Hello all of you, who are my sisters. There is no reason to be unhappy. A prison is just a label, another name, one of the numberless labels.
Actually, there is no difference between being in prison and the great yogis who live in caves, and don’t come out for many years. They live for a whole lifetime in a shelter or mud house without doors, with just a small hole to pass food through. In Tibet, many parts of the mountains are full of holes, they look like an ant’s nest; those are all caves, hermitages. Now, so much has been destroyed and you can see many have fallen down, but in the past whole mountains were full of holes. The hermits never came out, even stayed there their whole life. So, you see, physically it is the same. Prison is just a concept. The hermits don’t call their caves prison, but here you say “I’m in prison.” If they are not practicing Dharma or doing meditation, to be free of samsara, from the cause of suffering, delusions and karma, the real prison, samsara, then physically it is exactly the same.
But they are meditating on the path to be free from the real prison of samsara, the aggregates, which are in the nature of suffering, which continue from this life to the next life, and the next. Being caught in this, you constantly suffer in samsara, the oceans of suffering of human beings, hungry ghosts, animals, hell beings, devas, suras, and asuras; it goes on and on.
Because they are on the meditational path, they don’t think about physically not coming out of their cave. They think it is an incredible opportunity to be free from distractions. They are free of all those external distractions, from going out, from people, and so forth, and that helps not to have internal distractions.
Therefore, even if their body never comes out, never sees things outside, even for many years or a lifetime, they enjoy so much incredible peace and bliss because they are practicing meditation. So, it is exactly the same for you. Instead of “prison,” you should label it “hermitage, retreat house.” You should think like that and change the label.
You are in the same situation as those yogis, those numberless practitioners who lived in hermitages, never coming out, never seeing anybody. They actualized the path, and so many of them became enlightened. So, change your concept. For them, it is like paradise, incredible, the best place to achieve all happiness, liberation from samsara—happiness in future lives—and the highest happiness: enlightenment. It gives them all the opportunities to create the cause to actualize the path.
You can do the same and think, “Actually, it turned out for the best. What happened for me is the best thing that could have happened. Now I have all the opportunities to practice. If I were not here my life would be totally distracted with parties, so many people, friends, and so forth, filled with distraction and desire.”
Another type of prison is living in the prison of desire. There is no freedom to practice Dharma. Your life is filled with distractions; it is another prison. You should think that so many people outside of this building think they are not in prison but they are in a mental prison. They have not met the Dharma, they have no understanding of Dharma. They live in the prison of ignorance, like darkness. Their mind is totally obscured by all this ignorance. There is no understanding of karma, no faith, nothing. They are totally overwhelmed by the jealous mind, by anger, and the biggest one: desire.
They are trapped in many prisons, also the prison of ignorance, not knowing there is no real “I” appearing, there is no such “I” in this body or on the aggregates, but they believe that there is such an I. They are totally overwhelmed by this ignorance and hallucination, believing in the I, action, objects, all phenomena, even though the way they exist is by being merely labeled by the mind, but appearing to our hallucinating mind as existing from their own side, as not merely labeled by the mind. By believing that they are true, one gets caught in these hallucinations. Then that becomes the basis for all other disturbing emotional thoughts to arise, and they obscure the mind. Desire, anger, and so forth arise and destroy the merits, even the little merit that has been collected, which is the cause of happiness. Especially desire obscures the mind from seeing the ultimate nature, emptiness.
So, that is the biggest prison, the most terrifying prison that they live in. You see, there are so many external prisons people are living in, even if they are physically not living in the same building as you. All these other prisons are the most terrifying. So, you should think that this is an incredible, unbelievable opportunity. The people who put you and keep you in the building, the police who brought you to prison, have given you an unbelievable opportunity to practice. You can develop patience towards sentient beings, and compassion, loving kindness, and universal responsibility, the special attitude to free numberless sentient beings from all the sufferings and bring them to full enlightenment, all happiness, by oneself alone, taking this universal responsibility.
Think that this is the best place to develop bodhicitta and to realize emptiness, to see how everything is a dependent arising and empty of inherent existence. This is the best place to have detachment from samsara. You should think: “I am in a retreat,” so it is not prison. When people do retreat, they don’t go out, they stay in the building for months or years.
If it is left up to you, you will never do retreat, because the desire, attachment and clinging to this life makes so many plans: “I want to do this, I want to do that,” so you will never find time for retreat. Other people have given you the time and opportunity for you to do retreat.
It is very important that, while you are here, you should practice. You should do the preliminary practices. Those practices are very powerful, like an atomic bomb, such as reciting the Thirty-five Buddhas’ names and doing prostrations. You can do 100,000 prostrations reciting the Thirty-five Buddhas’ names. There is a tape explaining the benefits and the visualization that I mentioned. Whether you have an altar or not, you can do the prostrations by thinking the Thirty-five Buddhas are there. Also, the Thirty-five Buddhas are already in the Guru Puja merit field. Or you can think there are numberless buddhas in all the directions, and, thinking like that, you can do the prostrations. Whether you have an altar or not, you can put many pictures of buddhas, tsa tsas or buddha statues on the wall. Then, if your mind is very distracted, you can’t concentrate, then you can think that all those holy objects are the guru, and do prostrations.
There are nine preliminary practices. While you are in prison, you should take the opportunity to do as much as possible. Once you come out there can be many obstacles to doing retreat and practices, so it is a great opportunity to do the nine preliminary practices here. You can get commentaries and the texts to study. The monk who comes here to visit can help you with all these things, such as bringing the materials.
You can also do a deity retreat, and especially a retreat on the lamrim. Study Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand. Every day, you can do a meditation on guru devotion, until you see all the buddhas are the guru and every guru is all the buddhas, and have a stable realization of this that lasts for months and years. The next meditation is on the gradual path of the lower capable being, from the perfect human rebirth up to karma, especially impermanence and death. It doesn’t mean that you have to finish all those subjects in one session. Until you achieve those realizations, when you have a total change in your mind, carry on with the meditations.
Now, we think this life’s happiness is the most important thing, that enlightenment and liberation from samsara in future lives are not important. With the meditations there is a total change from that, and you see that the appearance of this life is very short, that death can come at any moment. Then, whatever happens, if somebody praises you, criticizes you, whether you are inside or outside of this building, it doesn’t bother you, because death can happen any time. Unfavorable or favorable conditions don’t bother you because in your heart you see that this life is very short.
When you don’t have renunciation of this life, the first realization of the lamrim, then when there is discomfort it makes you unhappy and you dislike it. When there is comfort, you have attachment, which is suffering. When you have a bad reputation, you dislike it; when you have a good reputation, there is attachment. That is another suffering. Then there is having material things, which brings the suffering of attachment, and not having material things, which brings dislike, unhappiness, and suffering. When you are praised there is attachment, and when you are criticized you are unhappy. Without the realization of impermanence and death, you cannot have renunciation of this life, letting go of worldly concerns, the attachment clinging to this life. Our lives are like this, either meeting undesirable objects, then we feel down, or encountering desirable other objects, then we feel up, also suffering due to attachment. There is no stability in life. Life is always emotional like this, with negative emotions and delusions.
Whatever happens, the four desirable or undesirable objects, it doesn’t disturb your mind, because death can happen at any moment. Whether you are inside this building, called prison, or you are outside, it doesn’t bother you. Renunciation of this life is the first lamrim realization, which is the foundation of renunciation of future lives’ samsara.
Until your mind has incredible peace, happiness, satisfaction, and contentment, and whatever happens nothing bothers you, you should continue the meditations from the perfect human rebirth up to karma, especially impermanence and death. The second meditation is that one.
Then there is the realization of bodhicitta. After that, try to have the next realization of the sufferings of samsara, by reflecting and meditating on the general suffering and particular suffering of each realm, then the evolution of samsara and the twelve dependent related links.
Continue that meditation until you have the realization of renunciation of this life, and until you see only suffering in the six realms, wherever you are, in the desire realm, form realm, formless realm, or gods realm. It is like being in the center of a fire, like being in a poisonous snake’s nest, or in a thorn bush. In a thorn bush, where ever you step there is pain. Thorns go in your flesh. There is no pure happiness even for one second while sitting in a thorn bush or fire. The whole of samsara—the desire realm, form realm, formless realm, even the devas, besides human beings—are in the nature of suffering. You don’t find the slightest attraction to all this samsara and have a stable realization, not just for a few days or hours. You have total detachment from samsara and wish to achieve liberation continuously, day and night, spontaneously.
Those who are not practicing Dharma while in prison and don’t see the positive side and take the opportunity to practice are so miserable and see nothing good in prison. Day and night they are constantly wishing to be free from prison. That is exactly like the feeling of not finding any comfort or pleasure in samsara. When you have a stable realization of that, you have the realization of renunciation of samsara. After that you train your mind in bodhicitta.
There are two techniques for training the mind in bodhicitta, according to Asanga, through Lama Atisha: the seven techniques of Mahayana cause and effect or equalizing oneself and others and exchanging oneself for others, which is developed by meditation on the shortcomings of the self-cherishing thought and benefits of cherishing others. When exchanging our own happiness for others’ happiness, the mind is totally changed, letting go of the “I” and cherishing other sentient beings. Train the mind in bodhicitta through either method.
When you have a realization of bodhicitta, it is like a mother whose beloved child has fallen into a fire, and even though other people can help, she wants to go into the fire to rescue her child. She can’t stand even for a second that her child has fallen in the fire. She has unbearable compassion to take the child out of the fire by herself alone. She goes there, preparing everything, whatever equipment she needs. It is like becoming enlightened—first you get enlightened, then you go and help. Whatever she is doing—eating, walking, whatever—in her heart she is constantly making ready to run to rescue the child who fell in the fire and is suffering. It is so powerful, and spontaneously arises on the basis of that special attitude: to free all sentient beings from all suffering and its causes and bring them to enlightenment by oneself alone. This thought to achieve enlightenment arises spontaneously, day and night, without any effort. When one sees any sentient being, this thought arises.
Those are the signs of the realization of bodhicitta. One has to continue meditating on bodhicitta until one has that stable experience. Then you should meditate on emptiness. Every day, either read the Heart Sutra, the section from the lamrim, or the Foundation of All Good Qualities. There are many different lamrim prayers, and at the end there is a section on emptiness, so you can meditate on this. In the Guru Puja there are also two or three verses on emptiness, or you can recite the Mahamudra text and meditate on that. There are many different texts you can use to meditate on emptiness.
It is extremely good to recite the Heart Sutra every day, to plant the seed. It is unbelievable purification, like an atomic bomb, to read any teachings on emptiness. You purify negative karma not just to not experience problems like prison or problems of life—the main thing is to be free from samsara, all the delusions and karma, then to be able to liberate other sentient beings and bring them to enlightenment. That happens by realizing emptiness, then showing others, and revealing teachings on emptiness to others. That is how you liberate sentient beings from the oceans of samsara’s suffering and its causes.
Therefore, it is extremely important to meditate on emptiness every day, to recite some teachings on emptiness. Even if you don’t know what emptiness means, just reciting those teachings plants the seed to realize wisdom and emptiness, every day. You can plant more seeds by reading the teachings about emptiness without being distracted. Sooner or later, in the future, without taking many lifetimes, one will be able to easily actualize emptiness. That is the main weapon to cut the root of all suffering, to liberate oneself from samsara, as well as to liberate others from samsara.
If you are not familiar with the lamrim, first you must study Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, or Essence of Refined Gold. Study them from the beginning to the end. Every day read some, so you read them at least three or four times from beginning to end. Then do the meditations I explained, one meditation on guru devotion, another on the stages of the path, then bodhicitta, including the renunciation of samsara, and emptiness. You can practice like that.
If there is time you can also practice tantra. Whichever is your deity, practice the generation stage. You can try to achieve one-pointed concentration, calm abiding, as is explained in the generation stage commentary. If one has received any highest tantra initiations, you can do those. On the basis of that there is a gross and subtle meditation, and later you can also practice the Six Yogas of Naropa, in the completion stage.
Sometimes you can also think, “This room is a room in which I can achieve enlightenment. This is a room for me to make my life most meaningful and productive and to achieve happiness in future lives, to make preparations for death. This room is made for me to reach liberation from samsara and achieve enlightenment for sentient beings, to be able to enlighten numberless other sentient beings.” You should look at it most positively like that. Think: “This experience of life, what is called ‘prison’, is actually a teaching for me, saying to purify the past negative karmas that I have collected, all the causes of sufferings, and from now on to not commit those negative karmas again, because otherwise I will experience the same problem again and again.”
If you can take vows, there are the eight Mahayana precepts to take for one day, with which you collect causes of happiness and merit like the limitless sky. Taking the eight Mahayana precepts is done with bodhicitta, to benefit all sentient beings. By keeping these eight precepts for the benefit of all sentient beings, of course, you are collecting limitless skies of merit and causes of happiness multiplied eight times. You create so many causes of enlightenment on that day.
There are also the lay vows. You can take the lay vows for a lifetime, until death. During the time of the Buddha, an arhat called Pagpa Kadayana gave vows to a butcher. The butcher couldn’t take the precepts during the daytime, when he had to kill animals, so he took the vow not to kill at night-time. He didn’t collect the merit of living in the vow in the day, but lived in the vow at night. All those nights in his lifetime he was collecting so much good karma. Even though he also created negative karma, there was also good karma. So, there is something positive in life.
The arhat also gave vows to a prostitute. At night-time she couldn’t live in the vow to not have sex, but during the daytime it was easier to live in the vow to not commit sexual misconduct. So the arhat gave her the vow to abstain from sexual conduct in the daytime. Even though that woman had a lot of negative karma, she created so much good merit by making the daytime so meaningful.
Even if you cannot take the vows for life, you can take them for as long as you are in prison. This way you are creating merit even there is nothing to kill here, there is no danger, but by living in the vow you collect merit. Even if you take a vow to not kill, even just one vow, you collect merit day and night, every hour, every second, until death. If you take the vow until death, every second you create good karma, the cause of happiness, continuously, so you are making your life meaningful continuously.
When you die, what can benefit you, what comes with you to your future lives, is only the good karma, only the Dharma, nothing else. Of course, one suffers the result of negative karma in this life and in future lives, but what comes with you, that benefits you, is only Dharma, now, at the time of death, and in the future. What benefits all future lives’ happiness is only Dharma. You can continuously collect merit every second, 24 hours a day, until death, while you are eating and sleeping. This makes life so meaningful, so enjoyable. You create the unmistaken cause of happiness all the time. Of course, if you take a greater number of vows that is unbelievable. If you take the five precepts, then you continuously collect merit. Even if you are in a coma for years, you are collecting these five good karmas continuously.
Also, for those of you who have taken the vows, then whatever merit you collect, either in relation to sentient beings or in relation to the guru, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, increases so much. You can do this by practicing meditation or making an offering to the guru, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, or offering charity to sentient beings, for example, through meditation, like the “taking and giving” practice, taking other sentient beings’ suffering onto oneself and giving one’s own happiness and merit to all others. The more vows you take, the more merit you collect in daily life, That is an extremely good thing to do.
The preliminary practices are the means to purify and collect merit. That does not mean you have to do all nine in one day, but it means you can start with one, then when you finish 100,000 of it, you can do another. When you practice some sadhanas or the Guru Puja, the mandala offering, the different preliminary practices are there, but you don’t count them there. Here, the preliminary practice means completing a large number, like 100,000. The most important thing is meditating on the lamrim. Look at everything as positive.
Sometimes you can think of the numberless other sentient beings who are in prison, suffering so much, and those who have the karma to be in prison. Sometimes think, “I am experiencing prison on behalf of all sentient beings, and they don’t have to experience all this. Let them have all the happiness of enlightenment, and all happiness up to enlightenment. I am experiencing prison for all numberless other sentient beings.”
Practice this meditation and also think, “I am here for sentient beings. I am experiencing this for the benefit of all sentient beings.” From time to time, every day, think like that. At other times you can think: “This place is really to liberate my mind; this is really the place for real liberation from samsara, delusion and karma.” At other times, rejoice! Be happy.
The essence is that the purpose of life is not just to obtain happiness for oneself, not only to solve one’s own problem, but to benefit others, for one’s life to become beneficial and useful for other sentient beings. You have to understand that if there is no compassion, then it doesn’t matter how much wealth a person has, his life is empty if there is no compassion.
Even if a person can live for many eons, if there is no compassion, if life does not become useful for other sentient beings, it is empty and meaningless. Even if a person has a lot of power, if there is no compassion, power is dangerous. Without compassion, power is used by the ego, by self-cherishing, and it becomes dangerous for the world, for oneself, one’s own life, and for others. Without compassion, it doesn’t matter how much education one has, that doesn’t make life meaningful and beneficial to others. Life is empty and meaningless if there is no good heart, compassion, and thought to benefit others. All the education is used just to develop selfish ego and delusions. There is no meaning in having education without a good heart, the thought of benefiting others. Even if a person is outside this building, called prison, and is able to travel the whole world all the time, if there is no good heart, the thought to benefit others, that life has no meaning.
Being rich is not the purpose of life; being healthy is not the purpose of life; those things alone are not the meaning of life. Having a long life is not the purpose of living. The purpose of life, whether you are poor or rich, is to be beneficial for others, useful for other sentient beings. Even if you are ill, have cancer, AIDS, or whatever, you can be beneficial for other sentient beings. Even if you have a bad reputation, if you are able to make your life beneficial for other sentient beings, to bring them happiness, then your purpose in life is achieved. You have fulfilled the meaning of your life because you are able to benefit others. You can experience a bad reputation with compassion, and experience the bad reputation of all sentient beings.
Not being in prison isn’t the purpose of your life. The purpose of life, whether you are in prison or not, whether you have relationship problems or not, is to be most beneficial for yourself and other sentient beings. That is the meaning of life. You are in prison, so you can develop compassion for other sentient beings, and experience this on behalf of all sentient beings who are in prison now and who have the karma to be in prison. You experience this, and let others have all happiness. Pray ten times every day for this to happen. I think this is very very good. Look at everything as positive. Even when your life doesn’t have problems, experience it with compassion. If you have a problem, experience it with compassion. Whatever happens, continuously make life meaningful and useful for other sentient beings. That way, enjoy life, enjoy prison. It is a great opportunity also to study Dharma and read many Dharma books.
Also, in prison, you can help other prisoners. If you have a chance to talk to other prisoners, that is great opportunity. It is like you are here to liberate other prisoners. When you can, talk to others about the good heart, teach them compassion, and how to look at everything as positive. It gives them peace and happiness.
Thank you very much. I hope this talk is of some use to you. Please make your time here most productive and beneficial for sentient beings.
In Tibet, many lamas achieved realizations in Chinese prisons, because they used the time to meditate. So many developed their minds on the path to enlightenment, even though they had hardly anything. For lunch they had just a very small tiny momo, made of flour, like the size of a chocolate, and soup that they bring in the same bucket that they use for pipi and kaka.
Anyway, they were unbelievably hungry. When they went out for pipi or kaka, they looked to see if they could find any bones outside. If they could chew a bone, it gave them strength, revived them, and helped them to survive a little bit. They boiled or chewed it. The guards ate a lot of beans and did kaka outside. The prisoners looked for the guards’ kaka to see if there were any whole beans in the kaka and ate them, to survive. Then, when the Chinese staff were making food in the kitchens, the smell came out from the kitchen. The prisoners were nourished just by the smell. It’s incredible. It gave them strength to just smell the food.
One prisoner proved that even just the smell of food is so beneficial and gives strength. After he got out of prison, he practiced offering the charity of smells to the hungry ghosts. There is a special practice of burning flour mixed with butter, crushed jewels, and some medicinal substances in a fire, then meditating. In your visualization you fill the whole sky with the smell, manifested as the five desire sense objects. You make offerings to the guru, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, then to all the hungry ghosts, the people who have died and are not yet reborn, in the intermediate stage, all the land lords, and all the local devas. There are many prayers, so that helps them. After making charity you teach them Dharma, to have a good heart, to not harm others, and bodhicitta. You think they are liberated from samsara and delusion. Then you send them away to their places.
Doing this practice means when you die you do not have the karma to be tortured, or to experience very heavy, terrifying karmic appearances. It enables you to be born in a pure land, and brings you success. It also collects extensive merit and purification.
This prisoner has done this practice of offering smells every day for many years. His experience in prison with the smells enabled him to understand the pretas, who cannot find food for hundreds of thousands of years.
Many meditators, monks and lay people, developed so much and had so many realizations in prison. There are many stories. Even though there was hardly anything to eat, their bodies became more and more glorious, alive, and shiny—instead of deteriorating. The Chinese were surprised. They threw a lama in the river, but he didn’t sink, he floated. There are many amazing stories.
I think that is all. Thank you very much.