Classic and Contemporary Buddhist Works

The Door to Satisfaction - Preface

The Heart Advice of a Tibetan Buddhist Master

Editors’ Preface

In February 1990 more than a hundred students of Buddhism from all over the world gathered in a large multicolored tent on the grounds of Root Institute, a Buddhist center in the ancient Indian town of Bodhgaya, where two and a half thousand years ago the Buddha himself achieved enlightenment.

The event was a series of teachings given as part of the Third Enlightened Experience Celebration, a periodic festival of Buddhist teachings and initiations organized by the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition.

From February 16 to 25, Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, the Spiritual Director of the FPMT, gave “The Kadampa Teachings,” a series of ten discourses based on the fifteenth-century text of the Tibetan yogi Lodrö Gyaltsen, Opening the Door of Dharma.

Lama Zopa startled his audience by declaring that it was only after reading this text in his late twenties that he understood the real meaning of practicing Dharma. This was startling because everyone present knew from their years of experience as Rinpoche’s students, or from his reputation, that in fact every moment of his life had been devoted to Dharma, to spiritual practice; that he was a perfect example of a Dharma practitioner. Clearly, there was something meaningful to be listened to here.

As Rinpoche himself recounts in the Prologue to this book, he was born in 1946 in the Solu Khumbu region of Nepal, near Mount Everest. According to his mother, from the time he could speak, he would often declare, “I am the Lawudo Lama.” This lama, Kunsang Yeshe, who had died in 1945, was famous in the area as a highly realized ascetic practitioner. For the last twenty years of his life he had lived and meditated in a nearby cave at Lawudo and had been the spiritual mentor of the local people. It was said that his energy to serve others was inexhaustible, and that, like all great yogis, he had passed beyond the need for sleep.

Indeed, the young boy was recognized as the reincarnation. The Lawudo Lama’s main disciple, Ngawang Chöpel, had, in the traditional manner, consulted various high lamas in Tibet, who had all agreed on the finding. In addition, Rinpoche correctly identified articles belonging to the Lawudo Lama.

In the Prologue Rinpoche tells us about his early life, first in Nepal, at Thami monastery, and later in Rolwaling, and eventually in Tibet, at the monastery of Domo Geshe Rinpoche in Pagri. The Lawudo Lama had been a Nyingma yogi, a layman, but it was at Domo Geshe’s monastery that Lama Zopa Rinpoche first met the Gelug teachings of Tibetan Buddhism and where he became a monk. The Dharma Protector associated with the monastery also confirmed that Rinpoche was a reincarnate lama and offered advice concerning his care.

After three years in Pagri, Lama Zopa decided to go to Sera Monastery, one of the great Gelug monastic universities near Lhasa, to continue his studies. However, the Dharma Protector fortuitously advised Rinpoche not to go, but instead to do a meditation retreat. It was at this time, in 1959, when Rinpoche was thirteen, that the Chinese communists suppressed the Tibetan uprising in Lhasa against their continued presence in Tibet and took over the government of the country.

As Rinpoche explains, when the arrival of the Chinese at Pagri was imminent, he escaped through Bhutan to India, to Buxa Duar in West Bengal. Here he remained for eight years, continuing his studies with hundreds of other refugee lamas, monks, and nuns in what had been a concentration camp at the time of the British.

It was here that Rinpoche came under the care of a Sera Monastery monk, Lama Thubten Yeshe, with whom he would remain as his heart disciple until 1984, when Lama Yeshe passed away. “Lama Yeshe was more than a father, more than a mother,” Rinpoche says. “Like a mother hen feeding her chick from her own mouth, Lama took care of me.”

During the following twenty years, these two lamas would have an immense impact on the Western world, attracting thousands of students through the power of their teachings and the tireless compassion of their extensive activities to benefit others.

They met their first Western student in Darjeeling in 1965, while Rinpoche was recuperating from tuberculosis. An American citizen, Zina Rachevsky was the daughter of a Romanov prince who had escaped to France during the Russian Revolution. She began receiving teachings from Lama Yeshe, with Rinpoche translating for her in his newly learned English. Both lamas would later teach exclusively in English to their Western students.

In 1968, with Zina now ordained as a nun, they moved together to Nepal. It was here that the lamas’ powerful connection with Westerners was to develop in earnest. At first they lived in Baudhanath just outside Kathmandu, the site of an ancient Buddhist stupa. From their house, according to Rinpoche, “every day Lama would look out through the window at a particular hill” in the distance, to the north across the terraced fields of the valley. “He seemed very attracted to it, and one day we went out to check that hill. It was the Kopan hill.”

Kopan had been the home of the astrologer to the King of Nepal, and the lamas moved there in 1969. The following year, Rinpoche accepted the request of his relatives to return to Solu Khumbu, and during his visit there, Lawudo Cave and all the belongings of the Lawudo Lama were returned to him by the previous lama’s son. It was also during this visit that Rinpoche fulfilled a promise made by the Lawudo Lama to start a monastic school for the young boys of the region. Rinpoche called it Mount Everest Centre.

In 1971, Rinpoche gave his first public teachings, at Kopan, to a group of twelve Westerners—an intensive introduction to Buddhist philosophy and meditation. This was the first of what has become an annual event that attracts hundreds of participants from around the world.

Westerners, tired of their materialism and hungry for something to activate their inner aspirations, were deeply moved by the clear-sighted, practical, and compassionate methods of Mahayana Buddhism. These were not empty words but a living tradition of teachings and meditation practices that stretched back in an unbroken line of master and disciple to the Buddha himself. And the methods clearly worked: this was evident from being with the lamas, from hearing their teachings, listening to their personal advice, observing them with others. They were literally full of the human qualities of patience, kindness, humor, wisdom, and contentment.

The lamas accepted the invitations of their growing number of students and visited the West for the first time in 1974. The first stop on their teaching tour of the United States, Australia, and New Zealand was New York. “But it wasn’t a big shock,” relates Rinpoche, “because I was familiar with it through studying English from Time magazines and through meeting so many Westerners, young and old, and hearing their life experiences.”

After the lamas’ visits, students in various countries began to open up centers for Dharma teachings and meditation, and in 1975 Lama Yeshe named this fledgling network the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT). Kopan was the wellspring of this activity. Each year Rinpoche would give what had become known as the “November Course.” And each year the lamas would travel from Kopan to an ever-growing number of places in response to more and more invitations to teach.

By now Mount Everest Centre had moved down from the mountains to Kopan in the Kathmandu valley, and this facility for the monastic education of Sherpas, Manangpas, Tsumpas, and others from Nepal, as well as Tibetans, continued to expand.

In 1973, while in meditation retreat in the mountains of Nepal, Zina Rachevsky died as a result of an illness. According to Rinpoche, there were many signs at her death to indicate that she had achieved spiritual realizations.

The following year, during a visit to Lawudo Cave, Rinpoche discovered the text that is the basis of this book, the one that convinced him that only after reading it did he find out “how to practice Dharma.”

So, what is it about this text that moved this great spiritual practitioner to say that? As Rinpoche explains, Opening the Door of Dharma “is the first thing to practice if you want to practice Dharma.”

The essential point, which Rinpoche states right at the beginning and clarifies throughout the book, is that whether or not something is a spiritual practice is not determined by the type of activity, such as meditating or praying or reciting scriptures; it is determined by the reason, the motivation, for doing it. He points out that a so-called spiritual activity is not a Dharma activity—in other words, does not bring a positive result—if it is motivated by desire, by attachment to some mundane result here and now. And conversely, even a so-called worldly activity is a Dharma activity if it is done with a more expansive, long-term motivation.

As far as Mahayana Buddhism is concerned, the most expansive motivation for doing anything is the wish to achieve enlightenment so that one can lead others to this state of peerless wisdom and compassion. This approach is unique to the Mahayana, the path of the bodhisattvas—those who possess effortless bodhichitta, the mind of enlightenment, in other words, a spontaneous and continuous Mahayana motivation. Various methods for achieving bodhichitta are precisely outlined in the graduated path to enlightenment (in Tibetan, lam-rim), a step-by-step presentation of Buddha’s teachings first taught in Tibet by the great Lama Atisha in the eleventh century.

Another powerful approach to developing bodhichitta is the set of teachings and meditations known as thought transformation or mind training (in Tibetan, lo-jong). The special emphasis here is on the practice of exchanging oneself for others, in other words, cherishing others instead of cherishing oneself. In general, one learns to use every moment of life, whether happy or unhappy, to destroy self-cherishing, the greatest obstacle to bodhichitta.

Pabongka Rinpoche explains in Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand:

[Thought transformation] is able to dispel the darkness of self-cherishing, just as even a fraction of the rays of the sun can dispel darkness. It can dispel the disease of self-cherishing just as even a part of the medicine tree can dispel illness. In these times when the five types of degeneration are commonplace and other Dharma may not be effective, this mind training will help you, and you will not be bothered by unfortunate circumstances. This Dharma has so many greatnesses. (pp. 588–89)

These teachings derive from the eighth-century Indian Mahayana master Shantideva, who exhorted yogis to practice them in secret, because, as Pabongka Rinpoche says, they would not be “to the liking of an unfit vessel.”

It was Lama Atisha who also brought these teachings to Tibet, and passed them on, in secret, to his heart disciple Dromtönpa. Thus began the lineage of the great Kadampas, yogis famous for their practice of thought transformation. And these practices remain today the essential meditations of all Mahayana yogis.

Opening the Door of Dharma is in the tradition of these Kadampas. It emphasizes mainly the shortcomings of desire, and impermanence and death. These are “the first things to practice if you want to practice Dharma,” because by recognizing that following desire is in fact the cause of suffering, not the cause of pleasure, and by meditating on death, one is able to begin to practice Dharma, and eventually to exchange oneself for others, to develop bodhichitta.

Here in The Door to Satisfaction, Lama Zopa Rinpoche shows, with clear and powerful reasoning, that by practicing these methods and by recognizing that there is no self to cherish, we can discover our deepest level of satisfaction and happiness, enlightenment, and perfectly lead others to this enlightened state.

This is Lama Zopa’s heart advice and has been the essence of his teachings since he gave his first meditation course in 1971. Rinpoche is a modern-day Kadampa; he is an impeccable example of the teachings he gives and constantly cherishes others more than himself.

Since his beloved Lama Yeshe passed away in 1984, Lama Zopa has been the sole spiritual director of the FPMT, which has grown to include, in seventeen countries, more than seventy centers for meditation, retreat, and healing, as well as monasteries, publishing houses, and other activities.

Kopan thrives. The Mount Everest Centre is now home to more than two hundred and fifty monks and nuns, who study Buddhist philosophy in the traditional monastic way.

Rinpoche travels constantly between the various parts of his mandala, teaching and guiding his thousands of disciples. Special among those under Rinpoche’s care is Lama Tenzin Ösel Rinpoche, a Spanish child born in 1985 who has been formally acknowledged by His Holiness the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of Lama Thubten Yeshe. It is now Lama Zopa’s turn to be “more than a father, more than a mother.” Taking care of every moment of this young lama’s upbringing and education, Lama Zopa is preparing him to carry on the immeasurable Dharma activities that he started as Lama Yeshe.

For their contributions to this book, we sincerely thank Merry Colony, Alfred Leyens, Connie Miller, Paula Chichester, and Roger Munro. May everyone who reads The Door to Satisfaction realize as quickly as possible their innate potential for the highest happiness.