The Happy Path

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Bendigo, Australia (Archive #877)

Lama Zopa Rinpoche taught on the merely imputed I, the benefits of altruism and compassion, how to transform problems and the five powers, during two evening discourses in Bendigo, Australia, in August, 1991. 

These teachings have been edited and divided into five chapters that correspond to the online audio files. Click here to listen to the teachings online and read along with the unedited transcripts.

The Benefits of Compassion (Second Discourse)

Before discussing the actual topic of the discourse tonight, which I mentioned last night, I would like to add one more solution to the different points I mentioned last night in regard to eliminating stress.

Another solution is to be content. Stress happens because of different ways of thinking, and it can be prevented if the mind is content. Making your mind content frees you from stress. For example, if you are strongly attached to gaining more wealth or a bigger reputation, then the worry that you won't achieve that builds up stress. In such cases you should think, "Oh, this is enough. What I have already is fantastic. There are many people who have much less than me. Millions of people in countries such as Ethiopia are starving - they don't even have enough food to eat." There are many ways to think like this. Think of others who have unbelievably more problems than you. Think of those people who don't have jobs, or much worse than that, think of the people in those countries where there are famines, many diseases, homelessness. There are so many who are in terrible situations. There are so many places where thousands of people are dying because of different disasters and not having the means of living.

By thinking of the other human beings who have many more problems than you, rejoice in your own good fortune, thinking how lucky you are. Try to achieve contentment in this way. Try to give yourself satisfaction and peace of mind. Making our mind content, giving ourselves satisfaction and peace of mind, suddenly cuts off all that worry and fear about not being able to get more wealth or a bigger reputation. It cuts off this stress. In certain cases this can help. For example, many millionaires, even though they have enough money to last five hundred years, a thousand years, if they could live that long, in their mind, they think, "This is not enough. I want to be better than everybody else. I want to be the richest person in the world." So they go on and on.

However, it is natural that you cannot always be successful in life, going up and up and up. This can't happen all the time. It is possible that a few people could experience a life like that, but many times something is built up, then after some time it completely collapses. Some disaster happens and, everything completely collapses. Nowadays on TV you often see people experiencing this. They go on and on, then after some time their business collapses. After being a millionaire, they then have to worry about how they will cover their daily living expenses. This is a shortcoming of not being content.

So, one solution to stress is to be content, to be satisfied. Think of the thousands, millions, of others who have more problems than you, and even worse ones, then rejoice about what you now have: your education, your job, your enjoyments. Think how fortunate you are. This gives you much happiness in your heart, and there is joy in your life.

In the case that you have failed in business, in education, or in something else, or some problem happens, think that there must be a reason for this to happen. Whatever failure happens in life, there is a cause, a reason, for that. In the past through some negative thought you did some unskillful action that harmed others, that disturbed others, and caused them not to succeed. These actions left imprints on the consciousness, the mental continuum, and then this imprint manifested. So the failure you are experiencing is the result of harming others with the past unskillful action done because of the unskillful way of thinking of your own mind. Therefore, the conclusion of what I'm saying here is that you should accept the situation.

For example, one well-known female psychologist from Sydney has written many books on how to eliminate depression. When I was in Adelaide doing a retreat - I called it "retreat," but actually I watched a lot of TV and listened to the radio every afternoon. I was retreating from the distraction of not being allowed to watch TV. Anyway, one afternoon, the whole radio program was on how to stop depression. Caroline, one student who goes to meditations at Buddha House, works for ABC radio, interviewing many people each afternoon, which is her time-slot. So, she was interviewing many different people, psychologists and professors, about depression. She also interviewed this female psychologist, who had written many books, and asked her what was her main technique to stop depression. This psychologist answered that when you have depression you should accept it, thinking, "I deserve to have depression because I am weak." She had written many books, mainly listing references, but the very essence of the technique to stop depression is to accept it. What she said is similar to what I said yesterday at the beginning of the talk about stress. Rather than establishing the thought of disliking depression, you establish the thought of liking it. You change your concept of depression; you change your idea, your interpretation.

This is what she said, accept the depression rather than rejecting it, and think, "I deserve to have this depression because I am weak." That is a very good point. The first step is to accept the situation. And this is the same when you have AIDS, cancer and so forth, especially if the disease you have doesn't have any treatment, or some problem that you have to go through, such as a relationship problem. Accepting the situation is the first step.

But that alone is not enough; that is not sufficient to solve problems in life. We have to look for the way to never have to experience the problem again. This is the second important thing. The first thing is to accept the situation, and this first step makes a big difference to your life; it cuts down a lot of the psychological problems, the worry and the fear, and makes the pain of the problem so much less. Basically it is possible to have physical pain, from AIDS, cancer, or whatever, but the mind can be extremely joyful. Even though you have these problems, your life is very happy. Problems depend a lot on your way of thinking. If you are not skillful, you can make a tiny problem into something very big. Some tiny problem that doesn't make any sense, you can make into a mountain. You can blow it up like a balloon, so that it gets bigger and bigger. This happens if you don't know the psychology, the proper way to think about problems, and how to deal with them. You have to know how to transform the problem into happiness, how to make the problem beneficial, not only for oneself but for all other living beings.

Maybe I'll just briefly go over the benefits of problems. You have to think of the benefits of having a problem rather than looking at it only as negative. You have to look at what you learn from problems, how they improve your life, how they develop your mind. Reflecting on the benefits of problems is the way to establish the thought of liking. We usually think of the benefit of things. Why do we like money? Because of the benefits it brings. We think of the benefits of something, and then we like it. We like anything that we understand benefits us.

Now it is the same with problems. If we reflect on the benefits of problems, the thought of liking or enjoying problems will come. If you have a relationship problem or some disease that has no cure, since anyway you have to go through the problem, why don't you make it worthwhile? Why don't you enjoy it? Since you have to go through it, there's no point in using that problem to depress yourself. There's no point in doing that.

One great Indian saint called Shantideva, who completed the whole path and completely freed himself from death, from rebirth, from anger, from ignorance, from attachment, from all the problems of life, wrote a text on how to enjoy life and how to make everything meaningful. I don't remember the quote word by word - sorry, it's all disappeared from my mind - but the essence of what this great saint advises is that if your problem is something manageable and there is a method to eliminate it, why not try that method? It is useless to stay depressed and worried and not try the methods to stop the problem. And even if the problem doesn't have a solution, even if it's unmanageable, what's the point of being worried? What's the point of being upset? For example, you cannot make the sky become the earth. You cannot make the formless phenomenon, space, into the substantial form, earth. Being worried that you can't do something like this is completely useless.

This great holy being, this great saint, Shantideva, is saying, If something is unmanageable, what is the point in being upset about it? It is better to accept the situation because being upset about it doesn't help. That doesn't give you peace of mind, but only makes you more depressed. Therefore, Shantideva is saying that it is better to accept the situation.

In terms of the benefits of problems, if you have cancer, you develop incredible compassion for all other people who have cancer. You immediately have so much sympathy, so much compassion, for all those other people with cancer because you know how undesirable it is, how much fear you have to face. You know very clearly from your own feelings, your own world. It becomes very clear to you how other people feel. As you have so much wish to be free from cancer, compassion naturally arises when you think of others with the same problem. You feel so much for the many other people who have the same problem of cancer. You see very clearly how unbearable it is and how it brings worry and fear.

So much compassion arises, and then the thought comes, What can I do for them? Rather than being so much concerned about I, I, I, my cancer, my problem, because so much compassion arises, you want to dedicate your life to those who have the same problem; you want to do something worthwhile for them. Even if there is not much that you can do, you do whatever you can. Even there is no real treatment that immediately cures the cancer, you do whatever you can to cut down the worry and fear, to calm the mind. You do whatever the person wants you to do. Many people with such a problem feel so much compassion for others that they always want to do something for them. And people with AIDS feel the same way. This is quite common. I have met quite a number of people with these problems who feel this way.

Other people who haven't experienced such a problem rather than generating compassion for and helping such people who are experiencing difficulties in their lives sometimes reject them. There's a psychological difference between someone who has the problem and someone who doesn't.

If we are able to develop compassion in our heart, it means that we don't harm any other living being, even insects, and it means that we give happiness and peace to everyone. In the world, historically it has happened many times that because one powerful person did not have compassion for others, many millions of people were killed. This is without counting all the animals and insects that died is so many ways because of bombs, in the water, on the ground, in space. Just like human beings, all these animals wanted happiness and did not want suffering. We are counting just the human beings, which is what is normally estimated in the newspapers. So all this harm comes from one person with power who did not practice compassion. All the rest of the beings received harm from that person. You can see that if this one powerful person had practiced compassion, millions and millions of people would not have received all this harm and would have had much happiness.

You can see now from this example that each of us is responsible for the happiness of all the rest of the living beings, including our family and the people closest to us, those we live with, eat with, work with. It is all to do with our mind; it all depends on our mind. If we practice compassion, there will be no action that harms anyone coming from this compassion. No harm can come from this attitude of compassion, and on top of that, there comes help for others.

For example, if each of us practices compassion, no one receives harm from us, and they receive happiness from us. And if we do not practice compassion, everyone receives harm from us. If we follow the egocentric mind, self-cherishing thought, then from that anger, jealousy, and many other unhealthy minds arise. Through these we then harm other beings directly or indirectly, from life to life. Therefore, each of us is completely responsible for everyone else's happiness, starting from our family, and including everyone outside this, the people in the shops, in the road, in the East, in the West, wherever. We are responsible for everyone's happiness, for all the human beings and animals.

Therefore, compassion becomes unbelievably important, unbelievably precious, because it is the source of all happiness. It is compassion that brings joy in life, and meaning, and satisfaction. If you have compassion for others, concern for others, even if you have some problem, such as a disease or failure in something, there is still joy in your life. If you cherish other sentient beings, even if you some incurable disease, such as AIDS, cancer, or whatever, it becomes nothing important; it doesn't bother you because your concern is for every human being. Because you are thinking of the majority, you are not disturbed by the problem of one person. No matter how many problems you have they become nothing; they don't bother you much. Because of your compassion, you think of the majority - the family, the whole world, all living beings. There's no time to think of yourself, there's no time to work for yourself - you are just one being. There is only time to feel concern for all the rest of the human beings, all the rest of the living beings, who like you also want happiness and do not want suffering, but who are numberless. Your concern is for them, who are numberless. They are so precious, so important.

Democracy means that the majority of people have the power. Others, who are numberless, like you want happiness and do not want suffering. They want you to have compassion for them and to help them; they don't want you to be angry with them or to harm them. So, they are numberless, and you are just one person. No matter how many problems you have, you are just one person. You become completely insignificant compared to the numberless other living beings, who are so precious, so important. When you have compassion, when you cherish other living beings, you only have time for others, starting with your family. They are the only ones you cherish, the only ones you work for.

When you cherish yourself, day and night you think only or yourself, "When can I be free from my problems? When can I be happy?" Constantly, while your are walking along the road, while you are at home, you only think of I, I, I. When you have such a strongly self-centered mind, such egotism, when you become obsessed by self-cherishing thought, your mind is tight, tense. Then, because your mind is tight, it causes physical tension - you get pain in your back, around your heart, and so forth. This is what makes stress. You can see very clearly where the stress comes from. This is the nature of self-cherishing thought. If you analyze it, you find it is a painful mind.

Immediately you have to change this attitude by thinking, "What is the purpose of my life? The purpose of my life is to free everyone from their problems and the causes of their problems, which are within their mind, and to bring them happiness and the causes of happiness, which comes from their positive attitudes and beneficial actions. I am not here just to obtain happiness for myself. I am here to serve everybody and bring them happiness. This is the purpose of my life."

While you are walking along the road, you suddenly remember the meaning of your life and think, "I am here for everyone. I am here for the people in these shops, the shop-keepers and the shoppers, for the people walking in the street, for the people traveling past in cars, for all the animals around here: the dogs, cats, birds, insects. I am here for everyone. My life is for everyone. The purpose of my life is to bring happiness to everybody, so I'm here to serve everybody." As soon as you start to think like this, as soon as you change your attitude from cherishing yourself to cherishing others, immediately there is release in your heart. The tension goes away; the tightness is loosened. There is a feeling of space in your heart, of freedom. This is what is called "opening the heart towards others." Rather than closing your heart, closing your mind, you open it towards others in order to pacify their suffering and bring them happiness.

Immediately there is peace of mind. Immediately there is joy in your life. With the previous attitude, there is no enjoyment in your life. Your life is painful, uptight, stressful. You have so much worry about being unable to get what you want, and if you get what you want, there is still no satisfaction. All these things that create unhappiness in life come from the mind, from your own mind.

While you are walking along the road, if you notice that your life is not happy, change your mind, and you will suddenly find happiness and great enjoyment in your life. Suddenly you will see the purpose of life. Why do I eat food? Why do I wear clothing? Why do I live in a comfortable house? Why am I studying at university? Why am I doing this job? Why do I spend so much money on myself when so many people on this earth are starving to death because they don't have any money? Now, when you change your attitude, you see that there is a purpose for doing all these things. You see infinite reasons for living and for doing all these things, for going to school, college, or university, and for spending so much money to take care of yourself. There are infinite reasons because your attitude is one of wishing to serve everyone, to free everyone from problems and their causes and to bring them happiness and its causes. This is why you are doing all these things. The reasons are infinite, so with this attitude you feel incredible joy; you see your life as meaningful because you are doing something for others.

With the previous attitude you work only for yourself; your forget all the numberless human beings, the numberless suffering animals - all the numberless different beings in the water, on the earth, in space - and think only of yourself, just one person. But at the same time every comfort that you have comes from others, by the kindness of other living beings. For example, the enjoyment of living in a comfortable house comes through the kindness of the other living beings involved in the building of the house.