Benefits of Caring for Our Parents

Benefits of Caring for Our Parents

Date of Advice:
June 2021
Date Posted:
January 2023

This advice was given to a student whose brother was taking care of their parents. Rinpoche explained the great merit collected by serving our parents and said if we understand their kindness, offering service to them will come from our heart.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche with Ama-la (his mother) at Lawudo Retreat Center, Nepal, 1990. Photo: Merry Colony.

Rinpoche started by saying: "This time I must write to him to explain the great merits you create by serving your parents, a million times better than business. First, it is difficult to progress [the business]. Most of the time it takes a very long time or you never progress, you only lose more and more, or even if you are able to develop [the business] it does not last a long time as you wish. It has so many obstacles. Many other people cause failure or obstacles, [such as] starting the same business in the same area."

My most dear, most kind, most precious, wish-fulfilling one,
There are the most unbelievable benefits of collecting merits, or good karma, the cause of happiness, by taking care of this life’s parents. First, I will give you an example. Even if the fire in our present world, human beings’ fire, is hot, it is not as hot as lava. I know about lava. I went to Hawaii and saw lava. It was so hot when we were nearby the lava. When the lava comes down and meets the rocks, they got melted, but our fire, human beings’ fire, the fire in our world, doesn’t do that. So then, I was thinking that at the end of the world, when seven suns rise and the world ends, due to which it is unbelievably, most unbelievably hot and all the rocky mountains get melted, probably at that time the fire would be so much hotter perhaps even than lava is now. I’m sure that, due to negative karma, due to it being created by an impure mind, delusion, ignorance, and, in particular, anger, even a little hell fire is unbelievably, most unbelievably, most unbelievably hot. These are examples regarding the power of phenomena. 

[There are also examples of the power] in plants. There are all kinds of plants that grow on the ground, that grow on mountains, in the Himalayan mountains. For example, in China, so many medicinal plants grow. One plant helps for this disease and another plant helps for that disease. There are many plants for different diseases. It is very good to know about these healing plants. Especially primitive people, like those in the Himalayan mountains of Solu Khumbu, Nepal, have things for healing. They have plants that grow on the mountains, so they use them. They use natural things. They are very useful. Yes, there are things like this—different plants for different diseases. Some of these plants are rare. It is an incredible thing. It is very interesting to learn, to come to know these things. It is very, very interesting. For example, I have an infection on my skin so I have been using aloe. 

Then there are holy plants that grow in holy places. In China and in certain holy places in Tibet, there are different plants, like the Always Crying One. I saw it in the cave that I was told is from my past life [as the Lawudo Lama]. I don't remember that, but high lamas said [that I’m his incarnation]. At the back of the Lawudo cave, growing in the forest very close by, is a plant that is brown in color, without any green leaves. Because it has water dew on it all the time, it is called Always Crying One. If you eat that, when you die you will never get reborn in the lower realms. You become safe from the hell, hungry ghost and animal realms. 

Then, there is the grass called kunsang. For many years I had been looking for it because I wanted to make pills out of it to help people with AIDS. This plant is very, very holy, so if you take pills containing this grass, you will recover from so many sicknesses, like leprosy and paralysis. And when you die, you will get relics on the bones of your body, and, of course, your consciousness will go to the pure land of a buddha and things like that. It doesn’t go to the lower realms. 

It is also said in a medicinal book by a geshe, one who was learned in the treatment of diseases with plants, that when you see this plant in the daytime smoke comes from it, and at nighttime fire comes from it. It has an unbelievable scented smell that cannot be stopped no matter many blankets or heavy cloths you cover it with. So, that’s incredible. 

In recent years, I did get this plant from China. A Chinese family sent it to me. They said it is very common, but it didn’t smell like what is described. I don’t know but maybe these days it has degenerated. I don’t know if there are different qualities. I don’t know, but I did get it and I ate some of it because I have diabetes. I still have it in America.

This grass grows in certain places in Tibet and when animals, such as cows, go to the mountain and eat it, they don’t go to the mountain but stay standing in one place, and sometimes tears come from their eyes. The animals are as if in meditation. It is as if they have a totally renounced mind, as if they have a kind of feeling that cyclic existence, samsara, is in the nature of suffering, or something like that. And, also, when the animal dies, there are relics, small pills, that form on its bones. Things like that happen. So, the animal sort of gets a realization by eating that grass called kunsang. There are many things like this, even in nature.

You have to know there are also poisonous plants. For example, there is one plant that grows at the back of Lawudo. It has very nice blue flowers, with maybe a little bit of red, but it is very poisonous. Among the plants there are those that are like this. 

Then there is water that guards transmigratory beings. If you drink that water, it has that effect. For example, there are certain holy places, like the holy places of Padmasambhava, a great enlightened being, where the water is blessed, so if you drink that water you don’t get reborn in the hell, hungry ghost, or animal realms. There are caves where Padmasambhava stayed in which there is dripping water even when the weather is not raining, when it is completely dry, such as in Maratika in Nepal where Padmasambhava achieved Buddha Amitayus’ enlightenment and the realization of immortality. By drinking that water, you will have a long life. 

Also, there is water like this in Tibet. There is a Kadampa geshe monastery, Radreng, which was a huge monastery that was destroyed when the communist Chinese invaded Tibet and maybe later was rebuilt. Upstairs, at the top of the house, is Lama Atisha’s most holy devotional object—a statue of Sangdu Jampal Dorje—that he gave to Dromtönpa, his translator in Tibet, who was Chenrezig. And down below the house, there is water. By drinking the water, it has the power that you don’t get reborn in the hell, hungry ghost or animal realms. From the side of nature, the elements, there are many things like this water.

So now, it is the same thing among people. I think I explained this to you when we were eating outside when we were traveling in California by car. Maybe I did not finish it but I began explaining it to you. So, anyway, I will explain it again.

It is the same thing—among people, among human beings, there are holy beings and there are evil beings. For example, there are bodhisattvas who give food and water to transmigratory beings that becomes a purification. It purifies their negative karma so that they don’t get reborn in the hell, hungry ghost or animal realms. It has a lot of benefit. Even just by seeing them, there is the purification of suffering beings. Wherever a bodhisattva, one who has a bodhicitta realization is, it is like the sun shining in that country, in that area. So, everyone, including the Hindu gods Brahma, Indra, Maheshvara and Vishnu, prostrates to that being in that place. These gods prostrate even to a footprint of a bodhisattva on the road by bending and putting the wish-granting jewel on their crown down on the ground. Also, all other powerful beings who control the world, such as the nagas who have the most power and wealth, prostrate to the bodhisattvas.

There is a verse about this by Lama Atisha who revived the Buddha’s teachings in Tibet by making them pure after they had degenerated. When there were a lot of misconceptions about Buddhist tantra, Lama Atisha was invited by the king of Tibet, Songtsen Gampo, to come to Tibet from Nalanda Monastery in India. While in Tibet, Lama Atisha wrote Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, which contains the 84,000 teachings taught by the Buddha in the Hinayana, Mahayana sutra and Mahayana tantra. These teachings were simplified by Lama Atisha and are contained in the three: the graduated path of a lower capable being in general, the graduated path of a middle capable being in general, and the graduated path of a higher capable being.

Before Lama Atisha wrote this text, there were many wrong concepts in Tibet. People thought that if you practice Buddhist tantra, you can’t practice sutra, and if you practice sutra, you can’t practice tantra. There were a lot of misconceptions about tantra, in particular. After Lama Atisha wrote this text, all the wrong concepts were eliminated and pure Buddhism spread in Tibet for an unbelievably long time. Because of this Lama Atisha’s teachings are the heart jewel of the Kadampa advice. “Kadampa” means those who follow the teachings, or instructions, coming from Lama Atisha. The extensive graduated teachings, which came from the Buddha to Maitreya Buddha to Asanga, were transmitted through Lama Atisha. Also, the profound graduated teachings, which came from the Buddha to Manjushri to Nagarjuna, were transmitted through Lama Atisha. Likewise, the lineage of practice was also transmitted through Lama Atisha.

In that text, Lama Atisha said that one who has much listening, even if they don’t have all the qualities of clairvoyance, of psychic powers or miracle powers, and so forth, due to generating bodhicitta, the place where that holy being is abiding becomes an object of offering of devas and human beings, of transmigratory beings, and of Brahma, Maheshvara, the four guardians, the hearer-listener and solitary realizer arhats, those great holy beings, and they always prostrate and offer service to that meditator who has loving kindness, compassion, and bodhicitta. So, it is like that; sentient beings receive so much peace and happiness wherever that holy being, that bodhisattva, is. In that country, that area, they are like the sun shining because they bring skies of benefit to the sentient beings who are there.

In the case of bodhisattvas, great holy beings, even if somebody harms them, it creates a good connection with them because in return the bodhisattva only benefits them. This is because, due to their bodhicitta, it is impossible for them to harm anyone; they only benefit them. For example, when the Buddha was a bodhisattva in Namo Buddha in Nepal, he saw a mother tiger and its cubs. They were very hungry so he gave them his holy body. He had such strong loving kindness, compassion and bodhicitta that he offered his body to the tiger family and they ate him. Then what happened is that, as a result of this connection, those five tigers became the Buddha’s five disciples in Sarnath, India, when he turned the first wheel of Dharma. To them, the Buddha revealed the four noble truths, which are the foundation of Buddhism, including Mahayana Buddhism, both Mahayana sutra and Mahayana tantra. This shows that even if sentient beings cannot make a connection with a bodhisattva in a good way, there is benefit even by harming them. That happens because a bodhisattva makes prayers for sentient beings to get so much benefit, both temporary and ultimate, from them.

There are ten benefits of bodhicitta:

  1. You enter the Mahayana
  2. You receive the name “child of the victorious ones”
  3. You outshine the hearer-listeners and solitary realizers
  4. You become a supreme object of offering
  5. You easily collect a huge amount of merit
  6. You quickly purify your negative karma and obscurations
  7. You accomplish whatever you wish
  8. You are not harmed by harmers or hindrances
  9. You quickly complete all the stages of the path
  10. You become a source of happiness for others

I’m sorry that this has become long but I think it is a very, very important subject for you to learn. Even if you read about the news of the world in newspapers for one hundred million lifetimes, you won’t read about the unbelievable benefits that you get by understanding the benefits of bodhicitta.

Then there are evil beings, of course. Among human beings there are evil human beings who make our mind degenerate by being with them, such that even if we have developed some realization, we will lose it. Our mind goes more and more down and we get reborn in the hell realms and so forth. These things happen; they are the effect. Before I explained the effect of a bodhisattva due to the power of their bodhicitta, now this is the negative effect of evil beings due to their self-cherishing thought. There are all kinds of effects—positive ones and negative ones. 

Okay, now, now I will give you the idea. So, a more powerful object to collect merit with is, first of all, the parents of this life. They are more powerful than outside people. Because they are such a powerful object for collecting merits, the good karma of any service we do for them or any help we give them is so powerful that we start to experience the karma in this life, that is, we experience the result, happiness, in this life. That karma is called “karma that is seen in this life” because it is so powerful that we start to experience it in this life. If karma is not powerful, we will experience it in future lives, but this karma is so powerful that we start to experience the result, happiness, even in the life in which we created it. Then, there is karma that can be seen, or experienced, in the next life. Then the third is karma that we experience the result of even after numberless eons; it doesn’t get lost.

This is good karma but now it is the same thing for negative karma; if we do a small harm, such as criticizing or giving a small beating or whatever, to our parents, we start to experience the suffering in this life.

There is a story of the Buddha’s past life when he was still a bodhisattva, before he achieved enlightenment, in which he was called Clay Maker Girl, although he was a not a girl. For example, in my family, my parents had many children, but they all died, so my sister, who in this life is a nun, was called Kame Dronme. Ka me means “blacksmith” and dron me means “light.” In Nepal and Tibet, a blacksmith is regarded as very low so there are many people, like those in Solu Khumbu, who won’t bring them into their homes because they think they are unlucky and bring misfortune. They believe things like that, so then, by calling someone by the nickname Kame, it helps them to have a long life. Due to this, my sister didn’t die. This is very common.

After Clay Maker Girl was born, he asked his mother what business his father had done. The father used to go to the ocean to get wish-granting jewels but he died in the ocean. The mother didn’t want to tell Clay Maker Girl that, because she was afraid he too would die in the water, so she said his father sold grass. Then, by selling grass, he gave a gold coin one or two times to his mother. Then the mother said the father used to sell wood. Then, whatever gold coins Clay Maker Girl got by selling wood, he gave them to his mother. Then he found out his father used to trade in wish-granting jewels, so he wanted to go to the ocean like his father. His mother held onto his feet and said, “Don’t go,” but he hit his mother’s head with his feet and left.

On the ocean, he went on and on until he came to an island where there was an unbelievable, most beautiful nine or ten-storied palace, the inside of which was full of beautiful goddesses. They made many offerings to him and asked him to stay there with them, but he didn’t listen to them. He left and traveled on the ocean to another island, which was also extremely beautiful with so many high-storied palaces, which were again full of offering goddesses who made offerings to him and asked him to stay there, but he didn’t listen to them. Those experiences were the result of the gold coins he had given his mother. They were the benefits of that.

Then he saw an island with a black mountain around it. Due to the karma of having beaten his mother’s head with his feet, there was somebody there who had a wheel, twelve pagtse in width, turning on his head. According to Abhidharmakosha, although I’m not sure if what I remember is correct, eighty arm spans are one gyang trag and eight gyang trag are one pagtse. That wheel turning on the other person’s head was going to be transferred to Clay Maker Girl’s head for 66,000 years, but when the wheel was coming on his head, he generated bodhicitta thinking, “May the karma of all sentient beings to experience this ripen on me.” Just by generating bodhicitta, the wheel immediately came off his head. That means it came on his head, but it came off his head immediately due to the power of his good heart, his bodhicitta, by dedicating his life to sentient beings. He was liberated from that immediately by the power of bodhicitta.

There are many stories about bodhisattvas who in the past, when they had to cross a river, due to the power of their bodhicitta, their ultimate good heart, their life being totally dedicated to sentient beings, the water stopped, and then, after they had crossed the river, the water joined again. There are many stories like that. For example, in Tibet, at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, the Panchen Lama’s monastery, there was a water flood coming. Keutsang Jamyang Monlam, a bodhisattva, wrote on a stone with burned wood, “If it is true that I have bodhicitta, please turn back the water flood.” He wrote that on a stone and put the stone facing the water. The water flood that was coming to the monastery went back. So, bodhicitta has power like that. There are some stories like this. 

So, whatever slight harm of harsh words or the small harm of beating or whatever we do to our parents, the negative karma is so heavy that we start to experience the suffering in this life. However, the suffering is not finished; it has just started. Then, we get reborn in the lower realms and suffer there for so long. Also, in the human realm, when due to another virtuous action we get reborn as a human being, we experience so much suffering in that life. It is like that, and that can also be for many lifetimes. So, once the karma is experienced, it is very difficult to stop it. Before the karma is experienced we can purify it, yes, but once it is experienced, it is very difficult to stop. We have to experience it until it finishes, no matter for how long. 

It is said by Nagarjuna in Jewel Garland:

What need is there to say that it would be extremely painful
If here 360 short spears were put through your body?
However, that cannot be compared to
Even a small suffering in hell.

Like that, even though you experience the most unbelievable pain and suffering
For ten million times one hundred years,
Until the negative karma finishes
You will never become free from the suffering of that life.

“Here” means this world. If 360 short spears were put through our body, there is no need to say that it would be extremely painful. This is because for us even if one single tiny thorn goes in our foot, we have to take it out immediately because we can’t bear it. Then it says, “But there is no comparison at all even to a small suffering in hell. Like that, the most unbearable pain and suffering is experienced for ten million times a hundred eons. Until you finish the negative karma, you never get separated from that suffering in your life.” So, that means it is so difficult. This is how even a small suffering in hell is.

Now, after our parents, the ordained Sangha is the more powerful object of merit. Also, the negative karma of any harm done to them is also very powerful; it is more powerful than that of harming our parents.

Then after the numberless Sangha, the arhats, who are free from samsara, are the more powerful object. By offering service to them, we collect much more merit, and by harming them, the suffering is also much heavier.

Compared to numberless arhats, by harming one bodhisattva, the suffering is most unbearable. And by offering a little service to a bodhisattva, we collect the most amazing, most amazing merits. For example, if we look at a bodhisattva with glaring eyes when we are angry, we create negative karma worse than that of taking out the eyeballs of all the sentient beings in the desire realm, form realm, and formless realm. The karma is heavier than that. But if we look at a bodhisattva respectfully, with faith, then we collect more merit than that of giving our eyeballs in charity to the three-realm sentient beings, to the numberless sentient beings in each realm. It is like that, so we can see a bodhisattva is most unbelievably, unbelievably powerful.

Now, compared to numberless bodhisattvas, one buddha is most powerful. By making a little offering to a buddha or doing a little service, we collect the most unbelievable merit. For example, if we who don’t have bodhicitta get angry at a bodhisattva for one second, it destroys one thousand eons of merits that we have already collected by practicing charity, morality, patience, perseverance, meditation and wisdom. They all get destroyed. So, therefore, we have to be careful who we get angry at because we don’t know who is a bodhisattva and who is not a bodhisattva. Since that is not easy to realize, we are advised to not get angry at any sentient being. Although toward some animals and people we may have to show anger, we should not get angry with them. All this means that if we get angry at a buddha for one second, it is probably destroys a million eons of merits. I don’t know. Or perhaps ten thousand eons of merits get destroyed or something.

Then, after that, compared to numberless buddhas, if we get angry for one second at one guru from whom we received teachings thinking that they are our guru and we are their disciple—in that way we created a guru-disciple relationship—it could be that millions of eons of past good karma all get destroyed. It could be like this. I haven't seen that in a text, but Bodhicaryavatara says how much merits get destroyed if we get angry at one bodhisattva for one second.

Also, any praise or any small service that we do for our guru, that is much more powerful than doing that to numberless buddhas and bodhisattvas. Even a small service to one guru, like helping them put on their robes or their shoes, doing anything very small, even offering them nuts, we collect unbelievable, the most unbelievable merits. That is how it becomes a cause for us to quickly become free from samsara. We collect a lot of merit, which ceases suffering forever, and then we achieve enlightenment, the total cessation of obscurations and the completion of realizations for sentient beings. The more merits we are able to collect, especially with the guru, it becomes quicker for us to achieve enlightenment.

So therefore, this is science. Basically, it is science of the mind. As I started off saying, there is negative power and positive power in nature, such as in grass, water, plants and so forth. In many things, there is negative power or positive power. Therefore, offering service to this life’s parent’s, as I mentioned at the beginning, cannot be compared to any business. We never get even the benefits of offering them food one time from a business. And that benefit is not only in this life. The benefit is unbelievable in this life but for so many lifetimes we experience the result, unbelievable, unbelievable happiness, from life to life. For hundreds and thousands and millions of lives, it goes on and on. While we are in samsara, we experience health and a long life, all our wishes get fulfilled, we have power and wealth, and at the end e achieve enlightenment.

It is said by the Buddha in Arya Sanghata Sutra:

Any sentient being who, during my teachings,
Makes charity of something even the size of a hair,
For eighty thousand eons they will have
The great result of great enjoyments,

A beautiful and healthy body,
Enjoy happiness and have control over wealth.
At the end, they will also achieve the result
Of peerless enlightenment.

During the Buddha’s teachings, even if we make charity of one single hair to somebody, a sentient being, from life to life, on and on, always, we will have wealth, our wishes will succeed, we will be healthy. And then we will get much power, like Indra, Brahma and Maheshvara. Then, at the end, we will achieve enlightenment, the total cessation of obscurations and the completion of realizations. Then we will be able to free the numberless sentient beings from the lower realms, from samsara, and from the lower nirvana, the ultimate happiness, and bring them to peace and happiness, buddhahood.

I have a guru, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, who was an expert, like the Indian pandits, in sutra and tantra. He was appointed by the government to be the abbot of a very large monastery in Tibet, Shartse Monastery, where Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings are taught. When his parents came to Lhasa, because Buddhism talks about the unbelievable kindness of one’s parents (Buddha explained this and it is very important to understand what Buddha explained), he wished very much to clean his parent’s house. He was a very, very high lama but still he wanted to clean his parent’s house and serve them. Although he was a very, very high lama with many disciples, he was busy doing many things and couldn’t do all those things for his parents, he really wanted to do this. I heard this. 

Next I will explain the kindness of the parents. It is very, very important to know. Now you know how helping and serving them is powerful, but if you understand their kindness, your offering service to them will come from your heart. You won’t just feel you have to do it, but by knowing their kindness serving your parents will come from your heart.

Sentient beings have all been our kind mother since beginningless rebirths. This precious human body is received by the kindness of our parents. If we didn’t create karma ourselves to receive the precious human body, then we would not have it. If our parents didn’t take care of us, if they hadn’t given birth to us and taken care of us for nine months in the womb, then we wouldn’t be alive now. If our mother had an abortion, then we wouldn’t be a human being now and we wouldn’t have this precious human body at all. So you see how she is most unbelievably precious, the kindest one.

Even after birth, for so many years she looked after us. Not only did she give us the most precious human body, but she bore so many hardships, protecting us from hundreds of dangers each day, starting from inside the mother’s womb and then outside when we were born, she protected us from hundreds of dangers every day. For example, during childhood, if a baby is not watched for even one minute or five minutes, its life is in danger. It could fall down or eat the wrong thing or put harmful things in its mouth, stones or knives—immediately we see the danger if no-one is watching. Our mother bore so much hardship for us and protected us from hundreds of dangers in our life, otherwise we wouldn’t be a human being now, we wouldn’t be able to meet the Dharma and understand the Dharma and have all the realizations, by practicing and collecting extensive merits with bodhicitta and being able to purify negative karma collected since beginningless rebirth. We wouldn’t be able to do that. We would be unable to meditate on the path to enlightenment and then plant the seeds of enlightenment by listening to teachings, reflecting and meditating.

So, our mother is the most unbelievable, precious, kindest and dearest one. She also gave us education, she is so kind, so therefore we can now write and read and do so many things, and especially we are able to learn and practice Dharma. Can you imagine her unbelievable kindness? From this, we can eventually overcome the oceans of samsaric suffering and the causes, karma and delusion, and achieve the highest enlightenment.

Also, our mothers created so much negative karma for our happiness, such as killing, telling lies, causing harm to others and harm to themselves by creating negative karma with ignorance, anger, attachment and selfish mind. This is what causes them to be reborn in the lower realms, because they created negative karma and bore so many hardships for our happiness. Now, this is what they gave us, this precious human body and they protected us from hundreds of dangers to life every day, they gave us education and bore so many hardships. This is not only in this life; they did this numberless times. Each of these kindnesses they did numberless times in the past, from beginningless rebirth. This is what they did.

Every sentient being did this for us, they were most unbelievably kind to us. They gave us a body and protected our life from hundreds of dangers every day, they gave us education especially Dharma education, and they bore so much hardship for our own happiness. Every sentient being did that numberless times for us, therefore every single sentient being is the most kindest, dearest, most precious one.

This great, incredible opportunity is like a miracle, it’s hard to believe that we have this, to collect merits, unbelievable, every day, and not just every day, but so many times within the day, so many hours, minutes, seconds, every day—unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable—but we don’t have this forever, our life can be ended any time. For instance today in this world, the past life consciousness was conceived in the mother’s womb, but then passes away and then left to another realm or world, or died in the mother’s womb after having developed physically for nine months, then came out and died, or died as child, died in middle age or died in old age time, so there are all kinds [of ways that people die] in the world today.

So like that, our life, their life, your life, can end at any time, so the opportunity we have to collect so much merit, which from this the result is happiness, not only in this life we experience this, but it continues from life to life, for hundreds and thousands [of lives], on and on. It can be stopped any time. So it’s even more unbelievably rare and precious, this opportunity to collect unbelievably merits—the cause of happiness—with the parents, by the kindness of the parents. Therefore we must regard this opportunity as extremely rare and precious, and we must take every opportunity to collect extensive merits.

Thank you very, very, very much. Billions of thanks to you for taking care of your parents, and it’s not just taking care of your parents, but also taking care of my parents, it’s the same. We are born to them numberless times, not only this time, but since beginningless rebirths, and they are born to us numberless times since beginningless rebirths.

If there is anything you want me to know, please write, and if I know then I will answer you.

Thank you very much.