Background of the Text
This text was written by Atisha, a great Indian master who lived about 1,000 years ago. He had been to study in Indonesia on the island of Sumatra. He had made a long, very difficult journey there. Buddhism had spread there long before, and he went particularly to get the teachings on compassion and bodhichitta, and related topics, from a famous master. Those teachings were not so robust in India at that time, so some of those lineages he brought back with him.
Atisha was staying at one of the great Indian monasteries in north India, called Vikramashila, when he was invited by the king of western Tibet to come there because there was a lot of confusion about Buddhism at the time, and they wanted him to help revive it. There are various versions of the story: there’s the so-called “pious” Buddhist version of it, the “holy” Buddhist version, and then there’s a more historical version of what actually took place.
There had been a repression of Buddhism about 150 years earlier in Tibet, but actually, it was a movement against the monasteries there and what was perceived as a policy of excessively buttressing religion by the previous king. This previous king had assigned many houses and villages to support the monasteries and the monks, but no money was coming into the government, and so this was a problem. He was a bit of a religious fanatic, so his brother assassinated him and took the throne – this was the infamous king Langdarma.
The king closed the monasteries, but he didn’t destroy them or kill all the monks or anything like that, so libraries were still very much intact when Atisha came. In any case, what happened was that there weren’t great centers of learning, and so over the years as the empire of Tibet was fragmenting, the people no longer understood terribly much about the teachings. That was the situation. They had some very strange ideas about what Buddhist practice was, taking many things in the teachings, particularly concerning tantra, very literally in a way that it was never quite intended.
It was at that time of fragmentation that a king in western Tibet, Yeshe Wo, decided to invite translators and sent people down to India to learn the languages, and eventually, he invited Atisha. There’s a long story in the Buddhist histories of the sacrifice that King Yeshe Wo made to bring Atisha to Tibet. From a historical point of view, it seems quite doubtful that that story actually occurred. Atisha got to Tibet through a great deal of hardship, particularly that of one of the next kings, the nephew of Yeshe Wo called Jangchub Wo; that’s the disciple mentioned in the text.
Atisha stayed there for quite a few years. He helped to clarify a lot of misunderstandings. He was one of the main figures for what’s called the “second flourishing” of Dharma in Tibet. He wrote this text in western Tibet and said that he hoped it would help Indians also. This text is considered a very important text for the whole genre of literature of teachings that came afterward called lam-rim, the graded stages of the path to enlightenment.
These stages can be presented in many different ways; we find them in all four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. Although the content of this graded path is the same in all four traditions, the actual structure of how it’s presented is slightly different. The structure that Atisha uses is the three scopes of spiritual aim. This was then followed in the Kadam tradition, which traces from Atisha right through to the Gelug tradition, which was the renewed Kadam tradition after it had split into many branches. The same structure of three scopes is also used in one of the Kagyu traditions, the Shangpa Kagyu.
This is a little bit of the text’s background.
Atisha starts here:
I prostrate to the Bodhisattva Youthful Manjushri.
He gives the name of the text in Sanskrit and then the name in Tibetan; here in our Western languages, the name is A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment. The tradition is always to give the Sanskrit title first, and presumably, he wrote it in Sanskrit. Out of respect, we give the Sanskrit title first, then the Tibetan. The standard Indian texts always start off with an homage or a prostration. Manjushri is the embodiment of the wisdom or clarity of mind and understanding of all the Buddhas. Often prostration is made to him at the beginning of texts.
Promise to Compose
In the West, we often have a little summary at the beginning of an article that says what’s going to be in it; this is also the Indian tradition. Atisha gives what’s called the “promise to compose”. It says what he’s going to write about.
(1) Having prostrated most respectfully to all the Triumphant of the three times to their Dharma and to the Sangha community, I shall light a lamp for the path to enlightenment, having been urged by my excellent disciple, Jangchub Wo.
“The Triumphant” are the Buddhas. The teachings always start with prostration; we pay homage, so he starts with prostration to what’s called the Three Supreme Gems. They’re called “gems” because they’re very rare and precious; we call them, in Sanskrit, the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Then, he says he’ll “light a lamp for the path to enlightenment,” which is the actual title of the text, trying to illuminate what’s going on on that path.
Atisha was requested by the king that followed Yeshe Wo, Jangchub Wo, as his disciple, to write this text. That follows a basic Buddhist principle, which is that a Buddhist teacher only teaches when requested, except under exceptional circumstances when there is an exceptional disciple and the teacher sees some special connection. Then, a teacher can offer to teach, but normally the disciple has to request. However, it’s not a missionary type of religion where the teacher tries to spread it to people.
In the second verse, Atisha says more specifically what he’s going to write about. He says:
(2) Since (practitioners) come to have small, intermediate, and supreme (scopes), they are known as the three types of spiritual persons. I shall therefore write about these specific divisions, clarifying their defining features.
When we talk about the Buddhist spiritual path, there are different spiritual scopes that one passes through, and often this is referred to as “different levels of motivation.” However, this word “motivation,” I don’t know about in your language, but in English, it doesn’t quite give the correct meaning here. When we talk about motivation in our Western languages, we’re talking about the psychological or emotional reasons of why we do something. For instance, we’re motivated by greed, anger, jealousy, or by love and compassion.
Although those are important factors to examine, the emotional state that is motivating us to do something, particularly our spiritual practice, that’s not what the Tibetan word is referring to. The Tibetan word refers to the aim: what it is that we’re aiming for, the goal. When we follow a spiritual path, our goals are going to grow. This is what it’s talking about when he says “come to have” these different scopes of aim. He uses a word that means that they develop and grow, from one spiritual aim to another.
What this implies is two things: it could be that there are various people that we might meet who have one or another of these spiritual aims, but that’s not really the main point here, to go and classify people according to their spiritual aim. Nevertheless, the fact that it says “the small, intermediate and supreme scopes,” it’s not like they’re value judgments of others; it’s referring to an organic process that each of us needs to go through to mature on the spiritual path.
It’s like a flower opening: it starts small and then it’s intermediate and then it’s wide open. In this way, it grows larger and fuller. Likewise, the scope or aim of our practice similarly may start very small, very limited. It might be, for instance, that “I have a lot of problems and I’d like to be happy, somehow improve things.” That may be how we begin; it may be the aim to become happier. However, as we grow and mature on the spiritual path, our minds and our hearts open more and more and our scope, our aim, becomes wider and wider.
This is what Atisha says that he will speak about, these levels of growth. What is very important here is that, although for various reasons we might be naturally inclined to one or another of these scopes, it is very important for a stable spiritual path to actually go through each of these levels. There are some people who naturally are very loving and think of helping everybody and so on, which is very nice. We might think that, “This is the advanced scope, Mahayana, so I can skip the first two levels. I don’t really need that because I’m advanced. I already have an advanced level of aim.”
There are a lot of people who go even worse. They see all this tantric stuff with these various figures, and they hear Buddhist propaganda about that, like how the advertising outside a movie theater makes the movies look really exciting so that it draws people in, making people want to see them. Some people present tantra like that. People were also doing that at the time of Atisha. This is one of the reasons why the king invited him, and they do that today as well, I’m sorry to say. People might feel, “Oh, I’m attracted to that, so I don’t have to do anything that comes before that. I’m an exceptionally advanced person.”
If we do that and just immediately jump into either regular Mahayana practice or tantra Mahayana practice, without seriously working on these initial levels, then we have quite serious problems on the spiritual path. We not only don’t have a foundation, but we also don’t have any roots in the ground. What we’re doing, in the end, turns out not even to be Buddhist, but often becomes some sort of Disneyland fantasy trip, in which we go off into our tantric fairyland. Atisha states here very clearly that the spiritual path is one of gradual growth and maturity; as I said, like a flower. Atisha says he’s going to “write about these divisions and clarify their defining features.”
What’s really a little bit odd, I must say, is that Atisha only spends one verse each on the initial and intermediate scopes, and all the rest of the text is about the advanced scope. He wrote a commentary, his own commentary to this text, and even in that commentary, he doesn’t write anything about the first two scopes. He says that’s discussed elsewhere. It really raises a question: why did he write it like that? What’s going on here?
We find that the teachings that would need to be filled in for this initial and intermediate scope are already in quite an expanded form in the next major lam-rim type of text that was written, Gampopa’s Jewel Ornament of Liberation. Atisha was a contemporary of Marpa, who lived a little bit afterward, and Gampopa was the disciple of Milarepa, who was the disciple of Marpa. It is likely about a century later that it was written.
Gampopa is famous for having combined the lineages of Kadampa, what followed from Atisha, with mahamudra lineages. What that means is that Gampopa didn’t make up the teachings for these initial and intermediate scopes. Even though Gampopa doesn’t use those terms – he doesn’t speak about the three scopes – it’s the same material, but he doesn’t use that structure. What it implies is that those teachings were there in the Kadam tradition, and that means that they needed to have come from Atisha.
Therefore, the logical conclusion is that Atisha taught much more extensively about the initial and intermediate scope while he was in Tibet, but he didn’t really write about it here because, as he says in his commentary, it’s elsewhere. What he puts here are basically the bodhisattva teachings, what he went to Indonesia (Sumatra) for, to bring back. This was what he felt was rarer to write down.
Why I mention that is, I think it’s wrong logic to conclude from the text that since the initial scope is one verse, the intermediate scope is one verse, and then the advanced scope is 64 verses, that this suggests that the first two scopes are really very trivial and unimportant, and we don’t have to spend much time on them. That, I think, is false logic.
What are the defining characteristics of these three levels?
(3) Anyone who takes keen interest in himself or herself (achieving), by some means, merely the happiness of uncontrollably recurring samsara is known as a person of minimum spiritual scope.
Initial scope is aiming for the happiness of samsara, only the happiness of samsara for oneself alone. We would think when we look at the lam-rims that follow from this, that this is a bit different here because, in the later formulations, where it’s spelled out a little bit more fully, it says quite specifically that the initial scope is aiming for improving future lives. When we see here “improving the happiness of samsara,” wouldn’t that include the happiness of samsara in this lifetime?
Since samsara would include both this life and future lives, we might think that both of these aims – happiness in this life and happiness in future lives – would be included here in the initial scope. As I say, that’s a very, very crucial point to the spiritual path, because we read: “What is the dividing line between spiritual persons, somebody into the Dharma and somebody not into the Dharma?” The dividing line is if we’re more interested in improving future lives than this life.
Working just to improve this lifetime – well, an animal does that as well. There’s nothing terribly spiritual about a squirrel putting away nuts to survive the winter – that’s to be happy and improve this lifetime. Or somebody building a house to be happy in this lifetime, that’s not particularly spiritual. An actual spiritual person is one that is thinking in terms of improving future lives.
This presents a major obstacle for most of us Westerners because most of us don’t believe in past and future lives. We do have in our Western religions discussion of an afterlife, going to heaven or hell, but one really wonders how many people who approach Buddhism believe in heaven or hell.
One has to look at this word “samsara” that is used here, “uncontrollably recurring samsara” I call it here. It actually is talking about rebirth that occurs over and over again; we have no control over it.
Now, I make a distinction between Dharma-Lite, which is like Coca-Cola Lite, and Real Thing Dharma, like Real Thing Coca-Cola. Real Thing Dharma is talking about rebirth. It absolutely assumes that everybody believes in past and future lives. I believe they take that so for granted that they don’t even discuss it. Dharma-Lite is what we in the West often feel much more attracted to, which is talking about the practice of Dharma basically in this lifetime and the scope of our practice being restricted to this lifetime.
We are not just thinking limited in terms of immediate gratification and happiness, but we are looking to try to improve our situation later in life, but still in this life. When we speak about samsara, we talk about it in terms of “uncontrollably recurring situations.” I myself translate it like that. We get into an unhealthy dependency relationship with someone and that has lots of problems; it doesn’t work out, we break up, and then we get into another one. It’s the same dependency again and then that breaks up and then we get into another one. It recurs uncontrollably – that’s samsara.
We turn to the Buddhist teachings to help us to break out of this uncontrollably recurring syndrome because it brings lots of pain and suffering. We even look at these three scopes in terms of this lifetime. The initial scope, we want to make things better, a little better; the intermediate scope, we want to gain liberation from all problems whatsoever, not just make it a little better; the advanced level, we want to help everybody else achieve that same goal. That does describe a progression of aims and from a certain point of view, we could say these are spiritual aims. However, are they really spiritual aims?
I don’t know. Or are they the type of aims that we would also progress through if we were going to some form of a Western therapy? I think that there’s not very much difference here between a Buddhist training in this manner and a more sophisticated form of therapy. In other words, this reduces Buddhism to just another form of therapy. This is what I call Dharma-Lite, like Coca-Cola Lite, with basic teachings that we all like, which is fizzy like Coca-Cola, “Be a nice person” and “Don’t hurt anybody,” and so on. There’s nothing wrong with Coca-Cola Lite. This type of Dharma-Lite also, there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s very helpful. However, if we look at the real definitions of what is Dharma practice, that’s not quite it.
The Real Thing Dharma – we talked about these three scopes – is first wanting to improve future lives, which obviously assumes that we understand and believe in the existence of future lives; otherwise, why would we want to improve them? Of course, that requires understanding past and future lives according to the Buddhist explanation, not according to the Hindu or Christian or other types of explanations. Then, the intermediate scope is wishing to gain liberation from rebirth completely, with no rebirth anymore. Obviously, how can we aim for liberation from rebirth if we don’t even believe in rebirth?
Then, the advanced scope is to work to help liberate everybody else from rebirth. Obviously, if we don’t believe in rebirth, why would we help anybody get liberated from it? If we look at the highest class of tantra, anuttarayoga tantra, then what we’re doing is meditating in analogy with death, the bardo and rebirth to overcome that and help others overcome that. If we don’t believe in rebirth, what are we doing in tantra practice? It’s a complete joke.
Then, we go back to Atisha’s text. What is he saying? Obviously, rebirth is a very central point, which is totally taken for granted in the Buddha’s teachings. If we talk about aiming for the happiness of samsara in the initial scope, especially since Atisha doesn’t spell out what he means, we have two possible ways of understanding this. One would be that what he really means is improving future lives, and this is the way that all the later lam-rims that elaborate on this interpret it. I think that there’s another way of interpreting it, which would be to work for the happiness of samsara both in this life and in future lives.
However, this wouldn’t mean to work only for this lifetime with absolutely no interest in future lives. I think that in order to be faithful to the tradition, we would have to say, “working for the happiness of this lifetime as a stepping stone on the way to working for the happiness of future lives.” At our stage, we’d say, “I don’t really understand the Buddha’s teachings on rebirth...”
Actually, they’re very complicated. To understand the teachings on rebirth, we have to understand the whole explanation of how mind has no beginning and no end, and we have to understand what actually passes from moment to moment, which fits into the whole Buddhist teachings on there being no solid self. We’d say:
“OK, I admit that I really don’t understand this yet. I acknowledge that rebirth is very important, very central to the Buddhist path. I have a sincere interest and the intention to try to understand the teachings on rebirth, to learn them, and to really think about and meditate on them, trying to understand them so that if I speak in terms of working to improve future lives, that actually means something to me on an emotional level. It’s not just words. I’m not just thinking in terms of a Christian idea of going to heaven, which is not what Buddhism is talking about at all. However, in the meantime, I’m going to do Dharma-Lite and work to try to improve this lifetime as a stepping stone.”
I think that Atisha has phrased this defining characteristic of the initial scope so that it would allow for that second interpretation, even though that’s not the standard Tibetan interpretation, because – now we have to get into a quick debate – if working for the happiness of samsara did not also include the happiness of this life, then the absurd conclusion would follow that this life was not samsara. That we can’t accept.
It’s for that reason that I speak of these stages of Dharma-Lite and Real Thing Dharma. I think that’s very important for us Westerners approaching material like Atisha’s text; otherwise, we get really a very unstable idea of what he’s talking about. We could just leave it totally in terms of, “He’s just talking about this life; forget about future lives or anything like that,” but really from a great deal of experience that I’ve seen of Buddhism in the West, that’s not The Real Thing; it doesn’t go in the proper way. There’s something missing, very strongly missing here.
Then, what are the teachings of the initial scope? I don’t want to spend a great deal of time on the initial and intermediate scope because Atisha doesn’t spend so much time. Let’s do it in brief. Basically, what one needs to do in order to gain the happiness of samsara – alright, so we’re talking about improving this life and future lives – we need to have what’s usually called “refuge.”
“Refuge” is too passive; it implies going to Buddha and saying, “Oh Buddha, help me, save me,” and then we’re saved. It’s not that at all. Rather it means “a safe direction in life,” so it’s something active. We go in that direction, we have to go in that direction, and going in that direction is safe in that we save ourselves from problems. What indicates that direction? The Three Rare and Supreme Gems. The Dharma is the main thing. Dharma is talking about the total removal of all problems and their causes and the state of mind that will eliminate them and the state of mind that results when these problems and their causes are eliminated. That’s the third and fourth noble truths – we’re referring to the teachings of the four noble truths – the state of the problems being removed and the mind that removes them and has them removed. That’s what we’re aiming for.
Now, that doesn’t just exist abstractly; it has to exist on the mental continuum of somebody. The Buddhas are those who have achieved this in full and they teach us how to do that ourselves. Further, when we talk about the Sangha, this is the community of highly realized beings who have achieved this goal in part; not completely yet, but in part, because they’ve had non-conceptual cognition of voidness, of reality. They’re very, very advanced.
This is what is going to be the first thing that we need to gain the happiness of samsara. We have to have a safe direction in life and a clear direction of what are we doing in life, what are we aiming for, what is the purpose of our lives.
People often trivialize refuge into a little ceremony where we cut a piece of hair and repeat some words in Tibetan and get a Tibetan name and that’s it; now, we’ve joined the Tibetan Buddhist club and we can wear a red string around our neck. That is so unbelievably trivial that it’s a joke. Really having a safe direction in our life, knowing what that direction is, being clear about it, and being confident that it’s possible to achieve this goal and confident that we can achieve it ourselves, not just these Buddhas in the past, and then actively, “I’m going to put that direction in my life. This is what I’m working toward. My life has a meaning, has a direction,” this is a huge change in life, an unbelievable change in life.
In order to gain the happiness of samsara, we need to have some positive safe direction in our life. We’re working to get rid of our problems and their causes and to get this state of mind that will remove them, and that has them removed from it, the way the Buddhas have done in full, completely, and the way the Sangha have done partially. Now, to do that, to achieve this goal, we need some conducive circumstances, circumstances that are favorable for this. First of all, we have to look at our situation now and if we have favorable circumstances. It’s called the precious human life.
We need to appreciate and recognize it. We have to take advantage of it and use it to follow this path, because it will end someday; death will come for sure. Now, if we think in terms of Real Thing Dharma, then once we die, there’s going to be rebirth and things could be a lot worse. We could be born in a situation, like being born a cockroach, in which we have no real chance to improve our situation. Like a cockroach, everybody who sees us just wants to step on us. That’s not very nice. Because we want to avoid that, we need to really do something now to prevent that. That brings us to the teachings on karma.
Karma is talking about impulses that drive us to do something compulsively, and these impulses come because of habits from our previous behavior. If we act in a destructive manner, and there’s a lot of teachings on what are the different types of destructive actions, so there’s no need to go into detail. However, they’re killing, stealing, lying, thinking constantly, “How can I get what somebody else has?” All these sorts of things are destructive, which will cause us compulsively to repeat these types of actions and get into situations where other people act like that toward us, and, generally, it causes us to feel unhappy.
Whereas if we act constructively, which means to restrain from acting destructively, then it’s just the opposite. One thing I need to point out: just the fact that I don’t hunt or fish, that in itself is not constructive, so that’s not the constructive action we’re talking about. The constructive action is: when the impulse comes to kill something, like a mosquito is buzzing around our face and the impulse comes to kill it – at that time, to decide not to kill it, because we realize that that would be destructive and would lead to future unhappiness and difficulties. It’s actually restraining ourselves from acting destructively when we want to act destructively – that’s what’s constructive.
If we act destructively, it brings unhappiness; if we act constructively, it brings happiness. However, when we observe our lives, it doesn’t bring that immediately, does it? Somebody steals something and they never get caught, they get a lot of money, they’re able to buy a lot of things and are happy. What’s this? Or a monk in Tibet: he’s been meditating and doing all sorts of positive, constructive things, and then he gets thrown in a Chinese prison and is tortured to death. Where’s the karma in that?
Or, “I’ve been such a good practitioner and I’ve been trying so hard in my lifetime, and then I get some horrible cancer and die a very painful death.” If one doesn’t think in terms of future lives and just practices Dharma on the basis of thinking only of this life, then we have very serious questions and problems with karma, “I was practicing so well, and now I got this horrible cancer,” and we think, “Oh, the Dharma was useless. I was supposed to experience happiness as a result of this practice that I did and it didn’t work.”
This is why it’s very important from the beginning to have some understanding of future lives because karma ripens mostly in future lives; some can ripen in this life, but more in future lives. Otherwise, these teachings are very difficult to really have confidence in.
If we want to have favorable circumstances in the future – here, in the initial scope, particularly in future lives – following restraint from destructive actions will help us to achieve that. However, that’s not the final goal. The goal of Buddhism is not to be reborn in a heaven or a paradise: that’s not Buddhism. There are many other religions to achieve that. The whole initial scope actually isn’t terribly Buddhist by itself. We can think about, “Well, I have a precious life, and I want to use it because I’m going to die and I don’t want to go to hell, I want to go to heaven. So, I’m going to be a good person.”
That’s not necessarily Buddhism, is it? One could follow that course and be a Christian. What makes it Buddhist is that improving future lives is to continue to have conducive circumstances so that we can achieve this goal that we’re talking about in terms of safe direction. We can practice a valid Dharma-Lite version of this by saying:
“OK, I’m going to try to avoid destructive behavior now because I want to continue in this life to have the circumstances that’ll be most conducive for Dharma practice because death is going to come. Whatever amount of time I have, I want that to be the most productive for the spiritual path, and if I just act destructively, I’m wasting my time really. However, I realize that what I will experience in this lifetime is not determined or shaped solely by what I do in this lifetime; a lot is going to be ripenings from past lives. I’m going to try to purify negative karma as much as possible, realizing that I can’t get rid of it completely until I get liberation – and liberation is a long ways away.” And, “I’m working like that with this safe direction, working with karma and so on.”
This is the initial aim with the provision that, “Yes, I want to understand future lives, and I see that this is a necessary step for working to improve future lives. If I really want to make progress on this path, I’m going to have to really face this whole issue of rebirth and really look into it very seriously.”
OK, that’s the initial scope.
Could you read the verse again about the initial scope?
The verse is:
(3) Anyone who takes keen interest in himself or herself (achieving), by some means, merely the happiness of uncontrollably recurring samsara is known as a person of minimum spiritual scope.
All that Atisha says is: working by some sort of method to gain the happiness of samsara for oneself. Obviously, he’s not talking about, “Just get rich by any means that you can, cheating others and so on, in order to be able to buy everything and be happy.” Actually, it raises a very interesting question, “What is the happiness of samsara?” That’s something to think about. What do we mean by happiness? “I want to be happy.” What actually is that happiness that we’re looking for? That’s a topic to contemplate by oneself.
That’s a good question because if you steal some money and build a house for your old mother, you can be happy from that.
Again, I ask the question, “What is that happiness that we experience? How long will it last? What is that feeling like?” “I’m sitting in my room and I don’t feel very happy. I don’t particularly know why, but I don’t feel very happy, I feel unhappy, and I’d like to feel happy.” Well, what is it that we would like to feel? What would make us feel that? Would it last? As I say, it’s not a question to answer just like that, superficially. When Atisha says, “by some means,” does he mean by destructive means?
It gets into the teachings on karma; it’s very complex. The act of stealing the money has given us one type of result; we got the money. Now, as a result of that, we built a house and our old mother has a house. Seeing our old mother now have a nice house, we feel happy. However, from a Buddhist point of view, when we talk about happiness coming from a constructive action and unhappiness coming from a destructive action, they’re not talking about this type of result. What we’re talking about is more like a mechanical result: we steal the money and then we have money, that’s the mechanical result of the action, not the karmic result of the action.
We could build a house and our mother could hate it. Whether our mother likes the house or dislikes the house, that’s a result of her karma. Whether we feel happy at that or not is also a result of our karma; it’s not the result of the action. The action of stealing just enabled us to build the house; what we feel is something else. We could still have lots of arguments with our mother and not be very happy.
So it means it doesn’t matter what happens, but just how we feel about it?
No, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is: what happens and what we feel about it can be coming from different causes. We could steal the money, get the money, try to build the house, but the house collapses. There are lots of things: the house could burn down, all sorts of things, it’s very complicated. Each of those things comes from a karmic cause. That’s not just talking about the mechanical cause of “you knocked over the lamp and the house caught on fire.”
The way we end is with a dedication, and this is very important when we think in terms of karma. If we do something positive or constructive, like listening to a teaching, trying to understand it – we wanted to go to the movies, but we restrained ourselves and came here instead, or whatever – there’s a certain positive force that is built up by this constructive action. That’s usually translated as “merit,” which, at least in English, is a very silly word, because it sounds as though, “Well, I got three points for coming here,” and we keep score and at the end, maybe, if we get enough points, we’ll win the game. That’s not what we’re talking about, but there’s some sort of “positive force” energy.
Now, what does positive karma do? It will ripen into the happiness of samsara. If we don’t do anything after we do something constructive, if we don’t dedicate it, then that positive force will automatically contribute to improving samsara. We can use the analogy of a computer. The default setting on our internal computer is that the positive force gets saved in the “improving samsara” folder. If we want it to contribute to achieving enlightenment, we have to actually save it in the “enlightenment” folder.
We have to press the button and save it in the “enlightenment” folder, otherwise, it’s automatically going to go in the “samsara” folder. That’s the dedication, saving it in the “enlightenment” folder, so that’s what we do at the end. We say, “Whatever positive force has built up, may that contribute to achieving enlightenment to be able to benefit all.” It’s giving a push in that direction to that energy, to that positive force, so that it’s not just going to contribute to being able to have an interesting conversation about this over a cup of tea and everybody will be entertained – that’s improving samsara, no big deal.
We think, whatever positive force has built up from this discussion, may this truly help us and contribute to achieving enlightenment for the benefit of all.