The Quickest Way to Achieve Enlightenment

The Quickest Way to Achieve Enlightenment

Date of Advice:
November 2013
Date Posted:
May 2021

Rinpoche sent this letter to a student who had rescued baby possums and cared for them after their mother was killed on the road. Rinpoche thanked the student and related the stories of Asanga and the wounded dog, and Getsul Tsimbulwa and the leper, as examples of compassionate action. Read the student's letter and Rinpoche's response below.

The rescued possums thrive in the care of students in retreat, Mexico, 2013.
Student’s Letter

Rinpoche, the reason for writing to you now is that a couple of weeks ago, just as the silent retreat part of the course had started, I went for a walk down the road and I found a dead possum that had recently been killed by a car. She was very badly squashed, with her inner organs and blood all over the road. I immediately felt so sad for her and I was reminded of all my Dharma training, especially my training with you, and instead of avoiding the horrible sight I went up very close to her so I could say Medicine Buddha mantras for her to have a good rebirth. As I came close to her, I noticed that there were some dead baby possums around her, but I also saw that there were some tiny baby possums near her that were still alive!

At this point, some other people from the course approached me and saw the dead mother possum. They were disgusted by the sight and could not look at it. I told them that there were babies that were alive and that I could not leave them there or they would die. The others were doubtful and did not encourage me to bring them back. One person spoke to me in quite an angry tone, saying "Are you going to look after them and feed them?" I found this lack of support quite perplexing and confusing, and I wondered whether the people who owned the retreat center would be angry if I brought the animals back there. I hesitated for a brief moment, not knowing what to do.

Rinpoche, I can honestly tell you that in that moment of hesitation, you were right there with me. Memories came back to me from the animal liberation ceremonies you led at Root Institute, with sentient beings you had saved from the butcher on your way there. Also, I have taken bodhisattva vows and other initiations with you several times, and I knew that these sentient beings were my responsibility, no matter what happened. I knew that if I brought them with me, they might still die, but also I knew that a nun at the center would be able to say all the prayers and mantras, so that if they died, they would have a good death and a better rebirth. These thoughts propelled me into action and I picked up all of the baby possums and put them in my sweater and walked back to the center, saying Medicine Buddha mantras and giving them reiki the whole way.

The rescued possums needed food every 2-3 hours. As soon as I got back, I took them to the nun and she took charge of the situation. We went to the office and the kind staff members found a syringe to feed them. We had to break our silence, and so did several other people who helped us. We decided that saving the lives of these four sentient beings was far more important that keeping silent! So we settled into a routine of taking turns to look after them. They had to be fed every two to three hours throughout the day and night, so we shared the job with a few other people who wanted to help….

Rinpoche, these four little possums have had such an impact on the people here at the retreat. Two of the people who were out walking with me on the day I found them have since come to me and said it was the most amazing thing they had seen, when I went so close to the dead mother to say mantras, and when I picked up the babies and took them home. They said it was a “real life” teaching of equanimity, compassion and loving kindness, which are some of the practices being taught here at the course. I explained to them that I didn't have a choice, and that if I had left the babies on the side of the road, they would have died. I told them that in my mind, that would have been the same as killing them myself.

We have explained to people many times about the teachings and training we have received from you, and about the practice of taking responsibility for bringing all sentient beings to enlightenment. One morning at breakfast, when one woman asked me about it, I told her how I had seen your face and felt your presence in that moment when I found them, and she was so moved that she burst into tears. Rinpoche, I thought that any Buddhist would have done the same thing, but it seems this is not the case. We have been reflecting on the immense, unfathomable benefit of having you as our teacher, guide and example.

Rinpoche, the nun has completed many prayers, mantras and practices for these four little sentient beings to be saved from the lower realms, especially on the first night that they were separated from their mother and we didn't know whether they would survive. Now, a few weeks later, they are all well and strong and eating on their own, and they have been shown so much love and care by many people here. One of the kind students has agreed to look after them until they are mature enough to survive on their own in the wild.

On behalf of all of the people involved here, we would like to offer saving the lives of these four sentient beings to your long life and perfect health. May you, our perfect, kind, holy guru, remain with us for a very long time and continue to teach us, your fortunate disciples. May all of your wishes be fulfilled.

With immense gratitude and love ...

Rescued baby possums, in care after being saved by a student's compassionate action, Mexico, 2013.

Rinpoche's Response

My most dear, most kind, most precious, wish-fulfilling one,

What you did while you were in retreat, that was really a good retreat. You showed that you are able to see the suffering of others and then you showed your compassion, particular to the possums. By doing that you are able to purify so much negative karma collected since beginningless rebirths and you collect inconceivable merits, which causes you to achieve enlightenment quicker. Those animals are the most precious, most dear, most kind, wish-fulfilling ones, but most people would just throw them away, letting whatever happen to them.

The essence of Buddhism is to not harm sentient beings; that is according to Hinayana and in Mahayana, it is not only to not harm sentient beings but also to benefit sentient beings. On the basis of not harming, to benefit sentient beings. Then in tantra, on the basis of that, to benefit sentient beings quickly. That is why tantra was revealed by the Buddha (not Hindu tantra, but Maha-anuttara Yoga Tantra). That is the quickest way to benefit sentient beings and to free the numberless hell beings, numberless hungry ghosts, numberless animals, numberless human beings, numberless sura beings, numberless asuras and numberless intermediate state beings from the oceans of samsaric sufferings and then on top of that, to bring them to full enlightenment, the peerless happiness—the total cessation of obscurations and total realizations of all the understanding, without the slightest mistake, so that we can do perfect works for sentient beings, and can guide the sentient beings. To do that, the quickest way is by practicing Highest Yoga Tantra.

To do that quickest, we need to achieve enlightenment in the quickest way, so that we can perfectly guide sentient beings without a single mistake. That is the very essence of Buddhism, all that Buddha revealed—the Hinayana, Paramitayana, Mahayana tantra—all these teachings are condensed into not giving harm to others and benefiting sentient beings. They are all condensed into these two instructions. That is what you are doing, so thank you very, very much. Thank you so much for saving those sentient beings from suffering.

It is also very good to recite mantras for them. This is also good for dying people, but you must recite the mantras loudly so they can hear, so that it plants the seed of enlightenment. If you recite quietly, which is normally what I see people do when they come into the hospital; they recite so quietly, and that’s OK, but if the sick people or the animals don’t hear the mantras clearly then it doesn’t plant the seed of enlightenment in their mind.

Furthermore, what people might think is most important, like sitting on a cushion and not talking, not eating, just sitting on the cushion and meditating, closing the eyes, they may think that this is the most important thing, but actually what you did is the most important thing.

For example, Asanga did retreat for a total of twelve years, trying to achieve Maitreya Buddha. He did some years of retreat but nothing happened. He didn’t see Maitreya Buddha so he gave up and left the retreat, then as he left he saw someone cutting a rock with a thread, rubbing the thread on the rock and in this way slowly cutting it, little by little. Asanga was inspired that even a thread could cut a rock, so he went back into retreat and did another three years’ retreat.

Again he left the retreat because nothing was happening and as he left  he saw a bird flying in and out of a hole in the rock to its nest. As the bird flew into the nest its wing touched the rock and slowly over time it had worn out the rock, so Asanga got inspired and thought, “Why then can’t I achieve Maitreya Buddha?” Then he decided to go back into retreat to achieve Maitreya Buddha.

After some years, again he gave up and left the retreat. As he left, he saw a drop of water coming from the ceiling of a cave and it had made a hole in the ground, just by the drops slowly falling over so many years. Again he got inspired and went back into retreat.

So for twelve years Asanga was in retreat but he didn’t see Maitreya Buddha, and again he gave up and left. When he went outside he saw a wounded dog on the road. The lower part of the dog was covered in maggots and the upper part of the dog was very aggressive, so with unbelievable, most unbelievable compassion, Asanga bent down and went to pick up the maggots with his tongue, so as not to hurt the maggots. First he cut flesh from his shin so that he could then spread the maggots on the flesh. As he bent down with his tongue out, he kept stretching down but he still hadn’t touched the dog, so he opened his eyes and instead of the dog he saw Maitreya Buddha. Then he suddenly grabbed Maitreya Buddha and said, “Why didn’t you come before, when I was doing retreat?” Maitreya Buddha said, “I was always with you in the cave, but you didn’t see me, in fact you kept spitting on me.” Then Maitreya Buddha showed Asanga where the spit was on his robes.

This tells me that normally when we are doing retreat, the deity is always inside the room, always with us, but we don’t see it because our mind is so obscured, foggy, just as we can’t see any cars on the road when it’s very foggy. Our mind becomes like that. Just because we don’t see the deity, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It is totally wrong to think that.

Maitreya Buddha asked Asanga, “What do you want?” Asanga replied that he wanted teachings, so Maitreya Buddha took Asanga to Tushita—not the Tushita god realm, but Tushita pure land, which is above the god realm. This is just like a city and a monastery, so the monastery is some distance from the city, and like that, Tushita pure land is above the Tushita god realm.

Fifty years (in human life) passed, but in Tushita pure land it was just one morning, and Maitreya Buddha gave teachings on the five scriptures (Abhisamayalamkara, Mahayanasutralankara, Madhyantavibhaga, Dharmadharmatavibhaga and Uttaratantra Shastra.) Then Asanga returned to the human realm and wrote the five commentaries and so on. Since that time the teachings have prevailed in the world and so many numberless sentient beings have achieved the path, becoming arhats, bodhisattvas and buddhas, right up to now, and sentient beings are still actualizing the path by integrating [those teachings] into the lamrim.

All those benefits, the incredible, incredible benefits, all the skies of benefits to numberless sentient beings—wow, wow, wow—all that came from Maitreya Buddha’s teachings and that came from Asanga’s compassion. So you can see from one person’s compassion what happened—numberless sentient beings achieved enlightenment and are still achieving enlightenment. Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. That should be related to you, so you should understand the benefits that you get. By generating compassion to that sentient being, that is the way to achieve enlightenment. From Maitreya generating compassion for that wounded dog, then numberless sentient beings have achieved enlightenment.

Ngagpo Chöpawa, one of the real yogis of Heruka, was going to Oddiyana to do the practice of tantra, the very last tantric conduct. On the way there was a river and at the edge of the river was a lady full of leprosy, covered in pus and blood and so miserable. The lady said, “Please take me the other side of the river,” but the yogi didn’t pay attention and just went straight across.

Later his disciple, who was a monk living in thirty-six vows, came along. The lady asked, “Please take me to the other side of the river.” The disciple had unbelievable compassion and completely renounced himself, so he took her across without doubt, although normally as a monk he could not touch a lady. Without any fear of her leprosy or the pus and blood, without any hesitation, he immediately put her on his back and carried her across the river. When he reached the middle of the river, his negative karma was purified. Unbelievable, unbelievable mountains of negative karma were purified by carrying the lady, by dedicating his life to her. So in the middle of the river he saw that the lady was Dorje Phagmo, the enlightened being, and she took him, without him needing to die, she took him straight to Dagpa Kacho, Vajrayogini’s pure land, so that means he got enlightened. So the disciple probably became enlightened before the teacher, the great yogi. It’s possible.

In the same way, when his negative karma was not purified Asanga didn’t see Maitreya Buddha, even though Maitreya Buddha was always in the cave with him, but when he saw the wounded dog and generated compassion, his negative karma was purified and then he saw Maitreya Buddha. In the same way, at first Getsul Tsimbulwa just saw an ugly lady with leprosy and so much suffering, but then he generated compassion and his negative karma was purified, and then he saw Dorje Phagmo.

In guru devotion practice one of the last outlines is that there is nothing definite in one’s own view. That means if we perceive in our view an ordinary being who is suffering and ugly, because of that we see that being as ugly and ordinary, but they are not necessarily what we see, what we perceive. What appears to us is the opposite of reality. What we see is not necessarily that; in reality it is something else, opposite. So there is nothing definite in our view.

This is a very helpful meditation on guru devotion. This is very important advice. Seeing the guru in ordinary aspect, having the appearance of ignorance, anger, pride, a jealous mind and so forth, it doesn’t mean actually having that. Buddha said that he will manifest as all kinds, in ordinary aspect, even though he doesn’t have those problems and in reality he is Buddha. So this is a great, great teaching, a most important practice in our life, especially with guru devotion. It is most important to meditate on this, to not arise heresy, anger and wrong view, and in order to achieve enlightenment the quickest way, to be able to free the numberless sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric sufferings and bring them to full enlightenment.

So you can see that generating compassion for even one sentient being is the quick path to enlightenment. You have to know that this is the way to practice Buddhism; this becomes the real retreat. Whether a retreat is a real retreat or not depends on the motivation, so this one is really the best retreat.

Thank you very much. A billion, zillion thanks to all. Please share this news with everybody who helped. Thank you very much.

Please continue to live your life with the thought of bodhicitta.

With much love and prayers ...