Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Online Advice Book
Practices to Benefit Animals
- Animal Health Care and Healing
- Animal Liberation
- How to Benefit Animals
- Various Practices for Animals
How to Benefit Animals
How to Benefit Animals
Rinpoche gave the following extensive advice on how to benefit animals. Included is advice on animal liberation, the benefits of the Four Powerful Mantras, what to do when an animal is dying and why holy objects are beneficial.
Animal Liberation Practice
I started this particular tradition of liberating animals. The way we practice animal liberation causes the person who liberates them to have a long life, but that alone doesn’t ultimately help the animals, so the best thing to do is to circumambulate the animals around holy objects and bless them with mantras and prayers. You can carry animals around a table in the middle of a room with many holy objects on it, like tsa-tsas, pictures of buddhas, and texts.
If there are 1,000 statues and holy objects on a table, then if you take the animals and insects around the table once, it creates 1,000 causes to achieve enlightenment, liberation from samsara, a good rebirth, and happiness in future lives. Each time you carry or lead the animals around the table it creates that many causes for their happiness and long lives. So, if you carry a billion insects around holy objects, you are offering enlightenment each time you circumambulate to that many sentient beings. This is really fantastic, the most amazing benefit that you can offer to other beings.
Also, it is extremely good to save beings from being killed to be eaten as food. Lobsters are boiled alive in hot water. Can you imagine if that was you, how immense the suffering would be? We would try every single way to get out, but they are trapped, and not only that, they can’t communicate or express themselves. Like you, all beings want happiness and do not want suffering, problems, or discomfort.
The Benefit of the Four Powerful Mantras
When you carry or lead animals around holy objects, vast amounts of benefit are created for the animals if the holy objects contain the four powerful mantras:
1) The most precious heart mantra of stainless beam
2) The most precious mantra of secret relic
3) The most precious mantra of ornament of enlightenment
4) The very precious root mantra of stainless beam
Just by circumambulating a holy object once, such as a stupa, that contains one of these mantras, like the dharmakaya secret relic mantra [click here for a pdf file with these mantras] you purify the negative karmas you have collected to be born in the eight hot hells.
If the holy object contains the stainless beam mantra, then just one circumambulation purifies the five unending negative karmas (killing your mother, killing your father, killing an Arhat, drawing blood from a Buddha, and causing a schism in the sangha).
If you offer a bell to a stupa that contains these mantras, then any animal or person who hears the sound of that bell is purified of the five unending negative karmas. So, you can see the unbelievable power these mantras have.
In this way, any holy objects that contain these four powerful mantras create unbelievable benefit for the animals who circumambulate them and for the people who carry the animals, as they also receive all these benefits. Both the animal and the person are saved from the lower realms and from samsara and are brought to enlightenment.
As you perform animal liberation, circumambulating the holy objects with the animals, you should also chant mantras and then bless buckets or jugs of water by chanting mantras and blowing into the jugs. You can chant Medicine Buddha mantra, Chenrezig mantra, the five powerful mantras: Namgyalma mantra, Kunrig mantra, Stainless Beam mantra, etc. Chant one mala or more and then after each mala, blow over the water. Then you sprinkle some of the water on the animals, birds, and insects, and you can pour it over animals who live in water. Think that it purifies their negative karma, liberates them from the lower realms, blesses them, and causes them to have a good rebirth. This is your greatest gift to these pitiful, suffering beings.
Also, you can chant lam-rim prayers so that the animals can hear them, and this plants the seeds of the whole path to enlightenment, so that they can meet the Dharma, be able to understand it, and actualize the path to enlightenment. Animal liberation is not just a practice of buying animals and releasing them. You need to perform practices to benefit the animals. Also, if you own an animal, this is what you must do for in order for it to have a good rebirth and quick liberation from samsara.
When an Animal Has Died or Is Dying
Recite Chenrezig mantra and other mantras such as Milarepa mantra and Namgyalma mantra and then blow over the body of the animal. Blow strongly on the animal after each mantra or you can blow on water, visualizing each deity absorbed into the water; each drop has the power to purify negative karmas. Then, you can pour the water on the animal and think that all its negative karma is purified.
If the animal is dying, you can perform Medicine Buddha practice, visualizing the seven Medicine Buddhas on the crown of the animal, absorbing into the animal. You can also perform the 35 Buddhas practice, visualizing nectar coming into the animal’s crown purifying its negative karma while you take strong refuge in the 35 Buddhas to protect and guide the animal.
What You Can Do for Animals in Everyday Life
It’s not enough that you look after animals and they give you comfort. You must do something of practical benefit for them. This is what you can do every day:
Circumambulate with them around holy objects, chanting mantras.
Recite prayers in their ears to plant the seed of all the realizations of the path to enlightenment. This makes a huge difference. It has incredible results, enabling them to have a good rebirth in their next life, to be born as a human being, and meet the Dharma.
There is a story about when the Buddha gave teachings to 500 swans in a field and in their next lives they were born as humans, became monks, and all became arya beings, able to achieve the cessation of suffering and the true path. So, the result was incredible, just from hearing Dharma words. Also, Vasubhandu (Lo.pon Yig.nyen) used to recite a text called the Abhidharmakosa, and a pigeon on the roof heard this every day. One day the pigeon died and Lo.pon Yig.nyen checked to see where it had been reborn. It was born to a family who lived down below in the valley. He went down and visited the child and asked if he could look after him, and the family let the child go with him. The child became a monk named Lo.pon Lo.den and became an expert on the text that he had heard when he was a pigeon. He wrote four commentaries on that text. Therefore, it’s extremely important to recite lam-rim prayers and mantras—at least mantras—to animals.
It’s also extremely good to bless food before you give it to animals. If you can’t do it for every meal, then you can bless all the food at the same time. Recite the five powerful mantras or OM MANI PADME HUM, Medicine Buddha, and Milarepa mantras. All of these have power and help anyone who eats this food to not be reborn in the lower realms; it blesses their mind and purifies negative karma. If you can, do it every time you feed them—recite the mantras and blow on the food. This is the biggest gift you can offer them: it causes a good rebirth, so they can escape samsara, achieve liberation, and acquire the positive imprints of the Mahayana teachings and mantras that lead to enlightenment.
I asked the people who take care of our dogs at Tushita Centre in Dharamsala to recite the Maitreya Buddha prayer and mantra, the Lama Tsongkhapa praise to Guru Shakyamuni Buddha—Having Found the Realization of Dependent Arising—and other prayers and mantras to the dogs, while holding a biscuit in their hand, so all the dogs wait patiently. It looks like they are respectfully listening to the teachings, with their eyes looking at the biscuit, all sitting humbly. We gave some of the dogs away to people, and along with the dog the owner had a commitment to recite a lam-rim prayer or mantras for it. Some people did this for years. One lady, who wasn’t a Buddhist, did the lam-rim prayer, The Foundation of All Good Qualities, every day for years. She was very sincere.
There is a story about an 80-year-old man. After he entered the Mahayana path, when the time ripened, he became enlightened, and performed perfect works for sentient beings, bringing them to enlightenment. All that perfect work—enlightening all those beings—came from his being enlightened, and that resulted from having entered the Mahayana path. Before that he was an Arhat and actualized the path to liberation, which resulted from being a monk. He was able to become a monk because eons ago, he was a fly following some cow dung around a stupa in a circle, which became a circumambulation of the stupa. So all these benefits—being an Arhat, being enlightened, and enlightening sentient beings—depended on the small merit of following the smell of cow dung around a stupa. We should always keep in mind how precious even one circumambulation is, how precious it is to take animals around holy objects. When human beings intentionally circumambulate it has incredible benefit. Since karma is expandable, we shouldn’t be careless, even with a small amount of merit. Each holy object is so powerful and can liberate so many beings from suffering and bring them to enlightenment, causing you to actualize the path. Even if you can’t build a big stupa, a small one is incredibly precious—bringing benefit to you and other beings.
If you have many ants in your house, for example, then if you’re careless you will kill them. If you are careful, you can pick them up with a soft tissue paper, cotton, a broom, or a feather, and put them in a plastic bag with some food in it. Put some food in that they like, and then close the bag and take it around a stupa or holy objects as many times as you can, to liberate them from a lower rebirth and help them to achieve liberation and enlightenment. Then you put them outside, releasing them by opening the plastic bag, or shaking it on the ground with the food. The only way you can help ants and other insects is if they come into your house. Otherwise, there’s no way to benefit them in this way. This is a very good way, an excellent opportunity, to benefit ants, in addition to offering them charity by giving them food. If you take them around the stupa or holy objects, then that is also the charity of offering Dharma, and the charity of fearlessness, which means saving others from fear and danger. By purifying their minds, you’re saving them from suffering. Also, for dogs and cats, blessing the food with mantras becomes the charity of offering Dharma, the charity of fearlessness and the charity of loving kindness, because you have the intention to cause them happiness. So, you are practicing all four types of charity.
Why Holy Objects Are Beneficial
Holy objects help other beings easily to purify immense amounts of negative karma and create the causes of happiness and merit, which definitely brings them to enlightenment quickly. Because it helps them create a lot of merit, allowing them quickly to realize the path, it also helps them to improve their lives swiftly, from having a difficult life, with many problems—business problems, relationship problems, and many other things—to an easy life, with outer and inner prosperity, realizations of the path, and a happy, peaceful, inspiring death.
If you teach Dharma, not everyone comes to listen; some are not interested, some are too young, and some are too old and cannot come. If you make holy objects, not only inside but outside in public places, then everyone can see them, Buddhists and non-Buddhists. Everybody benefits so much. Because of the power of the holy object, it doesn’t require deep devotion or faith to gain these benefits.
If you find it hard to understand this, think how an atom has the power to destroy the world and yet can benefit so many people. For example, by creating electric power, millions of people can have comfort and an easier life. A seed has power in a similar way—its own purpose and function. If you plant a juniper seed, a huge tree grows from it, with many branches and leaves, intricate designs, and shapes. Every tiny detail comes from the seed.
If you build holy objects, then not only in this life but after this life, wherever you are in the six realms, for however many years this holy object lasts, it will liberate beings from the lower realms and samsara every day, by planting the seeds of liberation and enlightenment and purifying their minds, helping them to create merit.
Peace and happiness for yourself and the world are not independent, they do not exist from their own side, they are dependent-arisings, depending on causes and conditions. The causes are the great virtuous thoughts, non-ignorance, non-anger, non-attachment, a good heart, compassion, loving kindness, a non-self-centered mind, and so forth. Actions motivated by these pure attitudes become virtuous and the cause of happiness. Holy objects such as statues, stupas, and Buddhist scriptures become supports for those conditions, for peace and happiness for yourself, others, and the world.
The moment holy objects such as statues of buddhas are painted on a rock, on paper, photographed, etc., the moment a holy object materializes, it becomes a field of merit for sentient beings, becoming a cause for them to achieve happiness. If you plant chili seeds, you will get chilis, you won’t get raisins. Each fruit comes from its own cause; in the same way, only merit is the cause of worldly and ultimate happiness.
Generally, for an action to become virtuous and the cause of happiness, the action needs to be motivated by a virtuous mind, unstained by ignorance, anger, or attachment—only then does the action become virtuous. First, you need to put a lot of effort into making your attitude pure, so that your actions in daily life, such as working, eating, sitting, walking, and sleeping, etc. become virtuous.
With holy objects such as statues, stupas, and scriptures, you do not have to have a mind unstained by anger, ignorance, or attachment to create merit. For human beings and animals, simply seeing the holy object becomes the cause to achieve awakening and enlightenment through purifying so many defilements. The special advantage is that just by their existence these holy objects make it easy for ordinary beings to create merit.
The existence of holy objects in the world makes it so easy for beings in this world and those from other universes who will be born in this world to purify the obstacles to happiness, peace, and realizations on the path, and to achieve liberation and enlightenment. Only then can we change our distracted, negative emotional thoughts, the ignorant nature of our mind that harms us and the world.
By having a happy, contented, and satisfied mind, we can develop the wisdom to eliminate suffering for ourselves and others; by having a peaceful mind, patience, and a loving heart toward everyone, we stop harming ourselves and others and can benefit everyone, bringing peace, happiness, and compassion, the whole path to enlightenment.
So, now you can see the importance of holy objects, how they illuminate the world and bring so much peace and happiness, and how building these holy objects prevents destruction, of which so much is happening in the world, including war.
The following are some examples of the power of holy objects:
A leaf had seven insects on it. It was blown three times around a statue of Vairochana by the wind. Then the insects died. They were reborn to a poor family as seven girls, then, in their next lives, they were reborn as daughters of a king. They made offerings to Kasyapa Buddha and received predictions of their enlightenment. This shows how karma works.
Another example: A pig was being chased by a dog. Somehow they circumambulated a stupa, then the pig died and was reborn in Tushita Pure Land. Many animals cannot hear mantras but all they have to do to liberate themselves is circumambulate a holy object, even without the motivation to do so—that is all.
We have many insects inside the retreat house in Washington (Buddha Amitabha Pure Land), so every day we catch as many as possible in large jars that have ventilation and space. We separate the various kinds of insects into different jars so they do not fight or frighten each other. We have a large altar that is full of holy objects. We circumambulate these, running as fast as possible, so that we perform as many circumambulations as we can, with the jars full of insects. Then we release them outside.
It is incredible how fast this will purify these insects; even their present life will improve. It directs their life toward enlightenment and gives them the opportunity to practice Dharma in their next life, to have a better rebirth, to be able to accomplish the path, eliminate their defilements, and achieve enlightenment.
This is an incredible gift to them from us, and repays their kindness to us. They have been our mother countless times, and because of their kindness we have been able to practice Dharma. As our mothers, they protected our lives from dangers every day and bore so many hardships for us. All our present happiness, as well as all our previous and future happiness, all the realizations of the path up to enlightenment—these insects are the source of that.
For these reasons, I asked for a stupa to be built in my house in California (Kachoe Dechen Ling). Now we have an extremely beautiful stupa there that is filled with tsa-tsas and the four dharmakaya relic mantras. These give the most power to purify and collect the most extensive merit.
Giving Animals Dharma Names
It is very good to give your pet a Dharma name rather than a useless name that has no benefit for the animal. If you give your pet a Dharma name, it leaves a positive imprint on the mind of the animal.
Venerable Roger wanted a dog, so we got one from someone who could no longer look after her. We called the dog Om Mani Padme Hum. Each time she hears her name it plants the seed for the whole path to enlightenment in her mind, leaving a positive imprint. Also, it creates the cause for her to understand all the 84,000 teachings of the Buddha because they are contained in the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum: the two truths, the path of method and wisdom, and the goal: dharmakaya and rupakaya. Each time she hears her name it brings her closer to enlightenment. This is such an easy way to benefit animals.
The stupa that we built at my house in California was mainly for Om Mani Padme Hum. I thought, if we have a dog, then we need a stupa so that the dog can circumambulate it every day.
We also looked after a dog, who was lost, for a week. A student mentioned that this dog, which I named Jangsem, must have been very lucky. Jangsem was a small Lhasa Apso dog, who was lost in the local Wal-Mart parking lot. We rang all the pounds, dog shelters, the radio station, and even the police to try to find his owner. A week later, the owner contacted us. The day Jangsem was due to leave we took him around the stupas, relics of the Buddha, and relics of other great lamas, as well as the Kangyur, Tengyur, and Prajnaparamita texts. We circumambulated with Jangsem many, many times, and I said Jangsem is probably the luckiest dog in the whole of Washington.
When Jangsem first arrived in the house I recited many mantras and practices for him to meet Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings; also, I recited Maitreya Buddha mantra, which has the power to cause one not to be reborn in the lower realms and to receive a perfect rebirth.
One student said that even to be an insect that gets carried around a stupa would depend on having previously created good karma. I replied that even a virtuous action depends on having created the karma, it is the ripening of a virtuous imprint.
Now we have three or four animal liberation practices every month. We buy worms and insects and circumambulate them around the stupa as many times as possible; we chant mantras and blow on water, which we then sprinkle on them, and then we liberate them into water or the earth, according to the kinds of creatures they are. Not only does this liberate them from the lower realms, but it also creates the cause for their enlightenment.
It is the same when people follow you around the stupa: you are liberating human beings. Every day, anybody who sees, touches, remembers, talks, or dreams about a stupa plants the seed of enlightenment in his or her mind and purifies him or herself. When the wind touches a stupa (especially if the stupa contains the four dharmakaya relic mantras), the wind becomes blessed, and then, wherever it blows and whoever it touches it liberates from the lower realms by purifying their negative karma. When the rain falls on the stupa, that running water liberates any being it touches, like all the worms in the ground, from the lower realms. It is similar with dust.
If you build stupas or statues to inspire people, for however many billions of years the holy object lasts, it continues to liberate beings every day, freeing them from the lower realms, causing them to actualize the path, liberating them from samsara, and bringing them to enlightenment. Even if you are in another realm after you die, wherever you are, the stupa or statue that you built is continually benefiting beings.
(Note: Rinpoche had a stupa built at his home to benefit the dog “OM MANI PADME HUM.”)