Happiness Follows Us Like a Shadow

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal (Archive #2065)

Lama Zopa Rinpoche taught that happiness and suffering arise from the mind, just as a shadow follows the body, at the 50th Kopan Meditation Course, held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, in 2017. This teaching is excerpted from Lecture One of the course. Lightly edited by Gordon McDougall.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Mahayana Buddhist Association (Cham Tse Ling), Hong Kong, April 2016.  Photo: Lobsang Sherab.

One most important thing is that you need not only an intellectual understanding of Buddhism but a daily practice. A daily practice, mindfulness, is most important. It is not just like in university where what you learn has nothing to do with your life, not just intellectual development, like investing in a computer. It is not like that….

It’s not just that, you need mindfulness in everyday life. Even if you know a little bit of Dharma, even if you are an expert and you can recite more than one hundred volumes of the Buddha’s teachings, the Tengyur, and more than two hundred volumes of the pandits’ commentaries, even if you know a little bit of Dharma, if you don’t do this mindfulness practice, the basis of practice is not there. You might be reciting a lot of prayers and mantras, but the real transformation of the mind, the root of peace and happiness, up to enlightenment, is not there. Even if you do a lot of prayers and mantras and you look like a Buddhist, actually the heart doesn’t become Buddhist. The way you live your life outside looks Buddhist, but the heart doesn’t become Buddhist.

As I often say, the heaviest suffering in samsara, the hell suffering, comes from the mind. It comes from your own negative, impure mind, your unhealthy mind. And also the fully developed mind, in Sanskrit “buddhahood,” the total cessation of obscurations and completion of realizations, that also comes from your mind. Your hell comes from your negative mind; your enlightenment comes from your positive mind, your most positive mind.

Samsara comes from your negative mind, your wrong way of thinking, not your right way of thinking. And nirvana, the blissful state of peace for yourself, comes from your mind. Your nirvana comes from your mind. Your everyday life problems come from your own mind, your negative mind, your wrong way of thinking. And your everyday happiness and peace come from your mind, your positive mind, your correct way of thinking. It is like that.

So, everything comes from the mind. It is said in the Abhidharmakosha [Treasury of Knowledge],

Myriad worlds arise from karma.

The various worlds are born from karma; they arise from the mind. There are six principal consciousnesses and fifty-one mental factors and among them are the five mental factors that always accompany the principal consciousness, kundro nga. Among them, one is intention, sempa, which is karma. Of the five mental factors, karma refers to that mental factor, intention. Everything comes from the mind. The sun and moon, any form, the sense objects, all come from your mind. Your senses come from your mind. The imprint is left on the principal consciousness, and then it is experienced out. So, forms, sounds, smells, tastes, tangible objects all come from the mind. Any bad or ugly things come from a negative imprint of a negative karmic action left on the consciousness that continues from life to life. And beautiful forms, sounds—music you like—smells, tastes, tangible objects, all the things you enjoy come from a positive mind, an imprint left by a past positive karma. Every day everything you experience—forms, sounds, smells, tastes, tangible objects—everything you have experienced from beginningless rebirths, what you are experiencing now, and what you will experience in the future, it all comes from your mind. This subject is one of the biggest foundations of Buddhism. It is not just blind faith; it is logical.

For example, the Buddha mentioned in the Dhammapada,

Mind precedes all mental states.
Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought.
If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts
Suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.

Mind precedes all mental states.
Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought.
If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts
Happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.

Phenomena are created by the mind; it is the principal and preliminary. It means mind itself comes before actions of body and speech, also action of mind. If you talk with a bad heart, suffering arises like the wheel and the ox. In Nepal and India, after the ox there are the wheels of the, what do you say? [Student: Carriage.] Carriage, yeah. Like after the ox there is the wheel of the carriage. There are so many heavy things on top, iron bars and so forth, and the ox has to pull them. If it doesn’t, it gets hit. You can’t explain anything to it. The ox can’t move. If, no matter how much it is beaten it can’t move, then it is finished. Like that, it suffers, especially in the hot weather, when it is so unbelievably hot. We need an umbrella, we need many things under the hot sun, but the ox doesn’t have them. So like that, all that suffering comes from the mind, the negative mind, the negative karma.

When you talk, if you are generating a good heart to benefit that person, then happiness comes from that like the shadow follows the body. Wherever the body goes, the shadow follows. In the same way, there is always happiness when actions are done with a good heart, for example, speaking to somebody. When the actions of speech, of body and of mind are done with a good heart, happiness comes to you and happiness comes to others. You can think “like the shadow follows the body.” So here you see happiness comes from mind; it is clear. It comes from your good karma, your positive action. It is always like that.

Even today, anything undesirable—forms, sounds, smells, tastes, tangible objects—anything undesirable comes from a bad heart, because you have created negative karma with your body, speech and mind. Today anything pleasant—forms, sounds, smells, tastes, tangible objects—comes from your good heart. With that motivation, a virtuous motivation, you did actions of body, speech and mind, positive actions, it comes from that, from what was done in the past. So, everything today comes from your karma, your mind, as I mentioned, intention, sempa. It all comes from that.