The Meaning of Dharma

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Yucca Valley, California (Archive #111)

Lama Zopa Rinpoche explains how Dharma provides us with a method to achieve happiness and avoid suffering in this excerpt from a two-week lamrim course at the Institute for Mental Physics, Yucca Valley, California, in March 1977. Edited by Nicholas Ribush.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching during the Ninth Meditation Course, Kopan Monastery, Nepal, 1976.

The word “Dharma” is Sanskrit. Dharma means “holding up.” For example, if a person is about to fall over a precipice, then holding them back from falling means to hold them back from getting hurt or killed. Dharma is a method that protects us from the dangers of suffering and unhappiness. This is the meaning of Dharma.

In the West there are many different kinds of knowledge: psychology, education, psychiatry and so on. What are all these for, what is their purpose? All these different methods are to bring about greater happiness instead of suffering. In the same way, the Dharma is a method for happiness. And the Buddhadharma contains all the various methods that are taught through education, that have different names. All this knowledge is contained in the Dharma, with nothing missing.

The greatest problem for everyone, for even the tiniest creature, for every human being, is exactly the same: wanting happiness and not wanting suffering. Every living being hopes that the methods they employ in trying to obtain happiness will be successful, that whatever they decide to do will work. The problem is that in trying to achieve happiness and eliminate suffering they generally employ only external methods. They believe that happiness and suffering are caused by external factors. This is, in fact, a basic wrong conception. Both happiness and suffering are internal; they are both mental phenomena. They are not external, not physical. And the causes of happiness and suffering are also internal and mental; they are not external nor physical. The causes of suffering are in the mind and so to eliminate suffering those causes need to be purified, cleansed. In the same way the causes of happiness are also internal in nature, so in order to achieve happiness we must establish those causes in the mind.

Let’s look at a simple example. Let’s say that someone steals your tape recorder. When you discover that your tape recorder has been stolen, at first there arises a sense of clinging. Your mind becomes so unhappy. Anger arises, and depression. But in that very minute, if you were to think that you should actually make charity, if you think how extremely kind this person has been to you, how helpful he is to give you this opportunity to make charity, then right in that moment there is a realization in the mind. If you totally determine in your mind to give your tape recorder to that other person, right then, in that moment when the decision is made, there is a true realization in the mind. You experience peace in your mind. Within just one minute the mind has been changed, from suffering to happiness. Before, the mind was unhappy, suffering, depressed. But by means of a single thought, just the determination to give the object away, the problem ceased and the unhappiness was stopped. The mind becomes peaceful, relaxed.

In this way you can see that happiness, peace of mind, is not received from external factors. Happiness and peace of mind arise from internal factors, just by changing the way that we think. By applying a different way of thinking, we can experience happiness and stop suffering.

Suffering is caused by the dissatisfied mind of attachment. This is one of the poisonous minds. When you plant a poisonous tree in your garden, you will get only poisonous fruit, but if you plant a medicinal tree, then you will get medicinal fruit. In the same way, by following the poisonous mind, the result that you get will be only suffering, but by planting positive virtuous minds, you will receive happiness as the result.