My very dear Laurence,
How are you? Are things going better now? Are you feeling freer, better, healthier, more enlightened?
From my observations, analyzing what I have heard about the way you have been thinking, your concerns, and what you have been saying, such as, “I am lonely; there is nobody here who loves me”, all of these words and concerns, in my view, are based on western culture and people around you who are saying these things.
Maybe you are not analyzing western culture at the monastery, but western culture is based on the “I,” on thinking that my needs are the most important, and that you should feel pride. Those things are regarded as very good in Western culture. Western culture is based on advertising the self as much as possible. Even in western psychological methods, there is no mention of compassion for others. You never hear this unless Western psychology is mixed with Dharma, otherwise there is no mention of other people’s needs or happiness. There is only talk of one’s own happiness; everything is based on that and it doesn’t matter at all about other people.
The first quality for people practicing Mahayana teachings is that you are doing it for others. You achieve enlightenment for others, to free countless sentient beings from all the sufferings and causes, and bring them to enlightenment. To do this perfect work you need to know all sentient beings’ minds, karma, characteristics, wishes, and all methods that fit them. It is only Buddha’s holy, omniscient mind that can do that.
Therefore, one needs to become omniscient, which means one needs to become Buddha. So, you can see the reason for becoming Buddha, and how this is most urgently needed by others. You need to have all the qualities of a buddha to benefit others, not just for your own happiness.
From my observations, what you are thinking and saying is all connected with western culture and attitudes. If every sentient being followed these things, then there would be no Guru Shakyamuni Buddha and there would be no buddhas. Then, there wouldn’t be any Buddha to guide us, to teach the path, liberate sentient beings from the lower realms, from samsaric sufferings, the hallucinated defilements, and the deep ignorance which has no beginning.
Buddha gave up the self-cherishing thought, thinking only of one’s own happiness, one’s needs, that “I am the most important person in the world.” He gave up these thoughts, let go of them, cherished others, and put all his effort into that.
Buddha was an ordinary being before, like us, with all the delusions and karma, negative emotional mind, and sufferings, but then he put so much effort into cherishing all sentient beings, collecting merit, and purifying negative karma. Buddha collected merit by sacrificing his body, giving up his whole family and possessions, etc. Buddha made charity to so many sentient beings. For example, in Nepal, at Namo Buddha, Buddha gave up his holy body to the starving tigress and her five cubs. Also, he offered his eyes to the blind. He practiced charity, patience, perseverance, morality, concentration, and wisdom for three countless great eons. Then, he completed the two types of merit: of wisdom and virtue, achieved the omniscient, fully awakened mind, and revealed Dharma to us.
That is why we have the incredible fortune in this life to be in this world where Buddha’s teachings exist, where every day we come closer to liberation and the total cessation of samsaric sufferings, which are caused by karma and delusion. Not only that, but each day we come closer to perfect happiness, full enlightenment, and complete bliss.
This means that each day we come closer to liberating so many sentient beings from samsaric suffering and bringing them to enlightenment. Every day, each time we meditate on bodhicitta, meditate on emptiness, recite prayers of emptiness and bodhicitta, including renunciation, especially practice tantra, which purifies so many eons of negative karma, we collect vast amounts of merit.
For example, reciting Buddha’s name mantra or reciting Vajrasattva mantra, OM VAJRASATTVA HUM, 28 times has the power to stop any non-virtue that has been created today, which if not purified can double by the second day, and triple by the third day, and so on. If one negative karma created today is not purified, that small negative karma can become the size of a mountain, or the size of the earth, so heavy, and when you die, because of this one negative karma, you can be born in the lower realms and for countless eons have to wander and suffer in the lower realms.
Just one negative karma can multiply day by day and increase until it becomes the size of the earth, but Vajrasattva can purify today’s negative karma, prevent it from increasing, which means you don’t have to experience the result, which is suffering. Instead, you may experience some pain or problem in this life, instead of suffering for eons in the lower realms, depending on how powerful your practice of purification is.
Also, reciting the name of the first Buddha from the Thirty-five Buddhas of Confession just one time has the power to purify 80,000 eons of negative karma. Reciting each name of the Thirty-five Buddhas has the power to purify so many eons of negative karma, not just created today but created for eons. So, the Buddha made it is so easy for us to purify negative karma, no matter how heavy it is.
Before Guru Shakyamuni became Buddha he was a bodhisattva; before he was a bodhisattva he generated bodhicitta, and before that he generated great compassion, which was for us sentient beings. That is why we receive so much benefit from reciting the Buddha’s name, and it so easy for us to be liberated, no matter how much heavy karma we have. It is so easy to be liberated from the lower realms, from samsaric suffering which is beginningless, because Buddha explained so clearly the whole path to enlightenment (also other great masters such as Lama Tsongkhapa—who made it so clear). All of this comes from bodhicitta, which came from great compassion, which was generated for us sentient beings.
That is why every hour, every minute, so many sentient beings achieve enlightenment from the Buddha’s teachings, through Buddha’s help, because of Buddha’s omniscient mind, perfect power, and especially because of Buddha’s perfect compassion for all living beings, which saves sentient beings now and in the future and leads all sentient beings to enlightenment. If Buddha had not transformed his mind before, when he was an ordinary being, if he had thought like us, thinking, “I am the most important person; my needs are most important; my happiness is most important, etc.,” then nobody would have become enlightened, there would be no Buddha Dharma now, no amazing opportunity to achieve happiness. So, please think of this.
Not only Guru Shakyamuni Buddha did this, but numberless buddhas. When they were ordinary beings, they transformed their minds into bodhicitta, cherishing others, the non-ego, became enlightened, and benefited so many sentient beings.
Some people think helping others is just providing housing, medicines, and food, etc., but this doesn’t do anything with delusions and karma (which are the cause of suffering). From their side, some beings may not have created the karma to get shelter and help and even if you give them food etc. there are obstacles and they don’t receive it. It is like in Africa—people send food but it is taken away and the poor people hardly get anything, maybe only something very, very small.
You have to think whether you really want to liberate sentient beings from the causes of suffering—delusion and karma. You can only eliminate the defilements by actualizing the path shown by Buddha, the Four Noble Truths, the lesser vehicle Hinayana teachings, on that basis the Mahayana practice, bodhicitta, the 10 bhumis, six paramitas, etc., then the tantric path, which frees sentient beings from all sufferings quickly, by eliminating delusion and karma and helping them to achieve enlightenment quickly.
How can you achieve that? You have to listen to the teachings more extensively. How do you do that? You learn through debate, which is Lama Tsongkhapa’s special way of learning very clearly and extensively, to have an unshakable, unmistaken understanding, then no one can cheat you by giving you wrong explanations.
If Buddha had not transformed his mind when he was an ordinary being, then no one would be enlightened. Lama Tsongkhapa and His Holiness the Dalai Lama wouldn’t be benefiting the world, like the sun shining, bringing so much peace and happiness, helping so many people to have realizations of the Three Principles of the Path and particularly tantra.
In this way, you can show the path to liberation and enlightenment. You can show this in an extensive way to those who can learn, as the middle way to those who can’t, and as the essence to those who have a lot of ignorance.
If you want to learn the meaning of life, you need to know, especially, the lam-rim teachings, and philosophical subjects very well. The lam-rim is the essence of the Buddha’s 84,000 teachings and explains to us what is the purpose of our life, what is to be practiced and what is to abandoned. This is the first level of teachings in the lam-rim.
If you travel around and meet only non-Buddhists who don’t know the lam-rim, you won’t find any answers to the meaning of life. Most people’s purpose or meaning of life is to enjoy life by following the selfish mind, doing whatever they want. But you can’t do whatever you want in the world, it would be crazy, you would get into trouble if you did whatever the mind thought. It would make others upset, angry; it would become like a fire burning in the city or mountains. Most people’s motivation for life is delusion, attachment, and anger, not only the self-cherishing thought. In the West, people do not know Dharma, do not know what the mind really is, not even the correct words in order to explain it. Even if you know only a little you can illuminate the world. Therefore, I think it is very important to have a Dharma education in a monastery.
You just need some patience and to think of others. Otherwise, you might end up just an ordinary guy spending your life in nightclubs and on your motorcycle. An ordinary guy is not very helpful for bringing peace to the world. Later, if you meet a woman who wants children then that is it, your life is finished. You are caught like drowning in quicksand and you can’t get out.
I think you have already seen enough suffering people in this life. In the west, couples have so much suffering, no real peace. Even if they live together they are dissatisfied, unhappy, always fighting, always living in fear of losing their friend, afraid to be separated, with so much suffering every day, with a whole pack of negative emotional thoughts. There is no happiness, no peace, and one can’t meditate, can’t relax the mind.
If you compare the enjoyments of western life to the deva realms, no matter how much wealth or how many pleasures you have, it is nothing compared to the devas. The devas see the human realm as a filthy, dirty place, with lots of sickness and suffering. The devas have billions of times greater pleasures than those in the human realm. When the result of past good karma is finished then they have to again be reborn in the lower realms and circle around in samsara.
The devas believe that theirs is real pleasure, but it is a total hallucination. They are totally ignorant, not understanding it is suffering. Their mind labels something “pleasure” and they believe in that, and then it appears as pleasure. Then they get attached to that and that leads to samsara, and again and again they are reborn in samsara, with all its sufferings.
So, there is no new experience; you have experienced everything so many times before. Where is the interest then? This is like a prison. Also, it is a complete hallucination. You believe suffering is pleasure, but you don’t have it forever, it stops when your karma finishes.
The beings in the form realm see the desire realm as full of suffering, that it is such a short life and the pleasures are only suffering. Even what we think is the greatest pleasure the form realm beings see as suffering, disgusting, they don’t find it attractive even for one second.
Then, the beings in the formless realm see the form realm as extremely gross and only in the nature of suffering. They have no attraction to it even for one second. They find it totally disgusting. This is why they are born in the formless realm (because they have renounced the desire realm and form realm).
The formless realm has four states:
- Infinite sky
- Infinite consciousness
- Tip of samsara.
The Tip of Samsara consciousness sees the other three formless realms, but because there is no higher realm to compare to then it is difficult to realize how the Tip of Samara is in the nature of suffering. Then, because one can’t generate renunciation for that, one can’t enter the path. Therefore, one does not have the realization of wisdom directly perceiving emptiness, and can’t eliminate the seed of delusion. When the karma finishes, the being in the highest realm of samsara has to be reborn in the lower realms.
So, you can see there is nothing interesting in the entire existence of samsara. It is just a prison. We have been circling around in this for time without beginning. In samsara we have had every pleasure countless times in the past. Because we don’t have clairvoyance we don’t remember it. Also, we have had all the sufferings so many times. Therefore, the only thing to do is to achieve the path, the causes of total liberation from all sufferings and their causes. Not only that, we must achieve enlightenment so we can enlighten other sentient beings, who are countless and who are suffering. That is the ultimate goal of life.
Because you are a monk practicing morality, which is the basis of one’s whole attitude, this makes it very easy to achieve the path to enlightenment. Living in ordination is a great blessing for people and the whole world; it is an incredible source of inspiration to others. When they see you as a monk it plants the seed of liberation in their minds. When they see you as a layperson, you don’t give that benefit to others. When, as a monk, you start to teach, then so many others receive benefit. When you are a monk, others respect you, and through that they create good karma, and from that good karma they receive happiness. Also, when others make offerings to you, they are making offerings to a monk living in ordination. They create merit and achieve happiness from that.
In the past, in India, a very poor person offered medicinal drink to four monks. In his next life the poor person was reborn as a powerful king. That small good karma of making an offering to four monks had a very powerful result. He experienced very good karma and the result was happiness for hundreds and thousands of lifetimes. Similarly, negative karma can also be experienced like that, but the result is suffering.
If you are a monk, even if you don’t teach Dharma, but you live in the vows, then this is still very beneficial for sentient beings. You inspire them to collect virtue, practice Dharma, and learn Dharma. You draw and attract them to practicing morality. From that they receive a good rebirth in their next life and ultimately liberation from samsara and enlightenment, by realizing the path.
Even whatever little you have learned already can be of so much benefit. If you spend a few more years learning the philosophical teachings, such as Madhyamika and Abhisamaya, then you can be of so much benefit through teaching others. Many people have university degrees but they are unable to find a job. If you know Dharma then you can teach all over the world, even if what you have learned is only a little. You can bring so much peace and happiness all over the world. What else is better in your life than this?
Maybe you have been influenced by some naughty monks in the monastery. The monastery doesn’t just have that aspect; there are many pure, good monks there too. Generally, where there are very good people there are also some bad people; it’s natural.
Take good inspiring examples, people with pure morality and humility, and be respectful to everyone in the monastery. Take the good examples and leave the bad, those who are harmful to you and do not help you have a healthy mind or virtuous life.
Be respectful to all the monks, thinking they have other good qualities that I don’t have or they could be bodhisattvas. You can’t judge a person from the outside because Buddha manifests as ghosts, spirits, butchers, prostitutes, the poor, the rich, animals, etc. Even bodhisattvas can manifest in any form that is beneficial for sentient beings. Buddhas manifest as blind people, even though they are not blind, but ordinary people do not realize. They manifest as not having limbs, as crazy people, as having ignorance, as having attachment, as having anger, even though they have none of these qualities, but ordinary people do not realize. This is according to bodhisattvas’ practice.
If you respect the monks, look at them as positive, then at that moment you create good karma and do not create negative karma, especially if they are holy beings. Then, you create a lot of good karma. This makes everybody happy and makes you happy. Even in the ordinary world you should look at beings with respect and in a positive way, but it doesn’t mean that you have to do what they do, that which is harmful action.
You are at the monastery to learn Dharma, to develop yourself, and to practice. It doesn’t matter what others do. It is your responsibility to learn Dharma, to study well, and listen well. This is the best way to collect the most merit and achieve the most powerful purification practice. It is the quickest and easiest way to enlightenment. From that comes all success, the greatest, quickest realizations of Dharma, and you are able to benefit so many sentient beings. There is only one sun but it illuminates the whole world. It is like that.
To look at other monks and criticize them is not why you are in the monastery, not the purpose of your life. Take the good example of others, their good conduct, and leave the negative things.
With much love and prayers...