New Advice from Lama Zopa Rinpoche
The most unbelievable way to collect merit in the West is in the center, where you go to receive Dharma teachings, where there is a resident teacher from whom you take teachings and who you regard as your guru, and where there are students who have the same guru. They are the disciples of one's own guru. Whether the guru is there at the center or far away, they are disciples of one's own guru. So if at the center you make offerings to the students [of the same guru], even just offering a glass of water or a glass of whatever is the best beer, if you offer to everybody, can you imagine the merit? Woooow. Can you imagine the merit? Wow, wow, wow, most amazing. Even if you offer to only one student, you create far more merit than making offerings to numberless Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in numberless universes. Offering to all those [is less merit] than offering one glass of water to a student who is the disciple of the same guru as you. At the center, even if you offer to only one person, [you create the] most unimaginable, unimaginable, unimaginable merit. Actually I should add more, I should add on "unimaginable" – many hundreds, even thousands – I should be doing that. Maybe the hours today and tonight are not enough [to do this].
You don't need to think that to collect merit you have to send [your offerings] far. Just right there, wherever you are, whatever help you are giving to the center – your time, making something, etc. – whatever help you are doing, you are offering to all the guru's pores, and that is offering to the guru himself – every single thing becomes an offering to the guru. Whatever you do at the center is an offering to all the students, to all the guru's pores. You should think about this. Can you imagine how much merit you collect? Offering tea, offering food during a puja.... It is not that you have to do puja (you can do it if you want), but just to gather and offer tea, offer snacks, food, a meal. Of course, you can also do some practice, it is more powerful, much more powerful. Whatever you offer, whatever help [you provide] is an offering to the guru. Whatever you do, you have to understand that.
Generally, when you make charity, when you do the practice of giving, it looks like [what you're offering is] going away. You are finishing up your money and it looks like it is going away, but actually, in the Arya Sanghata Sutra, the Buddha explained that making charity of just one hair – just to give an idea – by making charity to somebody with something the size of one of your hairs, giving something so small, from that, 80 … Maybe somebody remembers? You read Sanghata Sutra or Golden Light Sutra? How many times did you read?
Ven. Dr. Adrian Gyatso: Five hundred times.
Rinpoche: Doctor Adrian read the Arya Sanghata Sutra 500 times. Wow, amazing. That is aaaamazing. Thank you very much. Doctor Adrian, during three years of retreat on Kangaroo Island, read the sutra 500 times as his main preliminary practice. Of course, his main preliminary practice is all those times [when he helped], the many things that Doctor Adrian did. I don't remember at the moment – there were many people who read Arya Sanghata Sutra a number of times – but the number that Doctor Adrian read [the sutra] is probably the highest number.
In the Arya Sanghata Sutra the Buddha says the benefits of making charity to sentient beings of even one hair lasts for 80 eons. Eighty eons, not years, and the result is unbelievable wealth. The result of giving something very tiny, like one hair, one time to somebody [who is a disciple of the same guru as you] is 80 eons of wealth.
So to be able to come to the center and either give to students and make offerings to them, or offer to the center itself – your time, finances, whatever – every single thing becomes an offering to the guru and to all the pores of the guru. [It becomes an offering to] everybody who comes to listen to teachings, everybody who comes to meditate there and it is for their use, for their benefit. Basically, the center is for all the sentient beings who come there, to benefit them. So the merit you collect, can you imagine? The merit that you collect is most amazing, most amazing.
Excerpted from Rinpoche's teaching given on April 14, 2011 at the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion, Bendigo, Australia. Typed simultaneously as Rinpoche taught by Ven. Joan Nicell, edited by Claire Isitt and Michael Jolliffe. To watch the video of the full teaching go to the Bodhicaryavatara commentary in the "Special Commentaries" section of the Online Learning Center.