Once we have dealt with this Dharma Lite version of renouncing our clinging to short-term benefit in this lifetime, and thinking instead of long-term benefit in this lifetime, then we’re ready to go to the Real Thing Dharma, which is the initial scope of lam-rim motivation. This is renunciation of clinging to the pleasurable things of this lifetime and having our main interest be instead in future lives.
Consideration of Future Generations
There’s an intermediate level between what we’ve discussed and this topic, which I didn’t plan to discuss separately. Our timespan might be simply in terms of our own lifetime, in terms of the effects of our behavior, but we might extend that and think of future generations. In other words, we don’t think in terms of our own rebirth, but here we would be determined to not just think in terms of the present generation, but what are we leaving for future generations – for instance, global warming.
We might think that the rising of the level of the oceans might not happen to such an extent that it’s going to affect my lifetime, but it definitely will affect the lifetime of my children; and if not my children, my grandchildren. So, we can think in terms of long-term effects for that type of prospect for the future.
The Initial Scope of Lam-rim
But let’s skip that level, and go directly to the initial scope of lam-rim meditation – not having our focus be just on this lifetime, but turning it instead to future lifetimes, which is the boundary line of what Dharma practice actually is.
We apply the same structure of analysis. I don’t think it’s necessary to go into as much detail as we did with the first level of renunciation, since there are several levels of determination to be free that we want to deal with. So, we’ll just go through the points quickly, so that we have a general idea of how we approach the topic.
Rational and Passionate, Emotional Approaches
I think it’s quite important to realize that, although we are following a very rational approach here, which you might identify as being very Western, this is not contradictory with a more passionate approach, which might be appropriate for other non-Western societies. Passionate doesn’t simply mean being enthusiastic – passionate is with strong emotion that we put into our practice, mixed with devotion and such types of qualities.
Such an approach doesn’t have to be in contradiction to rationality. A passionate, emotional approach could be based on either rational considerations or irrational considerations. Following a purely rational approach with no passion, no emotion, no feeling in it, is not terribly effective; and likewise, following a very emotional, passionate way of practicing, without a rational basis, is also not very effective. This is why on my website I have a few articles that deal with the importance of practicing in a balanced way that is equally emotional, intellectual, and devotional – in other words, harmonizing these three types of approach, and not having too much of one, and too little of another.
When we have a logical framework underlying our practice, there’s a stable foundation for our passionate involvement in what we’re doing. We can see this in a very simple example, like working out with weights. If we have a rational basis for this – that this is going to improve my health, hopefully help me to live longer, and so on – it’s much easier to put passion into the weightlifting, than just doing it to build up big muscles. A balanced approach is very important, and is particularly important when dealing with such issues as renunciation.
Renouncing Clinging to the Pleasurable Things of This Lifetime and Not Over-refuting or Under-refuting
As for clinging to the pleasurable things of this lifetime, what we want to be determined to be free of is clinging to money, possessions, friends, fame, youth, good looks, muscles, fashion – we renounce having these being our main interests or main aims in life.
Over-refuting would be to say that we don’t need any of these things, and so we ignore them completely. We ignore the needs of this lifetime, like exercise and healthy diet, and so on, and feel that we all need to become monks or nuns and go live in a cave – that’s over-refuting concern for things of this lifetime. If we want to go live in a cave and give up everything, fine – but to think that we have to do that so that it breaks up our marriage, breaks up our home, and so on, this is really over-refuting. We have responsibilities of this lifetime that we need to take care of.
I think of a very good example of this, which I encountered with my teacher Serkong Rinpoche. There was one young man who wanted to become a monk, and who came to Rinpoche. In fact, we were traveling in the West, and Rinpoche was staying in his family’s home. This young man wanted to become a monk, but his mother was going blind and the father was not terribly helpful. Serkong Rinpoche advised him not to become a monk and told him, “You need to stay close to home to take care of your mother – this is your responsibility. Once your parents no longer need your help, then you can become a monk if you still wish to do so.” Like that example, we don’t want to over-refute the renunciation of things of this lifetime. We have responsibilities, we have things that we need to take care of.
Under-refutation would be to renounce some addictions like cigarette and alcohol, but not others, like addiction to social media, surfing the internet, listening to music all the time – only being determined to be free of some of the concerns of this lifetime, but not others that we like too much. But mostly here we’re clinging to things like our youth, our health, these types of things. The cause for that type of clinging is incorrect consideration that these things are permanent, they’ll never end, we’ll always have them, and they’ll bring us lasting happiness, like the misconception the more money we have, the happier we’ll be.
But there are so many examples that contradict that conclusion. If we are so attached to our youth, our good looks, our muscles and so on, the reality is that they just never last. When you cling to being young, for instance, this is just going to bring the suffering of disappointment when you get older. One horrible example that I can think of is a young woman who was in Dharamsala when I was living there, who was very attached to her good looks and was very frightened of growing old and losing her looks. She did a Vajrayogini retreat and, at the end of that retreat, when you have the fire puja where you offer various substances in the fire, she poured kerosene all over herself and lit it, offering herself as the fire offering. She committed suicide that way because she couldn’t bear the idea that she would grow old and lose her good looks. This is going to a horrible extreme, so we certainly don’t want to go to such extremes when we say to give up clinging to things of this lifetime. That’s not a successful strategy.
Disadvantages of Clinging to the Pleasures of This Lifetime
The disadvantages of clinging to things of this lifetime as our main interest is that we commit destructive actions, like setting ourselves on fire. The lam-rim texts illustrate this point with many examples of destructive behavior, like stealing to have more money and things in this lifetime in the hope that it will bring us lasting happiness, but it just brings the fear of being caught. Or committing adultery in the pursuit of immediate sexual gratification, but then we live in paranoia that we’re going to be found out, and so we need to lie, and then there are all the difficulties that come out if the other person’s partner discovers what’s going on. Another example is the suffering of wasting our time on trivial things, so we lose opportunities.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama often jokes with women in the audience who spend so much time on their external appearance with makeup. He says that we need to work on our inner beauty, rather than our outer looks. Outer beauty fades, while inner beauty is lasts our whole lives. Also, if we spend all our time on trying to become famous or getting a lot of money, these things never satisfy and we soon feel that our life is meaningless, there’s no fulfilling purpose in life. Look at pop stars: they’re so famous and they have so much money, and yet most of them are miserable. They’re constantly taking drugs and many die from an overdose. This is a clear example that money and fame are not the sources of ultimate happiness.
Aiming for Conducive Circumstances in Future Lives and Not Over-estimating or Under-estimating That
Our aim, then, is to have better rebirths, to work to have conducive circumstances and better circumstances in our future lives. An over-estimation of that would be that we’ll have no more problems in our future lives, it’ll be a pure paradise and we can just relax and enjoy ourselves. To under-estimate what we’re aiming for is to think that it’s going to be so easy to have a precious human rebirth again, so we don’t build up enough causes for attaining one.
This is a big difference between Tibetans and non-Tibetans that I’ve found. We non-Tibetans, non-traditional Buddhists, are thinking so much, “Well of course in my next lifetime I’m going to be a human, so I just want it to be a human with good circumstances.” We don’t really take seriously that chances are we’re going to be some insect or something worse, whereas Tibetans don’t take that for granted at all. They think, “For sure I’m going to be in some horrible rebirth! It’s incredibly rare to be a human, let alone have a precious human rebirth.” There’s a big difference.
It’s very true, isn’t it, when you think of rebirth, don’t you always think, “Of course I’ll be a human.” We never think, “I’m going to be a cockroach.” This is under-estimating, thinking it’s going to be so easy to have a precious human rebirth again. It’s not!
The Benefits and Method for Benefiting Future Lives
What are the benefits of working to benefit future lives? We’ll be able to die with no regrets; we’ll feel that we will be able to continue on the path because we have taken definite measures and steps to build up the causes for precious human rebirths in the future.
What do we do once we attain these precious human rebirths again? We continue to work toward liberation and enlightenment. That’s the whole purpose of attaining more precious human rebirths, because it’s going to take a very long time to attain liberation and enlightenment.
What is the method for attaining a precious human rebirth once more? This is clearly outlined in all the teachings of the initial scope of lam-rim. We recognize and appreciate the precious human life that we presently have and the opportunities it provides us, and realize that it will end at some point, and future lives will follow. And we realize that if we don’t do anything to work for benefiting future lives, then looking at our present patterns, our negative behavior far outweighs our positive behavior, so the result of that would be worse rebirths, it’s clear.
In addition, we need to realize that any pleasurable things of this lifetime will end. We need to leave behind our money, our possessions, our friends, the number of likes that we have on our Facebook page – we need to leave all of that behind. So, we need to be content with what is sufficient to work on the path and to support ourselves and our families.
Contentment is very important. It doesn’t mean we don’t take care of our needs, but be content when what we have is sufficient. My German Dharma friends and I have a joke that we share: the German word for enough is genug, and so, instead of being Gelugpas, we want to become Genugpas. It’s very helpful to remind ourselves to be a good Genugpa in our practice. When you make it a joke, it’s a bit easier to accept. Especially when you go to a buffet where you can eat as much as you want, for a Genugpa one plate full is enough, we don’t need two.
Then to attain a precious human rebirth, we need to put a safe direction in our lives – that’s refuge – and refrain from destructive behavior. This is self-control, self-discipline. We need to supplement it with the practice of the other far-reaching attitudes or perfections: generosity, patience, perseverance, mental stability or concentration, and discriminating awareness or wisdom. The three higher trainings are included in these far-reaching attitudes: self-discipline, concentration and discriminating awareness.
All of that needs to be supplemented with prayer, which is basically the dedication of whatever positive force we build up to continuing to have precious human rebirths so that we can continue on the path with the best conducive circumstances to attain liberation and enlightenment.
We need to be very careful when we make dedication prayers. Oscar Wilde, a famous British author, had a wonderful saying, “Be careful what you wish for; God may punish you by making it come true!”
There’s a lovely Tibetan story: In the main temple at Ganden Monastery in Tibet, there’s the throne where the head of the Gelug tradition sits in ceremonies. It’s called the Ganden Throne. One day inside the temple where this throne was, a cow had wandered in and was lying down on the throne. A monk saw this and, being very puzzled, went to his teacher and asked, “What is this? How can there be a cow that’s lying down on this throne?” The teacher explained, “In a previous lifetime, a monk prayed in my future life may I be able to sit on the Ganden Throne, but didn’t specify in what life-form he wanted to be able to sit on it with!” So, we need to be careful what we pray for – because “God may punish us by making it come true.” That’s why, when we offer dedication prayers, we need to be quite specific. We need to dedicate our positive force for gaining a precious human rebirth in all future lives, to be able to continue on the path all the way to enlightenment.
If we refrain from destructive behavior and put into practice these far-reaching attitudes and have appropriate prayers, we can be confident that it will work by thinking as follows: If what Buddha taught about all phenomena dependently arising and therefore being devoid of self-establishing natures is true – and we can affirm that by logic and our own meditation – we can have confidence that what Buddha taught about karma is also true.
Tsongkhapa says this very explicitly in his In Praise to Dependent Arising:
(30) By this very path of dependent arising, which is the reason your speech is seen as peerless, one can develop certainty that your other statements are valid as well.
Also by thinking of the logical arguments for beginningless mind, in terms of the logic of cause and effect, we can be confident that we will have a rebirth and it will be one of the more fortunate ones if we avoid destructive behavior. In short, if we’re going to renounce having our main interest be in the pleasurable things of this life, we need to renounce destructive behavior.
Reflection about Working to Benefit Our Future Lives
Let’s think about this for a few moments, and then we’ll have some questions. The main thing to consider is: What are we actually doing to ensure that we’re going to have better rebirths in the future and to be able to continue on the path? Are we only thinking of this lifetime, or are we also taking measures for the future? I often explain to people that one of the motivations that I have for working so hard on my website is that if I put so much effort and passion into working on it, I’ll have, as a result, such a strong connection with it that in future lives, if I’m reborn with a precious human rebirth, I will be drawn unconsciously to this website. I’ll find it at a very early age and it will spark again my interest in the Dharma.
In this way, I very consciously try to be a person of initial level lam-rim motivation with my work on the website. To start the new website – we will start very small with the first release – I have chosen the 50 articles from the old website that I would love to have available to me in my next lifetime. What would the 50 most important ones be that I would like to be able to connect with? I’ve used that as a strategy for choosing what to put in the first release. It was great fun, choosing them, I must say.
Think about it, what am I doing to prepare for future lives? Collecting likes on my Facebook page? Or what?
[pause for reflection]
What questions do you have?
If we develop renunciation of this lifetime, and of all the material things, friends and basically everything in this life, how do we still keep enthusiasm and passion for this life and not lose the ability to value this life. This life consists of moments that are basically unique – how to not lose the ability to appreciate that?
We avoid that extreme by analyzing what does it mean to over-refute the object that we’re determined to be free of. Over-refuting it would be to have no interest in things of this lifetime. We’re not saying that. The point is not to have our main interest be in that.
Everything has to do with our motivation and its scope. We can cultivate friendships and be passionate in our friendships, either just to be loved and try to have everybody love me in this lifetime, or we can think in terms of benefiting these people, which is certainly not contradictory to working for future lives. I want to be able to benefit even more people in future lives. But we don’t ignore people of this lifetime.
If our aim is to be able to support Dharma activity, support others, and so on, and to be able to continue to be able to do that on an even a greater scale in future lives, then earning money is not for just being able to buy a fancy car in this lifetime. It’s to be able to benefit others, and to be able to continue to do that in future lives.
Our motivation and scope of what we’re doing things for are very important. Why would we want a lot of people to like us? Just because of the picture of the beautiful breakfast that we prepared for ourselves that we posted on social media? No, that’s trivial. But the more people who like us in terms of what we’re actually doing with our lives, the more people we can have a positive influence on, both in this lifetime and in the future.
I am attached to the idea that I am Alexei. I don’t have concern for my future lives, so it is difficult to get rid of attachment and clinging to the benefits of this lifetime. Because of that, I’m more interested in methods that would be maybe quicker, more efficient, than those that will bring a result only in three zillion eons. I’m interested in methods that can bring this result in one lifetime. Why do I need to think of future lives and work for three zillion eons?
If we’re looking to get a bargain, to get liberation and enlightenment cheaply, for the lowest price possible, this is not a very useful way of approaching the Dharma. When Dharma teachings are advertised like in a store, “Enlightenment on sale! Special! 20% off! You can get it more cheaply and quickly by following this method!” – there’s something suspicions about that.
As for clinging to your identity as Alexei, that’s only your identity in this lifetime. One needs to do a lot of meditation on the logic that proves beginningless mind, in terms of the logic of cause and effect. Without meditation on voidness – there’s no such thing as these impossible ways of existing that my mind projects – it’s going to be very difficult to gain deep conviction in working to benefit future lives.
Just using the methods of the initial scope of thinking about our precious human rebirth, death and impermanence, the terrible rebirths that could follow our deaths, and so on – these things can be effective, but they are not the strongest medicine to use here for gaining confidence in the existence of future lives. We have a tremendous number of mental blocks and emotional blocks that prevent us from understanding voidness, or understanding anything, for that matter, and to overcome those blocks, we need to build up a tremendous amount of positive force. For instance, when we meditate on the four immeasurables: immeasurable love, compassion, joy and equanimity, we open our minds and hearts up to think of the entirety of all beings. That helps us to have open minds, to not be so tight and think just of ourselves. It helps us to understand voidness and not be so clinging to our identity in this lifetime.
When we talk about building up positive force, we’re not talking about collecting points and we win if we collect enough points. It’s a very reasonable approach. And there are no bargains – you can’t get enlightenment cheaply, sorry.