How to Receive the Teachings
When receiving teachings, one must first develop the right motivation because the teachings one receives and the practices one does will eventually produce a result according to one's motivation. Therefore it is very important to generate the right motivation.
To develop the right motivation think that as space has no limits, so too is the number of sentient beings without limit. Although all of them long for happiness and wish to be free of suffering, due to ignorance, the majority of them already experience suffering, and are creating the causes of future suffering. Think that therefore our main goal is to rescue all these suffering sentient beings by attaining perfect enlightenment.
The purpose of receiving this precious teaching is to attain enlightenment, and after receiving the teaching, one will very diligently follow the path. Developing this type of right motivation is very important.
Next, one should practice the right conduct. For example, it is inappropriate to sit in a disrespectful posture, such as lying down. When receiving teachings, one should sit with the body in a physically respectful posture, with the voice in silence, and the mind single-pointedly filled with great joy.
One should feel joy because it is very rare for Buddhas to appear in this universe and also it is very rare to obtain a precious human life and even more rare to have the good fortune to receive such precious teachings. Today, all of these very rare conditions are gathered together, so one should rejoice.
It is also said that when receiving teachings, one should be free from the three faults of a container. The first fault is likened to an upside-down container. In this case, no matter what is poured in, nothing remains. Similarly, one may be sitting before the teacher, but unless one is concentrating on the teaching, the mind is like an upside-down container, as nothing is able to enter it.
The second fault occurs when the container is right-side-up, but has holes in it. In this case, whatever good things are poured in the top go in but then run right out and nothing remains. This happens when one is listening to the teaching, but not mindfully trying to remember what is said, so later, one doesn't remember anything at all.
The third fault occurs when the container is right-side-up and has no holes, but contains impurities. In this case, whatever good things are poured in mix with the impure substances and are spoiled. Similarly, receiving teachings with a mind filled with wrong motivation and negative emotions is not beneficial. Therefore one should strive to free one's mind from wrong thoughts, wrong motivation, and negative emotions.
There are also six attitudes that are wrong to have while receiving teachings. The first is pride. For example, one may be proud of being born in a higher race. While listening to the teachings, one may think, "I am from a higher race, or I am more learned than the teacher." Listening to the teachings with a proud attitude like this is like the saying, "On the bumps of pride, no amount of water will remain." Pride is the first wrong attitude.
The second wrong attitude is to search for faults in the master and the teachings instead of feeling faith and devotion. This type of attitude is wrong because it shows extreme disrespect. The third wrong attitude is lack of real enthusiasm or interest in the teachings. Although one is listening, one may be motivated primarily by curiosity, without sincere interest. The fourth is to sit in the teachings with the mind distracted by other external and internal phenomena.
The fifth wrong attitude is to listen with the mind filled with conceptual thoughts of the past, present, and future. One variation of this is to do meditation while listening to the teachings. Students must learn in the sequence of first receiving teachings, then contemplating them, and then meditating. It is not appropriate to do meditation while receiving teachings. Meditation should be done later. It is better to fill the mind with great joy and enthusiasm for this opportunity to hear the Dharma.
The sixth wrong attitude is impatience. There are two types of impatience. One may be impatient that the sessions are too long. Or one may be impatient that one cannot understand the profound meaning of the teachings. If impatience arises, think that this is a rare and wonderful opportunity to receive the teachings and try to be patient even if the sessions are long. If one is impatient because one doesn't understand the teachings, remember that receiving the teaching several times is the best remedy for any lack of understanding. By receiving more teachings, one will become able to understand them better.
In summary, one should be free of the three faults of a container and the six wrong attitudes. One should possess the right attitude, which is to see the spiritual master as a doctor; oneself as a patient; the teaching as a very effective medicine; one's defilements as a severe illness; and practice of the teachings as the therapy. The omniscient Buddha's method is flawless, and the result will surely be effective.
The act of receiving the teachings with a mind that is free of the three faults and the six wrong attitudes, and that possesses the right attitude is in itself a great practice. The main practice of the Bodhisattva's path is the six perfections. These six perfections are included in the act of rightly receiving the teachings.
The first perfection of generosity is practiced when the disciple offers the mandala and other things to the teacher and in return the teacher gives the Dharma teaching. The second perfection of morality is to abstain from wrong action while listening to the teachings. Being physically, verbally, and mentally patient while receiving the teachings is the third perfection of patience. Generating great enthusiasm and interest is the fourth perfection of endeavor. Single-pointedly concentrating on the profound meaning of the teachings is the fifth perfection of concentration. The sixth perfection is wisdom, which is gained through receiving the teachings, contemplating and meditating on them. In this way, properly receiving the teachings is in itself an excellent practice of the six perfections.
History of the Teaching
Sachen Kunga Nyingpo, also known as Lama Sakyapa, was the first of the five great founders of the Sakya Order. He is considered the lineage-holder of four great translators, of whom Bari Lotsawa Rinchen Drakpa is one.
When the great Lama Sachen Kunga Nyingpo was twelve years old, his master, Bari Lotsawa advised him, "Since you are the son of a great master, it is important that you study the scriptures. To study, you need to acquire wisdom, and in order to acquire wisdom, you should practice Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of wisdom." Saying thus, Bari Lotsawa bestowed the initiation of saffron-colored Manjushri and the related teachings.
Soon after, the young Lama Sakyapa undertook a retreat on Manjushri under the guidance of Bari Lotsawa. In the beginning, there were certain signs of obstacles which were removed through the practice of the wrathful deity Achala. After six months of retreat, Manjushri appeared in Lama Sakyapa's pure vision in the midst of offerings and rainbows and a shower of flowers. Manjushri was seated on a jeweled throne, as if it were a chair, with two legs hanging down, attended by two Bodhisattvas. At that time, Manjushri uttered this teaching which consists of just four lines, saying:
Analyzing this teaching, the young Lama Sakyapa realized that these four lines include the entire profound practice of the sutrayana.
In reality, the great Lama Sak-yapa Kunga Nyingpo was, himself, an emanation of both Manjushri and Avalokiteshvara, and therefore did not need to acquire additional wisdom. However, since he was born in a human body, he followed the general process of ordinary beings' lives by appearing to study and receive these teachings.
Lama Sakyapa gave this teaching to his sons and disciples, and they gave it to their sons and disciples, and thus it has been passed down to this day. I myself received this teaching from my main guru, Dhampa Dorje Chang of Ngor Monastery. I also received this teaching from His Eminence Chogye Trichen Rinpoche.
At all Sakya monasteries, this is the preliminary teaching. Because it is a very authentic and profound pith instruction given directly by Manjushri, it is recognized as a profound teaching by all of the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. It is included in many collections of mind-training teachings.
This type of teaching is known as pith instructions. The Buddha gave innumerable teachings of many different types and levels. In general, these can be classified into two kinds: vast and general teachings like sutras and commentaries that are studied over a long period of time and eventually put into practice; and pith instructions for those who do not have time for vast and detailed study. Great masters who have accomplished high realization write pith instructions based on their own experience that provide a guide for practice in a nutshell. Disciples can put these teachings straight into practice.
This pith instruction has three sections: preliminaries; main teaching; and conclusion. Although the preliminary section is not explicitly described in the four lines of the teaching, we always begin with the preliminaries.
The preliminary section has two parts. The first part is to change from the wrong path to the right path. Not performing any virtuous practice, or performing virtuous practice in the wrong way is considered the wrong path. By changing from the wrong path to the right path one enters the path of liberation and enlightenment.
Taking refuge is the method of changing from the wrong to the right path. Although taking refuge in the Triple Gem is common to all the Buddhist traditions, taking refuge in the Mahayana tradition has four special characteristics.
The first special characteristic is the objects in which one takes refuge. All Buddhists take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. However in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, the Buddha is defined as the matchless one who possesses limitless perfect qualities and is free from all faults. Buddhas are said to possess the three kayas, or bodies: the dharmakaya, the sambhogakaya, and the nirmanakaya.
The dharmakaya is the body of reality which possesses two purities. The first purity is the Buddha nature that is possessed by every sentient being. This Buddha nature is the true nature of mind that is never stained by obscurations. Although ordinary beings possess this basic purity, it is not realized, as it is completely covered with obscurations that prevent the real nature from being seen.
Through the accumulation of merit and wisdom, Buddhas purify all forms of obscurations. This is the second purity, and allows the original, real nature of the mind to be seen. The dharmakaya is the body of reality that possesses double purity.
The second of the three bodies of a Buddha is the sambhogakaya, the body of enjoyment. Not only through the accumulation of wisdom, but also through the accumulation of great merit, all the obscurations are purified and enormous good qualities of body, voice, and mind are attained. The physical good qualities are the sambhogakaya, the body of enjoyment.
The sambhogakaya possesses five certainties. Its holy body is beyond birth and death and is adorned with the perfect major and minor marks; it always remains in the highest Buddha realm; it gives only Mahayana teachings; its disciples are only the highest Bodhisattvas; and it constantly turns the wheel of Dharma until the end of samsara.
The third of the bodies of a Buddha is the nirmanakaya, which is the emanation body. In this body, the Buddha appears out of great compassion, wherever, whenever and in whatever form is required to help sentient beings. The historical Shakyamuni Buddha was also a nirmanakaya, because even ordinary beings could see his physical body and receive teachings. Possessing these three bodies is the characteristic of Buddhas, who are our peerless guides.
The second object in which we take refuge is the Dharma, which is the Buddha's precious teaching. The word Dharma actually has many different meanings when it is used in different contexts. Here, the holy Dharma has two aspects. The first aspect is the Mahayana scriptures such as the Tripitaka. The second aspect is the realization that the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have accomplished.
The third object of refuge is the Sangha, or the holy community. In the Mahayana tradition this refers to the true Sangha, who are the Bodhisattvas who have already reached the irreversible stage and practice in accordance with right behavior and understanding.
This completes the explanation of the first of the special characteristics of Mahayana refuge, which is the special characteristics of the refuge objects, the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
The second special characteristic of Mahayana refuge is the duration of refuge. Mahayana refuge is not just for a certain period of time until a temporary goal is reached, or even just until the end of this lifetime. We take refuge from the moment that we receive the refuge vow until we reach our ultimate goal of becoming a perfectly and fully enlightened Buddha.
The third special characteristic of Mahayana refuge is the person who takes refuge. One imagines not just oneself alone, but all sentient beings as taking refuge. There are three causes of taking refuge: fear of the suffering of samsara; faith in the good qualities of the Triple Gem; and compassion for sentient beings. With compassion, we realize that although all sentient beings were our very dear ones in previous lives, we no longer recognize them in this new life. Therefore, we take refuge not only for ourselves, but for all sentient beings.
The fourth special characteristic of Mahayana refuge is the purpose of taking refuge. One takes refuge not just to save oneself alone, but to save countless sentient beings as infinite as space. If you look with compassion at the situation of beings in the universe of samsara, you can see that all of them are currently in the midst of suffering, and are creating even more causes of suffering. A feeling of great compassion and concern for their suffering arises. In order to rescue them, one needs to take refuge. Although all three causes of taking refuge: fear, faith, and compassion, may be present in one's mind, in the Mahayana tradition, the main cause is compassion.
Then recite the actual refuge prayer, keeping these things in mind. Say:
I and all other sentient beings equal to the ends of space, who have previously been my mother, from this time until the essence of enlightenment is reached, take refuge in the precious Buddha who is the Guru; take refuge in the holy Dharma, the teaching and realization; take refuge in the holy Sangha, the sons of the Victorious Ones.
Recite this refuge prayer as many times as possible, very mindfully. At the conclusion of the refuge, we recite another prayer:
May the precious Triple Gem bless my mind to proceed towards the Dharma. Bless me to traverse the path of the Dharma. Bless me to dispel errors on the path. Bless me that illusory visions may appear as primordial wisdom. Bless me that non-religious thoughts may not arise for even a moment. Bless me to attain Buddhahood quickly.
This prayer includes the teachings of Parting from the Four Attachments.
The first line of the prayer says, "May the precious Triple Gem bless my mind to proceed towards the Dharma." This parallels the first line of Parting from the Four Attachments which says, "If you have attachment to this life, you are not a religious person."
To practice the true Dharma, you have to give up attachment to this life. This life is temporary, without essence, very fragile and impermanent, and therefore it has no meaning. When one says, "May I proceed towards the Dharma," this means toward the real, true Dharma, not just what superficially appears to be Dharma. Dharma mixed with attachment to this life is still a worldly activity. At the beginning of our path, we pray to have our minds successfully proceed toward the Dharma.
The next line, "Bless me to traverse the path of the Dharma" means that although one may have entered the Dharma path, one is not properly upon the path unless renunciation thought arises. This is parallel to the line from Parting from the Four Attachments, "If you have attachment to the world of existence, you do not have renunciation." With this, we pray that we are not only led into the Dharma path, but that we are led with the proper renunciation.
The third line, "Bless me to dispel errors on the path" parallels the line, "If you have attachment to your own purpose, you do not have enlightenment thought." Even though you may have entered the path with proper renunciation, seeking liberation for yourself alone is still an error. Even reaching the nirvana of self liberation does not fully develop all of one's good qualities and does not completely overcome all obscurations.
The next line, "Bless me that illusory visions may appear as primordial wisdom," is parallel to the fourth line in Parting from the Four Attachments, which says, "If grasping arises, you do not have the view." Because we lack wisdom, we are caught up in illusory visions. When wisdom arises, it transforms these illusory visions into primordial wisdom. In this way, we pray to be able to successfully accomplish shamatha and vipassana, which are also known as calm abiding and insight wisdom.
"Bless me that non-religious thoughts may not arise for even a moment," refers to all of the practices together. Because non-religious thoughts lead to lower realms and samsara, we pray that they may never arise for even a single moment.
"Bless me to attain Buddhahood quickly." The Mahayana path is the right practice, the correct practice, and the path of all the past, present, and future Buddhas. Once one enters it, one can quickly achieve Buddhahood. This concludes the first part of the preliminary section of the teaching concerning how to change from the wrong path to the right path.
Creation of Enlightenment Mind
The second part of the preliminary section of the teaching concerns how to switch from the lower path to the higher path by creating enlightenment mind.
Buddhists believe in rebirth. This can be logically understood in the following way. We all have both a physical body and a mind. We can see and touch the physical body and describe its size, color, and shape. However, the mind is very different. We cannot see or touch it or describe its color and shape. Because the body and mind are so very different, the mind cannot arise from a physical body, from elements or from ordinary matter. It must arise from a continuity similar to itself.
We can describe where our physical bodies come from, how they are maintained, and how they will eventually be disposed of. But the mind cannot be disposed of in the way that we dispose of our physical body.
The mind continues and therefore it must come from the same type of continuity as itself. We can prove that our present mind must be a continuity that reaches back before our present body or life. If we go back from this life to the previous life, to the life before that and so on, there is no end. There is no original starting point. This is what is meant by "since beginningless time." Each person's mind has continued since beginningless time.
From beginningless time until now, we have been caught up in this cycle of existence. Since we have been here throughout beginningless time, there is not a single place where our body has not been born. There is not a single being who has not at one time been our very dear mother, father, and relatives.
Due to the changes that come with taking a new life, we no longer recognize each other. We see some of these dear ones as our enemies, some as our relatives, and some as neutral beings toward whom we are indifferent. But in reality, every single sentient being at one time or another has been our very dear relative, not only once but countless times. Each time, they gave us so much love, and cared for and benefited us just as our present dear ones have done.
Therefore, it is not right to seek liberation or enlightenment only for ourselves alone, ignoring the welfare of all these very dear mother sentient beings. We must care for them. The way to do this is to rescue them from the suffering of samsara, and lead them to the path of happiness.
However, because we are ordinary people, we do not have either the freedom or the ability to rescue them. Even powerful worldly deities, and even those who have already reached the nirvana of self liberation do not have the power to save all sentient beings. Only fully enlightened Buddhas can save all sentient beings. Therefore, for the benefit of all sentient beings, we wish to attain perfect enlightenment. This thought is known as enlightenment thought or enlightenment mind.
Enlightenment mind has two aspects: wishing enlightenment mind, and entering enlightenment mind. The wish to attain perfect enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings is known as wishing enlightenment mind. The resolve to practice the vast and profound bodhisattva path to reach that goal is known as entering enlightenment mind.
The actual recitation combines refuge and the creation of enlightenment mind with a dedication prayer. The prayer is:
In the Buddha, Dharma, and excellent Sangha, I take refuge until enlightenment is reached. Through deeds of giving and the like, may I attain Buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings.
Giving and the like refers to the six perfections or paramitas, which are generosity, moral conduct, patience, diligence, meditation and wisdom. Another recitation is:
I must attain Buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings. For that purpose I will diligently accomplish virtuous deeds of body, voice and mind.
In other words, the goal of activity of body, voice, or mind, is to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings.
Main Teaching: Non-Attachment to This Life
To practice this meditation, sit in a conducive place where there are no external disturbances. Try also to avoid internal disturbances such as conceptual thoughts. Sit cross-legged and after reciting the refuge and enlightenment mind, contemplate the first line of the teaching, which is: "If you have attachment to this life, you are not a religious person."
The general contents of this first line are common to the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana traditions. The first line directly describes the right way and the wrong way to practice Dharma.
Right Dharma practice, pure Dharma practice, is without attachment to this life. Practicing Dharma with attachment to this life is not real Dharma; it is still a worldly activity. Just like a mirage that appears to be water but does not quench one's thirst, such activity is apparently Dharma but does not liberate one from the sufferings of samsara.
If you practice Dharma with attachment to this life, any practice that you do, whether it is moral conduct, study, contemplation, or meditation, will not even result in the accomplishment of prosperity in this life. If the goal of your Dharma practice is to gain fame, disciples or wealth, the practice will become the seed of the lower realms and samsara, instead of becoming the seed of liberation and enlightenment. This is not correct Dharma practice.
The great Indian master Vasu-bandhu said, Upon a base of sound moral conduct, hear, contemplate, and thoroughly apply oneself to meditation.
To be pure Dharma, whatever practice you do should not be mixed with attachment to this life. This is because this life is very temporary. Very few people live longer than a hundred years. This life is also without essence; everything is impermanent and it is not really worthy of any attachment. The goal of the Dharma path has many different levels. One should at least practice for a purpose beyond this life; in other words, at least for the next life.
The first line of the teaching, "If you have attachment to this life, you are not a religious person," directly explains the right and wrong way to practice Dharma. Indirectly it points to the difficulty of obtaining a precious human birth endowed with the eighteen prerequisites, and the importance of diligently practicing Dharma without any delay because of impermanence.
Not only humans, but every sentient being possesses Buddha nature. The true nature of every sentient being's mind is unstained by obscurations. Any sentient being that meets with the right methods has the opportunity to become a fully enlightened Buddha. However, among the six types of sentient beings, human beings have the best chance to accomplish Buddhahood. Therefore this human life endowed with the eighteen prerequisites is very precious and difficult to find. As the great Indian master Shantideva said in the Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life:
Leisure and endowment are extremely difficult to find, and accomplish the purpose of beings. If this benefit is not accomplished, how will they come about again?
First we reflect on the difficulty of attaining this precious human birth. The prerequisites of precious human birth are difficult to attain from many points of view based on cause, number, examples and nature.
Consider the difficulty of attaining precious human birth based on its cause. The cause of a precious human life endowed with the prerequisites is the practice of virtuous deeds. In particular, the practice of virtue means abandoning non-virtuous deeds and maintaining pure moral conduct. But when we look about samsara, most sentient beings are not engaged in virtuous deeds. The majority are indulging in non-virtue and many who appear to be engaged in virtuous deeds are engaged only in a superficial way.
Carefully reflect on one's own actions from the morning until night. How many negative thoughts arise? How many virtuous thoughts arise? Most people, if they examine their actions carefully and honestly, will notice that there are far more non-virtuous thoughts and deeds than virtuous ones. Thus we realize that we only rarely accumulate pure virtue, which is the cause of obtaining a precious human birth endowed with the eighteen prerequisites. If the cause is only rarely accumulated, obviously the result of precious human rebirth will very rarely be attained.
Next, consider the difficulty of attaining precious human birth from the perspective of number. Although there are many human beings, humans are few in comparison to other types of beings. Although we talk about the population explosion, it is still possible to count the number of people in each country. However, it is impossible to count the number of insects even in a small space, such as a house. The number of humans is extremely small in proportion to all the other types of living beings. However, not every human has a precious human life endowed with all the eighteen prerequisites, which is even more rare than just human birth.
We can also consider the difficulty of attaining precious human birth based on examples. There are many different examples given in the scriptures. One example compares the process of beings going to their next birth with a handful of grain or peas thrown against a vertical wall. When the kernels hit the wall, virtually all fall down to the ground, which is like those beings who take rebirth in the lower realms. The chance of a pea sticking to the wall is as rare as attaining a precious human birth endowed with the eighteen prerequisites.
The Eighteen Prerequisites for Precious Human Birth
Next, we reflect on the difficulty of attaining precious human birth from the point of view of its own nature. The nature of a human life endowed with the eighteen prerequisites is characterized by eight freedoms and ten endowments.
The eight freedoms mean that one is free from rebirth in eight unfavorable states. Four of these are non-human states, and four are human states. The four non-human states are birth as a hell being, hungry ghost, animal or long-lived god.
Beings born in the hell realms suffer greatly and have no opportunity to hear or practice Dharma. The situation is the same in the hungry ghost realm, where there is great suffering from hunger and thirst. The minds of beings in the animal realms are characterized by ignorance with no chance of understanding the Dharma.
The fourth unfavorable state is rebirth as a long-lived god. There is a part of the form realm, or rupa-dhatu, where only long-lived gods dwell. Other than birth and death, all of their mental activities have ceased and they abide in a very high level of worldly meditation. In such a state there is no opportunity to practice Dharma. These are the four unfavorable non-human births, where it is not possible to practice the Dharma.
Within the human realm, there are four unfavorable states. The first is birth among barbarians, who have no opportunity to even hear the word "Dharma." Second is among people who hold wrong beliefs, such as those who may have heard the Dharma but do not accept its core beliefs, such as the law of karma, rebirth, and the like.
The third unfavorable human state is birth in a world or time where a Buddha has not appeared, so there is no Dharma to practice. Such a period is known as a "dark eon." A time during which a Buddha has appeared is a "light eon." There are far more dark eons than light eons.
The fourth unfavorable human state is birth as a person who is mentally or physically incapacitated so that even if one has an opportunity to receive the teachings, one is unable to perceive or comprehend them. These are the four unfavorable states of birth within the human realm.
There are ten endowments which are necessary for one's life to be considered a precious human birth. Five of these are acquired by oneself, and five are acquired from others. The five endowments acquired by oneself are: birth as a human, birth in a central realm, having sound sense organs, having not committed any heinous crimes, and having sincere faith in the Buddha's teachings.
Birth as a human is the first endowment. The second is birth in a central realm. A realm is said to be central because it is geographically central, such as India, particularly Bodhgaya, where all the past, present, and future Buddhas did and will accomplish enlightenment; or it is said to be central with respect to the Dharma because all four types of followers reside there: monks, nuns, male and female lay practitioners.
The third endowment is to be born with sound sense organs, so that one can receive Dharma teachings, analyze, and meditate on them. The fourth is not to have committed any of the five heinous crimes. Purification of the five heinous crimes is difficult through regular religious practices. The fifth endowment is sincere belief in the Buddha's teaching, particularly in the vinaya teachings on moral discipline, which are the root of the teachings. These are the five endowments that are acquired by oneself.
The five endowments that are acquired from others are: birth at a time during which a Buddha has come into this world; the Buddha has bestowed the teachings; the teachings continue to be upheld as a living tradition; the followers are practicing; and sponsors are supporting the Dharma.
Concerning the first of these endowments acquired from others, as I explained, there are far more dark eons than light eons. During the first part of a light eon, peoples' lifespans increase, and during this period, Buddhas do not appear. They appear only during the latter part of the eon during the period of decreasing lifespans. Therefore, it is very rare for a Buddha to appear in the world.
The second endowment is that having appeared, a Buddha has bestowed the teachings. Buddhas do not turn the wheel of Dharma except for beings that are worthy and can comprehend the profound teachings. Third, not only did a Buddha bestow the teachings, but the teachings continue to be upheld as a living tradition. Many Buddhas have appeared in this universe, but after a certain period of time, beings' memory of their teachings ends, and there are long gaps before another Buddha appears.
The fourth endowment is that there are followers who can demonstrate a right example of how to practice the Dharma path. The fifth is that there are generous sponsors who support the Dharma through right livelihood unmixed with impure activities.
This is a summary of the ten endowments; five gained by oneself, and five received from others. Clearly, it is extremely difficult to simultaneously attain all of these eighteen prerequisites for a precious human birth, including freedom from the eight unfavorable states and the possession of the ten endowments.
Such a precious human birth is not only very rare, it is also very precious, more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel. Supplicating a wish-fulfilling jewel can bestow material needs, but it cannot bestow higher rebirth, or personal liberation, or perfect enlightenment. However, by using our precious human life as a vehicle, we can reach higher rebirth; we can reach personal liberation; and we can even reach perfect enlightenment, Buddhahood. This is why precious human birth is said to be even more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel. Realizing that it is so precious and rare, we must not remain idle. We must diligently practice the holy Dharma.
You will recall that the first line of Parting from the Four Attachments is, "If you have attachment to this life, you are not a religious person." As we have seen, it directly explains the right and wrong way to practice Dharma. Indirectly, it points to the difficulty of obtaining a precious human birth and the importance of diligently practicing Dharma without any delay.
Reflection on impermanence and death helps us realize why we must practice the Dharma without delay. Everything that arises from causes and conditions is impermanent. This is particularly true of human life.
First, contemplate the certainty of death. It is one hundred percent certain that every being that is born in this universe will die. No one doubts that there was even a single being that was born but did not already, or will not eventually die. Even noble Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, who in reality are beyond birth and death, manifest passing into mahaparinirvana in the eyes of common people. Among ordinary people, whose birth is driven by karma and defilements, there is not a single person who was born but did not die.
It is said:
All compounded things disintegrate.
The end of accumulation is exhaustion.
The end of gathering is separation.
The end of ascent to the heights is descent to the depths, and
The end of birth is death.
Second, we contemplate the uncertainty of the time of death. Nobody can tell how long he will live. We never know when death will occur. Looking around us, many beings die even before they are born, in the womb. Some die when they are born. Some die in infancy, and so on. No one knows for sure when he will die.
Although there are many external and internal conditions that shorten life, there are very few conditions that prolong life. Even those methods that usually prolong life, such as food and medicine, can also become the cause of death.
No one has a definite, fixed life-span. Even supporting conditions such as youth, health, privilege, wealth, comfortable surroundings and the like do not guarantee that one will live long. We all know healthy people who pass away suddenly before the chronically ill pass away; young people who die before the aged; wealthy people with every facility and opportunity who die before the destitute. Nothing can guarantee that one will live for any certain duration of time.
Third, contemplate that only the Dharma can benefit us at the time of death. All worldly wealth, power, fame, or knowledge is of no use in eluding death. At the time of death, the holy Dharma is the only thing upon which we can rely. We must practice diligently while we are still alive and have the benefits of relative youth and health. By devoting ourselves to the path of Dharma now, even if we cannot accomplish concrete results, at least we will not feel regret at the time of death.
By practicing the Dharma, we can have confidence that at least we will be born in a higher realm. Superior Dharma practitioners pass away with full confidence, as if they are returning to their own home. Middling practitioners face their death without hesitation. Lesser practitioners at least pass away without regretting that they have wasted their opportunity to practice the Dharma. Thinking of the certainty of death, and the uncertainty of the time of death, we must practice the Dharma immediately without delay.