Cutting the Concept of Permanence

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I Myself Can Die Even Today

Lama Zopa Rinpoche explains how to cut the concept of permanence—our habitual ingrained belief that we are going to live for a long time and which stops us from engaging in continual intensive Dharma practice—and how to practice tong-len with loving-kindness and compassion. Edited by Venerable Sarah Thresher with Megan Evart.

Listen to Lama Zopa Rinpoche give these teachings

Start by thinking:

Guru Shakyamuni Buddha descended into this world from Tushita Pure Land and showed the twelve deeds of a buddha. He taught the Dharma by expounding the 84,000 teachings and enlightened numberless sentient beings not only in this world but also in other universes. In this way, the benefits to sentient beings were as limitless as the sky.

In the general view, the Buddha turned the Wheel of Dharma three times. He taught the four noble truths in Sarnath, the middle Wheel of Dharma revealing the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras at Rajgir and the final Wheel of Dharma teaching the three characteristics at Vaishali. Then he manifested into Buddha Vajradhara and deities to reveal the tantric teachings. He manifested into Chakrasamvara and revealed the Chakrasamvara teachings on the top of Mt. Meru, into Yamantaka at Orgyen in Pakistan and into Kalachakra at Amaravati in India.

Finally, the Buddha showed impermanence to us sentient beings and passed away into the sorrowless state. All that is left now are scriptures and some ruins at holy places like Rajgir and Sravasti.

Therefore, there is no question that I myself can die even today.

Cut the concept of permanence…

Actually, it is best to think, “I am going to die today.” Or to actually decide, “I am going to die today.” That is an even better antidote to the concept of permanence and attachment. It cuts your attachment to this life. It cuts the concept of permanence that doesn’t allow you to practice Dharma and your actions to become the cause of enlightenment, liberation from samsara or even the happiness of future lives. The concept of permanence makes your actions only nonvirtue instead of becoming Dharma, which brings happiness in future lives.

The problem is that our minds are always taking the side of the concept of permanence. It is like in the government of a country; there are always two parties, left and right wing. In the United States, there are Democrats and Republicans. Usually, people like me live our lives toward the concept of permanence and that is the problem. When you live life with the concept of permanence, attachment, worldly concern and all the other negative emotions arise. Then your mind becomes a problem and life becomes hard. Life becomes difficult.

Buddha passing into the sorrowless state, Ajanta, India. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)
Buddha passing into the sorrowless state, Ajanta, India. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)

What is the concept of permanence?

Lama Zopa Rinpoche explains that the concept of permanence is the thought, “I’m going to live for a long time.” This way of thinking is an obstacle to pure Dharma practice because it obscures our minds from seeing that the nature of this life and all causative phenomena is impermanent. Consequently, we become attached to the appearance of this life and constantly put off our Dharma practice to go after short-term pleasures. Lama Atisha also explained to his disciple Dromtönpa that actions done out of attachment to the happiness of this life are always non-virtuous. They may or may not bring happiness in this life, but they will always result in suffering.

EQUALIZING THE EIGHT WORLDLY DHARMAS

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching in the ruins of Nalanda Monastery, once the largest monastic university of the ancient world. (Photo Ven Roger Kunsang)
Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching in the ruins of Nalanda Monastery, once the largest monastic university of the ancient world. (Photo Ven Roger Kunsang)

There are so many problems when you live life with attachment and worldly concern. You want comfort and happiness and therefore suffer and become unhappy when there is discomfort. You look for a good reputation, wanting many people to say good things about you, and suffer when that is not happening or the opposite happens and you have a bad reputation. You grasp at praise, wanting other people to say good things to you, and your mind goes down when that doesn’t happen or you are criticized. You grasp at receiving things and are disappointed when nothing comes. First, you advertise your birthday to other people, then when you don’t receive any gifts or birthday presents from your friends, your mind goes down, down, down and you become depressed and unhappy.

These problems come because the mind is grasping. It is the mind grasping at comfort and pleasure, reputation, praise and receiving material things that is the root problem. It is because the mind is grasping that there is dislike and unhappiness when the things you want don’t happen or the opposite happens. Nagarjuna’s advice in Letter to A Friend (v.29) was to equalize these thoughts:

Receiving and not receiving material things, comfort and discomfort,Good and bad reputation, praise and criticism—Equalize these eight worldly dharmas,And banish them from your mind.

If you check the nature of your mind when it is grasping at these things, it is not peaceful but disturbed by emotional thoughts. There is no inner peace or calm. Grasping at these four objects of desire is a big problem in our lives and all our other problems come from that. But when these four pairs are equalized and there is no more thought of the eight worldly dharmas, you have real inner happiness, the happiness of Dharma. The best Dharma practitioner is the one who has equalized the eight worldly dharmas.

“The best Dharma practitioner is the one who has equalized the eight worldly dharmas.”

Asanga explained the difference between samsaric pleasure and the happiness of Dharma in eleven points that are mentioned in the Kadampa teachings. For example, that samsaric pleasure is extremely small while Dharma happiness is unbelievably great and that samsaric pleasure is only in the nature of suffering while Dharma happiness is real happiness.

The ruins of ancient stupas at the great Nalanda monastery, India. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)
The ruins of ancient stupas at the great Nalanda monastery, India. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)

When your mind is living in Dharma with the thought of impermanence—that death is going to come today—you don’t have all the problems that most other people suffer from. You don’t have to go and discuss those problems with psychologists and other professionals, which makes life very expensive. Being a friend of attachment and the concept of permanence—which is not true—and living life that way, brings a whole package of problems. Life becomes filled with one problem after another, exactly like it’s shown on TV or in the movies.

Now when you live with Dharma, by thinking of impermanence and death, you free yourself from all these problems. Freeing yourself from the concept of permanence, attachment and so forth means also freeing yourself from anger and all the problems that come from anger, such as jealousy. You free yourself from all those sicknesses and chronic diseases of the mind and open the door to peace. It is amazing. You give yourself peace and from that great inner peace come a healthy mind and a healthy body. That’s how it works. Your healthy Dharma mind also makes your physical body healthy.

“Your healthy Dharma mind also makes your physical body healthy.”

Wow! Then it saves you a lot of money. Your healthy Dharma mind living with the thought of impermanence immediately cuts out many unnecessary activities and expenses, and then the money you have left can be used for meaningful things that benefit yourself and others. All the unbelievable expenses that go to feed attachment to this life, the thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands and millions and billions spent for the emotional mind, are cut. Can you imagine? You spend an unbelievable amount of money for attachment—which is a wrong concept and in nature a disturbing thought—and for the self-cherishing thought, while the money you spend to benefit other sentient beings sincerely from the heart, for your enlightenment, liberation or even for the happiness of your future lives is very little.

Through Dharma you see your life and go beyond…

This is just an introduction to help you see life more clearly. Like using a telescope to see something very far away or a microscope to see atoms or tiny sentient beings. Similarly, here through Dharma you see your life and go beyond. Through Dharma wisdom you can see your life: what is mistaken and what is correct; what is useless and what is useful; what is meaningless and what is meaningful; what is to be abandoned and what is to be practiced; what brings suffering and what brings happiness. It is all to do with the mind. It all depends on your attitude, which way you think, whether you live with your mind in the concept of permanence or impermanence. It makes a huge difference to your life, like the difference between the earth and the sky. It is amazing! When your mind is living with the concept of impermanence suddenly you no longer have all those hundreds of thousands of problems.

“It is amazing! When your mind is living with the concept of impermanence suddenly you no longer have all those hundreds of thousands of problems.”

The Ramabhar Stupa where Buddha was cremated, Kushinagar, India. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)
The Ramabhar Stupa where Buddha was cremated, Kushinagar, India. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)

Next think:

Then there were the two close disciples of the Buddha, Shariputra and Maudgalyayana; the Six Ornaments, the pandits Nagarjuna, Asanga, Chandrakirti and so forth; and many other great Indian yogis such as Naropa, Tilopa and Saraha. They wrote many texts, taught and gave unbelievable, incredible benefit to sentient beings and to the teachings of the Buddha in this world. Now we can only hear their names and see the texts they left and some caves and places where they meditated and achieved realizations. Therefore, there is no question that I myself can die even today.

After that, many great lamas appeared in each of the four traditions in Tibet, including Padmasambhava and Longchen Rabjampa; Marpa and Milarepa; the five great Sakya pandits; Lama Tsongkhapa and his disciples, and so forth. They completed the path to enlightenment and gave incredible benefit to sentient beings and to the teachings of the Buddha. Now we cannot see them, just the places where they practiced, like the caves of Lama Tsongkhapa and Milarepa, and their texts, nothing else. They all passed away. Therefore, I myself can die even today.

Now think of all the virtuous friends you have met, like Lama Yeshe who was kinder than all the numberless past, present and future Buddhas. In the past we were able to receive teachings from Lama and like the sun shining he gave incredible great benefit to this world, to sentient beings and to us. Lama was so entertaining as well. He brought such extremely worthwhile entertainment and incredible joy. Now that aspect doesn’t exist.

“Each time you think of death, cut your attachment.”

Then, Kyabje Ribur Rinpoche, those who received teachings and initiations will remember him; Kyabje Serkong Tsenshab Rinpoche, for those who had the great fortune to receive teachings from him a long time ago; and Kyabje Song Rinpoche, the great, great pandit, scholar, highly attained yogi and enlightened being. Many virtuous friends came, but now we cannot see them. Think particularly of those virtuous friends with whom you made a Dharma connection and who have passed away. Now those aspects no longer exist. So here think of your gurus who have passed away and think, “Therefore, I myself can die even today.” Each time you think of death like this, cut your attachment.

Now think of your family members who have passed away. Think of your father and mother if they have passed away. Then think of all your friends and the people you knew who have died and think, “Therefore, I myself can die any time. I can die even today.”

Then there were so many people born on the same day as you in this world, who were the same age, and who have already died. Think of them and contemplate, “Therefore, I myself can die even today.”

MEDITATING ON IMPERMANENCE IS THE VERY BEGINNING OF DHARMA

Lama Zopa Rinpoche in New York, 2015. (Photo Ven Roger Kunsang)
Lama Zopa Rinpoche in New York, 2015. (Photo Ven Roger Kunsang)

When you live with the thought that death can come today, then if something suddenly happens, it is not a shock. It is not a shock at all because you have already prepared your mind by thinking very strongly about death first thing every morning and keeping that awareness throughout the day. That helps you to be at peace and not have fear when you face a life-threatening problem or something similar.

If your mind has not become Dharma because you haven’t trained in the thought of impermanence but instead have always thought, “I am going to live for a long time,” and done all your activities with attachment to this life, then if something opposite to that suddenly happens and the reality of life—its impermanence—is shown, then all of a sudden, while you are planning billions of things for this life, you get an incredible shock.

You may know Buddhism and have memorized the hundred volumes of the Buddha’s teachings (Kangyur) and the two hundred volumes of commentaries (Tengyur) and be able to explain and recite them by heart, but your mind has not thought about impermanence. You may know by heart all the root texts, the five great treatises, along with the tantric texts and commentaries and be able to explain them, but your mind has not thought of impermanence. Because you have been living your life with the concept of permanence, the day something happens and suddenly the reality of life is shown, it is a shock and there is incredible fear. You see that you don’t want to die. It is not that you don’t want to die because you want to benefit sentient beings. I am not talking about that. You don’t want to die for fear of what will happen after death. You don’t want to die because of fear. You don’t want to lose this body. You don’t want to lose your possessions, property, belongings or family. Your mind is clinging to these things and because of that, there is great fear.

Meditating on impermanence is the very beginning of Dharma, but look what happens if this meditation is left out or if you thought it wasn’t important because emptiness or some tantric meditation was more important.

When the reality of this life is shown…

Of course, if you already have the realization of impermanence, then it’s different. After that, you can realize emptiness and with the realization of emptiness you see everything as an illusion and like a dream. You see yourself, actions, possessions, family and people around you like a dream or an illusion. You are like a person who can recognize a dream as a dream. There is a big difference between someone who can recognize they are dreaming while they are dreaming and someone who cannot and believes everything is true. There are huge differences between their lives. For people who can recognize a dream as a dream, nothing that happens while they are dreaming bothers them because they know it is not true. Even if somebody praises them as the best of the best, they know there is nothing to be attached to because it is not true. And no matter how badly somebody criticizes them or puts them down—even down below the ground—they know there is nothing to be upset about because it is not true. Like that, everything is seen as like an illusion, a dream or a reflection.

“Meditating on impermanence is the very beginning of Dharma, but look what happens if this meditation is left out or if you thought it wasn’t important.”

It is like watching a movie and believing that what you are seeing is true. If, instead of understanding it is just a series of pictures, you believe that real people are being killed in a war, a real house is falling down or a car is just about to have a real accident, you will be very nervous and frightened. Or it is like seeing the reflection of a face and believing it to be a real face. There is a huge difference between seeing a reflection and knowing it to be a reflection and not knowing it is a reflection and believing it to be a real face. Like these examples, those who have realized emptiness and trained their minds in that see everything as an illusion or a dream.

Ruins of monasteries, temples and stupas at Sarnath, India where the Buddha first turned the Wheel of Dharma. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)
Ruins of monasteries, temples and stupas at Sarnath, India where the Buddha first turned the Wheel of Dharma. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)

Even though meditation on impermanence is the beginning of the gradual path of the lower capable being in the lam-rim, can you imagine how important that realization is?

The Kadampa geshes used to say:

Even though you have a hundred qualities, you have no realization because of one mistake.

A “hundred” means “many,” like in the Hundred Devas of Tushita, which doesn’t mean that there is literally a fixed number of only a hundred devas in Tushita and there can’t be more, but is an expression of there being many or numberless. What the Kadampa geshes were saying is that you may have a lot of understanding and education and know thousands of millions of things, but everything gets stuck because of one mistake—not thinking about impermanence and death.

Offerings decay on the ruined walls that mark the spot where the Buddha meditated during the rains retreat in the Jetavana Grove, Sravasti. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)
Offerings decay on the ruined walls that mark the spot where the Buddha meditated during the rains retreat in the Jetavana Grove, Sravasti. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)

Why is your mind not subdued? Why have you not had any realizations of the path to enlightenment? Why have all your daily activities—eating, walking, sitting, sleeping, working and, of course, meditating and studying Dharma—not become Dharma, even though you have so much knowledge and know so many things that your mind is full? It is all because of one mistake—not thinking about impermanence and death. Because of not reflecting on impermanence and death, no matter how much meditation or retreat you do and no matter how much Dharma you study, nothing becomes Dharma. None of your virtuous activities become holy Dharma. Therefore, there is no question that all your ordinary activities of eating, walking, sitting, sleeping and working do not become Dharma. Everything becomes worldly dharma but not holy Dharma. It is like that.

“Even though you have a hundred qualities, you have no realization because of one mistake.”

One thing is that nothing becomes Dharma that can benefit you at the time of death and bring happiness beyond this life. The other is that, because there is no realization of impermanence and death, the gradual path of the lower capable being is not there. Because that is lacking, there is no realization of the gradual path of the middle capable being. And because that is missing, there is no realization of the gradual path of the higher capable being. Therefore there is no bodhicitta, and without bodhicitta, tantric realizations cannot be achieved. When the realization of impermanence and death is missing, none of these paths can be completed.

Without impermanence all the same problems arise…

That is why, when you do not think about impermanence and death, no matter how much knowledge or education you have, all the same problems arise as if you don’t know Dharma. Even if you have studied all the five major sutra texts, their commentaries and tantra, and even if you have extensive knowledge and are able to explain these teachings, because the very beginning practice of impermanence from the gradual path of the lower capable being is missing, it is like you don’t know Dharma. You have all the same problems as somebody who is not a Buddhist and has not studied Dharma. When you encounter a problem, there is no difference between having met Dharma and learned everything and not having met Dharma and not knowing anything. It is the same. Your mind is no different.

“When you do not think about impermanence and death, no matter how much knowledge or education you have, all the same problems arise as if you don’t know Dharma.”

Transcripts and course materials from the early years of Kopan courses in the Kopan Monastery library. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)
Transcripts and course materials from the early years of Kopan courses in the Kopan Monastery library. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)

What I am saying is that if the mind training in the meditation of impermanence is missing, look how much danger your life is in! There is no difference between a person who has met and studied Dharma and somebody who has not, between somebody who is a Buddhist and who is not, between somebody who has studied the philosophical or lam-rim teachings extensively and who has not. It is like that. You have to understand this point. Sometimes there could be even more problems. Sometimes a person who has met Buddhism could have even more problems than one who is not a Buddhist, because although there is greater education and more learning, the basic practice has not been done, and since the basic practice is missing, the problems could be even bigger.

I elaborated quite a bit here to introduce the subject of impermanence, but when you do the meditation it can be condensed.

SO MANY TIMES I HAVE ALMOST DIED

Then think:

So many times already in this life, I have almost died. I have almost had a fatal car accident or a fall. Somehow death has not yet come, but if I had died already, by now I would be in the lower realms.

By now, I could be a fish caught by a fisherman with the hook in my mouth, unable to escape and in unbelievable pain. Even before I was completely dead, my body would be sliced in half.

By now, I could be a worm pierced by a bird’s beak and carried off half-dead. Or I could be a worm attacked and covered by hundreds of ants biting my body. There would be nothing I could do.

Even if one ant bites your foot, it is unbearable, but a small worm doesn’t have thick skin. There is no protection when it is covered by hundreds of ants. By now, you could be born like that.

By now I could be in those most terrifying hell realms.

This could happen because you have collected so many causes to be born in the lower realms since beginningless rebirths and they are not yet purified.

Therefore, right now I must abandon negative karma, the cause of suffering, and practice only virtue, the cause of happiness.

Bring it to this conclusion: “I must abandon negative karma and practice only virtue.”

“Bring it to this conclusion: ‘I must abandon negative karma and practice only virtue.’”

Dying candles illuminate a Buddha image at the Boudha stupa, Nepal. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)
Dying candles illuminate a Buddha image at the Boudha stupa, Nepal. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)

Death Can Come Any Moment

After that, think as Nagarjuna explained in the Precious Garland (v. 317):

Butter lamp offerings. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)
Butter lamp offerings. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)

Life is like a butter lamp in a strong wind.

“This life—my life—is like a candle or a butter lamp outside in the wind.” The flame is blown this way and that, and can go out any time. Think, “My life is like this; it can stop any time. Death can come any moment.” Meditate on that.

Also think of Nagarjuna’s quotation in the Letter (v. 55):

This life is more impermanentThan a water bubble blown by the wind.How wonderful it is to be able to wake up from sleep[The fragile state of] simply breathing in and out!

When you go to sleep, the senses are not functioning. It is like dying. You are just breathing in and out. Recently, Geshe Sopa Rinpoche used this quotation in a motivation to teachings on the wisdom chapter of A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, and said, “You breathe out and stop breathing in and that’s it. You’ve gone.” You’re finished just by that. Therefore think, “How wonderful it is to have the freedom to be able to wake up from sleep!”

Last night so many people died…

Then think:

Last night so many people died in this world. They went to bed with so many plans for things to do tomorrow, this year, next year and so on. This morning their bodies were corpses.

That happened to so many people in the world last night, not just one. Can you imagine?

If I had died last night, by now I would be in the lower realms, in those most frightening hell realms, because although I did study Dharma and do some practice and retreat, I didn’t engage in continual intensive Dharma practice.

From time to time we did do some practice, but then anger, ill will and many other things destroyed the merits we created. There are many things besides anger that can blow up our merits. Anger, ill will and heresy all destroy them, and pride weakens them.

Therefore, there was no really serious, continual, pure Dharma practice and purification. If death had come to me last night, by now I would be in the hell realms.

So how most unbelievably fortunate it is that I have the freedom to wake up and practice Dharma.

The Great Meaning of This Human Life

It is a miracle to be able to wake up in the morning with a human body. Compared to the number of beings who are born in the lower realms, those who are born human are very, very few.

Crabs bought from the live market by students at Amitabha Buddhist Center in Singapore await liberation back to the ocean. They are sold tied up and packed together in cramped conditions to be boiled alive and eaten. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)
Crabs bought from the live market by students at Amitabha Buddhist Center in Singapore await liberation back to the ocean. They are sold tied up and packed together in cramped conditions to be boiled alive and eaten. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)

The number of sentient beings who are born in the hell realms, for example, is unimaginable. It is like the number of particles of dust on this great earth. The number of beings born as pretas is like the grains of sand in the Pacific Ocean. The number of beings born in the animal realms is like the blades of grass in this world while the number of beings born in the higher realms is very few. Those who gain a perfect human rebirth are like the grains of dirt that are caught under your fingernail when you scratch the earth.

Sentient beings are born in the hell realms due to attachment, anger and ignorance and the negative actions these delusions cause them to create. It is unbelievably rare to gain a perfect human rebirth because the causes are so difficult to create. To gain a human rebirth depends upon creating good actions motivated by a pure mind of non-ignorance, non-attachment and non-anger. It also depends on having practiced pure morality—abstaining from killing, lying, sexual misconduct and so forth. Keeping pure morality is extremely difficult. First of all, it is difficult for sentient beings to understand and accept the need to abstain from these actions. Then, it is difficult to take a vow to do so. Finally, even if the vow is taken, it is difficult to keep it purely because there are so many obstacles from within and from outside.

“It is a miracle to be able to wake up in the morning with a human body.”

For these reasons, it is extremely rare to be reborn as a human being and even rarer to gain a precious human rebirth with all the eighteen qualities needed to practice Dharma, the eight freedoms and ten richnesses. Therefore, think:

How most unbelievably fortunate it is that I have the freedom to wake up and practice Dharma. In every second there is so much I can do with this human body, not only a precious human body so extremely rare to find, but one with eighteen qualities almost impossible to achieve again. Wow!

In each second I have the great freedom and opportunity to create the cause to achieve happiness in all my future lives by generating renunciation of this life.

Not only that, in each second I also have the opportunity to create the cause to achieve ultimate happiness, liberation from samsara, by generating renunciation of future lives and actualizing the right view.

Not only that, in each second I have the great freedom and opportunity to create the cause to achieve enlightenment by generating bodhicitta.

Not only that, by practicing tantra I can achieve enlightenment in one lifetime, while by practicing Highest Yoga Tantra I can achieve enlightenment within one brief lifetime of this degenerate time or even within a few years.

The ability to create the cause of all this temporary and ultimate happiness even in one second is the third great meaning of life. Therefore, think:

Each second of this perfect human rebirth is far more precious than mountains of gold and diamonds, or gold and diamonds the size of this earth.

Not only that, it is even more precious than a wish-granting jewel.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche circumambulates the stupa at Khachoe Dechen Ling, California, late at night. Rinpoche’s ability to go without sleep is legendary. (Photo Ven Roger Kunsang)
Lama Zopa Rinpoche circumambulates the stupa at Khachoe Dechen Ling, California, late at night. Rinpoche’s ability to go without sleep is legendary. (Photo Ven Roger Kunsang)

“You must try to feel how this perfect human rebirth is most precious.”

If you put a wish-granting jewel on top of a banner on the fifteenth day of the Tibetan month, you can receive whatever external enjoyment or necessity you want just by praying for it. That is why a wish-granting jewel is the most valuable external material thing, more precious than anything else. But this perfect human rebirth that we have is much more precious than the whole sky filled with wish-granting jewels. The value of all that is nothing compared to this perfect human rebirth, because even if you owned skies filled with wish-granting jewels, without this perfect human rebirth you could not achieve the happiness of future lives, liberation from samsara or full enlightenment for sentient beings. Therefore, every second of this perfect human body is so precious.

You must try to feel how this perfect human rebirth is most precious…

You must try to feel how this perfect human rebirth is most precious. After that, think:

Therefore, I must not waste even a second of this life!

Wasting even a second of this life by not practicing Dharma is a greater loss than wasting all those other precious things.

I must make it meaningful by practicing Dharma.

What does it mean to practice Dharma? Normally I explain it this way: One meaning is practicing the three principal aspects of the path to enlightenment, the heart of all Buddha’s teachings—renunciation, bodhicitta and right view—as a foundation. Then, on the basis of that, the generation stage of tantra, abandoning impure appearance and impure thought, and the completion stage, to whatever degree you can.

Another explanation of practicing Dharma is living in vows, the three levels of vows—pratimoksha, bodhisattva and tantric. Living in the pratimoksha vows doesn’t mean everyone has to become a monk or nun. If you are lay, it means living in the lay vows.

“This precious ant is teaching us to have a big heart taking responsibility [for] liberating [and] enlightening sentient beings no matter how poor you are or tiny you are.” (Annotation by Lama Zopa Rinpoche)

Generating Bodhicitta

Image of the Buddha at Rajghir, Vulture’s Peak, where the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras were revealed. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)
Image of the Buddha at Rajghir, Vulture’s Peak, where the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras were revealed. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)

Then think:

Since I am going to die today, what should I do?

The answer is “bodhicitta.”

I must practice bodhicitta.

Bodhicitta is the very essence of Dharma and the best way to make this life meaningful. By praying never to separate from bodhicitta during birth, the intermediate state and death your practice becomes a part of the five powers to be practiced near the time of death and also makes a connection with the advice for integrating the whole lifetime into the five powers.

Now reflect on the shortcomings of cherishing the self, which opens the door to every suffering and obstacle, and on the benefits of cherishing others, which brings all the happiness up to enlightenment to you and to numberless other sentient beings, as well as every quality.

Remember that if you have a bodhicitta motivation, the good heart benefiting other sentient beings, you can actualize all the realizations of the Mahayana path, the five paths and ten grounds. You can become a bodhisattva and collect skies of merit in every second with every single action of your body, speech and mind. You can purify all the heavy negative karmas collected in this life and past lives and achieve enlightenment for sentient beings. Then you can do perfect work without the slightest mistake for sentient beings, liberating every one of them from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bringing them to enlightenment.

“Bodhicitta is the very essence of Dharma and the best way to make this life meaningful.”

If, on the other hand, you follow the self-cherishing thought, all these attainments are impossible. Self-cherishing interferes with your actions becoming the cause of enlightenment, liberation from samsara or even the happiness of future lives and creates many obstacles to even achieving the happiness of this life. It makes things so difficult. All obstacles come from the self-cherishing thought.

TAKING AWAY THE SUFFERING OF OTHERS

Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Land of Medicine Buddha, California, 2014. (Photo Chris Majors)
Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Land of Medicine Buddha, California, 2014. (Photo Chris Majors)

Now on the basis of exchanging self for others, which means letting go of the I and cherishing others as yourself, do the practice of taking and giving (tong-len). While you are meditating on taking and giving, you can chant the mantra OM MANI PADME HUM.

Start the practice of taking by generating compassion for the numberless sentient beings suffering under the control of delusion and karma. Then take on their sufferings and the causes of those sufferings, delusion and karma, along with even the subtle defilements.

For example, when you are taking on all the sufferings of the hell realms, there are: the suffering of the hell environment—e.g. the whole ground filled with swords or completely on fire, the burning red-hot iron houses, huge cauldrons and extremely hot molten hard-iron; the actual sufferings; and the cause of those sufferings, delusion and karma, along with even the subtle defilements.

Take all of this into your heart and give it to the self-cherishing thought, like putting a bomb on top of your enemy and completely destroying it. Meditate a little that the truly existent I, the real I that the selfish mind cherishes but which is not actually there, becomes totally non-existent even in name.

Then take on the sufferings of the numberless hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, asuras and intermediate state beings. The taking can be done in an elaborate, medium or short way by taking all the sufferings together; it just depends on time.

“Each time you do the practice of taking and giving you become closer to enlightenment.”

You can also take on obstacles. If your gurus have taken the aspect of having sickness, you can take on any obstacles to their actions to benefit others according to the karmic view of sentient beings. When it says in the teachings that there is nothing to be taken from the gurus, it means that they do not have obstacles and sickness the way that ordinary sentient beings do, but there is the karmic view of sentient beings that sees them as having obstacles, sickness and so on and this impure karmic appearance is what is to be taken. After that, you can take on all the obstacles to the spreading of the teachings of the Buddha because it is from these teachings that sentient beings receive all their happiness up to enlightenment. Finally, you can expand your meditation to take on the obstacles to the benefactors who serve the Dharma and the Sangha.

GIVING EVERY HAPPINESS TO OTHERS

Lama Zopa Rinpoche respectfully offers to a beggar on the way up to Vulture’s Peak, Rajghir, March 2014. (Photo Andy Melnic)
Lama Zopa Rinpoche respectfully offers to a beggar on the way up to Vulture’s Peak, Rajghir, March 2014. (Photo Andy Melnic)

When you are doing the practice of giving, first generate loving kindness and then give to each hell being, hungry ghost, animal, human, sura, asura and intermediate state being, either one by one or all together. Give all your past, present and future merits; the results of these merits, all the temporary and ultimate happiness up to enlightenment; and all your material possessions, including all the money you have in the bank, your car, purse, family and friends.

Think that by receiving these things, the numberless sentient beings gain a perfect human body and meet the Dharma and a virtuous friend. They have perfect enjoyments, the best companions and their environment transforms into a pure land where there is no suffering and only beauty. It is filled with wish-granting trees that fulfill all their wishes and even the wind blowing through the trees, the animals and birds make the sound of Dharma. It is incredible.

Also think that what you give them becomes the realizations of the complete path to enlightenment in all their hearts, which liberates them from all the oceans of samsaric suffering along with its causes, delusion and karma, including the subtle defilements. By this, they all achieve the unimaginable qualities of a buddha and become the deity you are practicing.

Giving can also be done in an elaborate, medium, short or very short way according to time. Each time you do the practice of taking and giving you create unimaginable merits and become closer to enlightenment, which means closer to liberating numberless sentient beings.

Giving with loving-kindness…

Concluding Prayers

Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Kopan, 2015. (Photo Bill Kane)
Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Kopan, 2015. (Photo Bill Kane)

After that, think:

This is just visualization. In reality sentient beings are still suffering. I must liberate them from the oceans of samsaric suffering along with its causes, karma and defilements, and bring them to enlightenment by myself alone. Therefore, I must achieve enlightenment. Therefore, I am going to engage in virtuous activities.

“Virtuous activities” refers to whatever virtuous practices you are going to do, such as reciting sadhanas, meditation, preliminary practices or meditating on the lam-rim. It is also very good to dedicate all the ordinary activities of eating, walking, sitting, sleeping and working that you are going to engage in by thinking:

May all my activities of body, speech and mind become the cause to achieve enlightenment and to enlighten all sentient beings.

And you can pray:

From now on, may I be like Lama Tsongkhapa, by having the same qualities, and may I be able to offer limitless skies of benefit to sentient beings and to the teachings of the Buddha.

It is very good to pray like that at the end.

This is what to think first thing in the morning when you wake up. This is your motivation for life. It is not just for today but from now on. Here I elaborated the section on impermanence; you can condense it when you do the meditation.

There is another shorter motivation based on His Holiness Serkong Tsenshab Rinpoche’s teachings, Give Up Stretching the Legs, that uses a quotation from tantra to set the motivation when you wake up. So you have a choice sometimes to do this motivation and sometimes to do the other one.

After either of these motivations recite the Bodhisattva Attitude verses, to remind yourself how you are going to dedicate your life from today until you die.

The Motivations

Buddha passing away, Mahabodhi Stupa, Bodhgaya. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)
Buddha passing away, Mahabodhi Stupa, Bodhgaya. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)

Click below to listen to long or short guided meditations from “Cutting the Concept of Permanence.”

For a written copy of the meditations, please see Chapter 8 in your copy of the Bodhisattva Attitude or you can read online here.

Cutting the Concept of Permanence: The long motivation
Cutting the Concept of Permanence: The short motivation

Watch the Entire Teaching

2009 Light of the Path: Session 2 (evening)

Learn More About These Teachings

Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Kopan 2015. (Photo Bill Kane)
Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Kopan 2015. (Photo Bill Kane)

“In the West, millions of people suffer from depression, but if you dedicate your life in the morning to numberless sentient beings, you will have unbelievable joy and happiness the whole day.”

Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Why is a bodhicitta motivation so important? What is the bodhisattva’s attitude? How can we keep our minds focused on bodhicitta throughout the day? Find out more about these subjects, learn the context of these teachings and read a summary presentation of each of the Bodhisattva Attitude sections here.

Additional Resources for Study

Here are additional resources that we hope can help you deepen your study of these precious teachings…

BODHISATTVA ATTITUDE

Read the complete Bodhisattva Attitude online.

FPMT Lineage Series

FPMT Lineage is a series of books of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s teachings on the graduated path to enlightenment (lam-rim) drawn from his four decades of discourses on the topic based on his own textbook, The Wish-fulfilling Golden Sun, and several traditional lam-rim texts and in general arranged according to the outline of Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand. This series will be the most extensive contemporary lam-rim commentary available and comprises the essence of the FPMT’s education program. The Perfect Human Rebirth and How to Practice Dharma are the first titles in this series.

THE PERFECT HUMAN REBIRTH

We have received not only a human rebirth but a perfect human rebirth, which gives us every opportunity to practice Dharma to the fullest possible extent. In The Perfect Human Rebirth, Rinpoche explains in the greatest possible detail just how precious this opportunity is and why we should not waste a moment of it.

HOW TO PRACTICE DHARMA

How to Practice Dharma deals with the eight worldly dharmas, essentially, how craving desire and attachment cause us to create problems and suffering and how to abandon these negative minds in order to find perfect peace and happiness.  

HOW TO HELP YOUR LOVED ONES ENJOY DEATH AND GO HAPPILY TO THEIR NEXT REBIRTH

In this excellent handbook – now available as a free download – Lama Zopa Rinpoche gives a huge amount of advice about how to help our loved ones before, during, and after death.

THE DOOR TO SATISFACTION

In The Door to Satisfaction Lama Zopa Rinpoche reveals a text he discovered in a cave in the Himalayas that captures the essential point of Buddhist training. Rinpoche says, “Only when I read this text did I come to know what the practice of Dharma really means.”

FPMT Discovering Buddhism

Discovering Buddhism is a 14 module correspondence course developed by FPMT with module 5 exploring the process of death and rebirth and its impact on how we live our lives.

FPMT Living in the Path Study Modules

Living in the Path is ideal for anyone who wishes to deepen their personal practice and develop the realizations of the path to enlightenment by relying on Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s heart advice and teachings. However, as the teachings often assume familiarity with the lam-rim (the stages of the path), participants are recommended to have previously received teachings in this Tibetan Buddhist tradition. You can learn more about Cutting the Concept of Permanence as presented in Living in the Path here.

About the Heart Advice Series

“What is better than bodhicitta in the life. I am filled up with bliss. Even the hairs.” (Illustration by Lama Zopa Rinpoche)
“What is better than bodhicitta in the life. I am filled up with bliss. Even the hairs.” (Illustration by Lama Zopa Rinpoche)

The goal of the LYWA Heart Advice Series is to preserve and make available Rinpoche’s unique style and lineage of teachings and practices. Heart Advice is a series of core teachings — the “heart advice” — taken from the experiential instructions of Lama Zopa Rinpoche. You can read more about the goals of the Heart Advice Series here.

The main resources for the Heart Advice titles are Rinpoche’s major retreats, commentaries and transmissions given since 2008, although other Archive materials supplement these. Bodhisattva Attitude: How to Dedicate Your Life to Others is the first title in this series.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche (Photo Bill Kane)
Lama Zopa Rinpoche (Photo Bill Kane)

The Heart Advice Series is dedicated to the long life and perfect health of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, to his continuous teaching activity and to the fulfillment of all his holy wishes.

LYWA Multimedia

LYWA is pleased to bring you this multimedia title based upon Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s Bodhisattva Attitude and edited by Ven Sarah Thresher and Megan Evart with technical assistance by Roy Harvey. We are also very grateful to our friends at FPMT for generously sharing their Light of the Path resources. It is our hope that this multimedia presentation will help to immerse you in these precious teachings of Rinpoche and will enhance your meditation and practice. By weaving FPMT and Archive resources together in this way we offer you the means to deepen your experience of the teachings – almost as if you had attended the teachings in person.

Cutting the Concept of Permanence is the second in this series which began with Everything Depends on Your Attitude and includes Give up Stretching the Legs, Four Wrong Concepts, Bodhisattva Attitude, Bodhicitta Mindfulness and Transforming a Suffering Life into Happiness.  These titles add to our growing collection of multimedia offerings including Lama Yeshe’s Freedom – Courage – Realization and Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s The Merely Imputed I. Explore the complete collection of all LYWA multimedia titles here.

We welcome your questions, comments and suggestions!

Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive

These multimedia titles are made possible by the kind supporters of the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive who, like you, appreciate how LYWA makes the teachings of Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche freely available in myriad formats, including on the Archive website for researching, listening, reading, downloading and ordering, shared daily with our social media communities and distributed worldwide as audio books, ebooks and free books. Please join us in sharing the Dharma with everyone everywhere for the happiness and benefit of all beings. Learn how by visiting us at LamaYeshe.com. Thank you so much and please enjoy this multimedia title.

Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive

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