Parting From the Four Desires: A Basic Teaching by His Holiness Sakya Trizin
History of the Teaching
We begin with a brief history of this teaching. When the great yogi, the Lama Sakyapa, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo, was twelve years old, one of his Gurus, Bari Lotsawa, advised him, “Since you are the son of a great spiritual teacher, it is necessary to study the Dharma, and to study the Dharma requires wisdom. The best way of acquiring wisdom is to practice Manjushri.” So, Bari Lotsawa gave Sachen Kunga Nyingpo the empowerment of Manjushri with all the necessary “lungs.” Then Sachen Kunga Nyingpo undertook a six-month retreat on Manjushri. At the beginning, there were some signs of obstacles, which he managed to purify through the practice of the wrathful Deity, Achala. He continued his meditation and at one time, in his pure vision, he saw Arya Manjushri in the preaching mudra, sitting on a jewelled throne with two other attendants. He received immense insight-wisdom at that moment and Manjushri bestowed this four-line teaching directly to Sachen Kunga Nyingpo:
If you desire the worldly aims of this life,
you are not a spiritual person; If you desire further worldly existence,
you haven’t the spirit of renunciation;
If you desire liberation for the sake of yourself,
you haven’t the enlightened attitude;
If you grasp at the view of ultimate reality,
you haven’t got the right view.
This four-line teaching includes the whole path of the Mahayana. After receiving this teaching, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo received a tremendous amount of insight-wisdom. He had no need to study everything that came to him. He became a really great yogi. Later in life, he bestowed this teaching on his sons, Sonam Tsemo and Dagpa Gyaltsen, and they bestowed it on Sakya Pandita and so on. Even to this day, its transmission has never been broken, so therefore, it bears special blessings. Jetsun Dagpa Gyaltsen, the son of Sachen Kunga Nyingpo, wrote a commentary in verses to these four lines, and today this text serves as the root text of all these teachings.
“Parting from the Four Desires” is very similar to the preliminary teachings of the other Tibetan Buddhist traditions. For example, the Nyingma and the Kagyu traditions have a teaching on “Turning the Mind,” which also explains these four lines. By meditating on this precious human life and impermanence, you will be liberated from the sufferings inherent in this life. The suffering of samsara and the law of karma will turn you away from clinging to the round of existence. Love, compassion, and Bodhicitta will turn you away from clinging to this life as real. We Sakyapas call it “The Parting from the Four Desires,” and Kagyu and Nyingma traditions call it “Turning the Mind Away from Clinging.” The name is different, but the teaching is the same. According to the Gelugpa tradition, the preliminary teaching is divided into “The Paths of the Three Persons.” The first line explains the “small” person’s path, – a person who realizes the lower realms are full of suffering and wishes to be born in the higher realms, such as that of the devas or humans. The middle person’s path is one that seeks self-liberation. This person is described in the second verse – they realize that the whole realm of existence is full of suffering, and therefore naturally seeks self-liberation. The third line explains the great person’s path. This person realizes that every sentient being has the same goal, and that instead of working for oneself, one should work for the sake of all sentient beings to attain ultimate enlightenment. While the wording is different, the Gelugpa teaching is, nevertheless, the same as this four-line teaching of “Parting from the Four Desires.”
All Buddhist practices begin with taking refuge. In this teaching, one takes the Mahayana refuge. Mahayana refuge has some special characteristics. There are four reasons that Mahayana refuge is somewhat different from general refuge – in terms of the object, the time, the person and the purpose.
1. The Object
Common to all kinds of Buddhist refuge are the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. However, the explanation of these three, differs between Mahayana and general Buddhism. In Mahayana, the Buddha is the one who has unimaginable qualities and who has departed from all the faults. He is the one who possesses the three kayas ,or the three bodies: the Dharmakaya, the Sambhogakaya, and the Nirmanakaya. Dharmakaya means that his mind, which is completely purified, has become one with the ultimate truth. Where subject and the object become one is “Dharmakaya.” The Sambhogakaya comes from accumulating enormous amounts of merit while still on the Path. That produces the highest form of physical body, which has all the qualities, and remains permanently in the highest Buddha field, known as Akanishtha, and bestows teachings to the great Bodhisattvas. In order to help ordinary sentient beings, whenever and wherever needed, the Buddhas appear in whatever form is required. These forms are the Nirmanakaya, or in other words, emanations. The historical Shakyamuni Buddha is among the Nirmanakayas. He is called “The Excellent Nirmanakaya” because even ordinary beings can see him as a Buddha. All the Buddhas who appear in the world are Nirmanakaya forms. In this practice we take refuge in the Buddha who possesses the three kayas. This is the particular Mahayana explanation of refuge.
The Dharma, or Teaching, is the great experience that the Buddha and all the higher Bodhisattvas have achieved. Their great realization is the Dharma. When what the Buddhas have achieved is put into words to benefit ordinary sentient beings, this is also called the Dharma.
The ones who are following the enlightenment path and who have already reached the irreversible state are the true Sangha. This Sangha consists of the Bodhisattvas, according to the Mahayana. The true Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, the “Triple Gem” are the Buddhas who possess the three bodies, the Dharma which expresses their realizations and teaching, and the Sangha of Bodhisattvas. The Triple Gem is symbolically represented in the images of the Buddhas, all the books of teachings, and the ordinary Sangha of monks. Although the names of the objects of refuge are the same in the Mahayana and General refuge, their qualities are explained somewhat differently in the Mahayana.
2. The Time
The second distinction between the General and the Mahayana refuge has to do with the time. In the General refuge, one takes the refuge for the immediate future. In the Mahayana refuge, one takes refuge from the present, extending up until the attainment of ultimate enlightenment.
3. The Person
In the General refuge, one takes refuge for oneself. In the Mahayana refuge, one takes refuge both for oneself and for all sentient beings. One imagines that all sentient beings have at one time, in previous lifetimes, been your own parents or very dear ones. One seeks refuge for the benefit of limitless sentient beings.
4. The Purpose
In the General refuge, one takes refuge to gain self-liberation. In the Mahayana, one takes refuge to attain enlightenment both for oneself and for the sake of all sentient beings.
If one understands the object, time, person, and purpose as we have described, they accomplish the Mahayana refuge. With these qualities in mind, one should recite the refuge prayer as well as the request to the objects of refuge to bestow their blessings.
In addition, when actually practicing the teachings, the great Acharya Vasubandu has said that if one wants to practice Dharma, there are four requisites. The four are: moral conduct, study, contemplation and meditation. An more detailed explanation of these requisites will be reserved for another teaching.
Line One of the Text
Line 1 of the text is: “If you desire the worldly aims of this life, you are not a spiritual person.”
The great Jetsun Dagpa Gyaltsen explained the first line in the following way. Whatever practice you do, if your aim is for the sake of this life, it is not religion; it is not Dharma. No matter what vows you receive, no matter how much you study, no matter how much you do meditation, if it’s all for the sake of this life, it is not Dharma. If one wishes to practice Dharma, one must begin by lessening attachment to this life. This life is temporal, it is like a mirage. Even if you think that a mirage is real water, it still will not slake your thirst. Whatever sorts of moral conduct or study or meditation that you undertake, if it is for the sake of this life, it will not ultimately benefit you.
To change your intention from not practicing Dharma to practicing Dharma, you should begin by meditating on the difficulty of obtaining this precious human life. Human life is rare compared to other forms of sentient beings, because one human being’s body can contain millions of other sentient beings. This rareness is explained in many different ways – for example from the point of view of “cause,” “numbers,” “example” and “nature.”
To receive a human life at all, and especially to receive a human life, which appears in a favorable place and with the right conditions, one must have a good cause. Such a cause must be an exceptionally virtuous one in order to lead to human birth with all the right conditions. In the three worlds, there are very few that practice the virtuous things, while there are enormous numbers of sentient beings who indulge in non-virtuous acts. So therefore, from the cause point-of-view, human life that has all the right conditions and is free from all the wrong places of birth, is very rare.
From the point-of-view of numbers, sentient beings in the hells, in the hungry-ghost realm, and in the animal kingdom are countless. Beings in the lower realms are as numerous as all the atoms and dust particles of this world. Compared to these, human lives are very few, especially those that have the right conditions.
The example of point-of-view is explained in the Sutras with the following illustration. Suppose the whole world is a great ocean and over this ocean floats a golden yoke, which has a small hole in it. Underneath the ocean is a blind tortoise that comes up to the surface only once every hundred years. The golden yoke floats on the surface, going wherever the wind blows it. When the wind comes from the east, it goes to the west. When the wind comes from the west it goes to the east. It clearly would be very difficult for the neck of the blind tortoise to enter the hole in the yoke under these circumstances. The chance of this happening is very rare. Human life, especially one free of all the wrong places of birth and which has all the right conditions is even more rare than this example. So from the example of point-of-view, human life is very rare.
The human birth in which one can hear and practice the teachings requires a number of particular conditions. The “nature” of this human rebirth is explained in terms of avoiding rebirth in the “eight wrong places” and being born with the “five conditions.” The “eight wrong places” in which it is unfavorable to be reborn are the states of the hells, pretas, animals and long-life gods, as well as existence among the barbarians, or persons with wrong views. Likewise one cannot be born where the Buddhist teachings have not been given, or with impaired faculties — such as being dumb, or mentally retarded. There are five favorable conditions for rebirth. They are, to be born in a place where the teachings have been given, and where monks and lay-precept holders are still living, not to have indulged in the five limitless sins, and to live where there is full faith in the teaching in general, and the Vinaya in particular.
One also has to be born in a time in which a Buddha has come and in which he has turned the Wheel of Dharma. The teaching must still be going on, and where there are still many people following the path, and where there are people who are readily helping you to find your right livelihood. These circumstances all depend on and must be obtained from others. So altogether, to be free from the eight unfavorable conditions and to obtain these ten favorable circumstances is extremely rare by nature. This is not only rare, but also very precious, because through such a life — not an ordinary life, but a human life that has all the right conditions — one must be able to be free from all the sufferings of samsara. Not only that, even the most difficult and the highest aim we could aspire to, ultimate enlightenment, is also achieved through human life. Therefore, human life is extremely precious. Not only is human life rare and precious, but even this is not enough! We have to practice. Without practice, just obtaining this very precious opportunity will not be enough. In our past lives, it is likely that we had many, many such opportunities to practice, but which we wasted and did not reach any significant states. So, from now on, unless we practice, we will still remain in samsara. Therefore, when we have such a good opportunity and a precious life, it is very important to practice Dharma.
The Buddha taught that everything is impermanent. The whole three worlds are like a cloud in autumn and the birth and death of sentient beings is like a dancer’s movement. A person’s life is like a light in the sky, or like a steep waterfall, which isn’t still for a single moment, but is constantly rushing down. Even the Buddhas who have attained a permanent body in order to show impermanence to sentient beings must also leave their bodies. Therefore, there is not a single place where death will not occur. There are many more causes for death than causes to live. It is a common wish that death will leave us alone, but of course, all beings eventually have to face death. Everything is changing. Lives in this particular realm (our lives on the continent of “Jambudvipa”) have no fixed length. Some people die even before they are born, some die as soon as they are born, some die as babies, some die at a very young age. Although we may have no major problems today, you never know what will happe n, even after an hour or so. Anything can happen. Unless you practice now, if you think, “For the time being I will work on some other things, then when I get older I will practice Dharma,” one will never know whether one will get this opportunity or not. Therefore, it is very important to practice now! At the time of death, nothing can help you, no matter how powerful one is, no matter how clever, no matter how rich one is, no matter how brave you are, nothing can help you. Even one’s body, which we have had with us right from the day we were conceived, and which we have looked after as a very precious thing, and we take great care of, and for whose sake we do all kinds of things — even this we have to leave behind. Our own continuity of mind then has to go without any choice of freedom. The only thing that can help you at the moment of death is the Dharma practices you have learned. If you practice Dharma, the best thing is that at the time of death, you will know the path and without any hesitation and as a matter of fact, with full confidence, you will leave your body. The person who practices Dharma has no hesitation to die, because they will have no regret of not having practiced. This precious human body and this precious human life are impermanent. The first line, “If you desire for the worldly aims of this life, you are not a spiritual person,” explains directly that whatever spiritual practice you do, if it is aimed for this life, then it is not Dharma and it will not benefit you. That’s the direct explanation. Indirectly, it explains about the difficulties of obtaining the precious human life and impermanence. When you have the clear understanding from inside of these two things, then you will be firmly set on the path. In this sense, even if someone attempts to keep you from practicing Dharma, it will not be possible for you to stop.
Line Two of the Text
Line two is: “If you desire further worldly existence, you haven’t the spirit of renunciation.”
If one continues to desire to be born in the human or deva realms (of course, no one wants to be born in the lower realms because the lower realms are full of suffering), the second line cuts that out. It explains that not only should the teaching that you practice not involve attachment to this present life, but also to be free from the desire for future births in the round of existence. Not only are the lower realms full of suffering; in the higher realms also, it’s all suffering. In the three lower realms (which are the hells, hungry ghosts, and the animal kingdom), what they have is called “the suffering of suffering.” The hells have many divisions, like the hot hells, the semi-hot hells, etc. Whenever one is born among the hells, one has an unimaginable amount of suffering. Thus, what the hell beings experience is called “the suffering of suffering.” In the hungry-ghost realm, also the beings have a tremendous amount of suffering in not finding food. They have great hunger and thirst for hundreds and hundreds of years. Even if they should find food, instead of helping their bodies, it creates more suffering. In the animal kingdom, as we all see, animals have to suffer many things. Most animals have not a single moment of relaxation because they have so many enemies among the animals themselves. In addition, human beings are hunting and fishing and bringing all kinds of suffering to them. Generally, all animals suffer great ignorance because they don’t have any way of knowing Dharma. It is very easy for us to realize that the three lower realms are full of suffering.
The three higher realms are sometimes understood as having a mixture of happiness and suffering. However, when we carefully think about it, we can see that there is not any real happiness in the higher realms. Even in the Deva’s realm, where it appears that these beings have a wonderful life, everything is impermanent. The Devas have so much luxury in their lives that they don’t even think of practicing the Dharma. All their lives are spent in enjoyment of worldly pleasures, so when they near the time of their death, they experience a particular king of suffering. For example, they have enough intelligence to be able to see where they will be reborn. And, as they have spent all their lives in enjoyment, many of them will be reborn in the lower realms. Since they can know these things, the Devas experience mental suffering greater than the physical suffering of the lower realms. Even the very great Devas, like Indra, the lord of the Devas, may be reborn as a very ordinary servant. And even the great Devas whose bodies can illuminate the whole world, after death, will be reborn in complete darkness in which they won’t be able to see their own hand before their face. In the human realm, as we have seen, everything is changing. Great emperors become very ordinary people and the very rich find themselves very poor. Generally, everyone is bound to encounter the four great mountains of suffering: death, old age, sickness, and birth. There are many, many sufferings, like always having fear of meeting enemies and always the fear of departing from your friends. Things you wish not to happen come true and things you don’t want come to you. There are unimaginable amounts of suffering which are mostly of the kind called “the suffering of change.” We suffer for the very reason that everything is constantly changing. In the asuras or demi-gods’ realm, since they experience great hate and jealously towards the heaven realm, they meet with great suffering in their life. So the devas, the humans, and the asuras all experience the suffering of change.
Next is “the suffering of aggregates,” which covers the whole universe. Each of us will undertake work that we will never finish. Our lives are full of continuous effort. Our actions are never finished. In this great, busy, worldly life of activities, one day we have to die without finishing this work. Everybody has to die in the midst of life. Therefore, no matter where one is reborn, whether in the lower realms or in the higher realms, both are full of suffering. For example, if poison is mixed with food — whether it is good food or bad food makes no difference — one cannot eat it. In the same way, no matter where one is born, either in the higher realms or in the lower realms, as long as it is within the round of existence, one will experience suffering.
Related to this is the explanation of the law of karma. We are forced to ask why the sufferings we experience happen in the first place. Each thing must have an associated cause. All kinds of suffering are created by non-virtuous actions. A non-virtuous action is any action that is created by desire, hatred, or ignorance. Killing, sexual misconduct, and stealing are the three bodily actions which are non-virtuous. Then also, there are lying, schism, harsh words, and idle talk, which are the four non-virtuous actions of voice. One commits these non-virtuous deeds through one’s own speech. Envy, hatred, and wrong view are the three non-virtuous actions of mind. Roughly speaking, all the non-virtuous actions are included in these ten actions. When one indulges in the ten non-virtuous actions, not only will one have to face terrible consequences, but even after facing the consequences, one will have continuous bad results. In other words, all the bad things that are happening in this life are a lso created by our own non-virtuous actions, which we have committed in our previous lives. The ten virtuous actions [freedom from hatred, desire, and ignorance] are the opposite of the ten non-virtuous deeds. Not only do the ten virtuous actions give wonderful results temporarily, they do so as well for many future lifetimes. In other words, all the good things that are happening in our life are created by our own virtuous deeds that we have committed in our previous lives. Finally, by practicing continuous virtuous deeds, self-liberation, or even the ultimate enlightenment, may be attained.
There are also indifferent or neutral actions, such as walking and sleeping. Although neutral actions do not produce any suffering (and from that point-of-view they are very good), since they do not produce any virtuous result, they are a sort of waste. It is important to transform these indifferent actions into virtuous deeds. For example, when you are walking you should think, “May all gain from the path of liberation.” When you meet people, you should think, “May all sentient beings meet virtuous friends.” And when you are eating, you should have the intent of feeding the enormous amount of germs that live in the body. All the indifferent action should thus be transformed into virtuous deeds.
The sufferings of samsara and the suffering of the round of existence and the law or karma, or law of cause and effect, is explained by the second line of this teaching, “If you desire further worldly existence, you haven’t the spirit of renunciation.”
By meditating on two things — concentrating on the suffering of the round of existence and the law of karma – you will both turn away from clinging to the round of existence, and come to the realization that the round of existence is full of suffering. In order to be free from suffering, one must consider this world as if it were a great fire, or like a nest of poisonous snakes.
As we meditate on this teaching we will begin to develop a real inner urge to put these principles into practice. For example, many yogis concentrate on the sufferings of samsara until they have the same feeling as a prisoner has. Namely, they develop the single thought:
“When can I escape?”
Until you have developed this attitude, you should meditate on the suffering of samsara. Unless we really understand the sufferings of samsara, one will not practice Dharma. In this sense, suffering is a great help in the practice of the path. When Lord Buddha first turned the wheel of Dharma in Sarnath, one of the first things he said was that one must know the sufferings. The first Noble Truth is that one must know the sufferings. If you think carefully about this, you won’t be able to waste time for very long. This concludes the explanation of the sufferings of samsara and the law of karma.
Line Three of the Text
Line three is: “If you desire liberation for the sake of yourself, you haven’t the enlightened attitude.”
If we truly understand that the world is full of suffering, and believe that we are able to free ourselves by practicing virtuous deeds, we can actually attain self-liberation. However, self-liberation does not fully accomplish one’s own purpose, and it cannot help other sentient beings. As a matter of fact, self-liberation is a great obstacle to attaining ultimate enlightenment because it delays the actual ultimate enlightenment. It is very important right from the beginning to set out to achieve the highest aim, which is to attain ultimate enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. This ultimate enlightenment must arise from the right cause and conditions. The main cause is great compassion, the root is Bodhicitta, and the condition is skillful means. Although every sentient being wishes to be free from suffering and wants to have happiness, due to ignorance, they can never have these. In this sense it is wrong to aim to be free from suffering for oneself. We have to think of all other sentient beings. But we are unable to help them at this moment because our defilements and delusions bind us. So, the only thing that can help is to attain ultimate enlightenment – so that we will actually be able to help others. To attain ultimate enlightenment, one has to have the right causes. The first is to meditate on love and compassion. “Love” means that you wish every sentient being to be happy and to have the cause of happiness. This wish must be directed to all sentient beings without any discrimination. Since we cannot produce these thoughts toward all sentient beings at the beginning of our practice, we proceed gradually. We begin by meditating on love and compassion towards whomever is dearest to us, for example, our own mother. One begins by visualizing in front of you, your own mother or anyone who is dear to you. Then, remember all the kindness they have done for you. For example, if it is your own mother, consider that she gave birth to you, brought you up in life with a kind, loving eye, gave you so much love and took care of you. Although now she is aiming for happiness herself, due to ignorance, she cannot have happiness. She is in the midst of suffering and she is even causing more suffering. Therefore, you should wish that she be free and be happy and have the cause of happiness. And so you pray, “May she be happy and have the cause of happiness of the Guru and Triple Gem.” Later, you should gradually increase this visualization to include your relatives and so forth. Finally, include more difficult individual, such as people you dislike and your enemies. You visualize your enemy right in front of you and think that, although in this life he appears in the form of the enemy, in actual fact, in many lifetimes he has been my very kind mother and father, as well as relatives and friends. He has given so much love and compassion and so much care has been given to me. But now we have changed our lives and since I did not repay his own kindness to him, today he comes in the form of my enemy to take all the kindness he has given. Today we have changed our lives; we do not recognize each other, so therefore, we must create the thought, “May he be happy and have the cause of happiness.” And then gradually you expand this meditation until you can have the same thought towards all sentient beings.
When one is well trained in this meditation of love, one can also use it to increase feelings of compassion. First, whoever is dearest to you, you visualize and think, “Although this person wants happiness, due to ignorance, he is in the midst of suffering. Due to ignorance, he is making more suffering for himself. May he now be free from suffering and may he be free from the cause of suffering.” And in the same way, later you should try to extend this meditation to the point that you have the same thought for all beings without discrimination.
When you are well advanced in this meditation, it is important to practice “Tong Len.” In this practice we visualize that all the happiness and the causes of happiness (that is, the virtuous deeds one has), are given, without hesitation, to all sentient beings. And the suffering of all sentient beings as well as their cause of sufferings, come to oneself, visualized like a great mass of dirt. This “exchanging meditation” is, of course, of great benefit. When one is well versed in this, then one practices the Six Paramitas and the four collecting things which we have in the main path of a Bodhisattva. With this we have completed the first three lines, which explains the method side of all the different paths.
Line Four of the Text
Line four is: “If you grasp at the view of ultimate reality, you haven’t got the right view.”
The fourth line deals with view. Even if relative Bodhicitta, the relative enlightenment-thought has arisen well within your mind, if one still has clinging to all things as reality, then one will fall into the error of the permanent and the impermanent. Therefore, one will fall into the extremes of existence and non-existence. Due to this, one will not be free from the sufferings of samsara. To really be free, it is very important to keep away from clinging to the belief that this life is real. The antidote for this deluded belief is concentration and insight-wisdom. Concentration is necessary because our minds are focused on distractions and outer objects. It is really important to do concentration meditations, because without proper concentration, one will not be able to attain insight-wisdom. Before one can meditate on insight-wisdom a strong base first must be built. The base for insight wisdom is concentration. Concentration should be done in a secluded place, away from distractions, sitting in full-lotus position, or half-lotus position. First, you do recite the refuge prayer and create the enlightenment thought. Then you should assume the full meditation position, sitting straight. One should concentrate first on any outer object, preferably an image of Buddha. In this way you are remembering the Buddha, which in itself has a tremendous amount of power. You visualize the Buddha’s image in front of you on a jewelled throne, golden colored with his right hand in the earth-touching mudra, and his left hand in his lap in the meditation position. He is wearing the full robes and sitting in the full-lotus position. Concentrate on this general image of the Buddha and the specific parts of the body as well. Or, you can meditate on some other Buddha form, like Buddha Amitabha or other deities. Try to concentrate on this. In the beginning, it will seem that you have many thoughts, but in fact this is actually what is happening all the time. Normally, since you follow your thoughts , you don’t notice it. In the meantime, when thoughts come, instead of going after the thoughts, you just concentrate. You turn back and concentrate on the image for a long period of time. As you develop, your thoughts will decrease, and you will be able to remain on the same object for a long period of time. Then, after a while, you will be able to concentrate on the image for a very long period of time. When that happens, it is a sign that your concentration is now strong enough to be able to meditate on insight-wisdom. Concentration alone will not do anything, apart from keeping away distractions. It will not take away the deep roots of the defilements.
To take away the deep root of the defilements, insight-wisdom is necessary. In Tibetan, the word for insight-wisdom is “lhag-tong” (lhag mthong). This means that, when you examine the outer and inner dharmas — the true nature of all things – through wisdom, then, you are able to see something completely different. Lhag means “extra” and tong is “to see.” So, it means to see something extraordinary. You see completely beyond existing and non-existing; you have completely gone beyond the two extremes. The concentration was method and the actual thing was insight-wisdom. When you managed to meditate on the insight-wisdom instead of concentrating on an outer object, you concentrate on the actual thing. Before one meditates, of course, it is necessary to explain a lot of things. First of all, all the different visions that we see, in other words, animate and inanimate — all the things that we see. Ordinary people don’t think, “Why do all these things appear?” or, “Why must we have these?” They simply just accept things as they are. A person with greater intelligence will try to concentrate on these ideas. Through their intelligence, they are able to examine the true nature of all things: For example, questions such as “why we are born like this”, or “why do we see all these different visions”, “why do people have different visions, why do people have different feelings”, and so forth.
In the past, when meditators examined these questions and tried to discover the true nature of all things, they all came to different conclusions. For example, that all of existence is created by Brahma or so forth and so on, according to the different schools of Indian philosophy. Briefly speaking, there are four different Buddhist schools: two of the Hinayana and two of the Mahayana. Beginning with the Hinayana schools, the first is the Sarvastivadins or Vaibahashikas. When they examined these questions, they came to the conclusion that everything that we see is not existing as we take it to be, but the atoms of these are existing. For instance, for them, a table is a relative truth. They assert that a table is made of huge numbers of atoms put together in a particular shape and named “table.” So the table is relative, because when you examine it, you don’t find “table” anywhere — it is just hundreds of atoms. But, when they examined the atom itself, the tiniest atom they could not divide anymore, they held it to existing absolutely. Thus, the belief of the Vaibhashika, or lowest Hinayana school, is that the table is relative truth and the atoms of the table are absolute truth.
Higher than this is the view of the Hinayana school called the Sautrantika. They think that all the outer visions are the same as held by the Sarvastivadins. In addition, they hold that the outer object, the organ of the eye, and the consciousness of the eye — these three things meet together. Then in the second moment, the eye, so to speak, takes a picture of that outer object. Finally, all you can see is the picture which has been taken by your mind. They held that as the truth.
Then, as thinking about these questions developed further in the Mahayana, there emerged two schools, the Vijnanavada and the Madhyamika. In the Vijnanavada, it is held that all this is not true — that all this is not existing outside, but is all our own projection: It is all projected by our mind. Everything is mind. Nobody has created what we perceive, only our own mind has created these things. For that reason, for sentient beings, a certain place is a very happy place, while for certain people, it is a very miserable place. So, it is all our own projection — there is nothing of the outer object — it is all projected (in other words, manifested) from our own mind. All this is the relative truth, but the mind exists absolutely.
Even higher than this view is the Madhyamika, which was founded by the great Guru, Nagarjuna. The Lord Buddha himself prophesied that after his passing away, there would be a bhikshu named Naga, and only he would be able to find the hidden meaning of all the Prajnaparamita Sutras. As Buddha prophesied, Nagarjuna came, and when he examined things, he could not find anything, because to hold that the mind itself is existing is not right: The mind is subject and things are object. Subject and object are depending on each other. If there is no object, there cannot be a subject. So the mind, also, is not existing. But, he accepts everything relatively — without examining things — the way ordinary people take them to be, as in the form of illusions. But in reality, the Madhyamikas’ view is that you cannot find any conclusion such as “Mind is existing.” He could not say anything. The true nature of everything is completely removed from the dual vision. For example, it is just like a dream. In th e dream, we see many happy things or we see many sufferings, but when you awake from your dream, you don’t find them anymore. All the things you saw in your dream are gone, and you don’t know where it came from and where it has gone or where it is staying. In the same way, the present vision is like a very long dream. Only this dream has very firm propensities, so therefore, we think of it in terms of being very real. In reality, all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas see that this is just like a dream. When you attain enlightenment, it is just like awakening from your dream. Therefore, all the visions that you see are just like reflections in a mirror. Until you have a real firm understanding, you should try to think that all things are not real. This is what we call the vision and the void seen non-dually. Relatively, with all the things that you see, the vision doesn’t cease — you can see all the time. When you try to examine with the sharp reasoning of absolute truth, then you cannot find anything which is independently existing. You should try to meditate until you attain a definite understanding of this. Finally, you mix together concentration and insight-wisdom, and try to think that all the things that were explained are realized as shunyata. In reality, there is no object “shunyata” and no subject “mind” which realized shunyata. The true nature of all things is completely merged, just as water is merged with water and completely becomes one. By doing meditation in this way, your mind will completely turn away from the clinging to the present vision as real and realize that this is all illusion. All these illusions will gradually turn away. And then, as you go on, you will be able to realize the real ultimate truth. By realizing the ultimate truth, then, of course, you depart from all the defilements and are awakened from all illusions.
At the off-time of meditation, due to your understanding of shunyata, you understand that sentient beings who do not realize this shunyata have to suffer a great deal. With that in mind, you are able to generate great compassion. Through the practice of great compassion and the understanding of shunyata, — “just as the bird in the sky needs two wings” –, with the method, compassion, and the wisdom (shunyata), one will be able to cross the suffering of samsara. One will be able to attain ultimate enlightenment. In the ultimate enlightenment, through wisdom you attain the dharmakaya, which accomplishes your tasks, and through the practice of compassion you will be able to liberate others. In that way , you attain the Rupakaya and benefit countless sentient beings forever. So with this, we have completed the whole four lines of the Zhenpa Zhidel.
The following Questions and Answers are related to this topic.
Q: How does a being become a deva? What is it in this lifetime that we do that brings about deva rebirth?
Sakya Trizin: The virtuous deeds like generosity and moral conduct, etc. The result of those is either to be born in a human life or the demi-gods’ or god’s realm. Especially, with a lot of concentration but without insight-wisdom, just the outer concentration in which your mind is very stable, one will be able to be born in the gods’ realm. Virtuous acts accompanied by wisdom and with the intention of bodhicitta will become the cause of enlightenment rather than the worldly path of the devas.
Q: Please explain the concept of karma and its relationship to cause and effect and merit.
Sakya Trizin: Actually the word karma means action or activities – the work that we undertake. The life we go through now, and all of its experiences, is the product of our own actions that we have taken in the past. Nobody can make us suffer. Nobody can make us happy. Only through the main cause that comes from our own actions will we be happy or suffer. The main cause is our own action. The actions that we’ve taken create the effect and the result.
Q: Are there factors that determine at what time during this or future lifetimes that the fruit of a person’s virtuous actions will manifest? What are the factors?
Sakya Trizin: It depends on the action itself. There are certain actions that will ripen in this life. When the object is strong, the action is strong, and the intention is strong, then the result ripens in this very lifetime. There are certain actions that ripen in this life after this lifetime, or even in several lifetimes later. The law of cause and effect is such a subtle thing that no ordinary person can fully explain it.
Q: Yesterday, you talked about suffering. In your life you endured much suffering. Your parents passed away when you were young, you were forced to flee from Tibet. Could you share with us how you used such events in your practice and what you’ve learned?
Sakya Trizin: To experience suffering is a great lesson. The teaching tells you about impermanence and suffering, but knowing it intellectually and experiencing it in real life is different. Books can tell you many things but experiencing what it is in real life helps you realize the practice. Makes the practice more meaningful, more profound, and more effective.