How to Work at Dharma Centers

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 2010 (Archive #1844)

This talk was given by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche to staff at Shedrup Ling Center, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, in October 2010.

The teaching was transcribed by Ven. Munsel, and lightly edited by Gordon McDougall and Sandra Smith in January 2011.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching at the Seventh Kopan Meditation Course, Kopan Monastery, Nepal, 1974. Photo: Wendy Finster.

This advice is about how we should practice Dharma and meditate on the path, and how we should work at the center. If we understand this, we can understand how to live our whole life and how to do everything—whether we work for the government or for a company, or whatever it is we do.

Why do we need to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings? Because every sentient being has been our mother numberless times. “Mother” means not only our human mother, but also our mother when we were a hungry ghost or an animal. Our birth depends on a mother, and all these beings have been our mother numberless times. Besides devas, who have an entering birth and so don’t have a mother, all sentient beings have been our mother numberless times, from beginningless rebirth until now.

There are four kindnesses of the mother. The first is the kindness of giving us a body, especially a human body that allows us to practice Dharma numberless times from beginningless rebirth.

The second kindness is that our mother protects us from hundreds of dangers each day. If a baby is not watched by its mother for five minutes, its life is in danger—it may put a knife or a dangerous object in its mouth, or it may be in danger of falling down. We don’t remember our own early life or babyhood, but if we look at other babies and other families, we can completely understand.

The third kindness is giving us infinite kindness, such as education, from beginningless rebirth, and leading us in the path of the world. Our mother bears so much hardship for us and if each sentient being has been our mother, they have all born so much hardship, exhaustion, worry and fear for us. They created so much negative karma for our wellbeing, because they don’t have any realizations of bodhicitta and right view. They’re not enlightened beings or even higher bodhisattvas, and their motivation is ignorance, anger and attachment. Because of that, they get reborn in the lower realms numberless times—they still have so much negative karma to be born and to suffer in the lower realms, due to the karma they created for us, for our wellbeing.

The numberless sentient beings have offered us these four kindnesses1 numberless times, from beginningless rebirth. Wow, we just can’t imagine this. It’s impossible to imagine.

How can we repay the kindness? How can we repay each of the four kindnesses each sentient being has shown us throughout our countless rebirths? Even if we sacrificed each of our lives to our mother, equaling the number of the atoms of this earth, or equaling the number of the drops of the ocean, that is nothing—we still wouldn’t be able to repay the kindness. We still couldn’t finish repaying each of those kindnesses. That’s one thing we need to understand—how those numberless sentient beings have been so kind to us.

Every one of the hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings and asuras has been our mother numberless times. They have been kind in four ways numberless times from beginningless rebirth and now we need to repay their kindness.

This is why we need to practice Dharma. It is said that as long as you stay in the fire you can’t expect not to get burnt. If we don’t give up the “I”, our suffering cannot be abandoned. In the same way, in order to pacify our own and others’ suffering, what we should do is give ourselves up for others and cherish others as we do ourselves. This is a total solution or method.

To pacify our own suffering and the suffering of numberless other sentient beings, what we should do is give ourselves up for others and cherish others as we do ourselves. That’s the attitude we need for practicing Dharma. That’s the attitude and the solution we need when we work at a center, or for a company or the government, or in the family. We must cherish others and think of others as we think of ourselves.

I mentioned that every sentient being has been our mother numberless times, and they have been kind in four ways numberless times, from beginningless rebirth until now. We need to repay that kindness by helping others. We have received this perfect human rebirth and we have the opportunity to help others—to free them from the oceans of samsaric suffering and its causes, and bring them to enlightenment. That’s the ultimate help that they need, and that’s why it’s so important to help and cherish others as we do ourselves. This attitude helps very much for bodhichitta meditation, so we can do the practice of exchanging oneself for others.

The person who gets angry with us, who doesn’t love us or like us, who criticizes us or beats us, we call the enemy. However, we receive all our happiness from beginningless rebirth due to the kindness of this person who hates us, who harms us and who may even kill us. All our happiness from beginningless rebirth is received by their kindness. We’re just talking about one person now, and about the kindness of this person who we don’t like, who we call the enemy.

Due to that person’s kindness, we receive all our past, present and future happiness, including liberation from samsara and enlightenment. He doesn’t love us—he hates us mentally and he verbally criticizes us and physically abuses us. This is the person we call the enemy, who we hate and don’t want to help—the person we have completely abandoned.

How do we receive all our past, present and future happiness, including enlightenment, due to the kindness of that person? Because all the happiness that we receive comes from our good karma and this good karma is the action of the Buddha. The Buddha has two types of action. One type is possessed by the Buddha’s own mind, but the other type is to do with us sentient beings. Whatever virtuous action or virtuous thought we have can be said to be the action of the Buddha. That’s one way the Buddha works for us.

The other way is that Buddha gave teachings about karma, and explained what is right and what is wrong. Right actions bring happiness to ourselves and others, and wrong actions harm ourselves and others. All this is contained within the Hinayana and the Mahayana teachings, both the Paramita and the Mahayana Tantra teachings. That is one way to think of this. The Buddha taught these things, and we have studied them and practiced them, and through that we have created good karma.

Therefore, our merit, our virtue is due to the Buddha’s action. The Buddha came from the bodhisattva; the bodhisattva came from bodhichitta; bodhichitta came from great compassion and great compassion is generated by depending on suffering sentient beings. If there are no suffering sentient beings, it is impossible to generate compassion.

In order to generate compassion, there needs to be suffering sentient beings. Compassion is generated by their kindness. Great compassion—Mahayana compassion—is generated by depending on each and every single suffering sentient being—the hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, asuras and intermediate state beings. By depending on every suffering sentient being in each realm, we can generate great compassion, completely due to their kindness.

Therefore, great compassion can only be generated by depending on this person we hate, this person we have totally abandoned. Great compassion is generated by depending on the kindness of this person who is suffering and deluded—this person who we call the enemy.

We have received all our happiness from beginningless rebirth due to the kindness of this person. Can you imagine the infinite happiness from beginningless rebirth that we have received from the kindness of this person? Wow! You just can’t imagine it! Even without thinking about the future, just thinking about the present, it’s impossible to imagine the kindness of this person. Wow!

If we think about this, it is unbearable to abandon this person. It’s unbearable to avoid helping and benefiting this person. It’s impossible to imagine that. We have to help this person, because our infinite happiness from beginningless rebirth is received due to the kindness of this person. Think well about this and take time to meditate on this unimaginable kindness.

Not only past happiness, but present happiness and the happiness of all the future lives is due to the kindness of this person. You can’t imagine it. It’s impossible to imagine. Thinking like that it’s even more unbearable to think of abandoning this person.

The ultimate happiness, liberation from samsara—the liberation from the oceans of samsaric suffering and its causes, karma and delusion—is received due to the kindness of this person. Can you imagine that! The cessation of the oceans of suffering of the hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras and asuras, is received due to the kindness of this suffering sentient being. It’s impossible to imagine. Wow!

This person becomes the most important, the kindest, dearest and most precious person in our life, and on top of that, we receive full enlightenment due to the kindness of this person.

We can complete the cessation of suffering and all the qualities of realizations. Can you imagine? The buddha has limitless skies of qualities of his holy body, holy speech and holy mind, and we receive these qualities due to the kindness of this person. So, we can’t imagine how this person is the dearest, kindest and most precious one in our life. We can’t imagine that! Wow!

This person who we call “enemy” is the most important thing in our life and we should do anything that we can to help this person. If the person is carrying a heavy load, then we can share the load—we can help to carry some of the load so the person doesn’t suffer, or we can carry the whole load or make it lighter. Even something small, like offering our seat to this person in the car, becomes so important.

Even a small amount of help or a small benefit is most important for us and it gives us great joy. If we can offer some small comfort to that person, it gives us incredible joy, because that person is the dearest and the most precious and kind in our life. So, every single action that we can do to help or any comfort that we can offer is so precious.

Now, from this person, all our bodhicitta is generated. First, great compassion is generated, then bodhicitta, and from that bodhicitta, the bodhisattva. So all the numberless bodhisattvas happened due to this person and then, numberless buddhas happened due to this person. So, numberless buddhas and bodhisattvas, the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, that we take refuge in all the time, to be free from not only the lower realms, but from the entire samsara, even lower nirvana.

Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, the objects of our refuge, came from this person. All the numberless buddhas, Dharma and Sangha came from this person. Can you imagine? It’s very clear who we take refuge in, therefore, this person is so precious. It’s unbelievable to think that all the bodhisattvas and buddhas came from this person. Wow!

We think money is so precious and so important, because we can buy anything we want if we have a lot of money. Similarly, we think gold and diamonds are so precious, because they cost a lot, but that’s nothing compared to this person. All the unbelievable qualities of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, the objects of refuge, came from this person. So, can you imagine how this person is unbelievably precious?

Lastly, bodhisattvas totally cherish the numberless sentient beings in each realm—they totally renounce the “I” and cherish only others. This means that numberless bodhisattvas cherish this person as the most important in their life, and he is the object of their meditation on the path to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings.

Numberless bodhisattvas cherish this person the most, like their heart—just as a mother thinks of her child. It is impossible for bodhisattvas to harm this person—they can only benefit. So offering service to this person is offering service to all the bodhisattvas and it makes them so happy.

Just as one buddha cherishes this person the most, so do numberless buddhas. Therefore, if we harm this person, we harm all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, but if we offer a small benefit or a small comfort to this person, that’s the best offering to the numberless buddhas and bodhisattvas. Imagine! It is the best offering.

If we go to holy places or if we go out on the street, when a beggar comes to ask for money or other things, and we give some money or whatever, at that time we should think, “I receive all my past, present and future happiness, liberation, enlightenment, everything, from this sentient being, and offering to this person makes all the numberless buddhas and bodhisattvas so happy.” So our charity is the best offering to the person and it also becomes an offering to all the numberless buddhas and bodhisattvas.

At the Dharma center, we should generate this motivation in the morning after we wake up, wherever we are—in our bed or on a chair. From that time until we die, but especially on that day, we should think, “This is how I’m going to think about everybody at the center—the staff and the visitors. Everyone is most precious, dear and kind, so I’m going to practice this.” This is what makes our life most happy and joyful. Wow!

Our heart and all our actions change and we respect everybody. We have good manners and sweet words, and every single action of our body, speech, and mind is respectful. We want to help others naturally, with deep interest. We don’t get bothered and we are unbelievable happy to help.

Working at the center is for all sentient beings and especially to spread Dharma—the most important thing that others need to free them from suffering and bring them to enlightenment. So that’s our motivation for working at the center with all the staff and visitors. If we keep our mind on this, it’s fantastic and we’re doing the best Dharma practice.

It’s exactly the same if we are at home with our family or working for a company or the government. Practicing that way, there’s no personality clash. There’s no empty space between that person and us, and everybody is in our heart. Everyone is close to us and we’re very close to everyone. That makes others happy and it makes us happy, so we have a most wonderful life, the best life.

In tantric practice there are four methods:

  • pacifying
  • increasing
  • controlling
  • wrathful

Pacifying refers to pacifying things such as sicknesses, spirit harm, negative karma, defilements, and so forth. Increasing refers to increasing life, increasing wealth, increasing realizations, increasing wisdom, and so forth. Controlling refers to having control material needs and over sentient beings, so you can help many sentient beings. You have your material needs in order to practice Dharma, and then you can help others. And then you have control over others so that they listen to you, and you are able to bring them to enlightenment.

Then there is wrathful action against the evil beings who harm many sentient beings, including holy beings, when the other three methods of pacifying, increasing and controlling don’t fit. So we have to use wrathful action to help these sentient beings through our meditation.

First, we must have great compassion and bodhicitta, and we think, “May I be reborn in the lower realms, the hells, and suffer for the sake of that person, so I can rescue that person from creating heavy negative karma and from being reborn in the lower realms. Instead, may I be reborn like that by killing that person.” So this is an example of how we sacrifice our life to that person’s happiness.

In tantra, first our mind must be completely clean, and we must totally cherish this person as the most important—the kindest and dearest in our life. We must have that realization and with that mind, we use wrathful action. Using tantric methods, we hook that being’s mind and if we have the capacity, we send their consciousness to the pure land. Our method is wrathful, but we are actually helping that evil being by not sending them to the lower realms. We transfer the consciousness to the pure realm and we use a wrathful method to stop the life of the person, to actually kill them.

However, we do it with the thought, as I mentioned before, that they are the most precious, kind and dearest. We don’t do it with hatred. Externally, our mind is wrathful, but our internal motivation is great compassion—we must have that or the action doesn’t become Dharma.

In Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s past life as a bodhisattva, when he was captain of a ship, a black man called Minaktu carrying a spear wanted to kill five hundred people on the ship. The captain realized that if this man killed so many people he would create unbelievably heavy, negative karma and he would be reborn in a lower realm for unimaginable eons. He felt so much compassion for this person, and he thought, “If I kill that person, to protect him from killing the five hundred people, I will be reborn in hell for him, but I am unbelievable happy to be able to do that.”

So, with unbelievable compassion he killed the man, and because of his compassion, that action of killing became Dharma. Although killing is generally negative, with unbelievable compassion this action became Dharma.

The benefit of this action was that for one hundred thousand eons the captain became closer to enlightenment and more distant from samsara. The action became unbelievable purification for this bodhisattva, the ship’s captain, many eons of negative karma were purified, and he achieved enlightenment more quickly.

I’m just mentioning this so that you can understand what to do and how to deal with certain cases. Maybe there are some quotations that say the same thing and give us an idea of how to practice and how to work—at our Dharma center, or for the government or a company, or with our family—wherever we work, it’s the same thing.

So this is what I really want to express, about our attitude and how our mind should be. This includes myself and everybody else—not only you.


Rinpoche only enumerates three of the kindnesses here, but he discusses all four, which are: 1) the kindness of giving us a body, 2) the kindness of protecting our life from danger, 3) the kindness of bearing hardship and 4) the kindness of leading us in the ways of the world. Not a standard teaching within the seven points of cause and effect, the lineage of the four kindnesses was received by Lama Zopa Rinpoche from Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen Rinpoche.  [Return to text]