Repaying the Kindness of Others

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal (Archive #1096)

Lama Zopa Rinpoche taught that our happiness is dependent upon others at the 30th Kopan Meditation Course, held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, in December 1997. This teaching is excerpted from Lecture Three of the course. Lightly edited by Gordon McDougall.

Khadro-la with Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, 2014.

All our happiness, our comfort and our everyday survival completely depend on the numberless sentient beings who died or created negative karma for our welfare. Because of them, we have the opportunity to learn the method, the path, to cease all sufferings, to stop the cycle of death and rebirth, to never again experience it by ceasing the cause. Because of them, we can come to know what samsara is and what all the different levels of suffering of samsara and its causes are. All this—our happiness, our survival each day, the opportunity to practice Dharma and create the cause of happiness—is totally by the kindness of all these numberless sentient beings. That is how it happens, by so many of them suffering and creating negative karma.

Look at this temple and where we sleep here in Kopan. This is the place where every day we purify our mind, by meditating on the lamrim and especially bodhicitta, and by doing various practices such as prostrating and reciting those precious powerful buddhas’ names. Every day, we purify so much negative karma and collect so much merit, skies of merit, by generating a bodhicitta motivation and especially by meditating on bodhicitta. In this place, we learn the path to enlightenment, and we direct our life toward enlightenment. Because this place was built, we have this unbelievable opportunity and all the comforts of sleeping and so forth.

However, just like our home in the West, all this comfort and protection for our lives has come from so many sentient beings who suffered when the foundations were laid and during the construction. Many sentient beings died and were harmed and many, such as the builders, created negative karma.

It’s the same with the clothes we wear, even if they are not made from silk or from the fur of an animal that has been killed, even if they are made from wood! Whatever our clothes are made of, so many sentient beings suffered and created the negative karma of harming others for us to have them. When we look at the evolution of the clothing, we can see this.

There is no enjoyment, no comfort that we have ever experienced without depending on the kindness of sentient beings, absolutely none. Numberless sentient beings have suffered or created negative karma by harming others for all of the comfort and happiness that we experience from having shelter, food and clothing.

The conclusion is this. Including our everyday survival, to be able to be a human being and have this precious human body, everything totally depends on the kindness we received from mother sentient beings. Therefore, when we think about this, it becomes impossible to live for even one day without the thought to benefit others. We must at least have some concern or thought to benefit those numberless sentient beings who died and suffered so much or who created so much negative karma in order to give us all this comfort and enjoyment, and even our survival. We have got to do something to benefit them.

Even if we can’t [physically help] for a whole day, or even an hour, a minute, a second, if we can think of their kindness—there are many ways to meditate on the kindness of sentient beings—even just that is part of repaying the kindness. It is unbearable to live our life only with the thought of seeking happiness for ourselves alone, thinking only of our own happiness. To do that for even an hour, a minute, a second, that is something we cannot stand.

We have no choice. It would be very shameful to do otherwise. We must practice a good heart; we must make our life useful for other sentient beings. We have to keep this in mind in our everyday life. As I mentioned the other day, in our everyday life, when the day begins, we must generate the thought to not harm others and to benefit them. We must have that as our main aim in the bottom of our heart, that our life is to benefit others, to cause them happiness. The purpose of our life is not just to obtain happiness for ourselves, not just to solve our own problems, but to free all our kind mother sentient beings, who equal the limitless sky, from all their sufferings and to bring them to every happiness including the highest happiness, full enlightenment. Not just the happiness and comfort of this life, not just the happiness of every life, not just everlasting happiness, liberation from samsara, not just that, but the highest happiness, full enlightenment.

We can do this even if we are not a Buddhist. Even if we don’t think about enlightenment, we can think that our life is to cause other living beings happiness, to free them from suffering and problems. Even a non-religious person can have this attitude to benefit others. We can still practice a good heart even if we are a non-religious person, with no particular faith. We can generate this thought of benefiting others, the good heart, by thinking about the meaning of life.

Right after we wake up, we should rejoice, thinking, “So far I have not died. Today I am still a human being and have this perfect human body. I have the opportunity to practice Dharma.” Then, we can think of the purpose, the meaning of life. Then comes the determination, “This is the meaning of my life. My job, my responsibility is to serve others, to cause others to have happiness and to free them from the suffering. That’s my job. That’s my duty, my service. I have this responsibility.”

When we have a good heart, compassion, loving kindness, numberless sentient beings, starting from the nearest, our own family members, and all the rest, don’t receive harm from us. That is peace. The absence of harm is peace for them. Numberless beings receive so much peace from us. Then, as we develop our good heart, numberless other living beings, starting from those nearest us, also receive so much help, so much benefit from us. There is so much peace and happiness from us.