Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Online Advice Book
When Work Requires Killing
Earlier in his life, a student had worked as a commercial fisherman. The student had the idea to return to all the places he had fished with his father as a boy, and then later as an adult, and throw some Mani, Mitukpa, and Namgyalma mantras into the water. Rinpoche’s response was as follows.
That is great. You can carve or write the mantras on a board or in copper, and then tow it behind the boat. Or you can go to a bridge and let it drop into the water while reciting the mantras. Do the same with prayer wheels.
The mantra can be written in Sanskrit on one side of the board, and in Tibetan on the other side. If the boards are thrown into the water they should be made of materials that last as long as possible. If you make prayer wheels to put into the water, you shouldn’t allow any water to get inside of them.
There is a family in Taiwan who live by fishing. They built a circular wall out into the water, across from mainland China, with mantras written above and below the water, and underwater stupas.
Refuge and Killing Animals
Rinpoche gave the following advice for people whose daily life and work involves killing animals.
Even if you farm and kill animals, you can take refuge without taking any of the five lay vows. Because Buddha is compassionate, even if you are unable to stop doing major harm, such as killing, etc., you can abandon the smaller harms, for example, a second of anger. The purpose of this vow is to protect your and others’ minds from suffering and to being peace and happiness to yourself and others. Even if a person can’t keep the five lay vows, there are many other smaller harms the person can stop, such as harsh speech, etc.
Whatever forms of causing harm the person can stop doing protects everyone and is the root of happiness and peace, so the person doesn’t get the result of negative karma and has happiness in this and future lives. Buddha is so compassionate. The person can still take refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Even Tibetan soldiers used to take refuge and then go out and do their job. In our case, besides taking the tantric and bodhisattva vows, we still harm others every day here and there in daily life with anger, bad words, etc.
The best subject to teach people who still farm is karma. There are different ways of presenting it: the four aspects, the ten nonvirtues. Another way is from the point of view of helping others by protecting life. In the case of killing, emphasize the opposite—that saving the lives of animals causes you to have a longer life. Emphasize the benefits for yourself. Present karma by emphasizing what happens to you. Then, emphasize the opposite: saving lives of others, birds, etc. Elaborate on practicing charity for others: helping sick people, the dying, and homeless. The result is that you have a long and healthy life now and in the future.
Teach about reincarnation. Explain that how your future lives turn out depends on how much you create positive karma. Present the idea of how life isn’t just this one. If you don’t talk about reincarnation, they won’t be inspired to abandon negative karma and this won’t be an important issue for them. The thought to change doesn’t come. Just because you have a farmer’s life it doesn’t mean you have to kill. But there’s a fixed idea that other people have, that you have to kill if you’re a farmer. You have to feed animals, but you don’t have to kill them. You can control their numbers through breeding. If you sell them then other people will kill them, so it’s best to control their numbers. Also, being a farmer is your choice, you can change your lifestyle for the good and happiness of others. There is no rule saying you have to be a farmer, it’s your own free will.
In the case of people who can’t stop killing but still want to meditate, they can still develop compassion for others, for example practicing patience and the basic things that are the only ways to bring happiness, keeping the mind in virtue, visualizing Buddha, and purifying with Shakyamuni Buddha yoga meditation.
Gradually, they will become inspired to stop killing. Buddha presented so many different practices because sentient beings have different minds. So, they should still practice Dharma and meditate. There is always something they can do, other things they can practice. It is better to do something they can do, that is opposite to creating nonvirtue, so their life isn’t just negative karma and completely dark. They should especially do purification practices. If you purify, then there is less negative karma and suffering, so it makes a huge difference.
Animals Killed During Construction of a Temple
A cabin was going to be torn down and rebuilt as a temple, because the existing structure did not conform to municipal code. A nun asked for prayers for the sentient beings that would be killed when that happened. Rinpoche responded as follows.
Usually, building a temple is no problem at all. There is incredible benefit for the sentient beings that get killed during construction: worms, insects, and so on. They are never reborn in the lower realms, and receive a good rebirth. This is due to the power of holy objects, because Buddha is free from all defilements and has perfected all qualities, including the inconceivable powers that are inspired by and achieved through compassion for all sentient beings. A temple or monastery is a merit field for the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Even when we build ordinary rooms, we should build them with the idea that we are building a home for the Triple Gem.
It is the same for sentient beings killed by vehicles or by being stepped on during construction of a temple. They share in the merit of building the temple, because they gave their lives for the temple to be built. Therefore, they are not reborn in the lower realms.
There is a quotation from an Indian pandit which states that when you build a monastery, any insect that dies during construction is never reborn in the lower realms. Even when you cook food for the people who are building the monastery, whoever is touched by the smoke of the cooking is liberated from the lower realms. This is due to the role of the people building the temple, monastery, or meditation hall, which is connected with the power of the Buddha and the Triple Gem.
You can construct any building with the idea that you are creating a home for the Triple Gem, and then when you have finished, you can place a picture of the Buddha in it, and it becomes a temple. When you do this, you fulfill the motivation you set at the beginning of the project, so it isn’t a lie. Then, since the construction took place for the sake of building a temple or monastery, those sentient beings killed during the process are protected from the lower realms.