Kopan Course No. 13 (1980)

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal (Archive #335)

These teachings were given by Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche at the 13th Kopan Meditation Course, held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, in Nov–Dec 1980. As well as discussing many essential lamrim topics, Rinpoche teaches extensively on Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga (Ganden Lha Gyäma) and Hymns of Experience, a condensed lamrim prayer composed by Lama Tsongkhapa. Lightly edited by Gordon McDougall.

Go to the Index page to view an outline of topics and click on the links to go directly to the lectures. You can also download a PDF of the entire course.

Lectures 17 to 19
Lecture 17

November 25, 1980 (morning)


Don’t visualize the merit field like a tongue or a barrel of flesh, some material thing that doesn’t give any feeling. You should think it is the essence of the dharmakaya, surrounded by all the buddhas, with your own guru in the aspect of the holy body, like a candle flame in a gold-colored bowl, very golden in color. The buddha’s omniscient mind, the dharmakaya, is in this form, like the flame of a candle, very clear and transparent.

The merit field is countless holy beings, not feeling tired! They’re not just sitting quietly, not making any comments. The whole merit field is having a very lively Dharma discussion, in their hundreds. It’s like in the large monasteries, where there are many hundreds of monks discussing and praying. There is a huge sound, just like a great many monks saying prayers at the same time, or when they have discussions.

Also, white-colored light beams are emitted from their holy bodies, shooting out and coming back.

At the center is Guru Shakyamuni Buddha. The rest of the merit field are sending out light beams, doing work for sentient beings, coming from various points and also absorbing back. There are even countless numbers of buddhas abiding in each pore of their holy bodies. Try to visualize as many as you can. The more you can visualize, the more merit you accumulate, creating the cause to achieve the Buddha’s holy body. All the holy beings of the merit field are truly happy to be working for sentient beings. 

One of the very close lineage lamas of the lamrim, who had completed the realizations on the path to enlightenment, said that generally there is no time when the holy beings of the merit field are not extremely happy, because they see our potential, even though we might be creating negative actions and causing ourselves suffering.

For example, a mother might have a very disobedient son who does whatever his mother tells him not to do. He goes completely against her advice. But one time, when the son listens to what she advises, the mother is extremely happy with her son, happier than somebody who always obeyed her. So, maybe once we do a little bit of study about the lamrim and offer that little bit of study to the merit field, that would make them extremely pleased.

Also, the holy Dharma—the scriptures and the realizations of all the merit field—should be visualized in the form of scriptural texts. Each syllable of the Dharma makes a sound, which is naturally part of that teaching. It’s like in the early morning when you look at a plant and see a drop of dew on it. After the sun has risen, it diminishes naturally. It is the nature of dew.

Visualizing the merit field as extensively as this is according to the all-encompassing jewel tradition.


After you have finished visualizing the object of refuge, you should then do the practice of refuge, which entails reciting the refuge prayer, taking refuge with your complete heart, relying on the guru and the Triple Gem. Remember the cause of refuge: aversion to or fear of samsara and devotion to the Triple Gem.

That particular way of taking refuge is according to the Theravada. The Mahayana way of taking refuge, on the basis of those two causes, has the additional aspect of generating compassion, feeling how unbearable it is that all the other sentient beings are suffering.

So in the motivation you think, “I must achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, generating love and compassion, feeling how unbearable it is that other beings are suffering. To be able to do that, I am going to take refuge.” 

Think that all sentient beings are also taking refuge to Guru Shakyamuni.

Then, with you yourself as the leader of the puja, visualize your father and mother, your friends and enemies, and then all the rest of the sentient beings, in the form of human beings, equaling the infinite space, endlessly, sitting on the ground around you. As you recite “I take refuge in the Guru,” “Lama la kyab su chi o” and so forth, all the sentient beings are repeating it together with you.

When you recite “Lama la kyab su chi o,” at this time visualize the five nectars beams radiating out and reentering the bodies of the merit field.

If you are going to recite the refuge prayer a hundred times, one mala, then for around fifty recitations, visualize the five different colored nectar beams coming from the five points of the merit field—the forehead, the throat, the heart, the navel and the secret place. The white nectar beams are emitted from and absorb back into the forehead; the red nectar beams are emitted from and absorb back into the throat; the blue nectar beams are emitted from and absorb back into the heart; the yellow nectar beams are emitted from and absorb back into the navel; and the green nectar beams are emitted from and absorb back into the secret place.

For half of the mala, you should do the visualization of purification. Imagine all the hindrances that block realizations, the qualities of the path to enlightenment, are eliminated. Maybe when doing the purification, concentrate on the white nectar beams. The same thing happens with the five different colored nectar beams absorbing into all sentient beings as with you, entering the body-mind of other sentient beings. Visualize that it purifies the general obscurations, the negatives karmas, and particularly the negative karmas and obscurations accumulated in the relationship with the guru, such as causing harm to the guru’s holy body, having broken his advice, having disturbed the holy mind, having generated heresy and having criticized him. All this is emitted, coming out of all the pores completely in the form of black dirty liquid or liquid coal, like when you wash your dirty body in the shower and all the black dirty liquid comes out. In that way, all your own and all sentient beings’ negativities in relation to the guru are completely purified. 

For the second half of the mala you should do the visualization of accumulation. Visualize that the qualities of the guru’s holy body, holy speech and holy mind flow into you and all sentient beings and think that your merits and those of all sentient beings are increased immeasurably, including your own and all sentient beings’ lives and fortune, the qualities of scriptural understanding and your realizations. In particular, you and all sentient beings receive the blessings of the guru’s holy body, holy speech and holy mind.

During this time, the part of the merit field you should concentrate on is the five divisions of the lama, with Guru Shakyamuni Buddha at the center and the four other gurus all around, with your root guru in the front. Behind are the lineage lamas who are blessing the practice, the lineage lamas of the extensive path and the whole path. Think the five different beings are at five different points, with the five different colored nectars, coming together like a shower. 

There is a place I saw in Brisbane, Australia, where in the middle of a shopping mall there is a central plaza where people can get the feeling of being on a mountain or outside; they can get a sense of nature. They put rocks and water and plants growing about and then had a stream running down the rocks, between the trees. It was a very fine stream.

There are different ways of visualizing the nectar beams. You do it like that or like a shower, with the different colored beams naturally flowing from the different places and coming all together. You can start by concentrating more on the purifying qualities of the white nectar flowing then move to concentrating on the increasing qualities of the yellow nectar and so forth.

With the next one, when you recite “I take refuge in the Buddha,” “Sang gyä la kyab su chi o,” you should visualization the nectar beams flowing from the deities of the four divisions of tantra. The buddhas are in the nirmanakaya aspect according to sutra. When you do that, think of purifying your negative karma in general and in particular the obscurations accumulated in relation to the Buddha, such as causing blood to flow from the tathagatas with evil thought.

Even if you haven’t done that in this life you have done it in past lives, so you are not only purifying the negative karmas of this life, but also the negative karmas from all the past lives, for example, the negative karma of discriminating between the images of the Buddha, such as in statues and paintings, discriminating between what you consider to be bad and good, thinking one is ugly and one is beautiful. Saying that you like this holy object but you don’t like that one is discrimination, whereas there is nothing to discriminate between bad and good in the Buddha’s holy body.

It is possible to discriminate between the workmanship of a statue or painting, thinking that one is better made than the other, but you must not discriminate about the statue or painting itself, which you should see as the actual holy body. When Lama Atisha was offered a Manjushri statue by a great yogi and asked to check up how it was, he said, “There’s nothing to say between bad and good in the statue of Manjushri, but the craftsmanship is not the best; it’s in the middle.”

However, if you discriminate in this way with the actual holy body, that is a particular negative karma. It’s like using the body of a buddha as a material possession, like something of monetary worth, like money you put in the bank. You are buying and selling buddhas, making business with them, seeing them as nothing more than material objects.

Then, [with this purification practice] if you destroyed a holy object with a negative motivation—not in order to repair it and make it better—this type of negative karma accumulated by you and other sentient beings from beginningless samsaric lifetimes is completely purified. As before, visualize it coming out as dirty liquid.

When you visualize in this way, you increase the general qualities of yourself and all sentient beings, such as life and fortune, and the qualities of the scriptures and realizations are developed and increased. Then, in particular, the qualities of the buddhas, such as fearlessness and the other ten powers, are increased. 


Khunu Lama Rinpoche said,

When you are depressed, remember bodhicitta.
When you are scared, remember bodhicitta.
When you suffer, remember bodhicitta.
When you are happy, remember bodhicitta.

When your mind is weak, remember bodhicitta.
When you lose heart doing things for others, remember bodhicitta.
When you become lazy, remember bodhicitta.
When you get upset, remember bodhicitta.16

This is real advice. All the time we have questions. “I have this or that problem, what should I do?” “My mind is a little bit depressed, what should I do?” “Sometimes I’m too excited, what should I do?” “I’m unable to control my mind. Sometimes my mind is full of fear, full of superstitions and paranoia. I’m terrified that some bad thing will happen to me! Even if nobody is bothering me at the moment, I still think that someone will come and steal my food and possessions!” 

You pass your life in that way with many unnecessary fears and upsets. During those times, when you wonder what is the best thing you can do, what is the best practice, what is the best medicine for the mind to stop being upset, remember that the best, most effective, enlightened medicine is to remember bodhicitta.

When you remember bodhicitta, you remember the suffering of other sentient beings. This surely comes. You see the unimaginable sufferings that other sentient beings have, and when you think about this, your own problem is lost. Yours is nothing in comparison. Your upset disappears. When you remember bodhicitta you also see how childish it is to get upset and how it all comes from clinging to this life. So, when you remember bodhicitta you have a broader mind, one that understands that the most important thing is not the happiness of this life but to achieve enlightenment for the kind mother sentient beings. That is the most important, the most beneficial thing that you should think. It becomes easy to see how unimportant and childish the happiness of this life is, how useless it is to you and to all other sentient beings.

The best thing to do when you are upset and suffering is to remember bodhicitta. When there is too much clinging to this life, when you are full of self-cherishing, remembering bodhicitta—meditating on it and trying to generate it—means the self-cherishing thought diminishes; it no longer appears strongly, whereas the thought of cherishing others arises stronger. 

In that way, the suffering or discomfort you thought was a huge problem, an important problem, becomes so small and insignificant. Also, by practicing bodhicitta, by taking other sentient beings’ sufferings and fears upon yourself, upon the self-cherishing thought, and by dedicating your wish-granting body, your pleasures, and your three-time merits to other sentient beings, it becomes the complete enjoyment for whatever sentient beings want to do.

Thinking in this way, when you are happy you dedicate your happiness to all sentient beings. When you have a pleasant experience, you dedicate that to all sentient beings. In that way, whatever you experience in life—happiness or suffering—is transformed into the path to enlightenment. It slowly becomes the method to greatly purify negative karma and accumulate extensive merit.

If you practice with bodhicitta like this, even when you have a happy life, attachment and pride do not arise. The mind doesn’t become confused. All the time, whatever happens, the mind is happy because of practicing with bodhicitta. Therefore, even when listening to the teachings, at the beginning it is important to generate the determination to realize bodhicitta. This becomes the preparation for actually realizing bodhicitta.

I’ll stop here.

“I’m going to listen to the commentary of the lamrim in order to reach enlightenment for the benefit of all kind mother sentient beings.”


By practicing correctly, you can cure diseases. Perhaps the doctor has given the patient so many kinds of the best possible medicine for their illness, but they just let them pile up on their pillow without ever taking them. They refuse to do what the doctor told them. Of course, they won’t recover. That’s not the doctor’s fault and it’s not the medicine’s fault; it’s the fault of the patient.

Perhaps you have listened to the virtuous friend, who is like a skillful doctor, as they have given many Dharma teachings, which are like medicine to cure the disease of the unsubdued mind. If you don’t do the practice, no matter what profound and elaborate advice you have received, it will not benefit your mind at all. Your mind will not be transformed; it will not be subdued. That is not the mistake of the guru and it is not the mistake of the holy Dharma; it is the mistake of the disciple, you yourself.

As it is said in one of Buddha Shakyamuni’s sutra teachings,

I have explained the extremely pure Dharma. If you do not perfectly practice it after listening, then it’s like a patient carrying a big sack of medicine [without taking it.] It does not cure their disease and they do not recover.

What Buddha Shakyamuni is saying is that even though the patient has a big store of medicine from the doctor, as long as they don’t take it they will never be cured, and similarly, if you don’t practice the Dharma you have heard, no matter how many teachings you have taken, it doesn’t benefit the mind.

There is a saying by the Kadampa geshes,

The evil ones can be subdued by the holy Dharma, but those who are thick-skulled are unable to be subdued by the holy Dharma.

Tibetans wrap butter in a leather pouch to stop it going rancid. Whereas they treat normal leather with butter to soften it, they don’t treat this leather, so while the butter inside remains soft and edible, the hide it is wrapped in is like a football, solid and quite hard. We should not let our mind become like that.

What the Kadampa geshes are saying is that when evil people—like butchers who kill animals or soldiers who kill many hundreds of people—listen to the Dharma, their minds can be transformed through the Dharma. They can regret the negative karma they have accumulated and generate the strong wish to purify. There are many stories about people whose early life was very evil but, through meeting the Dharma, they have been able to transform their minds and become great holy beings.

For example, most of you can remember Milarepa’s biography, how he led his early life. He used black magic to destroy the whole ground and the house, killing the guests who were upstairs and the horses who were tied to the posts downstairs. His mother planned that on the wedding day, while the guests were greatly excited, he should use black magic. Immediately afterwards the mother ran out. She put her old trousers on and went up to the roof and put out a banner that said some words like “victory.” She was extremely happy to be able to get revenge.

The lama who taught Milarepa black magic was asked to do a puja. When he saw the people dying in the house, it may have changed his mind, so he advised Milarepa to go and see Marpa. That’s how Milarepa met Marpa. After that he asked his guru to look after him and to give him both the means of living and the Dharma. Marpa’s secret mother asked him which one he wanted. He could only receive one, either food or Dharma, but not both. He followed her advice and cared only for the Dharma, completely disregarding any hardship, such as wounds on his skin from his hard work. Despite all the difficulties, without any heresy to Marpa arising, he built the nine-story house. Marpa then told him to tear it down and put all the stones back where they were before. Then, Marpa told him to build the house again. This happened three times.

He was beaten many times by Marpa; he only received scoldings, never sweet words. Marpa refused to give him teachings for so many years, no matter how many times he asked, directly and through Marpa’s secret mother. If Milarepa tried to attend any initiations given by the secret mother, Marpa would see him and make him leave. He spent many years like that.

He experienced many hardships to receive teachings from his guru, Marpa. All these things became his preliminary practices, like doing many hundreds of thousands of Vajrasattva mantras, many hundreds of thousands of prostrations, many hundreds of thousands of mandala offerings, and so forth. Unimaginable obscurations and negative karma were purified by this and he created unbelievable merit. Then one day, his guru Marpa, appearing as the deity Heruka, transformed the whole mandala and initiated Milarepa. By never breaking his guru Marpa’s advice, by correctly following him, he achieved the complete path to enlightenment in one lifetime. Another way of saying this is he achieved Marpa.

There are many similar examples, such as Angulimala in Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s time, who killed 999 people but after receiving initiations and teachings, he became a great holy being in later life; his mind was transformed. Even nowadays, there are many meditators who became great pure Dharma practitioners in later life, the complete opposite to how their lives were earlier.

Although even evil beings can be subdued by the Dharma, the thick-skulled ones cannot be. Even if they read Dharma books, nothing goes in. They don’t attempt to transform their mind, or they might think that what they hear is not right for their mind. Thinking like this, even if they listen to the teaching, the Dharma becomes a very dull subject, like having the same lunch every day. Dharma just becomes something to think about, not something to practice. No matter how many Dharma courses they attend, checking what new subjects there are for them, they never listen in order to benefit the mind. Or they wait to hear something they disagree with in order to argue about it, not listening to the teaching to benefit the mind, but waiting for the mistake!

If you have a thick skull like this, it is very difficult to be subdued by the holy Dharma. For example, because the thick skin of yaks and ox is very hard and tough, it is not flexible and cannot be used to make shoes and other things unless it is treated. 

When I was young, I travelled in Tibet with my two teachers from the village where I was born up to the place where they were planning to go, a place called Pagri. I think it took several months. From early morning until night we walked and stopped on the road to take food. First we had to cross the snow mountains to go to Tibet from there. They were not as dangerous as other snow mountains, but there is one peak that was a little bit dangerous. One day, a Tibetan man let me ride his donkey. I think he felt sympathy for me. In the West, everybody in the family has their own special car to go to their job. In Tibet they have a horse!

They went quite fast. My teacher, a nun and another man had to walk with the entire heavy load on their backs: the Tibetan chubas I used to sleep in at night with thick hair inside, Tibetan blankets, firewood and food—they carried the whole load very carefully. They would walk all day on the hard road—and it was very hard—with this heavy load. My teachers were very worried because we were far ahead on horses and they couldn’t walk fast because of the load and the pain in their knees. There was one animal skin which was bald in the center and had hairs all around. When I was a child I would pick it! It was full of holes and had no hair in the center. I was similar to the other young boys in this!

My mother says that I didn’t get much milk from her because I left home when I was very young. She said something like that. I’m not sure. Anyway, they couldn’t catch me. The road was very hard and they were quite old and had pain in their knees. They were very worried that I had been kidnapped by the Khampas. (The Sherpas called all Tibetans “Khampas.”) Finally, I reached a Tibetan’s house. But somehow my teachers recognized the house, even after it had become dark. This family were quite nice. Because we were exhausted, especially my teachers, the family offered us their own soup with dumplings made of barley flour. It was a pleasant night. The moon was dark and of course there was no electricity, but you could see by the fire. I didn’t spend a long time like this.

What I’m trying to say is, when we stopped they had an animal skin which they put on the road and they had black tea. They put some tea in the soft skin and wrapped the skin around it. It’s a very simple way to make tea and it’s very tasty. It’s a very simple way to fix the stomach. If you don’t know how to eat tsampa in bowls, then there’s this way. Tibetan tea is very precious when traveling and because it’s wrapped in the animal skin, nobody knows what it is, so it doesn’t get stolen. We even used the skin to sit on.

Every day we had to walk there was so much pain in the two teachers’ knees and, as the Chinese cars passed, I would think what an incredibly luxury it would be to travel in a car. As we were walking on the road, they held my hand out to get some money to go in the car. We begged a little and there was a little bit of food that came this way, but it was very little. The Tibetan people we met on the way would sometimes give wine and a little tsampa. They didn’t know I was a monk.

To make the skin usable, Tibetans put butter on the very dry, thick skin which they work with their feet until it becomes soft and can be utilized to make shoes or whatever else they want to make. Similarly, after an evil person with an unsubdued mind listens to the Dharma their mind can be transformed. If they meditate on emptiness they can easily generate the realization of emptiness; if they meditate on bodhicitta they can easily generate the realization of bodhicitta. And the same with the thought of renunciation. Whichever meditation the mind is trained in, they can easily attain that realization.

On the other hand, the skin which covers the butter has been in contact with the butter for a long time, but no matter how much time it spends with the butter, it remains very hard. Like that, if you study the Dharma or if you live for a long time at the center or at the monastery where you hear the Dharma and see Dharma books every day, it can become kind of normal. It can become nothing special, nothing beneficial for the mind.

Worse than being thick-skulled about Dharma in general is being thick-skulled about the lamrim. If you become thick-skulled about other teachings, you might still be able to be subdued by the lamrim teachings, but if the mind becomes thick-skulled about the lamrim, it becomes very difficult. Then nothing can subdue your mind. Therefore, you have to be extremely careful at this point not to become thick-skulled about the lamrim.

First, you listen to the teaching you are going to practice. Do the listening first. Then you apply the teaching you have listened to, which means meditating on it. This is the best form of meditation practice, applying your mind to the teaching you have listened to. In that way, your mind becomes inseparable with the teaching. Listening, reflecting, meditating—you do them all together. If you are going to practice the Dharma, if you are going to follow the graduated path to enlightenment, it should be like this—listening, reflecting and meditating in this way.

The Dharma king, Dromtönpa, the embodiment of Chenrezig, said,

When I listen, I reflect and meditate.
When I reflect, I listen and meditate.
When I meditate, I listen and reflect.
I do all three together.
I am Kadampa who knows how to proceed
By visualizing the holy Dharma in the path, not set on the side.

Like the Kadampa geshes such as Dromtönpa, you should do all three together—listening, reflecting and meditating—and not setting them aside, making each separate. In that way you will be successful. You should take their way of studying the Dharma and practice like them.


The definition of generating the fifth of the six recognitions is recognizing that the tathagata is a holy being.

That entails remembering the kindness of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha. The Buddha himself actualized the path and achieved the result of the omniscient mind and then he explained the path and the result to sentient beings. Because he completely experienced within himself the teachings he revealed about the path and the result, what Shakyamuni Buddha taught is true, unbetrayable.

Other founders of spiritual traditions can reveal paths that can mislead sentient beings, that don’t lead to true happiness. Such a path is misleading and such a founder betrays, but what Shakyamuni Buddha taught is true, unbetrayable, without the slightest hallucination, without the slightest mistake. He has revealed what must be practiced and what must be avoided with absolutely no mistakes or misunderstandings.

Through that, you know the meaning of a human life, how to make a life really meaningful, which is the immediate action, remembering that nonvirtuous actions are the cause of suffering and virtuous actions are the cause of happiness, remembering the actions that bring rebirth in lower realms and those that bring rebirth in the upper realms.

If you have just this much understanding, even though you don’t have extensive Dharma wisdom, it is by the kindness of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha. By his kindness he has revealed the teachings to sentient beings. If he did not reveal the teachings at that time, if he didn’t show the twelve deeds, even if you were born as a human being, your position would be hopeless; you would be the same as an animal, completely ignorant, knowing nothing about how to make preparations for the happiness of future lives. Your mind would be completely dark, like the birds and animals, with not even an atom of Dharma wisdom, without being able to differentiate between virtue and nonvirtue, between the cause of happiness and suffering. When you don’t know any different system, something that gives a sense of purpose to being born as a human being, when you are completely working for this life’s happiness, you are just like the birds and animals. When you see yourself as important, when you work for your own pleasure, when there is nothing higher, then there is no special purpose to be born as a human; you are living just like a dumb animal. 

There are even Buddhist countries without teachings on bodhicitta, where there is no opportunity for people to accumulate infinite merit by practicing bodhicitta. Even their thoughts about reality are completely misguided. They might have some idea about emptiness but not the ultimate emptiness only, that which cuts off the ignorance and grasping at the I, which is the root of samsara. They have no direct remedy to cut this off. Having met the Mahayana teachings, you have an incredible opportunity. You can study the teachings on bodhicitta and you can meditate on emptiness. 

Lecture 18

November 26, 1980


Numberless sentient beings have been experiencing the general and particular sufferings of the three lower realms from beginningless time. Like them, in this samsara, there is not one single suffering, not one single pleasure, that you have never experienced before. There is no greater pleasure in samsara that you have never experienced, and there is no greater suffering you have never experienced. There is not the smallest pleasure in samsara that you have never experienced, and there is not the smallest suffering you have never experienced. Whatever sufferings and whatever pleasures there are in samsara, you have experienced them numberless times from beginningless past lives. 

This is due to following wrong conceptions. While there is no truly existent I on the five aggregates, you believe there is. While the body is impure, you grasp it as completely pure, clean. The pleasure of samsara is always only in the nature of suffering, but you grasp it as pure happiness. While all phenomena are impermanent, changing all the time, you grasp them as permanent. 

If you could really contemplate this endless suffering of samsara deeply, thinking of all the suffering you have experienced and all you will have to experience, you would be unable to eat and unable to take even a cup of tea or a drop of water. You need to understand this at a very deep level, not just relaxing comfortably, just carelessly practicing the Dharma, not paying attention, not appreciating how the whole of your past experience in samsara has been suffering, not understanding the shortcomings of samsara, and not seeing the possibility of the end of suffering in samsara.

You might be able to talk about all suffering of samsara, but they are just words, without any feeling from the heart. If it is like that, if you have no strong energy to practice the Dharma, that is because you can’t strongly see the shortcomings of samsara, how it is in the nature of suffering.

If you really did take the teachings on the shortcomings of samsara to your heart, it would feel like you were living in the middle of a fire, like being caught in an iron house consumed with flames, where you are oneness with the fire. Even though samsara is completely in the nature of suffering, due to ignorance, you are hallucinated and attached to samsaric things, which keep you continuously tied to samsara.

If you thought carefully about what is explained in the teachings, with that understanding, with that Dharma wisdom eye, how samsara is only in the nature of suffering, you wouldn’t be able to stand it for even a minute or even a second, without doing something, without attempting to liberate yourself from it. There is no way you could just lie down and relax and not practice the Dharma.

Shakyamuni Buddha took ordination from his guru and then lived in the precepts. In that way, he actualized the path to enlightenment, became enlightened and enlightened numberless sentient beings. Even now he is guiding you on the path to enlightenment, planting a seed in your mind, by leading you to take the precepts, the cause of enlightenment. 

We all have the same potential to complete the work for the self and for others that Shakyamuni Buddha had, so to not use this precious opportunity and practice the Dharma is extremely ignorant. 


Mother sentient beings are the pure field that you receive all your three-time happiness and perfections from. Therefore, mother sentient beings are so precious, so kind. That you are able to start to practice the Dharma is due to the kindness of mother sentient beings.

In everyday life, any comfort or pleasure you experience has been received by the kindness of mother sentient beings. There has never been even the tiniest comfort or pleasure that has not depended on the kindness of mother sentient beings.

Just as the Buddha is so kind, so precious, because you become enlightened only by relying on his teachings, so all mother sentient beings are so kind, so precious, because without them you have no object of your Dharma practice, no object to train and subdue your mind with. Because of the existence of sentient beings, you are able to practice the Dharma and develop a good heart. To do that you must rely on the object, sentient beings. To generate bodhicitta, you must rely on the object, sentient beings. 

If sentient beings did not exist, there would be no object to practice the holy Dharma on, no object to train on, nothing you could use to subdue your mind. They support you; they help you develop a good heart; they help you develop patience.

Therefore, mother sentient beings are extremely precious, extremely kind, like the Buddha. They are much more precious, much more kind than all the buddhas because every buddha becomes enlightened by being born to sentient beings, by depending on sentient beings, therefore every buddha becomes enlightened due to the kindness of mother sentient beings.


Therefore think, “I should renounce the self, which is the originator of all my suffering, and I should cherish others, who are the origin of all my happiness. With this thought of cherishing others, I must therefore quickly attain enlightenment in order to bring all sentient beings to enlightenment. To be able to do this, I’m going to take the Mahayana ordination.”

There is no need to do prostrations; we’ve done them before. Now, put your palms together and do the visualizations. The lama who grants the ordination is in the aspect of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, surrounded by numberless buddhas and bodhisattvas.

Also remember you have the opportunity to take and keep the ordination, not only for the happiness of yourself, but for the happiness of all the sentient beings. As Chenrezig and the previous tathagatas have all said, by taking the eight Mahayana precepts you can liberate all sentient beings from the suffering of samsara and lead them to enlightenment, therefore think, “I’m going to keep the eight precepts. Despite all the hardships, I’m going to voluntarily undergo whatever I need to in order to obtain happiness for all sentient beings.”

You can also feel you are taking the precepts to pacify the problems of the world, such as danger from wars, which cause life danger to billions of people. You can also do that, in order to prevent those dangers.

In previous times, the bodhisattva king made a law that all the people in the country took Mahayana ordination on special certain days. Everybody kept these precepts and the country became completely changed. There was much more enjoyment, things grew more and the rains came on time, raining when they needed rain and not raining when they didn’t. There was never a shortage of food and there was so much peace in the country. People thought much less of harming others.

Last year, when there was fighting in Iran, some students were worried because a third world war might start, so they asked if there could be wrathful pujas done to prevent the war. In the end, the eight Mahayana precepts came out very beneficial, so they took the precepts by themselves for some time.

[Rinpoche gives the eight Mahayana precepts]

Lecture 19

November 27, 1980


In the Sutra of Mindfulness Guru Shakyamuni Buddha said,

Hell beings experience the most unbearable sufferings of the fire of Mara; hungry ghosts experience the most unbearable sufferings of hunger and thirst; animals experience the most unbearable sufferings of being eaten by others; worldly gods experience the suffering of living as if they are unconscious; and human beings experience the unimaginable sufferings such as shortage of the means of living. Living in samsara is like sitting on the tip of the needle; there can be no happiness at all. 

By saying samsara is like sitting on the tip of a needle, Shakyamuni Buddha is showing us how being in samsara is nothing but suffering. As long as you are in samsara, there is not the slightest moment of pure happiness. You must continuously suffer one of the three sufferings: the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change or pervasive compounded suffering.

The second suffering, the suffering of change, refers to what we think of as samsaric pleasure. Say, you are feeling hungry. When you start to eat, in the beginning it seems like a pleasurable experience, but if you continue to eat, it will cause discomfort and then even lead to the danger of death. So, while the first moment seems like pleasure, it is still suffering. As you eat, the pleasure of eating diminishes and it soon changes into the first suffering, the suffering of suffering. 

The second suffering can also be related to pervasive compounded suffering, because it came from that. That is what it said in the sutra teachings.


Think, “With this body, qualified with the eight freedoms and ten richnesses, I must be liberated from this samsara. It’s not sufficient that I, myself alone, am liberated from samsara. There is not one sentient being who has not been my mother, who has not been kind to me in four ways, who has not looked after me with the four great kindnesses.”

There is not one sentient being you haven’t called “mother,” you haven’t looked into her face, you haven’t put your fingers in her mouth, and made tears come from her eyes. There is not one sentient being you haven’t completely taken refuge in, not one hell being, hungry ghost, animal, human being, god or demigod. Each sentient being has given up their life for you countless times.

They have looked after you with each of the four kindnesses—giving you this body, protecting your life, leading you on the worldly path such as giving you an education, and bearing hardships and creating negative karma so you can have comfort and happiness. For you, they have given up their lives numberless times.

Therefore, even if it costs you your life just to obtain a single temporal pleasure for even one sentient being, it is worth it; it still cannot repay their great kindness. Even if you have to give up your life equaling the number of atoms of this earth for one mother sentient being, still it is nothing; it is still insufficient to repay their kindness. 

However, what you are attempting to do now by practicing the Dharma, by taking and keeping vows, is not just to try to obtain some temporal pleasure for one sentient being, but to bring each and every sentient being liberation from samsara and full enlightenment. How extremely worthwhile this is. No matter how many hardships you must endure for no matter how long—for numberless eons even—when it is the hardship of practicing the Dharma it is supremely worthwhile.

Think, “Even if I have to give up my life numberless times to be able to lead all sentient beings to enlightenment, I myself must achieve enlightenment, the omniscient mind, therefore I’m going to take the Mahayana ordination.”

Visualize Shakyamuni Buddha, surrounded by the guru granting the ordination, who is Shakyamuni Buddha in essence and aspect, and numberless buddhas and bodhisattvas. This should be done from the very beginning. When you offer a mandala, from the very beginning, you should start with that visualization. 

[Rinpoche gives the ordination]


Having taken the eight Mahayana precepts, make the determination to avoid specific negative karmas, those committed in relationship with the precious, sublime Dharma, such as avoiding the holy Dharma. As I mentioned before, because you think of yourself as a Mahayana Buddhist, if for that reason you criticize the Theravada, that is avoiding the Dharma. Or, of the four divisions of tantra, if you practice Maha-anuttara Yoga Tantra and you are disrespectful of Kriya Tantra, putting it down, saying it does not explain the nature of the path, that is avoiding the Dharma. And similarly, if you say your tradition, such as the Gelug, is superior, and criticize the others, that is avoiding the Dharma. To criticize any aspect of Buddhism means you have no knowledge of what refuge means, you have not thought carefully about the very basic practices.

Then, you need to treat Dharma texts respectfully, not putting them on a bed, on the ground or in an unclean place such as the cushion you sit on, without putting a cloth between the text and the surface to protect it. You should not carry a text and your meditation cushion in the same hand. You should not use a Dharma book as a seat. You should not step over a Dharma text. That is avoiding the Dharma. That accumulates negative karma through the ignorance of not knowing karma. Even if you know these things and still do them, that is carelessness and is also avoiding the Dharma.


Nothing can escape from karma. As is mentioned in the lamrim, in the outline of karma, just as taking refuge is the holy door to enter into the teachings, generating faith in karma is the root of all happiness and perfections.

The lamrim is divided into three levels, the graduated path of the lower capable being, the middle capable being and the higher capable being. The goal of the lower capable being is the happiness of future lives, and the method to obtain that is explained. It has two outlines: refuge and karma. Refuge is the holy door into the teachings and karma is the root of all happiness and perfections. 

The subject of refuge is vital because it is very important to know the qualities of the Buddha—his holy body, his holy speech and his holy mind—the qualities of Dharma and the qualities of Sangha. The more you know about the biography of the Buddha, the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, the founder of the present teachings, the more you will see the qualities of Dharma, the Lesser Vehicle arya path and the qualities of the arya bodhisattva’s path, the Paramitayana. These are explained in the teachings by the Buddha himself and by the great pandits, those learned lamas who achieved great attainments and completed the experience of the path by studying these scriptures. 

You cannot become enlightened without depending on the scriptures. If you are already enlightened, if your mind is already omniscient, then, of course, it’s not necessary to do a meditation course! It’s not necessary to go all over the place searching for something, doing different trips. 

None of us are enlightened, none of us have any experience of the path, not the slightest realization, not even a general quality that ordinary people have, such as correct conduct. When you get sick, you can’t see the causes of your sickness and you have to go to a doctor and have X-rays and tests with machines, checking your pipi and blood and things like that. You have to take refuge in the doctor. If you were enlightened and had knowledge, why would you need to go there?

There’s no other way to understand the qualities of the Dharma and Sangha. It’s not your experience, so what else are you going to do but take refuge?

Unless you do that, because you don’t understand karma, all your life you are going to ignore it, just forget it. Maybe you think because you don’t understand karma, it doesn’t apply to you, so you’re not worried. You don’t let the Dharma disturb you! Anyway, I’m joking!

What can you do? Since your mind is like this, what method is left in order to understand karma, in order to understand the cause of suffering and happiness, and the qualities of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha? How are you going to understand it without depending on the scriptures, without somebody introducing it? You need to depend on explanations.

I’m not saying you should have blind faith in every scripture. However, you should think that this is your existence and it is extremely important to understand, in the context of your own life, what makes you happy and what brings you suffering. And, depending on that understanding, you need to understand what makes others’ lives happy or suffering, and so know how to benefit them. This all depends on having a good understanding of this subject, karma. This is an extremely important point to know.

If you refuse to believe in karma, that is exactly the same as not believing in what you were taught in school, like in geography you were taught about the different continents or how science explains the evolution of the world. Everything you learn in school has come from people like scientists explaining things and writing them down in books, and then you believe them. They say the world is round, it has seven continents, people evolved from monkeys—that sort of thing—and you believe it. Where do monkeys come from? [Students’ replies are inaudible] Australia?

I remember a book by a psychologist, I don’t remember the title, where he said that all beings came from a water bubble in the sea! Of course, I don’t think it was a water bubble. If it was, there would be no problem. Anyway, the conclusion is that there are all these stories from scientists, stories from your parents about their parents—your grandfather, your grandmother, and their parents, people you’ve never seen—and there are books and stories about their lives, how they did this and did that. It’s written down and you read it and believe it. And you believe what scientists say about the world.

How can you believe all these things that are written down and then read about karma and say you don’t believe it? That’s something to think about. When you read about something like how disrespecting holy objects creates very heavy negative karma, even though you might not believe in it, it still applies. If, due to ignorance, you avoid the Dharma, you will suffer whether you believe in karma or not.

The reason I’m saying that karma is the root of all happiness and perfections, including enlightenment, is to show that you must protect your karma. All happiness depends on protecting your karma. The point I’m trying to say is karma is the root of all happiness, all perfections, including ultimate happiness, enlightenment.

It comes down to two things. If you don’t want to work for other sentient beings, of course, that is something else, but if you want to do perfect work for other sentient beings, you must attain omniscience, which means attaining the whole path, which depends on renouncing all negative karma and doing only virtuous actions. And all that depends on taking refuge and understanding karma and protecting your karma. That is the foundation.

To renounce nonvirtuous actions you must know what they are and the results they will bring if you practice them; how you will lock yourself into suffering and cause other beings to suffer. It also causes others to create negative karma in return and so never be liberated from suffering. 

Even if you don’t care about yourself, if you are careless about accumulating nonvirtue, you must see how it disturbs others. Not only do you not purify your own negative karma and create more, it also causes others to act negatively in retaliation for your actions and so accumulate negative karma themselves. Continuing to collect negative karma, your mind becomes more obscured with ignorance and you cannot do unmistaken, perfect work for other sentient beings. That’s how you disturb other sentient beings.

Even if you’re not concerned about your own suffering and happiness, even if you don’t care about virtue and nonvirtue, by thinking of others, those you deal with every day, you’ll see that you depend on others. You receive all your happiness from others—your food, your clothing, your job, your reputation, everything that brings you happiness is dependent on other sentient beings. Because every comfort and pleasure, even your means of living, comes completely from them, if you don’t consider others, it’s a very low, disgusting mind to have, a very upsetting mind.

I don’t know where it happened, maybe in the West, but there was a mother cat with four kittens. She died and a mother dog took over caring for them. The four kittens were drinking the mother dog’s milk. Somehow the mother dog was taking care of them even though she was not a cat. Even though they are physically so different, the mother dog was feeding the four kittens. Unbelievable things like that can happen, even with animals. It had nothing to do with the four kittens being at risk, but she saw they needed care and she fed them with her milk, despite not being a cat. [Student: Did they start barking?] Maybe you can check!

If even animals can do this, why shouldn’t we humans be much more concerned with caring for others. We should have the thought, the will, to benefit other sentient beings. So, even if you don’t care about karma for yourself, you should be concerned for the wellbeing of others, you should consider the best way to benefit them. And this whole thing comes down to karma; it all depends on karma, on renouncing nonvirtue and practicing virtue.

The conclusion is that you should clearly understand what is virtue and what is nonvirtue. I gave the example in relation to holy objects.


[There is a general discussion about gold, how it came to the world, how it is found—something like that—but virtually inaudible.]

Rinpoche: How is possible to find gold on this earth?

Student: Well, the best way to find it is to dig for it, either that or go to Lama’s house. There’s usually some there! 

Rinpoche: There are times when you can find gold when you look for it and times when you can’t?

Student: [inaudible]

Rinpoche: So, there are times when there is gold and times when there is no gold at a certain place? What about people who have a hard time finding gold in that place where there is gold?

Student: After it’s been removed, how difficult it is to find it there?

Rinpoche: But why couldn’t people find gold anymore in that place?

Student: Because there was no more gold there.

Rinpoche: Yes, but why did those people go to that place at a time when there was no gold?

Student: Because they were too late. 

Rinpoche: Why were they too late?

Student: Either they were born too late or ...

Rinpoche: Why were they born too late?

Student: I’m sure it has something to do with their karma!

Rinpoche: The people who were born too late, it depends on their karma? Why were they born at a time when there was no gold in that place? I’m not talking about karma; it’s nothing about karma. 

Student: They were born too late because their parents were not interested in living that place.

Rinpoche: What? No, what I’m saying is, they were born when there was gold, but couldn’t find the place. There were also people born when there was no gold in the place, so of course they could not find any gold in that place. What is the cause for this? Does there have to be a cause or not? 

Student: The parents were already busy having children when the gold was around, but the children came later. They couldn’t have come at the same time. 

Rinpoche: Yes, but why weren’t those children born before, when there was plenty of gold? 

Student: [inaudible]

Rinpoche: I think it comes to the same point. It’s not normal to think like this in the world, so it’s hard to believe, but actually it’s the same business. If you think carefully about something, it comes to the same thing. When you don’t have the karma for something to happen, it won’t. If you buy a car or something and it breaks down or is stolen, it’s the same thing. So many people have a difficult time. They buy things to be happy but they don’t have enough time to enjoy them. There are many people like this.

Student: I’ve read that in this world nothing happens randomly. There is a normal way; there are apparently many certain limitations, many conditions that apply.

Rinpoche: Yes, I understand. If there were no karma, anything could happen. Without considering karma, even if you wish something good to happen, there are conditions. Say, for example, when you see other people enjoying having a car, you also want one, so you take on a nighttime job to earn enough money to get one. It takes many years to earn the money but finally you have enough. However, before you even have a chance to buy it, you die! For others, having a car is the normal thing, but you haven’t created the karma for this to happen, to be able to get the money, buy it and then enjoy it. You didn’t create the cause, therefore you cannot experience the result.

The whole thing depends on your karma. If there’s karma, even though it’s a not normal thing, the result happens. If there is a very particular karma, that particular result comes. Even the everyday normal things in your life cannot happen without having created the karma to experience them. Whether you experience happiness or suffering, whether you experience what seems normal or not, it all depends on karma. For example, it’s not normal in the world for people to grow horns on the head, but there are people who have them. Recently in China, one person grew real horns on his head, about three or four inches long.


Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen said, 

If you are going to start something, start it with bodhicitta.
If you want to think about something, think of it with bodhicitta.
If you want to examine something, examine it with bodhicitta.
If you want to watch something, watch it with bodhicitta.17

Khunu Lama is advising us to practice as he practiced, to practice bodhicitta. This is what he himself did; they are not mere words, not just dry words without experience, without the practice.

His advice is that in your everyday life, whatever actions of body, speech and mind you are going to do, whatever action you are going to start, start it with bodhicitta. The very first thing you should remember is bodhicitta, the good heart, the wish to benefit others. By remembering this, you then start the action.

From morning when you wake up until nighttime, until the very last action of the day before going to bed, you should begin every action with bodhicitta. If you are able to practice in this way, as Khunu Lama advised, the whole action becomes holy Dharma, the cause of happiness of this life and the cause of happiness of future lives.

This not only becomes the method to liberate yourself from samsara, having a bodhicitta motivation also becomes the cause to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of others. When you begin an action with bodhicitta and do it for the benefit of all sentient beings, because other sentient beings are not just hundreds, but billions and billions—an infinite number—the merit you accumulate is infinite. For example, we are keeping the eight Mahayana precepts for the sake of the other sentient beings who are infinite, therefore, for the duration of the vows, we continuously collect infinite merit. 

No action begun with bodhicitta is possessed with an atom of the self-cherishing thought. Every action is sincere, pure; it’s not just from the mouth. It’s not just saying, “I’m practicing Dharma for the sake of others,” without any sincerity behind it.

Khunu Lama advises that if you want to examine something, do it with bodhicitta. Unless you do this, in your meditation sessions and especially in the break time, it is so easy for all kinds of superstitions to arise in your mind. If you let them, they will unsettle your mind, and you will spend hours following them. In the gompa or back in your room, even if you are completely alone, your mind is still so busy projecting your superstitious thoughts, like having your own television in the room. The television transmits the station of the unsubdued, unsettled mind, the ignorant mind that grasps at the I, the minds of attachment, anger and so forth. With all these programs that are transmitted from the television of the unsubdued mind, all kinds of pictures come into your mind.

You can spend hours and hours, even the whole day, like this. You can sit on a chair in the open air, unthinking, forgetting to eat. The result is a mind that is completely unsettled. After several hours following the disturbed thoughts in this way, you go back to your room, depressed and unsettled. This is how you waste your time, your perfect human rebirth.

The same thing can happen even when you are trying to meditate on the graduated path to enlightenment. You can be doing a meditation session in your room, using your bell, dorje and damaru, and other people will believe you are doing something very worthwhile, but it is the same television station. I’m joking.

So much time gets wasted like this. You get closer and closer to the death, without doing any preparations for the happiness of future lives. That’s why Khunu Lama says if you examine something you should examine it with bodhicitta. If you want to think about something, sit down and think about it with bodhicitta. Think about others with compassion, instead of thinking all the time, day and night, about your own problems.

If you have a problem with relationships, with a friend or partner, you just cause yourself misery by repeatedly dwelling on it, on and on, the whole day and night. You are lost to that; your whole attention is on that, even though it’s insignificant. There is nothing to worry about; there is no point in worrying about it, but still you exaggerate it, creating a bigger and bigger problem the more you think about it. There is even the danger that by obsessing about it you can become crazy, or you worry about it so much it becomes the condition for cancer to happen. Your worry causes your body to become unhealthy.

What’s the use of this? What’s the use of creating all these hassles? Why do you have to have all these worries when you could be separated from everything at any time, even this minute? No matter how many friends you have—even if every human being on the planet were your friend—no matter how many possessions you have, if you were to die now, at this moment, you would be able to take nothing and nobody with you.

This is the advice you should give your mind. Even if you can’t convince yourself that you will definitely die today, at least think that you are surer to die today than to remain alive. And think about what you can carry with you into all your future lives if you were to die at this moment. There is nothing worthwhile you can take with you except the virtue you have created; there’s nothing except the holy Dharma. 

After death, there are only two places to go; there is no third alternative. It is definite you will be born in one of two realms: either the upper realm or the lower realm. When you think about that, you have to remember that the cause of the upper realm is virtue and the cause of the lower realm is nonvirtue. When you have that set in your mind, whenever some nonvirtuous thought starts to arise, that thought automatically stops it. Whatever meaningless action you were about to do is automatically stopped. It gets transformed into the holy Dharma. Because you see anything you do for this life is utterly meaningless, worrying about it, fearing you will lose it has no essence, and it is immediately stopped. Your actions are transformed into virtue, and the thought to practice Buddhadharma arises. You should always give advice to your mind like this, especially thinking of the sufferings of other sentient beings.

Remember to generate compassion, to think about bodhicitta. Think how you can enlighten all other sentient beings, instead of thinking that you yourself are the most important among all the numberless sentient beings. This stops you thinking that your happiness is the most important thing and whatever happens to others—the suffering or happiness they experience—doesn’t matter. When you think, “I am most important; my happiness is most important,” you become careless of others, seeing them as kind of insignificant. Instead of this, you should give up this attitude and remember others instead, those others, whose number is unimaginable and whose suffering is hundreds of thousands of times greater than yours. You ought to remember them, by looking at them and meditating on bodhicitta, thinking, “How quickly can I lead all these sentient beings to every happiness?” Instead of being concerned only with your own happiness, not finding friends or not having enough friends, not having this, not having that—instead of counting all your problems like reciting a mantra, think, “When can I bring all sentient beings to every happiness?”

If you must worry, it is good to change the object of your worry. Instead of only worrying about yourself, switch the object, and worry about others’ suffering. To be able to quickly lead sentient beings to enlightenment completely depends on how quickly you generate bodhicitta.

Therefore, whenever you want to think about something, think about bodhicitta. Whenever you want to examine something, examine it with bodhicitta; whenever you want to watch something, watch it with bodhicitta. From morning until night, you should watch your mind constantly. Without watching your mind, there is no way to practice the holy Dharma. Without awareness of the mind, there is no way to transform your actions into Dharma, no way to practice bodhicitta. As Khunu Lama advised, if you’re going to watch something, watch it with bodhicitta.

You can watch anything; you can be mindful of anything. “Now I’m eating, now I’m putting my spoon on the plate, now the food is going in the mouth, now it’s being chewed, now it’s going inside, now it’s reaching the stomach.” “Now I’m working.” “Now the thorn has gone inside in my flesh.” “Now attachment has arisen for that object and I am stealing it.”

Somebody who steals has to be very mindful. If you wanted to steal something from your boss, for instance, you would have to watch your boss carefully for a long time, seeing where he is, seeing whether he’s asleep or not. Then, you have to know how to take the object you want, whether it’s a hamburger or a precious jewel. You have to recognize where it is and, after you’ve grabbed it, how to make your escape. You have to be mindful—whether it’s better to run down the stairs, jump out the window or sneak out the side door. There’s a lot to be mindful of.

Anyway, the conclusion is that mindfulness alone is not sufficient. When the thief goes to a house to steal, he has the thought to go to stealing. You can be mindful killing something. “Oh, now I’m killing a goat.” You might kind of feel the action is nonvirtue, but that doesn’t stop you doing the action.

Just watching the mind and being aware of whatever arises is not sufficient—“Oh, now it’s anger arising. Now it’s pride arising”—just being aware is not sufficient as long as you don’t practice the remedy of whatever has arisen. Watching the mind alone cannot pacify the unsubdued mind. Especially for somebody like me, whose mind is very untrained in thought transformation, very unsubdued, to just be aware of what is happening in the mind is not sufficient without practicing the remedy. You can be aware pride is happening in the mind and simply continue to follow that pride, continue to create negative karma, even though you are practicing awareness. 

To make it short, you not only have to be aware of what’s happening in the mind, but also watch to see whether there is the thought to benefit other sentient beings or not. Is whatever happening in your mind first produced by the thought of cherishing others or of cherishing yourself? Always check whether there is any bodhicitta. “Am I separate from the thought of cherishing others?” Then, watch the mind and see whatever action you do; watch the mind again and again.

For example, if you are doing a sadhana, you may have begun with a bodhicitta motivation. Check whether you are just saying the words or whether, besides the words, you are genuinely trying to generate bodhicitta. Is your mind mixing with the thought of bodhicitta? And even if you have started like that, you should check at different times, like in the middle of the sadhana, to see whether you still have that motivation. You might find you are still doing the sadhana, but now it’s purely for your own happiness. Then, you must realize that as long as you do the sadhana only for yourself, that is nonvirtue and it leads to the hell realm. It is the same if you are reciting mantras with self-cherishing.

It can happen that you start with the thought to benefit others but after a while this disappears. You start with some merit but then that fades, and although you are still doing the sadhana, the self-cherishing thought has completely overwhelmed the mind. Then, you must remember sentient beings again, remember you are doing the sadhana in order to benefit other sentient beings. This is the practice of watching the bodhicitta at the beginning, middle and end of the sadhana. It is similar to other instances of watching the mind in general but here you are specifically watching for bodhicitta. If you practice like this, watching for the bodhicitta motivation in what you do, this is the best method to stop the mind from being separated from bodhicitta.

In the thought training teachings, there’s a requesting prayer:

May I never separate from the practice of the two bodhicittas for even a second.

This is the way to practice. Praying like this to Chenrezig all the time, as Khunu Lama advised, whatever you pray for will be fulfilled.

I think it’s pipi time.

If you can practice like this, as Khunu Lama advised, your mind will become more and more transformed, into more compassion, into the nature of love. Then, you will be able to generate bodhicitta in this present body. You will have fulfilled having been born as a human being; then it becomes extremely worthwhile. But it is still very worthwhile even if you can’t do that in this present body; you can still do it in the next life, or in two lives, becoming enlightened without taking much time.

To gradually go through Lama Tsongkhapa’s Hymns of Experience point by point shows you how to live with bodhicitta. Khunu Lama said that by reciting the prayer, the words of the bodhicitta advice, you can plant an imprint in your mind, some seed of bodhicitta. In that way, it can benefit yourself and others.


I’ll read two more verses from Lama Tsongkhapa’s text.

Then, the root of creating well the auspicious conditions
For all the excellences of this and future lives 
Is to rely properly with effort both in thought and action 
Upon the sublime spiritual mentor who reveals the path. 

Seeing this we should never forsake him even at the cost of life 
And please him with the offering of implementing his words. 
I, a yogi, have practiced in this manner; 
You, who aspire for liberation, too should do likewise.18

The next verse shows the way of following the guru. It starts with the Tibetan word den, which joins it with the previous subject. I don’t think it’s in the English here. What den means is first you should understand all the qualities of the lamrim—the general qualities and the particular qualities—as well as the founder and all the lineage, all these things, and you should understand how this is so precious. Then you should follow the guru’s advice, correctly following it by putting effort into the virtuous actions the guru advises. 

It is a dependent arising. This is the literal translation of the text, which makes great sense. The root of all the causes that produce happiness is the practice of relying on positive actions, of following the advice of the virtuous friend who reveals the path.

That dependent arising is the cause of every happiness, of all the perfections, of all the goodness, of this life’s happiness and future lives’ happiness—every happiness and perfection, every goodness beyond this life, up to enlightenment. That dependent arising is the great means. The texts say, “The root of the well-arranged dependent arising is correctly following the holy guru.” “Well-arranged dependent arising” means it is the cause of the multitude experiences of happiness and perfections. Why is it called a dependent arising? Because you create this cause just by depending on the holy, virtuous friend. By depending on this cause, correctly following the holy guru, you receive the result, the multitude experiences of all happiness, of all goodness of this life and beyond this life, up to enlightenment.

In the past, even the buddhas have given up their lives and offered practice in accordance with the advice of the holy guru. If you practice like this, you too will gain liberation and enlightenment. Here, Lama Tsongkhapa said that he himself practiced like this and that we too should do it. We should pray to him, “Please grant me blessings to guide me to be able to practice like you.” For my mind, this is much more effective, because from the practice of guru devotion the result definitely comes. 

This is a very brief explanation of the verses dealing with the practice of correctly devoting to the guru. I hope to be able to talk later on the way of meditating on this, the essence of following the guru in thought and action. 


When you take refuge in the Buddhadharma, the particular obscuration, the negative karma, that you purify is avoiding the holy Dharma, the particular negative karmas accumulated in the relationship with the holy objects, such as seeing the scriptures of the holy Dharma as merely material objects to make a profit from. Besides never doing that, you should not disrespect holy Dharma texts, as I mentioned yesterday, such as not putting holy texts on the floor or on a cushion without having something underneath to make them a little bit higher. 

You should also not put things on the top of the holy texts, such as your mala or your glasses, unless you have no choice. That is also disrespecting the holy texts. Nor should you sell Dharma texts in order to get food to eat. To live on the money of selling Dharma texts is very heavy negative karma; it causes your obscurations to become much heavier and thicker. 

Because you live with Dharma texts and other holy objects, unless you are very aware of these particular negative karmas, they are very easy to do. Unless you practice awareness all the time, it is difficult to distinguish what is right and what is wrong in relation to holy objects and therefore very easy to accumulate these particular negative karmas. 

There’s a story of a great practitioner of Chenrezig who went for a meal at a benefactor’s house with four other monks. The family had a text of the Prajnaparamita in one hundred thousand verses, collected in twelve volumes, which they had to sell because their wealth had degenerated. After they had done that, they realized it was wrong, so they invited the yogi and the monks in order to confess. 

After the meal, the yogi had great pain during the night. When he examined it, he saw that there was a syllable AH going around inside his body causing the pain. When he called to Chenrezig, asking him why he was in such pain, Chenrezig told him that it was wrong for him to eat that meal, because the food was obtained through money received from selling the Dharma text. Chenrezig said, “Because you have thinner obscurations, you are experiencing the result right away. With those other four monks, however, the reason that nothing is happening with them now is because after this life they are going to be reborn in the hell realm.” Chenrezig told him to purify this by writing the entire text in gold. 

There are many other stories similar to this on the subject of karma. I have a cousin who was in Kathmandu, but I think he has now left for Lhasa. While he was living in Kathmandu, most of his life he made money by selling Dharma texts and statues. After reading the texts on creating negative karma with holy objects, it became very difficult to go to his house. Sometimes, I had to go with Lama Yeshe. Of course, it’s customary that when you go to a Tibetan house, especially if you are a monk, they have to offer you something, even though that is not the reason for going there. So that was the most difficult part. He served tea but, for my mind, it made a big difference. Taking one drop of that tea creates strong negative karma whereas not drinking that one drop of tea, it doesn’t happen. It was like climbing Mt. Everest. It was very hard to drink even one drop of tea, because I could see where it would lead. Therefore, I more or less gave up going to his house. Before, we used to go there to make pujas. He must have invited other lamas, later. 

One time he came out with fruit and tea in a thermos. Several times, he insisted, but I kept saying that I had had a lot of tea that morning! He finally thought it was strange, that maybe there was something wrong with this tea. I thought of throwing the fruit in the forest after I left. When I make observations, I am often very scared to be invited to somebody’s house, especially to a Sherpa’s house. There are many Sherpas who are businesspeople. If I go, I soon run away, scared, onto the road!

When you do the visualization, imagine all this gets purified. All the general obscurations, your negative karmas and the particular negative karmas that are accumulated from beginningless lifetimes with the holy objects and the precious holy Dharma, by you and by all other sentient beings, are all completely purified.

When you do the visualization, imagine yellow nectar beams coming into you, and the qualities of your scriptural understanding and realizations increase. Particularly, the true path and true cessation of suffering are generated in your mind and in the minds of all other sentient beings. 

You can also think that the whole lamrim path, from guru devotion up to enlightenment, is generated within your mind and within the minds of all sentient beings. 


When you recite the line taking refuge in the Sangha, at that time you purify the general obscurations, the negative karma, and the particular negative karmas accumulated from beginningless past lives in the relationship with the Sangha, such as causing disunity among the Sangha, causing disunity among a group of four. That negative karma is very heavy. It can be more than four, and it can be a monk or nun or a lay person; whoever has achieved the true path, the true cessation of suffering, and has become an arya being, that person is a full Sangha. It doesn’t have to be just four members. 

The conventional Sangha are four pure monks or nuns, four pure members of the Sangha. From the point of view of the conventional or all-obscuring truth, the conventional Sangha is any group of four precious, sublime members of the Sangha. If you cause them to become divided, you create the karma of having caused disunity among the Sangha.

It is said that in a place where there has been disunity among the Sangha, even if you meditated there for twelve years you wouldn’t be able to attain any realizations. It’s like that place is burned; it has very bad vibrations. It’s kind of like a dead place. Some monasteries are like this. You feel like this when you go there. 

Therefore, it is emphasized how extremely important it is that the Sangha are harmonious. If they are not harmonious, the qualities of the scriptural understanding, the realizations, cannot be developed. They can neither benefit that much nor preserve the teachings.

Then, there is taking without permission things that have been offered to the Sangha. This happens. For instance, for a manager of a monastery, the one who looks after the offerings, such as the food and robes, it is easy to commit this negative karma, taking away things belonging to the Sangha. 

If somebody makes, say, a hundred-dollar offering to the community of Sangha, and the manager, because he’s a friend of the benefactor, tells him that that’s too much, that they don’t need that much, and then gives the benefactor back a dollar or five dollars, even though it’s done with compassion, it’s wrong compassion. That’s taking what has been offered to the Sangha. Or if they offer a cake and you take a thin slice and give the rest back to them, thinking the person will be pleased, that is kind of wrong compassion. If you don’t offer to the Sangha exactly what the benefactor offered, if you only offer half and the other half disappears, then you are using things belonging to the community of the Sangha without permission.

There is also the particular negative karma of criticizing the Sangha, such as saying, “These monks do nothing. They just eat a lot and sleep a lot. That’s all they do. While we have to work very hard, they only eat.” If you make a general statement like this, “These monks do this ...” it covers all the monks there are in the country. If there are thousands or tens of thousands, however many Sangha there are, you have criticized them all. 

I think in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and countries like that, where there are a great many Sangha, a lot of people have a very limited view when they look at the Sangha; they don’t completely see what they do. The work the Sangha do is to hold the precepts, the thirty-six precepts of the novice monks and the two hundred and fifty precepts of the fully ordained monks. They are very hard to keep. It’s very difficult to face your delusions but, if you don’t face them, there is no way to keep the vows. Keeping the thirty-six or the two hundred and fifty vows that the Sangha hold is actually the hardest work because you have to overcome the unsubdued mind, and that can’t be done without bearing many hardships, without fighting hard. It’s the hardest work but it’s the most beneficial.

Whether there are teachings or not in the country depends on whether there are Sangha keeping their vows purely. If there are monasteries in a country and if there are Sangha living in the precepts, then there are teachings in that country. It is generally defined in another way, mainly, the Vinaya teachings. 

But people in those countries, those who do not understand much Dharma, who can’t see how precious it is living in the precepts, can criticize, “Those monks do nothing.” They just believe in the external appearance, completely believing that all the Sangha do is eat and sleep. They don’t see the hardest part of the Sangha’s work, dealing with their delusions, the work they do on their anger, the work they do on their attachment. If they did not face up to those delusions, they couldn’t become a monk or nun. Their vows would definitely degenerate. Depending on how much somebody can face and subdue the unsubdued mind, they are more able to keep their precepts. That shows how hard it is. They are doing the hardest work.

When you take refuge in the Sangha, all these particular karmas—causing disunity in the Sangha, taking things that belong to Sangha without permission and criticizing the Sangha—are completely purified.

When you do the visualization, you are increasing in your own mind the qualities the Sangha have, the qualities the protectors have, the four actions: the pacifying action, the developing action, the controlling action and the wrathful action. Then, the qualities that the dakas and dakinis have, the transcendental wisdom of nondual bliss and voidness. You are increasing the qualities that the arhats  have, all the qualities explained in the teachings of the qualities of the arya beings of the Lesser Vehicle. You are increasing in your own mind the qualities of the bodhisattvas on each of the five paths: the meditator on the path of merit, the meditator on the path of preparation, the meditator on the right-seeing path and the meditator on the path of meditation. All their qualities, their lifespan, their fortune, and so forth, as well as the scriptural understanding and realizations and the particular qualities of the Sangha are generated within your mind and within the mind of all other sentient beings. 


There’s one thing I left out before. When you recite, at that time as the nectar beams flow out, you should concentrate on them coming from the texts held by the merit field. They are the embodiment of the realization of the merit field, and so nectar flows from them and enters you and all other sentient beings, in body and mind. 

When you say, “I take refuge in the Sangha,” at that time, you mainly concentrate on the bodhisattvas, then the arhats, the dakas, the dakinis and the protectors. You mainly concentrate on the nectar beams flowing from them. 

The refuge practice comes in three stages: purifying, entering and being guided. With the first stage you are purified. Then, the second is entering, which means the blessings, the qualities of the Guru, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha have entered you and you have received them. Then, with the third one, being guided, you should think, “Now I’m completely under the guidance of the Guru, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.” You should make this determination.

Reciting this, you should remember or meditate on this meaning, which combines the two practices: refuge and generating bodhicitta. Even in this short prayer, if you know how to do it, if you have an understanding of the complete teaching of the lamrim, while you are saying this prayer, you can do a direct meditation on the whole lamrim. The whole lamrim is contained in this prayer. 

When you recite the next lines, “Due to the merits of having practiced charity and the other perfections, may I achieve enlightenment to benefit sentient beings,” you should think how you must achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, and therefore you are never going to renounce bodhicitta. Think, “Until I achieve enlightenment, I’m going to practice bodhicitta.”

Reciting this three times, the merit field, the objects of refuge, are extremely pleased. Your root guru, in the aspect of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, is extremely pleased that you have generated bodhicitta in order to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. The guru is extremely pleased that you have vows to practice until you achieve enlightenment, never renouncing bodhicitta.

At your guru’s heart is Vajradhara, Dorje Chang. At the heart of Vajradhara is the syllable HUM, the embodiment of the dharmakaya. Then, a replica of Vajradhara, who is Guru Shakyamuni Buddha appearing in a different form, descends to you and absorbs into you, and you become one with Guru Shakyamuni Buddha.

Then, from all the pores your holy body—you who have become one with Shakyamuni Buddha—beams are emitted, and on the tip of all the beams are Guru Shakyamuni Buddhas. They come to the head of every sentient being, who are all purified. Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, who is seated above their crowns, melts into light and absorbs into them. Their minds become the dharmakaya, oneness with Shakyamuni Buddha. Their bodies become Guru Shakyamuni Buddhas, the holy body, the rupakaya. In that way, they are transformed into Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s holy mind, the dharmakaya, and holy body, the rupakaya. 

Feel great happiness. Think, “How wonderful it is that I could enlighten all sentient beings in the essence of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha. How wonderful it is.” Feel that. Feel great joy.

Doing this visualization is related to tantric practice. It is a very profound meditation practice, called taking the result into the path. When you become oneness with Guru Shakyamuni Buddha that is the result. As the result, it is going to happen in the future, but you visualize it as happening now; you bring it into the present and use it as a path. If you do that, it will definitely happen; you will definitely achieve the result. This meditation practice becomes the path that allows you and all sentient beings to achieve the state of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment. In this meditation, you are utilizing the result as a path. 

This is the way to do the meditation on taking refuge 

Let’s stop here.


I’m going to read a few verses from the Hymns of Experience on the Gradual Path to Enlightenment

This life of leisure is even more precious than a wish-granting jewel; 
That I have found such an existence is only this once; 
So hard to find yet like a flash of lightning it is easy to vanish; 
Contemplating this situation it’s vital to realize that all mundane pursuits. 

Are like the empty grain husks floating in the winds 
And that we must extract the essence of human existence. 
I, a yogi, have practiced in this manner; 
You, who aspire for liberation, too should do likewise.19 

This body having all the freedoms and richnesses is much more excellent than a wish-granting jewel. The whole of the lamrim, the graduated path to enlightenment, comprises three levels of practitioners: the graduated path of the lower capable being, of the middle capable being and of the higher capable being. This subject is part of the graduated path of the lower capable being.

Not only is this body with its freedoms and richnesses much more excellent than a wish-granting jewel, it is only at this time that you have found such a body. It is extremely difficult to find and is decays extremely easily. It’s like lightning. 

By reflecting on the nature of your body, you should realize that all samsaric work is just a husk. A husk is what covers the seed inside, but with worldly work there is nothing inside. Samsara is nothing more than the husk. To get the essence, to get the grain that they want, farmers take out the husk. [Student: They thresh the grain.] 

They thresh the grain, taking it away and leaving only the husks. By reflecting on the nature of samsara, of worldly work, you can see that, like the husk, it has no value at all; it has no essence. Seeing this, you must resolve to take the essence, all day, the whole day, day and night. 

Then, Lama Tsongkhapa said, “I, a yogi, have practiced in this manner; You, who aspire for liberation, too should do likewise.”

This body of freedom which is much more excellent than a wish-granting jewel, this human body you have received at this present time, is not just an ordinary human body. It is a human body that is qualified with the eight freedoms and ten richnesses. Because of that, it is most precious. There are many beings who have found a human body but very few who have found a precious human body, qualified with the freedoms and richnesses. To find such a body is extremely rare; it is the most precious of all human beings’ bodies. 

Most human beings have not met the Dharma; they haven’t met the virtuous friend who can reveal the Dharma to them. Therefore, for them there is something missing—the eight freedoms and ten richnesses. They have a human body but not a perfect human body.

You have found this perfect human body and with it you can achieve the three great meanings within each day, each hour, each minute: a fortunate rebirth, liberation from samsara and full enlightenment. You can do so much work and achieve whatever you wish, whatever temporal wish and whatever ultimate wish. Within one hour, one day, one month, one year, from now until death, you can achieve whatever temporal or ultimate thing you wish for. It’s unimaginable.

You can achieve the unified state of Vajradhara in this brief lifetime. The only thing blocking you is that, from your side, you haven’t done the practice. That is why this perfect human body is described as being much more valuable than a wish-granting jewel. And you have it almost only this once; it’s extremely difficult to find again. Why is it so difficult to find again? Because its causes are so difficult to create. The causes are the practice of perfect charity and pure morality, supported by the prayer that you take another perfect human body in the next life. Because a perfect human body has eighteen attributes—eight freedoms and ten richnesses—you should create eighteen causes.

In everyday life the mind is always overwhelmed because you are always under the control of the unsubdued mind, thus the texts emphasize how difficult it is to attain this perfect human body and how easily it decays. 

When the texts say “decay” it means the lifespan is so short, like lightning in the sky, and then you are dead. But I think this decay can also refer to while you are still alive, how the four elements in your body—earth, water, fire and air—are unbalanced. They are disturbed, which means you easily get sick and so are unable to practice the Buddhadharma.

When there’s something wrong with the body, there are the four non-living external elements and other interferers, living beings, that all further disturb you and cause decay and degeneration. And again, you cannot practice the Buddhadharma. When the mind becomes crazy, you cannot practice the Buddhadharma. When there’s something wrong, when your body is unhealthy, you cannot practice Buddhadharma as you wish. It’s extremely easy for something to go wrong with the mind and body. 

When there are hindrances that cause so much degeneration, it’s very difficult to continuously practice the Buddhadharma as you wish. Even if you get a fever or a small headache, you can’t do anything except lie down—or scream! Then, for one or two days you can’t do anything. 

And when the body becomes old, when old age diminishes the body’s strength, even if you have the understanding, even if you wish to practice the Dharma, you cannot do it as you wish. Something can go wrong with the body incredibly easily and death can come. This can happen at any time; you can never predict it. You can’t truthfully assure yourself that from now until tonight you will be completely all right. Maybe even within the next hour you notice a rash on your skin and then you’ll be crying out for help.

By seeing how life is so short and how it can so easily decay or death can come, you should try to understand through these examples that life is really like lightning in the sky; just here for the shortest time. Now you are sitting or eating and it might not seem like that, but from the time you were born until now, all that time has finished, and if you check, it just seems like a flash of lightning in the sky. It is gone so quickly. Whether you’ve been happy or not, whatever you have done, whatever lifestyle you have had, it’s gone, finished, just like lightning. Just as from birth until now has been like a flash of lightning, so from now until death will be like a flash of lightning. We all believe it is a long way away, but it’s not like that at all. 

While you are with your friends, enjoying things, this is just for a short time. It’s like objects that are suddenly illuminated on a dark night by a flash of lightning. You see it all clearly for a very short time and then [Rinpoche snaps his fingers] it is completely black, completely dark. It’s exactly like this, from now until the time of death. You live your life, seeing your friends and family, studying the Dharma, enjoying your possessions, moving from here to there, and then [Rinpoche snaps his fingers] utterly unexpectedly, all of a sudden, this vision stops. This vision of all these things you are seeing now suddenly stops, like the darkness after a flash of lightning.

This is the example Lama Tsongkhapa gave. I think we’ll stop here.


16 The Jewel Lamp, vv. 89 and 90. [Return to text]

17  V. 98. [Return to text]

18 Vv. 11 and 12. [Return to text]

19 Vv. 13 and 14. [Return to text]

Next Chapter:

Lectures 20 to 22 »