How Things Exist

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
New York, NY 1990 (Archive #655)

In this book Lama Zopa Rinpoche covers  the importance of compassion and universal responsibility and how to make life meaningful, and  offers an amazing and extensive explanation of emptiness, the ultimate nature of reality, and teaching how to meditate on emptiness. Within these teachings, Rinpoche also touches on several of the other main points of the path to enlightenment, such as bodhicitta, the three scopes and impermanence.  

See  the Related Links for each chapter to access the audio recordings and read along with the unedited transcripts. 

Lama Zopa Rinpoche after the first American course held in 1975 at Lake Arrowhead, CA. Photo by Carol Royce-Wilder.
Chapter Two: How Things Exist

Motivation

All our happiness and suffering comes from our own mind. As our actions depend on our mind, we should first generate the motivation of bodhicitta, the highest, purest motivation. Our motivation for listening to [or reading] this teaching should be unstained by worldly concern seeking the happiness of only this life; it should also not be one of seeking the happiness of even future lives, which is still temporary samsaric happiness. Furthermore, we should not have a motivation seeking even ultimate happiness for self. What should our motivation be? It should be one of wishing to achieve full enlightenment for the sake of only other sentient beings, who equal the extent of infinite space. Think, “In order to free other sentient beings from all their sufferings and obscurations and lead them to full enlightenment, I am going to listen to this teaching on the graduated path to enlightenment.” It is extremely important to listen to the teachings with this altruistic attitude.

Tonight I would like give those who’d like to receive them the oral transmission of the Foundation of All Good Qualities4, a lam-rim prayer that is a meditation on the whole graduated path to enlightenment, and the mantras of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion; Manjushri, the Buddha of Wisdom; Vajrapani, the Buddha of Power; and Shakyamuni Buddha, the kind, compassionate founder of the teachings that we study and practice.

The nature of the enlightened mind

Before giving the oral transmission of the prayer of the graduated path to enlightenment I should say something about its significance. Enlightenment is the state of mind that has ceased all faults—all defilements, or obscurations—and perfected all qualities, or realizations, of the path. We can experience this state called “full enlightenment” or “buddhahood” on this mental continuum. By training our mind in the path to enlightenment, we can establish this state of peerless happiness and perfect peace on the continuation of our present consciousness; we do so through the skillful means of method and wisdom.

By generating the path contained in the lam-rim teachings, we can achieve any happiness we seek. We can gain the happiness of this life, the happiness of future lives and, more importantly, ultimate happiness, the cessation of all suffering and its causes. Even more importantly, however, we can achieve the state of mind that is completely pure, having ceased even the subtle obscurations, which interfere with our consciousness directly perceiving all past, present and future existence. The obscurations to the fully knowing mind interfere with the continuation of our consciousness becoming omniscient mind. The state of omniscient mind has ceased all gross and subtle obscurations, even the subtle imprints left by the ignorance that apprehends true existence and produces the truly existent appearance, or dual view. When even these subtle obscurations are purified, or ceased, our consciousness is fully developed with respect to understanding, or realization, and becomes omniscient.

A small mirror can reflect an entire city or the thousands of objects in a supermarket. If that mirror doesn’t have dirt or any other material obscuring it we can see everything very clearly in it. It is similar with our consciousness, which becomes omniscient when all our obscurations have been eradicated by our generating the remedy of the path. This omniscient state is known as “full enlightenment,” “buddhahood” or “the non-abiding sorrowless state.” And the ultimate nature of that omniscient mind is emptiness, or shunyata.

What’s the purpose of achieving this state? It is so that we can perfectly guide sentient beings. Once we have achieved the omniscient mind, we can see the mind of every sentient being; we can see the characteristics, karma and level of mind of every sentient being and every single method that fits them. We can then guide them from happiness to happiness to full enlightenment, the perfect state of peace. With the omniscient mind that sees every single sentient being’s characteristics and level of mind, as well as the various methods to guide them, we can free them from the different levels of sufferings and obscurations. We also have the perfect power to reveal those methods to them. By manifesting various forms—even hundreds or thousands of forms for a single sentient being—we can reveal the various methods to guide sentient beings along the path to happiness. In this way, we can gradually lead them to full enlightenment.

At that time we have also completed the training of our mind in compassion for every sentient being. Once we have achieved full enlightenment, it is mainly compassion that makes us work for every sentient being, bringing them from happiness to happiness to full enlightenment. We have great compassion for every sentient being without discrimination, without depending on whether that sentient being likes, makes offerings to or praises us. A buddha, a fully enlightened being, doesn’t discriminate between somebody who cuts one side of his body with a knife and another person who puts perfume on the other side of his holy body. Even though one person is harming and the other helping, there is no discrimination from the side of the enlightened being. There’s equal compassion for both the person who harms with a knife and the one who offers perfume. There’s no discriminating thought. Buddha doesn’t feel more compassion for someone who helps him and less or no compassion for someone else who cuts his body piece by piece. Buddha has no thought not to work for and help the sentient being who harms him. Buddha has exactly the same compassion for both sentient beings, and because of that, Buddha works for both sentient beings without discrimination.

Because the Buddha’s great compassion for every sentient being is equal, each sentient being receives guidance according to the level of their mind. Buddha manifests in various forms. For those who have pure minds, Buddha manifests in pure forms; for those who have impure minds, Buddha manifests in impure, or ordinary, forms. Buddha manifests as whatever is necessary to guide a particular sentient being. Buddha can manifest as a king, minister, judge, monk, man, woman or even prostitute, butcher or hungry ghost. As sentient beings have various karmas and various characteristics of mind, one single method cannot suit everyone. We need to manifest in various forms to communicate with and guide sentient beings and have to reveal the various teachings according to their level of mind. After we become a fully enlightened being, we guide sentient beings by revealing various means with our body, speech and mind. We then effortlessly and perfectly guide all sentient beings without the slightest mistake.

When the sun rises, even though there’s only one sun, it is reflected in every body of water on earth, from tiny drops of dew on plants to great oceans. As long as the water isn’t covered, the sun is reflected in it. But the sun doesn’t have a motivation to be reflected in the water; it doesn’t have to put any effort into it—those reflections spontaneously appear. Similarly, after we achieve full enlightenment we spontaneously, perfectly guide sentient beings by revealing various means with our holy body, speech and mind.

Levels of happiness

The ultimate goal of meditating, of practicing Dharma, is to bring happiness to every sentient being—but not just the happiness of this life, which means physical and mental comfort, but more importantly long-term happiness, the happiness of all the coming future lives. In other words, our aim is to bring others happiness until they cut the continuation of the cycle of death and rebirth. Until we break the continuity of this suffering, we have to circle continuously, experiencing the suffering of rebirth and death again and again.

How long does it take to be completely free from the cycle of death and rebirth? It depends on whether or not we meet the right path, whether or not we understand that path, and whether or not we practice it. And even if we practice the right path, how quickly we achieve liberation from the suffering cycle of death and rebirth depends on how skillfully we practice it.

Our goal is to lead sentient beings to long-term happiness, the happiness of future lives. However, a much more important goal than that is to bring them to ultimate happiness, to the complete end of all suffering and its causes, karma and disturbing thoughts. This ultimate happiness means that they never experience at all the sufferings of rebirth, old age, sickness, death, or any other problem. To bring sentient beings this ultimate happiness of liberation is much more important than to bring them the happiness of future lives.

However, the most important thing of all is to bring sentient beings to the peerless happiness of full enlightenment. The happiness of this life and the happiness of future lives are still temporary, and even the ultimate happiness of liberation is just liberation for the self from true suffering and the true cause of suffering. Among all the kinds of happiness that we can bring other sentient beings, the most important is that of full enlightenment, the state that has ceased all faults of the mind and perfected all realizations. This state of full enlightenment is complete peace of mind. Until we achieve full enlightenment, we’ve neither gained complete peace of mind nor fully developed our mind’s capacity to understand all existence.

We are responsible for pacifying the sufferings of all sentient beings and for obtaining their happiness and there are these different levels of happiness that we can bring them. The question is, “How can I benefit other sentient beings?” Sentient beings don’t want to receive harm from you. Just like you, every other sentient being wants happiness and doesn’t want suffering, not even the slightest discomfort in a dream. Since all they want is happiness, the benefit we should offer other sentient beings is to bring them what they want and not what they don’t want, which is suffering. And while we should bring them the benefit of the comfort and happiness of this life, it’s more important that we bring them the greater benefit of long-term happiness, the happiness of future lives. An even more important benefit that we should bring others is ultimate happiness, the complete end of all suffering and its causes. However, the greatest benefit that we should offer sentient beings, what they’re missing and what they really need, is the peerless happiness of full enlightenment. This state of complete peace of mind is the greatest benefit we can bring sentient beings.

Even if sentient beings don’t know what full enlightenment, or buddhahood, means, even if they don’t talk about it or think about it, you can see from the way they live their everyday lives that this is what they are looking for. Even if they don’t talk about it, this is what they need. For example, when people do business, according to the funds they have, according to what they can afford, they look for the business that makes the greatest profit. They look for the greatest profit from the money they spend. Actually, their wish is to have the greatest profit in the world. Even when they go shopping, they buy the best quality things, those that will last the longest. They buy the best quality food. According to their capacity, they try to get whatever is the best.

From examining their wishes in everyday life we can understand that even though they might not talk about the happiness of future lives, the ultimate happiness of liberation, or the highest happiness of full enlightenment, others always choose the things of best quality. It is only because of their ignorance that they don’t know that these things, especially full enlightenment, are what they need to achieve.

Purifying the mind

We have the responsibility of bringing others to the peerless happiness of full enlightenment. Why are we responsible? Because we have received a perfect human rebirth. First of all, the nature of our mind is clear light. We have a mind that has buddha-nature, the nature of a fully enlightened being.

The sky is not oneness with clouds. Clouds are temporary; they come and go. Depending on causes and conditions, clouds come; depending on other causes and conditions, they go, and the sky becomes clear. It’s the same with a mirror: depending on causes and conditions, it can be obscured by dirt; depending on other causes and conditions, the dirt obscuring the mirror can be cleaned away. The mirror was only temporarily obscured.

Our mind is like that. Its nature is clear light and the obscurations—ignorance, attachment, anger and the other disturbing thoughts—are temporary, not permanent. Due to causes and conditions, our mind is obscured, but due to other causes and conditions, the obscurations can be cleared away and we can be free from fear, guilt and all other undesirable emotions.

It all depends on how we live our life, on what we do with our mind. One way of acting obscures our mind; another way of acting frees it from obscurations and it then becomes fully awakened. It even depends on the actions we do each day: one action can obscure our mind; another can thin our obscurations and free our mind.

How we live our life, what we do with our body, speech and mind, has different effects on our mind. Different actions have different effects but it mainly depends on the kind of attitude we have when we act. When we act with a negative attitude, with ignorance, attachment, anger or another disturbing thought, it affects our mind; it obscures it. But when we live our life with non-ignorance, non-attachment, non-hatred and other positive attitudes, the effect is positive. It diminishes our obscurations; it purifies or lessens them.

When we practice Dharma, depending how skillfully we practice, it immediately purifies our mind. Our mind is purified that much; our obscurations become that much thinner. But when we act with body, speech and mind out of ignorance, attachment, anger and other negative attitudes, it further obscures our mind. It produces more confusion in our daily life and in the long-term, in our future lives. It’s a dependent arising, like the examples of the clouds in the sky and the dirt on a mirror.

We experience various kinds of suffering and happiness because of the different negative and positive attitudes we generate in living our life. Because of those attitudes we experience suffering and happiness.

How the mind exists

The nature of our mind is clear light; it is empty of existing from its own side. The mind is a phenomenon that the self possesses5. It is non-substantial, colorless, shapeless and clear in nature; it has the ability to perceive objects; and it is not an object of the five senses. That is one way to define the mind. In dependence upon this base, a phenomenon that has such characteristics, we have labeled, or merely imputed, “mind.” Therefore, there’s no mind existing from its own side; there’s no real mind from its own side. Mind is nothing other than that which we have merely imputed by our mind in dependence upon that base, that particular phenomenon. Therefore there’s no such thing as a real mind from its own side. The mind is empty of existing from its own side. That is one definition of the clear light nature of the mind, which refers to its ultimate nature.

This ultimate nature of the mind, this clear light nature, is not oneness with the obscurations, the disturbing thoughts. Because of that, in dependence upon causes and conditions, obscurations can be eliminated.

There’s no real mind from its own side; there’s no unlabeled mind. The way the mind exists is being merely imputed by the mind in dependence upon that phenomenon with the particular characteristics mentioned above. Therefore, the mind is labeled; the way the mind exists is being imputed by the mind to that particular base. Mind exists in dependence upon that particular base, the particular phenomenon that is non-substantial, colorless, shapeless, clear in nature and able to perceive objects. Mind exists in dependence upon that base and upon the thought that labels it “mind.” In other words, mind exists in mere name. What is called “mind” is a name, and a name has to come from the mind, has to be imputed by the mind. There is no mind existing from its own side. Mind comes from the mind.

The mind that exists is the labeled mind, not the unlabeled mind. The mind that appears to us as unlabeled is a hallucination. That mind doesn’t exist. The mind that appears to be real from its own side doesn’t exist. That independent, unlabeled mind is not true. It’s false. No such thing exists in reality. In reality the mind is empty; it is empty of existing from its own side.

When a magician transforms a piece of wood or a stone into a beautiful man or woman, he uses the power of mantras or the power of substances to hallucinate the senses of the people in the audience. When the people who are watching see the beautiful man or woman and start to believe that what appears to them is true, their concept is wrong. Why is it a wrong concept? Because that beautiful man or woman that their mind apprehends, or believes in, doesn’t exist. A beautiful man or woman appears to the audience, whose senses have been made defective by the power of mantras or substances, but it doesn’t exist. It appears but it doesn’t exist.

The magician and also anyone whose eye sense has not been made defective by the power of mantras or substances understand that the people who believe in that real man or woman are wrong. They can see that concept is wrong. Even the people themselves will later realize that their concept is false. When they discover for themselves that it was just a transformation performed by the magician, they will see that their previous concept was wrong. Why? Because the object they believed they saw doesn’t exist.

It is the same with the mind and the I, or self. They are empty of existing from their own side.

How a table exists

To give a clearer idea of this, I often use the simpler example of a table. Even though this way of analyzing is not the correct way to meditate on emptiness, it gives you an idea of the correct way to meditate. Especially if you’re a beginner, it will give you some idea of how the table exists in reality, of what the table is.

When a person first enters this hall, they see that there is a table here in front of me. But what makes the person decide to give the name “table” to this particular object and not to the steps or to the throne? What makes the person decide to give this object the label “table”? There has to be a reason before deciding on the label “table.” The reason is that the person sees, first of all, a material object that performs the function of supporting things, or of allowing things to be put on top of it. The person first seeing that becomes the reason to label “table.” That is what makes the person decide, among the numberless labels, on this particular label, “table.”

Seeing this object that performs the function of supporting things is the reason in the mind of the person for applying the label “table.” There has to be a reason before the label is applied, and the reason is seeing the basis for the label. You see the base first, then you apply the label, “It’s a table.” Therefore, this material object that you first see, which can perform the function of supporting things, is not table. This is the base. You see the base first, which is the reason to give the label “table.”

Otherwise, if seeing the base doesn’t come first, you haven’t got any reason to label “table.” There’s no reason in your mind for you to label this “table,” that “steps,” or that “throne.” There’s no reason to make you decide to give a particular label.

If the first thing you see is the table, if you see the table before giving the label “table,” there would be no reason to label “table.” Since it’s already table, why would you label “table” on the table? There would be no reason to do that.

For example, when parents name their child Jeff, they label on something that is not Jeff. Labeling “Jeff” on something that is not Jeff has meaning. But if the base, the aggregates, were already Jeff, there would be no purpose in labeling “Jeff” on Jeff. You would then again have to label “Jeff” on Jeff; then you would again have to label “Jeff” on Jeff…. It would become endless.

This is one logical reasoning used in the four-point analysis6. The first of the four points is recognizing the object to be refuted. The second point is that of ascertaining the pervasion, that if anything exists it should exist either one with its base or separately from its base. If the I is truly existent, it has to exist either one with the aggregates or separately from the aggregates.

If the I is one with the aggregates, various mistakes arise. The I is the receiver and the aggregates, this body and mind, are what is received. So, the receiver and what is received would then become one. In other words, the I, the possessor, and the aggregates, the possession, would become one. So, there is no way that the possessor and the possession can be one. They have to be different.


Anyway, if you see the table first, what reason do you have to label it “table”? There’s no reason to label “table” on that which is already table. It has no meaning, no purpose. Normally, you see the base and then say, “I see the table.” In order to see the table, you have to see the base of the table first. Otherwise, there’s no reason for you to say, “I see the table.” By seeing the base, this object that you can put things on top of, you then label “I see the table” and believe in that label.

By seeing the base of these steps, you say, “I see the steps,” and by seeing the base of this throne, you say, “I see the throne.” By seeing a particular object and the particular function that it performs, you then label, “I see the table,” “I see the steps” or “I see the throne.”

Seeing the base has to come first. This thing that performs the function of supporting things is not the table. This thing that you climb up is not the steps. This thing that you sit on is not the throne. The thing that performs the function of supporting things is the base to be labeled “table.” This is one point to meditate on to find out what the table is. Since you use this base as a reason to label “table,” it’s not the table, just as this is not the steps and this is not the throne.

Even from this analysis, you can see that the table and the base to be labeled “table,” the steps and the base to be labeled “steps” and the throne and the base to be labeled “throne” are different. They don’t exist in the way we normally think they do, which is that this concrete thing itself is the table and that is the steps and that is the throne.

Another point is that you talk about the parts of a table. When you say “the parts of the table,” it means the parts of the table are not the table. This top is not the table, this leg is not the table, this leg is not the table, that leg is not the table, and that leg is not the table. Just from the language, you can tell that saying “the parts of the table” means they’re not the table.

Even the whole group of all these parts gathered together is not the table. What is it? It is the base to be labeled “table.” None of these parts is the table, and even the whole group of all the parts is not the table. This is clear.

Another point is that the table is nowhere on this. There’s no table here or there or there. There’s no table on this base.

The first point is that the base is not the table. When you come into the room, how do you come to apply labels to things? You can see that the reason you use to apply a label to something is not that thing. You use seeing the base of the table as the reason to label “table,” but this object that can be used to put things on is not table. You apply the label “table” after seeing the base. It’s clear that the base and the label are different

The second point is that none of the parts of the table is the table. And even the whole group of all the parts is not the table. It is the base to be labeled “table.” It now becomes clearer that the table is different from its base.

The third point is that you cannot find the table anywhere on this base. But that doesn’t mean there’s no table in this room; it doesn’t mean the table doesn’t exist. The table exists in this room—there are actually many tables here in this room. There’s no table here on this, but there is a table in this room. This makes clear what the table is.

This is not the correct way to meditate on emptiness, since this way of searching for the table is related to the merely imputed table and leaves out the truly existent table. We haven’t touched the object to be refuted, the truly existent table, which we are supposed to realize is empty. Therefore, according to Lama Tsongkhapa and many other great pundits, this is not the correct way of analyzing.

In this way of analyzing, when you search for the table among all its parts, you find that none of the parts is the table, and even the whole group of all the parts is not the table but the base to be labeled table. But it doesn’t mean that the table doesn’t exist. The table exists.

So, what is that table? Because we see this object that performs the function of allowing things to be put on top of it, we merely impute “table” and believe it is a table. Because this object is here in this room, we believe that there is a table in this room. By seeing this object, we believe, “I see a table.” It is a concept. By seeing this object in this room, we merely impute, “There is a table.” We leave it just at that; we are satisfied just by that. There’s no table anywhere on this, but there is a table in this room.

You can see now that the way the table exists is extremely subtle. When you really analyze what the table is, it is extremely subtle. It is not that the table is nonexistent, but it is like it is nonexistent. It is not nonexistent because you can make the table, use the table, break the table. If you make this base, you believe, “I made a table”; you simply believe, “I made a table.” If you use the table, you believe, “I’m using the table”; you simply believe, “I’m using the table.” And if you break the table, you believe, “I broke the table.”

The table is not nonexistent, but it is not the concrete thing that we normally think it is. We normally think of the table as something concrete that is oneness with its base, undifferentiable from its base. We can’t split the base and the label “table.” There is something concrete there. So, that is not table. There’s no table on this, but there is a table in this room.

You can now see how the table is completely empty. It has no existence from its own side. There’s no real, concrete table from its own side. From this you can get an idea of how the table exists. It is extremely subtle.

After this analysis, you know that none of the parts is the table and even the whole group of the parts is not the table. There’s no table anywhere here on this base, but there is a table in this room. By analyzing like this, you see that the way the table exists is extremely fine, extremely subtle, but when you check what is appearing to you, you find that a real, concrete table is left there, oneness with its base. This is what is called the object to be refuted. That real table appearing from its own side, that truly existent table, that independent table, is the object to be refuted. That concrete thing left there is the object to be refuted, and it is a hallucination. In reality it is completely empty.

This is the correct way to meditate on the emptiness of the table. By recognizing that the table appears to you to be independent, unlabeled, real from its own side, you then search for that table to see whether or not it exists. When you don’t find it and you see that it’s empty, at that time you’re seeing the emptiness, or ultimate nature, of the table. By seeing the ultimate truth of the table, that it is completely empty of existing from its own side, as a result you then realize the conventional truth of the table, that the table exists in mere name, being merely imputed by the mind. This is subtle dependent arising.

The fourth of the four schools of Buddhist philosophy, the Madhyamaka, has two divisions, Svatantrika and Prasangika. This is the Prasangika view of the subtle dependent arising of the table, the conventional truth of the table: the table exists in mere name, being merely imputed by the mind.

How Zopa exists

In the same way, this body is not Zopa and this mind is not Zopa. None of these five aggregates—form, feeling, recognition, compounding aggregates or consciousness—is Zopa. Even the whole group of these aggregates is not Zopa: it is the base to be labeled “Zopa.” You can find Zopa nowhere on the group of all these aggregates, on the association of this body and this mind. But it doesn’t mean there’s no Zopa. Zopa exists in this hall. There’s no other reason at all that there’s Zopa in this hall, except that these aggregates, this body and mind, are here in this hall. This is the only reason that it is believed there is Zopa in this hall. Again, what Zopa is is extremely fine, extremely subtle.

How the I exists

It is the same with the I, which is the main one we should understand. Our body is not the I; nor is our mind—the association of body and mind is the base to be labeled “I.” When we say “my body and mind” or “my aggregates,” we can see that the I is the possessor and they are the possession. It’s clear even from this that they’re not the I. Our body is not the I; our mind is not the I. None of these aggregates is the I; even the whole group of the aggregates is not the I.

However, that doesn’t mean that there’s no I. The I is in this hall but there’s no other reason to believe this except that the base, the aggregates, are now in this hall. If somebody asked, “Where are you?” we’d reply, “I’m in the United States, in New York, in ColumbiaUniversity, in the hall,” but the only reason we’d have for saying that would be that our aggregates are here in the United States, in New York, in this ColumbiaUniversity hall. Just because of that, we believe, “I’m here in this hall.”

The I that exists is nothing other than that which is merely imputed by the mind in dependence upon the aggregates. That’s all it is.

From birth, from morning to night, the I that appears to us and in which we believe is completely contradictory to its reality. The I that exists is completely other than that which appears to us and which we apprehend. The I that exists is not the I that appears to us and in which we believe. It is the same as with the table and all those other examples. Their reality is something other than that which normally appears to us and in which we normally believe.

The I is completely empty of existing from its own side. There’s no real I (in the sense of one existing from its own side), no independent I, no unlabeled I. When somebody criticizes us, we normally think that they are really hurting this I, which is a real one existing from its own side. We then get angry with that person and want to harm them. When somebody praises us, we think that they are praising this real I, which is something real from its own side. We then become excited and attached to that person. We want to help them, but not the other person who has criticized us.

In reality, this real I is like something in a dream. It doesn’t exist. We are always concerned about this I and worried that somebody might hurt it: “My friend might leave me” or “This person might hurt me.” However, the object that appears to us and in which we believe doesn’t exist. That real I, the I existing from its own side, is a complete hallucination. It’s completely empty.

We have to think of the reality of how the I exists; we have to think of the subtle dependent arising or the emptiness of the I (which means the same thing). Thinking of the emptiness of the I brings the understanding that the I is a dependent arising; thinking that the I is a dependent arising, merely imputed by the mind in dependence upon the aggregates, allows us to see that the I is empty.

When we practice awareness that the I is a dependent arising or that the I is empty, when somebody criticizes us it’s like somebody criticizing us in a dream. There’s no subject to be harmed and there’s no object, somebody giving harm. Even though such things appear, since they don’t exist, there’s no point in getting angry or in having the dissatisfied mind of desire. There’s no point in having so much clinging or anger or ignorance. There’s no point in having the concept of true existence, the false concept that believes that there’s an independent I, an unlabeled I, a truly existent I.

What is the I? The I is a dependent arising; it exists in dependence upon its base—the aggregates—and the mind that labels it. Therefore, the I is empty of existing from its own side. This is the reality of the I.

By realizing this ultimate nature of the I, we eliminate the wrong conception that the I, which is imputed, has an existence from its own side, as it appears to have, and clinging to that as true. This thought is a wrong concept because the object in which it believes doesn’t exist.

When the people in the audience discover that the beautiful man or woman who appeared to them and in whom they believed is a transformation by the magician, they then discover that their previous belief was wrong. Their concept of that beautiful man or woman as real is stopped.

Similarly, by realizing the ultimate nature of the I and by developing this wisdom, we eliminate the ignorance that believes in true existence. By eliminating this ignorance and the seed of this ignorance, we then eliminate all the other delusions that arise from it: attachment, anger and the rest of the six root delusions and the twenty secondary delusions as well.7 All those disturbing thoughts and karma are terminated. Since the true cause of suffering has been eradicated, all true suffering ceases: the hell sufferings of heat and cold, the hungry ghost sufferings of hunger and thirst, the animal sufferings of being foolish and being eaten by other animals, the human sufferings of rebirth, old age, sickness and death, and all the deva sufferings. The devas who are worldly gods experience the sufferings of the signs of death and so forth and the gods in the form and formless realms experience pervasive compounding suffering, the suffering of being under the control of delusion and karma. All these sufferings cease.

Since there’s no cause of suffering left within our consciousness, no ignorance or even a seed of it, it’s impossible for suffering to arise again. In this way we achieve the ultimate happiness of liberation.

With this wisdom, we then practice bodhicitta, the skillful method of the Great Vehicle. By practicing method and wisdom together, we engage in the conduct of the six paramitas and then achieve enlightenment. We can do this more quickly by practicing the skillful means of tantra. By developing wisdom and practicing the skillful means of tantra, we can achieve enlightenment in one lifetime, and by practicing together the special wisdom and greatest skillful means of Highest Yoga Tantra, method and wisdom unified, we can achieve enlightenment in not only one life but in the brief lifetime of this degenerate age8, in just a few years.

Oral transmissions

[Rinpoche gives the oral transmission of the lam-rim prayer, Foundation of All Good Qualities, in Tibetan.]

Receiving the transmission of this lam-rim prayer leaves on your consciousness an imprint to develop the entire graduated path to enlightenment. However, to receive realizations and thus fully develop the path within your mind, you need to rely upon the blessings, help and guidance of special deities. This requires you to do these deities’ meditation-recitation and for that you need to receive the transmission of their mantras.

First I will give you the mantra of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, who helps you develop especially the realizations of loving kindness, compassion and bodhicitta.

[Rinpoche gives the oral transmission of om mani padme hum.]

Now, in order to develop wisdom, you need to recite the mantra of Manjushri, the embodiment of all the buddhas’ wisdom.

[Rinpoche gives the oral transmission of OM AH RA PA CHA NA DHI.]

Now, in order to pacify obstacles to the success of your practice and generally to pacify all obstacles to achieving success and happiness in this and future lives and to achieving the ultimate happiness of enlightenment, you need to recite the mantra of Vajrapani, who pacifies obstacles such as disease and spirit harm and purifies negative karma. Some people have even recovered from cancer by doing the meditation-recitation of Vajrapani. It is very powerful and very effective for healing. Vajrapani, the embodiment of all the buddhas’ power, has various aspects; this is the mantra of Vajrapani-Hayagriva-Garuda.

[Rinpoche gives the oral transmission of OM VAJRAPANI HAYAG RIVA GARUDA HUM PHAT.]

Reciting the mantra of the kind, compassionate Shakyamuni Buddha just once purifies 84,000 eons of negative karma. Please repeat this prayer and mantra.

[Rinpoche then gives the oral transmission of Lama tön-pa chom-den-dä9 … and TADYATHA OM MUNÉ MUNÉ MAHAMUNAYÉ SOHA.]

Please dedicate by thinking, “I must free all sentient beings from all their suffering and its causes and lead them to full enlightenment. To do that, I’m going to achieve enlightenment. I therefore dedicate all my merits to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings.”

Thank you very much. I didn’t get to explain the parts related to AIDS and the different thought transformation practices10. Anyway, there are many books on thought transformation, such as Transforming Problems into Happiness and Seven-Point Thought Transformation11.

Anybody who wants to practice thought transformation should read those books and apply the teachings they contain to transform problems into happiness and achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, freeing them from all suffering, bringing them happiness and leading them to enlightenment.

The conclusion is, as I mentioned, that everything comes from the mind. The I, the table and so forth—everything comes from our own mind. Even our problems come from our own mind. You can also understand that the root of the whole of samsara, of all problems, is the concept of true existence. The concept of a truly existent I, of an I having existence from its own side, is the very root of all problems, of all suffering. In order to escape from suffering, we need to eliminate this root, and for that reason we need to understand the emptiness, or ultimate nature, of the I. That is the essence of this talk.

Thank you very much. I will pray for everybody. Thank you.

Columbia University, New York
7 September 1990

Notes
4. This prayer was composed by Lama Tsongkhapa. See Appendix 1, The Joy of Compassion. [Return to text]

5. In the sense that we talk about “my mind.” [Return to text]

6. That is, if the I were one with the aggregates, labeling “I” would be superfluous. It would simply be one more name for the aggregates. The four points are (1) recognizing the object to be refuted, (2) ascertaining the pervasion of the two possibilities of oneness and difference, (3) ascertaining the lack of oneness of the I and the aggregates, and (4) ascertaining the lack of difference of the I and the aggregates. [Return to text]

7. For a description of the six root and twenty secondary delusions, see Meditation on Emptiness, pp. 255–66. [Return to text]

8. A degenerate age (Skt: kal iyuga) has five characteristics: short life spans, scarce means of subsistence, mental afflictions, strong wrong views and weak sentient beings. [Return to text]

9. See Essential Buddhist Prayers, Volume 1, p. 26. [Return to text]

10. The talks at Columbia University were originally advertised as “Transforming Problems.” [Return to text]

11. See the bibliography, p. 118. There are many English-language Seven-Point commentaries available, such as Advice from a Spiritual Friend. The Kindness of Others has an extensive list of them in its bibliography. [Return to text]