Persons of Intermediate Scope

Brief Review of the Initial Scope

We have been speaking about a person of the initial level of motivation. The verse in the text 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.

The topics of relying properly on a spiritual teacher and precious human rebirth are common for the training of all three types of persons: those of initial, intermediate and advanced scopes. The actual subject matter for someone of the initial scope includes death and impermanence, the suffering of the three lower realms, taking refuge and the practices of karmic cause and effect, specifically keeping the ethical self-discipline of refraining from committing the ten destructive actions. 

On this basis of restraint from committing the ten destructive actions, we can prevent ourselves from falling to a rebirth in one of the three lower realms. Also, we can assure rebirth as either a human being or as a god. Having obtained a precious human rebirth as we have, we can achieve this type of goal. Even if we achieve this, although it is very good, it is still not enough.  

Progression to the Intermediate Scope

Wherever we might be reborn in uncontrollably recurring samsaric existence, no matter how much wealth or how high a status we might have, even as a world emperor or as a god, that wealth and position entail nothing but problems and suffering. No matter where we might be reborn, it’s in a condition only of problems and suffering. What we have to see is that all types of worldly happiness are problematic and of the nature of suffering, and we have to turn our backs on working for these things as our goals. We have to work instead for liberation altogether from any condition of samsaric existence. 

This more advanced state of motivation is known as the intermediate scope. Previously, on the initial level, we worked to attain worldly happiness in our future lifetimes, and now on the intermediate level, we turn away from that as well and wish to gain release from all suffering whatsoever in any of the states of uncontrollably recurring samsaric existence. We see that they are nothing but suffering.  

The Suffering of Suffering

No Certainty

The first point concerning suffering is that there’s no certainty in uncontrollably recurring samsaric existence. No matter how wealthy we may be, no matter how many possessions we might have, or whatever type of high position we might hold, they are things that don’t last. There is no certainty about having and keeping them, and so, at any moment, we can lose them and fall to a state of great poverty or a lowly position. 

This is something we can all see ourselves. We’ve seen how there’s no certainty in this life. We can see this just in terms of this lifetime when, for instance, someone who held a high position as a government official was disgraced and perhaps even thrown into prison, who nevertheless made a comeback later on and again held a high government position. 

In addition, we can see how someone who was a very close friend of ours in the early part of our life, then just because of an exchange of some harsh words, later on became our enemy whom we disliked very much. Likewise, we could have had an enemy in the earlier part of our lives, someone we couldn’t stand, and then in the later part of our life that person became a close friend. This type of uncertainty of status is something that we all have seen.

No Satisfaction in Samsara

The next point about the suffering of suffering is that there is no satisfaction in samsaric existence. No matter how much wealth we have, even if we possesses all the wealth of an entire country, we won’t feel like it’s enough. We won’t be satisfied; we’ll only be wishing we had more. There’s no satisfaction in samsaric existence. 

Having to Give Up Our Bodies Over and Again

Another point is that we continually have to give up our bodies. From beginningless time, we’ve been born and then had to die and give up our body and then be born again. Over and over again, we give up our body and, again and again, we are reborn; it just goes on endlessly. If we don’t put an end to our uncontrollably recurring samsaric existence, it will just continue like this over and again in the future. 

The Suffering of Suffering That the Gods Experience

This is true even if we’re reborn as a god in one of the god realms, where everything is very lovely and pleasant and, for instance, the ground is made of precious gems. The gods there don’t have to eat coarse food but can live on the food of absorbed concentration, and they don’t have to exert any effort or do any work to get this. 

As one ascends in the higher god realms, the happiness increases more and more; yet even these gods have a great deal of suffering at the time of their deaths. Although their lives were spent in great worldly happiness, at the time of death, for instance, things begin to happen that never happened before. They start to smell badly, their flower garlands and ornaments begin to fade and wither and, with the approach of all these signs that indicate that they are about to die, they experience a tremendous amount of mental suffering. The beings reborn in the lower realms such as the hells have the greatest amount of physical suffering; however, as for mental suffering, the gods, when they receive the signs of their coming death, have the greatest mental suffering.  

If we compare the mental suffering at death for someone from a very poor country to the amount of mental suffering that a very wealthy person in a prosperous country has, then the mental suffering of the wealthy person is much greater. The amount of mental suffering at the time of death for a beggar who has absolutely no possessions and is completely poor and destitute is far less than someone dying who is extremely affluent and has so many possessions. Therefore, the amount of mental suffering that we have in uncontrollably recurring samsaric existence is directly proportionate to the amount of material wealth and prosperity we have.  

The Suffering of Suffering That Humans Experience

Next, consider the suffering of human beings. First, there is the extreme amount of suffering at the time of birth. Although we don’t remember because it happened to us when we were very young, nevertheless the actual time of birth entails the greatest suffering that we experience. 

We should consider as well, for instance, the amount of suffering that we have of being confined in a womb for nine months and ten days. We can understand this by considering how we couldn’t stand it if we were locked in a tiny little room with no windows and no doors for just a few days. We would find this unbearable. Imagine the suffering of being locked up like that for nine months and ten days! 

Likewise, we should consider the suffering of sickness. This is something that we all understand and have seen not only in terms of our own sickness. We can also see various people in different hospitals who are suffering from terrible diseases and accidents. We can also see people in mental hospitals who have strong mental afflictions and psychological disorders. There is so much suffering involved with being sick. Not only do we suffer from a sickness when we have it, but likewise we suffer from worrying about catching some disease when we don’t even have one.  

As human beings, the next suffering is that of growing old. Aging is something that comes upon us very slowly, so we don’t see it all of a sudden, but the suffering of aging is very great and lasts a long time. Imagine if we were sixteen or seventeen years old and, all of a sudden, when we went to sleep and woke up the next day, we were completely old. The suffering involved with seeing ourselves immediately grow into an old person would be incalculable. It would be like we had put on a mask.  

When we’re sick or old, even though we might like very much to eat certain foods, we find that we’re not able to eat them anymore. We have to take terrible tasting medicines or things like that and there’s a great deal of suffering involved in both cases.

The suffering of birth, aging, sickness, and the suffering of being reborn in any of the lower realms are all examples of what’s known as the suffering of suffering, the suffering of misery. These are gross and obvious sufferings.  

The Suffering of Change

There is also a subtler type of suffering, the suffering of change. Any type of pleasurable material objects we might have and consider as capable of bringing us happiness bring us, in fact, a happiness that is in the nature of suffering. For instance, if we’re walking, after a while the walking turns into suffering, and we want to stop walking and sit down. We sit down to stop and rest and that would initially give us a feeling of happiness; however, in fact, this is not a happiness that lasts. It is itself problematic and in the nature of suffering. 

Sitting down is not in the nature of happiness. The apparent happiness we get from sitting is actually an example of the suffering of change. What has happened, in fact, is that we’ve been walking, and we’ve experienced the suffering from walking too much, so when we sit down, although it seems as though sitting is a source of happiness, actually all it does is diminish the suffering of walking. The happiness of sitting down initially outweighs the gross suffering from the walking, but it does this only for a short while. 

What we feel is not in the nature of happiness because, if it were, it should remain as happiness at all times. It’s not, because after we’ve been sitting down for too long, then our backsides start to hurt, and we feel uncomfortable. Then, we want to stand up again. This clearly demonstrates that our sitting down is in the nature of suffering. It’s not happiness just because it slightly overrides the suffering from walking. In and of itself, it’s not happiness, but just another type of suffering.  

Another example is in terms of eating when we’re very hungry. We eat and this eliminates the suffering of being hungry; nonetheless, it’s not something that lasts. All it does is override or outweigh the obvious manifest suffering of hunger. It doesn’t last, because after a while we become hungry again. 

Likewise, when we are cold, we want to go into the sun. We stand out in the sun and again this just overrides the manifest suffering of being cold. However, the happiness that we get is not something that lasts and, after standing out in the sun for a while, we feel too hot and start to worry that perhaps we’ll get a sunburn. So, we want to go back into the shade, into some place that’s cool.  

All of these are examples of the suffering of change. What we experience seems to be happiness, but it changes into suffering. Therefore, it’s not happiness at all, but just another form of suffering. This is known as the “suffering of change.” 

All-Pervasive Suffering

The next type of suffering is known as “all-pervasive suffering.” An example would be our tainted aggregates. For instance, our ordinary bodies, just by their very nature, automatically bring suffering. We have a tainted body, a body that gets sick, a body that gets hurt with different types of pain and suffering just by the mere fact that it exists. This is known as “all-pervasive suffering.”  

To arya beings, the noble ones, the all-pervasive suffering of having a tainted body appears to them as painful as having a piece of hair in their eyes; and since it appears so painful, it’s something they immediately want to abandon and get rid of. To us ordinary beings, all that we’re aware of is the gross suffering of suffering. We’re not even aware of this all-pervasive suffering and it seems to us as innocent as having a piece of hair on the palm of our hand. 

We can speak of samsara, or uncontrollably recurring samsaric existence, as the example of all-pervasive suffering. In samsaric existence, our consciousness is under the power of disturbing emotions and compelling karmic impulses. Thus, it is not under its own power and it has no control over itself. This is also an example of all-pervasive suffering. 

How to Rid Ourselves of Suffering

What is the result of thinking about all this suffering? The outcome is that we will want to look for a method to rid ourselves of it. This suffering is not something permanent or static but is something that changes and is impermanent. Because suffering is impermanent, it’s what’s known as an “affected phenomenon” (’dus-byas-kyi chos, conditioned phenomenon). 

This term, “affected phenomenon,” means that it arises from causes. If we ask what the causes are that bring about suffering, we can say that the causes are the compelling karmic impulses, karma, that drives us to commit compulsive destructive actions. What caused these compelling karmic impulses to arise? They arise because of various disturbing emotions. If we ask where do these various disturbing emotions come from, they come from the three main disturbing emotions: longing desire and attachment, hostility and anger, and naive ignorance. The root or basic cause is this third one, naive ignorance. Compelling karmic impulses and these disturbing emotions are what are known as the “second noble truth,” the true origins of suffering.

If we break up the two syllables of this Tibetan word for the second noble truth – kun-’byung – that I’m translating as the true origins of suffering, it literally means the “producer of all.” The “all” refers to all suffering. The connotation is that compelling karmic impulses and disturbing emotions are what all sufferings arise from. Therefore, they are known as the true origins of suffering or the noble truth of the origins of suffering. 

How is it that naive ignorance is taken as the root of these disturbing emotions and suffering? Let’s examine that. First of all, we all have the state of mind with which we think, “I” or “me.” There are actually two types of “me” that appear. There’s a “me” that actually does exist and a “me” that does not exist. More fully, there is the conventionally existing “me” and the “me” to be refuted that does not exist. It does not exist in the sense that it does not correspond to what actually exists, but nevertheless appears as if it does exist and does correspond. In fact, however, this false “me,” a self-established or inherently existent “me,” doesn’t exist at all. Yet our minds give rise to an appearance of a “me” that seems to be self-established, and we grasp at it to exist in this impossible way that it appears. Naive ignorance is the disturbing emotion whereby we are unaware that this appearance does not correspond to reality; we believe just the contrary, we believe that it does. 

Simply put, we think in terms of a self-established “me,” which in fact doesn’t exist. Because we think in terms of such a “me,” we then think of “my friend” as a consequence of thinking, “me.” On the basis of thinking “my friend,” we then develop longing desire or attachment for the person. On the basis of this longing desire and attachment, we experience the arising of compelling karmic impulses that drive us to commit compulsive karmic actions. The negative karmic potential built up from those impulses and those actions result in our experiencing suffering. 

Likewise, when we think in terms of the category of a truly established “me,” this leads to thinking in terms of someone as being “my enemy.” We then develop hostility and anger toward this enemy and, as a result, we commit destructive actions that result in suffering. The root of all of this is our state of mind with which we grasp at a non-existent “me” as if its existence were truly established and, with naive ignorance, we don’t know that this is false. We believe it to be true.

When we investigate the manner in which our minds take their object, this non-existent “me,” we discover that the object we are grasping at is, in fact, something that does not exist. When we realize that the object of this mind does not exist – that there is no such thing – the understanding of this total absence is known as an “understanding of voidness (emptiness),” or of “selflessness” or “identitylessness.” 

This mind that understands the lack of a true identity of a “me” turns away or reverses the attitude with which we grasp at a seemingly truly existent “me.”  Likewise, it allows us to turn away from grasping at seemingly truly existent objects that belong to this “me” as if they were “my things.” The mind that grasps at things as having self-established existence and the mind that apprehends that such things do not exist at all are complete opposites; one negates the other. 

Discriminating Awareness

This mind that understands the non-existence of such impossible objects is known as the “discriminating awareness (shes-rab, wisdom) that apprehends voidness.” When a mind has bare non-conceptual cognition of this voidness, that mind is known as “true pathway way of mind,” the noble truth of the path. When we continue to meditate with this true pathway of mind, this mind will eventually rid the mental continuum of all karmic potentials and disturbing emotions. 

When all of these have been removed, that absence of karmic potentials and disturbing emotions is known as a “true stopping,” the noble truth of cessation. It comes about from a cause, which is true pathway minds, the noble truth of the path. These two are set as cause and effect. One is the cause for the other, which comes about as its result. 

The Four Noble Truths

The four noble truths, then, can be divided into two sides. The set of two that we have been talking about is known as the “purified or purifying side of the noble truths.” The first two noble truths would be known as the “deluded or deluding side of the noble truths.” The first two noble truths are the true sufferings and true origins of all sufferings; the true origins of all sufferings are what bring about the first, the true sufferings. The fact that all phenomena come from these causes in terms of the two sides of the noble truths was stated by the Buddhas themselves.

The Three Higher Trainings

In the three types of higher training, the discriminating awareness that understands voidness constitutes what’s known as the “training in higher discriminating awareness.” What acts as the cause for this and must precede it is the training in higher concentration. The root or basis from which these two arise is the training in higher ethical self-discipline. Therefore, to keep the ethical self-discipline of restraining ourselves from committing the ten destructive actions is something very basic, fundamental and important because it acts as the basis from which the other higher trainings grow. Their necessity is like that of a field for growing crops. 

The practices contained in the three higher trainings are the subject matter of the three higher trainings. The scriptures that speak about this subject matter of the three higher trainings are included in the Three Baskets, the Tripitika

  • The subject matter regarding higher ethical self-discipline is found in the Vinaya Basket regarding rules of monastic discipline. 
  • Concerning the subject matter of the training in higher concentration, the texts that speak about this are collected in the Sutra Basket. 
  • The topic of training in higher discriminating awareness is found in the texts in the Abhidharma Basket

The three higher trainings, then, are the subject matter of the Tripitika, and the texts in these Three Baskets present and explain them.  

The Duration of Buddha’s Teachings

The doctrine of the Buddha is prophesized to endure for 5,000 years. These 5,000 years are divided into ten 500-year periods:

  • During the first of these 500-year periods there are a great many arhats. 
  • During the second, there are a great many of those who achieve the state of a non-returner. 
  • During the third period of 500 years, there are many who achieve the state of a stream-enterer. 

All of these are arya beings or noble ones.  

In the next set of three 500-year periods:

  • In the fourth, there are primarily those who practice and maintain the training in higher discriminating awareness. 
  • In the fifth, there are those who maintain primarily the training in higher concentration, 
  • And for the last period of this set, there are those who maintain primarily the training in higher ethical self-discipline.  

These periods of time are known as chapters of time, similar to how we see chapters used in terms of chapters of a text, like Engaging in Bodhisattva Conduct. The first three 500-year periods are known as the resultant chapters – in other words, the chapters of the result or the fruits of the practices. The second three are known as the practice chapters, during which the practice of each of the higher trainings is predominant, one after the next, starting with higher discriminating awareness. At present, we are in the third of these chapters, the time when the training in higher ethical self-discipline predominates. 300 or more years of this 500-year period have already passed, and we have about 200 more years left. 

After that, will come the three 500-year chapters of scriptural texts. In each, the texts of one of the Three Baskets will predominate: 

  • First the Abhidharma Basket
  • Then the Sutra Basket 
  • And, in the third, the Vinaya Basket

During these periods, there won’t be anyone with great insights from the practice or realizations of their results. Primarily, people will be involved in memorizing and reciting these texts.  

There are ten 500-year periods in total, and we’ve presented nine already. The last one will be: 

  • The period of 500 years of name only, or merely Buddhism in a nominal sense. During that time, there will be ordained persons merely in a nominal sense. In other words, they’ll wear robes, but that will be about all. They won’t be keeping any of the vows. That will be the last period. 

The time when the teachings will completely vanish has not come yet and, if we calculate, there are around 2,200 years left before the teachings are completely gone. Therefore, we need to make effort to gain realization of the four noble truths and, primarily, realization of voidness now. If we turn our backs on all worldly pleasures and happiness as it says in the next verse, and gain this realization of voidness, we’ll be able to cut through the root of uncontrollably recurring samsaric existence.  

A Person of Intermediate Spiritual Scope

Summarizing the intermediate scope motivation, Atisha says:

(4) Anyone with the nature to turn his or her back on the pleasures of compulsive existence and to turn back negative impulses of karma, and who takes keen interest in merely his or her own state of peace, is known as a person of intermediate spiritual scope.

The phrase, Anyone with the nature to turn his or her back on the pleasures of compulsive existence and to turn back negative impulses of karma, refers to someone who is working on an intermediate level and has turned away from destructive actions. This is someone who has turned their back on destructive actions by keeping the training in higher ethical self-discipline, and then continuing from there with the other two higher trainings. The practice of the three higher trainings is for being able to turn away from the disturbing emotions that cause us to commit destructive actions. 

When Atisha writes, turn back the negative impulses of karma, we shouldn’t think merely of the destructive karmic impulses that draw us into committing the ten destructive actions. Included are the disturbing emotions that cause them. 

When Atisha writes, takes keen interest in merely his or her own state of peace, this refers to the fact that, by relying on such methods, such persons are able to attain liberation themselves. Such a person is known as a person of intermediate spiritual scope

If we actually do meditate like this and work only for our own sakes, we attain what’s known as the “lowest type of liberation.” In other words, we’re able to liberate ourselves alone and not able to liberate all others as we would with the attainment of a state of enlightenment. 

The path of practice of someone of intermediate scope is considered a common path. In other words, we shouldn’t adopt the aspect of this level of motivation that takes liberation for ourselves as its final goal. Instead, we should practice developing those aspects of the intermediate level of motivation that are shared in common with the advanced level of motivation. These include turning away from worldly concern, worldly pleasures and happiness, and from uncontrollably recurring samsaric existence.  

Renunciation, the Determination to Be Free

There are two types of renunciation, the determination to be free: 

  • The determination to be free with which we turn away from complete involvement in this life and working fervently for just that 
  • The determination to be free with which we turn away from complete involvement in future lives and working fervently for just that. 

If we have turned away from complete involvement in just this lifetime, we can prevent ourselves from falling to one of the three lower states. If we don’t develop the second type of determination to be free with which we also turn away from having complete involvement in future lifetimes, we won’t be able to turn completely away from all of uncontrollably recurring samsaric existence and from the wish to be reborn as a human or a god. We won’t be able to attain liberation. 

The state of liberation from uncontrollably recurring samsaric existence is something that we can accomplish on the working basis of the precious human rebirth that we all have. However, to just get rid of our own sufferings for ourselves alone is not enough. With this precious human rebirth that we have, we should not simply work to free ourselves from all suffering; we should also work to liberate everyone else from suffering, too. All the suffering that we have ourselves, all of our suffering, everybody else has as well. Everybody has the same types of sufferings. 

But, if we’re not mindful of all our own sufferings and do not have the determination to be free of them, we won’t be able to become mindful of others’ suffering with that same determination for them to be free of them as well. The mind with which we focus on others’ suffering with the wish for them to be free from that suffering as we wish for ourselves is known as “compassion.”