Contemplation on Death
So then through these contemplations of one's precious human existence, one abandons all non-beneficial action. Then through contemplating how difficult it is to find such a human existence, one will seek out what will take the essence of this precious human existence, that is to say, one will put a lot of effort into engaging in the practice of the Dharma through seeing that one has in one's hands the incredible opportunity to make use of this life, and then the preciousness of one's life won't be carried off by the thief of laziness.
So here we have to understand that this precious human life which we have is not something which is going to last forever - at some point there is going to be the separation of the mind and the body. So when we talk about having a life-force within us, this life-force is basically referring to one's physical body and one's mind being joined together, so that when this joining of these two aggregates is broken, this is what is known as 'death', or the separation of the life-force. So when this occurs, one's physical form remains and is buried or whatever and then aggregate of consciousness goes on to one's future existence.
So this is what is meant by 'death', and this is something which is definitely going to happen to all of us. Now death is something which is definitely going to happen to all of us, but the time of our death is something which is not sure, not definite. If it were definite then we could mark it on the calendar and then just practice a bit beforehand, but however that is not the case - we could pass away at any time. So this being the case, we should really strive to engage in the practice of the Dharma while we have the chance to do that.
Then the third contemplation on death is that nothing is of any use to us at the time of death apart from the amount of time we have engaged in the practice of the Dharma. The reason for this is if we look at our predicament - when we are dying, no matter how rich we are, all our wealth gets left behind; no matter how many friends or associates we have, they all get left behind; even our body which we have striven so hard to protect and adorn and make look beautiful - this at the time of death gets left behind; and all that goes on to the future existence is the aggregate of one's mind and the amount of positive potential and Dharma practice which one has imprinted upon the aggregate of one's consciousness.
So then we should contemplate that not only do we have this precious human existence which is difficult to find and has great meaning, but we should strive to put this into use through contemplating the great purpose of human life and how difficult it is to achieve that, through contemplating that we are definitely going to die, that the time of our death is uncertain, and that the only thing that will be of any use to us at the time of death is how much Dharma practice we have done in our life.
the second line then:
is no time to waste;
So here what we are advised to do is to engage in the practices which we have gone through - contemplating the preciousness of one's human existence, how it is something difficult to come by and has great meaning and that it is not something which is going to last but rather is something that is at some point going to pass away.
So through these contemplations, we come to the state of reversing attraction to this life. The sign of this is that we do not engage in any worldly actions, that is to say, actions which will bring about a result in this life, rather we are striving to utilise all our time to generate positive potential and positive Dharma training that will be of use to us in future lives. So once that has been developed fully within us, we can be said to be on our way with the practice which is in common with an individual of lesser capacity.
Then we should try to emulate the great Kadampa geshe Potowa who used to spend all his time engaged in the practice of meditation or explaining the Dharma or engaging in different kinds of practice. He was continually meditating, reading Dharma, explaining the Dharma - he wasn't an individual like us who runs around doing this and that, but rather had just put his mind solely into Dharma practice, so we should strive to emulate such an individual.
on the Karmic Law
then the text goes on to tell us to:
attraction to future lives;
So then one has a human existence now; if one turns one's attention away from this life and directs it towards one's future lives, the very best one can hope to achieve is another human existence like the one we have now or perhaps birth as a god or as a demigod (thus the three realms of bliss, or three higher realms).
But if we investigate those three higher realms, they are not something which is stable, that is to say, they are not going to last for a long time - even having been born in those states we will inevitably fall from those states when the time of our death comes. So the way we can reverse attraction towards, or thinking solely about, one's future existence is thus through contemplating the karmic law, that is to say, the law of cause and effect.
So here this is a very profound subject, something which is quite difficult to go into great detail upon in such a short space of time, but if we go through the outline of four. Initially we should understand that karma, or action, is something which is definite, its increase is also something which is definite, and then one will not get certain results, for example a positive result, unless one engages in a positive action, that is to say the cause of such a result, and one won't get a result from which one hasn't planted the cause for its arising.
So if we look at this outline of four serially: Initially then that karma, or action, is definite. This means that if we engage in a positive action it is definite that the result of such an action, or such a karma, will be something positive. For example our human life now is the result of engaging in a positive cause in a past existence, and thus this is the ripening effect of that cause. Now the doubt can come - if someone is born as a human and is continually ill or undergoes a great amount of difficulty in their life, then we might feel 'well, that person is born as a human which, you say, is the result of a positive action; however, their human existence is not anything particularly joyous, anything particularly blissful - so how can that be the result of a positive cause?'
So here we should understand a distinction between the different kinds of causes and the different kinds of results of those causes. The very fact that a sick individual has a human body is the result of a positive seed which was planted sometime in a previous existence. However, the various difficulties that this individual undergoes are not the result of the same cause, they are rather the results of different causes, or different karmas. That is to say, that individual has not only committed positive actions in the past, but has also committed negative actions, the ripening results of which are manifest as various difficulties, that is to say, illness etc.
So we can also understand this in reverse - if we look at certain kinds of animals, for example, dogs and cats - even though they are members of what we call the animal kingdom, or are included in the lower realms of existence, then they can still have the results of having committed positive causes in a previous existence. For example, we see dogs that are very, very beautiful, have very beautiful barking, cats that have very beautiful purring and so forth, very beautiful fur, very beautiful tails etc. So these results are not the results of negative causes, or negatives karmas, but rather are the result of positive causes, even though the basis for their ripening is an inferior one which is brought about through a negative karmic action, or a negative cause.
Then the second part of the outline is that karmas, or actions, once committed, increase. We can learn this through a very simple worldly example - if we plant a seed, the result of that seed can be something as huge as a great tree and yield lots of fruit. So a huge tree comes about through a tiny seed and in the same way a small action can bring about a great result, whether it be positive or negative.
We read in the biography of the Buddha that a child threw some grains into the Buddha's begging bowl when the Buddha was walking past. Obviously the child couldn't just reach up and put them in the bowl because he was just a child and the Buddha was an adult, so there was a great difference in height. But even through throwing these grains, it is said that four of the grains fell in the begging bowl and one fell on the circular rim of the bowl, and even though this cause was something very, very small, it is said that the result of this was that the individual was born as a wheel-turning king with complete power over the four continents. So even from a small karmic action such as that, the result is something which is much, much bigger and this is explained clearly in the sutras.
Then the latter two of the outline of four are that if one hasn't generated certain causes then one won't experience the result of those causes, and the opposite - if one has accrued certain causes then one will definitely receive the result of those causes. So here then if one engages in a virtuous action then the result of that is something definite which will come to one and vice versa - if one has engaged in a negative action then the result of that is certain to come to one no matter what one's circumstances.
We can still see this through an example given in the sutras: When the Sakya lineage of India (that which the Buddha belonged to) were destroyed, all wiped out simultaneously, two of them were hiding in a field, and it is said that even though they were far away from the battleground, owing to the light of the sun, the field caught fire and they perished in the fire. So the Buddha was asked about this: 'These two people who escaped from the battleground then went to this field to hide - how is it that they died at the same time that the Sakya clan was wiped out?' He explained that even though they weren't in the actual battleground, then they still had a similar karma to die at that particular time. So we can see various stories which give us solid examples of how that if we have accrued certain kinds of causes, their effect is definitely going to occur at that time unless that karma is exhausted in some way.
This brings us to the fourth of the outline of four which is that karma in and of itself never goes to waste, that is to say, it doesn't grow rotten and then suddenly disappear in and of itself, rather it is something that stays with us unless it is destroyed. So here then we have the understanding that karma is not something which we have to undergo - we can, if we apply the right antidotes, rid ourselves of these particular positive or negative karmic actions.
as it said then, the only good thing about bad karma is that
is can be removed from our mindstream, or from our being. For
example if we engage in the practice of love, this is the antidote
to anger, and the reverse is quite the same - if we generate
anger, this is the thing which destroys love ie virtuous states
of mind. So if we have accrued a great amount of positive potential,
or karma, this can be destroyed in a moment of anger. And with
regard to negative states of mind which we may have generated
in the past, if we engage in the opponent powers practices of
regretting and then applying the various methods of confession
and so forth, we can rid ourselves of these negative karmic
seeds which we have in our being since we have accrued them
in the past.
the stanza then tells us to also reflect upon the misery of
this world, or the cycle of existence, but tomorrow in the section
on compassion, we will engage in the contemplation on the misery
of the cycle of existence, so there's no need to go into this
now. So if you have a question or two?
I wanted to ask about collective karma. Rinpoche talked a bit
about karma but how is it that one karma over-rides and brings
a whole group of people to one disaster out of all the karma
that there could be?
With regard to the understanding of karma for an individual
- if we understand this well, we will understand that through
engaging in positive causes a positive result comes about, and
the same for engaging in destructive karmic actions or causes
- the result of that will be something unpleasant. So it is
not that a group of people collectively engages in one particular
action and then goes on to another action, but rather if we
understand that through engaging in a positive cause, a positive
effect comes around, not only for ourselves but if say everyone
in the room has generated a similar cause in the past then the
result for all of us can ripen at the same time. It's not that
a group has to create a cause as a group, and then kind
of all gather back and, as another group, have that result.
For example, if we look at time - now we are in the time of
the five degenerations, so it's not that we were all in some
previous existence engaging in a particular action and the particular
result of that is now undergoing the time of the five degenerations;
but rather it is that we have engaged in various kinds of negative
actions in the past, the result of which - the time of the five
degenerations - is being experienced by all people, albeit in
slightly different ways.
I have a question for Rinpoche about renunciation. Here in the
West we like to have comfortable homes, we have nice clothes,
things like that, so I ask how we can practice renunciation
without giving up all these things? [Big laugh from class!]
It's very important to have a sense of satisfaction with oneself,
that is to say, if we in general look at the way we behave,
if we have some kind of enjoyment, we are always looking to
better that enjoyment. If we are wearing some kind of particular
clothing, we are always seeking something which is more
beautiful, if we have some delicious food, we are always looking
for something to match that or better that food. So our mind
is not something very content at this point, so it's very important
to develop a content and peaceful mind which is looking at one's
enjoyments in a realistic fashion. That is to say, whatever
we get, be it the very best, we are never going to be satisfied
with that if we engage in desire for perfect objects, or beautiful
objects - we are always going to try to find something which
is better than what we have at the moment. With relationships,
having friends, be they Dharma friends or whatever, when we
come together, there is always going to come a time at the end
when we disperse; and, for example, with our body, we have perfect
human existence now, but this is not something which is going
to last, it is something which is going to pass out of existence.
So if we have a mind which is attached to and desirous of better
and better objects, we are always going to be within a state
of dissatisfaction, so a mind of satisfaction is something that
is extremely important to develop, and more will be said about
this in tomorrow's session.
So before tomorrow's session it would be excellent if you could contemplate the subject matter which we have gone through today. I have received this teaching many, many times from many high and extremely realised masters and they in return have received this from their teachers and thus we can trace the lineage back to Buddha himself. So through the blessing of the lineage there is definitely some benefit to be derived from engaging in these contemplations. Whether there is any direct benefit coming from me or not, there is doubt with regard to that, but with regard to the blessing of the lineage, as I mentioned I have received this teaching many times from many highly realised lamas, so remembering their instructions, I am imparting them to you. So if you could engage in the practice of contemplation on the subject matter, that would be excellent.
Helpful notes by bb @ CAS:
So ends lAM-rIM ONLINE lESSON fOUR --
A) cOMTEMPLATION OF dEATH
B) kARMIC lAW