Remembering Renunciation and Bodhicitta

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Kathmandu, Nepal (Archive #996)

Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave this teaching at Kopan Course No. 27, held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, in Nov-Dec, 1994.

This is an excerpt from Lecture Six of the course. Lightly edited by Gordon McDougall and Sandra Smith.

As I mentioned last night, when we go shopping without lam-rim—renunciation, bodhicitta, emptiness—without any of these it becomes only suffering, it becomes only negative karma. We accumulate so much negative karma from the ten nonvirtuous actions, as I mentioned the other night. So much negative karma is accumulated when we go from home to the shop and from the shop to the home. Every action, every activity—walking or driving—from home to shop and from shop to home, everything becomes negative karma. We accumulate so much negative karma during those hours and in reality, everything becomes suffering. If we look at the reality of life, without the lam-rim, it becomes only suffering.

For example, if we do the shopping with renunciation, even with mindfulness of impermanence and death, there is no danger of accumulating nonvirtue. If the worldly mind of attachment or covetousness arises, all the actions become negative karma. Remembering impermanence and death cuts that; it gives no space in the mind for attachment, the thought of worldly dharmas, to arise. Therefore the actions don’t become nonvirtue, they become holy Dharma.

I think that maybe if we live our life with renunciation and the thought of impermanence and death, maybe with this mind, when we reach the shop there is nothing to buy. [Rinpoche laughs] Maybe there is nothing to buy; we don’t see any reason to buy anything. So, renunciation can help us save money! Not only do we save money, but we can also take the essence from this essenceless material, such as money and so forth. Remembering renunciation, remembering impermanence and death, helps us take the essence from essenceless material such as money, so we not only don’t waste our money, but we also only use it for Dharma practice. We only use it for what is meaningful; we only use it for Dharma practice. This is not becoming stingy, we are not just keeping our money out of stinginess; it’s not that. With the mind of renunciation we only spend our money on what is meaningful, only for the Dharma. So, spending it for the Dharma helps us to save it, to not waste it.

Yesterday I got distracted from that. I was talking about emptiness, about meditating on emptiness when we go shopping, how to apply the meditation on emptiness, and then I got distracted, like a wave of the water, taken away. So, with this again, there is no reason, no space, for desire, for attachment to arise. When we apply the meditation on emptiness, with the practice of mindfulness, seeing things as a hallucination, this is the most powerful one. It becomes the remedy even to cut the root of samsara, ignorance.

While we are shopping we should apply the right view and especially bodhicitta, thinking our purpose in life is to free all sentient beings from all the sufferings, to help them reach enlightenment and to bring them to happiness. This is the purpose of our life, to do service, therefore we need a long life, we need to be healthy.” In other words, we regard ourselves as a servant to all sentient beings; giving service to bring happiness to all sentient beings. In order to serve them, we have to take care of ourselves; not for our own happiness, but for the happiness and benefit of all sentient beings.

If we have this attitude when we go shopping, that means actually in our heart we are doing the shopping only for the benefit of sentient beings. That way we are protected, we are saved from so much covetousness, from collecting so much negative karma, from the ten nonvirtues. Instead of collecting so much negative karma going from home and coming back again, where all our actions become negative karma, by applying bodhicitta, even shopping becomes the cause of enlightenment, the cause to benefit all sentient beings.

With bodhicitta motivation, everything becomes like this, from morning until night, for twenty-four hours a day. Before we get dressed, we remember the meaning of life—how our life is to free all sentient beings from suffering, to obtain happiness for all sentient beings—and to do this service we need to be healthy and have a long life. Then we get dressed. This is the same thing that I explained about a shopping trip; we need the attitude of seeing ourselves as a servant, so we are taking care of ourselves as a servant for the sentient beings.

In the same way, before we have breakfast, we can think like this. Then before going to work, the same, again remember the meaning of life, thinking, “I am responsible for all sentient beings’ happiness.” We should remember the meaning of life and also feel that we are responsible, we do have the responsibility for all sentient beings’ happiness. If we have compassion, then no sentient being receives harm, only peace, and also they all receive help, they all get so much peace and happiness from us, from our compassion. If we don’t have compassion, then all sentient beings from life to life, either directly or indirectly, receive harm from us. With ego, without compassion, they only receive harm from us, directly or indirectly. From this one person, this me, numberless sentient beings receive harm directly or indirectly from life to life. Therefore, their happiness is in our hands. We have the responsibility for whether they receive happiness or harm from us.

Remembering that we have the responsibility for all sentient beings’ happiness, we can think that with this attitude we are going to do this service, the job that we want to do, for sentient beings. In that way, we can completely change our attitude. Instead of thinking we are doing our job for our happiness, for our survival, for money, for our comfort and enjoyment—rather than thinking that way, we can think we are doing it for the happiness of other sentient beings. Think that we are doing service for the happiness of other sentient beings. That completely changes our attitude. Then, however many hours we do the job becomes Dharma; it becomes pure Dharma unstained by ego, the self-centered mind.

Also remember that the job we are doing brings so much comfort and enjoyment to others, to many hundreds of thousands of sentient beings. They receive so much comfort and enjoyment from this job. Our work becomes a contribution to them; it is offered for all the enjoyment and comfort of all these sentient beings. The enjoyment and comfort of all the thousands, the hundreds of thousands of sentient beings, comes from our work. It is dependent on our effort, it comes from us. Even though there are many other people working together, it’s collected, therefore we are also part of that offering that causes the comfort and enjoyment of other sentient beings. This is something we can think of, offering happiness and comfort to others.

In particular, we can also remember that we are fulfilling the wishes of others for happiness. We should try to remember this from time to time while we are working, so that again and again there can be the direct motivation and we can develop it into Dharma.

The most pure motivation is bodhicitta, remembering that the meaning of our life is taking the responsibility of working for other sentient beings’ happiness. We ourselves are a servant. From time to time we should try to remember this, because we still don’t have the realization of bodhicitta. Even if we are able to generate a positive motivation, it doesn’t last, it doesn’t continue.

In the same way, before going to bed our motivation should be: “To be able to offer service to sentient beings, I need a long and healthy life, therefore I am going to sleep.”

The same thing when we are going to have a bath, when we wash. In this way, all our activities are done as much as possible with a bodhicitta motivation. Therefore, because our motivation for working, for acting, is to benefit all sentient beings, the many activities we do become pure Dharma, the cause of enlightenment, and the cause of happiness for all sentient beings. With this bodhicitta motivation, all the activities in our daily life, in one day of our life, become the cause of the greatest success, to achieve peerless, full enlightenment, and even that is only for other sentient beings.

As I mentioned last night, by living in the attitude, by leaving the mind in lam-rim—either renunciation or right view, and especially bodhicitta—then no matter how much wealth we have, with bodhicitta, with the thought of benefiting other sentient beings, everything becomes meaningful. With bodhicitta, having wealth has a purpose; it becomes meaningful. If we live our life in the lam-rim, with bodhicitta, then being a millionaire has meaning, because it’s all to benefit others. The attitude we have in everything we do is to benefit other sentient beings, to free other sentient beings from suffering, to obtain happiness for other sentient beings. In this way, being wealthy has meaning; it is given meaning by this bodhicitta attitude. The bodhicitta attitude gives meaning to life.