放下俗情,提起願力
廣欽老和尚

如果情執未斷,嘴裏念佛,念念還是墮娑婆。但如至誠懇切,萬緣放下,那麽一念之間,便能到西方……

會信仰佛教或出家,大都是受了打擊、刺激,有了刺激才會覺悟來修道。每個人出家都有其因緣,但不要以為受刺激出家不好,反而因受刺激來修道,道心會更堅固。不管出家人或在家人,都要有誌氣,人有了打擊才會提出誌氣來修道、做事。

假如修道人不談佛理而談俗事,這不是出家人的本份。以家庭俗事拿來出家用,俗氣未斷,怎能談到修道?

如果情執未斷,嘴裏念佛,念念還是墮娑婆。但如至誠懇切,萬緣放下,那麽一念之間,便能到西方。如果萬緣牽扯,割舍不下,那麽,百年萬年還是在三界內。

父母只是讓我們藉著他們的身體來投胎,不論是恩是怨,都是業緣,只有立誓成道報親恩,才是修行的正因。

在俗家,我們是享受慣了、受驕縱慣了,什麽事情都受不得委屈,總是固執自己的意思,剛愎自用,受不住約束。而今出家了,便是要把在俗家及無始以來,所帶的這種習氣種子換成佛種子。而培養種子並不是簡單的事,要用我們的信、願、行的力量慢慢改過,拔除習氣種子,讓佛的種子逐漸發芽茁壯。

在大陸,出家就沒有了家,父母來也沒有說那是父母,那像臺灣的出家人,不但和父母家人牽扯不絕,甚至連六親眷屬也溷雜在一起,不成一個出家人的體統。出家就是要斷與父母親眷的牽纏,否則出家反落俗套,變成不像出家,也不像還俗。

學佛要具足信、願、行,僅有信還不夠,還須要有成佛度眾生的願力,這樣遇到業障逆境時,才有辦法以這個願力來堅定自己,不致退心。只有信念而無願力的人,遇到逆境很容易就退失道心。遇到逆境時,要以念佛來克服它。

我們出家是看破愛別離苦來出家的,所以說出了家便忘了家,如果還跟家裏的人牽扯,則身雖出家,心中的念頭卻沒有出家,臨終時,念頭會被這些愛別離苦纏住,無法跳出輪回,且與家人牽扯,自己也會俗氣化。不要與家人牽扯愛別離苦,不與人攀緣,則念頭自然清凈,到時候要往生西方才有希望,到極樂世界得不退地後,才有辦法報親恩。

我們出家是在修心思純一,不雜亂,不與親友過分攀緣。我們出了家就是斷了家,若父母家人來探望,我們以對待一般信徒的平等態度,體貼一下對方即可。若是過於攀緣,不但親情的愛別離苦斷不了,且心思會散亂。臺灣的出家眾就是敗在這裏。

出家要有願力 —— 願成佛度眾生。依這個願力去行才能成就,否則出家沒有願力,不會有什麽結果。念阿彌陀佛,也要有成佛度眾生的願力。

在這娑婆世界中,無論什麽事情都不要去貪戀它,這樣才能有一條解脫的路,臨終時直往西方。

你們這些年輕人很發心來出家,可是這個身出家了,心也要出家。我們出家人的身、口、意跟在家人不一樣,要知道怎樣才能了生死,我們所追求的目標是了生死。如果你心中還有什麽貪境、喜愛的或掛礙的,那麽臨終時就現那種境界,一見歡喜就跟著去了,結果是墮於輪回之中。如果我們凈念念佛,則臨終現蓮花、佛菩薩及光明等聖境。所以在世時要除掉貪念,使心凈化。出家人要粗衣淡飯,不能再著於色聲香味觸法,不要跟在家人一樣。

每個人都是帶因果而來,帶因果而去,我們的父母眷屬都在四生中輪回,所以我們要趕快修行,去度脫他們。

父母生我們恩情很大。如不出家,要報父母恩很難,因為都是冤親來的。出家要上報四重恩,要父母也能了生死,才是度他們。父母不僅是這一世的,不出家就不知道,還有以前那麽多世的父母,所以不要起想父母的念頭,不要一直想父母的事,這是生死念頭。父母喜歡我們結婚,像他們一樣愛別離苦,如果你喜歡這些,以後你愛怎麽演都可以,可以演更自然的戲,也不用禮、義、廉、恥,畜生中都沒有這一些,更自然。

父母對我們越好,越是有恩怨。出家與世俗社會是相反的,越疼我們的,到臨終時越放不下。不要一直想父母如何如何,應專心於道上,否則又是愛別離苦,生死輪回的路真危險。

不要拿那些壞東西放在心裏,很痛苦,不要愛漂亮,穿我們這件出家衣,直接到西方,如果愛漂亮,以後就有自然的衣服可穿,像昆蟲、畜生類,都不用做衣服。有的人還沒有去,就已經在裝扮那個形了。如果人愛漂亮喜歡穿高跟鞋,以後就有自然的高跟鞋可穿——投胎為馬。

在家人看不懂,以為我們很苦。如果道心不堅固,就會感覺像處在活地獄一樣,什麽都不好、不自在,又有煩惱。有的道心比較堅固,但以前的種子還在。師父講是講,你們聽是聽,外境的影響還是很大。

我們腦子裏有很多境界,我們以前種的種子都在裏面,一看到外境就浮現出來。有的人是看在家人穿好衣服,就想:我來出家這麽辛苦,什麽都沒有,就穿這種衣服……;有的人就會想:娑婆世界再好也只不過如此而已。女眾不來出家就擦口紅,你們現在沒擦,看起來也很好

有一天,弟子們跟隨老和尚到後山走走,看到一些很美的花草,有位弟子就說:“我等一下去拿剪刀把花剪下來,插在水瓶裏供佛。”

老和尚說:“這些花草長在這兒,本來就是供養十方佛,那有需要‘你’去剪來插水瓶才叫做‘你’在供佛!要知道,在娑婆世界,只要貪戀一枝草,就要再來輪回!”

來出家是大孝,要上報四重恩,下濟三途苦,度生生世世的父母,不只是現世父母,連以前很多世的父母也要度。

Well then, one may wonder, because of what reason are sentient beings possessors of the essence of the buddhas?

Since the dharmakaya pervades sentient beings through emptiness; since there is no distinction within the suchness of phenomena themselves; since all sentient beings have the buddha nature; therefore, since there are three reasons, sentient beings are endowed with the essence of the buddhas. Like that, moreover, as it says in the Uttaratantra Shastra: “Since the body of complete buddhahood is all-pervasive, since suchness is without division, since there is the presence of buddha nature, all beings are always endowed with the essence of the buddhas.”

— Gampopa

Mahamudra by The Great Path to Enlightenment (Part 1 of 3)
by Khenchen Sherab Gyaltsen Amipa

1. INTRODUCTION

The essence of Buddha’s teaching is loving compassion, for Buddha’s nature is loving compassion. Wisdom develops from loving compassion and leads to enlightenment. This particular Mahamudra practice comes from the Lam Dre. Maha means “great” and mudra means “spiritual posture”. In this case, mudra signifies love, compassion and wisdom as the path to enlightenment.

Lam means “way”, Dre means “fruitful”, “leading to completion or success”, so Lam Dre signifies the fruitful path, by which is meant the path leading to the fruit of enlightenment.

The Lam Dre goes back to the Mahasiddha Virupa and from him through Sachen Kunga Nyingpo, it was transmitted to the Sakya Order, where it represents a root practice. Primarily, it is concerned with the development of Mahamudra and Mahakaruna. The goal, which is enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, is reached through a series of practices. A more exact description follows later.

The Lam Dre has two parts: Sutra and Tantra. The Mahamudra practice consists of a preparation and three parts, namely, foundation, path and goal. In the preliminary exercises the aim is to accumulate merit. The foundation lays the groundwork for the training of the mind, that is, the development of relative and absolute Bodhicitta. The path consists of the six paramitas, samatha: uncommon or extraordinary concentration (Tibetan: shiney) and vipashyana: uncommon or extraordinary insight (Tibetan: lhag- tong). The goal is enlightenment or Mahamudra of which two different expressions refer to one and the same state.

2. PREPARATION

The accumulation of merit is obtained through: 1. Taking refuge 2. Prostrations 3. Meditation and the practice of Bodhicitta 4. Mandala offering 5. The purification practice of Vajrasattva 6. Guru yoga

TAKING REFUGE

In Mahayana Buddhism taking refuge is of great importance, since it opens up to us the possibility of following the right path. Whether we are meditating on loving compassion and bodhicitta, or on samadhi and vipashyana, we always take refuge at the beginning of any meditation session.

In common ordinary refuge, the object of refuge is what we call the Three Jewels (Sanskrit: triratna): Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

The first object is Buddha, the fully enlightened one. Though there is more than one Buddha, we have a special connection with Buddha Shakyamuni. He had already reached enlightenment a long time before but because of our good karmic relationship with him he re-incarnated yet again. He left the Pure Land of Tushita and was reborn in Lumbini. On the night of his conception his mother dreamed of a white elephant. Immediately after his birth Buddha took seven steps and at each step a lotus blossomed. He had chosen a royal family in which to be reborn, and to begin with, he lived in great luxury in his father’s royal palace. On his excursions outside the palace, which he undertook without his family’s knowledge, he saw people who were old, sick and dying. This suffering affected him so much that he left his family and the palace, withdrew into solitude and exercised great renunciation.

Although he was already enlightened, he followed the path of human life, so as to serve as an example. This too is a form of renunciation. There are many different kinds of renunciation, the most important being to renounce suffering. The Buddha became a hermit and meditated for six years during which time he accumulated many virtues. One night, sitting in deep meditation under a tree in Bodhgaya, he vanquished all the maras. By maras we mean the five non- virtues. They are not external to us, but come from within ourselves. During this meditation Buddha reached full enlightenment. He then travelled to Sarnath where he gave his first teaching on the Four Noble Truths, the basis of our practice.

Buddha Shakyamuni gave many other teachings pertaining to Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana. In this way he gave everyone a possible path to enlightenment corresponding to their varied aptitudes, outlook and station in life.

When we take refuge we think of the explanations Buddha Shakyamuni gave, his compassionate nature and his activities for the benefit of all living beings. We then develop a deep yearning to realise these qualities in ourselves.

The second object of refuge is the Dharma. “Dharma” is Buddha-nature, that is, Buddha’s wisdom and knowledge. “Dharma” is also the path. As we come to a deeper understanding we realize that “Dharma” is also our own innate wisdom. At the beginning of our practice we take refuge in the Dharma. When we have developed our consciousness and reached the state of Mahamudra, we take refuge in our own original mind, for the Dharma is our own original mind, the opposite being ignorance and non-virtue. In order to deepen our understanding of the Dharma we need to study the scriptures and to hear teachings, then to reflect upon and practise what we have read and heard.

The third object of refuge is the Sangha, the holy community of Bodhisattvas. All those who practise correctly and fervently also belong to the Sangha. Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are the three objects in common ordinary refuge. When we focus our attention on them we take the Buddha as our doctor, the Dharma as the medicine and the Sangha as our helpful carers. The person who takes refuge is like someone who is sick. We need a great deal of patience in order to get well as our ignorance is a severe illness. We need a good doctor, the right medicine and someone who can take good care of us. If we follow the exact prescriptions of our doctor, take the right medicine and recover our health, we may also one day become doctors ourselves. However, as long as we suffer from our illness we must do as the doctor says. Not to follow the holy Dharma is to be like a sick person who does not listen to the doctor or take the prescribed medicine. The Dharma demands correct and virtuous behaviour of us, and this is our medicine. Our aim is to obtain peace and happiness, but if we behave nonvirtuously and without kindness, we will achieve the exact opposite.

It is also possible to take refuge in four, five, even six objects, that is, in the Guru, Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, Dharmapalas and Yidam. If we take refuge in four objects, then the fourth object, the Guru, is put first. We can also take refuge in five objects. The fifth object specifies the Dharmapalas or Protectors (Guardians). They have received a mission from the Buddha to protect those who are seriously practising the Dharma. The sixth object is the Yidam. A Yidam is a divinity given to us by our guru and with whom we build up a personal meditation practice.

Taking refuge is not only important for beginners in the Buddhist practice but it continues to be necessary until we reach enlightenment.

PROSTRATIONS

We carry out prostrations with the “three gates”: body, speech and mind. Before beginning we take refuge and should generate the enlightenment thought, that is Bodhicitta. We should then stand upright and put the palms of our hands together at the level of our heart. The right hand symbolises wisdom, the left hand method, the two elements which are fundamental to the conduct of all Mahayana practices. We then raise the folded hands so that the wrists touch the top of our head. This signifies the desire to be reborn in a peaceful Buddha-land. Next we hold the hands in turn in front of the forehead, throat and heart. This purifies any faults of body, speech and mind. We separate our hands as a sign of the activity of the Samboghakaya and kneel down with the feet close together. In this way we express the gradual steps towards the completion of the five paths and the ten Bodhisattva- bhumis. We bow down and touch the ground with the forehead to symbolise the wish to reach the eleventh Bodhisattva-bhumi.

Prostrations stretch the energy channels along the spine. In this way blockages are loosened and energy flows unhindered. On rising we are symbolically released from the sufferings of samsara. We should take care to keep the back straight so that air flows freely through the main channel, the kundalini.

To obtain the full blessing of this practice we should follow the instructions very precisely and control our mental and bodily attitude carefully throughout.

MEDITATION AND PRACTICE OF BODHICITTA

If we have developed our mind through correct and continuous practice to the point where no ignorance remains, we produce a deep wish within us to reach enlightenment for the sake of all living beings. To achieve this, we practise giving and taking which is part of the Bodhicitta practice (Tibetan: tong len).

With clear consciousness and free from ignorance, we visualise in front of us someone who suffers from ignorance or other problems. At the same time we experience the deep wish to free them from their suffering through our meditation. Our compassion then is as pure as the sun or moonlight. If we have chosen someone who is sick, then this light goes exactly to the seat of their pain. At this point, the power of our virtue is so great that it purifies the illness. This method is also helpful in cases where conventional medicine is no longer effective.

Giving and taking means transmitting our happiness and peace to others and taking all their sufferings and difficulties upon ourselves, thereby freeing them. Many people are afraid that they will lose their peace and themselves incur the sufferings of others, but if our serenity is strong enough, nothing can happen to us. We will have developed so much strength through practice and meditation that we can give our own serenity to the person who is suffering.

A further meditation practice consists of imagining that our nature is full of happiness and peacefulness and then we give these qualities to all those who are suffering. This exchange encourages the development of Bodhicitta.

Our consciousness can be compared to a jewel or to gold. When the precious jewel is taken from the earth, it needs to be cleaned and cut. On the spiritual level, this is accomplished through the training of the mind. Our original consciousness is a precious jewel; our ignorance is the dirt covering it. Through the development of the mind we experience a deep desire to find more effective ways of helping others. For this we need the right practice which leads to absolute Bodhicitta and so to the best way of helping other living beings.

MANDALA OFFERING

The mandala offering helps to transform body, speech and mind into the form of the universe. We then offer this universe, and in so doing we accumulate virtue. The study of Buddhist philosophy is not enough in itself if we wish to understand shunyata, we also need an accumulation of virtue.

VAJRASATTVA PURIFICATION PRACTICE

There are two kinds of purification:

1. Common or ordinary purification through which incorrect attitudes of body, speech and mind are purified. We can also purify negative karmas and nonvirtues in this way. The practice can also help us to relieve many spiritual, mental or bodily illnesses for which there is no suitable medicine, since they arise out of negative karmic connections.

2. Uncommon or extraordinary purification through the Vajrasattva meditation: through the blessing of Vajrasattva, our body, speech and mind can take on his qualities. An initiation is required for this purification.

GURU YOGA

Guru yoga plays a special role in Mahayana since many practices such as the path by which enlightenment can be reached in one lifetime, are not possible without the help of a qualified guru. In addition, the guru watches over our mental training and oversees our development. The guru’s energy helps us to make more rapid progress.

The Guru yoga practice gives us a very special blessing.

If we wish to have more information about Guru yoga, we need more precise instructions from a qualified guru.

3. THE FOUNDATION

TRAINING OF THE MIND

The aim of training the mind is to transform it. We can reach this goal by learning to behave virtuously, that is, by being free from all doubt and by developing respect, faith, love and compassion.

If we earnestly wish to practise the Dharma, the teaching of the Buddha, we should harm no living being, but on the contrary, strive to help all beings. However, if we desire to help, we must first learn what help is needed. This means that we must first of all reflect on the innumerable sufferings of samsara so that we can recognise them. Nevertheless, true clarity can only be achieved through the development of deep compassion as well as intellectual understanding.

On this path, above all, we must learn to abandon our way of looking at life exclusively from our self centred point of view. Ego and attachment generate the greatest sufferings of samsara, while at the same time they are the very cause of samsara.

At Sarnath in his first teaching after his enlightenment, Buddha showed us the way to liberation from samsara. We call this teaching the sermon of the Four Noble Truths.

THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS

The first noble truth is the truth of suffering. It says all life in samsara is suffering. Even when we feel happy momentarily, we do not know how long this happiness will last. We are all subject to the sufferings of illness, birth and death and we are not able to protect ourselves from them.

The second noble truth is the truth concerning the cause of suffering. Here Buddha points to the fact that we are the cause of our own suffering created by the false view that ego and attachment impose upon us.

The third noble truth is the truth of the cessation of suffering. This means that our suffering will end when we have recognised that our false view and ignorance are the root of evil, and have renounced them.

The fourth noble truth is the truth of the path of release from suffering. In order to end our suffering, we must put aside the erroneous belief that our own self and all other phenomena exist of themselves, independently of cause and effect.

SAMSARA

If we observe our lives, we note that this or that annoys us or that something is not proceeding as we would like. We lose people and things we love and cannot protect ourselves from those whom we do not love. Time robs us of the attraction of what we desire. We are constantly under the threat of mental and physical illness, catastrophes and unpleasant incidents. Old age reduces our strength and dulls our senses. We become weaker, sometimes apathetic and severely limited mentally. In the end, we die.

This is samsara. By definition, it implies difficulties, worry and relentless suffering.

EGO AND ATTACHMENT

However the misery of samsara is not produced by any higher being but by ourselves.

The greatest evil and chief cause is our ego. Ego means “only me”, “me alone and no-one else”. The ego considers itself to be the centre of the world and thinks all else should be at its service. It only recognizes itself and has no room for others. It snatches all that appears desirable and defends itself against anything which feels threatening. This is how attachment and hatred arise. Such narrowing of the mind inevitably results in insecurity, because those who are blind to all but themselves, without feeling, live in a strange menacing world. These people cannot even trust themselves. The result is constant, tormenting doubt and lack of inner peace.

Ego, attachment and ignorance are thus the three root illnesses from which we all suffer. Though it seems to us that we suffer many ills, in reality, they are all merely effects of the ego. In order to free ourselves from them, we must give up false representations and recognize that we are subject to the law of cause and effect. The first step towards this is to think less of self and more of others. There is no difference between them and us. We are all striving towards happiness and wish to avoid suffering. When we consider how many other people there are in comparison to one person, we realise that others are more important than us. This kind of attitude helps us to open the prison of our self-centredness. We discover a world inhabited by others like ourselves and recognise in ourselves unlimited freeing thoughts. For this reason it is a fundamental principle in Mahayana never to practise for oneself alone but always for the benefit of all living beings.

The ego and the “I” are not identical. The ego or “me alone” can be defined as egocentricity or selflove. The “I” is neutral. The “I” is what is active in us. Sometimes it only takes care of itself, imprisoned in the representation of the ego or it may endeavour to help others. This “I” seeks enlightenment. It is this “I” which expresses the wish to practise at the beginning of every sadhana.

IGNORANCE

Ignorance is the opposite of wisdom. Ignorance has two aspects, a common or ordinary aspect and an uncommon or extraordinary one. Ordinary ignorance accompanies us in our daily lives. It produces innumerable sufferings and difficulties. By extraordinary ignorance we mean that our consciousness is not sufficiently clear. We have not studied enough and do not know the different aspects of the Dharma. We are unable to observe and control our own mind. Our thoughts are confused and we find it difficult to distinguish right from wrong.

Ignorance is purified when the mind no longer depends on samsara. We will then have achieved the nature of a Bodhisattva, fully released from ignorance.

KARMA

Buddha himself designated karma as the result of earlier deliberate actions. Intentionally carried out, these actions are the source of happiness and suffering both in the present and in future lives, and the cause of rebirth in the samsaric cycle.

There are two types of karma, non-virtuous and virtuous. If, for example, in one life we impose suffering on another apparently separate being, then inevitably this will have negative effects on us as well, for all living beings are united. Only our ignorance leads us to believe that we can gain from harmful behaviour towards others. If we think that at the end of our life everything we have done is wiped out and forgotten, we are still succumbing to our ignorance. We will experience in our next life discord and pain because of it. If, on the contrary, we have helped someone to the best of our ability, then our karmic connections will help make one of our next lives a peaceful one.

We can also alter our karma. Buddha’s teachings show us ways and means by which we can produce the cause of positive effects and avoid the cause of negative results. We can purify non-virtuous karma through renunciation, accumulation of virtue, and above all through purification practices, such as the Buddha Vajrasattva practice.

LOVING COMPASSION

Through his teaching on the Four Noble Truths, Buddha shows us how to change our state of involvement. Anyone who is suffering mentally can alleviate both their own suffering and that of others through the development of loving compassion.

This means that we must first of all feel love towards ourselves. As long as we do not accept ourselves we have nothing with which to produce loving compassion or Bodhicitta. This present precious human body and precious mind are all that we have to reach enlightenment. It is only as human beings that we have this possibility. Nor can we alter anything that goes wrong in our lives without first accepting ourselves.

BUDDHA NATURE

If we find it difficult to accept ourselves and others, we should call to mind that we all have Buddhanature already within us. It is just that we are not aware of this in our present ignorant condition. Ignorance is indeed the reason why we are subject to the sufferings of samsara. If, however, we give the right care to the seed of our Buddha-nature, it will grow into a plant and unfold itself. We will develop the ability to turn towards all beings with love and be able to protect them, for Buddha-nature, as it grows, awakens in us the desire also to liberate all those who like us suffer in samsara.

THE PRACTICE OF LOVING COMPASSION

There is a particular practice directed towards the development of loving compassion. We visualise in meditation someone who is close to us. Usually our own mother is taken as the object of contemplation. We can also visualise anyone who has been particularly good to us. We feel their suffering and develop the sincere desire to free them from it. In order to be really capable of this we must first develop a rich warm feeling of loving compassion towards ourselves, and feel it within our own body. Only then can we direct it towards others.

After we have thought of our mother or some other person who has been good to us, we can develop loving compassion towards those who are our enemies. Someone who always treats others with respect may have only a few enemies. However, since enmity in this life also goes back to karmic connections, an individual may not be well disposed towards us. The cause may be negative actions that we have done to that person in an earlier life. This is how false views in our present life arise and for this reason enemies are extremely helpful in our practice; meeting them gives us the opportunity to free ourselves of these false opinions.

This is why we treat our enemies with respect and we strive to practise loving compassion, steadfast in our belief in karma and the Dharma. In our mind and in meditation, we give our enemies all our accumulated virtues, all our merit. We have the desire to make friends with them and the wish that they may be freed from all their suffering. If we succeed in purifying all our negative feelings of anger and rage, then, even though the whole world turns against us, we have no enemies. Our own anger is our worst enemy. However, it would be useless to repress our anger out of fear of the negative effects on our accumulation of virtue. If we feel anger arising in us, we should try to recognise its root. If this is not possible at the time because we are too angry, at least we should attempt to develop loving compassion as an antidote. It is only when anger no longer arises, when our nature has become entirely gentle and kind, that we can help those who need our help.

MAHAKARUNA

Mahakaruna links our loving compassion with the desire to liberate other living beings from their suffering whether bodily or mental. “Maha” means great and “karuna” is compassion. Mahakaruna is the most important prerequisite for the practice of Bodhicitta.

MAHAKARUNA PRACTICES

There are three possibilities:

1. THE FIRST MAHAKARUNA MEDITATION PRACTICE:

We visualise someone who is in great difficulty. We then reflect on the source of these difficulties: non-virtue. Non- virtue has its source in ignorance. In order to protect ourselves, we practise the ten virtuous actions daily, with a clear understanding of non-virtue (see below: virtue).

Nobody wishes to experience suffering. Since suffering is produced by non-virtue, we must avoid non-virtue. Just as we do not wish suffering for ourselves, other living beings also wish to be free from it. Through our heart-felt desire to help them realise this aim, we are able to find real liberation from the sufferings of samsara both for ourselves and for others.

In this way we can meditate for the person whose suffering we have visualised.

2. THE SECOND MAHAKARUNA MEDITATION PRACTICE:

We visualise someone whose ignorance is great. Even such a person can lessen their ignorance, above all by hearing Dharma teachings, reflecting on them and by doing the practices. We meditate with the deep desire that the ignorance of this person, who does not know the Dharma, may be purified.

Consciousness is in itself pure and free from non-virtue. If it is sullied it can be purified through teachings and practice. This is an extremely important point. Wisdom and ignorance are opposite poles. Ignorance diminishes in proportion to the development of wisdom. We therefore meditate for this person in such a way that they may be freed from ignorance.

3. THE THIRD MAHAKARUNA MEDITATION PRACTICE:

This meditation concerns attachment.

Since our life is impermanent and insecure, a desire to possess things or people sooner or later leads to suffering. Attachment goes hand in hand with ignorance. As long as we hold on to something, we cannot be free. This is not the same as holding on to the desire for enlightenment. No suffering can arise from this.

In order to release ourselves from our attachment, we should think about the reason for our re-birth in this universe. The reason is to be found in our strong ego that always gives rise to attachment and self centredness. Little by little we can undo this greedy craving, which is like a cramp inside us, through the desire to reach enlightenment, through loving compassion and attention to other living beings. We meditate in this way so that the person we wish to help may be released and freed from attachment.

However, before we can help others through our practice of Bodhicitta and Mahakaruna, we must change our own nature through our daily practice. It is only when our nature has become gentle and our mind free that we can really practise Bodhicitta for the benefit of other beings.

BODHICITTA

Bodhicitta can be relative or absolute. Relative Bodhicitta is the wish to develop the enlightenment thought for the benefit of all living beings. Absolute Bodhicitta is the enlightenment thought itself. It gives rise to our complete liberation from samsara through the recognition that neither phenomena nor we ourselves exist independently, but that everything comes into existence dependent on cause and effect.

BODHICITTA PRACTICE

In order to practise relative Bodhicitta, we take refuge and direct our thought deeply and sincerely to the idea that we must become a Buddha as quickly as possible for only a Buddha has the skills necessary to help liberate all living beings from the sufferings of samsara.

In this way our whole nature is filled with love, compassion and strength. We see the innumerable sufferings of living beings and have the wish to help them. In fact, there are different ways of helping someone who is in difficulty: we can offer relative help, that is, material means of sustaining the body, such as food or clothing or medicine in the case of illness. If the problem is mental, we can offer advice or comfort. In this way, we will only alleviate acute suffering and help to remove the symptoms for a time, while the cause of suffering remains.

We need far-reaching methods in order to help people recognise the cause of suffering. We can help most effectively if we transform our own body, speech and mind through the development of virtue.

VIRTUE

Virtue signifies protection. When we behave correctly, not harming others but lovingly exerting ourselves on their behalf, that is, when we avoid the ten non-virtuous acts, we protect others as well as ourselves.

The ten non-virtuous activities are:

a) the non-virtuous activities of the body 1. killing 2. stealing 3. sexual misconduct
b) the non-virtuous activities of speech 1. untrue speech 2. harsh speech 3. slander 4. useless chatter
c) the non-virtuous activities of the mind 1. greed 2. enmity 3. attachment to wrong views

If we avoid these negative activities we will find ourselves less often in situations where we think we ought to act, yet are not clear as to the consequences of our acts. In this way the consequences of our activities will not come back to us from outside in the form of negative forces, limiting our freedom. Furthermore, we obtain inner and outer peace.

Since all living beings form an entity, we can share this peace with others as soon as we have attained it for ourselves. It is hardly possible to help others as long as we ourselves are lacking in compassion, peacefulness and patience, and are limited by our own suffering.

In the development of relative Bodhicitta we can also practise giving and taking. This means giving to others our good thoughts and the strength of our virtue and taking upon ourselves their troubles and pain. We need not be anxious about doing this or afraid of bringing catastrophe or illness upon ourselves. Our pure loving attitude will protect us while helping others.

For the meditation practice of absolute Bodhicitta we contemplate the Buddhas. We recognise their great compassion, their wisdom and their activities. We beseech them to grant all living beings these same abilities. Our mind then enters into Bodhicitta meditation and we experience the development of our nature. Day after day we obtain greater inner clarity, just like the moon growing from a small crescent to a full circle. Contrary to our original state of mind when we began our practice before purification, our mind becomes pure, strong and full of virtue.

A distinction is made between powerful and powerless virtues. Ordinary virtues can easily change: for example, they may disappear through anger or at least diminish greatly. Bodhicitta virtue on the other hand always keeps its quality. This is like a tree that is stripped bare in harvest-time while the wish-fulfilling Bodhicitta tree bears a richer harvest the more we pluck its fruit.

Someone who does not practise Bodhicitta leads an ordinary life; through the Bodhicitta practice our life is filled with the extraordinary power of virtue. This is also the difference between ordinary people and Buddhas. We all have Buddha-nature within us, but without Bodhicitta practice it is concealed under our ignorance. At the beginning of the practice, our mind is like the sky when clouds cover the sun and moon, we can no longer see them although they are shining. If, however, we allow the teachings to fully penetrate our being and practise regularly with attention, we drive away the clouds of ignorance and gradually Bodhicitta arises in us like the clear light of the sun or the moon. In reality, Bodhicitta is the essence of love, compassion and Mahakaruna, no different from our own unveiled pure mind, Buddha-nature. As soon as Bodhicitta arises in us we feel as though all beings were our children whom we wish to care for like a mother or a father.

Through the Bodhicitta practice our body, speech and mind are transformed, even our name. For those who have reached absolute Bodhicitta there is no more bodily suffering, no more illness. They are called Bodhisattvas.

If we are not trapped in the mire of mental constructs, the manifestation of awareness is directly seen, free from constructs. Without tying knots in the air with the rope of speculation, may we be skilled in spontaneously resting in the genuine nature.

— Mipham Rinpoche

做义工是否也在修行
文 |宝莲

有些人厌离世俗的生活,到寺院中挂单做义工,希望能够发心和修行两不误。他们被分配到各个岗位,有的人很发心,有的人却觉得大部分时间都在做事情,影响了修行,开始生起烦恼。那么做义工是否影响修行呢?

增福消业,转烦恼为菩提

每当我们听到各种称扬赞叹,意识到原来我们还可以帮助这么多人,从未有过的喜悦会油然而生,感恩心也在不断布施的过程中生起,因为做好一件事情不是那么容易。比如过斋,如果不是亲自给别人行堂,哪里知道,就那么一个打饭的动作都很难做好,饭会粘在勺子上不下来,要在供养偈唱完之前行完一遍,操作必须准确高效。当我们思惟,在每一个堂口,都有义工们在无怨无悔、默默地付出时,我们的惭愧心、感恩心会渐渐生起,发心一定要在自己的岗位上做好。这是一份不拿工资而心甘情愿义务奉献的工作,在不断付出、行持的过程中,使我们心量打开。这确实利于我们的修行。

做义工会使我们福报增长。一位师父曾讲过一个故事,她们的寺院中来了一位居士,这个人在世间无论做什么事情都挣不到钱,明明别人挣钱的生意,他来做,不仅挣不到钱,甚至可能赔本。他苦恼至极,总得要养家糊口啊。被逼无奈,他来寺院请师父开示,师父说你还是安心来先做一年义工,给自己培培福报吧。一年后他返回世间,做起废品收购的生意,这次他经营得比较顺利。他又把赚来的钱一部分用于寺院的供养。原来,在寺院扫扫地、洗洗碗都为我们积累了很大的福报啊。我们修行也是要有福报的,而做义工,就是在不断积累我们的福报。做义工会让我们业障消除。有的义工或患身体疾病,或有心理障碍,或神志有问题,他们做义工之余精进念佛,在佛力加持下,六字洪名的功德力发生作用,身心竟慢慢有所改变和康复,不知不觉中消除了很多业障。

做义工会使我们智慧增长。当我们依教奉行、放下我执我慢我见、全身心地去做事情时,突然发现自己原来不会做的事情、不能做的事情、没想到的事情,渐渐都可以应对处理,也学会了善巧方便。头脑变得更清晰,记忆力也比以前好许多,人变得更有智慧了,诵经、念佛、听法等等也都更愿意去做了,越来越有法喜了。这都源于有佛力的加持,佛光的注照,使我们身心调柔,智慧显发,有一个修行人的样子了。做义工能使自己有所体悟。比如洗一块抹布,看似简单,但洗着洗着,却洗明白一个道理:抹布很脏,要用热水,要用碱、洗洁精,还要泡段时间后再反复清洗,有些污渍依然很难清除。这种对境,让人突然意识到无始劫来我们这颗心啊,沾染了太多太多的“污渍”恶习,这些习气的去掉,需要痛下狠心,不断地打磨刷洗。而修行就是要修正我们不正确的心,要把那些习气毛病除
掉。

当我们在做义工的过程中不断地放下我执我见,智慧自然现前。在做事情及处理人际关系时,要时刻观照自己,就会慢慢变得谦卑、调柔、恭敬。那么我们再用这样的态度处事、听经、闻法,所得到的效果和我们每天什么事情都不做、只是在那执著修行求自了的效果是绝对不一样的。这样的修行才更有含金量。佛法修行在于生活当中的落实,而智慧的火花也是在劳动中迸发的。

“我”字当先当与道不相应

很多人只关心自己的修行,做事敷衍了事,时刻考虑我要诵经、念佛,这看上去很精进,很有修行,可这种发心与大乘佛法的修行是不相应的。佛菩萨在因地修行时,哪一件事是为了自己呢?一切都是为了众生,拔众生苦,予众生乐。而只“我”字当先的,依然是自私自利,与道不相应,何谈慈悲。恰恰应在不断做义工当中锤炼自己,在逢缘对境中时刻警醒,不要皈投自己那厚重的烦恼习气,要在劳动实践中降伏自己的烦恼习气,为修行路上,培上厚厚的福报之土。福能载道,没有福报,修行路上困难重重。改变自己,放下自己,灵动的智慧怎么能不现前呢?做义工就是在修行,当我们非常用心做好自己的本职工作后,会觉得身心安泰,欢喜无比。

做义工不影响修行。无论哪个岗位,都会有属于自己的时间,只要我们善加利用。比如我们每天边做事情就可以边默念佛号、听经。不断在动中锻炼自己的念佛功夫,时刻观照自己提起佛号,徜徉在弥陀的愿海之中,心就在道上。

一些义工在做事情时,特别是两个或者两个以上的人在一起时,就总爱闲言杂话,谈与修行不相关的事情,如果我们把这些时间都用来听经念佛,怎么会没有时间修行呢?我们要改正一个错误认识,即只认可形式上的修行。所谓形式上的修行,就是说只把诵经、经行、法会等当作是在修行,而发心做事都不是修行。要知道,禅堂里面的功夫在禅堂外面,没有禅堂外做事培福、积资净障,怎么有禅堂里的端坐如仪、即寂即照呢?

做义工不但不影响修行,还会让我们对时间抓得更紧,是一种促进。因为忙于义工工作,难免时间很紧迫,就越想到一切事情都不能拖,早起晚睡,把所有的功课抢时间完成,这样每天都很充实,哪里还有个人利益得失的计较,哪里有时间想东想西啊。那些选择岗位要能见到法师的,听法必须抢坐最佳位置的,吃饭想多要点营养高、口感好的……种种知见、烦恼自己觉察不到,为一点小得失算计半天的,都是在浪费时间。真正修行的义工会善用其心,抓紧时间精进修行,做事也认真仔细,互相促进,相辅相成。

观察身边来来去去的义工,让我更坚信做义工不影响修行。有一位二十六岁的男孩,在这里挂单有四五个月,整个人的身心改变太大太大,用脱胎换骨一词也不夸张。他刚来时是不念佛、不听法、不诵经的,整个人困在一种焦虑当中,唯独可贵的是他愿意做事情。无论何时,无论做什么,不管会不会,他就是去做,只要师父吩咐,他就做。当他做到一个多月的时候,偶尔会看到他也听听经,接着就开始拜八十八佛。四五个月后,他精进到同寮的人不知他何时睡觉、何时起床的程度,做事情更加积极主动。在这期间,他开始向别人忏悔自己不应该怨恨父母,不该对父母有不好的念头。看见他有这么明显的改变,真是让人赞叹,佛法不可思议啊。

而有些义工,在寺院待上几年了,每天早晚课都做,甚至在别人做事情时,她也会自己单独去读经,看上去很精进、很修行,结果自己的烦恼习气依然炽盛。想想她总不改变自己,不仅自己烦恼,有时还让别人也烦恼,这样的修行是有问题的。我们要选择怎样的修行啊,看那溪水河流里的石头,无论大小,它都没有棱角,圆滑的。而在泥土里埋了上千年的石头棱角依故。这和我们的修行是一样的。如果我们不能在做事和与人相处中打磨掉自己的棱角,只是自己一个人随着我执我见在盲修瞎练,太可惜了。

做义工会使我们心性得到提升。到寺院做义工,听经闻法,蒙佛光摄受,能反省、意识到自己确确实实是一个罪恶生死凡夫,过去总以为自己挺不错,这是我们的愚痴啊!我们开始厌离娑婆、欣求极乐,信有西方极乐世界,信有阿弥陀佛慈父遥相期盼我们早日觉醒、早日回家,我们也愿意回到那无忧恼、诸上善人俱会之处。于是为报佛恩,发心做义工,护持道场,过着每日朝暮持佛名号、安心做事的生活。为感恩释迦牟尼佛向我们开示了宇宙人生的真相,使我们在迷茫的生死苦海中找到了方向,于是我们也发愿“众生无边誓愿度,烦恼无尽誓愿断,法门无量誓愿学,佛道无上誓愿成”,“愿生西方净土中,九品莲华为父母”。

我们对慈父阿弥陀佛充满了无限的感恩和敬仰,对极乐世界充满无限的向往和欲求,他日命终,佛及圣众前来接引,莲华中化生。我们就要成为极乐世界的人了,苦难的众生可以不苦了。

我们不再为虚假不实的事相迷惑。一切有为法,如梦幻泡影,如露亦如电,应作如是观。所以在做义工的工作当中,也是让我们不断看破、放下、广结善缘、慈爱有情,将来成佛后能有众生可度。那么我们不再为了鸡毛蒜皮的事情搞得不开心,反而欢欢喜喜地把每件事情都打理好,但又不着相,在心性上用功。做义工是多么好的修行机会啊。

曾看过一位法师开示的文章,其中一句的意思是,义工没有固定岗位,我们要重在“没有固定”这几个字,也就是说要随缘做事。有很多义工,总认为这件事不是我的事,那件事和我没关系。做义工和在世间工作是不一样的,在世间,岗位固定,责任明确,有考核,拿工资。工资的高低代表了岗位的重要性、辛苦程度、责任大小、能力高低。在其位谋其政、挣其钱,不是自己分内的事可以视而不见,因为这与我一毛钱关系也没有。我们在寺院里,就要重新改变一下自己的思想认识,寺院里的事不仅是常住的事,也是大家的事。只要发生在我的周围,我们就应该随缘随分地去做,世间还有众人拾柴火焰高的说法,何况我们修行人,所以我们见到路上的垃圾、被风吹跑的雨伞、被雨淋湿的衣服都应主动照顾一下。寺院中的一草一木尤不可伤,我们再增加一份呵护,不也在积累自己的福报功德吗?

但要知道,一切应如理如法,而不是随顺自己的习气。我们有些常住寺院的居士,由于在家里管事情管习惯了,到这里也想管东管西,不是这个不如法,就是那个不修行。搞得自己不开心,别人也烦恼。同时她还自以为是在护持道场,不让她管,她一百二十分的冤枉,说别人都不理解她的心。本来清净的寺院,为了让我们培福报、种福田,允许我们同住共修。我们却总把握不好,有时甚至产生我慢心,“我为寺院作了多大贡献,师父离不开我”。妙祥法师曾开示说:“出家人早把权、钱等五欲六尘看破放下,离家弃欲,行作沙门,难道还要居士护持?”所以我们要清楚,不是师父需要我们,不是寺院离不开我们,而是我们需要三宝种福田。所以一名合格的义工,一定是依教奉行,做事用心,发心修行。

做义工就是在落实菩萨行。菩萨修行从十信位、十住位乃至十地位都是在落实自利利他的行愿。众生是根,佛菩萨是花果。众生是成就佛菩萨的,离开众生是没有佛可成的。所以做义工一定要拓宽心量,一切男子是我父,一切女人是我母。我们要发大菩提心,利益一切众生,把自己的愿落实到行当中。礼敬诸佛、广修供养、忏悔业障、随喜功德、请佛住世、常随佛学。学佛就是在学佛菩萨的慈悲喜舍、利益众生的心,这样才能与道相应。

越发心做事的义工菩萨,也是越抓紧时间修行的,更是修行比较好的,她们在不断的解行并进中提升自己、锤炼自己。做义工就是在福慧双修,是不会影响修行的。

When [worldly persons] buy and sell common things like a horse or jewels, they question everyone and examine [the items] closely. We can observe these efforts being made in the petty affairs of this life. Yet, though the happiness of all our future lives depends on the Holy Dharma, [the foolish] act like dogs with food. Without examining its merits in any way, they revere whatever they happen to find.

— Sakya Pandita

What Turns the Wheel of Life
by Francesca Fremantle

The Buddha described all worldly phenomena as having three characteristics: impermanence, suffering and nonself. We suffer because we imagine what is not self to be self, what is impermanent to be permanent, and what, from an ultimate viewpoint, is pain to be pleasure. Existence with these three characteristics is called samsara, which means we are continually flowing, moving on, from one moment to the next moment, and from one life to the next life. Samsara is not the actual external world or life itself, but the way we interpret them.

Samsara is life as we live it under the influence of ignorance, the subjective world each of us creates for ourselves. This world contains good and evil, joy and pain, but they are relative, not absolute; they can be defined only in relationship to each other and are continually changing into their opposites. Although samsara seems to be all-powerful and all-pervading, it is created by our own state of mind, like the world of a dream, and it can be dissolved into nothingness just like awakening from a dream. When someone awakens to reality, even for a moment, the world does not disappear but is experienced in its true nature: pure, brilliant, sacred and indestructible.

The key to the Buddha’s realisation and teaching is the understanding of causality, because it is only when we know the cause of something that we can truly bring it to an end and prevent it from arising again. In his search for the origin of suffering, he found that he had to go right back to the very beginning, to the very first flicker of individual self-awareness. In his spiritual practice, too, he always went further and further, never satisfied with the states of knowledge, peace and bliss that he attained under the guidance of his teachers. He always wanted to know their cause and to see what lay beyond. In this way, he surpassed his teachers and eventually attained his great awakening.

The Buddha awoke to a state of perfect enlightenment, which he described as deathless, unborn and unchanging. If it were not for that, he said, there could be no escape from birth and death, impermanence and suffering. There is indeed a condition of ultimate peace, bliss, knowledge and freedom, but to reach it, we must first understand the cycle of conditioned existence in which we are imprisoned. Samsara is like a sickness; the Buddha, who was called the Great Physician, offers a cure; but the patient must recognise the illness, with its causes, its symptoms, and its effects, before the cure can begin.

The Buddha discovered the whole causal process of samsara, the complete cycle of the stages of cause and effect. According to tradition, he once described this process in a series of images, so that it could be sent in pictorial form to the king of a neighbouring country who had inquired about his teaching. An artist drew the images according to the Buddha’s instructions, illustrating the whole realm of samsaric existence from which we seek liberation. This picture is known as the wheel of life and is familiar throughout the Buddhist world. It springs from the same tradition of imagery that flowers so dramatically in vajrayana, but goes back to the beginnings of Buddhism.

The outer rim of the wheel of life is divided into twelve sections, each containing a small picture. These represent the twelve links in the chain of cause and effect, known as dependent arising or, as Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche put it, the samsaric chain reaction. The twelve links can be seen as stages in the evolution of the individual human being (or any other living being), but at the same time they can be applied to one’s states of mind, which are continuously arising, developing, and passing away.

We can trace back the causes of suffering to their root by means of the twelve links in this chain. They should all also be understood as taking place within us from moment to moment, so that as we go through this whole series of images, we are also observing the birth, life and death of mental states.

1. DECAY AND DEATH

The iconography may vary slightly in different paintings, but somewhere on the rim, generally at the top left, we find a picture of a corpse being carried to the cremation ground: this is called decay and death. It is often translated as old age and death, but since many people die young and do not reach old age, here “age” really refers to the whole process of aging and decay, which actually begins as soon as we are born. All pain, whether it is physical or mental, arises from some aspect of loss, destruction or decay, so this image represents all the sufferings of existence.

2. BIRTH

The real cause of decay and death is not our physical condition, not illness or accident, but life itself, the simple fact of having been born. Moving counterclockwise around the circle, we come to the second picture, a mother giving birth to a child. Although this link in the chain is known as birth, it does not mean just the event of being born, but the life that has come into being; it encompasses the whole lifetime of that particular embodiment. It can refer to the birth of a living being, or the physical appearance of something in the external world, or it may be interpreted as the arising of a thought or a mood in the mind.

3. EXISTENCE

The next picture, illustrating the cause leading to birth, is sometimes of a pregnant woman and sometimes of a man and woman in sexual union. Both these images suggest conception, the beginning of a new life. This link is called existence, life, or becoming — coming into existence. Existence means being in the state of samsara: outwardly subject to birth and death, inwardly under the influence of ignorance and confusion.

4. GRASPING

Why do states of mind arise? Why do we continuously create our version of the world from moment to moment? Why does a living being enter a womb to be born? When we search for the cause of becoming, we find it in grasping. The word for this link in the chain literally means appropriation or taking to oneself, and it is symbolised by a figure picking fruit from a tree. Grasping is the opposite of giving and letting go. We hold on tight to our opinions, our views of life, and our ideas about ourselves; again and again we grasp at the next thought, the next emotion, the next experience; at the moment of death, we grasp at the next life.

5. THIRST

Grasping is based, in turn, on the fundamental instinct of needing, wanting and longing called thirst. It is depicted by a person drinking or being offered a drink. That’s the thirst for existence that makes us cling to life at all costs, and it is also the basic drive to experience pleasure and to be free from pain. Thirst can never be satisfied; even if we drink as much as we can, it will return sooner or later. It is inherent in our sense of self. This thirst, also translated as desire or craving, is often said to be the cause of suffering. It’s not the ultimate cause, but it is the immediate and most obvious cause.

6. SENSATION

Thirst for experience depends upon the possibility of feeling or sensation, symbolised by a man pierced in the eye by an arrow. This brutal image reminds us sharply that the whole series is intended to express the inescapable suffering of samsara. It is interesting to note that the Sanskrit word for “feeling” can specifically mean pain, as well as sensation in general. This points to the truth that in samsara, from the absolute point of view, all feeling of any kind is essentially painful because it is related to our false idea of self. But in the awakened state, where there is no self-centered attachment or aversion, all feeling is experienced as “great bliss.” Great bliss is not just increased pleasure, but a transcendent experience of sensitivity that can be aroused by means of any sensation whatsoever, not only through pleasure, but also through what we ordinarily think of as pain.

7. CONTACT

Sensation arises from contact or touch, illustrated by a man and woman embracing. This represents the contact between the senses and their objects. In the tantras, this powerful imagery is transformed into a passionate embrace of love, a magical dance of the awakened mind with the world perceived in its true, sacred nature. But here, while we are still concerned with very basic principles, it simply illustrates what happens whenever there is the experience of duality and a relationship exists between subject and object.

8. SIX SENSES

The embrace can only take place because of the existence of the six senses, depicted by a house with six windows. In Indian Buddhist tradition, the mind is considered to be a sense organ that has as its objects all the perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and so on that arise within it. So in addition to the usual five senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell, the mental function is counted as the sixth.

9. NAME AND FORM

If the six senses exist, there must be a particular living being to whom they belong. The next picture is of a boat filled with passengers, which is called name and form. Name and form together constitute the individual person. Form is the material aspect, the boat of the body, that carries us along the river of life, while name includes all the nonphysical aspects of our being (the passengers could be regarded as the different “personalities” within us). In many parts of the world, a person’s name is considered to have magical significance. When we are given a name, we receive an identity; our name defines who we are. If we think of someone’s name, we automatically remember his or her physical appearance and vice versa. Body cannot be separated from mind; the physical and nonphysical aspects of existence both arise from the same cause, and they reflect each other.

10. CONSCIOUSNESS

For a person to exist, individual consciousness is necessary. Consciousness functions through the six senses. It is what makes us aware of ourselves and divides the world into subject and object; it gives us the sense of being “I” as opposed to everything else that is not “I.” Consciousness is appropriately pictured as a restless, inquisitive monkey leaping from object to object, never staying still. Sometimes the monkey is shown picking fruit from a tree, and sometimes peering out through the windows of a house – the house of the six senses.

11. CONDITIONING

Consciousness is not pure, direct awareness, but is produced and conditioned by the way the mind functions, so the next link in the chain is called conditioning (or formations). It refers to certain characteristic mental forces or patterns that motivate our thoughts, words and deeds. It is here that the law of karma begins to operate. The word karma literally means “action,” but generally when we speak of the law of karma, it refers to both action and its result: the universal law of cause and effect on a personal level. Everything we think, speak and do has an inevitable consequence. The Buddha taught that karma really refers to intentions, not just to actions in the literal sense. Our lives are shaped by our innermost thoughts and deepest motivations, including those on the most subtle and hidden level, which can only be discovered by profound meditation techniques. This link in the chain is symbolised by a potter making pots. In theistic religions, the image of the potter is sometimes used for God the creator, while in Buddhism the force of karma is continually creating the world anew for each living being at every moment.

12. IGNORANCE

But why does conditioning arise in the first place? How did the whole process ever start? The Buddha traced the root cause back to ignorance, the mind’s ignorance of its own awakened nature — the final and original link in the chain. This is the farthest back we can go within the circle of samsara; this is where everything begins. Indeed, we can say that this whole cycle really has no beginning and no end, because our very notions of past, present and future are part of samsara. Ignorance is symbolised by an old blind woman, tottering about with the aid of a stick. Trungpa Rinpoche referred to her as a blind grandmother. She has given birth to generations of samsaric existence, endlessly proliferating and reproducing. Ignorance means ignoring the truth of reality, shutting one’s eyes to the awakened state. Although the light of reality is ever-present, ignorance chooses to remain blind. The nature of this blindness is to believe in the existence of a separate, independent self. Trungpa Rinpoche also used to say that ignorance is very intelligent. It is actually the intelligence of samsara, which is fighting a continual battle for survival and constantly looking for ways of keeping up its own illusion, its own self-deception.

Here we have traced each link in the chain backward to its cause, from the suffering of mortal life, culminating in death, all the way back to its ultimate origin, ignorance. The whole series of pictures can also be read in reverse order, from ignorance to death. If we do this, we can clearly see the inevitable development of the twelve stages: ignorance, conditioning, consciousness, name and form, the six senses, contact, sensation, thirst, grasping, existence, birth, and decay and death. The twelve links form an unending circle. At death we fall into a state of ignorance once more, and the cycle starts all over again. Samsara means going on and on, round and round, without beginning or end.

Now we turn to the rest of the wheel of life. Inside the outer rim, occupying the main part of the wheel, are illustrations of the six realms of existence in samsara: the worlds of the gods, jealous gods, human beings, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell-beings. Very often only five divisions are shown, because the gods and the jealous gods are basically the same and can be classified together.

In the outer sense, the realms depict all the possible varieties of sentient life classified into these five or six main groups. They are all conditions of life into which we could be reborn. Except for those of animals and humans, the other realms are invisible to us, but they all coexist with us in an inconceivably vast, multidimensional universe.

In the inner sense, all these realms are found within our own minds. Although we have the form and psychology of human beings, we are continually going through states of mind that correspond to the other realms. In exactly the same way, gods, jealous gods, animals, hungry ghosts and hell-beings all experience the states of mind of the other realms colored by their own dominant states. Also, within each of the six realms, every living being goes through the entire cycle of the twelve links of the samsaric chain reaction.

The human realm is the most balanced and least extreme of the six, so it is easier for us to encompass the full spectrum of conditions within our experience, from the hells to the heavens. Of course, the entire wheel of life is necessarily described from the human point of view; nevertheless all life fundamentally shares the same buddhanature and is conditioned by the same forces arising from ignorance.

In some depictions of the wheel of life, the figure of a Buddha is shown in each realm. In the human realm, this is the human Buddha Shakyamuni, in each of the other realms, he appears in the form of one of its inhabitants. This indicates that the compassion of the awakened nature extends infinitely without obstructions and can manifest in any form in order to communicate with all the different types of existence, even in the extreme suffering of hell.

Moving further in toward the centre of the wheel, the next section is divided into two parts: a light half in which human figures are climbing upward, and a dark half in which they are falling downward, This represents the last stage of the period between death and rebirth, during which the results of our previous actions draw us toward a higher or lower condition. The figures moving up, in the light semicircle, are on their way to taking rebirth as human beings, gods or jealous gods; those moving down, in the dark semicircle, will be reborn among animals or hungry ghosts or in one of the hells.

At the center of the wheel lie the three roots of suffering: passion, aggression and delusion, symbolised by a cock, a snake and a pig, respectively, The Buddha called them the three fires with which the whole of samsara is ablaze. Nirvana is the blowing out of their flames, a blissful state of coolness and peace after the suffering they cause (the translation of nirvana into Tibetan literally means “passed beyond suffering”).

They are also known as the three afflictions, defilements or poisons. They pervade and influence the mechanism of samsaric existence from beginning to end; they keep the whole process of dualistic experience going. They are the three basic reactions that the “I” can have when it perceives something outside itself as “other.” We can be attracted to that other, wishing to possess it, control it, or take it over and make it part of ourselves: this is passion. We can reject it, push it away, or try to destroy it: this is aggression. Or we can ignore it and pretend it does not exist: this is delusion. At heart, all three reactions are attempts to overcome duality by making “I” the only thing that exists in the world, but instead they actually reinforce and perpetuate the split between “I” and “other.”

The entire wheel is held in the clutches of a terrifying figure; this is Yama, the Lord of Death. His name literally means “restraint,” since he is the ultimate restraint on the freedom of all living beings. He does not simply represent death in the ordinary sense, the end of life, but the very principle of mortality, which includes within itself birth and death, rebirth and redeath. Immortality, the birthless and deathless state of nirvana, lies beyond this cycle of the wheel of life.