The Four Thoughts

There are many important things in this life. My own experience has led me to appreciate the preciousness of life. Everyone's life is precious. Meditating on the preciousness of this life is important for spiritual practice. When there are challenging circumstances, it is important to think of the preciousness of life in order to transform these circumstances. So what does this mean? The mind, body, and heart have the nature of enlightenment, whether we realize it or not. Everybody has this nature, human and non-human. Another way of putting this is that we all have the ability to be free of afflicted emotions and suffering. So it is important and beneficial to remember this. As meditators we try to train our minds with different methods. But sometimes because of afflicted emotions the mind falls under negative conditions so that we don't see this enlightened nature.

This life is important because whatever we wish to achieve depends on having this precious life. Whether we have ordinary goals or the extraordinary goal of enlightenment for all beings, it all depends on this precious life. Buddhism teaches that there is life after life, but without understanding this life, it is useless to worry about other lives. Everything needs to be put into practice in this life. If we practice today, tomorrow will be a better day. Shantideva said this precious life is so difficult to achieve, so we need to appreciate it. Our life depends on many factors coming from others. This message is simple, but at the same time it is powerful. We should realize this from our hearts. Then we will be able to develop loving kindness for ourselves and others. Out of that can develop compassion and forgiveness for self and others. There will be no way to harm others if we understand this. Spiritual study is for the sake of practice. But practice is not enough. We need to understand the key points of the four thoughts. This is the time to practice. There is no guarantee we will be able to in the next life.

One quality of precious life is that when our minds are deluded by negative thoughts and emotions thinking positive thoughts free us from them. We start with the prayers to put a positive motivation on our life. We pray for our enemies. According to the bodhisattva way of life there are no enemies. But from the relative level there are outer and inner enemies. The outer enemy arises from the inner enemy, our own deluded mind. We have to meditate again and again until we understand it from the heart. The sign of understanding is that a warm heartedness and firm conviction of the need to practice arises when we contemplate it. As Garchen Rinpoche has said many times, everyone has realized their own mind, but they are unable to maintain this realization. Often they are not even aware of that realization. Milarepa told his students many times that they need to practice continuously to maintain their realization. Buddha said, you are not enlightened because of laziness. I became enlightened because of my joyous effort. Without this effort it is difficult to understand our wisdom. I had to stand for an oral test on the Shantideva. I was asked which chapter of the Bodhicharyavatara. I answered the chapter on joyous effort. I was asked why. I explained everyone has a little wisdom. There is no doubt they will increase it with joyous effort. Joyous effort is wisdom, it is concentration, it is ethics, it is generosity. So it contains all the other perfections. I am not a great meditator. I have tried many types of practice, but have found the meditation on precious life is most effective.

There are many dimensions to precious human life. It is important to understand it from the heart. If it is only an intellectual understanding, then it is easy to lose it. That is why we need to remind ourselves of it every day. The most important thing is to appreciate it in ourselves and others. Then we will have loving kindness. So consider it every day. That way it will outweigh the challenges in our life, which pull us away.

The next point is impermanence. Everything is impermanent. The Tibetan is med rtogpa. It means nothing remains, even for a second. The impermanence of the elements is outer impermanence. Likewise, inside our bodies everything changes. So this is inner impermanence. Impermanence is not meant to scare you. It is taught so that you can understand the true nature of reality. When you understand impermanence you understand precious human life more clearly. It is the antidote for laziness. You understand the preciousness of time. Understanding this, you use time to best benefit yourself and others. Great teachers therefore recommend impermanence as the best meditation. Especially in Atisha's tradition it is emphasized. Every day they appreciated that they had another day of life and every night they thought they might die before tomorrow. There is no guarantee of another day of life. From this consideration a sense of compassion and kindness arises. It is challenging to think of our own impermanence, but it is a very powerful teaching.

Buddha and the great masters of the past died and so did our ancestors. When we think like this, we see that we are also impermanent. My mother was born in Tibet, in a wealthy family. But after 1959, all that was lost and she did not keep a penny of it. Since coming to India, she did not try to save her wealth, but use it as she received it. The practitioner who understands impermanence is much calmer and relaxed. The story of Milarepa illustrates impermanence. He wanted to go back to his home, but at first Marpa would not give his permission. He finally gave it, but told him not to stay longer than a week. When he reached his home, it was a ruin, with grass growing inside. He found the bones of his mother in the house. He collected all the bones and cried. Finally he remembered Marpa's teaching on impermanence. He sang a song on impermanence and realized the true meaning of impermanence.

Lord jigten Sumgon, the founder of the Drikung, asked his students to show him their realization. So they all showed their psychic powers gained from meditation. One student could not demonstrate, so he demonstrated by trying to pass away. He could not. So Jigten Sumgon sang a song on the futility of attachment. He passed away and many relics were found. When a great master dies, they are joyful. They understand it is only the body changing. When I finished my studies I did a retreat. My first practice was on the four thoughts. But when I sat down to meditate on them, though my mind was blank. So I opened the texts and read them slowly, a line at a time. So I realized there was a difference between study and practice.

When at first you meditate on impermanence, you feel a sadness. But then your heart and mind get stronger and stronger. It makes a strong foundation for the practice of dharma. It creates a feeling of renunciation, Out of that renunciation, wisdom arises and all our negativity is purified.

The Tibetan word for karma is las. Everything Buddha taught is based on karma. If you deny karma you cannot be a good practitioner. It is the most important point. There are two types of karma, virtuous and unvirtuous. Protecting life, speaking truthfully, not stealing and practicing generosity, these are all positive karma. Virtuous actions and thoughts are positive karma. The reverse of these are negative karma. Negative karma is based on the negative emotions of ignorance, attachment, and aversion. Karma is of the body, speech, and mind. The mind is the most powerful, so it is important to train the mind. There is also collective and individual karma. There is karma at the global, society, family, and individual level. Practicing together creates a collective positive karma. We wish to meet together, not just this lifetime, but life after life. So we should be aware of our bodily actions, such as killing, injuring, or torturing other beings. The antidote for killing is practicing life release. The antidote for stealing is making offerings to the Three Jewels and practicing generosity. The worst form of lying is claiming to have spiritual realization. We should keep our realization secret. Even the Dalai Lama only says he is a simple monk. The antidote to harsh speech is gentle, kind words. Negative thoughts, wishing to harm others and wrong view are negative karma of mind. The worst wrong view is to deny the reality of karma or enlightenment.

A person who has a strong belief in karma is going to be a good person. Karma works together with conditions. Even with good karma, we may not have a good result if the conditions are not favorable. Karma is like a seed. It is necessary to also have water, earth and so on for the seed to grow. We may receive many empowerments and teachings, but often it is difficult to open your heart and mind. At other times, we meet the teacher and there is an understanding. Whatever practice we do, we must pay attention to karma. Milarepa received very high teachings before meeting Marpa, but he could not make sufficient effort.

So always try to practice virtue with body, speech, and mind. It will lead to positive merit and wisdom. It is wonderful to practice mantra, but you should not forget karma. Sometime I had a very strong anger towards the Chinese. But after studying the Dharma, that became much better. I had the karma to become a monk and travel to the West. I was only supposed to be in America for three years. I consider myself a Drikung Kagyu. I went to over thirty places teaching in North America. I was asked to teach on Milarepa at the Gelugpa center in Mexico. They asked a master to name that center and he chose the name Rechungpa. Some disagreed, saying it was a Gelugpa center, but the master insisted. Jigten Sumgon said whoever understands emptiness will become much more aware of cause and effect. An understanding of karma will make you blame others less. It will make you put more energy into your practice.

Buddha's teaching is not about the Buddha, it is about the nature of mind and reality. This precious life does not have a guarantee, it is impermanent. Not only this life, everything is impermanent. But everything arises depending on a cause, which is karma. This is something you have to understand not just intellectually, but through meditation. Therefore Jigten Sumgon said that the preliminary practice is more important than the main practice. So until you sincerely understand the four preliminaries, the higher practices are not taught. They are sometimes called the four mind trainings. They are taught in the Kagyu and Nyingma traditions. There is a 100 day retreat that meditates just on the four preliminaries.

The Tibetan word for samsara is khor ba and means circling. As long as the negative emotions are in us, we will be circling. All six realms have the five poisons. The worst suffering in the hell realm is cold and heat. There is no chance to practice because of the intense suffering. But all beings in the six realms have the same buddha nature. The human realm has the best opportunity to develop it. The hungry ghost realm suffering is chiefly hunger and thirst. When my parents fled from Tibet in 1959, they had nothing to eat and drink. They had to hide during the day and travel at night. They had hallucinations about water. In the demi-god realm chief suffering is jealousy. They fight and quarrel all the time. The god realm is very pleasant, but they undergo the suffering of change. Their bodies change when they are about to die. They suffer because they are attached to their former pleasures.

The sufferings of the human realm are birth, sickness, old age and death. Buddha said he would remain and become the king, if he could be sure that he would not grow old, get sick and die. But since there is no way to avoid this, he left home. We cannot avoid these problems, but we can avoid the suffering associated with them. A greatly enlightened being will not be affected by them. The most important point is to preserve the teachings. The temples, stupas, and so on are not so important. Education is the key to freedom. After that the key is practice.

Nagarjuna said we must be aware of the nature of samsara. If someone truly realizes that nature, that is nirvana. For that reason there is no difference between the two. Mahamudra means great non-duality. It means that there is there is no difference between samsara and nirvana. When the mind is not realized, they seem different. But when realized, they are the same. But to realize this we have to work in samsara, we cannot abandon or run away from it. This just as Milarepa explained to the deer, there is no escaping death, no matter how you run.

The most important thing is to know how to practice. We should feel the suffering of each of the six realms.

Reisterstown MD
October 12 2011