When we die, when the day of our death comes, what can help?
If there were no reincarnation or karma, no continuity of consciousness after this life, even if there were only one life, I still think it would be very necessary to benefit others and avoid giving them harm. Even if there were just one life, no reincarnation or karma, it would still be necessary not to harm others but to benefit them. Why? Because, just as you want happiness and don’t want suffering, just as you want to be loved by others and don’t want to be harmed by them, in exactly the same way, all others also want, need, to be loved by you; others want help from you.
Just as you don’t want harm from others, others don’t want harm from you. Therefore, even in the case of one life—as far as your own happiness and that of all other living beings, including animals and insects, not just humans, is concerned—the practice of the good heart is still the most important thing you can do in your life. It becomes the most important thing in life for your own happiness and success and—because others need happiness and don’t want suffering and, therefore, want you to help them and not harm them—your practice of the good heart is also the most important thing for the happiness and success of others.
Even in the case of one life—no karma, no reincarnation—you still can’t just do anything you want; you can’t just live a wild life. Even if you don’t accept reincarnation or karma, you still can’t just live a wild life.
You can’t live like a tiger, harming any being you want—whatever thought comes, just harming another simply for your own benefit. If it’s something to eat—eating it; if it’s something to attack—attacking it— without any concern for those other beings, those other animals, like zebras, who are attacked by tigers, those very pitiful zebras. They have nothing with which they can harm others. Zebras, or deer...well, deer have horns, but they can’t inflict much pain with those...anyway, I’m joking. So, those animals—deer or others that don’t have much ability to harm, to attack others or to defend themselves—get eaten by tigers.
Whenever the tigers need food they just go there and kill and eat the others with not a single concern for their happiness, for those other animals’ happiness. Not a single concern for anything except their own happiness, their own needs. There’s not a thought for the needs of others.
You can’t live like that, even should you believe there’s just one life, even in the case that you believe the philosophy, religion, doctrine or idea that there’s just one life and no karma or reincarnation.
But here, now, we are talking from the point of view that reincarnation and karma do exist; that the consciousness will continue after this life.
What is the explanation, for example, that some children do not feel close to their own parents? The child was born to those parents but doesn’t feel close to them and feels close to somebody outside the family instead.
The child doesn’t feel close to its own parents or family, tradition or culture, but feels very close to some other culture; feels some familiarity, or closeness, to some other, outside people; naturally, feels very close.
For example, you might have had the experience of feeling very close to someone from the moment you meet that person. From the very beginning, just by seeing that person, you feel very close. Of course, it also works the other way—just by seeing a particular person for the first time in your life, you get angry. It’s not that you remember this person giving you harm earlier in your life—some years ago, some months ago, or when you were a child—treating you badly or something. It’s not like that. It has nothing to do with this life, but at first sight, you immediately hate that person. There are many experiences like this in life.
Without the basis of, without depending on, reincarnation and karma, there’s no way to explain the occurrence of these things. Without depending on life experience, on reincarnation and karma—the philosophy that is experiential, not just idealistic or intellectual, that is based on life experience, whether you remember it or not, which has been your experience even though you don’t remember it—there is no other explanation at all for this kind of experience.
Perhaps on seeing a certain type of animal or person, you get very scared. There is no obvious reason for this, you can’t explain why it happens, but just naturally you get so scared—just by seeing that kind of animal or person. What this shows is that a strong impression or impact was left on your mind when in a previous life you were killed by that type of animal or person, for example, a policeman. A strong imprint was left on your mind, there was a shock, so in this life, when you meet or see that type of animal or person, naturally you get very scared. You don’t know why you feel scared, you just do.
Even in one family, children born from the same parents can think totally differently from their parents or each other. From the time they are children, the way they think is like they’re from a totally foreign culture.
Just like Buddha explained in his teachings, without being taught by anybody, from the time they are very young, some children feel much compassion for other beings. When they see others suffering, having problems, they feel much compassion. Also, certain practices that are done in Buddhism are done intuitively by that person, that child, even though it was born into a totally different culture or family philosophy.
Similarly, a child can be born into a Buddhist family but possess a mentality that is totally different from the rest of its family. The child’s interests are totally opposite from those of the Buddhist family into which it was born. The child dislikes Dharma, has no interest in it; dislikes the Buddhist practices that the rest of the family do; has no interest in those practices; hates them. That kind of mentality.
However, people’s remembering their past lives is not an exclusively Tibetan phenomenon. Reincarnation is not found only in Tibetan culture —”reincarnation occurs only in the blood of Tibetans”! These days, everybody talks about reincarnation and karma. It has become quite common in the West. Even people doing business, talking about business, mention karma, bring up the word “karma.” Even business people who don’t practice Dharma mention the words karma and reincarnation while they are doing business.
Two or three years ago, I was at San Francisco Airport and overheard some flight attendants using the word “reincarnation” in conversation as they walked through the terminal. They weren’t particularly talking about reincarnation, just using the word. Nowadays in the West, it has become quite fashionable to talk about karma and reincarnation.
Not that many years ago, people tended to think that reincarnation was only in the Tibetan blood. However, it’s not like that; it is not just something that concerns only Tibetan people. In the West, the Middle- East and many other parts of the world, there are many children who remember previous lives. One American professor did a lot of research on this. He traveled to many countries and did research in villages where there were children who could remember past lives. He gave or sent me his thick book, which talks about the children he found in many different parts of the world who remembered past lives [Prof. Ian Stevenson, Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation]. There are also old people who can remember past lives. Not only that, there are also people who can see into the future—not just their own futures but those of others, too.
This kind of education or knowledge is becoming more and more common in Western society, where it was once unknown or was something you didn’t talk about. It is now becoming more known in society, becoming the subject of study, experimentation and experience.
However, the conclusion is that there’s not one single logical proof that there is no reincarnation or karma. Furthermore, it is no one’s experience or realization, nobody has realized, that there is no reincarnation or karma. All that has happened is that people have just assumed, or simply made up the philosophy, religion or idea, that there is no reincarnation or karma. However, there is nobody who has experienced or realized that there is no reincarnation or karma, while those who have experienced or realized the existence of reincarnation and karma are numberless.
There are numberless beings who have seen that that there is a consciousness and that this consciousness continues after this life. You may not have seen this yourself, but there are others who do possess advanced knowledge of inner phenomena.
For example, normally, when we don’t know something, we learn it from others. We don’t learn from others things we know. Normally we learn from others things we don’t know. That shows that our knowledge is limited, that our mind is incomplete in knowledge. Our mind is so limited, unbelievably limited. There is so much that is unknown. There is so much in life of which we are not aware, that we don’t know; there are vast numbers of existent phenomena of which we know nothing.
Only when your mind becomes omniscient, only when you have purified your obscurations by practicing the spiritual path, by practicing Dharma, only when your mental defilements have been purified, ceased, removed, and your mind has become omniscient, do you no longer need to learn. Only then does learning stop. Only then is your learning complete and you have nothing more to learn.
Therefore, unless you practice Dharma, actualize the spiritual path that ceases all defilements, there will be no end to learning; you will never be able to complete your learning. There will always be things about which you are not aware, that you don’t know, even things to do with your own life. To understand everything about even your own life, every subtle karma, just a little spiritual realization is not enough.
What helps you at the time of death?
The consciousness continues after this life, and where it goes next, where the consciousness migrates to, where it is reborn, depends on karma.
There are only two possible migrations—the body of the suffering migrator and the body of the happy migrator. Until we are free from this suffering realm, these circling aggregates, these circling, defiled, or contaminated, aggregates caused by karma and delusion, there are only two places to which the consciousness can go. Until we are free from all this, the consciousness can reincarnate in only one of two places—the lower realms—the hell, hungry ghost and animal realms—or the upper realms—the human, sura and asura realms.
Where you go depends on a cause, which is karma. If you have collected more powerful virtuous karma in this life, your consciousness will reincarnate in the body of the happy migrator. If the non-virtuous karma that you have collected in this life is greater and more powerful, your consciousness will migrate to the lower realms, will take rebirth in the body of a suffering migrator.
Normally I like to compare the power of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha with that of rocket science to see which is of more help at the time of death. The day you die, all your knowledge about rockets—how to make one that can go to the moon, for instance—can’t protect you, can’t help you, can’t stop your consciousness transmigrating to the hell, hungry ghost or animal realms. All that scientific knowledge can’t prevent you from going to the lower realms. All that knowledge can do nothing to stop an unfavorable rebirth. Even though you might have spent your whole life studying rocket science, it can do nothing to help you at the time of death. I’m not saying that studying is bad, but as far as what benefits you at the time of death, what helps you and what doesn’t, the power of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha is far greater than all that scientific knowledge.
At the time of death, if you can remember just one mantra, if you can die with the thought of even one mantra—OM MANI PADME HUM, TADYATHA OM MUNÉ MUNÉ MAHAMUNAYÉ SOHA or something—or the thought of a Dharma text—a prayer or sadhana that you’ve been reciting or the Heart Sutra, the Essence of Wisdom, which talks about the ultimate nature of the I, the very nature of all phenomena, or the King of Prayers—you won’t get reborn in the lower realms. If you die remembering one of your sadhanas or prayers, you won’t get reborn in the lower realms. There are many stories where even somebody who had already been reborn in a hell realm suddenly, because of the strong imprint, remembered a daily prayer or text that they used to recite in their human life—The Diamond Sutra, for example—and was immediately liberated from that hell realm, reincarnating in the upper realms as a deva or a human. Just remembering a text that you used to recite during your human life can have this benefit.
There are many stories like this. At the most critical time of life, when you are about to go to either the happy world or the suffering, unfortunate world, the lower realms, remembering even a mantra can prevent your being reborn in the lower realms. At that time, reciting a mantra or simply remembering a text—just the words, not even the Dharma path—can prevent you from being reborn in the lower realms.
It’s so powerful. Therefore, there’s no question that if you remember the path, the real Dharma—such as detachment from samsara, renunciation of samsara, the ultimate good heart, bodhicitta, and emptiness, the right view—if you’re able to meditate on the ultimate reality of the I and phenomena, if you can actually meditate, transform your mind into Dharma, you will not be reborn in the lower realms. Therefore, if you compare the usefulness at the time of death of all that scientific knowledge with that of just remembering a Dharma text, you’ll see there’s a huge difference. In all that scientific knowledge, there is nothing you can use to protect yourself at the time of death, but here, just remembering a text can prevent you from being reborn in the lower realms.
Even if you can remember an ordained person at the time of death— not necessarily somebody with high realizations but just an ordinary ordained person in whom you have faith and devotion—you don’t get reborn in the lower realms. Your rebirth in the lower realms is stopped if you die thinking of an ordained person in whom you have faith. Now, again, compare all that sophisticated knowledge—how to fly rockets to the moon and so forth—with the power of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha—compare what helps at the time of death and what doesn’t. By simply remembering one ordained sangha, you go to the happy world, you take the body of the happy migrator. Therefore, there’s no question that when you die, if you remember Buddha, there’ll be an even better result.
Of course, at the time of death—at that very important time, that important day, that important hour—the virtuous thoughts of the person who has lived with a good heart, benefiting others with tolerance, patience, compassion and loving kindness help a great deal. On that day, at that very important time, at that crucial moment of life, the merit collected by benefiting others helps a lot. All those thoughts and actions are Dharma. However, here I’m talking about anything that can help at the time of death.
You don’t even have to take refuge in all three—Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. At that very important hour, that crucial minute, even if you take refuge in just one, your life, your rebirth, your future life, will be taken care of. That’s how powerful Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are. If you rely on them, that’s how they guide you. If you compare the benefits of that to scientific knowledge—rockets and all those things—what can and cannot benefit you at the time of death...actually, I’m not so sure about rockets, but I am very impressed with dishwashing machines!
Rockets I’m not so sure about, but I am very impressed with dishwashers, microwave ovens and vacuum cleaners—very impressed! Not sure about rockets! Anyway, dishwashers don’t harm others—you can’t use them to harm others!
The benefits of taking refuge
There are eight main benefits of having refuge in your mind.
1. You become a Buddhist. The lam-rim teachings explain that by having refuge in your mind, you enter the Buddhadharma, you become an inner being.
2. Refuge is the basis for all vows. By having refuge in your mind, you can receive the pratimoksha vows, the morality that is the basis of achieving perfect concentration, shamatha. That, in turn, allows you to realize great insight. Like a fish swimming through water without disturbing it, on the basis of having realized shamatha, calm abiding, having developed perfect concentration by completing the nine levels on the basis of this shamatha, by analyzing emptiness you can derive rapturous ecstasy, this great bliss, the extremely refined rapturous ecstasy.
You are able to achieve this great insight. Then, by achieving this, you can develop the wisdom directly perceiving emptiness.
This wisdom eradicates your defilements; this wisdom is what directly ceases your defilements and brings you to complete liberation from the whole of samsara.
To achieve total liberation from samsara, you have to proceed along the five paths—the paths of merit, conjunction, right seeing, meditation and no more learning. By actualizing the third, the path of right seeing, your wisdom directly perceiving emptiness ceases one hundred and twelve defilements, disturbing-thought obscurations. Then, by actualizing the path of meditation, your wisdom directly perceiving emptiness ceases sixteen disturbing-thought obscurations. Finally, by eradicating even the seed of delusion, you achieve total liberation on your mental continuum.
Therefore, even to achieve ultimate, everlasting happiness, total liberation from the whole entire suffering realm, samsara, the very basic thing you need is to take precepts, vows; the practice of morality. Without refuge, you have no basis for that. Refuge is the basis for the pratimoksha vows.
However, the purpose of your life is not just to achieve happiness for yourself, not just to solve your own problems.
The purpose of your life is to free sentient beings as limitless as the infinite sky from all suffering and to bring them from happiness to happiness to full enlightenment; to bring them the highest, peerless happiness. The purpose of your life, of being alive, of having this precious human body, is to cause all this happiness.
To offer such perfect service to other sentient beings, including bringing them to enlightenment, first you yourself have to become enlightened. That depends on your actualizing the Mahayana path. The very foundation of that, what makes it possible for you to achieve enlightenment, is living in the bodhisattva vows. Again, without refuge, you have no basis on which to take the bodhisattva vow. That means you cannot become fully enlightened, fully awake. Without refuge you cannot achieve full enlightenment, the total cessation of all defilements and the completion of all realizations. If you don’t achieve that, you cannot offer perfect service to other sentient beings, you cannot bring all happiness to all sentient beings, including that of full enlightenment.
One reason that you should benefit others is that by doing so you fulfill the meaning of your life, your reason for living.
Otherwise, your life has no purpose. This is one of the reasons why you have to think of the welfare of others, why you need to develop your mind in the path to enlightenment, why you need to learn so many things—to fulfill the purpose of your life by benefiting others. However, to take bodhisattva vows, you need the basis of refuge.
Another reason to benefit sentient beings is that they are suffering unimaginably. But the longer it takes you to purify your mind and complete the two types of merit, to complete the realizations of the path to enlightenment, the longer those sentient beings who have a connection with you and depend on you for their liberation from suffering and enlightenment have to suffer, have to wait for their liberation and enlightenment.
What makes it possible for you to become enlightened more quickly is your achieving the quick path to enlightenment.
On the basis of the lam-rim, the three principal paths— the detached mind, the determination to be free from samsara, bodhicitta and right view—you need to practice tantra. In order to practice tantra, you need to take tantric vows. This enables you to achieve enlightenment quickly. Again, the basis of taking tantric vows is refuge. Refuge is a very important foundation.
3. You purify negative karma. Also, when you have refuge in your mind, by the way, all actions in your daily life—day and night; eating, sleeping, walking, sitting—serve to purify much of the negative karma you have accumulated since beginningless rebirths. By the way, just by having refuge in your mind, much of the negative karma in your mental continuum gets purified.
Because you have refuge in your mind, many of your daily actions become Dharma. That’s how your eating, sitting, walking —all your daily life activities—allow you to purify much negative karma and collect inconceivable merit all the time.
4. You create much merit. Because you have refuge in your mind, you do many specific practices to purify your mind and collect extensive merit. Many practices get done. It happens.
For example, practices where you recite different buddhas’ names, like the Thirty-five Buddhas or Vajrasattva—you recite those powerful buddhas’ names and mantras to purify your mind. And you make offerings to holy objects and so forth.
Many of those practices are done because you have refuge in your mind, and as a result, you immediately collect extensive merit. For example, as you know, one of the general refuge precepts is always to first offer from your heart to the Triple Gem any food and drink before you eat or drink it. Once you have made that offering, you then partake of the food and drink as a blessing, to benefit others.
With refuge in your mind, each time you meditate and visualize buddha, each time you think of buddha, you plant the seed of enlightenment. Every time you think of buddha, that thought brings you closer to enlightenment. Every thought of buddha prepares you for that most dangerous time, death, by making it easier for you to remember buddha.
Remembering buddha at the time of death gives you incredible freedom to stop the heavy sufferings that you would otherwise have to experience for many eons in the lower realms.
However, each time that you eat and drink, if first you visualize or meditate on buddha and offer your food and drink to buddha, you collect much merit. Therefore, even if you don’t have any realizations or any good heart, any compassion or loving kindness for others, just the action of offering your food and drink to buddha immediately becomes the cause of your enlightenment. You collect inconceivable merit. The minute you make an offering to buddha, you collect an inconceivable number of merits—as many as there are atoms in a huge mountain.
Whether it’s a piece of candy, a biscuit or whatever, by the way, since at the beginning you always make offerings because you have refuge in your mind, as many times as you eat and drink in a day, you collect inconceivable merit each time.
Therefore, there’s no question that by doing other practices, such as circumambulation, prostration, making offerings and other meditation practices related to buddha, you collect even more.
5. You cannot be harmed by people or spirits. Another advantage of having refuge in your mind is that you don’t get harmed by other humans or spirits. There is a sutra in which Lord Buddha talked about the incredible qualities of the bodhisattva Ksitigarbha—his unbelievable activities and how Ksitigarbha benefited infinite sentient beings. This sutra has two sections. The first part talks about how ordained people create much heavy negative karma by breaking vows, while the second talks about how one should not criticize the sangha because doing so creates extremely heavy negative karma. If you criticize, put down or give a bad reputation to any monk or nun, even one who breaks vows and makes a lot of other mistakes, you create incredibly heavy negative karma. The second part of this sutra talks a lot about that. It also talks a lot about how you should respect even those monks and nuns who don’t keep their vows purely, because those sangha can still be of great benefit to sentient beings.
This sutra also explains the way they used to punish people back then. These days, people are executed by getting shot or hung. In ancient India, they used to take criminals from their home at night and put them in a cemetery! Those cemeteries were inhabited by vicious spirits that ate people, so the next day you wouldn’t find a trace of that person left. That was the old way of punishing people. The text mentions one person who pinned a small piece of a monk’s yellow robe to his shirt—just small piece, not the complete robe. When the spirits at the cemetery saw that he was wearing a piece of the monks’ yellow robe for protection, they respected it, didn’t harm him, and just went away. Nothing happened. The next day, the person was able to leave the cemetery and go home.
There are many stories about how sangha robes are a powerful protection and prevent spirits from harming people. Not being harmed even by vicious spirits is a result of taking refuge in the sangha’s robes.
6. You will not fall into the lower realms.
7. All your wishes get fulfilled. How does this happen? As I mentioned before, by having refuge in your mind, you always create good karma; every day you create much good karma.
That itself becomes the cause of your success, for all your wishes for happiness to succeed. Not only that, but also as before, with refuge in your mind, by purifying much negative karma, the cause of the problems and danger, you create merit, the cause of success.
For example, many people from the Chinese, Western and Tibetan communities have been cured by praying to the Triple Gem, relying on Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, praying to the Compassionate Buddha. People who doctors have been unable to cure, who doctors have said will die after a month or two, after a few days, people for whom nothing can be done, by praying to Buddha, to Kuan Yin, the Compassionate Buddha, have had miraculous things happen to them. Diseases have been completely cured; people have recovered from terminal illness; incredible life dangers have been averted. There are many stories like this.
In even my own experience, about six people with terminal cancer have recovered by praying to Buddha. Through meditation and mantra recitation, most of them recovered completely, even though doctors had told them that they had only two or three months to live. Their recovery was due to their praying to Buddha.
8. You are able to achieve enlightenment quickly.
What is samara?
The main reason for taking refuge is to be totally liberated from samsara forever. What is samsara? The contaminated, or defiled, aggregates that we have now—this association of body and mind—is caused by karma and delusion. Until we stop the continuous circling of these aggregates from one life to another—the joining again and again, the circling again and again, the continuous circling of these defiled aggregates caused by delusion and karma that are suffering in nature—we will continuously experience suffering without a second’s break. These aggregates circle to the next life, then to the next, then to the one after that—this continuity of contaminated aggregates circling from one life to the next under the control of delusion and karma is samsara.
Until you break this circle of samsara, you will have no break from suffering. No holiday; not even a second’s break. From time without beginning, from beginningless time up to now, you have been experiencing pervasive compounded suffering because your aggregates, which were created by karma and delusion, have always been under the control of karma and delusion. That’s why your aggregates are suffering in nature.
As a result, your mind always experiences suffering—depression, loneliness, all these emotional torments. You are constantly tortured by your emotional thoughts—attachment, anger, jealousy and so forth, all those delusions that arise from the three poisonous minds or are part of them.
These are all sufferings of mind.
Then there are the sufferings of the body. Even simply pressing certain parts of your body with your fingers can immediately bring pain.
And if you lie down, walk or sit just a little carelessly, not quite right, again, you immediately feel pain. This is how the body is suffering in nature. It’s the same with the mind. Even though there is no unhappiness right at this moment, if in the next moment you hear some unpleasant words or see something unpleasant, your mind immediately becomes unhappy. This is how your body and mind are suffering in nature, how these aggregates are suffering in nature. Thus, these aggregates are the container of all of this life’s problems. Not only that—they are also the foundation of all the coming lives’ problems. This life’s aggregates also become the foundation for the problems of future lives.
Furthermore, these contaminated aggregates that are pervaded by suffering are also the seed of disturbing thoughts. Therefore, when in your daily life you encounter objects—beautiful objects, ugly objects, indifferent objects—since you do not meditate, do not practice Dharma, your life has no protection. You have no protection in your life; your mind has no protection. As you do not meditate, do not practice Dharma at that time, emotional thoughts arise because their seed is there—ignorance, anger and attachment. Emotional thoughts arise and motivate karma, which plants a seed on the mental continuum, on the mere I, on the sixth consciousness, the consciousness of mind. Then, from this seed comes the sprout—the samsaric aggregates of future lives. That’s how they get actualized. This present life’s aggregates compound the future samsara by creating karma with delusion.
From beginningless rebirths up until now, you have been experiencing pervasive compounding suffering; from time without beginning up to now. And on the basis of that, you have been experiencing the suffering of pain and the suffering of change, which is temporary samsaric pleasure—pleasure that does not last, doesn’t increase, doesn’t continue and which is only suffering in nature.
Why does temporary samsaric pleasure not last? Why do sense pleasures not last, why do they not increase? If these pleasures were not suffering in nature, they should increase; they would increase. If they were not suffering in nature, the pleasure would continue and you could develop it hour by hour, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year. So, how old are you now? How many years is it since you were born? For example, I’m fifty-three, so by now my sense pleasures should be unbelievable! But they’re not!
Anyway, the reason they don’t last is because they are suffering in nature. That’s the reason. There are basically three feelings. The first is the suffering of pain—mental pain, physical pain, depression (when you are depressed, there’s pain). There’s also the pain of attachment, the pain of anger, the pain of jealousy, heat and cold, hunger and thirst, all the aches and pains of the body, migraine headaches—anyway, all this. Then there’s also the suffering of rebirth, old age, sickness, the inability to find desirable objects, or if found you’re unable to get satisfaction from them.
There’s the pain you experience when you feel something’s missing, when you are not completely happy. Even if you get what you want—a friend or a billion dollars—in your heart, you still feel that something’s missing; there’s pain in not being fully satisfied. Those feelings are the suffering of pain.
Then there’s the feeling you get when one suffering, one problem, has stopped and another suffering has started, but is not yet noticeable. One suffering has stopped and another has already started, but it is not noticeable. That feeling is called pleasure. Your mind labels that feeling “pleasure” and it then appears as pleasure. In reality, that feeling is only suffering, but because at that moment your mind does not recognize it as suffering, your mind labels it pleasure and it appears as pleasure; it appears as pleasure to your hallucinating mind. It appears to you as pleasure.
If you look at it with wisdom, you see it only as suffering, not pleasure, but if you look at this feeling with a hallucinating mind, you see it as pleasure. According to the view of the hallucinating mind—when your mind does not analyze, does not meditate, does not look at the nature of this feeling, which is only suffering—this feeling appears as pleasure. But in the view of wisdom, you see this feeling as only suffering.
In the view of your wisdom, the mind that analyzes, that meditates, you see it only as suffering. When your mind is not hallucinating, you see this as suffering, but when your mind is hallucinating, this feeling appears as pleasure. It is a hallucination. This is the suffering of change.
For example, say you go to Las Vegas and make a hundred dollars profit, but are not satisfied with that and want a thousand. You put your winnings back and play again. Then, even if you get the thousand, you are not happy with that, not satisfied with that. You want more. You put your winnings back again to get more. So now let’s jump ahead! You’ve won a million! You’ve won a million dollars in Las Vegas. But after getting a million dollars, you are still not happy, still not satisfied. So you play again, hoping to get more than a million. Then you get a billion dollars but it still doesn’t make you happy; you are still not satisfied. So you play again.
I’m talking here on the basis of your winning continuously, making a growing profit, but of course, many people lose thousands, hundreds of thousands of dollars gambling like this. Here I’m talking on the basis of your continually making money.
Once we were traveling by car and stopped in Reno. It was about one or two o’clock in the morning and we had stopped for tea, to have chai.
There was this machine that you put money into, so out of curiosity I put in a quarter and two came back! Then, because my mind was not happy with two, I played again! Then nothing happened! So anyway, it’s like that!
What I was saying before is, if you analyze, it is only suffering; that whole thing is suffering. As I often give as an example, out of hunger, you start to eat food, and the suffering of hunger stops. Eating food has stopped the hunger, but at that very moment, with the first spoonful of food, the discomfort of being too full has started. From the very beginning, the discomfort of too much food in your stomach has begun, but at first it is not noticeable, and we label it pleasure, comfort. However, by continuing to eat, the discomfort becomes more and more gross, until it becomes noticeable and you label it unpleasant. What you had labeled pleasure, comfort, does not increase, doesn’t last, because that feeling is actually suffering. One suffering stops, another suffering begins. But at the start, it is small, very small, unnoticeable, so we label it pleasure and it appears as pleasure. But actually it is only suffering. This is called the suffering of change. We have to understand why it doesn’t last. The logic is that it doesn’t last because the nature of that pleasure is suffering.
From beginningless samsaric lifetimes up to now, on the basis of this samsara, the pervasive compounding suffering, we have continuously been experiencing the suffering of pain and the suffering of change. Even the indifferent feelings that we have been experiencing have also been suffering. The indifferent feelings that our bodies, these aggregates, have experienced, have actually been suffering.
Until we are free from this samsara, until we cut the continuity of the circle of this samsara, we will continuously be tormented by these three types of suffering. In this samsara, there is no new pleasure left that we haven’t already experienced. There is nothing new that we have never before experienced in previous lives. Whether it is samsaric pleasure or the suffering of pain, there’s nothing new. Even if it’s a suffering of pain, even if it’s a problem, it’s nothing new, it’s not the first time we’ve experienced it.
For example, say you meet a friend, somebody in your life, but after some time you start to experience problems, relationship problems. You don’t get loved, you feel left out, there’s separation from your friend....
All this might appear as if it’s happening for the first time, but it’s not the first time. This problem, with this person, with this sentient being, has happened numberless times in your past lives. Even the relationship problems that you experience in this life—after meeting this person then there’s separation, all this—it’s not the first time. You have experienced this problem numberless times over your beginningless samsaric lifetimes —whatever problem you experience, nothing is new, nothing is new. Whether it is samsaric pleasure, suffering of change, or the suffering of pain, nothing is new.
Until you are liberated from samsara, wherever you live, wherever you go, it is a place of suffering. Whatever enjoyment you have—all these enjoyments of samsara—whatever enjoyment of samsara you have, sense pleasure, it’s all suffering. And whoever you accompany, any friend, is a friend of suffering. Until you are free from samsara, it is like this. This is the nature of samsara.
This is your best chance to be free
Now, this is the one time that you have received not only a precious human body but a perfect human body, with which you can achieve any great meaning. If you wish, you can achieve the happiness of future lives.
You can achieve ultimate happiness, liberation from samsara. And you can even achieve the highest happiness of full enlightenment. Also, every second, even each moment, you can achieve these great meanings of life.
Whatever you wish, you can achieve with this perfect human body.
This is the time that you have all the opportunities, every opportunity, to liberate yourself from the whole entire circle of suffering, the vast oceans of samsaric suffering. You can liberate yourself from the hell, hungry ghost and animal realm sufferings, the oceans of each realm’s unimaginable suffering; from the unimaginable sufferings and problems that human beings experience; from all the problems that the devas— suras and asuras—experience; and from all the general sufferings of samsara.
This is the time. Having such an incredible opportunity to make yourself totally free, to completely cease all the sufferings of samsara, whose continuity has no beginning, is virtually just this once. This is your only opportunity to make yourself totally free, to cease completely the entire suffering of samsara, all the beginningless sufferings of body and mind, to make it impossible to experience them again, to never reincarnate again in samsara—it is essentially just this once, only this time.
This is the time that not only do you have buddha nature and the ability to achieve all happiness, cease all suffering and achieve liberation for yourself, but you also have the ability to liberate numberless other sentient beings, who are suffering in samsara just as you are. You can liberate all sentient beings and bring them to full enlightenment. For that purpose, you have to achieve enlightenment yourself. You have buddha nature, with which you can do all this, and besides that, you have this perfect human body, which enables you to use your buddha nature to achieve all these things, to take all these opportunities, to achieve all this success for yourself and others.
This is the time to do your best. This life—this body, this precious, perfect human body—is the time to do your best, to not cheat yourself.
If you do not make the most of this time when you have every opportunity to achieve all success for yourself and for other sentient beings, if you do not take maximum advantage, if you cheat yourself again in this life—like you have been cheating yourself since beginningless rebirths— if you cheat yourself again in the one life that gives you every opportunity to practice Dharma, if you don’t get to practice, there is no greater loss than this.
The karmic results of killing
Perhaps now I’ll read a page of this text from where I left off last time...well, last time I couldn’t find it! However, previously I was reading from Shantideva’s teaching, Lab-dü.I’m not sure, but in English this title could be translated as Condensed Advice. I read the results of the negative karma of killing, the suffering in the hell realms as explained by Shantideva. In the lam-rim teachings, the hell sufferings are not presented in this particular way, although they do give a general explanation.
The ripening aspect result of the complete negative karma of killing is usually to be reborn in the lower realms and to experience all those unimaginable sufferings. Then there are the three suffering results, the three problems that you experience in the human realm. One of these is the possessed result—a very dirty place, a very unhealthy environment that contains many things that harm your life. Medicines do not have much power; food does not have much nutritional value; protein degenerates due to negative karma. Food and crops do not have much protein and may even become the cause of disease. The food you eat becomes the cause of disease. You are unable to digest food. Many people have gastric or digestive problems—that’s the result of killing; the result of the past negative karma of killing.
Thus, you can see how doing Vajrasattva practice promotes healing, purifying the negative karma that causes gastric problems. Of course, that’s not the only thing it purifies. Retreat purifies much more than the cause of gastric problems, but they are included. Anyway, food becomes harmful, the cause of sickness. Like diabetes—you can’t eat this, you can’t eat that, you can’t eat this, you can’t eat that! Like my precious sickness, my diabetes!
Then, experiencing the result similar to the cause, you experience shortness of life. For example, you die right after conception in your mother’s womb. It includes that. You are there for a few minutes, then you die. Shortness of life—whether you kill yourself or whether others kill you, or whether you die by disease, you have a short life, you’re unable to have a long life. Finally, there’s creating the result similar to the cause, doing the action of killing again because of past karma, habit.
The karmic results of stealing
Next it explains the ripening aspect result of taking things that have not been given; stealing. Whoever commits the extreme action of this vice— this is talking about the hell suffering result of stealing—hallucinates that there are big piles of wealth—jewels, clothing, food, grain and many other possessions....There’s a term, nor, used here. It has two meanings.
One is possession, but it could also mean animals, possessed animals. You see huge piles of valuable possessions, but it’s a hallucination, like, it says, the ring of fire you see when you light a stick of incense and twirl it around in a circle. It looks like there’s a circle of fire, but actually there’s not. It looks like there’s an actual circle of fire, but there’s not. It’s a hallucination or transformation, like a city of spirits, a city of ghosts; like a mirage.
The person seeing this is totally overwhelmed by attachment, by ignorance, by karma, and thinks, “This is mine.” Then, due to karma, sparks of fire, like from burning animal dung, extremely hot, hit the person’s body. I think that’s what it means, but I’m not one hundred percent sure. Then the person runs towards the hallucinated huge piles of possessions and is grabbed by yamas, which appear as human but have been created by the person’s karma. Then they bring the person into a crater, like a volcano, erupting with blazing weapons, which chop the person’s limbs to pieces. Here the term yän-lag means legs and arms and nye-lag means the parts of the limbs [forearm, upper arm, thigh, lower leg and so forth].
These are cut into pieces and burned until all that is left is bone.
But even though this happens, your attachment, which has been with you since beginningless past lives, still doesn’t decrease. Here it might sound as if it is finished by that hell suffering of stealing, but it’s not.
This is a very short explanation, but of course, this suffering is extremely unbearable.
The karmic results of sexual misconduct
Next is being under the control of sexual misconduct, desire. Whoever creates this negative karma—it seems this explanation continues from the previous one—even after you are free from the dangers of all those weapons, again, sparks of red hot cow dung hit your body. Then you go to another place that is the production of your karma, the hell being’s karma, called “Seeing the wrong way.” Then, it says, by being in that place, you “lose your memory, and see the activities done by...”—it says “women” here, but it can be vice versa, like in the Bodhicaryavatara, where it talks about the shortcomings of the body. When the shortcomings of the body are mentioned, it talks about women’s bodies because the teaching was given mainly to men. When women do this meditation, they have to think about the shortcomings of the men’s bodies. It’s similar here; you have to think vice versa.
Due to karma, the hell being sees women doing things similar to what that being used to see in its previous life. Due to karma, the being has that vision in the hell realm. Since that being’s mind has been habituated to such activities since beginningless samsara, the fire of attachment arises. Attachment to those activities has been there, the being’s mind has been habituated to those, since beginningless samsara, so it arises again and the hell being runs towards those women. Then, due to the hell being’s karma, yamas, whose nature is iron—in the movies, they show people made of iron, with long nails; they look like human beings but they’re made of iron, have long nails and are very frightening—grab that being and eat its body completely. Starting from the mouth, its lips, they eat the body completely, leaving not even a scrap the size of mustard seed. Then again, due to karma, the being gets born again, the body reappears, and the hell being is again eaten. In this way, the being experiences unimaginably heavy suffering. But still the attachment does not change. Even after such heavy suffering, whenever that being sees more women, he runs towards them.
Then, it says, due to hell being’s karma, women whose nature is iron, vajra iron, with violent fire blazing from their bodies, grab the hell being and crush its body into grains of sand. Then, because that karma has not yet finished, the suffering of hell due to sexual misconduct has not yet finished, again the body comes back. (There are some more stanzas here, but I think I’ll leave it there.) However, when women meditate on this, where it says “women” in this text, they have to think “men.”
So the next one is...maybe I’ll stop here...the next one is for next time!
More on the karma of stealing
The ripening aspect result of the complete negative karma of stealing is to be reborn in the lower realms and to experience all those unimaginable sufferings just mentioned. The possessed result, when you are born as a human being, is that you get born or have to live in a place where there is much drought, no water, no rain, great danger of earthquakes and floods, and scarcity of food, no crops...and no corpse! Actually, no crops and many corpses!
For example, there have been many years of suffering in Africa in those areas where there has been no water for such a long time, no rain for such a long time. Even when other countries try to help—like once they brought water by airplane to that country, but by the time the airplane arrived at the airport, the water had become extremely contaminated, unusable, unfit to give to the people—the people in that country don’t have the karma to receive clean water. So even though other people try to bring water, by the time it arrives there it has become undrinkable.
When you don’t have the karma or if you have created the negative karma to experience these suffering results by stealing, this kind of thing happens—even when outside people try to help, to bring things, the suffering people are unable to receive it.
That means the people, from their own side, need to purify their negative karma; they need to do Vajrasattva retreat. All African people— those who live in those areas where there is so much drought—need to do Vajrasattva retreat. They need to purify their negative karma, to change their minds from delusion, from negative thoughts, and to transform their actions into virtue, to practice morality—abstain from stealing and so forth. Until they do that—until they purify their past negative karma and practice Dharma, from their own side create the cause of success, the cause to have food, rain, crops and all these things by making charity and abstaining from stealing—their situation will not change.
That was the possessed result. Then there’s experiencing the result similar to the cause. Here you’re always losing things. Other people steal or confiscate your belongings, take them by force, or else you lose them.
Even if you have enjoyments, you have to share them with others, you don’t own them completely yourself—even what little you have, you have to share with others. You have this kind of difficulty and have to live in poverty. The main experience of the result similar to the cause, stealing, is poverty.
Creating the result similar to the cause means again engaging in the same negative karma, stealing. As I normally mention, the most terrifying result of negative karma is not hell. The most terrifying result is this one—creating the result similar to the cause. This is far more terrifying than hell, because you again engage in the same negative karma, stealing.
Then, that complete action has four suffering results. One of these, of course, is creating result similar to the cause, stealing yet again. Once more, that produces the four suffering results. In this way, it goes on and on without end. That makes the suffering of samsara endless. The suffering result of the one action, the one negative karma of stealing, goes on and on and on without end. As long as you don’t change, as long as you don’t purify the negative karma, as long as you don’t change your mind, your attitude and actions and live in the vow, in the precept to abstain from stealing, as long as this doesn’t happen, the suffering result of the one negative karma of stealing doesn’t stop; it goes on and on without end.
Therefore, creating the result similar to the cause is much more terrifying than the hell realm. You experience the hell realm once and it’s finished, but creating negative karma again produces suffering results without end.
Now, here I’m using just one example, one negative karma—how an action like stealing creates unending suffering, unending experiences of suffering results; how it goes on and on and on. Therefore, you can now see what it means to take a vow, what it means to live in precepts. Now you can see the importance of that. By understanding how the suffering result of just one negative karma, one act of stealing, goes on and on, you can see how extremely important it is to live in the vow, the precept, to abstain from negative karma, such as stealing.
Even if you cannot take, cannot live in, the vows, the morality, of all the ten virtuous actions, in the ten precepts, even if you cannot live in the five lay precepts, abstaining from those five negative karmas, if you can live in at least one vow, such as abstaining from stealing, you can see, there’s no question, that if you live in that vow until you die, it brings peace and happiness in all your future lifetimes.
Even if one day you stop yourself from stealing once—you are in danger of creating the negative karma of stealing but you resist—the benefit is that you don’t have to experience again and again in future lives the four suffering results of stealing. That doesn’t happen. Having stopped this one negative karma of stealing, all those four suffering results that would have gone on and on from that one negative karma of stealing don’t happen; they’re completely stopped. Therefore, by having stopped that one negative karma of stealing, you have peace and happiness in all the future lifetimes—peace and happiness in the sense of not having created that negative karma, thus, the absence of all those sufferings.
In this way, you can see that living in the vow, in the precept, even if it is just one, it’s unbelievable; it’s the source of peace and happiness in all the coming future lives. It’s unbelievable. It’s the main cause of happiness, the main protection for your life in all coming future lives; the main protection. Living in one vow in this life protects you from suffering in all future lives and is the main cause of happiness.
More on the karma of sexual misconduct
The ripening aspect result of the complete negative karma of sexual misconduct is to be reborn in the lower realms and to experience all those unimaginable sufferings just mentioned. And even when you are born in the human realm, you have to experience the three types of suffering result.
The possessed result is that you have to live in an unhealthy, dirty, filthy, muddy environment. Wherever you walk there’s mud and kaka, excrement, filth, dirty smells; it’s a very unhygienic, very unhealthy place. Many people have to live their entire lives like this. Sometimes even we have to pass through such dirty places. On that day, at that hour, we are experiencing the possessed result of past sexual misconduct—being in a very filthy place.
Experiencing the result similar to the cause here is explained in Sa-chupa’i do, The Ten Bhumis Sutra, where it talks about two results similar to the cause. One is that your companion’s mind, the other person’s mind— your husband or wife or whatever the other person with whom you live is—is not harmonious with your mind, is against your mind. Therefore, there are relationship problems. That’s one thing. The other is that the minds of the people who surround you are not harmonious with yours.
Therefore, they don’t help fulfill your wishes; their mind is not harmonious with yours. Experiencing these problems is experiencing the result similar to the cause of the past negative karma of sexual misconduct.
Having heard this teaching, whenever we have any of these experiences in life, we have to remember, or recognize, that they are the result of the past negative karma of sexual misconduct. This means that if you don’t want to experience such problems, from now on you should abide in the vow of abstaining from sexual misconduct. Basically it means that if the person who has a husband or wife, the “owner,” doesn’t like these problems, that person should live in the vow of abstaining from sexual misconduct.
The experience of creating the result similar to the cause means engaging in sexual misconduct again. Once more, that complete action produces four suffering results, and so it goes, on and on, like that.
The benefits of keeping precepts
Actions opposite to these vows harm other sentient beings directly or indirectly and create negative karma. For example, from the time you take the vow not to kill, numberless other sentient beings don’t receive the harm of being killed by you. From the day, the hour, the minute you take the vow, numberless of other sentient beings don’t receive that harm, being killed, from you. The absence of that harm is peace and happiness, which they receive from you. You have to understand in this way how your living in the vow not to kill becomes the source of peace and happiness for all other living beings, including insects and human beings.
The more vows you take, the more precepts you take, that much less harm numberless other sentient beings receive from you. Just from that, they receive that much more peace and happiness from you. You should see, understand, it this way. The precepts you take and live in are the best contribution you can make to world peace. From today, the more precepts you take, the more vows you live in, the greater your contribution to world peace—to not only the peace and happiness of this world’s sentient beings, but to the peace and happiness of all sentient beings. If you think long term, from life to life, you also benefit sentient beings living in other worlds. And because, on the basis of the vows, you develop your mind on the path to enlightenment, you can see how you benefit all sentient beings even more.
The greater the number of vows you have taken, the more merit you create. For example, if you have taken one precept, by living in that one vow, you collect merit all the time, from the time you took it until you die. Every moment for the rest of your life, while you are sleeping, eating, walking—all the time—by living in even that one vow, you collect good karma continuously. If you have taken five vows, the five lay vows, it means that all the time you are creating five good karmas, merit, all the time. As many hours as you sleep—eight hours, ten, twelve—even while you’re asleep, you are continuously collecting merit, creating those five good karmas all the time—eating, walking, no matter what you’re doing. In other words, it makes your life meaningful all the time.
If you are living in the eight vows, then, like that, you are creating eight good karmas, merit, all the time. Similarly, if you are keeping the thirty-six vows of the novice or the two hundred and fifty-three vows of a fully ordained monk, you collect thirty-six or two hundred and fifty-three merits all the time, day and night; all the time, even while you’re asleep. Similarly, if you’re a fully ordained nun, three hundred and sixty-four.
[Ven. Munsel: Three hundred and forty-eight.] Three hundred and forty-eight? There may be different ways of counting. [Ven. Munsel: That’s the Danagupta tradition, three hundred and forty-eight.] Anyway, whatever it is, three hundred and forty-eight merits or three hundred and sixty-four—all the time, day and night, you collect that much merit.
The other thing is that, as I often say, even if the person living in the ordination, living in the vows, doesn’t do any other practices—preliminary practices and so forth—but just lives in the vows that were taken— does nothing else but eat, sleep and make kaka and peepee—does no practice other than living in the vows, while externally, from ordinary people’s point of view, it might look like that person is doing nothing, is lazy, does nothing, as long as the person is living purely in the vows, that person is benefiting the world a great deal. Even if the person doesn’t do any practice other than living in the vows, that person is benefiting the world greatly, bringing much peace and happiness into the world, into the environment, and contributing so much to the prosperity of that country, helping the crops to grow well and rain to fall at the right time.
The person living in the vows helps the prosperity in that area, in that country, very much. It affects the environment, as it is explained in teachings on the benefits of the eight Mahayana precepts.
The story of the four harmonious brothers, those four animals [elephant, monkey, rabbit and bird], also illustrates this. Actually, one was an embodiment of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha and the others were various disciples of the Buddha. They all lived in the forest, practiced the five precepts and spread that practice to others. The monkey spread living in the vows to other monkeys, the rabbit got other rabbits to practice keeping the five lay vows, and so forth. Each one decided to spread the practice of keeping precepts to others and to respect each other. Due to that, the economy of the entire country changed completely. Food became plentiful, there was no scarcity of food, the rains came at the right time and everything became so rich.
The king thought he had done it, his ministers thought they had done it, and there were many arguments about who was responsible for this good fortune. One of the ministers suggested, “Maybe we should ask the clairvoyant sage how this has come about.” The sage told them, “None of you did it. It’s a result of what those four brother animals who live in the forest have done. They live in the precepts and respect each other—those who are younger respect those who are older—and that’s why the country has developed.” Therefore, a nunnery or a monastery can bring great prosperity and benefit to a country and to the world.
Not only that, but by living in the vows you have taken, whether they be lay vows or those of monastic ordination, every day, whenever you collect good karma by making charity, by benefiting other sentient beings, by making offerings to the Triple Gem or however you create merit, the merit you create is greatly increased—hundreds of thousand of times. And if you are living in the bodhisattva vows, your merit is increased that much more—millions of times. And especially if you are living in the tantric vows, the merit you create is increased much, much more than that. The higher the ordination you keep, the more the general good karma you create in your daily life is increased. It is mentioned in Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand and Bodhicaryavatara that by taking bodhisattva vows you collect infinite merit like the infinite sky— every second, you collect merit like that. On top of that, if you keep tantric vows, you create that much more merit.
So tonight, I think I’ll stop here.
The refuge and precepts ceremonies
However, what is refuge? It is the understanding fear, the useful fear, the beneficial fear of the sufferings of samsara in general and the suffering of the lower realms in particular. That’s one cause of refuge. The other cause of refuge is faith in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha by knowing their qualities —their power to liberate, to save one from the suffering of samsara, including its cause. Having faith that the Triple Gem has the power to do this. Having these two causes in your mind and relying on Buddha, Dharma and Sangha with all your heart is what taking refuge means. Those causes could already be there in your mind, so here, taking refuge means taking the refuge vow in a ceremony; taking the refuge vow from a lama.
Now, if you have compassion for others, if your purpose of taking refuge also includes compassion for other sentient beings, if you are taking refuge for the benefit of other sentient beings, you are taking refuge the Mahayana way. If you have compassion for others, you are taking refuge not only for yourself but also for others. That becomes the Mahayana way of taking refuge. The previous way was the Hinayana way of taking refuge. Taking refuge, relying on Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, with the third cause of compassion for others in your mind is the Mahayana way of taking refuge.
First I’ll give refuge and then the five precepts. Monks and nuns, who live in higher ordination vows, don’t need to repeat the prayer and shouldn’t think, “I am taking that vow.” It is said that if you take lower vows while living in higher ones, you lose your higher vows.
Those who are taking refuge should first make three prostrations to the Shakyamuni Buddha statue, thinking that it’s the actual living Buddha. After that, make three prostration to the lama giving refuge.
Then kneel down, like you do when you’re taking the eight Mahayana precepts, and put your palms together at your heart. If you can’t kneel, just sit comfortably.
Then please repeat the ceremony prayer.
[Prayer in Tibetan.] “I, whose name is such and such, until I die, am going to take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha” is what it means.
Then ask the lama to grant the vow. [Prayer.]
In your heart, think of the meaning of Buddha—one whose mind is totally pure, having ceased all the mistakes of mind, gross and subtle, and having gained all the qualities; and rely upon Buddha a billion times more than you rely upon external doctors; even though they can cure sicknesses, it is only temporary, but here, Buddha liberates you from all suffering, all defilements. [Prayer.]
Now rely upon Dharma. It says, “I go for refuge to Dharma, the sublime cessation of attachment.” The reason why attachment is specifically brought up is because even though ignorance is the root, attachment is the main delusion that ties you to samsara all the time. Therefore, when we take refuge in Dharma, it says, “I go for refuge to the supreme Dharma, the cessation of attachment.” However, rely on Dharma, the true path and the true cessation of suffering, a billion times more than you rely on medicine. Even though medicine can cure, can stop problems, they’re only sicknesses, they’re only temporary, but Dharma ceases all suffering and its cause. [Prayer.]
Next, take refuge in Sangha, the sublime ones, the sublime beings who have attained the true path and the true cessation of suffering.
That’s the absolute Sangha—taking refuge in the absolute Sangha. Also take refuge in conventional Sangha—four fully ordained monks living in pure vows but not having realization of the absolute Dharma. That’s the conventional Sangha. The absolute Sangha is anyone, lay or ordained, who has the realization of absolute Dharma. That’s the absolute Sangha.
Take refuge in both conventional and absolute Sangha, relying on them a billion times more than you rely on a nurse. The Sangha guides you from samsara, guides you to liberation, helps you to free yourself from samsara.
Next, as I mentioned before all the benefits of taking vows, here, by taking refuge in Dharma, what you are supposed to abandon is harming others. Therefore, as I normally say, even if you cannot take other vows, at least it’s good to abandon intentional killing. Of course, if you cannot take a vow to abandon killing but are able to take one or more of the other five lay vows—like not telling lies or not drinking alcohol or any of the others—whichever you can manage, you can take. If you cannot take the vow to not kill, if that’s difficult, you can take other vows, which you can try to practice.
If you are taking one vow—not just the refuge vow but one of the upasika [lay] vows—you should say, “I am taking this one upasika vow.”
If you are taking two precepts, two lay vows, say, “I am taking these two upasika vows.” If you are taking all five, “I am taking the five upasika vows.” In your mind, you should think like that.
I am going to give the complete upasika ordination, all five vows, but each one of you should think in your own heart how many vows you are taking—one upasika vow, two vows, three vows, four vows, five vows. It would take too much time to do the ceremony for each individual, so I’m going to do it this way. [Prayer.]
At the end of the third repetition, without letting your mind wander, you must generate the thought, “I have received one upasika vow, two vows, three vows, four...” according to the number of vows you have taken.
This is based on the refuge vow. Not only have you received the refuge vow but on top of that you have also received the upasika vow. If you have taken only refuge, if you have not taken any other vows, then you have received only the refuge vow and none of the five upasika precepts.
Buddha is so kind to us sentient beings. Even if you cannot take all five precepts, you can still take the refuge vow. By taking the refuge vow, you still receive the refuge precepts. Therefore, in everyday life, by the way, you are able to create a great deal of merit and purify your mind. That’s how Buddha guides us to enlightenment—by giving us the opportunity to take the refuge vow and live in the refuge precepts.
Now I have become your lob-pön, one who leads disciples on the path to liberation. [Prayer.]
Next, if you have taken any of the five lay vows, say, “As previous arhats abstained from these actions, changed their minds and their actions, changed their attitude and their actions, lived in these precepts and liberated themselves from samsara, similarly, I am going to take such and such vows.” Make that determination, thinking of all the benefits that I explained before.
Please repeat this, and in your heart think, “With great happiness, I am taking these vows for world peace—not only for the peace of this world but also for the peace and happiness of all sentient beings. These vows are my contribution, what I myself am offering, to not only the sentient beings in this world, but to all sentient beings. I am offering them this many vows.” So, feel much happiness that you can make yourself useful to all sentient beings in such a practical way—by refraining from giving them this number of harms. [Prayer.]
Feel great happiness for not only having taken the refuge vow, but that by having taken whatever number of lay vows you have, from now on, your merit will increase continuously, day and night. Whatever merit you create each day will be multiplied that much more. In this way, you make your life practical, beneficial for other sentient beings. With this understanding, seeing the benefits or importance of this, the value of the vows you have taken, you enjoy your life. Practicing Dharma in this way is the best way to enjoy your life.
Finally, please do three prostration to thank the lama for giving refuge and precepts.
“Due to all the past, present and future merits collected by me, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all other sentient beings, may I and all sentient beings be able to complete the paramita of morality by keeping it purely and without pride.
“May bodhicitta, the source of all happiness and success for myself and all other sentient beings, be generated within my own mind and in the minds of all sentient beings without even a second’s delay. May that which has already been generated increase.
“Due to all the past, present and future merits collected by me, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all other sentient beings, may I able to benefit all sentient beings like the sky, as Lama Tsongkhapa did, by having the same qualities within me that Lama Tsongkhapa had, from now on, in all future lifetimes.
“Due to all the past, present and future merits collected by me, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all other sentient beings, may all the father-mother sentient beings have happiness, may the three lower realms be empty forever and may all the bodhisattvas’ prayers succeed immediately. May I be able to cause all this by myself alone.
“Since these opportunities happened due to the kindness of the Buddha of Compassion, His Holiness Dalai Lama, and also that of Lama Yeshe, may Lama Ösel Rinpoche have a stable life and be able to benefit sentient beings like the sky, as Lama Tsongkhapa did, by showing the same qualities that Lama Tsongkhapa had.
“Due to all the past, present and future merits collected by me, buddhas, bodhisattvas and all other sentient beings, which are empty from their own side, may the I, who is also empty from its own side, achieve Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment, which is also empty from its own side, and lead all sentient beings, who are also empty, to that enlightenment, which is empty, by myself alone, who is also empty.
“As the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the three times praised greatly the best way of dedicating merits, and as Samantabhadra and Manjushri realized, I dedicate all my merits in the same way.”
Finally, pray to meet and actualize Lama Tsongkhapa’s entire stainless teaching, which unifies sutra and tantra, within your own mind, and for it to spread in the minds of all sentient beings and to flourish without degeneration.