Original purity is suchness in all common worldlings, for, being unchangeable, suchness is the common characteristic of everything. It is in virtue of suchness that the adage declares: ‘all beings are the seed of a Tathagata’.

— Vasubandhu

Karma and the Wheel of Life
by Ken Holmes

Why are some people rich yet some poor, some happy yet others in misery, some lucky and some unlucky? Moreover, why are some pure, innocent beings afflicted with terrible misfortunes whereas evil tyrants remain healthy and rich? These are difficult questions for most faiths, believing in a just and compassionate God, to answer. The Buddhist explanation is to see this life as but one in a series of many. In this existence, one is reaping the harvest of seeds sown by actions (karma) of past lives, while at the same time planting new seeds to ripen in the life to come. There is no natural evolution in this process, hence a higher state of existence can be followed by an even better one or a worse one, depending entirely upon how it is utilised. Going up or down from one life to the next and returning again and again to the same patterns of action, through habit, and thereby reaping again and again the same results, this endless round of existence is represented by the ‘wheel of life’.

Among the almost endless possibilities of existence in the cosmos, a human birth is considered to be very special. It is while human that most karma is created, with other states being mainly the experience of the results of human actions. Animals and other non-humans do create some karma, but it is quite weak. As the force of karma depends upon the motivation behind it, the karma of humans is, on the contrary, strong, since they possess intelligence and free will.

Unlike many other religions, Buddhism does not think of external beings who reward or punish one for altruistic or selfish acts. Future benefits or handicaps are shaped entirely by the nature of action itself, through its ongoing influence upon the mind. Just as good cherry seeds, as they fall to the ground, have the power to produce delicious fruit, some time in the future, and aconite seeds have the power to produce deadly poison, so do our acts already contain a quasi-genetic programming of future happiness or suffering. The ground onto which they fall is our ongoing continuum of consciousness. Like a complex garden, a human (or other) existence is the ripening, side by side, of many different things planted in the past. Some, like mighty trees, have been developing over many generations. Others, more like small flowers and mushrooms, are much more temporary phenomena.

The word karma is the Sanskrit term for action, encompassing not only the initial action itself, but also all its consequences. Thus it is called ‘karma, cause and effect’. A seed does not cease to exist when it falls into the ground: it just disappears from sight, to develop later into a shoot which eventually becomes a fully-matured plant. Like buried seeds in winter, the imprints of actions rest dormantly in the ‘storehouse consciousness’, as potential prime causes of future experience. When this psychological potential meets with certain supportive circumstances — the equivalent of the seed being awakened by the spring sun and rain — results start to emerge. Thus it is not until one meets the trigger of certain people or places that a specific karma from past lives will start to manifest.

One must distinguish between ‘virtuous’ karma and ‘untainted’ karma. Virtuous acts produce, in the long term, pleasant results for their doer, such as long life, good health, wealth and friends for their doer. Unvirtuous acts produce suffering. Since both virtuous and non-virtuous actions are performed with the fundamental triplistic delusion of there being a doer (ego), a doing and a done-to (other persons and the world) — both belong to the illusion of worldly existence (samsara). Thus virtue and non-virtue determine the experiential quality of one’s samsara yet cannot, in themselves, free one from samsara. Both belong to the category of ‘tainted’ karma (tainted by ego). Actions performed within the lucid clarity of voidness, in which there is no triplistic delusion, are known as ‘untainted’ karma. These can free one from samsara.

Another special category of karma, known as ‘karma of immobility’, applies uniquely to concentration meditation. By remaining calm, poised and one-pointed, one is not doing anything, in the ordinary sense, but rather undoing habits of action and not-doing things which perpetuate worldly reflexes. This lucid inactivity forms a vital part of the path to personal liberation. Scriptures describing it map out the various stages of mastery that emerge from it, while alive, and the possible rebirths into purely mental states that human meditation can engender.

The Wheel of Life depicts the six main types of conscious beings found in the universe. Its inner ring portrays the three main causes for being reborn: craving, aversion and ignorance. The outer ring shows the twelve main stages through which initial ignorance leads to worldly suffering. These are known as the twelve links of interdependence. The whole wheel is held like a giant mirror in the hands of Yamantaka, the Lord of Death, since at death, when the mind leaves one type of existence and embarks on a journey which will end up in a new existence, possibly in another realm, the previous life’s actions become all-determinant.

The Wheel is mainly used to depict the real states of existence taught in the first Noble Truth: the Truth of Suffering. However, it can also be considered an allegory for the six main states of a worldly mind and the type of relationship they create with the people and places that make up one’s life. The three upper realms are paired with their counterparts in the lower realms.

THE THREE UPPER REALMS

THE DEVA REALM

One is reborn a god (deva) as a joint result of doing many good actions but being proud. The good deeds — in particular acts of generosity and pure conduct — bring splendour and wonders. The pride brings first a feeling of natural superiority and then, when the good results come to their end, unbearable sadness. The bodies and powers of the gods vary according to their previous karma. Most have beautiful and naturally perfumed bodies of light, upon which spontaneously appear garlands of celestial flowers and various fineries. In delightful garlands and palaces, they sport with their consorts and enjoy the most subtle pleasures of the senses. A day in one of these heavens lasts for hundreds of human years and the deva’s lifespan is long indeed. But as it approaches its end, the bodies start to produce unpleasant odours and other gods avoid the fading deva. The flower garlands deteriorate. Worse, the god can see his or her next incarnation, so tawdry, dark and limited compared with its present condition. Heartbroken, incredulous and overwhelmed by self-pity, they have nothing to do but await the inevitable fall. Thus, the deva realm exemplifies the cycle of pride however it manifests.

The Buddha manifests in this realm playing a lute delightfully. This represents the need to gain the respect and attention of the proud before any message can get through to them.

THE ASURAS

also have good karma and are like demi-gods. Whereas the gods’ good karma is tarnished by pride, the asuras’ is spoilt by jealousy and some people refer to them as ‘jealous gods’. Envying the superior joys and possessions of the gods, the asuras wage war on the latter, in the hope of deposing them and usurping their palaces. However, lacking the karma to possess such splendour, they are defeated and humiliated. Jealousy is like this everywhere, bringing the anguish of envy itself, competitive battles and eventual defeat.

The Buddha manifests to the Asuras with a sword of primordial wisdom in his hand. This symbolises that the jealous respond primarily to force and need to learn to channel their competitivity into a quest for wisdom, defeating ignorance rather than other beings.

HUMANS

As rare as a star in daytime, a human rebirth is considered to be the rare result of much good karma. Sometimes compared to a wish-fulfilling gem, it is considered the most precious existence of all, because of its tremendous potential. Unfortunately, this potential is rarely exploited and the gem is like a buried treasure. The majority of humans are so busy with their desires and projects that they are not even aware of spiritual possibilities. However, being exposed to more suffering than are gods or demi-gods, humans do have a better chance of giving rise to compassion: one of the most vital keys to spiritual development. Their main sufferings are those of birth, ageing, sickness and death, along with those of striving to fulfil their needs, not getting what they want, getting what they do not want and preserving what they have.

The Buddha appears to humans bearing his alms bowl and staff, the symbols of the ascetic life. This shows them that, in their world of multiple choices, the finest option is to follow the way of the sage.

THE THREE LOWER REALMS

ANIMALS

“Most of them live in the sea” is the remarkable comment from early Buddhist scriptures, in times when most people ignored the existence of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and had no knowledge of submarine life. One is reborn an animal as a result of ignorance: fostering delusion rather than truth. They fall into two main categories. Wild animals live in constant fear and spend their time seeking food or eating each other. Domesticated animals are enslaved by humans. Their nature is one of submissive acceptance of their lot, the counterpart of the acquisitive dissatisfaction of the Asura.

The Buddha appears to the animals bearing a book, showing that the only way out of stupidity is the development of clear reason and the cultivation of knowledge.

PRETAS

are spirits, born into states of frightful deprivation through former greed. With distended stomachs and needle-like throats, they search for ages for food and then only find disgusting scraps, or else see their find disappear before their eyes. Others manage to eat or drink but are burnt by they ingest as though it were molten metal. Unlike humans and animals, these spirits are aware of their former births and the greed which threw them into this condition. Their destitution is the counterpart of the complexity of possessions in the human realm. The Buddha appears to them bearing gifts and bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, as Khasarpani, feeds them soothing nectar. This symbolises the need to draw the greedy and mean to truth by manifesting generosity.

HELLS

Like the Preta worlds, states of severe hallucination into which the mind is thrown once it leaves the body and has passed through the post-death experience. It is the bitterness and anger imprinted in the mind, through past malevolence and hatred, which generate the hellish environment experienced. Some of these nightmares take the form of hot hells, with various agonies of burning and torture. Others take the form of frozen wildernesses, in which frostbite is the worst enemy. All seem to last for endless ages and many take the form of pain which leads to death then revival, only to pass through the whole cycle again and again. This is the opposite of the luxurious indulgence of the gods.

“Who could have created the beings there and the hellish weapons? Who made the burning iron ground? The Great Sage has taught these, and similar things, to be the fabrications of an unwholesome mind.”
Bodhicaryavatara

The Buddha appears in the hells bearing the flame of purification, a sign of finding liberation from suffering by relating to it in an enlightened way.

THE BASIC POISONS

Just as a whole and healthy body loses its power when stricken by a tiny amount of poison, so does the mind lose its limitless wisdom due to ‘mind poisons’ (klesa) and thereby wanders in the confused illusions of the six realms. There are three basic poisons — ignorance, craving and hostility — represented by the pig, the cock and the serpent at the centre of the wheel. The three poisons feed off each other, as do the animals in the circle.

THE LINKS OF INTERDEPENDENCE

The twelve main stages in the cycle of rebirth are represented by the twelve icons forming the rim of the wheel:

ignorance — the blind leading the blind
karmic creations — a pot being thrown
consciousness — a monkey in a room with six windows
name and form — a boat
the six doors of perception — a house
contact — people embracing
feeling — an arrow piercing an eye
involvement — a man being served tea by a woman
craving — gathering fruits
becoming — two people procreating
birth — a woman giving birth
ageing and death — a corpse being carried to the funeral pyre.

Ken Holmes 4.

This very ordinary mind is not differentiable from the immaculate wisdom of an enlightened being. The mind of an enlightened being is not acquired as something new, but comes from gaining greater understanding and greater insight into the very mind with which you are already familiar.

— Gampopa

一般道德與佛化道德
印順導師

道德,不獨是佛法所有的。世界的各宗教,各民族,各時代,都有他的道德,不過佛教的道德觀,在一般共通的基礎上,更有他獨到的特質而已。所以,現在想從一般的道德,說到佛化的道德。

人類(進一步到一切眾生)能和樂共存,互助合作,實現家齊、國治、天下平的理想,道德是顯得極其重要的。如忽視道德,則家庭、國家、國際,都會混亂不堪。從前釋迦佛出世時,印度傳統的婆羅門教,失去了權威,而新起的思想界,就有懷疑道德、否定道德的。他們大抵依據機械的、唯物的觀點,覺到世間無所謂道德與不道德,沒有善與惡,也沒有從善惡而引起的苦樂果報。他們破壞了道德的軌律,破壞舊道德的軌律,破壞舊的而不能凝成新的宗教,新的道德。然而世間不能沒有是非,不能不分別善惡邪正,故釋尊呵斥那些抹煞道德的為「邪見」人,為引導人類墮入惡趣者。釋尊的大覺而創立佛教,就是重新肯定道德價值的宗教。所以真正的學佛,就是從一般的道德實踐起,進步到最圓滿的道德生活的完成。

一 道德與不道德

說到道德,就有不道德。道德與不道德,佛法中稱為善與惡。這二者,不能從物質的觀念中得來,所以唯物論的人生觀,等於從根否定了善惡的意義。道德與不道德,大概的說,是人類以上的文明產物,從有意識的實踐中表現出來。善與惡,依什麼作標準?怎樣是善的?怎樣是惡的?從事相來說,可有二義。一、從將來的結果來說:人們的起心動念,說話作事,如因此而引起將來的良好果報,就是善。如這樣做去,會得到將來的不良後果,就是惡。二、從當前所對的人事說:不問什麼事,如對他人有利益,叫做善;否則就是惡。依此而分析起來,可以有四種:假使這樣做,自己與他人都能得好處,這當然是善的。如自己吃虧而他人能得利益,這也是善的,而且極有意義。如自他都無利益,都受損害,這當然是惡的。如自己雖得利益,而他人卻受到損害,這不能不說是惡的。上面二種解說,善惡的判斷是一致的。因為,現在所作而於他有利的,即使現在自己有損,而將來一定會感受樂果,所以是善。反之,即使現在自己沾些便宜,將來也會招受大苦,所以是惡。如深一層說,佛法就稱善與惡為「法與非法」。依中國話說,即合理與不合理。凡契合於正理的,是法,是善。不合理的,是非法,是惡。違理與非法的,一定會引起他人的損害,是惡。反之,合於法理的,一定會於人有益,所以是善。善與惡的簡單分別,大略如此。

二 最一般的道德與道德律

什麼是一般的道德?不是佛教所獨有的,是各宗教,各民族,各時代所可能共有的道德。在這一般的道德中,最根本的,或可說是道德的根本,為一切道德行為所不可離的。如離開了這,雖也多少有其價值,但是微不足道,或可說不成其為道德的——這就是最一般的道德。釋迦佛出世前後,印度的宗教界,編集有「法經」、「法論」(法即是道德),近於中國的禮。在這些道德法規中,以慈悲不殺為最一般的道德。這不只是印度人,或是某一階級的道德,而是一切人類所應有的道德。出現於印度的佛教,也以「慈悲為本」,而看作首要的、根本的道德。慈與悲,佛法中小小有差別。希望他人得到快樂,幫助他人得到快樂,這是慈心慈行。希望他離去苦痛,幫助他解除苦痛,這是悲心悲行。一般人的慈悲,雖與佛法所說的大慈悲,不完全相合,但這是深度與闊度的不同,論性質還是共通的。一切的道德心行,都以此為本。

我們學佛的,首先要受皈依。皈依的願文說:「從今時乃至命終,護生。」進而受戒,先要受持不殺生戒。護生與不殺生,便是慈悲心行的實踐。佛教的一切德行,都是不能離開慈悲不殺的。從佛法看來,眾生的生命延續,雖說是苦痛的根源,但又沒有不貪戀生存。因為眾生所有相對的喜樂,都以生存為先決條件,所以苦痛充滿的眾生,為了愛好不徹底的世樂,都怕自己(一期)生命的毀滅。眾生沒有不是愛生惡死的、厭苦求樂的,佛法的護生與不殺生,以及大乘佛教的不肉食,都契合於眾生的共欲,合情合理的,所以是道德的。這種最一般的道德,在中國文化主流的儒家中,就是仁。德行雖是很多的,如孝弟忠信禮義廉恥等,但仁是最根本的,向來都以仁為德行的核心。此外,如老子所說的三寶中有慈,墨子說兼愛,以及基督教的愛,都無非慈悲的別名。大家都把一切德行歸納到仁、愛、慈,這可見印度文化中說慈悲為最一般的道德,實在非常確切。因此,道德的基石是仁慈,是「與樂」、「拔苦」。現在有些人,提倡階級的愛、階級的道德。事實上,從仇恨鬥爭的基礎出發,使全人類普遍陷於鬥爭殘殺的恐怖中,這那裡是道德!從不道德——仇恨鬥爭的動機出發,無論怎麼說,那樣做,只是增長人類的苦痛。不但毀滅別人,自己也被毀滅,實是抹煞道德的偽道德。

為什麼仁、慈、愛是道德的根本,是最一般的道德律?我們知道:道德是表現於自他關係上的,而仁就是人與人間的合理關係,發為應有的合理行為。佛法說有「自通之法」,這是從自己要怎樣,推知他人也要怎樣。這是「以己(心)度他心」,就是儒家絜矩的恕道。依自通之法來說:我要解除苦痛,他也同我一樣,那麼我不應增加他人的苦痛,而且應幫助解除他。我要有喜樂,他人也一樣的要有喜樂,那麼我不能奪去他人的福樂,更應該協助獲得他。自己要去愚癡,要得智慧,要身體健康,人格健全,都應使他人和我一樣。這樣的以己心度他心,即是慈悲與一切德行的源泉。耶穌說:「你要人怎樣待你,你也要怎樣待人。」我要人待我好,所以我也要待人好。雖近於自通之法,然在自他關係上,還是從為了自己出發。佛法說:我希望如此,可見他人也是希望如此的,所以應該對他人如此,這只是對人的同情,並無功利觀念。儒家說「己所不欲,勿施於人」;「己欲立而立人,己欲達而達人」。與佛法的精神,更為相合!

眾生的生命,是心色和集,又是自他增上,彼此依存,苦樂相關的。人與人(眾生)間有這樣的關切,所以損害他是不合理的;自他既是相依而存的,害他即等於害己。反過來說:幫助他減少痛苦,也就等於減少自己的痛苦,這當然是合理——善。這利他而後能自利,損他等於損己的道理,一般人不一定清楚地了解,或者還會反對而不願信受道德的法則。可是我們從無始以來,生生不已的活動,不能不受這自他相依,苦樂相關的法則所影響。所以在不離自他依存的生活中,雖沒有人教導,也會自覺到自他間的同一性,引發他人的需要,與我一樣的意念。見人受苦而生悲惻心,見人得利而生歡喜心,每從無意間流露出道德意識的自覺。這種道德意識,或稱良心,良知,什麼人都是多少有的。不過有些人,為物欲——色情、名譽、利養權勢等所迷覆,道德意識的自覺,不容易顯發,專門為私為己,損他害己。甚至見他失利而幸災樂禍,見他得利而嫉妒障礙。然而窮凶極惡的,在某種環境下,也會良心發現,感到自己的罪惡而痛哭流涕的。

無始來不離自他依存而引發的,根源於仁慈的道德意識,不但是人人所共有的,而且是一切道德所不能離的。例如孝養父母,雖說是天經地義,然如為了奉養,從掠奪、貪枉、欺騙而得來財物,也不能說是善的,不能不說是非法——惡的。因為獲得財物時,對人失去了道德——慈悲的緣故。所以說到道德的心行,應該重視這最一般的道德意識。

三 道德的變與不變

部分人的看法,道德是「放諸四海而皆準,百世俟諸聖人而不惑」,似乎一毫變動不得。另一些人,卻以為道德是依經濟及社會情況的變動而變動,並無一成不變的。這雖都有部分的意義,而實是:慈悲為道德的普遍軌律,無可變動;而表現於實際的德行,有著種種性,有著變動性,雖然內容還是有著一貫性的。

這可以分三點來說:一、表現於自他的社會關係時,如對家庭、區域、國家、世界,由於應對各社會層的不同關係,所表現的德行,也就多少不同,如《善生經》說:父子、夫婦、師弟等間,彼此都有應守的德目。依一般說:如家庭的孝道,是無可疑的應有德行。但在社會或國家的立場,就有「移孝作忠」,或「大義滅親」的德行,而不能拘守家庭的孝道。這是為了(大社會層)大的利益,就不能不犧牲(小社會層)小利。不過,道德不是法律,重於自發自覺的操持;可以啟發誘導,而不能強人所難,硬性的要別人如此。否則,不免有人要假藉「為公忘私」、「全大捨小」的美名,強迫人類作違反人倫、國誼的罪行,陷人類於大苦痛,恰好是違反慈悲,殘酷而無同情的惡行。

二、表現於時間的前後關係時,由於社會情況有著某種變動,道德的措施,也就會多少不同。如家天下時代的忠君,到民國便不同。又如男女間應守的德行,從母性中心時代,到現今的一夫一妻制,貞操的含義,有著多少不同的。但這決不是道德無標準,忠貞永遠是人類應有的美德,僅因時而表現不同,或從不完全而演進到更完全而已!

三、表現於根機的淺深關係時,同一社會、同一時代,而由於個人的根性,德行會多少變化。如佛法中,人乘法只要不邪淫,就是持不淫戒;而聲聞乘的出家者,卻完全遮禁。同是一樣的戒,如不殺、不盜等,小乘要止,大乘中有可作的。在小乘中,不那樣做是持戒,大乘中可能認為犯戒,要這樣才算持戒。表面看來,大小乘的德行相反,其實不過由於發心不同,目標不同,對於戒德的運用,小小差別。而對於某一德目的尊重,某一德行的信守,始終是一致的。

總之,道德的根源在慈悲,這是不可能變動的;沒有慈悲,即是不道德或非道德的。從此而表現於自他間多方面的合理關係,有孝弟忠信等不同德目。這些,可因時,因地,因對象,因志趣而不同,但這些德行,永遠是人類相互依存所應有的準則。古人說:「盜亦有道。」大盜的劫掠殘害,當然是不道德的。但大盜的能成大盜,至少在對於部屬間,必有他的合理關係,這才能團集而成為大盜。如完全背棄了自他間的應有關係,大盜也是不能成就的。這說明了有人類,有社會,人與人間的應有德行,永遠不可能背棄的。所以,我們鼓勵人類尊重道德,實踐道德,要從道德的根本去啟發他,激發人類的慈悲,去實現於一切事行。如忽略根本,只知拘守陳跡,死執教條,那不但不能契合道德的真意,反而會引起對於道德的誤解,甚而障礙了道德的開展。

四 道德的三增上

增上,是依的意思。我們依此三者,可以使我們的德行,進展為更完善、更崇高的。對於道德,這三者都是有力的增上緣;但必須三者並重,而不偏於一邊才好。什麼是三增上?一、自增上,自是自己。二、法增上,法是真理或軌律。三、世間增上,世間是輿論及公認的意見。要遵行完善的德行,不能不顧到這三者。這與我國古說的「畏天命,畏大人,畏聖人之言」,有點相近。

一、自增上:即時常喚起自尊心。尊重自己,不甘下流。對自己所作的,勇於負責;對一切應做的事,由自己來擔當。聲聞乘說:人人有解脫分。大乘說:人人有佛性。確信自己有為善,成賢成聖,成佛作祖的可能,「彼既丈夫我亦爾,不應自輕而退屈」。不願自暴自棄,努力向上,沒有不能做到的。尊重自己,擴展自心的德行,負起自救救他的重任。尊重自己不甘下流,便是促進道德的主要力量。二、法增上:要循著真理而行,不能與他相違背。前面說過:善行名法,惡行即非法。凡契合緣起事理的心行,是道德,我們不能不順此而前進。三、世間增上:大家以為這樣是合理的,這樣是聖賢或善人所稱歎的,我就應這樣做。尊重社會的公共意志,接受社會的善意批評,這才能成一個合乎人情的善人。例如從事政治,受到外來的批評,不肯反省,自以為然;甚或「笑罵由他笑罵,好官我自為之」,這必然走向惡行。尊重輿論,就會修正自己的偏失,走向光明的坦途。

三增上,是人類道德向上增進的基石。不但不能缺,就是偏在那一邊,也會發生偏弊的。如過分尊重自己,每覺得自己的超勝;什麼真理,人情,容易放在一邊。這即使動機良善,也會漸漸地走向不道德的路,自害害人。如過於尊重真理,可能會冷酷而不順人情。專顧世間,容易背棄真理。因為世間的意見,不一定對,真理並不以多數為標準。所以,我們要持行完善的德行,走向出世圓正的道德,決不能離此三者,而應從協調中不斷向上。佛法的二乘,重於理智,對世間利濟眾生事業,不免冷淡些。這雖不是不道德,而到底不夠完善。大乘圓滿的菩薩道,三增上並重,這才能完成究竟圓滿的佛德。

五 佛化的道德在般若

上來所講的,大抵與世間所說的相通,還不能表顯佛法的特色。佛法能完成究竟圓滿的德行,他的特質何在?佛化道德的特質在般若。

梵語般若,華語為智慧。但此所說的智慧,意義極深,指通達我法空性的真慧,不是一般智慧所可比擬的,所以《大智度論》說:「般若甚深,智不足稱。」為什麼說佛化的道德在般若?這可從不道德說起。不道德的惡行,從什麼而發生?是由於煩惱而來的。一切煩惱,以薩迦耶見——我見為本。一般世間的一切動作,都從我見而流出。做壞事,固然由於我見的策動;即使是做善事,也還是不離我見。一般人為著自身利益,遵行道德的生活,看來是潔身自好,為眾服務,為社會國家謀利益,其實還是為自己的,離不了我見的力量。

為了滿足個己的(我家、我國等)願望,如損他而作不道德的事,固然要不得。就是行善——像布施、持戒,如覺得我能修行,我比他好,我救了他,也還是和我見糾纏在一起。從私我的情見出發,即使高揚著為人類為社會的旗幟,也是不理想的。因為從私我的情見出發,好事非我來做不可;救人救世,也非我(我們)不可。我才能行善,我才能救國救世界,你不行。這種兩賢相嫉,大抵是為了這個。依佛化的道德看來,這是不徹底不完善的。道德與不道德相雜,想行善而往往誤入惡徑。只要是善事,別人做與我做,同樣的是善事;我應該做,他人能做更好。如非自己行善不可,對他即不能不爭,或者並無多大不同而還是非爭不可,這樣的善行,問題可就大了!這是不能自利利他,不足以救濟世間,不足以證得菩提的。所以,一般的惡行,增長生死,生起苦痛。就是一般的善行,也還在生死中,還是不能脫離苦痛的。由於一般的善行,並無徹底的善行,為善也從自己出發,於是世間的邪見者,懷疑道德,否認有純粹為他的德行。實則,一般的善行,不離自己的情見,就是凡夫行;凡夫本來如此,就凡夫說凡夫,這不能責他怪他,還是應該獎勵他為善。不完善的德行,到底比作惡好得多。凡夫的善行雖如此,而聖者的德行,卻與此不同。

佛化的道德,建立於般若——無我智的磐石;是破除私我,掃蕩執見的特殊智慧。從這種智慧所攝持,所引導的,便與凡夫的德行,截然不同。不再專為自我,為我的家庭,我的廟子,我的故鄉,我的國家而著想,能從整個人類,一切眾生的立場去看一切。這在佛法,稱為緣法界眾生而發心。不但求自己得益,動機在使大家都得到利益。那些說世間都為自己,沒有真實為人道德的懷疑者,若研求佛法,就知道佛法中,確有不為自己的真道德。菩薩為利益眾生而發心,必要從無我智透出。如體悟一切法無我,真慈悲即活躍於內心;私情與愛欲,能當下斷盡。菩薩悟入世間是相依相關的,法法平等不二,這才見眾生樂如己樂,見眾生苦而如親受苦痛一樣。與樂拔苦的慈悲,油然而生,而且是無限的擴展。這樣的慈悲,似乎與儒者的仁,耶教的愛相近,然這是無我的慈悲,實在是大大的不同了。通達無我法性,發大慈悲心,這是真情與聖智協調的統一心境;學佛的最高道德,即從此而發現出來。

學佛,重在祛除私我,但不依方法,還是祛除不了。如遍地的荊棘蔓草,不鋤盡根株,決不能生長嘉穀。我們心中的私欲,也是根深蒂固,非著力的痛下功夫,也不能清淨而完成崇高的德行。所以修持悟入,目的在淨化身心,從此而完成圓滿究竟的德行。不知者以為佛法的修持,與世間與人類無關,這是重大的誤解。要化除我我所見,要依戒、定、慧——三學去修習。如儒家於道德的修養,也有一番功力,防範於起心動念之前,時時照顧,要人致敬,慎獨。然佛法的修持,不但要息心而「制心一處」,還要於一心中,勘破自我,定慧齊修。從染惡根源——我見去鍛鍊一番,琢磨淨盡,才能心地發光,顯發為完善的德行。真能做到私我淨盡,般若現前,那就不但了脫生死,而一切行為,無不隨順正法,能真實的度脫有情。佛教所說的一般道德,與其他相通;唯有從般若而流出的無漏德行,才是佛化的不共道德。道德與真理慧渾融,表現出佛化道德的特色。

六 學佛即是道德的實踐

學佛是道德的實踐,這說明了學佛是人人應學,不論男女長幼的。信佛的,到寺裡來進香禮佛,持名誦咒,這是對於佛菩薩的崇敬,或請求佛菩薩的加被。真正學佛的不但是信仰,不但是遵行佛教的禮儀,而要信智並重。學佛也不是專重教理,研究一番就算數,而要解行並重。

學佛的主題,不外乎三學——戒、定、慧,或開廣為六度,這都是實踐德行。其中,戒是一般的德行,重在止惡防非。然不單是止,如應作而不作,也是違犯的。能夠持戒,身語的行為,就會合乎法度。不過,外表的行為雖謹持不犯,而還不能將內心的亂念息下。散亂,失念,不正知,這都是使心地蒙昧不明,使我們走向罪過的動力。所以進一步,應當集中精神,專心一境,使內心進入安定而純淨的境地,這就是定。得了定,部分的煩惱降伏了,但要斷除煩惱,非引發無漏慧不可。真慧——二無我慧,是廓清我見、妄執的利器,如熾烈的猛火一樣,燒盡一切的煩惱。內心經過慧火的鍛鍊,畢竟清淨,這才能內心外身,所行都能合法。慈悲心淨化而增長了,能捨己為人,顯發為圓滿的德行。從這學佛的過程看,學佛不是別的,只是從外表清淨而到內心清淨,從內心淨化而使外表的行為,更完美,更圓滿,學佛實只是道德的實踐。這一完美的實踐過程,雖不能人人都做到,但要做一世間的善人,也得合乎學佛的戒學才得。

Ven Yin Shun (印顺法师) 1.

My religion is to live and die without regret.

— Milarepa

The Butterfly Mind
by Rob Nairn

WHY IS THE MIND UNSETTLED?

First we need to ask why it is necessary to settle the mind, and what is the unsettled mind. Mostly, it is the mind we have always lived with, the one that can’t remain on the cushion. It can’t remain in this room or anywhere near this place most of the time. We sit down, focus on the external meditation support, and we form an intention. Our intention is to remain present with the meditation support.

Then a very interesting thing happens. Something within us, within seconds, perhaps a split second, overrides that intention. In an instant, we are no longer with the meditation support, instead we are thinking about something. Now that is quite interesting if we sit back and look at it.

Here we are, these ‘self-deterministic’ human beings who are supposedly able to guide our destinies through the universe, but we can’t even carry out an intention to keep the mind in one place for more than a few seconds at best! Something else overrides that intention and we are away.

What overrides that intention? Habit. What sort of habit? The habit of having a butterfly mind. An unsettled mind. A mind that prefers to be in constant movement and activity. When we try to meditate we discover how distracted and unsettled our minds really are. It’s usually quite a healthy shock to new meditators.

So our mind zaps away, out of this room. We could be in Trafalgar Square, New York, or down at a Cape Town beach within an instant of starting our meditation. Quite possibly it takes a little bit of time before we catch up with it and bring it back into this room. Then it’s gone again! Then we catch up with it and bring it back into this room.

So that is the unsettled mind. It is the mind that, of its own accord, moves away. When our mindfulness is weak we don’t even realise that it has moved. It’s as though we fell asleep. We sit there and think, ‘Ah, now I’m going to meditate… I wonder what we will have for supper tonight?’ We’re gone! Now we realise that if we don’t learn to settle the mind we are unlikely even to begin meditating.

HOW WE KEEP THE MIND UNSETTLED

Interestingly, what we don’t understand is that we are continually strengthening the tendency of the mind to be unsettled, and we are doing it in a variety of ways.

One is, we continually seek entertainment. It may be through TV, radio, a book, a conversation or drinking coffee. If we are denied all those external forms, all we have left to fall back on is the entertainment of the mind’s imaginative activity. And that is limitless! It can run videos forever! It does it because we want it to. At a certain level, we most certainly want it to. It’s boring and tiresome just to be here watching the breath. So we definitely want to be doing something else.

Quite often we won’t let our minds settle because we are afraid that if we do manage to switch off the eternal video we will uncover what we have spent so much of our lives burying and keeping hidden. What we don’t realise is that our intention to remain present and mindful is overridden by another intention which doesn’t reveal itself. It is another of those surreptitious hidden reefs. That intention comes into action the moment the mind spots the possibility of doing something more interesting than meditating. So if we put our mind on sound and the sounds are entertaining or strong, like the sound of an aeroplane, then we can really get off on that because we may not like it. Or if it is something nice like a bird, we can get off on that. If it is the wind in the trees we can stay with that pretty well but after a while there isn’t much juice left in these external possibilities. So our minds now want something different. Something begins to emerge on the outer edge of our mental vision and presents itself as a preferable option. Then this deeper level of intention says, ‘Yes!’ and we’re there. This is one way how we unsettle ourselves.

UNSETTLING THROUGH REACTIVITY

Then there are more rigorous ways of unsettling the mind. We start meditating and go through maybe five or ten minutes of being quite diligent in bringing our minds back to the focus. Then, deep down, a memory stirs of something somebody said to us some weeks ago. We had an argument which perhaps we lost. We didn’t like that so there is quite a strong residual emotional element left. This surfaces somewhere in the back of our minds and sends a tremor through the whole body. Perhaps a feeling that we didn’t like this unresolved blow to our pride, or whatever it was.

Now a new thing happens. We hook into that memory and rerun it. We rerun it with all its emotional impact and this does more than the bland entertainment cycle we’ve just talked about. This really gets us stewed up because we completely invoke all that old business, it hooks onto a whole lot of other related emotion in our minds and before we know it, there is a good old turmoil going on. So there is no tranquillity in our meditation. We’ve managed to get our minds pretty turbulent. Now we’re steamed up! We’re ready to go and punch somebody. This is frustrating because here we are sitting meditating and nobody has even picked a fight with us, and we’re ready to go and punch somebody. What have we done? Thoroughly unsettled our minds.

What we begin to see is that there are these sorts of mechanisms in operation. Although they are relatively superficial within the meditation context they are going on in our daily lives. So if, in meditation, we spot our unsettlers, we can begin to identify them in life. We begin to see how continually through the day we are unsettling our minds through our reactivity.

When we are driving a car, for example, and somebody speeds, suddenly appearing over the hill and nearly crashing into us, we get a big fright. Then we get angry. Then we go through a really big scene in our mind about how other people shouldn’t drive so fast and go through red traffic lights. Then somebody pulls in front of us, changing lanes quickly. Now we are even more angry! The piece of road in front of us, that space there, belongs to us. They should know that! They shouldn’t get into it quickly, or at least without asking our permission. So by the time we get to work we are really not in a fit state to do much except growl at people.

If we go back over this whole business in the traffic we begin to see that it is a self-generated turmoil. It is just an indulgence in reactivity. And there are very definite alternatives. The moment we got into the traffic, and the other guy was speeding, we could see what we were doing. We could know that ‘OK, this is what happens in traffic. I do it myself sometimes. When I am in a hurry, I speed up over hills and I go through red traffic lights.’ I’ll bet most of us have done that! So that person isn’t doing anything different from what we have all done. It is just our ego territorial compulsion that is making us buy into reactivity.

If we see this we can let it go. If the guy pulls in front of us, we just slow down and let him go. If he wants to change lanes, we just slow down and let him go. Slowly, it’s no big deal. The stress of driving through traffic falls away and we are just adjusting to and accommodating the needs of other human beings.

What we see from this example is that through our reactivity and our projection we’re keeping our minds unsettled and we are convinced that it is the fault of other people. The traffic example is easy to deal with because it is so obvious, but this is going on in many areas of our lives. We are doing this constantly because we are not aware of our expectations, assumptions and reactivity. We have probably done this so consistently through our lives that we no longer realise we are doing it.

We may say, If only I could go away to a really nice quiet holiday spot, I would be much more at ease. Then I would be much more peaceful and happy.’ Unfortunately we wouldn’t because we take with us our built-in tendency to unsettle and stress ourselves out. What we have to learn is that if we begin to understand how we unsettle ourselves, we can free ourselves and relax wherever we are. Not always, but pretty well anywhere. The point is that each time we unsettle the mind we strengthen the tendency for it to be unsettled. This means it will remain unsettled for a long time after the specific incident is past. ln addition, because the strong tendency is there, it will unsettle itself of its own accord, even when we don’t want it to. We can’ blame it because we set the causes in motion ourselves.

HOW TO SETTLE THE MIND

It is important that we come to our meditation understanding that we are inherently inclined to unsettle our minds. External things do not generally unsettle our minds; internal things do. We are responsible for this inner environment. So we sit and meditate and then see the first unsettling action. The mind is wanting to take off somewhere. Now comes the important moment. The normal tendency is to grab the mind and wrench it back, an act of violence similar to a parent in a supermarket with little Annie, who wants to take stuff off one of the display stands. The tired, overwrought, frustrated father grabs hold of her and yanks her back. Of course, straight away there is a scream and a scuffle and a fight.

That is what happens to our mind if we treat it that way. If we wrench the mind back from its preferred course of activity we are going to create inner turmoil, adding stress, tension and resentment to our unsettledness. We will feel an internal resistance building up in the mind. So don’t attempt to settle the mind forcefully – it won’t work. Try to be the kind parent: return to the meditation support gently, kindly. That’s the first principle of settling – know there is no need to chase off after any thought, but when the tendency to do so arrives, simply turn gently away from the temptation and return to the support.

Rob Nairn 7.

It is unwholesome to mislead my lama and those worthy of offerings, deceiving them about my qualities and practise. I shall never intentionally deceive someone worthy of offerings, but shall confess my faults, seeking correction. It is unwholesome to make others regret what is virtuous, especially their generosity, vows, and commitments. I shall ripen and encourage sentient beings according to their dispositions, establishing them, whenever possible, in the Great Vehicle. It is unwholesome to speak harsh words to Bodhisatvas, even if they have only mouthed the vows. Thinking of sentient beings as Buddhas, I shall constantly admire and praise them, especially if they have engendered the awakening mind. It is unwholesome to take advantage of sentient beings, cheating them, denouncing them, or abusing them in any way. I shall not hesitate to establish them in happiness, in this and every life.

— Jetsun Taranatha

十善、十不善
卓格永丹嘉措仁波切

什麽是“十善”?不殺生、偷盜、邪淫是身三善;不妄語、惡口、二舌、不綺語是四口善;不貪欲、嗔恚、愚癡是三意善等十善,“行十善,戒十惡”也是解脫之道,這就說明日常生活當中也有修解脫道的機會。無論身處何地或者以行、住、坐、臥的何種威儀作何事情,我們都應該覺知到自心究竟處在怎樣的狀況,透過具備這種正念與正知而相續不斷地成辦利他之事,這一點兒,是佛子們所應實踐的。

勤修什麽呢? 當然是勤修"善"。什麽樣叫善? 勤修十善,剔除十不善。怎麽去衡量善與惡? 諸法由緣生,於在渴望度。做每件事都要看它的動機來決定是善還是惡。"三輪體空"的基礎上做每件事也是最好的善事。而以不著"能、所、事件"的"三輪體空"的"清淨慧","回向菩提"、回向終極的覺悟。俗話說:做任何事不要執著於能、所、事件而清淨平等,爲消除無邊衆生之苦而精進修善!“如《賢愚經》雲:‘莫想諸善微,無益而輕視,水滴若積聚,漸次滿大器。’我們只要是每天做一件善事,不管小與大,最終會有光明的結果。相反,我們應當注意每一件惡事,都儘量不要做。”

作爲母親爲自己的兒女作出無私地奉獻,是我們應當學習的榜樣。阿彌陀佛!從佛教角度講:一切有情衆生,沒有一個不是我們父母的,所以我們平等對待每一個衆生。當我們失去他們的時候,我們應該做的就是多爲衆生服務,讓他們高興就是我們應該做的。所以,想爲已離我們而去的父母、孩子做一點事嗎?當下修善!寫到這不由得想起了汶川地震時的情景。一個母親用身體拼命護住自己的孩子,用自己的生命換來了孩子生命。我們對衆生要有母親對孩子一樣的慈悲心,不能爲自己的利益得失而喪失對衆生的慈悲心,包括自己的孩子(胎兒)。我們從現在做起吧!阿彌陀佛阿彌陀佛阿彌陀佛阿彌陀佛阿彌陀佛阿彌陀佛阿彌陀佛阿彌陀佛阿彌陀佛阿彌陀佛阿彌陀佛阿彌陀佛阿彌陀佛願天下父母平安健康!願災區人們早日脫離苦難!願一切衆生早日心生菩提!

經中雲:"殺生之上無他罪,十不善中邪見重。"殺害衆生生命的罪過直接關係到衆生的生活、環境、生存的質量。所以,我們作爲人類將應當愛護有情衆生的生命、環境、生存的質量。我們努力去做戒殺、少殺等行善,爲未來的和諧、平安做出微薄之力。

佛教認爲,輪回是由業力所生、由業果所成。輪回的根就是無明在做怪,有了無明才生起十不善。十不善爲:殺生、不與取、邪淫、妄語、離間語、惡語、綺語、貪心、害心、和邪見。我們每一個人能斷除十不善,而脫離苦海,這一點每一個行菩提道者任務。

1、殺生。一般人認爲:不殺生誰都做的到;就是不殺人、馬、牛等大牲動物嗎?這些我不殺!其實不然,佛教認爲:殺生要具備四種條件,如果完全具備這四個條件以後就成立了殺生的罪業。哪四種條件呢? 對境、動機、行動和結果。

①對境,是一切有情衆生,包括我們經常見到的,螞蟻、蚊子、蟑螂等等;

②動機,是殺生的動機。貪嗔癡所引起的殺衆生之心,如果具備其他三個條件就是完整的殺生之業;但不具備其他三個條件、殺他之心還仍然保持著,而且每天念念不忘也會殺生之過,直達放棄這種念頭爲止!

③行動,自己用各種方法去殺衆生,或者托人殺乃至參與出謀劃策都一樣有過;

④結果,殺生的行爲完全結束,並心裏爲此感到高興就是結果。

另外,我們值得注意的是,我們生活當中經常遇到的比如:蚊子、蟑螂、螞蟻等小型動物也是生命,而且爲了生存而奔跑、以及貪生怕死,都我們沒有什麽兩樣,所以我們也不能隨便剝奪她們的生命。佛教認爲一切生命都要平等對待!阿彌陀佛!

如果我們已經做過一些殺生、或類似殺生之分怎麽辦呢?這就是我們所有人的問題。當什麽時候認識到殺生不對的時候,立即發誓言:我從今天起不殺生,而多做善事爲利一切衆生。這樣我們什麽時候有這種的感悟之時,就是我們一生中命運轉爲好的方向邁出第一步了。所以,佛教認爲"不怕犯錯,就怕不知錯"。

殺生有各類性的殺生!比如在佛經裏特別提到的:殺人或墮胎。佛很早就有這樣的預告。這就說明了我們這一代人要好好善待自己的人身,就要從不殺生做起。現實生活中最大的問題就是墮胎。很多人認爲這個事沒有什麽大不了的,但如果你面前是你的五歲的寶寶和胎兒的話你選擇放棄誰?選哪個都有一樣的罪過!

救一條或者放一條生命,可以創造奇迹佛土。相反殺一條或抓、釣一條生命,也可以創造不可思議的痛苦和煩惱!常常我們會有一些莫名其妙的生病、痛苦、煩燥等等,這些都有可能來自於我們一點一滴不良的習慣。比如爲了個人吃喝玩樂而直接或間接地奪取衆生的生命,象吃牛、羊、狗、魚、螃蟹、蝦等的生命!

我曾聽說有幾個人去非洲,看見一個奇怪的現象:雨後的地面爬滿了螃蟹,於是他們流口水,但又怕有生命危險;其中一個人冒著生命危險說:“我先嘗試一隻,兩小時以後我若沒有事的話,你們再吃。”他吃了以後沒有發現任何異常現象,其他的人都開始一起享用美味,直到路面再也看不到螃蟹爲止。你們說:那位替大家嘗試螃蟹的人的行爲是善還是惡呢?我最近得知的消息說,這個嘗試的那位,從非洲回國沒有幾年就得癌症去世了。不管怎樣,我們爲他祈禱。阿彌陀佛阿彌陀佛阿彌陀佛!

佛教徒的最終目標就是不傷害每一個衆生,我們也要爲了這個目標每天能爲利一切衆生的事做一個算一個,而爲此高興和他人分享。每當節日來臨之時很多人滿足自己的願望會做一件自己覺得值得的事。因爲,每個人的因緣不同做的事也各不相同,但都有一個共同點就是爲了自己、家人、朋友高興。在這個過程中每一個人的喜好、和方式不同而一些衆生帶來不安,比如說:餐桌上的很多活魚、蝦、螃蟹、羊羔等等,願這些早日脫離苦海阿彌陀佛。

2、偷竊或不與取:

①對境,屬於他人的物品,包括有形和無形資産等。

②動機,貪心等引起的他人的物品想變成自己的心態,而且念念不舍。

③行動,用行動來實現自己的願望。比如:通過權力和武力搶別人的物品變爲己有;或者通過各種手段他人不知情的情況下他物變成己有的一切行動,包括主謀策劃的行動等。

④結果,不管搶去或者偷去等用各種辦法,最後落到自己的手裏,並且心裏充滿新喜。具備這四種條件以後完全成立了一個偷竊或者不與取。但不具備一個條件就會它的罪行輕一點,可是數量達到一定的劑量後也有可能同等于完全的不與取罪行。所以,我們最好是每天都要監督自己的行爲和心態是我們目前最重要的。

3、邪淫。也分對境、動機、行動和結果等四種條件。對出家人來講是不淨行,要戒一切不淨行;對在家人來講就是邪淫,簡單講:一妻一夫以外的就叫邪淫。戒邪淫的功德無量:下一世得到人身的根基、修行時得一切功德的基礎、得解脫的光明之路不可缺少的一盞燈。

邪淫的過患特別嚴重,而且對毀壞其他戒律起到推波助瀾的作用。再來說說邪淫的分類:包括男人自己出精、與他人的妻子或者別人已經付了賞錢的女人作不淨行。就算是有人身自由的女人,但是在白天、受齋戒日、生病期間、妊娠期間、憂愁所迫、月經期間、産婦未恢復以及有三寶所依的地方等進行交歡都屬於邪淫。

另外,也包括對直系親屬、未成年的少女,以及在手、口和肛門等等非處行淫。身爲在家人,應當瞭解從環境、時間的角度所分的不同邪淫種類,進而一併斷除。我們一定要先知道,後斷除。不然就不知道什麽是不能做的了。現在我們知道後立即執行,這就叫知行合一。

4、妄語。妄語分三類:一般妄語、大妄語、上人法妄語。

①一般妄語,就是指懷有欺騙他人之心而說的一切自性妄語。

②大妄語,信口開河地說行善沒有功德、作惡沒有罪過、清淨刹土沒有安樂、惡趣沒有痛苦、佛陀沒有功德等等,再也不可能有比這更爲嚴重的彌天大謊了,因此這些被稱爲大妄語。

③上人法妄語,本來沒有得地而說得地了,沒有神通而說有神通等,凡是自己沒有功德說成有功德華,這一切都屬於上人法妄語。這也具備對境、動機、行動、結果等四個條件就成立這個罪行了。比如:被騙的人是對境;用妄語來謀利的心態就是動機;說妄語的各種行爲是行動;妄語的行爲對方完全相信而得謀利就是。

5、離間語。比如兩人很要好,另外一人就嫉妒他們,故意講一些令其分離的話,這樣的話叫離間語。也分公開離間語,暗中離間語。

①公開離間語:一般是指具有權威的人在兩個人同在的場合裏,當面以離間語使他們倆關係破裂而分道揚鑣。說些很多類似這樣直截了當挑撥離間的語言就叫公開離間語。

②暗中離間語:本來兩人情投意合,另有人到其中的一個人面前說:"你對他倒是情真意切、關懷備至,可是他對你卻品頭論足、說長道短。"這種背後以離間語讓雙方各奔東西的話就叫做暗中離間語。密乘傳法的上師與弟子之間進行挑撥而搞破他們的關係,或者在金剛道友之間製造不和,那罪業可是重上加重。

6、粗語,也叫惡語。比如,對生理有缺陷的人,稱呼瞎子、聾子之類不好聽的話。總之,不管以何種方式,凡是讓人聽起來不舒服、令人傷心的話語,都叫惡語或粗語。儘管不是惡語,但是通過溫和的方式使對方心不愉快,這種也包括惡語當中。特別是在上師、善知識和高僧大德前說三道四的刺耳話罪過更大。

7、綺語。除了上述的妄語、離間語、粗語之外,凡是在貪嗔癡慢的基礎上所講的,如講一些戰爭故事、很多感情上的經歷等,都是綺語。因爲其基礎非貪即嗔,所言毫無意義,故叫綺語。各種各樣的綺語表面看起來好像是自然而然脫口而出的,但是仔細觀察就會發現,其是大多數綺語都是由貪心與嗔心引起的。

8、貪心。當你看到他人財物內心感覺喜愛時,就很容易生起這樣的念頭:我能擁有這些該有多好啊!或是想用非法手段獲取財物,這種念頭就叫貪心。諸如此類凡是對別人的財物等生起謀求的心態都屬於是貪心。

9、害心。是指傷害別人的心念。比如,對你不好的人,就想種種辦法去害他,此起心動念就叫害心。

10、邪見。這裏主要是指否定因果的存在,否定前世、後世的存在,認爲修道、成就、極樂世界、地獄等都不存在,這樣的觀點叫作邪見。

我們作爲凡夫人應當多學多做。斷除十不善,多做十善,做好一舉一動一點一滴,這樣以來我們的未來一定會是光明的。

Droge Yonten Gyatso Rinpoche (卓格仁波切) 7.

According to Buddhism, the cycles of cause and effect of our negative deeds (karma) yield only pain. When we die and our mind escapes from the web of our material body, we begin our journey through the transitional state (bardo) to our next rebirth. Whether our subsequent rebirths are pleasant or not depends on the habits that we have generated in our mind. Whatever negative experience we have today is the product of some unwholesome mental and emotional tendency, or karma, from our past.

Karma can also work in our favour, however. Thanks to karma, if we could sow a seed of positive perceptions and feelings, we could turn our mental and emotional tendencies to positive ones and start to enjoy a peaceful and joyful life.

— Tulku Thondup Rinpoche

To Enter the Vajrayana Start at the Beginning
by Tsoknyi Rinpoche

All great teachers of the past have taught the identical message: “Gather the accumulations, purify the obscurations, and receive the blessings of a qualified master.” In the tradition I represent, the preliminary practices are very, very important. I don’t think that the buddhas and all the past masters have created them just to lead us astray.

The vajrayana vehicle contains many methods and few hardships to reach enlightenment. Some of the easiest are devotion and compassion, along with the recognition of mind nature. Combine these with the preliminaries and you will progress quickly. Dzogchen, the highest teaching of the Nyingma school, is the pinnacle of the vajrayana vehicle. It doesn’t make sense to grab at the highest teachings and reject the rest. It is pointless to invent some personal idea of Dzogchen to train in. If you do, then Dzogchen becomes something fabricated, something you have made up. Calling your own theories Dzogchen is a foolish pretense which has nothing to do with the genuine, authentic teachings.

You see, Dzogchen is not made up of bits of information that you can collect and take home. Dzogchen is about how to be free. It is not sufficient to only receive the teachings; you must apply them, live them. Right now, we are still enveloped in deluded experience. We have created a cage for ourselves out of our own emotions and duality, and here we sit, day in and day out. We can remain in this cage or we can use the Dzogchen instructions to break it open and become free.

With the openness of devotion, the blessings can enter our stream of being. When we fully let go, with deep trust, it is possible to recognise the state of original wakefulness. This practice is not some new philosophical position, a new concept that you acquire, but a way of fully letting go of all conceptual attitudes.

To arrive at thought-free wakefulness is not impossible or necessarily very difficult. However, it does require the accumulation of merit, purification of obscurations, and making a connection with a qualified master. These three are extremely important and repeatedly emphasised.

Sure, we can be told, “Sit down and let go completely, just be natural.” But can we, really? We try to let go, but actually we don’t, we are still holding on-holding on to the letting go. We hold on to something else then; again, we try to let go. We are always holding on to something, putting up some resistance. Actually, we do not really want to let go. It is against our nature, so to speak. We prefer to retain ego control and it’s a very strong habit. It doesn’t matter how many times we are told to drop everything and be one hundred percent uncontrived and natural, we still hold on to the letting go. Holding on to what we are recognising, “Wow, now I recognise the nature of mind.” Clinging to the natural state, holding on to the concept, “This is it.”

In other words, although we try to let go, a part of us is still holding on. Therefore, it is never the genuine natural state. So something is needed to completely shatter the conceptual attitude, to smash it to pieces. One essential way is provided by the circumstance of devotion. When we thoroughly open up in the moment of devotion, it’s like all the peels of our philosophical ideas, all of the wrapping, all the concepts that we use to compartmentalise reality is totally stripped away. Being full of genuine devotion is one of the purest conceptual states. Then, if we have received the essential instruction of recognising mind essence, we can recognise self-aware original wakefulness.

This is also possible when full of compassion. When you feel sincere empathy towards all sentient beings, such purity disperses conceptual mind. Simultaneous with that your mind becomes wide open. And again, in that moment, there is the opportunity, if you have received the essential instructions, to apply them. You can recognise self-knowing original wakefulness and arrive in the natural state, genuinely and authentically.

Otherwise, it appears that we just do not want to actually be in the natural state. Our habit is not to be and that’s a very hard habit to break. So, that is why there are many practices to facilitate the recognition of mind nature-to break the normal habit of conceptual mind and ego. However, heart-felt devotion and compassion are the foremost facilitators for arriving back in the original state.

Through the preliminary practices, it becomes easier to recognise and train in the nonconceptual meditation of Dzogchen. The general preliminaries are the four contemplations on precious human body, impermanence and death, cause and effect of karma, and the defects of samsara. The special preliminaries are taking refuge, arousing bodhicitta, the recitation and meditation of Vajrasattva, mandala offerings, and guru yoga.

If we feel that it is difficult to simply let be, the preliminary practices are a method to make it easier for us. Also, when we arrive at Dzogchen itself, we need to rely on our own intelligence. But few of us have such a capacity and so a method is required, and that is another place where the preliminary practices come in.

Accumulating merit or using conceptual methods are like making a candle. The Dzogchen pointing-out instruction is like lighting the candle. You need to have both – the candle and a match – together to illuminate the darkness. With inadequate merit, maybe you can recognise mind essence, but instantly the recognition disappears. You cannot concentrate; you lack the candle. It is like a match in the darkness; it will quickly flicker and die. There is no way to even light the candle, if you do not have enough merit.

Many positive conditions must come together to be able to practice the dharma. Some people really aspire to practice, but their lifestyle makes it very difficult. Others wish to spend three years in retreat, but they don’t have any money. Still others have plenty of money, but cannot get any teachings. Sometimes people have a very good teacher and teachings, but their situation is complicated: they are always fighting with their spouse, with not a moment of peace in their home, or their job takes up all their time. So, you need to change your circumstances, but to do so you must have merit and for that there is no better method than the preliminary practices.

It is the kindness of the buddhas to provide us with a complete path, and the preliminary practices are part of that complete path. Often students refrain from doing them because they do not understand their purpose. Some students even think the preliminary practices are some sort of punishment. However, this is not a punishment meted out to torture people, not at all. Your laziness might say, “Oh no, the preliminary practices are so difficult. They must be meaningless. I don’t want to do them.” But you have to smash that lazy tendency. The main obstacle to practice is laziness. If you crush it from the beginning, your laziness will get scared and run away, “Ooh, I cannot go near these people; it is too much for me.” Prostrations will chop up your physical laziness and mandala offerings will chop up your attachment.

To truly progress in dharma practice, you also have to develop the proper motivation, “I want to engage in meditation to purify my obscurations, particularly my main enemy, ego-clinging, and benefit all sentient beings.” If you have that kind of motivation, you will progress towards enlightenment, not towards building up a strong healthy ego.

While generating this kind of motivation, ego might kick up a fuss and try to create doubts in your mind. Just ignore it. Ego might say, “This can’t be true. How can you help all sentient beings? How can you purify yourself?” When this happens, please be careful, do not listen. In other words, our progress is completely dependent on whether our motivation is pure. Dharma practice is dependent on mind and that means our attitude or motivation.

Often when people come to my retreats, they do so to be free of suffering. They think, “I need to be free of unpleasant emotions, so I am going to do Buddhist practice.” This is one type of motivation. Another is, “I want to help all sentient beings recognise their self-existing awareness.” That is being motivated by altruistic kindness. However, the best is to be motivated in a true unfabricated way. But as that often isn’t possible, we must instead begin by fabricating it with the bodhichitta resolve. Remember, proper motivation ensures that our actions will head us in the right direction.

These days many people have a problem of low self-esteem and normal worldly aims are not enough. Somehow, ego is tired of the ordinary and needs different fuel. If you take spiritual fuel and give it to your ego, your ego will become stronger and you can go back into worldly life. Yet, this is not the purpose of spiritual practice. Quite honestly, for many, their normal ego is already fed-up with worldly society. They want to pump up their egos, but normal fuel is not good enough. When they hear that in the mountains, there is some spiritual fuel from Tibet, then they think, “That will pump me up. If I can get some of that, then I will be better, even while walking through Times Square.” So, they head off to the mountains, to get some Tibetan fuel to pump up their egos. That attitude might be okay to bring someone into contact with the teachings, but it will not serve the true purpose of dharma.

Ego-clinging is very subtle. Everything we do seems to be another way to feed the ego. The ego bribes us into assuming a path that seems to be a genuine spiritual practice, but then our ego usurps it. Even chanting Om Mani Padme Hum can be appropriated by the ego. You sit down on your meditation cushion and assume the posture, but it’s because of ego. You light incense and prostrate before your statues in your little retreat room, but it’s still all for your ego. We need something to break free from the ego’s grip and that is the accumulation of merit and the purification of obscurations, in conjunction with devotion and compassion.

If we do not know how to initially motivate ourselves in the true way, dharma practice may be nothing more than another way of popping our daily vitamin pill, one to make “me” strong and healthy. When spiritual practice is a dietary supplement, you apply it when you feel a little low on energy or a little upset. You sit down and practice to feel better. You try to balance yourself through practice and later return to your normal activities.

Some people have this attitude, believe me! They tell themselves that they need spirituality in their lives; after all, it is not politically correct to be totally materialistic. So they give themselves a little dose in the morning and another in the evening. They apply the gloss of spirituality to put a shine on their normal lives. This is a particular trend and some so-called teachers teach in this way. They tell their students that if they sit and meditate for a few minutes, they will be much happier. They are trying to make spiritual practice easier, more appetising, more palatable; trying to bend the dharma to fit people’s attitudes. But that is not the true dharma, so don’t make the mistake of confusing this type of practice for the real thing.

Even if you only practice a little bit, try to do it in a genuine way, with a true view, meditation and conduct. Even if it is only for a short while, let it be real. Otherwise, it is better to give it up all together, because you may wind up using the dharma only to further ensnare yourself in confusion. To pretend to be a spiritual person and wear a rosary on your wrist is useless unto itself. If it happens naturally, fine, no problem. But if your intention is to be respected by others, to create a better image because you meditate or are spiritual, you are merely being pretentious.

Nor should you apply dharma-polish, the type of spiritual practice that can make our deluded state appear prettier, more pleasant. One can advertise the value of spiritual practice, like advertising an exercise machine: “Use it two times a day for three weeks, and your confusion is guaranteed to clear up!” It sounds nice, but it doesn’t work.

Really, to do dharma practice, you need to be honest with yourself and be able to appreciate what it is you are doing. True honesty and appreciation give you confidence in life. Do not cheat yourself. If your practice is only to boost your ego, then dharma becomes nothing more than a mask. You are simply fooling yourself, which is useless. You might as well not bother. But, if your motivation is pure, you won’t fool yourself.

Actually, who knows whether we are fooling ourselves or not? Karma does. Karma stays with you continuously; it never closes its eyes. Even when you are in the bathroom, karma is watching. So be careful! No matter what you do or where you are, karma never sleeps. Karma is a witness to all you do, now and in the future. Whether other people acknowledge your actions or not really doesn’t matter; karma and the buddhas will. Trust yourself; trust your pure motivation and the good actions of karma. Pure motivation is not so difficult to understand, really; take it to heart and live it. Don’t be like the person who comes to me with a cup containing water, ten spoons of sugar, ten of chilli, ten of oil and many other things. They say, “Rinpoche, this doesn’t taste so good. I want it to taste better. Can you do something?”

So I say, “Sure, I’ll try.” And I start to pour some of the water out. The person jumps up, “Oh please, don’t pour any water out! I don’t want to take anything out.” So, wondering what I should do, I ask, “Can I add more sugar?” Again he objects, “No, no. I don’t want to add anything. Just make it taste good. I don’t want to change anything, except the taste.” So what is one to do? For me, it is very easy, I say, “Fine, fine, I will pray for you.” Because there’s nothing else for me to do, except pray. Actually, people like this don’t want to change, let alone let go of ego. Yet, they still want something to happen. They are waiting for a miracle which will never come, so all I can do is pray.

Tsoknyi Rinpoche 12.