Making Life Meaningful

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Various locations, 1999 (Archive #1055)

Lama Zopa Rinpoche gives us the answer to the perennial question of how to integrate Dharma into our daily lives and explains the purpose of life in general and the practice of guru devotion.

This title is out of stock, but you can find links here to ebook and print-on-demand versions.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching at Lake Arrowhead, California, in 1975. Photo by Carol Royce-Wilder.
Chapter Two: How to Make Each Moment of Our Lives Meaningful

It all depends on motivation

It is extremely important for us to know how best to lead our daily lives. This depends upon our knowing what is a spiritual action and what is not, the difference between what is Dharma and what is not Dharma. The benefits of having this knowledge are incredible, infinite.

Take, for example, four people reciting the same Buddhist prayer. The first recites it with the motivation of achieving enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. Because of this motivation, the recitation does become a cause of enlightenment, not only for the person doing the recitation but for all sentient beings.

The second person recites the prayer motivated by the desire for his or her own liberation from samsara. This action does not become a cause for the enlightenment of all sentient beings but for the everlasting happiness of liberation of that person alone. The third person recites the prayer with the motivation of receiving happiness in future lives. The result of this is neither enlightenment nor liberation, but simply happiness in a future life.

The fourth person, however, recites the prayer motivated by attachment clinging to the happiness of this life. Even though it is a Dharma prayer, a teaching of the Buddha, this person’s recitation is not a Dharma action, not a spiritual practice. It is a worldly dharma, the cause of suffering. Why? Because the motivation of attachment clinging to this life has the negative effect of disturbing the mind, of making it unpeaceful. Therefore, such motivation is labeled non-virtuous, as is the action itself.

They are non-virtuous because they result in suffering. Lama Atisha, the great Indian yogi and pandit who was invited to Tibet to reestablish the pure Dharma, was asked by his translator Dromtönpa, himself an emanation of Avalokiteshvara, “What are the results of actions done simply for this life?” Lama Atisha replied that such actions cause unfortunate, suffering rebirths in the three lower realms—the hell, hungry ghost or animal realms.

Although I am using the action of reciting a prayer as an example, what we have to realize is that the above applies to all our actions throughout the twenty-four hours of each day—walking, sitting, sleeping, eating, talking, working at our jobs—everything we do, even breathing. Every single action can become a cause of enlightenment, liberation or happiness in future lives, or rebirth in the suffering lower realms. It all depends on our motivation. For example, the simple action of drinking, swallowing just one mouthful of water, can become the cause of enlightenment, liberation or happiness in future lives, or rebirth in the suffering lower realms. If you drink with a Dharma mind, that action of drinking becomes Dharma, the cause of happiness. If you drink with a worldly, non-Dharma mind, with attachment, or even worse, anger, this action is non-virtuous, a cause for rebirth in the lower realms.

Therefore, you should think like this: “If I drink water with bodhicitta motivation, no matter how many mouthfuls I take or how many glasses I drink, every single one becomes a cause of enlightenment, a cause of happiness for all sentient beings. If, however, I drink this water with attachment clinging to this life, then each mouthful, each glass, becomes only the cause of suffering—the unbearable suffering of the lower realms and all the problems experienced by human beings as well.”

If I talk to you with the worldly mind of attachment clinging to this life, then for as many hours as I talk, every moment becomes the cause of unfortunate rebirths, the cause of suffering. If you drive a car with the motivation of attachment clinging to this life, then for as long as you drive, it all becomes negative karma. If, however, you drive with positive motivation, there is no doubt that it all becomes the cause of happiness.

If you sleep with attachment clinging to this life, the longer you sleep, the more negative karma, the more causes of lower rebirths, you create.

It’s the same when you write letters or books, read the newspaper or watch television—your motivation determines whether that action becomes Dharma, the cause of happiness, or negative karma, the cause of suffering. When you go shopping, again, your motivation determines whether it becomes the cause of enlightenment for other sentient beings, your own liberation or happiness in future lives, or the cause of suffering. If you shop with attachment clinging to this life, every time you buy something, it creates negative karma and is therefore not Dharma but the cause of suffering.

Similarly, when you work at your job, if the hours you spend working are motivated by bodhicitta, the determination to reach enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, every moment becomes the cause of other sentient beings’ happiness, but if you work with attachment clinging to this life, everything you do becomes the cause for you to suffer in the lower realms.

Internal education comes first

Whatever work you do, there are two things to learn. The first is how to do the actual work, how to do your job, which is what you learn in school and college. This is what most people in the world are educated to do. But that alone is not sufficient. As I have already mentioned, that is nowhere near enough to ensure that your actions serve as the unmistaken cause of happiness. Simply knowing how to do your job never solves your problems completely. Neglecting inner education, which teaches you the attitude with which you should perform your tasks and how to live your life, and focusing on outer education alone brings neither satisfaction nor fulfillment to your heart.

It is of the utmost importance that you understand how to use your mind correctly when you do the things you do. There is no other choice. Why? If, for example, you’re working as a secretary or cooking with Dharma motivation—perhaps for your own happiness beyond this life or the happiness of others—then whatever you do becomes the cause of happiness, a good rebirth in the next life, the body of the happy transmigrator. If, even better, you have bodhicitta motivation, the determination to reach enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, then the secretarial work, cooking or whatever else you do becomes the cause of all sentient beings’ enlightenment.

Thus you can see that internal work—how to use your mind, how to motivate your actions—is far more important than external work, because it is this that determines whether what you do becomes the cause of happiness or the cause of suffering. Instruction in this, how to use your mind correctly, is what’s missing from our schools’ curricula. How to live intelligently is not taught in schools, colleges or universities.

Because you get paid for doing your job, it appears to be the cause of happiness and you believe it to be so. In reality, no matter how perfectly you do your job, how skilled you are or how many billions of dollars you make, since you are doing it out of worldly motivation, attachment clinging to this life, the work you do can never become the cause of happiness but constantly becomes the cause of suffering instead.

Actually, your job is merely a condition for your receiving a pay check. The principal cause of you getting paid is the good karma you created previously through giving generously to others or making offering to the Three Jewels of Refuge, other holy objects and so forth. It is also only through previously created good karma that you got your job in the first place—the job that itself is simply a condition for your getting paid.

Thus you can see that what you lack is education in how karma works.

All over the world you will find people who have never been educated at school or college or ever done a day’s work in their lives but are extremely wealthy, possessing enough money to last several lifetimes. This shows that what is generally considered to be success—wealth and reputation—can be had without either outer education or what’s called a “profession” or even a regular job. It all depends on karma.

Actual practices for making each moment of our lives meaningful

Working with bodhicitta

As you leave home for work, reflect on the meaning of your life—your universal responsibility to bring happiness to all sentient beings. If possible, generate bodhicitta consciously, by thinking, “In order to bring happiness to all sentient beings, I must achieve enlightenment, therefore, as a service to all beings, I am going to do my job.”

If, for example, you’re a secretary, think as you do your job that you are fulfilling others’ wishes for happiness, that you are offering them happiness. If you are building a house, think that you are offering its future inhabitants, even the pets, the happiness of enjoying shelter, protection from the elements, heat and cold; helping them to have a long life. If you’re a hairdresser, think that you are offering your clients the happiness of having the beautiful hair they want.

Whatever work you do, you can think in the same way. If you’re a comedian, singer or musician, think that you are offering others the happiness of enjoying your performance, distracting them from sadness, depression or perhaps even anger. Also, it is not enough simply to motivate with bodhicitta at the beginning of an action. As time passes, you have to check again and again to make sure that you are still working for others and not for your ego. If you find that you are motivated by the desire for your own happiness, you have to transform this negative attitude into bodhicitta again by remembering the kindness of other sentient beings, thinking, “I have received all my past, present and future happiness from other sentient beings; there is nothing more precious than them. The only thing to do in life is to work for their happiness; to do anything else is meaningless, empty. Even Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, my holy objects of refuge and prayer, come from sentient beings—how could anything be kinder or more precious than others?” Thus, every hour that you work with this attitude—feeling that others are extremely precious and wanting to benefit them in the highest way—becomes Dharma, the true cause of happiness, the cause of enlightenment.

Also, from time to time, rejoice. Fill your heart with happiness by thinking, “How fortunate I am that I can serve others completely, that I can offer them much happiness, that they can use me for their happiness.”

Taking care of your child with bodhicitta

If you have clinging attachment for your child, everything you do to take care of him or her becomes the cause of samsara. Instead, think, “I am taking care of somebody who is the source of all my past, present and future happiness, all comfort and enjoyment, including the supreme happiness of enlightenment. Therefore, this child is a very precious person in my life, one of the numberless kind mother sentient beings. Moreover, this being’s mind is obscured, under the control of delusion and karma and experiencing samsaric suffering, and completely dependent upon my help. Therefore, I am responsible to take care. Just as my own temporal and ultimate happiness depend on me, so do my child’s.” This is the attitude with which you should take care of your children. From time to time, rejoice: “How wonderful it is. The purpose of my life is to serve all sentient beings, and here I have an opportunity to serve at least one of them completely. I am so fortunate that my body, speech and mind can be useful in bringing happiness to at least one sentient being.”

This is how to make taking care of your children into a sincere Dharma practice. This way, even if you don’t have time to do formal practice or retreat, you will never feel regret that you have completely wasted your life.

Otherwise, your reason for having children is the same as that for keeping a pet—your own comfort. The ordinary attitude is selfish pursuit of enjoyment for yourself alone, obsessively thinking, “This is my child; this child is mine,” as if your children existed simply for your own use. You are motivated by clinging to the object and cherishing your I.

The most important education that you can give children is in ethics and the development of a good heart. Without this, they will have suffering lives, becoming, for example, unkind, violent, and disobedient, not only to others but also to the kind parents who provided them with a precious human body and took care of them in many other ways. Such children will have neither love nor compassion for others, and may even regard their parents as their worst enemy. Additionally, they can be easily influenced by wrong views and taught that these views are reality, for example, that their parents are responsible for all their problems. As a result, they can grow up hating their parents and regarding them as enemies. Because of their uncontrolled minds, such children’s lives may fill with crime, relationship problems and depression, and instead of finding peace, satisfaction and fulfillment, they just feel that their lives are utterly without meaning.

The best way to be healthy and to avoid all sickness, even AIDS, is to have a good heart and pure ethics. This is also the best way to protect your life and live long. It enables sons and daughters to live in harmony with the rest of their family, especially their parents, and to be kind, loving and compassionate to all other people as well. At the very least, it reduces the suffering of relationships. Actually, whatever torture people experience is not inflicted by somebody else. It is caused by the person’s own concepts of hatred, jealousy, dissatisfied desire and, especially, ignorance, the foundation of it all.

Ethics and a good heart make life much simpler, less complicated. If children are educated in this way, their lives will be peaceful, their hearts will be fulfilled and their deaths will be happy and controlled. Ethics prevent you from harming others, while a good heart makes you benefit them.

It is the responsibility of teachers and parents to give children this most important education of all. Moreover, parents and teachers themselves have to serve as both example and inspiration. Of course, they are limited in what they can do for a child by that child’s individual karma. Therefore, everything that they wish for that child may not happen; the children themselves also have to make an effort. Nevertheless, parents and teachers are extremely important influences, and there is responsibility on both sides. If children grow up with ethics and a good heart, they will not give harm to others, and as a result, others will love, support and not harm them.

Therefore, the way in which parents and teachers educate and influence children determines how much they harm or bring happiness to many other living beings. Your child can destroy the world or bring it peace and joy. And, of course, the way you bring up your children influences how they bring up their own.

Walking with bodhicitta

If you walk with bodhicitta, every step becomes the cause of the highest happiness, peerless enlightenment, for all sentient beings. Walk with strong awareness, thinking, “Each sentient being, each person, each insect, is the source of all my past, present and future happiness.” This is called remembering sentient beings’ “extensive” kindness. Reflecting on the four ways that all sentient beings have been kind to you as mother—giving you your precious human body, protecting you from harm, providing you with enjoyments and making sure that you receive a good education—is called awareness of their “numberless” kindness. As you walk with this awareness, whenever you see another sentient being, try to feel that being’s kindness in particular. Whenever you practice these recollections, the conclusion that you should reach is the wish to free them from suffering and bring them all happiness; the wish to lead them all to enlightenment.

From the moment you leave home, practice mindfulness, keeping bodhicitta constantly in mind by thinking continuously, “The purpose of my life is to free all sentient beings from suffering and bring them happiness.” Think like this with everybody you see—on the road, in shops, restaurants and cars, anybody you pass on foot and animals and insects everywhere. Walking back, again maintain constant awareness of bodhicitta until you get home.

This is the secret to enjoying life, to living a happy life in a meaningful way without allowing your ego to cheat you.

Walking with emptiness

You can also meditate on emptiness while you walk. This prevents your walking from becoming the cause of samsaric suffering in general and the unimaginable suffering of the three lower realms in particular. Instead, every step becomes a cure for the entire round of samsaric suffering and an antidote to the poisonous root of all delusions, ignorance—not perceiving that the I is empty from its own side. Meditating like this transforms your walking into the cause of liberation, freedom from samsara.

As you walk, ask yourself, “Why do I say, ‘I’m walking’?” Analyze this. The only reason you can find for saying “I am walking” is the fact that your aggregate of body is performing the action called walking, that’s all. Because your skandha of form is performing the action of walking, your mind comes up with the label “I am walking.” Inside your body there appears to you an I that seems to exist from its own side. That’s what you say is walking, but it’s a complete hallucination; it doesn’t exist at all. The I that you say is walking is merely imputed by your own mind. What appears to you and what you believe—a real, truly existent I that is not merely labeled by the mind—is a complete hallucination. It doesn’t exist; it is empty.

You can apply this analysis to all other phenomena—roads, houses, trees, whatever. Just like the action of walking, they too are all merely labeled by your mind. What appears to be real, truly out there, is a hallucination. That is the object to be refuted.

Therefore, as you walk, be aware that in the sense that they all appear from their own side, I, action and object are all hallucinations. Then, no matter how long you walk, as long as you walk mindfully, it all becomes lam-rim, it all becomes a remedy to ignorance, a sword to cut the root of samsara, the root of all suffering.

Walking as if in a dream

Another simple way of meditating while you walk is to question yourself, “Does my I appear to be merely labeled or not?” It does not appear to be. “Does my action of walking appear to be merely labeled? Do the road, sky, cars, people, cats, dogs and ice-cream all appear to be merely labeled? Does whatever I see appear to be merely labeled by my mind or not?” No, all these things do not appear to you like that at all. Therefore, it is all like a dream, a hallucination. You are walking as if in a dream; the road, sky, cars, people and trees, your walking itself, are like a dream. (Even though I am saying this correctly, “like a dream,” it is more effective for our minds to say that it “is a dream; I’m dreaming.”) Why meditate like this? When you practice mindfulness in this way, there is no clinging, no grasping, because you understand that everything is a hallucination, a dream, unreal. You realize that in fact, all those things that appear as something real coming from out there—a real I from out there, a real road from out there, a real sky from out there, real walking, real cars, real people, real trees, real enemies, real friends—are merely imputed by the mind. When you understand this, attachment and anger are less likely to arise. Thus, this practice brings peace to your mind immediately; your mind becomes detached and free, patient and without anger. When you walk with the mindfulness that everything is a dream, you understand in your heart that everything is not real, does not exist. If you relate this understanding to the I, action and object, and so forth, that appear from there, you can see that they are empty. When you meditate that everything is like a dream, no matter what you see—the various shapes of people’s bodies or the billions of other phenomena that you designate as ugly or beautiful—you know there is nothing to cling to, nothing to get angry at, because there is nothing to hold on to; in your heart you know that they don’t exist. Seeing things in this way helps you to let go.

Therefore, just like the analytical meditation on emptiness while you walk, all the walking you do while meditating on everything as a dream also becomes a method to cut the root of samsara, a remedy to the entire cycle of samsaric suffering, including problems in your relationships, being treated badly by others and so forth. Walking with the mindfulness that everything is a dream eradicates delusion and karma, the fundamental cause of samsara, the main cause of suffering.

This is how to make walking the cause of ultimate happiness, complete liberation from samsara and its cause.

Walking with dependent arising

A fourth way of meditating while walking is to walk with mindfulness of dependent arising. As I mentioned before, “I am walking because the aggregates are walking—my mind has simply fabricated the label, ‘I am walking”’—in other words, the merely labeled I is merely labeled walking and merely labeled seeing the merely labeled sky, the merely labeled trees, the merely labeled people, the merely labeled beautiful man, the merely labeled beautiful woman, the merely labeled ugly buildings, the merely labeled cars, the merely labeled houses and so forth. This is walking with mindfulness of subtle dependent arising.

Walking with impermanence

You can also walk with meditation on impermanence and death. With every step you take, think how your life is running out, getting shorter and shorter. The faster you walk, the more aware of how quickly your life is finishing you become. Each step is bringing you closer to death and, if you fail to purify your negative karma, to the immeasurable suffering of the lower realms. (Similarly, when you’re driving your car, feel like a condemned person being led to the gallows, each moment bringing you closer to your execution.)

This is how to practice the mindfulness of life finishing quickly, bringing you ever closer to death and the lower realms. This meditation helps you deal with whatever problems you are facing right now—relationship problems, emotional problems, all your problems. Reflecting on impermanence and death puts an immediate end to desire, jealousy and anger. It quickly brings incredible peace to your mind and makes you more determined than ever to practice Dharma and not to waste your life. It encourages and inspires you to make everything you do a Dharma action. It is a very powerful meditation.

Eating with bodhicitta

Why should you offer your food and drink before you consume it? It’s not because the buddhas are hungry. If you have taken refuge, of course, you have a commitment to offer all your food and drink, however, every time you offer your food and drink to the Guru Triple Gem, you create many causes of enlightenment.

You are creating merit not only because you are making offerings to the Buddha. You are also making offerings to the Dharma and the Sangha, so your offering is that much more powerful.

Furthermore, since you are making offerings to the Guru, you are creating the most extensive merit of all.

This practice comes from Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s compassion. By making it a refuge precept to offer all your food to the Triple Gem, Lord Buddha is making you create countless causes for inconceivable happiness every day, ensuring that you attain the peerless happiness of enlightenment—the complete eradication of all mistakes of mind and the achievement of all realizations—as soon as possible.

There is also another very important reason for offering all your food and drink to the Guru Triple Gem. The comfort and enjoyment you get from eating and drinking—your very life and health, your perfect human rebirth, your long life—all the benefits you experience every day, hour, minute and second, come from the kindness of other sentient beings, from even their mere existence; from their having endured unbearable suffering through being killed, tortured and harmed in other ways; from other people creating so much negative karma in growing food for you. This is what the food and drink you enjoy costs other sentient beings.

For example, there are visible and invisible sentient beings in the water you use for cooking and drinking. When the water is boiled, they all suffer. Think about the wheat you use for cakes, noodles or bread or the rice on which you base so many meals. In the West, the fields are plowed by machine, killing many small creatures such as insects, worms and mice. In the East, oxen are used to pull the plows, so not only do the tiny creatures suffer as before, but also these beasts of burden suffer greatly by having to work hard for long hours under the blazing sun. If land has to be cleared, the fires and bulldozing kill and injure many more sentient beings. Not only do farmers give sentient beings much harm and create much negative karma on our behalf, but they themselves also have to work long, hard hours preparing the fields, looking after the crops, harvesting the grain and getting it ready for sale.

Think how much suffering goes into each grain of rice you eat. Then think about the previous grain from which it came and the beginningless continuity of all those grains of rice. By thinking back carefully on the beginningless continuity of every grain of rice you eat, you can get a deep feeling for just how many sentient beings have suffered, created negative karma and been killed in order that you can eat. As a result, you’ll no longer be able to bear eating food simply for your own benefit, happiness or enjoyment.

It’s the same with the vegetables and salad that you eat. Countless sentient beings have suffered by being harmed or killed in the ground or by having to harm or kill others by tilling the soil, poisoning worms and insects and so forth.

If you understand all this, there’s no way you’ll be able to eat simply for your own selfish enjoyment. You won’t be able to stand doing that. You’ll feel that you must make the food and drink you consume beneficial for others, especially those who have suffered so much in bringing it to you.

Therefore, first offer your food and drink to the Guru Triple Gem, and then dedicate the merits of this offering to those sentient beings who suffered so much on your behalf, as mentioned in the prayer below. By transforming each instance of eating and drinking into Dharma in this way, you create inconceivable merit, which becomes not only the cause of your own enlightenment, but by the way also brings you liberation from samsara, good rebirths and happiness in future lives, and, in the absence of clinging, happiness in this life too. And when you dedicate the merits of your offering to others, you bring all these different levels of happiness to all other sentient beings as well.

Food offering meditation 15

Generate bodhicitta motivation by thinking, “The purpose of my life is to free all sentient beings from suffering and lead them to happiness, especially the peerless happiness of full enlightenment. This universal responsibility is mine alone. In order to succeed in this, I must first attain full enlightenment myself. Therefore, I am going to practice the yoga of offering food and drink to the Guru Triple Gem.”

Then reflect on the emptiness of yourself, the food, the action of offering, the merit field and the action of eating. Visualize first that the food you are offering becomes a vast ocean of nectar and the bowl it’s in becomes a huge jeweled container. Now, multiply this and visualize numberless huge, jeweled containers filling all of space. Then recite the blessing mantra, which causes each buddha to receive numberless offerings:


Then make the following offering prayers:

The guru is Buddha, the guru is Dharma,
The guru is Sangha also.
The guru is the creator of all (happiness).
To all gurus, I make this offering.

May we and those around us, in all future lives,
Never be separated from the Three Jewels,
Continuously make offerings to the Three Jewels,
And receive the inspiration of the Three Jewels.

The Guru Puja and other tantric practices explain that by making an offering to even one “pore” of the guru, which means, for example, one of the guru’s pets, you accumulate more merit than you would by making that offering to all the buddhas of the past, present and future and the buddhas of the ten directions.

Therefore, when it comes to creating extensive merit, there is no more powerful merit field than your virtuous friend. That’s why Nagarjuna said, “Abandon all other offerings. Make offerings to only your guru. By pleasing him you will attain sublime wisdom, the state of omniscience.”

If you can, elaborate on the method above by making offerings to the Triple Gem and all holy objects—statues, stupas, scriptures and so forth—in the ten directions, seeing them all as manifestations of your guru’s holy mind, your offering generating infinite bliss in his holy mind.

Make charity of oceans of nectar to all sentient beings, fully satisfying each and every one. Dedicate the merit of this charity to their liberation and enlightenment.


By generating bodhicitta, making offerings to your virtuous friend and the holy objects of the ten directions and making charity to all sentient beings, you have created infinite merit. Included in all sentient beings are the worms inside your body. Dedicate this infinite merit by praying, “Through the connection I have established by making charity to all 21,000 microscopic worms inside my body, may they be reborn human in their very next life and may I be able to guide them to enlightenment by showing them the Dharma in all future lives.

“Because of these merits, may I, my entire family, all Dharma students and all other sentient beings in all future lifetimes never be separated from the Triple Gem, always make offerings to the Triple Gem, and receive the blessings of the Triple Gem. May I, the other students and all other sentient beings, especially the benefactors of this food and all those who worked, suffered and died in bringing it to me, quickly realize the entire Dharma path, from guru devotion up to enlightenment without even a second’s delay.

“Because of the past, present and future merit created by myself, the buddhas and bodhisattvas and all other sentient beings, which is empty from its own side, may the I, which is empty from its own side, attain Guru Shakyamuni’s enlightenment, which is empty from its own side, and lead all sentient beings, who are empty from their own side, to that enlightened state, which is empty from its own side, as quickly as possible, by myself alone.”

Further explanation of this practice

Whether or not you know any offering prayers, the most important meditation you can do is that on the emptiness of yourself, the food and the action of eating. Also, visualize that you are not offering ordinary food but a vast ocean of nectar, which pleases all the buddhas. Offer it to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and all the holy objects of the ten directions—statues, stupas, scriptures and so forth. If you also visualize that these holy objects are manifestations of your root guru, because of the enormous power of the object, the guru with whom you’ve established a Dharma relationship, you accumulate the greatest possible merit. Then you make charity of the food to all sentient beings, visualizing that they all become enlightened as a result.

To do this practice, you can visualize the Guru Puja merit field and all the virtuous friends with whom you have a connection, seeing them all as emanations of your root guru. Then you make the offering. This is the elaborate meditation; you can also do an abbreviated one.

It is said in the teachings that during your lifetime, 21,000 tiny worms live in your body. Pray, “Through this connection, I shall teach them Dharma in all future lives and lead them to enlightenment.”

By meditating like this you create infinite merit in five different ways: by generating bodhicitta motivation; by making offerings to your gurus; by making offerings to the Triple Gem; by making offerings to all the other holy objects; and by making offerings to all sentient beings. The more merit you accumulate, the closer you get to enlightenment. The closer you get to enlightenment, the closer you get to bringing all sentient beings to enlightenment.

Finally, dedicate the merit to be able to actualize the entire lam-rim in your own mind and in the minds of all other sentient beings, especially in the minds of your family members and any people who are sick or dying that you specifically want to remember in your prayers. Seal your dedication to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings by meditating on emptiness, as above. Then, eat as mindfully as possible.

If you have received a Highest Yoga Tantra initiation, while making the offering, stabilize your concentration of yourself as the deity, maintaining constant awareness that wherever the deity is, there too is your guru—you, the deity and your guru are one. With each mouthful of food or drink, remain mindful that you are offering it to your guru-deity. If you maintain the clear appearance of your body in the aspect of the holy body of the deity, you are practicing what is known in tantra as pure appearance and pure divine pride, and each mouthful becomes a tsog offering. Since you are making this offering to your guru, you accumulate the greatest possible merit. Finally, since this meditation is a part of your samaya to visualize yourself as the deity, you are fulfilling your commitment to do so.

If you have not received a great initiation, visualize in your heart Guru Shakyamuni Buddha or a deity with whom you feel a close connection or to whom you pray, such as Tara or Chenrezig. If, while making the offering, you concentrate on the Buddha or the deity at your heart as inseparably one with your guru, your practice becomes a form of guru yoga, like that in the Guru Puja or the Six Session Yoga or other guru yoga practices that you might have heard of.

Shopping with bodhicitta

When you go shopping, if you buy something for someone else, think sincerely of the other person’s happiness and offer the gift without attachment clinging to your own happiness. If you are buying something for your own use, think, “I’m the servant of all sentient beings. My job is to free them from all suffering and lead them to enlightenment. Therefore, even though I am using this object, ultimately, it is for them.” This is the way to use the things you buy—with the thought that you are the servant of others and that whatever you enjoy is ultimately for them.

If you shop with bodhicitta, not only do you avoid creating negative karma, but you also create the cause of supreme enlightenment for yourself and all sentient beings. If you shop with renunciation, you create the cause of happiness. If you shop with meditation on emptiness, by cutting the root of ignorance, you create the cause of liberation from samsara. Shopping with bodhicitta is best, because it brings you to enlightenment.

Partying with bodhicitta

When you give a party, think, “I am responsible for the happiness of all sentient beings. The purpose of my life is to free all sentient beings from suffering and lead them to all happiness, especially the peerless happiness of full enlightenment. This is my universal responsibility. To succeed in this I must first reach enlightenment myself; therefore I am going to do the Dharma practice of offering food and drink to others.”

If you throw a party for only your own happiness, with ego and attachment, the evil thought of the eight worldly dharmas, clinging to the comfort of this life, your motivation is completely negative and the entire event becomes completely non-virtuous. No matter how many thousands of guests you entertain, all you do is create negative karma, countless causes for rebirth in the lower realms. If, however, your motivation for having a party and offering food and drink to others is a Dharma motivation from one of the three levels of virtue, it all becomes the cause of happiness.

Not only when you’re giving a party, but even when you offer food and drink to others in the course of normal daily life, if you visualize them as manifestations of your guru and think that you are making an offering to him, you accumulate the most extensive merit. If you visualize the people to whom you are offering the food and drink as the deity to whom you pray, you are practicing tantra and creating unbelievable merit, much more than you would with simple charity. In this way, even if you give a person something quite small, like a glass of water or a piece of candy, you have made an incredibly successful business transaction, the result of which is unceasing happiness. Furthermore, if you and the person to whom you are giving the water or candy are both disciples of the same guru and you remember him at that time, the merit you create is greater than that of making offerings to the numberless buddhas of the three times and the ten directions. Thus, everything becomes the cause of enlightenment; you have made the greatest possible profit out of that. No matter how little money you spent, the end result is not only enlightenment and, of course, all the other happinesses that lead up to it, but also you have avoided creating negative karma, the cause of samsara and the lower realms.

Going to the toilet with bodhicitta

Even going to the toilet can be made useful for yourself and others. Visualize above the crown of your head your guru and Vajrasattva, the powerful deity of purification, as one. Visualize all sentient beings at your heart. From Vajrasattva, nectar rushes down through the crown of your head to the sentient beings at your heart, purifying them of all their diseases, negative karma, obscurations and spirit harm. Recite either the short or the long Vajrasattva mantras. While doing so, visualize that whatever you excrete is actually all the sentient beings’ diseases, in the form of pus and blood; negative karma and obscurations, in the form of filthy black liquid; and spirit harm, in the form of snakes, frogs and the like.

You can also visualize the opening of the toilet as the mouth of the Lord of Death, and as all the negativity enters, it turns into nectar. When you have finished, imagine that the Lord of Death’s mouth closes and is sealed by a vajra, and you and all other sentient beings are purified. This meditation also helps you enjoy a long and healthy life. Finally, the Lord of Death sinks hundreds of feet deep into the ground, from where it is impossible to return.

Lama Yeshe once observed that in New York City, the best place to retreat is in the toilet! He might have said this because he used to give so much of his time to others—talking with people, spending time with their families and children—that perhaps it was only when he went to the bathroom that he found time to do his meditation practices.

If you do this toilet yoga, you get to do your Vajrasattva practice several times a day. This can only help you, as in this way, any negative karma that you have created and any broken precepts or damaged commitments get purified soon, before they’ve had much time to multiply. Going to the toilet offers you this incredible opportunity.

Short Vajrasattva mantra


Long Vajrasattva mantra


The meaning of the mantra: You, Vajrasattva, have generated the holy mind [bodhicitta] according to your pledge [samaya]. Your holy mind is enriched with the simultaneous holy actions of releasing transmigratory beings from samsara [the circling, suffering aggregates]. Whatever happens in my life—happiness or suffering, good or bad—with a pleased, holy mind, never give up but please guide me. Please stabilize all happiness, including the happiness of the upper realms, actualize all actions and sublime and common realizations, and please make the glory of the five wisdoms abide in my heart.

Sleeping with bodhicitta

There are many different kinds of meditation you can do before going to sleep. There are the profound meditations of tantra, but generally, you can generate the motivation of bodhicitta by thinking, “The purpose of my life is to free all sentient beings from suffering and lead them to happiness, especially the peerless happiness of enlightenment. I have this universal responsibility. To succeed in this, I must first attain enlightenment myself, therefore, I am going to practice the yoga of sleeping.” With this bodhicitta motivation, go to sleep.

Another common meditation is to visualize your guru on your pillow, and when you lie down, your head rests in his lap. Then, in the presence of your guru, who with devotion you visualize as one with the buddha, generate compassion for all sentient beings and go to sleep. If you do this, your entire night’s sleep will be virtuous, the cause of happiness. Thus, you can go to bed with devotion to your guru, with devotion to the buddha and with compassion for all sentient beings by reflecting on their suffering.

You can also think that as you go to sleep you are in the pure land of the deity you practice. This leaves positive imprints on your mind and you create the karma to be reborn in that pure land when you die.

You can also go to sleep with the thought of renunciation, reflecting on the suffering nature of samsara, impermanence and death and so forth, or by meditating on emptiness or dependent arising, looking at everything as a dream or an illusion, as merely labeled by the mind. If you go to bed mindful that everything that appears to you as not merely labeled by the mind is a dream, a hallucination, it can help you recognize your dreams as dreams and to practice virtue while you are dreaming. No matter which of these techniques you practice, your sleep becomes Dharma, virtue.

In tantra, there are two sleeping yogas: that of conventional truth and that of absolute truth. If you have received a great initiation, you can learn the details of these practices from the commentaries on the practice of that deity.

In the lam-rim there’s some advice on how to get up early in the morning without being overwhelmed by sleep. Before getting into bed the night before, wash your feet while thinking of light. Try it; it works.

As I mentioned above, you can also go to sleep visualizing whichever pure land in which you’d like to be reborn. This can also help should you die suddenly. If you have trained your mind in this practice and generated the strong wish to be reborn in that pure land, during the death process you may be able to direct your consciousness to be reborn there.

Experiencing illness and death with bodhicitta

The very heart of Dharma practice, the best of all, the ultimate thought transformation, the supreme psychology, is to experience your problems on behalf of others.

Perhaps you have AIDS or cancer. Maybe you’re having problems in your relationship or suffering from depression. Possibly you’re dying. Whatever trouble you’re experiencing, think, “I’m experiencing this problem on behalf of all sentient beings, to bring them happiness. I am taking on the AIDS [or cancer, relationship problems, depression, whatever] of all those who are suffering from AIDS at the moment and for all those who have the karma to get it. I take it all upon myself. I am experiencing this disease on behalf of all sentient beings who either have it or will get it.” No matter what has happened to you—asthma, depression, business failure, being raped—you can dedicate it in the same way.

Throughout the day, as soon as the thought “I have AIDS” arises, immediately think, “I am experiencing this for the sake of all sentient beings.”

When you are dying, think, “I am experiencing death for the numberless sentient beings who are also experiencing the suffering of dying at this very moment. I take it all upon myself. May they be free from the suffering of death and receive ultimate happiness right now.” Try to die with this thought.

Each time you think this way, you purify unbelievable eons of negative karma and create merit as limitless as the sky. Each time you practice taking the suffering of others upon yourself, you come much closer to enlightenment, which means you come much closer to bringing all sentient beings to enlightenment. There is no more beneficial way to die than to die with this bodhicitta thought.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama calls people who can die like this completely self-supporting, because through familiarity with the various death meditations, at the most critical time of their lives, death, they can guide themselves skillfully to the next life.

If twenty-four hours a day, everything you do is motivated by bodhicitta, you accumulate infinite merit. Moreover, every single action becomes a cause for not only your own enlightenment but also the happiness of every other sentient being. This is the way to make your life both as meaningful and as rich as possible.


15. For an extensive food offering practice see The Yoga of Offering Food. [Return to text]