E-letter No. 37: April 2006
Dear LYWA e-letter reader,
Thank you for being on our list. We hope you enjoy receiving our news and teachings.
Spread the word
Please help us in our guerrilla marketing by forwarding this e-letter to anybody you know who might be interested and to your center’s e-list, if appropriate. We would also welcome more visitors to our website, so if you can get any Dharma Web sites with which you might be associated to link to us, thank you so much! See our Links page for a special collection of buttons that you can use on your website when making a link.
The books are on their way...
Our new books, Lama Zopa Rinpoche's The Joy of Compassion and Geshe Jampa Tegchok's The Kindness of Others, have been sent out to our members and benefactors, Dharma centers and, basically, anybody who’s requested them. If you would like to receive copies, you can place an order through our website, or you can send us a request along with a donation to help cover the costs of postage ($5 in the US, $10 overseas) to our address below. Of course, you can always read them on line, or download a pdf file and print a copy of your own.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Advice Book
This month we have added many advices in the Dharma Work and Sangha section, in particular, many advices to sangha members regarding ordination and vows, dealing with difficult emotions, and general advice. We now have over 320 advices posted! Remember, you can always use our Advanced Search utility to search the Advice Book, or just browse through the menus.
This month's podcast...
...is another selection from Lama Yeshe's ever popular Becoming Your Own Therapist: Lama's talk titled "Religion: The Path of Inquiry" which was given in Brisbane, Australia in 1975. Visit our Online Recordings page to listen to this talk, or to learn more about subscribing to our monthly podcast. You can also read along with the unedited transcript of this talk.
Also new on the website
We've just posted a Vietnamese translation of Ribur Rinpoche's How to Generate Bodhicitta and a Quick Return prayer. See our Ribur Rinpoche index page to access these translations. And speaking of translations, Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche's books have been translated into many languages, including Spanish, Italian, German and Dutch. Please contact us if you would like more information about these translations.
A special request
We recently received a request from the FPMT, our parent organization, for help in reciting 100,000 long Amitayus mantras to dispel obstacles to the health of our spiritual teacher, Lama Zopa Rinpoche. If you would like to participate in this on behalf of the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive, see our page on the Amitayus Sutra and Mantra. Thank you so much. I hope together we can make a dent in this total.
And while on subject of Amitayus, Lama Zopa Rinpoche recently completed a new translation of the Amitayus Long Life sutra, which you will also find on the page referenced above. Rinpoche explains that there is much benefit in printing or writing this sutra, particularly for the success of activities and projects.
We're almost there!
Now here’s a special appeal. We need to reprint Lama Yeshe’s extremely popular The Peaceful Stillness of the Silent Mind, and for that we need about $8,000. If you would like to contribute to this project, please let me know…as you are aware, we can make free books available only through the kindness and compassion of our donors. So far we have raised about $4,000 toward this…I hope you, our e-letter readers, will be able to make up the rest. Thank you so much.
For cat lovers everywhere
And on a personal note (and not by way of establishing precedent), my nephew’s girlfriend has joined him in Australia and needs to find a home for her cat, Rasmus. She says, “Rasmus is a beautiful 4 year old male cat, who also goes by the name of Moose. He speaks English and Swedish. He is an independent cat, but also loves a cuddle and purrs to let you know when. He was found on the side of the road and quickly adapted into a home environment and is well house trained. He is de-sexed and has all his vaccinations, but requires a yearly boost of rabies vaccine. He is always calm when taken to the vet and very well behaved when he knows he needs to be. He’s an amazing companion that is desperately seeking a home. He’s currently living in Tivoli, NY, but his temporary carers are unable to look after him any longer.” Please let me know if you can help.
In last month’s e-letter we began Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s teaching on the first three perfections with his exhaustive treatment of charity. Morality and patience follow below. Thank you so much.
The Practice of the First Three Perfections
[There are five headings under which each perfection [Skt: paramita] can be considered:
1. The meaning of the perfection
2. How to practice the perfection
3. The divisions of the perfection
4. What should be done in the practice of the perfection
5. The conclusion]
1. The Meaning of Morality
Morality means giving up the thought of committing actions of body, speech and mind that are harmful to sentient beings. Completing the practice of the paramita of morality does not mean making all other sentient beings devoid of harmfulness. If it did, then all the previous buddhas would have yet to complete the practice of morality. What it does mean is completing the progression of giving up the thought of actions harmful to sentient beings.
2. How to Practice Morality
The way to practice morality is to allow our minds to grow accustomed to giving up the thought of actions harmful to sentient beings.
By generating bodhicitta and vowing to follow the bodhisattva’s deeds, we promise to work for the benefit of all sentient beings, that they might wear the ornament of morality until they reach full enlightenment and thereby attain the true meaning of morality.
Before that, we have to develop the strength to keep our own precepts pure. If they degenerate and become impure, we will fall into the lower realms and be unable to fulfill even our own purpose let alone that of others. Therefore those who take the precepts in order to bring success to others by leading them to enlightenment need to keep an extremely tight grip lest their precepts get lost, vigilantly protecting body, speech and mind from all negativity.
Keeping precepts purely depends on adhering to the points of practice and avoidance as they were explained. This follows the strong wish and enthusiastic determination to keep the precepts, which arise from the understanding that comes from meditating deeply on the benefits of keeping precepts and the shortcomings of not. It is vital to be aware of the dangers, the suffering results, of breaking or not keeping precepts and also to understand the need to avoid the smallest and lightest negativities, the actions advised against by the Enlightened One.
Those who keep their precepts by practicing the paramita of morality benefit by the gradual transcendence of their mind—the level of the precepts in their mind develops to that of the great bodhisattvas and they attain the pure transcendent wisdom that is completely free of even the seeds of all negativity.
Old people wearing worldly external ornaments look absurd but no matter who wears the ornaments of morality, all other living beings are pleased. The smell of morality is the best perfume, the sweetest of scents to apply. Morality is the coolest lotion to alleviate the suffering of delusion’s heat.
If we observe our precepts correctly we will receive all enjoyments spontaneously, without having to make the slightest effort to obtain them. We’ll be able to control other living beings automatically, without having to use threats or violence. Even those who have not received their help naturally love those who live in the paramita of morality.
Guru Shakyamuni Buddha said,
Morality is the best of all ornaments and a cool nectar to alleviate suffering.
Gods and men touch their heads to the footprints of the moral person with great respect.
The motivation for practicing the paramita of morality should be to lead all sentient beings into the paramita of morality and we should destroy any thoughts that wish for release from only the dangers of the lower suffering realms and attainment of the temporal perfections of the god and human realms.
3. The Divisions of Morality
(a) The morality of abstaining from negativities: the morality of the bodhisattva’s ordination, taken on the basis of the pratimoksha precepts.
(b) The morality of the totality of all virtue: the morality of trying to receive in our mind the realization of the paramitas not yet received and to increasingly develop, without degeneration, those that have been received. This includes all the virtue created by the bodhisattva—that of living in the precepts and that of the efforts of creating meritorious actions, such as making prostrations and offerings, rendering service, listening, thinking and meditating on the teachings and explaining the Dharma.
(c) The morality of working for all sentient beings, that is, all virtuous actions of body, speech and mind done with the thought of benefiting others. This includes morality such as following the four total bodhisattva’s actions, fulfilling the purpose of the present and future lives of sentient beings with the eleven different forms of work and without the negativity of corrupting precepts.
Saying that the pratimoksha precepts—such as the five, eight, thirty six and two hundred and fifty three—are only Hinayana precepts and that we therefore don’t have to take them because we are following the bodhisattva precepts comes from understanding neither the basic points of the bodhisattva’s vow of morality nor the bodhisattva’s training in morality. The first division of the three—the morality of abstaining from negativity—is fundamental to the second and the third, and mainly means to follow the ten moralities. Only if we train in and are capable of keeping these basic ordinations will we be able to follow the higher ones.
4. What Should Be Done in the Practice of Morality
Morality should be practiced with the six holy things and all six paramitas.
Morality with the six paramitas
(a) The charity of morality: leading others in morality by ourselves living in the precepts of morality.
(b) The patience of morality: while living in the precepts, not reacting to and having patience with the harmful actions of living beings.
(c) The energy of morality: being pleased to keep morality pure without following the negative mind as it continually arises.
(d) The concentration of morality: without following the delusions as they arise, keeping the mind single pointedly on the thought of avoiding negativities by thinking of the benefits of doing so and the shortcomings of not.
(e) The wisdom of morality: while the precepts are being observed, constantly checking to detect any violations and to keep them in the emptiness of the circle of the three.
The root of successfully following bodhisattvas’ actions such as the practice of the paramita of morality is to increase without degeneration one’s bodhicitta. Following this morality is the most skillful method to stop giving harm to other living beings.
It is necessary to constantly remember to abstain from the actions that are forbidden by the precepts we have taken by knowing the prohibited actions as well as possible, and even the practice of the higher levels of morality should be the object of our prayers. By praying in this way, because of the result similar to the cause, we can complete the bodhisattva’s training. If it is abandoned we continuously collect heavy negativities, making us incapable of following the bodhisattva’s training in future lifetimes. Therefore, we must make the effort, even from now.
1. The Meaning of Patience
Practicing patience means having a tranquil mind with and compassion for an antagonist. The completion of the paramita of patience does not depend on the cessation of sentient beings giving harm but on our fully developing the training in stopping anger and retaliation.
In his Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Shantideva said:
Bothersome sentient beings are as infinite as the sky but once the angry mind has been destroyed, all enemies have been destroyed. There can never be enough leather to cover the Earth but with the amount required to make the sole of a shoe it is as if the whole Earth were covered. Similarly, while I cannot dispel external phenomena themselves, I can get rid of them by dispelling the one disturbing mind.
2. How to Practice Patience
The overall method is to understand the great number of benefits of patience and the shortcomings of impatience. The patient person creates the good karma to have fewer enemies in this and future lives, dies without worry and is reborn in the upper realms. Thinking of the benefits of patience, we should try to be patient.
Also, by praising patience we should encourage others to be patient. It guides us from our enemy, anger, which destroys our merits and those of others and makes us abandon working for others when their actions are harmful. If we practice patience continuously we shall not lose our happiness and, besides keeping us happy during this lifetime, it will close the door to the lower realms when we die. Furthermore, patience also brings the ultimate goal, enlightenment. Therefore our present and future lives are always spent in happiness.
Speaking of the shortcomings of anger, Shantideva said,
One second of anger can destroy the entire collection of merit accumulated by a thousand eons’ practice of charity, making offerings to holy beings and so forth.
Anger is the worst of all evils. If an ordinary person gets angry with a bodhisattva for only a second, then, as Shantideva said, it destroys a thousand eons’ worth of merit. If a bodhisattva with fewer realizations gets angry with a higher bodhisattva, it destroys a hundred eons’ worth of merit.
We have to practice patience before anger arises as well as when we are angry, by thinking of its shortcomings. If we do not try to be patient, anger will cause unhappiness and conflict for ourselves and others and can even lead to suicide. As we practice patience, we find the greater the number of enemies, the more chance there is to practice. Therefore we should consider each antagonist as a helper for our attainment of enlightenment through allowing us to practice patience.
The great pandit Atisha always retained a very bad tempered Indian assistant and when asked to get rid of him, Guru Atisha said, “Through him I have completed the perfection of patience.”
We should remember that even the followers of the Shravakayana, who work mainly to obtain their own liberation, do not get angry at antagonists. Therefore it is definitely inappropriate for us, who purport to be Mahayanists, to do so.
Of the temporal life’s problems due to anger and jealousy, Shantideva said,
Those who hold the painful, jealous mind lose whatever peace there is and do not experience more; happiness and gladness will not be theirs. They cannot sleep and their minds are agitated and unsteady. Out of jealousy the servant will kill even his kind master, on whom he depends for material and other help. And even if charity is made to the angry person, he does not remain free of hatred. All in all, while the angry mind remains, none can live in happiness.
Guru Shakyamuni also said,
When the fire of anger colours the face, even a well decorated person is unattractive. Even if one is lying on a comfortable bed, the pain of hatred makes the mind suffer. Anger makes us forget to do that which benefits ourselves, brings us suffering and forces us to take the evil path. The angry person either loses fame or cannot achieve it. Having understood anger as the inner enemy, who will tolerate being under its control and getting angry?
3. The Divisions of Patience
(a) The patience of having compassion for the enemy: when living and non living things become harmful antagonists, we should remember the shortcomings of anger and try to be patient.
Once there was a monk who was beating a thief and no matter how his guru tried to separate them, he could not. Finally, he wagged his finger under his disciple’s nose, saying, “Patience! Patience!” Then, remembering patience, the disciple replied, “What are the benefits of pretending to be patient once the whole angry episode has ended?” Although the practice of patience is difficult at first, by training our mind in the thought of being patient we get accustomed to it and then it becomes much easier to be patient no matter what happens.
There are many reasons for not getting angry with an enemy. For example, say you’re hit on the head by somebody wielding a stick. Instead of being angry with that person, you should think, “If I’m going to get angry I should get angry with the object that causes the pain. That means I should be angry with the stick. But the stick itself is not responsible for my pain; it’s under the control of the person wielding it and has none of its own. However, the person hitting me with the stick also has no control—he’s forced to do it by his deluded mind. How can I get angry with him?
“Furthermore, the principal cause of my getting hit is my past karma, created by my harming others and so forth, so why should I get angry with the result of karma created by myself when it ripens on me? I should try to dispel the other person’s delusions without getting angry at him: he has no control and has become crazy with delusion. This is what parents would do if their child became crazy and started to beat them—they would try to help their child, not get angry and retaliate. Similarly, doctors try to cure their psychotic patients even when they attack them.”
You can also think, “If I stick my hand in a fire and it gets burnt it’s my fault—I can’t get angry with the fire. In the same way, I can’t get angry with somebody who attacks me because I created the karma that made him do so; it’s my own fault.”
The thought might then arise that since the harm definitely came from the enemy and it’s in his nature to harm, perhaps it’s worthwhile getting angry with him after all. This thought should be questioned thus: “If it suddenly starts to hail, does it make sense to get angry with the sky?” It’s meaningless to do so. Therefore we should never get angry.
When our body and mind suffer from the physical and verbal assaults of others, we should not retaliate because doing so merely creates the cause for rebirth in the lower realms and other forms of suffering. We should instead practice patience, the remedy to anger.
As the great Shantideva said,
If I cannot tolerate even this present level of suffering, why don’t I get angry with the cause of the suffering of the hells and destroy that?
(b) The patience of voluntarily bearing suffering: when we encounter difficulties in our Dharma practice we should try to bear them. We should make things like sickness, undesirable enemies and even the suffering we experience in dreams supports for our Dharma practice and transform all these problems into antidotes by not being attached to temporal comfort.
Whenever we experience trouble with enemies or non living things, we should think, “The main cause of such situations is my own delusion and karma. It’s my own fault that I have to suffer them. If this were not true, then those who had escaped from delusion and karma would still have enemies—but they do not. Furthermore, I should try to feel unbearable compassion for my enemies because they’re creating more negative karma while thinking that their actions are the cause of peace.”
We should think about our samsaric sufferings as shown in the equilibrium meditation and remember with happiness that through bearing suffering by practicing in this way we’re eradicating the causes of future suffering in the three lower realms.
For example, just as a person condemned to death does not mind cutting off his hand to escape from prison, so too should we not mind experiencing troubles and difficulties with our Dharma practice, thinking that by bearing them we’re avoiding great suffering in the lower realms.
At such times we should also remember the teachings on suffering and karma. If we do this correctly we will also lose the pride that makes us think, “I’m faultless, I’m perfectly good, I’m not stupid.’’ This can also help us see how others are suffering so that compassion can arise. All in all, it is very helpful because it makes us conscious and aware—careful to avoid negative actions and happy to create virtuous ones.
Those who have been ordained—monks and nuns—voluntarily take on the suffering of lessening desire, being content with simple food, clothing and accommodation, even if they encounter difficulties in doing so. People who do not live like that, especially mentally, are always concerned with satisfying the desire that constantly wants more and better. As they always work for that without thinking of the Dharma, their lives are wasted.
For example, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, when he was in the form of a monk, and the ancient great Tibetan pandits and saints—yogis such as Milarepa, Lama Tsongkhapa and Gyälwa Ensapa, who all achieved the rainbow body in their lifetimes—voluntarily experienced deprivation to enhance their Dharma practice. When Lama Tsongkhapa went into solitude with eight disciples to practice purification and create merit, they had only eight copper coins between them. In this way they tried to be content and have less desire.
Other examples of this type of patience are voluntarily bearing the sufferings involved in making offerings to the Triple Gem; avoiding the actions of the fastidious mind, even if one’s body is ugly or one’s clothes bad; accepting the suffering of exhaustion from making efforts in virtue, such as bearing the difficulties of keeping precepts; and experiencing trouble in leading others from danger or avoiding business in order to practice Dharma.
(c) The patience of definitely thinking about the Dharma: this includes trying to memorize the words and understand the meaning of the graduated path, understand the qualities of the Triple Gem and gain realizations through meditation.
4. What Should Be Done in the Practice of Patience
Patience should be practiced with the six paramitas and the six holy things—for example, the charity of patience is leading others to practice patience by teaching the Dharma and so forth. (See above for the other paramitas and the six holy things.)
For those trying to follow the bodhisattva’s actions, remembering and meditating on bodhicitta are the main factors that bring the desire to lead all sentient beings in the paramita of patience. To progress we should train by praying to reach even the highest levels of patience, and beginners trying to fully follow the practice of patience need to purify any deterioration in their discipline. If we abandon our practice of patience we will continually create much negative karma and make it extremely difficult to practice the exalted bodhisattvas’ actions in future lives.
By considering such practices as the most important aspects of the path, trying to practice what we are capable of practicing and training our mind in that which we are not, we shall be able to complete the paramita of patience with little suffering or difficulty.
From Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s Wish-fulfilling Golden Sun. Edited by Nicholas Ribush. The pdf of Rinpoche's original version can be found here.