My very dear Jack,
Here are some things for you to think about, some suggestions about how to use your situation, and the best things you can do, the most practical things left for you to practice.
Even if someone has only one day left to live, or only one hour, the person still has an incredible opportunity to make the human body—which he or she has received just this one time—most beneficial. Even if they have only one hour left, still, in that time, the person can take the five lay vows or eight lay precepts.
It is said in the teaching on the commentary on the eight precepts by Geshe Lam-rimpa from Drepung Monastery in Tibet: “Even if you have only one hour left to live it is so beneficial, so meaningful, to take the eight precepts.” It is also said in the teachings: “In this degenerate time, to keep even just one vow for one day has great advantage.”
In The Sutra of the King of Concentration it says: “The merit of keeping one vow for one day and night in a degenerate time like now is far greater than the merit created by someone, who, with a devotional mind, offers food, drink, umbrellas, flags, and garlands of lights equal to the number of sand grains in the Pacific Ocean to buddhas equaling a million times a thousand million.”
Best Practices for You
Lay Vows: It would be best for you to take the lay vows as soon as possible, however many that you can keep. Until then you can also take the eight Mahayana 24-hour vows.
Chenrezig Meditation: According to my observations, it is best for you to practice Chenrezig, the Compassion Buddha: meditate on Chenrezig and recite his mantra: OM MANI PADME HUM. Here is a photo of my personal thangka of Chenrezig that I carry around with me everywhere.
Visualize Chenrezig in front of you. As you recite the mantra, visualize nectar coming out from Chenrezig and entering you and purifying all your sicknesses, negative karma, spirit harms, and defilements. For half the mala (54 mantras) visualize being purified, and for the other half of the mala visualize that you receive all the qualities of Chenrezig. Chenrezig completely embraces all sentient beings and knows directly all sentient beings’ minds, all the methods to guide them perfectly, with perfect power, perfect wisdom, and perfect compassion.
Thought Transformation: The practice of The Eight Verses of Thought Transformation is very important. Meditate on the verses and recite OM MANI PADME HUM after each verse. At the end, feel extremely happy because you are practicing and generating the thought to benefit others: bodhicitta.
Meditate on absolute bodhicitta, emptiness, as well, to realize how the “I,” aggregates, and phenomena are empty of existence, from their own side; that they exist in mere name, merely imputed by the mind.
Lam-rim Prayer: It is very good if you can read a complete lam-rim prayer every day, such as The Foundation of all Good Qualities. Each time that you read this it plants a seed for the whole path to enlightenment in your mind and makes your life extremely worthwhile.
Maritza Mantra: It would be very good for you to recite three malas [108 mantras for each mala] a day of the Maritza mantra: OM MARITZE MAM SOHA.
Practices on the Day of Your Execution
Thought Transformation and Bodhicitta: On the day that you will be executed, the last thing to do before you are executed is to take complete refuge in Chenrezig. Think of Chenrezig, visualize the picture I sent you, and totally rely on Chenrezig.
Think: “May I experience all the suffering of all beings who have the karma to be executed and of those who actually perform the execution, and may I let everyone else be free from this suffering.” Put your palms together in the mudra of prostration to Chenrezig and request to be guided by Chenrezig in all future lifetimes until enlightenment.
Think: “May I receive all sentient beings’ karma to be executed, may I experience this by myself alone, and because of that may all others be free from all sufferings and receive all peerless happiness up to enlightenment.” Continuously think this way, over and over again.
It is incredibly powerful if you die with this thought of giving yourself up to experience all other beings’ suffering of being executed and giving all your happiness to others. This becomes your main refuge. In particular, feel this for those who have the job of executing you, as well as the people who have given this order, the judge, etc. By their creating this negative karma, then having acted on it—which comes from an impure mind, attachment, anger, ignorance, and, particularly, the self-cherishing thought—they will have to experience the karma of being executed by others for 500 lifetimes, just from this one action of killing, which is the cause.
If you die with a non-virtuous thought, a self-cherishing thought, of ignorance, anger, or attachment, then you will be reborn in the hell, hungry ghost, or animal realms. While you are in the lower realms, you continually create more negative karma, which will result in again being reborn in the lower realms. Even spending one day in the lower realms collects so much negative karma, the ten non-virtues, etc.
It is very beneficial if you die with the thought of benefiting other sentient beings. It is the best way to die, the best quality death. You are dying for all those other living beings, which means you are not dying for yourself. This is similar to Jesus, who took on the suffering of other sentient beings, or Shakyamuni Buddha, who in previous lives offered his body to a starving tigress and her five cubs; he gave up his life because he could not bear their suffering.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama says if you die with bodhicitta, the thought of benefiting others, then this is a self-supporting action, and nobody needs to pray for you, you will be guided by yourself. If you die with this thought, you will never be reborn in the hell, hungry ghost, or animal realms. If you put together all the suffering in the human realm and compare it to the suffering in the eight hot hells and eight cold hells, there is no comparison. The suffering in the human realm is actually great pleasure compared to the suffering in even the first hell realm, which is the lightest. Dying with the thought of benefiting others, a bodhicitta motivation, is the best method for saving oneself from reincarnating in the lower realms and experiencing that suffering for an incredible length of time. And because you are continually creating negative karma while you are in the lower realms, you don’t know when you will be reborn again in the human realm.
One great holy being, Kadampa Geshe Chekawa, a Tibetan meditator, always made prayers to be reborn in the hell realms for the benefit of sentient beings. But when he passed away, even though he had made those prayers, instead of being reborn in the hell realms he experienced the appearance of the Pure Land of Buddha, where there is no suffering, no old age, no sickness, no death, no negative emotions, no thoughts such as anger, jealousy, and so forth, and where there are the most pure, perfect enjoyments. There is not even the word “suffering” in the Pure Land, which is why it is called pure. He was reborn there because of his great compassion and his prayers to be reborn in the hell realms for the sake of other sentient beings, who are experiencing so much suffering.
By using this punishment of being executed as a means to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings, this experience becomes the cause of happiness for all sentient beings, not just temporal happiness but liberation from samsara and ultimate happiness, full enlightenment. Therefore, there is no greater happiness than this. Your execution is an opportunity to bring ultimate joy and happiness to yourself and all other sentient beings.
Happiness and problems all depend on how your mind interprets them, which label you put on them, and then your believing the label: then they actually become suffering or happiness. Training in being able to transform your execution by seeing it as beneficial and a cause of happiness for all sentient beings becomes a great challenge. What is suffering for most people can be transformed into great happiness for yourself and others. By doing this you become a champion. This is such an incredible way of thinking.
Being in Prison Is An Incredible Opportunity
Another way is to rejoice: if you were not in prison your mind would be so distracted, disturbed, and preoccupied by objects of attachment, anger, and so forth. You would have no time to meditate and no interest in spiritual practice because your life would be so busy and occupied with the objects of desire.
Therefore, by being in prison you have an incredible opportunity. It has helped you to awaken your mind, to analyze yourself, and to think about your own life. This makes being in prison very profound. Because of being in this situation, you feel very deeply the wish to actualize the spiritual path and meditation. Therefore, your life in prison is actually much happier than an ordinary life outside prison, especially now that you know about karma, how suffering comes from the mind, and how the mind is the main cause.
By knowing this you can have a happy life, happy death, and happy rebirth, by purifying negative karma and creating good karma (virtuous actions). Not only that, you discover there is a much deeper achievement in life: ultimate happiness and liberation from samsara (continually circling again and again from one life to another life, the continuity of the aggregates caused by karma and delusion, contaminated by the seed of delusion, all the sufferings and their causes) by realizing the Four Noble Truths—the true cause of suffering, true suffering, true cessation of suffering, and the true path; that there is an opportunity to learn the true path and to achieve this by listening, reflecting, and meditating on that. As long we do not eliminate the causes of suffering, which are the mind, delusion, and its action: karma, we will have to reincarnate and die and experience all the sufferings in between over and over again without end.
What most people in the world believe is suffering is very limited. What they want to be liberated from is just the extremely gross sufferings. But there is so much suffering that they are not aware of. Ignorance blocks them from achieving total liberation and from seeking the true path. Ignorance also blocks the happiness that they are looking for—which is actually only suffering, not real happiness—and even the method to achieve the happiness that they want. They are only looking for external happiness, and that is why their lives are continually drawn into suffering, from life to life.
Therefore, being in prison is extremely positive, a great advantage and joy. You have an incredible opportunity: to have happiness now, a happy death, happy future lives, happy liberation from samsara, and happy great liberation: full enlightenment.
Reincarnation and Remembering Past Lives
Maybe you have heard of reincarnation. Even though this body disintegrates, it doesn’t mean that the mind ceases; it continues. We have a body and mind and we relate to them as the self, the “I,” which is merely imputed. Today’s mind began at dawn, 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, not a separate being. That is why we are able to remember what we did yesterday, where we went, the food that we ate, the people that we met, and so forth. The child and person we are today 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 begin only after your body came out of your mother’s womb, nor when your consciousness entered the fertilized egg, and the association of body and mind started.
Some people can remember being in their mother’s womb and being born. I know one student who has a clear memory of that. Even though most people don’t remember, there are so many who do. Also, there are so many children who can remember their past lives and describe them very clearly. This is not just the experience of Tibetan lamas, there are people in the West who are born with a clear memory of past lives. This shows that the person has a clear mind, which is less polluted and obscured. Also, some people have clarity of mind and are able to see the future.
Through developing meditation, especially the meditation of calm abiding (which has nine stages), by cutting off attraction, scattering thoughts, and sinking thoughts, the mind becomes more clear. Then one can develop higher powers. The great saints, arya bodhisattvas—such as the bodhisattvas who achieve the first bhumi, who achieve the exalted path of wisdom directly seeing emptiness, the ultimate nature—can remember hundreds of past lives and also can see the future. There is no question that as they reach higher bhumis (there are ten bhumis to achieve full enlightenment), they discover and see million times more past and future lives, as well as achieve the highest tantric path, the Six Yogas of Naropa.
One can also achieve clairvoyance, being able to see the past and future, through meditation on a deity and so forth. One can see things happening that other people cannot see, as well as being able to see things in distant countries.
This all shows that there are past lives; this proves it. If there are past lives then also there have to be future lives. As I mentioned, many people can see past lives and many people can see future lives as well. The whole thing is a question of how clear the mind is. The less polluted or defiled the mind, the more capacity one has to see the past, present, and future, which most people don’t have the clarity or capacity to see. This is the potential of the mind that can be developed: the clarity of mind that can clearly remember past lives, family members, and possessions. One can achieve this just by reciting mantras such as OM MANI PADME HUM.
For example, after my mother passed away she was reincarnated and was able to remember many things from her past life. She was reincarnated to a family who lived close to where she had lived when she was a nun for some years in Lawudo, Solu Khumbu, in Nepal, near Mount Everest. In Lawudo, there is a cave of the great enlightenment yogi Padmasambhava, who placed his holy feet there for a short time, and where the Lama Kunzang Yeshe lived in retreat, who was predicted by many lamas.
When my mother’s incarnation was three or four years old, he could recognize clearly all his family members of his previous life. He was not shy with them, as he was with other people; he immediately bonded with them. Also, he was able to recognize the animals that he used to care for. He could also remember many things that he had used and would look for them where he had left them in his previous life.
When I was a child in Solu Khumbu, before I left for Tibet, it was a very primitive area. The people regarded spoons and plastic buttons as very precious. When they got a shirt, even a torn one, they kept the plastic buttons as something very valuable. Also, because in this area there were no spoons, when they got them they regarded them as very precious, even wearing a spoon on a string around their necks, like people in the West wear necklaces. Also, there was no coffee, kerosene, etc. Now, Solu Khumbu has changed a lot and become modern.
When I was a child, rice was very rare. It was a very special food, because it doesn’t grow there and people had to transport it for many days from faraway places. I remember that I would eat rice only on very special occasions, like when a geshe visited or when people came for the Nyung-nä retreats. (Nyung-nä retreat is a two-day retreat on the Compassionate Buddha, Chenrezig, during which you eat one meal on the first day and then fast completely on the second day and do not even drink a drop of water.) One year, on the first day during the Nyung-nä retreat, my alphabet teacher and attendant, whom I was doing the retreat with, brought lunch that was leftover food of rice and curd. This was so special, a very happy occasion that happened once a year.
Now rice has become a very common food, as well as coffee. When I was a child, there were no candles, kerosene, or gas, so after dark the only light you had was the fire you cooked on and a piece of wood that had sap or dried bamboo on it that you could light up and put in the wall, so that you could see your food, or for when you went outside. Now there is electricity in many parts of Solu Khumbu, as well as gas lights, etc.
My mother used to collect all the plastic buttons and keep them in a bottle. After my mother passed away, my sister, who is a nun, sewed my mother’s buttons on her shirt. When my mother’s incarnation first came to Lawudo and my sister held him in her arms, the boy immediately pointed at the buttons on her shirt and said, “Those are my buttons!” He remembered this from his past life.
Also, his behavior was exactly the same as my mother’s. Whenever she went to the Lawudo Gompa, she used to first circumambulate the gompa seven times, and then when she entered the gompa the first thing she did was take blessing from His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s throne, prostrating and putting her head on the throne. Then she would take blessing from the small place where I sat. Then she would take blessing from the altar where there are Buddha statues. When my mother’s incarnation first came to the gompa, he did exactly the same thing as my mother.
When my brother Sangye (who lives in Kathmandu) first came to see my mother’s incarnation, many people came—monks, nuns, laypeople—and all offered scarves (khata) to him. This is a traditional gesture of respect and thanks as well as offering good wishes, which one offers to lamas, statues, scriptures, and thangkas as a practice of collecting merit. After you offer the khata to the lama, it is given back to you as a blessing.
When the people offered the scarves to my mother’s incarnation, he gave each scarf back to each person, except for two people. One was his father and the other was a monk who lived in Lawudo called Tsultrim Norbu. The reason he didn’t offer the scarf back to them was because he remembered these two people from his past life. In his past life when he lived in Lawudo, the only water supply was a mile away by walking. One time we managed to get some pipes and we used them to connect to the water source, so that it brought the water closer to Lawudo. The water source was close to a hermitage and the family that lived there was not so happy when we put the pipes in, so they blocked the pipes with earth so that no water came out. My mother was very upset with them. The father of my mother’s incarnation was from the family that blocked the pipes. The imprint from his past life of being very upset was still there, which is why he didn’t give back the scarf.
Another story is that my mother had a very close friend called Ang Phurpa, who lived in Kathmandu. One day he and my brother Sangye went up to Lawudo to meet my mother’s incarnation for the first time. He did not have any idea that they were coming. As soon as Ang Phurpa sat down, the parents of my mother’s incarnation served chang, wine, and tea, and my mother’s incarnation immediately said, “Ang Phurpa, please have some, please have some.” Ang Phurpa immediately grasped the child’s legs and cried because he could not believe the incarnation recollected his name and remembered him; he was speechless.
Everything Comes from the Mind
In the West, people don’t talk about imprints from past lives being the cause of why some children are angry and other children have a more compassionate nature. Even from birth, some children are like this: this is due to past imprints, past habits. In Western culture, this is not part of our education, there is not much knowledge of the mind. But knowledge of the mind in the East is very developed, profound, and vast.
The Omniscient One, Buddha—who is totally liberated from ignorance, from all the errors of the mind, defilements, negative imprints, and hallucinations, who is totally free from impure views, who is beyond all this, totally liberated—explained very clearly and extensively in his teachings about the nature of the mind, the function of the mind, and all the different thoughts and mental factors.
Especially in Highest Yoga Tantra, he explained more advanced details on the subtle mind. Tantra explains how all impure places, beings, animate and inanimate objects, sense enjoyments, and the impure, suffering body come from the impure wind and mind. The enlightened deity’s mandala, body, and enjoyments—when you become enlightened—all this comes from the pure wind and mind. The Buddha has so many qualities of holy body, speech, and mind, and is able to do perfect work for all sentient beings. All of this manifests from the pure subtle wind and mind.
Subjects such as how the world is created by the mind are not developed in Western culture. In Buddha’s teachings and philosophy it is clearly explained how everything comes from karma, which is mind. Any undesirable thing or suffering comes from negative imprints, which come from the mind, and anything that is desirable or happiness, comes from positive virtues, which come from the mind.
According to my view, even in one family different children have different characteristics and different perceptions of the same object. One child is born with more compassion and patience, and one child is born very impatient; one child naturally engages in harmful actions, another child naturally does not. So, the reason, the very clear logic for this is the past habits and past negative and positive imprints. That which is good comes from past positive imprints, and whatever is bad comes from past negative habits and imprints left on the mind.
This is not only a philosophy but a reality that you can see. Somebody who has clairvoyance can see what kind of past lives we had, what kind of practice we did. Even in this life, we can see that the actions we committed in the earlier part of our life, the habits we developed, affect the later part of our life. For example, if you always commit negative actions such as killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, slander, harsh speech, gossiping, covetousness, ill will, and heresy (the ten non-virtuous actions), this is due to habits and past imprints.
Also, you can see clearly in one lifetime how people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol cannot stop their habits from previous years. This comes from the negative imprints left by past actions. This way of reasoning makes it very clear, and those people who have the capacity of mind can see this.
The conclusion is you can see clearly your past lives even just from reciting the Compassion Buddha mantra OM MANI PADME HUM. The Compassion Buddha, Chenrezig, is the embodiment of all the buddhas’ compassion. In human form, Chenrezig is His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the manifestation of all the buddhas’ compassion. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the spiritual teacher and temporal leader of Tibet. He is now becoming the spiritual leader of the world, giving practical education on how to develop compassion, universal responsibility, and loving kindness, emphasizing the need to be kind to everyone, including your enemy; who offers wisdom on what is right and brings happiness to yourself and others—that which is to be practiced; and on what is wrong and brings suffering to yourself and others—that which is to be abandoned. His Holiness is not only fully capable of leading all Buddhists, but also all people of all religions, believers and non-believers, by giving universal advice that is urgently needed to bring peace and happiness globally. The mantra of Compassionate Buddha has vast benefits, one being to develop a clear mind, to be able to remember past lives, etc.
My mother used to recite 50,000 Compassionate Buddha mantras every day, except when she was close to passing away when she couldn’t recite as many. Because of this she had a clear memory and stable mind; this was also because she was living according to her vows (she was ordained by His Holiness Ling Rinpoche in Bodhgaya, where 1000 buddhas placed their holy feet, including Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, who is the fourth buddha). Therefore, after her death she was able to clearly remember her past life.
Continuity of Mind
Death, which means the separation of body and mind, does not end the continuity of life. The mind and body are separated because they are under the control of delusion and karma, and then, again, the mind takes a body. However, there is always the continuity of mind. Sometimes it takes a human body, but it can also take a different type of body according to past negative or positive actions that you have committed. Sometimes it can be a suffering body such as that of a hell being, hungry ghost, or animal. Sometimes it can be the body of a happy transmigratory such as a deva (worldly god); or a human body; or in a pure land, such as the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha. Or it could be a spirit body. We can also be reborn in the formless realm, where there is no physical body. Even after you are fully enlightened, still there is continuity of the enlightened mind.
The big question is: After death, which rebirth will our consciousness take? Either a miserable rebirth, such as a suffering transmigratory being—hell realm, hungry ghost, or animal; or the body of a happy transmigratory being. What causes one to take rebirth as a suffering transmigratory being is non-virtuous actions committed with a self-cherishing thought, delusion, ignorance, anger, and attachment. We are creating these negative karmas so many times every day. We can see clearly if we look at our actions in one day that almost all of them are performed with a self-cherishing thought, ignorance, anger, and attachment. Almost all actions come from non-virtue and the result is only suffering.
In this life, from the time of birth, we commit so many negative karmas. Also, from beginningless rebirths, we create so many negative karmas that we have yet to experience and have to purify. Therefore, we should prepare immediately to have a good rebirth after death, to again have the opportunity to meditate, practice Dharma, develop the mind, and practice the path, not only to be liberated but enlightened, to be able to offer extensive benefit, to bring so many sentient beings to happiness, especially the ultimate happiness of enlightenment. The main objective of our life is to accomplish this; that is the purpose of living.
The Benefit of Living According to Vows of Morality
The answer, the solution, is to stop taking suffering rebirths and to take happy rebirths. For this, we must practice Dharma and purify past negative karma so that we don’t experience a suffering result. Also, we must not create negative karma again, which is the cause of suffering. We can accomplish this by taking vows from spiritual masters, according to our capacity. There are the five lay vows (to not kill, steal, commit sexual misconduct, tell lies, and take intoxicants). Also, there are the eight lay vows (ordination of abiding near to liberation (nyen nyen). By living according to these vows, it brings you closer and closer to liberation. Also, you can take the Eight Mahayana Precepts as a layperson or an ordained person. Taking vows is essential for practicing morality, for achieving a good rebirth after death, not only for your own happiness, but for the happiness of all other living beings. Therefore, it is very important to take some of these vows, whichever you can take.
If you want to fly to another country, you need an airline ticket, otherwise you can’t travel by plane. Or if you want to start a million-dollar project, you need to have a million dollars. Living according to vows is like that: it is it is an excellent preparation for death, as well as for happiness in future lives, liberation, enlightenment, and world peace. So, take the vows as your contribution to world peace. This is what makes your life amazing, worthwhile, and beneficial.
Negative karma such as killing has four suffering ripening aspects, such as reincarnation as a suffering transmigratory being, hell, hungry ghost, or animal. Or you take rebirth in the human realm, which comes from good karma, but you experience in that life the three suffering results of the previous negative karma of killing, such as in the place where you live there is a lot of danger to your life, it is very dirty, and medicines and food cause death or make you sick: this is experiencing the result similar to the cause. Also, you can be harmed by people, animals, germs, or bacteria, be killed by others, and have a short life. You can be harmed by the elements: fire, water, earthquakes, hurricanes, avalanches, and so forth. Or the building you live in, which is meant to protect you, collapses and causes death.
Or you can reincarnate in the hell realms; this result is similar to the cause. When you again engage in creating negative karma, killing, in the hell realms, again you create negative karma and a suffering result, creating the result similar to the cause. The suffering goes on and on without end.
As long as one does not purify the negative karma of killing by not living according to the vow to abstain from killing, then one will have to continually suffer. There is a huge difference between not killing and living according to the vow not to kill. Merely by not killing alone you are not creating merit, good karma. You are not creating the negative karma of killing, but that doesn’t mean that you collect merit. If you live according to the vow to not kill, even when you are sleeping, you are creating merit. While you eat, sleep, talk, and perform all actions, you are creating merit all the time by not harming others and living according to the vows. If this is performed with the motivation of renunciation of samsara, it will cause liberation from samsara. If it is performed with bodhicitta, it will cause enlightenment; all the time you are causing this by living according to that vow.
Death Can Happen Anytime
In reality, death can happen anytime, any day. Even though you may have a date of execution given by a judge, death can happen any moment. Also, your death may not occur due to execution; there are so many other causes and conditions that can bring death before that. This is very useful to think about. Therefore, we must prepare for death right now and take the vows as soon as possible.
Experiencing the Suffering of Others Causes Happiness for Oneself
If one gives up one’s life for others, experiences their suffering, and gives one’s happiness to others, instead of causing suffering for oneself actually it causes the opposite of suffering, it causes happiness.
One of my students had AIDS. He wrote to his guru in India and asked what to do. His Guru, Rongta Rinpoche, who is a senior lama who lives in Dharamsala, gave a practice for him to do. The practice was a very special meditation on bodhicitta, taking other sentient beings’ sufferings and the cause of suffering onto oneself, destroying the ego, and then giving one’s happiness, the cause of merits, to others, in the form of white light. The student practiced this meditation. When he went to the hospital for a check-up, they could no longer find any of the AIDS virus.
I thought he might have practiced this meditation for a long time, for many days, but when I asked him he said he only practiced for four minutes a day for four days. Even though his meditation was done for such a short time, it was very powerful: he felt incredible compassion for others, especially toward those who have AIDS. He felt such unsurpassable compassion that he cried, and he had not the slightest concern for himself, only such strong compassion and concern for others. This meditation of giving up one’s life and happiness for others and taking others’ sufferings on oneself generates incredible compassion.
This is like fuel for a rocket, what gives it force. What healed his AIDS so quickly was this powerful practice, bodhicitta, letting go of the “I” and cherishing others. This purified the negative karma and actions, the result of which was AIDS. This is a very powerful purification practice. It is said in the text Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life by the great saint bodhisattva Shantideva:
A very heavy, powerful negative action that is inexhaustible,
By relying upon a hero (a powerful person), great fear can be ceased,
But by relying upon bodhicitta one can be liberated from this heavy negative action in a short time.
So mindful people depend on this (bodhicitta).
Bodhicitta burns the great heavy evil deeds in one instant,
Just like the end of the world, the conflagration that burns rocky mountains, even impenetrable things are burned instantly.
In recent times, in Seattle, one student had cancer that had spread all over her body. The doctors were afraid to do an operation; they felt that it was very risky and dangerous. So she did the bodhicitta practice of taking on sentient beings’ sufferings and the causes of suffering, and giving one’s own merits and happiness to others, exchanging oneself for others. After some time, when she went to the hospital for a check-up, they did not find any cancer. The doctors were completely amazed, they could not understand how this meditation could cure her cancer totally. This is one subject that they cannot explain. This is one of the benefits of bodhicitta, letting go of the “I,” and cherishing others. This is why I am saying that you can use the situation of being in prison, being executed, as a means to develop bodhicitta, exchanging oneself for others. Instead of cherishing the “I,” cherish others; instead of giving to oneself, give to others.
This is said in the teachings of Buddha, but also this is the reality that you can see in your own life, from your own experiences. Global problems, problems in a country, family problems, individual problems—all these problems come from cherishing the “I.” By cherishing the “I” one opens the door to all sufferings. By cherishing others one opens the door to all happiness, inner peace, joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment right now in your heart. You are able to overcome all the problems in your life and your mind; you will have a very happy death, a self-supporting death, as well as happy future lives, and, especially, ultimate happiness, total liberation from all suffering and its causes, and enlightenment. Cherishing others is the cause of temporal and ultimate happiness for all sentient beings up to enlightenment.
Using Prison to Practice Dharma
You can use this time and experience of being in prison to practice meditation and Dharma, that is, to purify defilements and negative karma, which are the causes of all suffering; to collect merit, which is the cause of happiness now and in future lives, liberation from all the suffering in samsara, and the achievement of peerless happiness, full enlightenment; and to meditate on the path to liberation and enlightenment, to transform suffering and problems into happiness through meditation, thought transformation, and Buddhist psychology. In this way, being in prison becomes a retreat for you. When one does retreat, one doesn’t meet people; one is alone in a room, in a shelter. This cuts out your busy life, seeing people, talking to people, etc. Also, your mind is in retreat from all the distracted thoughts. Being in prison can be similar to living in a meditation cave. The police have put you into retreat. This is something to thank them for; you can rejoice that you are in retreat. Think: “How fortunate I am.”
Worldly people believe that prison has a beginning and an end. But the real prison is being under the control of delusion and its action, karma; being caught, enveloped, trapped in this samsaric prison, these aggregates, which continually cycle from one life to another, without a second’s break. This prison is caused by karma and the contaminated seed of delusion. Because of that, these aggregates, which are in the nature of pervasive, compounded suffering, become the cause to experience both the suffering of pain and the suffering of change. The suffering of change refers to temporary samsaric pleasure, which is in the nature of suffering because it does not last. This pleasure is labeled on the base, which is suffering. That is why samsaric pleasures do not last, why you don’t have pleasure all the time. Even pleasure is in the nature of impermanence, is decaying minute by minute, second by second. It doesn’t last for even a minute or a second.
These aggregates are the real prison, which has no beginning. We have been enmeshed in this from time without beginning. We have experienced so many hell realm sufferings, hungry ghost sufferings, animal sufferings, human sufferings, suras’ (devas: worldly gods) sufferings and asuras’ sufferings, from time without beginning. It doesn’t end until we actualize the path by realizing that it is suffering, by realizing the true cause of suffering, and by achieving the cessation of all the sufferings and their causes. This is the most terrifying prison, this is the real prison that we should try to be free from, right away, without delaying for even a second.
We are caught in this, and continuously we suffer. But not only that: so many sentient beings have to suffer for us, for our comfort, so that we can survive. So many other beings have to die and harm others so that we can enjoy shelter. So many sentient beings died when our house was built. So many beings had to suffer for our comfort, and pleasure, for us to survive. So many sentient beings had to die so that we could eat and drink; others had to create negative karma by killing; there are so many hardships. It is similar with our clothing: so many beings had to be killed, or created the cause of killing, harming others, in order to make our clothing. Also, when we travel, so many beings die when we drive a car, so many beings get crushed. So, you can see, being caught in samsara is the most frightening thing; one can’t stand it even for one second.
Therefore, one must listen, reflect, meditate on the path, and practice on the path that has been revealed by the wise, compassionate, kind, omniscient one, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha. Only through this can one be liberated from samsara so that other sentient beings don’t have to suffer for you, don’t have to create negative karma for you, don’t have to harm others for you. You can see that one has the responsibility to not only liberate oneself but to liberate many sentient beings from this samsaric prison as well.
There are many stories about people who actualize the path in prison. In Tibet, many Tibetan monks and laypeople were put in prison for many years. So many of them actualized the path, used the time to meditate on the path, and developed their minds on the path. So many of them made their life so rich in prison, rich with realizations; their life became very meaningful. For them, being in prison was exactly the same as living in a hermitage and being in retreat. There were many external signs that they had developed their minds on the path, such as their body glowing magnificently, becoming more and more white and shiny. One time, when a lama passed away, his body was thrown in the river. It stayed in the meditation position and didn’t sink, floating on the top of the river, his back straight. Things like this happened.
There is one Tibetan reincarnated lama who was put in prison for more than 20 years. During that time he took the opportunity to do retreat and meditation practice, to practice Dharma. He practiced Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga, reciting the 4-5 line Migtsema verse. He saw Lama Tsongkhapa and his guru as one. Lama Tsongkhapa is the embodiment of all the buddhas’ compassion (Chenrezig), all the buddhas’ wisdom (Manjushri), and all the buddhas’ power (Vajrapani). This lama’s wisdom blossomed like a fully developed lotus, and he became extremely learned in the teachings of Buddha, particularly in the Lama Tsongkhapa tradition. When he got out of prison he became very famous. When he was giving teachings in Sera Monastery in Tibet, other learned geshes went to take teachings from him and they were astonished, so impressed with his profound, extensive teachings. One particular quality he had was that he was able to read eight volumes of Buddha’s scriptures in one day, and to give the oral transmission of these eight volumes, reciting each word clearly, in one day. Each volume has many hundreds of pages and each page has many lines.
You can see how you can make your life in prison very meaningful, even achieving enlightenment. This is an incredible opportunity, a retreat away from the inner prison, being controlled by the self-cherishing thought, ignorance, anger, attachment, and negative emotional thoughts. You can achieve not only temporary happiness but create the cause to obtain ultimate happiness, liberation from samsara, and the peerless happiness of full enlightenment. You can do this while you are in your living space, which is labeled by ordinary people as prison.
Now you can feel incredible joy at being in prison, and you can see how to make your life so meaningful. If you do these practices, all the buddhas and bodhisattvas will be with you, around you, supporting you; all the holy beings will be with you when you die.
Thank you very much and with much love and prayers...