I hope you are well. We just returned from His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s wonderful teachings in Florida. His Holiness taught on Padmasambhava’s Garland of Views. If you’d like to hear these teachings, please visit Lam-rim Radio. If you’re not familiar with Lam-rim Radio, this will introduce you to it. Run by Roy Harvey, it contains a wealth of excellent teachings.
In August, Lama Zopa Rinpoche wrote a 16-page letter to a prisoner on death row, a new Buddhist who had just been told he would be executed in 3 months’ time. Rinpoche gave his advice over five days and he clearly explains many of the key concepts of Buddhism, such as reincarnation, the mind and the benefits of living in morality. He also includes many personal recollections and, for those working with prisoners, he talks in depth about the benefits of being in prison. Please visit the FPMT website for the entire teaching. In the meantime, there’s an excerpt below.
I should also let you know that one of our most popular titles, Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s Making Life Meaningful, is unfortunately out of stock. Of course, it is always available to download or read online. If you are interested in sponsoring a reprint, please let me know. A number of our supporters have sponsored reprints of our titles in the past, dedicating the edition to loved ones. For more information about sponsorship and to see a sample of a dedication page, go here.
Looking forward, we are putting the finishing touches on our Anthology, and will soon be releasing Lama Yeshe’s Introduction to Tantra and Three Principal Aspects of the Path on DVD. We’ll let you know as soon as these are available.
Finally, I would like to thank from the bottom of my heart those of you who have signed up as members of the Archive. This crucial method of support is allowing us to employ several editors, mostly part-time, to work on several of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s teachings for publication.
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Reincarnation and Remembering Past Lives
Even though this body disintegrates, it doesn’t mean that the mind stops. We have body and mind and we relate to them as self, I, which is merely imputed. Even though the body disintegrates, stops, the mind doesn’t cease; it continues. Today’s mind began at dawn time, but today’s consciousness is the continuation of yesterday’s consciousness, just before dawn. So like that, this year’s mind is the continuity of last year’s mind. Same thing: today’s mind is the continuity from the childhood mind. That is why we are able to remember what we did yesterday, the place where we went, the food that we had, the people that we met, and so forth.
Also, today’s mind will remember what we did last year as it is the same continuity, not a separate being but a continuity of the year before. The childhood person and today’s person are not separate, they are the same. You can see this by remembering what you did as a child, where you went, etc.
Like this, it’s similar with past lives: even though most people don’t remember, one’s mind is the same continuity before one was born. Your mind did not start only after the body came out of the mother’s womb or when the consciousness took place on the fertilized egg, when the association of body mind started.
Some people can remember being in the mother’s womb and coming out. I know one student who has clear memory of that. Even though most people don’t remember, there are many who can remember. Also there are so many children who can remember their past lives and explain about it very clearly. This is not only the experience of Tibetan Lamas. They are not the only people who remember their past lives; they are not the only people who have this capacity of mind to tell about their past lives. There are even people in the West and in many different countries who are born with clear memory. This shows that the person has a clear mind, less polluted and less obscured mind. And some have clarity of mind and are able to also see the future.
Through developing meditation, especially the meditation of calm abiding (which has nine stages), by cutting off the attraction and scattering thoughts and the sinking thoughts, the mind becomes more clear. Then there is no question one can develop higher powers. The great saints, arya bodhisattvas—such as the bodhisattvas who achieve the first bhumi, the exalted path of wisdom directly seeing emptiness, the ultimate nature—can remember hundreds of past lives and can also see the future. So there is no question that as they reach higher bhumis, of which there are ten on the way to full enlightenment, they discover and see thousands or millions of past and future lives and achieve the highest paths of tantra as well.
You can also achieve clairvoyance through meditating on the deity and so forth and thus become able to see far into the past and future. You can also see present things that common people cannot see, such as what’s happening in distant countries.
This shows that there is a past life; this proves it. And if there are past lives, then there must also be future lives. As I mentioned, many people can see past lives and many people can see future lives as well. It’s all a question of how clear the mind is. The less polluted or defiled the mind is, the more capacity you have to see past, present and future, which ordinary people don’t have the clarity or capacity to see. If you follow the right method, you can realize this potential of mind.
The above is excerpted from a letter written by Lama Zopa Rinpoche over a five-day period to a condemned prisoner, 20 August 2004. It was dictated to Ven. Holly Ansett and edited by Ven. Robina Courtin.