Advice from our Spiritual Friend
Translation by Thubten Damchoe. Edited by Nicholas Ribush
generate the proper motivation by thinking, "I must achieve enlightenment
for the benefit of all sentient beings. For that reason, I am going to listen
to this teaching."
As Lama Tsong Khapa said, "This perfect human
rebirth is more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel, has been found just this
once, is easily lost and will be extremely difficult to find again." Therefore,
thinking like this, we should abandon all meaningless actions just as we discard
the husks of rice, and try and to take the essence of this life both day and night.
perfect human rebirth
This human life we presently have is not an ordinary
human rebirth; it is what's called a precious, or perfect, human rebirth-one adorned
with eighteen particular qualities: the eight freedoms and the ten endowments.
It is very difficult to achieve this kind of rebirth because these eighteen qualities
are very hard to find. They are hard to find because we have to create the cause
for each one individually, and these causes are very difficult to create. Therefore,
it is very difficult to achieve the result, the perfect human rebirth.
perfect human rebirth with its eighteen qualities that we have found just this
once is more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel. The [mythical] wish-fulfilling
jewel is very special because it has the power to grant whatever worldly things
we wish for-food, clothing and so forth. Whatever worldly thing we wish for, the
wish-fulfilling jewel can bring. However, our perfect human rebirth is even more
valuable than the amazing wish-fulfilling jewel. By relying on a wish-fulfilling
jewel, we cannot achieve good future rebirths, liberation or enlightenment, but
by relying on this perfect human rebirth, by studying and practicing the teachings
taught in the profound texts by the great masters, we can achieve the excellent
results of better future rebirths, liberation and enlightenment. Therefore, this
perfect human rebirth is more valuable than a wish-fulfilling jewel.
this perfect human rebirth is extremely rare; we haven't had this kind of rebirth
very often in the past, and it will be extremely difficult to find again in the
We might think that even though this perfect human rebirth is difficult
to achieve and we have achieved it now, it's all right because it might last thousands
or millions of years, but it's not like this. It does not last long; it perishes
very quickly. It passes like lightning in the sky. Lightning appears and disappears
very quickly; it doesn't remain long at all. Our perfect human rebirth is just
like this. It is very unreliable: today we are human; tomorrow, a corpse. Thus,
we have to think about death and impermanence and about practicing Dharma, or
virtue, so that we will not fall into the lower realms when we die.
been born human is a result of the virtue that we practiced in previous lives.
Because of our previous lives' practice of Dharma, this time we have received
a perfect human rebirth. Therefore, we have to make sure that we use this perfect
human rebirth to bring even more of them in the future, so that we can continue
practicing Dharma in the lives to come. If we don't, and instead spend this life
creating negative karma, we will definitely be born in the three lower realms,
from where it is very difficult to escape. Lower realm lives are millions of years
long, and once we have been born there, all we will do is create more and more
negative karma and be reborn from one lower realm into another. It is extremely
difficult to escape from the three lower realms.
Therefore, since we have received
a perfect human rebirth, found the Mahayana teachings and met spiritual teachers
who can explain them to us, at a time like this, when all these favorable conditions
for Dharma practice have come together, it is crucial that we listen to the advice
of our gurus and put it into practice every day of our lives.
In order to make
whatever practice we do truly Dharma, it has to be grounded in proper refuge in
the Triple Gem-Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. On top of that, in order to make the
Dharma we practice the cause of enlightenment, it has to be done with bodhicitta.
These two-refuge and bodhicitta-are very important.
It is also very important
to meditate on renunciation and compassion. Renunciation is based on wanting ourselves
to be free from suffering; compassion is based on wanting others to be free from
the suffering. These two attitudes are very important as well.
Because of our beginningless ignorance and self-cherishing,
we are used to thinking that we're not suffering. From morning to night, we have
the idea that we're not suffering, but this is because we fail to analyze whether
we're suffering or not. If we check properly, we'll find that we're constantly
experiencing many kinds of suffering.
One reason that we think we're not suffering
is because we don't know what it is. Therefore, the first thing we have to discover
is what suffering actually is. Once we have done so, we will find it easier to
have renunciation of our own suffering and compassion for the suffering of others.
Of course, we do understand suffering in its gross form, like when someone is
lying in the road with a broken leg; we can feel compassion for someone like that.
But we don't understand the more subtle forms of suffering and therefore cannot
feel compassion for those experiencing them.
So what, in short, is suffering?
It is any undesirable thing - great or small - that comes into our life or happens
to us. Anything undesirable that we have to experience is suffering. And similarly,
when anything undesirable happens to others, they experience suffering.
are many things we don't desire - getting sick, getting old, dying and so forth.
We have no desire to die, but we die anyway-that's suffering. We have no desire
to get sick, but we get sick anyway-that's suffering, too. There are also the
suffering of separation from loved ones, the suffering of meeting those we don't
like; there are many different kinds of suffering.
The more we think about
suffering, the stronger will be our wish to be free from it. That's why we have
to meditate on suffering-in order to generate the strong wish to free ourselves
from it. Once we have generated this wish, we will begin to seek out the methods
of freeing ourselves from it.
What is suffering? How does it arise? Is there
any way that it can be ended? These are the kinds of question practitioners ask
themselves and investigate when meditating upon suffering.
However, what is
the root of suffering? Where does suffering really come from? Suffering is rooted
in ignorance, or the three poisonous delusions-attachment, anger and ignorance.
The main sufferings that we sentient beings experience - the suffering of cyclic
existence and especially the suffering of the three lower realms - are caused
by the delusions, and these various sufferings have their own individual causes.
The suffering of the lower realms comes mainly from the ten non-virtuous actions,
and the suffering of cyclic existence from the three poisonous delusions.
if we study and check further, we will find that there is a way to eliminate these
causes of suffering. The Buddha explained that the main practice for purifying
the causes of the suffering of the lower realms - the ten non-virtuous actions-is
that of the four opponent powers conjoined with the seven-limb offering. Most
of you have been receiving teachings for a long time, so you already know what
the four opponent powers, the seven-limb practice and so forth are. But simply
knowing what these are is not enough. You have to put what you know, what you
have studied, into practice. Having met many teachers and received lots of teachings
means nothing if you don't put the instructions that you have heard into practice.
There's no use in simply being able to reel off large numbers of teachers and
teachings you have encountered.
The Buddha also taught how to eliminate the
causes of the suffering of cyclic existence - the three poisonous delusions -
by practicing the three higher trainings in morality, concentration and wisdom.
Of these three, the one that actually destroys the three poisonous delusions is
wisdom, and of the many kinds of wisdom, the ones we mean here are the wisdom
realizing selflessness and the wisdom realizing emptiness.
we are trying to free ourselves from merely the suffering of the three lower realms
or that of cyclic existence in its entirety, we have to practice morality. It
is on the basis of the higher training in morality that we engage in the other
two higher trainings in concentration and wisdom. Training in morality underlies
all other forms of practice - it is like the foundation upon which we build a
Therefore, even if we have received and understood many teachings from
many lamas, if we don't put them into practice and just say, "I am too busy
now; I'll practice tomorrow," all we are doing is depriving ourselves of
the opportunity to benefit from the teachings we have heard. In order to counteract
the lazy, procrastinating thought of "I'll practice later," we have
to think about death and impermanence-how death is certain, how the time of death
is uncertain, and how nothing other than Dharma can help us at the time of death.
If we think about these points, we will not be able to kick back and relax; we
will automatically practice Dharma.
What to study
In order to practice
Dharma, we have to understand how to practice, and in order to know how to practice,
we have to study. Moreover, when we study- whether it is a text that we ourselves
are reading or one taught by a lama- we have to make sure that it is an authentic
text written by a properly experienced lama. Furthermore, we have to ensure that
the origin of that text can be traced all the way back to the Buddha, just as
a river can be traced all the way back to its pure source in the snow mountains.
Dharma books have been written by practitioners who have thought, "I think
it's like this; I think it's like that," and cannot be traced all the way
back to the Buddha. You cannot rely upon or trust those kinds of book. However,
of texts that are totally authentic, trustworthy and reliable and can be traced
all the way back to the Buddha, there are none better than Shantideva's A Guide
to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life. This text has been studied and practiced by
all the great masters, and wherever the Mahayana teachings have flourished, there
are none who do not praise it.
As proof that this text can be traced all the
way back to the Buddha, in the second part of the first verse, Shantideva says,
"Here I shall explain how to engage in the vows of the Buddha's sons, the
meaning of which I have condensed in accordance with the scriptures." The
last five words show that this text has been written according to the teachings
of the Buddha.
Over the past few weeks, I have taught the first two chapters
of the Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life. The first chapter explains the
benefits of bodhicitta and the second tells us how to create the merit we need
to generate bodhicitta and the practices we can do to remove obstacles to this.
So, this is the chapter on the confession of negativity.
The third chapter,
"Full Acceptance of the Awakening Mind," is about rejoicing, but since
I'm leaving for India tomorrow, there's no point in starting now, because we won't
be able to finish it before I go. It will be better to start from the beginning
of the third chapter when I return.
However, as I said earlier, if you don't
practice what I teach, then no matter how much I explain, it will not be of much
use, and your coming here to listen will be about as beneficial as going to a
movie. On the other hand, even if I explain very little, if you put what I teach
into practice, your coming here will have been highly meaningful, very worthwhile.
do we come to the Center?
The main reason for your coming here to listen to
teachings and practice Dharma is to be free from suffering. You're don't come
here to get rich; you can see that no matter how many times you've been here,
it hasn't made you rich. You're not here to get famous, either; it's actually
extremely difficult to become famous. No, your main goal for coming here is to
find freedom from suffering. Therefore, you should make sure that you get what
you came for, and do whatever practices it takes for you to accomplish your aim.
someone asks you, "Why do you come to the Center?" your answer will
be, "To practice Dharma and listen to teachings." Then the next question
will be, "Why do you practice Dharma and listen to teachings Dharma?"
and you will reply, "Because I want to be free from suffering."
the reason you listen to teachings is to free yourself from suffering. That is
why you come to the Center. Now, this text that we have been studying, A Guide
to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life, explains exactly how you can free yourself from
suffering. Therefore, if you put the teachings it contains into practice, you
will fulfill your purpose in coming to the Center.
Although it is important
to receive teachings from a lama, you should not be content with just listening.
You should also make an effort to read books and analyze, or contemplate on, the
meaning of what you have read. Then, you should put the teachings you have studied
into practice by meditating on them. Go into your practice room, close the door
and give your practice your full attention. If you are doing prostrations, do
prostrations; if you are making offerings, make offerings; if you are practicing
purification, practice purification.
I would like to re-emphasize
something that I have told you before and you already know, which is that the
offerings we arrange on the altar- the flowers, water and so forth- are not the
actual offering; they are simply the offering substances. They are not the offering
itself. The actual offering comes when you arrange the offering substances on
the altar, make prostrations and then sit on your cushion, recite the offering
verses and think according to the meaning of the verse. That is when the real
practice of offering begins.
Offering, or puja, in Sanskrit, means "to
please,"- to please the object of offering, whoever it is: guru, deity, Buddha
and so forth. If your offering pleases the object to whom it is made, then that
is the actual offering. If you offer papaya to your guru and it pleases him, then
that is offering. The papaya itself is just the offering substance. When you offer
the substance to your lama and it pleases him, when he is made happy by that,
then that is the offering. When you do the practice of offering by reciting the
verses found in the Lama Tsong Khapa Guru Yoga, the King of Prayers and so forth,
offer flowers, music and the rest, and then imagine that your offering pleases
the object of offering-your guru, the deity or whoever else it may be-that becomes
the actual offering.
If you are practicing the Lama Tsong Khapa Guru Yoga,
then after making the offering and imagining that your guru accepts it with delight,
which is the actual offering, go ahead and confess all your negativities by saying
"I have all these negativities to confess" and reciting the confession
verse, which goes:
Non-virtue committed with body, speech and mind,
I have heaped up since beginningless time,
Especially that which has contradicted
Each I confess from my heart with strong regret.
this verse, imagine all your negativities being purified as I have explained.
practicing purification, you can use any of the various antidotes- for example,
prostrating to the Thirty-five Buddhas while reciting their names; reciting the
one-hundred-syllable Vajrasattva mantra; or reciting the Heart Sutra while contemplating
the meaning of emptiness explained in it- as the opponent power of remedy.
you are meditating on the seven limbs, the main practices are prostration, offering,
confession and rejoicing, and it is important that you do these four very carefully.
If you practice exactly as your lama has taught, you will free yourself from suffering.
If you do not, you will not free yourself from suffering.
Thus, when he said,
"I have shown you the path to liberation; whether or not you achieve it depends
on you," the Buddha placed the responsibility for our own welfare squarely
upon our own shoulders. Thus, liberation depends on our practicing what we have
been taught. If we practice what our guru has advised, we will free ourselves
from suffering; if we don't, we will not. The Buddha pointed right at us and said,
"It all depends on you."
In short, then, we should devote our perfect
human rebirth to developing renunciation, compassion, loving-kindness, bodhicitta
and wisdom, and abandon all thoughts of wanting better and more. Be content with
less and eliminate desire.
The kindness of the Center
One last thing
is that my being able to teach Buddhadharma and your being able to come and receive
it is all due to the kindness of the Center. But do not think that this Center,
which provides the facilities for listening to, studying and practicing Dharma,
is temporary; something that is here when you want it and the rest of the time
can just be rolled up and put away like a thangka. This Center is going to be
here for a long time to come, to serve not only the present generation but many
future generations as well.
In order for this to happen and for the Center
to improve, to be of more help to others, to bring more benefit to others, it
needs support, financial and otherwise; many different kinds of support. Therefore,
I request all of you to think of the different ways in which you can sustain the
Center. I have been here for almost ten years, and during this time there have
been many directors and many translators, and as a result of all this change,
from the beginning of this year we have found ourselves in our own house, our
own solid center. Please do what you can to help Kurukulla Center develop.
Geshe Tsulga gave this teaching at Kurukulla Center on Sunday, October 26, 10:00
a.m., the day before he departed for India for two months. Translated by Thubten
Damchoe. Edited by Nicholas Ribush.