One hundred and eight people completed the fourth Kopan course—and for once, everyone paid. 108 is an auspicious number relating to the 108 volumes of the Kangyur, the collection of the words of the Buddha. There is a popular Tibetan Buddhist prayer entitled One Hundred and Eight Verses in Praise of Great Compassion and there are also commonly 108 beads on a Buddhist mala.
Near the end of the course Lama Yeshe gave a talk on refuge and precepts, which left everybody weak with laughter and filled with enthusiasm for living a different kind of life. As usual, a number of those in attendance opted not to take the precept to abstain from taking intoxicants. Hash was still just too much fun for some.
From Lama Yeshe’s talk on the lay precepts from the fourth course:
There are some people here who want to take the five precepts. Ordination is beneficial for oneself and for sentient beings. The lamas’ experience is that before taking and giving these precepts we should have some understanding of what they are and why we take them. It is not just a samsaric custom.
We all want perfect peace, happiness, everlasting satisfaction and liberation. Since that’s our goal, we should head in that direction. Otherwise we’re just hypocrites—we say we want, we want, but act completely opposite to our desire. A simple example: In the West, people with severe psychological problems are put into mental hospitals, which is pretty radical treatment. What they need is soft, peaceful treatment. Putting someone in jail is wrathful treatment, neither soft nor peaceful. Lama’s rule is that mental hospitals are okay, but they should be peaceful and the patients should be treated with understanding. They should come to understand themselves slowly, slowly, not by force.
By constraining ourselves with ordination we can gradually develop our mind. We are not ready for immediate development by forced meditation and so forth. We need to create peaceful conditions for ourselves so that our mind will develop in a certain way and gradually become more stable, not up and down. From there it can be liberated without having to come down into the samsaric world.
So ordination is the method of achieving this. Lord Buddha never said we have to follow any rule without knowing its purpose. He said that if you keep this kind of precept it will give you this kind of mental feeling, safety from certain problems. The five precepts are not killing, not lying, not stealing, not becoming intoxicated and not engaging in sexual misconduct. Lord Buddha never said, “Don’t do these five things.” Rather he explained what kind of mind, what kind of confused mental attitude, engages in killing and so forth; what kind of selfish motivation causes us to engage in such actions.
Before taking the five precepts our mind is dissatisfied, kind of berserk. Lord Buddha said this confused mental attitude brings conflict. If we’re in control of our mind, actions such as killing, lying and so forth, never bring the reaction of conflict in our mind. He never said, “Stop doing that forever.” He just said that avoiding it is useful for your mind. When we reach enlightenment we don’t need ordination rules. For example, small children are told not to touch electricity—their mothers make a kind of rule against it—but older children don’t need such rules; they already know. It’s the same thing for the higher consciousness, the liberated, stable consciousness. It doesn’t need that rule, it is already free from that condition. “If you have an uncontrolled, deluded motivation, do not do such actions.” That’s all Lord Buddha said.
Ordination is helpful not just because a lama gives it to us but because we take it ourselves. If we have great determination, if we understand the nature of the samsaric mind and the way the wrong-concept mind reacts and take the ordination with great psychic mental determination—not just ignorantly saying, “I want this,” but having perfect determination through understanding—then that mental power can lead us in a positive direction for a long time. Samsara comes from the power of the mind, as does the result of liberation. The whole thing is mental attitude; the whole thing is really simple.
Lord Buddha also asked, “What do we need to be qualified to take ordination?” And gave the answer, “Renunciation of samsara.” It’s nothing external, such as robes and so forth. However, we all have a different idea of what renunciation is. My connotation is that renunciation is on a mental level. It means not to give something with mental attachment, not to give an object with the mind still in it, such as when we think, “I wish I hadn’t given that.” This way of thinking only gives trouble. We can renounce lunch but still eat it—renunciation is on the mental attitude.
It’s difficult but possible, it varies from person to person, but some people have very high consciousness; they have control over negativity and problems, and at the same time act in unity with phenomena. But others, when they touch electricity they get burnt. Similarly, some experience suffering when they contact the negative mind—we can call it karma, mental reaction, karmic result of action, causation, mental attitude, or movement of the mind. How can we develop our consciousness? If we always put our mind into unconscious situations, we cannot develop higher consciousness. We make it possible by putting our mind into a peaceful atmosphere through ordination. Then we can realize how our mind tricks us. “I thought I was like this but now I see I’m like that.”
Ordination is like a test. For example, perhaps we have no idea and always think, “I am perfect, pure; I don’t tell lies,” but when we put ourselves into a situation where we are always aware, we realize that our negative mind is very much involved in what we are doing. When we lie, we are trying to change another’s mental attitude. Although we don’t say the words, “I am always right,” our mental attitude says that we are. Until we can trust ourselves there is no truth at all. For example, we can have an experience, a flash, in meditation, but that doesn’t mean we have found the truth.
Also, keeping precepts is basic, fundamental to samadhi meditation because when we live in ordination our body, speech and mind are already in a positive, relaxed atmosphere. Out of this basic atmosphere we can guide our mind into the peaceful path of liberation. If somebody is agitating us all the time, it’s an impossible situation for developing control. Therefore, cut the agitated situation and create the atmosphere you want.
I’m not pushing people to take ordination; pushing people is not the Buddhist way. We don’t care if people become Buddhists or not. But those who want to should understand why and how. If you don’t want to take precepts then it’s better that you don’t.