Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Online Advice Book
Advice for Sangha :
Other Advice for Sangha
- Other Advice for Sangha
- Advice to Nuns at a Buddhist Conference
- Sangha and FPMT Education
- The Role of Sangha
- Building a Monastery
Other Advice for Sangha
|Rinpoche made the following comments about scratching your back, while chatting to a nun. Rinpoche was scratching his back with a scratcher while saying the following.|
Rinpoche: One time in Varanasi, when Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche was teaching Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand from his notes, I was invited to his room and asked to scratch his back. I did it just a little. I thought, what unbelievable fortune I had, that he gave me that opportunity to accumulate enormous merit through that action. Hence, perhaps now, today, that is why I have to scratch my back.
Nun: Rinpoche, if that created so much merit, why is the result an itchy back that needs scratching?
Rinpoche: It was incredible purification to do that action. The result now is from that opportunity to create the cause to purify.
|Rinpoche commented on the correct way for monks and nuns to sit down.|
Some Western monks and nuns have got the habit when they sit down of bringing their legs up too high and then bringing them down, which exposes their secret places. When Lama and I first came to the West, we were at Geshe Sopa’s place. Lama Yeshe requested Geshe-la to start a center, and he started it when we were there. Some students were sent from Kopan to study with Geshe-la. One day Geshe-la asked me to give a talk in his sitting room. He taught me how to sit on a couch. You face the students and slowly bring your legs in under your robes so you don't expose anything. Geshe-la was teaching conduct.
|Money Offerings to Sangha
|A nun asked Rinpoche about using money that had been offered to her. She had just finished a one-year retreat.|
My very dear Chokyi,
I was very happy to receive your kind letter.
That is very important, what you discovered during retreat, discovering one’s own life, one’s own mind—that is the benefit of retreat. By doing retreat one can discover the mistakes in one’s mind and then they can be changed, that is how realizations come.
It is just like with a seed, having soil, water, and worms, then with all the conditions, slowly a stem comes out, and after some time then the flowers and fruit. The flowers and the fruit are like the discovery, the foundation is like the clearing of the ground before you plant crops.
Don't worry about the money that has been offered to you. It belongs to you and the important thing is when you give teachings to not have the motivation or expectation of money offerings, to not think about that, to not think like it is a business. It is very important to not think of money offerings at all. If the thought comes about money you should abandon it, kick it out, like in football, soccer, or cricket. When I say cricket I don't mean you have to run and catch the thought, don't misunderstand me. You shouldn't kick the thought out and then run after it and catch it.
I saw on TV a man run so far to catch a ball that he went over the wall and his head hit the ground. So, this tells you that instead of doing meditation I have been watching TV. I am giving you this information because you didn't have TV in your retreat, except the TV in your mind, that was showing karma and many things. So, if that thought enters then it will be like doing business.
You can use the money to build a retreat cabin, or for traveling to teachings. You can do whatever you want with the money. Or you can use it to eat chocolate ice cream. You can eat half and leave the other half for another person... I'm just teasing. Or you can divide the chocolate ice cream into four, so one is for me, one for your friend, one for your enemy, and the fourth is for you.
It is extremely good to do retreat again and again. The fact that you have the desire to do long retreat means usually that what you did is effective. If your mind gets bored or isn’t interested in doing long retreat then it means the retreat hasn't been very good.
We can discuss what to do later. For now, travel around giving teachings for a while, then we can discuss again. Also, sometimes the answer might come out in your heart.
With much love and prayers...
|A monk who had formerly been a Dharma center director asked Rinpoche to what he should now dedicate his life.|
To travel around and teach in the world would be very good at the moment. Then, after six months you can do retreat, to recharge your batteries. Your retreat could be lam-rim with preliminary practices. You can also do a little meditation when you are traveling. lam-rim meditation should always be present. Whether you are in hell or a pure land, until you achieve enlightenment you still need to practice lam-rim.
|Advice for Geshe
|Rinpoche offered the following advice to a geshe.|
The following pujas and retreat should be done to remove life obstacles:
1. Recitation of the long, middle, and short versions of the Prajnaparamita
2. Make 40,000 tsa-tsas urgently!
3. Do a long life mantra retreat: recite 400,000 mantras
As I made the observation, the result did not come out good for you to go to either of the two centers in America. For the time being, it is best to return to Kopan Monastery. The best result, shown through observation, is to return to Kopan and continue to teach the monks there. Let’s do that for about a year, and then where would be more beneficial can be checked again. In fact, I personally feel that it would be most beneficial if you continue to teach the monks, because you can teach them more extensively and profoundly, with various skills, such as debate, etc, which you have studied extremely well for such a long period.
I personally feel that’s the best and most beneficial thing, too, and I consider that would be the most meaningful use of your precious human life. Khenrinpoche Lama Lhundrup has also expressed his wish for you to be there with him, and he believes that you would be the teacher to support him in educating the monks at Kopan. In that way, it would be the best service to the guru. It is said in the 50 Stanzas of Guru Devotion that if the guru is pleased, that is the best method to purify negativities and accumulate extensive merit, and one will be able to receive the common and excellent blessings within this very lifetime. As there is no other precious birth than this, I advise you to make the best use of it. If you teach in the monastery, you will have more opportunities to do your own practice while you are educating others. Then it is like a beautiful torma, beautified with ornaments of white butter. Whereas, if you go to a foreign country, there will be many obstacles. Though you might solve one, another would occur at some time.
|A nun wrote to Rinpoche saying she needed to go and look after her parents but was concerned about maintaining her practice commitments.|
You should first go home to make your parents happy, then come back to the retreat center. A nun who is on retreat there was an abbess in a Chinese nunnery in California and it might be helpful for you to study lam-rim with her.
|A student wrote expressing her wish to start a community so that nuns from the different Tibetan Buddhist traditions could live together. She also discussed opening a Buddhist hospice to care for the dying.|
My Dear Caroline,
Thank you very much for your letter.
As for the project for nuns, yes, of course. If you are able to provide a place for nuns of different traditions to live, that is very good, also if you can support them—that part is extremely important. Usually that part does not happen, so there are some difficulties. Because of that lack of support, individuals have to go to work, which especially makes living away from a city difficult.
As far as doing prayers and practices together with the other traditions in the gompa, it is not impossible. In the school for young lamas that I attended in Dalhousie in India, many years ago, there were lamas from different traditions. People took turns leading the prayers, and prayers were done from the different traditions. I don’t remember whether the leader does the prayers of the other traditions or whether they all do their own prayers. If more nuns happen to be there, there can be different choices depending what tradition they are from. There could be small temples for each tradition, and sometimes they could do prayers together in the main temple.
It can be open to the four Tibetan Buddhist traditions, but it is up to people from those traditions to come. We don’t have to look after that, and you should not think that if they don’t come, you have failed.
One good thing is that when the nuns become old and are no longer able to look after themselves and need help, this could be one place to look after them, especially FPMT nuns. I feel this is a very important project.
Generally it is not easy for a nuns community. It is easy to have disharmony and quarrels. The success of the community depends on having a good leader who is resident there and guides their practice and discipline. Anyway, there is no problem with the planning.
As for the idea of helping the dying, starting a Buddhist hospice, if there are not many Buddhists, it could be for people of all religions. However, the techniques and the organization could be Buddhist, but presenting a method that fits with others’ traditions.
I will make prayers for this project, and I hope it will be fruitful for all sentient beings.
Thank you very much. I hope to see you soon. I am sure VajraYogini is very happy with you. Thank you for your good heart.
With much love and prayers...
|A monk wrote to Rinpoche saying he had been called for jury duty and wondering whether he should attend. Rinpoche replied as follows.|
This is difficult, especially if you are a Buddhist monk. You should just go there and humbly explain that you are a Buddhist and have vows not to harm others, so you cannot do the jury duty. This also an education for them about Buddhists.
|A nun wrote to Rinpoche saying that she did not have enough money to support herself and complained that her mother was selfish and wouldn’t help her financially.|
If you are a real nun in the FPMT then you can get money from the Sangha Fund. If you really don’t have money, this is one way to manage if you cannot find external sponsors. If you work for a Dharma center, the center might be able to help you. If you stay with Tibetan nuns, most nunneries have someone who speaks English.
Some nuns have more money, some have less. Don’t be in too much of a panic in life. Life is short, you can die at any time, so you need to practice Dharma every second. Keep in your mind bodhicitta and guru devotion, to benefit others. Your mom, who you think is selfish, is the most practical guru, who helps you have realizations, develop patience, love, compassion, and thought transformation. She is the one who brings you to enlightenment the quickest by letting you put into practice what you learn.
|A nun had been raped, and sought guidance on the matter and regarding her vows from Rinpoche. Rinpoche sent the following reply.|
Since it was rape, the intercourse that happened was not your choice. It was force, like a torture. The other thing is that since you didn’t enjoy it, you didn’t experience pleasure. So, you have not broken the root vow.
To break the vow, the goal should be pleasure and one should have the experience of that pleasure. That would complete the goal and break the root vow.
There is detailed information available defining what entails a total loss of root vows. Also, according my divinations, it would be out better for you to live in ordination than not.
|A newly ordained monk asked Rinpoche for some advice on vows and conduct. Rinpoche replied as follows.|
You asked whether there is a time when it is appropriate to wear sleeves, for example, when you go to Europe, to look more normal, or in cool weather. Generally, it is better not to wear sleeves. But if it's unbearably cold, then sometimes wear them. Otherwise, try not to, OK? Otherwise, what happens is, you get habituated to wearing sleeves and wear them most of the time, even when there's no need. Sometimes you see people wearing them even though there's no need. You have to remember, before taking the 36 vows, the getsul vow, there is an intermediate ordination. Before that, you make a request to the abbot, and before that is the upasaka vow. Intermediate ordination involves avoiding the lay marks and signs.
Renouncing the lay marks and signs, which have the motivation of attachment, means not wearing white or black, sleeves, or having long hair. The main aim is to renounce attachment. The Buddha chose to wear red and yellow colors because in the Buddha's time those were considered bad colors. So he chose those in order to tame and subdue the mind, have less delusion on the path to liberation and quickly achieving enlightenment, and to have a happy and generous mind. Therefore, you shouldn't follow other Sangha who are not following the Buddha's example. Anything that fits with the vinaya, the Dharma, and is a good example should be taken. So, if the cold is unbearable, then it’s OK to wear sleeves, but otherwise, try to avoid it.
You have to analyze whether living in the vow or not living in the vow is more beneficial. Do what's more beneficial for developing the mind. At first, you have to abandon certain things in order to develop the mind. You have to see what is to be avoided and what is to be practiced. Then, later, when the delusions are gone, then you go back to those things you had to abandon at the beginning. Beneficial doesn't mean beneficial for all time, forever, it means in order to develop your mind. There are the examples of eating meat and drinking alcohol. When one reaches a high level of tantra, with control over the winds and channels, and one has realizations of clear light, then alcohol cannot affect you; alcohol helps you develop the clear light. Meat helps you develop the illusory body; it develops sperm seed, so there's benefit in eating it at that time, like garlic and black foods. It doesn't become dangerous for you. At that time, you will have already practiced tantra, with the realization of guru devotion, seeing the Buddha as the guru, one guru as all buddhas, and one buddha as all gurus, and have a stable renunciation of samsara and attachment. When attachment is gone, totally eliminated, then there is no self-cherishing thought, only cherishing others. Then, there is the realization of emptiness and the realization of the clear light, which is already the mind. We have to achieve enlightenment. Before these later stages, your body/mind doesn't have control, and you have to abstain from the dangers. But your mind will develop and change.
So, to return to your question, you need to take the vows seriously. If you follow the vinaya, you become an inspiration and example to others. You inspire others to practice the vinaya and morality. Without saying anything, if you take your vows seriously, you become a teaching for others. Inspiration comes from that. Otherwise, it can make others degenerate the vinaya. You need to respect the abbot like Lord Buddha. According to the Hinayana, you don't see him as Buddha, but you respect him as Buddha, like a father. The abbot should help and guide you like a son.
Regarding your question about sometimes having to eat after 12:00, if you have taken the Eight Mahayana Precepts, but you have a job or something, and you can't have lunch before 12:00, there's still benefit in keeping the vow, even if you have to eat after 12:00. After lunch, then don't eat. So, that's still fasting, that's still the vow. In the morning, don't say, “I'll fast after 12.” If you're not sure what time you’ll be able to eat, say “After lunch I won't eat.” Make the vow in that way. Sometimes something happens and you have no choice over whether you can eat before 12:00 or not, for example, if you are traveling. This is not due to laziness or a mistake, but due to circumstances. Try, if you have the freedom, to practice the fasting vow for one year. That doesn't mean after a year you never keep that vow, but at least keep it purely for some time, so in your life there's a certain period where you kept it purely. The general idea is to keep it as much as one can. It helps in monasteries or communities where there is a group doing the vinaya practice. Then, there's a proper lunch but no dinner. Individual people who are hungry can have dinner, but the community doesn’t have it. Sometimes I tell Sangha, if you are settled in one place, then try to fast. It's not just for you, but for other sentient beings, to free them from the cause—delusions and karma—and bring them to enlightenment.
|How to Continue Life as a Monk
|Rinpoche made the following comments in Bodhgaya on how to live as a monk.|
Morality is the road to liberation from samsara. With morality, it´s easy. Without morality, life creates obstacles for realizations, and then it creates sufferings. It destroys realizations and causes rebirths in lower realms.
People are looking for happiness, but the method is important. Hunting and killing animals is creating suffering. Other people commit suicide; they kill themselves while they are looking for happiness. The aim for everyone is reaching happiness.
May be it’s not possible do it every day, but at least once a week or every two or four days we should go over the sutra looking at the benefits of the vows. This is fuel and gives us energy. It is very important. It makes the mind strong, directs the mind to be strong, and strengthens the mind of renunciation.
The more you see the benefits and advantages, the more you enjoy your life as a monk. It’s like business. If you work very hard and your profit is increasing, then you will enjoy life. Or, if you think you are climbing Mount Everest, you can think of the benefits, like wealth, fame, etc. once you reach the top. So, no matter how hard times are, the ultimate benefit of morality is everlasting happiness, being totally free from oceans of samsara forever. Besides that, imagine having a human rebirth after this life through living in pure morality. In hundreds of lifetimes you’ll have the benefit of even one day of practicing morality. Imagine then the results of a lifetime of practicing morality. So, the purer this lifetime, the more peace and happiness and less difficulties you will have. You will realize shamatha more easily when you are pure. Then, your mind can easily be stable for as long as you want. We achieve insight realization by refined analysis of emptiness, unified with shamatha. That realization makes us able to cut the root of delusions by hitting on the same point. Shamatha is like that. Morality is also important. You can compare it to a 20 million dollar-project.
Another point is that we must realize impermanence and death. Live your life and be aware of the karmic effects of daily life. Nagarjuna said that we have to remember the hell realms every day. This is very important. Then, you are very careful of course. Sojong is important, but prevention is better. The suffering of samsara is also very important.
Be aware of your hallucinations. Look at your feelings of sensual pleasure. They are also suffering, but we believe they are pleasure. We have so many hallucinations. Our own body is also an hallucination in which the “I” believes. It is 100% an hallucination made by an imprint left on our mental continuum based on ignorance. It is the same with nice songs, beauty, etc. Remember death – that you could die in a moment or a day. There are many reasons why things can happen, even in a minute. Hallucinations and projections mean “I am attached to my own view.” We think, “This is really beautiful,” etc., but it´s totally empty; it really doesn´t exist. If you don´t practice mindfulness, then it looks like there really is a beautiful body there, then desire arises, then you think of someone’s beautiful face and that this is not only my view. However, it is only a view. In the view of emptiness, this is suffering. It´s skin, a skeleton, bones, fluid, and blood. Remember this very powerfully. Skin is also a collection of atoms, and those atoms consist of other atoms. It´s labeled. In the view of renunciation, that is all suffering. The nature of something beautiful is suffering. With the wisdom realizing emptiness, you can see that one who is believed to be beautiful is ugly. This view can help you. Then, you see someone else who is more beautiful, and he is or she is also ugly. This lessens your problems. Morality inspires you to enjoy being a monk. This is the way you have to think. It is inspiring and joyful. In relationships there are other problems: one's own emotions, or your partner leaves you, etc. Remember those things; it will inspire you. A monks' life gives the most freedom to experience happiness and liberation.
|Dharma in Mongolia
|Rinpoche sent this advice to the Sangha who are receiving shelter and food in Mongolia.|
To be responsible for the Dharma, and for it to exist for many eons in Mongolia, to be the “shining the light of Dharma” in the world, and to bring sentient beings to the highest enlightenment, you need to study hard. You need not only to learn the words but also the meaning, and apply it, meditating and doing Dharma practice in your life, especially regarding the Vinaya, (which is living in ordination and following the moral disciplines).
Think not only about the words, but also the meaning. Everyone should have the thought of being a monk for life. This is the best, both now and in the future.
From the teachers’ side, they should try to make the monks feel this way. They should teach them the lam-rim on the basis of philosophy. Teach them to rely on the lam-rim to subdue the mind and to have a good heart to benefit others. In particular, teach the monks the shortcomings of samsara, and the faults of lay life. Cultivate renunciation for this life.
If this happens, from our side, we will make efforts to offer service to the Sangha.
|Sangha Business Cards
|One evening at Lama Zopa Rinpoche's apartment in the USA, six Sangha members were sharing stories about strangers in grocery stores, book stores, gas stations, etc., who come up to them and either tell them how happy they are to see them or ask them why they are wearing robes. One of the Sangha asked Rinpoche, "What is the best way to reply to a child who asks me why am I wearing robes?" Rinpoche asked each of the Sangha what they would say and then Rinpoche offered his reply.|
If someone asks you why you are wearing robes, you can say:
“I follow the Buddha, who has compassion for all, who has shown the complete path to achieve perfect complete happiness and freedom. The foundation of our practice is not to harm others or ourselves and to help benefit others as much as we can. For that purpose, I shave my head and wear robes, which is the easy way to practice Buddhism. The meaning behind this is to achieve freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth and from the cause of all afflictive emotions, such as ignorance and attachment, which bring all the pain and confusion in this life.”
You can elaborate or take the essence of this message, depending on the circumstance and situation, who you are speaking to. Of course, if you know something better to say, then say that, otherwise you can say this. This is just to give you an idea of what to say, it’s not like you should only say that or just read a card.
Each time you explain that you are ordained and why, it gives you the opportunity to awaken other sentient beings’ minds and to enlighten them. It gives you the opportunity to free them from all sufferings and to bring them to ultimate happiness: enlightenment.
The Sangha members then mentioned the idea of carrying "business cards" with their name, a beautiful picture of the Buddha or His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and the contact details for the closest FPMT Dharma center on the front. On the back they said they could print Rinpoche's explanation. Rinpoche said that this would be beneficial for them and others.
|Tired Through Working for Others
|Rinpoche asked about a nun who was in Mongolia taking care of a Dharma center by herself. The person responded that she was “tired”. Rinpoche replied as follows.|
Please tell her, “Tired but worthwhile.” We can be tired because we are not yet freed from delusion and karma, and our body and mind are in the nature of suffering, but in this case we are tired through benefiting sentient beings. As it says in the Guru Puja:
Even if I must remain for an ocean of eons in the fiery hells of Avici
For the sake of even just one sentient being,
I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of joyous effort,
To strive with compassion for supreme enlightenment and not be discouraged.
Guru Shakyamuni Buddha sacrificed his life, limbs, wealth, and family when he was born as a king, and his whole body for three countless great eons. He did that for sentient beings, to bring us to enlightenment. So, when you compare to that, what we sacrifice is like an atom or nothing.
|A student was going to prison to serve out an earlier sentence. A nun who knew her was very concerned that she was unable to protect the woman from having to go to prison. The nun felt hopeless, limited in her ability to benefit sentient beings, since she couldn’t do anything to prevent this from happening. Rinpoche gave the following response to the nun.|
This kind of temporary help doesn’t really eliminate the root of suffering, samsara. But your teaching Dharma to sentient beings has great benefit. That eliminates the very cause of samsara. Teaching Dharma gets rid of the very root of problems, including the problems of prison and drugs.
You can realize the deep benefit you are giving to sentient beings by teaching Dharma, and not feel totally helpless, because you were unable to do anything about this specific problem.
Your friend can do retreat in prison. She can make her life meaningful in prison. You told me that when she was first arrested and put in prison, she did prostrations to the 35 Buddhas and that probably when she had to go back to prison, she would do that again. Then she would not mind being in prison.
|Sangha Dress Code
While Lama Zopa Rinpoche and some students were sitting in a restaurant, a waiter remarked that he liked Rinpoche’s robes very much. He asked where he could get some and Rinpoche replied that he could get them in Nepal or India. The waiter replied that he wanted to go there to buy some.
After the waiter left, Rinpoche commented that it was due to Dharma imprints that the waiter liked the robes. It was an example of how, while traveling, one meets some people who like and some people who have a strong reaction against the robes. Rinpoche then told the story of a small boy in an airport who kept looking at him. The boy’s father did not like his son looking at Rinpoche so he turned his son’s head away. Rinpoche explained that, due to Dharma imprints, some people like robes, and that possibly, in a past life, the boy had been a Tibetan monk or Tibetan Buddhist, having respect for the robes. Rinpoche started to give the following advice in the restaurant and continued later in at his house in Aptos.
I want to emphasize how important it is to wear robes properly because people’s devotion and interest, being drawn to Buddhism, to the Dharma, planting the seed of liberation and full enlightenment, depends on how you behave. This includes how you wear the robes—correctly, neatly, nicely.
If others see sangha as very compassionate, kind, and warm-hearted, not ignorant but having discriminating wisdom and Dharma education, they are drawn to them. They are impressed by the clarity of Buddhism, which is difficult to find in other religions. If you are wearing messy robes, people will not like it; they might think it is a sign that the person has a messy mind and a confused life. So, it is important to wear the robes neatly and correctly.
In Tibet and Nepal, one can wear old tattered robes, because it is a different world. But one should wear good robes in the west, not tattered but neat, so that it doesn’t create a bad reputation for Buddhist nuns and monks, giving people a negative idea that they are strange, instead of rejoicing at their behavior. One shouldn’t wear the robes sloppily, looking messy.
I remember, in England, somebody tried to meditate in a cave, and the people thought there was something wrong with that person’s mind; they interviewed the person and thought their mind had gone wrong, rather than seeing the quality of an incredible person with strong determination and renunciation, giving up the desire of clinging to this life—a very important fundamental practice.
Renunciation is the greatest quality to clear the obstacles to the attainment and continuation of Dharma practice, but that is not known in the west—people think there is something wrong with you if you have this, that you are unable to live in Western society. Their view of a good life is getting married, having children, and living in a luxury home, with a highly paid job; they cannot think of anything higher. Anything higher than that—up to liberation and enlightenment—is unknown, doesn’t exist.
Lama Yeshe’s advice was to wear good robes. Some monks wear trousers under the shemtab and then the shemtab looks completely messy, long in some places, short and caught up in others—very sloppy. The danger of one person doing this is other people copying them. So, wear it properly. Normally, in Sera, Ganden, or Drepung monasteries, nobody wears trousers under the robes. Actually, I haven’t seen Tibetans wearing robes with trousers underneath. Instead of trousers you can wear a thick, warm underskirt. Many Tibetan nuns wear an under-dress that comes straight down and folds around the waist like a chuba.
If you want to wear warm things such as pullovers, you should wear them inside the dongka; wearing them outside looks messy. If one person wears it outside, then another person sees it, then another, and many people take it as an example. Sleeves are normally a part of lay dress, which we take vows not to wear, but if one is sick there is probably permission to do this. Being cold is not a reason to wear sleeves. If you do this you will get habituated to it, like some people have.
Some sangha wear their zen thrown over the shoulder or wrapped around the neck like a scarf. There seem to be a few sangha doing this nowadays. Many people don’t know that this is a disrespectful way to wear the zen. Throwing the zen carelessly over the shoulder or around the neck is perceived as very disrespectful in front of the abbot of a monastery, your own abbot, or gurus.
As you meet a teacher, always lift and hold the long end of the zen respectfully. If you are sitting in front of the guru, abbot, or senior monks, you should hold the zen doubled back over the right arm. As you enter the room you lift the end of the zen from on top of the right arm and draw it back across the shoulders respectfully.
If you have a long zen you can hold the right side of the zen on the left and bow. If you only have a short zen obviously you can’t do that as there would be no zen left on half of the body! It’s OK, as long as you don’t wrap the zen around your neck. As you sit in teachings you can spread the long part across your lap and hold your hands respectfully in your lap, the right hand loosely held by the left. You can still sit in front of senior monks with your hands in the respectful position.
Although the zen wrapped around the right arm is considered disrespectful in the Tibetan tradition, it is the style of the Theravadins, so it’s OK for them to do that, and you shouldn’t be upset with them. If you are wearing a hat, you should take it off in front of the guru—no question about the abbot of a monastery or very high senior monks, and especially when receiving teachings from the guru. It is explained in the lam-rim that hats should be abandoned.
It is explained in the 50 Verses of Guru Devotion and in the discussion in Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand how to listen correctly to teachings, both physically and mentally. Leaning on walls etc., sitting disrespectfully, stretching your legs out toward the guru or altar, even stretching the legs out in the presence of the guru, is disrespectful, no matter where they are pointing. Also, hugging the knees is disrespectful. On certain occasions, such actions are allowed. If one is traveling, going on pilgrimage, or sleeping in the same room as others, there is permission to do these things. It doesn’t mean one has to sleep sitting upright with one’s legs crossed! Also, there is permission from Buddha for exceptions to be made for sick people. If one is sick, there is no choice, and one can ask for permission—it is not rigid.
Of course, this doesn’t apply only to sangha; if you are respectful to the guru, to statues, stupas, and scriptures, you don’t create heavy negative karma. Also, this applies not only in a guru-disciple relationship; the same applies in the presence of any higher beings, statues, stupas, or scriptures, or with elder, higher sangha—even if they are not actually talking to you.
I think many people don’t know or don’t remember these points so I thought to mention them. There might be other things that are disrespectful without one knowing, but these are what I will mention for now.
Also, I have heard that some sangha wear lay dress when traveling. I don’t know that this is a good idea. It is against the vow you took. When you took the getsul vows, you took five “definite” vows that continue until the time of death; these vows don’t say “Only wear the robes in the monastery, when you travel you don’t have to wear the robes.” The vow wasn’t made that way; it was for all the time. The vow to not separate from the robes is the morality of the intermediate ordination of renunciation, renouncing the lay signs and customs, and always wearing robes. The vow was made at that time.
If you wear robes it educates those who do not know the robes of Buddhist monks and nuns, particularly Tibetan Buddhists. It is like advertising. The best, most inspiring image that people come to know is that Buddhism is something that doesn’t harm others, that benefits and brings peace to others; something that offers wisdom and compassion, not demanding blind faith; something very profound and deep.
Many monks from different monasteries have come to the west on tours, well prepared as good examples, performing religious dances, etc. I heard many people were inspired by their behavior and that people got a good feeling from them as being knowledgeable, peaceful, and kind. Western people were very impressed; this makes them interested in Buddhism. Of course, the monks are chosen by the monastery, not anyone can go, they are selected. For example, the Drepung Loseling monks did the first tour of Brazil. After their tour of religious dances, etc., many people were inspired, and I heard from our study groups and centers in Brazil that after that tour more people came to learn meditation.
If you are traveling, wearing the robes neatly and properly, and people see you as kind, compassionate, and educated, not having an ignorant, blind, thick-skulled mind, but having wisdom, there are many benefits, one of which is to educate the world about Buddhists—particularly Tibetan Buddhists—monks and nuns.
My experience when traveling is that from time to time people who have no connection with Dharma, have negative imprints, or maybe are religious extremists may get upset, but I know also many times people get inspired when they see someone wearing robes and definitely they think it is special. So, they collect a lot of merit and plant the seed of enlightenment through their interest.
For example, in the constitution of Takpo Shedupling Monastery, the monastery of Pabongka Dechen Nyingpa’s guru, Takpo Rinpoche, which is in Tibet on the way to Lhamo Lhatso, it is mentioned that because lay people have to carry very heavy loads when they travel and their lives are very hard, when they see a monk dressed in neat and clean robes, not carrying huge loads like themselves, they see him as having freedom; they are very impressed and feel devotion. This plants a seed of liberation in their minds. So, there is much benefit; it causes them to create the cause to become sangha, to remember Buddhism, to live in the vows, and to follow the path to liberation and enlightenment.
A similar example is of Buddha’s main disciple, Sharipu, who had so many opportunities to be with Buddha because of what happened in one of his past lives, when he was traveling and stopped overnight in a house. While he was fixing his shoes he noticed on the wall of his room a painting of a buddha, which he thought was very beautiful. He continued fixing his shoes and again looked at the painting thinking how beautiful it was. Because of that cause, in his next life he was able to be Buddha’s heart disciple, Sharipu, who was very wise, and had the opportunity to be with the Buddha.
When you wear the robes properly, behave correctly, and show kindness, others can see the manifestation of how we normally practice compassion and have wisdom; it definitely plants the seed of liberation and enlightenment. Even if you don’t have any actual realizations, with compassion, the thought to benefit others—to free others from the oceans of samsaric suffering and its causes, and bring them to liberation and enlightenment—you are taking responsibility for others’ happiness, for them to receive liberation and enlightenment, to free them from samsaric suffering, whose continuation has no beginning.
You can benefit many sentient beings so much, even with your excellent behavior; you can bring them to liberation and enlightenment through proper behavior. Think of this as part of the practice, not with ego, the eight worldly dharmas, but thinking, “This is my way of liberating sentient beings and bringing them to enlightenment.”
For example, there is one arhat called Pakpa Tathul. Through his excellent behavior many sentient beings received incredible benefit, and their minds were tamed. So many sentient beings’ minds were pacified of delusions and became subdued because of his excellent behavior. He helped many sentient beings achieve realizations.
|For a Mother
|Rinpoche wrote the following letter to a woman who had been ordained some years after her daughter had become a nun.|
Thank you for being a Mum to your daughter. I appreciate your views and your kindness in your recent message to me.
Please continue to help others, which is helping yourself to achieve enlightenment. Offer service and teach, as you can, what you can. This is serving all the buddhas and bodhisattvas. Your teachings and actions are the best example to others. It is the best way to teach others. This is not the happiness of suffering. It is Dharma happiness.
Maybe later your daughter can meet you and teach where you are living. This could be a change for her, or sightseeing in samsara and sightseeing in nirvana.
|Rinpoche gave the following commentary on shaving hair.|
While you are shaving your hair, remember how not to waste this most precious human body, which is most rare, and this precious human rebirth, qualified by the eight freedoms and ten richnesses, which is much more precious. In each second, you have every opportunity to achieve happiness: in future lives, liberation from samsara, and enlightenment. Having eliminated all the defilements and completed all the qualities, then you are able to do perfect work, causing happiness for all sentient beings, bringing them from the lower realms to higher rebirths, bringing them to happiness, liberation from samsara, and into full enlightenment.
In each second, the perfect human rebirth is more precious than whole skies filled with wish-granting jewels. Even with that many wish-granting jewels, one cannot stop rebirth in the lower realms and samsara, and cannot stop binding oneself to a lower nirvana, the blissful state of peace.
Even if you don't have a single jewel, a single rupee or Euro, if you have a precious human body you can practice Dharma and achieve enlightenment, like Milarepa and many other beings.
If you are an ordained person, shaving your hair is renouncing the marks and signs of worldly life, the adornments of householders, such as long nails, hair, and makeup. It is the opposite to attachment. The hair is the part of the body one relates to the most, the object of much of your attachment, and also a major object of others' attachment. Lay people, especially in the west, spend a lot of time and money on their hair. It is basically a cause of hallucinatory appearances of oneself and others.
An ordained person is shaving his or her hair to renounce attachment, the cause of samsara and of all life's problems, such as relationship problems. In some ways, it can be said to be cutting attachment. Of course, nowadays it is fashionable for the military, singers, and artists to shave their hair, but some years back it was considered frightening. The culture has changed and perhaps now people also shave their hair out of desire.
When you shave your hair you make every minute and hour of your precious human body more meaningful. You also make your most rare, perfect human rebirth more meaningful, every second of which is so precious, offering you an opportunity to achieve happiness in the future, liberation, and enlightenment, as I mentioned above. If one second is wasted, it is a much greater loss than losing a sky full of wish-granting jewels.
So, begin by motivating with bodhicitta: "The purpose of my life is to free every single sentient being from suffering and lead them to liberation and full enlightenment, therefore I am going to practice the vow of shaving my head, renouncing the adornments of the householders' life, and also living in the practice of renouncing the delusion of attachment."
Visualise the person shaving your head as Manjushri and the razor as wisdom realizing the selflessness of the person and of the aggregates. Then, think that the root of samsara is ignorance grasping at the "I" as truly existent and grasping at the aggregates as truly existent, as well as all the other delusions, such as anger, attachment, jealousy, pride, doubt, etc. You can think of the 84,000 delusions that spread from the three poisonous minds.
Use the same visualization when you shave your own hair. This is not only for ordained people. Lay people who shave their hair can think similarly. Then, at least the action becomes a remedy to delusion, and thus it becomes Dharma.
More talks by Lama Zopa on this topic:
See Rinpoche's advice related to vows in the Miscellaneous section of the Advice Book.
See "When Sangha Members Die" in the Prayers and Practices for the Deceased section of the Advice Book.
More talks by Lama Zopa on this topic: