Sun of Devotion, Stream of Blessings

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Leeds and London, UK (Archive #1963)

Sun of Devotion, Stream of Blessings is the record of a remarkable series of powerful and clear Dharma teachings given by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche to students in Leeds and London, United Kingdom, in 2014. This book is now available in print and digital formats and forthcoming as a free audiobook on Google Play.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching in Singapore, 2010. Photo by Kunsang Thubten (Henri Lopez).
Chapter 2. Our Happiness Is in Our Hands
Transforming suffering into happiness

To our hallucinated mind it looks like all our day-to-day happiness and problems—every hour’s, every minute’s, even every second’s happiness and problems—come from the outside. But in reality, they come from our mind, from our concepts. They are the results of actions, karma, done in the past. Of the two components of our being, body and mind, they come from the mind.

There are six principal consciousnesses and fifty-one secondary minds, thoughts or mental factors. With respect to any particular object, the mental factors that accompany the principal consciousness are similar to it in five ways: object, aspect, time, entity and basis.5

Among those fifty-one secondary minds are the five omnipresent mental factors that always accompany the principal consciousness: feeling, cognition, contact, intention and attention.6 Intention—sem-pa in Tibetan, what we usually call karma, which literally means action—is one of the omnipresent mental factors. Because intention is always there, we label things as positive or negative every minute, every second; our mind merely labels things as positive or negative all the time.

Whatever we perceive—another person’s body, speech or mind or some material object—we label it positive or negative. In this way we label the world. All the time, every hour, every minute, every second we are labeling, and not just labeling but merely labeling, merely imputing things. In that way we create the I, we create the action, we create the object, we create the whole world as positive or negative. So positive and negative are merely designations of our own mind.

Because the results of happiness or suffering are ripening results of imprints in our own mind and not other people’s imprints, we have control of our life. There is a practice called lo-jong, thought transformation, where we utilize our problems, turning them into happiness, making them worthwhile. Any problem we have—a relationship problem, a disease such as cancer, being in debt—is all to do with the mind; it is a concept of the mind. It depends on how we look at it. Therefore we can reinterpret it, putting a positive label on it instead of a negative one. In that way we are able to utilize the problem, transforming it not just into temporary happiness but ultimate happiness. This is what we really need to be able to do.

In all our beginningless lives, there is no temporary happiness that we have never achieved. We think a temporary happiness we experience is new because we have not encountered it before in this life, but there is nothing new for us. Whatever happiness or problem we experience, we have experienced it numberless times before.

Just recently I went to Land of Medicine Buddha, one of the FPMT centers in California, to greet a high lama, the second highest lama in the Gelug tradition after the Ganden Tripa, who had come to give teachings. There was a group of people there with cancer, meditating and having discussions. I met them outside and I told them my view. I said this is nothing new. This is something they have already had numberless times in the past, even though it might seem new for them. I said the most important thing is to use the cancer they have and make it useful, worthwhile—make it beneficial for all living beings.

There are numberless hell beings, numberless hungry ghosts, numberless animals, numberless human beings, numberless gods and numberless demigods. There are numberless human beings, not only in this world, this southern continent, but also in the numberless universes. That there are numberless universes is not something asserted by only Buddha, the Omniscient One, but by modern science as well. 

The important thing is to make our cancer beneficial for everybody. If we find we have cancer we should make it beneficial for all living beings who are suffering but don’t want suffering and who need happiness. We experience it for them to let them be free from the oceans of samsaric suffering. Actually, even though people have no idea what it means, everybody wants not just ordinary happiness but ultimate happiness, which means attaining the dharmakaya, the truth body of a buddha.

There are also many other sentient beings who even now have cancer. We can make our own cancer worthwhile by experiencing it for them and letting them be free from all suffering, not only cancer. In that way we make our own experience of cancer most happy, most useful. This is what I suggested to that group at Land of Medicine Buddha.

Because everything is created by the mind, because problems are projected, merely labeled by the mind, we have the ability to transform them into happiness. We can make cancer most useful. We can even transform death into the happiest possible death, making it most beneficial for other sentient beings. We do this by experiencing it with compassion for other sentient beings, who are numberless, who are like our family. We can see the different sentient beings, not only in this world but also in the numberless realms, as our family. We humans, insects and even ants are all just one family. We can experience the suffering for them; we can let the numberless beings have happiness.

We have the opportunity to transform suffering into happiness in daily life because it’s up to our mind. It’s up to our own mind whether any situation becomes a suffering or a happy one. It depends on how much knowledge we have, on whether we know the Dharma or not, whether we know inner science. Knowing Dharma and knowing inner science is the same thing.

We can choose whether a situation is a problem or not. We say, “I have a problem! When can I be happy? When can I be happy?” Then we make ourselves sick. Nobody else makes us sick, we make ourselves sick; our own mind makes us sick. That’s how we do it. Unless we transform our way of thinking, this is how it will stay, our old mind, our old concepts will create the same problems for us over and over again.

With the same old mind we remain the same old person—old in terms of having to endure the same kinds of suffering rather than old in age. Rather than using our short life to become a happy person we continue to create the same causes of suffering. Because our life is created by our mind, however, we also have the chance to have a healthy, awakened life. We have the ability to choose happiness or suffering.

Even though cancer or some other sickness—even death—happens as the result of some previous action we have done, if we have a wise mind we can utilize the best psychology, the best meditation, and transform that situation into happiness. By looking at the situation in a different light we are able to change from disliking it to liking it.

And we do this not just for ourselves. Doing this becomes beneficial for numberless living beings: numberless hell beings, numberless hungry ghosts, numberless animals, numberless human beings, numberless gods and numberless demigods. Even though we can’t comprehend all that, we can at least see that it benefits numberless human beings.

The ultimate mind is sang-gyä

The goal of Mahayana Buddhism is to use whatever problem we have to free numberless living beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to peerless happiness—the total cessation of all obscurations and the completion of all realizations. That is the actual meaning of the Tibetan word sang-gyä, which is generally translated as “buddha.” Sang means the cessation of all the gross and subtle obscurations of the mind, and gyä means the complete attainment of all realizations and all levels of happiness. There is nothing more to be eliminated and there is nothing more to be developed. There is no other happiness that still needs to be achieved. Everything has been completed.

Don’t get hung up on words. Don’t get hung up on the Sanskrit terms or whether sang-gyä refers to a buddha or the state of buddhahood. Sang is the cessation of all the gross and subtle obscurations of the mind. Because the mind is not oneness with the obscurations but just temporarily obscured, it can be cleansed of them just as a dirty cloth can be cleansed from dirt. Dirt cannot be separated from dirt but a cloth that is dirty can be washed so that the dirt is completely removed. With soap or whatever other cleansing agent, it can become completely clean, without a trace of dirt. It’s the same thing with the mind. The mind can also become completely, totally cleansed of the dirt of the obscurations. Totally ceasing gross and subtle obscurations, we can then fully develop the power, the potential of the mind and complete all realizations. That is peerless happiness; that is “buddha” or “buddhahood.” That is sang-gyä.

This is just a simple description of our mind. Everybody’s mind is similar. Even a mosquito’s mind, an ant’s mind, a bee’s mind is the same. We all have buddha nature. We all have that capacity to be sang-gyä, to be totally free from all obscurations and to complete all realizations. After we have freed ourselves from the gross obscurations we attain nirvana, ultimate happiness, liberation from the oceans of samsaric suffering, the blissful state of happiness for ourselves. Then, after even the subtle obscurations have been removed by actualizing the path, the remedy, we attain peerless happiness, actualizing all realizations, sang-gyä.

Even insects like mosquitoes or ants have the potential to attain sang-gyä. They have buddha nature. They have the nature, or potential, of sang-gyä. Even tiny insects only visible through a microscope have a mind whose ultimate nature, like ours, is buddha nature. Their mind can become a buddha’s holy mind, the dharmakaya, the truth body, which has two aspects: the transcendental wisdom truth body and the natural truth body, the self-nature of the omniscient mind. Even the tiniest insect can become that.

Because every sentient being, including us, has buddha nature, the nature of sang-gyä, no matter how much suffering we have, it is only temporary. We can become free from it. Like the example I have just given, just as a cloth can be cleansed of dirt because it is not one with the dirt, our mind can be freed from suffering because it is not one with suffering but is only temporarily obscured. Because the mind has buddha nature, it is possible to eliminate not just suffering but the very cause of suffering.

Education is more than learning

During its lifetime, a tiny insect like a mosquito has no chance to develop its buddha nature. On the other hand, because we can think in a more subtle way, we human beings have not only the potential but also the incredible opportunity to develop our buddha nature in this lifetime. Our ability is so much vaster than that of nonhuman beings like insects. In their present form, animals and insects do not have the ability to learn and practice meditation, to understand the inner science of the Dharma. Only if they can become like us, humans, will they have that ability.

Our thinking is so much more complex and profound than that of non-humans, whether we use it for positive or negative things. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has given the example of Bin Laden, how he must have had an incredible brain to mastermind those planes flying into the World Trade Center. His intelligence was truly amazing but he used it to harm others. We can use the incredible potential we have to bring happiness or suffering to the world. Therefore, while we are so fortunate to now be human, our education is very important. People think that education is just learning but it’s much more than that.

What about this? There is a person with a degree from a top university, so learned, so knowledgeable—knowledgeable about external things, I mean, not about the mind—but his individual life is always suffering, always confused; there is no happiness. He has so many problems such as jealousy, pride, anger, attachment and so forth. His life is always up and down. Only ever thinking of this one life, not knowing what else to do, he is so overwhelmed with problems that suicide might even seem the easy way to end it all.

Then there is another person who doesn’t have a high degree or much formal education at all but her life is so happy. Poorly educated, how can her life be happy? The answer is that the person with the high degree, whose life nonetheless is filled with much suffering, pride, jealousy, fear and worry, is ruled by the self-cherishing thought, whereas the poorly-educated person has a good heart. Of course, she still has self-cherishing but it is not very strong. Because of her good heart, her life has much happiness.

Education doesn’t only happen at school, there is education at home with the parents as well. Parents set a strong example for their children. I’m not only referring to specific family relationships but also, in general, we are all children compared to our parents, just as they are children compared to their parents. Children spend much more time at home than at school and their main education is there. How their parents raise them is vital.

Real education is not just gaining knowledge of the subjects taught at school. The very essence of education is compassion. Parents’ main aim should be showing their children how to develop compassion at home. They should be an example of that to their children, knowing how to skillfully guide them.

Of course, it’s not easy. It’s also not easy guiding children at school, because to really guide others without making any mistakes, we need to have an omniscient mind. Parents need omniscient minds; teachers in school need omniscient minds. Only then can they guide children perfectly without the slightest mistake. Only then can they be perfect guides.

At least parents and teachers should have ordinary clairvoyance7 to know the present and see the future; otherwise they are totally ignorant. How can they help children to live in this world? How can they even guide themselves? Not only skillful speech, not only a knowledge of Dharma, they need ordinary clairvoyance. Guiding children is not easy!

Padmasambhava’s ways of diagnosing illness

In the past, doctors could diagnose a disease exactly by following the texts, such as those of the Medicine Buddha. These texts, which clearly showed holy beings the route to enlightenment, gave detailed explanations of the diseases that existed and the medicines needed to cure them, as well as how to make those medicines, so doctors would know simply by reading these texts. But in these degenerate times it is no longer possible to gain a clear diagnosis of a person’s illness just from a text. I’m not saying for every person, but many illnesses are no longer normal ones that can be diagnosed in that way.

What can be done when the texts no longer give a clear diagnosis? The powerful yogi, the enlightened being Padmasambhava, explained one of the ways to Yeshe Tsogyal,8 who asked him about this very point. Padmasambhava explained that the method was to do a Medicine Buddha retreat, using the Medicine Buddha retreat text. After the retreat, you are able to diagnose the person’s disease. After I read this text, I mentioned it to a Western doctor I met in Dharamsala who had learned Tibetan medicine, but I somehow doubt that he followed the text’s advice and did a retreat.

However, the best way to be able to diagnose disease is to have clairvoyance. Whatever disease the person has just comes into your mind, without mistake. Such knowledge does not come through study but through retreat.

Another way of telling is by consulting dakinis, female sky-goers. There are different levels of dakinis, those who are unenlightened beings and those who are enlightened. There are dakinis who have generated realizations of the tantric path, of the gross and subtle generation stages and of the graduated completion stage. There are dakinis who have actualized clear light and dakinis who have actualized the unification of clear light and illusory body. It is possible in trying to find a diagnosis for a disease to consult dakinis who can tell clearly what the illness is.

Another way is through dreams. Whatever patient you are going to meet the next day, that night you dream of the patient and see what disease that person has and what medicine should be taken. Even though you have not done years of study on diseases and diagnoses, even though you haven’t learned anything normal, this is one method to help sick people. This is what Padmasambhava mentioned.

Otherwise you are unable to make a proper diagnosis and, thinking the person has such-and-such a disease, you give the wrong medicine. This is how it has become nowadays. Because the time has become greatly degenerated, there are more and more diseases that are outside the range of what is found in the normal texts.

What is samsara?

We are so lucky to be human at this time.9 As His Holiness explained, we can use our mind in a positive way to not just benefit ourselves but to benefit the world. We really can do that. And we can benefit others, not just in this world but in all worlds, bringing them as much happiness as possible. That is the reason for and purpose of our life, and it is as deep as the Pacific Ocean and as vast as the sky.

Whatever we call the heaviest possible suffering, “hell” or whatever, where does it come from? It all comes from the mind. And where does the greatest possible happiness come from? Peerless happiness, the total cessation of all obscurations and completion of all realizations—sang-gyä—also comes from the mind. Nirvana comes from our mind and samsara comes from our mind.

Samsara is divided into three realms: the desire realm, which depends on the five senses, which in turn are dependent on external objects, the form realm and the formless realm. The form realm is achieved through calm abiding meditation, which has nine stages, the last stage being firm contemplation.10 When you experience this, you are in the form realm.

Then you become bored with even this inner experience and, due to that, you are reborn in the formless realm, which has four levels: infinite sky, infinite consciousness, infinite nothingness and the tip of samsara. In the formless realm there is only consciousness; there is no body.11 At the moment we have five aggregates—form, feeling, cognition, compounding aggregates and consciousness—but there are not necessarily always five. In the formless realm, without form, there are only four.

We have been born in the desire, form and formless realms numberless times. And after the formless realm we have been reborn in the lower realms as hell beings, hungry ghosts or animals, or we have been reborn as human beings or in the form realm. This has happened to us numberless times in the past, from beginningless rebirths, because we have never been able to generate complete renunciation for the whole of samsara.

Samsara is the continuity of the cycle of rebirth of these aggregates we have. This continuity of rebirths is due to the contaminated aggregates caused by karma, which is motivated by delusion, by wrong concepts. That is why our aggregates are in nature of suffering—they are pervaded by suffering.

This continuity of the circling of rebirths of the contaminated aggregates caused by karma and delusion is the real samsara, not the aggregates themselves. This was mentioned by the Seventh Dalai Lama, Kelsang Gyatso, as well as by Lama Tsongkhapa in the Lamrim Chenmo, where he described samsara as “the part of the continuity of the contaminated aggregates caused by karma and delusion.”

He emphasized that samsara is the part of the continuity of the aggregates because there are five paths to liberation—the paths of merit, preparation, right-seeing, meditation and no more learning—and a meditator who has achieved the path of meditation already has the wisdom directly perceiving emptiness. As he is no longer under the power of karma and delusion, the cause of samsara ceases and he does not have to reincarnate. The meditator who has achieved the path of meditation is excluded. That is the reason for adding the word “part” here.

Because, I suspect, none of us have achieved the exalted path of meditation and directly perceived emptiness, we will all have to reincarnate again, so this does not apply to us. If we were to achieve the path of meditation before we die, however, we would be free from that “part” that Lama Tsongkhapa mentioned, the part of the continuity of the circling of the contaminated aggregates caused by karma and delusion. We would no longer be in samsara.

Practicing Dharma is subduing our mind

This samsara we are trapped in comes from our mind, but so does nirvana. The problems we have to face, the happiness we can experience, every day, every hour, every minute, all come from the mind. Therefore, meditation, Dharma practice, the inner science, is so important to help our mind. That is what the Buddha said:

Do not commit any nonvirtuous actions,
Perform only perfect virtuous actions,
Subdue your mind thoroughly—
This is the teaching of the Buddha.

That is why the practice of Buddhadharma is taking care of our own mind, subduing our own mind. Unless we eliminate the confusion within the mind that is the source of all suffering we will forever remain in the prison of samsara, the prison of suffering. We have been there for beginningless lifetimes and if we don’t do something about it we will never get out.

Therefore, practicing Buddhadharma is subduing our mind. Taking care of our mind leads to every possible happiness: all the happiness of our day-to-day life, all our future lives’ happiness, the ultimate happiness of liberation from samsara and, finally, peerless happiness, sang-gyä, the omniscient mind.

Practicing Dharma means developing a positive mind, a healthy mind, which leads to a healthy body and a healthy life. Nowadays even psychologists and doctors commonly agree that a healthy body and a healthy lifestyle depend on a healthy mind. Taking care of our mind means not letting ourselves suffer. From beginningless rebirths until now we have suffered, but we no longer let ourselves suffer. Instead, freeing ourselves from confusion, we allow ourselves to have every kind of happiness, right up to enlightenment, the state of the omniscient mind. Meditating means that. Practicing Dharma means that. To have a positive, healthy mind we have to understand how it all depends on taking care of the mind.

Even when we tell a friend “Take care of yourself” we should have that meaning in mind. We have great freedom. Everything is in our hands. Our enlightenment, the state of omniscient mind, sang-gyä, is in our hands. Ultimate happiness, liberation from samsara, is in our hands. And our day-to-day life’s happiness is in our hands.

Whether we want problems or not is up to how we think. If we think in a positive way, we’ll have happiness; if we think in a negative way, we’ll have problems. It’s like that. It’s all in our hands. What we do with our life is in our hands.

We have incredible freedom. Please recognize and enjoy this. Enjoying our life in this way, having a healthy mind and a healthy life, is practicing Dharma.

The inner education of patience and compassion

I mentioned how the very essence of education is compassion. Education is not just learning new things. I saw a story on TV about a couple who for the last six or seven years have been been studying a small pod of whales. They are still studying them. All day long they take their boat out into the ocean to look for and study the whales. There is also somebody who has been studying spiders, maybe in fireplaces, for years. There are probably organizations that pay people to study things like that.

Scientific knowledge is good, but education is not just learning new things. The essence of education is developing compassion for living beings—compassion not only for our family and friends but for all living beings. That especially includes our enemy, the one who dislikes us, who gets angry with us, who harms us. If we can generate compassion for that person, it’s an unbelievable thing. If we can bring peace to that person, then it is easy to bring peace to anybody. This is how we learn to bring peace to the world. Starting with one or two people, we can slowly bring peace to the world.

That’s an unbelievable accomplishment, more incredible that climbing Mount Everest a hundred times or…what else? Going to the moon or the sun a hundred times, or a billion times. It’s a much greater accomplishment than any of that. It is really so special if we can generate patience and compassion toward our enemy, not to mention generating compassion toward the numberless other beings.

From time to time in the world it happens that there is a person who doesn’t practice patience or compassion toward others. If that person has power and influence he can kill many millions of people. There are different stories about this kind of thing happening, where millions of people, including children, have been killed, burned or gassed by this one powerful person.

That person had power and influence but he didn’t have the education that taught him how to practice patience and compassion. Without those qualities, patience and compassion, what happened? It’s like Bin Laden. He was able to think big, but in a negative way, to harm others. He knew how to harm and cheat others in such an unbelievably vast way.

Patience and compassion are the two very fundamental qualities of our inner education. Without them, powerful people have brought so much harm to the world, killing millions of people and gaining the worst reputation because of it. If they had practiced patience and compassion, none of that harm—killing and torturing those millions and millions of people—would have happened. Incredible happiness would have come to those millions of people from that harm being stopped. This is the influence that one powerful person can have on the world.

There are great holy beings in all the different religions, like Saint Francis or the Buddha in his past lives as a bodhisattva, who have brought many millions of people happiness and peace. Through practicing patience and compassion, the most fundamental, important education, even one person has the power to bring great happiness to the people of the world.

Even if we are not able to become like that now, despite the fact that our body will not continue, there is the continuation of our consciousness, constantly moving from life to life. For that reason, the most important practice, the most important education, is developing patience and compassion so that we can become like those holy beings in future lives. Then, from life to life, we will be able to give happiness to billions and billions of beings—not only to people, but even to animals—to all other living beings.

News programs on TV usually only mention people, rarely animals. When bombs destroy a place can you imagine how many animals are killed? There must be countless animals and insects in the ground, fields and forests that are killed, but they’re not mentioned. It’s as if they don’t count.

We must train in this important, innermost education, the education of mind, now, in this life while we have all the possibilities to transform our mind.

Our family is our mind training

Even people with no belief in any religion or philosophy need harmony in their relationships with others, with their family, spouse and children. Maintaining a long-lasting relationship relies on harmony and that comes from practicing patience and compassion. No relationship can last without patience. If we follow anger rather than patience, our relationship with our spouse, family or friends will inevitably deteriorate and finally perish. At first the other person might try to be tolerant of us but that won’t last and soon she will no longer be bothered. She might try to physically stay with us but her mind will drift away and there will no longer be any harmony. Soon, even physically, she will be gone.

We all need help, so to maintain comfortable relationships even non-believers need to practice patience and compassion—with their husbands, wives, parents and children. That’s the way to make relationships harmonious and long lasting.

Even if only one person within a relationship practices patience and compassion, it helps greatly to maintain harmony and keep the relationship together long-term. Practicing patience, not getting angry, not harming the other person with our body, speech and mind, that is peace; that is the peace we’re giving to the other person.

Our family is our mind training. We train our mind with our wife or husband, with our children, with our parents. The most important thing in following any spiritual path is mental development and in one way our family is there for our mental development. The question is whether we recognize this or not. Our family is there to help us develop our patience and compassion; they are there to train us in this. When we have trained with them we can then move on to our neighbors and the people around us. In that way we are able to generate more and more patience and have less and less anger. Then, after some years, even if anger arises it is weak and doesn’t last long, just remaining for a short while before evaporating. We slowly train our mind to have less anger and more patience toward more and more people and then toward all sentient beings. That absence of harm means peace for everybody. That’s how mental development works. That’s how we can develop our mind.

Besides being the foundation of a harmonious relationship, generating a good heart and patience brings additional benefits to our family members and all other sentient beings. Refraining from harm, we lead not only those around us into peace and happiness but all the beings of this world.

We have that responsibility. The world’s peace and happiness is on our shoulders. Practicing patience and compassion, refraining from harming others, we bring great happiness to numberless living beings: to the numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, gods, demigods and intermediate state beings. In that way, we are responsible for the peace and happiness of all beings of the six realms.

Then, with the compassion we have developed toward all living beings, we develop wisdom. In that way, we are able to bring them not only the temporary happiness of this life but also that of future lives. Then, by understanding the mind they understand karma, cause and effect, what specific results come from the actions of body, speech and mind—what brings suffering and what brings happiness. By having the wisdom understanding karma, they are able to gain ultimate happiness, liberation from the oceans of samsaric suffering. In that way, we are able to bring them to the blissful state of peace, individual liberation from the oceans of samsaric suffering forever. They no longer have to experience any suffering: the suffering of pain, the suffering of change and the cause of those two sufferings, pervasive compounding suffering.

Not only that, by developing compassion and wisdom, we are able to bring all the numberless living beings to peerless happiness, sang-gyä, the state of the total cessation of all obscurations and the complete development of all realizations.

There can be no happiness following the self-cherishing thought

Developing compassion and wisdom is amazing. What our mind can do, what our heart can do, is just amazing. However, if you are like me, your heart at the moment is full of self-cherishing. We think, “My happiness is more important than anybody else’s. My happiness is more important than that of the numberless buddhas, the numberless bodhisattvas, the numberless sentient beings. It is the most important thing of all, more important than the happiness of the numberless hell beings, the numberless hungry ghosts, the numberless animals, the numberless human beings, the numberless gods and demigods and the numberless intermediate state beings. I’m the most important one! My happiness is more important than anybody else’s!”

At the moment our mind is in that condition, but the mind itself is not oneness with the self-cherishing thought. Not at all. It is just temporarily obscured by delusions. Holding the self-cherishing thought has no logical reason. Cherishing the I is just an ego trip!

The self-cherishing thought is nothing but a dictatorship and there is no logical reason for that dictatorship. It cannot posit one valid reason why this I is more important than anybody else, whereas there are infinite valid reasons to cherish the numberless others who only want happiness and who do not want suffering. There are numberless buddhas and bodhisattvas and there are numberless sentient beings who do not have bodhicitta, so there are numberless beings to cherish. Using valid reasoning we can transform our mind.  

In A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life the great bodhisattva Shantideva said,

Thus whoever wishes to quickly afford protection
To both the self and other beings
Should practice that holy secret:
The exchanging of self for others.12

If we want to quickly help and protect ourselves and others, the ultimate method is transforming our mind from one that cherishes the I and renounces others to one that renounces the I and cherishes others.

Shantideva says we practice this secretly. Here he’s referring to us and the lower bodhisattvas. Exchanging oneself for others, renouncing the I and cherishing all other beings more than the I instead, is beyond us at this stage. Even lower bodhisattvas are not yet brave enough to physically do that, therefore it is done as a secret practice, which might mean it is only a mental practice. At this stage the mind is being transformed even though physically there is no change, so it’s secret in that way also.

We have to remember that. This is the best way to help others and ourselves. Shantideva continued,

Whatever joy there is in this world
All comes from desiring others to be happy,
And whatever suffering there is in this world
All comes from desiring myself to be happy.

What need is there to say much more?
The childish work for their own benefit,
The Buddhas [Mighty Ones] work for the benefit of others.
Just look at the difference between them!13

“Mighty Ones” means the buddhas. They are “mighty” because they have destroyed all the obscurations and completed all the realizations and so they have finished their work for self and now work only for others. Shantideva asks us to look at the difference between the buddhas and the childish ones—us—who only work for ourselves.

In Dharma texts, “child” does not mean a physical child but somebody who is mentally childish. We could live to be a hundred years old—or a thousand or a billion—but if our mind remains under the control of the self-cherishing thought then we are childish. We are just like small children who, when they play, do so only for their own happiness. Therefore this is used as an example.

A child plays in the sand, piling it over her feet and thinking that this is her house or some such thing. Then another child comes along and destroys it and she cries out, “You destroyed my house!” This is the example. If somebody harms us, because of the self-cherishing thought, the emotional thought arises, “Somebody has harmed me! He doesn’t love me, he doesn’t love me, blah, blah, blah….” Many negative emotions arise and this creates suffering.

We have been following the self-cherishing thought from beginningless rebirths until now and because of that we have been suffering. We have lived our life with the self-cherishing thought; we have followed the self-cherishing thought. The self-cherishing thought has been like our parents, like our guru. And because we have followed it we have been suffering in samsara for countless lifetimes. That is what has been happening and will continue to happen if we don’t transform our mind. The suffering of samsara will be endless. Therefore, while we have this life where we have all the opportunities to learn and practice, we must practice the Dharma and generate the ultimate good heart, bodhicitta.

The Buddha transformed his mind. He was the same as us, beset with all the same problems, the same relationship problems, selfish thoughts, negative emotions and so forth. Just like us, he suffered in samsara from beginningless rebirths. But the Buddha managed to change his mind from cherishing the self to cherishing others. He achieved ultimate happiness, enlightenment, sang-gyä, the cessation of all obscurations and completion of all realizations.

This is something we have not yet done. By following the self-cherishing thought, the suffering of samsara has not ended. If we don’t do something in this life to change that by developing a good heart, the ultimate good heart, bodhicitta, then the suffering of samsara will probably become endless.

That is what Shantideva means when he asks us to compare ourselves to the buddhas. Look at the difference. From having so many problems, like us, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha became the “Mighty One,” the Buddha, whereas we are still suffering sentient beings. Shantideva also mentioned,

If I do not actually exchange my happiness
For the sufferings of others,
I shall not attain the state of Buddhahood
And even in cyclic existence shall have no joy.14

Unless we give others our happiness and take their suffering upon ourselves we will be unable to completely transform our mind and so will not be able to eliminate all the obscurations and complete all the realizations. In other words, we won’t be able to achieve the highest goal. Furthermore, while we are trapped in samsara there is no real happiness. Leaving aside happiness in future lives, by following the self-cherishing thought even our work for this life will fail.

Because of the self-cherishing thought we have to experience so many obstacles, such as not succeeding in what we do, being unable to find a job and so forth. That is the result of our karma, from past lives or this life, of being jealous of others’ success or not letting them have success. The motivation was the self-cherishing thought, thus creating jealousy and causing us to harm others in order to steal their success. Even if we are able to find a job, no matter how hard we work we are unable to succeed. In that way, cherishing the I ensures we will fail in whatever we do.

If we renounce self-cherishing and cherish others instead, if we practice patience and compassion for others, then the numberless sentient beings receive no harm from us. That is peace and happiness. That is what every one of them receives from us. And, as I have just said, that allows them to develop inner wisdom, to understand karma and so forth and that leads to their future lives’ happiness. In that way, they are brought to complete happiness.

What we are able to do when we generate patience and compassion is unbelievable. We are responsible for the happiness and peace of every sentient being: for everyone in our family, in our society, in our country, in this world and in all worlds—and finally for ourselves. We can offer all this happiness to every sentient being.

The practice of patience and compassion should really be the main education in the family and in schools. Only with that can there be peace in the world and an end to suffering.


5 The five similarities are: they are produced in dependence on the same basis (Skt: ashraya; Tib: ten); they observe the same object (Skt: alambana; Tib: mig-pa); they are generated in the same aspect (Skt: akara; Tib: nam-pa); they occur at the same time (Skt: kala; Tib: ) and they are the same substantial entity (Skt: dravya; Tib: dzä). See Mind in Tibetan Buddhism, pp. 35–36. Also The Mind and Its Functions, pp. 105–6, where they are listed as basis, duration, aspect, referent and substance. [Return to text

See Mind  in Tibetan Buddhism, p. 36, where the five omnipresent factors (Tib: kün-dro nga) are listed as feeling, discrimination, intention, mental engagement and contact. [Return to text]

Rinpoche differentiates ordinary clairvoyance, also called common siddhis, such as reading minds, seeing into the future and so forth, from the supreme siddhi, which is enlightenment. [Return to text]

The principal consort of Padmasambhava. [Return to text]

For a more detailed discussion of samsara, see Rinpoche’s Bodhisattva Attitude, pp. 75–90. [Return to text]

10 See Meditative States in Tibetan Buddhism, pp. 42–45. [Return to text]

11 See Meditative States in Tibetan Buddhism, pp. 45–47. [Return to text]

12 Ch. 8, v. 120. [Return to text]

13 Ch. 8, vv. 129 & 130. The cited text has “Buddhas”; when Rinpoche was translating this verse during the teachings he used “Mighty Ones,” an epithet of the buddhas. [Return to text]

14 Ch. 8, v. 131. [Return to text]