Kopan Course No. 29 (1996): Audio and Transcripts

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal (Archive #1045)

Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave these teachings at the 29th Kopan Meditation Course held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, in 1996. These excerpts include teachings on patience, bodhicitta, and reincarnation, and a question and answer session.

Click on the audio links to listen to the teachings and read along with the transcripts.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche in Taos, New Mexico, 1999. Photo: Lenny Foster.
Reincarnation: First Beliefs and Q&A

So just to give some idea, just briefly. First of all, what kind of belief that we grew up with in regards to life, philosophy, from childhood time depends on what kind of belief, in our life the first belief. What kind of belief we begin with depends on what kind of society we were born, in what kind of culture one was born. So child time there is nothing, the mind is very fresh. One way of saying, most of us we don't remember the past lives, what kind of philosophy we believed in the past life we don’t remember now, so there is no continuation of that memory, generally speaking. So this time, childhood time mind is just like white cloth that can be dyed yellow, black, red, blue, green, into different colors it can be dyed. So childhood mind is like that, there is no particular culture or philosophy or concept, it is just plain like white cloth. So it depends what kind of belief we have in our earlier life, the first belief in our life, what kind of philosophy depends on that childhood time when the mind is very fresh. The particular mind of this life begins from this life, but generally the continuation of mind has no beginning. So therefore now what kind of philosophy and belief , concept, that we grew up with depends on which culture we are born, which society. This life the childhood that plain mind has no culture, nothing, so it depends what kind of culture, what kind of philosophy is put on the mind first. So you grow up with that. There was nothing before so whatever other people put on that mind is what you grow up with.

So we have to analyse; if you don’t analyze your beliefs, your philosophy, so we have to analyze, we have to check, we cannot without analyzing use the philosophy, the belief, the concept that was given to us in the earlier life before anything, we can't use that without analyzing and having proved that this is according to the reality of the phenomena, according to the reality of your life. Because this is what you learned first, you can’t use this as a, because this is what I believed, how I grew up, therefore the rest is not true; you cannot use the first belief, concept, philosophy that is put in your mind and say all the rest is wrong because this is how I grew up, what I believe, because what you believe is what you were taught by others. So therefore without analyzing whether that is according to the reality of the phenomena, according to the life, whether it is true or not, whether it is beneficial or not, has to be analyzed. Because this is the first belief, the philosophy that was taught, you cannot use just this to say it is true, that's it and all others are wrong without analyzing. That would be a very big mistake that blocks your wisdom, doesn’t allow to develop your wisdom. Before we go into the subject of reincarnation this is the first thing that we should be aware of. [pause]

So just to go over the four basic outlines to have some idea of reincarnation. [long pause]

The first is proving the reincarnation, having the same type of continuation before. Before this chilli, hot chilli, does this chilli come from previous continuity, continuation, of raisin, sweet one? So the previous continuity of this chilli cannot be sweet like raisin, so it has to be chilli, same type, has to be also chilli, cannot be sweet. The previous continuity of corn can that be banana? That cannot be banana, it has to be continuation of corn. So this chilli has to come from its own previous continuity which is the same type, chilli, cannot come from raisin. The previous continuity of raisin cannot come from chilli, it has to come from the same type. So the raisin has its own continuation, completely separate from the continuation of chilli, two completely different, separate things.

Also I think it talks the same thing in physics, in the Western philosophy it talks about for example how all this house before, all the atoms are scattered and then gathered and becomes this, becomes bricks, then becomes house. Is that right? Also in the Western philosophy it talks about how the brick is formation of atoms, also in the Dharma it talks like that. Maybe the difference in the Western and Buddhist philosophy is the atom. In the Western philosophy it looks like the atom is permanent, sounds like they are talking the atom is permanent, so there maybe is the difference...

[tape change]

So there was one Westerner, quite an intelligent person, a philosopher, he came many years ago and we talked and he and Lama Lhundrup debated. He lived in Thailand. He said that the atoms always exist, one time in the form of bricks, at other times in different forms - scattered and then come together, become another material like that. So however, talking about the atoms, all this house is a collection of atoms, the bricks are a collection of atoms - that’s the same in Buddhism. So however, the philosopher talked about atoms, a little difference is that he says that atoms are permanent. So there it becomes a little bit different.

So anyway, the continuation of the bricks, all this building, it has to be physical substances, the atoms, physical. The previous continuity of this brick, the previous continuity of this building, it has to be substantial phenomena, a physical thing. So the atoms, so according to the Western philosopher the atoms, anyway like that.

So, similar like this, this physical body, the previous continuation of this physical body is not the mind, formless one. The previous continuity of this body is the same type, it has to be a physical one. It has to be the same type. It cannot be a formless one. It cannot be mind, something that is a formless phenomena. Now, the previous continuity, as far as this physical body that came out of the mother’s womb from an egg, the previous continuation of that is the egg from the mother and the sperm from the father. Then the continuation again came from the mother’s body and the sperm came from the father’s body and those two bodies came from the previous continuity egg so like that it goes on and on - the physical one. Now like this, the previous continuity is not a formless phenomena. It is a form, something physical.

So now, like this. When we say body and the mind, the mind is a phenomena that is formless, colorless, shapeless, clear, perceiving object, that is like a mirror that is not obstructed by dust. It is clear and able to reflect the object, able to give a reflection. So like that, the mirror is not obstructed by the dust, it becomes clear so the object can be reflected there, so it can give reflection. Similarly the mind is not obstructed by form, by substances. So therefore the nature of the mind is clear and able to perceive objects.

So, what is the mind? Is that formless, colorless, clear, perceiving object. So now, you see, this mind that took place on the fertilized egg—so anyway, in the West what is the definition of conception? How is it explained according to biology?

Student: The sperm and egg come together in the uterus and there is fusion to form one cell.

Rinpoche: The sperm and the egg come together and then there is confusion? It merges? Not confusion.

Student: Then it also has to stay in the uterus. Sometimes it gets lost.

Rinpoche: Yes, if it is not happy it goes away. If it is not a good place, it goes away? I’m joking. I see. So conception is just the sperm and the egg meeting together. Then, when does the life start? From that time, when the egg and the sperm come together?

Student: What is life, is maybe the question.

Rinpoche: You can explain.

Student: Is it when it has consciousness or is there life before it has consciousness?

Rinpoche: So, according to biology when does life begin?

Student: When they come together and again divides into two. It makes one cell and then makes two cells and four cells and so on, that’s life.

Another student: But the sperm and egg were alive before they connected.

Rinpoche: They were alive.

Student: Yes, they were alive.

Rinpoche: So, they have life, yes? So before they came together the sperm and the egg were living beings.

Student: I don’t know if they are sentient, but they are living. They are a living part of the mother and father.

Rinpoche: So what does it mean that the sperm and the egg are a living part of the father and mother? A living part of the father and mother. A living part of the father and mother. So that means that they have got a part of the mother’s mind and a part of the father’s mind? That means part of mother’s mind and part of father’s mind. The sperm that comes from the father has got part of the father’s mind and the egg from the mother has got part of the mother’s mind. Like that?

Student: There are many, many cells in the father and in the mother.

Rinpoche: So every cell is living?

Student: [inaudible] A sperm is not a complete cell. It can swim….

Rinpoche: What? So that has got the father’s and mother’s mind or not? The egg has got the mother’s mind? No. Who says yes? So, how many cells does your nose have?

Student: Many millions.

Rinpoche: So your nose is made of many millions of living beings. Because according to your philosophy all the eggs and the sperms have got mind. So that means the atoms of your nose have mind, so your nose is made of many living beings. Your ears are made of many living beings. Then each of your finger and toes are made of many living beings. So how many living beings from here down to your toes. It’s all living beings! So is it like that?

Student: There are many living beings but they are all part of one living being; they can’t function alone. I control them.

Rinpoche: So all those living beings, are they you or not?

Student: What do you mean—my mind, my valid I, my self?

Rinpoche: Maybe there is false eye. So all those living beings are not you? So, then they are you or not you?

Student: It depends on the definition of "you".

Rinpoche: So what is your definition of "you"—of "I"?

Student: I guess it’s the part of me that thinks.

Rinpoche: The part of you that thinks. The thinking part. But all those living beings are also thinking, no?

Student: No, they don’t think.

Rinpoche: So this [points to nose], they don’t think. Then this [points to various parts of the body], then this one, none of these from here down to here, don’t think. So none of these cells has got mind. None of them think. So there is no thinking there, or there, not anywhere thinking, so there is no I, there’s no thinking, so there is no mind. So there is mind or no mind?

Student: No mind.

Rinpoche: No mind there. Oh, so the next person - no mind, so therefore you never get angry, upset. You never get happy. You have no suffering. There is my happiness and my suffering?

Student: I said they affect me, they affect my happiness. If someone hurts my hand....

Rinpoche: So if the next person does this to you. [The next person pinches the student] So did you feel pain?

Student: Yes.

Rinpoche: But you have no pain, because you haven’t got mind.

Student: But they affect my mind.

Rinpoche: So now you have mind.

Student: I have mind.

Rinpoche: You are mind.

Another student: He said that his ?cells, the living being, his body doesn’t have mind. It is the self that has mind.

Rinpoche: Oh, I see. So all these cells doesn’t have mind. Oh, so all your cells doesn’t have mind, but a sperm has mind.

Student: I don’t know.

Rinpoche: Yes, so anyway.

So the first thing is that the physical body, the previous continuum to the physical body has to be the same type, means it has to be physical substances. It has to be substantial, a similar type. So the physical part we understand, how the previous continuity is physical, easily that we know.

So now another question is, according to biology, when does the mind start? When does the mind take place on the fertilized egg or this body, on this substantial, physical phenomena? So that is one important question to Western education, to biology, when does the mind start, when does the mind take place? However, first of all one has to define what is the mind. In order to know that the previous continuity of the mind has to be the same type, before knowing that one has to know the difference between the body and the mind. One has to know the very first thing, before talking about reincarnation, one has to know what is the mind. So how is it explained in the West? Is it psychology or biology? So, according to psychologists and biologists, what is the definition of the mind?

Student: I think there is no definition. I think they are still arguing.

Rinpoche: Still talking? So talking and talking and talking.

Student: Most say that the mind is an emerging phenomenon that comes from the cells….. They talk about an electrochemical reaction. [inaudible]

Rinpoche: In the egg?

Student: Yes. Chemicals in the egg and sperm. When the chemicals come together there is a reaction they call an electrochemical reaction. They talk about heat being created. They do not know at what stage. It could be six weeks.

Another student: There are too many views in psychology and biology. They say that mind comes from brain cells that form in the embryo. [inaudible] There is another view that one….

Rinpoche: Mind cannot be explained out of cells?

Student: But that is not a majority view in biology.

Rinpoche: Yes, in Australia I saw on TV, they were talking about conception, there is a big disagreement between psychologists and doctors (or maybe biologists - I’m not sure). There is two they don’t agree, so there is argument. So it is a big question in the West. I think that birth has become a big question, not clear. It is a big question. So therefore death is not clear.