This piece is excerpted from teachings by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche, given in Florence, Italy, on July 20, 1990. Freely available from Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.
Everyone wants happiness and does not want suffering.
It is for this reason that some people spend their life doing retreat or studying the path, or going to school and then university to get a degree in order to find a job and have a comfortable, happy life without any problems. These things are done with the aim to have a happy life with wealth, power, reputation and so forth.
Looking for happiness, you may sit in meditation in your house at certain times each day. However, when there is a problem in our life we have to apply the real meditation, the real Dharma, the real spiritual practice. When we have a problem, that is the time we really have to use meditation. The purpose of doing all these things, sitting in meditation every day, is to help us when we meet difficulties in our life. It benefits us at that time.
Now, problems don’t come from outside, but from your own mind. From your own side you have looked at the situation as a problem, so it appears to you as a problem. First you look at the situation as a problem, so it then appears to be a problem. How does this happen? You look at the situation as a problem by labeling it, “This is a problem.” When you interpret the situation as a problem and then label it as such, your life situation appears to be a problem. Because you see it as difficult, it appears to be difficult. That is how the problem comes from your own mind. There is no external problem. You made up the problem.
When you have a problem, for example, some disease, think of all the other people with much greater problems than you, with more serious diseases. By thinking of others with greater problems, you don’t feel so much depression and fear. You feel happier because you don’t have such a heavy disease as those others.
Even if you are poor and cannot afford a luxurious, comfortable life, think of those who have a much harder life, who are dying of starvation. You then feel very fortunate that you don’t have such great problems. When you compare your situation with the problems of others like this, you feel happier. When you look only at your present problem, you think it is so great. Even though it is actually a small problem, you make it big. You think, “This is unbearable!” and make it huge. In this way it makes you depressed, more and more unhappy, with more worry and fear. You can see that with an unskillful way of thinking there is unhappiness; with a skillful way of thinking, there is immediate happiness. So, your own mind creates the happiness; your own mind stops the worry, depression and so forth. With your own mind you can do that.
If you have a disease that is curable, it may be more beneficial, depending upon the level of your mind, to use medicine to cure it. However, if the disease is incurable, something that you have to go through, while you are experiencing the pain or whatever, there are different ways to think. Let’s say that you suddenly find out you have AIDS. When you think of only yourself, you see only your own problem and do not see the problems of others. You then become scared and even paranoid, kind of crazy. This is possible.
Concern about yourself can make you so worried that you even create health problems, you create disease within yourself.
However, when you think of the hundreds of thousands of others who have these problems, it makes a difference to your mental state. You are not as upset, not as paranoid as when you think only of yourself and not of others. Just this makes you feel better. Somehow your mental state becomes lighter. Whether your disease is curable or incurable, while you are experiencing it, sincerely dedicate that you are bearing the sufferings, the hardships, for others. Think of Jesus Christ, for example, who took others’ pain and suffering upon himself. There are many stories like this and not only in Buddhism. There are so many saints, so many holy beings, in Christianity as well as Buddhism.
For example, Shakyamuni Buddha sacrificed his life numberless times for other sentient beings. He gave his own body as charity to others numberless times; he gave his legs, hands and head. He gave his eyes to others when they came begging for eyes. Numberless times he offered charity. When he was a king, he gave away his wealth and even his whole family—his wife, sons and daughters—to other sentient beings. Numberless times he offer his own body as charity to other sentient beings, to the spirits, to animals, to humans. Holy beings sacrifice themselves like this for others and Shakyamuni Buddha did this numberless times during his lives as a bodhisattva.
Whether your disease is curable or incurable, to make having it worthwhile, experience it on behalf of all sentient beings. While you are experiencing it, make the dedication in your mind, “I am experiencing this on behalf of all sentient beings.”
Do the meditation of taking others’ sufferings of AIDS, cancer or whatever problem you have.
So many have the problem now and so many hundreds of thousands will be experiencing this problem in the future, so take all the present and future suffering and its causes—the negative actions motivated by the disturbing thoughts of ignorance, anger and attachment—upon yourself. Breathe in all the disease and its causes in the form of black smoke. It comes in through your nostrils and is absorbed into the self-cherishing thought, which interferes all the time with your immediate and ultimate happiness; which interferes all the time with your ability to free all sentient beings from all their sufferings and obscurations and to lead them to temporary and ultimate happiness. It is absorbed into the self-cherishing thought and completely destroys it.
Take in all the undesirable environments experienced by humans, animals, pretas and hell beings in the form of black smoke and absorb them into the self-cherishing thought. After these are absorbed, the self-cherishing thought, the ego, becomes completely non-existent.
As the self-cherishing thought becomes non-existent, so too does the real I —the I existing from its own side, which the self-cherishing thought regards as so precious and so important. Just as the self-cherishing thought becomes empty, non-existent, so does the object it cherishes, the real I appearing from its own side. It also becomes empty.
Then meditate for a little while on the emptiness of the I, aware that the I is empty of existing from its own side. What is left there is nothing except what is merely imputed. This merely imputed I then offers charity to other sentient beings. The merely imputed I offers everything—all your own happiness and causes of happiness, merit, your own body and possessions—to the hell beings, preta beings, animals, humans, demi-gods, gods, to all sentient beings. Your own body becomes a wish-granting jewel and you offer charity to all of them. All their environments become pure realms. If someone is practicing Christianity, the place where they are becomes heaven. Everyone lives in a pure realm filled with only pure enjoyments; nothing causes delusions to arise.
Author: Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Eds: Ven. Ailsa Cameron / Sandra Smith (LYWA) / Renée Picard (elephant journal)
Images: Third image credit Roger Kunsang (all images via the author)