Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche explains why we should cherish other sentient beings at the 17th Kopan Course in 1984.
This is an edited excerpt from Lecture 11 of the course. Click here to read more of the unedited lecture.
Sentient beings like spiders and poisonous snakes don’t mean to harm others, but without choice they receive a body that frightens us, and immediately we kill them. Those animals, those spiders and creatures that have thousands of legs, just look at them, how pitiful they are. They are unbelievably, deeply ignorant, and they have such an incredibly pitiful, suffering body. They are deeply ignorant and whatever action they do is nonvirtuous, without choice. So, just this is enough reason for compassion to arise, without thinking about the other details of suffering and the other problems that they experience. Just seeing them with that body without choice, that itself is an unbelievable reason for unbearable compassion to arise.
So towards sentient beings that harm us, we should practice in this way, just as Guru Shakyamuni Buddha practiced. Especially in the case of the sentient beings that harm us, we should generate greater compassion, and in return for the harm from those who are treating us badly, we should benefit them and we should practice patience. The more vicious and uncontrolled the person, the more harmful they are, but we should see that person as extremely kind, unbelievably kind.
Having found such an evil, vicious personality, as it is mentioned in the fourth verse of the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation, when we see others overwhelmed by suffering, great heavy negative karma and problems, or when their mind is full of heresy, anger or an unbelievably strong, selfish attitude, their actions are only heavy negative karma. Their body may be full of leprosy disease and they may be so vicious, giving us great disturbance and harm, but we must think, “Like having found a precious treasure, may I be able to cherish that sentient being who is extremely difficult to find.”1
The more vicious a person is and the more he is under the control of karma and delusion, the greater the harm for himself. But for us, by thinking in this way about how the person is suffering, great, unbelievable compassion arises. In this way we can generate bodhicitta and achieve enlightenment rapidly, and we can do extensive works for all sentient beings quickly. So therefore, for us, that suffering sentient being is unbelievably kind. That sentient being who is so vicious and so cruel to us is much more precious than a pile of diamonds. There is no comparison between that sentient being and diamonds equal to the number of atoms on this earth.
Without depending on suffering sentient beings there is no great compassion, no bodhicitta and no way to become enlightened. There is no way to receive Buddha’s infinite qualities and we cannot offer extensive benefits to all sentient beings. Even if we own diamonds equal to the number of atoms on the earth, without depending on the kindness of suffering sentient beings, we cannot achieve the great purpose, enlightenment. There is no way. Without depending on the kindness of sentient beings we can’t even achieve liberation. Even if we have that many diamonds or that many dollars, they can’t help and we cannot achieve liberation. Without depending on the kindness of sentient beings, even if we have many possessions, they cannot help us find a perfect human rebirth—the body of a happy transmigratory being in the next life. Our possessions cannot save us from the lower realms.
For example, a person who has degenerated moral conduct but has practiced charity will be born as a naga having much wealth, because of having made charity in a past life. Because of his degenerated moral conduct, he can’t find the body of a happy transmigratory being and he will be reborn only in the animal realm or as a naga. Moral conduct is the cause of the body of a happy transmigratory being. Moral conduct is practiced on the object of sentient beings and it depends on the kindness of sentient beings. Because suffering sentient beings exist, we have the opportunity to practice moral conduct—to avoid killing others and to avoid stealing others’ possessions. We have the opportunity to practice on the object of sentient beings, so that is why sentient beings are extremely, unbelievably kind. That is how our happiness comes from other sentient beings.
When we find a treasure that we cherish so much, we take the best care of it, seeing the value of it and the advantages we can get from it. This treasure is rare, so we take the best care of it. It is rare to find, and we see how much value and enjoyment that we can get from it. This is how to apply the example of “difficult to find” to the meaning of this verse.
Buddha doesn’t get angry or have obscurations and suffering, so there is no opportunity to generate compassion or to practice patience with Buddha. There is also no opportunity to practice compassion or patience with arya beings, arhats and higher bodhisattvas, because they don’t get angry with us or dislike us. There is no opportunity to practice patience with them, because they don’t have suffering and they don’t get angry. They don’t have the true cause of suffering or true suffering, so there is no opportunity to generate compassion for them. We cannot generate this unbelievable, unbearable, great compassion for them, because there is no opportunity.
Normally, it is very easy to generate compassion for a beggar who doesn’t have food or a house, who doesn’t have anything or who is sick, but compassion does not arise for those who have less problems or who are not as vicious or cruel. When we see wealthy people who have everything, compassion does not arise. Just generally speaking, this is a common experience. When we see a very wealthy person, generally speaking, it is difficult for most people to bring up compassion. For beggars and people who are very poor or very sick, for example somebody who has leprosy disease, it is very easy for compassion to arise. For people who are wealthy and healthy, it is difficult to generate compassion. Therefore, for us, it is easier to bring up compassion for sentient beings who not only have the poverty of Dharma but also poverty of the means of living and many problems.
Similarly we can see that it is easy for compassion to arise if those sentient beings are extremely kind. It is easy for us, depending on the kindness of that object. The root of bodhicitta, compassion, is easy to generate towards people who are extremely kind. Even that person’s existence is extremely kind.
If we think in this way, we don’t feel compassion for most people. We only feel compassion for certain people who are very badly injured, sick or poor, and we don’t feel compassion for most people that we see. We don’t feel compassion for our employers or people at the office—for these objects, compassion does not arise easily.
Not all sentient beings are like the example that I mentioned. If their mind is so vicious and there is incredibly heavy negative karma, with unbelievable suffering and sickness, it is very easy for us to have compassion for them. Since every human being is not like this, it is so difficult to feel compassion, therefore the person who is angry and dislikes us is like a precious treasure that is very difficult to find.
1 “Whenever I see beings that are wicked in nature and overwhelmed by violent negative actions and suffering, I shall hold such rare ones dear, as if I had found a precious treasure.” See the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation, a teaching by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the mind training text by Geshe Langri Tangpa. [Return to text]