Follow Great Compassion

Follow Great Compassion

Date of Advice:
June 2018
Date Posted:
November 2022

In this letter, Rinpoche explains why we need to dedicate our life and our actions to sentient beings. The advice was sent to a student’s daughter who was now a young adult and had reached out to Rinpoche after many years.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche outside his home in Aptos, CA, 2014.

My most dear one,
How are you now? Billions of thanks that you wrote to me and explained your news to me. Yes, I have been thinking of you. And how is your mum now? I know you live alone now, which is very good for your understanding. Staying alone is a very good way to get to know yourself, and through that you come to know other sentient beings.

I have been wondering how you are doing and what you have been doing, because it has been quiet for a long time, with quite a few years of silence between us.

Your great quality is compassion for others, particularly animals. Your comment that your suffering helped you to generate compassion for others—that is the best thing, the correct way, then all your suffering becomes extremely useful.  By realizing others’ suffering and also by remembering that others are numberless, so then from that we generate compassion for others.

If we are able to generate compassion, then from that compassion comes bodhicitta, the thought to liberate sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to enlightenment—we take that responsibility on ourselves. For that reason we need to achieve the state of enlightenment, so for that we need to purify defilements and karma and we need to actualize the path, from correctly following the virtuous friend up to the state of omniscience.

Therefore, we need to practice Dharma for sentient beings. That is the most important thing, more important than anything else. How? That is through the lamrim, the gradual path to enlightenment.

We have been experiencing the general sufferings of samsara and particularly the sufferings of the lower realms (the hell beings, hungry ghosts and animals) and also the general sufferings of samsara, all the sufferings, like the six types of suffering and the four types of suffering. All these sufferings are included in the three: the suffering of pain, the suffering of change—which is what we call all the temporary pleasures—and pervasive compounding suffering. Those two types of suffering—the suffering of pain and the suffering of change—come from pervasive compounding suffering, which means that our aggregates are under the control of delusion and karma. The aggregates are pervaded by suffering, the contaminated seed of delusion and karma, and from this suffering all the delusions arise.

Even our future life’s suffering arises due to that, then particularly the lower realm sufferings, which is the hell beings’ sufferings, for example, which is almost unbearable suffering. We have experienced this numberless times—we have experienced all the different sufferings in samsara from beginningless rebirths, so that is most scary.

Most sentient beings don’t remember this. They are blocked by the ignorance and pollution, so they don’t remember and not only that, they create the causes to experience all the sufferings of samsara again, the oceans of samsaric sufferings again and again, numberless times in the future.

Therefore, it becomes unbelievably important to practice and to actualize the path to enlightenment. Not only the path to nirvana, but the path to great nirvana, so this is why we need to practice Dharma. It’s almost as if we can’t waste even a second without practicing Dharma; it becomes like that, how important it is.

So this is just thinking about yourself, but now, like that, there are numberless hell beings, numberless hungry ghosts, numberless animals, numberless human beings, numberless suras, numberless asuras and numberless intermediate state beings experiencing the general sufferings of samsara, all the different sufferings in samsara, particularly the sufferings of the lower realms. They have been experiencing this from beginningless rebirths and they will experience it again in the future, endlessly.

This is why sentient beings need to meet Dharma and to practice and to actualize the path, therefore establishing Dharma centers and study groups in the world, and especially in the West, becomes so important.

The essence is to develop compassion; this is how Buddhism is differentiated from other religions in the world. Buddhism is differentiated by great compassion for all sentient beings. By going for refuge in the Dharma, then we have to stop giving harm to sentient beings. Then of course, especially the Mahayana teachings are to benefit other sentient beings, on the basis of that.

So here, no question that compassion has to arise, great compassion has to arise, to free the numberless sentient beings from the oceans of samsara sufferings by oneself and bring them to peerless happiness, enlightenment, by oneself. Therefore we need to achieve the state of omniscience. It is only then that we have infinite compassion embracing every sentient being, and not only that, even before actualizing bodhicitta, we have perfect understanding, seeing all the past phenomena directly at the same time, and seeing all future phenomena directly and at the same time, and all the present phenomena. And being able to read the minds of all sentient beings directly, without mixing up, and seeing all their sufferings, being able to reveal all the paths and all the methods, exactly what each sentient being needs, to benefit every sentient being, to bring them from happiness to happiness and to enlightenment. We will also have perfect power to reveal the methods, to bring them to enlightenment.

This is why, when you practice lamrim, even from the very beginning, everything is dedicated for all sentient beings. Listening, reflection and meditation, everything is dedicated for all sentient beings to achieve enlightenment; everything is dedicated for all sentient beings, [including] our practice and our life, even before actualizing the path.

Therefore, we need to live our life, our actions of body, speech and mind, for sentient beings, to free them from suffering and bring them to enlightenment.

Here is a quote from the sutra of Arya Avalokiteshvara, the Well Condensed Dharma Sutra (Tib: Chho Yang Dagpar Düpai Do lä; ཆོས་ཡང་དག་པར་+ད་པ་།):

If you wish to achieve enlightenment quickly,
Don’t follow many dharmas.
Follow just one dharma—great compassion.
Whoever has great compassion,
That person will have the entire Buddhadharma in the palm of their hand, without effort.

So please write to me and I will write to you, so we will help each other.

With much love and prayers ...