The Good Heart

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal, December 1987 (Archive #399)

Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche explained the benefits of the good heart, loving kindness and compassion, at the 20th Kopan Course in December 1987. This teaching is an edited excerpt from Lecture Three of the course. Click here to read more.   

Lama Zopa Rinpoche at Chenrezig Institute, Australia, 1991. Photo: Thubten Yeshe.

Our happiness and peace, and our difficulties and problems in life are completely dependent on our own mind. Generally speaking, if we have a mind that is less selfish and if we have more thoughts of cherishing others and more concern for others, we naturally have far less problems in day-to-day life, especially with other sentient beings. We have less trouble, and we take it easy because of the good heart.

If we have a good heart, we are happy to take on the troubles of others and experience difficulties for others. If we have a selfish mind and more concern for ourselves than others—if we cherish ourselves more than others—we have greater problems and more enemies. There is more trouble and more distraction for us, wherever we go, wherever we live and whoever we accompany. This is a common experience.

Also, we can tell by our own experience, for example, if we are practicing and have a good practice in some years and a bad practice in other years. Some years we did strong practice of bodhicitta with more effort in the thought of cherishing others, and at other times it degenerated or didn’t get done, and we didn’t continue the practice. If we have been trying to practice, we can look at our own experiences. We can look back at the years that we practiced well with bodhicitta, taking others’ sufferings and dedicating our own happiness and our body, possessions and merits to other sentient beings.

During those years when we exchanged ourselves for others, we had easy times and it was very easy to get along with people. It was very easy, even if other people stole our things or criticized us. It was very easy to handle—nothing bothered us, nothing was important and we found what they did to be extremely beneficial. We found the harm beneficial for our own practice and the development of our own mind. There was much happiness and peace continuously, day and night, because the conditions of our happiness are not outside—the conditions of our happiness are within our mind. The cause and conditions of our happiness are within us.

When we take care of our own mind and the good heart, then whatever the people around us do—harm or benefit, whatever—because we’re practicing and controlling our mind, disturbing thoughts don’t bother us. The harming or helping actions of the people around us do not upset us. These emotions don’t bring us up and down, because we are able to practice the good heart, bodhicitta, and there is tranquility or peace, day and night, in our lives.

When we don’t continue our practice, our mind becomes like a water bubble or like boiling hot water. Our life becomes like that, because our mind is like that, so there is no peace. Every single thing that other people do affects us a lot, because we do not practice. A small behavior or a slight movement or action by the people around us affects us—even how the skin of their faces appears to us and what it shows—tight, dark or upset. If their faces have wrinkles or narrow or fine eyes, our mind is very happy. Their faces become so important for our mind.

When we don’t practice or take care of our mind, when we don’t control our mind, we are completely dependent on external things. So our mind changes and there are ups and downs, upset, happiness, all the emotional life changes, because we rely so much on the outside and we have external expectations. When we don’t practice and look after our own mind—when there is no practice and nothing controlling or guiding us—when we don’t take care of our own mind and our own life, then it’s like that and we have problems.

In one way, it seems completely silly, because we are completely dependent on the size of people’s faces, and whether they smile at us or whether their face is tight. Our happiness or unhappiness is completely dependent on the faces of the people around us.

Our basic problem is following the selfish mind that expects all good things to happen for us. We become a friend of the selfish mind and we follow the selfish mind, and when the selfish mind does not succeed and what we expect does not happen, we collapse. Again, we can see that this is very silly. So, we can see how all our happiness and all our problems come from this way of thinking. With a skillful way of thinking, our whole life becomes happy and with an unskillful way of thinking, we are unhappy and the conditions of our life become miserable.

For example, when somebody is angry with us, as long as there’s anger in our mind, there’s the possibility for anger to arise. As long as there is the possibility for anger to arise, there’s the possibility to find the enemy outside. If there is no possibility for anger to arise in our heart, there is no possibility to find the enemy outside. So, whether we have an enemy or not depends on whether we have anger or not.

It is very clear from this, that even if every person on earth, or every dog or every bird is angry at us—even if all the dogs are biting us—if there is no anger in our mind, we will not find even one enemy on this earth, among them all. Besides the people, I just added some more animals.

If our mind is rich in compassion and loving kindness—if our heart is filled with compassion towards other sentient beings, then even if all people and animals are angry and harm us, from our side we see them as our friend or relative. If our mind has compassion, then all sentient beings are our friends, and we feel that everyone is close to our heart.

Therefore, we can see that the good heart, loving kindness and compassion, and bodhicitta are incredibly precious, and we can see how unbelievably important it is to practice them. In our life, in every hour, we need to pay attention and always put every single effort into having a good heart. With this good heart, we see all the other sentient beings’ harm as benefiting and purifying us, and finishing our own negative karma. We see so many ways that sentient beings’ harming us actually benefits us.

As a mother sees her most beloved child, if our mind has loving kindness, compassion and bodhicitta towards all other beings, then we see all beings—those who help us and even those who harm, whatever they do—we see them all as beautiful, just as a mother sees her most beloved child. But if our mind is empty of loving kindness, compassion, bodhicitta and the good heart, then no matter how much wealth, education or reputation we have—no matter how many things we have, there are continual problems and there is no peace in our life.

Therefore, even if we don’t have even one dollar, even if we are homeless and beg for each meal, if our heart is filled with compassion and loving kindness towards others, there is incredible joyfulness, and unbelievable happiness and peace of mind. Even if we have no reputation, wealth or education, we see everyone as a friend—we feel it in our heart. There is no thought to give harm, only benefit, so our life is full of joy and every hour of our life becomes highly meaningful and beneficial.

If we think carefully and examine this well, we understand that transforming our own mind into the good heart, the loving, compassionate thought of bodhicitta, is the source of all happiness. When we understand the temporary and ultimate benefits of bodhicitta, loving kindness, compassion and bodhicitta, and we practice this, we will receive these benefits. We will understand the teachings of the Buddha, whose emphasis is to avoid harming all sentient beings and to have compassion towards all sentient beings, and on top of that, we will benefit all sentient beings.

We see the teachings of the Buddha as so precious, and by understanding and practicing the teachings, we receive benefit and we feel close to Buddha. We feel that we are protected and guided by Shakyamuni Buddha, out of his kindness and compassion, and when we practice, we have the experience of how unbelievably kind Shakyamuni Buddha is.