Advice on Quitting Intoxicants

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Bendigo, Australia (Archive #865)

Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche discusses the reasons for giving up alcohol, cigarettes and other addictive substances at a Dharma talk in Bendigo, Australia, in August 1991. Edited by Ven. Ailsa Cameron.

Read more advice about addictions in Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Online Advice Book.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Bendigo, Australia, September 2014.

This advice can be applied to alcohol addiction or smoking cigarettes, and I also think the same psychology can be applied to drug addiction. Once you get the idea, you can just change the object; the idea is the same.

One of the best ideas is to think of the many people on earth who are dying because they have no food to eat. There are many places, such as Bangladesh, where there are famines, epidemics, floods and earthquakes. In so many places, there are thousands and thousands of people who are homeless or have various other problems.

Now, one large jug of cheap wine, for example, costs maybe $10. First of all, leaving aside the $10, consider just one dollar. Both in the East and the West, the world is full of projects that aim to help millions of people solve their problems. From the $10, if you make a donation of even one dollar, this can help to make up a total of $1,000, $10,000, $100,000 or even one million dollars. But if that one dollar is missing from the money needed to buy medicine or food, to provide homes and so forth, it doesn’t make a total of $100, $1,000, $100,000 or one million dollars. That means one million dollars of aid can’t be provided. Donating even one dollar helps to reach the total of $10,000, $100,000 or one million dollars. That means through your donation of one dollar, the project is able to provide whatever help is needed for all those people.

Of course, one dollar alone cannot help many thousands of people much; but when this dollar is added to many others, it has a lot of power, as one million dollars worth of medicine, food, or whatever. There is no one million dollars that exists inherently, from its own side. It is made up of each dollar, and each dollar is made up of each cent, so even one million dollars depends on the cents. When the dollar you donate goes to make up the large amount, it has the power to benefit countless millions of people. This donation of one dollar can benefit others so much. 

All those millions of people who are starving, who are sick or homeless, are exactly the same as us in wanting happiness and not wanting any discomfort. And just as we think that we are precious and what we want is important, it is exactly the same for them. Each of them is also extremely precious and the happiness they need is also very important.

Now, you are one person. Who is more important? When you compare democratically, in terms of numbers, you are just one person, so your own happiness becomes nothing important and your problems become insignificant, because one person is very, very insignificant compared to millions of people. Others are numberless, so with a democratic way of thinking, the need to obtain the happiness of those who are so much greater in number is much more important than obtaining your own happiness. Freeing this great number of people from all their problems and obtaining their happiness becomes the most important thing. Simply in terms of numbers, others become so precious and important.

For example, let’s say there are two groups of starving people: one group of one hundred and another of one million. If you cannot afford to help both groups to survive, you would help the major group, the group of one million. You would try to save the lives of the most number of people. This is the logical thing to do. You would help the group of one million people because they are much more in number than one hundred people. In terms of number, one hundred people are less important than one million.

Here it’s a question of comparing yourself, one person, with others, who are numberless. The importance of obtaining happiness for one person is nothing when you compare it to the happiness of others. For this reason, also, it is very important to donate money to help those millions of people who have so many life problems.

The second point is that you can survive without drinking alcohol [or smoking cigarettes]; you can survive just by eating food. So, instead of spending money on alcohol [or cigarettes], you can donate the money to help millions of people. For example, let’s say the cheapest bottle of alcohol costs ten dollars. Before we talked about how one dollar can help so much—now there’s ten dollars. Giving that ten dollars to charity can help all those people so much.

If you drink one bottle a day, in one month you would spend $300. That's quite a lot. If you count up how much you spend on alcohol, it’s a lot. If you donated what you spent on it in one month, it would be incredible. You could bring incredible benefit to so many people with the money you spend on one bottle, starting from one dollar up to $300. You could do this for months and years. By doing this, you wouldn’t destroy your own life and drinking alcohol wouldn’t interfere with your job, or the stability and harmony of your life, and your peace of mind. You would have stability in your life and work, so your living conditions would be improved and you would have more comfort. In this way, first of all you would be mentally healthy and, second, you would be physically healthy. You could further your education. You would even have the opportunity to develop materially, to become wealthy, and then you would be able to help others even more. You could share your wealth and benefit the world. In this way, by sharing with others through making donations to charity and so forth, you see that your life becomes very beneficial for others. You are doing something for the world; you are making some contribution rather than just taking from the world.

Since birth we have been taking from our parents and the world. If we think about reincarnation, from beginningless rebirths we have been taking from other living beings and from the world. So far we have been taking from others, therefore we owe others a lot. Starting from our parents who gave birth to us, then those people who helped us with our education and so forth; starting from there and extending to the whole world, we owe a lot to all other living beings. What we owe them is infinite. For this reason, we have a responsibility to share with others, to help them. Even if we have only one dollar to share with the millions of other people, we still have that much opportunity to bring happiness to others, to help them.

Having the opportunity to share even one dollar means we have the responsibility to help them, even though they may not ask us particularly to help them. For example, let’s say there is a blind person in danger of falling off a cliff. Because he cannot see, he thinks he is on the road, but he is about to step off a cliff instead. Nearby, there’s someone with every opportunity to help; he has normal eyesight and sound limbs and could run and grab that blind person. The blind person doesn’t ask this person for help. Not only does he not call on this person to help, he is not even aware of him. But that sighted person, seeing that the blind person is in danger of falling, would run and grab him. Simply having the capacity and opportunity to help that blind person itself becomes the reason that the sighted person is responsible for rescuing him from falling off the cliff. I am saying that even if the other person does not ask for our help, simply because we have the opportunity to help, we are responsible for rescuing him.

It is the same if we have just one dollar to share with others. We can help millions of people by giving them comfort and solving their problems, and just by having the opportunity, we are responsible for helping them. And here I am talking about $300 a month.

We can survive without drinking alcohol; it won’t kill us to go without it. In fact, we will be very healthy mentally and physically if we don't drink. Not drinking has infinite benefits, and we can then help others much more. With all this extra money we have through not drinking, we have the opportunity to help others much more, and for that reason, we have the responsibility to help them, who are so many in number.

Also, by acting in this way, we experience so much happiness and satisfaction in our life, because we are giving meaning to our life. We are doing something for the world; we are giving peace to so many people by rescuing them from starvation, sickness, and many other problems. We can enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that we are benefiting others.

The last point is that even if we are not concerned about others, just in terms of our own benefit, if we stop drinking it lengthens your life. Drinking shortens our life and brings many sicknesses. The human body is extremely precious. If we take all the wealth that exists on this earth, including that in rich countries such as America, and compare it with our own precious human body, our body is much more precious than all that wealth. Why? Because even if we own all that wealth, if we don’t have a precious human body, we cannot develop our mind and we cannot develop the inner good qualities of compassion and wisdom. If we don’t develop those qualities, we cannot bring peace to the world, to all living beings.

There are many limitations even to how much we can help others physically, and without this precious human body, we cannot help their mind. The cause of problems doesn’t come from outside; the cause of problems is in the mind. Therefore, the way to bring happiness to others is to transform their mind from negative thinking, which is harmful to themselves and to others, into the positive. By transforming their mind into the positive, they can then perform positive actions that bring happiness to their lives. In this way, each of them can benefit themselves, can create happiness for themselves, and can bring happiness to everyone else.

The cause of problems is in the mind, therefore the best way to help others and bring them peace is to help their mind. If we don't have a human body, even if we own that much wealth, we cannot do this. A human body and a mind full of potential give us an incredible opportunity. This mind has the potential to attain any happiness we want, and by developing a positive mind, we can cause the temporary and ultimate happiness of others. We can free everyone from all problems and their causes, and bring them ultimate happiness. We can cause others never to experience problems again, and we can bring them the highest happiness, by making their minds completely free of all faults and obscurations.

This human body is unbelievably precious, and it has so much power. One person, by having a human body and not looking after his or her mind, can harm many millions of people; one person can destroy the whole world in one day. There is danger of this through having a human body but not protecting the mind. If the mind is protected, developed, and transformed into a positive mind, one person with a human body can do so many good things in this world, bringing infinite happiness to numberless other beings. The good things we can do for others, for the world, are unbelievable. Therefore, this human body is unbelievably precious.

Material wealth means nothing in comparison with the value of this precious human body. There is no comparison between the value of a diamond the size of this earth and the value of this precious human body. Drinking alcohol destroys this incredibly precious thing. Drinking alcohol and not eating properly destroys this precious human body, resulting in a lot of disease. Also, it is well-known that drinking interferes with your work, so that you are unable to do your job properly. It also interferes with your family and other relationships, so you are unable to have peaceful relationships with others and you create a lot of enemies. Other people don’t want to communicate with you. Drinking alcohol isolates you from others, from society and from the world. By drinking, you isolate yourself from other people, and this makes you more depressed.

Life is very short, and death can happen at any moment. If this precious life is simply wasted, at the time of your death, you will feel much regret. Suddenly the thought will come, “Oh, now my life is ending. I should have done much better with my life. I should have made my life much more meaningful; I should have done something for others.” When you know that you are about to die, you will suddenly discover that you did nothing worthwhile in your life, that your life has been kind of empty. At that time, no matter how upset you are, there is no time to do anything about it. You have to die with that upset mind.

I asked some of my students who are nurses and have worked in hospitals what kind of people are most frightened at the time of death. According to their experience, alcoholics have more problems and fear at the time of death. Alcoholics are very afraid of their death. I’m not making this up. This is the experience of those who have worked in hospitals for a long time.

Therefore, before death happens, while we have all the opportunities, we should protect our own mind. We should become our own guard, our own teacher. We should become our own doctor, the best doctor, and protect our own life. Our mind is like a baby, so we should act like its parents, or like a teacher or the police, who protect us from dangers. We cannot follow what the mind says all the time.

As ordinary people, since our minds are not pure, it is very dangerous to listen to everything the mind says. Our mind has many unhealthy, disturbing thoughts because it is controlled by ignorance, anger, attachment, and so forth. Before we act, before we sacrifice our life, we have to analyze the way the mind thinks, whether it has shortcomings or benefits, and whether the shortcomings or benefits are great or small. The general conclusion of analyzing like this is that we don’t do anything that has shortcomings, that brings problems. We follow the thoughts that benefit ourselves and others.

The mind that causes happiness or benefit to others is also of most benefit to you. Cherishing others is the best way to cherish yourself, and renouncing others is like renouncing yourself. Renouncing others and cherishing only yourself harms rather then helps other sentient beings, and in reality this means harming yourself. The more you harm others, the more you harm yourself, and deprive yourself of happiness. So, cherishing others is the best way to bring happiness and satisfaction into your life. Cherishing others is the best way to enjoy life. Benefiting others with your body, speech, and mind as much as possible in everyday life is the best and safest way to cherish yourself. That is the best way to obtain happiness for yourself, and the best way to obtain happiness for all sentient beings. Even in terms of your own happiness, cherishing others is best. In this way, there is so much happiness in your day-to-day life, now and in the future. There is so much happiness all the time.