What is Dharma Practice?

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal, 1976 (Archive #091)

Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche explained the meaning of Dharma and how to practice at the 9th Kopan Course in 1976. This teaching is an edited excerpt from Lecture One, Section One of the course. Click here to read more.

What is Dharma? The general meaning of Dharma is “holding.” If someone is in danger of falling down, if someone is suffering—if there is a high cliff and someone is in danger of falling down—then the method to protect them, to hold them from that suffering is the Dharma. That method is the Buddhadharma. It is a method that contains all the things that you call by different names in the West—psychology and psychiatry, the many different ways to solve our life problems. There are many different names for the solutions to the different problems of the mind.

The Dharma contains all of the Buddha’s messages. These are the methods that have been taught, that have been found. Even if we spend our whole life trying different psychologists, we still can’t solve all our various problems, because there are many problems where there is no conventional method. As there are various problems for sentient beings, there is not one single method missing from the Dharma that cannot solve our problems. There is not one single method missing from the Dharma.

So, the Dharma is the total method that guides and holds us away from all suffering and its causes. The Dharma is the method that holds us away from our own mental and physical suffering, and all its causes. “Dharma” in fact means our own actions that protect and hold us from suffering and the cause of suffering. The Dharma is not limited to only going to temples or to church, or praying or offering flowers and other things. This is a kind of Dharma, but it is wrong to think that nothing else is Dharma, or spiritual action—it is not like that.

All our actions from morning until night can become Dharma, even if we don’t go to church, even if we don’t know what church is, even if we don’t worship, even if we don’t say prayers and we don’t know how to say prayers. From morning until night all our daily life actions—getting up, eating, sleeping, talking, working in the office and making business—all this can become a method that protects and guides us away from suffering and the cause of suffering, and from our delusions and wrong conceptions. Even if we are in the West—not in the East, not at Kopan—even if we are working in New York, even if we are watching a movie, these actions can become the cause of receiving ultimate happiness. It is very easy to practice Dharma in normal life. It is so easy to make our actions Dharma in normal daily life.

It is so easy to practice Dharma, to make our lives happy and have peace of mind, even if we live in the city and work. But of course, without understanding how to practice Dharma and how to make everything Dharma, it is difficult. Without consulting Dharma and without knowing how to transform our normal actions into Dharma—if we don’t have this understanding, then of course, it is difficult.

On one hand it is incredibly easy to attain the cause of ultimate happiness, and it is so easy to get out of suffering. On the other hand, if we don’t know how to transform our actions into Dharma, and if we don’t know the different methods that can lead us to ultimate happiness, then it is difficult. So therefore, understanding how to make our daily life actions become Dharma is extremely important. This is the path that leads to peace.

Happiness and suffering are not caused by external factors—our life experiences of happiness and suffering mainly come from the internal factor of the mind. It is very simple, very easy to understand this. It is just a matter of being aware of our own mind and our life experiences. We are aware our suffering is not mainly caused by external factors, but is mainly caused by internal factors of the mind. It is our own experience. When we are not aware of how we are experiencing things, however, we often think that our happiness mainly arises from external factors and exterior conditions. We don’t confirm our own experience—that happiness comes mainly from the mind.

Normally what we believe is the opposite of our own experience. A simple example is if we have enough material possessions that we can use, that we like—we have an apartment and material possessions, what we have to use for living—but we think, “Oh, I want more than this, this is not enough.” When we think that we want better quality, when we follow the attachment , we are discontented and dissatisfied. Thinking that this is not enough and forming attachment causes a lot of worry and our mind is unhappy. There is always something missing.

Our mind is very confused like this, but when we make a determined decision, “I don’t need any more of this, this is enough,” all the previous worry and unhappiness is completely cut off in a second. Whenever we make the determination that “this is enough, this is okay,” right at that time there is peace and happiness in our mind. Our mind is devoid of the previous problem—it is devoid of dissatisfaction and the suffering of attachment.

So, right in that second, right after we made that decision, there is happiness in our mind. That is Dharma happiness. That is cutting off, stopping and protecting us from the cause of suffering and the dissatisfactory mind of attachment. That is practicing Dharma, and that is how Dharma brings happiness. We experience happiness right in that minute. That is the start of Dharma happiness.;

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