Rinpoche's Online Advice Book: How to Support Sibling with Mental Health and Addiction Challenges

Rinpoche's Online Advice Book: How to Support Sibling with Mental Health and Addiction Challenges

Date of Advice:
January 2022
Date Posted:
March 2024

A student wrote that her brother had been struggling with alcohol and drug addiction for many years. He became psychotic, depressed and paranoid, and he had been in psychiatric hospitals and detox treatments, but his mental health had not stabilized and he continued to relapse. The student sought advice on how to help her brother find a path toward recovery and improved wellbeing.

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

My most dear, most precious, most kind, wish-fulfilling one,
Thank you very much for your kind letter, introducing yourself and your brother. This is what happens if people start [from an early age] and secondly, if they don’t have control. If they don’t practice contentment and satisfaction, with this problem they destroy themselves. They can’t be beneficial to the world, to other sentient beings, and not only that, they can’t even do the normal work that other people in the world do. They can’t take care of their own means of living at all, so it’s like that. Then their life is totally destroyed and they can’t even benefit themselves. Among numberless beings they can’t even benefit their own family or themselves.

There’s a lack of realization that samsara is in the nature of suffering, they don’t have renunciation, or especially bodhicitta and the realization of emptiness, ultimate nature. Emptiness is not nihilism, it’s realizing the ultimate nature, so emptiness and dependent arising exist as one union—while things exist, they are empty in reality. Emptiness and dependent arising exist as one, unified, not separate, like water and wetness, or like chili and heat.

It becomes very difficult to help your brother, but my suggestion is to do Medicine Buddha puja every month. If possible, do the elaborate one in the beginning or even the short one in English. Do it for the family, for yourself and especially for your brother. Praying to Medicine Buddha is very strongly recommended.

If the ex-monk in your area can help, that would be good. I don’t know if the pujas can be done at the center or how far away it is from your place. If you can organize it, that would be incredibly good. If you can do the pujas at the center, many people could come and it would help them, so it’s not only for your brother and your family, but for their families, for purification, to collect merits and for success. Medicine Buddha is not only for healing but for success.

In the sutras, Medicine Buddha is most powerful, especially as the time becomes more and more degenerated. In tantra, it’s Heruka. The more and more degenerate the time becomes, then the more powerful it is for success through prayers.

The other thing is, if you are able to bring your brother to Nepal, you can go around the Boudhanath and Swayambunath stupas with him. Also go to Namo Buddha, the place where the Buddha gave his body to the tiger. Even if you just come to Boudhanath and Swayambunath, you can go around the stupas as much as possible for as long as he can stay—one month or a week or whatever—and get to see many holy objects and pray. So going around the stupas is the main thing. 

If it is difficult to go to Nepal, they have stupas at Institut Vajra Yogini and at Nalanda Monastery in France. If Nepal is difficult, you can get many tsa tsas from Nalanda, they often make tsa tsas there. You can get many statues from them—tsa tsas, buddhas, all kinds, as many as possible—and then what you can do is either [keep the holy objects] inside your house or if they’re kept outside, you’ll need a house with a roof. Without a roof, the rain may destroy them, so having them in a house with a roof would help.

You can put them on a big table, round or square, then on that put another smaller table, then another smaller table, then another smaller table, so you have three or four levels. Then you can nicely set up all the statues or stupas, all the things that you get from Nalanda. You should tell them that this is my suggestion.

Put the holy objects around on the several levels, nicely, then at the very end you can decorate. You can make seven different types of offerings in each direction. Then on top put one statue or a large stupa—a large Kadampa stupa or whatever shape—you can do like that. Those holy objects should have mantras inside, then there are incredible, unbelievable benefits when you go around them. Generally, as well as [seeing] the shape of the stupa, it’s unbelievably powerful when you go around the stupa.

By going around there’s so much benefit, if we want to get a good rebirth, free from suffering, and not only that, we will become free from the lower realms. By having the mantras inside the stupa, especially the four Dharmakaya Secret Relic mantras, we will become free from rebirth in the eight hot and the eight cold hells.

There’s also the Stainless Pinnacle mantra, wow! If that’s inside, then by going around the stupa one time, we become free from the lower realms and it’s so easy to be born in a pure land, so it creates the cause to be free from samsara. By going around even one time it plants the seed to achieve enlightenment and to free the numberless sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering, and not only that, to bring everyone to full enlightenment, buddhahood. Wow, wow, wow.

The benefits are incredible, incredible—wow, wow, wow, wow, wow—not only for human beings, but also for the animals, for dogs and cats, and even for the worms. Here inside my room there are many buddha statues, pictures and relics, so I take ants [around the holy objects]. They come to eat between my toes; somehow they like to come there, so I try to let them eat because that’s the only chance for them to collect merit, by making charity to them with my body.

I take myself around also, generally, but not always, because I’m lazy. One nun, Ani Janne, takes them around. She takes them from my feet, wraps them in tissue and takes them around the holy objects. That plants the seed of enlightenment by taking them around the holy objects, even though they have no idea. They have no idea, but [to receive benefit] they don’t require devotion by knowing it’s a stupa.

By going around the holy objects, it plants the seed of enlightenment, it becomes Dharma, so that makes them free from the lower realms. Then they achieve a higher rebirth in the next life, they can meet Dharma and achieve enlightenment. They can become free from samsara and achieve enlightenment.

I must tell you about one insect that went around a stupa. It circumambulated a stupa, maybe on the water or blown by the wind, and then that insect purified the negative karma that would cause it to be reborn in the lower realms and it received a higher rebirth. The seed of liberation was planted in the presence of the Buddha, by being able to circumambulate the stupa [as a fly]. The Buddha predicted that this person would achieve liberation. This story is about Jinpa Pelgye, the lay householder [who was a fly in a previous life]. 

So holy objects are incredibly beneficial and powerful for helping other sentient beings. We have only received this human life this one time, and especially we met Dharma this one time, so it’s extremely rare. So it’s the best opportunity for us to help now, otherwise it will be difficult in the next lives. Whether we have a human body or not, it will be extremely difficult. We can help even the insects, the ants, the worms and so on, things that we find in the house. Outside there are numberless beings, so it’s difficult, but inside we can help.

I have a box which has the Namgyalma mantra on top and if the insects go inside, it purifies all their negative karma. Also, there’s a mantra on the door of the box and by going under that, it purifies 100,000 eons of negative karma. So we take the insects around the holy objects by carrying them in the box.

There’s another story about seven tiny insects that went around on a leaf on the water. They were pushed by the wind and went around a statue of Vairochana three times, I think. Then in the next life they were born as human beings because they had purified the cause of the lower realms, so they received a higher rebirth as a human.

They were born human but lower caste, seven girls. They were upset by their lower caste status, and they were poor of endowments, enjoyments, so with that they collected merit driven by their sadness and they generated the samsaric perfections. In their next life they were born as the king’s daughters, seven princesses, and then all seven of them saw the Buddha Kashyapa and made offerings and he predicted enlightenment for them in the future. So, it’s very powerful going around stupas.

I am talking about how we can help other sentient beings, even those tiny insects. It’s incredible, incredible, a quick way to become free from samsara and a quick way to achieve enlightenment. Wow, wow, wow.

So if you can, make something like this, a nice one, and on top you put a bigger stupa or statue, then you can bring your brother; he can go around and you can chant mantras with him. It doesn’t matter if he recites the mantras or not, but you can chant these mantras. [Find links to the mantras here.]

  • Shakyamuni Buddha mantra
  • Chenrezig mantra
  • Maitreya Buddha mantra
  • Medicine Buddha mantra
  • The mantra from the Sutra of Great Liberation
  • Namgyalma short mantra
  • Lotus Pinnacle of Amoghapasha mantra

This is the only way [to help]. It leaves a positive imprint by reciting these mantras with him as you bring him around the holy objects. Even for the tiny insects it’s an incredible help, as I told you in the story, so no question at all, for your brother.

The most important thing is to not be reborn in the lower realms, so doing this is an incredible help, it’s unbelievably helpful for a higher rebirth and to meet Dharma. We can create the cause not only to become free from samsara, but to achieve enlightenment. Wow, wow.

Maybe if it is possible you can do Medicine Buddha puja each month, and he may get better. But even if he doesn’t get better, still it’s extremely worthwhile, as I told you in the stories, and as I took time to tell them.

One more puja is the 100,000 names of the buddhas and bodhisattvas, composed by Lama Atisha. One monk at Kopan, Geshe Tsering Tashi, has done a three-year Yamantaka retreat, so it would be very good if he could do this puja three times with meditation. If you want this done, Holly can arrange this for you. There will be a cost for the offering to the geshe. Please let Holly know if you want to do this.

Think that nectar beams are emitted to all sentient beings and especially to your brother, to purify all the negative karma and obscurations collected from beginningless rebirths, and with that meditation, for him to never ever be born in the lower realms, to recover completely from all the obstacles, to heal everything, and achieve contentment and satisfaction. So no more drugs and all these things. Dedicate for him to be able to meet Buddhadharma, to be able to actualize bodhicitta in this life, and to be born in a pure land where he can become enlightened. Or to receive a perfect human body, receive Mahayana teachings, and meet perfectly qualified Mahayana gurus who reveal the unmistaken path to enlightenment, and by seeing the guru as a buddha, achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible.

With much love and prayers ...