Why We Need the Dharma Center

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Singapore (Archive #1922)

A talk given to volunteers at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore, March 2013. Edited by Claire Isitt and Ven. Tenzin Tsultrim; second edit by Sandra Smith.

See also Dharma Essential for Happiness, a pdf file available from FPMT.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching in Singapore, 2010. Photo by Kunsang Thubten (Henri Lopez).

The center’s present development is the complete result of everyone here—the directors of the center and all the volunteers, all the people who served at different times, starting from the first director when the center started. Then from there, everyone, every director, everybody, also at different times, you all helped. So the center’s present development comes from everybody’s help. I want to say thank you very much—billions and zillions and trillions—I don’t know after that. From the heart, really, I want to thank to everyone here.

You can see how very worthwhile was the effort which you put in the past—the individuals from the very beginning, during the middle and including now, the present ones [helping the center]. You can see the result of your effort—the great benefit to the six types of sentient beings: numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, sura beings, asura beings, and intermediate state beings; and the great benefit to the living beings in this world, and to those in this country in particular. So you can see the result of the effort, present and past, of all the volunteers. This is really something you can rejoice in, that great benefit for sentient beings, for the teachings of Buddha.

Sentient beings’ happiness: that explains why we need the center. Sentient beings’ happiness comes from the teachings of the Buddha. ‘Happiness’ doesn’t mean just the pleasure of eating food, having comfort and a house, and just temporary pleasures. House, eating—not eating the house! The comfort of having money and all that—not just that. I think even that comes from Dharma. Even that—by studying at kindergarten, primary school, then college or university—is just the outside condition. If the person does have success, happiness, it all comes from merit, good karma, positive action, the intention —the mental factor that accompanies the principal consciousness. So that’s karma. Karma’s not outside; it’s one’s own mind. That happiness comes from virtuous actions—not from non-virtue but from virtue.

So it comes from Dharma. Even that happiness, having money, having comfort, comes from Dharma, it comes from virtuous action. Just now I described virtuous action—that is Dharma. People think happiness comes from money, but they don’t know what the cause of money is. They think making money comes from going to kindergarten, then from kindergarten to primary school, then college or university. This general belief you have is that it’s the main cause, but it’s just a condition. The minute you decide to get a job, the minute you get a job, you’re able to make money. There are also people who can’t find a job for years, even though they’re trying to get one. So those are conditions; they’re not the main cause. The main cause is merit. There are people who don’t have education, but have plenty of money—they have no education but plenty of money. All their wishes bring success; all the wishes they think of, they’re happening. No education, but still plenty of money. There are many people like that.

I shouldn’t say it, but I think even relating to myself, using myself as an example, I don’t recollect, I don’t know how much merit I collected in the past—I have no idea. But in this life, due to your help also, I collected merit. So I think by collecting merit, then I am able to be of some benefit to others in this world, a little bit more and more able to benefit others in this world, to benefit others. So even just using myself as an example, I don’t know about the past life, but the more merit we collect, we are able to see with our eyes how it can bring benefit—some benefit, not much, but some benefit to the world, little by little. It’s the result of collecting merit, creating the cause.

So money comes from Dharma—not Dharma comes from money. Money comes from where? Money comes from Dharma, virtuous action. We have to know that. So merit, good karma, Dharma, is more important than anything else. Everything comes from that, you understand. This is one point I wanted to say.

Sentient beings’ happiness, to receive the happy rebirth, and especially the perfect human rebirth which has eight freedoms and ten richnesses, which has the opportunity to practice not just Buddhism, the four noble truths, the basic teachings, not only that, the Mahayana paramita teachings, the five paths, the ten bhumis, then to achieve enlightenment by collecting merit—the merit of wisdom and virtue for three countless great eons, to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings. Then due to great, great, great unbelievable compassion, we want to free sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to full enlightenment as quickly as possible.

To achieve enlightenment for that reason in one life, we practice tantra—Kriya Tantra, Charya Tantra, Anuttara Yoga Tantra, Maha-anuttara Yoga Tantra. Then there is no need to achieve a long life or first to want to live for a thousand years and then achieve enlightenment in this life. We can do that by practicing lower tantra. Not just that, by practicing Maha-anuttara Yoga Tantra, in this brief lifetime of less than a hundred years—a very short life, a brief lifetime of degenerated time —we can achieve enlightenment for sentient beings, and be able to free the sentient beings even quicker from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to enlightenment. So an opportunity like this —this perfect human rebirth, with eight freedoms and ten richnesses —is incredible, incredible, unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable. And for that we need the preliminary practice of not just morality, but pure morality, just to receive the human rebirth. Just to receive the human rebirth, we need the preliminary of pure morality. Then it is mentioned that the perfect human rebirth needs the practice of the pratimoksha vows, and the bodhisattva vows. It’s not necessary to be an ordained person, but it means five lay vows, eight lay vows, eight pratimoksha vows, the one-day eight vows, then the 36 vows, then the 250 vows, so things like that.

So far in Tibet the gelongma vows didn’t happen; they haven’t yet decided the lineage of the gelongma vows, bhikshuni vows. His Holiness said the Theravadin bhikshus, the Chinese Mahayanists and the Tibetans, the heads—those who are learned and the geshes and the lamas who preserve and spread Dharma, the entire teaching of the Buddha—if they all come together and agree to give the gelongma vows, then it’s okay. If they all agreed, then the Tibetan lamas would start to give gelongma vows. Until then, until all those three come together and agree, this won’t happen.

It is mentioned in the texts about those who practice pratimoksha vows, bodhisattva vows and tantric vows —taking those vows and living in these vows—not only practicing pure pratimoksha vows, but also those other vows. We can see now how the perfect human body we have received is unbelievably precious, and if we have taken those different vows, the three levels of vows, and tantra practice, how incredibly precious it is. So we need that—living in pure morality, the preliminary cause, and also charity, and dedicating the merits to receive the perfect human rebirth.

So you can see now, we need the teachings of the Buddha. Then also, not just to receive a human body but to receive the perfect human body, it also depends on refuge. Not only protecting karma, which means abandoning the nonvirtues such as the five negative karmas or the ten negative karmas, and then engaging in the ten virtues; not only that, to receive the perfect human rebirth also requires taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. Just to be born human doesn’t require pure morality, taking refuge, but for the perfect human rebirth, I think definitely we need that.

Here, you can see very clearly, receiving a perfect human rebirth comes from the teaching of the Buddha. Then to receive ultimate happiness, liberation from oceans of hell beings’ suffering, hungry ghosts’ suffering, animal beings’ suffering, human beings’ sufferings, sura beings’ suffering, asura beings’ suffering, intermediate state beings’ suffering. So, to be free forever. Once we become free, we are free forever —not like the works of this life, samsaric works. From beginningless life up to now we have repeated these numberless times; like the waves of the ocean, our work is never finished. Not like that. That’s why Dharma practice, no matter how difficult it is, once we actualize realization and conquer the delusions, it’s just one time, just one time. Achieving nirvana, the cessation of suffering and the cause of the suffering—karma and delusion—it’s just one time. Once we achieve that, it is forever—it’s not something we have to do again and again. So no matter how hard it is to practice Dharma, it’s so incredibly worthwhile once we achieve that.

Ultimate happiness, liberation from samsara, again the fundamental path is the three high trainings—the higher training of insight; that depends on the higher training of concentration, calm abiding; and that depends on the higher training of morality. Again here it comes down to morality. So that’s the basic path to achieve liberation. Even to achieve ultimate happiness, liberation from samsara forever, it comes from Buddha’s teachings. You can see that for sentient beings to achieve that comes from Buddha’s teachings, the three higher trainings.

Now enlightenment, peerless happiness, the total cessation of the mistakes of mind—gross obstacles, gross obscurations and even the subtle obscurations—because of that, there’s complete understanding, omniscient mind, the full realization. There’s nothing more to achieve. So full realization, sang-gye, comes from the root. On the basis of all that is the lower capable beings’ path, the middle capable beings’ path and the higher capable beings’ path, bodhicitta. Bodhicitta comes from great compassion, on the basis of renunciation. We need renunciation first. So again, all this comes from Buddha’s teachings. Sentient beings’ happiness, enlightenment, comes from Buddha’s teachings, and the root is bodhicitta, great compassion.

This is why we need meditation centers. We can now see this very clearly. We need to learn this graduated path—the path of the lower capable being, the middle capable being and the higher capable being. Sentient beings need to learn all that in order to achieve all those different levels of happiness. It’s very clear how the sentient beings’ happiness comes from the teaching of Buddha. So therefore, sentient beings need the center in order to learn all these teachings of Buddha, to cause this happiness, to achieve all this happiness up to enlightenment, to free from the oceans of samsaric suffering the hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras and asuras, for ourselves and other sentient beings. Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. Then to bring them to full enlightenment, wow, wow, wow, wow. So you can see the need for the center, a place where there are all the facilities, is of the utmost importance.

Also from here you can understand how important is the teacher, who educates sentient beings and shows the path to all these different levels of happiness up to enlightenment, so that is the most, most, most, most unbelievably important. It’s like opening the eye. We have two eyes, but it is really opening deep, most deep like an ocean, most deep, extensive to understand, opening the Dharma eye—the Dharma teacher opens the Dharma eye, can you imagine! So you can see how so important that is. Wow, wow wow, wow.

In Lama Yeshe’s book—Lama Yeshe, who is kinder than all the three time buddhas, because we don’t see the three time buddhas in that nirmanakaya form; we only see paintings and statues, or a written or oral commentary. We don’t have the pure mind; we don’t have the karma to see, so they can’t give teachings to us in that aspect. But the virtuous friend, who is the action of the buddhas, manifests in the ordinary aspect according to our karma. ‘According to our karma’ means ‘according to our mind’s karma’; this means [the guru manifests in] ordinary aspect due to the unsubdued mind, karma, the ordinary mind. So the guru manifests in the ordinary aspect, so that we can communicate and receive teachings. So therefore, that’s why the guru is kinder than the three time buddhas. The reason is like that—that’s why the virtuous friend is kinder than the three time buddhas, the numberless past, present and future buddhas. From others we can’t receive teachings, but the guru has manifested in an ordinary aspect according to our impure mind —he has manifested according to that, so then he is able to be seen, is able to give teachings, to directly guide, to bring us to enlightenment, to free us from the oceans of samsaric sufferings and bring us to enlightenment. So the guru is kinder than all the three time buddhas.

Lama Yeshe, who is kinder than all the three time buddhas to me, wrote in an English notebook at Kopan—now I don’t remember, I don’t recollect very clearly, but he wrote that being learned in Dharma and humble, that is the really learned one. At the same time humble; that’s the real learned one. It’s mentioned, written there. There’s more, I think, but that’s the essence that I can recollect, written in Lama’s note on the table.

[At ABC] you have Geshe Chonyi who can show the lower capable beings’ path, the middle capable beings’ path and the higher capable beings’ path, the two paths to enlightenment, then also sutra and tantra; who can show the essence of lam-rim who can show the vast philosophy with extensive teachings; who can explain; who can show. At the same time he himself is practicing. We call learned and pure—a good heart and pure in action, pure in morality—having those three things. That’s very, very important. So you have a teacher like that.

Therefore Buddha’s teaching hasn’t gone like the setting sun, like the sun that has crossed the mountain. It’s not completely gone yet. Just as the sun is still shining, so Buddha’s teachings are still shining—they have not yet crossed the mountain, not sunset, not completely like that. So to meet such a qualified teacher like that is not easy. In this world you have to have good karma for that. You have to have a lot of merit for that, having created good karma, a lot of merit in the past. Otherwise you wouldn’t meet such a teacher. So that’s something to rejoice in.

That’s the essence—how much the center is benefitting sentient beings, benefitting the teachings of Buddha. Then that very much depends on the teacher, and, of course, the center students, the members. The key thing is the teacher. So you have all this. This is the most unbelievable thing that you have in your life. I just talked about the teacher.

How the tsa-tsa is going to turn out very much depends on the mold—if the mold is clear—or how good the artist [is at making the tsa-tsa]. If there’s a broken nose in the mold, then there’s a broken nose in the tsa-tsa, so it’s like that. It is mentioned in the teachings that how the disciple will turn out very much depends on the teacher. Therefore after studying for many years, you start to realize this now. Many, many years you have been studying with Geshe Chonyi, so now you realize that this is more and more precious, now you realize it more and more, deeper and deeper. At the beginning, even if this was explained, you wouldn’t understand how important it is because you haven’t experimented, hadn’t learned Buddhadharma, so you wouldn’t understand much, but now you can see how it is important.

So therefore your voluntary work, your effort being director, member, secretary or treasurer, or any voluntary work that you did at different times, you can see now how great, how it is so important. You can see that now. Not only does it benefit the body, it benefits the mind: the Dharma center benefits the mind. Also the work is done with compassion—you could also get angry, but the idea is to serve with compassion. I’m sure not everybody does it with anger. No, I don’t think so. Even though you might feel anger, the idea is to do it with compassion, to help sentient beings so much with compassion. It’s not like running a company, which is done for money. The person who doesn’t do well, you kick out and get another one. You pay money, because you have money. And the object is to achieve just money—not buddhahood, not enlightenment, not nirvana—just to get more money; the goal is that—just to get more money. So working for a company is totally different from working for a Dharma center. Working for a Dharma center—whatever work is done, the main thing is to reveal the teachings, to educate sentient beings, to reveal the teachings to sentient beings, and for the sentient beings to understand and to practice. Through that, then the cause of suffering, karma and delusion, gets stopped, and then they achieve liberation, and then also full enlightenment by practicing bodhicitta with the direct perception of emptiness, then ceasing the subtle defilements.

So I’m saying here, whatever work you do for the Dharma center—sweeping or whatever work you’re doing—the main thing is for sentient beings to meet Dharma, to learn Dharma, to practice it so they achieve enlightenment and become free from the oceans of samsaric suffering, which they have been suffering from beginningless rebirth, and to achieve full enlightenment. So even if you’re sweeping, even if you’re typing, whatever you’re doing for the center is for that, mainly for that. It’s very different from working for a company. Working for a company is mainly to make money. There’s no question of compassion or loving-kindness; there’s no talk about that. You forget about compassion, loving-kindness. You don’t think about that, and you just think of money. The goal is to achieve more money.

In Time magazine, they ask, “Who is the most successful person this year?” It’s not, “Who has created more merit?” or “Who has liberated the most animals?”. Nobody’s interested in who has generated more realization, who has subdued the mind more, or who has generated more good karma, nothing like that. “Who has been the most successful person this year?” is about who made more money this year. Their picture comes on the cover of American Time magazine. One man becomes so rich, but then his life is in danger, so he is so afraid to go outside, afraid of being kidnapped by people or being killed. There are so many problems, worries, dangers, because of having so much money. Then his life, his daily life is very messy. One person was like that.

Now in the world there are many problems—global warming, global problems, religions fighting, problems, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow—so many problems. Then there is disease and famine, earthquakes, a big number of people dying. Now all that, including global problems, country problems, and couple, family problems, individual problems: they all come from the mind, not from somewhere else, not from outside. Everything comes from the mind, from the unsubdued mind. Buddha said:

Do not commit any unwholesome actions, 
Create wholesome actions,
Subdue one's own mind.
This is the teaching of the Buddha.

All these problems—we’re not talking about the six realms, the hell, hungry ghost, animal, human, sura, asura—all that suffering comes from the mind. Even the problems in this world all come from the unsubdued mind. As I mentioned, liberation, full enlightenment, comes from the subdued mind. So subdue one’s own mind, this is the teaching of the Buddha. No other religion says that—this is only in Buddhism. Subdue the mind. Subdue one’s own mind; this is the teaching of the Buddha.

Here in the world, maybe scientists come to know that how much peace there is in the world depends on the mind, depends on the good heart. Nowadays, maybe scientists come to know, I’m not sure, about subduing one’s own mind. To achieve liberation, the blissful state of peace, liberation from samsara, full enlightenment—to achieve that comes from your mind; it has to come from your mind, by subduing the mind, from the completely subdued mind, Also to immediately stop global problems, country problems, suicidal problems, family problems, your own personal problems. All these problems come from the unsubdued mind. So then by subduing that comes all the peace and happiness, as I mentioned before, up to enlightenment. Incredible, incredible.

We need the Dharma center which offers Buddhadharma; not just a meditation center where there’s all kinds of meditation, like a supermarket, not that! The Dharma center offers Buddhism, Buddhist philosophy, and especially the essence, lam-rim, which is particularly focused on subduing the mind, shaping the mind. We need a meditation center like this. So our FPMT centers are like that.

You have been learning the teachings more and more. So all this comes from your effort—those volunteers in the past, present, in the middle, then also the future development depends on all the past and present volunteers. And then as I often said, this center of teaching Buddhism, practicing Buddhism—its essence is compassion to sentient beings, compassion to every single sentient being. Not only to your friend, but no compassion to the enemy—not like that; compassion to every hell being, hungry ghost, animal, human, sura, asura and intermediate state being.

The less good-hearted compassion there is, the more there will be problems in this world—globally, in the country, in society, in the family, in your own life. The more problems, the less compassion, the less good heart there is. The more good heart there is, the more peace in the world, in the country, in society, in the family, and in your own life. There is more happiness if we have more compassion, therefore one of the very basic things for the meditation center is compassion—teaching and practicing compassion. That’s the most, most, most, most, most, most, most, most, most important thing. As I used to mention in the past, whenever you have a conversation with somebody, always try to bring in compassion; always try to talk about compassion with that person. Live with compassion, study with compassion, meditate with compassion, work with compassion, sleep with compassion, go to the toilet with compassion, eat with compassion. So that’s really, really, really, really, really, really, really, good. That’s the really, really, really, really good thing to do, to help sentient beings; to help you and to help sentient beings. That’s the really, really best thing. Real happiness comes from that; inner happiness really comes from that. Then you can make your family happy, you can make the people at the center happy, you can make society happy, you can make the country happy, you can make people in the world happy.

Whatever difficulties or problems you have, use that in the path to achieve enlightenment, use that to practice bodhicitta. Practice bodhicitta, the precious thought of enlightenment. Then absolute bodhicitta. So any difficulties, any problems you have in life, use them to develop bodhicitta, or absolute bodhicitta. So like that, use it; experience it for sentient beings. Use any difficulty, any problems—mental, physical, whatever —for numberless sentient beings who are experiencing suffering now or who will be experiencing suffering in the future, which means you take all those sufferings on yourself, so instead of them suffering, you suffer. Let them have dharmakaya, happiness. That’s the quickest way to achieve enlightenment, to be free from the oceans of samsaric suffering. The quickest way is sincerely dedicating yourself for sentient beings, so make sure to try to remember and practice that. We received many teachings on those things.

I want to thank ABC, Amitabha Buddhist Centre, it is very special. No other center has that many people studying. At the beginning of the second Basic Program there were about 230 people, or something like that, studying, and now there are 150 people studying. We don’t have that at other FPMT centers.

This is the special thing about ABC, Amitabha Buddhist Centre. It made me extremely happy, because after seeing the benefits for the first group of studying the Basic Program and learning the Buddhadharma, many people came for the second Basic Program. I think that is awakening the mind, discovering that is really, really, really important. To be able to see that is very, very good.

As you know, the Kangyur, the Buddha’s teachings, has more than 100 volumes and the Tengyur has more than 20 volumes. There is Nagarjuna, Asanga, the Six Ornaments pandits, and many great enlightened beings. Even in the Gelug tradition, Lama Tsongkhapa’s tradition there are so many other lamas, meditators who accomplished the path. And then there are the Kagyü, Nyingma and Sakya traditions, and the five Sakya lamas, including Sakya Pandita; also Kunkyen Lodrö Rabjampa and Milarepa. There are many teachings and many great enlightened teachers.

Those extensive teachings on the basis of Buddha’s teachings—the texts can be piled up in the library or in the gompa, but if nobody is studying, the texts are just put there, so people make offerings then open the texts, but nobody understands them. There is great danger if nobody understands the texts.

If the texts are just piled up for blessing, but nobody understands them, then Buddha coming into this world will not have much meaning. Buddha coming into this world to give teachings will be of no use, if nobody understands the teachings. People will just have faith and no understanding of Buddhadharma. The faith is very small, and [the understanding] becomes very poor, very, very sad, very, very poor. Then there is not so much meaning in Buddha coming into this world to give teachings to us sentient beings, to free us from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring us to full enlightenment. Buddha came into this world to give us teachings and he left the Kangyur, more than hundred volumes.

If we study Buddhism, the lam-rim, the essence, and the philosophy, this gives more meaning to Buddha coming into this world; it gives more purpose to the Buddha coming into this world to give teachings to us. The more we study Buddhism, the less our ignorance. This is how we create the omniscient mind.

I want to say, thank you very, very, very, very much. If possible I should give hundred billion dollars to everybody!