Chenrezig Practice in Prison

Chenrezig Practice in Prison

Date of Advice:
June 2018
Date Posted:
September 2019

This advice was given to a student who was in prison and wrote to Rinpoche requesting him to be guru and asking for life practices. Rinpoche advised how to use the situation to develop the mind and recommended Chenrezig mantra as the student’s main practice.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Light of the Path, North Carolina, 2014. Photo by Roy Harvey.

My most dear, most kind, most precious, wish-fulfilling one,
Thank you very much for your kind letter. I was very happy to receive it. I am very sorry it took so long to reply, so many eons. You can also read advice I have given to other people in prison.

According to my observation, if you can, read the Guhyasamaja Tantra root text. Unfortunately it is not yet translated into English; it is only in Tibetan phonetics, so you will probably need to wait until it is translated. It is in the process of being translated and hopefully that will be done soon.

In reality, yes, you are in prison, in the ordinary way of how we think about what prison is. But looking at it in reality, from the positive side, it’s like being in retreat, in a cave where there is nothing. Of course, the prison has more things like food; there are more things there than if you were in a cave. That is the positive way to think. You can think, “This is the best thing that I need for my life, to develop my mind.” The mind is wild, not only in this life but from beginningless rebirths. It is wild, like a crazy person or a crazy elephant. It has been like this from beginningless rebirths and that is why we are still suffering in samsara.

Numberless sentient beings who were the same as us—who had been suffering from beginningless rebirths, who were totally wild from beginningless rebirths and totally controlled by delusion and karma—so many of them changed their mind. They changed from cherishing the I, which is the source of all the suffering, all the difficulties and all the obstacles to achieve enlightenment, the highest, peerless happiness. Not only that, cherishing the I is an obstacle to achieving nirvana and ultimate happiness, everlasting happiness; not only that, it’s an obstacle even to achieving the happiness of future lives and success in this life. So they changed from cherishing the I to cherishing others, who are numberless. They were just like us, however they ceased not only the gross defilements but also the subtle defilements, and did not experience them again and achieved full enlightenment, buddhahood. That includes Guru Shakyamuni Buddha.

There have been prisoners in the past who did many millions of mantras while in prison. Even if they didn’t have malas, they put thread from their bedsheet through breakfast cereal that had holes in it. They put the thread through the cereal and used that as a mala and recited many OM MANI PADME HUM mantras.

My advice to you, the main thing is to be there in prison with bodhicitta, the thought of cherishing all the numberless sentient beings. It’s important to really understand that there are numberless universes and numberless human beings. So think with bodhicitta, “I am here in prison for the sake of all sentient beings—the numberless hell beings, numberless hungry ghosts and numberless animals.” That means every single fish in the ocean, including those of the tiniest size, and all the different kinds of animals, including every single chicken. There are billions and zillions of chickens killed in the world every day for five star hotels and the numberless restaurants and so forth. Also there are numberless goats, sheep, cows and numberless ants, mosquitoes and slugs. So think of all that.

Recently I went to a big lake near the border of Canada and I sat on a carpet on the grass to eat lunch there, sort of like a picnic. Anyway, there were so many millions of tiny insects and when the sun was shining we could see them all. Also, normally when we walk on dry grass so many insects run away or jump up; so many tiny ones escape when we walk.

Due to our negative karma day and night—our negative motivation, our negative mind—generally speaking that is the cause of the lower realms. Even if we try to practice Dharma, our Dharma practice is very little and instead our nonvirtue is much stronger; our anger, ignorance and attachment are so much stronger.

Even if we try to practice Dharma it is very difficult. The motivation is not holy Dharma or it is very weak, or we do not dedicate properly afterward—we don’t seal the dedication with emptiness. Then the virtue created doesn’t last or it gets destroyed by anger very easily.

We can destroy so much merit with anger and it also depends on who we get angry with. If we get angry with a bodhisattva, because of the level of their holy mind, even if we get angry for just one second it destroys the karma created from offering our body, speech and mind to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and from having made charity to every single sentient being. It destroys the karma created from that, and also one thousand eons of good karma and merit are destroyed in one second. If we get angry with a buddha for one second, then 10,000 or 100,000 eons of good karma and merit are destroyed. And if we get angry with our guru, then millions of eons of good karma are destroyed.

So please think of all the beings in the lower realms, for instance, all the animals and insects. It is unbelievable. We have to think like this, in very extensive way. For example, scientists say there are 11,000 or 12,000 different types of ants in the world.

If we think about this, then the amount of beings who are reborn in the hell realms in every second is like the number of dust particles of this earth. Those who are reborn as hungry ghosts are like the number of sand grains in the Pacific Ocean. The amount of sentient beings that are reborn in the intermediate state is like the number of blades of grass in the world. The Buddha explained that the amount of sentient beings that are reborn as devas and humans beings is like when we scratch the earth, then however many dust particles come between our fingernails, that is how many get that deva or human rebirth. So you can see there are very few, it is so rare. Then how many get this special perfect human rebirth, qualified by the eight freedoms and ten richnesses, is so rare. It is like throwing grain on a piece of glass—how much grain sticks to the glass. Or if you stand a needle up straight and throw grain at it—how much grain stays on top of the needle. That is how rare it is.

When you recite OM MANI PADME HUM, and whatever practice you do, it’s not just for you; it’s for numberless sentient beings. It is so important for you and for everyone, for every small ant and every tiny insect. They all want happiness and do not want suffering.

It seems that reciting OM MANI PADME HUM, Chenrezig mantra, is the main thing for you to practice in your life. Recite the longest Chenrezig mantra, if possible. At the beginning it may take time, but if you recite the longest mantra three times at the beginning, then after some months you can recite it seven times or more at the beginning. The longest mantra is the best, most precious one. If you can recite the longest mantra of Chenrezig—the Compassionate Eye Looking One—once or three times or seven times every day, then you get the same benefits as having recited 100 million OM MANI PADME HUM mantras. It is so unbelievable, unbelievable!

Please read the benefits of the mantra. Reciting the longest mantra has incredible benefits. It can benefit so many animals, for example, if you recite the longest mantra and then wash in a lake or ocean, whoever touches or drinks that water, whether humans or animals, will never be reborn in the lower realms. It purifies their negative karma to be born from a womb, an egg or heat (like lice), so they won’t be born from those three things.

Also, so much heavy negative karma that has been collected in the past is purified and in future lives you are always with the buddhas and bodhisattvas and go toward enlightenment.

Even when you are walking and your breath is going in and out, then wherever the wind goes after touching your body, it purifies the negative karma of other humans and animals so they won’t be reborn in the lower realms. So there are unbelievable benefits. Therefore please recite OM MANI PADME HUM as much as you can.

Some benefits mentioned are that even a fully ordained monk who has broken the four root vows—killing a human being, sexual intercourse, taking things not given and lying about one’s realizations, which is the biggest lie—from this karma the result is being born in the hell realms, but by reciting OM MANI PADME HUM it purifies all those heavy negative karmas received from these four defeats. By reciting this even one time, it is so powerful. By reciting it seven times, twenty-one times or a mala there are incredible benefits. Please read the benefits of reciting OM MANI PADME HUM, so you know more.

If you can, recite OM MANI PADME HUM 100 million or 300 million times in your life. Don’t worry about the number, that is not the point, but recite the mantra for all sentient beings. Recite every mantra for all sentient beings, to free them from samsara and bring them to enlightenment.

Your main lamrim text should be Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand. This should be the main lamrim text for you to study. The more you read this text, it is very good, and not only the graduated path of the lower capable being but also the graduated path of the middle capable being. Then you will understand how much suffering sentient beings are in and the urgent need to be liberated. This means you are taking responsibility for every sentient being, not only for their temporary happiness of this life but the happiness of future lives, and not just that, as that is still temporary happiness, but ultimate happiness, the blissful state. You are taking responsibility to offer not only temporary happiness to all sentient beings, but also ultimate happiness—enlightenment.

In this way recite OM MANI PADME HUM 300 million times if possible, and if not, recite the mantra 100 million times. This is a quick way to be free from the actual prison that you have been in since beginningless rebirths. The actual prison is attachment, ignorance and anger, so to be free from that prison.

This is just one example of the benefits: by reciting one time OM MANI PADME HUM, Chenrezig mantra, it purifies the four defeats of having broken the four root vows, so this is totally purified.

Also, the five heavy negative karmas without break are totally purified. The five heavy negative karmas without break are karmas that are created by deeds that are so heavy that they ripen immediately as rebirth in the hell realm. The five heavy negative karmas without break are: killing one’s mother, killing one’s father, drawing the blood of a buddha, killing an arhat and causing disunity among the Sangha.

If we recite the mantra seven times it purifies one hundred lifetimes of negative karma. If we recite it twenty-one times it purifies 4,000 eons of negative karma and we are able to have bodhicitta realizations. If we recite it 108 times it purifies 40,000 eons of negative karma. If we recite the mantra in the ears of animals, then as soon as they die they are reborn in the human realm or as a deva. They are not born as a hell being, hungry ghost or animal.

The benefits are infinite if you recite this mantra. Then you can enjoy your life. Maybe in the view of ordinary people, being in prison is something very bad, but for you because of practicing Dharma and being able to recite this mantra—wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. For you it’s the best thing to happen as it brings you quickly to achieve enlightenment.

The conclusion is that if we recite OM MANI PADME HUM it is so easy to purify the negative karma collected from beginningless rebirths and to collect extensive merits, and especially to generate compassion for all sentient beings. We want to take the responsibility on ourselves to free the numberless sentient beings from suffering. We are not only wishing for that but we are also generating compassion. So then we achieve enlightenment quickly, by the way. Then it is so easy way to be born in the pure land of Amitabha Buddha.

By reciting OM MANI PADME HUM we collect more merit than the number of drops of water in the ocean; than the number of snowflakes in a snowfall; than the number of drops of water in rainfall; than the number of sand grains in the Pacific Ocean, and if we do it with bodhicitta then it creates the cause of happiness up to enlightenment. Then we are able to bring all sentient beings to enlightenment, by purifying the negative karma and collecting more than skies of merit.

I am in the process of writing a new book and when it is done you will get it. The idea of this book is to spread through the whole world, so not only in English, but to translate it into as many languages as possible. It is about the benefits of reciting the Compassion Buddha mantra and it will contain many different prayers to Chenrezig that you can recite.

Regarding your request for me to be guru, OK. I am not qualified, but I will try and you try.

At the moment you can’t generate yourself as Chenrezig, because for that you need to have received a great initiation. Just receiving a jenang, (short initiation) does not qualify you for that. However you can still recite OM MANI PADME HUM and think you are receiving nectar from Chenrezig; mountains of Chenrezig, in the nature of light, huge, looking at you with loving kindness and compassion and also looking at all sentient beings, seeing how much suffering there is and sending beams to you and to all sentient beings. Think that this purifies the negative karma collected from beginningless rebirths.

If someone recites the longest Chenrezig mantra then one of the benefits mentioned is that suddenly the king of the land—or it could also be the president—generates compassion for that person and liberates them from prison. Things like that can happen; suddenly changes can happen.

Chenrezig liberates us from the first prison and also liberates us from the second prison of attachment to future samsara. We are liberated from that, which has caused our suffering from beginningless rebirth. So we are liberated from that by reciting OM MANI PADME HUM and practicing Dharma. The third prison we are liberated from is the self-cherishing thought, which from beginningless rebirths has caused us to suffer and has caused us to harm to numberless sentient beings. Reciting OM MANI PADME HUM and practicing Dharma frees us from these three prisons.

The fourth prison is the root of samsara—the ignorance holding the I as real while it is not, while it exists in mere name, merely labeled by the mind. That is the creator of samsara and that makes us suffer from beginningless rebirths. Reciting OM MANI PADME HUM and practicing Dharma frees us from the fourth prison.

In tantra, the ordinary concept and ordinary view is the fifth prison. By reciting OM MANI PADME HUM and practicing Dharma, we become free from the ordinary concepts and ordinary view that have caused us to suffer from beginningless rebirths. The subtle impure wind and mind that create samsara according to Highest Yoga Tantra—that make us suffer from beginningless rebirths—by reciting OM MANI PADME HUM and practicing Dharma we are freed from that and we can achieve enlightenment.

Ordinary people think being in a room where they are not allowed to do certain things and can’t get out is prison, but it is not really prison. In Tibet, there are many hermitages like that, where meditators were in a small cave with no door and just a tiny hole in the wall to pass the food through. Many times the meditators were locked in for years and they did not meet people or speak to anyone for years. In the view of ordinary people, especially in the West, they may think that is a worse prison, but it is being in retreat, disciplining the mind, for the mind to be free. As Milarepa said: “I was afraid of death so I escaped to the mountains. Now I have realized the ultimate nature of the primordial mind, even if death comes I have no fear.”

That shows that he has freedom from delusion and karma, and by disciplining the mind, we can become free. Right now, the mind is under the control of delusion and karma. By disciplining the mind, then the mind conquers delusion and karma and we can become free, like arhats and especially the Buddha.

If you can, read Liberation in the Palm of your Hand and the morning motivation, The Method to Transform a Suffering Life into Happiness (Including Enlightenment). It is very, very important to do that motivation every morning. I hope you can get this book in prison.

If you have some things to ask you can write to me and if I have time I will answer, but for you the main answer is for you to read Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand. All the main answers are in that book. This is the most important thing.

Please read Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand seven times from beginning to end and anything you don’t understand you can write down and discuss with a teacher later. That is very good for you.

At the moment you can’t receive initiations, but you can after you come out of prison, so this is for that time. According to my observation your main deity is Yamantaka, but that’s just for your own knowledge and who you can pray to now. Later you can receive the great initiation and do the practice and the retreat.

Yamantaka is all the Buddha’s wisdom in the form of Manjushri. Manjushri is to develop for sentient beings—to help develop wisdom in understanding Dharma. Chenrezig is all the Buddha’s compassion to help sentient beings—to develop compassion. All the Buddha’s power is Vajrapani—to help sentient beings become free from delusion and karma and to be free from obscurations to enlightenment. Manjushri has a wrathful aspect and an extremely wrathful aspect. Yamantaka is the most wrathful aspect. Yamantaka manifested in a wrathful aspect to overcome our delusion, the creator of our samsaric sufferings, the self-cherishing thought—to pacify, to overcome that.

Thank you very much. You are most welcome to enlightenment and to buddhahood in order to free sentient beings in the quickest way.

With much love and prayers ...