Student: Now that I am in my fifteenth month of retreat of combining deity meditation with meditation on the lam-rim, I wanted to report to you how the retreat is progressing.
I am humbled and delighted to be continually discovering the depth of meaning in the lam-rim teachings. On the other hand, I find that my powers of mindfulness and concentration are deplorably weak. As much as I try, this mind of mine always wanders off onto other topics. This does not depress me, as I understand that my samsara is very, very deep and it is going to take a long time and much effort to be able to maintain focus upon the meditation object. I am concerned, however, that I may not be taking the best advantage of this precious opportunity of long retreat. I would be very pleased to receive words of advice and encouragement from Rinpoche.
Also, I await Rinpoche’s advice on when is the right time to change my meditation routine from this preparation for calm abiding to the actual meditation on attaining calm abiding.
My very dear Keith,
Thank you very much for your kind letter.
What you mentioned—this is the best progress, because you see the lam-rim deeper and deeper. This means what you are doing, your retreat, is benefiting your mind, to achieve enlightenment in order to enlighten all sentient beings. This is the main meaning of one’s life, the only goal; this is actually the only reason to live. Having this motivation, then whatever one does—walking, sleeping, talking, even having breakfast, with Vegemite or French fries—is meaningful.
So, I think you have a very deep realization of how samsara is terrible, nothing but suffering, which you have already experienced numberless times, and to continue to reincarnate in this samsara again is unbearable and disgusting. One feels that the suffering of samsara is not only the suffering of pain, or the suffering of change, but is totally in the nature of suffering; this is very important. Then, there is also pervasive compounded suffering—how the aggregates are in the nature of suffering constantly.
One not only sees how samsara is in the nature of suffering, but also what we perceive as happiness often comes about as a result of committing negative actions, and this continues, by leaving seeds of delusion, from which more delusion arises, from which more negative karma arises. This causes the continuation of compounded suffering. The more you see this, how being in samsara is like being in a fire, and the suffering of that, or like drowning in a septic tank, then the more one feels how this is a very good basis for developing shamatha. We feel disgusted at delusions, feeling they are very terrible, very awful, very deceptive, particularly attachment, which is like a poisonous snake that kills you immediately. Even if one is bitten by all the snakes in the world and dies, still one is only separated from one’s body in this life—it doesn’t prevent one from being liberated, from enlightenment, or generating virtuous thoughts. Just being bitten and dying doesn't cause one to be born in the lower realms, it is not the condition that causes that. But delusions cause one to be reborn in the lower realms. From delusion one creates negative karma and that is the cause for that rebirth. So, you can see that delusion is more dangerous than an atomic bomb, because delusions harm you and harm numberless sentient beings, and have been harming you in the past. If one doesn't eliminate delusions, they will continue to harm sentient beings, directly and indirectly, forever, besides harming oneself. This is much worse than a billion atomic bombs. This is the essence, the point of what I am saying.
The more one realizes the harm delusions cause, the more one has a better foundation for shi-nä. There are less distractions, such as attachment, scattering one’s thoughts, meaning less disturbances for shi-nä. Then, it is so easy to achieve shi-nä. One’s mind becomes more content and then there is more realization of renouncing delusion, and how samsara is in the nature of suffering. One’s mind becomes more peaceful, with less distractions; then it is very easy to achieve shi-nä.
The other thing is that the more one realizes renunciation of samsara and the harm of delusions, the more one is able to look at other sentient beings who are suffering and feel others’ suffering so clearly. This is how one’s compassion gets stronger. Then, it is very easy to generate bodhicitta, which leads you to enlightenment, and leads you to enlighten all sentient beings. This has skies of benefit.
So, you can start practicing shi-nä. Start by reading many instructions on shi-nä, specifically Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand and Lama Tsongkhapa’s lam-rim, as well as Gen Lam-rimpa. Slowly start with very short sessions, but many of them.
When you practice shi-nä, realizing how one’s concentration is very bad is a quality. To realize that—that’s one’s concentration is very bad—is progress. On that basis, recognize it and continue to develop it more and more. Try for one year. Then, see how it goes, put effort into that. If your concentration is not developing within six months, then I think you need to put more effort into other practices, like purifying negative karma and collecting merit, things like that.
Keep trying to develop renunciation, compassion, bodhicitta, and emptiness. Have a strong feeling of the lam-rim at the beginning of your sessions, even just for five minutes. If you don’t get to practice like this, then you should have an even stronger feeling than if you had lost billions of dollars.
Normally in this world, you are regarded as a hero if you defeat other countries. However, as I've mentioned before, when you have to suffer the karma of this in future lives, for eons and eons, how can that person be regarded as a hero, who is then in the lower realms, suffering inconceivably in the hell realms. That person is not a hero at all, who is suffering unbearably for however many number of years.
But there is no question that each day the lam-rim meditator defeats delusions. All one’s happiness, up to enlightenment, every day, from moment to moment, also of all sentient beings, comes from your lam-rim realizations. The problem is we follow is what our self-cherishing wants, what attachment wants - that is what we follow. Ignorance trusts that, that it is truly existent. This is what doesn’t allow one to have realizations of the three principals of the path, guru devotion, etc.
What I am saying is: defeat delusions every day. Even if it only happens once, even if you can only do it once a week, or once a month, someone who can do this is actually the greatest victor, the greatest winner. Normally, those who are called great champions are warriors, who kill hundreds of thousands or millions of people. But they never defeat the inner enemy: delusions; in fact, they always follow them, their whole life.
So, here you can see the huge difference: the lam-rim meditator is making war, like the war happening in Iraq, but on all the delusions, making war in the world of one’s mind, making war by trying to defeat the real enemy: delusions.
By actualizing the lam-rim path and totally defeating the delusions, trying to eliminate even the cause of every delusion, the negative imprints, the seeds, only then are you totally free forever from all the delusions, from samsaric suffering, from the oceans of each realm’s suffering, and all the external enemies. You have no enemies because you have no cause to receive harm from others, forever. This is the greatest champion, to be able to enlighten numberless sentient beings, who are in each realm, and to bring them to peerless happiness.
The one who sacrifices his or her life to meditate on the lam-rim is the real champion. This is also the real work for world peace—taming your own mind brings peace in the world, to numberless sentient beings. This is what brings light into their hearts and lives.
Sorry, this is just extra talk, but it is good to think about this every morning when you get up, to remember this, that you are working for world peace, that you are dedicating and giving this to sentient beings, and that you will continue working for others by practicing meditation on the lam-rim. You can do this not only during the sessions but also in the break time, while you are washing, going to the toilet, etc Whatever action you are doing, remember this. Your motivation is to benefit every single sentient being in this world, including your family, Muslims, the terrorists, all the people who are violent, who are torturing others, and who are suffering, those who are sick, those dying today, the millions of people who are dying of cancer, etc. You are benefiting everyone, every fish, every shellfish, every animal living in the water, on the beach, every single fly, all those people suffering in Africa, who are chopping up human beings, the tribes who are chopping other people up, making others so terrified, killing and raping others.
Also, remember this when you are taking the bodhisattva vows, every day during Guru Puja and other practices. Remember this and how this is what you are doing. Even when you chant one mala of OM MANI PADME HUM, even just a few mantras, make sure you do it with a bodhicitta motivation for all sentient beings. Do every mantra recitation, every meditation, for everybody. Everything you do in your house or outside, when you see a bird, when you're walking, do it with a bodhicitta motivation, then you are benefiting others.
By meditating on the lam-rim, practicing the lam-rim, and defeating the delusions, even though suffering doesn't get stopped right away, by taming the mind this becomes a precedent. This happens every time you don’t follow a delusion, every time you defeat it, even for a minute, two minutes, three minutes, by practicing patience, renunciation, not following desire, and so forth. It also happens every time you meditate on dependent arising, looking at things in emptiness, not following ignorance and grasping at things as truly existent. This is good to remember.
This leads after some time to a total cessation of the cause of suffering - karma and delusion - through actualizing the path, directly perceiving emptiness, with the basis of renunciation of samsara and developing the mind in this way. In this way, you are able to offer so many other qualities and be able to benefit others, to liberate others from the cause of suffering and lead them to enlightenment. This comes from each day practicing Dharma, guru devotion, the three principles of the path, and, on top of that, tantra, practicing pure appearance, and especially bodhicitta.
In every motivation, every time, generate bodhicitta, then everything you do leads definitely to enlightenment, with all the qualities, realizations, perfect understanding, omniscience, perfect compassion, perfect power, and the ability to perfectly liberate all sentient beings and bring them to enlightenment, to be able to do perfect works for sentient beings, spontaneously, without any effort.
This is how through practicing the lam-rim one is able to benefit every single sentient being. If you can do this it is amazing. Normally, people think that becoming king of a country or defeating other countries is unbelievable, but in reality if you don't renounce the cause of suffering it is nothing. You are removing the cause of suffering each time you practice lam-rim meditation. At the beginning, develop a bodhicitta motivation, compassion, to cease the cause of suffering, and to not experience suffering, forever. Every minute sentient beings stay in samsara is unbearable. This is the practice—every day, every minute, meditate especially on the lam-rim, especially now you are in an isolated place, free from distractions.
I regard as the most important thing in the world that anybody, including yourself, dedicates their life to achieving the lam-rim, guru devotion (which is the root), the three principles of the path, and the common and uncommon two stages, with the goal to liberate numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, and asuras from the oceans of suffering of each realm and to bring them to enlightenment.
There are great scholars who know everything, the entire Kangyur and Tengyur, by heart, great pandits who know all about the four traditions, Bönpo, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, all the different religions, who have so much knowledge, but who are not practicing, meditating on the path, or practicing Dharma, which means overcoming delusions and trying to destroy them, which are the one enemy, the inner enemy for oneself and enemy to all sentient beings. These scholars know so much but their life does not have much meaning, their life is empty. If they are not practicing then it's like their mind becomes like a library, but that's all. This does not make one’s mind useful even for liberating oneself, and certainly not for achieving enlightenment for sentient beings and enlightening all other sentient beings. This does not even use the knowledge to achieve a good rebirth in the next life, or to not be reborn in the lower realms, which is the minimum. So, one’s life is totally empty. It's like collecting all the medicines and storing them up, but you don’t take them when you are sick. Or you buy all the food in the world but don’t eat it and die of starvation.
Being able to defeat anger and attachment even one time, in one year, by being a lam-rim practitioner, through lam-rim meditation, is better than winning the Olympics a billion times. Being able to defeat one negative imprint plants the seed back in one’s mental continuum, and it becomes one less negative karma.
If you do not defeat it then from that negative imprint delusion arises again and again, and one has to circle in samsara continuously, experiencing the sufferings and suffering results for so many lifetimes. From that one negative karma one experiences hundreds of thousands of lifetimes of suffering, and also one repeats the same action again in each lifetime, for so many lifetimes. But you don't have to experience it like this, you are free. Whereas, even if Olympic champions win a billion times, it doesn’t have this benefit, and if they win, it is done with attachment, pride, or clinging to this life, and this is all negative karma, so actually it brings them closer to the lower realms.
Please inform me again after some time how you are getting on.
With much love and prayers...