The Meaning and Purpose of Life

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Missoula, MT, USA (Archive #1098)

A teaching on universal responsibility by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche, given prior to a White Tara initiation at Osel Shen Phen Ling, a center in Missoula, MT, USA, on August 31, 1997. Edited by Michelle Bernard.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche in Taos, New Mexico, 1999. Photo: Lenny Foster.
Reasons for Taking a White Tara Initiation

You might have obstacles in your life that could cause your untimely death. There are many solutions for this. If the obstacles are due to your good karma and merit being exhausted, then in order to prolong your life now and to have longevity in future lives, you need to practice very powerful ways to collect a lot of merit, such as taking long life initiations, reciting the mantras of long life deities, saving the lives of animals and people, offering medicine to people and taking care of sick people, offering food, clothing, and shelter to living beings, and freeing people from prison. If the obstacles in your life and untimely death are due to negative karma, the solution is to purify it. You can also make light offerings to the Triple Gem. Light offerings help you develop Dharma wisdom and clairvoyance, due to their dispelling the darkness around holy objects.

White Tara is extremely powerful. Tara is very close to sentient beings, like a mother is close to her children. She is very quick to fulfil our wishes and to grant us happiness and a long life, as well as to help us develop wisdom. By taking refuge in Tara and practicing meditation, visualizations, and having faith, you have the power to remove obstacles to your life and to prolong your life.

Universal Responsibility

The reason for having a long life is not just for the sake of your own happiness. The actual purpose and meaning of living every day, every hour, every minute, every second is to be useful, beneficial, and to bring happiness to other beings. There are so many beings who are suffering and need your help. They need your compassion, they need your loving kindness, and they need your help and support. Whether you are helping one sentient being or many, making your everyday life beneficial and useful for them is the meaning and purpose of your life.

To achieve full enlightenment for all sentient beings is of the greatest benefit. To be able to perform perfect work for all living beings, you need to actualize the steps of the path to enlightenment. For that reason, you need to have a long life. This is the reason for taking the White Tara initiation and performing the practice.

The happiness of this life is one benefit you can offer to living beings. But more important is bringing them the everlasting happiness of all their future lives. Even more important than everlasting happiness is to liberate them from samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth, and from all their sufferings and causes—their delusions and karma. Even more important than that is to guide them to the complete, perfect peace and bliss of full enlightenment.

To be able to do all this perfectly, without any mistakes, you need to achieve full enlightenment, the cessation of all mistakes in the mind and the completion of all realizations. How can we accomplish this? The beginning of spiritual practice is abandoning negative karmic actions that harm yourself others and practicing virtue. You need to understand this and make a strong effort to do this in your daily life. Otherwise, you won’t even complete the path to liberation from samsara for yourself, and all your energy and effort in practicing meditation and other spiritual practices will be wasted. There is the danger of completely wasting your precious human life.

The beginning of the path is the meditation on our perfect human rebirth, realizing that your human life is qualified with the eight freedoms and ten richnesses. For this, and all the realizations up to enlightenment, to be successful depends on how much you are able to practice guru devotion correctly. This depends on looking for a qualified guru. After you have found a perfect Mahayana guru, analyzed his or her qualities, and have made a connection with him or her, you can practice correct guru devotion.

When Waking Up

After waking up in the morning, the first thing to do is to feel happy that you haven’t died yet. Think, “Even last night, many people in this world died. This morning, they are no longer human beings with the opportunity to practice Dharma. So far, I haven’t died. I didn’t die last night. This is a miracle! Life is full of so many obstacles—the inner obstacles of afflictive thoughts—the 84,000 delusions that shorten our lifespan and cause death—and the external obstacles of many sicknesses and dangers. I’m so fortunate to still have this opportunity to practice Dharma.”

The meaning and purpose of your life is to be useful and bring happiness to other beings. We have this responsibility. Why do we have this universal responsibility for the happiness of all living beings? Because if we have compassion, then we won’t harm sentient beings and they will only feel peace and happiness in our presence. It all depends on what we do with our mind. If we don’t have compassion then we are only concerned about ourselves and our own happiness, due to thoughts of self-cherishing, anger, and other negative emotions that cause us to harm other living beings, directly or indirectly, from life to life. Therefore, we have full responsibility for the happiness of all beings. (Include people in your family, people who you work with, friends, enemies, and then all sentient beings. Feel this purpose of your life and your universal responsibility first thing in the morning before doing anything else. This is very important.)

Think to yourself, “I have a perfect human body; I’ve met my guru who guides me on the path to enlightenment; and I’ve met the Buddhadharma, which explains the path and methods, the causes of happiness and of suffering, what is liberation and what is samsara, what is real happiness and peace and what is illusory happiness. I’m extremely fortunate!” Rejoice—feel very happy and appreciative. Then think, “Therefore, I’m going to practice sutra and tantra as much as possible on the basis of correct guru devotion.”

When getting dressed think, “Since I have this universal responsibility, to protect my life and health I need to wear clothes.” This way, getting dressed is not done just for your own sake, but so you can continue to serve others.

When washing your face or taking a shower, think, “Since I have this universal responsibility, I need to wash to stay healthy so I can continue serving and benefiting others.”

When eating, having breakfast, lunch, or dinner, remember the meaning of your life and feel your responsibility for everyone’s happiness: “In order to serve others, to practice Dharma, and to meditate on the path so I can benefit others, I need to be healthy and have a long life.” Then, eating meals brings happiness to others.

Before going to bed think about the same things, about the meaning of your life and your responsibility for all sentient beings’ happiness, and that to be able continue to serve them you need to be healthy: “For this purpose I am going to sleep.” In this way, however many hours you sleep you are still serving and benefiting others.

Going to work: One very important thing is how to think before going to work, because you spend so much of your life working at your job. A lot of your time is spent sleeping and working. Even if you live for a hundred years, half your life is spent sleeping and half is spent working. Therefore, it is very important before going to work to make sure that you generate a virtuous motivation, the thought to benefit others. This is extremely important. Think, “This job I’m doing isn’t just for me and my needs but for the happiness of others.” You can also think of all the people who enjoy and benefit from the service or products your job is providing. When your life is so busy, with many things to do, the only refuge you have—even if you can’t do much practice, prayers, sitting meditation, and so forth—is your own mind, the good heart. This is your most important refuge.

While working, check your motivation from time to time to see if it has become selfish or if you are still thinking of how to benefit others. If your mind has become self-centered, then transform it into thoughts of benefiting others, and remember the purpose of your life and your responsibility for the happiness of all living beings. Remember that your that selfish mind is the demon, your enemy, who causes all your problems and obstacles. Then, transform your mind into a bodhicitta motivation—the thought of benefiting others.

If you make a strong effort to practice compassion and bodhicitta, then even if you don’t have time to perform other practices, but you do everything with the thought of benefiting others, then all your actions—working, taking care of your friends, eating, walking, sleeping—are not only virtuous and causes of happiness, but are causes of enlightenment, the highest happiness.

Taking refuge in bodhicitta, your good heart, is so crucial. It is like a priceless jewel that is much more precious than if the whole of space were filled with wish-granting jewels. There is nothing compared to the value of your good heart. Just one minute feeling compassion for one sentient being, whether for an insect or a person, is unbelievably precious, as it brings you closer to bodhicitta, and closer to enlightenment.

Even if you can’t perform many practices, but you hold the thought of benefiting others in your mind, then your whole life—every day, month, and year is transformed and is like gold, like a diamond, and becomes extremely meaningful and beneficial for all living beings. Your life isn’t spent just providing for your own happiness. If you don’t take refuge in bodhicitta, your good heart, then even if you stay many years in retreat, even if you recite billions of mantras, it all has little meaning or no meaning and the benefit for yourself and others is very small.

Before going to bed dedicate all the merits you have accumulated, especially during that day, to your enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. In this way, the many hours you have worked at your job become virtuous and a cause of enlightenment.

This is the best way to enjoy your life. Living with this attitude is the most fulfilling way to live. In the west there is so much talk about loving yourself and being kind to yourself. Actually, having the attitude of benefiting others is the best way of loving and taking care of yourself. Having renunciation and making an effort to become liberated from samsara is the best way of loving yourself because you are trying to protect yourself from the lower realms and all the sufferings of cyclic existence and its causes. Meditating on emptiness is extremely important, as it cuts the root of all your sufferings, so it is a very good way to love yourself. But practicing bodhicitta, cherishing others, is the best way to love yourself, because all happiness comes from bodhicitta. Most people think that in order to be happy you need to take care of yourself first, not knowing that self-cherishing opens the door to every problem. For example, if a person never gets along with other people and sees everyone as his enemy wherever he goes, it is because he has a self-centered attitude and gets angry and upset easily. His life is filled with many problems, and he causes problems to everyone else.

You can look at your own life and notice that when your mind is compassionate and loving, you feel more peaceful and you are more able to offer happiness and peace to others. When your mind is more selfish and impatient, then you cause more problems and harm to everyone around you.

To achieve full enlightenment for the sake of all living beings and to be able to perform perfect work for all living beings, you need to actualize the stages of the path to enlightenment. For that reason, you need to have a long life. This is the reason for taking the White Tara initiation and performing the practice.