Perfect Freedom: The Great Value of Being Human

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Dharamsala, India September 1984 (Archive #017)

A lightly edited transcript of teachings given in September 1984 at Tushita Retreat Centre, Dharamsala, India. Edited by Ailsa Cameron. Originally published as a transcript by Wisdom Publications.

Download a Chinese version (pdf) translated by Lobsang Dhargyey.

Chapter 7: Mahayana Thought Transformation

The Mahayana thought transformation condensed in eight verses, written by the great hidden meditator, Langri Tangpa Dorje Sengye, is a method to transform all undesirable conditions into useful ones. The things that cause unhappiness, depression and aggression in those who have not met Buddhadharma, and which make unhappy even those who have met and are trying to practice Buddhadharma, are transformed into useful conditions. All these undesirable conditions become beneficial. For Dharma practitioners and also those who do not meditate or practice Buddhadharma, all the failures and undesirable experiences such as disease, criticism and bad reputation can be transformed into necessary and desirable conditions. Any harm can be transformed into benefit.

For the practitioner of Mahayana thought transformation who has put the meaning of The Eight Verses into action in his everyday life, nothing distracts him from his Dharma practice. This meditator always prays that others receive whatever good things - possessions, happiness, merit - he has; he always dedicates and gives up every good thing to others. And he always prays to receive all the sufferings and undesirable conditions of other sentient beings. "May I experience all these sufferings upon myself" is the prayer he often says to the merit field in his everyday life. This is the wish he always generates.

Whenever something bad happens to him - some criticism, failure, disaster - as he constantly prays to exchange himself for others, to renounce himself and cherish others, the practitioner recognizes the situation and is not shocked by it. As he wishes to give up everything good to others and experience upon himself all their undesirable sufferings, when an obstacle such as other people badly treating him or some distraction to his Dharma practice occurs, he is not shocked. Because the practitioner has trained his mind in transforming sufferings into happiness, he prays instead like this: "May I receive all the sufferings of other sentient beings and experience them by myself. May all my merit and happiness be received and experienced by others." It is not that he makes this prayer and is then shocked when he actually experiences a problem, it would be contradictory to act the opposite to his daily prayers.

It is not that we scream prayers such as those in Lama Chöpa in front of the merit field, making sure that everybody hears: "I want to take all the sufferings of others and dedicate all my happiness to others", then are shocked when an obstacle suddenly happens. If you pray like this, but are shocked when a problem suddenly occurs - you have a stroke, an epileptic fit, a headache, or somebody criticizes you - what your mouth is saying is not the same as what you feel in your heart. If you are shocked when some undesirable obstacle actually happens in your life, the wish in your heart and the prayer you say contradict each other.

You may not feel comfortable even to recite the words: "I will give up everything, all my happiness and merit, to others. May I receive and experience all their sufferings and unhappiness by myself." Even saying the words, you may feel a little fear arise in your heart. This fear comes because you are taking the side of self-cherishing thought more than the thought of cherishing others. The more you take the side of cherishing others, the less fear arises. The more you are able to dedicate and give up your own merit, happiness, possessions and body for others, the more happiness and peace of mind arise, rather than fear. As you dedicate yourself more to others, there is more joy.

The more you are able to take upon yourself the problems and sufferings of others, the more peace of mind and happiness there is in your life, and the fewer obstacles. This is true even for someone who does not regard himself as a religious person, who hasn't met Buddhadharma and doesn't have faith in reincarnation, in past and future lives. If such a person has a very sincere mind and a very generous heart, with little self-cherishing thought, the more he is able to dedicate himself to others, bearing hardships for the sake of others in his everyday life, the greater his peace of mind and the fewer obstacles to the fulfillment of his wishes.

Instead of becoming depressed or aggressive when he meets obstacles in his daily life, the practitioner of Mahayana thought transformation, who has trained his mind in putting The Eight Verses into practice, becomes happy. He thinks: "Now I have succeeded. When I do Lama Chöpa and other prayers, I have been praying many times a day to receive all the sufferings of others and experience them by myself - now I have accomplished my prayer. I have received and am able to experience the problems and sufferings of others." In this way he becomes happier.

Such practitioners even give torma cakes as gifts to the spirits and worldly protectors, asking them to help eliminate their self-cherishing thought and to be able to receive and experience the sufferings of others. In other words, instead of asking for the distractions to be stopped, they give gifts to the spirits and ask to be disturbed. However, even when he makes prayers such as this, the main aim of the practitioner of thought transformation is to benefit other sentient beings. He prays constantly to the guru, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and even to the spirits and worldly protectors, who can help or disturb him: "If it is more beneficial to other sentient beings for me to be sick, let me be sick. If being healthy is more beneficial, let me be healthy. If it is more beneficial that I die, let my death happen. If it is more beneficial that I live, then let me live. Let happen whatever is best for other sentient beings."

This practitioner keeps in his heart the kind mother sentient beings, from whom he receives all the temporal and ultimate happiness and perfections of the three times. All the good things we have, including a good reputation, praise, education, and even small pleasures, are received through the kindness of other sentient beings. All these come entirely from others.

Keeping all sentient beings in the depth of his heart, the practitioner of Mahayana thought transformation lives his life doing whatever is most beneficial for other sentient beings. This is his practice. All the time he prays to the guru, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha: "Let whatever is best for other sentient beings happen. If it is more beneficial for me to die, let that happen immediately. If my living is more beneficial for others, then let that happen." He gives up himself and completely dedicates his life to the kind sentient beings. He prays to the guru, Buddha, Dharma and Sangha like this because he himself doesn't know what is best, whether to live or die is more beneficial for others. Because he himself doesn't have this knowledge, he relies upon those with the three qualities of omniscient mind, perfect power to guide and compassion for all sentient beings, and prays that what happens is the most beneficial for other sentient beings.

In Tibet sick people usually give their names and small money offerings to monasteries, lamas or meditators and ask them to pray for their recovery. Or if someone dies, the family makes a small money offering and dedicates the merits of offering the money for the person who has died to have a good rebirth, to receive a perfect human body and be born in a place where there is the opportunity to practice holy Dharma. However, one lama in Kham used to give money offerings to other lamas and write petitions requesting them to pray for him to die soon and be reborn in the hells. People normally request: "Please pray that I be able to live a long and healthy life and that when I die, I not be reborn in the hells." This lama's request was the complete opposite. He requested other lamas to pray that he die soon and be born in the hells.

A person with bodhicitta is unbelievably happy to be born in the heaviest suffering realm of the hells, where there is unbearable suffering and the length of life is one aeon. This makes him very happy, like a swan entering a pond or a sunburnt person at the beach entering the ocean. Practitioners of Mahayana thought transformation who are well trained in great compassion and have generated bodhicitta are very happy even to be born in the unbearable suffering state of the hells for the sake of other sentient beings, like a swan entering a pool.

A practitioner of Mahayana thought transformation is happier when he receives obstacles. When disaster happens, his mind is extremely happy. His Holiness the Dalai Lama often says he finds it very beneficial for his own mind that the work for the Tibetans is becoming harder, with more problems. For himself, His Holiness wishes the work for the Tibetan people could be harder because in this way he would be able to bear more hardships for others. With so many problems related to Tibet, His Holiness says: "I would have gone crazy, except that I have the holy Dharma." This shows that His Holiness's holy mind is well-trained in Mahayana thought transformation. No matter how many people bring problems to His Holiness, it cannot disturb his holy mind. His holy mind overwhelms the problems; they cannot disturb him or make him depressed.

Relate what His Holiness says to your own everyday life. Even though you don't have the incredible responsibility of looking after many millions of people, even though no one has actually offered you such a powerful position, bring what His Holiness says into your own life. His Holiness is looking after not only six million Tibetans, but all sentient beings. You have only to take care of yourself, and even that you can't do well. You cannot skillfully guide even this one sentient being, yourself.

The Dharma you are practicing, especially if you have taken bodhisattva vows, involves dedicating your life every day to others. You have taken vows to live day and night for others, not for yourself. You have especially taken vows to eat, dress, sleep, wear clothing and so forth for other sentient beings. And at the beginning of each retreat session, you generate refuge and bodhicitta: "I am going to do this practice for the sake of all sentient beings, in order to lead them to the sublime happiness of enlightenment."

Relate what His Holiness says to your everyday life, particularly to the bodhisattva's brave action of doing very difficult works for other sentient beings, and with an incredibly happy mind. No matter how hard it is to work for other sentient beings or how many aeons it takes, the bodhisattva is extremely happy to have the opportunity to bear these hardships. Relate this to your everyday life - to your retreat or other Dharma practice. When you get up in the morning, generate the motivation to practice Dharma for the sake of other sentient beings, no matter how hard it is. And at the beginning of your Dharma practice try to generate the motivation of bodhicitta, so that the practice is done for the sake of others.

Sometimes, no matter how much you meditate, nothing happens in your mind. For example, no matter how much you try to understand emptiness by reading teachings and meditating, nothing happens in your mind. After years of meditation, nothing has happened in your mind. You should not be discouraged or depressed. When you are studying Dharma, you may find it very hard to understand. Remember that you are studying Dharma for the sake of other sentient beings, so you should not feel discouraged if you find it hard. Remembering the bodhisattva's brave attitude of voluntarily doing the most difficult work with an incredibly happy mind, you should not feel discouraged. You should feel happy. No matter how hard it is to study and understand Dharma, you should continue to try.

It is the same with retreat. Before you start retreat, there are no distractions; but when you start, the distractions begin. Everything becomes very difficult and nothing happens exactly as you wish. You have thousands of obstacles during the retreat: sickness, fleas biting and so on. On top of that, people bother you. During the breaktimes and the meditation sessions, people bother you. And if there are no people bothering you, the dogs are barking. At such times, instead of generating the thought of killing the dogs, you should generate patience!

I've just remembered a story from Solu Khumbu. I was at Lawudo one summer, building the first school for young monks on the mountain. One American student asked me if he could put the tent on top of the Lawudo Lama's cave. I said it was okay, though I think my mother and some others didn't like his putting the tent there. His tent was actually much more comfortable than any of the upstairs rooms of the main monastery and even the cave where I slept. His tent had electricity (no one else on the mountain had electricity) and a long table. He had solar batteries that he charged by putting them outside in the daytime. He said the batteries were the same as those used in rockets. This American was very good with machinery - I think he fixed the television belonging to His Holiness the Dalai Lama's mother when he was in Dharamsala. He was young, very tall and very intelligent.

Anyway, his pillow was made of some kind of nylon, similar to a sleeping bag, and this cloth made a lot of noise when it was rubbed. At night when he was sleeping on top of my cave, each time he moved his head on the pillow, he made a noise. There was one big dog a little below the cave and each time he moved his head on the pillow, the dog barked. The next day he told me that he got so angry that he had the thought to kill the dog.

The next day he moved the dog a little further down the mountain. My sister wanted to move the dog's kennel back up because it was a long way down a steep slope, and this made is very difficult for her to carry the dog's food down from the kitchen. Thinking that she might move the kennel back up, the American rubbed dog feces on the wooden planks of the kennel so that she wouldn't touch it. I can understand him - he was having an incredibly good sleep and the dog's barking was very distracting.

One day this same American experimented with datura, a lot of which grows on the mountains. The goats eat a lot of it and seem to find it very delicious, but I don't think the local people eat it. One day he cooked this datura in a pot, ate it and got sick. I didn't realize that he had eaten datura and nobody knew that he was sick. Only after he had recovered did he come to the cave and tell me how terribly sick he had been for one or two days - particularly one day. For one whole day he saw everything as worms: the entire ground was full of moving worms. And he heard the sound of people speaking.

Anyway, to return to the point: it is natural, due to our karma, to have many distractions when we are trying to do something good. It is natural to have many obstacles the one time in this life, this year, this month, these few days that you are trying to practice holy Dharma by doing retreat, by following the graduated path to enlightenment. As His Holiness explained from his own experience, it is extremely important to have a brave mind. Remember the brave bodhisattvas and be brave in your practice. In this way, especially with Mahayana thought transformation, problems and distractions cannot arise. And even if there are distractions from the side of your mind or body, or from the side of the place, people or animals around you, they cannot disturb your mind. Your mind overwhelms and controls any problems.

As long as you put it into practice, it is impossible for Mahayana thought transformation not to work. It is only a question of putting it into practice. As long as you put it into practice, it is impossible for it not to benefit your mind by cutting off problems. You have to put Mahayana thought transformation into action; simply knowing, speaking or writing about these teachings will not stop problems.

Continue to Next Section