Teachings on the Heart Sutra


Rinpoche Surveys the Scene

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Tara Institute, Melbourne, Australia (Archive #1178)

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaches on emptiness, compassion, guru devotion and other topics, in this two-day seminar at Tara Institute in Melbourne, Australia, March 18-19, 2000. Lightly edited by Sandra Smith.

You can view excerpts from the teachings on our YouTube channel in a series of 22 videos, commencing with Rinpoche Surveys the Scene.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche in Taos, New Mexico, 1999. Photo: Lenny Foster.
We are Extremely Fortunate
First DISCOURSE, MARCH 18, 2000

I want to say hello to everyone, and to thank you very much; to be able to meet again those whom I met before and those whom I met at other times, maybe not in this life but maybe at some other time. Anyway, all those who are my brothers and sisters. I’m not sure what I’m going to speak about, what I’m going to talk about. It is supposed to be on the Heart Sutra, but I’m not sure what comes out and what goes away.

However, maybe even just reading the Heart Sutra together, we’re able to leave some positive imprints on our mental continuum. My commentary on the Heart Sutra might be the rabbit on the horn—maybe those of you who have studied Tibetan texts, probably you’re very familiar with the example of the rabbit on the horn. No, sorry! Horn on the rabbit; I said rabbit on the horn. Anyway, it’s the same, whether the horn is on the rabbit or the rabbit is on the horn. Anyway, as far as the example, it is something which doesn’t exist, whether there’s a horn on the rabbit or whether there’s a rabbit on the horn. Generally, anyway, the horn on the rabbit normally we don’t see. I’m not sure whether we can say it’s impossible, but normally we don’t see it. There can be a rabbit who has the karma to have a horn, to grow a horn. Since there have been human beings who were born with horns, why not a rabbit? Anyway, it doesn’t matter.

This time we are extremely fortunate, unbelievably fortunate even to be able to hear some teachings on emptiness, the Buddha’s teachings on the wisdom perfection. Even one stanza, not the complete teaching, but even a few lines from the Buddha’s teaching on the Perfection of Wisdom, even just to be able to hear it is unbelievably fortunate, leave aside having the opportunity to meditate, to reflect and to meditate, to study. This is without talking about other types of sentient beings, non-human beings, such as other creatures, animals and so forth, all those other different types of sentient beings other than human beings, there is no need to say, no need to question that.

Even though there are many human beings in this world or in other universes, that doesn’t mean every human being has this opportunity, even though there are so many human beings. No matter how long they live the life—even if they live for a hundred years or even if they live for two hundred years—no matter how long they live, they have no karma, no opportunity at all even to hear one stanza or even one line from the teaching of the Buddha, the Perfection of Wisdom, the Wisdom Gone Beyond. They have no opportunity, no matter how long they live their life, even hundreds of years. Even if they could live for hundreds of years, such a long time, they have no opportunity at all in that life to leave even one time a positive imprint, by hearing the teachings on emptiness, the Perfection of Wisdom, to leave a positive imprint to realize emptiness.

We can see how many human beings get born and they die; even in this world how many get born and how many die without any opportunity. Leave aside being able to hear or able to read even the complete teaching on the Heart Sutra, the complete text of the Heart Sutra. Leaving aside that, they have no opportunity even to hear a few lines from teachings such as these. So they have a totally empty life—born and died with an empty human life.

For us, even if we are unable to practice; even those of us who are unable to practice in our daily life, at least we can leave a positive imprint on our mental continuum, to make preparation to realize emptiness in the near future. Even if we can’t meditate in everyday life, on lam-rim and on the teachings on the Perfection of Wisdom, at least we are able to leave an imprint by reading and by listening, even one time.

Even if it happened just one time in the life, hearing this teaching one time, just even the text, so if we are able to read or hear it just one time, the positive imprint left by this definitely causes us in the near future to understand much more easily the teachings on emptiness—the Buddha’s teachings and the commentaries by those ancient, highly attained pandits, yogis, as well those great scholars, the highly attained Tibetan lamas such as Lama Tsongkhapa and so forth. We will be able to understand the words and the meanings of the teachings on emptiness very easily and we’ll be able to have realizations of emptiness easily, quickly in the future. Developing that wisdom ceases the gross and subtle defilements, the mistakes of the mind, and it makes us to achieve the sorrowless state, the cessation of the suffering and its causes on our mental continuum, as well as great liberation even from the subtle mistakes of the mind, that which is full enlightenment on our own mental continuum.

Therefore, if we are able to recognize that, we are unbelievable fortunate, especially if we understand the benefits and the importance of realizing emptiness, which is understanding what are the sufferings that we should be liberated from, not just the suffering of pain but the suffering of change—even the temporary samsaric pleasures which do not last, which are only in the nature of suffering, so to be free forever even from that type of suffering. Not only that, but even to be free forever from the foundation of those two other sufferings, the pervasive compounding suffering—the aggregates which are under the control of delusion and karma, which are in the nature of suffering and which compound the future samsara, the future rebirth, which is in the nature of suffering. So, by knowing these different types of sufferings and by knowing what is mind; by knowing that the continuation of the reincarnation has no beginning; by knowing the continuation of the mind, the past continuity of the mind.

The unknowing mind [imputes]the concept [of inherent existence] while there’s no I, neither on the body nor on the mind, not even on the association of the body and the mind. While there’s no I on these phenomena, apprehending that there’s I on these phenomena, on these aggregates, wherever we believe it to be, either on the body or on the mind, or on the association of the body and the mind, wherever we apprehend that there’s I. While there’s no I on these phenomena, the aggregates, the mind, which is unknowing this, the mind which is ignorant, unknowing this, while there’s no I on this, apprehending that the I is there.

This ignorance, the concept of inherent existence, we are born with it, we’re born in the mother’s womb in this life. Our consciousness was conceived in the mother’s womb with this ignorance, with this wrong concept, with this hallucinated mind. Why are we born with it? There’s a continuation of the mind before conception in the mother’s womb on the fertilized egg. Similarly, there’s the continuation of that ignorance. If there was no continuation of that ignorance, there is no reason at all why we’re born with this ignorance. The simultaneously-born wrong concept, the hallucinated mind—that's why we’re born believing that the I is there, but there’s no I there. Why are we born with this wrong concept in this life? Why do we have this wrong concept anyway in this life and why are we born with it, if there’s no continuation of that ignorance before birth in this life or before the consciousness was conceived in the mother’s womb?

This ignorance, this concept, didn’t come from our parents, it didn’t come from our parents’ ignorance. It’s not that they have too much ignorance and they shared it; they have too much ignorance and they shared it with their children. It’s not like that. Or giving their blessings, they pass the ignorance to the children as a blessing, not like that. Anyway, no, I’m joking. That they have too many blessings of ignorance, so it’s too difficult to keep it and they pass it to their children. I’m joking.

Anyway, it has nothing to do with the parents. It’s because there was the continuation of this ignorance before, even just before the consciousness took place in the mother’s womb. It’s a similar reason today, why the day begins with this. We begin the day with this ignorance because there was the continuation of this ignorance before that. There was the continuation of today’s ignorance yesterday, it existed yesterday, so it was the continuation of today’s ignorance.

This ignorance, the continuation of this ignorance, the past continuity of this ignorance, does not have a beginning. Like that, there is no beginning for other delusions, such as anger. My anger started only one eon ago or my anger was born within me, my anger was born a hundred years ago or a hundred lifetimes ago, or one eon ago—there’s no such thing. That we have a big celebration the day the anger was born; that we have a very big celebration, bigger than a wedding ceremony in the church, bigger than that. Anyway, or today is the birthday of desire. Today is my birthday of my desire. Anyway, I’m joking.

There has been no beginning. There hasn’t been a beginning of desire or a continuation of desire or anger and so forth. Those delusions never existed before from such a time or life, or eon, then they started. No such thing happened.

However, continuation of all these others did not have a beginning. All these obscuring, disturbing emotional thoughts, the continuation did not have a beginning. As well as motivating karma, the action, there’s no beginning of that, so because of that, the continuation of our suffering did not have a beginning. There’s no beginning when we started to experience the suffering of pain. There’s no beginning when we started to experience the changeable suffering, the temporary sense pleasures. There’s no beginning of that suffering. There’s no beginning of the pervasive compounding suffering, the continuation of these defiled aggregates, that which compounds, that which create future samsara.

Neither do we have omniscience, even us here. Maybe there’s somebody who has omniscient mind; maybe somebody with their clairvoyance can see a certain number of past lives—hundreds or thousands. However, even if there is, it doesn’t mean that all of us have all these qualities. Like myself, most of us do not have these qualities, so with our own experience we cannot see that.

At the moment, many of us with our own experience cannot see [this continuity], but through meditation experiences and through study it can be proved, with the valid reasons it can be proved. It can be proved and it can be discovered that the continuation of consciousness, the previous continuity of this life consciousness, the delusions, did not have a beginning. When the mind becomes more and more clear through realizations then we can see. When the mind becomes more clear through realizations of sutra and tantra, we can see, we can remember our own experiences, past, and not only the past but we can see the future as well.

What we can remember, most of us what we can remember, the problems of life that we can remember is just only this life. What we can see is just only this life. Without meditating, without studying Dharma, we have a problem but we don’t recognize it. It’s as if we have cancer but we don’t recognize that we have cancer. Or we have AIDS but we don’t recognize that we have AIDS, we’re not aware, so like that. Only when the doctor introduces it to us do we understand. Only that time, then we understand by depending on the doctor’s knowledge and the explanation.

Even if there’s an understanding of the problems of life, it’s very limited. The suffering or the problem that we should be free from forever is extremely gross, a very, very limited one. Therefore, without relying upon the method, the path that ceases the suffering of pain, the suffering of change—the temporary sense pleasures—and the pervasive compounding suffering; without depending or actualizing the method, the path which ceases completely the two other sufferings, it is impossible to make yourself free forever from the suffering of pain, even those very gross problems of life. For example, it is impossible to make yourself free from cancer forever, in all the lifetimes. It’s impossible. To make yourself free from AIDS forever is impossible.

We need to rely upon the method revealed by the fully enlightened one; whose holy mind is trained, whose holy mind has completed the training in compassion; who has trained the mind in compassion toward other sentient beings for many eons. The method or the path is revealed by the compassionate, fully enlightened one—that which is the Dharma, that which holds, that which protects the sentient beings not only from the sufferings of the lower realms but from the whole entire sufferings of samsara, that which is the function of Dharma. By transforming the mind into the path, the Dharma, then we are protected from the delusions, from the wrong concepts, the dissatisfied mind, desire and so forth. That’s how we are protected from the problems and the sufferings of life.

By understanding the beginningless mind, the continuity of the delusions, particular the ignorance, the hallucinated mind, the concept of inherent existence, and from beginningless rebirth, how the karma has been collected from beginningless rebirth up to now. As a result there is the suffering of samsara, the continuation of the suffering of samsara that did not have beginning. There’s no other way at all to end or to eliminate the root of the delusions, karma, all the sufferings, the ignorance, as well as the result, the delusions and karma, all the sufferings, all the problems of life. There’s no way to cease, to eliminate or to end all this without realizing emptiness, the ultimate nature. There’s no escape, no way to escape, no way to be liberated from all these forever without realizing emptiness, that which is the meaning of the Essence of Wisdom, or the Heart Sutra.

Without realizing the meaning of the Buddha’s teaching on the Perfection of Wisdom or the Wisdom Gone Beyond; without realizing ultimate nature, the selflessness—not the self which exists but the self which doesn’t exist, the inherently existent selflessness. Without realizing this truth by oneself first, there’s no way we can liberate other sentient beings from the whole entire suffering and its cause, the delusion and karma, and the root, ignorance. There’s no way we can liberate others forever from this suffering. There’s no way we can liberate others, no way we can bring them to full enlightenment.

Therefore, this time we’re extremely fortunate that we have this opportunity to meditate, to listen and reflect and do meditation practice. However, even if we are unable to meditate in everyday life, at least to study, at least to listen, leaves a positive imprint and makes preparation for the future, for a better future, so it’s unbelievably fortunate.

It is said that even rising a doubt about emptiness, even rising a doubt, even that breaks samsara in pieces. It’s so powerful, unbelievably powerful, even rising doubt, when you do analysis into emptiness thinking that this may be empty but not completely. Thinking maybe this is empty, so even arising a doubt like this, even not completely thinking it’s empty, not generating full faith that it’s completely empty but even thinking that maybe it’s empty. Even rising this thought, this doubt in the emptiness, even that breaks our suffering realm, the samsara, the circling one, circling from this life to the next life, then circling from that life to the next life. This circling, this samsara, this container of all these life problems and foundation of the next life problems, this samsara that we have now, the container of all the problems of this life and the foundation of all the future life problems. Even rising a doubt like this is so powerful that it breaks our samsara into pieces. Even the rising doubt in emptiness harms our samsara. It harms the root of samsara, the ignorance, even just thinking, without full faith that it is empty, but thinking that it may be empty.

It is mentioned in the sutra, I don’t remember its full name, but Roaring Sound of Snow Lion is part of the title. Anyway, if somebody builds a jewelled stupa that covers all the three galaxies, and then makes offerings. No, the title of the text is this, the Sutra of the Great Piled, Precious Piled Jewels, the Sutra of the Loving Kindness, Great Sound of the Lion.1

If somebody builds a stupa. What size? It’s much bigger than the five hundred foot Maitreya Buddha statue. Anyway, this stupa is equaling the size of Mount Meru, the largest mountain among the mountains. Often this is what we visualize when we offer a mandala. A stupa the size of Mount Meru, equal to Mount Meru, made of seven types of precious jewels. Then, fill up the universe of the great thousand of three thousand, or you call them galaxies. There is that much merit. If you build one stupa, as I often mention, that directs your life toward enlightenment. It is unbelievably powerful purification and it accumulates inconceivable, unimaginable merits by building just even one stupa, even with the earth, like stone.

Here the sutra is talking about building a stupa the size of Mount Meru, equal to Mount Meru, made of the seven types of precious jewels and filling up all the universes of the great thousand of three thousand. I don’t remember exactly the way of counting, perhaps one thousand universes or one thousand galaxies, and then you count that as one, then two thousand, then you count that two thousand as one, then three thousand, something like that, I don’t remember exactly. So that much merit and then the duration is the snapping finger. [Rinpoche snaps fingers] The duration is the snapping finger that you have received the patience to meditate on emptiness, the profound Dharma.

Meditating without fear, even meditation for one second like that on emptiness, on the true nature, the ultimate nature—this merit is far greater, it’s greatness is inconceivable. This merit is far greater, it’s greatness is inconceivable. Even if the duration is very short, without fear, with patience, meditating on emptiness for such a short duration [Rinpoche snaps fingers] like that, the merit is greater than  all those other merits of having built a stupa equal Mount Meru and made of seven types of jewels, covering the great universe, the great thousand of three thousands. It looks great but when you compare the merit of meditating on emptiness, all the previous merit of having built that many stupas becomes small. It becomes very small.

It’s also mentioned in the Meeting of Father and Son Sutra that compared with the merit of practicing the five paramitas—patience, charity, morality, perseverance and concentration—for ten eons, listening to teachings on emptiness collects much greater merit. It is unbelievable to practice the paramita of morality for ten eons or even for one lifetime, even for one year, to live in pure morality. To practice the paramita of morality is so difficult. To live in pure morality, the paramita of morality, not just in one life but even for one year it’s very difficult. By examining our own mind, by looking at the world, at others, by even examining our own mind, it’s very difficult.

Now here, practicing all five paramitas for ten eons, if we just think of how hard that is and of course also how much merit we collect, no question, there is so much merit, inconceivable merit, just with each practice—charity, morality, patience, perseverance and concentration—with each one, we collect inconceivable merit, no question. But when we compare practicing these paths for ten eons, that itself is unbelievable, inconceivable merit that we collect, but if we compare just listening, just hearing, just listening [snaps fingers] to teachings on emptiness, this collects far more greater merit than those previous ones, practicing the five paramitas for ten eons.

As far as collecting merit, the cause of happiness, good karma, by listening to teachings on emptiness even for one minute, we collect unbelievable merit. The merit that we collect is unbelievable. Now listening to teachings on emptiness for ten eons, then if we reveal the teachings on emptiness to one sentient being—for ten eons we listen to teachings on emptiness and we reveal the teachings on emptiness to one sentient being, the merit we collect by revealing the teachings on emptiness to one sentient being is far greater than listening to teachings on emptiness for ten eons. I guess probably that might be my business. Your business and my business.

Buddha told Shariputra, his heart disciple—there are two arhats, one is Maudgalyayana who is excellent in the psychic power, Shariputra who is excellent in the wisdom. So the Buddha told Shariputra that for ten eons revealing teachings on emptiness to others and then meditating on emptiness for the duration of snapping a finger, [Rinpoche snaps fingers] so short, the duration of snapping a finger, this increases the merit numberless times. It’s far greater than the merit of explaining the teachings on emptiness to other sentient beings for ten eons.

Here I would like to bring up this issue at this time. It is said by a very high lama, a highly attained lama, a recent lama who completed not only the first, not only the highest—tantra has four levels, Kriya Tantra, Charya Tantra, Anuttara Yoga Tantra and Maha-anuttara Yoga Tantra. So the Maha-anuttara Yoga Tantra path has two stages, graduate generation stage and graduate completion stage. So for the graduate completion stage, there’s the isolation of body, isolation of speech and isolation of mind, that which is the clear light and illusory body, and the unification of those two. There are five stages in the second graduate path, the graduate completion stage. 


1  The Heap of Jewels Sutra [Skt: Ratnakuta] is a compilation of 49 Mahayana Buddhist sutras. One of the sutras in this collection is Lion’s Roar of Queen Srimala [Skt: Srimaladevi Simhanada Sutra] which expounds the doctrine of buddha nature.   [Return to text

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