5 – The Thirty-Seven Practices of the Bodhisattvaby His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Bodhgaya 1974.
Lying refers to the very bad practice of completely deceiving others, cheating them. But if there is some special occasion when, say, life or the Dharma can be protected there is some excuse for not being fully open. Otherwise, we should always try to be truthful. Usually worldly people regard someone who tells lies as clever but this is a stupid form of cleverness. Next there is gossip, which creates trouble in society, and brings about discord between people. The utterance of one word can produce strife between two individuals or within a whole society. Such speech is therefore a very heavy unskillful deed. Gurus say that when you are in company, watch your speech; when alone, your mind. They also say that your way of uttering a single word can put you in a lower realm, so always watch your speech. Bad language, swearing at others and hurling abuse at them, is harmful to them. The Thirteenth Dalai Lama even made a practice of always calling people by their proper names rather by some impersonal form of address. Foolish speech refers to nonsense or meaningless chatter based on desire, attachment or hatred. Foul language, pornographic talk, swearing, aggressive speech can only bring about delusions in us. It is better to keep silent in such situations. In 1956 when the Chinese set up the autonomous Tibetan region, a party was held, attended by a Tibetan accountant. The group he was with was silent. Someone asked him to get a conversation going, and he said, “We all know each other very well, what is the point of talking?” I cannot understand how some people spend all their time in superficial, futile talk—that kind of person is a geshe of foolish speech. That should be abandoned. One should say what is meaningful, recite mantras, say prayers, but not waste time in idle talk. Such are the unskillful deeds of speech.
For the mind there are three unskillful deeds: greed, harmful thoughts, and wrong views. Greed is a mental attitude of always wanting things, your neighbor’s wristwatch, pen, jewels, and so on, looking out of the corner of your eye, thinking, “I’d like that!” When this happens, this furtiveness, it is a bad practice. Harmful thoughts refer to thinking of doing harm to someone else. Wrong views are a disbelief in reincarnation, karma and its fruit, or the Triple Gem. From killing to such thoughts, these are the ten non-virtuous deeds. Their abandonment is the equivalent of the ten virtuous deeds.
This is the first step into the Dharma. On this basis we develop gradually the right attitude of body, speech and mind. Adding generation of the will for bodhicitta, and other practices, will strengthen one’s development. And seeing and trying to develop awareness of the fact of impermanence, shunyata, the nature of suffering until gradually our understanding develops within us. This is why the true refuge, Dharma, can rescue us.
Dharma means to practice, attaining the goal within us. The Sangha is to provide us with an example, a pattern to follow. It is very encouraging for me that together with all the stories about the gurus of the past, one can see living beings who develop bodhicitta and shunyata, this is a great encouragement, fortifying our will. “If they can do it, why don’t I try too?” This is a great source of inspiration. Therefore the Sangha is an example to look up to, to guide us in our practice of the Dharma. Aryabodhisattvas are worthy examples, enormously beneficial and powerfully heroic in helping other sentient beings. So we should have the motivation now to follow in their footsteps and say, “I will become like them.” This should be our attitude towards the Sangha.
In brief, our attitude to the Buddha is that of the patient to the doctor, the Dharma is the medicine, and the Sangha is the nurse. The Buddha is the master guide, the Dharma is the true refuge, and the Sangha is a helpful friend. Therefore this way of refuge is the practice of a bodhisattva.
The eighth practice of the bodhisattva:
All the immensely unbearable suffering of the lower realms is taught by the Buddha to be the fruit of bad karma, so even at the risk of one’s life, never to commit an unskillful deed – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
As far as good karma is concerned, there are great actions by buddhas and bodhisattvas, so wonderful and powerful as to be beyond our comprehension. But on the negative side, there are many kinds of unendurable suffering, like those of the lower realms. All this suffering derives from the unskillful mind. There are a great variety of beings, all of them the productions of karma. For example, all the hells in the Abhidharma, whether exactly as described or not, are productions of karma. Even with visible beings, their variety, the shape and color of body, their way of living is so diverse that we can infer from this little world of human beings that anything can exists in the great variety of other worlds. The existence of all kinds of beings and sufferings elsewhere can be inferred from life in our own realm.
In the realm of spirits (Skt: pretas), the suffering experienced is mainly from hunger and thirst. Many gods who demand, say, the suffering of animals, belong to the preta realm. Such gods have a little power to benefit and to harm. The suffering of animals is obvious to us, look at a dog in Bodhgaya. The suffering of goats and sheep, which are slaughtered, is easy to see, they have no freedom to dispose of their lives. Animals do not harm us, do not owe us anything, they may just eat grass and drink water, but they are so simple, stupid, and ignorant, and actually human beings have no right to eat them. They are completely defenseless in the way their short lives are spent. The life of a pig, for example, is terrible. They suffer from human beings and other animals. Buffaloes, horses, mules and so on present a very dismal fate. For example, we have such facilities as schools and hospitals but for them there is nothing similar, even veterinary treatment is for our benefit rather than for theirs. In the case of an accident, for instance, a human being can go to a court for damages. But if an animal breaks a leg because of an accident, it may just be killed, there will be no court, no justice.
So the animal realm is bad enough, let alone the hells and pretas. We cannot be sure that we will not be reborn with a lower status. With the strong force of virtuous deeds, there is some guarantee, otherwise not. So unless there is purification and good actions to counteract bad actions and their seeds, with which there is some possibility of saving ourselves, there is, otherwise, no certainty. So we should beware of getting into one of these realms and ask ourselves whether we can bear such suffering and, if not, try to avoid it. If a method to do this exists we should practice it from now on, seizing this opportunity immediately.
Therefore we should take refuge, abandon the ten bad actions, practice good actions, and recite mantras as much as possible, do all the good that we can. Prostrations, mantras, circumambulation, every possible means should be used. So much then for karma and its fruit. As the text says, the Buddha has taught that all suffering comes from unskillful deeds, and the Buddha only teaches truth. By trusting in this and realizing it, we should, even at the cost of our lives, abandon unskillful actions. Up to this point the path for the man of smallest scope has been explained. What follows concerns the man of medium scope.
The ninth practice of the bodhisattva:
The happiness of the three worlds is like dew on the tip of a blade of grass. It tends to be destroyed in an instant, so seek the supreme stage of nirvana, which is never changing – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
Samsara has many kinds of seeming perfections, but in fact they are as ephemeral as dew on a blade of grass, there at one moment, gone the next, easily perishable. What is the state of permanent, unchanging happiness? Nirvana. Not to cling or grasp at unsubstantial, temporary happiness, but to seek permanent happiness, this is a practice of the bodhisattva.
As previously explained, even if we are free from the unbearable suffering of the lower realms, we still do not have real freedom and happiness without freedom from samsara. Human life is relatively free and happy, compared with other realms, but still does not give us complete confidence. It is insecure, we do not know where we are going from here. So unless we have complete freedom from samsara, temporary freedom from the suffering of the lower realms is not completely reassuring.
Also our present situation is fraught with suffering. At first human life is completely essenceless. For the first weeks of the nine months in the womb, there is nothing unpleasant, but then suffering comes. It is discomfort which causes the embryo to move, not happiness. From the earliest time in the womb, therefore, our suffering begins. Only we are so ignorant at that time, and cannot therefore discriminate. Therefore suffering is inevitable. From emergence from the womb until the first words, our state is like a worm’s, and the suffering and discomfort are still there.
So this is how life begins. So we go on to old age and the suffering of death. Death is something no one wants, people ask for prayers for a long, trouble -free life. And in one’s own case, one takes care of oneself. One eats the right food to avoid illness, because of the fear of death. One seeks health to avoid death. But whatever temporal means we engage in, the end is always the same thing: suffering. The last day of living in this world is like an old tree falling down. Usually, however strong and supple the body has been, it falls like the trunk of a tree. Before we die, we lose all control, which causes suffering, with people fussing around us in a hospital. With surgery it is even worse, the body being taken apart. Parts of it are taken out and replaced with artificial substitutes. The replacement of limbs, even of the heart, is tried. Yet, in any case, this life ends, like the dream of a single night. Then, our companions, relatives and friends, however lovable and kind, we must leave forever, leaving our body, everything, behind.
This separation is not like having one’s family in Tibet, in such case there is still hope, but this is separation forever. We are completely helpless, and there is nothing that can be done about it at such a time. For example, there are in my case many disciples, Tibetans, who would sacrifice their lives for me. But when death comes this will make no difference, I will have to go alone. As it says in the scripture, “The king leaving his kingdom, the beggar his stick.” All that people have left to do is to make a last will and testament, but the tongue is already weak. One wishes to say something but is unable to, which causes more suffering. The people around can only offer their hands, tears in their eyes, they are helpless. If one is religious, on could give blessings, but there is no strength left to say them. In the course of our lives we may have eaten lots of different kinds of food, complained about the cooking, scolded others because it has been too hot or too cold. Usually we are very difficult in this way, but at the end of our life we cannot even receive a blessing. People may pour out water for us, people may offer prayers. Others may pry into secret places, seeking out things kept secret. Sometimes relics are put in the mouth, but in most cases in the mouth of a corpse. It’s true.
However happy a life has been, in the end the breath gets shorter and shorter until it becomes gasping, growing weaker and weaker. There is a final exhalation and then life ends. Nowadays people are given oxygen, but if its one’s karmic end, nothing can be changed. Nothing can be done to help. Even though surrounded by doctors, nothing can help, only the guru and the Triple Gem. Or one’s usual deity and the power of one’s virtuous actions, only these can bring relief. It is then that we reach total helplessness, with no protection left.
This is the suffering of death which none of us want. Therefore, life begins and ends with suffering. The peak of our life is reached between the twenties and the thirties, when health and good looks are at their best, and we are active in every way. Even then there is always suffering, for the student, for example, because of his exams. Then with marriage, a couple may hope for a child and remain childless, which entails more suffering. Others may have too many children, and this also causes suffering and worries. It is the same thing with money. “How shall I get through the next year? How can I support my family?” And even when one has money, “What shall I do with is, lend it out or what? Shall I put it in the bank? But then the interest is very low!” So one tries going into business and cannot find a trustworthy person, and performs a puja in the hope of successful business. And instead of getting benefit from money one becomes its slave. Then one may want a pretty wife, with the nice kind of right character. Either one doesn’t find her, or one does and one worries about keeping her, doesn’t want to lose her. With a job, one is afraid of losing it. Without a job one suffers too. When alone, one suffers. But with company, there is suffering too. So in this short spell of life there is not much chance for happiness.
It is in trouble like this that life is spent. If you look deeply you find that this is so. Life has no substance. Human birth then has no meaning, we live like a caretaker in a house, or are a slave to possessions, in this way life is spent. If we have a big house, if we cannot live fully within it, we look like a caretaker. It is the same thing with all the luxuries—if food does not enable us to live well, it serves only to produce excrement. Yet if we commit suicide, it will just lead to another rebirth not of our choice. Therefore what we should do is to completely break this cycle of rebirth. Then all the suffering resulting from birth can be done away with.
So all the suffering in this life comes from taking birth. That birth is produced by karma, and therefore the issue is to stop the production of karma. Birth will be eliminated by the stopping of karma, and karma stopped by the ending of delusion. When these two are eliminated nirvana is attained, a permanent state of liberation. But then we should not make the mistake of assuming that nirvana is the end of our existence, as many Western books say. We continue to exist, but free from delusions and ignorance. Thus we reach true happiness, gain full independence and freedom within, all the karmic delusions gone. Therefore we should investigate and analyze in order to see that such a state is attainable, to see whether delusions can be avoided and particularly the self-grasping delusions, where the concept of the “I” starts. It is from the concept of the strong “I” that desire, hatred and attachment arise. We must therefore analyze the root. We must use the tenets of Mahdhyamaka to dispel ignorance, to see what the true nature of existence is, how it can be mistaken.
We must analyze the actual way of existing and how we understand this. We must study all those points and then acquire certainty and get the flavor of nirvana. If we attain such a stage of moksha we attain liberation. Otherwise there is the suffering of samsara. Therefore I must do my utmost to attain the bliss of nirvana. This is a practice of the bodhisattva of the medium scope.
For example, we can sacrifice our temporary happiness, the worldly happiness of this life, for the attainment and permanent happiness of nirvana. Not because worldly happiness is unpleasant, but because compared with its sacrifice for nirvana, its pleasures are trivial and unimportant. In the practice of Dharma, therefore, we sacrifice the lesser happiness for nirvana. This is reasonable enough, for the two cannot in fact be compared. In the same way, for the happiness of other sentient beings we sacrifice our own. This is well worth the effort. It is a general fact that to forego the lesser for the greater good is always right. In the same way that we forego our worldly happiness for nirvana we forego our own happiness for that of others.
The tenth practice of the bodhisattva:
From the time immemorial we have been cared for by others with motherly love. If they remain in samsaric suffering how cruel just to free ourselves! To save them and other countless beings, produce bodhicitta, the wish for buddhahood – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
If, therefore, those who have shown me love from time immemorial, if these mothers remain in suffering, what is the use of one’s own happiness? If all the sentient beings related to us since time immemorial in our samsaric existence, if all these mothers who have taken care of us with love and kindness remain in the suffering of samsara, and if we seek to liberate only ourselves, this is a very wrong and wicked attitude. If we alone attain peace and happiness, liberation, there is nothing in this to be glad about, we should even feel ashamed. For, as I have already said, all sentient beings, from the merely instinctive to the most intelligent, share the same dislike of suffering and the same search for happiness. We owe a great debt to other sentient beings for their kindness. We depend on sentient beings for our happiness in all the stages of samsara. In gathering here today, our happiness is due to the goodwill of many sentient beings. In order to come we depend on train drivers, people who give information, provide accommodation, supply electricity, even those who first made or discovered these things, and this despite the strikes and even the difficulties over petrol! So even this event depends on many helping hands. Due to the goodwill and efforts of many human beings it is possible for me not to shout and for you to hear me from a distance.
We live only by depending on a countless number of beings. The practice of Dharma is also made possible by this. The practice of bodhicitta also depends on sentient beings who are its objects. Even in this life our eating, drinking, clothing, housing, reputation, and livelihood depend on other sentient beings. Not only this life, but our past and future lives in samsara depend on them. So, directly and indirectly, sentient beings are very beneficial and helpful to us.
A doubt may however sometimes arise when it seems to us that only our relatives and friends show kindness towards us and that is only to them that we should return kindness, others not being benevolent in their attitude towards us. Yet if we see animals being killed or tortured, compassion arises in us, even though the animal was not a close friend of ours. To feel compassion for a being in a painful situation is both normal and naturally right. Therefore, just because we do not know a human being, it is wrong to feel nothing for him. Compassion is natural.
A second doubt may then arise: while understanding why we should not abandon our friends or be indifferent to persons unknown to us, why should we have the same attitude towards enemies, towards those who harm us. But in fact through their enmity our enemies show a special kind of kindness towards us, which greatly benefits us. For our practice of Dharma, and especially Mahayana practice and progress towards bodhicitta, is based essentially on love and compassion. It will be accomplished by subduing the opposite of love and compassion, namely hatred, which is the worst form of delusion towards others. Hatred is even worse than desire, which is immediately harmful to our personality. Hatred is the primary and most harmful delusion both for oneself and for others.
Hatred can be overcome by the power of its antidote, patience. Where there is great patience, hatred cannot arise, but without the power of patience we are conquered by the delusion of hatred.
We should be patient first with minor suffering and difficulties and then go on until we are patient with our worst, most harmful enemy. Therefore only our enemies and those who harm us teach us and train us in patience. Not even the teaching of the Dharma or of a guru can teach us such patience. Neither can the most loving parents, since though they may be very angry with us for a time they usually remain kind. Our enemy therefore is our only teacher in this way. He may harm us physically and mentally and according to the law we have a right to retaliate. But if we practice patience with him, such patience becomes a pure and real force in us. This is the kind of patience which will help us on the road to bodhicitta and which gives us the strong encouragement needed to accept responsibility for all sentient beings. In samsaric existence, when circumstances are unfavorable, even our sense of responsibility for our closest friends and relatives can falter and is therefore somewhat artificial. And so for someone who practices patience and wishes to develop bodhicitta qualities, a real enemy is the best master who provides us with essential training.
Therefore, as it is said in the Eight Verses on the Training of the Mind, “When someone I have benefited and placed great hope in hurts me very much, may I regard him as my supreme guru.” When we have understood this very difficult matter, that with every right to revenge, we must realize the kindness of our enemy and return kindness, then there is no problem. Then we realize there is no sentient being we can abandon. When we see this fact, we see that searching only for our own liberation is very selfish and wicked. It contradicts not only Dharma but also even from the point of view of having a good worldly character it is wrong. Whether a person believes in reincarnation or not, if in his life he sacrifices himself for other sentient beings, this is a glorious human life. Even if one does not believe in reincarnation and Dharma fruit, if life is spent in helping others, this is the special quality of a human being. When his life ends, this will help him for the future. Just to talk of karma and its fruit, of reincarnation, can be self-cherishing, will not produce a noble mind, and will not help one in the future. Practice is important, not talk. To live virtuously is essential for the religious and the nonreligious person.
The aims of a noble mind and right living are indispensable. Tibetans have the reputation of being patient and easygoing. I believe this is due to the influence of Mahayanadharma in our country. We know how to put up with our difficulties. It is a great and good thing, a sign of Mahayana Dharma, that everyone prays habitually for mother sentient beings. Even if nomad robbers do many bad deeds, they still pray for all such beings. I see in this a sign of the influence of bodhicitta and Mahayana Dharma over people’s minds. Where there is no practice of bodhicitta or even a temple, we can still hear these prayers being uttered in nomads’ homes. To have a noble mind is another sign of Mahayana. When the great guru Atisha met people, he used to ask them, “Do you have a noble mind?” And his last words were, “Have a noble mind!” Dromtönpa, his great disciple, lay dying, with his head in the lap of a grief stricken disciple, who wept. His tears fell on the face of his guru, who opened his eyes wide and said, “There is nothing to be sad about, practice bodhicitta and have a noble mind.” Many gurus say this, showing that it is of the essence of the Dharma. When Tsongkhapa passed away, he took his hat off just before he died, threw it at one of his disciples, gazed intently at him and said, “Have a noble mind.” Passing the message on, this is the essence of Dharma.
All great Mahayana gurus have had as a principal practice the development of a noble mind and have emphasized to others the need to obtain one. For example, as we are supposed to follow the bodhicitta path. I try my best to develop a noble mind. Now, men from Amdo have a reputation for being fierce and temperamental, but because I have heard the phrase so many times I think a little progress has taken place in me. In the same way, everyone must make a little progress. Even the Khampas who cry “Kihihi,” as they are about to fight will progress if they make an effort! So the flavor of Mahayana Dharma helps us to move towards bodhicitta. If full bodhicitta is developed in one it gives great peace of mind, but even a glimpse of it brings about a great change and broadens our mind. Therefore we must train our mind and attitudes so that they are beneficial to others. One essential reason for this is our relatedness to them, and the fact that they have the same right to be free from suffering and to obtain happiness as ourselves.
In the Bodhicaryavatara it says, “Since oneself and others share the same wish for happiness why do we endeavor only to obtain our own happiness?” It is the same with suffering. We want to avoid it and obtain happiness. So why then be concerned only with our personal happiness and suffering? We must try to eliminate suffering for others as well as ourselves. The same is true of achieving happiness. To quote Nagarjuna, “We exist here to be used by others. We must develop our mind in order to be a servant to others, to be used by them, like wood, water, fire.”
If we can develop in this way we are taking advantage of our existence, and making it fruitful and glorious. If we live taking responsibilities for others, this is a heroic endeavor. Taking responsibility for ourselves is essentially living like cattle. When they are hungry, they try to avoid suffering, when they are thirsty, they seek water. This is neither glorious nor a special endeavor. So we must try to develop bodhicitta, as emphasized by all the sūtras, and to take responsibilities for others. We see the need for this but ask, “How we are to take responsibility for them?” For example, although I have a strong motivation to help others, my ability may be very limited. Like an armless mother who sees her son is drowning—despite her great love she cannot do much. In the same way our motive may be strong, but our resources poor. As the prayer of the First Dalai Lama says: “May I never be concerned about my own wellbeing but about that of others, and be endowed with the right abilities, such as insight, foresight, wise speech, power, all the abilities for helping others.” If we lack these abilities our motive cannot be carried through in practice.
For example, many of you ask me for prayers and place in me trust, pure devotion, and hope. Since I am still subject to delusion and to karma, I can only say, “Please take care and practice well.” Also, what I say about method, the path, and stages, is guidance, perhaps this will help you to arrive somewhere. For myself, I have not completed the path. To be able to help other sentient beings, we must ourselves have traveled over the path we show them. Without having done this it is difficult to help in a deep way. The reason why I take myself as an example is that it is the only one I know.
Your capacities are unknown to me because I have not overcome the obstacle of ignorance concerning your knowledge and receptivity.
You may ask what is the status of my teaching in relation to all the omniscient buddhas with all the abilities. All of us here have, in many ways, a karmic link from the past, the force of merit from the past. Repeatedly we see this from the buddhas’ lives. Therefore there is a special karmic relationship in our meeting due to the effect of many past causes. Hidden in its nature there is a strong karmic relationship from many previous lives. If, in the future, therefore, I attain buddhahood, there would be a greater possibility of helping others. The longer the relationship, the greater help buddhahood would provide. We need to achieve buddhahood therefore as soon as possible to help those with whom we have special relationships and to whom we can be more useful than other buddhas. The karmic link in samsara is important, otherwise on might think, “There are so many buddhas, who can I turn to?”
It becomes clear to us that it is indispensable to take responsibilities for other sentient beings, and we must therefore reach buddhahood for their benefit and in order to acquire a full ability to help them effortlessly and spontaneously. For example, if my standard is higher than it is now I shall be able to help you much more than I do now, looking to me as you do with hope and devotion. Otherwise although you have devotion, if, from my side, the necessary qualities are lacking, I cannot respond properly to your wishes. If I attain buddhahood I can help effortlessly and spontaneously, then all the abilities are obtained and ready to operate once contact with sentient beings, which depends on them, is established. For unless we reach buddhahood, even at the tenth bodhisattva stage, there comes a limit. To help completely, buddhahood is essential. Therefore, when one wishes to attain buddhahood solely for the benefit of others, this is bodhicitta. There are therefore two intentions: 1) the wish to help other sentient beings; 2) to achieve buddhahood for this. The state of mind of bodhicitta is brought about by these two intentions.
If such a state of mind remains constantly in us, our bodhicitta powers will be developed. Passing inclinations or sentimental feelings are not serious, we must be constant. At first the right state of mind is short-lived, but through growing familiarity, it becomes the nature of mind— bodhicitta—to achieve buddhahood as quickly as possible. “Since infinite time our mothers have shown us kindness, if they remain in a state of suffering, what is the use of obtaining our happiness? Therefore for the purpose of liberating countless sentient beings, to generate bodhicitta, the enlightened mind, is the practice of the sons of the Victorious One.” To generate such a mind and, when generated to develop it, this is the essence of bodhisattva practice.
The eleventh practice of the bodhisattva:
All suffering comes from the desire for the happiness of oneself. Supreme buddhahood arises from a mind that benefits others. Therefore, exchange perfectly one’s own happiness for the sufferings of others – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
And as the Bodhicaryavatara says, “All the happiness of the world comes from wishing for the happiness of others,” and “There is no need to explain further. Look at the fact that a child is concerned with is own happiness and that the Buddha is concerned with the happiness of others.” So wishing for the happiness of others is the root of every virtuous quality, wishing for one’s own happiness the root of every bad quality, of all wrong views. “Holding oneself dear is the door to every downfall. Holding others dear is the ground of every quality. Therefore what we should now do is to stop cherishing ourselves, which has done us no good. And we shall abandon the attitude of ignoring others, which is simply harmful”.
As we have the precious opportunity of receiving the Buddha’s teaching, passed on to us also by such teachers as Manjushri, Nagarjuna, Shantideva, let us do our utmost to practice the attitude of holding others dear, and forsake egoism as much as possible. To give energy to this we must practice taking upon ourselves the suffering of others and giving our happiness to them. Reflect on the suffering of all sentient beings, visualize them suffering and then think of taking on their suffering while breathing in. Then think of all the happiness you have and all the accumulated merit and give it to others while breathing out. As the Guru Puja says, “Oh venerable and most compassionate guru, bestow your blessing on me so that all the unskillful deeds and sufferings of all sentient beings may culminate on myself, and by giving all my happiness and merit to others may all beings be endowed with happiness.”
Thus we should practice “taking and giving.” If we train our mind in this way and “exchange ourselves” even temporarily, this will bring us peace of mind. Otherwise cherishing oneself will not bring bodhicitta, or peace of mind, nothing but worries about oneself. If we do not exchange our happiness for the suffering of others we will not attain buddhahood and not even happiness in samsara. So we must practice.
The Last Day Of The Teaching
Our life up to this day is over. It is over whether we have lived beneficially or whether we have wasted our days. Work badly done can be redone, but not so the life of man. We have wasted time in childhood but since we have been born as human beings this could not be otherwise. But since our adult intelligence has developed it is as though time wasted has been deliberately wasted.
For those, therefore, who have wasted life or spent it in futile ways, there is only the opposing power of repentance, saying purifying mantras, making prostrations, and above all the two best methods, meditation on shunyata, and the development of bodhicitta.
We must also be able to review and enumerate our unskillful actions. In directing our attention to them we must realize in ourselves the error committed and that even though we have had every opportunity for receiving Dharma, and guidance from the Buddha and gurus, we have still acted in contradiction to them. With our eyes wide open we have walked off the edge of the cliff and deliberately produced suffering for ourselves. What is done cannot be undone, but there are still the ways taught by the Buddha for countering our mistakes. There are the four opponent powers: repentance, taking refuge in the Triple Gem—placing one’s trust in the Buddha, his teaching and the monkhood—and developing bodhicitta, increasing the power of repentance by reviewing one’s faults—classifying them by body, speech and mind, natural faults contrary to the ten virtuous actions, infringements of rules of ordination and vows, whether vinaya, bodhisattva or tantric vows.
We should keep in mind the thought that in view of our possibilities we have lived worse than most worldly beings. So it is right, as Milarepa did, to stress the importance of confession and repentance as a purifying force, enabling us to stop committing further bad actions in the future. Without repentance, a decision to be good in the future is unreliable. And to repent strongly we must realize the wrong qualities of unskillful deeds. For this we must be convinced of the law of karma and its fruits. For the future we must make a strong decision about how to live, whether it be tomorrow or the next sixty years. We must spend this life preciously, virtuously, without infringing the Dharma, the wish of the Buddha. Let us never waste our future life, and pray strongly to spend life fruitfully. The past is over and done with, what remains is to take good care in the future, to be receptive to Dharma, as we have this great advantage.
In order to practice Dharma, we must first know and understand it which means we must learn it. This is, I presume, your motive for being here. To make life fruitful we must develop bodhicitta, train our minds to see future life as more important than ourselves. Food, apparel, fame, all must be sacrificed for others. We must use body, speech, and mind for others as much as we are able. If we can develop in this way, our life can be used preciously. To be able to do so let us hear and practice this teaching of the Thirty-seven Practices of the Bodhisattva, which I shall now briefly recapitulate:
The first practice of the bodhisattva:
To listen, learn, contemplate, and meditate on Mahayana.
The second practice of the bodhisattva:
To assist this, to leave the “active” world, one’s home.
The third practice of the bodhisattva:
To seek and live in solitude, though this is wrong if we still remain attached to the world.
The fourth practice of the bodhisattva:
To develop our mind.
The fifth practice of the bodhisattva:
To abandon false friends.
The sixth practice of the bodhisattva:
To follow a guru.
The seventh practice of the bodhisattva:
To practice the Dharma and take refuge in the Triple Gem.
Taking refuge usually refers to the causal refuge, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha representing the monkhood. Taking refuge in the fruit Triple Gem is to take refuge in our strong will to achieve buddhahood, to realize the Dharma in practice. But taking refuge is not enough. We must also follow the relevant precepts. Neither is it right to take refuge now in the Buddha, now somewhere else, this is a dispersion of effort. We should also show respect for the images of the Buddha, making a business out of them may seem profitable now but it is piling up harm. It is the same with the reprinting of old scriptures. Selling at cost, or using the proceeds for reprinting is the best way. In other words we must put the Dharma into practice, there is a real reason for doing so.
One can ask for help from a spirit but should not indulge in idolatry. And the way of taking refuge in the Dharma is important, it should not involve any ill will toward others. We must also be very attentive to the scriptures, taking care of them physically. Especially monks who always have them on hand can be careless about them. Lack of respect is one of the . . . . [Transcript missing page 68]
As has been said by Tsongkhapa, “Although we have samsaric pleasures, they are the open door to suffering until we reach nirvana. The unreliable perfection of samsara leads to suffering, because we take pleasure and are never satisfied. By seeing these errors, bless me so that a will for seeking the happiness of nirvana arises in me.” The worst suffering in samsara is never to be satisfied, however much we take from it, however many pleasures we obtain. By its nature, moreover, samsara is completely unreliable. There is no certainty about our fame, wealth, or reputation. There is no certainty even about our friends or enemies, and even our bodily existence is unreliable. If we have a companion with us throughout samsara, this offers us more hope, but there isn’t even such a companion. We have to make the journey alone, another very bad quality of samsara. There are countless bad qualities of samsara but in the lam-rim they are classified into six main groups. Once birth is taken in samsara, all these bad qualities ensue, the worst being taking rebirth again and again.