Faults of Cyclic Existence

[Adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999. —Ed.]

Of all worldly phenomena, whether great or small, nothing is permanent and nothing endures. Therefore, when you find yourself attracted to or attached to the happiness of existence, you must bring to mind the faults of existence. Consider that not even a single phenomenon is permanent, no matter how great, wonderful, or powerful it may seem. Consider especially how once that phenomenon [you associate with a happy existence] changes, you will experience nothing but suffering as the result. That way you can move your mind away from having strong attachment to impermanent phenomena and begin to change your habit of always following apparent phenomena based on [experiencing] temporary pleasure and attachment.

Think, for instance, about sentient beings that, due to anger and aggression, have accumulated the negative karma to fall to the hell realm. Those beings have accumulated tremendous negative karma that will keep them in the hell realm indefinitely. In that realm, unable to establish any positive causes at all, they will experience nothing but intense suffering. Think about the eight hot hells, the eight cold hells, as well as the peripheral hells surrounding them. Although it is inconceivable, think about the suffering that sentient beings in those hells must endure.

Then consider the deprived spirit realm. Think about the beings that accumulate an abundance of negative karma through the passions of avarice and strong desire. The result of such accumulation is rebirth as a deprived spirit. There are different categories of deprived spirits, such as outer and inner ones, but essentially they all endure inconceivable hunger and thirst that is insatiable. Furthermore, they never die from that; they just continue to suffer indefinitely, without ever being satisfied.

Next, consider the animal realm. Negative karma accumulated through the passion of delusion produces the result of animal rebirth. Animals suffer from basic delusion and ignorance, mistreatment by humans, and being preyed upon by one another. From the largest to the smallest, those who are as large as mountains to those smaller than the tip of a needle, all suffer from basic stupidity and ignorance, so they are unable to escape and are unable to do much more than just endure the karma in that rebirth until it is eventually exhausted.

Then consider the rebirth that is so difficult to obtain: that of a human being. Compared with the three lower realms of existence, human life seems very blissful; nevertheless, there is great suffering in the human realm. Human beings suffer from confinement in the womb and from the processes of birth, illness, disease, and growing old and the decline in their faculties, until eventually they experience the suffering of death and of leaving everything behind. Humans are subject to all kinds of indefinite circumstances and situations throughout the course of their life. Some die at birth, some die as infants, some as adolescents, and some as adults. Some die alone and unwanted or in an untimely manner.

In addition to the four great rivers of suffering, human beings experience—birth, old age, sickness, and death—humans experience compounded suffering. For example, humans suffer mistreatment at the hands of their enemies, and they suffer when they lose their loved ones. In fact, they suffer from fear that precedes the actual events themselves. Humans also suffer from not getting what they want and from having to accept what is not desired. They even suffer from acquiring what is desired, because then they have the fear of losing that. Against their will, humans endure all these unexpected consequences.

Many people think that after they die and leave this life they will easily return as a human being. Many believe they will just be able to return to a happy state of existence, such as the one they might now be accustomed to. That is a mistake. I can guarantee that unless you have the specific karma to do so, you will not take another rebirth as a human being. Without the karma that creates the causes for it, the result of human rebirth is impossible. Make no mistake about it.

Next, consider the god realm. Gods remain in their realm where they experience immeasurable bliss and happiness for long periods of time. They all have their own palace and gardens, wish-granting trees, and celestial food; everything in their external environment is inconceivably wonderful. Internally they experience only happiness and bliss throughout the entire course of their life. Eventually they exhaust their karma for that rebirth. Prior to that, the dying clairvoyant gods see the place of their future rebirth, which in most cases happens in the hell realm. They take such a rebirth due to having exhausted all tainted virtue that brought them rebirth in the god realm, and then nothing remains for them except an abundance of weighty negative karma. The vast storehouse of merit they once possessed is spent, and they have nowhere to go but to the lowest hell realm. Seeing the irreversible fate that awaits them, and knowing it is too late to reverse that, they experience tremendous suffering. They are powerless to reverse their karma of having to fall from the celestial realm of the gods to the lowest realms in existence.

Buddha therefore taught that there is not even a needle point’s worth of true happiness in samsara. Now you can understand the meaning of that teaching. Even if there is happiness, it always changes because it is impermanent. Happiness in samsara occurs as the result of the karma produced to cause it. Once that cause and result are exhausted, that happiness becomes something else, which is why the term cyclic existence is used to express the nature of life in the six realms. Sentient beings pass from rebirth to rebirth, revolving on this endless wheel of changing realms in dependence on their own karmic accumulations.

If your hair were to suddenly catch fire, you would immediately, without hesitation, try to put out that fire. Likewise, by understanding that cyclic existence is by nature permeated with suffering, and by understanding that it can never be anything other than that, you should immediately, without hesitation, focus on putting out the fire of cyclic existence. Focus totally on effort to extract yourself from this endless suffering of cyclic existence, so that you can achieve the state of permanent bliss and happiness, the state of fully enlightened buddhahood.

Thus it is taught that in order to be successful in reversing strong attraction and attachment to cyclic existence, we must practice dharma. Through the practice of dharma we can reverse attachment to existence and gain more momentum toward liberation, to the point where we realize the state of permanent bliss and cease to return to samsara.

From “THE PATH of the Bodhisattva: A Collection of the Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva and Related Prayers” with a commentary by Kyabje Pema Norbu Rinpoche on the Prayer for Excellent Conduct

Compiled under the direction of Venerable Gyatrul Rinpoche Vimala Publishing 2008

The Long Life Gods – Is It the Good Life?

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Foundation of Bodhicitta”

Now there is the long life gods realm.  It is hard not to pray for rebirth in the long life god realm. First of all, it lasts a very long time, maybe two or three thousand years. Three thousand years of total bliss sounds like a nice vacation to me. That sounds better than three weeks at the beach in the summer, but I can’t figure out where to buy the ticket. There are problems with this realm, actually. There is a suffering to that realm and the suffering of that realm is that it is impermanent. In the realm itself, while it exists, there is no suffering. Water is like the elixir of life; it can cure all ills. Music when heard doesn’t sound like music to us. Music to us is either good or bad; we either like it or don’t like it. It helps, it hurts; it depends on what kind of music it is. If we are in the long life gods realm, one note can cure any ill, can result in bliss. Just one sound, one touch, brings about waves of bliss. I can’t think of a better word. Ecstasy!  Everything that happens is ecstasy.

The gods and goddesses are beautiful beyond compare. Take the most gorgeous person you can imagine in the physical realm. Think of the most gorgeous movie star or person that you have ever seen and think that in the god realm they would be dogs. They would look like fish mongers. People in the god realm would look at them and would go yeck, stinko—literally stinko—because in the god realm the fragrance that is given off of the body is like perfume coming from every pore,but sweet perfume. Estee Lauder would be nothing compared to this. It would be the perfume of virtue.

In order to be reborn in this gods realm, you have to have a lot of virtue stored up, but it is a particular kind of virtue. It is the kind of virtue where maybe you help others become rich, or help others to become full of food. You see what I am saying? It is virtue, but it is not associated with philosophical or religious ideals. It is just a different kind of more materialistic virtue. So this kind of virtue can result in this wonderful life in which you are so beautiful you just can’t believe it. There is not a flaw on your body. You never have b.o. Your b.o. will heal all sentient beings if they just catch one whiff of it. I don’t care what beautiful movie star you have imagined to be your person to compare them with, but they have b.o. sometimes. You may not believe this but everybody smells sometimes, but in the long life god realm everybody is perfect.

Everything that you see is color, not like color you see here. It looks very colorful in this room, right? You go outside and you see beautiful greens and you see beautiful blue sky. Color in the long life god realm is so gorgeous, you just look at it and you experience ecstasy. Wouldn’t you like to go there?  No, you wouldn’t because the problem is that when you are born in this long life god realm, it takes so much virtue , to be reborn there, accumulated virtue over eons and eons of cyclic existence, that when you are reborn there you begin to use up your virtue like an eight cylinder car going up a mountain. You use it up so fast. Admittedly, it is often a couple of thousand years, but in terms of cyclic existence, which is eons and eons of endless cyclic existence, that is a short time. And also while you are in the long life god realm, to a human it may seem like two thousand years, but to you it might seem like a short life time because there is so much pleasure that one’s whole experience of that pleasure becomes completely expanded. So in the same way a fun day goes by faster than a long and tedious day, it’s kind of like that, but so much greater than that.

So the long life god realm is very difficult in that at the end of that life, what happens to them is they begin to smell funny. That is how the other gods and goddesses know that their time is up. They don’t begin to age as we know aging, because aging is not one of the sufferings of that realm. They begin to lose some of their perfume. It’s not that they smell funny, it’s just that they lose some of their perfume. They have a little less of that gorgeousness, and the other gods and goddesses begin to move away because no one can bear the idea of bliss ending. . They don’t want to think about that. And the god or goddess that is experiencing the end of their time there calls out to them and says, “Please help me. Give me some of your virtue. Help me.”  And the others go, “No, I can’t, I can’t deal with the fact that I’m going to lose what I have now, so I’m going to move over here.”  What happens at that point is the karma is used up and so the rebirth in the god realm begins to decay and at some point ,because they even have the quality of clairvoyance, they are able to see the realms of cyclic existence and they are able to understand that they just finished up all of their virtue and the only place to go is down, real far down. That is the great and horrible suffering of the god realm.

This suffering is so intense because having used up all of their virtue now they have to begin from scratch. How horrible to think that you had accumulated so much virtue and could have achieved realization, but somehow missed the boat due to the kind of virtue that you have and due to the one quality that does produce rebirth as a long-life god. The one quality that does produce rebirth as a long-life god is pride. Have you seen people with lives like that?  Have you seen people who have beautiful families and beautiful homes and beautiful cars, and they are beautiful people. And it seems that everything is easy for them; and they hold themselves with a sense of pride as though they were different from the rest of us peasants. There is a lot of pridefulness about that. I even knew of a person who had a great body and didn’t have to work out; they had a gorgeous wife and didn’t have to be faithful to her in order to keep her; they had so many different things that you just want to say to them, “Why? I work like a dog.”  You look at that person and you just want to slap them upside the head because they don’t seem to produce any virtue. They are not virtuous at all. Things just ripened in such a way. They just say, “I can do what I want to because I am not going to catch hell from anybody.”  Well, that is the attitude and the mind state that would produce rebirth as a long life god—lots of virtue tied in with that kind of pridefulness.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

 

The Realm of the Gods

The God Realm

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo offered during a Phowa retreat:

The last of the realms, the highest of the realms, is the one that’s like Club Med. Lots of people say that they want to try this, at least for a little while. I do, certainly. I would like to try this for a little while. I was thinking maybe a couple of weeks, you know, a couple of weeks in the god realm. This place is great. This place is really super. This is the superior realm. In order to be born in the god realm you have to have a lot of merit, but a particular kind of merit. It’s a kind of merit that is not necessarily coupled with wisdom. That is to say, you’ve done a lot of nice things, probably spread out over a long period of time. Or you might have done a few nice things, really nice things, that were just aimed right, like, let’s say, you gave life. Oh, here’s one: Think of the Buddha’s mother.  She gave life to a Buddha, but she herself had not attained realization, so she was born in the god realm. She had accumulated a great deal of merit and virtue. So those that are born in the god realm have accumulated a great deal, a tremendous amount, an inconceivable amount, of merit and virtue, but not necessarily coupled with wisdom.

Their experience is beautiful, just beautiful. Breathtaking, in fact. The gods and goddesses of the god realm, of that particular god realm, are beautiful to the degree that if one of them were to walk amongst us now, it would be blinding. We simply could not perceive the sum total of their beauty. It would be out of the realm of possibility with our eyes. Our eyes are of flesh and not made to take in that much beauty. The colors in the god realm are brilliant. Breathtaking. Not like here. Their reds, their blues, their greens are inconceivable to us. Inconceivable to us. Brilliant. Fabulous. In fact, all of the things that exist within the god realm have these kind of interconnected qualities. To only see one of the jewel-like colors of the god realm will instantly cause healing through sight. That’s how perfect they are. Healing through sight only upon seeing a color.

The gods and goddesses themselves are breathtakingly beautiful, I mean to the point where they are just unbelievable, even to each other; and they are adorned with gorgeous colors and beautiful things. Not only that, they also have the quality of extraordinary perfumed scent. Not like our kind of perfume, the kind you buy, phssst, phssst, phssst, phssst, not that kind, alcohol based. Not Esteé Lauder. It’s much better than that. Their scent is the scent of virtue and merit. And so, the fragrance that comes from their bodies…  It is said that upon simply smelling one of their bodies, one would receive healing, based on scent. Healing from scent. Their smells are like nothing we can imagine. If we could smell one of them, first of all our noses would not be able to take in all of the scent, and our brains would not be able to process it all. But what we could smell would be so fantastical to us that it would be shocking, like nothing we’ve ever smelled, you see. Furthermore, the level of joy in their minds… Now think about this: What if you were so darn gorgeous that people could hardly look at you? Just think about that. And you smelled so darned good that people just couldn’t get enough of it ?Not only that, but you don’t change. You’re always gorgeous. You don’t have bad hair days in that realm. You don’t have acne in that realm. Nothing changes. You don’t ageuntil the very moment of transition into death. Doesn’t that sound like a great place to go?

Let me tell you a couple of other factors about the god realm. You see how here I have my lemon water and I have my ever-popular coffee? Remember, in the hungry ghost realm I told you that this appearance to a hungry ghost, even though it’s the same thing, it is the same nature, same stuff, to a hungry ghost would appear like a glass of pus, or something horrible. And to a human it would appear like water. You’d say, “Well, that’s what it is. That’s ‘cause we can really perceive.” No, this is Buddha, so we perceive it as water—water to nourish our bodies. However, what would a god or goddess perceive this as? This would be to a god or goddess delicious beyond anything we could conceive of. Furthermore, it would be the nectar or elixir of life. One sip is healing upon taste. Healing upon taste. One taste of this liquid in the god realm will heal every single ill, if there were ills in the god realm. And it’s because of the condition of their minds.  Remember, our perception is because of the condition of our minds, not because the object has changed. So everything they eat… And music! There’s music in the god realm that’s nothing like the music you hear here. Not even the best music, not even the finest, most uplifting classical music, nothing like what we have here. The music in the god realm is, again, healing upon hearing, but nothing we can imagine. Celestial. Words don’t explain. So doesn’t that sound like a great place to go? Wouldn’t you love to go there? I definitely feel like we ought to have at least two-week passes. Something, if we knew we could get back in pretty good shape.

Let’s talk about the drawback of the god realm and why you don’t actually want to go to the god realm. Because in the god realm they are so filled with pleasure they can’t practice. If you were to say to a person, “You should practice your Dharma because even your life in the god realm will end.  It will, and wait until I tell you how. Your life in the god realm will end.” They wouldn’t be able to hear. They’re so deluded and intoxicated with the product of their virtue that they can’t hear those words and they don’t compute them. They can’t take them in. In the same way that we couldn’t take them in when we were younger and not feeling as though our lives were forfeit, when we believed we were going to live forever, and couldn’t hear about how you have to prepare for death. But much more so. They can’t even compute it; they can’t take it in. It ain’t happenin’ for them. Plus they don’t have the space in their minds to even consider practice. They can’t even stop experiencing pleasure long enough to say Om Mani Padme Hung, which would liberate them from that delusion. They can’t do it; they simply cannot do it.

Now what happens to the hungry ghosts? What is their lifetime? Their lifetimes are very, very long. It’s the same at the high end and the low end of cyclic existence. Generally speaking, their rebirth in the hell realms and hungry ghost realms are quite long. Our lifetime would be like a day in a year of their life. It would be very, very long. It’s different with each of the different realms, but it’s quite long. The same for the god realm. For the god realms, lifetimes can be as much as an eon. Nobody’s real sure how much an eon is. People keep asking me; I don’t know. Tibetans have one idea, westerners have another idea. It’s a long time. Trust me on this. So the gods and goddesses can live in that realm for eons. Eons. There are many stories of the different gods and goddesses that have lifespans of two kalpas, or two thousand years. There are many stories like that. And then, upon their death, another one takes their place in the very same form, and none of us realize that gods and goddesses are in fact dying and being reborn. We think they live forever.

Here’s how it works. Once again, it takes a tremendous amount of virtue and meritto be reborn in that god realm. So what happens is during the course of their lives they are burning that merit and virtue up, much like an eight cylinder car going up hill. Remember what those guys were like? You burn a lot of gas. And so they are literally burning merit, because their lives are so pleasurable. They’re spending it like money. Just buying everything, you see. If you were spending your money on a poorer life, or spending your merit on a poorer life there wouldn’t be so much expended, but they’re spending their merit on this extremely pleasurable life. And there is a continual outpouring of one’s merit, or using up of one’s merit.

So what literally happens is that at the end of this span, when one’s merit and virtue is completely exhausted, then suddenly the gods and goddesses begin to wake up from their pleasure experiences, as though waking up from an erotic dream, or an extremely pleasurable dream. And suddenly you find yourself in your own bed and you’re wondering what’s going on here. That kind of thing. The gods and goddesses have the same experience: Suddenly they are shaken and they look around and they see. And at that time they are not only able to see all of the god realms, which they do have the power to do, but they are also able to see down toward the other five realms. And then, when they have already used up everything they’ve got, they finally see that they have used up all their virtue and merit, and that they are about to fall into the lower realms. The only time that they are able to see that is right at the time of death. And it’s because their using up all of their virtue and merit gives them that moment, that pause, that removal from the drunkenness of pleasure, to where they can see.

Suddenly all the other gods and goddesses move away from the one who is having that experience. Here’s why. Suddenly they are not so beautiful. Their beauty begins to decay in the same way our beauty begins to decay as we age. Their beauty begins to decay and their smell begins to change. We don’t notice, but here, as physical beings, we carry the scent of death with us always. We do. We carry with us that scent, because our bodies are in process; and there’s always some part of our body that is living and dying in cycles. That is not true of the god realm. What happens is suddenly at that moment when the merit is used up, the smell of death can be detected. And all of the other gods and goddesses who do not have the capacity to register that distress because they’re still drunk with the pleasure realm move away. They simply can’t see you anymore. And not only does the poor sentient being realize what they are about to experience but they also realize that they are also utterly and completely alone, and that is a grave and great suffering for them. They are abandoned. And then they do fall. At that time they have no virtue and merit left to cash in, because they’ve used it up in the god realms, and their experience for a period of time after that is quite negative.

So this is why we do not wish to be reborn in the god realms. Even though it would be great to take a vacation there—I’m ready, we could go right now—still, you do not want to be reborn there. And it is better to think in a realistic way. If you were to think, “Oh, I would like to have a vacation right now, I would like to go to the beach,” but you knew for sure that going to the beach would end your opportunity, or would cause you to suffer greatly later on, you would be smarter to choose not to go to the beach, even though you want to go. So it’s like that. The only realm worth aspiring to is the realm of human rebirth, because it is only uniquely in human rebirth that we can practice Dharma. And it is only uniquely in the human rebirth that we can aspire to and look forward to being able to benefit sentient beings.

These, in a nutshell, are the sufferings of cyclic existence. Now this teaching that I have given you is brief and concise, and it fits in the category of Ngöndro or preliminary teachings: preparation for the mind, or turning the mind toward Dharma. It is not directly connected with Phowa, even though we are speaking about life and death and the experiences therein. At this moment we are speaking of the bardo of life, and this is the experience of the bardo of life as experienced by the many different kinds of sentient beings that are revolving in cyclic existence. Having understood their suffering, can you feel compassion for them?

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Commentary on the Bodhisattva Vow: HH Penor Rinpoche God Realm

 

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The following is adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999:

Next, consider the gold realm. Gods remain in their realm where they experience immeasurable bliss and happiness for long periods of time. They all have their own palace and gardens, wish-granting trees, and celestial food; everything in their external environment is inconceivably wonderful. Internally they experience only happiness and bliss throughout the entire course of their life. Eventually they exhaust their karma for that rebirth. Prior to that, the dying clairvoyant gods see the place of their future rebirth, which in most cases happens in the hell realm. They take such a rebirth due to having exhausted all tainted virtue that brought them rebirth in the god realm, and then nothing remains for them except an abundance of weighty negative karma. The vast storehouse of merit they once possessed is spent, and they have nowhere to go but to the lowest hell realm. Seeing the irreversible fate that awaits them, and knowing it is too late to reverse that, they experience tremendous suffering. They are powerless to reverse their karma of having to fall from the celestial realm of the gods to the lowest realms in existence.

Buddha therefore taught that there is not even a needle point’s worth of true happiness in samsara. Now you can understand the meaning of that teaching. Even if there is happiness, it always changes because it is impermanent. Happiness in samsara occurs as the result of the karma produced to cause it. Once that cause and result are exhausted, that happiness becomes something else, which is why the term cyclic existence is used to express the nature of life in the six realms. Sentient beings pass from rebirth to rebirth, revolving on this endless wheel of changing realms in dependence on their own karmic accumulations.

If your hair were suddenly to catch fire, you would immediately, without hesitation, try to put out that fire. Likewise, by understanding that cyclic existence is by nature permeated with suffering, and by understanding that it can never be anything other than that, you should immediately, without hesitation, focus on putting out the fire of cyclic existence. Focus totally on effort to extract yourself from this endless suffering of cyclic existence, so that you can achieve the state of permanent bliss and happiness, the state of fully enlightened buddhahood.

Thus it is taught that in order to be successful in reversing strong attraction and attachment to cyclic existence, we must practice dharma. Through the practice of dharma we can reverse attachment to existence and gain more momentum toward liberation, to the point where we realize the state of permanent bliss and cease to return to samsara.

Discursive Thought or Passive Awareness: From “Buddhahood Without Meditation”

The following is respectfully quoted from “Buddhahood Without Meditation” by Dudjom Lingpa:

With unwavering faith I pay homage to the sovereign lord, the primordial lord protector, the most sublime citadel of the magical display of pristine awareness.

These days, when the five kinds of degeneration are on the rise, sentient beings are without exception rough and wild, under the sway of very powerful negative karma. Clinging to the mere passing dream of this human life, they make long-range plans as though for an eternal stay and turn their backs on the pursuit of something meaningful for future lifetimes. For this reason, it seems to me that those who earnestly seek liberation and omniscience are no more numerous than stars in the daytime. Even though people may be aware of their mortality and enthusiastically practice the Buddhadharma, they devote their human existence simply to physical and verbal acts of virtue and thus pursue higher rebirths as gods or humans.

Some, without the slightest understanding of the view of emptiness, come to a decision that their own minds are empty. They are directly introduced to what is nothing more than a state of discursive thought or passive awareness and remain in this state with nothing whatever to do. This propels them toward rebirth among the gods of the desire and form realms, but does not bring them even a hair’s breadth closer to the path to omniscience.

 

 

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