The Skillful Methods of the Buddha and the Laws of Karmic Cause and Effect

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Brief Review

In our last session, we discussed death, impermanence, and the suffering of the three lower realms. These unfortunate states of rebirth are as a hell creature, a hungry ghost or an animal. The suffering of each of these three rebirth states can be explained extensively, but there would be no end to it if we were to begin discussing it now.

However, one point about the suffering of the three lower realms is that we shouldn’t think of it just as somebody else’s suffering out there. We should think of our own deaths and the possibility of being reborn in the lower realms and personally experiencing such suffering ourselves. This will generate a great deal of apprehension and fear toward having to experience that type of lifetime. It’s this state of apprehension and fear that is useful as a cause; and by being mindful of this apprehension and fear, it motivates us to seek some kind of protection or refuge that can offer us a safe direction to take in order to avoid that. 

Refuge in the Buddha

In the last session, we also discussed the types of objects from which we could seek refuge and that could offer us a safe direction. This introduced the Three Jewels of Refuge and the reasons for having certainty and confidence that they are the correct sources of refuge. 

Why are these three suitable objects for us to take refuge in? Firstly, regarding the Buddhas, they are free from all fear themselves. If they weren’t free from fear, they wouldn’t be able to protect anyone else from fear. Secondly, they’re consummately skilled in methods for freeing others from their fears. Let’s look at some examples from the sutras.  

Skillful Means Regarding Anger 

There once was a serial killer called Angulimala, which literally means “the man with a rosary of thumbs.” Angulimala had relied on a misleading guru, who had instructed him to collect a rosary of 1,000 human thumbs. This guru told him to kill people, chop off their thumbs and make a rosary of them. Angulimala managed to collect 999 thumbs, causing local people to flee in terror from their villages. He couldn’t find anybody to kill to get his last thumb, so he thought to go and get it from his own mother. 

Just at this time, the Buddha came by and, when Angulimala saw the Buddha, he thought, “Okay I’ll spare my mother and get the thumb from the Buddha.” The Buddha gave the appearance of walking very slowly, but no matter how quickly Angulimala tried to run after him, he could never catch up. Finally, Angulimala asked the Buddha to stop so that he could catch up to him, and the Buddha replied that he was going very slowly. “Why can’t you catch me? I’m just walking very slowly,” he said. Eventually, Angulimala realized it was impossible to catch up and satisfy his anger, and so they were able to meet. The Buddha began, then, to teach him the Dharma and, as a result, Angulimala learned, changed his ways and eventually was able to gain a realization of voidness.  

Skillful Means Regarding Ignorance and Stupidity

Another account relates the story of a monk who was extremely unintelligent and unable to memorize anything. Even if he tried for a whole month, he couldn’t memorize one word. The Buddha taught him a simple phrase, “Dirt be gone; dust be gone.” The monk tried to memorize these two lines and again, even after a whole month, he couldn’t remember them. The Buddha then instructed him to polish the other monks’ shoes. He knew how to do this and so he polished their shoes. 

Discouraged, he went to the Buddha and said, “I’m so stupid. I don’t know anything, and I can’t learn anything. I have no abilities or good qualities.” The Buddha replied, “That’s okay, don’t worry. Someone who says that I don’t know anything is much better than somebody who goes around boasting that they know everything. If you admit that you don’t know something, then it’s possible to come to know it. However, if you claim that you know it already, then you have a great deal of pride and will never be able to learn anything.”  

So, this man polished the shoes of the monks and, in the process, he was able to remove some of the obscurations clouding his mind. Eventually, he was able to remember the two phrases that the Buddha had told him to memorize. 

Then, the Buddha set him the task of sweeping the temple. The task of sweeping the temple became very difficult and, actually, the Buddha caused this to happen. Whenever this monk swept the dust from one side of the temple, when he got to the other side, the side he’d just swept would get completely covered with dust once again. He went back and forth across the temple and it always filled up with more dust as he swept it. All the while that he was doing this, he was reciting the two phrases that the Buddha had given him, “Dirt be gone, dust be gone.” Eventually, by repeating these phrases so often, he realized that the dirt and dust weren’t something external. He realized that they were internal things in his own mind to be gotten rid of. Through this, finally, he was able to have bare non-conceptual cognition of voidness and achieve the state of an arhat, a liberated being. 

When we ourselves are sweeping, we can use this as a method for eliminating the dirt and dust sullying our own minds. Also, when we sweep or clean a room, when we’ve gathered together all the dirt and dust, before we throw it away, we should first elevate the nature of the dirt and dust by reciting, “om ah hum,” and in our minds transform them into nectar. Then, when we throw them away, imagine that we are discarding these into the mouth of the Lord of Death. We’ve seen various pictures depicting what the Lord of Death looks like, so we should imagine that he has his mouth wide open and we’re throwing the elevated transformation of this dirt and dust, this nectar, into his mouth to satisfy him. This acts as a method for purifying and eliminating our own negativities, stains and impurities. Also, satisfying the Lord of Death helps to give us a long life. 

Skillful Means Regarding Laziness and Distractedness

Another example of Buddha’s skillful methods regards an old householder of 80 years old. Because he was so old and useless, his family threw him out. He went around to all the shravakas in the entourage of the Buddha, a certain class of disciples, and he asked to be made a monk. None of them would make him a monk, saying that because he was too old, he would be unable to learn and gain various good qualities and abilities. Nobody would give him ordination; however, when the Buddha arrived, the Buddha said, “I will make you a monk. I will give you ordination.”   

After the Buddha ordained him, he assigned Maudgalyayana to be his teacher. Maudgalyayana had extrasensory powers to see very far away, and, on the shore of a distant ocean, he saw the bones of a large sea monster, perhaps a whale or something like that. Maudgalyayana also had extraphysical powers to be able to travel wherever he wished, and he took this old man to this pile of bones. He told the old man that these were the bones of the whale that was actually his previous life. The old man asked, “What was the karmic potential that caused me to have been reborn as this whale?” 

Maudgalyayana explained as follows. Many lifetimes ago, you were the king of a certain country where, no matter what type of crime anyone committed, they weren’t to be executed. This king didn’t believe in capital punishment. One day, this king was playing a type of board game similar to chess, and while playing, one of his jail officers came by with a document for the king to sign, giving permission for a certain criminal to be executed. The king was just so engrossed with playing chess that he didn’t pay much attention and just signed it. After the chess game, when he asked what it was that he had signed, they had already executed the criminal. Because of this destructive action, allowing a person to be executed just because his mind was distracted and engrossed in a game, it acted as a cause for him to be reborn as a whale. 

After hearing this story, the old man developed a strong sense of renunciation. From then on he paid strict attention to the teachings, without being too lazy to listen and, in his very lifetime, he was able to gain realization of voidness and achieve the state of an arhat.  

The Buddha also said about this same old man that in a very remote past lifetime, he had been a fly. As a fly, he had landed on a piece of donkey turd and, when the heavy monsoon rains had come, he had been carried on this donkey turd around a stupa in a stream of rainwater. In this previous lifetime as a fly, he actually circumambulated a stupa while sitting on a piece of donkey turd during a great rainstorm. This was a very subtle root of positive karmic potential, and only the Buddha had been aware of this. It was because the Buddha was aware of this root of positive potential that he then gave him ordination, and this old man was able to attain arhatship.  

We can see that if we were to circumambulate around the stupas in Bodh Gaya or Nepal under our own intentions as humans, how much more positive potential would be created from that. In our house or wherever we stay, if we put up a representation of the Buddha – a Buddha statue or painting and imagine that all the Buddhas are present there – and likewise circumambulate, that also has great benefit. 

All of this illustrates how the Buddha was very skilled in the different methods to benefit others. 

Skillful Means in Handling Desire

We’ve had illustrations now of how the Buddha has helped those who were extremely unintelligent, the example of the old monk and distractedness, and also the example of how the Buddha helped someone who had extreme anger, Angulimala, the man with a rosary of 999 human thumbs. Next is an example of how the Buddha was able to help someone who had extreme desire, his half-brother, Nanda. 

Nanda was married to a queen, Janapada Kalyani, who was extremely beautiful. He was so attached to her that he never would go outside of the palace or engage in any Dharma activity. He just wanted to be with his beautiful wife. To help with this, the Buddha left Shravasti, a place where the Buddha often stayed, and went back to the palace, but instead of going inside, he just stayed in the entrance hall. Nanda went downstairs with some very delicious delicacies to offer to the Buddha. The Buddha didn’t accept the food and turned to leave instead. The Buddha was in such a radiant and glorious state, that Nanda was drawn to this and followed him all the way back to the Buddha’s monastery.

Nanda remained with Buddha at the monastery after deciding to join the community of monks, but when Buddha’s attendant Ananda tried to cut Nanda’s hair, as is the custom with all monks, Nanda was reluctant. Therefore, the Buddha cut the hair himself, and Nanda remained there as a monk. However, Nanda still had a great deal of desire and attachment for his wife back in the palace, and he was drawn very strongly to return to her. 

One day, he tried to leave the monastery to go back to the palace to live with his wife. The Buddha, having extrasensory perception and extraphysical powers, foresaw this. As Nanda was going toward the palace, the Buddha was coming up the same road to meet him. Nanda tried to hide among the trees so that the Buddha wouldn’t see him. The tree was bent where the leaves were very thick but, when the Buddha came, the branch of the tree just automatically went up. The Buddha took Nanda back to the monastery.  

Nanda was a very skilled artist and back at the monastery, he drew a portrait of his wife on a piece of slate. There was a custom of touching foreheads as a greeting when people met, so he began to touch foreheads with this picture of his wife that he’d drawn on slate, he was so attached to her.

One day, the Buddha took Nanda on a picnic with him. There were many monkeys there, and the Buddha asked Nanda who was prettier, his wife or the monkeys? Nanda replied, “These monkeys are just monkeys, but my wife is a real beauty. Obviously, my wife is prettier.” Then, the Buddha took Nanda up to one of the god realms. The celestial maidens in this god realm were extremely beautiful and the Buddha asked him again, “Who’s more beautiful, these celestial maidens or your wife?” Nanda replied, “Compared to these celestial maidens, my wife is like the monkeys compared to her before.” Seeing this acted as a means for subduing his great desire for his wife.  

Using various methods like this, the Buddha was able to lessen and tame Nanda’s desire, and eventually Nanda was able to achieve the state of an arhat. Even in the case of desire, the Buddha offers such skillful means. 

This is the second point of why Buddha is superbly qualified as a source of safe direction and refuge. Just to repeat, the first qualification is that Buddha is free from all fears, and the second is that he is skillful in the means for freeing others from their fears.

The Buddha Shows No Partisanship

The next point for why Buddha is a reliable source of safe direction is that the Buddha shows no partisanship toward anyone. He doesn’t consider any being as close and others as distant from him. For instance, the Buddha’s cousin, Devadatta, constantly plotted to kill the Buddha, but when Devadatta was very sick and about to die, the Buddha laid his hands on him and, by the uplifting power of the words of truth that he recited, he cured his cousin Devadatta.  

The Buddha Helps Everyone

Another aspect of this non-partisanship is that the Buddha helps others and benefits them whether or not they have helped him in the past. In our case, we usually only help those who have helped us, but the Buddha isn’t like this.  

Taking Refuge

If we seek refuge, it should be in someone who has these types of good qualities. For the Three Jewels, all these four qualities are complete. We should have great confidence that these objects have the power to offer us a safe direction and give us refuge. 

What is known as “taking refuge” is completely entrusting ourselves to these Three Jewels to offer us a safe direction, based on the fear and apprehension that we spoke of earlier and the confident belief that they can provide this direction. 

Taking refuge is an extremely extensive topic, and something that we could talk about for months without being able to finish. Concerning the benefits of taking refuge, you should seek further teachings on that in the future. Particularly, study the good qualities of the body, speech and mind of the Buddha, the full presentation. This is something very beneficial for enhancing and increasing your confidence in the Buddha. Without awareness of the good qualities of the objects of refuge, it’s difficult to develop confident belief in them. 

Once in Tibet, the successor to the throne of Tsongkhapa was invited to a certain place. This holder of the Ganden throne – literally, this one belonging on the Ganden throne – is someone in an extremely high position, just under that of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Wherever he goes, someone holds a golden brocade parasol over him. When he arrived in this area, there was an old lady who turned to this golden parasol and said, “I take refuge in this golden parasol that belongs on the Ganden throne.” She said on the side, “And what a dear old monk is standing underneath you.” This is an example of taking refuge in the wrong thing. She took refuge in the parasol and not in the person. By not knowing the good qualities of the object of refuge, we can make mistakes. 

If there were a ferocious beast roaming our land, we would all be very frightened of this creature. If we were frightened for long enough, we would find someone in whom we felt very confident to be able to protect us from this beast. We would need someone brave who had the ability to protect us. We would only feel at ease if we entrusted ourselves to someone like that. We wouldn’t think to entrust ourselves for protection to someone who just had a false sense of pride of being able to protect us. What is involved in this case is, first, fear of this beast and, second, confidence in this person to protect us. If we entrusted ourselves and said so, our minds would be put at ease by voicing our words of trust for this person. Our being at ease as a result of this would be similar to what we will feel after taking refuge.  

Again, if we don’t know what the qualities of the sources of refuge are and what the attitude is that we need for entrusting ourselves to them, then just to say with our mouths, “I take refuge” and to repeat these words is meaningless.  

Karmic Actions

It’s not enough to simply entrust ourselves to the Three Jewels. What we need to actually do is have confident belief in the laws of karmic cause and effect, and then act accordingly. Let’s therefore analyze a destructive action, such as taking the life of another being. There are four factors that need to be complete for the result to be the fullest: 

  • A basis 
  • A motivating framework 
  • An implementation of a method for carrying out the action 
  • A reaching of a finale. 

As we kill a sheep, for example, the sheep is the basis at which this destructive action is directed. The motivating framework has two aspects. First is the intention and second is a disturbing emotion. We can be motivated by desire, for instance, to eat the flesh of the sheep. With that in mind, we kill the animal. We can also be motivated by anger or hostility, to kill our enemy’s sheep, or also kill it out of closed-minded ignorance. Some people believe that if you slaughter and sacrifice an animal and then offer its flesh as a blood sacrifice to a god, then as a result you would become very wealthy. This is an example of killing out of ignorance. 

The next point that’s involved is the implementation of a method for carrying out the action of killing the sheep. Killing it can be a done in a severe or very gentle way. We might kill the sheep by suffocation because we don’t want to have the sheep bleed, thinking that ruins the taste of the meat. Suffocating the sheep to death is a very awful way of killing the sheep, a severe and horrible way of killing it. We could do it in a more humane way, such as just giving it an injection. 

The last point is what happens at the end of the action. For the completion of an action, the finale must be that the sheep we killed must die, and the sheep must die before we die. 

These are the four factors involved in making an action such as killing complete: a basis, a motivating framework, an implementation of a method to carry out the action and a reaching of the finale. We can apply this to all ten destructive actions. 

Karmic Results

There are different types of results that follow from the negative karmic potential built up from destructive actions:

  • First of all, there is the ripened result. In this case of killing a sheep, the ripened result that follows is rebirth in one of the lower realms. 
  • There is also the result that is similar to its cause. This has two aspects: (1) There is a result that is similar to its cause in terms of what we experience. This would be, for instance, a short life or a life with much sickness as a result of having killed. (2) There is also a result that is similar to its cause in terms of our instinctive behavior – for instance, we instinctively like to raise and slaughter animals for the meat market. 
  • In addition, there is the comprehensive result. This would be, for instance, that from early childhood, the food available to us where we live would be very weak in nutritional strength. 

If we see the disadvantages of killing and then resolve never to kill again, there are many advantages and benefits that come from this. Whereas, if we just resolve on one occasion to refrain from killing, then there’s only one unit of benefit from restraining just one time, as opposed to refraining from now on and promising never to do it again. If we resolve, “I’ll never kill again as long as I live,” then on this basis, the benefits accrue all the time until we die. In other words, whether we are awake or asleep, this resolve is still present. 

The Four Laws of Karma

The Certainty of Karma

There are four laws of karma. The first is that destructive actions result in suffering and constructive actions result in happiness. There is certainty about that point. It is definite that suffering, not happiness, results from destructive actions, and that happiness, not suffering, results from constructive actions. 

For example, of the followers of the Buddha, there was an arya or noble one, Katyayana, who was very accomplished in subduing and taming others and being able to help others who lived in very violent lands. Each of the disciples of the Buddha had a certain specialty and this was his. At one time, Katyayana was out begging alms and went to the house of someone who slaughtered animals. He asked this person, “Are you able to promise and vow that you never will kill again?” The man said, “I can only promise that I won’t kill at night.” 

Because the butcher resolved only to refrain from killing at night, he was reborn in a very beautiful, nice place, and the whole night, from sundown to sunrise, everything was very happy, peaceful and perfect. However, as soon as the sun rose, for the entire duration of the day, all the animals in the district – sheep, yaks, cattle, buffalos and so on – would come and attack him, causing him a lot of trouble. 

One monk described the situation to the Buddha and asked, “What was the cause for this?” The Buddha said that this was the result of the fact that he promised not to kill only at night. Because of refraining from killing at night, he lived very happily during the nights; but, because he didn’t refrain during the daytime, he had all this suffering and trouble during the day. This is an illustration of the certainty of karma. 

No Karmic Result without a Cause and, Having Committed a Karmic Action, It Will Not Go in Vain

The second point about karma is that if we haven’t committed a certain karmic action, we will not meet with its result. Let’s give an example to help understand what this means. A long time ago, there was a king who had a queen. The queen had a lady attendant, and the two of them went out on a picnic. They were out in the woods and came upon the nest of a certain bird similar to a quail or pheasant. The queen set the nest on fire, which killed the unborn chicks in the nest. The attendant wasn’t there at the time when the queen set this fire because she’d gone off to the stream to collect water. This queen was born again during the time of the Buddha, became a nun and attained the state of an arhat. 

One day, the house where she lived caught fire. Even though she was an arhat and normally had the ability to fly in the air and perform all sorts of other extraphysical feats, nevertheless, she was unable to use any of these during this fire. She wasn’t able to escape it. This was because she had the leftover of the negative karmic potential from this previous time when she had set the nest of quails on fire. As a result, she couldn’t escape from the fire and was burned to death. 

That’s actually an example of the third point about karma, that if we’ve committed a certain karmic action, it will not go in vain. We will have to meet with its results. Even if we attain the state of an arhat, we still have to face the karmic consequences of our previous actions. 

Regarding the second point, the serving lady was also reborn at this time and was again with this nun who became an arhat; however, she was able to escape from the fire through a drain, a place where the water left the house. That’s the example of the point that if we haven’t committed a certain karmic action, then we won’t meet with its results. Because she hadn’t set the quail’s nest on fire, she hadn’t accumulated the negative karma potential of that and, therefore, she wouldn’t meet with its karmic results, which was burning to death.  

Increase of Karma

The fourth point about karma is that karmic potential increases. We can understand this by looking at the growth of crops. For instance, if we plant a tiny grain of corn, we get a huge corn plant with a lot of ears of corn on it. Likewise, if we plant the small pit of a fruit, we can get a huge fruit tree from it. Similarly, if we do prostrations properly, we build up the positive karmic potential to be reborn as a world emperor. We can build up the amount of positive karmic potential equal to the number of particles of dust under our body when it’s stretched out flat on the ground in a full prostration. 

Another example of how from a small action we get a very large result is that someone once said to a monk that his voice was like that of a dog. The result was that this person was reborn as a dog 500 times. Another illustration of this is in terms of the monk, Shariputra. He was noted for his wisdom and intelligence, and this was a result of a previous lifetime in which he was a postman delivering messages. One night, he stopped in a house that had a lot of paintings of deities on the wall. He stayed there at night and was trying to patch a hole in his shoes. In order to do this, he lit a lamp to be able to see. By lighting that lamp, he was able to see all those paintings of deities hanging on the wall. As a result of that action, in this later life as Shariputra, he had a great deal of clear wisdom.  

Likewise, we have the example of a great Kadampa Geshe in Tibet. In the early part of his life, he was extremely poor and lived up in the mountains. He couldn’t afford to buy any incense; instead, he made his own incense by taking grass and rolling the grass together to burn as an offering. As a result of the positive karmic potential built up from that, in the later part of his life he was able to make very extensive offerings, such as lighting sticks of incense costing ten gold coins each.  

Confidence in the Laws of Karma

We can develop confident belief in the laws of karmic cause and effect based on scriptural authority from quotations that describe and illustrate the laws of karmic cause and effect. It’s very difficult to establish a confident belief in karmic cause and effect based on logical reasoning. 

If we ask, “Why is it that we can believe in the scriptural authority of the Buddha?” it’s because the Buddha taught about voidness and the methods for gaining the absorbed concentration of a stilled and settled state of mind of shamatha. We can prove the validity of voidness for ourselves with logic. If we meditate on voidness and follow the instructions for developing shamatha, we can realize them exactly as the Buddha taught. If what the Buddha taught about these profound topics is true and can be established by logic and firsthand experience, and we can have confident belief in them based on logic and our valid first-hand experience, then it follows that we can likewise believe these other things that are not established by logic.  

That’s why in the West, where most people are very much intellectually oriented, Buddhist teachers often teach first about voidness and how to gain absorbed concentration with shamatha. Again, this is because these are things that, with meditation, we can establish for ourselves through logic and experience. On the basis of their personal experience, such students can then gain a confident belief in the Buddhist teachings. 

After that, if such a person is taught about karmic cause and effect, they will accept it as being true. It will rest more easily with them. Whereas in Tibet, people automatically had a great deal of faith, and the normal order was first to teach about karmic cause and effect, and then, only later, to teach about these other things, like voidness and shamatha.

Summary

To briefly review, we’ve been discussing all the teachings for someone of the initial scope or initial level motivation. The topics that we’ve covered so far are: 

  • First, death and impermanence
  • Second, the suffering of the lower realms
  • Third, taking refuge
  • Fourth, our present discussion of karmic cause and effect. 

If a person of the initial scope thinks about and engages in the practices regarding these four points, then, as a result, such a person won’t have any fears at the time of death. Likewise, there won’t be any fearsome things that will happen after they die because, with these practices, they will not be reborn in one of the three lower realms.    

Questions

How can a person become an arhat and still suffer from past karma, as in the example of the nun being burned alive? I thought that an arhat was free from suffering.

The point in this example is that the force of karmic potential is so great and has been built up and accumulated from beginningless lifetimes, so that even when we achieve arhatship, although we’ve rid ourselves of most of the negative karmic potential from the past, there is still some left over that we haven’t fully purified away. The power of karmic potential is so great that even the attainment of arhatship doesn’t overcome it completely. The nun had to experience the result of a previous destructive karmic action by burning to death. However, it’s not the same as a regular person burning to death; she was an arhat and didn’t suffer at all, but that was how she met her end. There was no suffering.

How can we say that it is so difficult to have a precious human life when the human population is constantly increasing? 

Is the population of the animal world going up?

It’s difficult to determine the actual number of insects. However, numbers of larger animals are decreasing, and some species are now extinct. 

How do we know the total number of all animals is going down? Is the number of talented and intelligent people increasing? Even if the human population is increasing, and even if we can’t actually estimate the population of the insects and small forms of life in the animal world, still we can agree that the human population is far less than the full animal population.  

In the human population, if we consider the proportion between what we would call those people who are well-off and those in difficult conditions, living in poverty or misery, there are far more living with great hardships than those who are well-off. We can also realize that the animal world is not just elephants and large mammals but includes, as well, the entire insect world. If we think about tiny bugs and creatures like this, and if we consider the number of small insects in just one tiny area, then it’s very easy to understand that the animal world far outnumbers the human world. Would you agree with that? 

Yes.

The reason that the animal world far outnumbers the human world is because those who have negative karmic potential far outnumber those with positive potential. Therefore, as a result of negative karmic potential, they’re born in very difficult situations such as being an animal or an insect. Likewise, in terms of humans, those in difficult conditions far outnumber those who are in good conditions. This is also because those who have built up a lot of negative karmic potential far outnumber those who have built up positive potential. 

Also, considering the whole human population, those who lead a positive life, such as following the Dharma or other spiritual teachings, are very rare and few compared to those with no Dharma in their lives or who are not spiritually inclined. Those not involved with spiritual life or Dharma tend to be involved mostly in destructive activities. As a result, they’re heading down for a lower rebirth as an animal or insect. 

When we consider a fortunate rebirth as being born as a human being, still this can be either as a human being who is in a good position or as one who is in a very difficult position. As stated, those who are involved in a lot of negativities far outnumber humans involved in a lot of positive actions, and for those people involved in a great deal of destructive actions, it’s not of great benefit for them to be human. In fact, it’s just serving as a vehicle for them to build up a lot of negative karmic potentials to fall when they die.  

Within the human population, it’s a very small number of people who are actually leading very positive, constructive lives. In a country with a lot of thieves, that’s not considered very advantageous, is it?  But those thieves are humans, aren’t they? Likewise, it’s not going to be of very great benefit to that country if it’s filled with people who are constantly engaged in destructive actions. As a result of past negative karmic potential, then even if we’re reborn as a human being, we can be reborn as someone who’s just involved in destructive actions and that’s not going to be of much help.  

For instance, about 700 or 800 years ago in Tibet, there were monasteries that held as many as 180,000 monks. Even in a small country like Tibet, it’s an indication that at that time there was a far larger number of people who were engaged in some sort of positive type of life. It’s very good to have that number of people engaged in such a positive lifestyle, and it’s the result of their constructive actions in previous lifetimes. Whereas those who have done a great many destructive actions in previous lifetimes, even if they’re born as a human, it’s not going to be of great benefit to them. 

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