When receiving Dharma teachings, it is always important to generate right motivation and to practice the right conduct. One should listen with a mind free from the three faults of a container. These faults are an upside-down container that does not concentrate on the teachings; a container with a hole in it that forgets what was taught; and a dirty container that listens with a mind filled with negative emotion. It is also important to listen to the teachings with the right attitude.
This teaching was first given by the great Bodhisattva Manjushri to Sachen Kunga Nyingpo, the first of the five founders of the Sakya Order. The teaching consists of three parts: the preliminary part, main part, and conclusion. The preliminary part explains how to change from the wrong path to the right path by taking refuge, and then how to change from the lower path to the higher path by generating enlightenment mind. (These preliminaries were covered in Part I, contained in the previous issue.) The main part of the teaching that was given by Manjushri to Sachen Kunga Nyingpo consists of four lines:
“If you have attachment to this life, you are not a religious person.
If you have attachment to the world of existence, you do not have renunciation.
If you have attachment to your own purpose, you do not have enlightenment thought.
If grasping arises, you do not have the view.”
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 ways to practice Dharma. It indirectly explains the difficulty of obtaining precious human birth endowed with the eighteen prerequisites; impermanence; the inevitability of death; and the importance of practicing Dharma without delay and with great diligence. (This was explained in the previous issue.)
Today’s teaching focuses on the second line: “If you have attachment to the world of existence, you do not have renunciation.” This means that if one is attached to the three realms (the desire, form, and formless realms), then Dharma practice does not lead one on the path to enlightenment.
The first line, “If you have attachment to this life, you are not a religious person,” explains that human life is not permanent; this current life will someday come to an end. When it does, one’s mental consciousness will not disappear; it will continue from life to life. Indulgence in non-virtue will cause one to fall into the lower realms where the suffering is immense. From fear of the suffering of the lower realms, one prays to always be reborn in the higher realms. For that to occur, one must practice virtuous deeds.
It could also be said that the first line explains what is known as the “small person’s path,” because although it is a spiritual path, it does not aim beyond the cycle of existence. The aim is to avoid falling into the lower realms, and to be continuously reborn in the higher realms, such as the human realm or the gods realm.
However, the second line explains that not only are the lower realms characterized by great suffering, even in the higher realms there is no real happiness; there is nothing worthy of attachment. Therefore, one should develop renunciation thought, which is the thought to completely renounce the entirety of samsara. To develop renunciation thought, one must understand that all of samsara is suffering. When one realizes this, real renunciation thought arises, along with the heartfelt wish to renounce the entirety of samsara and seek liberation.
Thus, today’s teaching covers two main subjects: the faults of samsara which produce renunciation thought, and the law of karma, or cause and effect, which is the reason that our own actions bind us within samsara.
The Faults of Samsara
The sutras state, “The desire realm has faults; likewise the form realm has faults; also the formless realm has faults. Only nirvana is faultless.” If one wonders what kinds of faults or suffering are found in samsara, there are generally three types: the suffering of suffering; the suffering of change; and the suffering of the conditional nature of all phenomena.
The Suffering of Suffering
The first type of suffering is the suffering of suffering. This is that type of suffering that everyone normally considers to be suffering, such as physical pain and mental anxiety. Regarding this type of suffering the sutras state, “Hell beings experience the fires of hell; hungry ghosts experience hunger and thirst; animals experience being devoured by one another; humans experience short lives; and gods experience shamelessness. There is never any happiness upon the needle point of existence.”
The suffering of suffering is primarily experienced in the three lower realms: the hell realm, the hungry ghost realm, and the animal realm.
The Hell Realm: Cold Hells
There are three types of hell realms: cold hells; hot hells; and neighboring and semi-hells. Among the cold hells, there are eight types. The first cold hell is known as Blister Hell. Due to the power of their negative karma, hell beings are born miraculously, without developing in a womb, into the Blister Hell. The sky is completely dark; there is no sun, and not even the light of a single star. Surrounded by snowy mountains covered with ice, stung by cold wind blowing from every direction, the hell being has not even a patch of cloth to protect himself from the cold. As the cold is so severe, the skin of his entire body naturally blisters, so it is called Blister Hell. This suffering is not short, as the lifespan of a being in this first hell realm is measured in the following way. Imagine a container filled with 1,600 kilograms of sesame seeds, from which one seed is removed every hundred years. The lifespan of a being in Blister Hell is equal to the length of time it takes to completely empty the container, so beings must dwell there for that great length of time.
The second cold hell is called Bursting Blister Hell. The place and the nature of suffering are similar to Blister Hell, but twenty times colder. As a result, the hell beings’ blisters burst and water, pus, and blood leak from their bodies. The span of life in this realm is also twenty times longer than that in the previous one. The third cold hell is called “Brrr” Hell because the cold is so severe that one cannot speak, but can only make the sound “Brrr. The fourth cold hell is colder still so that the voice does not work at all, and there is only the faint sound of exhaling air. In the fifth cold hell, the cold is so severe that the entire body is frozen. Because one’s teeth clench together it is called Clenched Teeth Hell. The sixth hell is far colder. One’s skin turns blue and cracks into eight parts, which causes the body to resemble an utpala flower. Therefore, it is called Cracked Like an Utpala Flower Hell. In the seventh cold hell, one’s skin is blue. Strong gusts of wind cause the blue skin to crack open and the flesh underneath to crack further and turn red. Therefore, this realm is called Cracked Like a Lotus Hell. The eighth cold hell is yet even colder. One’s body is completely frozen inside and out, so it becomes like a stone. Then it cracks into bits, and even the internal organs crack into pieces. As one’s cracked body resembles a large lotus flower, it is known as Large Lotus Flower Hell.
Reflect on these realms, their sufferings, nature, and lifespan. Realize that there is no guarantee that one will not be born into such a place. The cause of these sufferings is performing non-virtuous deeds in general, and particularly performing actions that cause other sentient beings and members of the sangha to experience suffering from cold. As we have already committed many non-virtuous deeds, especially deeds performed in anger, there is no guarantee that we will not be reborn into such a place. That is why we must practice the holy Dharma now that we have been born as human beings with all of the necessary conditions.
The Hell Realm: Hot Hells
In addition to the eight cold hells, there are eight hot hells. The first is called Reviving Hell. There, due to the power of karma, one is miraculously born in an infantile body on a ground made of burning iron. Due to strong ego-clinging, whatever objects one picks up turn into weapons; any being one perceives is seen as an enemy; and one’s mind is filled with anger. The guardians of hell chop one’s body into pieces and one collapses into unconsciousness. Then from the sky, a cool wind blows and the sound “revive” is heard. One regains consciousness, and the same process is repeated over and over. This is the first of the hot hells.
The second hot hell is called Black Line Hell. The guardians of that realm draw lines upon one’s body just as carpenters mark a piece of wood, then cut it into many pieces. The third hot hell is called Crushing Hell. In this realm one is born between burning mountains shaped like the heads of the animals one has slaughtered. One suffers greatly as one’s body is crushed between the burning iron mountains.
In the fourth hot hell, one is born upon burning iron ground. Chased by hell guardians, one runs into a nearby house hoping to escape. Upon entering the house, its doors close and lock so that there is no escape and it becomes a house of burning iron. As one is burned by the fire, one suffers greatly and cries out, so it is called Crying Hell.
The fifth hot hell is called Great Crying Hell. It is similar to Crying Hell, except that instead of being trapped inside a single house, one is trapped inside two houses, one inside the other. If escape from the inner house was somehow possible, still there is no escape from the outer one. Therefore, the mental anguish is doubled, which is why it is called Greatly Crying Hell. The sixth hell is known as Hot Hell. The guardians of this realm seize one and thrust a burning spear from the anus up to the crown of the head. The internal organs are completely burned by the blazing iron spear and one suffers greatly.
The seventh is Great Hot Hell. Instead of a single-pointed spear, a three-pronged trident is thrust into the anus and the prongs pierce the crown of the head and the right and left shoulders. Flames and smoke pour from the mouth and ears, and one suffers terribly. The eighth hot hell is called Unceasing Hell. There, beings burn inside an enormous iron stove, indistinguishable from the flames. Aside from their cries, there is no sign that any beings are there. The suffering in this realm is the worst in samsara; there is no suffering greater than this.
The life spans of beings in the first six hot hells are related to the life spans of the gods in the six levels of the gods realm. As described in the Abidharma Kosha, fifty human years is equivalent to one day of life in the lowest god realm, which is called Caturmaraja. Counting fifty human years as one day, those gods live for five hundred of their own years. This entire five hundred year period is just one day in Reviving Hell. Calculating thus, hell beings live for five hundred of their own years. Similarly, in the next higher god realm known as Thirty-Three, one hundred human years is equal to one day, and their life spans are one thousand of their own years long. Continuing thus, based on the spans of life in each of the six god realms, the spans of life in each of the six hell realms increase in an almost unimaginable way. In the two lowest hells, Great Hot Hell and Unceasing Hell, life lasts for half an intermediate eon, and a full intermediate eon respectively.
The Hell Realm: Neighboring and Semi-Hells
There are four types of neighboring hells. The first is called Fire Trench Hell. It is located at the perimeter of all of the other hells. In that hell, one’s limbs are burned whenever they touch the ground. When one lifts the right foot, it is healed, while the left foot is burned. Likewise, when one lifts the left foot it is healed, while the right one is burned.
The second neighboring hell is called Mud of Putrid Corpses Hell. The ground there is composed of impure things like rotting corpses and is so foul that ordinary beings would die merely from the odor. However, due to the karma of the beings born there, they do not die. Within the mud are many worms with iron lips that eat into one’s limbs and bore right down to the bones.
The third neighboring hell is called Path of Blades Hell, and it is divided into many sectors. Having crossed Mud of Putrid Corpses Hell, one enters a plain of sharp, pointed knife blades. Walking there, the flesh and bones of the feet are cut into pieces, causing great suffering. Then one enters a forest of trees with sword-like branches and leaves. Having previously suffered greatly from the heat, one enters the forest seeking relief, but instead the leaves cut the body into many pieces.
Next one sees a mountain. While attempting to climb it one’s body is pierced by sharp, pointed iron spears. With great difficulty one finally reaches the summit, but there many fearsome birds such as ravens and kites with iron beaks peck one’s eyes and mouth and eat one’s brain. Hearing the voices of relatives, one tries to go back down the mountain to meet them, but in doing so again iron spears pierce the body. Finally one reaches the base, but instead of meeting relatives, iron jackals, dogs, and wolves eat one’s limbs and tear the body into many pieces. Also in this hell, if one has lied and cheated others through non-virtuous words, one’s tongue is stretched out over the burning iron ground, staked down by iron spikes, and the hell guardians plow the tongue with sharp instruments. Thus one suffers greatly.
The fourth neighboring hell is called Unfordable River of Hot Ash Hell. Having suffered greatly on the burning iron ground, and crossed the plain of blades, one sees a river in the distance and struggles to go there. When one finally arrives and enters the river, the water turns into hot ashes. One’s body is completely burned. When one tries to escape, the river is surrounded by hell guardians, who beat one back, and so one suffers.
In addition to the main hells and neighboring hells, there are also semi-hells with many different kinds of suffering. Because they are similar to the hell realms, they are called semi-hells. Some of these hells are actually located within the human realms. One example is animals that are boiled in hot water. There are many other types as well.
One must reflect on the suffering in these hell realms. These are not just stories; they are described in very authentic teachings given by the Buddha himself, as well as in many commentaries that describe in detail the sufferings of the hell realms, the conditions there, and the duration of lives there. One must reflect on them and make a very strong commitment to be free from such suffering through the practice of the holy Dharma.
The Hungry Ghost Realm
The second lower realm is called the Hungry Ghost Realm. Within that realm there are generally three types of hungry ghosts: those suffering from external obscurations; those suffering from internal obscurations; and those suffering from the obscuration of obscurations.
One is born in the realm of hungry ghosts due to indulging in non-virtuous deeds motivated by stinginess or avarice. It is a deserted and depressing place, and just by seeing it, one feels very sad. Lacking even a single grain of food or drop of water, one suffers greatly from hunger and thirst for a long period of time. Sometimes hungry ghosts see in the distance a mountain of rice and a river and try to run there out of great hunger. When they arrive, however, they find white rocks instead of rice and blue slate or nothing at all instead of water. As their bodies are very weak and skeletal, they endure great difficulty in running to the mirage, and when they realize that there is no food there at all, they experience even greater suffering. These are the sufferings of hungry ghosts with external obscurations.
The second type of hungry ghost is those with internal obscurations. These beings occasionally find a little bit of filthy food, such as mucus or pus. Out of great hunger they try to eat it, but it cannot fit into their mouths which are as tiny as the eye of a needle. When some filth finally enters, their mouths tear and bleed, yet still the food sticks in their throats, which are as thin as the hair of a horse’s tail. Eventually passing through their throats into their huge stomachs, the bit of filth disappears, and instead of satisfying their hunger, it makes them even hungrier.
The third type of hungry ghost suffers from the obscuration of obscurations. They search everywhere for food, but instead of finding it they are chased by the overseers of the hungry ghost realm who beat them and cause them to suffer. Sometimes they may find a little bit of filth such as mucus, but it is very difficult for them to swallow it. If they manage to swallow a little bit, when it reaches their stomachs it becomes fire; instead of satisfying their hunger, it burns the inside of their bodies and they suffer. Hungry ghosts suffer in such ways and cannot escape until their negative karma is exhausted. We must reflect on this and try to resolve to practice Dharma so that we will not be born into that realm.
The Animal Realm
The third lower realm is the Animal Realm. Generally, there are two main types of animals: those that dwell within the ocean, and those that are scattered about on land.
For those animals that dwell in the ocean, life is very difficult. Wherever the ocean’s waves take them, they must go. Thus, their dwelling place and companions are constantly changing. Some areas are in such complete darkness that the animals cannot even see their own bodies. Wherever they go, they are always afraid of being eaten. Sometimes many small ones eat a single large one; sometimes a single large one eats many small ones. Also, human beings catch and slaughter them. Because these animals are always afraid of being eaten, they must constantly be alert and never have a single moment of relaxation.
Among those animals that are scattered about on land, there are two types: those that belong to or depend upon human beings, and those that are undomesticated. Those that belong to human beings must pull heavy carts, plow fields, and submit to milking. They are tied with iron chains and beaten with sticks and hooks. They are forced to perform many types of hard work. At the end of their lives, when they are old, instead of being retired they are killed for their flesh and bones.
Those animals that are scattered about on land but are undomesticated must always be alert, for they are constantly hunted by human beings and other animals. Chased by hunters’ dogs, they try to run away but fall down and are killed for their flesh, skin, bones, or horns.
All types of animals live with complete ignorance, just as if a huge rock was placed over their heads, and have no notion of what is right and what is wrong. In addition, animals also endure many other types of suffering.
The Suffering of Change
The second type of suffering is the suffering of change. The suffering of change includes those feelings that we normally consider to be pleasure. When compared to the suffering of the lower realms they do seem pleasurable, but in reality they are another kind of suffering. The suffering of change is mainly found in the higher realms, particularly in the gods realm.
The Gods Realm
Due to their karma, beings are born into the gods realm with beautiful bodies. They live in luxurious places with fine clothes and limitless enjoyments. But this is not permanent. Although the gods have very long lives, they are absorbed in enjoyments, so their lives go very fast. Suddenly, the signs of death appear. Their flower garlands wilt, their bodies lose their radiant beauty, and for the first time they appear dirty and their clothes are sweaty. They realize that they will soon have to face death, and through their contaminated clairvoyance they also foresee where they will be reborn. Having spent their entire lives in enjoyment, they have neglected serious Dharma practice. Therefore, they usually fall into the lower realms where there is an unimaginable amount of physical suffering. Foreseeing this, they experience enormous mental sufferingeven greater than the physical suffering of the hell realms.
Gods in the higher realms such as the form realm and formless realm do not have much physical suffering. However, no matter how high a bird flies in the sky, it must eventually land on the ground. In the same way, although these gods have reached a very high level of worldly meditation, the power of their meditation is eventually exhausted, and because they did not accomplish liberation they fall down again into the lower realms. However high one goes in samsara, one cannot remain there permanently, and so one will inevitably fall down again. Therefore, in the entirety of samsaranot only in the lower realms, but also on the highest peaks of samsara there is nothing worthy of attachment.
The Human Realm
Among human beings, there is no one who is free from the four major sufferings of birth, old age, sickness, and death. In addition to these there are many other kinds of suffering, such as not being able to fulfill one’s wishes, fear of being separated from one’s dear ones, fear of meeting one’s enemies, and so on.
The Demi-Gods Realm
The demi-gods are always competing with the gods. They engage them on the battlefield, yet due to their inferior merit, they are always defeated. All of the males are killed on the battlefield, and seeing this, all of the females suffer greatly.
The Suffering of the Conditional Nature of All Phenomena
The third type of suffering, the suffering of the conditional nature of all phenomena, is feelings usually associated with indifference; they are seemingly neither pleasurable nor painful. For example, wherever you go, with whomever you associate, whatever activities you engage in, there is no satisfaction. There is always something to complain about. This shows that our very existence in samsara is suffering.
In brief, as long as one remains within these six realms of existence, there is no freedom from suffering. Just as the nature of fire is hot whether the fire is small or large, so similarly the nature of samsara is suffering. Therefore, make a very serious resolve to practice the pure Dharma so that one will be freed not only from the suffering of the lower realms, but from the entirety of samsara.
The Law of Karma
Next one should reflect on the law of karma, or cause and effect. The reason we are caught up in samsara is that we have indulged in non-virtuous deeds. To free ourselves from suffering, we must abandon the cause of suffering. The cause of suffering is non-virtuous deeds. Therefore, we must abandon non-virtuous deeds and try to practice virtuous deeds. The next section explains non-virtuous deeds, virtuous deeds, and neutral deeds.
Non-virtuous Deeds and their Results
What are non-virtuous deeds? Any actions that are caused by negative emotions or defilements are called non-virtuous deeds. We will identify non-virtuous deeds and then we will consider the types of suffering resulting from indulging in these deeds and how to abandon them.
There are ten non-virtuous deeds. The first is killing, whether from anger, desire, or ignorance. Killing one’s enemy is an example of killing out of anger. Killing animals for the sake of flesh or skin is an example of killing out of desire. Small children or adults killing animals for pleasure while hunting or in sport, is an example of killing out of ignorance. In any case, whether the main cause is desire, anger, or ignorance, killing any living being from a tiny insect up to a god or human being, through any of the various methods such as weapons or poison, or even requesting another to do the killing, is the number one non-virtuous deed.
The second is stealing. This includes stealing very insignificant things up to very precious things, whether forcefully or quietly, through cheating or by any other method. Stealing is the act of trying to gain another’s possessions for oneself.
The third is sexual misconduct. This means to engage in any kind of sexual activity with someone other than one’s legal partner. These first three are non-virtuous deeds committed by the body. The next four are committed by the voice.
The fourth non-virtuous deed is lying. To tell another something that is not true for the purpose of deception is lying. The fifth is calumny which means to speak words, whether they are false or true, that create disharmony between individuals or groups.
The sixth is malicious speech. This is using very sharp words, out of anger or another negative emotion, that cause the listener to feel pain just by hearing them. The seventh is idle talk or irrelevant speech. This is to talk about subjects that are not beneficial but instead increase defilements, such as desire, anger and jealousy. These are the four non-virtues that are committed through speech. The next three are committed by the mind.
The eighth non-virtuous deed is covetousness. Covetousness occurs when upon seeing the wealth or power of another, desire arises in one’s mind to obtain that property or power for oneself. The ninth is ill will or malicious thoughts. Ill will happens when due to hatred, one wishes someone else to experience suffering or die. The tenth non-virtuous deed is wrong view. This means not believing in the law of karma, rebirth or the authentic teachings due to ignorance.
Consider the temporary and ultimate results of indulging in these non-virtuous deeds. The temporary result is similar to the action that was performed. For example, one who slaughters animals or kills human beings will have a very short life. By creating pain in another’s body, one will have a very unhealthy life; by stealing the wealth of others one will experience poverty; by engaging in sexual misconduct one will experience very unhappy marriages.
By engaging in any of these non-virtuous deeds, one will experience a result that is similar to the cause. In this life one will have such undesirable experiences and in the next life one will experience a result based on the amount of non-virtue that was performed, as well as the defilement that was the motivation. For example, killing someone out of anger has a very strong result, so someone who performs such an act will most likely fall into the hell realms. If one slaughters animals or other beings out of desire, such as desire for their wealth, then one will most likely fall into the hungry ghost realm. One who slaughters animals or other beings out of ignorance, such as for fun or enjoyment, will most likely fall into the animal realm.
Carefully consider how to abandon these non-virtuous deeds. By indulging in non-virtuous deeds all one achieves is suffering in this life and the cause of suffering in the lower realms in future lives. In this way, indulging in non-virtuous deeds is the greatest harm that one can inflict upon oneself, so with a very strong will, resolve to abandon them. Then having made this resolution, abstain from non-virtuous deeds.
Virtuous Deeds and their Results
Next consider virtuous deeds. What are virtuous deeds? Virtuous deeds are the opposite of the ten non-virtuous deeds. They are abstaining from killing, abstaining from stealing, abstaining from sexual misconduct, etc. These ten acts, when performed without the influence of the defilements, are virtuous deeds.
Practicing these virtuous deeds brings about the experience of all positive temporal and ultimate results. By abstaining from killing, one will have a very long and healthy life; by abstaining from stealing one will have great wealth; by abstaining from sexual misconduct one will have happy marriages, and so on. In this way, one will experience all the opposite temporal results of performing the non-virtuous deeds.
The ultimate result depends on the amount of virtue that is performed. If it is a large, medium, or small amount, one will accomplish one of the three enlightenments, such as that of the Sravakas, Pratyekabuddhas, or Bodhisattvas.
Practicing these virtuous deeds accomplishes ultimate happiness and brings about the fulfillment of all wishes. Practicing even small virtuous deeds can accomplish the great result of the Sravaka or Pratyekabuddha stage, which is completely free from all suffering. Therefore, resolve with a very strong will to practice even tiny virtuous deeds and then perform them diligently.
Next consider neutral deeds. Neutral deeds are deeds that are not performed under the influence of defilements, and also not under the influence of positive attitudes. Activities such as walking, sleeping, and eating are examples of neutral deeds. Neutral deeds produce results that are neither positive nor negative. They are better than non-virtuous deeds because they do not produce any suffering, but because they also do not produce any positive results, they are a waste of time.
When considering any deed, its motivation is the most important factor. Transforming one’s motivation can change neutral deeds into virtuous deeds. For example, eating food is normally a neutral deed, but if you eat food with the motivation to stay alive so that you can devote your life to practicing virtuous deeds, or to practicing the holy Dharma, then the neutral act of eating is transformed into a virtuous deed. Other deeds can be transformed in a similar way. Traveling is transformed into a virtuous deed by praying to meet one’s spiritual master, to meet the Buddha, or to hear the Dharma. Changing one’s motivation can transform all neutral deeds into virtuous deeds.
This completes the explanation of the second line of the teaching which is, “If you have attachment to the realm of existence, you do not have renunciation.” It explains the faults of samsara, from the hell realms up to the god realms. Also, it explains the reason we are currently dwelling within samsara, which is shown through the explanation of the law of karma.
Source: Cho Trin, Volume 1, Number 2
>continue to Part 3