Lam-rim Teachings in France, 1990

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Nice, France (Archive #692)

Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave these teachings in Nice, France in July 1990. Includes an oral transmission of the Heart Sutra (The Essence of Wisdom), teachings on emptiness, impermanence and death, and transforming problems. Edited by Ven. Ailsa Cameron.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche, possibly in Switzerland, 1990. Photo by Ueli Minder.
First Discourse: Emptiness of the I

I'm very happy to meet everybody, those whom I have met before and those whom I am meeting for the first time in this life. Before the discourse, we will recite and meditate on The Essence of Wisdom.

Do not commit any unwholesome actions,
Enjoy creating perfect virtue,
And subdue one's own mind:
This is the teaching of the Buddha.

Look at the reality of self, action, object; enemy, friend, stranger; one's own body, possessions, friends and relatives. All these phenomena are transitory in nature; they change within every second due to cause and conditions. Not only that, these things can be stopped at any time. This is the nature of phenomena.

Our mind creates problems when we believe something that does not exist in reality, something that is contradictory to reality. When that doesn't happen according to our expectations, which are contradictory to the reality of these phenomena, it becomes a problem. This is how we create problems in our life. So, if we practice mindfulness of the actual nature of these phenomena, we will not create problems with our mind. This awareness is a very important way to solve problems in our life. Being aware of the way things exist is the fundamental meditation taught by Buddha.

When you think of the reality of the object, suddenly there's no problem; you don't see a problem. But when your mind is distracted by the wrong view that is opposite to reality, when your mind is not aware of the reality of these phenomena, you make a lot of exaggerations and projections about the self, action, object. That is the problem. When the self, action, object that you project and believe in do not fit the reality of what you experience in your life, and things happen opposite to what you projected and wanted, that is the time that fear, worry, nervous breakdowns, depressions happen. All these problems arise when your experience of real life is opposite to your projections and wishes.

So, these phenomena change within every second due to cause and conditions and can cease at any time. This is their nature, and this is what we experience in life whether we accept it or not—even if we don't want it to happen like this. Therefore, there's no point to have the dissatisfied mind of desire; there's no point to have ignorance, the wrong conception believing that these impermanent things are permanent, that they are going to last; and there's no point to get angry, because these phenomena are transitory and can cease at any time.

If somebody had not labeled this area "Nice," Nice wouldn't exist. If nobody had not thought to label this "Nice," there is no way Nice could exist. Even though such a place with the ocean, mountains, and all these things exists, if nobody had thought to label "Nice," there's no way Nice could exist. Nice wouldn't exist if nobody had the thought to label it.

So, how does Nice exist? In dependence upon, first, this particular place in France and, second, someone making up the name "Nice." Nice exists by depending on this particular area in France and the person's mind that labeled it "Nice." In dependence upon these two things, Nice exists. It is very scientific; you don't have to force yourself to believe in anything. You can understand from this that Nice is a dependent arising: Nice exists in dependence upon this particular area in France and people's minds labeling "Nice." If people had the idea to label Nice, but there was no base to be labeled Nice, no such place with the ocean and mountains, again Nice cannot exist.

Let's use the example of a person called Michelle. Now without the base, the association of body and mind, even though the parents might have the idea to label "Michelle," Michelle doesn't exist. Before the pregnancy happened, before the consciousness took place on the fertilized egg, even though the parents might have the thought to label "Michelle," at that time there is no base, no association of body and mind, so Michelle doesn't exist. And after conception, when the aggregates exist, if the parents do not have any thought to label "Michelle," again Michelle doesn't exist. So when does Michelle come into existence? When the association of body and mind, the aggregates, is there and when the parents have imputed "Michelle." Only when these two things have happened, when there are the basis and the mind, does Michelle come into existence.

How does Michelle exist? Michelle exists only in name, being merely imputed on the base, the association of body and mind, by the person's mind. Michelle exists in mere name. What Michelle is is nothing other than what is merely imputed by the mind, so Michelle is completely empty. There is no concrete Michelle, no real Michelle from its own side. That real Michelle appearing to exist from its own side is completely empty.

And what is Nice? It's nothing other than what is merely imputed by the mind. It is the same with the I, the self. Again, without the mind that labels I, there's no I. Without that, no self exists. In other words, without the mind that thinks of self, that labels self, the self doesn't exist. So, the I is merely imputed on the association of body and mind by the thought.

From morning until night, our mind continuously labels I on these aggregates. What we are doing now? We say, "I am sitting," "I am listening" or "I am talking." The only reason we say "I am sitting" is that the base, the body, is sitting. There is no other reason at all to say "I am sitting." Because of this, we believe we are sitting. So, "I am sitting" is a concept. And the only reason we believe "I am talking" is that the basis, the aggregates, is performing the action of talking. This is the only reason. It is the same when we say, "I am thinking." There is no other reason at all to say this except that the base, the mind, is thinking.

From morning until night, constantly, we label I on these aggregates and according to the functions of the aggregates, what the body and mind do, we label "I am eating," "I am sleeping," "I am talking." The mind merely imputes according to what the basis, the body and mind, does. So you can see now, from morning until night, "I do this" or "I do that" is simply an idea, a concept. There's no real self from its own side. From morning until night, the real self existing on this base, on this association of body and mind, is completely empty. That real self from its own side doesn't exist at all.

It is like this from birth until death. "I am happy" and "I am unhappy" are like this. There is no real self from its own side; there's no self other than what we merely impute to this base. If we really analyze the reality of the I, this is its ultimate nature. We normally believe there's a real self from its own side, and we have so much worry and fear about how this real self, this independent self, can be happy and not have problems. We are so concerned that this real self might get sick or be harmed. In our life we are so concerned about this real self from its own side, this self that is not made up by the mind, that is independent and unlabeled by the mind.

First we make up the I. Our mind makes up an identity for the self; we project a self that is unlabeled and independent, a self that has nothing to do with its base, the association of body and mind, and nothing to do with the mind that labels it. There is something else, an unlabeled self with an existence from its own side. We are then afraid that this real self will get into trouble and be unhappy, but in reality there is no such self.

What exactly is the self? What is this self that we are always so concerned about? When you scientifically analyze the exact nature of the self, you cannot find that real self, that concrete self that exists without depending on its base, the association of body and mind, and the mind that labels it. There is no such real self. It cannot be found when you search for it. Where is it? Where is it located? Outside the body, inside the body? If you search for this real self, the top of your head down to your toes, you cannot find it. You might feel it's there somewhere in your chest, that you could find it there, but if you really search for it, if you really analyze exactly where it is located, it becomes unclear. When you don't analyze, it looks like it is there in your chest, but as soon as you start to analyze where it is in your chest, it becomes unclear. If you search, you cannot find it in your heart or in any other part of your chest.

Just be aware of the inside of your body, of all the things that are in your chest, in that area from your neck down to your belly. Just be aware of the physical parts. Then, with one part of your mind, look for the I, for that real self. One part of your mind is aware of all the pieces inside your body, from your neck to your belly, and as you are seeing them, another part of your mind is searching for the real self. [meditation]

So, you could not find that real self. You could not find anywhere that real self that our mind normally projects is there. And if you searched, neither could you find it in the belly nor the legs. It is nowhere. This real self cannot be found anywhere. From the top of your head down to your toes, inside or outside, it exists nowhere. [meditation]

That real self we have been projecting and cherishing, thinking it is most precious, most important, in reality it is nowhere; it exists nowhere, neither inside nor outside. [meditation]

That real self doesn't exist at all, but there is an I that sits, sleeps, eats and walks, that experiences suffering and happiness, that looks for solutions to problems, that meditates, that seeks ultimate happiness. There is an I that does all these activities, but that I is nothing other than what is merely imputed by the mind to this base, this association of body and mind. So, what is the I, the self? Now concentrate deeply. What is it? Now we will analyze what it is. It's not the aggregates, neither the body nor the mind—nothing of this.

As Nagarjuna explained, the I is not the earth (which means this body), not the water (the liquids inside the body), not the fire (the heat inside the body), not the wind (the breath), and not the space inside the body. I is also not the consciousness. I is not any of these, nor even the whole group of them. [meditation]

Again, the I is neither all these aggregates, nor does it exist separately from the aggregates. If the I existed separately from the aggregates, even if the police caught the body and put it in prison, there would be no reason why the I would have to go to prison. In the same way, even though the body might be sick, hungry, or thirsty, there would be no need for the I to be sick, hungry, or thirsty if it exists separately from the aggregates. And even if the mind is depressed, there would be no reason why the I would have to be depressed. And if the I exists separately from the aggregates, the I can go to Tibet, can travel all over the world, without the body. So in that case you wouldn't need to worry about buying tickets or any other expenses. There's no body because the I exists separately from the aggregates, so the I doesn't have hunger or thirst or feel hot and cold. And there's no need to have a job or to get an education in order to have a job. It's not necessary to do all these things.

Also, the I won't need a vehicle in order to travel. You only need a vehicle because there's a physical body. If the I exists separately from the body, the I doesn't need vehicles in order to travel. And the I doesn't need any money; there's no reason to have money. However, it is not our experience that the I exists separately from the aggregates. So, the I also doesn't exist separately from the aggregates.

So, there is an I that does all these activities—walking, sitting, eating, sleeping, experiencing happiness and suffering, creating the cause of happiness, eliminating the cause of suffering—but this I is nothing other than what is merely imputed on these aggregates by thought. The I is merely imputed—that's all. The I is simply what your own mind merely imputed; it is nothing other than that. [meditation]

If you search, the I cannot be found anywhere on this base, from the top of your head down to your toes, but this imputed I, this self, can be found in the world, in France, in Nice, in this house, in this meditation room. It exists here in this meditation room—what is it doing? What this labeled I is doing now is meditating, analyzing the I. The I is doing all these actions—sitting, talking, listening—but you cannot find this I or this imputed I (these are the same; you're talking about the one thing) neither outside the body nor inside it, from the top of your head down to your toes. It cannot be found anywhere. [meditation]

But it can be found in this world, in France, in Nice, in this house, in this meditation room, for no other reason than the aggregates, the association of body and mind, are here now in this meditation room in Nice in France performing the actions of sitting, listening, and meditating. This is the only reason. [meditation]

Like this, there's no such real I from its own side. That is completely empty. The I is completely empty.

In the same way, the aggregates to which the I is merely imputed are also completely empty; they are also merely imputed, so they don't have any real existence from their own side. The body also is merely imputed; it doesn't have a real existence from its own side. The mind is also a merely imputed phenomenon; "mind" is imputed to the phenomenon that is formless, colorless, shapeless, and whose nature is clear light and perceiving objects. That such a phenomenon exists is the only reason why mind exists. Because there is such a phenomenon, it is believed that there is a mind. Again, mind is completely empty.

In the same way, besides the aggregates, all the objects of the five senses—forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and tangible objects—are also merely imputed. None of them has any real existence from its own side. Nothing has existence from its own side. [meditation]

When we think about problems in our life, if there's no mind that gives the label "problem," there's no problem. If there's no mind that regards that particular life situation as a problem and labels the experience of it "a problem," the problem doesn't exist. Again, without the mind that labels something a problem, the problem doesn't exist. Because there's a mind that labels, "This is a problem," there is a problem. That's how one experiences problems. In reality there's no real problem from its own side; that is completely empty. No matter what the problem is—a relationship problem, AIDS, cancer—it's completely empty. Without the mind that labels "cancer," cancer doesn't exist. Without the mind that labels "AIDS," AIDS doesn't exist. It depends upon the mind labeling. The conclusion is that there's no such real problem from its own side. There's no such real cancer or AIDS from its own side. What we believe in and are scared of or worried about is completely empty. That real one from its own side is completely empty.

That is how everything came from the mind: Nice came from the mind, the I came from the mind, the aggregates came from the mind, the five sense objects (form, sound, smell, taste, tangible objects) came from the mind, happiness came from the mind, problems came from the mind. All these came from the mind, were created by the mind. For example, when the mind does not label "AIDS" and "cancer," AIDS and cancer do not exist. These problems don't exist. In the same way, with a relationship problem, such as a couple separating, when your mind looks at it as a problem it then appears as a problem. When your mind doesn't look at it as a problem, it doesn't appear as a problem.

In order to find a problem, first your own mind interprets the situation to be a problem, then it appears to you as problem. This is how things come from the mind.

With the cause of suffering, again there's no real cause of suffering from its own side; there is only what is merely imputed. Therefore, the cause of suffering is empty. There are no such real sufferings or problems from their own side; there are no real, concrete problems from their own side. The problem is an idea, a concept, that is merely imputed by the mind. So again suffering is completely empty.

It is the same with true path. When we think of true path, it looks like there's real one from its own side. Again, that is also merely imputed, so it's empty.

And when we think about or talk about the cessation of suffering, the ultimate happiness, it looks like there is a real one existing from its own side. However, in reality, it's completely empty; it is merely imputed by the mind.

Maybe we'll do a little bit of meditation on this, just for a few seconds.

As I explained just before, particularly relating to the reality of the I, the nature of the I, everything is empty. Practice awareness of this, how everything that exists has been merely imputed by the mind. Just be aware of this for a short time, look a the reality of this. [meditation]

I thought to do the oral transmission of The Essence of Wisdom. What is the root of all our sufferings, all our problems? Why do we have this body and mind, which are in the nature of suffering? Why do we have these aggregates that experience suffering rebirth, old age, sickness and death, meeting undesirable objects, separating from desirable objects, and so many other problems? These aggregates, the container of all our problems, are called samsara, which means circling. If we press our body even a little, we immediately feel pain. If we are a little unskillful in the way we sit or lie, immediately there's pain.

So, why is this body in the nature of suffering? Instead of only bliss, why is this body in the nature of suffering? Why are this body and mind the container of so many problems, instead of only peace and happiness? Because it came from the impure cause of karma, or action (which is your own thought) motivated by ignorance not knowing the ultimate nature of the I and the aggregates. This ignorance is the root of all our sufferings, the entire problem. Therefore, the way to escape from all the suffering of samsara, to end the continuation of all life's problems is to eliminate the cause, this ignorance not knowing the ultimate nature of the I and aggregates.

So, how can we eliminate this ignorance? By realizing the ultimate nature of the I, which we just spoke about and meditated on. By listening to teachings on emptiness, reflecting on them and meditating on their meaning, we can actualize the wisdom understanding emptiness, shunyata, the ultimate nature of the I and the aggregates and by developing this wisdom, we can eliminate this ignorance and gradually all the mental stains, the obscurations. In this way we are able to cease all suffering. This is how we have the possibility to achieve liberation, the ultimate happiness that never degenerates once it is achieved, that never changes back into suffering. This happiness is everlasting because the cause of all suffering has been completely eliminated; therefore, there's no reason to experience suffering again. Through actualizing the wisdom realizing the ultimate nature of the I and the aggregates, we achieve ultimate happiness, everlasting liberation.

Therefore, to prepare for this, I thought to give the oral transmission of The Essence of Wisdom. If this imprint is left on our mind, sooner or later, either in this life or the next, because we have planted this seed in our mind, we are able to understand and actualize the meaning of these teachings. First of all we are able to understand the meaning of the scriptures and second we are able to actualize the path, the meaning contained in them. By gradually developing this wisdom, we are able to reach the end of the whole suffering of samsara, to achieve ultimate liberation. Meditation on The Essence of Wisdom—we just went through the essence of it: how the I, the aggregates, and so forth are empty—is a very essential meditation.

In the past Shakyamuni Buddha gave teachings to five hundred swans, and in their next life the five hundred swans were all as human beings, actualized the path that the Buddha taught, and became arhats. There are many other stories like this that show that even hearing teachings and leaving the imprint have great benefit. So, I thought to give the oral transmission of The Essence of Wisdom.

Before receiving the oral transmission, think about your motivation. Think, "My life is not for myself. I have not taken this human body for my own happiness but to pacify the sufferings of all sentient beings and bring them happiness. This is the reason I have this human body, this is the purpose of my survival. Why do I survive each day? Why do I spend so much money to live my life? Why do I spend so much money on food, clothing, and housing? Why do I work so hard to take care of this life? The main reason is not for my own happiness but to enable me to serve other sentient beings by pacifying their sufferings and bringing them happiness. This is the purpose of my life.

"Even now the purpose of listening to these teachings, of receiving this oral transmission, is to free every sentient being from all suffering and its causes and lead them to the peerless happiness of full enlightenment. And to do this by myself alone. Full enlightenment is the mental state that is free of all obscurations and perfect in all qualities. To lead all sentient beings to this perfect state by myself alone, I myself must first achieve full enlightenment. My mental continuum has to be purified of all mistakes, all obscurations, and perfect in all qualities. My mind has to have the perfect wisdom of omniscient mind, the perfect power to guide other sentient beings, and infinite compassion for all sentient beings. So, to be able to achieve this full enlightenment—in other words, dharmakaya and rupakaya, the completely pure holy mind and the holy body of form—depends on completing the path of method and wisdom. Method means bodhicitta and so forth and wisdom the wisdom realizing emptiness. We have to practice these together; we have to practice method possessed by wisdom and develop wisdom possessed by method. However, the wisdom realizing emptiness is the one that separates our mental continuum from mistakes, from the obscurations. Therefore, I'm going to receive the oral transmission of The Essence of Wisdom."

So, concentrate on the sound without letting your mind wander.

[Rinpoche gives the oral transmission of The Essence of Wisdom.]

I have received this oral transmission from one very high lama, His Holiness Zong Rinpoche, and also from other lamas. I have also received commentaries on this from one very famous, highly realized Drepung geshe, Geshe Nyima.

For those who are hearing about emptiness, ultimate nature, for the first time or who don't know much about the teachings on emptiness, it is like an atomic bomb; it is the direct method to eliminate the root of all suffering, ignorance. No matter how many other realizations we have, no matter whether we have realizations of bodhicitta or tantra, without the wisdom realizing emptiness there's no way we can directly eliminate the ignorance that is the root of the entire samsaric suffering. Therefore, even to meditate for a few seconds on ultimate nature is very, very precious and extremely meaningful. Just to touch this point for a few minutes, even a few seconds, is great purification. If you have obstacles to your life, concentrating on emptiness purifies them. Meditation on emptiness becomes a great puja, helping to have success in business. And it is the ultimate method for healing any disease.

I think I'll stop here.

Please dedicate the merit:

Due to the three times' merits accumulated by me and by others, may bodhicitta, the source of enlightenment, and the wisdom realizing emptiness be generated within my mind and within the minds of all others. And may the bodhicitta that has been generated be developed.

And may I achieve the peerless happiness of full enlightenment and lead everyone to this state as quickly as possible by myself alone.

Thank you very much.

The geshes who come here quite often to give teachings are extremely qualified teachers. You people are highly fortunate to be able to hear teachings from qualified masters again and again. It is important to continue to hear teachings, to study, and to meditate. By studying you develop wisdom and with that wisdom you meditate, trying to get some experience of the path.

No matter how busy our life is with so many engagements, with our family to take care of, and so forth, I think that it is extremely important that we create good karma, merit, virtue, positive action. If we create positive actions, we then experience the result of happiness. If we create non-virtuous or unwholesome actions out of wrong conceptions, negative thoughts, we have to experience the result of problems, sufferings, in this life and the lives after this. There's no such thing as you creating the non-virtue and other people, such as members of your family, experiencing the result of your negative karma for you, whether you created the negative karma for yourself or for them. They won't share the result. They won't experience the suffering results from the cause that you have created. And there's no such thing as their creating the cause of happiness and you experiencing that happiness. You see, whatever good karma or unwholesome action you have done, you experience the resultant happiness or problem. Therefore, you have to become your own protector, your own guide. You have to guide yourself to temporary and ultimate happiness, especially ultimate. You should become the guide to take yourself there.

No matter how busy your life is with other things, however, remember that happiness comes only from virtue, from positive actions done out of positive mind and that problems, sufferings, come from non-virtuous actions done out of impure attitude. No matter how smart you are, no matter how much education you have, no matter how much you have of anything, without depending on Dharma practice, there's no way to experience success, there's no way to experience happiness. You have to create the cause of happiness and success in this life and in the lives after this, up to enlightenment; and you have to purify the negative karmas, the cause of obstacles and problems, that you have already created and to try to abandon as much as possible the cause of suffering.

You have to put all your effort into keeping your mind positive, into keeping your attitudes pure. Rather than thinking only of yourself, only cherishing yourself, you have to cherish other sentient beings. Rather than thinking only to benefit yourself, you have to think only of benefiting others. Rather than only thinking to work for yourself, you have to think of working for others. Even if you can't do this from morning until night, even if the whole twenty-four hours is not completely for others, at least most or half of each day you should try to have the positive attitude of working to benefit others. Whatever work you do, have the attitude, I'm doing this for others, to pacify their problems and bring them happiness.

As much as possible in your life, when you do your work, do your job with the thought of benefiting other sentient beings, to bring others happiness. When your work is dedicated to others, it becomes Dharma. All those actions become Dharma, virtue, the unmistaken cause of happiness, the best cause of happiness.

Developing your mind in the complete path depends on listening to teachings, reflecting, and meditation practice; therefore, my comment is that those of you who live around here and come here for meditation and teachings from perfectly qualified masters are extremely fortunate, because the correct development of our mind depends on correct practice, and that depends on correct understanding, which depends on correct teachings, correct explanations. Now, if we meet wrong teachings, wrong explanations, our life will be wasted and our minds filled with wrong conceptions—more than we already have! And that then cheats many other lives. Besides cheating this life, we cheat many other future lives, because what we do in this life is preparation for our future lives. It will cause us to lose many future lives, to go on the wrong path. Continuously we will be caught in samsara and experience sufferings—and we will not be able to benefit other sentient beings.

My comment is that we should realize how fortunate we are and make the most of this opportunity.

I'll stop here.

[End of first discourse]