Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Online Advice Book
Family & Relationship :
Ending a Relationship
|A student who was married with five children had been struggling to make ends meet and the financial hardship, along with other factors, led to relationship problems. His wife now wished to separate. He wrote to Rinpoche requesting advice for his spiritual practice.|
My very dear Thomas,
I think it’s very good if you can read carefully and contemplate my book Transforming Problems into Happiness, using it for your present situation. This is what can bring you to enlightenment and also to benefit all the suffering sentient beings of the six realms.
The main point is to be free from clinging. Your wife has been extremely kind to you, to help you in this way.
With much love and prayers...
|Rinpoche asked his assistant about a student who makes nice prayer wheels and wanted to send her a gift. He asked whether his assistant thought she would make any more prayer wheels, and the assistant said he wasn’t sure, but that it might take a while, because she was in the middle of a relationship break-up and had no access to her tools. Rinpoche then sent the following letter. His letter and the student’s response are below.|
My very dear Elizabeth,
Hi. I think you are having a great realization of life. May I tell you little bit about this, how it is a great realization, a discovery—actually you are on the discovery channel. This helps you to realize how samsara is in the nature of suffering, the three types of suffering, six types of suffering, that there is nothing definite in samsara, you can never get satisfaction from samsaric pleasures, perfections, enjoyments, materials, or friends. This realization becomes the cause to generate renunciation, becomes the basis for generating great compassion, becomes the basis for bodhicitta and for achieving the entire Mahayana path. Because this higher path has skies of qualities, you achieve enlightenment, then you enlighten all suffering beings, and before that liberate them from samsaric suffering. Now you see how all sentient beings’ happiness, including great enlightenment, comes from this root that you are discovering. WOW! I was saying how it is so positive that it is incredible. It is an extremely important discovery in your life. It is a very important education, something very precious that you need, that we need. Now there is only great joy. You can see how she is most incredibly kind, giving you enlightenment.
OK, I must stop here, right?
With big love and prayer,
Thank you for sending me the best “I-hear-you’re-going-through-a-bad-break-up” card ever written. The gifts you sent and your encouragement have been such perfect medicine. Looking at the two sweetheart skeletons on the card you sent gives me great relief, somehow, and they are my new reminders of everything you said about this break-up being the precious root of the great realization discovery! You reminded me of my friend’s incredible kindness in helping me towards renunciation and the entire Mahayana path. I really wish for this break-up to be the cause for the very same in her, too.
Even though it’s been a very painful time, I know that there was no other way for my prayers to be answered. My prayer is that everything supports my mind in turning towards benefiting others.
Rinpoche, please live a very long time. I ask for your blessing that I may come to know very soon what it means to rely on the guru in every moment, and that all these distractions transform into meaningful activity.
With so much love and thanks.
|Whether to Divorce
|A student asked whether it would be beneficial to get a divorce from her husband.|
In regards to your question whether divorce is negative karma or not, that depends on your motivation. Even though in teachings mentioned by Buddha it says divorce is heavy karma with the person who you married, whether it is negative karma or virtuous karma and whether the result is happiness still depends on your motivation. If being with that person blocks your ability to benefit sentient beings, then that would be an obstacle to your freedom to benefit others. For that reason, the marriage would not be the best way to benefit others, or your husband. If divorce is done with wisdom and compassion, then it can become virtue, even though it may be unpleasant for the person.
A similar case is when a doctor treats a patient. The motivation is for the patient to have a long and happy life, but during the treatment there can be some pain for the person. Another example is when a parent, acting with compassion, scolds or beats his or her child in order for the child to go to school and have a good life. Even though it is unpleasant for the child, the parents’ scolding becomes virtue due to their motivation.
So, in regards to divorce and other such things, whether it is a cause of negative karma or not depends on your motivation. A good motivation is if it is done with strong compassion for other living beings and also to benefit the person.
It is said in the teachings that if you cannot do both – benefit the majority of sentient beings and one specific person – then give up that one person in order to benefit the majority of sentient beings, but give up that one person out of compassion. It is advised to give up working for a smaller number of sentient beings in order to benefit the majority of sentient beings. In regards to doing things in one’s life for others that are greatly beneficial, beneficial in a middling way, or in a small way, if you cannot do all three, then give up the small things and do the things of great and middling benefit. If you cannot do both of those, then only do the greatly beneficial things and give up the other. So, this is one way we can make decisions in our daily lives.
If you can make your life more productive for sentient beings by not living with your husband and you have more freedom to practice Dharma, then you have good reason to divorce him.
You should be very careful when making decisions in your life. Life decisions are very important because happiness and suffering depend on them. Happiness up until enlightenment, in all our future lives, depends on how we make decisions now. Whether your life is going to be beneficial for many sentient beings and a cause of happiness or whether your life will become meaningless and harmful to sentient beings depends on how you make decisions in your life now.
Whether to Divorce
A student wanted to divorce her husband, but she was afraid of the negative karma this might generate, so she went to Rinpoche to ask whether divorce creates negative karma or not.
It is just another action. Like eating, walking, sitting, or sleeping, whether the action is negative or positive depends on the motivation. When you are making a life decision, it is much clearer if you analyze on the basis of the goal of benefiting others. Then, if it is beneficial, you do it. If it’s not beneficial, then don’t. If you don’t have a clear goal for the action, then it is very confusing trying to decide.
Generally, there are only two goals to consider when making a decision: either it is for one’s own happiness or for the happiness of others.
Why do we have to think of benefiting others? Because the purpose of our life is to be useful to others, to free all other beings from all suffering. Therefore, the decision has to be made on that basis.
Other beings are so kind. Even to produce one grain of rice in Asia, people have to plant seedlings in a field, then move them to another field to grow. They have to water the plants. There’s so much work involved in growing rice. When the land is being fertilized, so many ants and other beings are killed. So much negative karma is created just to produce rice. This has continued since the moment the seedling came to be. Since so many sentient beings suffered just for one grain of rice, there is no way you can eat a grain of rice thinking only of your own happiness. So many sentient beings suffered to make an entire plate of rice. There are also many sentient beings living in the vegetables and the water. So many sentient beings suffer so we can enjoy our meal.
Each day, each hour, it is only through the kindness of others that we survive. So many sentient beings suffer so much and work so hard in the hot sun just to lay the foundations of our house. Even our clothing comes from another body, such as silk or wool. So many beings suffer to produce them. So, we must do something for others. We can’t just abandon them.
Divorce or Not
A group of doctors came to see Rinpoche, and one of them raised the topic of dealing with divorce. Here is what Rinpoche said.
In regards to marriage, if divorce happens, let it happen. Don’t be too upset, because this means that you are experiencing past-life negative karma, such as from sexual misconduct in a relationship with a person who was involved with someone else, at a wrong time, or in the wrong place.
Divorce can also be the result of slander, of causing disunity and causing others to split. Your divorce comes as a result of those karmas. Therefore, you must think regarding this divorce, “She is leaving me, so the bad karma I created to be left is ending. It’s being purified.”
You must look at this situation in a positive way. This way brings peace of mind. It becomes like poison leaving your system.
So, if it happens, it happens. But, generally, pray to the Buddhas for what is best, for whatever is most beneficial for yourself and for others. That is the best way to define “beneficial.” You think: whatever is best in my life must be dedicated to the benefit of sentient beings. Whatever I experience—praise, criticism, even being reborn in the hells—may it be most beneficial for all sentient beings, for them to achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible. This becomes the best psychology.
Then when the problem comes, you think that the purpose of this problem is to cause happiness for all sentient beings and to free them from suffering. I will experience this relationship problem for everybody, so that they are all free from this relationship problem. I am just one person and there are numberless others. With this experience, I will take everyone’s relationship problems, and give them all peace. This way you are using the relationship problem, or the painful mind, on the path to end all sufferings and to achieve enlightenment. You are using it as the quick way to achieve enlightenment.
Your only real job is to work for sentient beings, to bring them to enlightenment. When you think like this, you are using the experience of your problem as medicine for happiness. The peacock transforms poison into medicine; for others it is just poison. By using your painful experience as a means to experience all other living beings’ problems, you are making it the best medicine for achieving enlightenment.
You have these relationship problems, where it is so painful to let go, so you must use this to relieve all sentient beings’ problems. There is so much suffering, anger, and jealousy, so you use this to create compassion. In some ways, this person is teaching you renunciation, teaching you freedom. She is teaching you renunciation from samsara, from attachment. This person is showing you a path to let go of the object. You must cut the attachment to the object. When you let go of the attachment, it brings satisfaction.
This experience is very good to use for meditation. When you are together, develop compassion. Think that you are here to serve all sentient beings.
The following advice was given to a student in Singapore, who was extremely upset and depressed for months after breaking up with a close partner of ten years.
Now is the time to fight. Now is the time to do battle, to go to war with the samsaric emotions. Samsara never brought any happiness, and now is the time to realize this.