E-letter No. 125: October 2013

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Lama Yeshe, Lake Arrowhead, 1975. Photo: Carol Royce-Wilder.

Dear LYWA friends and supporters,

Thank you so much for your kind interest in and support of the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive. We are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the 3rd book in our Publishing the FPMT Lineage Series: Lama Zopa Rinpoche's The Perfect Human Rebirth: Freedom and Richness on the Path to Enlightenment. In the meantime, we've featured another excerpt from the book in our eletter teaching below.

Perfect Human Rebirth
As you probably know, The FPMT Lineage series is a growing collection of books of Lama Zopa Rinpoche's teachings on the graduated path to enlightenment (lamrim) drawn from his four decades of discourses on the topic. The first two books in the series are The Heart of the Path: Seeing the Guru as Buddha and How to Practice Dharma: Teachings on the Eight Worldly Dharmas. And now the 3rd book, The Perfect Human Rebirth, will be available in November.

The fourth and fifth books in the series, Rinpoche's extensive teachings on emptiness, Moon in Rippling Water: Emptiness Teachings from a Tibetan Master, and his exhaustive teachings on death, Good Life, Better Death: Teachings on Impermanence, are also well on the way. They will be followed by books on the three lower realms, refuge, karma, reincarnation and the twelve links, the general sufferings of samsara and bodhicitta.

This series of lamrim volumes was made possible by a $500,000 matching grant we received about five years ago, which enabled us to launch our current five-year plan, Publishing the FPMT Lineage (PFL). So far we have been able match all but $45,000 of this amazing grant.

The FPMT Lineage Series is dedicated to the long life and perfect health of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, to his continuous teaching activity and to the fulfillment of all his holy wishes.

So, as our current five-year plan draws to a close and we prepare to launch our next one, won't you help us reach our goal of $45,000 by the end of the year?

With your donation of $100 or more to our PFL Project we will automatically send you Rinpoche's The Perfect Human Rebirth when it becomes available in November. It will be released as an eBook and in print, and we will contact you ahead of time to ask your preference. LYWA Members will also receive this book for free; for information on our membership program, please see our website.

This is a wonderful opportunity to join us in continuing this incomparable series of Lama Zopa Rinpoche's teachings, and to receive a copy of this forthcoming book. Thank you so much. 

Free Books for Benefactors
We are so grateful to our Benefactors around the world who partner with us to bring these precious teachings to all. As many of you know, Benefactors -- who have contributed at least $50 -- are promised to automatically receive any new free books published for a year. Since we have not published any new free books in the past year (although we have reprinted a number of existing titles) we have decided to change what we offer to our Benefactors.

If you have donated $50 or more since April 1, 2012 (when we last sent a new free book, Bodhisattva Attitude to Benefactors) you may now choose to either:

Even though it has not yet arrived, you can choose to receive the forthcoming Perfect Human Rebirth ebook and we will send you the link when it becomes available.

Remember: if you are a Member, you can always download any ebook for free from our Members Area.

If you are a Benefactor, just send an email to [email protected] and we will send you your book of choice. And if you are not a Member or Benefactor, become one today! We will mail you your free book, or send you a link for any of our ebooks, right away.

New Teachings On Our Website
This month we posted a very short Tara practice composed by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche and lightly edited by Sandra Smith. On this page are also links to other longer Tara commentaries and practices that can be found on the LYWA site and FPMT's Foundation Store.

We have also just posted an extensive series of teachings on the nyung nä practice, given by Lama Zopa Rinpoche during a nyung nä retreat at Lawudo Gompa, Nepal, in April 1978. Edited by Ven. Ailsa Cameron.

In these teachings Rinpoche discusses the origin and benefits of the Avalokiteshvara mantra, the meaning of Vajrayana, prostrations, emptiness and more. 

New Advice From Rinpoche
We have posted 17 new advices in September! These include new advices on Health and Practice Advice, and some longer advices.

Advice to a new student on the purpose of Dharma practice:

"All the suffering of samsara comes from the mind. Happiness, liberation and enlightenment come from the mind. Suffering comes from the unsubdued mind. Liberation and enlightenment come from the subdued mind, therefore, subduing the mind is essential."

A letter from Lama Zopa Rinpoche for Maitreya Instituut Amsterdam on the occasion of the center's tenth anniversary in 2008:

"These things are missing in the education facilities in the world. The most important teaching is missing, the most practical thing—the education of a good heart, compassion."

Advice on daily practices which would bring the most benefit to other sentient beings:

"So the conclusion is: life is very short and this is about one time that you have got a human rebirth, which is most unbelievably precious, therefore you should train the mind to have some development and some realization in the path. So this way either you have four realizations, or three, if not three then two, or at least one, or at least close to the realization, then it is so easy to have realization in future lives."

As always, we leave you with a previously unpublished teaching, which we mentioned above, an excerpt from Rinpoche's forthcoming Perfect Human Rebirth.

Thank you so much for your kindness and support.

Much love, 
Nick Ribush

This Month's Teaching: The Difficulty of Acquiring a Perfect Human Rebirth

Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Waterlow Park, Highgate, London, 1983. Photo: Robin Bath.Buddhist texts use many analogies to explain just how difficult it is to attain a perfect human rebirth and because of that just how rare it is. The most well known analogy is that of the blind turtle surfacing through a golden ring. In A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life Shantideva said,

The Buddha has said that it is more difficult
To attain a human state,
Than it is for a blind turtle to stick its neck
Into a ring floating in a vast ocean.

There is a blind turtle that lives in the ocean, only coming up to the surface once in a hundred years. On the surface of the ocean is a golden ring, constantly moving with the wind and tides. The blind turtle surfaces in a different place every hundred years and the ring is never in the same place, so imagine how remote the chance is that the turtle would surface at exactly the right place and slip its neck through the ring. Such a thing is almost impossible, isn’t it? In the same way, attaining a perfect human rebirth is equally unlikely.

The ocean is vast and there are an infinite number of places that the turtle can surface. Being blind, it has no way of seeing what is on the surface, even if it were looking for the ring. And the ring could be anywhere on that vast ocean. Even if the turtle surfaced every day, let alone once a century, its chances of coming up near the ring are very remote, and its chances of putting its head through the ring are remoter still.

Each of the elements in this story has a meaning. Of course a golden ring is heavy and would not float; perhaps the Buddha should have said it was a plastic ring. However, the ring signifies the teachings of the Buddha and gold signifies their preciousness and purity.

That it moves about the surface of the ocean signifies that the teachings are not always to be found in the same place. Where they appear depends on the karma of sentient beings. Just like before in Tibet, in ancient times, the country was very evil—it was jungle, forest, a very mischievous place. When Buddhism moved from India to South-east Asia and China, and then to Japan, it seemed like it would not get to Tibet, but somehow it did, and now, while it is weak in some countries, it is still strong for the Tibetan people, even though it is suppressed in Tibet itself.

The turtle represents sentient beings and living at the bottom of the ocean signifies always having to take rebirth in the lower realms as a hell being, hungry ghost or animal. Being blind signifies being ignorant of the Buddhadharma, blind to what is virtue and what is nonvirtue. Just as the blind cannot see visual objects, ignorant sentient beings can’t understand the meaning of the Buddha’s teachings.

Just as the turtle swims helplessly around the vast ocean, the samsaric being constantly circles through the suffering realms. After eons as a hell being it might take rebirth as an animal; then, after an unimaginably long time, the karma might ripen for it to be reborn as a hungry ghost. Like this, it takes one unfortunate rebirth after another, with no way of creating virtue. So, with every action it ties itself more tightly to incredible suffering.

Only once in an inconceivably long period does the samsaric being happen to obtain an upper rebirth. This is symbolized by the turtle surfacing once every hundred years. But perhaps it comes up where the ring was but now has moved, in the same way that we can receive a human rebirth after a buddha has descended but is no longer there. Or sometimes it comes up near the ring but does not put its neck through it, in the same way that we can be born at a time when there are the teachings of the Buddha but in an irreligious country. So, even though we are close to the teachings, we cannot benefit from them. Obtaining a human rebirth is not enough, we must obtain a perfect human rebirth, represented by the turtle actually being able to surface and put its neck through the ring.

Just as we are blown around by our karma, in the same way the turtle surfaces entirely at random. So how rare it is that we can obtain not just a human rebirth but one with all the eight freedoms and ten richnesses. When we observe the people around us in all the different countries, we can see just how rare the perfect human rebirth is.

It is as rare as grass growing on a roof as opposed to the grass that grows all over the ground in the countryside. The perfect human rebirth is as difficult to obtain as trying to balance a grain of rice on the tip of a needle, or throwing a grain of rice against a windowpane and having it stick to the glass. Receiving a perfect human rebirth is as unlikely.

There is the story of a blind man who stumbled over a sleeping kyang, a kind of wild ass found in Tibet. The frightened kyang jumped up and ran off, but the blind man had grabbed hold of its ear and pulled himself up onto its back, so galloped off on the animal. He was so happy he sang out, "How amazing for me, a blind man, to get to ride on the back of a kyang! This can only ever happen once!" When a Kadampa geshe saw this, he laughed and used it as an example of how we receive this precious body only once and must make full use of it to practice Dharma when we do.

In most areas of Tibet, fish is very rare. So there’s the story of a man from Tsang who managed to get hold of an entire fish. It was such a treat that he gobbled the whole thing down so quickly that he started to vomit it back up again. Realizing he was about to lose his precious fish, he pulled his belt off and tied it around his neck tightly to stop from vomiting. When people asked him what he was doing he told them that it would be such a pity to waste such valuable food.

There is a very special food made out of butter and tsampa called mar-zen that is eaten by Tibetans at New Year. It is a kind of cake made with lots of butter and because it is expensive, poor families consider it very precious. Once a father in Penpo gave some to his son, who loved it so much that he stole some more off his father’s dish. So that his father would not see what he’d done, the boy hid it behind his back, but the family dog came up and stole it from his hands. The boy was so upset he started crying, which surprised the father, who thought that he had eaten the mar-zen he had been given and so should be very happy.

We have this very precious thing in our hands at this moment—our perfect human rebirth—but if we don’t make full use of it, the dog of death might steal it away before we can, something a billion times more terrible than losing the most valuable material thing.

The point of all these stories and analogies is to show us just how incredibly rare this perfect human rebirth is, thereby inspiring us not to waste one moment of it. Only with a perfect human rebirth can we achieve the three great purposes: a better future rebirth, liberation or enlightenment. Whatever we want can be ours if we develop the determination to make the most of this amazing opportunity.

Excerpted from Lama Zopa Rinpoche's The Perfect Human Rebirth, Forthcoming in November 2013. Edited by Gordon McDougall and Nick Ribush.