even before you have met the Buddhadharma there are many examples how many sentient beings have a particular connection, even with this life’s temporary problems, and until that person, that sentient being meets you, it doesn’t get solved.

For many elder students, it happens many times in life. Even though there are numberless buddhas and bodhisattvas, but until we meet that person, he doesn’t get the answer or the help in Dharma. We teach something or we explain where he can learn Dharma, where to go to learn Dharma and so forth, we are able to give that direction, able to teach. Only after the person meets us does he get help, you understand? This is the proof, to understand that even in the lower realms there are numberless sentient beings who are connected to us, who are waiting to receive our help.

If we don’t develop compassion for them, then they don’t receive help from us, they don’t get liberated by us. They don’t get liberated from samsara and they’re not brought to cessation of the suffering and its causes; they’re not brought to enlightenment. So, you understand, there’s a huge, unbelievable, unbelievable need.

Therefore, we need to develop compassion for all the living beings. For that we have to understand their suffering. Now, you can see how it’s so important to discover all the different sentient beings’ sufferings. We have all the opportunity, we have potential to actualize the path, to become enlightened. We also have the opportunity to help, and if we don’t do that, especially at this time while we have this perfect human rebirth to help others, to actualize the path, then we don’t like to share the sufferings of others, we stop developing compassion, we stop helping them, and that means we’ve wasted our perfect human rebirth. We’ve wasted this precious human body we have taken; this time is wasted. That’s what it means, it’s wasted. It’s just been borrowed for this one time, it’s wasted.

Then our actions, living our life, are not for these things, but for the only selfish mind, and with a selfish mind we can’t achieve enlightenment, we can’t enlighten sentient beings, we can’t do perfect work for sentient beings. Even to achieve liberation from samsara for ourselves is difficult.

So, anyway, to finish this one today took a long time.

To be able to achieve the resultant refuge, the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, we need to rely upon the cause, we need to practice the causal refuge. The Dharma is the path, but the causal refuge of the Buddha and Sangha refer to others’ minds. These are separate beings, separate from our mental continuum. So, we rely on the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Taking refuge in that way is causal refuge.

For example, to become expert doctor, physician, just wishing to be physician in order to help patients, just wishing is not enough. We have to study from an expert doctor, from a physician. We have to follow that person, we have to study with that person, we have to rely on that person. Then we can become a physician and help patients. Do you understand the example, why we need to take the causal refuge in order to achieve resultant refuge?

A university professor teaches others, helps others. We have to rely on a university professor, learning from that person, then we become a professor and we are able to teach others. Do you understand? That’s why we need to take the causal refuge, otherwise resultant refuge can’t happen.

Now, okay, you want to take Mahayana refuge, all those things? [Rinpoche laughs] Mahayana refuge has one extra condition than Hinayana refuge. I’ve explained that already, so I’m not going to repeat it. It’s compassion for other living beings.

With Hinayana refuge there are two causes: the useful fear of our own samsara and faith in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, that they have the capacity, the qualities to save us from the oceans of samsaric suffering, particularly lower realms. Then we totally rely upon the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. That mental factor is Hinayana refuge.

Why I call it useful fear is because, through understanding our own samsaric nature of suffering that arouses a fear that makes us abandon the cause of samsara, abandon the cause of suffering, and practice the cause of happiness, liberation, and then peerless full enlightenment. That fear makes us engage in the higher training of morality, the higher training of concentration and higher training of the great insight. It makes us engage in the path to liberation or the path to enlightenment. It makes us enter into the path to liberation, and then, higher than that, it makes us engage in the path to enlightenment.

Then because of that, because of our discovery of how our samsara is in nature of suffering, with that fear of being in samsara, when you look at other sentient beings, we see directly how unbelievably much they are suffering, and that generates compassion, to free them from suffering and its causes, and that develops into greater compassion when we take responsibility on ourselves.

So now here, with Mahayana refuge there is one more cause after that, compassion, compassion for sentient beings, wishing them to be free from suffering, then the faith in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, devotion to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, to totally rely on the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. That makes it Mahayana refuge. Then there’s the tantra refuge.

So, when we take refuge, that’s what we need to practice.

I’m just going through it briefly. Before we begin refuge, before we say the prayer, first we transform our mind into that, otherwise it just becomes words. Otherwise taking refuge, bodhicitta, it just becomes like a tape recorder, the same as a tape recorder. The mind is nothing, it becomes a tape recorder and the prayer becomes a recording. We become like a TV or a tape recorder.

Therefore, before we begin the prayer, it is very important that the mind first transforms into refuge, the mind transforms into bodhicitta, then we do prayer. After our mind is transformed then we do the prayer. Then what we say and our heart are in harmony. Then, what we receive is very meaningful, otherwise it is just a prayer, it becomes sort of like a custom. I mean, of course it leaves a positive imprint to achieve enlightenment, but there’s so much more we can do.

So now, thinking like this, how to meditate, by remembering the cause of taking refuge, how we ourselves have been experiencing the general sufferings of samsara. You have already done the various meditation [during the course]: the six types of suffering and three types, the four types, the general sufferings of samsara, the evolution of samsara, the twelve dependent-related limbs and all that.

All the sufferings of samsara come into the three sufferings: the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change—samsaric pleasure—and pervasive compounded suffering. We need to feel that first. “I’ve been experiencing the general suffering of samsara, particular the sufferings of the three lower realms from beginningless rebirth, from beginningless rebirths.”

On top of that, numberless hell beings have been experiencing the general sufferings of samsara, particularly the sufferings of the lower realms, numberless times, from beginningless rebirths. That’s the reality.

Then, numberless hungry ghosts have been experiencing the general sufferings of samsara, particularly the sufferings of the lower realms, numberless times from beginningless rebirths. Think like that, first the depth of your suffering, then the depth of their sufferings.

And then, the animals, the numberless animals—all these insects—have been experiencing the general sufferings of samsara, particularly the sufferings of the lower realms, numberless times. Okay? Feel that.

Then, human beings have been experiencing the general sufferings, particularly the sufferings of the lower realms, numberless times, from beginningless rebirths. Feel that.

Then, numberless suras and asuras have been experiencing the general sufferings of samsara, particularly the sufferings of the lower realms, numberless times, from beginningless rebirths. So, feel that.

Here you see, this is reality, this is life, how we have been hell beings. This is most frightening. Even for just ourselves, we have experienced the particular sufferings of the lower realms numberless times from beginningless rebirths. It’s most, most frightening. I mean, when we really think like that, when we really discover that, we can’t sleep, we can’t even eat food, but have to vomit. It’s most unbearable, most unbearable.

So now, on top of that, when we think of the numberless other beings in each realm, numberless, numberless, who have been experiencing the hell realms, we can’t even count. First there is ourselves, but that’s nothing; we’re completely lost, completely nothing, lost in all those numberless other beings, whose suffering is most unimaginable. There is no question that compassion has to arise when we think like that. Compassion just naturally compassion arises, their state is most unbearable, most unbearable. We’ve got to do something right away to help them, right away.

As I mentioned before, at this time we have received a perfect human rebirth, and we have the heart, the mind and all the potential to actualize the path, to achieve enlightenment, to liberate ourselves and to achieve enlightenment, and then to liberate numberless sentient beings from the suffering realms and bring them to enlightenment. Our mind has all the potential to do that, and then at this time we can utilize that potential because we’ve got this perfect human rebirth. We can utilize it to attain the path. The perfect human rebirth we’ve got this time allows us to practice, to listen and reflect, to meditate, and to actualize the path to help others. So, we’ve got to do that. There is no way to ignore this, when we think that all beings are not only suffering like that at present but they go through it numberless times.

I have no words left. How to say… We’ve got to do that, we’ve got to help others, to liberate them from oceans of samsaric sufferings, the general sufferings of samsara, the sufferings of the three lower realms. There is no choice.

When we discover suffering, there is no choice. Naturally, naturally our wish will be to help others, naturally. That’s naturally our wish and that’s the best thing in our life, what we should do with our life. The best thing is that.

To free them from the oceans of samsaric suffering, we ourselves need to go for refuge. To free all other beings from the general sufferings of samsara and the particular sufferings of the lower realms, to liberate numberless hell beings, numberless hungry ghosts, numberless animals, human beings, numberless asuras and suras, we need to go for refuge, to save, to rescue all these numberless sentient beings. Refuge is not only ourselves to be free from the general sufferings of samsara and the particular sufferings of lower realms but for numberless sentient beings to be free from samsara—the general sufferings of samsara and the particular sufferings of the lower realms. For that, we should go for refuge with our whole heart to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, whether there’s Guru, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, or just Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. We should go for refuge with our whole heart, to free them from all the suffering causes, those beings who are numberless in each realm. The Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are the only ones who have all the qualities, the power to liberate us and all sentient beings from suffering and its cause. With our whole heart, we should go for refuge, feeling how unbearable others’ suffering is.

Similarly, if there’s somebody who is very sick or somebody who is dying, when we take refuge we can remember that person. We take refuge for all sentient beings but now we remember this particular person who is sick or dying.

Even with the very profound practices in tantra, everything is done on the basis of refuge, everything is done—powa, the transfer of consciousness—it is all done on the basis of refuge. Refuge is the first thing we start with, the foundation. On that basis, we do the different meditation practices, whatever it is, even very secret or profound tantra.

So, this mental factor is refuge, totally relying on the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. With that, we can ask them to help a person who is dying to get higher rebirth or a person who is sick to get recovered immediately. We can ask about general sicknesses and particular ones. We can include the prayer in the refuge, it’s very good.

Next, we generate bodhicitta. Before I mention that, in our heart, we totally rely upon the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. We went through the essential subjects in the lam-rim, including refuge, how the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha guide us. The essence is explained, if we take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, the qualities, how they guide us. With the philosophical texts about refuge, it is a very elaborate subject, but those things are very important. All the time they [?] see the buddhas, and also the Sanghas, those who are very high, the arya Sangha, the arhats or the arya bodhisattvas.

Then the next: due to all the three times’ merits, all the past merits, the merits collected from beginningless rebirths, the past merits, the present merits, the future merits collected by me, the three time merits collected by others—that means all sentient beings including the bodhisattvas who collect limitless skies of merit in every second, with many activities, and then the buddhas. “Others” means numberless sentient beings, bodhisattvas, buddhas, who collected merits from beginningless rebirth, now and in the future.

Due to the three times’ merits collected by me, the three times’ merits collected by others, the merit of wisdom, the merit of virtue, which is the cause of the dharmakaya and the rupakaya. Dro la panchir sangye drub par shog. The next one says, “in order to benefit all the transmigratory beings, may I achieve enlightenment.”

Here, “in order to benefit for all the transmigratory beings,” we have to meditate on the meaning, it’s very extensive meaning. These sentient beings are under the control of karma and delusion, the sentient beings; they’re totally under the control of karma and delusion.

We can understand that from the twelve dependent-related limbs, the evolution of samsara. We can understand that all sentient beings are totally under the control of karma and delusion, so they themselves have no freedom at all. Because of that, they reincarnate in the six realms, continuously. When they die they must reincarnate in one of them and then experience all the sufferings, such as the sufferings of the hell realms, the eight major hot sufferings, the eight major cold sufferings, then the six neighboring sufferings, then the ordinary hell realm. Even in the human realm there’s an ordinary hell realm.

Then transmigratory beings experience the sufferings of the hungry ghosts, whose physical condition is to have a stomach like mountains, like a huge mountain, but with a neck that is so unbelievably tiny, and limbs that are tiny. Just from the physical conditions, there are unbelievable sufferings. Their major suffering is hunger and thirst; they can’t find a drop of water, even a mouthful of water on the ground, for hundreds of years, for thousand years. This suffering is due to miserliness, miserliness which is attachment, not practicing giving. It’s unbelievable. They don’t die but suffer for such a long time.

They walk like a very old person where there is so much difficulty in walking that he has to rely on sticks. But when even getting old becomes so difficult he can’t do it any more, that’s nothing in comparison. And a hungry ghost’s stomach is like a mountain. Unbelievable. Their physical condition has so much suffering.

Even if they see food very far away, waterfalls, water, and food, but then on the road there are karmic guardians who stop them and then there are also unbelievably, unbelievably exhaustion. There are so many obstacles.

Then finally, even the hungry ghost reaches where there is food and water, the food is no longer there, or the food and water is totally pus and blood and even garbage, so he feels so much disappointment; there is unbelievable suffering, because he’s been suffering, not getting a drop of water, even a spoon of food for hundreds of thousands of years. Can you imagine? Such unbelievable heavy suffering, unbelievable suffering. Then even if the food is not this way, his mouth is like the eye of a needle, so very difficult, even if a tiny bit goes inside, it becomes cause of flames, it burns the body.

Then the pretas who have more suffering, there are knots, their necks are knotted up, two knots, three knots, four knots, so no food can go inside the stomach, or just hardly anything, so tiny and the stomach is like mountain. I mean, it’s just unbelievable. Theirs is the obscuration of food, outer obscuration of food, inner obscuration.

Then, for the animals, their major suffering is ignorance. Because of that, they suffer by being eaten by another one. Their major suffering is that—unbelievable—being eaten by another one, just to go quickly. Then the suffering of hot and cold, hunger and thirst, all this is there. Then they are tortured, even if the human beings have them, they’re tortured, they have unimaginable, most unimaginable suffering.

It’s very good to see the animals’ suffering. I saw a video in the West, on TV. An Englishman made a video showing the unbelievable, unbelievable different types animals’ sufferings. One is the animals mating, but even then there’s unbelievable suffering. I tried to get it to bring here to watch during the course when we talk about the animals, lower realms’ sufferings. That’s another way, that’s unbelievable, I mean, the real thing.

Quite a number of years ago it was watched but people were unable to watch. They could only watch a half, but they couldn’t bear the suffering of animals, so they didn’t finish.

So that’s very, very good, very good, then you get the actual idea.

Then, the human beings’ suffering: the eight types of suffering, the six types of sufferings, there are five types of suffering rebirth, all the other sufferings integrated into five for us to see how extensive it is.

And then the eight types of suffering: the suffering of sicknesses, the suffering of old age, because we are born, because of birth, there’s the suffering of sickness, the suffering of old age. Then, there are five outlines for each of these. This is to get the broader idea.

Then, the suffering of aggregates. Before that, there’s the suffering of being unable to find the object of desire. All those unbelievable sufferings, whether it’s a friend or material place, business, I mean, after we’ve found that, another suffering begins. The fundamental suffering of that is still could not get satisfaction, so it goes on and on.

Then, there are the five sufferings of the aggregates, and then the five sufferings of death, so the eight types of suffering. That meditation is very important.

Then, the suffering of the devas. Their major sufferings are the five near signs of death. When they experience the five signs of death, their mental suffering is heavier than the hell beings. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche mentioned that their mental suffering is greater, heavier than the hell beings’ suffering.

Sentient beings, being under the control of karma and delusion, are born in one of the six realms, then experience all the sufferings, including the suffering of death, continuously. We have to think that this is from beginningless rebirths, from beginningless rebirths. Not from now, but from beginningless rebirths it’s been like this—the most unbelievable suffering, and it will be like this into the future.

So, it’s good with refuge to think of the future. I mentioned only the past but there are also the continuous sufferings of the future. If we don’t practice Dharma, if we don’t actualize the path, there will only be continuous suffering.

So, we take refuge in order to benefit all the transmigratory beings of the six realms, who continuously experience suffering, all this from beginningless rebirths. This is what happens. Thinking like that, and then, how it continues into the future, we just can’t stand it!

The meaning of “transmigratory being” is suffering. One meaning of transmigratory being is in the nature of impermanence. After birth, the transmigratory being constantly runs towards the death, constantly—not only day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, even second by second, even within seconds continuously run towards the death, going towards death continuously. That’s another meaning of transmigratory being.

Think: "In order to benefit them, to liberate them totally from the oceans of all this sufferings and its cause, by seeing the cause, karma and delusion, in order to benefit, cease the karma and delusion and bring them to enlightenment, in order to benefit them—(in your mind you should get all that idea)—I need to achieve enlightenment. Therefore, may I achieve enlightenment."

I was going to explain this a few days ago but then other things happened. I think that’s it. [Rinpoche laughs]

[Rinpoche chants refuge prayer in Tibetan]

At the end generate bodhicitta. Then, according to Kyabje Dukam Rinpoche, a Sera lama who is an unbelievable, unbelievable great bodhisattva, a great holy being, according to his instructions, after having generated bodhicitta you seal it with emptiness.

You, who seek enlightenment, are empty; the action of seeking enlightenment is empty; the enlightenment is empty; what to be achieved is empty and for whom the enlightenment is achieved—all sentient beings and you yourself—are empty.

Of course, as we understand emptiness doesn’t mean empty of that, but empty of falsity—false action, false enlightenment, false sentient beings, things that are independent, things that appear independent and that we hold onto as something independent, something real. We looking at them empty.

In emptiness there’s no I, there’s no enlightenment, there’s no sentient beings—only one taste.

When you do this, when you meditate like this, the heart of lam-rim is already being practiced, the very beginning is already being practiced, and so there is refuge. Within that, there’s renunciation, then there’s bodhicitta, then there’s right view—three principal aspects to enlightenment. The heart of the 84,000 teachings of Buddha, the heart of the three baskets, the heart of the gradual path of the lower, middle capable beings is already practiced, already perfected.

So, put your palms together at that time, when you do this, when you generate bodhicitta, put your palms together and take refuge.

I’ll mention this quotation, then we’ll finish.

In The Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, Lama Atisha explained by quoting The Sutra Requested by Viradatta:

If it possessed physical form,
The merit of the altruistic intention
Would completely fill the whole of space
And exceed even that.

If someone were to fill with jewels
As many buddha fields as there are grains
Of sand in the Ganges
To offer to the Protector of the World,

This would be surpassed by
The gift of folding one’s hands
And inclining one’s mind to enlightenment,
For such is limitless.9

If the merit of having bodhicitta could somehow materialize, if it took form, it would fill up the whole of the sky, even more than the sky. If all the buddha fields equaling the numbers of grains of sand in the River Ganga were filled with jewels and is offered to all the buddhas, the merit of just putting our palms together with bodhicitta surpasses all that. This is not the River Ganga but the Pacific Ocean, and not grains of sand but extremely subtle atoms.

If we were to offer all these jewels to all the buddhas, to the Guides of the World, the Protectors of the World, that is nothing compared to putting our palms together and generating bodhicitta. That is far, far more sublime than the previous.

All that, unbelievable, unbelievable, unimaginable offering, then now you put your palms together then think, “In order to benefit for all the sentient beings, I’m going to generate bodhicitta.” The merit of this offering is special, sublime, I mean extraordinary, sublime; it has no limit. This merit, bodhicitta, has no limit. How much merit you collect is what Lama Atisha mentions here. You have to remember this when you do this prayer. If you think like this, you collect limitless merit each time.

[Rinpoche and the students, chant the dedication, the mandala offering and the long life prayer for His Holiness the Dalai Lama.]

Due to all the past, present and future merits collected by me, the three times’ merits collected by others, that which exists but is merely labeled by the mind, may the I, who exists but is merely labeled by the mind, achieve Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment, which exists but which is merely labeled by the mind, and lead all the sentient beings, who exist but who are merely labeled by mind, then bring them to Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment, which exists but which is merely labeled by the mind, by myself alone, who exists but who is also merely labeled by the mind.

Okay, that’s it, so please enjoy your lunch.

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9Lamp for the Path, vv. 15–17. [Return to text]