Why Compassion Is Most Important at the Center

Why Compassion Is Most Important at the Center

Date of Advice:
July 2020
Date Posted:
January 2021

Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave this advice about resolving complaints and dealing with interpersonal conflict at the Dharma center. Rinpoche said the real enemy and the cause of all our problems is the self-cherishing thought. He explained that perfectly following the virtuous friend is the root of the path to enlightenment and gave the example of Milarepa, who followed the guru's instructions exactly. This advice is excerpted from a long letter which you can read here.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche in the garden at Osel Labrang, Sera Je Monastery, India, December 2015.  Photo: Ven. Roger Kunsang.

I will just tell you straight from the heart, lamrim is the essence of the whole path to enlightenment. Lama Atisha was invited to Tibet to revive Buddhism when Tibet was totally destroyed in terms of misunderstanding tantra. When the Tibetans practiced sutra, they couldn’t practice tantra and when they practiced tantra they couldn’t practice sutra, like hot and cold. There were a lot of misunderstandings about tantra. So then Lama Atisha wrote the Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, containing all the teachings of the Buddha—sutra, the individual liberation teachings, jang sem, bodhicitta, and ngag [tantra]. All those extensive teachings were integrated into the lamrim, the graduated path to enlightenment, having three scopes or three levels of practice. This pacified all the wrong concepts about Buddhadharma in Tibet and thus revived Buddhism. It helped Tibet so much, and since then, numberless beings have become enlightened, up to the present time. They have become free of samsara and have actualized the path—the arya path, the ordinary path, bodhicitta, emptiness, renunciation and the root of the path to enlightenment, correctly following the virtuous friend.

For example, Milarepa, who is well-known in the world, became enlightened as a lay person. He became enlightened by practicing Dharma and not by Western knowledge, psychology, psychotherapy or whatever. Not like that, but by Buddhism. Milarepa’s uncle and aunt had taken all the jewels and possessions from the family after his father died, and his mother advised him to learn black magic. So Milarepa went to learn black magic from a lama. Then he spent seven days on the mountain. Up in that area he dug a hole and was doing retreat there [and used black magic to harm his uncle and aunt.] Big rocks came down from the mountains, wow, wow, and destroyed the house while the uncle and aunt were at a wedding. Many people, who were in the house dancing, drinking and so forth, were killed, and many animals, including horses, were killed downstairs. Upstairs more than thirty or thirty-seven people were killed and even more animals were killed downstairs. Then Milarepa became very unhappy.

The black magic lama sent Milarepa to Marpa, saying, “If you want to practice Dharma, go to see Marpa.” That is how he met Marpa, his guru. Milarepa had nothing, so he offered his body, speech and mind. Marpa took care of him and gave him food, clothing and shelter, and then gave him teachings. One time, but not on the first day, he made an offering of an empty container to Marpa and because of that, it is said in the story that he had to bear many hardships while practicing Dharma in a cave.

Milarepa just lived on nettles—in the morning, nettles, and in the evening, nettles. No chilli, no pepper. One day a thief came by and asked, “Where is the chilli? Where is this and that? Where is the salt?” Milarepa had only nettles for everything. He didn’t have anything else. He didn’t even have one rupee—a Nepalese rupee or a Tibetan rupee, any sort of rupee, whatever it was called in Tibet. He didn’t have anything at all, not at all. He had unbelievable hardships. Then his guru Marpa, an enlightened being, filled his pot with butter and made a light offering so that Milarepa would become meaningful in his life. Then for many years Milarepa did the practice. Exactly! He followed Marpa’s advice and wishes exactly! Because of that, he achieved all the realizations, all the tantric realizations, and he achieved enlightenment within a few years. This happened.

Just by remembering his name, it benefits us and is the cause of being born in the pure land. Remembering the holy name of Milarepa and reciting his mantra, we are able to be reborn in the pure land and to meet Milarepa; we are able to see Milarepa. It is said by the great holy being, Karma Ngawang Yonten Gyatso: “Highly actualized, enriched in all the qualities, the lama and perfect, Mila. Even by hearing the name, for seven lifetimes we will never be reborn in the lower realms, it is promised. At the moment, he is abiding in the King’s Rain of the Great Unification, which means full enlightenment, buddhahood; he blesses samsara and nirvana and brings all the stability, which means to the place, the world, and to all the moving sentient beings, every single sentient being. By making requests, he definitely guides us with compassion and he grants blessings of the great drops to everyone. Therefore, attempt to practice the supreme yogi-enriched qualities.” This is said by the great yogi Karma Ngawang Yonten Gyatso.

When Milarepa went to see Marpa, he didn’t give teachings for years. Marpa made Milarepa build a nine-story tower by himself alone. No laborers were allowed. When Milarepa finished building the tower, he had to tear it down and put the stones back where he found them. Then again, he had to rebuild the tower, and again tear it down. And again rebuild. This happened three times. Then Marpa’s wife, the secret mother, pushed Marpa to give initiation and teachings to Milarepa. Marpa listened, but his own wish was still for Milarepa to bear more hardships so that he could achieve enlightenment more quickly, in that life. Of course, Marpa was an enlightened being, manifesting the mandala and giving initiation and teachings.

Then Marpa sent Milarepa to the mountains to do retreat and Milarepa did exactly what his guru advised. Exactly! Because of that and due to bearing many hardships, Milarepa became enlightened in a few years. Even so, you have to understand, even from the early times, Milarepa was an unbelievably, most lucky disciple, in that he was able to bear the hardships and build a nine-story tower three times. He followed Marpa’s advice, and heresy never arose at all. No anger, no heresy. Not only that, initially Marpa didn’t give him teachings. When Marpa did give teachings and Milarepa came with the other disciples and Marpa saw him there, he immediately kicked him out. He scolded and beat him.

When there’s a perfect disciple and a perfect guru together, enlightenment happens. It is like with a dollop of tsampa we can make anything. It’s so easy. Like that. At that time Milarepa was such a fortunate disciple, and Marpa was an incredible guru, who knew exactly how to purify all the negative karma, all the heavy negative karma from many past lives and from which we have to suffer for eons and eons in the lower realms. He knew how to purify this and how to achieve enlightenment quickly. With a guru we can accomplish this. Nowadays, if the guru treated the disciple in that way, then the next day the guru would end up in prison or be killed.

This is one story and there are many holy beings’ stories. It’s very important to read the life stories of Lama Tsongkhapa, and many others, then you will understand how to practice Dharma. Nowadays people have no fortune and the guru could end up in prison or be killed.

So basically, the root of the path to enlightenment is perfectly following the virtuous friend. That is the first thing to practice and to have realizations of—seeing the guru as a buddha from our own side. To see this from our own side, that’s supposed to be the stable realization, then to follow the advice and the wishes exactly, whatever the guru advises. That brings us to enlightenment, enabling us to be free from all the wrong concepts and obscurations, and it brings all the right realizations.

What the people [at the center] are doing, what they are doing is kind of against that, against she nyen den tsul, perfectly following the virtuous friend, against that. So they are against Dharma.

What is Dharma? It seems it is never thought about and never analyzed. Then all the things, all the talks and all the works, are against Dharma. Everything that is against Dharma becomes negative karma, actions of body speech and mind done with the motivation of ignorance, not understanding karma and Dharma, not understanding the ultimate reality of the I and so forth. Then we live totally with attachment and anger; we do everything with that. All our actions of body, speech and mind become negative karma. All our talks become negative karma and all our writing, too. Everything becomes negative karma and the cause of being born in the lower realms. Not only do we create confusion and suffering in this life, but after a terrible death, there is the suffering of the lower realms for eons.

Even the human beings’ heaviest suffering is small compared to the hell beings’ suffering. The human beings’ heavy suffering becomes incredible pleasure, peace and happiness. The smallest suffering of hell is a billion times bigger than the suffering of a human being. We don’t know and people don’t know the future. They don’t know karma; they don’t know Dharma. That is what happens. Our actions don’t become Dharma—following the virtuous friends and their wishes, renouncing attachment and in particular, the attachment to this life, attachment to this life’s happiness. That worldly concern is the source of all the hundred, thousand, million sufferings. I promise. That’s why when we practice Dharma, real Dharma, when our practice becomes real Dharma, it brings incredible, unbelievable peace and happiness. We are so happy.

This is what it means to learn and practice Buddhism. It means this. In learning Buddhism there’s zhi den pa nyi, the base, the two truths, absolute and conventional truth, lam tak chey nyi, the path of method and wisdom, dre bu ku nyi, the result, what we achieve, dharmakaya and rupakaya. That’s what we need to achieve. It’s all based on Dharma practice, as I have explained, and what Dharma practice means.

Here, what the people [at the center] are talking about is totally opposite to holy Dharma. They are like small children fighting with each other and making noise. It’s like that.

Of course, if you have money you should offer it to all sentient beings, even to millionaires and billionaires, and not only to beggars. Offer everything to millionaires and billionaires if you have an endless amount. With no effort, if there’s money, you can give even to sentient beings who are millionaires or billionaires, as they don’t have satisfaction. However much they get, they want more. Due to dissatisfaction and desire, they think they don’t have enough and they want more and more. Hence, there’s dissatisfaction and suffering, when even physically they may have everything in the world. So, yes, you can give, you can make charity even to the millionaires, billionaires and so forth, and not only to the beggars.

But I tell you, when you are the director of a center, how would you do it? For example, with the little money of the center, would you give it to everybody and then let the center disappear? Or what would you do? I’ll give you another example. Of the many people working for the center, for some their heart is the center, so they want to protect the center and they want to develop it. Conversely, many people want to develop themselves and they become careless toward the center.

For example, someone who runs a country as the president or minister or whatever, may never think of helping the population, the millions. They never think about helping the people, freeing them from problems and bringing them happiness. They never think about that. They only think about how to get money from the people in order to develop their power, their influence, their family, all that. Their aim is mainly control. When they carry on like this, many problems happen in the country. Then the population doesn’t like that leader. They can see that leader and they don’t like them. Then fights start, civil wars start. In Syria and in so many countries that has happened. Do you understand? Their heart is not taking care of the people; it’s only for their own power and influence. If their heart is with the people, the population, to free them from suffering and to cause all the happiness, it’s incredible, incredibly pure. So much, so much, but that’s not happening.

I’ll give you another example. In one center, all the people and students criticized the director a lot, then one of the students who had previously criticized the director became director of that center. When he became the director, again all the others criticized him. It’s always like this. Just like that case, the criticism doesn’t become less.

That’s why I say, when you become the director, one of the motivations is: “I’m the director and I’m like a bodhisattva, like the Buddha, because I’m here to serve all sentient beings, to free them from suffering and to achieve all the happiness for them. I’m here to serve. I’m the servant.” It’s like the bodhisattva’s motivation. “I’m the one who receives all the complaints.” You accept that from the very beginning when you accept to be a director. “I’m the only one who receives all the complaints from people.” So when the complaints come, you know, as you’ve been expecting them every day. You don’t get shocked. When you receive a complaint, you can say, “Oh, I see.” It’s just by the way, like wind passing through your hair. You see it and it doesn’t really shock your mind. It helps so much. It helps very much, psychologically. It does not disturb your peace and happiness. You continuously have happiness.

When you actually become the director, when your heart is in the center and you don’t want to lose it, but to increase it, develop it, help the people and not bring problems, then you’ll understand. Then you will understand how it should be run. Otherwise it’s easy to complain.

When there’s a complaint, it’s important to hear both sides, not only one side. You should hear both sides, then decide. You have to use your wisdom, your Dharma wisdom, understanding karma. Then you need compassion—compassion is most important, to have compassion for sentient beings. If you want to develop your mind and you want to bring peace and happiness to the center and beyond, then you have to think in a big way and not with a very narrow mind. I’m sorry to say this ....

Note: Rinpoche's advice continues, with many quotations about compassion and bodhicitta. Read the entire advice here.