Life, Death and After Death

By Lama Thubten Yeshe
London, 1982 and Geneva, 1983. (Archive #323 044)

The essence of this book is a weekend seminar on death, intermediate state and rebirth. The topic is particularly poignant as this was the last teaching Lama gave in the West; he passed away some five months later. But here he was his usual boisterous, punchy, direct, funny, loving and compassionate self, treating death in his incomparable light yet serious way.

These teachings are also available on DVD. You can watch video excerpts in Chapter TwoChapter Four and Chapter Six, or go to our YouTube channel.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching at Royal Holloway College, England, 1975. Photo: Dennis Heslop.
1. Finding Peace in Everyday Life: Lama Zopa Rinpoche

The happiness we desire, the suffering we do not want, the happiness we try to get, the suffering we try to eliminate all come from the mind—not from somebody else’s mind but from our own.

For example, how does the everyday, unwanted suffering that we try to prevent come from our own mind? It arises because our mind is not under our control; we’re under the control of our mind, which in turn is under the control of our disturbing thoughts. This is the mistake we make. We allow our mind to be controlled by the inner enemy; we offer the victory to the disturbing thoughts, we always give liberation to the disturbing thoughts—ignorance, dissatisfaction, anger and selfishness. Instead of defeating and trying to get freedom from them we give them complete freedom and take defeat upon ourselves. That’s the whole problem. That’s it. That’s our everyday life.

If we make an effort to put our disturbing thoughts under the control of our mind, we’ll find happiness and peace in our everyday life and our unwanted suffering will cease. But as long as we allow ourselves to be controlled by our disturbing thoughts, we’ll always experience problems and suffering.

If we want peace of mind in our everyday life, then even if we can’t renounce ourself and completely single-pointedly cherish other sentient beings, if we can’t change that much, at least we should practice equanimity, understanding that we and other sentient beings are exactly equal in not desiring even the slightest discomfort and not being happy and satisfied. In this, we’re exactly equal.

The tantric teaching, Guru Puja, explains that simply knowing or understanding the words of the teachings is not enough—the purpose of the words is that they be put into practice. If we don’t practice what we know, we will not experience peace of mind. So here, if we can’t practice exchanging ourself for others—renouncing ourself and completely cherishing other sentient beings—we should at least try to practice equanimity.

Equanimity

It’s very logical. If you check carefully, you will see that you yourself, your family, friends and workmates, everybody in the country and indeed all sentient beings are all exactly equal in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering. Therefore there’s not the slightest reason that your own happiness and freedom from suffering are more important than anybody else’s.

First, think of your spouse and somebody you hate, your enemy: they’re exactly equal. You can’t find a single reason to prove that the freedom from suffering and happiness of the person you love are more important than those of the person who disturbs you. Then think in the same way about the rest of your family, your workmates, the people in your society, your country, the whole earth, and then all the other sentient beings. They’re all exactly equal, even though they speak different languages, dress differently and have different colored skins. However different they are, they’re exactly the same in this.

So you and the person who disturbs you, your enemy, are exactly equal in longing for happiness and not desiring the slightest discomfort and not wanting to hear even two unpleasant words. Furthermore, you and any other person are also exactly equal in having the right to obtain happiness and eliminate suffering. You and others are also exactly the same in that you need others’ help and they need yours. So if, while this is the actual situation, you give harm to others for no valid reason other than you want happiness for yourself and don’t care about that of others, that’s very upsetting, most ungenerous; such a person has a very poor mind, a most upsetting character.

On the other hand, if, in a family, or even a couple, at least one person practices equanimity, there’ll be much peace and harmony in that relationship.

Actually, the equality I’ve been talking about is a fact, but our wrong conception fabricates that “I’m more important than others, than my enemy, than all sentient beings,” even though there’s not the slightest shred of evidence for that. In fact, the I that is more important than others does not even exist; it’s a hallucination. So clinging to a hallucination is rather funny, but it’s what we do all the time in our everyday life. And from that, all confusion arises.

The faults of self-cherishing

This selfish attitude is the source of all our depression, aggression, nervous breakdowns, lack of success, encountering undesirable things, life’s ups and downs and everyday problems. The stronger our selfish attitude, the greater the problems we experience, and the stronger our self-concern, our desire for self-happiness, the easier we find discomfort. We even get angry at birds chirping outside our window. Even though they have no intention of disturbing us and other people find their sound charming, their singing becomes a big disturbance for selfish people like us. We get angry at dogs barking and even the wind in the trees! If we’re served cooked food that’s even a little bit cold, we make it a huge problem. Many upsetting things like this happen. For other people, the many things that bother the selfish person are never a problem.

So you can see from just these few examples, it all comes from the selfish person’s mind. If he goes into town, he gets disturbed; if he stays at home, he gets disturbed. Wherever he goes he gets disturbed.

And you see this especially with selfish couples—they fight all the time. They fight in the garden, they fight inside; in the bedroom, the dining room, at breakfast and at lunch. The only time they don’t fight is when they’re apart. What we see others going through and what we experience ourselves is exactly what the Buddha explained in his teachings.

But if at least one of the two renounces his or her own happiness in favor of the other’s, their relationship becomes peaceful and harmonious—the greater the renunciation, the greater the peace and harmony.

So simply from this you can understand how incredibly important it is to change the mind, to practice equanimity, to develop the mind—to change the old mind, which cherishes only oneself, to the mind that cherishes others. Even for everyday peace, leaving aside the question of ultimate happiness, it’s extremely important to practice the good heart.

If we always allow our mind to remain under the control of the selfish attitude, if we don’t make some change in our mind, even if we were to live a billion eons, it wouldn’t matter: we wouldn’t have any peace of mind, we’d always experience problems. The longer we lived, the more problems we’d experience. That’s what would happen. And even if out of dissatisfaction we were to change husbands, wives, companions a million times, we’d still not be satisfied; we’d still not find peace of mind.

You can see how logical and fact-based this is. It’s so clear. For example, if you and another person are starving and the other person finds some food and offers it to you, giving up his happiness for yours, how happy it makes you. That shows how abandoning self-cherishing causes happiness.

If other people treat you badly, criticize you and point out your mistakes and it hurts your mind, that itself is a shortcoming of the selfish attitude. If you weren’t clinging to yourself, cherishing yourself, whatever bad things other people said about you won’t hurt you. Criticism hurts only if you cherish yourself.

In order to defeat and destroy the selfish attitude you have to see it as an enemy, just as you identify certain other beings as external enemies. In order to see self-cherishing as an enemy you have to be constantly aware of its shortcomings. For example, if you’re trying to practice Dharma but whatever you do with your body, speech and mind does not become Dharma, that’s the fault of the selfish attitude; your actions do not become Dharma because you’re following the selfish attitude.

Even though we receive all kinds of thought training teachings from many different lamas, when we encounter problems we can’t even remember the teachings we’ve received let alone put them into practice. When somebody treats us badly or abuses us, we can’t even remember what meditation we should practice at that time. Why is that? It’s because we’re following the selfish attitude. As long as we do this, even if the buddhas of the three times were to come before us and give us teachings for a hundred eons, as long as we haven’t changed our attitude, as long as we haven’t practiced the instructions we’ve received, those buddhas’ teachings would be of no benefit; they would not change our mind. If we don’t make an effort from our side, no matter who gives us teachings, even Jesus himself, nothing happens; there’s no peace of mind.

Even though we think we’re practicing Dharma and have taken the various levels of vow—pratimoksha, bodhisattva and tantric—we can point to none of our vows as clean, pure. Our vows are like rags riddled with holes. Our pratimoksha vows are full of holes; our bodhisattva vows are full of holes; our tantric vows are full of holes. All this is because we insist on following the selfish attitude. As long as we do so, even our wishes for our own happiness don’t get fulfilled; the actions we do for our own benefit do not succeed.

Not only does selfishness prevent our accomplishing activities done for ourself and experiencing temporary happiness, it also prevents us from ceasing all our obscurations and experiencing ultimate happiness. And the selfish attitude also prevents us from completing perfect activities for others, from completing the realizations that lead to the omniscient mind. In other words, simply harboring the selfish attitude itself is harming all other sentient beings.

If you think about it properly you will see that one’s selfishness definitely harms all sentient beings. Without completing the realizations, we cannot work properly for others, we cannot guide every sentient being perfectly; we cannot free them from suffering and lead them into the peerless happiness of enlightenment. Therefore, simply harboring the selfish attitude itself greatly harms our ability to fulfill our work for other sentient beings. This is very clear.

You can see how incredibly important it is to understand how this works, even for those who don’t understand or have faith in reincarnation. To experience even everyday happiness we have to overcome self-cherishing. Everything we’ve done throughout our entire life has been to achieve happiness. As children we went to primary and secondary school; as young adults we went to college; we learned many different languages, studied many different topics—what was it all for? It was to make our life happy, that’s all. That’s clear; it’s very simple. We’ve put so much effort into this, for thirty or forty years, to accumulate wealth, enjoy a good reputation and so forth. We’ve even risked our life for happiness. So you can see how incredibly important it is to understand what actually brings happiness.

The answer: practicing patience

Therefore, the first thing we have to do in our everyday life is to change our attitude and, when we have an enemy, practice patience with that person. When somebody disturbs us we have to take that opportunity to practice patience. We have to generate equanimity, renouncing ourself and cherishing others, by thinking of the kindness of others and the shortcomings of self-cherishing. At the very least we have to practice equanimity. So you can see that developing a good heart is the very first thing we need to do.

No matter how much wealth and material we have accumulated, no matter how many decades we’ve studied, no matter how good our reputation, no matter how many people we have below us, working for us, if we don’t practice patience and the good heart we’ll have no peace of mind at all. Even if we have spent millions of dollars on houses all over the world, as long as we haven’t dealt with the self-cherishing mind we’ll have no peace of mind.
Where does peace of mind actually come from? It comes from the enemy. In practice, the person who disturbs us is the one who offers us peace of mind. By practicing patience and generating loving kindness and compassion for this person, our anger diminishes. Year by year we find it harder and harder to get angry, and when we do it lasts for shorter and shorter periods of time. Friends and helpers don’t give us the opportunity to practice patience, loving kindness and compassion. We have to rely on enemies for that.

So you can see now, after spending up to fifty years in search of a happy life and peace of mind, spending millions of dollars obtaining a good education and buying things, if we don’t practice patience and the good heart and try to change our mind, we’ll have no peace at all. All our problems will remain the same if not worse . . . worse than the ones we had before we were educated, when we were children. This is our experience; we can see this even now.

But if right now we practice patience, loving kindness and compassion with our enemy, the person who disturbs and criticizes us in everyday life, we’ll develop great realizations and incredible tranquility of mind. So you can see, whatever peace of mind you’re experiencing this minute, this hour, has come from your enemy. If that person hadn’t had thoughts of dislike toward you, anger for you, if he hadn’t wanted to harm you, you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to practice patience and therefore wouldn’t have the mental peace and tranquility that you do. Your peace of mind comes from that person. Therefore, the person who is angry with you, who dislikes and wants to harm you is incredibly precious and kind.

As I just mentioned, some years ago, before you practiced patience, whenever you were angry with somebody, it would last for weeks and months. Just seeing a photo of that person or even remembering him would be painful. But after years of practice, when anger does arise it lasts for only a few seconds, then disappears. Your mind definitely changes. Before practicing thought training, you saw the person who disturbed and criticized you as very ugly, very undesirable, completely negative and painful, but now you see that angry, critical person as extremely precious and kind. You see that person in a warm aspect, like your mother, somebody who has helped you and been very kind to you. Actually, you feel even warmer toward your enemy than you do toward your mother.

So now you can see, as soon as you practice patience with your enemy, you immediately get the peace of mind that you didn’t get by studying and spending lots of money for many years; the moment you practice patience, you get the peace of mind you didn’t get from your vast collection of material possessions. So you can see how incredibly precious and important it is to practice the good heart and it doesn’t cost a dime.

As it says in the Kadampa teaching, Eight Verses of Thought Transformation, by seeing your enemy, the person who is angry with you, as your guru, your virtuous friend who helps you complete the practice of the perfection of patience, you are able to eradicate all obscurations and complete all realizations and achieve the state of omniscience.1 Then, with no effort at all, you are able to guide all sentient beings without the slightest mistake.

So all these advantages—achieving the omniscient mind, guiding each and every sentient being to freedom from suffering and peerless happiness without mistake—derive from your enemy, from the sentient being who is angry with you. Therefore this being is incredibly precious.

If you don’t practice patience with your enemy you get hell; if you do, you get enlightened.

Even if somebody were to give you a billion dollars, or every diamond on earth, you still couldn’t buy the tranquility and peace of mind that you get by practicing loving kindness, compassion and patience with the sentient being who is angry with you.

So, you see, even without talking about enlightenment or all the other ultimate benefits you get from the enemy, just talking about the diminishing anger and everyday peace of mind you receive, if you were to offer your enemy the whole earth filled with jewels every hour of every day for a hundred eons, that would be nothing compared to the benefit you get from practicing patience on him. Even giving him that many jewels can never repay his kindness in offering you the chance to practice patience and the advantages, the great peace of mind, you get from that.

When we look around we see living beings everywhere—in the sky, in the water, in the bushes—all keeping busy in a never-ending quest for happiness. All those people keeping busy in cities, in villages, in space, underwater, it’s all for happiness. But you now understand that the first thing to ensure that such quests are successful is to practice patience in everyday life, the thought of living kindness and compassion, bodhicitta. That’s the first thing to be concerned about, the most important thing.

And you also understand that to find peace of mind, to practice patience, you don’t have to travel the world, you don’t have to spend a lot of money, looking for an enemy, trying to find an enemy. Enemies are everywhere! Right there in your family, for example. You don’t have go to the tourist office: “Please, can you direct me to an enemy? I have to practice patience.” Enemies are all around you, every day—in your home, in your office, on the street. Right there. They’re so kind. You don’t have to spend millions of dollars to find them in order to practice patience, to find peace of mind, to develop a good heart. They’re so kind; they come to you. It’s like accidentally finding a million dollars in the garbage, like finding a precious treasure right in front of you without having to seek afar.

Also, that person isn’t your enemy all the time. If he were, if he were constantly angry with you, every day, month and year, you’d be incredibly fortunate because you’d be able to practice patience all the time, every day, year after year. But it’s not like that—sometimes he’s not angry with you and there’s no opportunity to practice. So if you don’t take the opportunity to practice when he’s mad at you, you lose that great chance of developing your mind, a good heart.

So without delay, we should practice the moment that that precious treasure found without effort—the angry person—appears before us. That should be our plan. Otherwise, even though we receive many teachings on patience and thought training, years go by without practice. Then one day, all of a sudden, we die, and that’s it. Our life is over and we never practiced.

Thus you can see how rare, kind and precious are those who are angry with us. We should always remember their kindness and never miss the opportunity of practicing patience when they give it to us, as difficult as that may be. In fact, this should be our heart practice. It’s easy to practice with other sentient beings; we should make our heart practice that which is the most difficult. If we can remember the kindness of the enemy and practice patience and develop bodhicitta with him, we’ll find it easy to practice with other sentient beings.

In this way, then, wherever you are—at home with your parents and family or living alone—you’re happy, you always enjoy your life. If you practice the good heart—renouncing yourself and cherishing others—you’re happy wherever you live. If you live in the city, you’re happy; if you live in the mountains, you’re happy there as well. When you go to work in your office there’s nobody there to whom you have to show an angry face or feel uptight with. Wherever you go, much happiness surrounds you. Not only are you happy but you also make the people you meet happy. Others are always happy to see you and want to meet you. Even if you don’t particularly want a good reputation, because of your good heart you automatically get one. Even if you don’t need help, others want to help you. Your life is happy and your future lives are even happier.

So when you go to work, remember the kindness of others every day. This is extremely important. You should at least remember the kindness of your employer, the person who gives you your job. Even though you get paid for your work you should still have the right attitude of gratitude. Everyday life problems come from not having the right attitude. Thinking in the wrong way brings problems; thinking in the right way brings much peace and harmony. It all depends on attitude. So when you go to work in the morning you should go with the attitude remembering the kindness of those who give you your job. Your being able to afford all life’s necessities, comforts and pleasures is due to their kindness. Because of this you are also able to practice Dharma and develop a good heart.

Therefore, remembering your employers’ kindness, go to work in order to alleviate their suffering and bring them happiness. If you can’t manage to think of all sentient beings you should at least remember your employers. Instead of thinking, “I’m going to work for my own happiness, for my food, for my comfort,” go with the attitude that you’re working for others.

Similarly, whenever you eat, drink, go to bed or do anything else enjoyable, do it for the sake of other sentient beings. Think, “The purpose of my having been born human is to eliminate the suffering of other sentient beings and to bring them happiness. The purpose of my human life is to serve others, to use myself for others. Therefore I’m going to eat this food . . . wear these clothes . . . go to sleep.” Do whatever you do as the servant of other sentient beings.

As the great bodhisattva Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s guru, said, “If you look, look with bodhicitta; if you eat, eat with bodhicitta; if you speak, speak with bodhicitta; if you examine, examine with bodhicitta.” Whatever you do, as much as possible do it with the thought of benefiting others.

One more thing: when you see somebody who’s angry with you, remember that that person has no freedom at all. He’s completely overwhelmed by anger, like a crazy person under the control of drugs or spirits. He has no freedom at all; he’s completely possessed by anger. Think how pitiful he is and generate the thought of compassion. If you think about the situation carefully you will see that his lack of freedom itself is reason enough to generate compassion.

I’ll stop here, but I hope that you’ve found something beneficial in what I’ve said; something useful that you can apply in your everyday life to find peace of mind. Thank you very much.
 

Notes

1  Verse 6: “When someone whom I have benefited and in whom I have great hopes gives me terrible harm, I shall regard that person as my holy guru.”  [Return to text]