Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Moving towards our spiritual goals

Part of a series of teachings on the text The Essence of a Human Life: Words of Advice for Lay Practitioners by Je Rinpoche (Lama Tsongkhapa).

  • Contemplating our priorities and the meaning of our lives
  • Importance of meditating on uncertainty and death
  • How important it is to also know what we are moving towards actively

The Essence of a Human Life: Moving towards our spiritual goals (download)

A while ago we started on this text by Je Tsongkhapa called The Essence of a Human Life: Words of Advice for the Lay Practitioner. Then EML happened and everything else happened so we need to kind of come back to it. I’ll re-read what we’ve done so far then comment a little bit more on the last verse. Then we’ll take it from there. He begins,

Homage to my guru, the youthful Manjushri!

To those within her refuge, every happiness and joy,
for those beset by suffering, every assistance.
Noble Tara, I bow before you.

“Those adrift on great seas of suffering I will save”–
a powerful vow made good.
To your lotus feet, compassionate goddess,
I offer this bowed head.

You of fine features, you have gained [remember that’s the person who requested the text] you have gained
This opportune and leisured human form.
If you follow me who speaks to help others,
listen well, I have something to say.

[First thing he has to say:]

Death will definitely come and will quickly come.
Should you neglect to train your thoughts
again and again on such certainties
you will grow no virtuous mind,
and even if you do, it will be spent
on enjoyment of the glories of this life.

Just to review the first point in contemplating death, that death comes quickly and there’s no way to avoid it. It’s really important to think about the fact that we’re mortal, we’re going to die, we don’t know when, because it makes us ask ourselves, “What’s the meaning of my life? And what are my priorities in my life?”

He says here that if you don’t contemplate uncertainties, like the fact that we’re going to die, then we won’t grow any virtuous mind. Why not? Because we’re going to be totally distracted in seeking the happiness of this life, running around…. Every person has their own version of the happiness of this life. For some people it’s drinking and drugging. For some people it’s the disco. For some people it’s politics. For some people it’s camping in nature. For some people it’s music. For some people it’s art. For some people it’s golf. For some people it’s bowling. For some people it’s Bonzai trees. You name it, and we all have a different version of what the happiness of this life is. But no matter what the version is, the motivation is the same. It’s seeking our own personal happiness right now, immediately.

There’s nothing per se wrong with that, it’s just that it consumes a whole lot of time, we consume the virtue that has led to us having those good conditions—that virtuous ripening and those good conditions and all the things that we can do. So our virtue is getting consumed, but then because our interest is just the happiness of this life then we’re not creating any new virtue. And since all happiness depends on virtue we’re not creating causes for happiness.

In addition, when we work only for the happiness of this life, our mind gets preoccupied with a lot of very disturbing attitudes and emotions. When our whole focus is “I want what I want when I want it, and I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it,” then there’s a lot of attachment to what we want to do, to what we want to have, and then if it doesn’t happen, if something gets in the way, or if we get sick, or who knows what happens, then we get angry. Meanwhile we have so much attachment and clinging that we’ll do whatever we need to do, that can even involve trampling on other people, in order to get what we want. And so in that way motivated only by the wish for our own personal happiness in this life we wind up creating a lot of negative karma in addition to wasting time and not creating any virtuous karma, in addition to the virtuous karma that we had from the past ripening in the good circumstances and being finished.

If we think deeply about what this motivation of working only for the happiness of this life entails then we see that it doesn’t have any real advantages in the long term. If we’re lucky we get the happiness of this life. But that’s the thing about the happiness of this life. You can work very hard for it and not get it. There’s no guarantee. You think of these migrants who are flooding out of Africa and the Middle East. These people, their motivation is the happiness of this life. You certainly can’t blame them for wanting to get out of the horrible conditions they’re in. But then they’re on a boat and the boat sinks. They just had another boat sink off the coast of Libya. And then the migrants going through … and some of them are getting shot at. It’s just horrible. So even you may work hard for the happiness of this life, it’s not ensured to come. So people can work hard to get a lot of money, a lot of fame, all the nice things that they want, but not guaranteed.

When we think deeply about this then we see that just working for the happiness of this life doesn’t really have any great purpose and meaning.

That’s half of the equation. Knowing what we don’t want to do is half of it. But we can’t go forward in the Dharma just based on knowing what we don’t want to do. We have to know what we do want to do. We have to know something about the Three Jewels of refuge, especially the Dharma refuge, which is the true path, the true cessation. Have some idea what true cessation is, what nirvana is, what the path is. The advantages of following the path. The advantages of attaining nirvana. The benefits of generating bodhicitta. So we have to also know very clearly what we want to go towards. So why do we want to understand the emptiness of inherent existence. Why do we want to generate bodhicitta? Why do we want to generate renunciation? We have to understand why, and have a very strong feeling so that it’s not just “hey I don’t want to do that,” but “I want to do this. And this is really worthwhile. And this is valuable.”

That aspiration to do something really wonderful with our lives really give us a lot of energy and a lot of happiness. It’s not just “I’m tired of drinking and drugging, what else is new?” What are the advantages of practicing the Dharma? Where do we want to go by practicing the Dharma?

Think a lot on that. Because if we don’t then we just spend a lot of time, as it says here, on the enjoyment of the glories of this life. “The glories of this life” mean chocolate cake. We all have our own version of chocolate cake. It doesn’t mean literally chocolate cake. It means whatever it is that appeals to us. For one person it might be sleeping 12 hours a day. For somebody else it might be who knows what. We all have our own special things that we’re attached to. Don’t we? That we’re sure have a little bit of virtue in them.

That’s something important to think about. We’ll go on tomorrow.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.