Lama Zopa Rinpoche's Online Advice Book
Practice Advice :
- Problems During One's Practice
- Giving up Commitments
- Misunderstanding Buddhism
- Obstacles during Nyung-nä Practice
Problems During One's Practice
|A student wrote saying she was having doubts about ever actually being able to achieve enlightenment.|
My most dear Maureen,
Thank you very much for your kind letter, and I am very sorry for the many eons of delay in replying.
Regarding your question about lack of confidence. Is your question whether it is difficult to achieve enlightenment in this lifetime, or do you mean is it difficult to achieve enlightenment at all?
Generally, you need to think more like this: what is the root of samsara, and how wrong concepts, superstitions, and objects are believed to be true are not true. You have to think of all the reasons for a true understanding of emptiness, how things are not truly existent, as well as all the processes of how wisdom directly ceases the cause of suffering, the root of samsara.
Regarding, wisdom realizing emptiness, first it is imagined and later it is an actual, direct realization of emptiness. This is what ceases all defilements, the cause of all the delusions. So, think about this and the five paths. Go over all the details, and within each path, what they do, how different delusions are ceased in this way, etc.
You should think like this: If somebody has cancer, but just talks about all the medicines that they need to take, or carries them around, but doesn’t actually take them, then they won’t recover. So many people with similar sickness have taken the medicines and recovered, so, in the same way, if you take the medicines you will recover.
Your way of thinking could be negative imprints from past lives coming up. I think more study may help. It’s similar during the annual November course at Kopan Monastery. After two weeks most people have faith in reincarnation, but still one or two people have doubts, even though they all receive the same teachings and do the same meditations. This is due to merit—those who have more Dharma imprints have more faith in Dharma, so it’s due to imprints and merit.
With much love and prayers...
|Rinpoche gave the following advice to a student who was experiencing obstacles.|
These are the five sutras that you need to recite (or have someone else recite):
1) Heart Sutra, the sutra of right view
2) Transcendental Wisdom Passing Away
3) The sutra of pure conduct, the meditation—the King of Prayers
4) The sutra of washing (Dorje Namjon)
5) One syllable Heart of the Sutra—AH. You just recite AH and meditate on the meaning of AH—that the “I,” action, and the object—no phenomena—have true existence. Meditate on emptiness—that is the meaning of AH. Recite AH then meditate on that meaning, looking at everything, all phenomena, the “I,” action, and the object, everything, as empty.
As Shantideva mentioned in the Bodhicaryavatara, the Buddha has taught all the branches of teachings to actualize wisdom. This means the 84,000 teachings are to actualize wisdom. The heart of these 84,000 is wisdom gone beyond the perfection of wisdom, which has 100,000 stanzas; the 12 volumes have 20,000 stanzas; the three volumes are shorter than that and have 8000 stanzas; the heart of all those teachings is the perfection of wisdom, the heart of wisdom, the heart sutra, and even more condensed than that is a few syllables of the perfection of wisdom.
Now even more condensed than this is all the Prajñaparamita teachings embodied in one syllable, which is AH. When Lama Atisha recited the Heart Sutra, when it says “no I, no aggregate, no form,” Lama Atisha used AH in place of “no.” AH negates the inherent existence that is projected on the “I,” action, the object, all phenomena, that are merely imputed by the mind, projected by one’s own ignorance, the concept of true existence, and grasping at true existence.
|Difficulty with Prostrations|
|A student was having problems doing physical prostrations and wrote the following to Rinpoche. His response is below.|
Dearest Lama Zopa Rinpoche,
When you were at our Dharma center, out of your incredible kindness, you gave me the 35 Buddhas practice to do daily. I love doing this practice and want to continue doing this for as long as I possibly can. Before doing this practice I had had some problem with tennis elbow, an inflammation of the elbow, and after seeing many different types of doctors, one of them gave me a cortisone shot which took away the inflammation. But now the inflammation has reappeared and even though it doesn't hurt to do the 35 Buddhas practice, after I have finished the pain begins. I don't want to stop doing the practice and feel that I can continue doing the practice and just live with the pain and work with it in meditation, but some other people are telling me that I could do more damage and I should stop and just visualize doing the practice until the inflammation goes away. I can get another cortisone shot, but this could just be temporary, and then the pain could flare up again when I start doing the 35 Buddhas practice again. So, please could you tell me what is the best way. Thank you so very, very much.
From the depth of my heart and with the greatest of heartfelt love,
You can do the practice with your hands in the mudra of prostrations, reciting the names of the 35 Buddhas, and visualizing them. If you can do a few prostrations that is very good.
Experiencing hardships and sufferings for Dharma practice is very powerful purification practice.
|Not Enough Merit to Practice Tantra|
|A student wrote to Rinpoche about difficulties he was having with his practice. Rinpoche gave the following advice.|
My very dear Laurie,
Thank you very much for your letter. As for the difficulties you are having, my assumption is you don’t have enough merit to practice highest yoga tantra. These practices are very precious. Sometimes spirits interfere. When you are practicing, they can cause your mind to hallucinate. This can cause your mind to think the wrong way. The basis for this is lack of merit, and on that basis spirits can interfere.
To give you an example, recently in Taiwan a woman went a little crazy, hallucinating, during the very precious teachings of a very great master. Now she is better. So, from time to time, this happens when very precious teachings are going on. It happens to a person who doesn’t have merit, and due to past negative karma. It is possible in a past life that the person had negative thoughts toward that deity, or made some mistakes with the guru. In this way, a person could also become crazy.
First, the person can be positive and generate renunciation, but somehow the spirit causes harm. It causes the mind to be diverted, due to past negative karma. What is needed is to purify these negative karmas and generate faith in tantra. My advice is to try to practice Yamantaka. Think that I (Lama Zopa) am oneness with Yamantaka. Think I (Lama Zopa) am Yamantaka. If this still doesn’t help, write to Geshe-la and ask Geshe-la to allow you to stop your Yamantaka practice temporarily, until your situation gets better.
Remember, after you have taken an initiation, you cannot change or give up your guru unless you ask his or her permission and the guru from his or her side says OK. But you should never criticize your guru. Giving up the guru is the heaviest karma and the heaviest obstacle to realizations and enlightenment.
This is my opinion of what to do. My suggestion for your practice is to look at pictures of Heruka, Vajrayogini, and Guhyasamaja, and see if you feel some connection with one of them.
Since you feel a connection to me, I am happy to help you. Therefore, I am suggesting these practices to you to gain merit and purify. These are things for you to do for the rest of your life to make your life meaningful, especially with lam-rim. Here is what to do, and please let me know if you have any questions.
These practices should be done on the basis of the Guru Yoga of Lama Tsongkhapa or at the time of doing the Six-Session Guru Yoga practice, which I think you need to do every day, having taken the Yamantaka initiation. When you do Six-Session or Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga, at the time you absorb the guru into yourself, you do the lam-rim meditation or the lam-rim prayer. This practice is good first thing in the morning. Prior to this, very first thing in the morning, try to do prostrations to the 35 Buddhas. Then in the evening, do Vajrasattva practice with prostrations, or seated.
What I have said here for the morning and the evening would be the very best basic practice during the day. As for what lam-rim meditation to do at this time, spend four months meditating on the lower scope being, then three months meditating on the middle scope being, five months meditating on bodhicitta, and then four months meditating on emptiness. Meditating on the lam-rim in this way does not mean only meditating on whatever that month’s topic is, but doing a scanning meditation on the entire lam-rim, and then coming back to meditate for four months on the lower scope being.
Long term, you can do the practices that I mentioned to you before. These are the preliminary practices that you should start to do, and gradually try to complete in this life.
You can do them in any order, and also you can do more than one at a time if you like.
Dorje Khadro practice: 400,000 mantras
Water bowls: 30,000
|Cutting Distractions to Practice|
|A student wrote to Rinpoche regarding distractions in his practice. Rinpoche gave the following advice.|
It’s very important not to get into the habit of missing commitments or not doing practice. If you get into the habit, then it is difficult to get out of it again. Of course, if you do miss commitments you can do Samayavajra, short self-initiation, or tsog offering—do one round of tsog focusing on the essential point of generating bliss and voidness in the merit field. But you shouldn’t get into the habit of missing commitments. If that starts happening, it’s better to make a timetable and stick to it, discipline yourself.
If the mind has sunk down and it is difficult to practice, then you must meditate on death and impermanence. That is very important. It takes care of so many problems, solves everything. It cuts attachment to people, places, and things. You stop clinging. If you think that you are going to die today then you won’t waste time, you will make sure that you practice, that you do your meditation. Thinking about impermanence and death helps to not get caught up by attachment. It helps to calm the mind. It cuts through the mind getting distracted by external objects, which wastes so much time. When the mind gets distracted, it doesn’t allow you to meditate on guru devotion or do your practice, so one hour, one day, one week goes past like this, completely wasted. Thinking you are going to die today also helps to develop compassion for sentient beings.
Reflect on impermanence and death thinking, “I am going to die today, even this hour, even this minute.” It is very powerful and takes care of so many things, so many problems are solved. Even if you are angry with somebody, you will see there isn’t any point continuing to be angry because you might die soon.
So, think about death, the suffering of the lower realms, and the nature of samsara. Also, think about the kindness of sentient beings and how much they are suffering. Think: “I am responsible for freeing them from suffering and bringing them to enlightenment.” Then, depending on whatever delusion is arising, meditate on emptiness or on the three principles of the path.
|A woman wrote to Rinpoche saying she experienced intense pain and hardship during a Hayagriva retreat, but still managed to complete the retreat. Rinpoche sent the following reply.|
It is very good that you completed the retreat. There is no choice. No matter how sick you are, however many problems come, you cannot give up Dharma. You have to keep your mind in Dharma, in virtue. When death comes, the best thing is to die with Dharma and bodhicitta in your mind. That is the only way you can be saved and protected from the lower realms. Dharma and bodhicitta are what cause the pure land and precious human rebirth.
So, you must always keep Dharma. There is nothing worthwhile in life other than Dharma. What makes one want to live is only Dharma and the best Dharma is bodhicitta. What brings success in actualizing bodhicitta is guru devotion, which is the root of the path to enlightenment. Since we do not want suffering and we do want happiness, then whatever problems we encounter we cannot give up Dharma. Giving up Dharma means we are giving up all happiness, enlightenment, the causes of happiness, the happiness of future lives, liberating other sentient beings from samsara, our own ultimate happiness, liberation from samsara, and this life’s happiness. Even a peaceful mind comes from Dharma, through protecting the mind from delusions. So, you must have courage.
|Faults in Practice|
|A student wrote to Rinpoche confessing that he had not been practicing so well the last few years now that he was living as a lay person. Previously, he had been a monk for many years.|
My very dear Charles,
Thank you very much for your long, kind letter. Holly read it to me while I was lying down, with mo-mos in my belly, resting, but I heard your letter well. The mo-mo’s didn’t disturb me.
I accept your apology and understand your difficulties. All these changes means there was karma created in the past, that’s all it means.
However, life is short. It looks like it is long, when we don’t think about it, because things appear permanent, but as we know, people suddenly die, so it can also happen to us. Just like other people suddenly die and are gone, the same can happen to us, and will sooner or later. Then, if we have created negative karma, it means we have to be reborn in the lower realms.
So, it is important to practice, especially purification, performing Vajrasattva practice in the evening and making prostrations to the 35 Buddhas in the morning.
What makes your whole life most beneficial is bodhicitta, and the root of the path to enlightenment is correctly devoting yourself to the virtuous friend, in thought and action.
With much love and prayers...
|Needing Money for Retreat|
|A nun in long-term retreat, who had no money, wrote to Rinpoche wondering whether she should work, and asked whether Milarepa had made a mistake by eating only nettles.|
Milarepa did not do business or work for money. He did the complete opposite, and achieved enlightenment in a small number of years. If you want to do the opposite of this, that means you want to practice the obstacles to achieving enlightenment. That makes it very hard to achieve enlightenment. There will be no enlightenment, because of worldly concerns and attachment to comfort.
No one achieved enlightenment without renouncing worldly concern, or by following worldly concerns.