Loving Oneself

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
London, England November 1996

Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave this teaching at Jamyang Buddhist Centre, London, November 1996. Published in Mandala magazine, May 1998.

Portrait of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, 2010. Photo: Ven. Roger Kunsang.

To love oneself is not contradictory to what Mahayana Buddhism teaches. It is not saying one should not love oneself. Renouncing oneself and cherishing others is not contradictory to loving oneself. In fact, practicing the Mahayana teaching, bodhicitta, is the best way to love oneself, to take care of oneself.

Whatever we do with our body, speech, and mind is for happiness. Even the activities of the tiniest insects, like the ants we see running around and keeping so busy, is also to achieve happiness. By looking at ourselves and at other living beings, we can see that it is the same: whatever we do is to achieve happiness.

A "problem" is what we do not want to experience and "happiness" is what we want to achieve. With this mind one can stop the problems, can stop all the undesirable experiences, and with this mind one can achieve all the happiness. Why is this? Because problems and happiness do not come from outside. The creator of problems and happiness is oneself in past lives. Therefore, with this mind all our problems can be stopped and we can achieve temporal day-to-day happiness and ultimate happiness, full enlightenment.

The problems of both non-religious people, those who do not have any faith, who do not meditate, and of the religious people who externally take the form of the teachings, doing prayers and so forth, even meditating, come from not understanding the meaning of loving oneself. One should give freedom to oneself, love oneself, but what does it mean? If we have a wrong understanding of this, we will always be followed by problems.

In Buddhism, particularly in Mahayana Buddhism, the best way of loving oneself is to pull out the root of all problems, which is right in one's own heart: the ego, the self-centered mind. So, if one lets go of cherishing the I, then it doesn't matter what situation one is experiencing, the problem becomes non- existent.

The minute before there was such a serious problem, like gloom, like a mountain; but the minute you let go of the problem that makes you think, "I am going to kill myself, there is no other solution, I can't move," then the problem doesn't exist. It was so bad, but the minute you let go of this uptight, self- centered mind, the problem doesn't exist. The person still doesn't love you, doesn't treat you well, treats you badly - this is the same - but since you let go of the I, you no longer experience it as a problem. And changing one's own mind certainly can affect the other person's mind also, to help bring change, to stop their emotional negative thought.

Without talking about the long-term result of enlightenment, what effect immediately comes into your heart by letting go of the self-centered mind? The result is peace, happiness, satisfaction. With bodhicitta you have fulfillment in your heart, you see life as more meaningful. Even if you don't know lots of Dharma, even if you only know OM MANI PADME HUM and nothing else, if you let go of the root of the problems of life, if you let go of what makes you cry all the time inside your heart like a baby, "I'm not happy, I'm not happy, I’m not happy,' you can find happiness and satisfaction. No matter how much one learns Buddhadharma, no matter how much the education expands externally with words and meanings, if the mind is always crying inside the heart, "I'm not happy!" "I," "I," "I" becomes the main concern in life.

The meaning of loving oneself then becomes loving attachment, the emotional mind. Rather than trying to get rid of this mind, one becomes a slave to attachment, to the evil thought of the eight worldly dharmas. Then if somebody disturbs this delusion you see that as a problem. In reality this affliction is the main enemy that does not allow you to open your heart or have realizations. It won't let you achieve the ultimate freedom, to become completely liberated from all sufferings, including the cycle of death and rebirth, and the causes, karma and delusions. This affliction doesn't allow you to see emptiness of the I and blocks the wisdom that cuts the ignorance, which is the root of samsara.

Not having meditated enough on the mistakes of this emotional mind, one becomes its slave. Attachment becomes the guru; you listen and follow whatever it says. Since one's definition of loving oneself is doing what attachment wants, then one is always dissatisfied, unhappy.

Even if one has learned the whole entire Dharma, has memorized all the hundreds of volumes of sutra and tantra texts and can explain fluently, effortlessly, still the unhappy mind is the same.

Because of this there is some danger that one can blame the Dharma. There is something wrong so the blame goes on Buddha's teachings, and this creates very heavy karma. "Something must be wrong with the Tibetan Mahayana Buddhist tradition, there must be something missing there. Why is this happening?" The reason one doesn't escape dissatisfaction is because one has not recognized the fundamental practice of Dharma. The fundamental meditations on lam-rim are left out; one doesn't pay attention to them because the mind always wants to be higher, wants to meditate on beautiful visualizations, not suffering visualizations, not the hell realms. But the meditations on the perfect human rebirth, impermanence and death, results of karma, suffering of the lower realms become essential.

Of course we can say nice words like bodhicitta, but without first realizing renunciation of this life and future lives in samsara, there is no way to have the actual realization of bodhicitta. One can generally have a good heart, but without renunciation one cannot receive the actual realization of bodhicitta. Even if one has been practicing the completion stage practice of the Six Yogas of Naropa, without renunciation there is no bodhicitta, which is something very practical that enables us to enter the Mahayana Path and go towards enlightenment. Realizations have to happen step by step.

Even if one doesn't know anything intellectually but the mind is free from emotional mind, one receives so much deep peace in the heart. One doesn't show excitement, doesn't do disco dancing (I'm joking!), however there is incredible peace. There is no problem with loneliness or depression, because one lets go of the self-centered mind instead of holding it like baby, like a jewel. One who lets go like this is opening the door to enlightenment, opening the door to the happiness of oneself and for every living being.

This emotional, attached mind is your mind, and this healthy, renounced Dharma mind is also your mind. Satisfaction comes from the Dharma mind. If you follow this mind, the free mind, when somebody criticizes you it doesn't bother you, it doesn't hurt your compassion. But when you follow the attachment mind and somebody criticizes you, it bothers you, it hurts you. As you become the friend of attachment you begin to view this emotional mind as your self, your being, then when someone's criticism hurts your attachment, it appears like it is hurting you.

If you analyze like this, whether you feel hurt or not is completely in your hands. One can use the situation to make oneself more peaceful, to bring oneself satisfaction and fulfillment; to quickly achieve realizations, quickly receive the path to enlightenment.

The whole key to transforming everything into beneficial situations, to blocking all the problems, is which mind you follow, whether you follow delusion or Dharma - your own mind the delusions; your own mind the Dharma; the ego or the bodhicitta; the attachment or the free mind. You can have the satisfied mind, which is pure Dharma. It's up to you.