We Need Mindfulness to Ascertain Impermanence

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal (Archive #1096)

Lama Zopa Rinpoche taught that we need to practice mindfulness, seeing that all causative phenomena are in the nature of impermanence, at the 30th Kopan Meditation Course, held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, in December 1997. This teaching is excerpted from Lecture Eight of the course. Lightly edited by Gordon McDougall.

Rinpoche in Tibet 2002. Photo: Bob Cayton.

When we look at things—friend, enemy, stranger, the five sense objects—we see that they are transitory; it is their nature to change, to decay, not only day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute, second-by-second, but they even change within a second. Therefore, these phenomena can be stopped at any time.

Unless we practice mindfulness and see that causative phenomena are in the nature of impermanence, [we will naturally see them as permanent]. On the other hand, if we can practice mindfulness, seeing and realizing causative phenomena are in the nature of impermanence, we will immediately be able to overcome our disturbing thoughts, the cause of samsara. The mind that is under the control of disturbing thoughts, overwhelmed by them, immediately no longer arises.

And eventually, by developing the mind on the path, we will be able to completely cease even the seeds of delusions. Particularly, by developing the wisdom directly perceiving emptiness, by actualizing this, we can completely cease even the seeds of delusions, making it impossible for disturbing thoughts to arise again. In that way, we can achieve everlasting happiness, the complete cessation of the whole of suffering and its causes.

And due to practicing this mindfulness meditation on impermanence, realizing how causative phenomena are in the nature of change, we can not only achieve liberation from samsara for ourselves, because this is part of the section on renunciation in the lamrim, one of the three principal aspects of the path, from this we can also attain bodhicitta and then complete the Mahayana path and achieve full enlightenment and bring all sentient beings to full enlightenment.

Unless we practice mindfulness, looking at how impermanence is the nature of these causative phenomena, unless we look at them according to their impermanent nature and realize this, our mind will be invaded by the concept of permanence. It will be overtaken by the concept of permanence, just as one country is invaded by another, just as Tibet was invaded by the Communist Chinese. Invaded, overtaken by this, we are controlled by the concept of permanence. And then, because causative phenomena appear permanent, they look as if they will last for a long time.

On the basis of that, desire, the mind that exaggerates the positive qualities of the object, clings to these causative phenomena, which then continuously ties us to samsara with attachment. Due to that, we experience the oceans of samsaric suffering—the oceans of human beings’ suffering, the oceans of gods’ and demigods’ suffering, the oceans of the lower realms’ suffering, the suffering of the hell beings, hungry ghosts and animals. We must experience this again and again.

Our continuation of the samsaric suffering did not have a beginning and while we continue to hold this wrong concept of looking at causative phenomena as permanent and, because of that, generating desire that clings on to these objects, samsaric suffering will be endless. Unless we can do something in this life, unless we can make some change to our mental continuum in this life, we will have to continuously live our life with the same old mind, with this wrong concept of permanence, looking at impermanent phenomena as permanent and generating desire for them. That clinging, that attachment makes samsara endless.

So, we can concentrate on this. We can look at how the nature of all causative phenomena is impermanence.

Not only causative phenomena, but for all phenomena, permanent and impermanent, nothing exists without the mind that labels it. Without the mind that labels the object, without the mind that perceives it, nothing exists. Everything comes from the mind. Subject, action, object—the subject, the mind the perceives the object; the action, the cognizing of the object; and the object, that which is perceived—all these come from the mind. Nothing exists completely from its own side; everything is merely labeled by the mind.

Therefore, everything—the mind that knows, the action of knowing and the object to be known—the way every phenomenon exists is being merely labeled by the mind. Therefore, all phenomena—including the mind that knows, the action of knowing and the object to be known—do not exist at all from their own side; is they are totally empty from their own side. Any object that is known is totally empty; it does not exist from its own side.

Concentrate intensively on emptiness like this, looking at yourself as empty, at your actions as empty, and at all objects, all phenomena, as empty from their own side.