Compassionate respect for the Sacredness of Life
by Lama Yeshe Rinpoche
The entire teaching of the Buddha can be summarised by this often-quoted verse from one of the Buddha•s discourses:
Do not commit any negative actions, Engage in excellent virtue,
And tame your own mind - This is the teaching of the Buddha
Respect for others and generosity towards them are the ABC of Buddhist training. Respect concerns not only other humans but all forms of conscious life. In our everyday world, that means respecting the lives of animals as well as humans, although actually Buddhism teaches there to be six main forms of life, living in parallel worlds: gods, demi-gods, humans, animals, spirits and hell-beings. The main idea is not just to see the superficial person of the present moment but to recognise the former friend and parent of past lives and the potential Buddha of some future life within the other person.
A Buddhist should never harm others, should benefit other beings either directly, implicitly or indirectly through their actions, and should not mix their physical and verbal actions with negative thoughts and emotions that disturb the mind. For a Mahayana Buddhist the most important thing is to develop an altruistic motivation. While it is important to uphold the particular view of our spiritual tradition, if we cling to the view alone we will not be able to fully digest and use the full power of the teaching, nor to benefit people on the basis of that teaching.
As well as having a healthy and appropriate understanding and an altruistic attitude, it is necessary to have a calm, peaceful mind. This is the basis for developing awareness and mindfulness through which we will be able to tame and train our minds. If we accomplish this while maintaining an altruistic attitude we will be able to benefit ourselves and others and therefore to fully practice according to the Buddha's teaching.
We gradually train to develop a positive attitude and appropriate behaviour in various ways. Firstly we abandon the so-called 'Ten Negative Actions•' and adopt the ten positive actions. In my Monastery, Kagyu Samye Ling, I ask everyone who comes to follow what I call the 'Five Golden Rules'.
My reason is that to find inner peace we need a peaceful environment and we can only create this if we extend our own natural wish for personal happiness and freedom to all other beings. To show this respect for ourselves and others and to protect the sacred space of the Monastery - a place devoted to spiritual development - we all follow the Golden Rules, and these are:
- To protect life and refrain from killing and causing harm,
- To respect others' property and refrain from stealing,
- To speak the truth and refrain from lying,
- To embrace health and refrain from taking any intoxicants,
- To respect others and refrain from sexual misconduct.
These Golden Rules are prominently displayed in our centres so that everyone can learn them and follow them. Through doing this we aim to keep the Monastery a pure and special place and example for ourselves and others, now and in the future. If we are able to maintain them properly we will never harm others and will have a happier and less troublesome experience of life ourselves. Based on this we gradually train in developing the wish to benefit others, and we have the most ambitious aim: we don't wish to help just a few people, on the contrary we make a strong wish to be able to help anyone who needs help, whoever they are and whether we know them or like them ourselves. We extend this not only to human beings but to all sentient beings that exist. For many of us it is very difficult even to feel kindly towards one person so we have to train gradually to develop the vast motivation with the freedom and openness to care for all sentient beings as if they were our only cherished child.
There are several steps I always advise people to take to follow this path. First we need to learn to accept and to forgive; for as long as we feel resentment and anger towards others who we feel have caused us suffering we will never be able to experience peace of mind. In the Buddhist tradition we say that all sentient beings are like our parents and so we cultivate gratitude towards them for the kindness a parent shows towards a child. Remembering the kindness of others with gratitude and forgiving them if through their own mistakes and wrong understanding they cause harm to us is the path towards peace of mind and true happiness.
The Ornament of Mahayana Sutra says:
A bodhisattva acts towards sentient beings as though they were an only child, with a loving kindness so great that it comes from the very marrow of the bones. She or he thereby wishes to benefit them constantly.
And since we live on this wonderful planet Earth which provides us with everything we need to support life, we appreciate the Earth to be like our mother. We depend on mother Earth for life and if we respect her and take care of her, she in turn can continue to provide everything we need and help us have long and healthy lives.
Life is sacred because ultimately all beings and all things are pure and perfect, being timeless, changeless true reality. It is sacred relatively because every moment, every person, every phenomenon represents an opportunity for positive action and profound understanding. It is the raw material from which the famous path to liberation, the path to peace is built.
As the famous Tibetan meditator and mystic, Milarepa said:
If, through compassion, you help those who cannot help themselves, it is just the same as making offerings to the Buddhas of the three times. As all beings are our fathers and mothers, any preferential or discriminatory treatment is ignorance; it is like eating the poisonous plant aconite. Wise and pure-minded people all agree on that, therefore those who nurture attachment or hatred for their own side are simply wasting their opportunity. All personal happiness comes through other beings and all deeds to help others are the cause of one's own well-being. All harm one does injures oneself.
The Buddha's teachings on relative truth show that we are all interconnected and make crystal clear how our ideas of being an independent and separate person are in fact total delusions.The bodhisattva makes a point of seeing the whole universe as his or her own body and the feelings, happiness and sorrows of all beings as being his or her own mind. Taking responsibility for oneself in this life means, in the end, taking responsibility for everyone and this is our sacred task. It is without doubt that as the delusions of ego fall away and this purpose becomes reality, the sacred nature of all life becomes a vivid first-hand experience. This is why it is said:
When looking at others, look at them in a pleasant, kind way,
knowing that it is through them that you will become a Buddha.