Meditation on Emptiness at Vulture's Peak (Audio and Transcript)

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Vulture's Peak, Bihar, India (Archive #1942)

On 12 March 2014, Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche ascended Vulture’s Peak, Rajgir, India, to give a transmission of the Vajra Cutter Sutra to a group of students. Rinpoche began by reading out a Dedication Prayer by Mipham Dawa Rinpoche, then, after the sutra transmission, Rinpoche led students in a meditation on emptiness.

Ven. Sarah Thresher reports that, “Rinpoche’s voice was stable and clear and resounded as he guided us step by step on how to realize emptiness and cut the root of samsara.” This is a transcript of that meditation, checked and lightly edited by Ven. Sarah.

Click on the links above to listen to the teaching. Note that the prayers and devotions of other visitors to Vulture's Peak are audible in the background.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche with Sangha at Vulture's Peak, Rajgir, 12 March 2014. Photo: Thubten Jangchub.

So we heard the teaching on emptiness, then particularly here the Vajra Cutter Sutra. It might be good just one minute to meditate on emptiness. It might be good.

There are many quotations to meditate on emptiness, but unless I read I don’t remember. So one thing, one quotation I remember is Seventh Dalai Lama:

Khor-de kyi chö-chän ma-lü-pa
Rang-tok pä zö-pai kyu-ma la
Dön-dam par zung-nä lu-wai chir
Dön-dam la ma zhen tong-par tö


Every single base of samsara and nirvana,
Although illusion made by one’s own conception,
Is held as ultimate so therefore deceives,
Do not cling to it as ultimate, look at it as empty.

Khor-de kyi chö-chän ma-lü-pa. “All the bases of samsara and nirvana,”—every single base of samsara and nirvana.

Rang-tok pä zö-pai kyu-ma-la. “It is made up by one’s own concept.” All the bases of samsara and nirvana are created by one’s own concept, made up by one’s own concept. Then everything appears… Everything is created by one’s own concept, rang tok-pä [by concept] “conceptual thought,” then so everything is illusion. Self, I, action. Self—doer of the action—I, then action, object, everything is illusion.

Then believing the illusion dön-dam par “ultimately exists.” Dön-dam par zung nä lu-wai chir. “Looking at it as real,” existing from their side. The I, action, object, all the phenomena real, real, as REAL. Existing from their own side, dön-dam par zung [holding as ultimate]. Then that cheats you. That concept cheats you completely whole your life; not only that, from beginningless samsara. Not only from this morning to night cheats you completely. Completely cheats you. And cheats you from birth until death. Completely cheated you. Then cheats you from beginningless rebirth… if you do not realize emptiness.

Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche ascends Vulture's Peak, Rajgir, 12 March 2014. Photo by Thubten Jangchub.So that’s why we have been suffering from beginningless rebirth up to now. Guru Shakyamuni Buddha and numberless buddhas they became free from samsara, but us not. We were same before. We were same before, having same suffering but they realized emptiness, direct perception of emptiness, became free from samsara but we not. So we have been suffering from beginningless rebirth up to now. Why? Because the concept cheated us completely from beginningless rebirth up to now.

So therefore the instruction is: Dön-dam la ma zhen, “Don’t cling to it.” Don’t believe things are real, truly existent, things are real. As they appear real to our hallucinated mind due to ignorance, don’t believe real. “Look at it empty.” Look at the I empty, action empty, object empty, so the whole samsara, nirvana, the whole thing as empty, as it is empty.

So before the meditation...

So like this:

Khor-de kyi chö-chän ma-lü pa:  “All the bases of samsara and nirvana.”
Rang-tok pä zö-pai kyu-ma la:  “Your own concept created.”
Rang-tok pä zö-pai kyu-ma la:  Created by your own concept so all are illusion.

So the aggregates, these aggregates… Why there is I, because there are aggregates, the base aggregates. If there are no aggregates there won’t be I. There's aggregates. So reasoning the base, dag-zhi, base to be labeled, the aggregates, because of that then the mind merely imputes “I.”

Because of the aggregates, the mind merely imputes I.The reason is there are the base aggregates. That’s all, nothing else. Your mind merely imputed I.

So we meditate in this a little while.

So merely imputed. The mind merely imputed. Your valid mind merely imputed the I.

It’s just like, for example, your mind, valid mind, merely imputed I on the table. Merely imputed I on the table, on your shoes, or on your kaka! [Rinpoche laughs] Merely imputed I on the kaka—how that is? [Rinpoche laughs] On your table or in your mug. So of course, that I doesn’t exist. That I merely imputed on the table or the kaka doesn’t exist because there is no valid base. There is no valid base. You can’t label I on everything. As you label on the aggregates, you can’t label on everything I. It doesn’t exist. You can label but it doesn’t exist. It doesn’t function. Labeled, merely labeled on the aggregates that functions.

So now, good to meditate for hours, however, for a long time, to see more clearly.

Then after the mere imputation, the I—how does it appear to you? Does it appear merely labeled by mind or not merely labeled by mind? Not merely labeled by mind? “Not merely labeled by mind” means it exists from its own side. So which way appeared to you, the I?

So except in equipoise meditation, the arya beings, higher bodhisattvas, arya beings, arhats who have direct perception of emptiness, in equipoise meditation, otherwise after the achievement je-tob [post equipoise] then all the phenomena—I, action, object —everything appears [as a] hallucination. Truly existent, an illusion. It appears like illusion, except for sentient beings in equipoise meditation.

So even the compassion, bodhicitta, things appear as truly existent, as long assentient beings [are] suffering, until we become enlightened. The minute when we purify subtle obscuration, achieve enlightenment, then we don’t have the dualistic view, things appearing—I, action, object—things existing from its own side, doesn’t have that. So then appears, things existing [in] mere name, appears like that. So not for us sentient beings. [Things appear as] truly existent, except in equipoise meditation.

So appearing real, truly existent, existing from its own side, appearing real. I, action, object, that hallucination happens due to past ignorance having left negative imprint on the mind. So it is right now our mind has, our valid mind has merely imputed I. So should appear the I merely imputed by the mind, but not, but not in the reality. It appears totally wrong, false, hallucination. So total hallucination existing from its own side, truly existent, real I.

Then, first second merely labeled, merely imputed; second second appeared real existence, real I; third second then superstition tog-pa, conceptual, holds it true. The real I appeared, conceptual thought holds it real, entrusts that real. That concept, such sort of thing, that concept is the root of samsara.

That self-concept that is root of samsara. That is root of cancer, all the sicknesses, root of old age, root of death, why we have to die, that is the root, that self-concept, wrong concept, ignorance, is the root of our death. Why we have to be reborn, that’s the root—what causes death, what causes rebirth, what causes old age, sickness. Not only that, also suffering of change, all the comfort/pleasure of samsara, where it comes from is that. Suffering, suffering of change. Then from where the third suffering, pervasive compounding suffering khyab-pa du-je kyi dug-ngäl comes from that. The whole entire ocean of samsaric suffering comes from that concept, the self-concept.

So the eight major hot hells, eight cold hells, neighboring sufferings, ordinary narak suffering. Then the hungry ghosts, for thousands of years the preta’s life [has] so much suffering of hunger and thirst, major suffering. Unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable. For us, even one day don’t get food and so can’t stand, basically, can’t practice, can’t meditate. So the pretas [for] thousands of years, tens of thousands of years, can’t find even a drop, can’t find a spoon of food. Unbelievable suffering, unbelievable. All those heavy sufferings, the three—outer obscurations, chi-yi drib-pa; nang-gi drib-pa, inner obscurations; zä-yi drib-pa,food obscurations—all those three types of suffering of pretas come from that concept, that wrong concept, ignorance.

Then the animals suffering, totally being ignorant, too foolish and ignorant, and then being eaten by another one, chig-la-chig za-wai dug-ngäl, hunger, thirst, torture even by the human beings. All that suffering, unbelievable, most unbelievable, unbelievable suffering came from the ignorance.

Then human beings, eight types of human beings’ suffering—suffering of rebirth, old age, death, sickness, suffering not finding desirable object, suffering of meeting the undesirable object, then even one found desirable object but not finding satisfaction, then five sufferings of the aggregates—so all those eight types of sufferings of the human beings came from the ignorance, this wrong concept.

Then same thing the suras and asuras, their sufferings—the five shortcomings of death time, signs of death, five shortcomings, five nearing signs of death, five signs of death, all those. Mind is completely distracted in the samsaric pleasures of samsara, unbelievable. Life is completely distracted, so difficult to practice Dharma, so all that. Then war between sura and asura, fighting and killing. However all that suffering came from ignorance, root of samsara, that self-concept.

So therefore the problems of the global world—country problems, society problems, individual problems—the whole thing came from this concept, the ignorance, that concept I explained before, the wrong concept, the self-concept. So therefore the solution is to not…

Lama Zopa Rinpoche with Sangha at Vulture's Peak, Rajgir, 12 March 2014. Photo: Thubten Jangchub.The concept is ignorance, entrusting I, action, object as real, existing from their side, or truly existent. Real. As they appear real, entrusting, believing real. So now the antidote, method, antidote to free yourself from oceans of samsaric suffering and to free numberless others from oceans of samsaric suffering and bring to enlightenment, then meditate on emptiness. Opposite concept. Don’t think it’s real, I, action, object, existing from its own side, real. Instead of that think its empty. Empty from its own side. I is empty from its own side, action is empty from its own side, object is all empty from its own side.

So that’s a little one-minute meditation.


The conclusion: Because it exists; because it exists... You can say, because it is empty from its own side, therefore it exists in mere name. You can say that. It exists in mere name, merely imputed by mind. So meditating on emptiness it helps to support the subtle dependent arising, not only the gross dependence but subtle dependent arising, the Prasangika view. It supports for that. So emptiness meditation, if it supports for that, if it supports for the subtle dependent arising, it’s supporting for the existent, then your meditation on emptiness is correct. But if it cannot help, if it cannot bring to conclusion, cannot help, cannot support the subtle dependent arising, exists in mere name, merely labeled, you can’t support it, then the meditation on emptiness is wrong. It’s not correct. That’s probably nihilism. Your meditation on emptiness becomes nihilism, perhaps nihilism. Not correct. If it cannot support to that.

So empty, do not exist from its own side, so to be correct, it has to support for the existence, the conventional truth—kun-dzob den-pa. Kun-dzob den-pa, realizing, concentrating on emptiness helps kun-dzob den-pa, the conventional truth. It should help for that. So it exists, I, action, object, phenomena exist in mere name, being merely labeled by mind. So while it’s empty it exists; while it’s existing, it is empty. So unified emptiness and dependent arising on I, on every single subject of samsara, every single nirvana. So that’s the middle way. Correct.

Okay, so then through that able to eliminate the root of samsara, the ignorance. Then through that, by having trained the mind in that, then you achieve the wisdom directly perceiving emptiness, phak-pa, arya being, you achieve that, then able to cease the seed of delusion. Then you remove delusion and karma; then you achieve nirvana. With bodhicitta, then also you achieve the bodhisattva arya path and then cease the subtle obscuration, then you achieve full enlightenment, then you are able to do perfect works for sentient beings.

So thank you very much!


Transcribed and checked and lightly edited by Ven. Sarah Thresher. Tibetan and phonetics by Losang Hursthouse. Root Institute, March 31 2014.