Lam-rim Weekend Course

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Adelaide, Australia (Archive #855)

A weekend course by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche in Adelaide, Australia, August 3- 4, 1991.

Edited by Ven. Ailsa Cameron; part of the fourth discourse is lightly edited by Sandra Smith. 

Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the Lawudo Lama, in 1970.
First Discourse: Making Life Meaningful

What we are going to do here is engage in the study of our own mind and then through that we are able to understand the minds of others and so help them. With this wisdom we are then able to help other sentient beings better and more deeply. Through our own development of mind, we are able to offer other sentient beings not just superficial help, but real benefit. The real help that is needed by us and by others is help for the mind, because our problems come from our mind and any happiness in our life has to come from our mind. There is no way to receive happiness from others; it has to come from our own individual mind.

What we are going to discuss here is how to make this precious human life most meaningful, most beneficial for ourselves and for other sentient beings. This is our aim: to find out how to make our life the best. The "best" in the sense of according to the mind seeking happiness; not only best according to the selfish mind seeking happiness only for the self, but the real “best”. But we have still to analyze whether that is the real best one not.

Our life becomes most meaningful when it becomes most beneficial for every other sentient being. When others find our life useful, that is the real meaning of useful, and our life then becomes useful for us too. The best way to obtain happiness for yourself is to be able to help others, to be able to make your own life beneficial for other sentient beings, freeing others from suffering and bringing them happiness. Benefiting others with a sincere heart brings the happiest life.

So this is the main purpose of life and this is the purpose of this talk on meditation. We have to learn the methods to help others. Just having some kind of wish to help others because we know that is a good thing to do, we can help them, but it is not skillful unless we learn the methods to help them. We have to study what other sentient beings are missing and what they really need. That means we have to study the mind and we have to understand and learn about the nature of our own mind. There are different natures of the mind.

We need to develop our mind; we need to develop wisdom and method, skillful means. There are methods to do this according to the Western view, but there are also methods according to the Eastern view. There are methods according to many different views, according to scientists, according to psychologists, according to Buddha, according to the beings who have developed their minds and are free from the causes of suffering death and rebirth. Such beings have completed the development of the mind; they have studied the mind in depth and have fully realized the nature of the mind, the nature of the I, and so forth.

We have to learn these different views, and not just get caught in one philosopher's view. Before we generate faith in a particular view, we have to open our mind and analyze the benefits and shortcomings of different views. We have to check whether it accords with reality or not. When we have analyzed various methods in depth, we have more wisdom to judge what is correct and what is not, what is according to reality and what is a hallucination. Otherwise, we are in danger of living our lives regarding a hallucination as reality, which prevents us from recognizing the reality.

So, it is very useful to learn about different views. And then when you have proved to your mind that one is correct, you can dedicate your life to practicing that correct path, which has no danger of leading you into problems but only frees you from the cause of problems. "Problems" and "the cause of problems" seem like simple terms but they are very extensive subjects. There is a lot to study, a lot to realize. There are many things that we are not aware of and that we have to realize. When a patient sees a doctor, there are so many diseases and causes of disease within the patient's body and mind that the doctor knows about but the patient does not. There are many things like that.

What we are going to do here is really the most important thing in life. We are going to talk about, discuss, think about, reflect and meditate on the most important thing in life. I myself have no knowledge of meditation, of Dharma, but I can try to speak about the few words of the Omniscient One, the kind compassionate Buddha's words that I have heard. These words came out of compassion and wisdom, not from an ignorant mind that was unsure or just made up a philosophy out of personal interest. There are many philosophies like this, but Buddha's philosophy is not like that. It came out of compassion for all sentient beings and out of the full wisdom achieved by developing the mind in the path of wisdom and also method. It came from a mind completely free from all mistakes, from all obscurations.

These teachings came from such a fully enlightened mind. Generally, what kind of mind did the Buddhadharma, the teachings of the enlightened beings, come from? They came from a mind with the thought only to benefit other sentient beings. They are revealed with compassion, by a mind that has completed training in compassion. There is no danger from the side of the teachings that they will cheat or mislead because the quality of the mind from which they come is not just compassion but full wisdom. I will imitate a few of these words with the hope in this way that it helps in our lives.

We have to study the different levels of how to make our own life meaningful. There are different ways of living that pacify a certain amount of suffering and bring a certain amount of happiness or peace.

Before starting the discourse, we will do some prayers and meditation to leave some positive imprint on our mind, to plant a seed in our mind so that sooner or later we can actualize the unmistaken right path of method and wisdom within us and in that way be able to complete the works for self and the works for other sentient beings, to purify the obstacles and to create the necessary conditions to develop our mind. Even if you do not understand the meaning of the words at the moment, just concentrate on the sound of the words. That itself becomes meditation and has great meaning.

Do not commit any harmful actions,
Create perfect virtue,
And subdue one's own mind:
This is the teaching of the Buddha, the fully enlightened one.

Now, all causative phenomena—your own body, your possessions, your relatives and other people around you: friend, enemy, stranger—are changing within every second due to causes and conditions. Under the control of other causes and conditions, these things began, and now they are decaying within every second because they are dependent upon causes and conditions. Therefore, these things can be stopped at any time—this is the reality of these causative phenomena.

So, being aware of the reality of these phenomena liberates us. It liberated us from undesirable suffering and its causes, the bondage of ignorance, the dissatisfied mind of desire and anger. It liberate us from these causes of suffering, so it liberates from all problems. Our problems come from not being aware of the reality; our problems come from looking at these causative phenomena as permanent, which they're not. We apprehend them to be permanent because they appear to us as permanent not as changing due to causes and condition. These things appear to us now as permanent and we think that they will always be like this. We believe what we see to be true. We do not look at these phenomena in accordance with reality but look at them as something else, which is not true, which doesn't exist. This wrong conception becomes the basis of our life problems. All our relationship problems and so forth come from this.

The basis of our problems in life is very strange, something which doesn't exist. We make something that is the opposite of the reality of phenomena and we believe in it. From these wrong conceptions, discriminating thoughts of anger and attachment arise, and following these wrong conceptions itself is the main suffering in life. With these wrong conceptions, these wrong thoughts, we create so many problems in our life, problems for ourself and for other beings.

If we analyze the root of the problem, it is something that doesn't make sense. We make up some concept, then we believe in and follow it, and that is what produces our problems. Even if there is no problem, we create problems. There is no reason to create problems; there is no reason to make up this wrong conception of permanence, to look at impermanent phenomena as permanent. We unnecessarily create it. There's no benefit to us and no benefit to other sentient beings. We build up some concept and listen to it, follow it. The concept of permanence becomes the cause of our unhealthy mind and unhealthy body.

Another thing is what we apprehend and call "I" and believe in twenty-four hours a day. Not only the I, or self, but the aggregates, the association of body and mind, the senses and the objects of the senses (forms, sounds, smells, tastes, tangibles), all other phenomena that are objects of the mind, of the six consciousnesses, all these impermanent and permanent phenomena are called such-and-such, all of these phenomena are names. All these things are names, labels, and names have to come from the mind. Names have to be labeled by the mind; they don't come from their own side. A name doesn't exist from its own side; it has to come from the mind, be created by the mind. That is clear. So, everything came from the mind. In our everyday life, everything we think, hear, see, smell, taste and touch comes from the mind. Therefore, all these things are empty of existing from their own side.

So, nothing—not even the I—has inherent existence. Nothing exists from its own side; what exists is merely imputed by the mind.

This is meditating on emptiness, or emptiness only. In Tibetan the term is tong pa nyi, which means emptiness only. The term emptiness only cuts off ordinary emptiness, such as the absence of tea in a mug, the empty space in a mug. Or the emptiness of a house because there is no furniture and no one is living there. Or the emptiness of space because right in that spot there is nothing substantial. The emptiness, tong pa nyi, of tea in a mug is not talking about the absence of tea, the empty space, in a mug; it is talking about the emptiness of the tea while it is in the mug.

While the tea is there in the mug, something about it is empty, or doesn't exist. There is tea there that doesn't exist, the independent tea or the tea that appears to exist from its own side. That tea is a hallucination; that tea is false. And like this, nothing, including you, has inherent existence. Nothing of these exists from its own side. All these things that appear to exist from their own side are completely empty, and this is the reality. This is the ultimate nature of the whole of existence, including the self.

Not seeing things according to this reality, that everything is empty of existing from its own side, is ignorance. The mind that does not see that everything, including the I, is empty of existing from its own side, is hallucinated. The mind that apprehends these things appearing as existing from their own side as true, as really existing from their own side, is a wrong concept. This concept is wrong because it apprehends the object to exist in a way in which it does not exist. Therefore, this concept is wrong; this is ignorance. And it is this ignorance that produces the discriminating thoughts of anger and attachment, all the disturbing thoughts, all the unhealthy, painful mind. And these disturbing thoughts and the actions motivated by them leave the negative energy or negative imprints on the mind that bring all the problems in life, today and in the future—in this life and in future lives. This ignorance and the actions motivated by it created this association of body and mind called "the aggregates," which is in the nature of suffering.

If you don't work carefully, immediately there's pain, discomfort. If you press your skin like this, immediately there's pain. This shows that these aggregates, this association of body and mind, is a suffering realm. Why is this in the nature of suffering? Because it is created by actions motivated by this ignorance hallucinated as to the reality of the I and the aggregates. If these aggregates were not created by an impure cause, negative karma and ignorance, this wrong concept of inherently existent I and aggregates, there is no reason why they should be in the nature of suffering. If this did not come from that, we wouldn't have a suffering body and mind. There would be no reason to experience sufferings, no reason to experience problems at all.

The way to be completely free forever from these suffering realms, this samsara, or the association of body and mind, which is the container of problems, is to eliminate karma. One must cease karma, the actions motivated by ignorance, the concept of inherently existent I and aggregates. So, to completely eliminate the cause, one must realize emptiness, the ultimate nature of the I and the aggregates. This is the only solution.

This is the only method that directly eliminates the cause of suffering death and suffering rebirth. This is the only method that directly eliminates the causes of old age, sickness, and all other undesirable problems. This is the only method that directly eliminates the concept of true existence, the root of all other disturbing thoughts. Therefore, it is essential to generate this wisdom realizing the ultimate nature of the I and so forth. In our everyday life this is what is of utmost need in our meditation.

In regard to meditation, nowadays more and more people are discovering the need for meditation. More and more people are finding meditation beneficial, and not only young people who went through the experience of drugs some years back, which shattered their limited ideas and gave them a different view of life. Their experiences gave them faith that the consciousness can exist without the body, that the consciousness doesn't have to be combined with the body all the time.

Even those who are not involved in such life experiments, those who are called professionals, are discovering meditation. Many doctors recommend meditation for patients with diseases such as cancer that are very difficult to cure or diseases for which there's no medicine or the patient doesn't respond to the medicine. Some sympathetic doctors who want to help their patients to recover advise them about other methods that they have heard are helpful, such as meditation.

Even the athletes who compete in the Olympic Games do meditation. They find meditation a useful way to release stress. There is one American couple in Sydney; the husband is a professor and the wife is a psychologist, I think. They were teaching meditation to many hundreds of people who were involved in the Olympic Games.

One person talked about how he had learned to meditate from Ian Gawler, who cured his own cancer through meditation and with the support of his wife, and then succeeded in the Olympics without much stress.

The meditation this couple was teaching to these hundreds of Olympic athletes was very simple. The man just kept on repeating the words "Let go, let go" while everybody relaxed comfortably in their chair. Everybody was very peaceful and very concentrated. They relaxed their body and relaxed their mind as they tried to let go. I'm not sure though what they thought they were letting go.

"Let go" are just two very simple words but according to Buddhism, they have great meaning. "Let go" can relate to letting go of the false view, the appearance of inherent existence, which is not true. "Let go" could be saying don't cling to the inherently existent I, the I that appears to be a real I from its own side; don't cling to the aggregates, the objects of the senses—real forms, real sounds, real smells, real tastes, real tangible objects. Let go: don't cling to all these things that appear to be real from their own side. Don't cling to the belief that they are real, that they are true—let go. Let go of the wrong concept, let go of the hallucination.

Then, let go of the undesirable object of anger. Let go of the exaggerated beauty of the object of desire. Let go of the objects of the other wrong concepts, such as the concept of permanence. There are many things to let go of. "Let go" can relate to letting go of all the obstacles to generating the path to enlightenment—from letting go of the thought of mistakes in the virtuous friend up to letting go of the subtle dual view. Rather than keeping these wrong concepts in your heart, you let go of them. Let go of grasping and clinging frees you from stress.

Many different types of people, such as those who are sick, are finding more and more that meditation is beneficial. Generally speaking, you should examine with an open mind different methods to stop problems, not just be caught in the Western scientific view. You should have an open mind and experiment as to whether problems in life can be solved through spiritual means. Nowadays people who have not kept closed, limited minds, but have opened their minds to many different methods and experimented, are finding meditation more and more beneficial.

Since the cause of suffering and of happiness is not outside but in the mind, only through meditation can you find peace. You can completely stop problems only through meditation. If the cause of happiness and suffering was external, you wouldn't need meditation. Who needs an extra thing to their life when we're all so busy? But we have no choice. Why? Because the problems can't be solved through external means. Without meditation, life's problems cannot really be solved. You cannot solve your problems simply by wishing them to be solved. So, through meditation you can stop the problems of life with your own free will.

The main point is that because the cause of happiness and suffering is not external but in the mind, you have to work out the solution that pacifies suffering and brings happiness with your own mind, which is what meditation is.

[End of First Discourse]