The Value of Human Existence: Treasury of Precious Qualities

WM-198-23 Shakyamuni altar-M

The following is respectfully quoted from “Treasury of Precious Qualities” a commentary by Longchen Yeshe Dorje, Kangyur Rinpoche:

SAMSARIC EXISTENCE

For ages we have lingered in samsara, unaware of its defects, believing that this is a wholesome, beneficial place. And yet it is a state in which suffering and its causes abound and where the qualities of liberation languish and wither. It is a desolate wilderness in which many times in the past our bodies and minds have burned in agony and have endured pains of mutilation and decapitation. Moreover, latent within us, there are still many karmic seeds that will provoke such sufferings in the future. Human beings generally do not see this and are thus not only without regret for their condition but actually crave the transient and futile pleasures of the higher realms. Totally unaware that they should engage in virtue and refrain from evil, they pass their lives sunk in negativity. Theirs is what is called a “mere human existence.” By their negative actions of thought and deed, they destroy themselves and render meaningless the freedoms and advantages of their human condition. From their lofty position in samsara they plunge again into evil circumstances. Thus they wander in the three lower realms, in heavens of insensate gods without perception, or in barbarous regions (where the Dharma is not heard); they are born physically or mentally handicapped, have wrong views, and take birth in places where no Buddha has appeared.

EIGHT CONDITIONS IN WHICH THERE IS NO FREEDOM TO PRACTICE DHARMA

On the ground of burning iron, without a single moment of relief, beings are slain again and again by the henchmen of the Lord of Death, who brandish frightful weapons, swords, and hammers and inflict terrible pain. Until their evil karma has been exhausted, these beings in hell are unable to die, and, due to karmic effects resembling the cause–in other words, their compulsive tendency to negativity–they are caught in a web of evil karma inspired by hatred, and their infernal life span is measureless.

Pretas generally are completely deprived of food and drink; they do not find even the slightest filthy fragment of pus, blood, or excrement to eat. No need to say, then, that they are tormented by hunger and thirst. The cooling effect of the moon in summer and the warming effect of of the sun in winter are all reversed; rain and hail are misperceived as lightening and thunderbolts; and the rivers are filled with pus and blood. For pretas that are afflicted outwardly, streams and orchards dry up as soon as they look at them. Those afflicted inwardly have heads that are not in proportion to their bodies: their mouths are as small as the eye of a needle, while their bellies are the size of an entire country. If they swallow a little food and drink, it scorches their intestines and they suffer intolerable pain. Their lifespan is uncertain, depending on the strength of obscurations due to former avarice. Generally speaking one of their days is equal to a month by human reckoning, and they live for five hundred of their own years.

In the depths of the great oceans, fish and sea monsters devour each other, the bigger ones gulping down the smaller. Animals scattered over the surface of the earth, wild and unclaimed, are the prey of hunters with their nets, traps, their poisoned arrows and their snare, and they die cruel deaths. Animals domesticated by man are slaves to their masters. They are tamed and subjugated with saddles, bridles, and nose-ropes. Their masters ride on them, tether them, and place burdens on their backs. They herd and castrate them, shear off their hair, and bleed them while still alive. And through such treatment, animals are reduced to every extremity of suffering. Being without intelligence, they cannot recite even a single mani. When beings are born in such a condition, they are helpless, and we are told the lifespan of animals ranges from the momentary existence of insects to that of nagas and such-like that can live for a kalpa.

Since the unwavering action that sustains their life-principle is extremely protracted, and their lives are therefore very long, lasting twenty intermediate kalpas, the gods of the formless realm have no occasion to cultivate a sense of disgust for samsara and a desire to leave it. Moreover, the consciousness of the insensate gods, who are without perception, does not operate throughout the duration of their existence. They are therefore deprived of any basis for hearing and reflecting on the Dharma. Their abode is far removed from that of the gods of the fourth samadhi, just as a solitary place is remote from a populous city. These divine beings have no notion of Dharma, and thus when their thoughts begin to stir at the end of their existence, they conceive the false view that there is no path to liberation, and as a consequence they fall to the lower realms. To be born in these states is to be deprived of the freedom to practice Dharma.

The inhabitants of so-called barbarous lands do indeed have a human aspect, walking upright on their two feet. But they live practically like animals are are utterly ignorant of the Doctrine. Virtue is foreign to their minds and they are given over to negativity. They live immersed in various kinds of evil activity such as wounding others with poisoned arrows, and even making it a tenet of their religion. They wander in the undergrowth of false views and, worse than animals, turn upside down the moral principles of what is to be adopted and what is to be rejected. The way of liberation is unknown to them.

Those whose faculties are impaired, who lack, for instance, the ability to speak, and especially those who are mentally handicapped, may encounter a spiritual guide who is on the supreme level of accomplishment, and they may even hear his or her teaching. But what is said is unintelligible to them, like the booming of an echo. The sense of the teaching is lost to them, and they fail to grasp the vital point of what actions are to be adopted and what should be forsaken. Thus their fortune is marred and they suffer greatly in this desolate and fearful wasteland of samsara.

To be born in samsara through the effect of karma and defilements is like being adrift upon a vast ocean, unfathomable and shoreless. To obtain a human form is like having a great boat with which to cross this ocean and reach the island of liberation. But though people may possess all their faculties, and though they may have intelligence, like a sail to propel them in the direction of freedom, this excellent support is wasted when the mind is clouded by false beliefs. As a result, such people fail to enter the Dharma and do not undertake the path to liberation so pleasing to the Buddha, who appeared in the world to set it forth. Denying the karmic principle of cause and effect, and claiming that there is no afterlife and so forth, they are beset by demons hindering them from the path of liberation. They fall under their power and lose their freedom.

To take human birth during a dark kalpa is once again of no avail, for these are periods when the light of Dharma does not shine, when no Buddhas appear in the world from the time of its formation until its destruction. To take such a birth is to be like a man who has fallen into a pitch-dark crevasse and has broken his legs. However much he tries to get out, he can neither see the way nor even move, for his legs are shattered. In just the same way, without the light of the path of freedom, people are unaware of the three trainings that could lead them to liberation. They constantly pursue false paths because of their ignorance and defilements. Not only have they fallen into a dreadful place from which they cannot escape, but by degrees they fall deeper and deeper, from the states of animals and pretas down to the infernal realms. The freedom to practice Dharma is totally absent.

In all such terrible circumstances, in which evil actions bring forth results in manifold suffering, whirling like the all-destroying hurricane at the end of time, the body is worn away with pain, and fear is the natural condition of the mind. Beings indulge in negative habits; they turn their backs on the sacred teaching. Thus we are advised to reflect again and again on how we might avoid being born in the eight conditions in where there is no freedom to practice the Dharma. Jigme Lingpa calls us to follow the path of liberation with diligence, so that by relying on the teacher and his profound instructions, we might make meaningful the opportunity we now possess.

FIVE INDIVIDUAL AND FIVE CIRCUMSTANTIAL ADVANTAGES

To have taken birth in a “central” land where the Dharma is proclaimed is like being a sapling planted in pure soil. To have fully functioning sense faculties and healthy limbs, and thus to have the basis for the reception, meditation, and practice of the teachings, is to be like a healthy tree in leaf and branch. To have confidence in the Doctrine of the Victorious One; to have the karma of one’s body, speech, and mind in perfect flower, undamaged by the hail of evil actions contrary to the Dharma (sins of immediate effect and false views concerning the Three Jewels); to have been born a human being able to uphold the Dharma and acquire the qualities of liberation: all this is like a miraculous, wish fulfilling tree. It is exceedingly rare and significant, and to put these five individual advantages to good effect is of the highest importance.

The fact that a Buddha has appeared in our world, an occurrence that is rare as the flowering of the udumbara; the fact that he proclaimed the Doctrine and that the three turnings of the Dharma wheel have blossomed into flower; the fact that through explanation and practice this Doctrine in both transmission and realization still exists in our day without decline; the fact that there are still teachers who have perfectly embraced the Dharma; and finally the fact that we have been welcomed into the “cool shade” of a virtuous friend, a perfect guide on the path to liberation: these five advantages are even rarer than the five individual ones.

THE RARITY OF A PRECIOUS HUMAN EXISTENCE

Why is it so necessary to treat the path with diligence and without delay? As we have said, the five individual advantages are as rare as the wish-fulfilling tree, while the five circumstantial advantages are like the udumbara flower, even rarer than the earlier five. These ten taken together form the special characteristics, and the eight freedoms form the basis, of what we call a precious human existence. If we do not take advantage of this now, an opportunity such as this will not be found again. The reason for saying this may be illustrated with examples. One could imagine, for instance, an ocean, vast as the three-thousandfold universe. In the depths of this ocean lives a blind turtle that rises to the surface only once every century. To attain a human birth is rarer than the chance occurrence of the turtle surfacing to find its head inside a yoke drifting at random on the water’s surface. Or again, one could suggest the difficulty of attaining a precious human existence by using numerical illustrations. Compared with the number of beings in the animal kingdom, humans are like stars seen during the day as compared with stars seen at night. And the same ratio may be applied between animals and pretas, and again between pretas and the denizens of the realms of hell.

This precious human existence is thus most rare and extremely meaningful. If those who journey on the pathways of the Dharma with liberation as their goal, who now have in their possession the great ship of freedom and advantage, and who have met with a holy teacher who is the guide and, as it were, the navigator of such a ship–if such people fail to cross the ocean of the boundless and unfathomable sufferings of samsara to the dry land of liberation, their opportunity will have been completely squandered. All this should be a subject of reflection and a spur to greater exertion.

Identifying What is Important

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called Commitment to the Path:

These two particular teachings about the preciousness of this human rebirth and the impermanence of all things samsaric are supposed to make us see, recognize and call to mind and to be mindful of the difference between what is ordinary and what is extraordinary.  What is ordinary experiences birth and death.  It doesn’t travel with you.   It’s a product of samsara and its building blocks, which are delusion, and the senses, which are also deluded.  And while this is what builds samsara (and this is nothing to feel comfortable in), once you identify that, you can also identify what is extraordinary. And what is extraordinary is the Buddha nature.

We think about the Buddha nature as it appears in the world as the ground, the method and the fruit.  The ground is that the Dharma, Buddhism—the way that the Buddha enters into the world—always comes from the mind of enlightenment.  Whenever the Buddha speaks, the Buddha speaks from enlightenment, from the Buddha nature that does not experience rebirth. All teachings in Dharma, then, arise from the foundation, the ground. All teachings in Dharma are expressed as the method, or path.  One thing that distinguishes us from other religions is that we have method, real solid method and many different methods, to suit different karmic propensities.  But the method is given rise by the Buddha nature, so the method and the Buddha nature are not only similar; they are the same taste, the same stuff.  So the path is enlightened as well.  The result, of course, is Buddhahood, liberation from ordinary death and rebirth and the realization of the primordial wisdom nature, that awakened state that the Buddha described.  That’s the result—Buddhahood which arises from Buddhahood, which is Buddhahood and remains Buddhahood. The ground, the method and the result are indistinguishable.

So now we have identified what is impermanent.  We have identified what is useless.  Now we begin, because of that teaching, to identify what is extraordinary, what is of benefit. From that knowledge we can begin to make choices about how to practice our path.  You can see how it would be difficult to make a real commitment without understanding that.  It would be a fad for you, a thing.

Tibetan Buddhism is really kind of stylish right now.  We’re in vogue, but that’s not how we should approach this.  We have to approach it with eyes open. And believe me, as you get older, you’re going to realize that, just like the Buddha taught, our lives are like a waterfall rushing down a mountain.  Oh, you might think, that’s not bad.  Waterfalls last a long time, but don’t you get it?  You’re looking at a condition.  When you see a waterfall, you’re looking at a condition.  The cup of water that falls from the top reaches the bottom in a heartbeat and we’re like that.   We look at life and we think, oh, it’s constant.  Been here for a while.  Probably be here for a while.  But that cup of water falls down so fast that we come to the point at the end of our lives and we wonder. We look in the mirror and we see ourselves.  We have graying hair and like I said, everything is falling south and all these changes are happening. For me, I look in the mirror and here is this middle age woman and I go, how did that happen.? I am just a kid.  I’m just learning something here.  How did that happen?  And that is the experience that we have.  It goes that quickly.

And while life seems like a jewel to be enjoyed, we do not understand that if we spend our time enjoying it, it will be over in a flash and we will have gone to a precious continent and brought nothing back.  And it’s not to say you shouldn’t enjoy it.  I’m trying to enjoy my life, but I get the big picture.  And that’s the thing we need to do here.  We need to get the big picture. If we are in this place of great benefit and we have met with the teacher and met with the path, we must encourage ourselves to take advantage of this precious opportunity. I hope that you’ll think about this again and again and again.

Lord Buddha teaches us that all sentient beings are suffering, that all of samsara is pervaded with suffering, that we are wandering in cyclic existence helplessly.  We are taught that all sentient beings are the same in their nature and the same in the fact that they all wish to be happy. Even when they do crazy things, they are trying to be happy, to feel good.  And we realize while there is all this suffering, there is an end to this suffering and that end is liberation.  And that’s the only good news in all of life.

© copyright Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved.

 

Why Is This Rebirth Precious?

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Commitment to the Path”

When we practice the Buddhadharma, one of the first things that we have to do is to examine the faults of cyclic existence.  Nobody likes to do that.  That is not fun.  But what is interesting is you can really tell the more experienced, more sophisticated person.  Nobody wants to hear that cyclic existence is faulted and flawed and that it is impermanent and that it is pervaded with suffering.  Nobody wants to hear that.  But when you talk to somebody who is experienced and sophisticated enough in their own lives to see that: “Sometimes I’ve tried my best and life still goes off the tracks.  You know, sometimes I try my best and some dreadful disease will pop up.  Sometimes I try my best and somebody else I love will just leave or be sick or die,” There is no way to prevent these things from happening.  And if we are old enough and mature enough, we’ve had enough experience to know there is clearly something else in the driver’s seat here besides what “I want.”  We’re getting it.

Then, of course, sometimes when students first approach the path, they don’t have that sophistication yet.  Maybe they are young or young at heart or young in head. Who knows? But they haven’t had the kind of experience that is actually ultimately a blessing, that will bring them to a kind of sobriety, sort of like recovering alcoholics.  They get to a place where it becomes unbearable.  You have to stop.  You’ve got to grow up.  People who have had the experiences that come with ordinary samsaric existence and have seen them, and are not putting on blindfolds, are for the most part ready to hear this information.  And if you still have any doubt, pick up a newspaper.  Watch TV.  It’s all there.

So once we do hear that there are faults in cyclic existence, then it’s our job to begin to examine them.  Again, here, also it’s not so comfortable, because we don’t like to think about it.  Especially when you have to go every six weeks and have your hair dyed.  I mean, you look in the mirror and everything is turning gray and it’s all heading south, and you realize that something is happening that is not changeable.  It’s just going to happen.  It’s going happen right underneath your head.,and there’s not a thing you can do about it. You can work at it, but it’s going to work on you.  Eventually gravity wins.  Once you start to realize that, you realize that it doesn’t pay to put everything we have into this basket that is going to abandon us.

So now we come to examine the faults of cyclic existence.  Lord Buddha said that one of the things that we should understand about cyclic existence is that what we are in right now is called the “precious human rebirth.”  The reason why it is so precious is because it is so rare.  We’re sort of locked into a closed circuit TV system, if you can imagine such a thing.  We’re only mindful of our own kind of creatures.  We can see people.  We can see animals.  That’s pretty much it— the occasional ghost for those of us who are a little strange—but for the most part that’s it.  It’s people and it’s animals.  Those are the ones that we can see.  Those are vibrationally on our channel, so we can see them.  But Lord Buddha teaches us that there are other realms of cyclic existence: There are hell realms, all kinds of hell realms;  there are hungry ghost realms;  there are animal realms; there are human realms; there are jealous god realms; there are long life god realms.  So there are all these different kinds of realms and they are invisible. Even within each realm, while some are totally invisible to us, they are still within the form and formless realms.

The teachings of Lord Buddha about this precious human rebirth are that human beings are the only beings that have the kind of consciousness that can hear this teaching and then go practice and contemplate,.  The amount of human beings that are birthed now in samsara are like the amount of grains of sand that would fit on one’s fingernail, while the amount of sentient beings that are wandering in other places in samsara are like the grains of sand on all the earth, all the beaches, every square inch of it. The traditional teaching tells us by using the image that being reborn as a human being is as rare as a turtle surfacing in the ocean and putting its head through a circle, like a floating circle.  The chances of that happening are pretty slim, and so that is the way we are made to understand that this is a precious human rebirth.  Now why are we supposed to hear that?  Well, we’re supposed to hear that so that we don’t waste our time.

Another traditional teaching that we hear is that being reborn as a human who has the capacity and the karma to hear the Dharma is like going to a continent filled with precious jewels.  You only have to bend over and pick something up.  That’s how easy it is compared to other sentient beings who have not created the connections, not created the causes as yet. And while they have the same capability and same desire to be happy, they will not get to that continent.  They will not pick up that jewel. Conversely, the Buddha also teaches that to meet with the Dharma as a human being and to meet with one’s teacher and to meet with the path and not to practice is like the fool who goes to this precious continent, looks at all the beautiful colors and enjoys it and then goes away with nothing, going back into poverty with nothing, nothing precious.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Understanding Duality

Fly

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Art of Dispelling Anger”

So what happens in the awakening? Well, we’ve worked with our poisons sufficiently. We have some inner knowledge and honesty. We’ve worked some method and now we’re accomplishing view. That’s where we really start to get cooking is where we practice the view. The view is—I love this part—every woman you see is a goddess and I’m the queen. We see that all beings are Buddha. We see that the females, whether they look like goddesses or act like goddesses, are goddesses in their nature. They are Tara. They are, as are you, the primordial pristine state. We look at men, and rather than list their faults, which most of us do, we look at them and think, ‘This is Buddha. When you think of your husband, your child, your friend, your enemy and even President Bush, you think, ‘Yeah, this is Buddha, in his nature.’ And when we look around and we see that the appearance in relative view doesn’t look like Buddha, we shouldn’t take that as proof that the teaching is wrong and that we have a good excuse to hate.  We should take that as a reasonable display of the fact that we are lost in samsara. Here we are in our nature, the very Lord Buddha. When we awaken, we are Buddha. And yet we are in prisons; we are in hell realms; we are in abusive situations; we are hungry; we are angry; we are at war; we suffer. And yet we are the very Buddha we aspire to follow.

In Buddhism we are taught there are the ground, the path, and the fruit. All three must be present in order for liberation to be possible. And this is one way in which we understand our natures. The ground is the basis of accomplishment. If you did not arise as phenomena from the fundamental primordial self-luminous view, if you did not arise from that, if you were not the very bodhicitta in its display form, if the Buddha seed did not rest within you, if it were not so that each and every cell of your body is replete with the entire mandala of peaceful and wrathful deities, if that were not true, there would be no basis for accomplishment. But in our nature, we are Buddha. That is the basis.

And then there is the path. The path is as important as the basis, because while we have the Buddha seed, we may not have method or a way in which to awaken to that or to bring it forth. A fly is Buddha. He also arises in the display of duality in the samsaric world; and yet his nature is Buddha. His nature is the very same, no different. We each of us stand in the presence of our root teacher, whether it’s in our private practice or whether it’s here at the temple, and we could be a fly. But the difference between you and the fly is the fly has no method. The fly cannot practice method. The thing he is doing is not prostrations. He’s wiping his thighs or something. So we have to apply method. That’s what the Buddha’s teaching is all about. It’s all about different methods at different stages for different people.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Commentary on the Bodhisattva Vow: HH Penor Rinpoche – Our Kind Parents

mother and child

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:

[The second way to adjust one’s intention in order to be in harmony with the special feature of this instruction is through] developing attraction to enlightenment. According to this tradition, what leads one to develop an attraction to enlightenment is the cultivation of love for all beings, which begins by contemplating the suffering of cyclic existence and then cultivating repulsion and weariness [toward that existence].

Think about all living beings that at some time or another, throughout the course of innumerable past lifetimes, have been your own kind father or mother. Consider how a mother will anything for her child–even give her own life, without hesitation. Consider how all living beings have been that kind to you at some time in the past–not just once, but countless times, in countless different circumstances and situations over the course of countless lifetimes since beginningless time. Consider also that to not think carefully about repaying this kindness, and thereby to go through your life without the intention to truly benefit parent sentient beings, and so to actually ignore them, is truly shameless.

Many people in the West may think, “Wait a minute! My parents were not very kind to me. In fact, we are not even close, and I don’t even like them, so why should I feel that I need to repay their kindness now?” If that is what you think, then take a moment to think about how you acquired your body. Is it not due to the kindness of your parents that you have your precious human body? From the time your consciousness entered the union of your father’s seed and your mother’s egg, your mother carried you in her own body. Her body nurtured you as you grew within it. Then with pain and difficulty she gave birth to you. Her kindness did not just stop there: for many years she cared for you and lovingly fed, cleaned, clothed, and wiped you; she provided shelter and cared for you when you were sick, and thus she protected you and looked out for you constantly. If you think you don’t need to repay the kindness of your parents, just remind yourself of those events, which you were the recipient of time and time again.

If that still does not change your attitude, so that you still do not understand the kindness your parents showed you, then think about your body, the gift of your body, which is who you are; your parents gave you that. Because your parents showed you the great kindness of giving you your body, your precious life, here you are. Sure you had the causes for your precious human rebirth, but without parents you wouldn’t have your body. And if you didn’t have your body, you wouldn’t be able to receive these vows.

In our present state of ignorance, we have an inability to recognize that all beings have been our parents in the past, and we certainly don’t know what the particular situations and circumstances of those lifetimes were. Nonetheless, it is certain that we have had countless sentient beings as our parents over and over again in countless past lives. The truth is, at the present time we just do not recognize that.

Imagine you are on the bank of a river with your mother and suddenly she falls in and is being carried away by the rushing water. There you stand on the bank, watching that happen. What would you do? Would you do something to try to save her, such as throw out a rope? Or would your turn your back and walk away rather than risk your own life? Would you be concerned for her, or would your concern be only for yourself? The intention of hearers and solitary realizers can be likened to the later case, while the intention of Mahayana practitioners can be likened to the former. While it is important to develop attraction toward peace, you should never, for any reason, be attracted to the quiescence of the hearers and solitary realizers.

Examining the Path: His Holiness Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok

The following is an excerpt from a public talk by His Holiness Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok:

There are three major world religions and countless minor religions, spiritual pursuits that are available in this world which we should actually embrace in this lifetime. It doesn’t really matter which one one embraces in terms of the point that is being made here. The point is that everyone should enter a spiritual pursuit so that there is a purpose to this life.  Otherwise it is like the cows and the horses that are just grazing and eating the grass and just kind of surviving aimlessly. There is no point to spending your life just so that you can acquire the comforts of eating good food and drink and just getting by.  This is really, truly the greatest waste of a human existence.  Nor is it suitable to just enter any path without examining that path, without questioning others about that tradition.  One must carefully examine the spiritual path that one is going to enter because this is something that affects you for this and all future lifetimes.  You shouldn’t just do this mindlessly in a state of delusion.  For example, if one day you can choose whether you are going to eat delicious food or foul food and you check to see whether it is good or bad, then it is quite important that you would choose the best, and you would want it to be very delicious.  When it comes to the spiritual practice and Dharma, this is something that affects you for all of your lifetimes, so it is totally unsuitable not to examine the path that you are going to be involved in.  Another reason for examining is because it also very unsuitable to become partial about religious dogmas and to actually feel some hate for other religions.  People who feel this way are usually people who are not intelligent enough to examine.  If you examine each of the religions, at least you can gain some sense of appreciation.  At the same time you can understand very clearly which is a pure path, which is an impure path, which path is beneficial, which path is nonproductive.  If you are unable to discern that because you haven’t examined, then you are someone who is experiencing the conflicting emotion of delusion.

For example, in this world there may be spiritual traditions or religions which actually encourage adultery or encourage thievery or encourage the killing of other sentient beings or animals for ritual offerings or sacrifice or what have you.  Maybe these types of activities might even go against the rules of the country, might even break the law of the country and yet are still encouraged by the religion.  We have to examine to see if these are activities that are the play of desire and attachment, anger and delusion, or not.  If we clearly examine, then we can recognize for ourselves that this is non-beneficial and nonproductive, and it is something that we can avoid getting involved in.  But in order to avoid getting involved in it, in the beginning we must examine.

In some religions, some spiritual traditions, there is only a focus upon some personal gain or some personal pursuit for one’s own happiness.  It is very self-oriented.  This is also something that we should examine, because if that is the case, it is not pure and not ultimately beneficial.  If there is no focus upon how one can truly be of service and of benefit to others—because if the religion you are involved in is only going to bring you happiness in this life and doesn’t even focus upon how you can somehow bring happiness to others in this life—how could it possibly be truly pure?  In this way we must examine it. and we should get involved in a religion that focuses on the benefit of others as well.

The excellent spiritual traditions, the sublime traditions, are those which bring benefit to self and others alike. So first and foremost, please examine to see if the religion that you are engaged in or thinking to engage in has these qualifications.  Finding then a religion that brings benefit to both self and others is a prerequisite, but the methods in order to employ that must be available.  It must be a profound path that brings about the benefit of self and others.  For example, even if an old woman who has no arms has love and compassion for her son and wishes to uplift him and help, she cannot.  She has that wish but there’s nothing she can do because she’s crippled.  Therefore if we want to achieve ultimate, permanent results in this and future lifetimes, we have to be sure that our path has the power to bring about those results.  It can’t just be something that is filled with fancy rhetoric and good thoughts, but doesn’t have any methods which produce good results.

Speaking of those methods then, the spiritual path that can bring that about is one that includes the different sciences and also transmissions based on experience, and also has the valid source through which strong faith and conviction can be developed.  There must be a true and valid source of the lineage of a spiritual tradition. That must be established over a period of time by those who are intelligent scholars and true practitioners who have been able to uphold the line of the lineage of transmission.  One has to go back and see where the religion finds its origin.  The religion should be validated by the presence of the different categories or sciences of spiritual knowledge or development that validate the ability of that path to bring forth the results of what one wants to accomplish.  You can’t just expect to go to someone who promises you that if you do this according to what I am teaching then it is going to bring you happiness and peace, and if you avoid this you won’t suffer.  This kind of shallowness is something that must be avoided and can only be avoided by examining the tradition to see if it is validated by the different categories and presence of sciences and methods which have already been tested.  And thirdly, from the point of view of, experiential validity, one must be able to see that it has been proven by those who have practiced this path that both temporarily and ultimately the results have been and are and will be achieved.  One has to take a look and see if those results have borne out through the different efforts of the practice of those who are practitioners on the path—if they have been able to bring out the fruition, and if the results that they have achieved are permanent or not.

In this world, in terms of benefit both temporary and ultimate, Lord Buddha Shakyamuni has presented the methods which are according to his miraculous activities and deeds.  For the most part, those great leaders of other religions are also considered to be emanations of the compassion of Lord Buddha Shakyamuni.  For instance in Hinduism, the leader Jangjuk is said to be an incarnation of Buddha Shakyamuni, and also Wangchen, or King Brahman, is said to be an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara.  So even these religious leaders of those traditions that are said to bring only temporary benefit, that bliss comes about through the miraculous activity of Lord Buddha Shakyamuni.  Also in the Christian path, a religion that is founded upon the principles of love and compassion for sentient beings, these principles of love and compassion are also the essential points of the Buddhist doctrine, and the fact that that is so is due to the concerned miraculous activity of Lord Buddha Shakyamuni.  This also points out why it is very unsuitable for us to ever have partial attitudes towards other religions. Really, when we think in terms of what has just been presented to you, all the religions in this world have very much in common.  The most important points are the points which are similar, and we shouldn’t try to find the differences.

The Basis for Practice is the Bodhicitta: Dilgo Khyentse

The following is respectfully quoted from “Enlightened Courage” by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche:

As a preliminary to this teaching, we must consider three things: the preciousness of being born a human being, the fact of impermanence and the problem of samsaric existence.

Human Birth

We are at the moment in possession of a precious human existence endowed with eighteen characteristics which are very difficult to obtain. If the teachings of the Buddha are practiced correctly, then it is as the saying goes:

Used well, this body is a ship to liberation,
Otherwise it is an anchor in samsara.
This body is the agent of all good and evil.

From the point of view of one who seeks enlightenment, it is far better to be a human being than to be born even in the heavens of the gods, where there is nectar to live an and all wishes are granted by the wish-fulfilling tree; where there is neither fatigue nor difficulty, neither sickness or old age. It is as humans, possessed of the eight freedoms and ten endowments, and not as gods, that every one of the thousand Buddhas of this age has attained, or will attain, enlightenment. This human existence, moreover, is not to be achieved by force or mere chance; it is the result of positive actions. And because it is rare for beings to accomplish positive actions, a precious human existence is indeed difficult to obtain. Nevertheless, we have now managed to be born into such a state; we have encountered the Buddhadharma, have entered the path and are now receiving teachings. But if we are unable to practice them, simply listening to the teachings will not in itself liberate us from samsara, and will be of no help to us when we are confronted by the hardships of birth, disease, old age and death. If we do not follow the doctor’s prescription when we are sick, then if if the doctor sits constantly by our side, the pain will not go away.

Impermanence

As we have just said, if we neglect to practice the teachings, they will be of no use to us. Moreover our lives are fragile and impermanent, and because death and its causes are uncertain, we may succumb at any moment. We may think, “Oh, I will practice when I am older, but now while I am young, I will live an ordinary life, making money, getting the better of my rivals, helping my friends and so on.’ But the fact is we might not live to be very old. Just think for example of people who were born at the same time as ourselves. Some might have died as children, some as adults, at their work and so on. Our own lives might not be very long either.

Furthermore, a human existence, in comparison with that of an animal, seems almost impossible to achieve. If you examine a clod of earth in summer, you might find more creatures in it than the population of the whole of France! That is why we say that, in terms of numbers alone, a human birth is difficult to obtain. So we should make up our minds that we will practice the Dharma instead of throwing our lives away in meaningless activities.

To use our human lives to accomplish the Buddhadharma, is like crossing the ocean in search of costly jewels and afterwards returning home with every kind of precious thing; the difficulties of the trip will have been well rewarded. It would be a shame to come back empty-handed! We are now in possession of a precious human form and have discovered the Teachings of the Buddha. Through the blessings and kindness of teachers it is now possible for us to receive, study and practice the Doctrine. But if we are preoccupied only with the worldly activities of this life: business, farming, prevailing over enemies, helping friends, hoping for an important position and so on–and we die before we have made time for spiritual practice, it would be just like coming home empty-handed from the isle of jewels. What an incredible waste! Therefore we should think to ourselves, ‘I am not going to miss my chance. While I have this precious opportunity, I will practice the Dharma.’ Of course, the best thing would be to practice for the whole of our lives; but at least we should take refuge properly, for this is the essence of the Buddhadharma and closes the door to the lower realms. It is the universal antidote that can be applied in any kind of difficulty, and to practice it is therefore most important.

Although, for the moment, you do not understand me, due to the difference of our languages, you are all aware that I am giving you some instruction. After I have gone, everything will be translated for you and perhaps you will think, ‘That Lama taught us something important; I must put it into practice.’ If you really do so, in your lives from day to day, then my explanation will have had some point to it. So please take it to heart.

The defects of samsara

The experience of happiness and suffering comes about as the result of positive and negative actions; therefore evil should be abandoned and virtue cultivated as much as possible.

Even the tiniest insect living in the grass wishes to be happy. But it does not know how to gather the causes of happiness, namely positive actions, nor how to avoid the cause of suffering, which is evil behavior. When animals kill and eat each other, they instinctively commit negative actions. They wish for happiness, but all they do is to create the causes of their misery and experience nothing but suffering. This is the measure of their ignorance and delusion. But if the truth were really shown to them, then without a care even for their lives, they would accomplish that very virtue which they would recognize as the source of their own happiness. The essence of the Buddha’s teaching is to understand clearly what behavior is to be adopted and what is to be rejected.

Abandon evil-doing,
Practice virtue well,
Subdue your mind:
This is the Buddha’s teaching.

At the moment, we are all caught in the state of delusion, and so we should acknowledge all the negative actions we have perpetrated throughout our many lives until the present time. And from now on, we should turn away from all such actions big or small, just as we would avoid getting thorns in our eyes. We should constantly be checking what we do: any negative action should be confessed immediately, and all positive actions dedicated to others. To the best of our ability, we should abandon wrongdoing and try to accumulate goodness.

 

 

 

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.

Relief From Suffering

HumanRealm

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

Now having been introduced to the six realms, you should look at all of the different qualities that produce these rebirths: anger, grasping, ignorance, doubt, jealousy and pride.  You should think that the thing to do, if you have any understanding at all, is to begin to engage in activity that pacifies those kinds of qualities.  How does this mesh with compassion?  When you think about engaging in compassionate activity, you have to view compassionate activity in accordance with this teaching because you might think that compassionate activity would only be to be nice to people, and actually that is one kind of compassionate activity, or to give money to the poor, or to feed people.  That is one kind of compassionate activity; that is one kind of bodhicitta, but it is temporary bodhicitta.  It will produce a temporary cessation of suffering for the people that you help.  If you give them food when they are hungry, it will produce the end of temporary suffering.  If you give them money when they are poor, it will produce the end of temporary suffering.  But if you really want to get into ultimate bodhicitta, which is the quintessential practice of the Mahayana vehicle, and Vajrayana as part of Mahayana—Vajrayana is what we practice here—what you really want to do is to practice ultimate or supreme bodhicitta.  Ultimate or supreme bodhicitta is creating some kind of practice that will be a vehicle by which the qualities that produce this result will be pacified both in yourself and in other sentient beings.

I’ve described the six realms of cyclic existence.  Where in the six realms is there relief?  Nowhere.  Will you find relief as a result of temporary help in any of the six realms?  No, because you will be reborn again. And where?  We don’t know.  We just don’t know.  In cyclic existence, there is no true relief.  All there is in cyclic existence are the components of cyclic existence.  That is all that is in that pot.  You cannot expect true relief from cyclic existence.  So ultimate bodhicitta and an ultimately compassionate act would be to become a Buddha yourself.  To become highly enough realized yourself to make that commitment to attain realization in order to return again and again and again, emanating from the mind of enlightenment in order to be of benefit to sentient beings, because that is where relief comes from.

Now let me see if this is a typical thangka?  No this is not a traditional thangka.  The traditional thangkas usually show a path coming out from the human realm leading to enlightenment.  As a human, you can make the ultimate gift.  You can engage in the supreme practice.  You can achieve enlightenment yourself and, therefore, you can be a returner.  You can return again and again and again in order to lead sentient beings through a display of your enlightened compassion.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Commentary on the Bodhisattva Vow by HH Penor Rinpoche

His Holiness Penor Rinpoche India

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:

Let us begin by considering limitless space. Then consider just as space is limitless, so too are parent sentient beings.

Since beginningless time, every sentient being has been our own parent in a past lifetime, and every sentient being from each of those lifetimes only showed us inconceivably great kindness. We must recognize that. We must also recognize that we have obtained that which is so difficult to obtain: the precious human rebirth–and that we have met with the doctrine that is so difficult to meet: the doctrine of Lord Buddha. Recognizing these things, we must understand that the best way we can repay the kindness of all parent sentient beings is by placing every one of them in a state of fully enlightened buddhahood. Therefore, (all of you here) please cultivate this aspiration. Having arrived at this critical juncture, you can now make your choice between samsara and enlightenment.

Now that you have obtained this precious human existence, you must extract its essence in order to make it meaningful. What makes this life meaningful is engaging with the spiritual path rather than just pursuing worldly activities for this life only, such as activities to increase wealth and material endowments or [activities to achieve] fame and personal gain. What makes this precious human existence meaningful is striving to realize the nature of this life.

This precious human existence is extremely rare. The following analogy illustrates just how rare it is: Imagine that upon the surface of a vast ocean floats yoke tossed continuously by wind and waves. Within that ocean swims a blind tortoise that surfaces for air once every hundred years. Of course, it is possible for the tortoise to emerge with its head [passing] through the yoke that bobs on the surface, but the chances that this will occur are extremely rare. Obtaining this precious human birth is just as rare as the tortoise surfacing for air one time in a hundred years with its head [passing] through the bobbing yoke. Surely this [surfacing] is possible, but it is so difficult and unlikely that it is next to impossible. Obtaining the precious human birth is likewise difficult.

If you use your precious human body just to accumulate an abundance of negativity, then you will certainly fall to the lower realms. If you accumulate the non virtue to fall to the hell realm, for example, you could remain there for the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of years, for incalculable periods, where you would experience inconceivable suffering. Eventually your karma there would be exhausted, and you would make it out to the peripheral hells; from there you would eventually make it to the deprived spirit realm and then eventually to the animal realm. In all these lower realms you would experience nothing but suffering; furthermore, you would accumulate only nonvirtue, because not even the thought of virtue exists in these realms. That is why if you fall to the lower realms of existence, you will remain there indefinitely, circling from hell to animal to the deprived spirit realm and so on, endlessly. Very few [beings] actually have the good fortune to leave the three lower realms. Considering this, you will appreciate just why it is so difficult and rare to obtain human rebirth.

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