My dear one,
In your letter you mention that you’ve taken refuge and lay vows. It is incredible that you are able to do this, that you have taken on this practice and are able to live in it. Why is it incredible? Because you have this precious human body just this once. Just to be a human being is extremely rare. Beings who are in the hell realms and who are now reincarnating in the hell realm from the intermediate state are as many as dust particles or atoms of this earth. The number of beings who are hungry ghosts and who are reincarnating in the hungry ghost realm from the intermediate state are like the number of sand grains in the ocean. The number of animal beings and beings who are reincarnating in the animal realm from the intermediate state are like the number of blades of grass growing in the mountains and on the ground. The number of beings who are reborn as ordinary human beings from the intermediate state are few, without mentioning the perfect human rebirth qualified by the eight freedoms and ten fortunes. It is so rare and difficult to achieve the human form because one has to have practiced the causes to achieve it. Most sentient beings don’t live in pure morality, let alone have taken vows of morality.
Living in Vows
Looking around you can see that there are very few people living in the five lay vows. If you check those who live in the vows and those who don’t live in the vows, those who engage in non-virtuous actions are countless compared to those who keep the five lay vows and create good karma. Even those keeping just one lay vow are few. So, you can see this by watching the world. That is why it is extremely rare to be just an ordinary human being, let alone to have a precious human rebirth.
It is very difficult to have a good rebirth because most people have no understanding of karma, no faith that through being generous now, in future lives you will be wealthy, that through this life’s practice of morality, in your next life you receive a good human rebirth. There is no understanding or faith in these subjects. You can only understand these things through studying Buddha’s teachings and quotes that are taught by the omniscient minds of countless enlightened beings. No other buddhas have found faults with or have seen any thing opposite to what Shakyamuni Buddha explained regarding karma—that such and such actions produce such and such results. For example, the result of being stingy is poverty that isn’t only experienced in the next life. If the karma is powerful, you can experience such results in this life.
There are three types of karma. One is tong cho nang tu kyi ley, meaning you create a cause in this life and receive the result in this same life. The second is kye ney nang tu kyi ley: you create the cause in this life and experience the result in your next life. The third is leng tang zhen la nang tu kyi ley, where you create the cause in this life and experience the result after many lifetimes; it may be millions, billions, zillions, trillions of lifetimes before you experience the result. Those karmas that are very powerful result in happiness or suffering in that same life.
Buddha explained in the King of Concentration Sutra, “Anyone practicing one vow for one day and night (24 hours) in these degenerate times collects far greater merit than anyone making offerings of umbrellas, banners, flags, lights, garlands of flowers, and so forth to 10 million buddhas for one billion times and for eons equaling the number of sand grains (the extremely fine atomic grains) in the Pacific Ocean. The meaning is that you can’t imagine how much merit is created by keeping one vow for 24 hours. Even if we were talking about just an ordinary sand grain it would be immense, but here we are talking about the seven types of very fine atoms. This is regarding just the merit of keeping one vow for one day, not all five lay vows, or the eight vows, or the 36 vows of a monk or nun.
Power of the Omniscient Mind
No other buddha has found that anything that Shakyamuni Buddha explained is incorrect, and there are countless buddhas. The pandits and the yogis of the past checked the teachings, practiced them, and achieved exactly the same realizations that Buddha did. No omniscient mind has seen that the path taught by the Buddha is wrong. If this happened, it would be one thing, but it has never happened. So, this is clear proof.
There are many karmic stories and teachings by Shakyamuni Buddha explaining that from such and such actions or causes, such and such results are produced; that from a virtuous cause, happiness results, and from a negative action, suffering is the result. For example, if you practice patience in this life, in future lives you will have a beautiful body that people are happy to see and are attracted to. Holy beings take an attractive body so that it is easy for them to benefit others, for people to listen to their teachings, to follow their advice, practice what they have taught, actualize the path, and to achieve liberation and enlightenment. They use their attractive body, the result of patience, as a method to easily benefit sentient beings.
If another buddha’s omniscient mind were to see the opposite of anything that Shakyamuni Buddha taught, it would mean what Buddha explained is incorrect. But as I explained before, there are countless other buddhas and they see exactly the same things. There are subtle phenomena that can’t be seen even by the arhats who have completed the Hinayana five paths (the paths of accumulation, preparation, seeing, meditation, and no more learning), who are free from the sufferings of samsara, including the causes of suffering—karma and mental afflictions—and have completely removed even the causes of the afflictions. This means that for those beings it is impossible for mental afflictions to arise again or to experience suffering again. They have inconceivable qualities and psychic powers enabling them to do all sorts of things, such as being able to make very small forms as large as mountains and to transform huge mountains into tiny forms.
The tenth-bhumi bodhisattva has completed all the realizations of the five paths and the ten bhumis (levels), meaning they have incredible qualities and psychic powers. Before becoming a buddha, a bodhisattva can manifest billions, zillions of bodies that can work for sentient beings and make offerings, go to pure lands and take teachings, manifest as water, rivers, bridges, mountains, trees—anything for the happiness of sentient beings—incredible things. What they can do is way beyond what our minds can comprehend. For example, the entire world is contained in one pore of their body. It is unimaginable; these are things that we can’t understand, incredible things the bodhisattvas can do when they reach those paths and bhumis. They pervade many pure lands and worlds and the worlds pervade their holy bodies.
These incredible powers exist only through the power of a mind that has purified its defilements and they are explained in the commentary on Madhyamika by Lama Tsongkhapa. In the West, these are impossible things to understand, but they happen to the meditator who reaches those levels; their minds have no limitations. Our bodies and minds are very limited in their ability to benefit others. We can’t manifest even just one more body to benefit others. The bodhisattva on the first bhumi can manifest one hundred bodies to benefit others, give various teachings to sentient beings, etc. On the next bhumi they can manifest 1,000 bodies—what they can manifest doubles with each bhumi. What each bodhisattva on each level can do to benefit others is incredible. The best way to prove all this is for you to enter the paths, and as you go through each of them you experience all those powers and abilities exactly as Lama Tsongkhapa explained in the teachings.
Although arhats and 10th-level bodhisattvas have qualities as vast as the sky, they can’t perceive such things as subtle karmas because they haven’t abandoned the four causes of ignorance. Only a buddha’s omniscient mind can see such things as the subtle karmas of sentient beings, incredible distances of time and place, and so on. For example, on the first bhumi bodhisattvas can see 100 past lives and 100 future lives. The second-bhumi bodhisattva can see 1,000 past and future lives, and so on. The tenth-level bodhisattva can perceive zillions of past and future lives, but still there are very subtle things and incredible distances and lengths of time and lives that only a buddha’s omniscient mind can see. Until you are a buddha there are blockages that are obstacles in one’s ability to perfectly work for sentient beings, especially not perceiving subtle karmas.
Story of the Old Man and the Fly
Jindag Palgyey was eight years old before he began to practice Dharma, but was still able, in that one life, to actualize the path and become an arya being. He achieved the wisdom realizing emptiness and was able to remove all the defilements. He was fed up at home because all the children made fun of him every day. He thought he would have so much peace if he became a monk living in a monastery. So he went to see the abbot of the monastery to request ordination. The abbot was Maudgalyana, one of the Buddha’s heart disciples, who had the most powerful psychic powers among all of Buddha’s disciples. Maudgalyana checked and told the old man that he couldn’t see any karma for him to become a monk: “You’re old, you can’t read, you can’t study in the monastery. You can’t even do service in the monastery.” The old man became very depressed. He put his head on the lower crossbar of the gate of the monastery and wept. He went to the park crying, and even though the Buddha was elsewhere in India, Buddha saw the old man and felt great compassion for him. The Buddha sees all sentient beings with his omniscient mind. Whenever there is karma for a sentient being to be guided, out of compassion the Buddha arrives at that place without the delay of even one second.
Shakyamuni Buddha appeared to the old man and asked what was wrong. The man explained his difficulties at home and how he had asked for ordination but wasn’t accepted by the abbot of the monastery. Buddha said, “I have completed the merits of wisdom and of virtue so I can see that you do have karma to become a monk.” This means that due to having completed the two types of merit and the entire path, and having removed the coarse and subtle defilements, the Buddha’s mind had become omniscient. The old man told Buddha that Maudgalyana had said that he had no karma to become a monk, but the Buddha explained that an incredibly long time ago this man was a fly near a precious stupa. There was cow dung around the stupa and as a fly, the old man had followed the smell of cow dung, thus circumambulating around the stupa. That small merit he created was enough for him to become a monk. Then Buddha checked with his omniscience to find out who could guide this old man. Buddha saw that his other heart disciple, Shariputra, who excelled in wisdom among all the disciples and was abbot of another monastery, was the one who could guide him, so he handed the old man over to Shariputra.
The man became a monk at Shariputra’s monastery but the young monks teased him every day. He got fed up again, ran away from the monastery, and jumped in a river. Then his abbot, Shariputra, looked for the old monk with his psychic powers, appeared right at that place, and grabbed the old man out of the river. The old monk was completely shocked and embarrassed because he hadn’t received permission to leave the monastery. He explained that he had become fed up because all the young monks had teased him, so he jumped in the river. Shariputra told him, “You are doing this because you don’t have renunciation of samsara.”
Shariputra told him to hang onto his robes and then flew over the ocean and landed on a mountain of bones. Shariputra explained, “These are the bones of all your past lives.” There were bones of a whale, the largest animal in the ocean. The minute the old man heard “These are the bones of all your past lives,” the hair all over his body stood on end and he renounced samsara. He realized the faults of samsara: nothing is definite, the enjoyments of samsara are uncertain, you can’t find satisfaction, and samsaric pleasures are only in the nature of suffering. He entered the path of accumulation and became an arya being in that very life.
Once you become an arya, you don’t fall down from there. You become an arhat and eventually enter the Mahayana path. After some time in nirvana, the buddhas send light and inspire you to enter the Mahayana path. You then remove even the subtle defilements that were not eliminated before and achieve enlightenment. You can then work perfectly for sentient beings, liberating them from all the sufferings of samsara and bringing them to enlightenment. All this perfect work for sentient beings comes from a person having become enlightened. In the case of the old man, before that, he had entered the Mahayana Path; before that he was an arhat; before that he entered the Hinayana Path; before that, he was a monk; and before that, unimaginable eons ago, he was a fly that followed the smell of cow dung that became a circumambulation, which wasn’t even performed intentionally. There was no thought that it was a holy stupa and he would purify karma by going around it. Rather, with attachment, he followed cow dung, which became a circumambulation. That small action became a virtuous action, not from the side of the motivation, but from the power of the object, the holy stupa.
My reason for telling you this story has two purposes. One is that you can see that while arhats have great qualities, they still don’t have omniscience. Their minds can’t see the subtle karmas of sentient beings, which hinders their ability to work perfectly for others, as in this story with Maudgalyana. Only a buddha can see the most subtle karmas. Maudgalyana was an arhat who had many qualities and powers, but he incorrectly predicted that this old man didn’t have the karma to become a monk. Until you become a buddha you can’t totally accurately judge anyone’s situation. You can’t correctly say, “This is like this. This is not.” Even arhats who are free from the oceans of samsaric sufferings and from mental afflictions can’t predict everything totally correctly, as in this story of the old monk and fly. Only everything an omniscient buddha says is totally correct and trustworthy. Of course, there are many things that less fully realized beings say that are correct, especially those who have completed the path to liberation, but not every single thing. Only what the omniscient ones say is totally correct—that such and such phenomena exist and such and such phenomena don’t exist. An example of what the buddhas say is correct are the four causes of ignorance.
The Power of Holy Objects
This story gives you an understanding of how there is no question that the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, the statues, stupas, scriptures, and pictures of buddhas have incredible power and are the sources of extensive benefits for sentient beings. These holy objects offer the easiest way to purify negative karma and liberate beings from the lower realms. They enable you to collect extensive merit so your mind is transformed and you actualize the path, remove the coarse afflictions, and achieve liberation, then remove the subtle afflictions and achieve enlightenment. Therefore, even a picture of Buddha, a statue, or a scripture is so important to have.
It is extremely important that as many holy objects as possible exist and to build as many as possible everywhere in the world. It is important to have as many holy objects and images as possible at your own house, both outside and inside, set up in a respectful way. You can’t just put them anywhere, like on the floor, in the bathroom where there are bad smells, or outside on the ground. This creates the negative karma of being disrespectful to holy objects.
You accumulate great amounts of merit by merely seeing those holy objects—greater than having made offerings to the solitary realizers (arhats). Offering to how many arhats? To arhats equaling the number of atoms of all the worlds and universes. Arhats are totally liberated from the oceans of samsaric suffering and the causes—negative karma and mental afflictions—as well as their imprints. More merit is gained by just seeing a holy object than offering hundreds of various divine foods that are imagined as nectar and divine clothes—meaning food and clothes that are 100,000 times greater in quality than the clothes or food of human beings. And not offering all this just for one day, but every day, for eons.
How incredible this merit is can be understood from this story. In the past in India, a person who was very poor offered medicinal drink to four monks. In his next life, that person became an extremely wealthy king with a lot of power. In the first example we are talking not about monks, but about arhats who have completed the five paths and have incredible qualities. So, you can imagine the karma of offering to even just one arhat. In this example, the arhats to whom you are offering equal the number of atoms of the entire universe. If you compare the merits of offering to arhats to merely seeing a statue or picture of the Buddha, they are very small.
Buddha explained this in the Sutra of the Mudra Developing the Power of Devotion:
Buddha said to Manjushri:
Any sons or daughters of the lineage and anyone who, every day, has offered divine food of 100 tastes and divine cloth to the arhats equaling the number of atoms of the entire universe or eons equaling the number of sand grains in the ocean, Manjushri, any sons and daughters of the lineage and anyone who sees a drawing of Buddha, or forms of the Buddha such as drawings, statues, pictures, and so on collects infinitely greater merit than making offerings to arhats for that number of eons. So there is no question that if someone puts their palms together, or offers flowers, perfume, incense, or light to the holy objects, it collects infinitely more merit.
You should know that the more merit you have, the easier and quicker it is for you to achieve liberation and enlightenment and for you to liberate countless suffering sentient beings who are relying on you, who have a connection with you. More merit means that your wishes for happiness are fulfilled effortlessly not only in future lives but even in this life. If you think of something you need, that wish is fulfilled that same year, or after some months, weeks, a few days, on the same day, or even after one hour! Sometimes you are surprised because of the power of your merit and how a good thing happens without any effort. It would be excellent if above your bed and on the walls you could put many pictures of holy beings, if the prison allows, and if you are sharing with someone who isn’t upset by it. Maybe you could ask your cell mate’s permission to put curtains around the photos. Maybe you can make friends with that person, give them a milkshake, and make good friends with them (I’m just joking).
Rare and Precious Opportunity
Regarding pure morality, if you examine the world you will see that very few people keep even one vow purely. If you examine yourself for just one day, for 24, or even one hour, you will see that the mental afflictions, the non-virtuous thoughts of anger, desire, and attachment grasping to this life’s happiness arise strongly, one after another, like a storm, like a waterfall, uncontrollably. All activities performed in one day or even one hour are non-virtuous, resulting in suffering. Not only that, but you can’t find satisfaction with such attitudes. Even if you owned the whole world, including the sun, moon, and planets, you still wouldn’t feel satisfied. This is the heaviest suffering, the biggest problem in people’s lives.
For example, famous singers, actors, etc., who are wealthy, famous, and powerful have minds that are full of worries due to their non-virtuous thoughts of worldly concern grasping onto this life’s happiness. The more worldly pleasure and wealth you have, the more the mind feels dissatisfied and miserable. Externally wealth may appear to be wonderful and beautiful: being rich, owning many big apartments, expensive buildings and cars, having a large family, many thousands of friends, etc. However, that person’s inner life is very unhappy. The more you have, the more unhappy you are. There is no inner peace and happiness. You have worries and fear of other people becoming more famous than you are, about losing your wealth or your family, that at any time something might happen and you lose your good reputation. All this comes from desire, the non-virtuous thought. This is without mentioning the result of non-virtuous actions at the time of death and in your future lives, those suffering births in the hell, hungry ghost, or animal realms. For many lifetimes you reincarnate into the lower realms again and again because once born there, there is no opportunity to practice Dharma or virtue. If you look at chickens, tigers, cows, etc., their attitude is only desire, seeking the happiness of this life. So, all their actions are non-virtuous.
Having met the Dharma you have the opportunity to practice, but the animals don’t. There is no way for them to meet the Dharma, to understand and practice it. Being an animal, their minds are blocked from understanding the words and meanings of the Dharma. Even if you explain that happiness comes from virtue—those actions motivated by non-ignorance, non-anger, and non-attachment—even if you explained this to them for thousands of years, billions of eons, there is no way for them to understand. They can’t learn how to practice Dharma. We human beings have met the Dharma. We have this opportunity, but they don’t. Look at them and look at the nature of their life, their motivations and actions. You can see that they only create negative karma, meaning that they will be born again like that, will die and be born again, die and be born again in the lower realms.
Therefore, it is a miracle for us this time, like a dream, to be a human being. We just came from the lower realms. Our permanent home or residence has been the lower realms. We have just come from there. It is something impossible that happened this time, not just to be a human being, but to have met the Dharma, Buddhism. It is like a dream, an impossible thing that has happened.
Because of the state of the mind and the habit of beginingless mental afflictions, especially of desire, it is very difficult to keep even one vow of morality purely. By not having met Buddhadharma we don’t accept reincarnation or karma. Then, even when we hear the teachings, they are still not easy to accept. We don’t understand or have faith. Due to imprints of some merit created in the past, we might have faith and accept the teachings but this still doesn’t mean we are able to practice. So, it is very difficult to keep even one vow and to live purely. Just to become a human being you need pure morality as the basic cause or else it can’t happen. But to be a human being qualified with the eight freedoms and ten fortunes you need to have created the eighteen causes. To practice morality by taking the pratimoksha vows (of individual liberation) and follow the path to liberation, you need so much merit, which is extremely rare to have.
It is even more rare to practice bodhicitta, to take the bodhisattva vows, to achieve the Mahayana path, and to become enlightened. Even rarer than that is receiving a great tantric initiation and following the tantric path in which you can practice and achieve enlightenment in one short life, instead of taking three countless great eons by following the sutra Mahayana path. The rarest and most incredible thing is to take a highest yoga tantra initiation and to practice that path, which makes it possible to achieve enlightenment in one brief lifetime in these degenerate times. Having this perfect human rebirth that has all these incredible opportunities is so rare and precious.
In short, to practice and achieve enlightenment in a brief lifetime in these degenerate times with the highest and lower yoga tantras depends on taking the lower and highest tantric vows. This depends on taking the bodhisattva vows, which depends on taking the pratimoksha (self-liberation) vows, such as the lay vows. So you can see how important it is that you have taken the lay vows. It is an incredibly important foundation and, as I explained earlier, just to be a human being, pure morality is so important. The main cause to be a human being in your next life is practicing these various levels of vows for your spiritual development in the path to liberation and enlightenment. It is like fuel. Without fuel in an airplane, it can’t fly; all those aircrafts can’t fly and rockets can’t go to the moon. Cars and motorcycles can’t function without fuel or kerosene, and without an electric charge there is no light.
Benefiting the World
If you want to benefit others and are concerned about world peace, keeping these vows is essential. It means you stop many negative actions that harm others, directly or indirectly, because you made a vow. You don’t harm yourself by doing those negative actions, because by harming others, you receive harm in the future. By living in these vows (one, two, three, four, or five lay vows), you stop giving that much harm to your family, to the people around you, to animals, to people in your country, in the world—however many billions of people there are—you stop harming them. The absence of harm is peace, so you are giving peace to others, including your family, those around you, and then everyone else. The more vows you take, the less harm you give to others, and the more peace and happiness they receive from you.
The more people there are keeping lay vows helps the environment and increases the causes for prosperity in your country. It helps prevent lack of food, for the rains to come at the right time, for crops to grow, and it also brings world peace. This is something that you can offer and do every day, immediately, even if you are not one of those very high leaders who goes to meetings here and there giving talks about world peace. Many people can talk, but words alone can’t do much for peace. We need action.
Being Angry with Your Family, the Judge, Child Welfare Services, etc
There are a few things I would like you to think about. This is meditation. Think this over in your daily life. Regarding your children, those you think were manipulated to speak against you, your family, the judge, child welfare services, etc., the essence is to look at them positively so you see them in a positive way rather than as being harmful.
You should use the situation and how they treated you and see that it hurt your self-cherishing thought and your attachment to this life. It didn’t hurt your compassion, it didn’t hurt your loving kindness, it didn’t hurt your bodhicitta, it didn’t hurt your wisdom of emptiness. Those positive sides of your mind don’t feel hurt. It is only the negative side of your mind that feels hurt, your wrong conceptions and self-cherishing thoughts.
The Incorrect Concept of Self-Cherishing
Why is it a wrong concept? First there is the “I” that is merely imputed by the mind because of the existence of the basis of imputation—the aggregates of body and mind. When the body is kept in prison along with the mind, it is simply that the mind merely labels and imputes, “I am in prison” and then believes it. This meditation is very important to do every day, all the time. The mind merely imputes and then believes what it has imputed.
In reality, if you analyze, there is no real “I” that has been put in prison. Nobody can put that “I” in prison, because the “real I” that appears and is believed to exist from its own side actually doesn’t exist at all. You can’t find it anywhere. Neither the body is I, nor the mind is I. If you analyze deeper, none of the aggregates is that real I. Even the collection of all five aggregates is not that I. That I also cannot be found anywhere in the aggregates. It can’t be found on the basis (of imputation)—the aggregates. It can’t be found anywhere, from the tip of the hair on your head down to your toes. It can’t be found either outside or inside the body. It cannot be found, it doesn’t exist anywhere—not in the sky, in the ground—nowhere. It can’t be found. By using logical reasoning, it can’t be found. By scientifically checking, it can’t be found. “Scientifically checking” means using reasoning. With wisdom, what you realize after doing analysis is that, scientifically, the (inherently existent) I is totally non-existent, it’s totally empty. This is the ultimate and actual nature of the “I”—the reality.
Now you can see how the self-cherishing thought is a totally wrong concept. There is no real I in the sense of an I existing from its own side. The I that is believed by ignorance to be real, existing from its own side, as it appears to, which is a projection from the negative imprint left by previous ignorance, this is the “I” that you cherish so much. This I, the object of ignorance, is cherished. This is the most precious thing, the most important, precious thing, more precious than all others, the most precious thing among all sentient beings, even the most important thing among all the holy beings, all the buddhas and bodhisattvas! You can see that this is a completely wrong concept because, as I described before, there is no I existing that is this I that is cherished.
The I that does exist is the I that is merely imputed by the mind and exists because the basis (of imputation)—the aggregates—exist. The body is not the I, the mind is not the I, and the I can’t be found on the aggregates. It is the same regarding the real I that appeared and was believed to exist from its own side that can’t be found. Now you can clearly see that the real I that appears to exist from its own side is not in prison. You can’t find it in prison, you can’t find it at home, or on the aggregates—the basis of imputation. You must do this meditation every day. This is very important, no matter how much time it takes.
The Kindness of Those Who Put You in Prison
The more you discover ultimate reality, the more you will see that those people who put you in prison—your children, the judge, child welfare workers, the police—have helped you realize emptiness. Your being in prison has made you meditate on emptiness, ultimate reality, to learn about and discover it. This is a priceless opportunity, because realizing emptiness is what makes it possible to achieve liberation and become forever free from the oceans of samsaric suffering and its causes: the mental afflictions that have been living in your heart from time without beginning, as well as karma. Because of karma and mental afflictions, you have suffered in samsara since beginningless time; you have died and been reborn and then died again. Time and again you experienced the sufferings of the six realms, one after another, like a chain.
All this is caused by the root of samsara, grasping at and holding the “I” as truly existent, as real, in the sense of existing from its own side, as well as grasping at phenomena, at the aggregates—holding the aggregates as real in the sense of existing from their own side and not as merely labeled by the mind. The wisdom realizing emptiness is the only thing that cuts the root of samsara and can remove all the delusions, including their imprints. When you experience the total cessation of suffering and all the causes of suffering, when you experience the ultimate nature of your mind, then there is liberation.
You can see that you can only achieve liberation from all samsaric suffering and its causes with the wisdom realizing emptiness. If your wife, children, the child welfare services, the judge, etc. hadn’t put you in prison, you wouldn’t have met the Dharma. Which would you prefer? Being outside prison and never having met Dharma? Having a life filled with total distractions, going to parties and this and that, and performing actions motivated only by attachment to this life, driven by attachment, doing the same things that you have done since beginningless rebirths again and again? Nothing is new, including all the experiences of pleasure, such as spending your life racing around on a big motorcycle making a lot of noise, chasing boyfriends or girlfriends, etc. You can see that it is actually totally boring.
Reflect that countless times from beginningless rebirths you have had and done all these things. Even if you did all these things only one time, it is totally boring to live that way. Because of so many distractions and desire for pleasure in this life you won’t take any interest in Dharma. Desire doesn’t give you time for Dharma practice.
Even if there is interest, desire doesn’t give you time to learn, to practice meditation, to read lam-rim and other Dharma books, or live in the vows. So, whatever all those people did to put you in prison, for you it turned out to be for your liberation and freedom from the samsaric prison forever! Isn’t this wonderful? Their putting you in prison persuaded your mind to think deeply about your life, and to seriously do something meaningful rather than just playing with your life; not to waste your life and use your life like a duster, or like toilet paper to clean up poop (this is my first time using this new English word for kaka, “poop”).
Their putting you in prison has been an incredible support. It turned your life toward liberation instead of toward the lower realms and samsara, and not only that, but toward enlightenment. Because they put you in prison you seriously want to make your life better, worthwhile, and meaningful. It makes you think, it makes you discover, it wakes up your mind. They have made you wake up. From what? From a life that has been wasted so far by creating only negative karma and the causes for suffering in the lower realms, a life that has been used only as a slave for the mental afflictions. Being in prison you’ve met not only the Buddhadharma, but you’ve met the Mahayana teachings, bodhicitta, and lam-rim. You see how this has made you turn your life toward enlightenment, the highest perfect bliss, where there is nothing more to achieve. It is the cessation of all the mistakes of mind and the completion of all the qualities.
Now you can see that all these people are incredibly precious and have been incredibly kind toward you. There are no words to express what they have done for you. Even if the whole world were filled with jewels, dollars, gold, and diamonds, and you offered it all to them, you couldn’t finish repaying their kindness for this gift they have given you. You should meditate every day on their kindness. It is their kindness that persuaded you to practice renunciation—the detachment that sees how samsara is of the nature of suffering. This is an incredible kindness. They also persuaded you to open your heart, to look for something meaningful in life, to accept Buddhadharma, to learn about bodhicitta, and to meditate on emptiness. This is an incredible kindness, a vast amount of kindness. Their kindness is as vast as the sky.
There are 10 benefits of bodhicitta mentioned in the lam-rim as explained in Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, as well as in the Bodhicaryavatara (A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life) by Shantideva. “After having taken this impure body, it becomes the priceless holy body of the Victorious One. Therefore hold bodhicitta firmly.” The body we have now was caused by delusion and karma and is in the nature of pervasive compounding suffering. On this basis there is the suffering of change. Samsaric pleasure is the suffering of change. There is also the suffering of pain, and the many sufferings of the mind and body. What the text is saying is that by practicing bodhicitta you can become completely free from this suffering and achieve the holy body of a buddha, the pure vajra holy body.
Not only can you be free from suffering, but you can become free from the disturbing thoughts and the gross and subtle obscurations. You can attain an immortal body that pervades all of existence—a holy body that pervades the whole world, and the whole world pervades the entire body. This is what a buddha’s holy body can do. There is no limit, so you are able to benefit all sentient beings. Transformation such as this comes from bodhicitta. Whatever heavy negative karma or actions you have created, you can purify all of them with bodhicitta, as well as experiencing happiness in this life and, even more importantly, the happiness of all future lives, the ultimate happiness of liberation from samsara, and, finally, full enlightenment.
The countless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, sura, and asura beings can receive all this happiness up to enlightenment from your bodhicitta. Isn’t that incredible? Knowing that you are able to cause all of this happiness, up to enlightenment, for the many millions of people in one country, in this world, in other universes, is amazing. In one small spot where there is an ant nest under a stone there are so many thousands of ants and you are able to cause all this happiness up to enlightenment for them. In one field, on one mountain, in one country, in all the countries in the world, there are unimaginable amounts of living beings. There are countless fish in the worlds’ waters, from large fish to very tiny minnows, and even much tinier ones that can only be seen through a microscope. Your bodhicitta is able to cause all this happiness up to enlightenment for all these beings. This is talking about just one type of animal. It is incredible if you think of this relating to all the various types of animals that exist. They are countless. There are countless hell beings, hungry ghosts, sura, and asura beings. You can’t imagine what your bodhicitta can do. What else is there in life to enjoy? It doesn’t matter if you’re in prison or at home. Wherever you are, if you can, practice bodhicitta. This is the best, happiest, most meaningful life—not only for yourself but for everyone. It doesn’t matter where you are physically, your mind can always do this practice.
So you can see now that your family and all these people who put you in prison have given you this opportunity, made you wake up and open your heart to bodhicitta. Their kindness is limitless, it is vast. Even filling the whole world with diamonds, gold, millions of dollars, and wish-fulfilling jewels that grant you whatever you want—all this cannot repay their kindness. They are the most kind, precious ones in your heart.
This is the most important meditation for your daily life. For somebody to be kind to you doesn’t mean they have to have the thought wishing for your happiness, that they pat you on the head, bring you a chocolate drink, ice cream, LSD, or marijuana. The wisdom directly perceiving emptiness that directly removes the gross and subtle defilements, the true Dharma, doesn’t have the thought to benefit you. The direct perception of emptiness itself isn’t concerned about your suffering or happiness, but it is incredibly precious due to how it benefits you. Assuming your family and the others didn’t have the thought to benefit you but only wanted to retaliate, you are still receiving all these benefits from them, such as purifying karma from beginningless rebirths, creating extensive merit of wisdom and virtue, and creating so many causes for happiness by living in the vows, so that you collect merit 24 hours a day while sleeping, eating, etc. Whatever vows you have taken make your life meaningful and beneficial because whatever merit you create every day is increased 100,000 times. These precious opportunities to create the causes for happiness of future lives, good rebirths, to be reborn into a pure land, liberation, and enlightenment is due to their kindness—meaning these people are the most precious ones in your life.
Developing Compassion by Reflecting on Their Future Suffering
There are three ways to think and methods to use with respect to those people. One is using how they treated you to develop compassion toward them. As the great saint, the bodhisattva Shantideva said, “My karma has forced me to receive this harm. By this action of harming this being, haven’t I caused them to be lost in the hells?”
Shantideva is saying is that in past lives you blamed and accused them for things they didn’t do and put them in prison, meaning you did the exact same things to them that they have done to you. This is how karma works. Consequently, in this life you are experiencing the result of that karma. It is like you planted a seed and now it is sprouting. Due to that, the karma ripening now is the reason they have treated you like this, why they have accused and blamed you and put you in prison in this life. The negative karma that they have created by treating you like this and putting you in prison will cause them to be reborn in the lowest hells. Even though now they are human beings, when they die their consciousnesses will migrate to the lowest hell realms, like falling from a cliff to the lowest places, into the hot hells of fire and into the cold hells. If you hadn’t been the one to initially blame and treat them as you did in the past, there would be nothing to persuade them to harm you this time, to treat you this way, to blame you and put you in prison. There would be no cause, no reason at all. It would be impossible for it to happen. And from this negative karma of harming you they will be reborn in the hell realms. They had no freedom at all. They were completely controlled by delusion and karma that was initiated by you in the first place. You can see that it all came from you. The whole evolution of all of this came from your following your mental afflictions: the self-cherishing thought, anger, attachment, etc.
When you think like this all these people only become an object of compassion and it is impossible to have thoughts of anger toward them. Instead of wishing them harm you think, “What can I do to help them, to protect them from the lower realms so they never have to experience all that karma and to liberate them from samsara?” You can dedicate merits and pray that these things may happen, that they may achieve liberation and enlightenment as quickly as possible by taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. You can recite mantras and visualize that light and nectar radiate from the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, enter into their bodies and minds purifying their negative karma, sickness, and mental afflictions, and they become enlightened (as in your meditations on Shakyamuni Buddha, Medicine Buddha, or Chenrezig). After you finish your morning, afternoon, and evening practices, dedicate those merits for them to realize refuge, bodhicitta, liberation, and enlightenment. By thinking like this, as the bodhisattvas of the past have done, it makes you only want to weep and to have compassion for them.
Accepting and How You See the Situation
This meditation comes from what the great bodhisattva, Shantideva, said, “In the past I gave so much harm to sentient beings, therefore they are harming me now. Therefore, I deserve to experience this harm.” It’s basically a matter of accepting the situation. If you don’t accept the situation it becomes a difficult problem. If you accept the situation of others blaming you and putting you in prison and you don’t reject it, then it doesn’t become a problem. Accepting is the first thing to practice, the thought transformation practice, the Dharma practice. Many of life’s problems come from not accepting the situation, so then it becomes a problem. But the minute you accept a situation, the minute you accept whatever problem you have, it becomes very small or even disappears. Whether it is a problem or not is up to your own mind, your own concept.
Once you give it the label, “This is a problem,” it becomes a problem for you. If you don’t label “problem” there is no problem. Your mind labels and then you see “problem” from that. If it didn’t start like that there wouldn’t be an appearance of a problem and you wouldn’t see a problem. This is a scientific description of how we see pleasure and problems. Everything comes from your own mind. In any situation, the minute you label “problem” and see at it as problem, it becomes a problem for you. If you see it as pleasure, interpret it as pleasure, then it appears as pleasure and you experience pleasure.
For example, if someone is beating you, and you find it pleasurable, even though you feel pain, you label it as “good,” as “pleasure,” and you don’t see it as a problem. But if you don’t want that person to beat you, you label being beaten as a problem. You become very angry and call the police, or you might beat, injure, or kill that person or have him or her put in prison. You want to harm them. When they hit you with a belt or a whip the pain is there. It is not that one person hits you and you feel only bliss. The pain is the same, but whether it is a problem or not a problem depends on how your mind labels it, on your concept.
When you’re with someone who you want to have sex with, you don’t see having sex as a problem, but as pleasure. But if a person that you aren’t attached to forces you to have sex, you call it “abuse.” Depending on what label your mind applies, it becomes either pleasure or a problem. There is no pleasure, problem, or suffering that exists from its own side (independently from your own mind).
You can use the situation to train your mind in bodhicitta by doing tong-len practice: taking all the sentient beings’ negative karma and suffering of being in the unpleasant prison, and developing compassion toward anyone who has the karma to be in prison, as well as the place itself. Take all that delusion and karma, even the subtle imprint of the mental affliction, onto yourself and give it to your self-cherishing mind. In that moment, like a bomb exploding, it all becomes totally non-existent.
If you use being in prison for your tong-len practice by taking the sufferings of the countless beings who have the karma to be in prison onto yourself, you create vast amounts of merit. You also take the causes of their suffering—negative karma and mental afflictions—and by taking on their subtle imprints you also collect vast amounts of merit. It is the same when, with loving kindness, you offer your body to countless beings. Also, when you give away your wealth, you collect infinite merit. Each time you practice tong-len and give away your past, present, and future merits and all your happiness, including enlightenment, you collect infinite merit and purify eons of negative karma. Each time you do the meditation of taking the suffering and giving, you come closer to liberation and enlightenment and closer to being able to enlighten all beings. Now you can see how it is such an incredibly positive thing that they put you in prison. It is so precious, incredibly good, something that you really needed in order to purify and collect so much merit in such a short time, to become a buddha. It is something to rejoice about. It is not bad or painful but something that makes you incredibly happy. It is incredibly positive that you have this opportunity to practice renunciation, bodhicitta, and the correct view, as well as guru devotion. So, now you realize it is only a very happy thing.
What Is Needed to Complete the Perfection of Patience
These people blaming you and putting you in prison is something you really need. It is good because of the great pleasure it will eventually bring you. It is such a happy thing. Think: “This helps me practice patience, my path to enlightenment.” There are six perfections to practice after developing bodhicitta. What I have been talking about is the perfection of patience. By practicing patience with those people, you reduce your anger, and after some time anger doesn’t even arise, or it only lasts a short time, through having performed the mind training of patience. Then, you never get angry with anyone, however they treat you. If you don’t get angry you won’t harm anyone with your body, speech, or mind. That absence of harm is peace and happiness that you can give others from life to life. An additional benefit of practicing patience is that you are able to bring so much peace and happiness into your own heart and life and those of your family, neighbors, country, and the whole world—from life to life.
All this happiness comes from practicing patience. You can offer all this happiness to countless beings due to the kindness of your family, children, the child welfare service, the judge, etc.—all those who blamed you and put you in prison. By practicing patience with them, you are able to offer all this peace and happiness to so many sentient beings. It actually came from them, from their kindness, so again they are incredibly precious. You can use the ways they treated you, blamed you, manipulated, and put you in prison to practice. Use it to complete the perfection of patience and thus achieve full enlightenment. Then, you are able to bring countless sentient beings in the hell, hungry ghost, animal, human, sura, and asura realms to enlightenment. If you don’t practice patience with them, anger arises, and then all those other troubling, disturbing, negative attitudes arise toward them, and then you commit many negative actions. Those people can become your practical teachers of patience. This is another way to think of their kindness and how they are precious.
Another method that might help you feel compassion or patience explained in the lam-rim is: If someone beats you with a stick, you don’t get angry with the stick. The stick used by the person doesn’t have the thought to harm you. It has no choice. Similarly, the person has no choice, being completely controlled by their mental afflictions. So, he or she is only an object of compassion. They are suffering so much, being totally controlled and used like a slave by their delusions. This is one technique for practicing patience and developing compassion.
The Harmful Self-Cherishing Thought
The most effective meditation is to remember the big picture. If you cherish the I, it causes you so much undesirable suffering. It opens the door for all the problems and obstacles, not only in this life, but from life to life, by circling in the six realms and experiencing the oceans of sufferings that you have experienced from beginingless rebirths up until now. If you continue to cherish it, you will have to experience the endless sufferings of samsara. You won’t be able to achieve enlightenment, liberation, the happiness of future lives, or even the happiness of this life. Cherishing the I not only has been harming you since beginingless rebirths and will harm you endlessly in the future, but has harmed countless sentient beings from life to life.
Think about how dangerous your selfish attitude is to the countless beings who want happiness and don’t want any suffering, just like you. There is nothing more terrifying than this. The selfish thought is much more harmful than all the bombs in the world. They haven’t been harmful since beginningless samsara and they won’t endlessly harm you. Even if you are blown up by a bomb, all it does is separate your consciousness from this body, but if you have practiced Dharma in this life and collected a lot of merit, even if you are harmed by an atomic bomb, you will receive a good rebirth in your next life—as a human or in a pure land. It is the same if you die from cancer; because of having practiced bodhicitta, you will have a good rebirth. But the self-cherishing thought is more harmful than all the 404 sicknesses in this world, including cancer, AIDS, etc. These are nothing compared to the self-cherishing thought. They just separate the consciousness from the body. They don’t harm your future lives and don’t lead to the lower realms, but the selfish attitude and thought do.
On the other hand, cherishing even one other person or one insect and wanting them to be happy opens the door for all happiness: your happiness and peace in daily life and at the time of death, the happiness of future lives, liberation, and enlightenment. The thought wishing to bring even just one living being happiness ultimately is the cause for countless beings to experience every happiness up to enlightenment. Even if you don’t have the actual realization of bodhicitta, the mere thought to bring happiness to one insect or one person ultimately causes so much benefit and happiness for countless sentient beings.
Breaking the Habit of Attachment
You mentioned in your letter about habit and how difficult it makes things. One saying in the teachings is: If you put honey on a chili plant, it won’t make it sweet. Like that, desiring sex is a habit that didn’t begin in this life. It comes from past lives. It’s beginningless. You have had this mind’s habit of desire for the opposite sex and sexual pleasure in general throughout your beginningless rebirths. You need to understand how unbelievably strong the habit of attachment is that you have had from time without beginning, due to causes and conditions. An imprint was left on your mental continuum each time you had desire, planting the seed. For it to arise, there have to be the conditions of desire, the object—the body of the opposite sex, and so forth. It is a causative phenomenon, arising from the imprints of past sexual desire.
As all sentient beings have Buddha nature, they can be totally liberated from attachment. It can be removed. This is because the imprints can be completely removed by using the remedies, in particular the wisdom directly perceiving emptiness. Because that imprint isn’t a permanent phenomenon but is a causative phenomenon, it can change due to causes and conditions, by way of the path, especially the wisdom realizing emptiness. There is no question that attachment can be removed, because it is a causative phenomenon, a dependent-arising. If it were independent, it couldn’t be eliminated, but because it is dependent, it can be removed by causes and conditions: the remedy, the path.
Attachment and Emptiness
Not only attachment, but even the subtle negative imprint that projects the subtle dual view can be removed. Even though everything exists by being merely imputed by mind, the subtle negative imprint projects true existence the second after the mind imputes. The mind projects inherent existence on top of whatever it is perceiving, it decorates inherent existence on everything, makes everything seem real. If you ask, “What am I doing?” you answer, “I am sitting,” or “I am talking, I am meditating, sleeping, eating,” whatever. How does the label happen? First, the mind sees the aggregates and what actions the aggregates are performing.
For example, the aggregate of the body is performing the action of sitting, the mind is performing the action of meditation, the body is performing the action of talking, or the mind is sleeping. First the mind perceives these actions and then, according to what activity the aggregates are performing, the mind makes up the label, “I’m doing this or that.” In the next second there is the projection, the decoration made by the subtle negative imprint of inherent, true existence. Even though it is merely imputed by the mind, in the next second of perception the object doesn’t appear as being merely labeled by the mind; it appears as not merely labeled by the mind, but as something real in the sense of existing from its own side. Also a real “I” appears—the real “I” is really sitting, talking, sleeping, meditating. Each such action is merely labeled by mind, but right after the mere imputation, the mind immediately decorates or projects true existence and that action appears as real. It makes it real in the sense of existing from its own side. It is like this for all phenomena: for each of the five aggregates, the senses, the objects of the senses, etc. Everything appears as being real due to the subtle negative imprint.
In reality, the “I” is empty, the aggregates are empty, the senses and the objects of the senses are all totally empty. They don’t have the slightest atom of true existence. All appearances of true existence are projected, are false, are total hallucinations and non-existent. This emptiness is the ultimate nature of all phenomena. The subtle negative imprints that project all this can be completely removed by the wisdom directly perceiving emptiness with the support of bodhicitta, by completing all the merits of wisdom and the merits of virtue.
This is possible because of having the Buddha nature that makes it possible to end attachment and its cause, the subtle negative imprint. This is how all the suffering that comes from delusion and karma can end. True cessation can be achieved because there is the true path. Buddha explained the path in scriptures, and there are still many great masters who have achieved this cessation in their minds, from whose experience we can learn. This is how we can remove our afflictions and be liberated forever from all sufferings and their causes.
You should understand deep down in your heart that attachment is a habit from beginningless rebirths, so it is not an easy thing to remove. You have to continue to practice lam-rim meditations, which are antidotes to attachment. You need to start with renunciation of attachment to pleasures of this life and of all samsara. Then you are able to enter into the path. Without bodhicitta, you will enter the Hinayana path, but if you develop great compassion, you are able to develop bodhicitta and enter the Mahayana path, so you can remove both gross and subtle defilements. If you practice tantra you can remove all those defilements in one life, even with lower tantra. Of course, if you practice highest yoga tantra then all this can happen in one brief lifetime in these degenerate times.
This is something that you should think: “I must do it. If not in this life, then in my next life, even if it takes hundreds or thousands of lifetimes, even it takes eons. I must put all my effort into developing my mind in the path.” Deep down in your heart there should be this strong determination that even if it takes eons, I will do it. No matter how difficult it is, no matter how long it takes, I will do it. Why? Because if I don’t do it, I will suffer in samsara without end, as it doesn’t have a beginning. Without doing this you make your suffering in samsara endless. That is totally crazy. This is the craziest, most foolish, most ignorant thing. There is nothing more ignorant than that, nothing crazier than that.
And, especially, you won’t be able liberate others, help others, those countless beings from whom you received all your past happiness in countless rebirths, your present happiness, future happiness, liberation, and enlightenment. Everything comes from them, even small pleasures in a dream. It is them from whom you receive all this, so they are the most precious, most kind ones. The purpose for having taken this precious human body is to benefit others. First, there is causing others to have happiness in this life. More important than that is causing the happiness of all future lives. More important than that is liberating them from all suffering and its causes: mental afflictions and karma. Even more important is bringing them to full enlightenment, the cessation of all mistakes of the mind and completion of all the realizations. This is the purpose of our life. This is the reason for spending so much money to survive every day, every hour, every minute; for shelter, food, clothing, medicine—to bring sentient beings to full enlightenment. Any other purpose than working for others is not the meaning of life.
With respect to someone you get angry with, after some time, even if there is no meditation performed as a remedy, that person is no longer the object of your anger. Similarly, with the object of attachment, that person isn’t always your object of attachment; it changes. This happens even for someone who has never received teachings on meditation. So, you can see it is a dependent-arising. It is not something that is permanent or that you can’t do anything about. Therefore, there is no question that with meditation on the teachings you have received you can stop attachment to that object. Then, when you reach the path of seeing, the path of meditation, and so on, with the wisdom directly perceiving emptiness, there is no question about ending your mental afflictions. Actualizing the path of seeing removes the intellectual afflictions, then actualizing the path of meditation ends the innate afflictions.
What Are You Sexually Attached To?
When you have attachment to someone or to their body, let us analyze how this happens. You first get attached because of attachment to their body. Of course, it’s not necessarily always the body. Sometimes you get attached because of the voice, a singsong voice, or because of their knowledge or intelligence. Sometimes you are attached to the person, but not the body—attached to their wealth, personality, smell, sense of humor, etc. I am talking particularly in relation to the problem that you had. This is why I am discussing attachment to the body.
If you go slightly under the skin, there is nothing to be attached to. If you look at it under a microscope you will see it differently than without a microscope. You will see many pores, and the skin cells look like mountains. There is no truly existent skin. It is just a collection of cells and atoms. First you see the skin as beautiful or this and that. However, there is nothing beautiful from the side of the object, not even the slightest atom. How you see the skin is according to your view. It came from your own mind. It is your own mind’s projection.
If you separate the skin from the body and put it aside, suddenly there is nothing to be attached to. You are not attached to the skin. Without skin there is no way to be attached to the rest of the body. Without skin it is incredibly shocking. Even when you see a little blood coming from someone’s body, you are frightened. There is certainly no attachment to the blood. This helps to give some idea that, from the object’s side, there is nothing to be attached to. Thinking, “This is nice, there is something that is worth being attached to” comes from your mind. It is a projection from your own mind.
Another example is, if you saw an “attractive” body but you smelled its poop, you wouldn’t get attached to it. If the same young body that is so beautiful had a rotten smell, even though the shape was still the same—the hair style, the shape of the nose, the cheeks and lips were still the same, but if there were a rotten smell, like when it becomes old and wrinkled, you wouldn’t be attached to it. This is the reasoning that proves that there is nothing from the body’s side to be attached to.
Then there is attachment to the organ of the opposite sex. This is due to imprints from past lives left on the mind by attachment to the opposite sex. Of course, it is not necessarily always the opposite sex, this is just a general explanation. Again, there is nothing from its own side at all to which attachment is drawn. It comes from past lives’ attachment to the opposite sex that has left imprints on the mind. There are so many imprints, like a camera recording imprints on a huge roll of film. That is an example of imprints on the consciousness. The mental continuum is like a film that from beginningless rebirths, over so many lives, has had so many imprints put on it by attachment. It is like the chicken and the egg. Due to past imprints attachment arises. You see someone of the opposite sex, then you project onto that object. That imprint manifests, so when looking at something attractive, attachment arises toward that object. It is totally a mind creation, your own mind creation. There is nothing from its own side. It came from the negative imprint left by past attachment. It is just the view of your karma. What you are attached to is only your own karmic view, what you think. You are attached to what your mind labels and that label appears to you and you become attached to that. You are attached to your own view, but you totally believe that is has nothing to do with you, that nothing came from your mind, that it totally comes from its own side. This is totally a hallucination. It is the same with the rest of the body. If you think their hair is beautiful, or their nose, their mustache or eyelashes, it is only your own projection.
This time you are a male with a penis but in another life, when you are a woman, your karmic view of what you are attached to is the man’s organ. Your view changes. I am giving a general explanation and am not including lesbians or gays. But once you understand this reasoning, it is basically the same, whether referring to heterosexuals, gays, or lesbians. This is just to understand that there is nothing coming from its own side. For example, when the person wasn’t lesbian or gay, there wouldn’t be that attraction, but later, whether the person becomes gay or lesbian, then they have a view that they didn’t have before—their own mind projection of what they are attached to.
If you can, develop strong aversion to women (sexual desire for women) by thinking of the problems they cause in your life. This allows you to be reborn as a man, to have renunciation of sexual pleasure, and to become a monk in your next life.
Padmasambhava mentions in the text Granting Advice, “Women are the basis for samsara, the three lower realms, the obstacle blocking the door to liberation, and the cause and condition of the five poisons and delusions.” This is Padmasambhava’s advice for men to think about in order to control attachment and stop their negative habits. From the man’s point of view it is the antidote to attachment. It can also be seen from the woman’s point of view by thinking how to control attachment to men through reflecting on all the problems and the difficulties.
Attachment and attraction have a lot to do with the face. A truly or inherently existent face appears, one that is not merely labeled by your mind. You have this view projected from your negative imprints left by past ignorance, and this projection exaggerates a beautiful hair style, beautiful nose, beautiful cheeks, this and that, then you interpret and label the face as “beautiful.” There is an exaggeration of the beauty and then attachment arises with the belief that “This is beautiful.” The mind not only labels “beautiful” but it believes it is beautiful, and then attachment arises. Attachment clings to the appearance of the beautiful face and body and then it is hard to separate from it and it becomes a problem for your mind. Before the attachment arose you didn’t have that problem. It is not so much the sexual organs. It starts with the face, and then that face, a projection of your own mind, becomes very important for you.
There are two things: imprints left by ignorance and imprints left by attachment. The body you see, that you hold onto as real and cling to like oil on paper due to attachment, is difficult to separate from. This comes from holding onto your own hallucinations and projections exaggerated by your own mind. The object you are attached to as something attractive, that your ignorance holds as being real and not merely labeled, doesn’t exist. But you are attached and absorbed into the person’s body, like oil in cotton, because you see it as being beautiful.
The other problem is the dissatisfied mind. You are not satisfied with the pleasure and sensation you had previously, so you want to have more or better pleasure and to repeat what you experienced before. Then, again, you are not satisfied. You want more. There is the expectation looking for pleasure that will give satisfaction, but it never happens. For years, months, weeks, days, even in 24 hours you never get satisfaction. Even in one billion years you never get satisfaction. You look for another pleasure, for better pleasure that will give satisfaction, But it doesn’t get better and better. You keep doing this for hours, days, weeks, months, even for 100 years.
Another case to consider is when, at first, you are not attached to someone’s body. Then after some time the person is very kind to you, giving you lots of gifts and things, whatever you want. They are very nice to you. Then, even though there was no attachment before, suddenly your view changes. Now they seem to be very nice. They become an object of attachment. Your view of that person has totally changed from what it was before. Your mind has exaggerated their good qualities so now you are attached to that person and it is difficult to separate from them. The thought of separation is unbelievably painful. Then desire leads to sexual misconduct and doing those various negative actions. Like Lama Yeshe used to say, when ordinary people are making love, there is no wisdom or compassion involved. The motive is only the self-cherishing thought and pleasure for oneself. If your motivation is non-virtuous, the action is non-virtuous and causes reincarnation in the lower realms and suffering there for a long, long time. As Lama would say, there is no control or wisdom during the sex act and the mind is totally unconscious and confused. What Lama meant by “wisdom” is Dharma wisdom, in particular the wisdom realizing emptiness.
Of course, there are special cases such as brave hearted bodhisattvas who have compassion and bodhicitta cherishing others, who are completely renounced, have given up the “I,” and have no thought of seeking happiness for themselves, even for a second. They only have the strong thought of cherishing others and wisdom that benefits so many beings. There are bodhisattvas who are wheel-turning kings, who have thousands of wives and children, which is totally different. With this pure motivation based on brave compassion and wisdom, there is great benefit for others in doing these things. They are not thinking of the physical action, the sexual act, but only how it is beneficial for others. They are not creating negative karma but rather virtue, and the act is a powerful means to purify eons of karma and to create extensive merits and a quick cause for enlightenment.
When Maitreya Buddha was a bodhisattva monk, there was a girl who was going to commit suicide because she couldn’t find a partner. He felt unbelievable compassion for her so he gave up his monk’s life to stay with her for a few years. This caused him to have less time in samsara by 40,000 years and to come that much closer to enlightenment. Of course, you can only do something like this after you have achieved the realization of bodhicitta and have no thought of happiness for yourself for even a second. Before that you must have realized renunciation that sees all samsara, including the desire realm devas, the form realm devas, and the formless realm devas as only being in the nature of suffering, in the same way you now see hot hell beings as suffering. You are not attracted for one second, even in dreams, to samsaric pleasures. You see all samsara like being in the center of fire. This is the foundation realization before bodhicitta.
Also, when practicing highest yoga tantra, the consort is used with a mind of great compassion for all beings and bodhicitta combined with the mind focused on the wisdom of emptiness. The mind is in a totally pure state. There is not the slightest thought of doing the consort practice for one’s own pleasure, but only for the benefit of others. The bliss that is experienced during the meditation is used to meditate on emptiness, the lack of inherent existence of oneself, the consort, the bliss itself, and so on, and there is no uncontrolled orgasm because the bliss is experienced with control of the mind and meditation on emptiness. So, the practice is a remedy to attachment to ordinary pleasure and is a powerful, quick cause to become a buddha.
Shakyamuni Buddha, in his past life as the bodhisattva captain, knew a certain person was going to kill 500 business people who were on the ship. The bodhisattva felt unbearable compassion for this person who was going to kill all these people so he gave himself up to be born in hell to save this person from creating so much negative karma. He created the cause to be born in the hells by killing that person with his incredible brave heart of compassion. This pure action caused him to be in samsara 100,000 fewer eons, meaning he was that many years closer to enlightenment due to the power of his incredible compassion.
The reason I am telling you these stories is to explain that actions performed with this incredible brave hearted bodhicitta and strong compassion, actions that are usually the three non-virtues of the body: killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct; and the four of speech: lying, divisive speech, harsh words, and useless speech—these actions become virtuous when performed with a pure motive. They don’t create negative karma because of their incredibly strong compassion for others.
There are the yogis who have completion stage path attainments: the clear light, illusory body, and the state of unification. The motivation of such extremely advanced bodhisattvas who practice with the wisdom mother, a yogini practicing the path of union with the male yogi, is based on renunciation that sees samsaric pleasure as being only in the nature of suffering. They have incredibly strong compassion, loving kindness, and bodhicitta and have totally renounced the “I,” so they aren’t looking for happiness for themselves even for one second. They only cherish others and want their happiness, with very strong bodhicitta. They also have the extremely subtle mind of the wisdom realizing emptiness.
So for them this yogic practice is the most powerful and quick way to eliminate their defilements and dualistic views and to achieve enlightenment, the unified state of Vajradhara, for the benefit of sentient beings. While the motivation is the same, the skill of the tantric yogi is much more advanced than the bodhisattva who is a practitioner of the Paramita (sutra) path without tantra.
Your Karmic View
Here is an example of how things appear according to your view: If a person is being nice to you, saying nice things, praising you, giving you lots of gifts and smiles, you have the view of him or her as being such a nice and kind person. Your mind projects “nice person” and becomes attached to him or her, leading to dangers. The other thing you have to understand is that previously your karma, the projection from imprints left by attachment, had not yet ripened to see that person’s body as attractive. Suddenly the karma ripens and strong desire rises on the day that karma ripens. There is a sudden change in your life with respect to that person. You can see that there is nothing coming from the side of the object, nothing existing from its own side. It is just your own projection coming from your mind and labeling according to your own karmic view. So, when this happens, when attachment arises, be aware of this. Try to recognize what is happening while it is happening, being aware, “This is just happening due to my mind labeling and believing in that. This is my karmic view. What I am attached to is my karmic view.” This is very helpful. Be aware of what is happening to you, that you are going to create problems in your life that you didn’t have before.
Basically, you create your own world. You believe that it totally exists from its own side. This is completely wrong. It does not happen that way. If the beauty were from the side of the object, not projected by your own mind, then that person’s body should be seen as beautiful by everybody, by every living being—all the human beings, devas, etc. If you compare this person to the deva’s goddesses, they are far more beautiful than any human being, whose bodies are ugly in comparison. But if you compare someone’s body that is more beautiful than someone else’s, the first one is comparatively ugly. But compared to somebody whose body is uglier, then of course theirs is beautiful and the other one is ugly. So it is clear that an attractive or unattractive body that you love or hate comes from your own mind, it doesn’t come from the object’s side. If ugly and beautiful existed from their own sides, then everyone should see that person as beautiful or ugly, but they don’t.
The Evolution of Appearances
To make this point a bit clearer, when you were a child, before you were taught A, B, C, D by a school teacher, you saw what was written on the blackboard as a drawing or a design, but you didn’t see the designs as the letters, as, “This is A, this is B, this is C.” All you saw was a design. Only after the teacher explained that “This is A, B, C,” and by believing what they said, your mind made up the label and imputed “A, B, C”—the names. By believing this you have the appearance of, for example, “A.” Then you see the “A.” Your mind labels “A” and believes it. Only after this process is there the appearance and then seeing “A.” Now you see that the “A” that you see comes from your mind. Your mind imputes “A” and believes it. It is exactly the same evolutionary process as when you see someone as being attractive. It comes from your mind labeling and believing. If your mind didn’t label “beautiful” in the first place and believe it, there wouldn’t be an appearance of beauty and you wouldn’t see beauty. It is clear from this explanation that it all starts with your mind.
Now, here is the point, you have to really pay attention here. Through this analysis, there is “A” existing. There is “A” because there is this design of “A” on the blackboard, because there are the lines making up the “A.” “A” is merely imputed by mind. When this “A” appeared, right after the mere imputation of the mind that called it “A,” it appeared as if it was there on those lines. Why? That is the big question. Why does it appear there on those lines? Each line of the design is not “A.” Even all the lines together are not “A” because all the lines together are merely the basis of imputation of “A.” If that base were already “A,” then the very first time you saw it, before you were introduced to “A” by your teacher, you then saw those lines as “A.” But the first time you saw the lines, you didn’t see them as “A,” you just saw the lines. Only after you were told “This is ‘A’” did your mind make up the label “A,” then there was the appearance of “A” and you saw “A.” This clearly proves that the design or lines are not “A” but are merely the basis of imputation that is then labeled “A.”
The question is whether it is labeled by mind or not. Yes, it is labeled by mind. Without the mind labeling, “A” doesn’t exist. What is called “A” is a name and the name has to come from, or be imputed by, the mind. If you are seeing “A” from the beginning, what is the cause of seeing “A”? What causes your mind to label “A”? You have to see some design first, then that causes your mind to label “A.”
Before you label “father” you have to see your father’s body, face, and the particular shape of his body. By recognizing those aggregates (of the body), your mind then labels “father.” You don’t label “father” before seeing those particular aggregates, that shape of body, which performed that function for you. You don’t label or say, “Oh, my father is coming into the house” before seeing his body. What causes your mind to label “father” is first you see those aggregates, that particular shape of body, and its connection to you. Then you label “father.” Only after that do you see “father.” So, it is clear that you don’t see father before seeing the basis of imputation, the aggregates. You don’t label at the same time that you see the base. Believing that it happens at the same time is totally wrong. This can be proved by experience. In order for your mind to label “father” coming into the room, you have to first see his aggregates coming into the room. You see “father” only after seeing the base, the aggregates. It is the same as the example of seeing “A”. First you see the design “A,” then you label “A.” You can understand that those lines, even all together, are not “A.” They are merely the basis of imputation of “A.”
The basis of imputation and the label “A” do not exist separately, but differently. They are different phenomena. This point is very important, to differentiate between the label and the base and to meditate on that. Seeing the base and the label as not being different—this is the object to be refuted. This is the false “A.” This isn’t the reality. You can clearly see that you can’t find “A” on its base, the lines. Not one part of the lines is “A,” nor is one line “A.” Even the group of lines isn’t “A.” If you look, you can’t find it. This should be very clear. It is the reality.
This doesn’t mean that “A” doesn’t exist. “A” exists. There is “A,” but what is it? It is merely imputed. You cannot find it on the lines, but that doesn’t mean there is no “A.” “A” is that which is merely imputed by the mind. It is a totally incorrect view to see it as something that it is there on those lines, existing from its own side, a real “A.” Because if you look, you can’t find “A” on the lines or anywhere. The merely imputed “A” can be found. Even if you can’t find it on the lines, it can be found on the blackboard because the basis of imputation exists on the blackboard. An “A” that is appearing to you on those lines, a real “A” in the sense of existing from its own side, is completely false. This is the object to be refuted. When you realize what is totally non-existent, is empty, then you are realizing the ultimate nature of the “A,” which is emptiness. For example, when seeing a “beautiful body,” the person, the beautiful body appears there, as if it is there on the base after the mind has imputed it. It appears as a findable, real thing in the sense of existing from its own side and not merely labeled by mind. It even appears as if it never came from your mind, had nothing to do with your mind. This an extremely gross wrong view that sees the object as completely existing from its own side. The subtle wrong view is seeing the object as not being merely labeled by mind. This is the subtle object to be refuted according to the Prasangika Madhyamika view among the four schools that have two sub-schools: the Svatantrika and the Prasangika. This is the Prasangika school’s view of the object to be refuted.
If you look you can’t find the real person or beautiful body on the base or the real person that is not merely labeled by the mind. The beautiful body that is not merely labeled by the mind can’t be found. It is exactly the same as how the analysis went with respect to the “A”’ that I explained before. Seeing the object as appearing above (separate from) the basis of imputation is totally false. If you analyze, you realize that it is totally non-existent, empty, right there. This is the realization of the ultimate nature of the person and the attractive body. Now you can see that there is no real person that is not merely labeled by the mind. There is no beautiful body existing that is not merely labeled by the mind. They are totally empty; they lack inherent existence.
Mind exaggerates something as being “beautiful” and then attachment grasps onto that object. It is the same with anger. On the basis of the person appearing as not being merely imputed by mind, the mind exaggerates “bad, ugly” and then anger arises on that basis. In reality there is no such object of anger. It is a total hallucination. Tsongkhapa in the Lam-rim Chen-mo quoted this from the 400 Stanzas by the great Indian pandit Aryadeva:
On the basis of ignorance grasping at true existence
The mind exaggerates “This is beautiful.”
Then attachment arises on that basis.
It is the same with anger. “On the basis of ignorance grasping at true existence” means the person’s body appears as being inherently existent. “The mind exaggerates” it as being “ugly” or “undesirable,” and then anger arises.
You can clearly see what the conclusion is from this quote. I may not have quoted it completely but it is the essence. What ignorance is grasping as truly existent is totally non-existent. The object of anger and attachment as existing there, as you believe, is totally non-existent there. This is an extremely important meditation. By realizing this you are able to eliminate these wrong concepts, the ignorance grasping at inherent existence and all the mental afflictions based on it. That is how we can be liberated from the oceans of suffering and their causes.
Meditating in daily life on the various examples I have described, especially the last one, of what is reality and what is false, and on the quote from Aryadeva, all help with attachment. It is kind of shocking because there is nothing there to be attached to. This helps to kick out the bad habit, to kick the habit. We need to do these meditations daily to keep the mind aware. Remember this again and again with respect to the object of attachment. If there is a problem with anger, practice the meditation in the same way for anger. The habit of attachment makes the mind so uncontrolled. You have no freedom and are totally overwhelmed by attachment. Your mind has no peace. It is overwhelmed. Meditating like this is the way to free your mind from desire, free it from this mental habit that has continued like this for countless, beginningless rebirths.
You need to know that each time attachment arises it leaves an imprint on your mental continuum. It is like planting a seed in the field that causes attachment to arise again. Each time you have attachment there is a negative effect; more negative imprints are left on your mental continuum. This makes life more difficult in the future. So, you see, sex and all those habits lead to further habitual actions. It is the same with imprints from past lives. The more you perform those kinds of actions, the more you leave imprints on your mental continuum, and these will cause more difficulties in the future. The imprints lead you to commit sexual misbehavior. Then, more imprints occur and it never ends. You could make yourself more and more free—free from the prison of samsara; free from the prison of delusions; free from the prison of negative karma. Otherwise, instead of making yourself more free, you put yourself further into prison with these negative thoughts—in prison with attachment and with negative actions such as sexual misbehavior. This is the most terrifying thing you can imagine.
Buddha mentions in the Sutra of One Hundred Actions:
We have the habit of non-virtue
Due to this we rely again on non-virtue and do non-virtuous actions.
To remember this quote every day, again and again, is very important. Your mental habits make your future lives so difficult. Future lives means not just one life, but all your future lives will be difficult. Then, your suffering of samsara has no end, not only endless suffering in the lower realms, but even when you are born a human being, again and again, you perform all those negative actions with attachment and again you go to prison. There is no end of going to prison. There is no end to people complaining about you, and no end to the police and the judge putting you in prison. There is no end. What makes it not end and for you to have these things again and again are your mental afflictions, your mental habit of attachment.
This life that offers all the opportunities to practice Buddhism comes only once and includes: the Lesser Vehicle path included in the Four Noble Truths and by which you can achieve liberation from samsara; the Mahayana path to enlightenment through bodhicitta; the six perfections that give you the opportunity to reach full enlightenment; the tantric teachings that give you the opportunity to achieve enlightenment in one life much quicker than by following the sutra path; and the highest yoga tantric path that gives you the opportunity to achieve enlightenment in one brief lifetime in these degenerate times. Therefore, we must make as much effort as possible!
The reason for becoming a monk or nun is to avoid and stop habitual negative actions such as sexual misbehavior, etc., as well removing the mental afflictions of attachment and so forth by actualizing and meditating on the path, on the Four Noble Truths. The reason why monasteries and nunneries are built in isolated places some distance from public places is so the monastics can live in the disciplines of the Vinaya rules. In such an environment they can more easily avoid and protect themselves from bad habits and tame their minds.
This is the reason why many meditators live in caves and hermitages, far away from public places, where they are protected from those distractions, allowing them to practice Dharma and actualize the path. So, physically, they stay away from cities to discipline and tame their minds, live in the vows, meditate on the path, and achieve liberation and enlightenment.
Two main points in conclusion:
1) Physically stay away from the dangerous objects of attachment.
2) While physically removing yourself from the object, also tame and protect your mind by meditating intensely on the lam-rim. Otherwise, even if you are physically distanced from the objects of attachment, you can have big problems because your mind isn’t in the hermitage or monastery. It is out there. Because our minds don’t have stable realizations of renunciation, bodhicitta, and emptiness, they are extremely weak and under the control of mental afflictions. Living far away from those worldly distractions and the objects of desire helps a lot.
So, that’s it.
The best thing to do while you’re in prison is to read Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand slowly, from beginning to end, and, as much as possible, relate it to your own life. This is the most important thing to do. Write down anything that you don’t understand and then later, (maybe not with a whole book of questions to answer!), you can ask a few questions. Read it slowly, while analyzing, so it becomes a meditation.
Memorize the Thirty-five Buddhas names and confession prayer so you can recite it anywhere without carrying a book—in a car, airplane, or even in the toilet! If you don’t find time during the day you can meditate and recite prayers even in the bathroom. The first time we came to the United States, once, in New York, Lama Yeshe was very busy with the family’s children where we were staying and there was no quiet room to be in. So Lama went into the bathroom to do his sessions. Later Lama said that it was the best place to meditate, in the bathroom. It was the only quiet place where Lama wasn’t disturbed. Lama had to do sessions to continue his experience, to continue the realizations that he had—very high attainments such as the clear light and the illusory body. He spent a long time playing with the children and the family. Anyway, if you have to hold the book to read the Thirty-five Buddhas names and confession prayer, it is difficult to also do the prostrations.
You asked what is the best practice for you. What all the numberless buddhas found when they checked for sentient beings was that bodhicitta is the best practice. The answer to your question is the same. I can’t answer differently from what all the buddhas have said in the past when they checked for what was most beneficial for others. I have mentioned this already in my previous answers to you—that bodhicitta is the best practice.
Before you practice tantra you must study, meditate, and try to achieve the realization of bodhicitta. To realize bodhicitta you must have the preliminary realization of renunciation of samsara. For that to happen you need renunciation of this life. For that to happen you need to meditate on the precious human rebirth and how it is found only once and is difficult to find again, then on death, then the suffering of the lower realms, then refuge and karma. You should achieve the realization of each of these meditations and especially do more meditation on death to help you to achieve those other realizations.
Once you have the realization of bodhicitta, spend more time practicing tantra: the generation and completion stages. Do more meditation on the generation stage, but you can do some completion stage practice as well. In this way, your path can be completed very successfully, and with the preliminary of lam-rim and the three principal paths of renunciation, bodhicitta, and right view, you can eliminate your gross and subtle defilements and achieve full enlightenment. Whether you are in or out of prison, first put more effort into actualizing bodhicitta by meditating and attaining the realizations step by step toward that attainment. For instance, without going through primary school you can’t go on to high school or college. So, wherever you are, even if you’re on the moon, in Venice, Tibet, Africa, on Mount Everest, in the ocean, or in any part of the world, wherever you are, meditate on the lam-rim to attain bodhicitta in this life. If it doesn’t happen in this life then aim for it in the next life by taking a good rebirth that allows you to practice and gain realizations, or to be reborn in a pure land and attain them there. This means you have to create the cause. You have to prepare to be born in a pure land, the best pure land where you can become enlightened. You may have to come back down to this earth from some pure lands and practice tantra here, where the tantric teachings are existing. This is the only human world where they exist and where it is possible to become enlightened in one lifetime.
Diamond Cutter Sutra
Merely from having heard the Diamond Cutter Sutra and having faith in it, the amount of merit you create is inconceivable and unimaginable. It is far greater than, for example, offering your body to sentient beings. Offering how many times? In the morning, offering your body the number of times equaling the sand grains in the ocean. These sand grains aren’t what we usually think of, they are very tiny atoms. There are seven kinds of subtle atoms and these are those kinds of atoms. At noon you offer your body to sentient beings that many times again, and again in the afternoon. You do this every day for eons. All those merits are incredible, and even if only done one time, you have given so much charity to sentient beings, let alone if you do it three times a day for so many years and eons. That merit is incredible. Giving just one body to sentient beings is inconceivable.
Even if you made that many offerings each day for that many eons, it is a small amount of merit compared to hearing the Diamond Cutter Sutra and not losing faith in the teachings on emptiness (by falling into the extreme view of nihilism, thinking that nothing exists). That means if you read, memorize, and study its meaning, you collect far, far greater merit than you collected with the example of offering your body—just by hearing the sutra. Besides the incredible merit you collect by just having or reading the Diamond Cutter Sutra, it is an incredible source of powerful purification of all the heavy negative karma you have accumulated over beginningless past lives. Most importantly, each time you read it, you receive an imprint to realize emptiness The more you read it, the more imprints are left on the mind, so it is quick and easy to realize emptiness in this life, and if not in this life, in future lives. Through this wisdom you gain great insight unified with shamatha (calm abiding). If you meditate on emptiness unified with shamatha you are able to experience the rapturous ecstasy of the body and mind. Then you can achieve the direct perception of emptiness that removes the defilements—first the intellectually acquired afflictions and then the innate ones. You achieve liberation by completely removing even the imprints of the mental afflictions. With the realization of bodhicitta, the direct experience of wisdom removes even the subtle defilements and then you achieve the omniscient mind and are able to work perfectly for and enlighten all sentient beings. When that happens your life goal is achieved.
Arya Sanghata Sutra
By reading the Arya Sanghata Sutra you accumulate incredibly vast amounts of merits. I would like you to know all the incredible benefits received by all the FPMT centers and people who have read it—both the external and internal benefits.
I think I might have told you already why it is important to create merit. The more merit you have means it is quicker and easier to achieve realizations, meaning it is quicker to achieve liberation and enlightenment and to enlighten all sentient beings. This is the essential purpose for creating so much merit by reading these precious sutras. When you have a lot of merit all your problems just naturally stop happening and your wishes for happiness, whatever you think of, happen the very next day, or the same day, or in that minute. It just happens when you have a lot of merit.
Golden Light Sutra
Please read just one or half a page every day. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t read more than this. The Golden Light Sutra directs your mind toward enlightenment every time you read it. It brings incredible benefits, purifies your negative karmas, and you never have to reborn in the lower realms. It is unbelievably unbelievable. This sutra is mainly for world peace. You can read it for all the prisoners in the world, not only to help those in the United States but wherever they are. Read it to liberate everyone from prison, for them to have peace and happiness, for their minds to change and develop the good heart, to develop tolerance from anger, tolerance from the selfish mind, to develop the attitude of cherishing and benefiting others and to be kind-hearted.
Pray that everyone, like the Compassion Buddha, Chenrezig, becomes a source of peace and happiness not only for the whole world but for all sentient beings. Dedicate like this not only for prisoners, although of course that is our main focus, but for all sentient beings, that their negative karma is purified and they never have to be born in the lower realms, that their causes of cyclic existence are purified so they are free from the oceans of samsaric suffering and that they achieve enlightenment quickly. One thing you should know is that so much peace and happiness in the world and here in the United States occurs by reciting the Golden Light Sutra. Maybe you can inform President Bush that you are helping! It is very powerful. It becomes a healing. For example, if you read the Golden Light Sutra in New York, it will be a healing for all the sick people in New York. This is so good.
Thirty-five Buddhas’ Names and Confession Prayer
Recite it in the morning. It is best if you can perform prostrations to the Thirty-five Buddhas while reciting the names and prayer. In this way, two very powerful things are combined (reciting and prostrating). If you can’t prostrate, then at least put your palms together while reciting the names and prayer. I am sending you a picture of the Thirty-five Buddhas. Visualize them in space with light and beams of nectar entering your body and mind and purifying all negative karmas accumulated over beginningless past lives—not only those created in this life. While reciting the names you are purifying yourself as well as all sentient beings.
This is extremely good. It is unbelievably powerful. You are helping everyone to avoid being reborn in the lower realms and to quickly be liberated from their mental afflictions and karma. You are helping every ant, cockroach, rat, fish, fly, mosquito, every type of animal, which are countless, every hell being, hungry ghost, and human being, including your dearest family members, your dearest judge, and the most precious people in the child welfare organization, who are the kindest. So, this is really yum yum. Yum. Yum. This practice is really yummy yummy. If you eat too much ice cream you might get sick, but this only brings you closer to liberation and enlightenment.
Recite it before going to bed. Of course, it doesn’t mean you can’t recite the Vajrasattva mantra at other times as well. If possible, recite one or half a mala of the long mantra, a minimum of 21 times. While in prison, if you can recite one mala that would be very, very good. If not, then a half a mala. These two practices (Thirty-five Buddhas and Vajrasattva) are incredibly beneficial.
If you don’t recite Vajrasattva before going to bed at least 21 times, for example, killing one tiny insect or having committed any negative karma that day doubles by the next day, then the next day it multiplies by 4 times, then the next day the karma of killing increases eight times, then sixteen, and it continues like that. If you never recite Vajrasattva before going to bed, at the time of death the negative karma has become the size of a mountain or this earth. Just as one atom multiplying can become the size of this earth, one negative karma multiplying becomes so huge and heavy by the time of death. Then you go to the next life with all these mountains of negative karmas and go to the lower realms where you experience those depthless sufferings one after another for unimaginable eons. You are reborn, die, and are reborn there.
There are eight hot hells. If all the fires on this earth were put together it would be like cool air compared to one tiny spark of fire in the first hot hell. You can see from this how unbearably hot just one spark is compared to all the earth’s fires. It is said that the world-ending fire that will even melt the Rocky Mountains is 60 times hotter than the fires we experience. That tiny spark in the hells is seven times hotter than the world-ending fire.
The lifespan in the first hot hell is unbelievably long. Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand explains that human years are equal to a single day for a class of deities known as the Maharajikas. Counting 30 such days as one month and 12 such months as one year, the Maharajika deities live for 500 years. The entire life span of a Maharajika deity counts as a single day in the Reviving Hell, the first hell, and 30 such days count as one month, and 12 such months as one year. Thus, the life span of the beings born in the Reviving Hell is equal to 500 such years. This means that these particular hell beings live for a period of 1,620 billion years. Then it doubles in the next hot hell.
The first hot hell is the Reviving Hell, where you revive from death again and again. In the Black Line Hell the suffering is much hotter and the life span is double. It continues like this, getting hotter and hotter and the life span doubling. It is unbelievable. It is the same for the eight cold hells in terms of the cold and suffering increasing in each cold hell.
Due to heavy negative karma, when you are born in the hells, your skin is sensitive, like when you have an infection. It is very thin skin, so that wherever it is touched is very painful. If the hell being’s body were small maybe it would be OK, but it is as large as a mountain and suffers so much. The pieces of the hell being’s body fall to the hot ground and the blood that spills has consciousness, so you suffer so much. This is the result of your mental afflictions and heavy negative karma. For example, some people die easily from a slightly harmful condition but some people don’t die and suffer for a long time. Even though they are in a fire they burn but don’t die. Or they are lost in the mountains, covered with snow and ice, but they don’t die for many days. Some people have cancer and various heavy sicknesses, but they don’t die and suffer with the disease for many years.
Therefore, to perform Vajrasattva practice with the four opponent powers is extremely important to do at the end of each day. If you recite the mantra 21 times it has the power to stop the karma created that day from multiplying the next day and from increasing to the size of a mountain or the earth. Since it doesn’t multiply it weakens. Even if the negative karma itself is a very heavy one, due to the power of the Vajrasattva practice it is weakened so you don’t have to experience the suffering result at all, or you experience something unpleasant in this life that takes the place of experiencing negative karma in the hells and the lower realms for eons. This in itself is an incredible liberation. Or maybe you are born in the lower realm but it is just for one second (a finger snap), so it is a very light result. The result you experience depends on the quality of the purification practice that you perform. Reciting the Vajrasattva mantra just 21 times purifies today’s negative karma, yesterday’s negative karma, this life’s negative karma, and the past life’s negative karma.
The importance of purification isn’t just to prevent yourself from suffering in the lower realms. When you become a human being you still have to experience so much suffering and so many problems. There are three suffering results coming from your past negative karma:
1) The environmental result of living in a harsh, dirty place;
2) The result similar to the cause, when others harm you in the same way you harmed them in the past. This new complete negative karma produces four new suffering results;
3) The habitual result when you create the same kind of action again. From one negative karma you experience endless suffering results. This is what happens if you don’t purify that negative karma as quickly as possible with the four remedial powers. The most terrifying thing is that, due to karmic imprints, you repeat the negative action again in your next life. This is much more terrifying than suffering in the hells. With suffering in the hells you experience it and then it eventually stops after one or two eons, but if you don’t purify your karma and just leave it, it causes endless sufferings, hells, and human being’s problems that, of course, you don’t want. You want liberation. Any pain you experience isn’t according to your wish. You don’t even want a small problem in your dreams.
We want even the smallest happiness, even in dreams, and the smallest comforts in daily life. If this is the case we should abandon even the smallest negative action and perform even the smallest virtuous ones while we are walking, eating, talking, and working in all 24 hours of our daily life.
As Lama Tsongkhapa explained in the Foundation of All Good Qualities in the section on karma:
This life is as impermanent as a water bubble
Remember how quickly it decays and death comes
After death, just as a shadow follows the body
The results of black and white karma follow
Finding firm and definite conviction in this
Please bless me always to be careful
To abandon even the slightest negativities
And to do only virtuous actions.
It is so important to purify with the Vajrasattva mantra and prostrations to the Thirty-five Buddhas every day. Reciting each of the Thirty-five Buddhas’ names has the power to purify many eons of negative karma. This is incredibly beneficial. Reciting the names of the Thirty-five Buddhas is like a bomb blasting your negative karma and defilements. I will be so happy if you can memorize this practice while you are in prison so you can recite the names while prostrating. Visualize your countless past life bodies as large as mountains bowing down in all the directions—toward the buddhas, toward your altar—standing up and bowing down. If you can do this with your actual body, that is excellent. The nun you know might have explained the benefits of prostrations to you, that how many atoms your body covers while prostrating, from the tip of the hairs on your head down to the bottom of your feet, creates that many causes to be born as a wheel-turning king equaling the number of that many atoms or 1,000 times equaling that number of atoms.
Of course, to be born a wheel-turning king just one time you have to create inconceivable merits. So the Buddha is just giving an idea by using this example of how much merit you collect by having performed one prostration. Since you dedicate the merits to achieving enlightenment for sentient beings so they all may have happiness and freedom from all sufferings, it is unbelievable. It is such an easy way to help others due to the kindness and compassion of the Buddha.