Using Unfavorable Conditions on the Path to Enlightenment

Using Unfavorable Conditions on the Path to Enlightenment

Date of Advice:
December 2021
Date Posted:
March 2024

A student asked Rinpoche about leaving their partner, who was mentally unwell and had been abusive. Rinpoche sent this advice about cherishing others, even those who harm us. [Please note: If you or someone you know is experiencing any form of violence and abuse, please seek help from a support service in your region. If engagement with teachings or advice on this website brings underlying issues in relation to past abuse to the surface, we recommend that you seek professional support.]

My most dear, most precious, most kind, wish-fulfilling one,
Thank you for your letter. Don’t change [the situation] by fighting or acting in a violent way but do it in a peaceful way. If you think you can live by yourself that’s better, if you know how to do it. Whether you’re living with your partner or not, either way it has to be for the benefit of sentient beings and not just for yourself. Do what is more beneficial for sentient beings—that’s the correct way, and as much as possible do things in a peaceful way.

It is said in one text, I can’t say by which lama, that our main trust is in Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, and in the deity, particularly our own deity. This means the deity that we practice, the Buddha, an enlightened being. If we whole-heartedly rely on that deity, they will never betray us. Padmasambhava said that samsaric leaders will betray us, however good they are, but the object of refuge, the Three Rare Sublime Ones, will not betray us at all.

I want to send you my morning motivation, How to Make My Lives Wish-fulfilling: The Method to Transform a Suffering Life into Happiness. Do you have that or not? You must do it. I’ve been telling many students for the last few years to do this. It makes the life most worthwhile.

I will tell you about one practice; please do this as much as possible, as much as you can. The ego, the self-cherishing thought, and the root of samsara, the ignorance holding the I as real while it is not, these two are wrong concepts. First you have to know what the wrong concepts are, so I should tell you this first.

The real I is not there and that is proven by logic and experience. The I that exists—that experiences samsara, that becomes free from samsara and achieves nirvana and enlightenment—exists in mere name, merely labeled by mind.

There’s a valid base, the aggregates, therefore the I exists for us. It is merely labeled by the valid mind, not the hallucinated mind. That valid base, the aggregates, receives the name “I”—the aggregates don’t generally receive the label “shoes” or “kaka” —and that has been causing the suffering of samsara from beginningless rebirths.

It is said in Lama Chöpa, not just by anyone, but by Losang Chökyi Gyältsen. who I think was the third or the fourth Panchen Lama. In the beginning it was Gyalwa Ensapa who received enlightenment in a brief lifetime of degenerated times. [He was] Lama Tsongkhapa’s disciple’s disciple, who received the special instructions given by Manjushri to Lama Tsongkhapa, the Kadam Heart Drop.

Kadam means all the Buddha’s teachings that are to be practiced. Heart Drop is a special instruction passed from Manjushri to Lama Tsongkhapa, so that was passed to Gyalwa Ensapa, and he received enlightenment from that.

Panchen Losang Chökyi Gyältsen said that cherishing oneself is a door for all the degeneration, all the sufferings. Cherishing others, cherishing our mothers, which means other sentient beings, is the basis or the door for all the qualities.

[LC 94] Cherishing myself is the doorway to all loss,
While cherishing my mothers is the foundation of all qualities.
Hence I seek your blessings to make my heart practice
The yoga of exchanging myself for others.

Therefore, regarding the yoga practice of exchanging oneself and others, “Please bless me to do the essential practice on that.” This is [requesting] the guru merit field in Lama Chöpa. Every suffering, every pain, [comes] from cherishing the I, desiring happiness for the I, while the fully enlightened state is born from the thought of benefiting others.

Therefore, exchanging our own suffering for other’s suffering, and fully exchanging our own happiness for the suffering of others is the practice of bodhisattvas. That’s very, very important. This verse shows that exactly. It is said also in Lama Chöpa that cherishing the I is the door of all the sufferings, so that includes depression, everything.

The essence of samsaric suffering comes in three types. There is the suffering of pain, which includes the suffering of rebirth, old age, sickness and death, and so forth. Then there’s dissatisfaction. Even if we’re not poor materially, not having a means of living; even if we have a billion, zillion dollars we can’t achieve satisfaction; even more dissatisfaction grows and there’s so much suffering.

Then all the samsaric pleasures, all those are temporary. Why? Because those samsaric pleasures are in the nature of suffering. Also, the pleasure doesn’t last, it changes and it doesn’t increase, no matter how much it is done. From beginningless rebirths up to now we tried, but still it didn’t increase. It is not like Dharma practice, which increases until enlightenment.

Those two sufferings arise from pervasive compounding suffering, which is how Buddhists know they have to gain renunciation. This is the main suffering, so if we get renunciation from this, we get renunciation from the other types of suffering easily. For Buddhists, liberation from samsara means liberation from this pervasive compounding suffering, which includes all the other types of suffering.

All this comes from the root of samsara, the ignorance holding the I as real while it is not, and the self-cherishing thought. That’s the king of delusion, which brings all the sufferings, all the delusions and karma. That is totally wrong because what it believes, the real I, doesn’t exist. The real I means truly existent, existing from its own side, existing by itself. In ordinary language, we say the real I.

For example, if I explain this in an easy way, the valid base is the aggregates, so the thought of the I focuses on that valid base, and then it’s not only imputed, but merely imputed by that I. The I that exists is nothing more than that. If it is slightly more than that, it is a hallucination, it doesn’t exist, it is not true. That’s proven logically.

That which experiences the lower realms in samsara is the merely existing I. The merely existing action experiences merely existing samsaric suffering and the merely existing action achieves merely existing enlightenment, like that. That’s how the I exists—it’s in mere name, it’s unbelievably subtle. It’s not that it doesn’t exist, but it’s like it doesn’t exist. It’s most unbelievably subtle.

Therefore, first there is this thought, this valid thought which focuses on the valid aggregates, so there is the merely labeled I. Then in the next second, “I” appears from there; that’s in the second moment of time. Why? It’s appearing from there because of the negative imprint left on the mental continuum from beginningless rebirths by the same ignorance holding the I as truly existent.

Then immediately the negative imprint projects or decorates true existence on the I, on the merely labeled I of the first second and makes it appear from there, from its own side. So that’s the hallucination.

But it’s not there at all in reality. That’s the truth. The hallucination, thinking the truly existent I, the real one, is there. That’s the hallucination. What the worldly people think is the real I, that’s a hallucination. According to Dharma it is totally false, it is not there. That one is not even there; besides not from there, it is not even there at all. That real I totally does not exist.

So then in the third second, when it appears to exist from there, this ignorance on the I, what appears real from there, holding it as true, at that time we create the cause of samsara, the ignorance holding the truly existent I.

Also from there, on that basis, projecting a real I from there, on the basis of that thought arises bad or good, discriminating bad or good as a real one, existing from there. Then after that, attachment and anger arises, so we can see this very clearly, logically.

Lama Tsongkhapa explained, of course, real bad or good appearing from there is not there at all, not even the slightest atom, it’s a wrong concept. So then after that, attachment and anger arise, and that has been totally torturing us since beginningless rebirths. Lama Tsongkhapa used logic and valid reason to prove these are wrong concepts. He proved these are mistaken and was able to abandon them.

There are six root delusions and their branches, twenty secondary delusions, and 80,000 delusions by counting every single thing. The oceans of samsaric suffering mean the suffering of the hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras and asuras. We can see that totally came from the hallucinated mind, and the root is this ignorance holding the I as real.

The way to eliminate that is by realizing emptiness—not ordinary emptiness that nothing exists, not that one, that there’s no I, not that one, but another one, emptiness of true existence, of the truly existent I, the real I. That means realizing that the real I is empty. While I is existing, it is empty of the real I. It is empty and while it is empty it exists. It functions in mere name because it is empty from its own side, so these two are unified.

When we realize unification, that the I exists in mere name, the extremely subtle one, the dependent arising, then that defines that we have realized emptiness, the ultimate reality of the I.

Then the self-cherishing thought is easy to [comprehend.] Then we see this I projects the truly existent I or the real one, and decorates on the merely labeled I, then this one is cherished, which doesn’t exist. We cherish this one more than the buddhas and bodhisattvas and numberless sentient beings; we cherish this I the most, but it is not there. When we check, it is not there.

So those whom we cherish are like that. If we really examine well, this is what we discover; the real I is not there, it is totally false. For us ordinary beings it is like that.

For arhats who have realized emptiness directly, who have perceived emptiness, still they haven’t actualized bodhicitta, so they still have the thought of working for their own happiness, the blissful state of peace, nirvana. Of course, [arhats have the] understanding that the I is merely labeled, that there’s the appearance of I existing from its own side, because they have directly perceived emptiness.

So we can see the self-cherishing thought is a total dictatorship, an unreasonable dictatorship. If we describe it, it can harm other sentient beings, kill other sentient beings, it can do anything, but [we think] it can’t harm us. That’s what the self-cherishing thought is; we think it can’t harm us, it can’t complain to us; it can only praise and not harm us. So it is like that, such an unreasonable thing, that’s the main dictatorship.

It’s like thinking our house is made of gold even if it’s not made of gold; believing it’s made of gold or diamonds or wish-granting jewels while it is not, while it is made of bricks and wood. So it is like that, totally it doesn’t make sense. So we can see the self-cherishing mind is totally wrong, a totally wrong idea if we examine it. If we don’t examine it, it looks OK, it looks like it is helping us when actually it is harming us.

These two wrong concepts have harmed us from beginningless rebirths, and caused us to suffer since beginningless rebirths, experiencing the oceans of samsaric suffering of the hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, suras and asuras, from beginningless rebirths over and over again.

If we don’t practice Dharma now, if we don’t meet Buddhadharma, if we don’t practice and don’t actualize bodhicitta and emptiness, then without end we’ll suffer in these oceans of the six realms’ sufferings again and again, without end.

So totally it all came from our wrong concept, so we are the creator. That’s why I said the king of delusions is this ignorance.

Not only that, it is incredibly harmful, most harmful. It has harmed numberless sentient beings from beginningless rebirths and caused them to experience the oceans of suffering of samsara from beginningless rebirths. And if we don’t meet Dharma, if we don’t practice Dharma, if we don’t practice bodhicitta and emptiness, then it will harm the sentient beings without end and cause them to suffer the oceans of samsaric suffering again, numberless times.

So we can see very clearly how the ignorance, the [concept of] true existence, the self-cherishing thought, is the most harmful enemy. Therefore any harm that another sentient being does with body, speech and mind, anything they do that we dislike, that the self-cherishing thought dislikes or the ignorance dislikes, and from these, then the attachment [or aversion] arises, all that, we can see [that person] is helping us to destroy the two main wrong concepts, our worst enemy. They are helping to destroy that. Therefore they’re not harming us; they’re benefiting us the most.

By destroying ignorance, we realize emptiness and we become free from the oceans of samsaric suffering which we have experienced from beginningless rebirths. So [the person who harms us is] helping us to become free from that and helping us achieve everlasting happiness, liberation from samsara.

Not only that, it’s so important to destroy ignorance, the root of samsara, holding the I as truly existent. That’s so important. How that is so important we can’t imagine; how it is important to destroy that. Wow, wow, wow, wow. It’s the biggest help, then by destroying the self-cherishing thought, wow, that causes us to generate bodhicitta.

So we can also think that by destroying the self-cherishing thought, actually that causes us to generate bodhicitta, and that helps us achieve enlightenment, so they’re giving us enlightenment, so both ways.

With bodhicitta alone we cannot achieve enlightenment, we need the help of the wisdom directly perceiving emptiness. What directly cuts our gross and subtle obscurations is the wisdom directly realizing emptiness. Bodhicitta doesn’t do that; it helps but it doesn’t directly remedy that.

Definitely it’s giving us enlightenment, so their kindness is like the sky, more than the sky. This is the meditation to do every day. Therefore, instead of harming them, we should respect and benefit them with body, speech, and mind as much as possible.

That is the guru of patience. Those who we think are the enemy are the guru giving us enlightenment, guru-buddha. The guru explains how to practice patience, how to practice thought transformation using unfavorable conditions in the path to enlightenment. We can practice directly with the enemy who gives us harm, so they are most kind, the great teacher. So do this practice as much as you can.

Also you can do pujas, etc., to pacify. If that person is possessed by spirits, pujas might also be good to do, just for them to create less negativity, less negative karma, to change their mind, as well as being beneficial for you.

Thank you, billions and zillions of times, for letting me explain this to you.

There’s a text from Padmasambhava called The Golden Light Drum Sound, so maybe you need to read this twice for your partner. There may also be other pujas .

You can also recite the mantra Celestial Mansion Extremely Secret Sublime Success. This is most beneficial, and you can find the benefits of this on FPMT website. As the title suggests, it helps very much for success. Put effort into reciting this mantra; the benefits include achieving enlightenment and there are other extensive benefits. Do either half a mala or one mala, and do more when you can.

It says even if we offer a universe filled with wish-granting jewels, not diamonds, but the most precious external thing filling universes and offer that to the buddhas, in comparison to the benefits of reciting this mantra, it makes that offering of the universe filled with wish-granting jewels to the buddhas almost like not collecting merits. So like that, there are many benefits, and we’re free from the dangers of fire, earth, air, water, like that.

Now even more and more the end of the world is getting nearer and nearer, and there’s so much danger of earth, earthquakes, landslides, so many things; and then fire which does so much harm to so many sentient beings; then water, unbelievable tsunamis, this and that; then so much wind. [By reciting this mantra] we become free from those dangers and we don’t experience that ourselves.

So this mantra has that power. It’s hard to believe, but it has that power. Look at China, look at America, what happens. Also in India, in recent years it’s unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable—even the government can’t stop it, even the scientists can’t stop it, but this mantra does that for us if we recite it. So put effort into that.

In the future it will help with the relationship with your partner as well; you will get the benefits of the mantra. There are more benefits not translated yet.

What is it that we need to wake up from? Not only you, but me too. I have to wake up from the deep sleep from beginningless rebirths.

Thank you very much.

With much love and prayer,

Lama Zopa

P.S. There is an addition, regarding thought transformation. Lama Atisha had 157 gurus, but there was one important guru besides Lama Serlingpa, from whom he received the complete teachings on bodhicitta, which took twelve years. Like that, whatever the container has is put into another container completely.

Whenever Lama Atisha heard Lama Dharmarakshita’s name, he would stand up or cry, putting his palms together. Lama Dharmarakshita, another important guru of Lama Atisha, said that when we have unbearable pain, when our body has unbearable pain, it’s because we gave harm to other sentient beings, which means to their bodies. The wheel of sharp weapons of the bad karma has turned on us and brought this result at the time.

So now what to do? We should take all the sufferings of all the transmigrator beings, all the pain, every single pain of others who are numberless; take it on ourselves. That’s extremely powerful and shows us what to do.

I’m not only saying that all the problems we experience now are the result of our past karma of harming others, but that’s the evolution. So now the remedy, the solution, what to do, the last word, is to take every single sickness of the numberless sentient beings on ourselves. That way it’s taking us on the path to enlightenment, for us to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings.

What happens after we achieve enlightenment is that we free the numberless sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering, and not only that, we bring them to enlightenment by ourselves alone.

So this is the most important meditation, bodhicitta. The idea is that because we have unbearable pain, then we take all sentient beings’ unbelievable pain and let the sentient beings become enlightened. We experience all their pain, and by that, we enlighten all sentient beings.

That’s an unbelievable meditation and there’s no more incredible happiness than this. By taking all the sufferings on ourselves, that means basically on the self-cherishing thought, then we totally destroy the self-cherishing thought instantly, so it doesn’t exist even in the name. That’s the way to become enlightened. By generating bodhicitta, we, ourselves, can become enlightened.

As you know, we get the most unbelievable benefits from doing tonglen practice: taking all the sentient beings’ suffering and causes of suffering on ourselves, to destroy the self-cherishing thought which causes all the past, present and future sufferings, which I told you about already. Then we give away our body in the form of wish-granting jewels, possessions, all the merits collected in the past, from beginningless rebirths up to now, and in the future, and give it to all sentient beings, to enlighten them. This is an unbelievable meditation.

So I’ll stop here. Thank you very much. I’m happy that I’m able to help you. I hope it might help you a little bit. If it helps, then I’m your mental doctor. It means I’m your mental doctor, your teacher.

That’s it. With much love and prayer again.