1. Because you have received a perfect human rebirth
You have received an extremely rare, precious human body just this once. Not only that—you have received a perfect human rebirth, which is rarer still. This perfect human rebirth gives you the incredible opportunity to experience happiness in your present and future lives—such as rebirth in a pure land where you can become enlightened very quickly—or to again find a perfect human rebirth, meet a perfectly qualified guru, receive Mahayana teachings, train your mind on the path and achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings.
By doing these practices you create the merit to enjoy a long life, find happiness, get whatever you need now and in future lives, eradicate all mistaken states of mind, gain all realizations and attain the ultimate happiness of liberation from samsara and full enlightenment. You also bring happiness into this and the future lives of numberless other sentient beings, causing them, too, to gain the ultimate happiness of liberation from samsara and full enlightenment.
All this comes about because you now have this perfect human rebirth, which is more precious than all the wealth in the world, even a wish-granting jewel. The wealth of the god realm is nothing compared to the value of this precious human body. And you can create the cause of all these incredible results every second of your life; every moment you don’t practice Dharma is irrevocably lost along with the profound benefits you would otherwise have gained. This is like losing limitless skies of billions of dollars, diamonds and even wish-fulfilling jewels. Yet even were all this inconceivably vast wealth to be lost, it would be nothing compared to the loss of wasting this most precious human body. Wasting even one second is a great loss.
2. Because worldly attainments alone do not bring suffering to a complete end
We have achieved all worldly qualities and psychic powers numberless times in previous lives but are still not free from the suffering of samsara, because worldly attainments do not eradicate the cause of suffering, nor have we gained the realizations of the lam-rim, the graduated path to enlightenment. To escape from suffering we have to actualize the four noble truths and develop renunciation of true suffering by recognizing what suffering actually is. Then constantly, day and night, we will seek liberation from samsara, realizing that its perfections are, in fact, in the nature of suffering, finding not even a second’s attraction to ordinary, worldly happiness.
Only the five paths to liberation—the paths of accumulation, preparation, seeing, meditation and no more learning—can bring all the defilements to an end, destroy all distracted thoughts and obstacles and their seeds, and make it impossible to ever be reborn again or experience suffering, sickness, relationship problems and death. Until we realize the four noble truths and complete these five paths, we will have to suffer in the beginningless samsara without end.
3. Because the purpose of life is to benefit others
The greatest way in which we can benefit sentient beings is to free them from suffering and lead them to enlightenment. In order to do that we first need to achieve enlightenment ourselves. That means actualizing the Mahayana path, and that means practicing the lam-rim. Thus the purpose of practicing the lam-rim is as vast as the limitless sky and we should dedicate our lives to actualizing the stages of the path to enlightenment. Ultimately this is the best way of benefiting sentient beings—liberating them from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bringing them to the peerless happiness of full enlightenment.
4. Because these practices benefit the practitioner
The purpose of the preliminary practices and meditations on the lam-rim and the reason I suggest doing so many of them is for you to fulfill your own purpose—to eradicate all your own defilements and mistaken minds and gain all the realizations of the path—and be able to work perfectly for the benefit of numberless sentient beings so that they, too, can actualize the path and achieve enlightenment. In other words, to fulfill your own purpose and that of others you need to purify all your obstacles, negative karma and defilements and create all the necessary conditions, that is, complete the accumulation of merit. You also need to receive blessings from your guru and for that you need to practice guru yoga. So that’s why I give all these practices—for you to purify your mind and accumulate merit.
If you do the practices as advised will not waste your life and, little by little, over time, doing some every day, they will gradually all get done. Practicing like this every day, you will collect skies of merit and purify many eons of negative karma, especially if you do your practices with bodhicitta.
5. Because life is short
Life is very short. This most precious human rebirth is very short, much shorter than a thousand years or even hundreds of years; and it’s constantly getting shorter. Furthermore, death can arrive at any time—any day, any hour, any minute, any second. Therefore you must do your best to engage in beneficial actions all the time, in other words, practice Dharma: meditate on the path that leads to bodhicitta and then live with bodhicitta, the cause of enlightenment; learn about and meditate on emptiness in order to develop the wisdom that directly eradicates all your defilements; and while living your daily life in all these meditations, you need to abide in correct guru devotion, a proper relationship with your virtuous friend. This is the essence of Dharma practice.
6. Because it’s hard to meet the right teacher
It is difficult to meet the right lama. Even if you do meet a qualified lama, he may not speak English. Then you have to find a reliable translator and that can be quite difficult too.
With respect to my own students, I don’t get to meet many of you very often to discuss the practices you’re doing, so that’s why I give them all to you now. In this way you’ll know what to focus on and will have your practices laid out for some years to come. Thus you’ll be able to make your life most meaningful and create the cause of all happiness, from now up to enlightenment.
I hope I haven’t shocked you with all this explanation. Your practice is the most important thing in your life and the most important thing you can do for others, who are numberless. I am very happy that you asked for practice. Please enjoy your life with bodhicitta.
Dictated by Lama Zopa Rinpoche to Vens. Tsenla, Brian and Holly in 1999, with extensive additions dictated to Holly in 2010 and 2011. Edited by Nicholas Ribush, 2005 and 2011.
For further information on how to do the preliminary practices and to obtain commentaries on them please contact your local FPMT center or the FPMT International Office. See the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive for a large collection of teachings by Lama Yeshe, Lama Zopa Rinpoche and many other great lamas.
Gyatso, Geshe Jampa. Everlasting Rain of Nectar. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1996.
Pabongka Rinpoche. Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand. Translated by Michael Richards. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991.
Rabten, Geshe. The Essential Nectar. Translated and edited by Martin Willson. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1992.
Tsongkhapa, Lama Je. The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, Volumes 1, 2 & 3. Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 2000–04.
Zopa Rinpoche, Lama Thubten. Teachings from the Mani Retreat. Boston: Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive, 2001.