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Advice on Benefiting Animals

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by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

If you love your animal very much then this is what you must do for them for their good rebirth and quick liberation from samsara.

When the animal is dying or has died

Recite mantras: Om mani padme hum, Heruka mantras, and other mantras such as Milarepa and Namgyälma mantras. Recite the mantras and blow over the body. You can recite the long mantras 21 times or more and the short mantras one mala or more. Blow strongly on the body after each time or you can blow on water, visualizing each deity absorbed into the water; each drop has the power to purify negative karmas. Then pour the water on the animal; all negative karmas are purified.

When the animal is dying, you can do the Medicine Buddha practice as outlined in the small book, visualizing the Seven Medicine Buddhas on the crown of the animal. Then you can also do the Thirty-five Buddhas practice, with nectar coming and purifying the negative karma, taking strong refuge to the Thirty-five Buddhas to protect and guide.

There’s a mantra paper to put on dead bodies to purify. You can get this from the online shop of the FPMT. This is written especially to put right on the body -- put it right on the skin, on the forehead or the chest.

When the animal is in the process of dying or even after the breath has stopped, if you have some sand from a Kalachakra sand mandala, you can mix it with butter and put it on the crown. Each sand grain has numberless buddhas abiding in it. It’s especially good if it is blessed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Then burn the body. If there is a good practitioner or a lama available to do the jang-wa puja, then do that when the body is being burned. After the body is burned, keep some pieces of bones, and if possible, do jang-wa again on the bones. Crush the bones and make powder. Mix with other material and make a stupa, or more than one stupa. Put the stupa in a garden if you have one and then flowers can be offered to the stupa. Dedicate to your animal for a good rebirth and enlightenment.

What you can do for your animals in everyday life

It’s not enough that you keep the animals and they give you comfort. You must do something of practical benefit for them. This is what you can do every day:

Take them around holy objects -- circumambulate. Everyday you can put on a table many tsa-tsas and statues, and take the animal around chanting mantras at the same time. This way it also helps the person who carries the animal around.

Recite prayers in their ears, verbally, to plant the seed of all the realizations of the path to enlightenment.

This makes a huge difference. It has inconceivable result, unbelievable result. That makes them have a good rebirth next life, to be born as a human being and meet the Dharma.

There is a story when Buddha gave teachings to 500 swans in the field and the next life they were born as human beings, became monks, and they all became arya beings, able to achieve the cessation of suffering and the true path. So the result is unbelievable, just by hearing Dharma words. Vasubandhu was reciting the Abhidharmakosha and a pigeon on the roof heard this everyday. One day the pigeon died and Vasubandhu checked to see where he was born. It was in a family who lived down below in the valley. He went down and saw the child and asked if he could have him and the family gave him to Vasubandhu. The child became a monk named Lobpön Loden and became an expert on the text that he had heard when he was a pigeon. He wrote four commentaries on that text. Therefore, it’s extremely important to recite lam-rim prayers and mantras -- at least the mantras -- to animals.

It’s also extremely good before you give them their food, to bless it. If you can’t do it at every meal, then you can bless it all at once. Recite the five powerful mantras if you know them; otherwise recite Om mani padme hum, Medicine Buddha and Milarepa mantras. All this has power; it helps those who eat it not get reborn in the lower realms, blesses their mind and purifies their negative karma. If you can, do it every time you feed them -- recite the mantras and blow on the food. This is the biggest present you can give them: good rebirth, finish samsara, liberation, and the positive imprint of the Mahayana teachings and mantras also to lead to enlightenment.

Especially for Buddhists who have animals, when the animals die, it should be different for their future rebirth. So one should attempt to have a special rebirth for them. That’s what I asked the people who took care of our dogs at Tushita in Dharamsala to do. Many years ago, Ven. Tseyang-la, who is a translator at many centers and built the Kopan nunnery, and Maureen, a student from New Zealand who taught at Kopan for quite a number of years and then worked very hard at Tushita, and for me, asked me to recite the Maitreya Buddha prayer and mantra, the Lama Tsong Khapa praise to Guru Shakyamuni Buddha Having Found the Realization of Dependent Arising and other prayers and mantras to the dogs, while holding a biscuit in the hand, so everyone waits, like listening to the teachings, eyes looking at the biscuit and everyone is humbly sitting, like respectfully listening to teachings, all their eyes looking at the biscuit. We gave some of the dogs away, and along with the dogs was the commitment to recite a lam-rim prayer or mantras. Some people did it for years. One lady from either the British or Italian Embassy in Delhi, who wasn’t a Buddhist, did the lam-rim prayer The Foundation of All Good Qualities every day for years. Then one day, her maid left the gate open and the dog got lost. She was very upset. That’s because she must be a very kind person; even though she wasn’t Buddhist, she did that prayer. She was very sincere.

There’s a story about an 80-year-old man. After he entered into the Mahayana path, when the time ripened, then he became enlightened, then he does perfect work for sentient beings, bringing every sentient being to enlightenment. So that means all that perfect work -- enlightening all the sentient beings -- came from himself being enlightened, and that came from having entered into the Mahayana path. Before that he was an arhat and actualizing the path to liberation, which started from being a monk. He was able to be a monk because inconceivable eons ago, he was a fly following some cow dung around a stupa, which became circumambulation -- one circumambulation. So all these benefits -- becoming an arhat, becoming enlightened and enlightening all sentient beings -- depended on the small merit created by following the smell of the cow dung, which became circumambulation. Therefore, we should always keep in the mind how precious even one circumambulation is, how precious it is to take the animals around; and of course, there’s no question about us human beings intentionally going around, how that has incredible benefit. Therefore, one circumambulation of a holy object -- a statue or stupa -- one must do it; since karma is expandable, we shouldn’t be careless even with small merit. All this means that each holy object is so powerful and can liberate so many sentient beings from suffering and bring them to enlightenment, and that it causes one to actualize the path. Therefore, even if one can’t build a big stupa, even to have a small stupa is unbelievably precious -- the benefits you and other sentient beings get.

If you have many ants in your house, for example, then of course, if you’re careless you kill them, but otherwise, with a soft tissue paper or soft cotton or broom or feather, pick them up and put them in a plastic bag and put some food in it. Put something they like, something they’re excited about or fascinated by and then close the bag and take it around the stupa or holy objects as many times as you can to liberate them from lower rebirth and to achieve liberation and enlightenment. Then put them outside, releasing them by opening the plastic bag, or shake it on the ground with the food. The only way you can help ants and other insects is if they come into your house, into your kitchen or room. Otherwise, there’s no way to benefit them in this way. So this is a very good way, an excellent opportunity, to benefit the ants in addition to making charity by giving them food. If you take them around a stupa or holy objects, there’s both Dharma charity and the charity of fearlessness. By purifying their minds, you’re saving them from suffering. Also, for dogs and cats, blessing the food with mantras is not only miscellaneous charity; it also becomes Dharma charity, charity of fearlessness, and charity of loving-kindness because you have the intention to cause them happiness. In this way, you practice all four types of charity.