Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Online Advice Book
Advice on Addictions
Breaking Drug Addiction
A student wrote to say that her daughter had turned to drugs following the death of her father many years before and had become addicted. Although the daughter had made many attempts to break her addiction, none had any lasting effect.
As far as the drugs are concerned, I did a divination and it came out very good for your daughter to come to Nepal and do a lam-rim course. That would be the best thing to do.
In order to benefit her mind, she should look inside herself, to gain the knowledge to make her life better in quality. This will inspire her more to give some meaning to her life.
She needs an environment with people who protect her, people not involved in these things. She should stay away from people who are involved with drugs and not make friends with them. She can give compassion and love to them, but not physical friendship. Physically, she should keep away. That also helps protect her from AIDS.
She should make a really strong determination, a determination from her heart, to challenge her attachment to taking drugs, to seeking that pleasure. She should determine to challenge and overcome it as if she were going to war, trying to defeat her enemy. As in a boxing match, you try to defeat your opponent. Here, you defeat your own thoughts, the desire that brings your life down, making it meaningless and sick, causing you to destroy your life by attachment to the pleasure of drugs.
The best friends to protect her in this way are Sangha. For her to be with nuns is best, though it can also be lay women. At the very least, they should be people not taking drugs, preferably people having a strong practice, a strong discipline, and who are living a pure life. If she is with those kinds of friends, she will be protected by them.
You can ask them to help protect her, to look after her while she’s in Nepal, or wherever she goes. Your daughter should go to stay with other lay women and Sangha, especially nuns, because this kind of problem takes a long time to resolve. It will not be resolved in just one month. She needs to stay for a long time in an environment or place where you cannot find drugs. That is the best thing, until she has made a very strong determination from her heart to abandon drugs, feeling totally disgusted with them, and wants to help herself and others.
If she decides to live with a man, she should be careful, since she wants a long and healthy life. She should examine and check the man well for a long time. The best would be a man who can protect her, who is good-hearted, with strong discipline and living a pure life. It would also be best for him to be practicing Buddhism, especially Mahayana Buddhism. It would be good if she can get support from him in this way. Generally, since she is a woman, I emphasize it would be better to be with nuns or lay women with the qualifications that I just mentioned.
Maybe it would be good to tell her that her life can give so much happiness to others—she can give the happiness of this life to so many other beings, the happiness of future lives to many other beings, and the highest happiness, enlightenment, to so many other beings. There are so many unbelievable, wonderful, beautiful things you can do for others and also, of course, for yourself.
Instead, you completely destroy this, you make your life completely meaningless, by following desire and self-cherishing, thinking of my happiness, my pleasure. By just being attached to this life, to sensual pleasures, you stop the development of your mind. You prevent yourself from realizing the ultimate nature of your own mind: the Buddha potential, or Buddha nature. This stops you from seeing the good part of yourself and blocks you from developing your mind. It blocks your path to enlightenment, your spiritual path. It is not easy because there are so many habits from the past.
This problem requires different solutions: the first is to study Dharma, to meditate and control the attachment through renunciation. This means giving freedom to yourself, away from the enemy, the prison of attachment. This is not just to protect you from the problem of drugs. Most importantly, it helps bring happiness in future lives.
This is unbelievably important, and is something that should be done right now, because death can come at any time. This is also the main thing for achieving everlasting happiness, total liberation from samsara, and from all suffering. It is the foundation for achieving enlightenment, for her to benefit others. The benefit from practicing meditation is not just that she stops drugs.
Another important factor is the environment. Here, I’m talking about the kind of people with whom she should associate. That is very important. Drugs are just one example. There are many other habits besides drugs that we can get addicted to, such as the habit of sexual misconduct, which brings us so many problems in life and blocks the development of our mind on the spiritual path. This happens if you don’t develop the mind on the spiritual path. Not only do you then continuously create problems by creating the cause, you always get stuck in the problems. It’s like sinking in quicksand and never being able to get out your whole life. You then die in that quicksand, while going through these problems of life. So, your whole life finishes so sadly, not achieving any satisfaction, happiness, or peace in your heart, not even for yourself. On top of this, you can’t benefit others if you cannot develop your mind on the spiritual path.
I should make clear what I mean when I say spiritual path. When people talk of a “spiritual path” it is not usually clear what that spiritual path is. There are many thousands of religions in the world. Here, what I’m speaking of is developing the mind in renunciation, bodhicitta, and emptiness; and on top of that, there is the tantric path.
You cannot benefit others if you do not develop your mind. Besides not being able to offer deep benefit, you cannot offer even the small benefits that you can offer with your body, speech, and mind, just simple help in daily life, because the self-cherishing thought stops that. Ego doesn’t allow you to do even that.
Here, my emphasis is that because our mind is very weak, even if we know meditation techniques well or understand the lam-rim teachings well, just knowing them doesn’t mean you can immediately apply them or that your mind immediately becomes strong. It takes time, and one might miss many opportunities to apply what one has learned. That’s why having the protection of being in the right environment is very important, as I mentioned before. If you are with those kinds of people, your life can be protected by the people around you.
Later, when the mind is stabilized and strong, with total renunciation of these things, it doesn’t matter. Even if you’re living with people who are taking drugs, you won’t have the slightest interest. You won’t engage in those things. Drugs are just one example—there are many other things.
It’s the same as after one has stable realizations of renunciation, bodhicitta, and wisdom. Then, even when you mix and work with other people, they don’t become a cause of confusion to you or to others. Your service is very clear. Your direction is very clear, so the work is not stained by attachment, anger, or ego. If the mind is holy, it becomes only holy work, holy service. There is no danger for you, and no danger for others. You’re free from the problems that many people commonly experience when they live with people and work for others.
Also, regarding friends, if you live with good friends of the kind I mentioned—strong Dharma practitioners with some discipline, who perform a lot of practice, understand Dharma, and live a pure life—you also become like those friends. You lead a better life due to these friends.
If you have bad friends, you become like them too. That is because we ordinary beings, since we do not have control over our minds or stable realizations, are under the power of the environment. When we don’t meditate on lam-rim in daily life, we are controlled by the environment, by the people around us, and so forth. We are controlled by our own hallucinations, even when we are alone.
When you don’t meditate, impermanent phenomena appear as permanent, and you believe in that. Dependent things appear as independent and inherently existent, and you believe in that. That is how we get overwhelmed by external things, by our own hallucinations. This is what happens when we don’t meditate or practice lam-rim. Therefore, the right environment becomes a very important protection for our life.
Good Reasons to Quit Addictions
Rinpoche gave this general advice for people with cigarette, alcohol, or any other addiction.
One of the best ideas is to think of the many people on earth who are dying because they have no food to eat. There are many places, such as Bangladesh, where there are famines, epidemics, floods, and earthquakes. In so many places, there are thousands and thousands of people who are homeless or have various other problems.
Now, one large jug of cheap wine, for example, costs maybe $10. First of all, leaving aside the $10, consider just $1. Both in the East and the West, the world is full of projects that aim to help millions of people solve their problems. From the $10, if you make a donation of even $1, this can help to make up a total of $1,000, $10,000, $100,000, or even $1 million. But if that $1 is missing from that money needed to buy medicine or food, to provide homes and so forth, it doesn’t make a total of $100, $1,000, $100,000, or $1 million. That means $1 million of aid can’t be provided. Donating even $1 helps the total to reach $10,000, $100,000, or $1 million. That means through your donation of $1, the project is able to provide whatever help is needed for all those people.
Of course, this $1 alone cannot help many thousands of people much; but when the $1 is added to many others, it has a lot of power, as $1 million worth of medicine, food, or whatever. There is no $1 million that exists inherently, from its own side. The $1 million is made up of each $1, and each $1 is made up of each cent. So, even the $1 million depends on the cent. When the $1 you donate goes to make up the large amount, it has the power to benefit countless millions of people.
All those millions of people who are starving, who are sick, who are homeless, are exactly the same as you in wanting happiness and not wanting any discomfort. And just as we think that we are precious and that what we want is important, it is exactly the same with them. Each of them is also extremely precious and the happiness they need is also very important.
Now, you are one person. Which is more important? When you compare democratically, in terms of numbers, you are just one person, so your own happiness becomes nothing important, and any problem you have becomes insignificant, because one person is very, very insignificant compared to millions of people. Others are so many, so with a democratic way of thinking, the need to obtain the happiness of those who are much greater in number is much more important than obtaining your own happiness. Freeing this great number of people from all their problems and obtaining their happiness become the most important things. Simply in terms of number, others become so precious and important.
For example, let’s say there are two groups of starving people: one group of 100 and another of one million. If you cannot afford to help both groups to survive, you help the major group, the group of one million. You try to save the lives of the most number of people. This is the logical thing to do. You would help the million people because they are much more in number than the 100 people. In terms of number, 100 people are much less important than one million.
Here it’s a question of comparing yourself, one person, with others, who are so many. The importance of obtaining happiness for one person is nothing when you compare it to the happiness of others. For this reason, also, it is very important to donate money to help those millions of people who have so many problems.
The second point is that you can survive without drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes. Since you can survive just by eating food, instead of spending money on alcohol or cigarettes, you can donate the money to help millions of people. For example, let’s say the cheapest jug of alcohol or a few packs of cigarettes costs $10. Before we talked about how $1 can help so much—now there’s $10. Giving that $10 to charity can help all those people so much.
If you drink one jug a day, in one month you would spend $300. If you count up how much you spend on cigarettes or alcohol, it’s a lot. If you donated what you spent on them in one month, it would be incredible. You could bring so much benefit to so many people with the money you spend on one bottle or one pack of cigarettes, starting from $1 up to $300. You could do this for months, for years. By doing this, you wouldn’t destroy your own life. It wouldn’t interfere with your job, or the stability and harmony of your life, and your peace of mind. By having stability in your life and work, your living conditions would be improved. You could have more comfort. In this way, you would, first of all, be mentally healthy and, second, you would be physically healthy. You could further your education. You would even have the opportunity to develop materially, to become wealthy, and then be able to help others even more. You could share your wealth and benefit the world.
In this way, by sharing with others through making donations to charity and so forth, you see that your life becomes very beneficial for others. You are doing something for the world; you are making some contribution rather than just taking from the world. Since birth we have been taking from our parents and the world. Then, thinking about reincarnation, during beginningless rebirths, we have been taking from other living beings and from the world.
So far we have been taking from others. We owe others a lot. Starting from our parents who gave birth to us, then those people who have helped us with our education and so forth, starting from there and extending to the whole world, we owe a lot to all other living beings. What we owe them is infinite. For this reason, we have a responsibility to share with others, to help them. Even if you have only $1 that you can share with the millions of other people, you still have that much opportunity to bring happiness to others, to help them.
Having the opportunity to share even $1 means you have the responsibility to help them, even though they may not ask you particularly to help them. For example, let’s say there is a blind person in danger of falling off a cliff. Because he cannot see, he thinks he is on the road, but instead is about to step off a cliff. Nearby, there’s someone with every opportunity to help; he has normal eyesight and sound limbs and could run and grab that blind person. The blind person doesn’t ask this person for help. Not only does he not call on this person to help, he is not even aware of him. But that sighted person, seeing that the blind person is in danger of falling, would run and grab him. Simply having the capacity and opportunity to help that blind person itself becomes the reason that the sighted person is responsible to rescue him from falling off the cliff. I am saying that even if the other person does not ask for your help, simply because you have the opportunity to help, you have the responsibility to rescue him.
It is the same if you have just $1 to share with others. You can help millions of people by giving them comfort and solving their problems, and just by having the opportunity, you have the responsibility to help them. And here we are talking about $300 a month.
You can survive without drinking or smoking; it won’t kill you to go without them. In fact, you can be very healthy mentally and physically by not drinking or smoking. Not drinking and smoking has infinite benefits for you, and you can then help others much more. With all this extra money you have through not drinking or smoking, you have the opportunity to help others much more, and for that reason, you have the responsibility to help them, who are so many in number.
Also, by acting in this way, you experience so much happiness and satisfaction in your life, because you are giving meaning to your life. You are doing something for the world; you are giving peace to so many people by rescuing them from starvation, sickness, and many other problems. You can enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that you are benefiting others.
The last point is that even if you are not concerned about others, just in terms of your own benefit, stopping drinking or smoking lengthens your life. Drinking and smoking shorten your life and bring many sicknesses. The human body is extremely precious. If you take all the wealth that exists on this earth, including that in rich countries such as America, and compare it with your own precious human body, your body is much more precious than all that wealth. Why? Because even if you own all that wealth, if you don’t have a precious human body, you cannot develop your mind. You cannot develop the inner good qualities of compassion and wisdom. And if you don’t develop those qualities, you cannot bring peace to the world, to all living beings.
There are many limitations even to how much you can help others physically, and without this precious human body, you could not help their minds. The cause of problems doesn’t come from outside; the cause of problems is in the mind. Therefore, the way to bring happiness to others is to transform their minds from negative, which is harmful to themselves and to others, into positive thinking. By transforming their minds into the positive, they can then perform positive actions that bring happiness into their lives. In this way, each of them can benefit themselves, can create happiness for themselves, and can bring happiness to everyone else.
Because the cause of problems is in the mind, the best way to help others and bring them peace is to help their minds. A human body and a mind full of potential give incredible opportunities. This mind has the potential to attain any happiness we want, and by developing our positive mind, we can cause the temporary and ultimate happiness of others. We can free everyone from all problems and their causes, and bring them ultimate happiness. We can cause others never to experience problems again, and we can bring them the highest happiness, by making their minds completely free of all faults and obscurations.
This human body is unbelievably precious, and it has so much power. One person, by having a human body and not looking after his or her mind, can harm many millions of people; one person can destroy the whole world in one day. There is danger of this when one has a human body but does not protect the mind. But if the mind is protected, developed, and transformed into a positive mind, one person with a human body can do so many good things in this world. They can cause numberless other beings infinite happiness. The good things you can do for others, for the world, are unbelievable.
Therefore, this human body is unbelievably precious. Material wealth means nothing in comparison with the value of this precious human body. There is no comparison between the value of a diamond the size of this earth and the value of this precious human body, and drinking and smoking destroy this incredibly precious thing. Drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and not eating properly destroy this precious human body, resulting in a lot of disease. It is also well known that drinking interferes with your work, so that you are unable to do your job properly. It also interferes with your family and other relationships, so that you are unable to have peaceful relationships with others and you create a lot of enemies. Other people don’t want to communicate with you. Drinking isolates you from others, from society, from the world. By drinking, you isolate yourself from other people. Then, this makes you more depressed.
Life is very short, and death can happen at any moment. If this precious life is simply wasted, at the time of your death, you will feel much regret. Suddenly the thought will come, “Oh, now my life is ending. I should have done much better with my life. I should have made my life much more meaningful. I should have done something for others.” When you know that you are about to die, you will suddenly discover that you did nothing worthwhile in your life, that your life has been kind of empty. At that time, no matter how upset you are, there is no time to do anything about it. You have to die with that upset mind.
I asked some of my students who are nurses and have worked in hospitals what kind of people are most frightened at the time of death. According to their experience, alcoholics have more problems and fear at the time of death. Alcoholics are very afraid of their death. I’m not making this up. This is the experience of nurses who have worked in hospitals for a long time.
Therefore, before death happens, while we have all the opportunities, we should protect our own mind. We should become our own guard, our own teacher. We should become our own doctor, and protect our own life. Our mind is like a baby, so we should act like its parents, or like a teacher, or the police, who protect us from dangers. You cannot follow what the mind says all the time.
When you see the mind as a baby or an uncontrolled person, you act like a parent, a teacher, or a policeman. You always watch and analyze what it is doing. If the mind wants to do something beneficial, you listen; if it’s thinking of something harmful or unreasonable, you don’t listen and you don’t follow that.
As ordinary people, since our minds are not pure, it is very dangerous to listen to everything the mind says. Our mind has many unhealthy, disturbing thoughts because it is controlled by ignorance, anger, attachment, and so forth. Before we act, before we sacrifice our life, we have to analyze the way the mind thinks, whether it has shortcomings or benefits, and whether the shortcoming or benefit is great or small. The general conclusion of analyzing like this is that you don’t do anything that has shortcomings, that brings problems. You follow the thoughts that benefit you and others.
The mind that causes happiness or benefit to others is also of most benefit to you. Cherishing others is the best way to cherish yourself. Renouncing others is like renouncing yourself. Renouncing others and cherishing only yourself harms rather then helps other sentient beings, and in reality this means harming yourself. The more you harm others, the more you harm yourself, and deprive yourself of happiness. So, cherishing others is the best way to bring happiness and satisfaction into your life. Cherishing others is the best way to enjoy life. Benefiting others with your body, speech, and mind as much as possible in everyday life is the best and safest way to cherish yourself. That is the best way to obtain happiness for yourself, and the best way to obtain happiness for all sentient beings. Even in terms of your own happiness, cherishing others is best. In this way, there is so much happiness in your day-to-day life, now and in the future. There is so much happiness all the time.