Whatever joy there is in these world,
all comes from desiring others to be happy.
And whatever suffering there is in this world,
all comes from desiring myself to be happy.
- Shantideva -
What is Meditation?
Meditation is the mind that concentrates on a virtuous object, and which is the main cause of mental peace. The practice of meditation is a method for acquainting our mind with virtue. The more familiar our mind is with virtue, the calmer and more peaceful it becomes. When our mind is peaceful, we are free from worries and mental discomfort, and we experience true happiness. If we train our mind to become peaceful we shall be happy all the time, even in the most adverse conditions; but if our mind is not peaceful, then even if we have the most pleasant external conditions we shall nor me happy. Therefore, it is important to train our mind through meditation.
Whenever we meditate, we are performing an action that causes us to experience inner peace in the future. A virtuous object is one that causes us to develop a peaceful mind when we concentrate on it.
There are two types of meditation: analytical meditation and placement meditation. Analytical meditation involves contemplating the meaning of a spiritual instruction that we have heard or read. By contemplating such instruction deeply, eventually we reach a definite conclusion or cause a specific virtuous state of mind to arise. This is the object of placement meditation. We then concentrate single-pointedly on this conclusion or virtuous state of mind for as long as possible to become deeply acquainted with it. This single-pointed meditation is placement meditation. Often, analytical meditation is called “contemplation” and placement meditation is called “meditation”. Placement meditation depends upon analytical meditation, and analytical meditation depends upon listening to or reading spiritual instructions.
At the beginning, even if our meditation does not seem to be going well, we should remember that simply by applying effort to training in meditation, we are creating the mental karma to experience inner peace in the future. The peace of this life and of our future lives depends upon the experience of inner peace, which in turn depends upon the mental actions of meditation. Since inner peace is the source of all happiness, we can see how important meditation is.
How to meditate
Each of the twenty-one meditation practices has five parts: preparation, contemplation, meditation, dedication, and subsequent practice. The instructions that explain these twenty-one meditation practices are called the “stages of the path”, or “Lamrim”. The realizations of these meditations are the actual spiritual paths that lead us to the great liberation of full enlightenment.
The first part, the preparatory practices, prepare us for successful meditation by purifying hindrances caused by our previous negative actions, by accumulating merit (or good fortune), and by enabling us to receive the blessings of enlightened beings. The preparatory practices are very important if we wish to gain deep experience of these meditations. For this purpose, we begin our meditation with Prayers for Meditation.
The purpose of the second part, contemplation, or analytical meditation, is to bring the mind to the object of meditation. We do this by considering various lines of reasoning, contemplating analogies, and reflecting on the meaning of the instructions. It is helpful to memorize the contemplations given in each section so that we can meditate without having to look at the text. The contemplations given here are intended only as guidelines. We should supplement and enrich them with whatever reasons and examples we find helpful.
When, through our contemplations, the object appears clearly, we leave our analytical meditation and concentrate on the object single-pointedly. This single-pointedly concentration is the third part, the actual meditation.
When we first start to meditate, our concentration is poor; we are easily distracted and often lose our object of meditation. Therefore, to begin with, we shall probably need to alternate between contemplation and meditation many times in each session. For example, if we are meditating on compassion, we begin by contemplating the various sufferings experienced by living beings until a strong feeling of compassion arises in our heart. When this feeling arises, we meditate on it single-pointedly. If the feeling fades, or if our mind wanders to another object, we should return to analytical meditation to bring the feeling back to mind. When the feeling of compassion has been restored, we once again leave our analytical meditation and hold the feeling with single-pointedly concentration.
Both contemplation and meditation serve to acquaint our mind with virtuous objects. The more familiar we are with such objects, the more peaceful our mind becomes. By training in meditation, and living accordance with the insights and resolutions developed during meditation, eventually we shall be able to maintain a peaceful mind continuously, throughout our life.
At the end of each session, we dedicate the merit produced by our meditation toward the attainment of enlightenment. If merit is no dedicated, it can easily be destroyed by anger. By reciting the dedication prayers sincerely at the end of each meditation session, we ensure that the merit we created by meditating is not wasted but acts as a cause of enlightenment.
The fifth part of each meditation practice is the subsequent practice. This consist of advice on how to integrate the meditation into our daily life. It is important to remember that Dharma practice is not confined to our activities during the meditation session; it should permeate our whole life. The success of our meditation depends upon the purity of our conduct outside the meditation session. We should keep a watch over our minds at all times by applying mindfulness, alertness, and conscientiousness; and we should try to abandon whatever bad habits we may have. Deep experience of Dharma is the result of practical training over a long period of time, both in and out of meditation. Therefore, we should practice steadily and gently, without being in a hurry to see results.
Lamrin instructions are not given merely for the sake of intellectual understanding of the path to enlightenment. They are given to help us to gain deep experience, and should therefore be put into practice. If we train our mind in these meditations every day, eventually we shall gain perfect realizations of all the stages of the path.
If we genuinely wish to gain experience of the stages of the path, we should try to meditate every day until we complete the whole cycle in twenty-one days. Then we can begin again. Between sessions, e should try to remain mindful of the instructions on subsequent practice.
Cleaning the environment
Before we sit down to meditate, it is helpful to make sure that the place where we meditate is clean. A clean environment makes the mind clear and fresh. Moreover, during the preparatory practices we invite the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and other holy beings to come to our room and, as a sign of respect, we ensure that our room is clean and tidy beforehand.
Setting up a shrine
If possible, we should set up a shrine with representations of Buddha’s body, speech, and mind. To represent Buddha’s body, we place a statue or picture of Buddha in the centre of the shrine. To its right we place a Dharma text, representing Buddha’s speech, ant to its left we place a stupa, or a picture representing Buddha’s mind. Remembering that Buddha’s omniscient mind actually enters into these objects, we should feel that we are actually in the presence of the living Buddha and make prostrations and offerings accordingly.
The meditation posture
When these preparations are completed, we can sit down to meditate. If possible, we should sit in the vajra posture, but, if we are unfamiliar with this, we can sit in any posture that is comfortable. The most important thing is to have a straight back so that the subtle energy winds in our body can flow freely and keep our mind alert. Our hands should rest with the palms open and facing upwards, the right hand above the left, and the two thumbs gently touching.
Calming the mind
Before beginning the actual preparatory prayers, we should calm our mind by doing breathing meditation. Breathing naturally, we try to concentrate on our breath without being distracted by conceptual thoughts. As we breathe out, we imagine that we exhale all our negativities, obstacles, and distracting thoughts. As we breathe in, we imagine that we inhale the blessings of all the holly beings in the form of pure air and white light. We continue with this meditation for a few minutes, or until our mind is calm and peaceful.
OUR PRECIOUS HUMAN LIFE
The purpose of this meditation is to encourage ourselves to practice Dharma. Dharma instructions teach us how to make ourselves and others happy, how to control delusions –specially our self-grasping, the root of all sufferings – and how to begin, make progress on, and complete the path to enlightenment, and are therefore important for everyone. If we put these teachings into practice, we can permanently cure the inner sickness of our delusions and all suffering, and achieve everlasting happiness. Therefore we need to encourage ourselves to practice Dharma and not waste our human life in meaningless activities. If we do not encourage ourselves, no one will do this for us.
Our human life is precious, rare, and immensely meaningful. Due to their previous deluded views that denied the value of spiritual practice, those who have taken rebirth as animals, for example, now have no opportunity to understand or practice Dharma. Since it is impossible for them to listen to, contemplate, and meditate on Dharma, their present animal rebirth itself is an obstacle. Only human beings are free from such obstacles and have all the necessary conditions for engaging in spiritual paths, which alone lead to everlasting happiness. This combination of freedom and possession of necessary conditions is the special characteristic that makes our human life so precious.
Millions of human beings are not able to listen to Buddha spiritual instructions because they live in a country where religious practices is not tolerated. Many are holding wrong views that are obstacles to attain liberation. Others are mentally or physically disable to receive teachings, and others suffers from extreme poverty and misery, are victims of natural disasters, or live in a country under war. With this understanding we contemplate: “How fortunate I am to be free from these limitations and, therefore, I must not waste this precious opportunity to practice Dharma and attain liberation.”
If we use our human life to accomplish spiritual realizations, it becomes immensely meaningful. By using it in this way, we use our full potential and enter the path to enlightenment and gain the power to benefit all living beings without exception.
Having repeatedly contemplated these points, we make the strong determination: ”I must practice Dharma.” This determination is the object of our meditation. We then hold this without forgetting it; our mind should remain on this determination single-pointedly for as long as possible.
We dedicate de virtuous accumulated from this meditation practice towards the realization of the preciousness of our human life and attainment of enlightenment for the happiness of all living beings.
During the meditation break, we try never to forget our determination to practice Dharma. Especially we should put all the instructions into practice and integrate them into our daily life.
DEATH AND IMPERMANENCE
The purpose of this meditation is to eliminate the laziness of attachment, the main obstacle to practicing Dharma purely. Because our desire for worldly enjoyment is so strong, we have little or no interest in spiritual practice. Form a spiritual point if view, this lack of interest in spiritual practice is a type of laziness called “laziness of attachment”. For as long as we have this laziness, the door to liberation will be closed to us, and consequently we shall continue to experience misery in this life and endless suffering in life after life. The way to overcome this laziness is to meditate on death.
We need to contemplate and meditate on our death again and again until we gain a deep realization of death. Although on a intellectual level we all know that eventually we are going to die, our awareness of death remains superficial. Since our intellectual knowledge of death does not touch our hearts, each and every day we continue to think “I shall not die today, I shall not die today.” Even on the day of our death, we are still thinking about what we shall do tomorrow or next week. This mind that thinks every day, “I shall not die today”, is deceptive –it leads us in the wrong direction and causes our human life to become empty. On the other hand, through meditating on death we shall gradually replace the deceptive thought, “I shall not die today”, with the non-deceptive thought, “I may die today”. The mind that spontaneously thinks each and every day, “I may die today”, is the realization of death. It is this realization that directly eliminates our laziness of attachment and opens the door to the spiritual path.
In general, we may die today or we may not die today –we do not know. However, if we think each day, “I may not die today”, this thought will deceive us because it comes from our ignorance; whereas if instead we think each day, “I may die today”, this thought will not deceive us because it comes from our wisdom. This beneficial thought will prevent out laziness of attachment, and will encourage us to prepare for the welfare of our countless future lives or to put great effort into entering the path to liberation. In this way, we shall make our human life meaningful.
I shall definitely die. There is no way to prevent my body from finally decaying. Day by day, moment by moment, my life is slipping away. I have no idea when I shall die; the time of death is completely uncertain. Many young people die before their parents, some die the moment they are born –there is no certainty in this world. Furthermore, there are so many causes of untimely death. The lives of many strong and healthy people are destroyed by accidents. There is no guarantee that I shall not die today.
Having repeatedly contemplated these points, we mentally repeat over and over again, “I may die today, I may die today”, and concentrate on the feeling it evokes. Eventually we shall come to a conclusion: “Since I shall soon have to depart from this world, there is no sense in my becoming attached to the things of this life. Instead, I will devote my whole life to the practice of Dharma.” This determination is the object of our meditation. We then hold this without forgetting it; our mind should remain on this determination single-pointedly for as long as possible.
We dedicate the virtuous accumulated from this meditation practice towards our realization of death and the attainment of enlightenment for the happiness of all living beings.
During the meditation break, we try to practice Dharma without laziness. Realizing that worldly pleasures are deceptive, and that they distract us from using our life in a meaningful way, we should abandon attachment to them. In this way, we can eliminate the main obstacle to pure Dharma practice.
THE DANGER OF LOWER REBIRTH
The purpose of this meditation is to encourage us to seek protection from the dangers of lower rebirth. If we do not prepare for protection from lower rebirth now, while we have a human life with its freedoms and endowments, once we have taken any of the three lower rebirths it will be extremely difficult to obtain a precious human life again. It is said to be easier for human beings to attain enlightenment than it is for beings in the lower realms, such animals, to attain a human rebirth. This meditation encourage us to abandon not-virtue, to practice virtue, and to go for refuge to the holy beings, which is the actual protection from taking lower rebirth. Creating non-virtue is the main cause of taking lower rebirth, whereas practicing virtue and going for refuge to the holly beings are the main causes of taking higher rebirth.
When the oil of an oil lamp is exhausted, the flame goes out because the flame is produced from the oil; but when our body dies, our consciousness is not extinguished, because consciousness is not produced from the body. When we die, our mind has to leave this present body, which is just a temporary abode, and find another body, rather like a bird leaving one nest to fly to another. Our mind has no freedom to remain and no choice about where to go. We are blown to the place of our next rebirth by the winds of our karma. If the karma that ripens at our death time is negative, we shall definitely take a lower rebirth depending on how heavy our negative actions were.
It is very easy to commit heavy negative karma. Throughout this and all our countless previous lives, we have committed many heavy negative actions. Unless we have already purified these actions by practicing sincere confession, their potentialities remain in our mental continuum, and any one of these negative potentialities could ripen when we die.
Having repeatedly contemplated these points, and understood how beings in the lower realms, such as animals, experience suffering, we generate a strong fear of taking rebirth in the lower realms. This feeling of fear is the object of our meditation. We then hold this without forgetting it; our mind should remain on this feeling of fear single-pointedly for as long as possible.
At the end of the meditation session, we dedicate the virtues accumulated from this meditation practice towards the realization of the danger of our taking lower rebirth and the attainment of enlightenment for the happiness of all living beings.
During the meditation break, we try never to forget our feeling of fear of taking rebirth in the lower realms. In general, fear is meaningless, but the fear generated through the above contemplation and meditation has immense meaning, as it arises from wisdom and not from ignorance. This fear is the main cause of going for refuge, which is the actual protection from such dangers, and help us to be mindful and conscientious in avoiding non-virtuous actions.
The purpose of this meditation is to enable us to attain permanent liberation from lower rebirth. At present we are human and free from lower rebirth, but this is only a temporary and not a permanent liberation from lower rebirth. Until we gain a deep realization of refuge, we shall have to take lower rebirth again and again in countless future lives. We attain permanent liberation from lower rebirth by sincerely relying upon the Three Jewels: Buddha –the source of all refuge, Dharma –the realization of Buddha’s teachings, and Sangha –pure Dharma practitioners who help us with our spiritual practice. Dharma is like medicine that prevents the sufferings of the three lower realms, Buddha is the doctor who give us this medicine, and the Sangha are the nurses who assist us. Understanding this, we go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
Through receiving Buddha’s blessings and help from the Sangha, I shall accomplish profound Dharma realizations. Through this, I shall attain permanent liberation from lower rebirth.
Having repeatedly contemplated this valid reason for going for refuge, we make the strong determination: “I must rely upon Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha as my ultimate refuge.” This determination is the object of our meditation. We then hold this without forgetting it; our mind should remain on this determination single-pointedly for as long as possible. If we lose the object of our meditation, we renew it by immediately remembering our determination or by repeating the contemplation.
We dedicate the virtues accumulated from this meditation practice towards our realization of refuge and the attainment of enlightenment for the happiness of all living beings.
During the meditation break, we should practice the twelve commitments of refuge. Keeping the refuge commitments helps us to strengthen our refuge practice so that it quickly bears fruit.
The purpose of this meditation is to free our mind from unbalanced attitudes, which are the main obstacle to developing the essential Mahayana realizations of impartial love, compassion, and bodhichitta.
Our feelings toward others are normally unbalanced. When we see a friend or someone we find particular attractive, we feel pleased; when we see an enemy or an unattractive person, we feel dislike for him or her; and when we see a stranger or someone we find neither attractive or unattractive, we feel indifference. Our first task, therefore, is to free our mind from these unbalanced attitudes and develop genuine equanimity –an equal warm and friendly attitude towards all living beings.
There is no sense in feeling attached to someone who appears attractive, feeling aversion toward someone who appears unattractive, or feeling indifference towards someone who is neither attractive nor unattractive. Someone who appears attractive to me can be an object of aversion to others; someone who appears unattractive to me can be an object of attachment to others; and someone to whom I feel indifferent can be an object of attachment or aversion to others. There is no certainty. The appearances of attractiveness, unattractiveness, and indifference are only my own mistaken projections; and they make my mind unbalanced and unpeaceful, and destroy my happiness.
Having repeatedly contemplated these points, we make the strong determination: “I must stop these unbalanced minds, and develop and maintain equanimity –an equally warm and friendly attitude towards all living beings.” With this determination, we generate a warm and friendly feeling towards all living beings without exception. This feeling of equanimity is the object of our meditation. We then hold this without forgetting it; our mind should remain on this feeling of equanimity single-pointedly for as long as possible.
We dedicate the virtues accumulated from this meditation practice towards our realization of equanimity and attainment of enlightenment for the happiness of all living beings.
During the meditation break, we maintain this feeling of equanimity day and night, keeping in our heart a warm feeling toward everyone we meet or think about.
RECOGNIZING THAT ALL LIVING BEINGS ARE OUR MOTHERS
Generating bodhichitta, the main path to enlightenment, depends upon developing great compassion, which in turn depend upon affectionate love. To enhance our affectionate love for all living beings, we begin by contemplating how they are all our mothers.
Since it is impossible to find a beginning to our mental continuum, it follows that we have taken countless rebirths in the past, and, if we have had countless rebirths, we must have had countless mothers. Where are all these mothers now? They are all the living beings alive today.
It is incorrect to reason that our mothers of former lives are no longer our mothers just because a long time has passed since they actually cared for us. If our present mother were to die today, would she cease to be our mother? No, we would still regard her as our mother and pray for her happiness. The same is true of all our previous mothers –they died, yet they remain our mothers. It is only because of the changes in our external appearance that we do not recognize each other.
We must regard all living beings as our mothers. Whoever we meet, we should think, “This person is my mother”. In this way we shall feel equally warm toward all living beings. If we regard all living beings as our mothers, we shall find easy to develop pure love and compassion, our everyday relationships will become pure and stable, and we shall naturally avoid negative actions such as killing or harming living beings. Since it is so beneficial to regard all living beings as our mothers, we should adopt this way of thinking without hesitation.
Having repeatedly contemplated this point, we generate a strong recognition that all living beings are our mothers. This recognition is the object of our meditation. We then hold this without forgetting it for as long as possible.
We dedicate the virtues accumulated from this meditation practice towards the realization that all living beings are our mothers and attaining of enlightenment for the happiness of all living beings.
During the meditation break, we maintain this recognition all day. We should regard everyone we meet as our mother. This applies even to animals as well as to our enemies. In this way, we shall overcome the harmful attitude of attachment, hatred, and indifference.
The commitments of going for refuge
When we go for refuge, we undertake to observe twelve special commitments. By observing these sincerely, we protect our mind of refuge and it gradually becomes more powerful. These commitments lay the foundation for all the realizations of the stages of the path. Realizing this, we should not regard them as a burden, but practice them joyfully and sincerely.
Within the twelve commitments, there are six specific commitments and six general commitments. The six specific commitments are so called because they are related specifically to each of the Three Jewels. There are two commitments related to Buddha, two related to Dharma, and two related to Sangha. In each case, there is one thing to abandon and one thing to practice. The remaining six commitments apply equally to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. This twelve commitments will now be briefly explained.
THE TWO COMMITMENTS SPECIFICALLY RELATED TO BUDDHA
1. Not to go for refuge to teachers who contradict Buddha’s view, or to samsaric gods. By going for refuge to Buddha, we have a commitment to abandon going for ultimate refuge to teachers who contradict Buddha’s view, or to worldly gods. This does not mean that we cannot receive help from others; it means that we do not rely upon others to provide ultimate protection from suffering.
2. To regard any image of Buddha as an actual Buddha. By going for refuge to Buddha, we also have a commitment to regard any image of Buddha as an actual Buddha. Whenever we see a statue of Buddha, whether it is made of gold or anything else, we should see it as an actual Buddha. We should disregard the material or the quality of the craftsmanship, and pay homage by making offerings and prostrations and by going for refuge. If we practice like this, our merit will increase abundantly.
THE TWO COMMOITMENTS SPECIFICALLY RELATED TO DHARMA
3. Not to harm others. By going for refuge to Dharma, we have a commitment to abandon harming others. Instead of treating others badly, we should try, with the best motivation, to benefit them whenever we can. We first need to concentrate on reducing harmful thoughts and generating a beneficial intention towards those who are close to us, such as our friends and family. When we have developed a good heart towards these people, we can gradually extend our practice to include more and more people until, finally, we have a good heart towards all living beings. If we can abandon harmful thoughts and always have a beneficial intention, we shall easily attain the realization of great love and great compassion. In this way, we begin to increase our compassion, which is the very essence of Buddhadharma, from the very beginning of our practice of going for refuge.
4. To regard all Dharma scriptures as the actual Dharma Jewel. By going for refuge to Dharma, we also have a commitment to regard all Dharma scriptures as the actual Dharma Jewel. Dharma is the source of all health and happiness. Since we cannot see actual Dharma Jewels with our eyes, we need to regard Dharma texts as actual Dharma Jewels. Actual Dharma Jewels arise only as a result of learning, contemplating, and meditating on the meaning of the scriptures. We need to respect every letter of the scriptures and every letter of explanation of Buddha’s teachings. Therefore, we must treat Dharma books with great care and avoid walking over them or putting them in inappropriate places where they might be damage or misused. Each time we neglect or spoil our Dharma books, we create the cause to become more ignorant because these actions are similar to the action of abandoning Dharma.
THE TWO COMMITMENTS SPECIFICALLY RELATED TO SANGHA
5. Not to allow ourself to be influenced by people who reject Buddha’s teaching. By going for refuge to Sangha, we have a commitment to stop being influenced by people who reject Buddha’s teaching. This does not mean that we should abandon these people, merely that we should not let their views influence our mind. Without abandoning love and consideration for others, we need to be vigilant and make sure that we are not being led astray by their bad habits and unsound advice.
6. To regard anyone who wears the robes of an ordained person as an actual Sangha Jewel. By going for refuge to Sangha, we also have the commitment to acknowledge anyone who wears the robes of an ordained person as an actual Sangha Jewel. Even if ordained Sangha are poor, we still need to pay respect to them because they are keeping moral discipline and this is something very rare and precious.
THE SIX GENERAL COMMITMENTS
7. To for refuge to the Three Jewels again and again, remembering their good qualities and the differences between them. Dharma is like a boat that can carry us across the ocean of samsara, Buddha is like the skillful navigator of the boat, and Sangha are like the crew. Remembering this, we should go for refuge again and again to the Three Jewels.
8. To offer the first portion of whatever we eat and drink to the Three Jewels, while remembering their kindness. Since we need to eat and drink several times each day, if we always offer the first portion of our food or drink to the Three Jewels, remembering their kindness, we shall greatly increase our merit. We can do this with the following prayer:
I make this offerings to you, Buddha Shakyamuni,
Whose mind is the synthesis of all Buddha Jewels,
Whose speech is the synthesis of all Dharma Jewels,
Whose body is the synthesis of all Sangha Jewels.
O Blessed One, please accept this and bless my mind.
OM AH HUM (x3)
It is important always to remember Buddha’s kindness. If we are now able to learn Dharma and meet Spiritual Guides, it is only through Buddha’s kindness.
9. With compassion, always to encourage others to go for refuge. We should always try to help others to go for refuge, but we should do so skillfully. If we know someone who is interested in Dharma, we should help him or her to develop the causes of going for refuge: fear from suffering and faith in the Three Jewels. We can talk to him or her about impermanence –how the conditions of this life change and how our body will grow old and decay- and we can talk about the sufferings of sickness, ageing, and death. We can talk about what will happen after death, about the different types or rebirth, and about how all types of rebirth are in the nature of suffering. If we skillfully introduce these things into our conversation, the other person will begin to lose his complacency and, when he starts to feel uneasy, he will naturally want to find out what can be done. At this point, we can explain about Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, and how they can help us. then we can explain how to go for refuge.
If we help someone else tactfully in this way, without being arrogant or impatient, we shall bring him or her real benefit. It is never certain that the material gifts we give to others will actually help them; sometimes they even cause more problems. The best way to help others is to lead them into Dharma. If we cannot give elaborated explanations, we can at least give appropriate advice to those who are unhappy, and help them to solve their problems by means of Dharma.
10. To go for refuge at least three times during the day and three times during the night, remembering the benefits of going for refuge. So that we never forget the Three Jewels, we should go for refuge once every four hours, or at least three times during the day and three times during the night. If we never forget the Three Jewels, and regularly contemplate the benefits of going for refuge, we shall gain realizations very quickly. We should be like a businessman who never forgets his projects even while he is relaxing.
11. To perform every action with complete trust in the Three Jewels. We should rely upon the Three Jewels in everything that we do. In this way, all our actions will be successful. There is no need to seek the inspiration and blessings of worldly gods, but we should always try to receive the blessings of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha by making offerings and requests.
12. Never forsake the Three Jewels, even at the cost of our life or as a joke. We should never abandon the Three Jewels, because going for refuge is the foundation of all Dharma realizations. Once a Buddhist was taken captive and his enemy said to him, “Give up your refuge in Buddha or I will kill you.” He refused to forsake his refuge and was killed, but when clairvoyants looked, they saw that he had immediately been reborn as a god.
BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE REQUIRED FOR MEDITATION
Since the meditations presented in this book assume a belief in rebirth, or reincarnation, and in karma, or actions, a brief description of the process of death and rebirth, and the places in which we can reborn, may be helpful.
The mind is neither physical, nor a by-product of physical processes, but a formless continuum that is a separate entity from the body. When the body disintegrates at death, the mind does not cease. Although our superficial conscious mind ceases, it does so by dissolving into a deeper level of consciousness, the very subtle mind; and the continuum of the very subtle mind ha no beginning and no end. It is the mind that, when thoroughly purified, transforms into the omniscient mind of a Buddha.
Every action we perform leaves an imprint on our very subtle mind, and each imprint eventually gives rise to its own effect. Our mind is like a field, and performing actions is like sowing seeds in that field. Virtuous actions sow seeds of future happiness and non-virtuous actions sow seeds of future suffering. The seeds we have sown in the past remain dormant until the conditions necessary for their germination come together. In some cases, this can be many lifetimes after the original action was performed.
The seeds that ripen when we die are very important because they determine what kind of rebirth we shall take. Which particular seed ripens at death depends upon the state of mind in which we die. If we die with a peaceful mind, this will stimulate a virtuous seed and we shall take a fortunate rebirth; but if we die with an unpeaceful mind, in a state of anger, say, this will stimulate a non-virtuous seed and we shall take an unfortunate rebirth. This is similar to the way in which nightmares are triggered off by our being in an agitated state of mind just before falling asleep.
The analogy of falling asleep is not accidental, for the process of sleeping, dreaming, and waking closely resembles the process of death, intermediate state, and rebirth. When we fall asleep, our gross inner winds gather and dissolve inwards, and our mind becomes progressively more and more subtle until it transforms into the very subtle mind of the clear light of sleep. While the clear light of sleep is manifest, we experience deep sleep, and to others we resemble a dead person. When it ends, our mind becomes gradually more and more gross and we pass through the various levels of the dream state. Finally, our normal powers of memory and mental control are restored and we wake up. When this happens, our dream world disappears and we perceive the world of the waking state.
A very similar process occurs when we die. As we die, our winds dissolve inwards and our mind becomes progressively more and more subtle until the very subtle mind of the clear light death becomes manifest. The experience of the clear light of death is very similar to the experience of deep sleep. After the clear light of death has ceased, we experience the stages of the intermediate state, or “bardo” in Tibetan, which is a dream-like state that occurs between death and rebirth. After a few days or weeks, the intermediate state ends and we take rebirth. Just as, when we wake from sleep, the dream world disappears and we perceive the world of the waking state, so, when we take rebirth, the appearances of the intermediate state cease and we perceive the world of our next life.
The only significant difference between the process of sleeping, dreaming, and waking and the process of death, intermediate state, and rebirth is that after the clear light of sleep has ceased, the relationship between our mind and our present body remains intact, whereas after the clear light of death, this relationship is broken.
While we are in the intermediate state, we experience different visions that arise from the karmic seeds that were activated immediately before death. If negative seeds were activated, these visions will be nightmarish, but if positive seeds were activated, they will be predominantly pleasant. In either case, once the karmic seeds have matured sufficiently, they impel us to take rebirth in one or other of the six realms of samsara.
The six realms are actual places in which we can be reborn. They are brought into existence through the power of our actions, or karma. There are three types of actions: bodily actions, verbal actions, and mental actions. Since our bodily and verbal actions are initiated by our mental actions, ultimately the six realms are created by our mind. For example, a hell realm is a place that arises as a result of the worst actions, such as murder or extreme mental or physical cruelty, which depends upon the most deluded state of mind.