Practicing Dharma in the City

Practicing Dharma in the City

Date of Advice:
August 2021
Date Posted:
August 2023

A student had done a meditation course and retreats at Kopan and felt very connected to Dharma at first, but later moved with his partner and young child back to the city, where there were many distractions. He felt confused, irritated, sad and tired, and asked Rinpoche for guidance on how to practice Dharma and benefit others while living in the city and raising a child.

Mantra calligraphy by Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

My most dear, most kind, most precious, wish-fulfilling one,
It’s extremely good [that you attended the Kopan Course], not because I’m partial to Kopan Monastery and their courses, or that I’m teaching, not because of that, but just because it was possible for you to hear about Buddhism. You are so fortunate to meet Buddhism, to meet Buddhadharma, where it’s taught that the basis is the two truths, conventional and ultimate truth. That includes every existence, every phenomenon, and the true path, method and wisdom.

Buddha has revealed 84,000 teachings, which come into the Lesser Vehicle path, the Greater Vehicle path of sutra and the Greater Vehicle path of tantra. This is embodied into the lamrim—the graduated path of the lower capable being in general, the graduated path of the middle capable being in general and the graduated path of the higher capable being—and all that comes into the three principal aspects of the path.

The Sakyas have Parting from the Four Clingings, the four types of grasping, and the Nyingma and Kagyu schools have the four thoughts that turn the mind to Dharma according to the four clingings, so like that. They are all the same, just some of the numbers are different. Lama Tsongkhapa put renunciation of this life and renunciation of future lives into one, renunciation, like that, otherwise it’s the same for Gelugpa.

So it’s extremely fortunate, most fortunate, most fortunate, most fortunate, to be able to attend that course, then that gives you the wisdom eye. It opens the wisdom eye for the path, and as I mentioned, there are also the results, what we achieve—the dharmakaya and the rupakaya—the holy mind of the Buddha and the holy body of the Buddha. There’s a complete path, it’s unbelievable.

So this is protecting us from the wrong view, the wrong path, which puts a negative imprint on our life and on the continuation of the consciousness, and for all the future lives, for hundreds, thousands, millions of lives, for eons and eons. The wrong path leaves a negative imprint on the consciousness and the result is all the wrong practices, then we are reborn in the lower realms of samsara, where we suffer for eons and eons and eons. So it’s incredible protection.

Following the right path means right understanding, it’s so positive, so you should rejoice. That’s the first thing, so it’s unbelievable, most unbelievable, most unbelievable, most unbelievable.

Amongst all the leaders of so many thousands of religions in the world, Buddha is the only one who said:

Bhikshus and learned ones, check my teachings just as you check gold by burning, cutting and rubbing it. Examine my teachings well, then follow the practice.

He didn’t say from the very beginning, “You must believe. It doesn’t matter if you understand or not, just believe.” He didn’t say that, not at all, never. He said to examine the teachings and then if we examine them and we agree, then we must practice, we prove it through the practice.

I want to tell you that so you see that. Buddha gave the wisdom eye, what to practice, the lamrim, starting from the root of the path, correctly devoting to the virtuous friend. This means seeing [the guru as a buddha] by looking at them as a buddha through logics and quotation.

From there, as I mentioned, the whole path to enlightenment, the lamrim, renunciation, bodhicitta and the right view, then that generates the foundation of tantra. Then practicing tantra, the graduated generation stage and then the graduated completion stage, in order to achieve enlightenment in one life, in a brief lifetime of degenerate times.

Without tantra we can achieve enlightenment by practicing Mahayana sutra, but then we have to collect the merit of virtue and the merit of transcendental wisdom for three countless great eons.

Therefore, your eye is open for this; there’s a complete method. It’s so important. Even many of the other religions, like Jains, don’t have a complete path to enlightenment, you have to know that.

By coming to Kopan, you come to know that. Thank you very much. Billions, zillions of thanks for coming to the Kopan Course.

So then you went back to the city, and you had obstacles and became discouraged about Dharma practice. You had many obstacles, children and so forth. You know, when you practice Dharma, yes, obstacles can happen. Sickness, cancers and so forth, problems, catastrophes, things can happen, because Dharma is very powerful.

Pure attitude and the pure concept, such as renunciation, bodhicitta and right view; even though you don’t have realization, you have the correct [understanding]. That purifies so much heavy negative karma from past lives.

Therefore, the way it is purified, the best one is for you to purify all those negative karmas whereby you would have to suffer in the lower realms for eons and eons and eons. All those sufferings are the result of karma, negative karma, so all those get purified completely and you don’t have to experience that at all.

The second one, the second purification, is that instead of experiencing suffering in the lower realms for many, many eons, this heavy suffering manifests in this life as some problem, a catastrophe, various catastrophes, sickness, cancers, life-threatening, many problems.

Those various problems in this life help us so that in future lives there’ll be happiness, like the sun shining in the world, and all the animals and all the human beings can enjoy it, like that, from life-to-life, better and better and better, and all the wishes succeed. We will have a healthy body and mind and then we will go to enlightenment, so then we don’t have to experience that negative karma for many eons in the lower realms. We don’t need to do that.

By experiencing some catastrophe, some problem in this life, then the karma is finished, so then in the future there will be greater and greater happiness.

As Kadampa Geshe Khamlungpa said,

This small suffering we are experiencing now
Finishes our past negative karma
And in the future there will be happiness.
Therefore, rejoice in this present suffering
And be happy by thinking of the benefits of this suffering.

There are so many teachings like that. By thinking of the benefits of the suffering, we transform that suffering into the path to enlightenment, and we achieve enlightenment for all sentient beings. There are so many advices like that.

Feeling discouraged and so forth, many problems can happen. In reality, in the future there will be happiness, so many of our wishes succeed and it becomes easy to be free of samsara and to achieve enlightenment.

The next level of purification, we get born in the lower realms for one day, one hour, one minute or even one second—in the hells, for example—instead of suffering there for eons. So there are different levels of purification, even that.

In this life, experiencing discouragement or some problems happening, and also because you didn’t have a child before and now there is a child, of course that makes a big difference for your life. So now you have a child, therefore you have to have a positive mind, since you have a child.

Today I don’t have much time to offer advice about all the positive things you can do for the child, to make a plan for the child to be a good human being. You have to help them as much as possible to become a good human being, not only beneficial for this life and the next life, but beneficial to the world and to all sentient beings, causing happiness and not bringing suffering. That’s the essence. So I’m suggesting that you follow the advice which you can find in Joyful Parents, Successful Children. You can get this book from Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive, where you can download the book or have it sent to you.

Now impermanence and death should be the main mindfulness practice. Not only that we will die in the future, no! Death can happen at any time, day or night, any time. When we’re doing something, death happens—for example, we start to eat food but we don’t finish it and death happens—so many times in one day, in the world.

Death happens after the consciousness enters the mother’s womb, death happens before coming out, death happens to small children, death happens during youth, death happens in middle age and death happens in old age. Even in one day in the world, death happens in so many different ways, at different ages.

Even when we’re going to the toilet or the bathroom, we don’t come back. I know three students who passed away in the bathroom. This I know. One lady slipped, an Iranian lady, a very good-hearted lady. She slipped in the bathroom.

One girl from Malaysia was so inspired to become a nun and I was in a good mood for that to happen, but a very enlightened lady called Khadro-la told this Malaysian girl not to rush, because she was young. This girl was very young, so Khadro-la was more careful about her becoming a nun. Anyway, it didn’t happen and then she died. Also, one Chinese nun died in the bathroom at Shiné Land, in America.

Parents, brothers and sisters, friends and enemies that we know, have already died. They’re totally empty and now there’s only the name; we can’t see them. Only the name is now used. Therefore, think, “I will become like this sooner or later. Sooner or later I will become the same as them.”

It’s very good to remember this again and again. When somebody dies, then relate it to ourselves, like that, and because we are constantly thinking about it, then it becomes Dharma. Then constantly Dharma comes and makes the life most meaningful. So constantly this thought comes. It’s most important not only for ourselves; it’s also beneficial for all sentient beings because of the Mahayana teachings, bodhicitta, so like that.

Mindfulness of impermanence and death should be the main practice. Then, when disturbance comes it can’t disturb us much because the mindfulness can take over, then we’re able to continuously practice Dharma and we’re continuously able to benefit sentient beings, freeing them from samsara and bringing them to enlightenment with bodhicitta.

So everything, the actions of body, speech, and mind, we should try to do everything as much as possible with bodhicitta, even if we don’t have bodhicitta realization, at least do whatever we can. So try to do as much as possible with bodhicitta.

Bodhicitta means benefiting numberless sentient beings, there’s no one left out. There’s not one mosquito left out, there’s not one tiny worm left out—every single hell being, every single preta, every single animal, every single human, every single sura, every single asura being—to free them from suffering and bring them to enlightenment.

So in everyday life do that, live with that, do that for sentient beings as much as possible. Even if we’re going for treatment, think we’re doing that for sentient beings, so that our health gets better and we can live longer in order to be able to benefit sentient beings. Do that for sentient beings, not just for our own happiness. Our happiness, all this life’s happiness, is attachment; it is not a virtuous thought. So as much as possible, like that, try to do everything for sentient beings.

Every day when you have time, maybe in the early morning or before your child wakes up, for one hour or half an hour or fifteen minutes or even five minutes, always read lamrim so that you leave a positive imprint for the realizations.

Read the lamrim from the beginning of the text to the end. According to my observation, for you the text is Lama Tsongkhapa’s Lamrim Chenmo. You should read it from beginning to end, but read mindfully all the time, so that it becomes a meditation, so that it helps. Even five minutes of reading lamrim mindfully plants the seed of enlightenment. It helps to have realizations of lamrim in the mind; it’s for that.

That brings us to enlightenment and that brings sentient beings to enlightenment—freeing them from the lower realms, freeing them from samsara, freeing them from the lower nirvana and bringing them to enlightenment. That’s the purpose of our life. That’s why we meditate, that’s why we eat, that’s why we go to sleep.

Your main deity is not from lower tantra, but from Highest Yoga Tantra. What we can achieve is enlightenment in just one life, in a brief lifetime of degenerate times. It’s the quickest in degenerate times, in one lifetime. By practicing Highest Yoga Tantra we can attain enlightenment in one life, whereas by practicing the Mahayana sutra path, we collect the merit of virtue and the merit of transcendental wisdom for three countless great eons.

Therefore, to achieve enlightenment the quickest, according to my observation, you can practice Cittamani Tara or Vajrayogini, either or both. Whatever deity you have a stronger feeling for or feel closer to, you can practice that. So later, you can take these initiations.

But first make the mind closer to lamrim by studying the text five times from beginning to end. All the explanations come in the meditation instruction. First do effortful practice, following the lamrim outline three times. Then do effortless meditation.

How much time you spend in meditation is up to you, I can’t say. When you have time, you can do it for longer, and at other times you can do less, for a shorter time.

In terms of the preliminaries:

Take eight Mahayana precepts on the four special days of the Buddha that occur each year. On those days, any virtue collected is multiplied 100 million times.

There’s also nyung nä practice, a two-day retreat which is extremely powerful purification. It’s extremely powerful for generating bodhicitta, the root of the path to enlightenment. But it seems that might be difficult for you.

So do the eight Mahayana precepts on those four days and you can even do precepts on the other days, whenever you have time. You can try that each year. It’s so good; your life becomes so beneficial for sentient beings, to free them from suffering and bring them to enlightenment, and it’s a practice just for one day.

There is a book with a commentary on the eight Mahayana precepts, The Direct and Unmistaken Method. The first time you take the precepts, you need to get the lineage, so receive that from a qualified person, and after that you can take them yourself.

I think that’s all. If you have time, you can take some teachings online from the FPMT, from one of the centers where there’s a good program. It’s very good if you can do that and it will expand your understanding.

Thank you very much. You are most welcome to enlightenment. Goodbye to samsara; that means the suffering since beginningless rebirths.

With much love and prayers ...