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Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Online Advice Book
Working for the Dharma : Dharma, the Arts and Worldly Work

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche at various locations (Last Updated Jul 16, 2014)

Balancing Dharma Work and Worldly Work

Purify Being an Accountant
Rinpoche gave the following advice to a student who asked how to purify the negative karma of being an accountant, so that she never had to be an accountant in her future lives.

My very dear Vera,
Thank you very much for your kind letter.

I did an observation regarding which deity you should practice for your quickest enlightenment and to be able to quickly enlighten all sentient beings. It came out as: Yamantaka and Secret Chenrezig Gyalwa Gyatso. So, when the time comes, take the initiation to do retreats and study the commentaries.

Regarding your question about being an accountant, it is my understanding that being an accountant itself is no problem. Actually, the work can be most beneficial for sentient beings and the teachings of Buddha; it depends on the motivation one has and how one does the work. This can be a good or bad motivation. If being an accountant itself is bad, then whatever job we do will also become bad.

If we say the job is bad because we have problems, then that would apply to all jobs. So, one can’t generalize like that. Otherwise, all the rest of the jobs in the world also become bad, because sometimes we have difficulties in each job. Sometimes people who are accountants are really benefiting sentient beings and the teachings of Buddha; sometimes this job can be incredibly beneficial for others.

The most important thing you need is to have a good motivation, a good heart to benefit all sentient beings. If being an accountant benefits the teachings of Buddha, then from your job sentient beings receive happiness. This is how having a good education, with a good heart, and your accounting become virtuous.

Even if you don’t have a good education and you are an accountant and make many mistakes, but because you have a good motivation, a good heart, your activities become virtuous. So, your life is not wasted because you are practicing Dharma. This means that one’s problem comes from a bad, impure motivation, such as the self-cherishing thought, ignorance, anger, and attachment. All of our problems come from an impure motivation.

Of course, there can be harm if one does not know accounting well and makes many mistakes in the job, which has an effect on others, even if one is doing the job with a good heart.

So, this is not just referring to being an accountant, this refers to any work you do; being an accountant is just an example. You don’t have to pray to be free from being an accountant. Instead, you should pray to be liberated from all the sufferings of samsara, all the sufferings of the hell realms, hungry ghost, animal, human realms, suras and asuras and intermediate state beings, by ceasing delusion and karma, actualizing the path, and completing the path, especially to achieve enlightenment and to enlighten all sentient beings as quickly as possible by completing the Mahayana path as quickly as possible.

Every job one has is going to have difficulties, so to pray for a job without difficulties is not the solution. It is better to pray to be free from samsara and to be able to free all sentient beings as quickly as possible.

Thank you very much.
With much love and prayers...

Rinpoche gave the following advice to a center that is surrounded by many trees.

Logging can be a source of income at your Dharma center, and from the Dharma perspective, it has tremendous benefit. Of course, we don't cut all the trees, but are considerate in our selection. By doing this we are able to build statues, gompas, fund prayer wheels, etc. These things can help sentient beings create the cause for happiness. If sentient beings don't create the cause for happiness, ie wisdom, compassion, ethics, and concentration, then no matter how many beautiful trees there are, there is no happiness in the mind. So, by using the money created by doing some logging at a center we create long term benefit for sentient beings: liberation and enlightenment.

Time for Practice
A nun wrote to Rinpoche with questions about practice and expressing her concern at not being able to find time to study and do her practice commitments while she was working at a Dharma center.

Dear Tenzin,
You can do large numbers of the preliminary practices that you have not finished in retreat. You can also continue to do some in the center while you study or work. It’s up to you, whatever you can do. However, prostrations or mandala offerings have to be done as a daily practice anyway, whether you have a commitment to do a large number or not. You don’t necessarily have to finish all these preliminary practices now. Just take it easy, and as you like, you can decide which preliminary practices you want to do. You can decide in your heart how you feel. This answer relates to the question from your letter about doing work at the center when you are there, along with study and practice commitments.

Regarding your question about how much time to spend on your own commitments, sometimes when there’s a good opportunity to study, then put more time into studying. At other times, put your main effort into doing deity or preliminary practice retreat. Then, when you are staying at a center or elsewhere, how much time you spend depends on the importance of your activities. Sometimes there are very important things that need doing. Sometimes there’s more benefit to that, so put more effort into those activities.

The whole essence to making decisions in life is to analyze according to the benefits. What brings you to enlightenment quicker? What brings more benefit to other sentient beings? Don’t get caught up in the words: “These are commitments,” “these are preliminary practices,” or “I don’t get time to do this because I have to work for the center.” Don’t get caught in these labels. You should put your life, and so your main effort, into whatever is most beneficial for sentient beings, what brings enlightenment quickly. That means you can only judge the benefit by thinking of the lam-rim. Without the lam-rim, there is no way to judge what is most beneficial for sentient beings or most beneficial for bringing you to enlightenment quickly.

Two important things in the lam-rim are bodhicitta and guru devotion. In my view, from what I hear and see in the texts, everything depends first on the practice of guru devotion. So, it seems your decision should be on that basis, because that is the root of the path to enlightenment. As you know, by meditating on the eight advantages of devoting to the guru and disadvantages of not devoting correctly to the guru, making mistakes, from that you can understand the beginning of the path to enlightenment. What the lam-rim and the lineage lamas emphasize is following the guru’s advice. This is what the texts say is the very first thing to think of when making a decision. They say this is the most important thing. Then, do other things on that basis.

It all depends on what is more beneficial for others. The first thing to think of in particular is fulfilling the wishes or following the advice that’s given by the guru. Otherwise, you may think you are missing out on some practice or study because you are doing a lot of work at the center. If you forget to think of the guru’s advice first, and try to do something that you feel you are missing out on, you can do it, but you may not get much result.

For example, Milarepa offered his body, speech, and mind to Marpa. He requested teachings and asked Marpa also to take care of his food, clothing, and so forth, because he had nothing. Then, for years, Marpa never gave him any teachings, only hard work, he even asked him to build a nine-story tower. Nobody was allowed to help Milarepa. He had to do it himself, and after building it, he had to tear it down and put the stones back where they had been before. Even the skin on his back became bluish and hardened like an animal that has carried a lot of baggage. His hands were worn out and his skin was dark. If it looked like Marpa was going to give a teaching and he saw Milarepa there in the midst of the people, he immediately scolded him and kicked him out. Marpa never talked sweetly to Milarepa. He only scolded and beat him.

Marpa’s wife couldn’t bear this, so without asking Marpa’s permission, she quietly sent Milarepa to Lama Ngakpa, a disciple of Marpa. There, Milarepa was given teachings and did only meditation, no work. I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think he stayed in a hole in the ground and did meditation for six months. But, in any case, during this time, he didn’t have any positive dreams or other good signs. Milarepa explained this to Lama Ngakpa and Lama Ngakpa asked him, “Did you get permission from Marpa?” Then, Lama Ngakpa found out that he did not have permission. He felt sorry and decided to take Milarepa back to Marpa. Lama Ngakpa had nothing to offer Marpa, only a lame goat, and he handed Milarepa back to Marpa.

I remember not only stories among Buddhist students about relying on the guru, but Hindus as well. For example, an Indian student had a Hindu guru who taught him yoga. He developed the ability to bring the kundalini energy from the secret place to the heart, but then he found out that his guru had killed someone. Since that time, he lost faith in his Hindu guru, and was unable to go further with the practice. He lost faith, and was unable to bring the kundalini energy from the heart up to the crown. It got stuck at the heart. So, even for disciples of Hindu gurus, the mind affects students in that way.

There are many such stories. There’s another story from the opposite perspective. Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo had a servant, a monk, who didn’t know how to read. Pabongka predicted that in the near future the monk would be able to read the Guru Puja text without being taught it by anyone, just through doing service to Pabongka. Lama Lhundrup told me that after this monk escaped from Tibet and came to Buxaduar, although at first he was still unable to read, after some time at Buxaduar, he was able to read by himself. The understanding just came without anyone teaching him. That is the benefit from serving his guru, Pabongka.

I’m sure you have heard many times what Ribur Rinpoche always used to tell Ven. Roger Kunsang, my secretary, to remind him of this point. When Lama Atisha was in Tibet, one of his disciples, a Kadampa Geshe called Gompawa, used to do a lot of meditation. Dromtonpa, another disciple of Lama Atisha, didn’t meditate because he was always so busy translating and neither did Lama Atisha’s cook, always being busy cooking. Gompawa thought, “I might have higher realizations than them. They are always busy.” So, when Gonpawa thought this, Lama Atisha knew because of his clairvoyant powers, and he called Gompawa along with Dromtonpa and the cook. Lama Atisha had all three of them sit together, and then he compared to see who had the highest realizations. There was no way to compare the meditator Gompawa’s realizations with Dromtonpa’s realizations. Dromtonpa’s were much higher, and even the cook’s realizations were higher than the meditator’s. Ribur Rinpoche always tells Roger that story. I think what Rinpoche meant by using this story was to show an example of a very good and extremely obedient disciple. This is one story, but there are many stories like this, positive and negative stories.

Whatever collects the most extensive merit, whatever becomes the most powerful purification is what brings higher realizations and transforms your mind. Whatever brings enlightenment quickly and brings the greatest benefit to sentient beings is the most powerful practice. It doesn’t necessarily always have to be sitting and closing your eyes for many hours. One shouldn’t get caught up in that label.

Of course, I understand nothing is easy – study, retreat, work for the center, especially dealing with people at the center. From the stories, one can also see that when practicing sutra, the path of perfections, it takes 600 great eons to create merit. But one can also look at the case of the bodhisattva Tak Tu Ngo, the Always Crying One, who sacrificed himself for his guru, cherished his guru more than his own life, and served his guru for seven years. Even before he ever saw his guru Chöpa, he cleaned outside the temple where his guru was doing retreat and offered a lot of service. This bodhisattva was able to complete the first countless great eon of merit within seven years by doing service for his guru, Bodhisattva Chöpa, and by cherishing him more than his own life.

Then there’s also the story of Kadampa Geshe Cha Yul Wa. He is held up every day by the lineage lamas as one of the best disciples, like a world champion, the best example of devotion to the virtuous friend. As soon as he heard that his guru Chengawa was talking to him, even if he was offering a mandala, he immediately stopped in the middle of what he was doing and offered service. He offered service every day, cleaning the guru’s home. One day he collected dirt from his guru’s room in his robes, and was carrying it down some steps to take it outside. When he took the third step, he saw a number of Buddhas in the nirmanakaya aspect. His mind reached the third level on the Mahayana path of accumulation.

You have to understand from these stories that the realizations, the benefits to the mind, don’t just have to come from retreat, from sitting meditation, from study or prayers. It doesn’t necessarily have to be done that way.

It was the same with Dromtonpa. At one point, Lama Atisha showed the aspect of having sickness with diarrhea. Excrement and pee-pee were on the bed, and Dromtonpa cleaned it without any hesitation. He cleaned it with his hand. He served like that day and night, and while doing that, so much purification occurred. Dromtonpa achieved clairvoyance and was able to read the mind even of tiny insects, of ants at a distance that would take an eagle 18 days to fly. This happened suddenly.

There are many, many stories like that. Even from personal experience, when the guru is very pleased with you, you’re doing whatever the guru wishes or asked you to do—retreat, service to the guru, helping other sentient beings, anything that pleases the guru—when you do meditation during that time, it is much easier. When the connection is very good, whatever the lam-rim subject you are meditating on, it is very easy to feel it in your heart. That’s a sign of heavy purification. That’s why the mind becomes soft and you feel that if you continue, you can actually achieve realization in the topic you are meditating on, because you have already had a strong experience of it. Those are the signs of receiving the blessings of the guru.

The main thing is deciding what is the most important benefit, as I have mentioned. On the basis of that you make decisions. As I normally say, if you can, do what brings great benefit. If you cannot be of great benefit, offer what is of middling benefit. If you cannot do what is of great or middling benefit, do what is of small benefit. It doesn’t take a lot of skill. Skill depends on wisdom. The basis is two things: a good heart and guru devotion. Between these two, devotion to one’s virtuous friend is the key thing. If you don’t have this, even bodhicitta generally doesn’t happen. Everything becomes blocked.

On occasions when there are many important things to accomplish at the center, it’s not possible to expect to find time for everything, unless you can manifest like arya bodhisattvas who can perform one hundred different activities, meditate, or go to pure lands to receive teachings with one hundred or one thousand bodies. With only one body, one can’t expect to do everything.

Along with work, one can do one’s commitments. When you are doing your job, if you don’t need to speak, then you can chant or recite prayers while your body is doing the work. When there important things to do, or when one is traveling, one can make prayers then. Many disciples—not myself—but many other disciples who are good practitioners do that. Life is so busy. If you don’t have time that you can set aside for practice, whenever there’s some time or space, you can do your commitments. Some high lamas meditate whenever there’s a break or space.

It also depends on what’s more important. For example, when somebody is sick or dying, needing help, if you don’t offer help but instead go to your room to meditate or make prayers, that becomes selfish. There is something very important to do for others, but you don’t do it, and instead think of your own benefit.

Even if one misses out on one’s prayers and meditation through working for the guru or for others, there is no regret, because making prayers is supposed to be for others, to bring them to enlightenment. If you don’t practice because you’re lazy, then that’s a loss. In the other case, there’s no loss. Also, one can reduce daily practice commitments when there’s something very important to do, because the aim is to do what’s most beneficial for others. Analyze in this way. Think of what is the most important thing in life. That way you won’t have much confusion.

Yoga and Dharma
Rinpoche gave the following advice to a student who teaches yoga, encouraging her to include Dharma in the yoga sessions.

Include Dharma and bodhicitta in the yoga classes. Also, include mental health. With that comes Dharma. It is not necessary to say, "You must believe in Buddha." You can make it more universal. "Buddha" is Sanskrit, but in English it becomes universal. In a meeting in Taos we discussed how to translate such words. For Buddha, you can say “fully enlightened being, whose mind has no mistakes, no defilements, who has complete understanding.”

For Dharma, you can say “the true path which removes suffering and the cause of suffering – the path which is your mind.”

For Sangha you can say “those who complete the path.”

Along with teaching how to have a healthy body, include how to have a healthy mind. Within this, always include compassion and world peace, as well as peace in the family. Please include the Dharma, especially compassion.

How to Combine Jobs
A student wrote asking Rinpoche’s advice on how to combine her work at a local Dharma center with her job as a yoga teacher and shiatsu therapist. She was wondering whether she should be trying to focus on one job at a time, and also asked Rinpoche’s advice as to what practice she should concentrate on.

My dear Nina,
Work with bodhicitta!

In everyday life, you should always remember these two verses:

1) The first stanza of the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation:

Every person and animal is wish-fulfilling for all the happiness of all your numberless future lives, for liberation from samsara, and for full enlightenment. One cannot achieve this benefit with skies of wish-granting jewels. They (sentient beings) are the most precious ones.

2) The stanza by Nagarjuna:

May I become that which fulfills all the desires of sentient beings. May I become all the objects desired by all sentient beings, like a wish-granting jewel, like an unfathomable, unimaginable tree, fulfilling all sentient beings’ wishes.

Practice like this and do your work for the benefit of beings. Working for the Dharma center is helping to spread the Dharma, and in that way you are helping sentient beings, because that is the only cause that liberates them from samsara.

According to my observations, your work as a shiatsu therapist was very good.
With much love and prayers...

Neglecting Job While Serving Center
While he was working for a company, a student was devoting much of his time to a Dharma center. He dedicated so much time to the center that he began neglecting his job, and lost a large sum of the company’s money.

My very dear Bill,
I heard you had difficulties and have lost quite a bit of the company’s money, because you dedicated your time to the center. However, you have collected so much merit, especially through following my advice and your good heart, to serve the precious teachings of the Buddha and the most precious sentient beings.

Your mind is enriched with wonderful merits. You have so much to enjoy—all happiness up to enlightenment.

Therefore, there is no need to be unhappy. Enjoy life with this understanding. I will pray for you...

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