Purifying the Karma of Harming Mother

Purifying the Karma of Harming Mother

Date of Advice:
July 2018
Date Posted:
September 2020

A student wrote that he suffered from delusions which were now controlled by medication and meditation. The student’s relationship with his parents had previously broken down and due to his mental illness he had become violent and harmed his mother physically. The relationship with his mother had since been repaired, however, the student asked how he could purify the negative karma resulting from his previous aggression toward his mother.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche in Taos, New Mexico, 1999. Photo by Lenny Foster.

My most dear, most kind, most precious wish-fulfilling one,
Thank you very much for your kind letter expressing yourself. Already I am so happy that you have been able to turn your life to Dharma, toward Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Thank you very, very much.

How fortunate we are! We have been born numberless times as animals, in the lower realms, and as devas and human beings, and we have met Dharma just once, in this life. We are most unbelievably fortunate to have met Buddhadharma, and in particular Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings, the unmistaken teachings of Buddha.

It is like being in a cave that never had light inside it from beginningless time till now, but for the first time light happened in the cave, so now we can see what is inside the cave and what is needed to improve. So for us that means how to complete the qualities of Buddha, how to cease all the gross and subtle defilements and achieve omniscience.

For example, by watching TV I noticed all the animals, how they are all kinds of shapes. Some are shaped like plants, some look like flowers and some like rocks, but their motivation is just seeking the happiness of this life, attachment to this life, so then they harm other living beings. They live their life just eating, then at the same time they get eaten by others. Even if they live for one thousand years they have no opportunity to confess, to purify the negative karma that they have collected in this life, but we do. Our mind is turned toward Dharma, so we have the opportunity to purify the negative karma not only from this life but from beginningless rebirths and then to develop [our good qualities.] We have buddha nature, the ultimate nature of the mind, which is not oneness with delusion.

It came out in my observation for you to do Vajrasattva practice and prostrations by reciting the Thirty-five Buddhas’ names. That is very good, but what came out in particular for you, which is not normal, is to recite the Sutra of Great Liberation. However, it is only in Tibetan and I guess you can’t read Tibetan. It is an unbelievable text, and there are incredible benefits, but it’s not translated into English yet.

So it came out for you to read this, but you can’t read it until it’s translated, so hopefully soon it will be, or maybe you can check, maybe it has been translated and I don’t know.

Anyway, this is what came out as best for you, you need to read it for purification so you should read it 100,000 times. This is the plan.

Please pay attention to what the great bodhisattva Shantideva said:  "One who wishes to guide oneself and others, then practice secretly exchanging oneself and others."

Thus whoever wishes to quickly afford protection
To both the self and other beings
Should practice that holy secret:
The exchange of self for others.
 (Bodhicaryavatara, Ch. 8, v. 120)

One meaning of “secretly” is that for the bodhisattvas of lower intelligence it doesn’t fit to do that. If the bodhicitta is very strong, like a heroine, then we can renounce and let go of the I, which is the door of all the oceans of samsaric sufferings. This is the best way to achieve enlightenment for oneself and to generate higher Mahayana realizations and liberate the numberless sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric sufferings and bring them to buddhahood, by oneself. The biggest enemy, the biggest obstacle is the self-cherishing thought. Cherishing others, even cherishing one being is the door for all the happiness, include enlightenment, bringing happiness in this life and all future lives, liberation from samsara, peerless happiness and enlightenment. This is talking about oneself, but now talking about the happiness of every sentient being up to enlightenment and all the causes, so to even cherish one sentient being, even one insect, this is for the highest, most intelligent Buddhist practitioners.

The other meaning is that we shouldn’t announce to people what we practice, we should do the practice quietly. This is a mental thing, so no one can see, except those who can read others’ minds, who have clairvoyance, so no question about buddhas and bodhisattvas and arya bodhisattvas. 

And I want to say, in general if we stop harming others, then we never receive harm from others as a result and other sentient beings don’t receive harm directly and indirectly from us.

If we benefit others, we will receive benefit from others, now and in the future, and all sentient beings receive benefit from us, directly and indirectly, not only now, but also in future lives.

We don’t receive harm from other sentient beings and other sentient beings don’t receive harm from us. This is the most important practice; you have to know that this is bodhicitta practice. This is something in your life, that you have to live like that.

Then as you said, it’s good to know the benefits of bodhicitta as much as possible, so please read the first chapter and commentary on the benefits of bodhicitta in the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.

See also my general advice on the most important practices to do in your life, as well as the most important morning motivation to do every day, The Method to Transform a Suffering Life into Happiness (Including Enlightenment.) This is very important for everyone to do.

Please try to find and read advice on the benefits of bodhicitta.

I want to tell you a story, it is from one sutra about a clay-maker boy. He wanted to do the same business as his father, who got jewels from the ocean but then drowned. The boy’s mother was concerned that her son would also drown if he did the same business, so she made a business with grass and the son sold the grass and offered the money to his mother. Then he got four golden coins and gave these to his mother. He gave four golden coins to his mother four times. Then the son found out that in the past his father had actually worked getting jewels from the ocean, so the son wanted to go and do this as well. The mother grabbed the son’s feet and begged him not to leave, but the son beat his mother and left.

As the son went on the ocean he saw an island with palaces and many enjoyments, many deva girls, who all asked him to stay there with them, but he didn’t listen and left. Later he saw another island with the same enjoyments and many deva girls asking him to stay, but he went on. Then he saw two more islands which were similar but he left each one. Then he saw an island with a black iron fence around it and one man on the island whose head was being cut by a giant wheel. The wheel was turning and cutting the man’s head. The son heard a karmic voice from the sky saying that the wheel was going to transfer onto his head. Then he generated bodhicitta thinking “May I experience this pain for all others who also experience this pain.” Immediately the wheel left from above his head, because of the power of bodhicitta.

So the previous four islands that he saw, with many enjoyments, were the result of having offered the gold coins to his mother four times. The last island that he saw was the result of him hitting his mother. This story is to prove the benefits of cherishing others and the shortcomings of the self-cherishing thought.

This is the basis of the most powerful thought of bodhicitta, exchanging oneself for others, tonglen, giving one’s own happiness, body, possessions and merit to others and then taking others’ suffering and cause of suffering onto oneself. Then giving it to the self-cherishing thought, the ignorance, the root of samsara, so that it is totally destroyed.

It’s very, very true what you expressed. Dharma is the only thing that helps. Even if we get billions of dollars every day or even every hour, it doesn’t help. That alone doesn’t purify our negative karma to be born in lower realms. Even if we have skies of wish-granting jewels, that alone doesn’t purify our negative karma to be born in the lower realms. It doesn’t stop that.

Dharma is the most precious one. You have to know that the purpose of our life, the purpose of being born a human being is to practice Dharma, for our life to be of benefit to every sentient being. For our motivation to be bodhicitta, the wish to achieve enlightenment and to free every sentient being from the oceans of samsaric sufferings and bring them to enlightenment.

Also, reciting OM MANI PADME HUM even one time benefits every single sentient being in the six realms. Each realm has numberless beings and  it benefits every single one, including every single fly, all the flies that jump up when you walk in the grass, even the tiniest insects. It benefits everyone, even those in another universe. It frees them from the oceans of samsaric suffering and brings them to enlightenment. The benefits are amazing.

Not only when we meditate, but when we are eating, walking, sitting, sleeping, everything, begin with bodhicitta, so we are doing it for others. This means every single action—doing our job, walking, eating, sleeping and so forth—benefits every single sentient being, for them to achieve enlightenment. Therefore, practice bodhicitta, then our life is the happiest life, the most beneficial life for every single sentient being, not only for oneself. That is most beneficial for us, when it becomes most beneficial for others, it is most satisfying, most fulfilling.

Right now you have an incredible chance, you have received this human body. This is due to the kindness of your mother, who gave you this precious human body. Not just in this lifetime, but also from beginningless rebirths. The second reason is that your mother has been extremely kind by protecting you from life’s dangers, hundreds of dangers, even in one day, when you were a child, a baby, so at that time and starting from when you were in her womb. This is not the first time— she has borne so many hardships from beginningless rebirths, not just in this life. It’s unbelievable, unbelievable, not just in this lifetime but from beginningless rebirths. She gave you education, not just in this life, but from beginningless rebirths, so that now you have the chance to meet the Buddhadharma, to learn to read and write, so that you can hear the name bodhicitta and study and meditate on that. All this depends on the kindness of the mother.

So you can see how the mother is unbelievably kind and precious. This is in regards to the kindness of her being your mother and her extensive kindness to you. It is the same for all sentient beings, who have been kind to you from beginningless rebirths—every sentient being, every single snake, mosquito, bee, rat, every sentient being in the six realms. You have received all your happiness from them, from beginningless rebirths up to now and in all your future lives up to enlightenment. You receive every single happiness from each sentient being.

Please read about the benefits of bodhicitta. All your three times’ happiness comes from every sentient being, so please read the book Bodhisattva Attitude and as much as possible live your life—eating, walking, sitting, doing your job—for all sentient beings, to free them from the oceans of samsara and bring them to enlightenment.

For you, it’s best to recite the Sutra of Great Liberation. This is the best one, and it comes out again and again for you.

Please practice as much as you can. Life is not long, the nature of this life is impermanent  and death can happen at any time. This is the foundation of the Buddha’s teachings, and this was the last advice Buddha gave before showing the aspect of passing away.

What makes your life most meaningful is meditation on the lamrim, and living your life with bodhicitta motivation. This is the best.

With much love and prayers ...