Animal Liberation with Master Hai Tao

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Taichung, Taiwan, 2007 (Archive #1609)

Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave this teaching on animal liberation at Shakyamuni Center, Taichung, Taiwan on March 4, 2007. Transcribed by Thubten Munsel and edited by Ven. Ailsa Cameron.

Master Hai Tao first gave a 35-minute Dharma talk in Chinese. This was followed by a group recitation of manis until Rinpoche began his talk.  

Lama Zopa Rinpoche with kangaroo in Adelaide, Australia, 1983. Photo: Wendy Finster.

Good morning to everyone. I would also like to offer my respect and greetings to Master Hai Tao and to everyone else, my brothers and sisters.

I think that the activities that Master Hai Tao has been doing in this world up to now, liberating many millions of animals, are really incomparable holy deeds. There’s no one else in this world who could do this. His incomparable holy deeds are of incredible benefit to the most precious, kind sentient beings, the animals. Liberating animals is one of the best means to bring peace in this world, not only peace to the animals but also peace to the human beings, with thousands of human beings engaging every time in this incredible, virtuous activity of saving the lives of others, of those who are suffering.

In Singapore, the students of Amitabha Buddhist Centre have been liberating animals for the last quite a number of years. Up to now, they have liberated more than 60 or 70 million animals, [it is now well over 100 million] I think. People who have cancer or some other sickness, even those who are far away in the West, send their names and a donation to Amitabha Buddhist Centre. In the West there is not much opportunity to do this practice; it’s not commonly done. There have been quite a number of people who recovered from cancer by participating in liberating animals. When you create good karma by helping others to have long life, the natural karmic result is that it causes you to have a long life. There’s no doubt about this. Even people with cancer and other life-threatening cancers have recovered in this way.

This practice creates incredible merit, or good karma. It’s one of the sources of good luck. It says in Sutra Requested by [Lodro] Gyatso, “Even if they explained for eons, all the numberless past, present and future buddhas could never finish explaining the benefits of generating bodhicitta and compassion for others, saving the lives of others and practicing Dharma.”

Saving the lives of others is one way to practice compassion for others. So, Master Hai Tao has been unbelievably kind in giving all of you this opportunity, and we are unbelievably fortunate to have been able to engage in generating compassion for others and saving their lives, especially together as a group, which has more power.

Lama Atisha was the great pandit, the great holy being, who brought Buddhadharma to Tibet and made the Buddhism in Tibet pure. The Buddha taught 84,000 teachings, remedies for the 84,000 delusions. At one time in Tibet, there was a problem with misunderstanding of Buddhism, with people who were practicing tantra thinking that they couldn’t practice sutra and those who were practicing sutra thinking that they couldn’t practice tantra. People saw tantra and sutra as separate, like hot and cold. They didn’t think that one person could practice the entire teaching of Buddha.

So, the Dharma King of Tibet, Lha Lama Yeshe Ö sent many offerings of gold and invited Lama Atisha from India to Tibet to give teachings and eliminate the misunderstandings. At that time Lama Atisha didn’t come. Lha Lama Yeshe Ö then again went to look for gold to make offering to Lama Atisha and invite him to Tibet.

The irreligious king of one area put the Dharma King, Lha Lama Yeshe Ö, in prison. Lha Lama Yeshe Ö’s nephew, Jangchub Ö, then went to see the irreligious king and offered him all the gold the Dharma king had found. When the gold was piled up, it reached the level of the king’s neck, but the irreligious king then said, “Still I need gold the size of the king’s head.”

When his nephew went to the prison and told the king this, the king said, “Don’t give him even one handful of gold. You must send all this gold to India. Offer it to Lama Atisha and invite Lama Atisha to spread Dharma in Tibet and make the teaching pure.”

Ngatso Lotsawa, a translator, want to India, to Nalanda, with all the gold offerings to invite Lama Atisha to Tibet. At that time there were no roads, nothing. For many months they had to go by foot through the forests and over the mountains. It took a long time.

The Dharma King, Lha Lama Yeshe Ö, sent a message to his nephew, saying, “I will give up my life to spread Dharma to the sentient beings in Tibet. Pass this message to Lama Atisha, ‘May I be able to meet you in my future lives.’” The king then passed away in prison.

The translator Ngatso Lotsawa finally reached Nalanda, the great monastic university in India, where there were many hundreds of great pandit scholars, highly attained beings. Chandrakirti, Shantideva and many other great scholars and highly attained beings had studied at Nalanda.

The translator finally met Lama Atisha and explained all the difficulties the king had experienced in going to look for gold to make offering to Lama Atisha and how the king had passed away in prison. He also explained the misunderstanding about the teachings in Tibet, how people thought that if one practiced sutra one couldn’t practice tantra and that if one practiced tantra one couldn’t practice sutra.

Lama Atisha listened to everything and said that he understood the situation. He then checked with Tara (who is like this Kuan Yin), the embodiment of all the buddhas’ holy actions. Lama Atisha always checked with Tara before he made any important decision. He asked Tara, “If I go to Tibet, will it be beneficial or not?”

Tara said, “You will be highly beneficial in Tibet, but your life will be seven years shorter.”

Lama Atisha then said, “I don’t care about that. Even if my life becomes shorter, if it’s beneficial, I will go to Tibet.”

Lama Atisha was very much needed by Nalanda University and generally by the people in India. He was like the crown jewel of the great scholars of Nalanda. If the abbot of Nalanda had known what was happening, he wouldn’t have let Lama Atisha go. Lama Atisha was very skillful. He showed the aspect of going on pilgrimage in Nepal, then went through Nepal into Tibet.

When Lama Atisha reached Tibet, the nephew of the king came to receive him and requested him, “Since we Tibetans are very ignorant, please give us the teachings on refuge and the karma.” He didn’t ask for high teachings such as tantric teachings or teachings on emptiness or for initiations. His asking for the fundamental teachings on karma and refuge made Lama Atisha very happy.

Because of all the misunderstandings, Lama Atisha then wrote Lamp of the Path to Enlightenment. The 84,000 teachings of Dharma taught by Buddha include the Lesser Vehicle, or Hinayana, teachings, the path to achieve liberation for the self; the Paramitayana, or Mahayana sutra, teachings; and the Mahayana tantric teachings. Lama Atisha integrated all these teachings into this lam-rim, the stages of the path to enlightenment. In a few pages and making it simple, Lama Atisha arranged all the teachings as one person’s graduated practice to achieve enlightenment. Among all the different teachings that Buddha taught, nothing was contradictory to one person’s graduated practice to achieve enlightenment.

The term lam-rim, or stages of the path to enlightenment, happened after Lama Atisha wrote Lamp of the Path to Enlightenment. The lam-rim, which is a very condensed teaching, is like the Bible.

After Lama Atisha wrote this text, all the doubts and misunderstandings were completely eliminated, and the teaching in Tibet was made very pure. In Tibet and in other countries, so many beings then learned and practiced it and actualized the path. By actualizing bodhicitta, so many beings became bodhisattvas, and so many beings became enlightened, up to now. This text made it so easy to know how to go about enlightenment. By learning Lamp of the Path to Enlightenment, you learn the heart of the entire Buddhadharma.

Lama Atisha had 157 gurus, but his root guru was Lama Serlingpa. The Kadampa tradition started from Lama Atisha; his followers are called Kadampa geshes. There are three groups of Kadampa geshes: the Lamrimpa, the Man-ngag-pa and the Zhung-pa-wa. The Lamrimpa are the Kadampa geshes who achieved enlightenment by studying the essential teachings of Buddha, the steps of the path to enlightenment. The Kadampa geshes who achieved enlightenment by studying and putting into practice the teachings orally taught by their masters are called the Man-ngag-pa. The group of Kadampa geshes who achieved enlightenment by studying the extensive scriptures are called the Zhung-pa-wa.

So, the Kadampa geshes, the followers of Lama Atisha, say in the teachings that there’s a difference between praying alone in your room and praying with a group of people. Doing prayers together with a group has so much more power. Whether it’s with 100 or 1,000 people, praying with a group has so much power.

Here today and at all the other times, since many people come together to save the lives of others, your good karma is so much more powerful. It’s unbelievably powerful. So, it is also by the kindness of Master Hai Tao that so many sentient beings, including us, have the incredible opportunity to engage in this inconceivable good karma.

Saving the lives of others is one of the incredible holy deeds of a bodhisattva, and this practice is done not just from time to time but all the time. This gives many thousands and thousands of people the opportunity to engage in this virtuous action that has inconceivable benefits, as mentioned in the Sutra Requested by [Lodro] Gyatso.

Now here I would like to mention something about the importance of this practice. We are liberating thousands of fish, chickens and other creatures. Now, for every one of us here, every single one of these creatures is the source of all our past, present and future happiness. All the happiness we have experienced numberless times in the past, during our beginningless samsara, has been received by their kindness. It is the same with all our present happiness and comfort, even the comfort we feel when cool air passes over us when we are hot or the comfort of a pleasant dream. We receive all our present happiness by the kindness of all these sentient beings. And we will receive all our future happiness by their kindness. So, they are the most precious, most kind beings.

On top of all the happiness of samsara and all the future happiness, we receive the ultimate happiness of liberation from samsara by the kindness of all these creatures that we’re liberating today. By this, these sentient beings now become even more kind, more precious, to us.

On top of that, we achieve enlightenment, or great liberation, the state of completion of all the qualities of cessation and of completion of all realizations by the kindness of each and every single one of these sentient beings. For us, they are now even more precious and unbelievably kind.

I need to explain the logic behind how we receive every single happiness—all our past, present and future happiness; liberation; and enlightenment—by their kindness.

All your happiness comes from your virtuous action, your virtuous thought. Every single happiness, whether temporary happiness or the ultimate happiness of enlightenment, comes from your mind, from your virtuous thought and virtuous action. So, your virtuous thought or virtuous action is the action of buddha. There are two actions of a buddha: one is within us sentient beings and the other is possessed by the buddhas themselves.

Now, one’s own good karma, one’s own virtuous thought or action, came from Buddha. Since this is Buddha’s action, it came from Buddha. Buddha came from bodhisattva; bodhisattva came from bodhicitta; bodhicitta came from great compassion; and great compassion is generated in dependence upon the existence of obscured, suffering sentient beings. So, great compassion is generated in dependence upon the kindness of each and every single one of the numberless obscured, suffering sentient beings. Great compassion is generated in dependence upon each and every single obscured, suffering sentient being.

Therefore, you can now see that every one of us receives all the past happiness we have experienced during beginningless rebirths, all our present happiness and all our future happiness, including the ultimate happiness of liberation from samsara and full enlightenment, by the kindness of each and every single obscured, suffering sentient being.

Therefore, every one of us here receives all our past, present and future happiness up to enlightenment, including every realization of the path, by the kindness of each and every single one of these creatures. We have received everything from each chicken, each fish or each of the other animals. We can now see that they are the most precious, most kind ones in our life; they are the root of our happiness.

I would like everyone to now meditate a little bit on what I’ve just described. You have received all your numberless past happiness during beginningless samsaric rebirths from all the sentient beings. Therefore, it came from these sentient beings that we’re liberating. All your present happiness is received by their kindness. And all your future samsaric happiness is received by their kindness. On top of that, the ultimate happiness of liberation from samsara, which you’ll achieve in the future, depends on their kindness; you have to receive it by their kindness. The great liberation, or enlightenment, that we will attain also comes from them, by their kindness.

So, we will meditate on this, reflecting on how they’re so precious and so kind, for just a minute.

[There is a long pause for meditation.]

We will now extend this kindness of others to all sentient beings in the same way. We receive all our past, present and future happiness from all sentient beings: from all the numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, asuras, suras and intermediate state beings. We also receive liberation from samsara and full enlightenment by their kindness. So, everyone is so precious.

Include the person whom you hate or who hates, criticizes, harms or is angry with you. Especially include them. Remember that person in your heart, and especially think, “From this person I have received all my numberless past happiness and all my present happiness, and I will receive all my future happiness from this person. I will receive the ultimate, everlasting happiness of liberation from samsara by this person’s kindness, as well as the peerless happiness of enlightenment. So, this person is the most precious, most kind one in my life.”

Here, you have a totally positive view of this person in your life. Before, you had a negative view. You put a negative label on this person, and you looked at them as negative. To you they had a negative appearance. You were relating just to what this person did to you now in this life: “This person is angry with me,” “This person treated me badly,” “This person disrespected me” or “This person criticized me.” You related to the present situation, to this life.

Your mind then interpreted the situation as negative, as bad, because what the person does harms your attachment or your ego, your self-cherishing thought. You think it’s bad that this person is angry with you, criticizes you or treats you badly because you’re a friend of attachment, you’re a friend of ego, or self-cherishing thought. While you’re a friend of attachment and self-cherishing, you see this person being angry with, disrespecting or criticizing you as bad because it hurts your attachment, it hurts your self-cherishing. Because you’re not against them but friends with them, it’s like you’ve joined a party that thinks other groups are bad. Here you do the same thing. Since you yourself are a friend of attachment and self-cherishing thought, because what the person does hurts your attachment and self-cherishing thought, you then interpret that as bad and put a negative label on it. It then appears to you to be bad, and you then see it as bad. You see that person as your enemy.

So, that’s according to the view of attachment and self-cherishing thought. It’s not like that if you’re a friend of bodhicitta, the thought cherishing other sentient beings or if you’re a friend of compassion or if you’re a friend of contentment, or renunciation, with is the opposite to attachment. These pure minds wouldn’t label, “This is negative.” From their point of view, this person is not an enemy. As there’s no negative label, you wouldn’t see this person as bad. Also, in the view of the wisdom seeing emptiness, you don’t see that person as an enemy, as bad.

So, in the view of your positive minds you don’t see this person as bad, as your enemy. It is only in the view of attachment and self-cherishing thought that you would see this person is bad. It depends on what the person is now doing: if the person is helping you, you see them as good; if the person is criticizing you or angry with you, you see them as bad, especially while you are following attachment and self-cherishing thought.

Now here there are skies of reasons for seeing this person in a positive way. “I have received all my past and present happiness from this person, and I will receive all my future samsaric happiness from this person. On top of that, and even more important and precious, I will receive liberation from samsara from this person. And even more precious, I will receive full enlightenment this person.”

Since the kindness of this person is as vast as the sky, you now see them as only most positive, most pure.

Next I would like to request that you do this meditation of discovering the kindness of others, of how they are most precious and most kind, in relation not only to these creatures here today, but to all the people you meet in your daily life. Feel this with your family at home and with the people in your office or in the street. When you’re in a restaurant, feel the depthless kindness of all the people in the restaurant. Think, “I receive all my happiness of the three times by their kindness.” Feel the same way with the people, animals, such as cats, dogs and birds, and insects that you see in the road. See everybody as the most precious, most kind one in your life, and think, “I receive all my happiness from them.” In this way feel the kindness of all sentient beings in your daily life. Using the reasons I explained before, think especially of the kindness of the person you call your enemy.

I think this will bring so much peace and happiness in your life, and your heart will be open to everybody, to your family, to the people in your office. Wherever you are, east or west, your heart will be open to everybody, to human beings and non-human beings—even to snakes and mosquitoes and other insects. Everybody, including insects, will become your family. As you feel with your family, you will feel everybody is very close to you, and everybody will also feel that you’re very close to them. Here you now extend that feeling to the rest of the sentient beings, so that everybody becomes part of one big family. There is then unbelievable peace and happiness. When you feel that they’re close to your heart, they will also feel that you are close to them. There’s no gap between you and them; you’re all one family. You include all the people that live on this earth in one big family, as His Holiness the Dalai Lama often talks about.

In this way, in your everyday life, day and night your mind will be very happy.

Now, for you, everyone is most precious and most kind. In regard to kindness, sentient beings are kinder than Buddha, kinder than Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Sentient beings are more precious not in regard to qualities, as Buddha has the highest qualities, but in regard to kindness. Why? Because in regard to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, Buddha came from sentient beings. As I already explained before, Buddha came from bodhisattva; bodhisattva came from bodhicitta; bodhicitta came from great compassion; and great compassion is generated in dependence upon each and every single obscured, suffering sentient being. It’s very clear that Buddha came from each and every single sentient being. So, Dharma came from Buddha, who came from sentient beings; and Sangha came from Buddha, which means it also came from sentient beings. We take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha every day. As Mahayana practitioners, before we do any practice, we begin with taking refuge and generating bodhicitta. Since this Buddha, Dharma and Sangha came from sentient beings, sentient beings are kinder.

The Kadampa geshes explain that ordinary people in the world regard Buddha, Dharma and Sangha as more precious than sentient beings, but that as Dharma practitioners we should regard sentient beings as more precious than Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Ordinary people in the world also cherish the I more than others, but Dharma practitioners must cherish others more than the self. Ordinary people in the world seek the happiness of this life rather than the happiness of future lives; they think the happiness of this life is more important. But Dharma practitioners should seek the happiness of future lives, seeing the happiness of future lives as more important than this life’s happiness. So, the Kadampa geshes gave this most effective advice, and this is what they practiced.

Therefore, there is no way we can harm sentient beings. It is impossible to get angry with them; it is impossible to criticize them; it is impossible to harm them in any way. There is no way we can do anything to harm them. We’re incredibly lucky if we’re able to offer sentient beings even some small pleasure, some small comfort. It’s so precious. Being able to serve sentient beings, even one sentient being, in some small way is something that makes our life the most happy.

A bodhisattva feels about sentient beings the way a mother feels about her beloved child. She cherishes her child more than her life. She gives the best of everything to her child. If somebody criticizes her child, she gets very hurt. If somebody praises her child with a few sweet words, it makes her unbelievably happy.

A bodhisattva cherishes sentient beings most, doing everything for sentient beings. Therefore, this mosquito or this person who is angry with you is most cherished by a bodhisattva. A bodhisattva does everything, including attaining the path to enlightenment, for this sentient being.

Since there are numberless bodhisattvas who cherish this mosquito or this person, a small harm to this mosquito or this person harms the bodhisattvas. And if you’re able to give some small comfort, some small happiness, to this insect or this person, that’s what makes the bodhisattvas happiest.

Now, it is the same with the buddhas. What a buddha cherishes most is sentient beings. A buddha achieves enlightenment only for the sake of sentient beings. Therefore, even a small harm to sentient beings harms the buddhas. And bringing even a small pleasure or comfort to sentient beings is the best offering to the numberless buddhas. This is what we have to remember every day. Therefore, saving the lives of others becomes an unbelievable service to them. Besides benefiting sentient beings, this is the best offering to the numberless bodhisattvas, the numberless buddhas, to all the holy beings.

So, thank you very much.

I have brought a stupa tsa-tsa made by Lama Tsongkhapa as his daily practice. Here is also a tsa-tsa of Namgyalma, the long-life deity, made by Lama Atisha with his own hands. There are also relics of Nagarjuna and Buddha, given by His Holiness. I will put them here for circumambulation.

Again I would like to thank Master Hai Tao very much from the bottom of my heart for the skies of benefit he brings sentient beings.

For more advice by Lama Zopa Rinpoche on this topic, refer to the follow teachings: Advice on Benefiting Animals and Practices for Benefiting Animals.