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).
- How understanding karma helps us to focus on what truly matters
- Creating the causes for true happiness that will follow us into our future lives
- Why the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are reliable refuges
- Developing faith and confidence in the Three Jewels
The Essence of a Human Life: Creating the causes of happiness (download)
We’ll continue on with Je Rinpoche’s text here. The next verse says,
“From bad will come the long and unbearable pain
of the three lower realms;
from good the higher, happier realms
from which to swiftly enter the echelons of awakening.”
Know this and think upon it day after day.
In the previous verse he talked about that death is definite, the time of death is indefinite, and at the time of death body, possessions, friends and relatives stay behind, but what we take with us is our karma–the imprints, the seeds of the actions that we’ve done. This verse goes directly into talking about the general law of karma and its effects. What he doesn’t include in this text, because it’s a very short text, is the step of taking refuge, which I will include because I think it’s important.
When we really contemplate deeply our mortality then we become concerned with what happens at death (how to have a good death), what happens after death, and then creating the causes for for happiness after death. The idea being that if we cannot create the causes for ourselves to have a good rebirth (and instead we have an unfortunate rebirth), then let alone not being able to help other people, we won’t even be able to help ourselves. So definitely if we want to be of service and benefit to others we have to make sure that we have a good rebirth ourselves.
When we contemplate this then we start saying, “Well, how in the world do I have a good rebirth? And who can guide me spiritually and teach me what are the causes I need to create for a good rebirth? What are the causes to abandon so I don’t have an unfortunate rebirth?” That’s why the step of refuge comes in here, in the lamrim, between contemplating impermanence and contemplating karma.
We get the idea that like, “Hmmm, ding-dong, I’d better kind of wake up and be aware of what I’m doing in my life, and what the purpose of my life is, and not just kind of live on automatic, just thinking about my own pleasure. But who’s going to guide me? Where do I go?” That’s where refuge comes in, because we turn to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha for refuge.
The Dharma is the actual (refuge)–it’s the true cessations of all the afflictions and dukkha (or suffering) and the paths (the mental states that lead to that). Actualizing the Dharma Jewel is the actual refuge. When we actualize that in our mind our mind becomes the Dharma Jewel, of the Three Jewels.
The Buddha is the one who taught that through his own experience. And the Sangha Jewel are those arya beings who have realized the nature of reality directly. They’re also reliable because they’ve realized reality directly. We turn to them for spiritual guidance.
Yesterday in the forest we were talking about some of our friends and relatives and how they keep themselves incredibly busy running around here, there, and doing this and that, and having all sorts of hobbies, and collecting this and collecting that…. You look around in the world and most people are running around all day, and what they’re looking for is happiness. And they’re looking to avoid suffering. But because they don’t know anything about the law of karma and its effects, what they’re in fact doing is (out of ignorance, anger, and confusion) is creating a lot of causes for unfortunate rebirths. But you look and it’s like they don’t know any better, they never had the fortune to contemplate refuge, or to meet the Dharma. Or even any other spiritual path that teaches them good morality. Because there are many other religions that can teach them foundation good ethical conduct, but some people don’t care, or they meet a religion that has kind of the right view but also some wrong views of good morality, like killing the enemy will lead to a heavenly rebirth. That’s wrong view of how karma works.
When we have the fortune to really think about the Buddha’s attainments and the Dharma that is the nature of his mind and what he’s realized, and then the fact that this is a practice, a path, that was not made up last Friday and marketed in the New Age newspaper, but something that was taught 25-26 centuries ago that has been actualized by people who have practiced from that time until now, then that gives us a lot of faith and confidence in the efficacy of the Dharma if we practice it.
When the Buddha gives teachings which are written down in the texts and our teachers read to us and explain, what the Buddha’s basically telling us is what he thinks, what’s going on in his mind. If you ever thought, “Well what goes on in the mind of a buddha?” Read the scriptures and that tells you. Because he’s just saying it form his own experience how he looks at things, how he cultivates love, how he cultivates compassion, how to realize the nature of emptiness, how to generate deep concentration so that we can really integrate all the realizations in our mind, how to cultivate a spiritual motivation. All this is explained in the teachings. So if we study the teachings and then put them into practice, then we create those realizations in our own mind. And in the process of doing so we transform our minds.
You can see that transformation when you stay with people who are Dharma practitioners for a long time because you see them change. You live with them and people who used to be really grouchy are now less grouchy. And that’s a big improvement, isn’t it? And it makes your life a lot happier to live with people who aren’t as grouchy. And people who used to be very stingy become generous. You see that if you practice the Dharma it actually works, and transforms the mind.
So we take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha so that we can learn from them and follow the path that they have actualized.