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Advice on Caring for Mother
ADVICE FROM A SPIRITUAL FRIEND
In this letter, Lama Zopa Rinpoche responds to a long-time student who wrote to Rinpoche in thanks for his “blessings, guidance and protection” over many years. The anonymous student currently takes care of her mother who suffers physically after a series of strokes. As a method to deal with the challenges of caregiving, the student visualizes taking care of Rinpoche when taking care of her mother.
“I know I have not developed special qualities,” concludes the student. “Without your teachings, without your example and blessings, without your guidance and protection, it would have been unbearable to face all this.”
My most kind, most dear, most precious, wish-fulfilling [student],
Billions and zillions and trillions and numberless thanks for your most kind letter. Yes, you are right: even though we haven’t seen each other for so many years, I feel very close to you as before, heart to heart, and I am so happy that you are serving your mother with the thought that you are serving me. I’m very sorry that your mind was unhappy when you heard that I had a stroke. So sorry for that, but I hope that it was meaningful for you to be free from samsara and to achieve enlightenment.
First of all, it is really great the meditation you are doing: serving your mother and thinking you are serving the guru. When I was in Tibet (not the last time, but the time before) our journey took us to Reting, Lama Dromtönpa’s monastery, which he built on the advice of Lama Atisha. I didn’t know, but our guide directed the tour through His Holiness the Karmapa’s monastery in Tshurpu. We stayed there one day and slept outside the monastery in tents for two nights. I went to visit nearly every temple in the monastery. The monks were doing puja and I personally made money offering to each one, handing them the money myself. As I did this, I started to think that each one was my guru, His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche or Lama Yeshe (maybe the first one). This is what I was thinking as I gave the money, so I collected the most extensive merits and accumulated the most powerful purification because I was thinking of each monk as the guru.
So first of all, this life’s parents are very powerful objects of merit. Even very small negative or positive actions done towards this life’s parents are extremely powerful. Therefore, as a result of offering service to your mother, you will have so much happiness even in this life, your wishes will succeed and you will have a very good life. And the result is experienced not only this life; each positive action of offering service that you create towards the parents will bring benefit for thousands of lifetimes. It brings a good rebirth and unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable happiness while you are in samsara. I’m talking about each small service; every one results in happiness for thousands of lifetimes. So can you imagine the result of twenty-four hours of service? Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. Then, if the service is done with bodhichitta, each one is the cause of enlightenment. The merit of every small service, every virtue created is so powerful.
My guru, His Holiness Song Rinpoche, from whom I received many initiations and teachings, was very devoted to his mother. When he was in Lhasa and already very learned and famous (maybe he was the abbot of Ganden Shartse at that time) he even wanted to sweep his mother’s room and take care of her, but because he was a high lama, people wouldn’t let him. However, this was his wish because it was so much unbelievable merit. He did many other things to take care of his mother, but was not able to do the sweeping. You collect unbelievable merit in relation to the mother because she is so very precious.
So especially when you are serving your mother, think you are serving me, the guru, and then because we have a Dharma connection, you will collect the most extensive merit and perform the most powerful purification. When you offer service to the mother like this, it is the quickest way to achieve enlightenment. With every day, every hour and every minute you come closer to enlightenment. That means, at the same time, great, great, great benefit to the sentient beings with every hour and every minute.
It is mentioned by Sakya Pandita that, “Even the merit from practicing the six paramitas and giving up one’s head, hands and legs to others for a thousand years is included in one second by following the path of the guru. Therefore, offer service and meditate on happiness.” That means when you offer service to the guru by obtaining the advice and fulfilling the holy wishes, you create as much merit in one second as you do by giving up your hands, legs and so on for that many years. It’s unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable; really the quickest way to achieve enlightenment. It’s the most powerful and quickest way to purify negative karma and defilements. This is the most powerful purification.
Also, it is mentioned in the Drop of Mahamudra, “As fire burns wood and turns it into ashes in one second, like that, if the glorified guru is pleased, in one second the negative karmas are burned.”
For example, in his early life, Jetsün Milarepa killed many people and animals using black magic, but after meeting his guru, Marpa, he purified all of this by following his guru Marpa’s wishes. He purified all those heavy negative karmas and received clairvoyance and many other powers and then full enlightenment in that brief lifetime of degenerate times. Therefore, there is no more powerful way to purify negative karma than by devoting to the guru.
So what you are doing is a very, very, very, very good way to make your life meaningful and most beneficial to free the sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to full enlightenment, especially as it is dedicated to sentient beings. Therefore, when you do every single service for your mother, as much as possible, think of me.
Again, I want to say billions and billions and trillions of thanks for your every service to her, to me. That’s GREAT, really GREAT.
With skies of love and prayers,
Scribe: Ven. Sarah Thresher, June 2013, Tushita Meditation Centre, Dharamsala, India
Original Student Letter
Dearest Rinpoche, my lama, my guide, my refuge and savior, very respectfully I bow at your holy feet with deepest gratitude.
For me, it is impossible to retribute all the blessings, guidance and protection you have granted me over so many years. Words cannot describe my gratitude.
Since I moved 13 years ago, my karma has been taking care of loved ones. First, my sister who died in 2000. Then my dad, who died at the age of 95 in 2008. Now my mom, who I take care of since her first stroke in 2006.
Rinpoche, when you manifested a stroke with results similar to my mom, my very first impact was of awe. “What now?” I wondered, feeling a sense of loss … How silly of me! This was quickly substituted by a warmth expanding in my heart and showing me that nothing had changed.
I realized that after many years trying to serve you the best I could through helping spread Dharma, sometimes feeling lonely and isolated, wishing to talk directly to you – but personal contact was not as accessible as in 1992 – what I had indeed been doing all these years was training my mind to hear you in my heart. You are always in my heart, our minds are not separate and I know you are always with me.
I learned to talk to you in silence, and in silence hear your reply in my heart. When my mind is too troubled for that, I observe the external signs, and you always show me the answer and ways to give me strength. This is the first benefit I received after you manifested illness.
The second benefit was seeing the opportunity to practice patience, right here at home. Mom’s first stroke left her communication difficult, and her Parkinson’s disease makes her walk and do things very, very slowly. She only walks very short distances with help. So, I began to visualize that while taking care of her, I was taking care of you. It was very powerful. I know that I am far from being patient, but I can now appreciate and enjoy being with her, and can also have a better control when impatience arises.
This year was especially challenging. In just four months my mom had pneumonia, an emergency colostomy surgery, a second stroke with more severe consequences than the first one, and was in intensive coronary care for some days. In two occasions, we thought she would not resist, but she did and I thank you for this blessing
Now, we have to clean her colostomy bag, removing the feces a few times a day. We also have to remove her urine residue three times a day using a urinary catheter. A caretaker helps us during the day, but my sister and I have developed these skills and do these procedures many times. Your teachings about Dromtönpa’s devotion towards Atisha, carrying his feces outside in his bare hands, comes to my mind and it makes me happy.
When feelings of fatigue or depression arise, I find strength and encouragement in your warm presence in my heart.
Rinpoche, I am the same dedicated disciple, full of flaws and delusions, who has been accumulating misdeeds life after life since beginningless times and who is now experiencing the ripened result of this karma.
I know I have not developed special qualities. Without your teachings, without your example and blessings, without your guidance and protection, it would have been unbearable to face all this.
My gratitude cannot be expressed in words, but from the most profound corners in my heart, I thank you for all your blessings and benefits all these years.
May all beings be benefited by following your peerless example and teachings.
May you guide me through all my lives until I reach enlightenment for the benefit of all beings.
May you have a very healthy and long life, with all your wishes fulfilled.
With all my love and devotion,[your student]
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Superficial observation of the sense world might lead you to believe that people’s problems are different, but if you check more deeply, you will see that fundamentally, they are the same. What makes people’s problems appear unique is their different interpretation of their experiences.
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