Dharma Practice December 20, 2012
The 2012 Solution
Modern Buddhism: The Path of Compassion and Wisdom – Volume 1 Sutra
By Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
The instructions given in this book [excerpts] are scientific methods for improving our human nature and qualities through developing the capacity of our mind.
Happiness and suffering are states of mind and so their main causes are not to be found outside the mind.
Problems arise only if we respond to difficulties with a negative state of mind. Therefore, if we want to be free from problems, we must transform our mind.
Buddha taught that the mind has the power to create all pleasant and unpleasant objects. The world is the result of the karma, or actions, of the beings who inhabit it. A pure world is the result of pure actions and an impure world is the result of impure actions. Since all actions are created by mind, ultimately everything, including the world itself, is created by mind. There is no creator other than the mind.
Through studying many Buddhist texts we may become a renowned scholar; but if we do not put Buddha’s teachings into practice, our understanding of Buddhism will remain hollow, with no power to solve our own or others’ problems. Expecting intellectual understanding of Buddhist texts alone to solve our problems is like a sick person hoping to cure his or her illness through merely reading medical instructions without actually taking the medicine.
As Buddhist Master Shantideva says:
We need to put Buddha’s teachings, the Dharma, into practice
Because nothing can be accomplished just by reading words.
A sick man will never be cured of his illness
Through merely reading medical instructions!
In reality, all the problems we experience day to day come from our self-cherishing and self-grasping – misconceptions that exaggerate our own importance. However, because we do not understand this, we usually blame others for our problems, and this just makes them worse. From these two basic misconceptions arise all our other delusions, such as anger and attachment, causing us to experience endless problems.
If everyone sincerely practices the path of compassion and wisdom all their problems will be solved and never arise again; I guarantee this.
Although we want to be happy all the time we do not know how to do this, and we are always destroying our own happiness by developing anger, negative views and negative intentions.
The source of all our daily problems is our delusions such as attachment. Since beginningless time, because we have been so attached to the fulfillment of our own wishes, we have performed various kinds of non-virtuous actions – actions that harm others. As a result we continually experience various kinds of suffering and miserable conditions in life after life without end. When our wishes are not fulfilled we usually experience unpleasant feelings, such as unhappiness or depression; this is our own problem because we are so attached to the fulfillment of our wishes.
In this way we can see that there is not a single problem experienced by living beings that does not come from their attachment. This proves that unless we control our attachment our problems will never cease.
The root of attachment and of all our suffering is self-grasping ignorance, ignorance about the way things actually exist.
We should understand that our problems do not exist outside of ourself, but are part of our mind that experiences unpleasant feelings.
For Buddhists, faith in Buddha Shakyamuni is their spiritual life; it is the root of all Dharma realizations. If we have deep faith in Buddha we shall naturally develop the strong wish to practice his teachings.
With this wish we shall definitely apply effort in our Dharma practice, and with strong effort we shall accomplish permanent liberation from the suffering of this life and countless future lives.
In the cycle of impure life, samsara, no one has permanent liberation; everyone has to experience continually the sufferings of sickness, aging, death and uncontrolled rebirth, in life after life without end.
In his teaching called King of Concentration Sutra Buddha says:
A magician creates various things
Such as horses, elephants and so forth.
His creations do not actually exist;
You should know all things in the same way.
In this spiritually degenerate time there are five impurities that are increasing throughout the world: (1) our environment is becoming increasingly impure because of pollution; (2) our water, air and food are becoming increasingly impure, also because of pollution; (3) our body is becoming increasingly impure because sickness and disease are now more prevalent; (4) our mind is becoming increasingly impure because our delusions are getting stronger and stronger; and (5) our actions are becoming increasingly impure because we have no control over our delusions.
In conclusion, we should think:
At present I have briefly reached the human world and have the opportunity to attain permanent liberation from suffering and the supreme happiness of enlightenment through putting Dharma into practice. If I waste this precious opportunity in meaningless activities there is no greater loss and no greater foolishness.
HOW TO MEDITATE ON DEATH
First we engage in the following contemplation:
I shall definitely die. There is no way to prevent my body from finally decaying. Day by day, moment by moment, my life is slipping away. I have no idea when I shall die; the time of death is completely uncertain. Many young people die before their parents, some die the moment they are born – there is no certainty in this world. Furthermore, there are so many causes of untimely death. The lives of many strong and healthy people are destroyed by accidents. There is no guarantee that I shall not die today.
Having repeatedly contemplated these points, we mentally repeat over and over again ‘I may die today, I may die today’, and concentrate on the feeling it evokes. We transform our mind into this feeling ‘I may die today’ and remain on it single-pointedly for as long as possible. We should practice this meditation repeatedly until we spontaneously believe each and every day ‘I may die today’. Eventually we shall come to a conclusion: ‘Since I shall soon have to depart from this world, there is no sense in my becoming attached to the things of this life. Instead, from now on I will devote my whole life to practicing Dharma purely and sincerely.’ We then maintain this determination day and night. During the meditation break, without laziness we should apply effort to our Dharma practice. Realizing that worldly pleasures are deceptive, and that they distract us from using our life in a meaningful way, we should abandon attachment to them. In this way, we can eliminate the main obstacle to pure Dharma practice.
HOW TO MEDITATE ON THE DANGERS OF LOWER REBIRTH
First we engage in the following contemplation:
When the oil of an oil lamp is exhausted, the flame goes out because the flame is produced from the oil; but when our body dies our consciousness is not extinguished, because consciousness is not produced from the body. When we die our mind has to leave this present body, which is just a temporary abode, and find another body, rather like a bird leaving one nest to fly to another. Our mind has no freedom to remain and no choice about where to go. We are blown to the place of our next rebirth by the winds of our actions or karma (our good fortune or misfortune). If the karma that ripens at our death time is negative, we shall definitely take a lower rebirth. Heavy negative karma causes rebirth in hell, middling negative karma causes rebirth as a hungry ghost and lesser negative karma causes rebirth as an animal.
It is very easy to commit heavy negative karma. For example, simply by swatting a mosquito out of anger we create the cause to be reborn in hell. Throughout this and all our countless previous lives we have committed many heavy negative actions. Unless we have already purified these actions by practicing sincere confession, their potentialities remain in our mental continuum, and any one of these negative potentialities could ripen when we die.
Bearing this in mind, we should ask ourself:
‘If I die today, where shall I be tomorrow? It is quite possible that I shall find myself in the animal realm, among the hungry ghosts, or in hell. If someone were to call me a stupid cow today, I would find it difficult to bear, but what shall I do if I actually become a cow, a pig, or a fish – the food of human beings?’
Having repeatedly contemplated these points and understood how beings in the lower realms, such as animals, experience suffering, we generate a strong fear of taking rebirth in the lower realms. This feeling of fear is the object of our meditation. We then hold this without forgetting it; our mind should remain on this feeling of fear single-pointedly for as long as possible.
If we lose the object of our meditation we renew the feeling of fear by immediately remembering it or by repeating the contemplation. During the meditation break we try never to forget our feeling of fear of taking rebirth in the lower realms. In general fear is meaningless, but the fear generated through the above contemplation and meditation has immense meaning, as it arises from wisdom and not from ignorance. This fear is the main cause of seeking refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, which is the actual protection from such dangers, and helps us to be mindful and conscientious in avoiding non-virtuous actions.
Summary of the Ten Virtuous Actions
As a practical meditation exercise, one can take vows to not do these for a day, three days, a week, a month, etc. Ordained individuals take all ten vows (for as long as they are ordained). If one takes a vow and keeps it, one derives the positive karma from this action. If one simply doesn’t do the negative action, such as not killing and doesn’t take the vow, then one doesn’t derive any positive karma from it (but obviously also doesn’t get any negative karma from killing).
1. Not to take a life
2. Not to take what is not given
3. Avoid Sexual Misconduct
4. Not to Deceive
5. Avoid Slander of others
6. Avoid Harsh words
7. Avoid Empty Speech
8. Avoid Greedy Thoughts
9. Not to be Malicious
10. Avoid the Wrong View
HOW TO MEDITATE ON GOING FOR REFUGE
First we engage in the following contemplation:
I want to protect and liberate myself permanently from the sufferings of this life and countless future lives. I can accomplish this only by receiving Buddha’s blessings, putting Dharma into practice and receiving help from Sangha – the supreme spiritual friends. Thinking deeply in this way, we first make the strong determination and then the promise to seek refuge sincerely in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha throughout our life. We should meditate on this determination every day and maintain our promise continually for the rest of our life. As the commitments of our refuge vow we should always apply effort to receive Buddha’s blessings, to put Dharma into practice and to receive help from Sangha, our pure spiritual friends including our Spiritual Teacher. This is how we go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Through this we shall accomplish our aim – permanent liberation from all the sufferings of this life and countless future lives, the real meaning of our human life.
To maintain our promise to go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha throughout our life, and so that we and all living beings may receive Buddha’s blessings and protection, we recite the following refuge prayer every day with strong faith:
I and all sentient beings, until we achieve enlightenment,
Go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
Every action we perform leaves an imprint on our very subtle mind, and each imprint eventually gives rise to its own effect. Our mind is like a field, and performing actions is like sowing seeds in that field. Virtuous actions sow seeds of future happiness and non-virtuous actions sow seeds of future suffering. These seeds remain dormant in our mind until the conditions for them to ripen occur, and then they produce their effect. In some cases, this can happen many lifetimes after the original action was performed.
Whenever we perform virtuous actions such as meditation or other spiritual practices we should have the following mental determination:
While riding the horse of virtuous actions
I will guide it into the path of liberation with the reins of renunciation;
And through urging this horse onward with the whip of effort,
I will quickly reach the Pure Land of liberation and enlightenment.
Having contemplated the above explanation, we should think:
Since I myself never wish to suffer and always want to be happy,
I must abandon and purify my non-virtuous actions and sincerely perform virtuous actions.
We should meditate on this determination every day, and put our determination into practice.
The seeds that ripen when we die are very important because they determine what kind of rebirth we shall take in our next life. Which particular seed ripens at death depends upon the state of mind in which we die. If we die with a peaceful mind, this will stimulate a virtuous seed and we shall experience a fortunate rebirth. However, if we die with an unpeaceful mind, such as in a state of anger, this will stimulate a non-virtuous seed and we shall experience an unfortunate rebirth. This is similar to the way in which nightmares are triggered by our being in an agitated state of mind just before falling asleep. All inappropriate actions, including killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, divisive speech, hurtful speech, idle chatter, covetousness, malice and holding wrong views, are non-virtuous actions. When we abandon non-virtuous actions and apply effort to purifying our previous non-virtuous actions we are practicing moral discipline. This will prevent us from experiencing future suffering and from taking a lower rebirth. Examples of virtuous actions are training in all the meditations and other spiritual practices presented in this book. Meditation is a virtuous mental action that is the main cause for experiencing mental peace in the future. Whenever we practice meditation, whether or not our meditation is clear, we are performing a virtuous mental action that is a cause of our future happiness and peace of mind. We are normally concerned mainly about bodily and verbal actions, but in reality mental actions are more important. Our bodily and verbal actions depend upon our mental action – upon our mentally making a decision.
First published in 2011 This digital edition published 2011 The right of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act 1988. This e-book version of Modern Buddhism – Volume 1: Sutra by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Gyatso, Geshe Kelsang (2011-04-16). Modern Buddhism: The Path of Compassion and Wisdom – Volume 1 Sutra (Kindle Locations 26-30). Tharpa Publications. Kindle Edition.