Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Buddha Amitabha Pure Land, Washington State, USA, November 2003. Photo courtesy of fpmt.org.
“Do we have to believe in reincarnation to attain enlightenment?” a student asked Lama Zopa Rinpoche during the Fifth Kopan Meditation Course, November 1973.
“Forget about belief,” Rinpoche responded. “It’s impossible to attain enlightenment without realizing the fact of reincarnation, or rebirth.
“In the East, in the West, black, white, yellow, in whatever kind of body we find ourselves, most of us were born without choice, without freedom. There’s a reason that we have to experience rebirth without choice, a life without freedom. First of all, this lack of control of our rebirth itself is what the Buddha meant by suffering. Similarly, death without control is also suffering. In addition, the suffering of uncontrolled rebirth and death has a cause, and the cause was created before this life began. The result – uncontrolled suffering rebirth and death – and their principal cause can’t be born together any more than a mother and her child can be born together….”
Continue reading Rinpoche’s answers to other probing questions about karma and reincarnation in “Ask a Lama with Lama Zopa Rinpoche” from Mandala September-November 2003.
Ven. George Churinoff teahcing. Photo courtesy of Ven. George Churinoff.
Mandala spoke with Ven. George Churinoff in early February 2013 between his classes as a visiting instructor at Maitripa College in Portland, Oregon, U.S.
Mandala: What is the benefit of in-depth Buddhist study?
Ven. George Churinoff: All of our lamas, almost without exception, have great educations. So if you look from the outside, there must be something there, some importance.
There are three kinds of wisdom that you have to build up sequentially. The first is the wisdom of hearing – hearing the teachings, reading and studying. Next is the wisdom that arises after having heard and understood the words and contemplating their meaning, fine tuning your understanding through debate, questions and answers, and thinking deeply about these things again and again. Finally, there’s the wisdom that comes when you’ve got a clear understanding and you meditate on that and you place the mind on that single-pointedly. When we talk about the three kinds of wisdom, we would like to have the wisdom that arises from meditation. There’s this famous adage that you’ve probably heard that to try to meditate without having heard or studied is like someone trying to climb up a craggy cliff with no arms.
Sometimes when people get excited about Buddhism and meditation, they think, “I’m just going to meditate. All that study is for scholars.” But in order to meditate, you have to have something to meditate about. And hopefully what we’re going to meditate on is a correct understanding, not a blurry, or, even worse, a wrong understanding …
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From Mandala July-September 2013
“The first thing I want to say is that Buddhist tantra definitely comes from Shakyamuni Buddha,” declared FPMT founder Lama Yeshe. “Before his enlightenment, when he was a tenth-level bodhisattva, the buddhas of the ten directions stirred him from his deep meditative absorption and said, ‘You’ve attained the highest bodhisattva level, which is completely free from ego conflict, emotional problems, and anxiety, but to discover the omniscient wisdom and eternal bliss of buddhahood, you have to receive tantric initiation.’ So they initiated him and he was then able to attain enlightenment.” …
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From Mandala February-March 2008
Korwa route at Ganden Monastery, Tibet. Photo by Matt Lindén.
The new April-June issue of Mandala focused on pilgrimage and includes valuable advice from Lama Zopa Rinpoche on the practice of prostration, something one would do at a holy site. Circumambulation is another essential practice one does on pilgrimage.
In the July-September 2009 issue of Mandala, Ven. Sarah Thresher introduced readers to the practice of circumambulation, a spiritual activity that Lama Zopa Rinpoche advises as an excellent method for accumulating merit and purifying negativities. In this article, Rinpoche gives step-by-step advice on how to best circumambulate and recommends four special mantras to recite before beginning the practice. You can read the complete article as a PDF.
Ven. Lobsang Kalden
Taken from a conversation with Lama Zopa Rinpoche on the benefits of wearing one’s monastic robes in public:
“If you were sangha but you didn’t wear robes, then people would not know [that you were ordained], but with robes on there is no question. That is how the robes have such incredible benefit for the mind. It is planting the seed for enlightenment when people show respect to your wearing of the robes, or to the robes themselves: This is planting the seed of liberation, and is a way of benefiting sentient beings…”
Read the full conversation online …
From Mandala August-September 2007
Yangsi Rinpoche, Institut Varja Yogini. Photographer unknown.
“Two things are happening right now: one is that Western students have completed all the necessary training and have come out with the label of ‘qualified’ or ‘ready to teach.’ Then, there is the other side where, due to individual karmic relationships, the teacher just naturally builds up the necessary qualities, but is not trained in the traditional way. In terms of individual students, you can relate to someone as ‘this is my teacher, I see he/she as qualified,’ but as for society, at this moment, all the traditions are trying to standardize that status.
“For me, personally speaking, there are a lot of qualified Western teachers, ordained and non-ordained, but right now the West is a “crossed place”; even though some qualified teachers exist, there’s not this box where people can categorize who is qualified and who is not.”
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From Mandala December 2006 – January 2007
Photo by Bob Cayton
“It is extremely important to know how to live our daily life. We need to know what is spiritual practice and what is not spiritual, or what is Dharma and what is not Dharma. The benefit of understanding this, of having this wisdom, is unbelievable, is infinite.
“What we have to realize is that all of our activities throughout twenty-four hours – walking, sitting, sleeping, talking, doing our job – can become a cause for enlightenment, for liberation, for happiness in future lives; or for the lower realms. It all depends on our motivation.”
Read Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s complete teaching …
From Mandala March 2001
Monk creating sand mandala, San Francisco Asian Art Museum, 2009. Photo by gwashley, Flickr Creative Commons.
Many Buddhist practitioners have encountered feelings of loneliness. According to Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s Online Advice Book, Rinpoche once heard a monk comment that he felt people didn’t want to be with him and were avoiding him. Rinpoche offered this advice:
That is no problem at all. It is good, because you waste so much of your time if people are interested in meeting you. Then, no meditation, no study, nothing, just blah, blah, blah, blah. That is why Milarepa achieved enlightenment in a brief lifetime during degenerate times. Why did he go to meditate in very high mountains? That is the whole point. He did it in order not to waste his life. … Buddha said that as long as one follows desire, one will never get satisfaction. Satisfaction, here, means peace of mind, but in a broader way it also means to understand that as long as one follows desire, there is no liberation and no enlightenment.
You can read the complete advice Rinpoche offered this monk at “Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s Online Advice Book” on the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive website.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Photo by Ven. Roger Kunsang.
After the terrorist attacks in the United States in September 2001 and the beginning of war in the Middle East, Lama Zopa Rinpoche wrote an open letter to former U.S. President George W. Bush about the effectiveness of spiritual solutions for the crisis the world was facing.
“War is what ordinary people in the world regard as the solution,” Lama Zopa Rinpoche wrote. “The problem is that war, even if it is won, is like a medicine that has side effects. It may temporarily help the situation but afterwards there will be continual complications. Why? Because the people you defeat generate hatred towards you and in future generations they harm you back. In the natural law of actions, called karma in Sanskrit, the action of harming leaves an imprint on the mental continuum and that imprint is like a seed. When it ripens later, the person experiences the result of receiving harm from others.”
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From Mandala March-May 2002.
Photo by Jeff Gould
In Ultimate Healing, published by Wisdom Publications, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, spiritual director of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT) suggests the cure for not only depression, but all forms of illness and disease: unqualified love in the form of compassion for all living beings – including oneself. Written with humility and kindness, Ultimate Healing is rich in wisdom and practical help for those in pain.
“Depression can be the result of a specific situation, in which case you can apply the relevant meditation to deal with those conditions; however, depression and feelings of hopelessness can also arise for no particular reason. When you are experiencing depression, you should prepare yourself each morning by making a strong determination not to allow the situation to upset you. [This] strengthens you and gives you courage. Also make a strong determination to transform your depression into happiness. During the day, when you start to feel depressed or upset, you should immediately remember the determination you made in the morning and not let the situation overwhelm you. No matter how bad the situation seems, and even if it is commonly regarded as a serious problem, you should not allow it to make your life dark and depressed.
“After making this determination, you then mentally prepare yourself for the day by thinking of the methods you will use when you start to feel depressed or upset. There are various special techniques for fighting depression …”
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From Mandala March-May 2002