How the Maitreya Project Will Benefit Others

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Katoomba, Australia (Archive #722)

Lama Zopa Rinpoche discusses the direct and indirect benefits for all sentient beings that will result from the construction of a large Maitreya statue. This talk was given in Katoomba, Australia, in September 1991. Interview and transcript by Owen Cole. First edit by Ven. Ailsa Cameron; second edit by Sandra Smith.

Read more advice about the Maitreya Project in Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Online Advice Book. See also FPMT's Maitreya Project webpage, for the latest news and links.

 Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Chenrezig Institute, Australia, 1991.

We generally are concerned about the many people starving on the earth—I understand that. Of course, if we have the capacity, we should help both [the Maitreya Project and the starving people]. However, my point is that merely giving food to starving people will not change their attitude; it will not transform their mind into Dharma. It will not help them to abandon ignorance, anger and attachment, and develop a good heart, bodhicitta and so forth, so that all their actions can then become the cause of happiness—temporal happiness and success as well as the higher happiness of liberation and full enlightenment.

Even if we gave a million dollars to each of these starving people, it would probably cause them more problems in a different way. A poor person has problems, but so also does a wealthy person. Wealth can cause a lot of problems—for example, causing more harm to others due to increased material power. We can see that wealth has many shortcomings.

In reality simply giving money or food doesn't solve the problems of starving people, because that alone doesn't change their mind or their actions, and doesn't stop them creating negative karma again. As their mind continuously follows ignorance, anger and attachment, they continuously create the cause of poverty. And as they do not attempt to meet Dharma, they have no opportunity to practice virtue.

Problems in life are caused by the ten non-virtuous actions. Lam-rim teachings explain that poverty, drought and so forth are the possessed, or environmental, result of stealing. In places where there has been a lot of stealing, cheating, lying and so forth, we usually hear that there is history of much drought and crop failures. Being in a place where medicine has no potency and food has little protein (or the food can't be digested and becomes the cause of disease) are the possessed result of killing. Being in a dangerous place where there are many threats to the life from harmful people and insects, such as mosquitoes and so forth, as well as many contagious diseases, is the possessed result of ill will.

Also, the possessed result of covetousness is a scarcity of enjoyments; for example, the yield from crops becomes less and less. Not finding satisfaction, even though one has wealth, is experiencing the result similar to the cause of covetousness. The possessed result of heresy is that precious substances such as gold, diamonds, oil and so forth can no longer be found. The inability to find a place to live is also the possessed result of heresy, as is the inability to find guidance or refuge.

Being born in a place such as a poor African country is the result of the ten non-virtuous actions. This is very clear. If we look at the subject of karma in the sutras and condensed lam-rim teachings, we can see very clearly the cause of world problems. The real solution to problems has to come from the side of the individual. In order to stop the cause of problems, each person has to change their own mind, which means their attitude, and their own actions. With a positive mind and positive actions, they will then achieve success.

By reading and meditating on karma as explained by the Buddha, you can see that, by abandoning the ten non-virtuous actions and living in the vows of abstaining from each of them, you achieve all the four results. With each complete virtuous action you achieve four results of happiness. For example, one of the happy results of living in morality is that you achieve rebirth in the body of a happy migratory being, as a deva or human. There are different fortunate results according to the different virtuous actions. For example, with the morality of abstaining from killing, you experience the result similar to the cause when, born as a human being, you have a long, healthy life. Also, you again have the opportunity to live in morality, and that again becomes the cause for the four fortunate results in future lives—in many hundreds of thousands of future lives.

Why do you experience the result in so many lifetimes? Because karma is expandable, much more so than ordinary phenomena. One tiny seed can grow into a huge tree with many branches, leaves, flowers and fruit, but karma is much more expandable than this. The inner evolution of good results from one good karma is much more extensive than any external example. And the same applied to non-virtues.

Teachings on the benefits of eight Mahayana precepts explain that in the past Dharma kings made the rule that, on full moon and special days, everyone in their country should take these precepts. When people observed this rule, because of the unbelievable merit accumulated through the eight Mahayana precepts, the good karma was increased and this completely changed the country's economy. Rain came at the right time, when the crops needed it; the crops grew well, with increased protein, and the economy flourished.

In Tibet, for example, there are many stories. Some years back, there was a lot of killing and people didn't have the freedom to practice Dharma, to accumulate virtue, to make offerings to the Triple Gem, to recite mantras and do the practices. Previously, they used to go to holy places to make offerings and so forth, and they would do the practices at their own houses.

They had to destroy everything; they had to destroy all the holy objects in their houses and they didn't have any holy objects left. I know this happened at the place where Lama was born. Lama's brother told me that they had to throw the holy objects in the river. His name was Rinchen and he looked exactly like Lama Yeshe. He said he was so scared that the Chinese were going to come and look in the house that he had to throw his holy objects, his buddha statues, in the river. Somehow he was so scared that he could not even think to bury them in the ground as the Chinese might find out. He made the whole house empty.

That’s why Tibetans are so eager, so hungry for holy objects, statues and  pictures of the buddhas and so forth. That's why they buy a lot of statues when they come to India or Nepal. One of the best presents for them is the holy objects, which they can’t find in Tibet. I heard recently that some Tibetans came to Delhi and they bought everything, including all the statues of Lama Tsongkhapa. They bought a lot of holy objects and took them to Tibet, thus it seems the best present for them is the holy objects.

During that time the Tibetan people suffered so much, and also the country, and those lower, worldly protectors, the devas, even they suffered so much. The animals and birds became scarce because they were being killed, and not having food, the animals became very small. I heard that there was a lot of corruption, negative karma and degenerated samaya, because the people were under the control of the wrong view, the wrong philosophy, that came from one person, Mao Tse-tung. Many millions of people followed that philosophy, which meant the Tibetans didn't have any freedom and they were controlled by those people.

The environment was completely destroyed as a result. I heard a story that even the plants in the external environment became dry. I don't remember the story very clearly, but one family had a tree that was affected and it became very dry for quite a long time. Some freedom was given back to the Tibetan people only recently, just a few years ago. Then people had a little freedom to practice virtue, to make offerings to the Triple Gem and so forth. After that the environment, the enjoyments, the plants, everything, started to grow again and become more magnificent, more green. Even the trees changed and started to have leaves. There are a lot of stories about the effect of people’s negative mind and negative karma on the environment. There may be drought, things don’t grow, and it can be a very dry, sad environment.

When I went to Tibet, my feeling was that most of the places, starting from the upper regions, looked very sad. The mountains had lost some essence, they were kind of empty, like a very depressed person, something was lost. Even the mountains were very dry, burnt and very sad. So that is the effect of the peoples' negative mind and negative karma, the degenerated samaya. Many people say after they got a little bit of freedom and could practice virtue again, things changed and became better.

The teachings say that the happiness of sentient beings depends on the teachings and the existence of the teachings depends on holy objects. Why is this? Because the presence of holy objects, such as statues, stupas, scriptures and so forth, gives sentient beings the opportunity to make offerings to them and thus create merit, or good karma. Through this merit, they are then able to understand the teachings of the path and actualize their meaning.

Even temporal happiness has to come from good karma. One way to accumulate merit is to make offerings to holy objects; another way is to practice loving kindness, compassion, charity and so forth in relation to sentient beings. But even to accumulate extensive merit in relation to sentient beings—for example, by actualizing loving kindness, great compassion, bodhicitta—again you need to accumulate a lot of merit. To be able to help other sentient beings you also need a lot of merit. In order to create extensive merit in relation to sentient beings, you need a good heart—and a good heart has to come, again, from merit.

By making offerings to the Triple Gem, you can create good karma very easily and without depending on whether your motivation is virtuous or non-virtuous. This is a special case due to the power of the object. Every single action, such as a prostration or offering, performed in relation to the holy object of the Buddha becomes a cause of enlightenment, which is the greatest success, the highest happiness. This means that every single offering to the Triple Gem enables you to lead every sentient being to enlightenment. We are not talking about just being able to feed sentient beings by giving them food or money. We are talking about leading everyone to highest enlightenment, with cessation of all the mistakes of the mind and completion of all realizations.

Even if you give something to sentient beings, in order for that charity to become the cause of enlightenment and enable you to become a perfect guide and lead everyone else to the highest happiness of full enlightenment, you have to have the virtuous motivation of bodhicitta. Only with that motivation does your action of helping others become the cause of enlightenment. Therefore, you really have to put a lot of effort into generating a pure motivation. By giving food to a person or an animal, you may help them to survive, but it doesn't mean that your own action becomes good karma, the cause of happiness. For example, through stealing other people's possessions, you may be able to live in luxury. The stolen wealth solves some of your difficulties and makes your life easier at the time. Stealing could become the condition for that comfort, but it doesn't mean that stealing is the cause of this happiness.

Another point is that because we don't have the karma to see the Buddha, statues are manifestations of the Buddha that allow sentient beings to accumulate merit. Just as we think such-and-such a lama is the reincarnation of a particular enlightened being, these statues are the nirmanakaya and sambhogakaya manifestations of the Buddha. Some people are also able to see these aspects. It is a question of different forms appearing according to individual karma. Since we cannot actually see the Buddha, he manifests as these statues, which we have the karma to see.

The presence of holy objects that we have the karma to see makes it easy for us to create merit. In this way we are able to understand the teachings and actualize the meaning of the path. This is how we sentient beings can achieve temporary success, which means not having problems of poverty, disease and so forth. However, by completely ceasing karma and delusions, we can achieve not just temporary but ultimate success and happiness. We can achieve a state where we never have to experience suffering and, even higher than that, we can achieve enlightenment.

Let's take as an example the Buddha statue inside the Bodhgaya stupa. Each day many hundreds of people come to see this statue; even many poor Indian villagers come and offer a coin to Buddha. Each time one of these villagers sees the Buddha statue, it helps to purify their obscurations and negative karma. Even though they don't know anything about the good karma they are creating, putting their palms together to pay respect to the Buddha immediately becomes a cause of enlightenment; it leads them to enlightenment.

Simply putting the palms together in front of a statue of the Buddha has eight benefits. The first benefit is that we receive a perfect human body so that we can practice the entire Dharma and we have the opportunity to benefit other sentient beings extensively, just as Lama Tsongkhapa, Lama Atisha and Guru Shakyamuni Buddha did. The second benefit is that we receive the perfect conditions to help to fulfill our wishes. In this way we can succeed in our own practice and also in the works that benefit other sentient beings. The third benefit is that we are able to live in morality. In this way we can go from happiness to happiness to enlightenment, since we have the basis of realizations. The fourth is devotion. Without devotion, again there is no root of realizations.

The fifth is a brave mind. If we don't have courage, we cannot develop our mind and we cannot bear hardships to practice Dharma nor to work for other sentient beings. So, a brave mind is really necessary. The sixth benefit is that in the next life we are again born as a deva or human, so we can continue to practice Dharma, to develop the mind and benefit other sentient beings more and more. In this way we proceed to enlightenment. The seventh is that we achieve the arya path, which means we don't create any new karma, the cause of samsara. Also, according to the Lesser Vehicle path, the arya bodhisattva doesn't experience birth, old age, sickness and death any more. And the ultimate benefit is that we achieve enlightenment.

Simply putting our palms together in front of a buddha statue has these eight very important benefits. In terms of our own development and also in terms of benefiting all sentient beings, these are all very important. There is no question that we need all these benefits in order to free everyone from all suffering and lead them to enlightenment.

Each of these poor Indian villagers, the old men and women in their very simple dress, who throw one or two coins in front of the Buddha statue and put their palms together as they look up at the Buddha's face, is unbelievably fortunate. Think of the eight benefits I have just mentioned. By looking at the Buddha statue thinking how wonderful it is, by generating faith and the wish to be like that, each of them is planting the seed to become a buddha. Sooner or later they will meet the Buddha, receive teachings and then later become enlightened. So, looking at a buddha with a calm, devoted mind takes them to enlightenment, as does circumambulating a stupa or throwing coins or even a few grains of rice. Forget about all the temporal benefits, wealth in all future lifetimes and so forth—just think about the highest result, enlightenment. Each of these simple actions becomes the cause of enlightenment. The value of having holy objects is just unbelievable—beyond our conception! The way that one statue benefits hundreds and hundreds of sentient beings every day is incredible.

There is no way to have realizations without accumulating merit in relation to holy objects. If there is no good karma, meditating on the words of Dharma alone cannot change the mind. It is like planting a seed in dry soil and wishing it to grow without the necessary water and minerals—nothing much happens. The Dharma you learn simply stays in your head; it doesn't enter your heart.

The sutras say that even looking with anger at a drawing of a buddha on a wall enables us to eventually see ten million buddhas. Seeing a drawing of a buddha enables such incredible purification of obscurations and negative karma that it causes us to meet, sooner or later, many buddhas; to be with and receive teachings from them, and finally to become enlightened.

The benefits of holy objects are infinite. The benefit each sentient being receives is infinite. Since, as I have just mentioned, there is incredible benefit even to those who look at a statue of the Buddha out of anger or heresy, there is no question about the benefit to those who circumambulate and pray to buddha statues. Therefore, when you make one more holy object of the Buddha, one more stupa, statue or painting— when sentient beings think of all the holy objects on this earth and make offerings or prostrate to them, at that time you have caused each of these sentient beings to create additional cause to achieve enlightenment. You have caused each of them to accumulate additional, inconceivable merit. Besides the merit you create yourself, you have caused all those other sentient beings to create more good karma. The more holy objects you make, the more good karma you cause them to create. This is how you lead them to the end of all suffering and its causes, the obscurations from where all hunger, thirst, poverty and so forth come. By making more holy objects and leading others to create good karma, you then lead them also to highest enlightenment

I think it is unbelievable how by simply coming to see the buddha statues in the temples and monasteries in Bodhgaya, many hundreds of groups of Indian villagers benefit so much. Thousands of people are able to create, besides all temporal happiness, the cause of enlightenment.

The larger the statue the more people and animals can see it—more birds, more monkeys, more dogs, more Injies! If you wanted to build such a statue in a poor African country, I'm sure the people there wouldn't be happy, and might reject the idea. It needs to be built in a suitable place, where many sentient beings will come every day to see it. In this way, even in one day, you cause so many sentient beings to accumulate merit, and lead them to happiness in thousands of lifetimes. You lead them not only to temporary happiness but ultimate enlightenment.

Even though there is no direct benefit to the starving people in Africa in terms of solving their immediate problems, you are still helping the many sentient beings who come to see the statue every day. You are helping those people to open their minds by allowing them to come to see the statue and make offerings. Even while they are in samsara, for thousands of lifetimes they won't have to experience poverty, because they are making offerings to and circumambulating holy objects. These actions become the cause of success and happiness for inconceivable numbers of lifetimes, as well as enlightenment. So, you are indirectly benefiting the African people and those in other similar places. In the long run there is definite benefit for all sentient beings, as everyone is brought to the end of suffering, to enlightenment.

Even if you give food to starving people in Africa , there are still many people in other countries who have the same problems, who are also starving. It goes on and on like that. You may say, "I can see that the statue benefits the people who come to see it, but what about all the starving people in the world who can't see the statue?" My answer to that question is that eventually the statue benefits all sentient beings.

You can understand this from the story of Jinpa Pelgye, who became a monk when he was 80 years old. He received teachings and became an arhat in that life, achieving the sorrowless state and completely ending the whole suffering and its causes. He was able to become a monk and receive teachings, and to achieve the sorrowless state and complete the whole five paths because many lifetimes ago, in one of his lives, he was a fly and followed the smell of cow dung around a stupa, so it became a circumambulation. He was able to become a monk, receive teachings and become an arhat, even though he began practicing after he turned 80. That came from the small karma of doing a circumambulation by following the smell of cow dung. After becoming an arhat, he entered the Mahayana path in order to achieve enlightenment and bring all sentient beings to enlightenment. All this came from the very root of the small karma of circumambulating the stupa. So karma is infinite and goes on and on.

Why build such a huge statue of Maitreya Buddha? That’s because I think Lama probably saw the Maitreya Buddha statue at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Tibet. That is my guess. Lama had this in mind and told me many times, on and on, all the time with a smile. He said that I am responsible for building a Maitreya Buddha statue the same size as the stupa. He told me this many times.

I’m following Lama's advice because of my connection with Lama and also because of our organization's connection with Lama. That's the specific reason for this project. It’s mainly to fulfill whatever Lama wishes. His wish is only to benefit sentient beings and the world, so whatever he thinks will bring extensive benefit, it fulfills that. 

There is a story about a Tibetan lama who went to spread the Dharma in one country but for years he was unable to spread the Dharma, nothing happened. He returned home and went to see his Guru, who asked him to build a Maitreya Buddha statue. After making a large statue of Maitreya Buddha, the lama was able to spread the Dharma and benefit many people. So having the Maitreya Buddha statue benefits the world and helps that country to be able to spread Dharma.

Many of the monasteries in Tibet, for example, Drepung and Sera, have a very big Maitreya Buddha statue. Also many monasteries in India have a large Maitreya Buddha statue. All those Maitreya Buddhas are in sambhogakaya aspect. There are five qualities of sambhogakaya and one of these is to continuously turn the Dharma wheel, to continuously turn the Mahayana teachings. Therefore, according to Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche, it helps. I asked Rinpoche why there are Maitreya Buddha statues in many monasteries and he said the sambhogakaya aspect is especially to help spread the Mahayana teachings and for the teachings to last a long time. So it has this benefit.

If we pray to Maitreya Buddha, make offerings and study his teachings, we are accumulating merit and creating the karma to be able to meet Maitreya Buddha and become his disciple when he appears. It is predicted that we will be able to hear Maitreya’s teachings and become enlightened, thus there are also those benefits.