Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Online Advice Book
Transforming Pain and Illness
- Transforming Pain
- Handling Illness
|Compassion and Tong-len|
Ven Sarah Thresher recalled a telephone conversation she had with Rinpoche in March 2002 about transforming pain by taking on the suffering of others.
Ven. Sarah: I told Rinpoche the story of one student who was helping fill the water bowls. She had read Rinpoche’s Ultimate Healing book. When she went for a routine biopsy, they stuck the needle in the wrong place, it hit a nerve and she experienced agonizing pain through her whole body. Because she had read the book, she was able to remember Rinpoche’s advice about using one’s own pain to take on the suffering of others. So she thought to herself very deeply that she was experiencing this pain for all other sentient beings. She said that because she did this she was able to bear the pain, which otherwise was so agonizing that she wouldn’t have been able to bear it. This student told me the story when she attended an Ultimate Healing course at the Land of Medicine Buddha center. It was clear that the experience had deeply affected her and she kept the book with her and cherished it. Rinpoche was so happy to hear this, very pleased. He said:
Rinpoche: That’s fantastic she was able to do that. It’s true when you have that attitude using your own suffering to take on the pain of others, then definitely it helps to bear the pain and make it less. The more you can think that you are experiencing the suffering for others, the better it is, very powerful. Even just the moment that intention arises to use the pain to take on the suffering for others there is an effect, it changes things. Even before you do the actual meditation. Just that intention arising.
Sometimes when I have pain in my eyes I try to think that I am taking on the suffering of other beings and experiencing it for them. Then I noticed that it helps, the pain decreases. When you have a strong enough intention, it can not only make the pain decrease but even stop the pain. But of course that shouldn’t be the motivation. The motivation shouldn’t be to have the thought in order to stop the pain, it should be a genuine feeling that you want to experience the pain for others. I’m not sure what my motivation was, but you should try to generate a pure motivation without any thought of wanting the pain to decrease. Then it becomes very useful. If the pain continues then you can use it to develop the mind in compassion and bodhicitta. So if you are practising thought transformation, this is the most useful thing because you have the chance to train the mind. If the pain ceases then you lose the opportunity, you lose the benefit of having the pain.
Ven. Sarah: I told Rinpoche that the student asked me a question about taking on suffering. She said that when she experienced her own pain it was so unbearable that she couldn’t imagine how she could take on the suffering of all beings. But when she asked me she also answered the question because she mentioned something about joy. I said I thought that if the mind was prepared well, then there is so much joy to be able to actually take on the suffering of other beings that it is not experienced as suffering anymore; the greater the suffering, the greater the experience of joy. I asked Rinpoche if that is correct. He said:
Rinpoche: Yes, it depends how much compassion is in the mind. It depends how much that person has compassion. The more compassion is in the mind, the more pain they are able to bear for others. For example, as Shantideva mentions, normally the hell realm suffering is the greatest suffering that exists so nobody wants that, but the bodhisattva who has developed such great compassion is so happy to bear the hell realm suffering for others. For him or her it is such great happiness and bliss to experience that for others. This is because there is so much compassion in the mind. The more compassion, the easier to bear the sufferings of others.
It is like the mother who is so happy to take on the suffering of her child. The mother sees her beloved son or daughter as the most precious thing in the world, the most precious one. And the child sees the mother as the most kind one. Because the mother sees her child as so precious, she is so happy to take on the sufferings of that child. It is very easy. And the more the child sees the mother as kind, the easier to bear suffering for her. So it depends on how much compassion we have and how much we are able to see others as precious and kind. The more we can see others as precious and kind, the more the compassion and the thought of loving-kindness, then the more we can bear suffering for others.
So please say “Thank you” to her. Tell her I would like to thank her for having that thought. By remembering to do the practice when she had pain, not only did it help her to bear the pain, but even if she had died, because she had this thought in her mind of bearing the pain for other sentient beings, she would have had the best way of dying. So tell her I am very happy and I will write a card for her. I will send her a card as big as this world.
Rinpoche sent the following advice to a student who had been very sick for over twenty years with severe arthritis. The illness was debilitating and she was almost unable to walk.
My dearest Nina,
How are you? You must think that you are the luckiest person in the world, that the happiest thing in your life is this sickness. It is the most precious thing given to you by the enemy, the ego or self-cherishing thought, which has completely prevented your enlightenment. The self-cherishing thought has never allowed this to happen—not even liberation from the actions of samsaric suffering and their causes: karma and delusion.
This self-cherishing thought has prevented any lam-rim realizations, even the very first realization, the first Dharma—renunciation of this life. It has also prevented you from liberating others from samsara and enlightening them.
Think: “I give this sickness to the self-cherishing thought , like bombing my ego, my self-cherishing. It is thousands of times better than the best, most powerful weapon. It destroys self-cherishing completely; this sickness is priceless. There is no prize for it. I can’t buy it in a department store or supermarket—there are no shops selling this in the world. This sickness is so precious for me!”
Then think that you have received all the suffering of sentient beings and particularly the same kind of sickness that you have. You have been praying for many years for this. Most people don’t succeed, but you, unbelievably, have succeeded. You are the most fortunate one.
Think, “I am experiencing this for all sentient beings.” Think like this most of the time. This means you are letting all sentient beings have all happiness, the dharmakaya.
Another way to think is: “I am experiencing all sentient beings’ suffering.” If you can think like that it is the best life. Even if you die with this thought, you can easily be born in the pure realm.
Otherwise, you get caught in the selfish or emotional mind, in attachment to this life, comfort, and happiness. Then you cannot be free, there is no pure realm and also you get reborn in the lower realm—the pure realm of negative non-virtuous thought. HA HA.
Each time when you think you are experiencing all sentient beings’ suffering, you purify many eons of negative karma. This is most unbelievable, unbelievable. Also, each time when you think like this you collect limitless skies of merits. Each second you think like this, it is unbelievable purification, and you collect skies of merits, each time bringing you closer to enlightenment and more distant from samsara. Then, enjoy life, feel so happy. Try as best you can.
This is the best, biggest puja, okay? This means your negative karma is purified so easily, so quickly, that it finishes very fast. In this life, so many very heavy, bad karmas from past lives are being purified by all your many powerful Dharma activities, such as translating many books, your practice of devotion to the guru, all that service.
Every time when there is Naga Puja, offer naga incense and torma for your sickness to not get worse. Also, recite the Mantra Liberating from the Bondage of Body, Speech, and Mind at least 14 times every day. If you can do Vajrayogini self-initiation once a week, that would be unbelievable.
With much love and prayers...
|Mantra Eliminating the Harsh Pain of the Three Grounds|
Rinpoche gave the following mantra for pacifying pain.
From the text Norbu Zangpo Dogpa:
OM HE HE SU SVAHA / OM KU HE KATA SVAHA / OM SHU HE KA SHA SVAHA
The three grounds are below the ground: nagas and landlords; on the ground: animals; and above the ground: human beings.
A student, who was a monk, was in incredible pain 24 hours a day because of a brain aneurysm. He was also going blind and could hardly walk. He said he was thinking of suicide every day, all the time. Rinpoche gave him many gifts, CDs of mantras and sutras to listen to, as well as a CD player and this advice.
In regards to the pain you feel all the time and feeling suicidal, consider yourself the most fortunate person. Think that you are not just suffering for yourself, you are suffering for all sentient beings. That gives sense to your life and then there is no need to think about suicide. Your suffering is your quickest path to enlightenment. It is bashing your ego constantly and you can use it to actualize bodhicitta by thinking that you are having/experiencing the pain for all sentient beings.
When you think you are dying, then wear your robes. Also, if you are feeling suicidal, put your robes on, remember you are a monk.
It comes out very good for you to listen to the Sutra for Pain (called the Vaishala Sutra). This can be downloaded from the FPMT website. You should listen to this as much as possible.
Also, if possible, someone can recite this to you directly eight times.
It would be good if someone is able to recite the long Medicine Buddha mantra so that you can hear it. It is best is if someone can recite one mala a day. For example, when people visit you, they can recite one mala, so you can hear the long Medicine Buddha mantra:
OM NAMO BHAGAVATE BHAISHAJYE / GURU BAIDURYA / PRABHA RAJAYA / TATHAGATAYA / ARHATE SAMYAKSAM BUDDHAYA / TADYATHA / OM BHAISHAJYE BHAISHAJYE MAHA BHAISHAJYE [BHAISHAJYE ]** / RAJA SAMUDGATE SVAHA
OM NAMO BAGAWATAY BEKANDZAY / GURU BAIDURYA / PRABA RADZAYA / TATAGATAYA / ARHATAY SAMYAK SAMBUDDHAYA / TA YA TA / OM BEKANDZAY BEKANDZAY MAHA BEKANDZAY [BEKANDZAY] / RADZA SAMUGATAY SOHA
|Rinpoche sent the following letter to a student in hospital, who was in a lot of pain after a car accident.|
My very dear Glynis,
What a most fortunate being you are, that you are able to be alive and to still have this most precious human body. Since you still have this precious human body, then you still have this mind, so what you can do is unbelievable. Why? Because you can still practice Dharma, and that is totally amazing. Amazing.
You can still achieve the three great purposes of your life: happiness now, happiness in all your future lives, liberation from samsara, ultimate happiness, and enlightenment. You can achieve all happiness within one second: temporal happiness and ultimate happiness. If you create the causes for this, then you can achieve it even in one second. So, please practice bodhicitta—that is the best cause of all happiness, so it is unbelievable that you have the opportunity to do this.
You have this human body, this is so precious, because every day, even in one second, think of what you can do. Please rejoice all day long. Rejoice every day, every minute you can. You can fill up your mind totally with happiness and joy. If you can, you can even fill up your nose with all happiness, or your toes, fingers, or at least your head.
With much love and prayers...
|Rinpoche gave the following advice on tong-len while in a café in New York with a geshe and some students. One of the students asked Rinpoche what she could do about the pain she had in her jaw.|
Regarding the difficulties with the center, you need an open heart; there are different views, so apply the views that are more beneficial. Like a road blocked by rocks, first you have to recognize the blocks so that you can clear them away.
Regarding the pain in your jaw, it is very important to do this prayer every day. When you have happiness, think: may all sentient beings have happiness and peace. When you have suffering, problems, cancer, AIDS, relationship problems, whatever, think: may all sentient beings’ oceans of samsaric sufferings be dried out.
The idea is to do tong-len practice, from time to time, each day. Each time you do this practice of taking on the sufferings, you collect vast amounts of merit, because you are taking on the sufferings of numberless beings and purifying not only this life’s negative karma but also past lives’ negative karma. The stronger you generate compassion for animals or human beings, the greater the amount of negative karma is purified. When you do the practice of giving, you also purify today’s, this life’s, and past lives’ negative karma. It purifies many eons of negative karma.
|A nun was in a great deal of pain and wrote to Rinpoche asking what she could do.|
I used to rejoice each time I heard Lama Lhundrup had a headache in the past, when I was staying at Kopan Monastery in the old days. He is the abbot of Kopan Monastery. I actually felt good, like rejoicing, because I recognized that it is great purification, because 24 hours a day, whatever he does is for Lama Yeshe. Looking after Kopan monastery, cleaning etc., each action he performs is according to the advice of Lama Yeshe, so it becomes the most powerful means for purifying negative karma, collecting vast amounts of merit, and getting closer to enlightenment. It is like an atomic bomb; it is so powerful for purifying negative karma, and liberating us from the oceans of samsaric sufferings. Of course, an atomic bomb cannot destroy delusions, it can only destroy substantial things, but not the cause of suffering, the mental phenomena. It cannot destroy the negative imprints from where all the sufferings come from, the delusions and karma. Countless atomic bombs cannot destroy these, but Dharma practice, especially obtaining the guru’s advice and fulfilling his wishes, can do that. So, his headaches are the result of his practice of following Lama Yeshe’s advice 24 hours a day.
An old student had been experiencing great pain in her body, and lost feeling in her feet, because of a pinched nerve in her back. Rinpoche wrote this card for her.
My very dear Agnetha,
I am sorry about the other day. I meant to come down to speak to you, but I got distracted. Thank you very much for coming, I am very happy to have met with you again.
I am sorry about all the pain you have. As I said in the past, this is very powerful purification of negative karma that normally would be experienced in the hell realms for many years. Even this life’s pain, this little pain, is nothing compared to the suffering of what is experienced in the hell realms.
What I mentioned to you before is to use this to develop bodhicitta, loving kindness, and compassion toward others, who are so many in number. If you can do tong-len practice, the practice of taking and giving, then every time you experience pain it brings you closer to enlightenment. This is the way your sickness brings you to enlightenment. Each time you experience suffering for others, taking on the suffering of others and giving your merit and happiness to others, you are collecting so much merit. Try to think, “I am experiencing this pain on behalf of all sentient beings, so that they can have all happiness, up to enlightenment.”
Most of the time, think like this. That way, each time you will be experiencing pain for all other sentient beings, and through this you collect so much merit. So, use your pain to practice developing bodhicitta, as much as you can.
Thank you very much for making the beautiful garden, which you started. I dedicate all the merit from making offerings of all these flowers, and the results, to you. Here is a Lama Tsongkhapa statue for you, and a small Buddha.
With much love and prayer...
Taking on Others’ Pain
A student related to Rinpoche the experience of another student who had gone to have a routine biopsy shortly after reading Rinpoche’s book Ultimate Healing. When they put the needle in, they put it in the wrong place. It hit a nerve and she experienced agonizing pain throughout her body. She remembered Rinpoche’s advice in the book about using one’s own pain to take on the suffering of others, so she thought to herself very deeply that she was experiencing this pain for all other sentient beings. She said that because she did this, she was able to endure the pain, which was so agonizing that otherwise she wouldn’t have been able to bear it. It was clear that the experience had deeply affected the student, who kept the book with her and cherished it. Rinpoche was very pleased to hear this and said the following.
It’s fantastic that she was able to do that. It’s true that the attitude of using your own suffering to take on the pain of others definitely helps you to bear pain and make it less. The more you can think that you are experiencing the suffering for others, the better and more powerful it is. Even before you perform the actual meditation, just from the arising of that intention to use the pain to take on the suffering for others, there is an effect. It changes things. Sometimes when I have pain in my eyes, I try to think that I am taking on the suffering of other beings and experiencing it for them. I noticed that it helps; the pain decreases. When you have a strong enough intention, it can not only make the pain decrease but even stop it. But, of course, that shouldn’t be the motivation. The motivation shouldn’t be to stop the pain. It should be a genuine feeling that you want to experience the pain for others. I’m not sure what my motivation was, but one should try to generate a pure motivation without any thought of wanting the pain to decrease. Then it becomes very useful. If the pain continues, then you can use it to develop the mind in compassion and bodhicitta. If you are practising thought transformation, this is the most useful thing, because you have the chance to train the mind. If the pain ceases then you lose the opportunity. You lose the benefit of having the pain.
The student had also asked a question about taking on suffering. She said that when she experienced her own pain, it was so unbearable that she couldn’t imagine how she could take on the suffering of all beings. But she also mentioned joy. The student relating this story asked Rinpoche whether a person whose mind is well-prepared experiences so much joy at being able to actually take on the suffering of other beings that the pain is no longer experienced as suffering. Rinpoche replied as follows:
Yes, it depends how much compassion is in the mind. The more compassion there is in the mind, the more pain a person is able to bear for others. For example, Shantideva mentions that normally the suffering of the hell realms is the greatest suffering that exists, so nobody wants that, but the bodhisattva who has developed great compassion is happy to bear that suffering for others. For him or her, it is great happiness and bliss to experience that for others. This is because there is so much compassion in the mind. The more compassion, the easier it is to bear the sufferings of others.
It is like a mother who is happy to take on the suffering of her child. The mother sees her beloved son or daughter as the most precious thing in the world, and that child sees his or her mother as the kindest being. Because the mother sees the child as so precious, she is very happy to take on the child’s sufferings. It is very easy for her. And the more the child sees the mother as kind, the easier it is to bear suffering for her. So, it depends on how much compassion we have and how much we are able to see others as precious and kind. The more one can see others as precious and kind, the greater one’s compassion and loving kindness, and then the more we can bear suffering for others.
So please say “Thank you” to her. Tell her I would like to thank her for having that thought. Not only did she remember to do the practice when she had pain, and it helped her to bear the pain, but even if she had died, because she had this thought in her mind of bearing the pain for other sentient beings, she would have died in the best way. So, tell her I am very happy. I will write a card for her. I will send her a card as big as this world.
A student was suffering intense pain and was not even able to sit down comfortably. She had seen several doctors without any positive result. She thought that the pain was connected with a displacement in the vertebral column, hitting a nerve in her neck. She wrote to Rinpoche asking for advice.
My very dear Janice,
Thank you very much for your kind letter. I think my brother Sangye had the same problem as you, having incredible pain in his neck. I made some observations for him and the result was mainly to do purification practice. So, he did a lot of prostrations every day, reciting the 35 Buddhas’ names, and Vajrasattva practice. He told me that only purification practice helped. I would like you to discuss this with my brother, and you can say that I suggested it.
Particularly, from my observations, is important is for you to recite 500,000 Samayavajra mantras. Strong purification is probably needed. If you don’t know how to apply the four opponent powers, which is included in Vajrasattva practice, please read the explanation in my book of teachings from the Vajrasattva retreat and also in Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand.
Mostly, you can recite the 35 Buddhas’ names as you do prostrations. From the 35 Buddhas come beams of nectar, which enter your body and mind and instantly purify all the negative karma and defilements collected since beginningless rebirths. It especially purifies instantly all the negative karmas accumulated with the guru, from beginningless rebirths. Keep on reciting the 35 Buddhas’ names with this visualization.
Also, Medicine Buddha puja needs to be performed for you. There are two talks that were given in the Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga retreat in Italy about how to use sickness and problems as the path to enlightenment by using them to develop bodhicitta, by experiencing them with bodhicitta. You need to practice tong-len. If you can listen to these talks it would help.
Also, you need to do the naga incense puja. You can do this yourself. You should email Kopan monastery to get the correct naga incense from them. Ask them to send it as quickly as possible. You also need to wear the mantra “liberating from bondage” around your neck, which I will send to you.
With much love and prayers...