Using Sickness for the Path
By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Generate love and compassion, either using the seven techniques of cause and effect, or thinking the following:
Love: All sentient beings are deprived of happiness. They do not know the causes of happiness and, although some of them may know, they are too lazy to create them. How wonderful it would be if all sentient beings had happiness and its causes. I am going to cause that to happen.
Compassion: How much are all sentient beings suffering. They are ignorant of the causes, and even if they may know them, they are too lazy to abandon them. How wonderful if all sentient beings were free from suffering and its causes. I am going to cause that to happen.
I am only one person, just one. Even if I am in the hells there is no reason to get depressed. Even if I am free from all sufferings there is no reason to get excited.
All others are numberless and, like me, they want to be happy and they do not want suffering. How wonderful if I alone experience the sufferings of all infinite other sentient beings.
With compassion, you take all the sufferings of human beings and gods and also from all beings in the lower realms. Breathing in, take the sufferings in through the nose like polluted smoke - this destroys the self-cherishing thought.
When the self-cherishing is destroyed, the real "I," the independent, unlabelled, existing-from-its-own-side "I," which does not exist in reality, is seen to be empty. The "I" is merely imputed on the aggregates. The appearing "I" is false, but one believes that it is true and grasps at that. Then one thinks that oneself is more important than anybody else. So, when the self-cherishing thought is destroyed, the "I" that appears, unlabelled, concrete, and independent, is also destroyed. This leaves some empty space in the mind that can be filled with true happiness and can remove all fears and delusions.
The problem comes when one grasps at that "I" which is false. When grasping at that "I," you say, "I want to be happy" and then you forget others, and you do not feel that others also want to be happy. You do not want suffering and you stop feeling for all others who have heavier sufferings.
For example, when you imagine one million dollars in your hand, you cherish it so much. Then when you discover that it is just a hallucination, you see that there is nothing to cherish in your hand. The same happens with the "I," which we grasp as so precious, but does not exist and is a hallucination.
So the "I" is empty, it does not exist. It is empty of existence from its own side. It is like a bubble that bursts or like a piece of wood which you see in the darkness and you think it is a person. When you switch on the light the person disappears. The person does not go anywhere, it is simply empty of the person. The same happens with the "I."
With love - give to others. You give to others your body transformed into a wish-fulfilling jewel. You also give your possessions, friends, and relatives to all sentient beings, the hell beings, hungry ghosts, and animals. You also give all the enjoyments. All places become a pure land: there are beautiful ponds, flowers, parks, lakes, streams of pure clean water, trees full of fruits, flowers and leaves, perfumes, scents, beautiful birds making Dharma sounds, and jewels and treasures everywhere on the ground, and so forth. All becomes Amitabha Pure Land. All these enjoyments cause the path to be generated in the mind of all beings and they become Amitabha Buddha.
Each sentient being receives what he or she wants. For example, you give thousands of different types of delicious foods, especially to the hungry ghosts. For the hell beings, all weapons become flowers, and the human beings receive money, doctors, medicines, and gurus. These enjoyments cause them to generate the path in their minds and they become Amitabha Buddha.
Then generate the Special Attitude:
"In reality, they have not become enlightened. Now I have all the opportunities. I have received a perfect human rebirth. I have found a virtuous guide who can lead me to enlightenment. I have the Dharma wisdom eye to know what to practice and what to abandon. I am responsible for freeing them from their suffering and leading them to enlightenment.
"But now I cannot do anything. I do not know the minds of sentient beings. I do not know the methods to lead them to enlightenment. So, I have to become enlightened in order to lead all sentient beings to enlightenment."
Do this meditation morning, afternoon, and night.
Then train the mind in the following ways:
* I am experiencing this problem, this sickness, on behalf of others. (To think in this way is very important.)
* I am experiencing this problem because I have created the cause. I am finishing the karma that I have created so I will not experience suffering in the future.
* This experience is helping me to practice Dharma.
* These are the blessings of the guru, helping me to purify.
* I am purifying. This is like doing Vajrasattva retreat or hundreds of thousands of prostrations. Besides that, this is helping me to meditate on bodhicitta and emptiness. It is like doing the preliminary practices.
* This practice is done for others, so I accumulate numberless merits because others are numberless.
* With emptiness and bodhicitta the practice is very powerful. I accumulate even more merits than doing the preliminary practices because the practice is done for others.
Remember the stories of the past lives of Shakyamuni Buddha. For example, when he killed a man who was going to kill five hundred people, with great compassion he accepted all the suffering that he might have to experience in the hells. The result was that he shortened his time in samsara by a hundred thousand eons. Also, in another life, when he was pulling a chariot of fire, he had the wish to experience that suffering for all others. He sacrificed himself for others and as a result he took birth in a pure realm.
Also think: "This problem is the best medicine. This problem, which is used to develop bodhicitta (by thinking that it is being experienced for others) and emptiness, is the best medicine." This is because you finish with the sickness and also with its causes, which are karma and delusions.
The antidote to the self-cherishing thought and the delusions is the Dharma, because the Dharma is the opposite to them. Similarly, the problems are the opposite of the self-cherishing mind, so are like the Dharma. The problem has the same function as the Dharma - it destroys the self-cherishing and the delusions, which are the source of all our problems and sufferings.
So, instead of taking the sickness, the cancer, on yourself, you give it to the self-cherishing thought. This is very important. Doing it like that, you stop depression arising; you don't allow unhappiness into your mind and instead you have calm and peace in your mind. The empty space that is left as the depression disappears starts to be filled with happiness.
Also think: "This problem is making me develop compassion; thus I can achieve enlightenment very quickly because I am accumulating infinite merits."
Today many people are dying, even people without cancer, without AIDS, many very healthy people. Even without cancer, the time of death can come at any moment. So, it is necessary to purify and accumulate merits.
Due to this merit may all beings meet a perfect spiritual guide and be able to fulfill his wishes and in this way accumulate extensive merit and purify all the negativities and causes of sicknesses without delay.

Tumor in Spine
A student with a tumor wrote to Rinpoche asking for advice. Her letter and Rinpoche's response are below.
Dear Lama Zopa Rinpoche,
My name is Julie Brown. I am 26 years old and I have a tumor in my spine, in my neck, that is about 10cms long. It was diagnosed on January 1, 2005.
I had a biopsy, but they can't do anything. If they were to take it out, I could possibly die. One surgeon said it is unlikely I would be able to get rid of it and another gave me five years to live. However, I am staying positive.
The surgeons say it has been growing for about 10-15 years. I have paralysis in my left hand, lack of strength in my right fingers, nerve pain on the left side of my back, and I used to get dizziness quite a lot, but that has eased a fair bit in the last year or two.
The doctors are amazed I'm still walking and are surprised to see in my MRI that my spine has doubled in size to accommodate it. They think this may have something to do with the acupuncture I receive from my Dad. I believe I almost died from this a few years ago, when I was bedridden for five months.
I have done a lot of charity work in my life, both with animals and people, and I initiated an animal liberation ceremony at the Dharma center near where I live. We had a good turn-out, releasing 4050 crickets. We will be doing another one soon. I also maketsatsas and read literature on the Dharma (my father is Buddhist and introduced me to it).
One of the big things that has got me through all this was reading your book Ultimate Healing. I call it my bible, as it has been such a big help, in the way of changing thought patterns. Whenever I feel down, I turn to that book, and within a few paragraphs I am lifted.
I hope you are well and happy and I hope I hear from you soon, because I really need help and I'd like to come out of this a healthy and better person, from all I'm going through.
Thank you so much for your time.
Much peace and love,
Julie Brown

[Rinpoche responds...]
My very dear Julie,
Thank you very much for your kind letter. I am very sorry for all these different sicknesses that you have. As you have seen in my healing book, your sickness can be very positive, very good, because it makes you realize karma. Your sickness did not come from outside, it came from your own mind - delusion and negative karma. So, thinking like this you can generate more faith in karma and more faith in wanting to abandon the cause of the suffering - negative karma - and to purify all the past negative karma. Also, this helps you and inspires you to engage in Dharma practice to purify and practice strongly and to not commit negative karma again. This is how your sickness gives you strength in your life, not only physically but mentally, so you can practice and, in this way, collect so much merit.
Meditating on the lamrim path, thinking of the cause of suffering, inspires you to actualize the path. Only by actualizing the path can you eliminate the cause of suffering - delusion, and only then are you able to achieve ultimate liberation, freedom forever from old age, sickness, death, and rebirth, be free forever from all sufferings, from the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change (which is called samsaric pleasure), and from all-pervasive compounded suffering.
In this way, your sicknesses are incredibly positive, because they inspire you to work for liberation. Your sickness helps you to generate compassion for others, for numberless sentient beings who also have all the different kinds of sicknesses, so helps you very much to generate compassion for all living beings. Generating compassion causes you to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings.
Your sickness is actually the cause for you to be able to achieve enlightenment and to enlighten all sentient beings: all the numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, and asura beings. Without compassion you cannot really benefit all the numberless sentient beings. Also, this is the quickest way to achieve enlightenment and to be able to liberate numberless sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and their causes and to bring them to enlightenment.
Use your sickness to develop bodhicitta by practicing tonglen (taking and giving). Each time you do this you are collecting vast amounts of merit. By the practice of giving, giving all your body and possessions to numberless sentient beings, you collect vast amounts of merit each time. When you give all your merits, past, present, and future, to all sentient beings, each time you do this you collect unbelievable amounts of merit, even if you do it for just a few seconds.
When you do the practice of taking, you take numberless sentient beings' sufferings. In each realm, so many beings are suffering, so you take those sufferings, and each time you do this you collect so much merit. By taking the suffering of sentient beings in each realm you create so much merit, even by just doing this practice one time - you can't imagine. If you do this practice many times a day, it is unbelievable! This makes your life most productive, the best life.
Please try to do this practice every day, again and again. This is how you use your sickness to destroy negative karma and collect so much merit, up to enlightenment.
Also, think how samsara is in the nature of suffering. This inspires you to be free from samsara and helps you to end this sickness forever, to end all sufferings. This is similar to how people use snake poison to cure and heal people bitten by snakes.
Please try to do this practice of taking and giving and generating compassion by taking on all the sufferings and their causes and then offering loving kindness. In Colorado there was one elderly lady who had cancer that was spreading quickly. The doctor was afraid to do an operation as she was so sick. She did this meditation and practice of tonglen for some time, and later, when she went to hospital, the doctor could not find any cancer at all. This is just one story, but there are many other stories of people being healed by bodhicitta, by their own mind.
Anyway, please think about these things.
I checked about your health and these things came out as very good for you to do:
Take eight Ratnas precious pills (two each week, have a few days break between pills). I will send these to you.
Take one Kurkyen pill each day for three months. I will mail this to you.
It would also be good for you to wear these protections:
White Umbrella
Liberation from bondage of body, speech, and mind
Great Breath protection
I will mail these to you. You wear them in a little cloth bag around your neck, but don't get them wet or sleep with them on (in case you sleep on top of them, which is disrespectful). Take them off at night but keep them close by.
I am also making prayers for you.
I also checked and these practices would be very good for you to do:
Vajra Armor
200,000 Vajrasattva mantrasfor purification
500,000 Samayavajra mantras
Meditate on the lam-rim. This is the most important thing - to go over the lamrim again and again until you have stable realizations.
I hope you enjoy these cards (coming in the post).
With much love and prayers, please let me know how you are time to time,
Lama Zopa

Purifying Sickness
A very sick student sent a message to Rinpoche saying he was practicing tonglen and reciting malas of Vajrasattva.
My very dear Mark,
I just sent you some cards. I hope you will enjoy them. The practices you are doing now are excellent, the best practice, especially taking and giving (tonglen) and continue with Vajrasattva as much as you can.
It is good if you can recite one mala a day, because all one's obstacles come from negative karma.
I gave Yamantaka initiation when I was in Canada. I thought at the last minute that maybe you could come, but as it was only one minute before the initiation you might not have been able to come that fast.
With much love and prayers...
How to Think about Sickness
Rinpoche gave the following advice to a man who had been quite ill.
Keep thinking, "This heavy sickness purifies many years, many lifetimes, many eons of heavy negative karma that causes the suffering of the lower realms-hell, hungry ghost, and animal realms-for an inconceivable length of time. That is why this sickness has to be heavy."
For example, to buy a good quality car or diamond, you need to pay a lot of money. To buy a big house or property, you need to pay a very large amount of money. So, if you want to purify an enormous amount of negative karma, there is also a big price to pay: serious illness in this life. This is the idea that you should have in the back of your mind.
The second most important method is to experience this heavy sickness as a way of developing bodhicitta, the ultimate good heart-cherishing and benefiting others-by thinking, "I have received all sentient beings' suffering of this type, and all the rest of their problems-so many sufferings of all the sentient beings of the six realms-even the subtle obscurations of the arhats and bodhisattvas. I experience all this suffering for sentient beings." This means that you liberate them from all suffering and let them have all happiness, from temporary happiness up to enlightenment. Try as much as possible to think in this way.
Since you dream of Buddha quite often, you should not need to worry, even at the time of death. You should think that those dreams mean that Buddha is very happy with you and will take care of you when you die. You should take refuge every day, think of Buddha and rely on Buddha, and recite the Mitrukpa mantra as much as you can.
The two meditations I have described, on how to think, are very important ones.
I have recently performed 100,000 tsog pujas and mentioned your name in the dedication. Also, 300 stupas were ordered in Taiwan for your long life. Each time they put the special mantra in each stupa, they will mention your name and pray for your long and meaningful life.

Requesting Advice Regarding Sickness
Rinpoche said the following on asking advice regarding sickness.
It is better to ask for beneficial practices to perform than cures for sickness, unless, of course, the person's attitude is to serve others. In that case, if the person has some sickness, if you heal him or her it has meaning, because it is in order to help others. If the person is practicing Dharma, to eliminate delusions and become qualified to liberate others and bring them to enlightenment, to get better in order to do this work, then this person needs to receive advice. Otherwise, the cure is just aimed at achieving happiness in this life, and with this motivation action can be non-virtuous. That means all the expense, effort, and years of treatment are non-virtue, leading to suffering, not just pain and sickness, but more suffering in the future. The normal practice is to purify your negative karma and delusions in order to help others, seeking this long-term benefit.