How Fortunate You Are!

How Fortunate You Are!

Date of Advice:
July 2018
Date Posted:
May 2020

A student was going to prison for two years and asked what practices they could do there. Rinpoche gave this advice on how to use the time in prison to practice Dharma.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Kopan Monastery, Kathmandu, Nepal, December 2015. Photo: Bill Kane.

My most dear, most kind, most precious, wish-fulfilling one,
I am sorry for the long delay in replying to your emails. If you can, please read my advice on how to enjoy prison in a Dharma way.

Can you get books while you are in prison? If so, it would be good for you to have these four books while you are there:

Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand should be your main book to read, to go through and to meditate on. By reading mindfully, slowly, that becomes meditation. It is extremely worthwhile to read this, even if there is no one in prison that you can ask to clarify things from the text.

The more you read the books, slowly, slowly, the more the understanding will come. Because of positive imprints in your mind from having met the Dharma in past lives, the realizations will happen.

I am very, very happy that you wrote to me and explained yourself. Because of what you did—the illegal things in the past—now you have to go to prison, but while you are in prison you can purify the negative karmas collected from beginningless rebirths. That is one benefit of being in prison to rejoice in. So please think about that.

It is said by the great meditator from Tibet, Kadampa Geshe Khamlungpa:

By experiencing this present small suffering,
The past negative karma is ceased
And there will be happiness in the future.
Therefore, rejoice, be happy in this present suffering.

This means you can be happy about being in prison. Normal people in the world—those who don’t know Dharma, who haven’t met Dharma and who don’t practice Dharma—may look at being in prison only as suffering, only as unhappiness, because they can’t see their family and they can’t be free to do whatever they want whenever they want, etc. Normally, being free means being able to do normal worldly activities whenever you want, with attachment and anger.

But now, by thinking in a Dharma way, for you being in prison becomes Dharma. For others it is nonvirtue and there is so much unhappiness, but for you it’s very positive, so your future will be like the sun shining in the world. The sun shining brings so many people enjoyment, all the creatures and animals enjoy it so much, the plants grow and the flowers grow. In the same way, your life, your mental continuum, will go up, and you will have higher and higher realizations until you are free from samsara, free from the oceans of samsaric suffering. And not only that, you will be able to cease all the subtle defilements and achieve enlightenment, the completion of all realizations. There is nothing more to achieve for sentient beings.

Especially, you can use the problems, the sufferings, the difficulties, in the path to achieve buddhahood for sentient beings, to free them from the oceans of samsaric suffering quickly, and not only that, bring them to buddhahood, the peerless happiness.

This is mentioned in Guru Puja [Tib: Lama Chöpa], which means “pleasing the guru.” This text was composed by the first Panchen Lama, Losang Chökyi Gyältsen, who checked all the ancient Indian pandits, the great yogis Sahara, Tilopa, Naropa and all the great yogis from ancient India who got enlightened; Marpa, Milarepa and all those who got enlightened in Tibet; also the great pandits from the four sects in Tibet; all the great lamas and enlightened beings from the Nyingma tradition, including Padmasambhava and Longchen Rabjampa; the five great Sakya lineage lamas, all those enlightened beings; and Lama Tsongkhapa.

Panchen Lama Losang Chökyi Gyältsen checked all the main points of what they practiced and then he put together this text Lama Chöpa, which is the most precious text in the Gelug tradition. This is the main prayer, the extensive guru yoga.

In Lama Chöpa [v. 96] it is mentioned:

Even if the environment and beings are filled with the fruits of negative karma,
And unwished for sufferings pour down like rain,
I seek your blessings to take these miserable conditions as a path
By seeing them as causes to exhaust the results of my negative karma.

This is requesting the guru.

It is mentioned in the Seven-Point Thought Transformation:

There are three objects, three poisons, and three sources of virtue.
Remember this by repeated recollection.
Practice every activity by these words.

The “three objects” refers to the objects of our anger, attachment and ignorance. Then there are the three poisonous minds and [the three sources of virtue], which are our past, present and future merits, so we dedicate that for sentient beings.

One [way of collecting merit] is by offering to the guru, by looking at the guru as a buddha, as having no mistakes, only qualities. Another [way to collect merit] is by offering charity to every sentient being—every hell being, every hungry ghost, every animal, every human being, every sura, every asura being and every intermediate state being—in each realm. There are numberless sentient beings, for example, what we can see here, every ant in the house, outside the house or on the road, also every mosquito, every bug, every chicken, every fish in the ocean and so forth, and then the sentient beings in numberless universes. There are numberless sentient beings, not only in this world.

Sorry, I didn’t mean that you give away your three poisonous minds to sentient beings, it does not mean that.

So you can think: “By my experiencing this [problem], may every sentient being be free from disease and spirit harm—the conditions caused by negative karma and defilements, which have been collected from beginningless rebirths—and may they have virtue, without these three poisonous minds. May they have the highest enlightenment, buddhahood; may they achieve that.”

When attachment or anger arises, you can pray and dedicate for all the sentient beings.

The other thing is that all sentient beings have the three poisonous minds, which are caused by delusion and karma. The result is suffering in the lower realms, and not only that, the result in the human realm and deva realm is the suffering of pain and the suffering of change, which is actually all of our samsara pleasures—the pleasure of music, the pleasure of food, the pleasure of clothing, the pleasure of sex, the pleasure of drugs and so forth.

These “pleasures” cannot continue, however, Dharma continues. Dharma happiness can continue and be completed, but samsaric happiness cannot continue and cannot be completed. Dharma continues until we achieve liberation from samsara forever—the peerless happiness, buddhahood.

From those two sufferings (the suffering of pain and the suffering of change) comes the third suffering, pervasive compounding suffering. The aggregates are under the control of delusion and karma and are pervaded by suffering; they come from delusion and karma and the seed, then suffering and delusion arise again.

You can think you receive all sentient beings’ suffering on and on and on, onto oneself, into your own heart, on your root of samsara, which is the ignorance holding the I as real while it is not. So you receive all sentient beings’ suffering onto that concept and onto the self-cherishing thought, the great demon, the enemy. It’s like dropping a bomb on your self-cherishing. You take all sentient beings’ suffering and the causes, everything. You take all that, so it’s like dropping a bomb on your great enemy, the demon, the self-cherishing thought.

Your self-cherishing becomes nonexistent and the root of samsara, ignorance, becomes nonexistent. Meditate on that. Even the real I—even the mere name—becomes non-objectifying, as it is not there, in reality, at all. Meditate on emptiness a little bit.

Next generate loving kindness by giving your body, possessions and merits to all other sentient beings.

I have given some advice on tonglen. You can read this advice and look at the meditations on taking and giving—taking on others’ sufferings and giving one’s own happiness to others. When you take on their sufferings, do it with compassion.

By transforming bad conditions onto the path to enlightenment, each time you do this tonglen meditation, think you are taking not just one sentient being’s suffering, but numberless sentient beings’ sufferings, so each time you create skies of merit. Even more than that, think you are giving your body, possessions and three times’ merits, even just once, to numberless sentient beings, so again you collect more than skies of merits. This is unbelievable, unbelievable.

There is no business in the world like Dharma practice. You collect the greatest merits and it is the greatest purification. You purify past negative karma and obstacles, and it is the quickest way to achieve enlightenment. This becomes the happiest life, the most meaningful life for sentient beings, most beneficial for sentient beings.

Then by the way—this is the best for you—this is how to make your life the happiest. It is mentioned in the teachings that when you have any suffering or sickness, whatever problem you have, think of all sentient beings who have the same problem, and think you receive all their suffering; think you have received that. Then you can rejoice; you are so happy, most happy, as you are taking all sentient beings’ suffering. Think you have received this and you are experiencing it instead of them, so they achieve enlightenment, the Buddha’s holy body, the rupakaya and the Buddha’s holy mind, the dharmakaya.

By doing this practice of lojong [thought transformation], your mind is so happy. Whether you have cancer or are in prison or whatever suffering you have, you can think you have received all sentient beings’ suffering and its causes, and they are free from suffering, so then you can be unbelievable happy, so happy.

It is said by the great bodhisattva Shantideva in A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life1:

If my life is used for the sake of others,
Then I will receive all the perfections
In this life and future lives, and then enlightenment.

This means liberation from samsara and then enlightenment, so it includes everything. Also in your next life you will become a king or even a universal king. When there is a universal king, there is only one in the world; it doesn’t happen that there are two at the same time. So you can become a king, a deva, a human being or even a universal king. When a universal king happens in world then everyone is able to live in the ten virtues by the power of that king. So, it is unbelievably powerful and beneficial.

If you use others for your own happiness, the result is that in the next life you become a servant, a slave, or you are reborn in the lower realms or as a very foolish being. This is mentioned by Shantideva.

But if your life is used for others’ happiness, there is an unbelievable, unbelievable result. As I just mentioned, the result is [received] up to enlightenment.

So I’ll stop now. You can read my explanation of tonglen.

The main texts for you to read in prison are lamrim texts. There are many paths to enlightenment, but for you, what brings you to enlightenment through the path, by generating the path, is the lamrim text Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand. This is the main text for you to study from beginning to end. Read it mindfully; that itself is meditation.

Please live your whole life, day and night, with bodhicitta motivation. Please do the daily motivation, The Method to Transform a Suffering Life into Happiness (Including Enlightenment), every day.

You are most welcome to enlightenment—to enlighten all sentient beings by becoming enlightened yourself. If you can do even a little bit of practice it makes your life very worthwhile, so please come to enlightenment for the sake of sentient beings, to enlighten them, to free them from samsara and to enlighten them.

The mantra for you to recite in prison is Vajrasattva, so please do as many Vajrasattva mantras as you can. Perhaps you might know this: if you recite the long Vajrasattva mantra—the one hundred-syllable mantra—twenty-one times, then whatever negative karma you have collected each day is purified. Your past negative karma is also purified, so it doesn’t become double the next day and then triple by the third day, going on and on and on, like that.

So reciting the long Vajrasattva mantra twenty-one times stops the negative karma from multiplying. [Without purification practice] the negative karma becomes double the next day, and then triple by the third day, and so forth. This mantra has incredible benefits, it is unbelievable.

It is said in the teachings that for learned ones, even though negative karma created is heavy, it becomes small. That means learned ones know how to purify negative karma with Vajrasattva, so the karma becomes small or ceases completely.

For foolish ones who don’t know about Vajrasattva practice, even though their negative karma may be small, if they do not purify it each day, it increases day-by-day. It starts the size of one atom, but by increasing day-by-day, when they die it becomes like a mountain, so heavy.

Now you can see sentient beings, even human beings, most haven’t met Dharma. They do not know Dharma, so they do not practice Vajrasattva, thus every single negative karma created increases day-by-day. Not just one negative karma is created each day; so many are created with body, speech and mind in one day. When they die each negative karma becomes like a mountain, then for eons they are reborn and suffer in the lower realms.

Therefore, now you should know how fortunate you are, because you have met the holy Dharma. You are so fortunate, because this time your mind has opened to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Wow, wow, wow, wow! How fortunate that is, you are unbelievably lucky.

So in prison do as much Vajrasattva practice as you can for all sentient beings, not only for yourself but for all sentient beings—for every single hell being, every single hungry ghost, every single animal, every single human being, every single sura, every single asura and every single intermediate state being. There are numberless sentient beings, so [dedicate] for everyone to be free from samsara and to achieve enlightenment.

Regarding your request for me to be your guru, so you try and I'll try. You should try to read The Heart of the Path.

Please read this advice over and over again, and as much as possible make your life most meaningful with the thought of bodhicitta day and night and in every action you do.

With much love and prayers ...


1 Guide, Ch, 3, vv. 11–12:

Without any sense of loss
I shall give up my body and enjoyments
As well as all my virtues of the three times
For the sake of benefiting all.

By giving up all, sorrow is transcended
And my mind will realize the sorrowless state.
It is best that I (now) give everything to all beings
In the same way as I shall (at death).
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