The Great Medicine Which Conquers
Clinging To the Notion of Reality
Steps in meditation on the enlightened mind
Root text by Shechen Gyaltsap Pema Namgyal
Explained by by Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche
Part three of a monthly series (Click here for part one.)
Since beginningless time
In the prison of existence,
You have endured the punishment of the threefold suffering.
First there are obvious common sufferings, such as pain, heat and cold, etc. These sufferings come in succession and pile up on top of one another. That is our common experience of suffering. But there is a more subtle form of suffering, which is to misapprehend what happiness actually is and not realizing that it is actually imbued with suffering. Happiness is bound to change into suffering even though it seems, at least momentarily, to be enjoyable. Its nature is to change into its opposite; for example, when we are in a very cold house, we think we want to get warm. So, we go outside into the nice sunshine, where at first the warmth of the sun is very pleasant and the cold in us melts away. But as we remain, we feel it becoming increasingly hot and the perception of pleasure becomes more neutral, and finally it feels too hot - too intense and unpleasant. It has changed. What was first perceived as happy and pleasant, lost its ability to make us happy and became a neutral feeling, which finally changes into pain or suffering.
There is an even more subtle, all-pervading and latent form of suffering: As long as one has the clinging to self or ego and the clinging to the identity of phenomena, then one is bound to experience frustration and suffering. As long as ignorance is there, somehow suffering will never be far away. Suffering is the nature of conditioned existence, but we do not recognize it. That is why it says here:
Yet, you remain unconcerned - rotten heart!
Now is the time to conquer the citadel of great bliss.
"The citadel of great bliss" refers to enlightenment, the elimination of ignorance, and therefore the elimination of suffering. This "great bliss" is not just a temporary relief, for the very cause of suffering is eradicated.
The fourth reflection is on the law of causality pertaining to happiness and suffering. How do happiness and suffering come about? The Buddha taught that everything is the result of causes and conditions; also there is always a transformation due to causes and conditions. That is what karma is in a nutshell. The law of cause and effect is inescapable. It determines the shape of our future, not only of our present life, but also, according to Buddhist tradition, of the various states of existence that one will experience in lives to come.
Buddhists do not consider that death is the end like a flame being blown out or a drop of water evaporating on a hot surface but that consciousness continues. It carries with it the potential that is the result of all those activities and actions, which we call karma. Therefore, in order pursue relative happiness and avoid suffering, we must be able to recognize and discriminate between positive actions that will bring happiness and negative actions that will bring suffering.
Happiness and suffering are manifestations of karma.
You cannot escape the law of cause and effect,
So the Victorious One has said.
Knowing this, discriminate carefully:
Avoid evil deeds; accomplish virtuous acts.
The law of cause and effect explains the subtle workings of life. There is a saying that if you want to see what you were in the past, look at your body; if you want to see what you will be in the future, just look at your actions. What we are did not come out of nowhere, without cause. It has not been imposed upon us by any predetermined destiny or divine creator, but is simply the result of a long chain of causes and effects. Therefore, if you wish to avoid suffering and gain well-being, then you need to gather all the causes and conditions that are going to bring about well-being: your present actions, thoughts and speech. If you want to know your future, you should reflect on what you are doing, thinking and saying now. This simple analysis will allow you to recognize both the causes of suffering and the source of happiness.
Even highly realized practitioners do not neglect the law of cause and effect, but in fact are even more careful and use an even finer judgment. It is said that the realization of emptiness brings about a much deeper understanding of the law of karma and a much greater discernment in one's actions. We can see from our own experience how past mistakes can have serious consequences, but still we have to suffer those consequences. If we could see the broader perspective and the many states of existence that are possible, as well as our past lifetimes, we would certainly be even more careful in our behavior and actions.
The actions of the body, speech and mind do not necessarily bring about immediate effects; they are more like seeds, which have the potential to become flowers, trees or fruit. Similarly we have many latent seeds that have not yet blossomed.
One of the Buddha's followers wanted to become a monk (bhikshu). Shariputra, the Buddha's disciple, through his recollection of the past, was trying to find the seed that created that novice's wish to engage on the monastic path of liberation. It occurred to him that among those seeds there was one that appeared to be quite insignificant. Once this man had been born as a pig that had been chased around a stupa by a dog. It was that one seemingly insignificant connection that acted as the seed and eventually led him to follow a spiritual path. All of our past actions and imprints are infinitely complex, but where we are right now is no accident. It is the expression of many causes and conditions that have interwoven and are coming to fruition now.
Deeply pondering the four reflections is meant to bring about a change in attitude, so that one realizes how precious and fragile human existence actually is. When we gain confidence in how the law of cause and effect works, and believe that the shortcomings of samsaric existence are pervaded with torment, then the desire to escape this vicious cycle of suffering arises naturally. But to escape we need help; we need someone who can guide and assist us, not just anyone, but someone endowed with the qualities of enlightenment and:
Rely upon the undeceiving embodiment of all refuges:
The unexcelled Three Jewels.
Just hearing their names
Shatters the city of existence.
The Three Jewels have totally dispelled ignorance and achieved ultimate wisdom. That is why they are unsurpassed and have such power, and why it is worth seeking their assistance and taking refuge in them with one's whole being.
To be continued next month
Translated by Ani Jinba Palmo.