The Wish to Benefit All Beings

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche on Meditation, reprinted her with permission from Palyul Ling International:

This is the root of all the Dharma practices: generating the Bodhicitta [loving-kindness]. If one can really generate genuine Bodhicitta within one’s mind, then it is very easy to move nearer to ultimate liberation. Bodhicitta is known as the awakening mind. The awakening mind is without partiality and equally benefits all sentient beings. If we have the thought of doing something good and beneficial only for our families and friends and then we want to create all kinds of obstacles for someone we don’t like or whom we consider to be an enemy, this is not Bodhicitta.

Generating Bodhicitta, the awakening mind, is for the purpose of benefiting all sentient beings without any exception. Even living creatures such as ants, in their ultimate nature, they also have the Buddha nature. Even cockroaches. There is no difference in the size of the form. In the teachings it says that there is no limit to space, that space is immeasurable, and similarly there is no limit of sentient beings. Their number is immeasurable. Hence we have to generate the kind of Bodhicitta that is immeasurable for all these immeasurable numbers of beings.

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.

Meeting the Teacher

HHPR and JAL

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Guru is Your Diamond”

When we meet with our guru, our guru should have the capacity to ripen one’s mind, particularly where there is a close connection, where one has practiced under the guidance of this guru before. That’s happened to me with many of you. I see you and I just know you instantly—and, I know, you start crying—and you know me as well. And you can’t deny that. When that happens, it’s just undeniable. And for those fortunate students where that happens, often they wish to even short circuit the discrimination part because the feeling is so strong, the bond is so deep, that the recognition is prevalent. If that should happen to you, here or anywhere else, that is the most precious jewel you will ever find in this world. Whether you are gathering wealth, or gathering intellectual knowledge or whatever you were taught is precious in this world, that connection with that guru is the most precious jewel you will ever find.

First, it’s an indication you have practiced with this teacher before. Maybe an ordinary way of saying it would be, ‘When you see this teacher, you should see the feast laid out before you.’ The feast. And, you know,I have tasted this before. It’s almost like, in an ordinary way, if you go to a giant smorgasbord, one of those places people go to in America when they really want to chow down, and you see the roast beef, and the this and the that and the cobbler, you know, and you go, ‘Bingo, I’m in the right place!’  And you eat some of that, and you remember. It’s like remembering that taste in your next life. Nothing’s going to keep you from chowing down. You might be even a little weird about it at first, really emotional, and so forth; but nothing is going to keep you from that taste. If you’ve ever had that experience, I beg you to honor it. Not for my sake, but for yours.

That happened to me in this lifetime when I met His Holiness Penor Rinpoche. It was like my heart jumped out of my chest and was standing there talking to me. And like I met my mind, my nature. Like I was following something elusive my whole life and suddenly it was standing before me. Almost unbearable. And of course I did the same exact thing that you guys do when you meet your root teacher. You start dancing. Inside you start thinking, ‘What should I do? I should do this and I should do this. I’ll perform in this way, or maybe that way, or maybe this way.’ And of course you’re a stumbling, bumbling fool for a little while, just like somebody who’s newly in love.

If you find that connection, then you must honor it. And you must honor it by growing. Be ready. Some people say, ‘Oh, I really want to fall in love.’  But then when love hits you, you go, ‘No, I don’t want to change that much. A little scary here. Back off.’  And so sometimes, we’re like that when we meet in a sense our destiny, our unfoldment, when we meet our teacher. We go, ‘Oh, oh, oh!’ and we feel the feeling, we feel the joy, we feel the connection. Yet at the same hand, we’re like, ‘I can hardly bear it. I have to turn away a little bit. It’s too much. I don’t know if I can change that fast.’  But remember, the original reason for making the connection to the Path was to exit samsara, and that requires a good deal of change. So the relationship between oneself and one’s guru should be potent. It’s ok if it’s a little scary. Gives you a little respect.  In Palyul, my teacher, His Holiness Penor Rinpoche—you all know him—is known as having rather wrathful moments. I’ve met with a couple of them, and I still flinch. But that’s ok, ‘cause it gets my attention.

Ultimately, we come to understand that there is no friend like one’s guru, nobody in one’s life. Nobody in our lives—even if they take care of you and feed you and clothe you until the time of your death—is so willing and so eager to look out for your welfare. Our root gurus are more interested in our well-being than we can understand. I personally can tell you that I had a difficult time with that. I was an American. I mean, I know that I had all this old karma with the Path and I was recognized as this one and that one and the other one and all that, but I was still a 38-year-old American. (Yes, I was 38 when I met His Holiness.)  So I was an old dog with old habits. And I have to tell you that I didn’t understand that kind of love at first. I mean I understood that I felt this commitment to my students even though I had not met with the Buddhist teachers yet. I already had students and I understood the commitment to them. My teacher told me that apparently I was teaching Buddhadharma and I didn’t know it because I hadn’t read any books on it. But then, when I actually met him, and he became so intimately involved in my body, speech and mind, my whole life began to circumambulate my guru. I thought, ‘What is this?  I mean, I’ve never seen love like this. I’ve never seen anything like this.’ That this Lama would come all the way across the world to find me?  That he came all the way from India and the first thing he said when he hit California was, “Take me to that woman in Maryland.”  And so that’s how it happened.

I didn’t understand that every year he wanted to see me, and so I missed some years. I didn’t understand how much he is invested in my well-being and the well-being of my students. I didn’t understand when he built that place up in New York. Now I understand that he built it for us. Because I can teach you during the year what I have to give you, the ripening and the deepening; and then you can receive empowerment and take the next steps on the Path with His Holiness, my root teacher. And so after we established this place here, he did that. I didn’t understand that, but now I do.

I’ve never had that kind of love in this lifetime. I don’t know anyone else who has either. The kind of love that will… Let me explain to you. When His Holiness was here last year, one of his particularly devoted and very close disciples passed on, Kunzang Lama. And His Holiness just abruptly left even though he knew he wouldn’t make it in time, just left. For that one man. And when he got there, the man, Kunzang, had left him a note and the note said, “Guru, wherever you are, you are with me and I am with you. Please do not grieve.”  Like that. Can you imagine? They were so close. They came out of Tibet together. That kind of devotion to each other.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

American Dharma – The Prayer Vigil

Kunzang Palyul Choling has maintained a 24 hour Prayer Vigil since 1985. In this video Jetsunma describes how engaging in the Prayer Vigil is a way to stand up against the suffering in the world today. Making that commitment and dedicating the effort to bringing an end to war, or peace to beings, is a powerful way to practice the Dharma. She talks about how every visiting Lama, including His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, all comment how precious and rare this vigil is, that it happens nowhere else. Jetsunma talks about how it is part of integrating traditional Dharma Practice into our American, modern lives.

Heart Advice from His Holiness Penor Rinpoche: Watching the Mind

HHPR

The following is a Heart Teaching offered by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche at Palyul Ling Retreat in 2003 – lightly edited for posting on this blog:

Carry through the Guru Yoga practice with your body, speech, and mind in proper position and without having any conceptual thoughts.  Place your hands in the meditative position and concentrate on the practice.  If you start conceptualizing, it causes lots of negative problems.  Always try to cut through past, present and future thoughts, and then try to abide in the nature.

Even if one’s physical body is in a meditative position, if one’s mind goes on creating thoughts and conceptualizing, then there is no benefit, because the mind is more important than the physical body.

In the past there were two lamas known as Drupa Sangye Khenpa and Drupa Kunley.  Drupa Kunley normally traveled around all over the place.  One day Drupa Sangye Khenpa told Drupa Kunley that he shouldn’t wander everywhere and that they both should try to do some retreat and settle down.  They both carried on their retreat individually.  Then Drupa Sangye Khenpa thought that after completing the retreat he would go to the city to beg for food.  He had a horse to ride horse, but at that time based on one’s rank people would put a red feather on the horse, but Drupa Sangye Khenpa didn’t have one.  So Drupa Sangye Khenpa thought, “I should go to the city and get that feather.”  Meanwhile Drupa Kunley was in retreat, and somehow read Drupa Sangye Khenpa’s mind, so he went to see Drupa Sangye Khenpa.  When Drupa Sangye Khenpa saw Drupa Kunley, he said, “Actually we haven’t completed our retreat.  Why are you coming here?”  Then Drupa Kunley told Drupa Sangye Khenpa, “Well, you are going to the city to get that horse feather, so I thought the retreat was over.“   It is in that way that if one’s mind starts giving rise to thoughts, it has its own activity.

Of course these lamas are bodhisattvas who have realization, and don’t give rise to any afflictive emotions.  We are not equal to them, but still don’t let your mind wander.    Externally we look the same, like human beings, but their enlightened mind is not the same as ours.  Whatever thoughts we give rise to or verbalize or any action we take, are bound by afflictive emotions and have all kinds of grasping and clinging.  We mostly have impure thoughts.  It is very difficult to have even 1% pure perception.

Even when we carry through the generation stage of the deity, during the practice all kinds of thoughts arise.  Even when we try to do some meditation, during the actual meditation itself, still thoughts constantly arise.  That it is how our mind is.

The moment any thoughts arise, they naturally will be in the form of attachment or aversion.  Even in our day-to-day lives, it is important to try not to give rise to many thoughts and to try to sit and have control over one’s mind.  In the future when one carries through practices like Shamatha Meditation or Mahamudra or Dzogchen, one will need to have a single-pointed mind.  If one’s mind is constantly giving rise to thought then it doesn’t really help.

In our normal worldly life we think of material wealth, our jobs, work and so forth.  Our senses are more external, but when we are trying to apply our spiritual practices, then it is important to turn one’s mind inward, to examine one’s own mind to see what it is doing and how it is following the practice.

The Power of Intention

[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.]

Sometimes, although you are maintaining the bodhisattva vow internally and your intention is purely to benefit others, externally it may appear through [your] conduct or speech that you are breaking the vow. Although it may seem that a failure is occurring, if your actions and speech are motivated by bodhicitta, then no failure is occurring. That is referred to as a “reflection of failure.” For example, if it is necessary to commit a nonvirtue of the body or speech for the sake of benefiting others, that is permissible. In fact, not to do so could constitute a breakage of the bodhisattva vow. The motivation must be very clear. Whether your actions constitute a failure or not is determined by your own mind’s motivation. Here it is crucial to be careful, since losing the vow means taking lower rebirth.

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 Path to Ultimate Happiness: Advice from His Holiness Penor Rinpoche

The following is an excerpt from advice offered by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche during the New York Retreat in 2005:

Now we have this Precious Human Birth it is very important that we do something about it. Whatever kind of aspiration or attainment that we may achieve in this life, the only thing that really counts is what we do in this present time. At the end when we die, we can take nothing with us. Even though a person may have wealth comparable to that of the USA, he is unable to take even a small needle with him when he dies. When our time comes, we have to leave our spent body behind. If you have been practicing Dharma, then Dharma is the only thing you can take with you. But if you have committed non-virtue then the karma you generated through that will be the only thing you can take with you. Whether this is true or not, all you have to do is to reflect upon it thoroughly, then you will know for certain how true it is.

For this reason, it is very important to have faith in Dharma and practice accordingly. If you have doubts about the practice, then you can gain nothing from it. If you practice Dharma without doubt and with wisdom, then only positive results will ripen up for you. Buddhist Dharma has many special qualities; in particular, the practices in which you have just joined this year are part of the practice of Dzogpa Chenpo, which belong to the most supreme, most precious part of Dharma practice.

It is very difficult to practice Dharma due to the karmic and emotional defilements which keep us attached to the mundane worldly kind of existence, it is as if you have to climb a mountain with a burden of heavy baggage on your back. You have to undertake a very long and arduous journey in your Dharma practice, but it is very easy for you to lose your footing and fall down on the way. Furthermore your fall back down again will be very swift, much swifter and further than for those who do not carry much of this kind of baggage. When you climb up a steep mountain, it is very difficult and very tiring, similarly the practice of Dharma is also challenging. To reach the ultimate happiness you have to maintain Dharma practice diligently. When you practice Dharma, you have to abandon any doubts and practice it with a single-pointed mind. There is no need to have doubt concerning Dharma because, since time without beginning, an ocean of practitioners has already attained enlightenment through this kind of practice.

These people also had the strong wish to attain happiness and they put all of their efforts into the practice. You only have to listen to what they have achieved, to realise the vast number of realised masters who have already succeeded in their endeavour to achieve lasting happiness and realisation. For you, it is impossible to actually check the nature of the qualities of Dharma, to judge whether they may be good or bad. If you possessed qualities higher than those of Guru Padmasambhava or Lord Buddha, then you might have a more objective view of the qualities of Dharma. At the moment it is impossible for you to have such an objective perspective, for it is no different from a blind person who says he wants to visually check his own body – how is it possible? Instead of having doubt in Dharma, it is better to have faith and trust and to practice as much as you can.

Lineage in the West

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Love Now, Dzogchen Later”

Well, today I’d actually like to tell you a story. And I think it is seasonal in one way in that this time of year we generally think about what we want or what we want to give or how, or maybe family relationships and what needs to improve in our lives. And a lot of times at the end of the year during this holiday season and at the beginning of the next upcoming year, we kind of reassess ourselves;. reassess our lives, and kind of take stock. And I would like to tell you this story to help you take stock a little bit, and to give you some motivation, you know, some perspective. Because I think that if you come to this temple and you practice, you may not necessarily understand or know what’s going on in the greater Dharma community. Some people travel around but some people don’t. Some people stay here down on the farm with me. And so you might need to be exposed to some context in the Dharma community.

When I first met His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, that was quite a while ago, almost twenty years. I met him the first time that he came to the United States. And one of the reasons actually that he came to the United States, besides being invited, was that he heard that there was this American woman over there and he heard stories about me. And he knew in his mind that this was someone that he had been looking for for a long time. I came to find out later on that when he was a very young monk the first time he held the kapala, or the skull cup, of the first Ahkön Lhamo, it was before the Chinese invasion, and so it was whole, in one piece.  First time he held that cup, he said, “Oh.”  He made prayers:  “If there is any way I can find this dakini in this lifetime, I would like to do that.” He set his goal that way. And so of course with a mind such as his, when the goal is set, the deed is done. When he heard my name, and heard something about me, he knew immediately. But of course he didn’t tell me immediately. All I knew was that this lama was coming to my house. He’d never been to America before, and I really did not know what a lama actually was. I thought, “Guy sitting on rug. Guy wearing sheet.” I really didn’t know. I mean I had a great deal of respect for Buddhist thought and it was coming to my mind naturally. In fact, I was teaching meditation that I later found out to be based on Mahayana Buddhism. So, it was pretty interesting that this all came about so naturally. But then when he came to the house, we didn’t know protocol. We didn’t know respect. We didn’t know nothing. I knew how to barbeque, that’s what I knew. And so we had a barbecue and we moved my two sons to another room, and put Penor Rinpoche and Lobsang in the same room; and Lobsang’s like, “Oh God!  Save me!  Don’t you have another room?”  “Well, why? Is it crowded in there?”  “But you don’t understand.”

But you know, they were very nice. And then they asked for some tea. So, I thought, “These are Buddhists. They want to be calm.”  What did I know? So, I made chamomile tea, and I gave the teapot to Lobsang to give to His Holiness on a tray nicely set up. and His Holiness sent back a message, “What is that?  Bugs floating on top?”  You know how the little flowers float? “No.”  “Don’t you have some other kind of tea?”  “We have regular tea.”  “Oh yeah, we want regular tea.”  I thought, you know, Buddhists like to be peaceful. I thought.

And then the worst, the worst. He was so gracious and so kind. He never put himself up in any way or, you know, was anything less than the most humble of monks. I mean he never indicated that he was such a spectacular lama. And besides I didn’t even understand what the term meant—high lama, you know, lineage holder. I mean, I could understand the English words, but I didn’t have any way to put them all together. So, we had this barbeque and I served him a plate of hotdogs. And you know just the old America food, which he was pretty interested in actually. He sort of liked it. You know, he ate it. But then I remember plopping down right next to him and saying, “So, what’s Tibet really like?” or something like that, you know. You know him now. He’s such a righteous, orthodox, holy kind a guy. Can you imagine?  Can you imagine this Injee twit comes and plops down next to him and says, “So, how’s it going?”

I was used to Southern hospitality. So, I made another big meal (and I was a pretty good cook back then) and had some friends bring some stuff too. We sat him at the head of the table and said to His Holiness, “Please, help yourself to everything we have.”  He gets served. I didn’t know that. And so Lobsang’s going,… Lobsang was a lot younger then. “No, I’ll do it, I’ll do it.”  Well, that was back in the day and the reason why I’m telling you this funny story is because things have changed so much since then.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

Without Bodhicitta, There Is No Path: from His Holiness Penor Rinpoche

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche on Mediation, reprinted with permission from Palyul Ling International:

Many of you are interested and have asked, “Please give us the Dzogchen teachings.” But even I myself don’t know what is Dzogchen and I don’t have anything to teach you!

Anyway, as I explained to you earlier, if one practices the Bodhicitta, that kind of pure intention to really benefit all other sentient beings, and then the samatha meditation practices to establish one’s mind in full concentration, then of course there will be the Great Perfection (“Dzogchen”) meditations.

But if one cannot cultivate the Bodhicitta within one’s mind, the path to Enlightenment is already broken. Without Bodhicitta, there is no real path. Bodhicitta is that which is without any partiality. The pure intention of Bodhicitta, the thought to benefit all sentient beings without any exception, can be understood by realizing that in one or another lifetime, each being has been one’s parent. If we understand this and think of how dearly they have taken care of us, then we will feel grateful to all the parently beings and we can generate Bodhicitta to all of them.

This present body of ours is here because of our parents. If we did not have parents, there is no possibility that we could have these bodies. And if we don’t have this physical body, then we cannot accomplish any kind of worldly or Dharma activity. So our mothers are indeed very kind and we should be grateful.

Of course, there are many kinds of parent-child relationships in this world, but we should remember that whether or not we are close to our parents is based on our own desires and our own thoughts. Beyond that sort of thing, the main meaning here is that without our parents, we could not have this body, and because of this we should understand and be grateful for their kindness. So first one really concentrates on generating Bodhicitta based on one’s gratefulness to this life’s mother, and from that one can extend this Bodhicitta to all sentient beings equally.

So the most important points are to have faith and devotion in the Dharma, then meditating and contemplating on Bodhicitta and compassion. Then one can apply these into practice through the meditations on emptiness.

In the Dharma practice one should not think, “Oh, I am doing all this practice for the benefit of this lama or for these Buddhas.” Never think in this way. The Dharma practice is for yourself. Each and every one of you as individuals has to liberate yourself from Samsara. You are attaining Enlightenment for yourself. You are attaining Buddhahood for yourself. By your practice, your lama is not going to attain Enlightenment nor is Buddha going to attain Enlightenment! Buddha has already achieved Buddhahood! And if you cannot attend to Dharma practice in the proper way, then it is yourself who will fall down into the three lower realms. It is not the lama or the Buddha who will fall into the lower realms!

So, though it is important to think spiritually of one’s own benefit and how one can attain Enlightenment, still the achievement of that kind of liberation is by the path of benefiting all other sentient beings. Without that kind of Bodhicitta one cannot attain complete Enlightenment.

The Bodhicitta we can generate right now, however vast, is beneficial. In the future, when one attains Enlightenment, according to the vastness of that Bodhicitta, that many sentient beings can benefit and liberate themselves from the sufferings of Samsara. Right now we cannot really perceive all that fruition, but if we continue to practice, then in the future we will realize it as a direct perception.

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

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