The Path to Total Freedom


The Path to Total Freedom : First Teachings

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Singapore (Archive #1922)

A teaching by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore, March 2013.

The first section, We Will Keep Meeting Again and Again Until We Are Free From Samsara, was edited by Gordon McDougall. The second section, Subduing the Mind, was edited by Ven. Tenzin Tsultrim and Sandra Smith. An excerpt from this teaching was published in Mandala magazine, July 2013.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche in Taos, New Mexico, 1999. Photo: Lenny Foster.
We Will Keep Meeting Again and Again Until We Are Free From Samsara

The Buddha said,

Do not commit any unwholesome actions,
Engage only in perfect wholesome actions,
Subdue your own mind.
This is the teaching of the Buddha.

Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche, who is kinder than all the three times’ buddhas, mentioned that the Hinayana teachings on the four noble truths is the foundation, the basic teaching of Buddhism. True suffering exists because there is the true cause of suffering, karma and delusion. Suffering doesn’t happen causelessly.

A lot of disasters have happened in America. While it was fighting, making war in other countries, at the same time inside the country there were a lot of dangers happening. People who don’t know Dharma, who don’t know karma, who don’t accept reincarnation, the continuity of the mind—how this mind continues from the past life to here to the next life—and therefore don’t accept reincarnation, these people call dangers such as earthquakes, fires, floods or tsunamis, “natural disasters” because they don’t know why these happen, they don’t know the cause.

They seem causeless, but it all depends on which level of understanding you take. It’s like a person might be considered crazy or not crazy depending on how people assess him, from a Dharma point of view or a worldly point of view. The Dharma point of view is much deeper.

For example, the truly-existent view, the truly-existent concept, believes a hundred percent, no question at all, that everything exists truly, as it appears. Samsara and nirvana, happiness and suffering—everything—is truly existent. For worldly people that view is not wrong. But in the view of somebody who has realized emptiness only, that is completely incorrect. In Tibetan emptiness is tong-pa-nyi. Tong-pa is “emptiness” and nyi is “only,” which cuts the ordinary emptiness, the emptiness that just means being empty like an empty mug is empty of tea, coffee or a milkshake, or the stomach is empty of food. There’s no resistance here, so that is ordinary emptiness. The emptiness we’re talking about here is tong-pa-nyi in Tibetan, but I’m not sure whether the syllable nyi comes into the Sanskrit term. In Tibetan, however, the nyi of tong-pa-nyi cuts all the ordinary emptiness.

What kind of emptiness is it? It shows the lack of existence not of the I but of the truly-existent I, which has never existed from beginningless rebirths, the truly-existent I which has never existed at all and which will never come into existence in reality but which our hallucinated mind believes to exist. This wrong concept, this ignorance, is the root of samsara.

Kyabje Denma Lochö Rinpoche and Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo mentioned this. In The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, Lamrim Chenmo, the definition of samsara is “the part of the continuity of the contaminated aggregates caused by karma and delusion.” Why does it say “part”? Because this excludes the meditator who has attained the path of meditation, the fourth of the five paths: the path of merit, the path of preparation, the right-seeing path, the path of meditation and the path of no more learning. That meditator’s aggregates don’t take reincarnation because he or she has achieved cessation, the cessation of the seeds of delusion and karma, and so there is not continuity. Taking a further reincarnation doesn’t happen due to force of karma and delusions. This is what happens when the path of meditation is reached, which is why Lama Tsongkhapa says samsara is the part of the aggregates caused by karma and delusion. At the moment the aggregates are under the control of karma and delusion so it is samsara, but when karma and delusion cease, there is no more reincarnation, so it excludes that. Kyabje Denma Lochö Rinpoche and Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo both mention this.

In general, we worldly beings will reincarnate due to the continuity of the contaminated aggregates caused by karma and delusions. That is samsara; that circling is the strict definition of samsara. These aggregates are in the nature of suffering and that is caused by the obscurations, by karma and delusion, by the wrong concept, nyon-mong-pa, which deludes and obscures the mind. Its function is to obscure the mind. Instead of waking the mind, it obscures it, like a dark room shuttered off from the light outside.

What I’m trying to say is that in the view of the ordinary beings, even in Western scientific thinking, human life must have attachment, must have anger, must have ignorance; it must have these things. How can there be life without attachment? It’s not possible. It’s not their experience to have life without attachment, the attachment that functions not to awaken the mind but to obscure the mind, instead of bringing it freedom. Instead of bringing the mind freedom, it clings to the happiness of this life, the comfort of this life. These are Nagarjuna’s words.

Because of that attachment, that grasping, that clinging, there is no real happiness. We can see that with strong grasping we are not really happy and the stronger it is the less we are happy. If we check in our mind we can see we’re not happy; there is no realization in our heart, no inner peace in our life. The stronger the grasping mind is, the more suffering there is. Then when we don’t get what we want, when some disturbance happens to that object we are clinging onto, such as when a family member dies, there is so much suffering.

For example, a couple live together for many years and the husband suddenly dies. For the wife there is no more refuge; there is nobody in the world, only this man. Since the world evolved there has never been a person who stayed permanently. Any intelligent person will understand this. If you ask a crazy person it might be a different matter but if you are not crazy you know people can’t live permanently, that there can’t be a person who has lived permanently since the evolution of the world, nobody in Tibet, in America, in Africa, nowhere. But the husband dies—suddenly or gradually—and for the wife there is nobody else, nobody to rely on. And whether she is old or not, she maybe dies three or four months later, she doesn’t live long after the husband’s death. I’ve heard this can happen in America—not all the time, but generally speaking.

Another example is when a child that the parent clings to very much dies. There is such unbelievable clinging—“my child!”—but then the child dies. This is just the nature of phenomena. Anything that is born must die, even plants, and of course it’s the same for human beings. Nothing can stay forever. After meeting, there must be parting. It’s like that in a family.

The karmic connections that happen in a family are very interesting. The karma has ripened in this life to meet those people again as members of the family, whereas our relationship with them might have been very different in a past life. Our past life’s husband might be our child now and sometime in the past that child may have also been our enemy or our wife. The child becomes the mother, we become the father or the enemy or the wife. There are so many possibilities.

In this life, our family—our parents, our brothers and sisters—are only in those roles for a few years; these are just the relationships for this short time. In a certain number of years that will all change again, and in the next life the father can become the wife, the daughter can become the husband, the friend can become the enemy. It changes from life to life. Not all at one time, don’t think that, but from beginningless rebirths, in the relationships we have with all sentient beings. Everybody in Singapore, every human being in Singapore, has had connections from beginningless rebirths. Not only that, but everybody in the whole world, every being in the whole world, the whole world of humans, of animals, of hungry ghosts, of hell beings, of suras and asuras—we have had every kind of relationship with all of them from beginningless rebirths. We ourselves have been their enemy, husband, wife, child—every kind of relationship from beginningless rebirths with all sentient beings, all sentient beings. As the teachings mention, we have been their enemy, friend, husband, wife, child, numberless times and until we are free from samsara we will continue to be their enemy, friend, husband, wife, child and they will be our enemy, friend, husband, wife, child, aunt (not ant!), uncle and so forth. We will all be all these different things in all our different lives.

So, if a member of the family dies, it is completely wrong to think that we will never meet them again. To be worried is completely useless; it can’t help in any way. If there is any way we can help that person, help save them from the lower realms’ suffering, help free them from the suffering from samsara, then that is different. That is not superstition but a logical, true method, not just our belief. If there is something we can do to help of course we should do it, but to just worry that we will never meet them again is useless. It causes us to become worried and depressed. From that comes a negative emotional mind and that brings cancer and mental and physical problems, and we can’t help others or ourselves.

Shantideva says in A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life,

Why be unhappy about something
If it can be remedied?
And what is the use of being unhappy about something
If it cannot be remedied?1

What’s the point of wanting our house to become made of diamonds, or the mountain to become made of gold, jewel, sapphires? Why worry so much about what can never be? It’s pointless. Seeing it is useless, seeing there is no point in worrying, we should just give it up. Then there will be peace. What I’m saying is that worrying is pointless. As long as we are in samsara, as long as we are still not free from samsara, we are going to have all these relationships with all these sentient beings. All sentient beings have been our father, brother and wife. They have been our children who have died, and those who have died will have different relationships with us in different lives. The body is not the same, but the continuum of mind is the same. If we are expecting only the body, not thinking about the mind, we will never see the person in that body again but, of body and mind, the mind takes a different body and we will keep meeting again and again until we are free from samsara.


1 Ch. 6, v. 10.

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Subduing the Mind »