Lam-rim Practice

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal, 1984 (Archive #396)

A teaching by Lama Zopa Rinpoche at the 17th Kopan Course in 1984.

This is an edited excerpt from Lecture 2 of the course. Click here to read more of the unedited lecture. 

Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Manjushri London (Jamyang Buddhist Centre), 1983. Photo: Robin Bath.

We should think of lam-rim practice and thought transformation as the essential practice of Dharma—as important for our everyday life as eating or having a means of living, things that are vital for staying alive. We feel discomfort if we don’t have a means of living, and naturally we feel that it is extremely important to have food and drink. Without these things there is no comfort, but lam-rim practice and thought transformation are even more important. We have to remember the advice of the lam-rim meditations and teachings and the incredibly skilful methods of Mahayana thought transformation, and we should keep this in our heart as more important than place and food and a means of living.

There is no opportunity for us to practice Dharma if we have not received or met the teachings and until we meet and understand the teachings, we can’t stop life’s confusion and problems. We can’t control our disturbing thoughts and we can’t transform undesirable conditions into desirable conditions, and problems and suffering into happiness.

If we have met and received the Dharma, the graduated path to enlightenment, it brings much more than just some peace of mind for a while or a little bit of calmness for one or two hours—like the psychological methods used by people who help others to stop depression, aggression and other problems. These people are very kind and they have the education to help others with what they know. While we are playing in the sand or making a drawing, because we are distracted by that, there is some kind of small calm, and the fears and worries or the depression or whatever problems we have become a little bit weaker, because our mind is distracted. But if we just continuously do sand-play for weeks and months and years—thirty or forty years—if doing sand-play for life worked, then people who are artists wouldn’t have attachment. If sand-play really stopped our mental confusion, and stopped us from being overwhelmed by various disturbing thoughts—if it made fewer and fewer disturbing thoughts, and brought more and more mental peace, then people who spend their whole lives being artists wouldn’t have any attachment. They would have incredible peace. The conclusion is that these methods are good and if people are able to benefit others with what they know for even a few days or a few hours, and if they can make a depressed and aggressive person calm for a few hours or for one or two days, this is very kind and very good.

However, putting the lam-rim into practice—particularly the profound, highest, extremely skilful Mahayana thought transformation—immediately cuts off confusion, the dissatisfied mind and the flames of anger burning inside us. It pacifies the very tight mind and all the painful minds of jealousy, miserliness, pride and all these things. It pacifies the different types of wrong views that lead only to samsara, to the unfortunate realms and to rebirth as a suffering transmigratory being. The more and more we practice lam-rim, the cause of our problems, the disturbing thoughts, is immediately controlled. By practicing lam-rim we take the mind away from the disturbing thoughts, the cause of our problems.

Dharma practitioners—those lam-rim practitioners who watch their minds and practice Dharma with anybody and at any time—have a mind that is oneness with Dharma. There is no gap or no space between their mind and Dharma. However, even if we have received the teachings on lam-rim, and if we do not practice or put this into action, we can almost fit into the gap between our own mind and Dharma! There is a big space. Instead of our mind being oneness with Dharma, it is oneness with the delusions and with anger. If it is not oneness with anger, it is oneness with attachment or with the uncontrolled dissatisfied mind, and if it is not oneness with that, it is oneness with the jealous mind, and if not that, pride.

The more we practice—day by day, week by week, month by month and year by year—the weaker our anger becomes. If our actions—the cause of our problems—are controlled and pacified, the delusions don’t get the opportunity to arise. If we are unbelievably impatient and we spend most of the day angry—whenever there is a small disturbance, our mind is easily overwhelmed by anger—we feel a kind of oneness with anger, our mind is mixed with it, and it is impossible to separate away from that. Similarly, we feel oneness with the dissatisfied mind of attachment. We feel, “This is how my life is, and I can’t live my life any other way. Without this dissatisfied mind and anger there is no way that I can survive.” Like this, we feel complete oneness with the confused mind and we find it impossible to be separated away from the disturbing thoughts.

However, if we practice lam-rim, we gradually eliminate the delusions, just as an extremely dirty cloth that is completely covered by dirt so that we can’t even see the cloth, becomes clean. Sometimes we may see this in the East and in Tibet. Nowadays I don’t know, but in the past we could find it. You can’t see the cloth—it is completely covered by dirt but with perseverance, knowing that the cloth can be separated from the dirt, the more you attempt to wash it, it becomes more and more clean. Afterwards the cloth is completely separated from the dirt and it becomes completely clean.

Similarly, if we practice lam-rim more and more, although there is still anger arising when a very undesirable thing happens, before it lasted for many hours or many days and months, but after two or three years of practicing lam-rim, patience and thought-transformation, the anger doesn’t even last one minute. For a few seconds our mind is controlled by the anger, but then it disappears. As we practice more, we need less and less effort to remember thought transformation and lam-rim. Then after some years, Dharma practice becomes natural when undesirable things happen—when other people criticize us or whatever happens, such as sudden disease like a heart attack. Practicing the remedy of lam-rim meditation becomes natural.

In the early times, we found so many objects of delusion in whatever objects we saw—but after some time, there are fewer and fewer objects of delusion. By practicing lam-rim and particularly by practicing emptiness (shunyata) and eliminating the root of delusions, the ignorance of true existence, we eliminate all other disturbing thoughts. That’s how by practicing lam-rim we achieve liberation—the great cessation of all the obscurations, the great nirvana, the sublime happiness of full enlightenment.