Lamrim Meditation Course at Chenrezig Institute

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Eudlo, Australia (Archive #163)

These teachings were given by Lama Zopa Rinpoche at a one-month meditation course held at Chenrezig Institute, Eudlo, Australia, in May 1975. This historic event, attended by 120 students, was the first meditation course at the center. The course was based on The Wish-fulfilling Golden Sun, Rinpoche’s first lamrim book, and includes many checking meditations led by Rinpoche. First edit by Ven. Thubten Labdron (Trisha Donnelly), second edit by Sandra Smith, August 2021.

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.

Lama Yeshe, Beatrice Ribush and Lama Zopa Rinpoche in meditation on Saka Dawa, Chenrezig Institute, Australia, May 25, 1975. Photo: Wendy Finster.
Lectures 17 and 18
Lecture 17

There are techniques that can be used when there are problems, life confusion. Instead of thinking “I am suffering,” instead of taking it on ourselves, there is a way to use anything the negative mind suffers, also our feelings, whatever the problem is, the mind of near disaster. Even though there's something happening it doesn't become important, if doesn't seem a big problem for us. There can be so much benefit, according to the level of our mind and how strongly we let go of the evil thought of worldly dharmas. We must renounce that.

Actually, if we want to fight—fight the ego, fight the evil thought of the worldly dharmas, fight the attachment, fight the anger—it is worthwhile to fight. That fighting becomes the cause of peace. That fighting becomes Dharma, that fighting is real Dharma, that fighting is pure Dharma, real pure Dharma. It is not even physical work—that work of peace is not the work of the physical body, it is only work in the mind, mental work. No matter if we are sleeping, lying down, whatever the physical body is doing, if the mind is working like this we are practicing and that practice or that action is real pure Dharma. That fighting never creates negative karma. It only becomes the cause of everlasting happiness.

Usually we make mistakes in fighting. Instead of fighting our main enemy—that which bothers us all the time, which turns people against us, so there is disharmony at work and other people harm us— we don't fight the main enemy, which is the mind, and we take care of it as best as possible. We serve it as much as possible, we worship our enemy. And then, instead of fighting and destroying this enemy, we fight and destroy other sentient beings, we fight with other sentient beings, from whom we receive peace, from where we receive happiness.

Sentient beings are never the object we should fight or to whom we should give harm; they are never the object of that. They are all objects that bring us peace, from whom we get our enjoyments, our happiness. Even the temporal perfections, peace, even everlasting happiness, even enlightenment; they're objects from which we receive this. Receiving enlightenment is dependent on sentient beings. We practice Dharma and without sentient beings we cannot practice; without depending on the kindness of sentient beings there's no way we can practice Dharma. They're only objects of peace.

So it is a great mistake in our daily life when we get angry, when we fight and give harm to them, you know. When we make other people lose, it is a great mistake. In this way, normally what we do is destroy them, instead of taking care of the sentient beings, by understanding that they are the object, the field from where we receive all our pleasures, our enlightenment, all the perfections, all the enjoyments, all the temporal needs. Instead of thinking of their kindness, instead of helping them, we destroy them. We destroy the object, the field from where we receive all these perfections and happiness. We destroy them instead of taking care or helping them. This is a big mistake, a grave mistake.

When there is suffering and problems, as I explained before, we should think of karma and these things, trying to understand that this is the fault of the evil thought of worldly dharmas. Think, “The evil thought of worldly dharmas obliged me to create negative karma so now I am experiencing the suffering result. I'm obliged to experience suffering due to the evil thought of worldly dharmas. It is the fault of the evil thought of worldly dharmas.”

Thinking in that way is very, very useful. In this way we never want to follow the evil thought of the worldly dharmas and we want to renounce that energy. We don't want to follow the evil thought of the worldly dharmas and also we don't create bad karma. If we follow the evil thought of the worldly dharmas we create bad karma. Our action becomes negative karma. So, in this way, if we don't follow the evil thought of worldly dharmas we also don't create negative karma. In this way, we are planting the root of peace for many lifetimes. If we don't follow the evil thought of the worldly dharmas we don't create negative karma, therefore the result of the negative karma does not have to be experienced in this life or any other lifetime. That's why this practice brings the root of peace in many future lives.

The beginning meditators who are trying to lead an ascetic life; those meditators practice like this at the beginning. Whenever their enemy, whom they dislike, is harming them they’re so pleased. “How good it is! That has to be! That should be! Even more damage should happen!” Even if they have a car accident, they think that's good, that's very good. There are many meditators who live their life in pure Dharma, who try to create pure actions and in such a way try to lead an ascetic life in pure Dharma practice. Whenever problems happen, like maybe thief is coming or maybe someone comes to beat them or maybe criticize them, or maybe disease is coming; whatever things happen, they always think in this way: “I have experienced it to discover the evil thought of the worldly dharmas,” and their mind is sort of happier, instead of feeling depressed and upset.

Like some New York people who come to Nepal, which is not a good place, it’s not a materially developed country. There are many fleas and because they haven't been used to that, when they see a flea on the bed they freak out. This one great flea jumping! Just even one, just one flea on the bed! Then they make a big fuss, calling everybody, just as if someone came to take their whole life.

The mind of the meditators, instead of feeling upset and freaking out, they feel more and more happy as things happen. Ordinary people think of outer enemies, but the meditators think of the evil thought of the worldly dharmas. They take revenge and fight the evil thought of the worldly dharmas, thinking how it is good that they are suffering! This is needed for them, such trouble, such suffering! Like taking revenge, like when we fight with someone, when we shoot or do something, when it hits us or when it hurts us, we feel sort of satisfied, “That's good, good.” Feeling satisfied. Like that we should think to the evil thought of the worldly dharmas.

Anyway, this is something that can be experienced, which can be proved only through practice and experience. Through such practice gradually the mind becomes peaceful, but through words it cannot be understood. Like these meditators who are practicing Dharma purely, instead of people praising them, they prefer criticism. This is just one example. Same thing, temporal conditions, they prefer more uncomfortable conditions. Why? If the conditions or the place are more uncomfortable, same thing happens, they find it very useful to practice Dharma. They let the attachment suffer, they find it very useful.

One yogi, one meditator, Kadampa Geshe Ben Gungyal, a follower of Atisha, was living an ascetic life in the practice of thought training. Geshe Ben Gungyal was very famous in his early life as a robber in the daytime and a thief at night. In his belt and on his body he used to carry many weapons such as knives, arrows and slingshots. One day, due to previous habits, he was in some family’s house, stealing tea. He put his hand in the sack to steal the tea and all of a sudden he realized that he was stealing, so he made a big noise, “Oh here's a thief, here's a thief, a thief is in the house!” When the people came he showed them his hand, saying, “Here's the thief!”

There are many other stories of what he did. Like this, instead of hiding the mistakes and faults, the great meditators display them, they expose them because their practice becomes really pure Dharma in this way. It becomes real spiritual action.

The way they practice Dharma, how they renounce or fight the evil thought of the worldly dharmas, is exemplified by another story of Kadampa Geshe Ben Gungyal. Once, after he had begun to practice Dharma, he was in a temple where a benefactor had offered curd to all the monks. Geshe Ben Gungyal was sitting near the end of the row of monks, watching the person serving the curd to the monks at the top of the line. When he saw that a lot of curd was being dished out into the bowls of these monks, he was worried that it would all be gone by the time it came to him.

Then he suddenly realized this was the evil thought of the worldly dharmas coming, that his attitude was one of worldly concern. To renounce the evil thought of the worldly dharmas he then turned his bowl upside down. When the person came to serve him the delicious curd, his bowl was upside down. In order to control or fight the evil thought of worldly dharmas, in order to lose it, he did not accept any curd.

This is how those yogis, those meditators practice Dharma. Dharma is like that, we should not have the feeling it is always doing some puja or saying mantras, meditating or burning incense; it is actions of the mind.

Also sometimes, when people are praising us or saying this and that and there is danger of attachment arising, it is useful to think like this, sort of visualizing or thinking that they are speaking words that are very pointed or like red-hot pins, like the long needle that is put into a fire and becomes red-hot. Thinking like that about these words praising us—which cause attachment and the negative minds to arise, so we create negative karma—we don't have to show anything with our face or body, but this is something we can practice within our mind. We should check up and be aware of our mind and what it is doing, what our reaction is. What is happening in our mind while someone is helping us; try to be aware of that. If we are in danger of attachment and things like this arising, thus becoming a disaster, if we visualize in this way, it is also useful. If we visualize their words like this, if we visualize in that way then we aren’t interested in or attached to whatever the person says.

So think like this, as we visualize a sort of long, red-hot, burning needle which goes through the body: “This hot burning needle, even this cannot cause such suffering; perhaps it may cause my death but that's all. Just this life’s death, that's all. But their words, what they are saying, such words have been causing me to experience suffering numberless times in my previous lifetimes, in the upper realms and in the suffering lower realms. How that has been causing me to suffer is because those words caused my attachment to arise. Then I created negative karma and suffered in the suffering realms and the upper realms. I was born in those realms and suffered. Like this in the past, these words are also obliging me to suffer in the present time and continuously in the future. So, therefore why should I be attached to their words?”

Compared to this, a very pointed red-hot pin is nothing, even if goes through our body, that's nothing, it’s just one time. It is a hindrance but that's nothing comparing to the words, which cause attachment to arise. Thinking like this is also very, very useful.

When someone gives us a present or something material which causes attachment to arise, again unhappiness comes in our mind, non-peace, which makes us confused. Those things we can also visualize, for example, if someone offers us delicious cake we can visualize red-hot coal. Then we don't get attached to it and there is no problem in the mind. We're creating peace within our own mind, so there's no problem. Our mind does not become confused if we visualize in that way. Our mind is continuously relaxed, at peace. We don’t get pumped up, we don’t become uptight and un-peaceful.

In our country, the mountain people have devotion to the monks; the people are wanting to create good karma and they offer things. They don't have much, mostly they are very poor but they try to offer something. Mostly what they bring is food. Corn doesn’t grow at that height, wheat grows lower down and sometimes they bring that, but most of the crop is potatoes so they bring potatoes and sometimes they bring salt. The mountain people don't like the Indian salt; they don't eat it because Indian salt doesn’t have the power, it’s not as strong as Tibetan salt. They eat salt that comes from Tibet because it has a very strong taste and it is sort of a special salt; it is kind of an expensive thing. So they bring salt and these kinds of things and sometimes I feel unworthy myself when they bring their food.

For their small amount of food they walk for a long time. Physically they suffer so much to get the wheat from a place way down. They go down for three, four or five days and then they carry it up on their own backs. Mostly they don't have animals. Some families transport by animals but mostly the poor people carry things on their back, carrying their load for four or five days from places where it is very hot, from where they buy things. When they go down they take certain foods, like potatoes, certain things, whatever they have a lot of. Then they make an exchange, then they bring back the wheat or whatever it is, but it doesn't last long. The roads are not straight and are terrible, up and down, crossing rivers and mountains. Then they bring food to the monks.

They come to see the lama when they have problems. Sometimes they come maybe just to say hello, sometimes they come without problems but mostly they come because they have been having some problem in their family, someone is sick or something happened, something is wrong. That's mainly what it is like in Tibet also. They don’t have psychologists, you know! Usually here, when you have something wrong with your mind that you can't handle, you go to a psychologist. Sort of like that, but in Tibet they go to see the lamas in the monasteries!

When they bring these things, even if it is just a little bit, even if it is nothing, just one plate, but when I think how much they suffer for their food, it's unbearable, kind of unbelievable—actually I feel unworthy to eat the food. However, it is also useful sometimes to try to visualize food as kaka, you know, visualizing the food that they bring as sort of a dirty thing, like kaka, the worst thing you can think of. It's very useful, very useful to keep your mind in place! [Laughter] Then the mind is very relaxed, the mind is so relaxed. So relaxed, nothing like before, so relaxed, quiet, quiet, and also, if you want to, you can meditate and there is no distraction.

There is no distraction and when you think more and more of the shortcomings of the evil thought of the worldly dharmas and how things are boring, bringing problems, things like this, when you think more and more like this, when you discover this more and more—sometimes even though you had attachment before, in the beginning, wanting other people to bring things, but after two months of meditation, thinking of the shortcomings of the evil thought of the worldly dharmas and how things become conditioned with delusion, as you think about this more and more—gradually you prefer, you're much happier if they don't bring anything to your room. If they don't bring you things, you're much happier, you prefer that; you’re much happier than if they are bringing things to you.

So, definitely the mind progresses through practice, lessening attachment, not having attachment to things generally. When there is any problem like attachment to pleasure, hearing pleasing words or receiving material things or admiration, there are so many other techniques, it depends. Like thinking, as I explained before, that the nature of pleasure is suffering and being aware; that is very, very helpful to not get attached. To keep away from attachment, also think the pleasure does not last. In a split second it changes. That's also useful.

One very powerful thing for ordinary people or very beginners, one most useful thing is the indefinite time of death. Perhaps when it comes to it, I can point it out, however the indefinite time of death is extremely useful, especially for beginners who do not know much about Dharma, who do not know much about shunyata, absolute nature, and these subjects, who do not know much, who have no deep understanding. For those people, to control attachment when there's pleasure or something, a most useful technique is thinking of the indefinite time of death. Anyway, it will come afterwards, so no need to repeat it now. Your understanding will become clear afterwards.

Thinking about the indefinite time of death is very useful, very useful. And also, besides, when you have suffering, you can think about karma. When you have problems of attachment arising with pleasure, this time you can also think of karma. When attachment arises, creating negative karma, the result of this is to be born in the suffering realms. Even if you are born in the upper realms, again there are different types of suffering results which have to be experienced. This will come in the part on karma; this will become clear in the part on karma. There are different results explained.

Like this, thinking about problems, it is also very, very useful when you understand the part about karma, the different suffering results. It's very, very useful to think about that, it’s very powerful. But if you don't have much understanding of karma or much respect for that, if you don't care, even if you think about it intellectually it does not change your mind.

Then, if you have understanding of shunyata, you can use that understanding. If you have clear understanding of what shunyata is, what emptiness is—what is emptiness and what is the opposite of emptiness—that which has to be empty. There's something that has to be empty. So, maybe this stomach, to make the stomach empty! I'm joking. Maybe to make your purse, your money purse empty! I'm joking. Anyway, in the objects of the senses there is something that has to be empty—that which has to be empty and what it is empty of. If you have clear understanding, the exact right understanding of absolute nature and how things relatively exist, if you have right understanding of this, correct understanding, you can also use these techniques when there are life problems or mind problems. When there is such a problem within the mind, when the mind goes up and down, you can use these techniques. You can use these techniques if you have clear, exact and correct understanding of these things.

Just like the things in the shops, where there are many artificial goods—maybe not here but in India there are many artificial foods which are of good colors, like apples, and they set them behind glass, way up, not down, where people can't take them and go! [Rinpoche laughs] Then below, there are many foods that cannot be eaten. Like that, if you recognize what is artificial and what is real, if you have that much understanding of this shunyata subject, then you can definitely use the understanding when a mind problem comes—attachment, these things—and it definitely works if you have the right understanding. Understanding of shunyata, the wisdom of shunyata, is like the knife that cuts off the branches of trees. It is the main weapon which cuts off all the fundamental wrong conceptions. So, anyway, like this, to just give you an idea. Then, the other subject, death, will gradually come.

However, the final thing, Dharma. What is important to renounce in this life, the evil thought of the worldly dharmas, is a very, very profound teaching. It is extremely difficult to understand, it's very deep, very deep. It is not something we can understand by hearing just the title, Dharma. It's not something we can understand. If we share a candle we can understand or if we share a flower, we can understand. But Dharma is difficult to understand; even sharing words does not make us understand what Dharma really means. It is very deep, very deep.

Even if we open the kundalini chakra, if we have the power to control kundalini, that kind of thing, even if we have magic powers to fly, magic powers having control over certain things or we can show magic things, like not being burnt by fire, things like that. Even if we have that much power but we are still not living in pure Dharma practice, that's possible. Our life is still not pure because we are always following the evil thought of the worldly dharmas, which creates problems, suffering.

Therefore, this is something we have to try to understand and then, with understanding, as much as possible we can try to put it into action. This practice, this action of renouncing the evil thought of the worldly dharmas has such incredible knowledge and benefits. The practice gives us incredible knowledge and benefits with which to stop suffering and attain all the happiness. From this we receive temporal happiness and also everlasting happiness. It does not mean that by renouncing the evil thought of worldly dharmas we don't receive any pleasure. From this we also receive happiness—our life becomes much happier, much more peaceful, less complicated—and without doubt, we will receive everlasting happiness and enlightenment.

So, I'd appreciate that, rather than meditating. Someone may spend one month in a meditation course without understanding Dharma, and even though they know other subjects they don't know the actual meaning of Dharma or how to practice Dharma. Comparing that person with someone who has all the understanding of Dharma, what the Dharma means, how to practice Dharma, but has no understanding of other meditations, I would prefer the person who only has the understanding of Dharma, what Dharma means and how to practice Dharma—even though they don’t have understanding of other meditations, they have correct understanding of Dharma. I'd prefer this to knowing other meditations but not knowing Dharma.

However, I think your life in the West is difficult somehow. Sure, there are many things, due to your previous life, which have made such conditions in this life. However, it is difficult. But “difficult” is made by you and “easy” is also made by you. It's something that you made and we arranged. It's something that you unconsciously or consciously made.

I think it's useful, even if you don't always have time at home, even if usually there is no time to meditate, even if you don't meditate for one hour or something like that, even if you haven’t developed a fixed time. The most important thing is that your mind does not forget the subject of meditation. You are always aware, you always remember the subject of meditation, and whatever actions you are doing—talking, anything—as the usual life is going on, at the same time you always remember the meditation subject that relates to that action. At the same time the mind is aware.

There are different techniques and the meditations contain the methods to make the life meaningful, showing how to make your actions of body, speech and mind meaningful and beneficial for yourself and other people. The meditations contain techniques, so as your wisdom remembers them and uses them, your actions are transformed in this way, you act in this way.

If you meditate for one hour in the morning but the rest of the day your mind is completely unconscious and you completely forget the meditation for the rest of the day, then the mind is just wild, you are like a wild animal and you are doing all kinds of violent actions. It’s as if you are a completely different person from the morning. Except for that one hour in the morning, the rest of the day you are completely different, like you have taken another rebirth, sort of!

It’s better to be aware of your actions and to be practical in your life. Even if you don't meditate for one hour in the morning, since you have an understanding of the meditation techniques, you are always aware of your daily actions and the meditation, the Dharma subject. You are also aware of which action is opposite to the Dharma, against Dharma. Then you can try to always make actions harmonious with Dharma, according to Dharma. In this way, your life is fantastic, really fantastic. Then your life is really beneficial, really beneficial, really meaningful, beneficial, without doubt. You also create much less bad karma because your mind is always aware, checking whether it is good karma or negative karma, like this. In this way—when you act according to Dharma, when you try to do all actions through Dharma—all the negative actions, which are the cause of suffering, are stopped. So every day your life becomes the cause of peace. It’s very, very useful, very useful, very useful.

So, what I mean is this. It’s better if you don’t spend one hour meditating but use your life actions like this, always checking, being aware of the Dharma, trying to do actions not against but harmonious with the Dharma, trying to act according to Dharma. I would rather say your life is much more practical, much more clever, more skillful than if you meditated for one hour and after one hour you become completely berserk, like wild animal. I mean, you’re trying in the morning, that's good, that's better than nothing, [laughter] but actually where you spend more time is the rest of the day, not in that one hour. The whole of your day is not one hour. The whole of your day, all of your time is spent in the rest of the hours, and for that you have to be careful. That is the time when you have to be more careful. That's where you spend more time, you see. So, if your actions are opposite to Dharma, only creating negative karma, then so much time is wasted and your life becomes meaningless. So these things are just my idea.

Same thing, even if you are living in a cave in a very high, solitary place, eating little food and not seeing people. Even though it is physically a solitary place, your mind is not really in a solitary place, your mind is not really in retreat, you are following the evil thought of the worldly dharmas. If the actions are not done according to Dharma, then you aren’t any different from an animal that is living in the cave or a small ant living in a solitary place—they are also living very distant, in the mountains, with no people around, same thing. All this gives us ideas for discussion, what we can do with our life, how we can make our life practical.

[Reading from Wish-Fulfilling Golden Sun, p. 88]

Spending this perfect human rebirth desiring only the eight worldly dharmas and working for the enjoyment of samsaric pleasures is like trading universes full of jewels for kaka. But even this very dirty thing is much more useful than attachment—it can be used by both people and animals.

The more I desire and enjoy the eight worldly dharmas and higher samsaric pleasures, the more I create confusion and remain ignorant.

So I think, briefly, just a very brief finish on the eight worldly dharmas! I don't think it is completely finished. Also sometimes in one year doing a retreat is very good, I think like two months. Even though usually in daily life we try to practice Dharma but also each year make it a little bit stricter, doing two months or one month retreat, more strict meditation. You can do certain purifying meditations, there are many different techniques, there are many meditations, there are many things. There are so many hundreds and hundreds of things that can be done. Even if you work during the rest of the year, but each year for one or two months do a stricter retreat, mainly strict in the mind, strict in the mind. It's very, very useful to try to do some purification. It's very useful, very, very useful, very useful.

Also, in this way it helps us to have less time in a suffering realm, in suffering. This way we’re making a path or a bridge to everlasting happiness and enlightenment.

For tonight's meditation—that's your own enlightenment! Then come back into samsara! You can do meditation on the usefulness of the perfect human rebirth. Maybe spend half the time on these things and half the time in oneness with Guru Shakyamuni Buddha. Do purification by reciting the mantra and purifying with white light. Do it longer. Do that longer and then visualize receiving knowledge. So you can do maybe twenty-five minutes or something on the usefulness, then the rest of the time, meditate on emptiness. Meditate on the usefulness of the perfect human rebirth and then do guru yoga meditation on emptiness.

Precepts 4

Before taking the ordination, for the action not only to become Dharma but also to become the cause of enlightenment, it is necessary to cultivate a pure motivation. Even though there is no actual bodhicitta received, it is a similar thought to bodhicitta. It’s necessary to think deeply, at least having a short motivation like this:

“I and all sentient beings have been experiencing suffering in the general samsaric realms, particularly in the three lower realms, from beginningless previous lifetimes, due to the wrong conception believing the object is self-existent even though it is non-self-existent; believing the object is permanent even though the object is impermanent; and also believing the impure object is pure.”

Try to feel the beginningless experience of this suffering in samsara. If we really think back, if we really check up, we've been experiencing suffering in samsara from beginningless times. It is something that makes tears come. As we continue to follow these wrong conceptions, we will endlessly suffer in samsara. If we really think, check up on the incredible sufferings we will be experiencing in samsara continuously, it is something that is really terrifying and we can't stand it without trying to do something to stop it. It is something that we can't wait even a minute. If we fully and clearly see the whole future, the experience of all the sufferings is unbelievable, what great sufferings we have experienced, what long sufferings we have experienced.

“Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s achievement of enlightenment is not eternal, that which has no beginning. He was an ordinary person like us at the beginning, he followed the guru and the ordination. By purifying the mind, speech and body, by disciplining himself, he received enlightenment and enlightened infinite sentient beings. Just as he did, we're all capable of receiving enlightenment for the sake of other sentient beings. Only wishing for myself to be released from samsaric sufferings is very selfish, ungenerous. That is not sufficient. The sentient beings are the field from where I receive all my past, present and future perfections and happiness—even the precious happiness of enlightenment, the ultimate happiness, and even the samsaric happiness.”

Sentient beings are our principal helpers at the beginning, in the middle and even at the end of our Dharma practice. At the beginning, by the kindness of the sentient beings we receive the chance to practice Dharma. By the kindness of the sentient beings we are able to carry on the practice of Dharma, following the practice. Even at the end, by the kindness of other sentient beings we receive enlightenment.

How wonderful it would be if all the mother sentient beings were to abide in equanimity, free from attachment and hatred which discriminates between foe and friend.
May they abide in equanimity.
I myself will cause them to abide in equanimity.
Please, Guru Buddha, grant me blessings to be able to do this.

How wonderful it would be if all the mother sentient beings were to receive all happiness and the causes of happiness.
May they receive all happiness.
I myself will cause them receive this.
Please, Guru Buddha, grant me blessings to be able to do this.

How wonderful it would be if all the sentient beings were free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
May they be free from all suffering and its causes.
I myself will cause them to be free.
Please, Guru Buddha, grant me blessings to be able to do this.

How wonderful it would be if all the mother sentient beings were never separated from the happiness of the upper realms and the holy peace and happiness of nirvana.
May they never be separated from this happiness.
I myself will cause them never to be separated from this.
Please, Guru Buddha, grant me blessings to be able to do this.

Think: “To enlighten all these mother sentient beings as quickly as possible, I must achieve enlightenment first. Achieving enlightenment depends on disciplining the body and speech, and that depends on disciplining the mind. Therefore I'm going to keep the ordination until tomorrow sunrise.”

Then you visualize the person who grants the ordination in the aspect of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, as a real living Shakyamuni Buddha, surrounded by infinite other buddhas. Then with this visualization you repeat the prayer.

[Ordination prayer]

Think: “Just as the previous tathagatas, the holy beings, followed the precepts, I'm going to observe the precepts until tomorrow sunrise.”

In the depths of your mind, think: “With all my effort I will benefit other sentient beings, in order to cause all sentient beings to be released from suffering. For that reason I am going to observe the precepts.” Feel this in your heart. Then repeat this prayer.

[Prayer repetition]

Think: “Just as the past, present and future buddhas dedicated their merits, in the same way, for the same reason, I will dedicate the merits of taking the ordination.”

Also think: “Due to the past merits, present merits and future merits of taking the ordination, may I quickly receive the enlightened stage of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha and lead all sentient beings into this enlightened stage.” Completely dedicate from the heart.

During the whole day, since the ordination has been taken, as much as possible, frequently, during the whole day, especially at break times, it is necessary for the mind to always be aware of the eight precepts. If you're always aware of your responsibility to keep the precepts for the sake of all the mother sentient beings; if you're aware and feel it all the time, then your precepts won't get broken. If you're not aware, because of previous habits and the mind being unconscious, not well-trained, the precepts are easily broken.

Therefore, it is necessary to think all the time, when you see people or animals, whatever you see, even those you don't see, always remember this:

“I'm keeping these precepts for each of the sentient beings—all the animal creatures, insect creatures, each of the sentient beings—to release each of them from suffering and for them to receive enlightenment.”

Try to feel some responsibility. Try to feel that you are doing something for the sentient beings, some practical, really useful, beneficial thing for the sentient beings. This includes your parents, your relatives, your best friends, your enemies, everyone. Helping sentient beings equally in a practical way, which really benefits others, is much better than giving them clothes and food and trying to talk in a samsaric way. This is a really beneficial way of helping them and it really brings peace. Try to feel the responsibility, what we have to do for the sentient beings. If you think “I am doing this for the sentient beings,” then you feel you are doing some heavy thing. Also in that way you take much more care of the precepts and they don't get so easily broken. Otherwise they are easily broken, by being unconscious. Like this.

If you think like this as you go through the ordination, with bodhicitta, as the number of sentient beings is infinite so the benefit of keeping precepts for one day is also infinite—infinite in its knowledge, infinite in its teaching. Also keep in the mind the benefits of keeping the precepts. Then think of this when mind gets tired or things like that.

Lecture 18

From the holy speech of the great bodhisattva Shantideva:

[1:14] Just like the fire at the end of an age,
It instantly consumes all great wrongdoing.
Its unfathomable advantages were taught
To the disciple Sudhana by the wise Lord Maitreya.

“Just like the fire of the end of time destroys the great negativities in one second .…” Shantideva is explaining in this verse that, just like the fire at the end of time—that means when the whole world, the earth, the planets, the stars and moons, even Mt. Meru [are destroyed]—anyway that subject involves the explanation of the mandala, which comes at the beginning part of the purifying methods, the several different purifying methods. That contains the explanation.

The idea of Mt. Meru and the different continents can be understood from the explanation of the mandala offering, the visualization. The greatest mountain is Mt. Meru, which is a formation of jewels and has different categories of samsaric gods on each level. Mt. Meru has four levels; the gods of desire or the gods of the senses are situated on various levels. On the top of Mt. Meru there is the realm of the gods, and right on the top there is the king of their realm, the king of the gods of the senses. And in the center is the palace of the king.

When the whole of the universe ends, a place like this, one universe—twenty-four continents, Mt. Meru and the ocean around—will all be destroyed by fire. It will be the end of the time of the world existing. The whole thing, even Mt. Meru, will be burned, will be destroyed by the fire of the end of time. This is also the result of karma—the length of the karma to enjoy the existence of such a universe is finished. Because of karma, it is also a creation of human beings; the world is also a creation of sentient beings, of mind.

However, just as the fire of the end of time is extremely powerful to burn and destroy everything in a second—even something as high as Mt. Meru, which is usually difficult to destroy, gets burned by fire—so is bodhicitta. The example is trying to show how bodhicitta is extremely powerful, extremely quick to destroy negativities. Bodhicitta can destroy even heavy, great negativities that are the cause of being born in the suffering realms. Just in a second, without taking eons, without taking even years, without taking even days, without taking any length of time—in just a second, bodhicitta has the power to completely destroy, to completely burn all these heavy negative karmas.

The incredible, unimaginable benefits of bodhicitta are explained by the knowledgeable Buddha Maitreya to the bodhisattva Norsang. There are also very long stories of these bodhisattvas, how they practice Dharma, how they dedicate life for other sentient beings, how they follow the guru, and there are very interesting, fantastic stories of how they practice Dharma. There are many, many thousands of pages of texts that explain their lives, their practice and their holy deeds.

Also, as the Buddha said in his sutra teachings, bodhicitta is like the seed of all the buddhas’ realizations, all the buddhas’ Dharma. Dharma means all their realizations, all their knowledge. Bodhicitta is like the field from where all the sentient beings’ white dharma increases. White dharma is easy to understand since we talked for a long time about the evil thought of the worldly dharmas, the black dharmas. White dharma means any action that is virtuous.

Bodhicitta is like a wish-fulfilling pot. There are things like this. Also there are certain powers to attain through certain techniques, by doing meditation, through certain paths; it's not so much a physical thing but a kind of meditation technique. Somehow, through this particular power, you put your mouth inside the pot, the vessel, and whatever you ask for—whatever works you want to be successful, whatever material you need, anything—after obtaining the technique, this meditation, this power, then you ask loudly by putting your mouth in this vessel, the pot. Then without effort somehow you easily receive whatever material thing you need, whatever success should be fulfilled. So it's called the wish-fulfilling pot. Bodhicitta is like this example, a wish-fulfilling pot which brings all success.

Bodhicitta is also like the earth. The earth is the base on which all the human beings and also non-human beings live. Also houses and many other things are situated on the earth, and other good things such as plants and mountains and many more things are situated on the earth. Just like this, bodhicitta is the foundation from where every perfection and happiness arises.

It is also the method, the tool or weapon to destroy the inner enemy, that which prevents our peace and happiness, all the happiness. Just as, for example, an atom bomb is a sure way to destroy; similarly bodhicitta is very powerful to destroy the inner enemy.

However, this time, as we have received the perfect human rebirth, we have met the teachings which definitely lead to enlightenment and we have a little bit understanding of the benefits of bodhicitta, as we have gone through all those examples—without wasting or losing the precious chance, it is necessary to train the mind in this path as much as possible.

Also at this present time, we must make sure the action of listening to Dharma is the principal cause of receiving enlightenment. That is also by cultivating the pure motivation of bodhicitta. So this is the thing.

“It is not enough that I release myself from samsaric suffering; there are numberless other sentient beings who are in suffering, not having wisdom, not having guidance. In order to enlighten them, to release them from suffering, I must achieve enlightenment first. Therefore, I must complete the whole progression of the graduated path to enlightenment. Therefore I'm going to listen to the profound teaching of the commentary on the graduated path to enlightenment.”

The subject is the Mahayana teaching, which leads the fortunate ones to enlightenment and is well-expounded by the great philosophers Nagarjuna and Asanga. This profound teaching is the essence of the knowledge of the great Atisha and the Dharma king of the three worlds, the great Lama Tsongkhapa. It contains the eightfold path shown by Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, and all this is arranged for the graduated practice of our achievement of enlightenment. This graduated path is the only path through which all the buddhas received enlightenment.

This commentary on the graduated path to enlightenment has four outlines. The last one is how to lead the disciple on the path to enlightenment by showing the actual teachings, the oral teachings. That has two outlines: the last one is how to follow the guru, the root of the path, and how to train the mind in the graduated path to enlightenment. That has two outlines: the last one is how to take the essence of the perfect human rebirth. That is divided into three:

  1. The graduated path of the lower capable being and the general path.

It says “general path” because even though bodhicitta and such things as how to help samsaric beings who are living in the nature of suffering, all these things are actually found in the graduated paths of the middle capable being and the higher capable being—even though they come gradually like this, the meditation practices of the graduated paths of the lower capable being and middle capable being are done with the pure motivation of bodhicitta and with the understanding of the general samsaric suffering. The practices are done with the understanding that all samsaric realms are in suffering and are living in ignorance, therefore it’s called “general.” Therefore the graduated paths of the lower and middle capable beings are called “that which is conjoined with the general path.”

Although the subjects are set out like this, doing the practice in such a way is the recognized skillful method, because practicing in such a way—even though the actual meditation is the perfect human birth and those things, the graduated path of the lower capable being—it is done with the motivation of bodhicitta and with real understanding of how samsara is in the nature of suffering. In this way, even though the subject we're training our mind in at the beginning is the practice of the lower capable being, it becomes the cause of receiving enlightenment. All the practices are done with the understanding of how samsara has a suffering nature, with the thought that the whole of samsara is in the nature of suffering and with the pure motivation of bodhicitta. With this understanding, all the practices, all this training becomes the cause of receiving enlightenment. All these methods, all these practices, even the practices of the beginning meditations become Mahayana Dharma.

The graduated path of the lower capable being and general has two outlines: the last one is following the method that brings happiness of future lives. How to follow the method which brings happiness, which brings perfection of all the happiness of future lives? What are the methods? The fundamental thing, the root of the method is refuge, going for refuge, which is the door of the teachings, and having devotion to karma, which is the root of all the perfection and happiness.

Why does the part of refuge come here, especially at this point, after the suffering of the lower realms? It’s like this. Not only in this lifetime but for numberless previous lifetimes we've been collecting so many negative karmas, which have caused us to be reborn in the suffering realms. Our life is not permanent, it is impermanent, it is definitely going to end and its actual time is indefinite. What happens, death comes after that, and where we will be born, in which realm we will be reborn is according to karma. It's up to the karma. Wherever karma leads us, we have to be born in that realm. We, the ordinary beings who are not free from karma, have to follow our karma.

Guru Tsongkhapa said in his teaching, [The Foundation of All Good Qualities],

This body and life are changing, like a water bubble;
Remember how quickly they perish and death comes.
After death, just like a shadow follows the body,
The results of black and white karma follow.

As Guru Tsongkhapa said in his teaching, after death we have to follow the positive and negative karmas just as the shadow always follows wherever the body goes. We ordinary people who are not free of karma, we and karma are like this. We always follow karma. Karma always leads us, just as the police lead the criminal, putting them in chains and leading them to the court or to prison, to be punished or killed. Like this, karma and ourselves always go together. Also, we always experience our life problems without choice. Therefore, after death, because we follow our karma, we are not free from karma, so it’s more definite we will be reborn in the suffering realms. If that is so, if that is what is going to happen, then what should we do now? Is there any method to stop this happening? To stop this danger of being born in suffering realms and having to experience the sufferings without choice—is there a way to stop this?

Of course, as soon as we notice this, we want to do something before our death. We have to make a decision not to fall into the precipice of the suffering realms. We have to do something. So what's the method? What is the fundamental, essential method which can really guide us, which can definitely save us, which can definitely guide us from this danger of falling over the precipice, like being on the mountains or rocks where there is a danger of falling down?

So, then comes refuge. The answer for that person comes—refuge and karma. The purpose of the relationship, why karma comes after refuge, will come later, after I've finished explaining refuge. Therefore refuge is necessary. The essential method is refuge, going for refuge.

The outline, why we need to take refuge, which is the holy door of the teaching, the explanation of that part we will have afterwards, the part of the explanation of the benefits of refuge.

However, taking refuge, this method is the fundamental and utmost necessity, the most important, extremely important thing. For instance, similarly talking, the people who lost their countries, because they're homeless and don't have anything to live on, they're living in danger. As they have problems, since they dislike it, in order to get out of that, to not suffer that, they have to take refuge in someone. They have to take refuge in another country which has the material power to help them with food and clothing, etc., in a material way.

Same thing when someone has broken the law and has done some criminal action, such as fighting or killing some other person or something, because of the danger that is the result of that action, which is caused by that action, because of that great danger they have to take refuge in someone. Usually, that person takes refuge in someone; they seek refuge because of the problems they are going to experience in the future. To avoid that, as they do not desire it, they have to seek a refuge. They have to find the object, a proper person, an important person who has the method, who has the power to release them from that danger, to save them from that danger. They have to find some top person who has power in the government or something like that.

Even for temporal needs, even just for the comfort of this temporal life, even for this we have to seek refuge. We need guidance. We have to rely on someone, you see. So, why not? Of course we have to seek refuge, because there's such a great danger and we want to avoid falling into that great danger, the precipice of the three suffering lower realms. We are seeking refuge from this greater danger, the greater suffering, which lasts for such a long time. If we are seeking refuge for temporal life comforts, to be free from temporal problems, if we are seeking refuge from this, it is silly, it is foolish. It is foolish, it's being ignorant. There's no logic to prove that we don't have to seek refuge to avoid being born in the suffering realms. But if we seek refuge for temporal life comfort, it's just ignorant if we don't know and don't seek refuge from this greater suffering.

Also, it is extremely necessary to seek refuge in order to escape from the prison of samsara, the reason we are bound, and what we are bound by—karma. To be released from such a samsaric prison it is extremely necessary for us to take refuge, in order to not fall into this danger of suffering and the lower realms and so we can escape from the samsaric prison.

There are countries, people and animals which are materially powerful; matter such as planets, the sun, moon, trees, rocks, and even those samsaric gods who are naturally incredibly rich and powerful. However, those samsaric beings, who are not free of karma, do not have the power to save us from being reborn in the suffering realms. They are not sure where they will be reborn and they are not even able to guide or save themselves from being born in the suffering realms; they do not have the power. Objects such as stars, rocks, trees or water are also the wrong objects to take refuge in.

Even with regard to beings, besides materially powerful people, even if those beings are very powerful in black magic and are able to kill others, to destroy other people, to kill hundreds and hundreds of people through black magic. Even if they have the power to tell the future or past things, having certain power to foretell, you know. Like having power to make objects move—there are people who have limited power like that. They are not perfected, not completely perfect in all the powers but they have certain common, ordinary powers.

Even those higher samsaric gods who are extremely powerful and also the many spirits who have similar power to foretell, to give material help, who can help in a material way in this life. For example, if you want to make your business successful, if you want to have a lot of money, if you want to get a certain position, there are many spirits to rely on for help, whatever business, whatever material is needed, without much effort you can easily get it. There are many spirits like this, and if you want the spirit to go to other people, something like that, you rely on it. Or if you ask it, then it will kill other people.

Besides people, there are many powerful spirits like this. Even though they have such power, they themselves are not free of karma, they are not free of delusion, not free of samsara. There are also spirits that by relying on them, by making request to them, they have power to predict the future, things like this. However, since they are not free of samsara and karma, even they can't save themselves from being reborn in the suffering realms. These are the wrong objects in whom to take refuge, to take lifetime refuge, to take refuge forever. These are the wrong objects and are not completed in all powers like the Buddha. They are not free of karma and they have not achieved full realization of the absolute nature. Ordinary beings such as these, even though they have these ordinary powers which can help materially, giving temporal help, cannot be a worthy object of taking refuge.

The only worthy object in which we can have refuge, which never betrays us, which never becomes the cause of suffering and which always brings perfection and ultimate happiness, besides temporal happiness, is the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha; going for refuge to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

How pure our refuge is, how strongly we are taking refuge, depends on having the causes of refuge.

According to the outlines of refuge, we are taking refuge by depending on what cause? Taking refuge in what object? The definition, how much we are taking refuge, then the precepts of refuge, the instructions in the precepts of refuge, then the benefits of taking the refuge. They are the outlines.

In order to take refuge, the very first thing is that our mind has to be qualified. Taking refuge does not mean just saying the refuge prayer, which contains the explanation of refuge, the objective of refuge, saying “I'm taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.” Even though the prayer we say contains this, it does not mean we're taking refuge. It’s just all words. Even the tape recorder, even machines, if we record the prayer, machines can also repeat that. I mean, the refuge prayer comes out of the tape—that doesn't mean the tape is taking refuge! If it does not depend on having certain qualifications, knowledge in the person's mind, then something such as a tape recorder or even a parrot can repeat the refuge prayer. It does not mean that parrot is having refuge in their mind. It does not mean this.

The qualification that is necessary to have in the mind is the cause of taking refuge. What is the cause of refuge? There are several outlines. Taking refuge depends on what cause? There are two causes: the fear that comes from understanding the suffering of the lower realms and the general samsaric realms. Having aversion, not wanting to experience these sufferings—that is one cause. The second cause is having trusting devotion that Buddha, Dharma and Sangha have the power to save us from the suffering of the three lower realms and the general samsaric sufferings. These are the causes of refuge.

Actually, whether we are taking refuge or not, whether we have refuge or not, is defined by whether our mind is qualified or unqualified, whether our mind contains these two causes. This is the answer to whether we are taking refuge or not. If we have these two causes in the mind, then even though we don't say a prayer of refuge, nothing, since we have these two causes, we have refuge, we are taking refuge.

We should check up what's in our mind, checking if our mind is qualified in these two causes needed to take refuge. For instance, having aversion to the general suffering realms and the three lower realms depends on how strong our aversion is, how strong our fear is, and that depends on how deeply we understand these sufferings. By checking, if we discover our mind is empty of aversion, that we don't have any aversion to samsara, we don’t have the thought of renouncing the sufferings of samsara and the sufferings of the three lower realms, then we should try to understand the nature of the suffering realms as much as possible. This is the method.

We also need to have trust and devotion that the powers of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha can save us from these sufferings. Receiving this trust and devotion depends on understanding the knowledge of Buddha, and it depends on how much understanding of the power of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha we have. Taking refuge by depending on the cause is like this.

Now, taking refuge in the object has two outlines: the object of refuge and the reasons why it is worthy of taking refuge. The objects of refuge are Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

The manifestations of transformation nature are the relative Buddha, and the omniscient mind, the dharmakaya, is the absolute Buddha. The holy mind of all the buddhas is the absolute Buddha.

Dharma has absolute Dharma and relative Dharma. The absolute Dharma is the actual Dharma—the wisdom that fully sees the absolute nature, and the cessation of suffering which is received by the wisdom fully seeing the absolute nature. These two are absolute Dharma, in which we can take refuge. The relative Dharma is the teachings that explain the path—those realizations or ways that cause us to achieve absolute Dharma, that cause us to achieve ultimate happiness and enlightenment. The teachings achieve this by explaining the nature of samsara, thus ending all wrong conceptions by explaining the path, by giving knowledge, explaining those different goals.

Sangha also has absolute Sangha and relative Sangha. Absolute Sangha are those who have the wisdom of the absolute Dharma, who have achievement of the absolute Dharma, the wisdom fully seeing absolute nature. That is absolute Sangha. The absolute Sangha are those who have that level of mind, who have that realization. That is the absolute Sangha. This absolute Sangha doesn't always depend on having robes. This absolute realization, any man or woman, any lay person who has achievement of this realization, the wisdom of absolute Dharma, the wisdom of fully seeing absolute nature—even if they are a lay person, they are absolute Sangha.

Relative Sangha is usually a group of four ordinary monks or nuns who have not achieved this realization, this level of mind. Usually when there's a group of four monks [or nuns] they are called Sangha. Then they can be called Sangha, then they become Sangha. But if the monk or nun has the realization, the wisdom fully seeing the absolute nature, then just that one person is Sangha. Even if there are not three other persons, monks or nuns, if one monk or nun has this realization, they are Sangha.

This is just briefly the recognition of the different objects, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

Then there's the object of refuge, how it is worthy of taking refuge, how Buddha is a worthy object of taking refuge. The reason he can guide us sentient beings from suffering, why Buddha is worthy of taking refuge is because he himself is released from all the fears, from all the sufferings.

We are not taking refuge in a being who is not released from all the fear and suffering, who doesn't have the power to guide us, to save us from all the samsaric sufferings. For instance, if we fall into a quagmire, a muddy place, and then we take refuge or ask another person who is also in a quagmire, who also got stuck inside—if we ask for help from someone who is also drowning, that person can't even help themselves get out of that problem. If we ask someone who is also living with the same problem, no matter how much we believe in and trust them, they can't help us because they are not released from that problem, they are not free. They themselves are not free. Just like this, the person we ask for help should be someone who has the power to save us. Like this, the Buddha is a worthwhile object to take refuge in because he himself is released from all fears and sufferings.

For instance, in previous times there were many stories of how Guru Shakyamuni was indestructible, so not a thing could harm him. However much other evil beings wanted to destroy him, wanted to kill him, wanted to wound him, no matter how much they tried, they couldn't do anything. For instance, when Guru Shakyamuni Buddha was meditating and was close to receiving enlightenment, all the evil spirits, the maras, many hundreds of thousands of maras tried to destroy him.

Guru Shakyamuni Buddha was going to be enlightened the next morning around dawn time, and the king of the maras discovered this. Using his power, he discovered this and he thought, “If Guru Shakyamuni Buddha gets enlightened, he'll control all of us, we won't have any power. Therefore, before he receives enlightenment we must destroy him.” So they all gathered, many thousands and thousands of maras gathered, thinking Guru Shakyamuni Buddha was going to be enlightened the next day, so they tried to destroy him through many different methods that day. They tried through many different means, such as making the whole area flooded, full of water; then very heavy storms came, so it was completely black, full of foggy, dark clouds; and they sent so much lightning, so much thunder, the sky was full of thunderbolts dropping, falling down. They tried in so many ways, just wishing to destroy him.

The example is usually painted in thangkas. This is because one of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha's actions before receiving enlightenment is controlling the maras. There are twelve deeds, they're translated as “events” or something, like that, twelve deeds. Some maras tried to shoot in many different ways, with many different weapons, shooting arrows and bullets and all kinds of things, such as throwing thunderbolts. They tried in many ways and those maras manifested in the most fearful way that they can appear, with some appearing like mountains, carrying all kinds of different weapons and trying to destroy Guru Shakyamuni Buddha while he was in concentration.

No matter how much they threw weapons and shot at him, all became flowers. Instead of making wounds, nothing, no harm, all became flowers, like offering flowers. When they came near Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, all these things became flowers. So they couldn't do anything. However much they tried to destroy him in a fearful way, they couldn't do anything. They couldn't disturb his concentration.

Since they couldn't do anything like that, they had an idea: maybe if they manifested as very beautiful attractive ladies, dancing like this, doing things, maybe that, instead of throwing weapons and trying to destroy him by use of weapons and things like this, maybe through this they could destroy his concentration. So they manifested as old women, and young women without clothes on, without dresses, showing their sex, trying to disturb his concentration so that they could give harm. They tried many ways dancing like this, trying to give harm to him, but no matter how much they tried in a peaceful way or in a wrathful way, they couldn't disturb his concentration at all. Without making even one little movement of his body, even though all these thousands and thousands of maras were trying to destroy him, without making even a little movement of his holy body, just only through his great love he completely controlled them, without needing to use even one weapon, without needing to use even one action to give harm.

What ordinary people would do is harm back, take revenge, but Guru Shakyamuni Buddha only had love for them. No matter how much they tried to destroy him in different ways, he controlled them by only his infinite love. So afterwards they couldn't do anything and then they changed their minds. Then they really discovered that Guru Shakyamuni Buddha has such incredible compassion and love and that changed their minds. By not harming back and by his mind not being moved, his concentration was unshakable and it could not be destroyed by anything, not even by them manifesting as women, because he had no such problem, he had not one single atom of attachment. Before that, for a long time he was completely renounced and his attachment was completely removed, there was no problem of attachment.

So all the maras got a great surprise, then they really got devotion after they saw his powers and his great compassion. Then they had deep devotion for Guru Shakyamuni Buddha and they took teachings from Guru Shakyamuni Buddha.

This is one example of how Shakyamuni Buddha himself was released from all fears and suffering.

I think I’ll stop here.

Next Chapter:

Lectures 19 and 20 »