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 Mixed Karma of the Human Realm


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

Now we are getting to the egg yolk. Actually the optimum life is to be born as a human,. even more than the god realm. Interestingly the god realm seems to be more fun. Wouldn’t you rather have a nice cool glass of the elixir of life?. Or would you rather have a glass of water? Now I know the answer to that. You monks and nuns, it’s been a long time since you have had anything to drink. You would like a nice elixir of life, wouldn’t you?. So, it seems like you would want to born in the god realm. The interesting thing about the human realm is that it does have definite suffering, which you have seen (and I have explained what the suffering is). Plus it particularly has the suffering of old age, sickness, and death. They don’t mention taxes. Maybe they didn’t have them when the Buddha was here. You might escape taxes, but you will never escape death. Maybe that is why he didn’t mention it. Even though those sufferings are present in the human realm alone, there is the peculiar meshing of karma, the peculiar evolution of karma that comes together in a certain way that we can practice the Dharma. We can make a choice and practice compassion. We can practice meditation on emptiness. We can practice Dharma in such a way as to achieve realization. We have this kind of queer mixing, or spaciousness, in our mind. In some cases it is not spaciousness, but it is just that the karma is ripening in a certain way that we can practice.

The teaching says that we have time to practice. Time to practice means what? ? Time in our minds to practice, not time in the day to practice. Anyone can get so busy that you don’t have time in the day to practice; but if you can conceive of time to practice, you have time to practice. You can make time to practice. In the animal realm, there is no time to practice because they are too busy being ignorant and fearful. In the hell realm, there is no time to practice because they are too busy suffering horribly. You can’t practice, you can’t think about compassion, if someone is bonking you over the head. You can’t think about compassion, or burning up in a burning house. In the hungry ghost realm, there is no thought of practice because all you can think about is need—I need, I want, I want, I want. But in the human realm, one can consider practice. There is space to practice. In the god realm, one cannot practice very well either because you are too busy enjoying bliss. You are so filled with bliss all you have to do is drink water. Why would you want to practice? All you have to do is touch something and it feels like waves of bliss. Why would you want to practice? Why you would want to practice is that all of these six realms are impermanent, even the god realm. In the human realm, though, you can practice. We too have sufferings—old age, sickness and death.

What causes us to be born in the human realm? Two things: A lot of merit and virtue that we have accumulated in the past through eons and eons of cyclic existence happened to pull together in one big puddle and ripen in such a way as to produce a human rebirth. But there is also non-virtue that produces a human rebirth. If we had total virtue, if that was all that we had, we’d just wake up one day enlightened, I guess. But that is not what happened. We got reborn in the human realm. What is the non-virtue that accounts for a human rebirth?. The main non-virtue that produces human rebirth is doubt. Doubt. You don’t believe that, right? I knew that. See what I mean. The main suffering of the human rebirth results from doubt as well. And that is why it is possible for so many of us to have with the auspicious opportunity to meet with the Dharma, to meet with the human condition with which we can practice. And we don’t practice. We don’t. If you really believed, if you understood that these six realms of cyclic existence exist, if you understood about your death, if you understood the cause and effect relationships that bring about an auspicious rebirth, if you understood what it takes to produce enlightenment, that is what you would do. You’d practice. But you have doubt, and that is why you don’t do it.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Cultivating Awareness


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

Another method that we are given is to think about the plight of sentient beings. We should think, for instance, that in the animal realm, some animals are whipped and beaten as beasts of burden. I saw some of that when I went to India: the bow ox that pull huge carts, literally four times their size. These are huge animals. They have a great deal of muscle and yet they were carrying so much that they could only barely move. And they were constantly whipped; and actually painted up and decorated in this terribly hot climate under terrible conditions. Think about oysters that are harvested for their meat and their pearl, that they live only for that. Some of them were born in cultivated areas, you know, cultivated oyster farms, just to be eaten for their meat and pearl. And we think about all the different animals that are completely victimized.  Think about the animals that are food for predators and are constantly being hunted and killed, that live in fear. Their main instinct is this highly inflamed and developed fear instinct, simply in order to preserve their lives. So we develop a kinship with other forms of life by understanding what their suffering is.

And then we look at the plight of human beings: How human beings are basically taught by their authority figures and parental figures and by their culture. It is dictated to them what they should do. Here in America, for instance, we are told that material values are of the utmost importance. And we spend a great deal of time in school, and then we spend a great deal of time in different kinds of preparation in order to become materially successful. And if you don’t become materialistically successful and comfortable in a certain way, you’re not considered to be an adequate human being, quite frankly. There is a problem there. You never quite feel good about yourself, and there’s an innate dissatisfaction.

For those of us who do succeed and do well in our lives, towards the end of our lives, we have a great suffering.  We realize that we’ve gone to school and we’ve practiced, and we’ve worked, and been work-a-holics and done what we thought was the right thing—supporting our families, and caring for our families and just doing the very best that we can,. Then we realize at the end of our lives we have nothing. Nothing!  All that we worked so hard for we cannot take with us. We look around us and the people to whom we gave whatever we worked for, too, also have suffering. How come it didn’t heal them?  Why didn’t the money and the cooking and the housework and everything that we gave them, why didn’t it do them any good?  They’re still crying.

We look around at our lives and we go, what was that? And we realize that the only thing that we can take with us into the bardo, the intermediate state that prepares us for our next life, is the habit patterns of our mind. And the habit pattern of our mind under those conditions is only intense grasping.

And that’s a great suffering that we human beings experience together.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

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