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By living in the vow you not only take responsibility for your ultimate happiness, liberation, enlightenment. By living in the vow you also gain so much day-to-day happiness and inner peace of mind.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche

On Morality—A Talk to the Monks

by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

The very first thing, the foundation, is always to put effort toward keeping the tradition of one’s life as a monk and to maintain that direction. By persevering, bearing all the hardships, this becomes patience. One practices patience not only with those who give harm, with enemies and so on. Patience is also practiced by voluntarily bearing hardships to practice the Dharma.

In order to be able to practice morality, even when faced with danger, one should put effort toward learning karma. This is mentioned in the sojong text, in the sutra revealing the perfect, pure morality. To separate, to take one’s life is easy. It is just the ending of one life – that’s all. To degenerate one’s vows means that for hundreds of thousands of lifetimes, one won’t achieve the higher rebirth that one wants to achieve. Having fallen down in morality one will experience the ripening result of rebirth in the lower realms for an incredibly long time, for so many lifetimes, for eons. So to die is simple, but to degenerate one’s vows means to experience these suffering results for an unimaginable length of time. An example will depend on how heavy the degenerating vow is, but one may experience such sufferings for, say, 100,000 lifetimes. So in daily life we must keep in our heart that instruction from Buddha. If you die at this very minute, of course, that is very serious; but if you compare death with degenerated vows, then in comparison, to die is nothing.

To degenerate one’s vows brings great harm to oneself and other sentient beings. It destroys one’s happiness in future lives; one’s future rebirths will be only suffering. Instead of liberation or enlightenment, there is only hell. Compared with the sufferings of the lower realms, the hell realms, death is nothing. Nothing compares with the harm of degenerated vows. Always maintain your direction, if not toward enlightenment, at least toward liberation for oneself. This is not enlightenment for other sentient beings . that’s true. Of course, enlightenment should be our main aim, but if we can’t aim for enlightenment, then we should at least aim for liberation, ultimate happiness for oneself. By bearing all the hardships to live well in one’s vows, one can achieve total cessation, freedom forever from the oceans of sufferings of human beings, hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, gods, and asuras. You can achieve this. You can be free forever from relationship problems, from cancer, from all sickness. Illness is just one atom of samsaric suffering. Beyond illness, there are all the other sufferings. You can become free from all these forever. That’s what you get. We must recognize every day that no matter how hard it is, by bearing the hardships of taking and keeping our vows, this is what we gain. Then of course there is ultimate enlightenment. You’ll be able to free numberless sentient beings from the oceans of suffering and bring them to enlightenment. That is how the goal is unbelievable. If you choose samsaric pleasure, then you can forget about gaining liberation or enlightenment; you give up all these. That is how it works. That’s very bad business! First, think about enlightenment. Then think that you give up enlightenment and choose hell. You have this incredible opportunity, to be on the right track, to be moving in the right direction. When you give up practicing the vows, when you give up ordination, when you choose samsaric joy over liberation, then you choose hell instead of enlightenment,. It’s like buying ka-ka and paying with gold. Think of the visualization! This is what happens in our practice when our mind is attracted to new samsaric sense pleasures, instead of first having the wish to achieve liberation, or especially enlightenment. What you are choosing is nothing, and what you are giving up, losing, is unbelievable – skies of merit, the ability to achieve liberation from samsara and then to liberate numberless sentient beings from suffering and its causes, to give them all of these things. If you don’t live in the vow, you cannot achieve any of this.

Living in the vow is the foundation for protecting karma and for realization. If you are not living in the vow, you cannot achieve the realization part. Besides enlightenment, you are throwing away skies of benefit that you can offer to sentient beings to bring them to enlightenment. You can even achieve liberation for yourself. So you should think really well, deep from within your heart about your future life, about gain and loss. I think that achieving liberation should always be one’s goal. Or even more, one should especially wish to achieve full enlightenment in order to liberate sentient beings from suffering and bring them to enlightenment. That’s your ultimate goal. If somebody should ask, “What’s your goal in life?” you can say, “My goal in life is to liberate sentient beings from all of samsara and bring them to enlightenment. That’s my goal.” You can answer immediately. Always have that goal in your heart. But if your life’s goal, what you have in your heart, becomes samsaric pleasure, then your life collapses. Everything falls apart. You become unable to keep the vows, then you can’t study or concentrate and so on. Your mind gets stuck on that samsaric pleasure, which is only suffering.

The aim in your life may become somebody’s physical body, a sentient being’s body; you may become attached to that. But that body to which you become attached is totally in the nature of suffering. Many atoms are gathered at the skin. But once we go beyond the skin, then enlightenment! It is terrifying, and there is nothing to be attached to. Even if you look at skin under a magnifying glass, it is like mountains, with many bumps and lumps. What you see under the magnifying glass is very different from what you see without it. This shows that there is some hallucination. Even the shape of the skin, to which we are attached, is merely your mind’s view. You are attached to your own view, which is not really there. Once your mind merely labels that as pleasurable, then you have all these hallucinations, so many layers of hallucinations.

You have all the wrong views mentioned according to the four different schools. For the Prasangika school these are the object of refutation. The body is merely imputed by mind, and on that you have many layers of hallucination. The body only appears to be attractive, but it is merely imputed in that way by one’s mind, so it appears like that. When the body appears as attractive, it doesn’t appear to be merely labeled by mind; instead, it appears to be really attractive. Also, it appears permanent although it is impermanent; it appears as truly existent although it is not. These appearances exist as hallucinations. Yet these hallucinations don’t exist. In addition, the body appears to be self-sufficient without depending on the aggregates, the base on which we label. That true, self-sufficient existence is not there; it does not exist at all. The body appears as if it does not depend on the base, as if it is totally existing from its own side.

According to the Mind Only School, it appears as if it exists without depending on the imprint left on the mind. Without even that, without depending on the imprint left on the mental continuum, then that body would totally exist from its own side, which is not the case. But this body, which appears as existing independently, isn’t there at all.

According to the Svatantrika school, this body appears to exist truly from its own side without depending on the appearance being labeled by the undefective mind. So what seems to be over there is totally non-existent; it is not there. We experience this extremely subtle hallucination such that even though it’s merely labeled by mind, it appears as if it is not. Then on top of this hallucination, attachment arises and we exaggerate. This makes everything so painful. Thus, the way that attachment thinks is not true. And it gets blown up based on all those other hallucinations. You see, there’s no basis at all for these wrong views.

For example, there’s a line like this [A]. When we were children, during our childhood, we did not know that this is a letter, A. Since we didn’t know, our mind didn’t label A, and it didn’t appear to us as a letter A. At the beginning we saw it as just a line like this. Then one day somebody introduced you to the letter A, and you believed what that person told you. By following that, your mind made up the label “A” and you agreed with that. Only then did you see the letter A. To be able to see that this is an A, all this evolution, all these steps take place earlier. When you see this A, what you see is your view. It is very clear: The A exists by depending on this line. In order for you to see this as an A, your mind must impute and label on that base. Your label depended on somebody introducing it to you. Now you can see that the appearance of A is your view. It is exactly the same with regard to the body. What you are attached to is not there; it is clearly a projection, a view, that comes from your own mind. And if you look through, if you check beyond the skin, there’s nothing there. If you think that even a thought is something worth being attached to, that too is a wrong view, a wrong projection. Now you can understand. There are all these wrong views, wrong projections, concerning your merely imputed body. First comes the powerful hallucination, then the wrong view, then the attachment that exaggerates. You can see it is all totally false, empty.

By living in the vow you not only take responsibility for your ultimate happiness, liberation, enlightenment. By living in the vow you also gain so much day-to-day happiness and inner peace of mind. Living in the vow means living a life of detachment and renunciation. You can see how there can be great happiness in your life, great inner peace in your heart. So living in the vow is to live in detachment and renunciation from the painful mind and emotional thoughts. This is the best preparation for death. By bearing hardships every day to keep the vow, this is the best preparation for death since you will die with a completely contented and peaceful mind and without any fear or worry. You will be a good and inspiring example for other Sangha, for other sentient beings in the world.

So you see, by looking after yourself, you are guiding yourself. When you are not practicing Dharma and not living in the vow, then you are not taking care of yourself. When you create non-virtue, negative karma, then you are not protecting, not looking after yourself. In fact, you are abusing yourself. Because you don’t like the result, suffering, you should at least take responsibility for your own happiness, your own peaceful death without fear or worry, for your good rebirth and the happiness of future lives. You should take responsibility for your own liberation from samsara. All these concern your own happiness. But there’s an even bigger responsibility – to free numberless sentient beings from suffering and bring them to enlightenment. So there is taking the responsibility to make it happen quickly.

One easy and quick way to realization is by living in the bodhisattva vow, which depends on the pratimoksha vows. The more purely that you live the pratimoksha vows, the better and more purely you are able to keep the bodhisattva and tantric vows. When you recite the vows in the six-session [guru] yoga, you can see that the higher vows, even the tantric vows, are based on the pratimoksha vows. You can see that those root and branch vows are based on the five lay precepts, the ten non-virtues. It all comes from there.

Also, by living in the vows or precepts, however many precepts you have taken, numberless sentient beings in this world aren’t harmed by you. They receive that much less harm from you. Instead, there is peace and happiness. The greater the number of precepts you are observing, they receive that much less harm from you and that much more peace and happiness. Every day you should think: This is my best contribution for peace and happiness for all sentient beings and for this world in particular. This is what I can offer to this world from my side. Not giving harm, not creating negative karma, is my best, most practical contribution to world peace. We have talked about taking responsibility for our own happiness. But here I am talking about taking responsibility for other sentient beings’ happiness, for world peace in particular. Everyone talks about it, in meetings, so now this is the most practical thing that we can do. What we can do immediately is to live in these vows. We should remember this every day, especially in the mornings when we motivate. When we generate our motivation, we should remember what we are contributing to the world. I think it is good; it is something that you can enjoy throughout the day because you are offering this incredible gift to sentient beings, to the world. The best gift, what you can do right now for any insect that you see on the ground, for any person that you see, for all sentient beings, is to make this contribution to world peace.

From a talk by Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Nalanda Monastery, March 2001. . Reprinted with permission from Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive. For further information, please visit

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