In Search of a Meaningful Life
Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche
Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche is the foremost disciple of Lama Thubten Yeshe and a highly revered teacher in his own right. He has taught the graduated path to enlightenment to thousands of people, over one hundred of whom have taken ordination as monks and nuns. This teaching was given at Tushita on July 4th, 1979.
It is extremely important that we make some spiritual efforts while we have the opportunity as human beings to pursue inner methods which establish peace of mind.
It is a common experience that happiness does not arise solely from external factors. If we check up carefully in our own daily lives we can easily understand that this is true. In addition to external factors, certain inner factors come into play in establishing happiness within us. If external development by itself could produce a lasting peace within living beings, then whoever had more material possessions should have greater peace, while whoever had less should have less peace and happiness. But life is not always like this. There are many happy people with few riches, and many wealthy people are very unhappy. Here in India, for example, there are many pandits, highly realized yogis and even simple Dharma practitioners, who live humble lives yet have great peace of mind. The more they have renounced the unsubdued mind, the greater is their peace. The more they have renounced self-cherishing, anger, ignorance, attachment and so forth, the greater is their happiness.
Great yogis such as the Indian master Naropa and the Tibetan yogi Jetsun Milarepa owned nothing yet had incredible peace of mind. They were able to renounce the unsubdued mind, the source of all problems, and thus transcended all suffering. By actualising the path to enlightenment they achieved a superior happiness. Thus even though they often had to go days without food--the great yogi Milarepa lived for years in a cave subsisting only on wild nettles--they rank among the happiest men on earth. Because they abandoned the three poisonous minds of ignorance, anger and attachment, their peace and happiness was indeed great. The more they removed the unsubdued mind, the greater was their peace.
If happiness depended on only the development of external factors, rich countries such as America would be happy. Many people try to follow America, thinking that in this way they will find happiness. Personally I find greater peace in spiritual countries like India and Nepal. These are much happier countries, more peaceful for the mind. When I return to India after touring the West it is like returning home. There are so many differences. India is really a very dharmic country. It makes a big difference to the mind. When you look at a materialistic society and see the people and their way of life, your own mind becomes disturbed. The material progress is incredible and it keeps on going--but as a result the people are kept more and more busy and many different problems arise. People have no time to relax; they get nervous, very nervous. Here in India you see people relaxing everywhere, but there you even feel nervous yourself, you pick up the vibration of their agitated minds. If happiness depended solely on external development, places like Switzerland and America would have the greatest peace. They would have less quarreling, less fighting, less violence. But it's not like that.
This shows that something is missing. It indicates that something is lacking in their method of seeking happiness. Materially they may be on top of the world, but many problems continue to destroy their peace and happiness. What is missing? Inner development. They pursue external development but ignore the development of the mind, the inner development. That part of method is missing. Materially, the Western world has progressed enormously but it is not becoming greater. Looking outside while completely forgetting the development of the mind, the development of a good heart, is their great mistake. Material progress in itself is not bad; the material factor should be developed, but inner development is much more important. There's no way to compare the two. Inner development is a million times more effective in producing lasting happiness than is external development. You don't find peace if you forget the development of the mind. Through the development of a good heart one obtains peace in the mind. So like that, we should develop outside, but at the same time should also develop the mind. If we compare the value of the peace produced by an external thing with that produced by a good heart--by compassion, love, patience, and the elimination of the violent, unsubdued mind--the superior value offered by inner development is overwhelming.
Even if you have a pile of diamonds equal to the weight of this earth there is no way to compare the peace it provides to the peace afforded by inner development. The owner of the jewels is still beset by mental problems like anger, attachment and so forth. If someone insults him, anger starts to rise, followed by thoughts to give harm, to insult, to hurt. The man of inner development reacts quite differently. He thinks, "If he got angry with me, insulted me and hurt my mind, how upset I would be, how unhappy I would become; so I shouldn't do negative things to him. If I am angry with him and insult him he will be terribly upset and unhappy. I become unhappy when he is negative with me, so of course he will be very unhappy and his peace will be disturbed if I am negative with him. How dare I do this to him?" You should try to think like this.
When my friend says or does something to me which I dislike, and anger and the uncomfortable mind start to rise within my heart, I may want to say very painful things; but I should gather my awareness and be skillful and brave, thinking, "How can I get angry with him? How can I say painful things to him? How can I bring him harm? I should try to think like that. If he were to be violent with me, how unhappy I would be, how it would disturb my mind! How it would hurt me. Therefore, if I do harm to him, to this friend who, just like me, wants happiness and does not want suffering, how ignoble I would be. How dare I follow such a course of action?" When you think like this, the anger disappears like a popped water bubble. At first the bubble seemed to be as solid as stone, but suddenly it disappears. At first it seems to us that we can't change the mind; yet when we use the correct method, when we meditate like this, the anger goes--like a water bubble. You don't see the point of getting angry. You simply practise patience, try not to let anger arise, try to remember that what disturbs your mind and destroys your happiness also disturbs the other's happiness and doesn't help at all. Then how beautiful your face becomes! Anger makes us completely ugly. When anger enters a beautiful face, no amount of make-up can hide the complete ugliness and terror that manifest. You can see this in people's faces. You can recognize the anger. You can become afraid of the anger just by looking at the face of an angry person. That is the reflection of anger. It is a very bad vibration to give off. It makes everybody unhappy.
The real practice of Dharma, the real meditation is never to harm others. It protects both your own peace of mind and that of other beings. This is real Dharma, a truly religious action bringing benefits both to yourself and others. As I said earlier, to be able to practise this kind of patience even once is worth more than a pile of diamonds equal to this earth. What inner peace can be derived from diamonds? You just run the risk of being killed for them. There is no comparison between the value of a good heart and that of material possessions. Since we want happiness and do not desire suffering, it is extremely important that we practise Dharma. Dharma is not chanting, doing rituals or wearing uniforms. It is developing the mind, the inner factor. We have many different inner factors: the unsubdued mind, delusions, positive factors such as love and compassion, negative factors such as ignorance, and so on. We all have both positive and negative mental tendencies. Practising Dharma means cultivating the good mind, which is to be developed. In one context dharma implies all existing phenomena, but when we say, "the practice of Dharma," or "the holy Dharma," the meaning is to protect oneself from suffering. That is the meaning of the holy Dharma, the Dharma that we should practise.
There are many different levels of suffering from which we require protection. Dharma is like a rope thrown to somebody about to fall over a precipice. It protects and holds one from falling into the realms of suffering--the world of a hell being, ghost or animal. A second meaning of the practice of the holy Dharma is that one finds protection from the entirety of samsara, from all samsaric suffering. It protects us from all unsubdued minds, such as ignorance, attachment and anger, from thoughts of self-cherishing, and from all the mental factors that cause one not to receive enlightenment, the stage of buddhahood, the state of the highest sublime happiness.
As long as there is the self-cherishing thought there is no way to achieve buddhahood; our path to sublime happiness is blocked. Self-cherishing is the greatest disturbance to happiness and enlightenment. If one practises Dharma one finds protection from the disturbances of the self-cherishing thought and quickly receives enlightenment.
Death is followed by a stage called intermediate (Tibetan: bar-do), after which we take rebirth in one of the six realms. Rebirth, life, death, the intermediate stage, again rebirth: constantly we travel in this circle, repeatedly experiencing confusion and suffering owing to impure conceptions and views. When we practise the holy Dharma, it guides and protects us from the impure conceptions and views that cause us to be always bound to cyclic sufferings. There are many different levels of how the Dharma guides and protects those who practise it.
The problem is that our body and mind are in the nature of suffering; they are not beyond suffering. This is the whole problem. Because they exist in the nature of suffering we are constantly kept busy. Why is the body in the nature of suffering? Because the mind is in the nature of suffering. The mind is not liberated from suffering. It is not liberated from the unsubdued minds of ignorance, anger, attachment and their actions, karma, therefore its nature is one of suffering, and in turn the body is caused to suffer. That's why without choice our body is subject to the sufferings of heat, cold, hunger, thirst, birth, old age, sickness, and so forth. We do not have to seek out these sufferings; they come to us naturally and we have to experience them. All this is because we have not liberated our mind from suffering. Delhi is not samsara; the market is not samsara. Samsara is this body and mind in the nature of suffering, this body and mind that constantly make us worry and keep us busy. Our having a body and mind bound by the unsubdued mind and its karmic actions is samsara.
Samsara is a cycle, like the wheels of a bicycle. Its function is to circle. How does it circle? The aggregates (Sanskrit: skandhas), our body and the mind, continue from this life into the future life. They join the past life to this and this to the future one. They always continue, always join one life to the next. They create an ongoing circle, like the wheels of a bicycle, always going different places. You are the subject who circles, like a person riding a bicycle. The self is like that. We circle on and on from life to life, taking rebirth in accordance with how we have lived our lives, the karma we have created and our general state of mind. Dependent on these factors we take rebirth as an animal, a human, a god, in hell and so forth. Our aggregates carry us like a horse carries its rider.
The problem is that from beginningless time throughout all previous lifetimes we did not work or attempt to liberate our mind from unsubdued minds and karma. Therefore our mind and body are still living in the nature of suffering, experiencing the same problems over and over again. Had we already been liberated from these unsubdued minds and karma it would be impossible for us to experience suffering again. Once you have been liberated from samsaric suffering, from the bondage of karma and the unsubdued mind, you can never suffer again; no cause for you to fall into suffering remains. If you had been liberated before there would be no reason for suffering now; your mind and body would not be in the nature of suffering. If we don't have a samsaric body there is no reason to have a house, clothing, food, and other temporal needs. There is no need to worry, to make preparations, to collect many material possessions, to chase after money, to have hundreds of different clothes to wear for the different seasons, to have hundreds of shoes, to make business and so forth. There are none of these problems. But we do have a samsaric body, so our entire life, from rebirth to death, is kept busy taking care of it.
Lama Tsong Khapa, a highly realized Tibetan yogi recognized as an embodiment of Manjushri, the Buddha of Wisdom, wrote from his personal experience of the path: "If one does not think of the evolution of samsara, one will not know how to cut off the root of samsara." To give an example, let's say there is a person who is always sick because he eats the wrong food. As long as he doesn't recognize the mistake in his diet, the cause of his sickness, he will continue to be sick no matter how much medicine he takes. Similarly, if we don't understand the evolutional patterns of samsara, there is no way for us to receive the peace of nirvana that we seek. For this we must cut off the root of samsara, and in order to accomplish that we must know the correct methods. This means that we must recognize the samsaric process, the causes of our being bound to samsara. We must realize what binds us to samsara and then generate aversion for and renunciation of the causes of samsaric existence. Lama Tsong Khapa concluded the above verse by saying, "I, a yogi, practised like this. I request you who seek liberation to do likewise." This great yogi, who achieved enlightenment by actualisjng the path, advises us in this way. It is very important that first we desire liberation from samsara; then we must recognize the evolutionary laws of samsara; finally we have to cut off its root.
To understand the evolution of samsara we must understand the twelve links of interdependent origination, or dependent arising. These twelve links clearly explain how we circle in samsara. How did our present samsara-these aggregates, which are in the nature of suffering-come into being? In a past life, out of ignorance, we accumulated the karma to be born with this human body. Just as we were about to die in our last life, a split second before we died, clinging and grasping, not wanting to leave the body, not wanting to separate from this life, arose. Then we were born in the intermediate stage, and after that our consciousness entered our mother's womb. The fertilised egg grew and the other senses gradually developed. Then contact and responsive feelings came into existence. Now our rebirth has occurred, we are aging, and all that remains for us is the experience of death.
In this life there is no peace, from the time of our birth until our death. We continually go through much suffering as human beings: the pain of birth; not being satisfied with our situation; meeting undesirable experiences; having worries; having fear of being separated from desirable objects, friends, relatives, and material possessions; sickness; old age and death. All these problems come from karma. Karma comes from ignorance. Therefore the one root of samsara is ignorance, the ignorance of mistaking the nature of "I", the self, which is empty of true existence. Although this "I" is empty of true existence, we completely believe as we project, that it is truly existent.
Ignorance is the cause of all suffering. We receive nirvana by cutting off this ignorance, the root of samsara. Without doing this, there is no way to receive nirvana.
In order to remove completely the root of samsaric suffering and receive nirvana we must follow a true path. If we do not want to experience true suffering, we should cut off the true cause of suffering. Once we have cut off and removed this root, nirvana is attained. However, that is not sufficient because only one person has been benefited. There are numberless sentient beings, and all sentient beings have been our own mother, father, sister and brother, in numberless previous lives. There is not one single sentient being who has not been kind to us in one life or another. Even in this life much of our happiness is received in dependence upon the kindness of others. Not only humans; many creatures work hard and suffer much for our happiness; many die or are killed for us. For example, in order to produce rice in a field, many creatures are killed, many people work and suffer under the sun, and so forth. The happiness of each day of our life completely depends on the kindness of other sentient beings.
As human beings we have the opportunity to repay their kindness. They are ignorant of and blind to Dharma wisdom. We have the opportunities afforded by the holy Dharma, the opportunity to understand the nature of reality and to help all sentient beings. We have the opportunity to reach enlightenment and liberate them from suffering. We should think as follows:
"I should do this; I should achieve enlightenment in order to benefit them. Sentient beings have been extremely kind and have benefited me very much. They are suffering. These sentient beings, all of whom have been my mother in many previous lives, are suffering; I, their son, must help. If I do not help them, who will? Who would help them gain enlightenment and liberation from suffering? To do that I myself must first receive enlightenment. I must become a buddha. I must actualise the omniscient mind. Then my holy body, speech and mind would become most effective. Each ray of light from the aura of a holy body can liberate many sentient beings and inspire them on the path to happiness, nirvana and full enlightenment. I must become buddha in order to liberate all sentient beings." The path is the holy Dharma. The essence of the path is the good heart. The greatest, highest good heart is the bodhicitta, the thought of wanting to become a buddha in order to liberate all the sentient beings from suffering. This is the supreme good heart. This is what we should generate.
Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche was Lama Yeshe's heart disciple and is the spiritual head of the FPMT.
From Teachings at Tushita, edited by Nicholas Ribush with Glenn H. Mullin, Mahayana Publications, New Delhi, 1981. A new edition of this book is in preparation. Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre is the FPMT centre in New Delhi, India.
Update : 01-12-2001