The Ultimate Nature of the Mind

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Adelaide, Australia (Archive #857)

A discourse given by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche in Adelaide, Australia, on August 6, 1991. Rinpoche teaches on buddha nature and the emptiness of the mind. Edited by Ven. Ailsa Cameron. 

Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Bern, Switzerland, 1990. Photo by Ueli Minder.

Before the discourse, are there any questions? Maybe one or two questions?

Student: When we're doing meditations on loving kindness and compassion, the logic is used that sentient beings want happiness and don't want suffering, and we then think that sentient beings have been kind to us and try to get some feeling that we should have caring and compassion for them, because they've been kind and because they're suffering. Are there any other logical reasons that we can use?

Rinpoche: What she is saying is that to generate loving kindness and compassion it is usually said that sentient beings want happiness and do not want suffering, and another reason is that sentient beings have been kind to us, therefore we should generate loving kindness for them. Right? Is the message okay?

Another reason is that we are responsible. We see in an extensive way how sentient beings are suffering, and then that we are responsible for sentient beings' happiness. These two things. First, understand in an extensive way how sentient beings are suffering. Second, understand that we ourselves are responsible. I think that understanding our responsibility also helps us to generate compassion. I think that feeling the responsibility also helps us to think about other sentient beings' suffering. Through that, compassion then grows more and more. Think of their kindness and of how they are suffering, and the causes of that: their hallucinations, their disturbing thoughts and karma, and then all their problems.

Student: Many people have very low self-esteem, a very low opinion of themselves. How can they have a better feeling about themselves?

Rinpoche: I think that is a good question. I like that question! Actually last night I did not finish that subject, the nature of the mind. I think that the nature of the mind, buddha nature, is the very root of inspiration, or encouragement. Buddha nature gives all the hope. 

Maybe first I'll mention this verse from Uttaratantra, which says that all the defiled sentient beings have buddha nature. The minds of sentient beings are defiled, obscured. Our minds have all these delusions—the six root delusions, twenty secondary delusions, and so forth; the disturbing-thought obscurations and the subtle obscurations—and through these disturbing thoughts, such as the concept of true existence, we commit many negative karmas, many unskillful, unwholesome actions that bring various sufferings. Even though this is what sentient beings are like and what they do most at the present time, this is not forever; this is for the time being. While we have a defiled mind, we will continuously create sufferings with it; we will make so many mistakes. But the mind is a dependent arising. The mind exists in dependence upon its base, the formless phenomenon whose nature is clear and able to perceive objects, and upon the thought that labels it. The mind exists in dependence upon these things.

What is the mind? It is nothing other than what is merely imputed by the mind, by the thought. In other words, because of the reason that the base—this formless phenomenon that is clear and perceives objects—exists, mind is merely labeled by the thought, and believed in. Because of this, thought makes up the idea, the concept, the label, "mind," and then believes in what is merely imputed by thought. Therefore, what the mind is, is extremely subtle. It does not exist in the way it normally appears to us. In reality the mind that exists does not exist in the way that it normally appears to us, in the way we normally apprehend it, as a real mind existing from its own side, an inherently existent mind. It is not that. 

This formless phenomenon whose nature is clear and able to perceive objects, this is the base. Depending on this base, mind is labeled, so mind is the label and that phenomenon is the base to be labeled. Therefore the base and the label "mind" have to be different; they cannot be one thing. There is no way that the base to be labeled and the label can be one. If this particular formless phenomenon that is clear and able to perceive objects were the label "mind" there would be no point in labeling mind? Why would you label "mind"? There is no reason to label "mind" on the mind. This would become endless. You would label mind on the mind, then you would have to label mind on that mind, then again you would have to label mind on that mind. It would become endless. There is no purpose in doing this.

Generally, you apply a label to something that is not that. There is some purpose in doing this. For example, when you see your mother among a group of your relatives, your brother, sister, father, aunt, uncle, and so forth, what is the reason that makes you create the label "mother"? First you have to think about this. A reason comes in your mind before you make up the label "mother." Some reason makes you choose this particular label. 

Among these many people, first you see the particular characteristics of the body that gave birth to your body. There are many different appearances, those of your father, brother, sister, and so forth. But generally speaking you don't call everyone you see "mother." You don't call your father "mother" or call your mother "father." The problem may happen sooner or later. There are all kinds of things happening nowadays in the world. I'm joking! So, you don't call just anybody "mother." 

There are the many different aggregates, with different characteristics, different forms, and different relationships to you. So, why do you give the label "mother" to this particular one? There has to be a reason that makes you decide upon this particular label "mother." What is the reason? The reason is that you see the particular aggregates, with their characteristic shape, of the woman who gave birth to you. This recognition happens first. What you first see becomes the reason that makes you decide on the label "mother." 

So, which do you see first? Do you see mother or the aggregates, the base to be labeled mother? You don't see mother first; you see the aggregates. You first see the aggregates, the base to be labeled mother. After that you label "mother." Because you see the aggregates first, you decide upon the label "mother." That label is imputed by the mind, and after you believe in that, there is the appearance of mother. This is the evolution, this is how mother comes into existence. 

Now you can see clearly that first you have to see the basis of mother and only after you have labeled that "mother" do you see the mother. If you see the mother first, than that would have been labeled. Before you see the mother, you would have labeled her with your own mind. But what reason would you have for doing this? What would make you decide, "That is my mother"? There would be no reason. If the basis were the mother, you would see the mother from the very first, and there would be no reason to label "mother." "Mother" is a name, which has to be labeled by the mind, so in this case there would be no reason to decide, "That is my mother." There would be nothing to make you decide upon the particular label "mother" in dependence upon this. 

In the same way, there wouldn't be any reason to call someone father, brother, sister, or whatever. If you are seeing the base to be labeled and the very label of mother, father or whatever from the very start, there is no reason to make you decide upon that particular name. Also, because there is no reason, the name won't happen, and then you might call everyone father, mother, wife or husband. If the labeling does not depend on a prior reason, this mistake would happen. And the other mistake that would happen is that everyone can be called husband or wife, or whatever.

Therefore, the particular aggregates that gave birth to you are the base; they are not the imputed label "mother." The base is not that label, which is imputed. 

Now concentrate on this. Because of the reason of that base, that particular appearance, the mind decides upon the label "mother," creates the concept of mother, and believes in that idea. So, now you can see that mother doesn't exist there on that base. From the tip of the head down to the toes, mother is nowhere there on that base. Mother is not there—"there" in the sense of not on the base—but this does not mean that mother doesn't exist. Because you cannot find mother on that base, it doesn't mean that mother doesn't exist. The association of the body and mind are not mother; the five aggregates—form, feeling, recognition, compounding aggregates, consciousness—are not the mother, neither individually nor all together. The mother is nowhere there, but this doesn't mean that mother doesn't exist. Mother exists. Mother is here, but what is it? If it is not the base, the association of body and mind, then what is it? If it is neither the body nor the mind, nor even the whole group, then what is it?

It is nothing except what is merely imputed by the mind. What is mother? It is extremely subtle. It is not that it doesn't exist, but it's as if it doesn't exist. It is so subtle. In our everyday life we think about and we talk about, we see mother, but in reality it is completely something else. It is never the way mother appears to us in our everyday life, this inherently existent one, this real one, which we apprehend as true and that we believe in. The mother there on the base is a complete hallucination. There's a mother on the base that doesn't exist at all.

From this, the reality of how mother exists, we can see the hallucination. From this analysis we can see how our everyday life is a hallucination, a wrong concept. This analysis shows clearly that the real mother on that base is a complete hallucination. And the concept believing that to be true is a wrong concept.

It is exactly the same with our enemy. When we think of our enemy—the person we get angry with, the person we don't like—in reality it is also like this. It’s the same with the friend we cling to so much. These two objects that we generate strong anger and attachment towards, that make our life crazy, what they really are is extremely subtle—they are completely empty.

We can see now that mother is completely empty of existing from its own side, and so are enemy and friend. What the mother is, is extremely subtle, and it is completely empty of existing from its own side, of being a real one from its own side.

It is like this with everything—with the I, with what is called hell, enlightenment, samsara, nirvana, and with our problems of life, such as relationship problems. When we think we have won, it looks like real gain; when we think we have lost, it looks like real loss. Because we believe in this hallucination, the real gain and the real loss from its own side, we become so emotional, either very attached or very upset. In reality they are all completely empty. What we call loss, what we call gain and what we call problems are all completely empty. There is no real one from its own side, as there appears to be.

Also, how you label yourself, thinking "I am hopeless, I am weak, I am bad, I am evil,"—all these are also merely imputed. All these things you use to bring yourself down are merely imputed; they are labels made up by your own mind. Everything here, all the objects of the five senses—forms, sounds, smells, tastes—appear to be something concrete, something real from its own side. But if you analyze, in reality everything, including the I, the body and mind, the aggregates, all the sense objects, is very subtle, just like the example of mother. In reality everything is completely empty from its own side, and what exists is nothing except what is merely imputed by the mind.

As I explained before, the real mother from its own side there on the base, on the aggregates, is a hallucination. You cannot find it there, anywhere, from the top of the head down to the toes. It is completely empty there. So, like this, in fact all these things here, which appear real from their own side, are a complete hallucination. All these are empty of being real ones from their own side. What exists is extremely subtle—what is merely imputed by the mind.

By analyzing like this, we can see the huge difference between the reality and what appears to us and what we believe in our everyday life. Reality is completely something else. We create our own complete hallucination. Through having the concept of true existence, this ignorance, we believe to be true all these things that appear as inherently existent, real ones from their own side. We believe there is something on the base. This concept of true existence and the imprint left on the mind by this is like having taken a drug. Due to the drug of the concept of true existence and the imprint, these hallucinations are happening. Everything that exists, even though it is merely labeled by mind, doesn't appear as merely labeled by the mind; it appears as a real one from its own side, independent.

So all these are hallucinations, all these are empty. Now we'll go back to the mind. When we think of the mind, when we talk about the mind, within us, in the body, there is a real mind existing from its own side. There is a mind on this base, this formless phenomenon that is clear in nature and able to perceive objects. As I mentioned with the example of the mother, that mother is not on the base of mother, that formless phenomenon is only the base to be labeled mind. That is the base, not the label "mind." Just as on the base of mother, mother cannot be found from the top of the head down to the toes, the mind is nowhere to be found on this formless phenomenon that is clear and able to perceive objects. Mind doesn't exist on this base, and what exists is nothing other than what is merely imputed by the mind. Therefore, the real mind that usually appears is a complete hallucination. A real mind from its own side is a complete hallucination. It doesn't exist; it is completely empty.

What is called "clear light" is the ultimate nature of the mind. This is the buddha nature. When the mind appears to be truly existent, independent, and we believe that to be true, this is a wrong concept, an obscuration. This mind is obscured, or stained, by the concept of true existence.

When you see a piece of rope from a distance in the dusk, you may see a snake, but when you come near it with a light, you see the absence of snake. There is no snake on the rope. There is no snake there; it's just a piece of rope. You see that the snake appearing on the piece of rope doesn't exist. Realizing that there is no snake there in the object eliminates the wrong concept, the hallucinated mind, that believes there is a snake. That wisdom eliminates the concept of the snake, the belief that there's a snake. Eliminating the concept of snake means that the worry and fear don't happen.

Similarly, the wisdom realizing that the mind that appears as something real from its own side is completely empty, which is the buddha nature, eliminates the mental stain of the concept of true existence. By developing this wisdom, we remove all the disturbing-thought obscurations and achieve the everlasting happiness of liberation. Developing this wisdom frees the mind from even the subtle obscurations, the subtle imprints, that are on the mind, causing the mental continuum to become the transcendental wisdom of dharmakaya, the ultimate nature of which is the svabhavakaya, or nature body.

The whole point is this. When an object is there, a mirror is able to reflect it. The potential is already there in the mirror—it's just a question of meeting the conditions. When the condition happens, the mirror is able to reflect because the power is there. It is the same with the ability of a magnifying glass to produce fire. The power is already there in the magnifying glass—it's just a question of needing the sunlight. If it meets the condition of sunlight, it is able to produce fire. The potential is already there; it comes from the magnifying glass. It is the same when we ring a bell. The potential to make sound is already there in the bell—it just needs the condition of something to hit it.

Like this, the mind, which is empty of existing from its own side, has all the potential already there—it's just a question of meeting the conditions. If we meet the wrong conditions, our mental continuum is degenerated, and gets lower and lower. The result it leads to is the lower realms. If we meet good conditions, the mind, which has all the potential, becomes better and better, and the result it leads to is enlightenment. The mind, which is empty from its own side, which is a dependent arising, has all the potential.

Depending on cause and conditions, we create suffering; depending on other causes and conditions, we experience happiness. Here at this time many of us have met not just one kind, perfectly qualified guru, Khensur Rinpoche, but many others, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We have not just met the good condition of the kind, qualified guru but also the complete path to enlightenment, without anything missing. By meeting these conditions, the mind becomes more and more pure, leading to the highest happiness of full enlightenment, with which we can free everyone from all suffering and lead them to the peerless happiness of full enlightenment. That we are able to lead every single sentient being to full enlightenment comes from all the potential within our mental continuum, from the mind that is empty of existing from its own side, which is buddha nature.

We sentient beings, who are defiled, have buddha nature. And because the nature of mind is empty of existing from its own side, the Buddha's holy actions are able to enter within our mind and function to guide us, to free us from all obscurations and sufferings and to lead us to enlightenment. Obscured sentient beings have buddha nature.

The second thing is that in suchness there is no differentiation between the ultimate nature of our own mind, the defiled mind of a sentient being, and the ultimate nature of a completely pure being's mind, the Buddha's holy mind. There is no differentiation between these two. In suchness, in emptiness, as far as the nature of our own mind and the nature of Buddha's holy mind, there is no such thing as pure and impure. There is a difference between the nature of the purity of the minds that are the basis of emptiness, but in regards to emptiness, there is no pure and impure.

And the third point is that this nature of the mind, empty of existing from its own side, becomes the cause for the mind to transform into dharmakaya and for the wind to transform into rupakaya, the holy body of form. The mind that is empty of existing from its own side possesses the potential to become the dharmakaya and rupakaya. According to the question, because of the third reason, we sentient beings, who are defiled, have the buddha nature. There are the three reasons like this for our having buddha nature.

Like this, even if the sky is completely cloudy so that we can't see the sun at all, the sky is not oneness with the clouds. The nature of the sky is not mixed with the clouds. The clouds are just temporary. Due to some cause and conditions, the clouds happened and due to another cause and conditions, they will go away. One hour the sky may be completely cloudy, but the next it might be completely clear. This is always happening in the sky, day and night. It happens because everything is dependent arising, everything depends on causes and conditions. The nature of the sky is not clouds. Even though the sky may be obscured now, because its nature is not cloud, there is the possibility to have clear sky, to enjoy sunshine.

It is the same with a mirror that is covered by dust. The mirror itself is not oneness with the dust, so it can be separated from the dust. The dust is there temporarily, not forever. It came because of cause and conditions; because of another cause and conditions, it will go away. It is the same even in our everyday life. A person who wasn't an object of desire yesterday becomes a strong object of desire today because we make up some reasons. These conditions made strong desire to arise on the basis of that object, but tomorrow, depending on other conditions, by thinking in a different way, using other reasons, we will make ourselves angry about the same person. Either the same day or the next day, at some time, because we stop thinking of the reasons why that person makes us angry and want to harm them, our anger won't arise any more toward that object. Even without meditation, an object that makes us feel strong desire or anger doesn't always give rise to attachment, doesn't always give rise to anger. It isn't an object of anger forever, it isn't an object of desire forever. It is temporary because it is dependent on cause and conditions; it changes according to cause and conditions.

Like this, all the obscurations in our mind are temporary. That we have so much delusion, so much anger or very strong self-cherishing thought that it is very difficult to have concern for others; that it is difficult to feel loving kindness and compassion; that our strongly selfish mind makes it so easy for anger to arise; that we are so impatient, that we have very thick obscurations so it is very difficult to understand Dharma or to feel the meditations, it is difficult to concentrate or the visualizations don't happen or don't happen clearly; that we are unable to succeed in achieving realizations or just general success—all these obstacles are temporary, just like the other examples, like clouds in the sky.

These things happened due to some cause and conditions, and due to another cause and conditions, they will go away. Because of buddha nature, the ultimate nature of the mind, empty of existing from its own side, every being—not just human beings, but even mosquitoes, even the animals living in the ocean, even the tiniest insects in the water, on the ground, in damp wood—have this buddha nature. Because of this, everyone is going to become enlightened. To think of this is the first thing. The nature of the mind, the essence of the Buddha, the buddha nature, is pure. This is not oneness with the mistakes, not oneness with the selfish mind, not oneness with anger, with ignorance, with all these wrong conceptions. These obscurations are temporary.

In the same way, even if you have huge family problems, some incredible disaster or family problems, no matter what problem you have, recognize that it's temporary. It happens, it goes. This can help you not to feel depressed, no matter how much you have failed; this can help you not to feel that you are completely hopeless. This gives you hope. There is always the opportunity to be better.

There's a big difference between those who have met Dharma and those who have not met Dharma. By having met Dharma, you are full of inspiration. It's a question of thinking, a question of meditating. Life is full of hope. Rather than feeling very down and hopeless, you feel your life is full of inspiration.

Even if you are experiencing very heavy karma—you are missing limbs or something like that—even if in your mind you want to do something else but due to karma you don't have the freedom to do it now, even if your life is not what you want, even if there is such a big problem, think, "This is temporary. What is happening to me won't last forever. This is a causative phenomenon; it happened in dependence upon cause and conditions. This difficulty in my life happened due to cause and conditions, and due to another cause and conditions it will go away."

No matter how heavy the karma in your life is, no matter how much heavy karma you have created;  even if you have created some negative action that means you will be born in the hells for many billions of eons—according to their time, not human time, which is an incredible length of time—don't just be sad about it. Just being sad about any problem or mistake that happens in your life is of no use. Remember your buddha nature, which is pure, which is not oneness with the mistakes. Remember that, and that you have all the potential, all the hope to develop your mind. Remember that you can be better, and then attempt the method to be better.

Of course feeling regret purifies negative actions. The more regret you feel the more negative karma you purify. And, besides feeling regret, think of buddha nature, which is pure, not mixed with the obscurations, with the mistakes, and generate the inspiration to attempt not to commit the negative actions again. Even if you cannot stop the negative actions completely, forever, try to commit them as seldom as possible.

In some cases, stress is even useful. In my point of view, stress is not always negative. There is negative stress and positive stress. For an ordinary person, to have concern or worry helps to get things done in time and done better, whether it is Dharma practice or whatever. So there are benefits. But for a person like me who is very lazy, who doesn't do anything, there is no stress. I'm not saying that I don't have stress, but laziness. Anyway, I don't know what I'm talking about.

So stress is not necessarily negative. I think that whether it's negative stress or positive stress depends a lot on the purpose of your work. If you are doing virtuous actions, being kept busy by that is worthwhile. But if the actions are non- virtuous, done with the three poisonous minds of ignorance, anger or attachment; if you are keeping busy working for those, which means keeping busy doing non-virtuous actions, that becomes negative stress. This is my view.

For example, in order to be healthy, we go to the hospital again and again for check-ups. Why do we go for check-ups? Why do we bother to go for check-ups? Because we want to know if we have any diseases, such as cancer. If we reject the idea of finding out whether we have any disease, it then stops the opportunity for us to be healthy and to have a long life. Not wanting to know that we are sick stops us following treatment, such as taking medicine. In other words, even if we have a disease, we don't want to know that we have it because the idea upsets us. Because of that, we don't go to hospital, we don't have a check-up, so then we don't take the medicine, and then we cannot achieve the benefit of being healthy and having a long life. Rejecting this knowledge is only causing our own failure.

By going to hospital for a check-up, by knowing what disease we have, we can get the right treatment and be cured. This is regarded as a good thing to do, so everybody goes to hospital for check-ups.

It is exactly the same here. In dependence on the virtuous friend or the teachings, we learn to know our mind more, and how much delusion and negative karma we have. We know how our mind makes our actions non-virtuous and the cause of suffering; we know how strong our self-cherishing thought is and how incredibly harmful it is. These are not pleasant things to hear, but it's like the example of checking for disease; if we recognize our disease, we can have better health. Similarly, we recognize that these things don't benefit us, that they have only shortcomings that harm ourselves and others. But there's no use in knowing this and just being upset, being sad. What should we do?

After finding out how strong our selfish mind is and how harmful it is, since it is the root of suffering, we should make the determination not to follow it, to avoid it as much as possible, not only during meditation sessions but in our everyday life. In this way realizing all the mental diseases, self-cherishing thought, negative karma that we have becomes useful. Knowing this makes us purify it, makes us practice bodhicitta more, so it leads us to enlightenment.

When we hear about subjects such as negative karma and self-cherishing thought, it looks as if we are putting ourselves down, thinking, “I am bad, I am doing this and that.” But as I mentioned with the example of the sick person, there's no use in just knowing this and feeling sad. What should be done? We should encourage and inspire ourselves by thinking of buddha  nature, which has all the potential. We should attempt to defeat the self-cherishing thought, and to purify negative karma and not create it again. In this way, all happiness, all success, comes to us and to all sentient beings.

So, I'll stop here. I hope a useful answer to that question came, but I don't know. I talked for ages.

[End of discourse]