Protecting the Mind

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal (Archive #1087)

Lama Zopa Rinpoche taught that the function of Dharma practice is to protect the mind at Kopan Course No. 31, held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, in Nov–Dec 1998. This teaching is excerpted from Lecture Eight of the course. Lightly edited by Gordon McDougall.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Lawudo, Solu Khumbu, Nepal, 1978. Photo: Peter Iseli.

There are different practices regarding devoting to the virtuous friend. The Lesser Vehicle path, the Hinayana, doesn’t mention visualizing the spiritual master we have established a Dharma connection with as the virtuous friend. What is mentioned is to respect and obey them like the Buddha. In the Mahayana, in the Paramitayana, the way of devoting to the virtuous friend is by looking at them as the Buddha.

In the Secret Mantra, the Vajrayana, in tantra, the way of devoting to the virtuous friend is not only looking at them as the Buddha but also visualizing them in the pure form, in the aspect of the deity. That method becomes more skillful, more profound than in the Paramitayana and in the Lesser Vehicle path. By visualizing them as the pure appearance, we stop all impure appearances. Why? In tantra or Secret Mantra, the meaning of “mantra” doesn’t just mean reciting sounds. Usually when we do not know the meaning of mantra, we might think it just means something to pray, but it’s not just that. The chanting is not the meaning of “mantra.” The main meaning of “mantra” is the tantric path that is the quickest method or the quickest path that ceases the defilements, the gross and subtle mistakes of mind. It ceases the defilements quicker than what is explained in the Mahayana Sutrayana. Mantra is the whole tantric path to achieve enlightenment; it’s not just the words we chant, the words we recite. That is a very limited understanding of what “mantra” means. [Microphone makes a sound] I think this one is just so that you can hear my cough clearer than the teachings! Protecting the mind, that is the actual meaning of “mantra.”

Actually, the whole path to enlightenment protects the mind, if we relate it to the lamrim, from guru devotion, perfect human rebirth up to karma and the subjects of the four noble truths. And then there is the path of the higher capable being, bodhicitta, the six perfections and all the foundations of tantra—they are all means of protecting the mind. Protecting the mind is another meaning of “Dharma.” The nature of Dharma, the function of Dharma is that which protects us, which holds us up and protects us from falling down into the lower realms. So of course, that is the very foundation. That is the lowest level of Dharma. When we practice, when our mind and our actions become Dharma, it protects us from falling down into the lower realms. This is the definition of the Dharma that we practice. In Tibetan it is chö, which has two ways to be understood. One chö means “all existence.” Things that hold their own nature, that’s one definition of chö, holding its own nature. But here, when we say “practicing Dharma,” this means to hold us. This Dharma protects us from the suffering, it holds us from, for example, falling down into the lower suffering realms. Of course, it is not only that; it holds us from or protects us from samsara. There can be different levels of meaning of what our Dharma protects us from. However, that and the meaning of “mantra”—protecting the mind—are similar.

With guru devotion, when our mind is transformed into the pure mind of guru devotion, the lamrim protects us from the opposite, the non-devotional thought, the ordinary thought of seeing the virtuous friend as having mistakes, including having heresy and anger toward them. Guru devotion protects us from all these negative thoughts toward the virtuous friend, which are the heaviest negative karma, the heaviest obstacles to having realizations on the path to enlightenment. From this, by then meditating on the perfect human rebirth—its usefulness and how it is difficult to find again—and impermanence and death, the lower realms’ suffering and so forth, the conclusion is that, when our mind is transformed into the lamrim, whether it is the effortful experience or the effortless experience, the actual realization, this protects our mind from suffering.

During that time, it protects us from the attachment clinging to this life, the eight worldly concerns that make us to suffer, that always bring confusion into our life and obstacles to our mind, to our actions becoming pure Dharma. Even if we are not a practitioner, they bring so many problems in our life. The attachment clinging to this life is the main one that doesn’t allow us any satisfaction in life. Whatever different lifestyle we try to live, nothing gives satisfaction because of the eight worldly dharmas, the eight worldly concerns, this attachment clinging to this life. Nothing fundamentally changes when this abides all the time in our heart. No matter how much we change externally, whatever lifestyle we try, nothing gives us happiness, nothing gives satisfaction and peace in the heart.

When our mind and actions become Dharma, because we have transformed our mind into this lamrim meditation, we protect the mind from the attachment clinging to this life, this evil thought of the eight worldly dharmas: craving comfort and happiness, craving receiving material possessions, praise, and a good reputation, and disliking the opposite of these four. When these four don’t happen, we dislike it. These eight concerns are what stop us having peace in our heart, they always torture us. Attachment to these eight worldly concerns makes us suffer so much. Whatever different lifestyle we try to have, as long as no change is done to these, there are always the same problems; we are always tortured. When this has been our attitude in life, all the actions we do become nonvirtuous, because the thought is nonvirtuous, the attachment clinging to this life is nonvirtuous. That means the result is only rebirth in the lower realms; the result is only suffering.

When our mind becomes Dharma, all our actions become Dharma, and this protects us from these eight worldly concerns, the attachment clinging to this life, and from all the negative actions, the negative karma, and all the suffering results of the lower realms. Then, by meditating on bodhicitta, when our mind is transformed into bodhicitta, that protects us from the ego, the self-cherishing thought, which is the main obstacle to achieving enlightenment. The self-cherishing thought doesn’t allow our actions to become the cause of enlightenment, so it is very harmful for all sentient beings because we are unable to develop our mind in the path to enlightenment to be able to benefit all sentient beings. This is also very harmful for us because the best thing in our life is to benefit others, to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings and the ego harms that. That means the ego is so very harmful to us. When we practice bodhicitta, it protects us from the ego, the self-cherishing thought where all the obstacles come from, where all the unfavorable conditions, all the problems come from.

When we meditate on the renunciation of samsara, that protects our mind. When the mind is transformed into renunciation, the detached mind that has aversion to samsara by seeing samsara as only in the nature of suffering, as unbearable, that protects us from the cause of samsara, attachment. When our attitude, our mind is transformed into the renunciation of samsara, our actions become the cause of liberation. That directs our life toward liberation, and the actions done out of that motivation also become the cause of liberation.

Similarly, with emptiness, when we meditate on the very nature of the phenomena, when we are looking at things that are empty as being empty, at that time, it protects us from the root of samsara, it protects us from whole of samsara, from all the oceans of suffering of samsara.

When we practice all this basic Dharma, it all has the meaning of protecting our mind. And the very beginning of protecting the mind is guru devotion. When we say that mantra protects the mind, we are specifically talking about how the tantric path protects the mind. After receiving a great initiation, we enter the door of tantra. The door of the tantric path is the great initiation.