Self-cherishing Brings All Unhappiness

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal (Archive #1257)

Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche taught on the shortcomings of self-cherishing at the 33rd Kopan Course held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, in 2000. This teaching is an edited excerpt from Lecture Eight of the course.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche painting Tara, Kopan Monastery, Nepal, 1976. Photo: Peter Iseli.

Whenever you experience unhappiness or depression in daily life, this is caused by the ego, the self-cherishing thought. Any obstacle to practicing Dharma or even to achieving happiness and success in this life is caused by the ego. The number of times you have suffered due to relationship problems, one after another, on and on, is all totally due to the ego. Attachment and desire arise due to the self-cherishing thought, and this creates suffering, confusion and relationship problems. Others’ unhappiness, anger, jealousy and so forth, are also problems caused by the ego.

So many times you feel totally overwhelmed by suffering, and there are so many problems, such as relationship problems, that you experience life as totally suffocating. When there is no other solution, the thought arises to commit suicide by jumping from a roof or from a bridge like the famous Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco or the Sydney Harbour Bridge. There are many bridges like that for people when life becomes suffocating. They can jump from the roof or sit in a bathtub with electricity or something. I’m not sure. Anyway, the thought often comes to commit suicide. All this is definitely related to the self-cherishing thought. You can definitely see the connection to it.

When a businessperson fails in business and loses thousands of millions of dollars, then has a nervous breakdown and commits suicide, his unhappy life and all his problems are definitely related to the ego. In the past, out of ego, he did actions of stealing, covetousness and such things, and created negative karma which resulted in all these problems such as lack of success, then because his wishes are not fulfilled he takes his life. From success, suddenly one day he is plunged into loss, his business fails and there is so much difficulty in his life.

Unhappiness in the past can be related to the self-cherishing thought, but it also comes from negative karma. First there is the self-cherishing thought, then the resulting actions of speech and body, such as stealing, telling lies, covetousness and so forth, become negative karma, because the motivation behind them is the self-cherishing thought. That is how they are transformed into negative karma. Then, because of this, problems arise and you are unable to succeed in business. When you have problems in your job—when other people are jealous and try to kick you out or sack you—all these things are shortcomings of self-cherishing and are caused by the self-cherishing thought.

Many relationship problems arise not only because you are unable to control desire and the self-cherishing thought, but also because the companion or friend you rely on and trust lets you down. You want to live with them harmoniously, but they change their mind and leave you, they abandon you. This is the result of slander, the past negative karma done out of self-cherishing. The other person leaving you, giving you up, splitting from you, is due to your own negative karma of slandering in the past due to self-cherishing.

The negative karma created in past lives through sexual misconduct came from the self-cherishing thought. And all the unhappiness of this life too comes from both present self-cherishing and the negative karma created in the past because of self-cherishing. Therefore, all the problems you normally experience come from the self-cherishing thought. Normal problems you always see on TV, that you always hear about and have experienced, are shortcomings of the self-cherishing thought and are caused by the self-cherishing thought.

Even in one day, the self-cherishing thought makes your life empty. The reason why every action you do in each twenty-four hours doesn’t become the cause to achieve enlightenment is because of the ego. Because the ego is abiding there, there is no place for bodhicitta, no place for the altruistic mind to achieve enlightenment, no thought of cherishing others. So in that twenty-four hours, your activity does not become the cause to achieve enlightenment. Your life is wasted and it does not become meaningful. That twenty-four hours of your activities does not become the cause to achieve even liberation from samsara because of the self-cherishing thought. You experience attachment to samsaric perfection and pleasure, and there is no attitude of renunciation of samsara in your activities during that twenty-four hours. Your attitude is only the desire clinging to samsaric happiness.

Due to the self-cherishing thought, the desire and attachment seeking the happiness of this life arises, and even if you manage to meditate or chant mantras in your twenty-four hours’ activities, this does not become Dharma. What appears to be Dharma, such as making charity to others, does not even become the cause to achieve the happiness of future lives and it does not become Dharma because the attitude comes from attachment clinging to this life. Each activity of the twenty-four hours is a worldly dharma and it is nonvirtuous due to the attachment clinging to this life. Therefore, the twenty-four hours becomes totally empty, totally meaningless. It is not Dharma and everything becomes nonvirtue. Therefore, the ego makes your life during each twenty-four hours totally meaningless, empty, and every action becomes nonvirtue, the cause of suffering, the cause of the lower realms.

Therefore, this self-cherishing thought is to be abandoned, to be renounced without delay for even a second. What is called the I is to be let go of forever, because cherishing this is opening the door for all problems, all obstacles.