Parting from Clinging to This Life or to Samsaric Rebirth

When You Have Parted from Clinging to This Life, Your Mind Has Gone toward the Dharma 

Of these four main points, the first (when you have parted from clinging to this life, you have made your mind go toward the Dharma) has meditation on three topics: (1) firstly, as a preliminary, the difficulty of finding (a precious human rebirth with) respites and enrichments, (2) as the actual fundamental part, death and impermanence, and, (3) as an auxiliary to the path, karmic cause and effect.

Whether or not you are a Dharma practitioner depends on practicing these three meditations.

The Difficulty of Finding a Precious Human Rebirth with Respites and Enrichments

Firstly, for meditating on the difficulty of finding (a precious human rebirth with) respites and enrichments, sitting on a comfortable cushion, repeat many times taking the safe direction of refuge in the gurus and the Precious Gems.

For this, the verse, “I take safe direction, till my purified state, from the Buddhas, the Dharma and the Highest Assembly. By the positive force of my giving and so on, may I actualize Buddhahood to help those who wander,” composed by the peerless Atisha, is unlike all others. The first two lines are for taking safe direction, refuge, and the second two for enhancing your bodhichitta aim. This manner of putting together safe direction and bodhichitta has spread widely to everyone. Therefore, for taking safe direction, do it through reciting it many times.

Then make requests with the four lines, “May my mind go toward the Dharma,” and so on.

Make requests by reciting, “Inspire me to make my mind go toward the Dharma. Inspire me to make the Dharma function as a pathway of mind. Inspire me to make my pathway minds eliminate confusion. Inspire me to make my confusion dawn as deep awareness.”

Then, after enhancing your bodhichitta aim, thinking, “I shall attain Buddhahood for the sake of benefitting all limited beings,” contemplate as follows like this:

Recite, “I shall attain the topmost achievement, becoming a fully enlightened Buddha, and, for that sake, I shall practice the path.” When you enter the path of Mahayana, putting the safe direction in your life of taking refuge and developing a bodhichitta aim are the excellent roots for your practice. If you have them, it is sufficient; but if you lack them, the method won’t work. Then contemplate this:

“This (precious human) body with respites and enrichments, in terms of its essential nature, is difficult to find complete with the eight respites and the ten enrichments. In terms of its causes, it is difficult to find since you need to have actualized (a great store of) constructive (karmic potential) and it is very rare to have anything constructive on this mental continuum.”     

There are two types of rebirths with a human body: rebirth with a human body with respites and enrichments and rebirth with a mere human body. As for people with a mere human body, in this world and wherever they might be, many have a mere human body. These are not rebirths with a human body with respites and enrichments that is difficult to find. The one that is difficult to find is what is called “a rebirth with a human body with respites and enrichments.” What is said to be difficult to find is a bodily basis that is complete with all eighteen features – one that is parted from the eight states of no leisure and has the conducive circumstances of the five personal enriching situations and the five social enriching situations. That being so, such a body is difficult to find, in terms of its essential nature, complete with the eight respites and ten enrichments.

If you ask what the reasons are for why it is difficult to find in terms of its causes, it is difficult to find from the points of view of causes, numbers, and examples. In terms of its causes, you need to have actualized a great store of constructive karmic potential. Regarding that, for causing you to find rebirth with a human body with respites and enrichments, you need, in previous lives, to have safeguarded totally pure ethical self-discipline and joined that with totally pure prayers for that. But considering what the causes are for finding rebirth with such a human body, then for ordinary people like us, since we have very little constructive potential on our mental continuums, then if we think in terms of its causes, it is really difficult to find.  

“In terms of numbers, in general among the six classes of wandering beings, the lower and lower the class, the more (beings) there are than the higher and higher ones.”

In general, the six classes of wandering beings are the trapped beings in the hell realms, clutching ghosts, animals, humans, celestial beings, and anti-gods. As for the ones that have the most beings, the Vanquishing Master, Bhagavan Buddha, stated in his stainless sutras that the number of trapped beings in the hell realms are like the number of specks of dust in the great world, the number of clutching ghosts like the number of grains of sand along the Ganges River, and the number of animals like the number of grains in a beer barrel – compared to that, a human rebirth of higher status is extremely difficult to find. That being so, the lower the rebirth state among the six classes of wandering beings, the larger the number of beings it has compared to the immediately higher one. 

Except for it having been stated, based on a valid quote from the Buddha, that there are so many trapped beings in the hell realms and so many clutching ghosts, we ordinary beings cannot see that there are with our perception. Nevertheless, the animals are visible to our bare perception. We don’t need to rely on a quote from the Buddha regarding the number of humans and animals. We can establish that with our valid bare perception. 

“But we can see with bare perception the number of insects living in a marsh and in a pile of wood during the summer monsoon. There are not as many people in the entire world. Thus, (a precious human rebirth) is difficult to find.” 

A marsh in the summer monsoon refers to an area that floods with water during the summer monsoon.

“From the point of view of examples, if you throw peas at the side of a wall, it is difficult for any to stick.”

If you throw a handful of raw peas at the smooth face of wall, not even one pea will be able to stick to the wall. It is like that.

“Or it is more difficult than for a turtle to stick its neck through the hole in a yoke tossed about by the wind on the vast sea.”

As Acharya Shantideva says in Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior (IV.20), “Rebirth as a human is so difficult to attain, just as it is for a turtle to stick its neck through the hole in a yoke adrift on the vast sea.” Having seen examples like that,

Therefore, without wasting in any way this (human rebirth) with respites and enrichments, found just once, meditate, thinking, “I shall practice (the pure Dharma) for the sake of my future life and beyond.” 

With this, Gorampa has spoken in a short, condensed way about the difficulty of finding a human rebirth with respites and enrichments. 

Death and Impermanence

Secondly, as for meditation on death and impermanence, after taking safe direction and enhancing your bodhichitta aim as before, meditate, thinking, “I will definitely die, since, having been born, there is no one who has stayed alive forever without dying.” 

This is saying that when this time of having taken birth has come to an end, the finale of birth is death. As Ashvaghosha has said in Special Verses Dispelling Sorrow (Mya-ngan bsal-ba, Skt. Shokavinodana), “If there have been some who were born on the earth or in the higher realms and have never died and you have never seen or heard of any, you should have some doubts.” There has not been anyone who, having been born, has lived with eternal life. They will definitely die.

“Not merely that, but further there is no assurance when I will die or not die. Since the circumstances for dying are many and the circumstances for staying alive are few, I will definitely die.”

There are extremely many circumstances for dying. There are many things that can disrupt your lifespan, like sickness and injury.

“When the time of death arrives, nothing can turn it back, such as medicine or healing rituals. None of these will help when I die and, after death,”

If someone is helped after they die, they are helped by the Dharma. If someone is harmed, they are harmed by their negative karmic potentials.

“Except for Dharma, none of my circle and none of my possessions will follow with me.” Meditate thinking like that and resolve to part with your clinging to this life.

Meditate, thinking, “Now with whatever time I have left, I shall practice what is constructive and build up a store of positive karmic potential.” 

As this is the main method for making your mind go toward the Dharma, then whenever you have good food to eat, good clothes to wear and are surrounded by a large circle of friends, meditate, thinking, “Now I have this and that, like that, but one day I shall have to part with them and go on alone; they have no essence,” and resolve to part with your clinging to the affairs of this life. 

The Vanquishing Master, Bhagavan Buddha, has said, “O monks, someone contemplating on impermanence is making an offering to the Buddhas. Someone contemplating on impermanence is receiving a prediction for their future enlightenment by the Buddhas. Someone contemplating on impermanence is receiving the inspiration of the Buddhas. O monks, among footprints, the supreme one is the footprint of an elephant. Among things to distinguish, the supreme thing to distinguish is impermanence.” Since Buddha has spoken of the reasons here why you should depend on having impermanence solely on your mind all the time, resolve that you yourself will also do like that. 

When you have good food to eat, good clothes to wear, and are surrounded by a large circle of friends and, because of that, are carefree and happy – at such time, without letting yourself become mindless, you should meditate thinking, “Now I am happy, but since, at some point, having parted from my circle of friends and possessions, I will have to go on alone to some unknown place, like a strand of hair pulled from a lump of butter, these things have no essence.” Therefore, Gorampa has said, “Resolve to part from your clinging to the affairs of this life.”

To see whether or not you are a Dharma practitioner, you need to look at whether or not you have parted with clinging to this life. As has been said, if you have not parted with clinging to this life, you are not a Dharma practitioner; but once you have parted from clinging to this life, then you are a Dharma practitioner. If, having entered the Mahayana path, you have hopes, wondering whether you can generate any realizations of the path on your mental continuum, even to a small degree; well, for that, you must definitely part with clinging to this life. 

For example, while I was living in Tibet, I entrusted myself for my studies to many spiritual teachers – lamas from all the traditions in a nonsectarian manner. I had lamas from the Sakya tradition, lamas from the Kagyu tradition, lamas from the Nyingma tradition, and lamas from the Gelug tradition. There was one especially distinguished Geshe, a lama from the Gelug tradition, Losang Chokyi Gawa (Blo-bzang Chos-kyi dga’-ba), from whom I received teachings. With the totally pure ethical self-discipline based on being a fully ordained monk, he lived his entire life exclusively maintaining the fasting retreat (smyung-gnas), completing over 4,000 fasting retreats and repeating over 200 million times the six-syllable mantra of the Great Compassionate Avalokiteshvara.   

I received, from this kind Geshe, discourses on the Tibetan grammar texts by Tonmi Sambhota (Thon-mi Sambhota) – The Thirty (Stanzas on the Consonants) (Sum-bcu-pa) and Engaging with the (Prefix and Suffix) Signs (rTags-‘jug) – as well as on poetics (snyan-ngag) and on the Guru-yoga Hundreds of Deities of Tushita (dGa’ldan lha-brgya-ma), and so on. I also experienced sitting in the fasting retreat with him a few times. 

Once I requested this precious master to impart to me a special quintessence teaching that would lead me further on the path, to which he replied, “For Dharma teachings to lead you on the path, there are many: what are called the preparatory practices on the four thoughts that turn the mind toward the Dharma (blo-ldog rnam-bzhi) in Nyingma, Kagyu and so on, parting from the four clingings in the Three Appearances (sNang-gsum) teachings and so on of the Sakyapas, and the Grand and Lesser Presentations of the Graded Stages of the Path and so on of the Gelugpas. However, what is actually the most important and effective is the line, “If you cling to this life, you are not a Dharma practitioner” from the Sakyapa’s “Parting from the Four Clingings.” It is said that Sakya, Gelug, Kagyu and Nyingma – none have any better preparatory practice than this.

If you are able to genuinely rid yourself of clinging to this life, from then on, based on that, you will be able to generate renunciation, the determination to be free of samsaric rebirth. Based on that, you will you come to develop love and compassion. Not just that, but if you do not genuinely rid yourself of clinging to this life, you won’t come to develop the determination to be free of samsaric rebirth. And even if you develop the determination to be free from samsaric rebirth, you will not come to develop love and compassion. And also, without it, where is the view of impermanence going to come from? Geshe Losang Chokyi  Gawa knew that parting with clinging to this life is the most important and effective teaching. This is something really true. 

If you ask what the methods are like for parting with clinging to this life, they are meditating on the difficulty of finding a precious human rebirth with respites and enrichments, death and impermanence, and karmic cause and effect.

Karmic Cause and Effect

Thirdly, as for meditation on karmic cause and effect, after taking safe direction and enhancing your bodhichitta aim as before, contemplate, “Having obtained a precious human rebirth with respites and enrichments, difficult to find like this, then, since it is impermanent, therefore, before I die, I must abandon every kind of destructive behavior and practice as many constructive deeds as possible. The reason is that the ripening result of the ten types of destructive behavior is rebirth in one of the worse rebirth states.” 

There are three destructive actions of body: (1) taking the life of others, (2) taking what has not been given to us, (3) engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior; four destructive actions of speech: (4) lying, (5) speaking divisively, (6) speaking harshly, (7) chattering meaninglessly; and three destructive actions of mind: (8) thinking covetously, (9) thinking with malice, and (10) thinking distortedly with antagonism. The ten types of destructive behavior are these actions. They have three types of results: (1) ripened results, (2) results that correspond to their causes and (3) commanding results.

As for the ripened result, if you commit these ten destructive actions many times and with strong force, motivated by thoughts of longing desire, hostility or naivety, it is said that you must take rebirth in the worst state of rebirth, the hell realms. If the action is middling, then rebirth as a clutching ghost, and if it has arisen with very weak force and not so frequently, then rebirth as an animal.

“Regarding the results that correspond to their causes, for those that correspond to their causes in my experience, it is explained that these will come about: from taking the life of others, I will have a short life, from taking what has not been given, I will be deprived of my wealth, and so on. As for the results that correspond to their causes in my behavior, it will come about that I will want to repeat again whatever destructive actions I had become habituated to and, as a result of that, it will come about that I will fall to a worse rebirth and so on, with no opportunity to escape. And as for the results from the actions of persons, I will be born in a place that is foul-smelling and has dust storms.” Therefore, contemplate, thinking, “I will definitely abandon (destructive behavior).”
(Then continue), “Likewise, the ripened result of the ten constructive actions is rebirth in the better states of rebirth.

The results from the actions of persons (skyes-bu byed-pa’i ‘bras-bu) concerns the environment into which you are born. It is also called the commanding result (dbang-gi ‘bras-bu) or the dominating result (bdag-‘bras; comprehensive result, overlord result). 

Nagarjuna says in Precious Garland (Rin-chen ‘phreng-ba, Skt. Ratnamala) (I.20), “Longing desire, hostility and naivety and the compulsive karmic impulses those three generate are destructive. Detachment, non-hostility and lack of naivety and the compulsive karmic impulses those generate are constructive.” As this indicates, no matter what kind of compulsive karmic impulse builds up mixed with one of the three poisonous disturbing emotions, it is destructive. For example, if the root of a tree is poisonous, there is no chance that its leaves and fruit will not also be poisonous. On the other hand, if you generate a constructive motivating framework for your actions of body, speech and mind through having, as your motivating emotion, detachment, non-hostility, non-anger or lack of naivety, and you build this up as much as you can, then since the root is medicinal, the leaves, trunk and fruit will also come to be medicinal. Based on that, you will be born in the better rebirth states.

“Regarding the results that correspond to their causes, as for those that correspond to their causes in my experience, from abandoning taking the lives of others, I will have a long life and so on. As for those that correspond to their causes in my behavior, I will want to act in this and that constructive way. As for the results from the actions of persons, I will be born in a pleasant-smelling place, and so on.” 
Therefore, contemplate, thinking, “As these come about, I must definitely put into practice (constructive behavior).”

The most important and effective thing here is now to abandon the ten negative, destructive actions and to put into practice the ten constructive ones. In general, when you enter into the teachings of the Buddha, there are what are called the three types of vowed restraints. There are the pratimoksha vows of individual liberation, those for training to be a bodhisattva, and the close bonding tantric ones – these three sets of vows that remain to be taken. There is much that can be said about each of them. Nevertheless, when you have acquired a good motivation to abandon these ten destructive actions, with a good recognition of what these ten destructive actions are, then, when you do that, it is almost like you are safeguarding most of the pratimoksha, bodhisattva and tantra vows, except for a few special ones among them. Therefore, as is said, it is important to abandon the ten destructive actions and put into practice the ten constructive actions. 

With this excellent commentary condensing its meaning, Gorampa has now explained, “If you cling to this life, you are not a Dharma practitioner.”

When You Have Parted from Clinging to Samsaric Rebirth, You Have Made the Dharma Function as a Pathway of Mind

Concerning the second (parting), “When you have parted from clinging to samsaric rebirth, you have made the Dharma function as a pathway of mind,” contemplate on the disadvantages of uncontrollably recurring samsaric rebirth.

The Disadvantages of Samsaric Rebirth

The line, “If you cling to samsaric rebirth, you do not have renunciation, the determination to be free,” indicates that you need to know the disadvantages of samsaric rebirth.

After taking safe direction and enhancing your bodhichitta aim as before, (contemplate this): “This samsaric existence with its three planes does not go beyond having suffering as its self-nature. In the hot hells, there are the sufferings of your body being burned by fires, slashed by weapons, and so on. In the cold hells, there are the sufferings of extreme cold, and your flesh and bones shatter into pieces. In the neighboring hells, there are the sufferings of being stuck in a pit of flaming molten lava.”

In the neighboring hells, there is also the suffering of climbing up and down trees after loved ones in a grove of trees with razor-sharp leaves. 

“If such types of sufferings were to befall my body, I would not be able to bear even a mere fraction of them.
As for the clutching ghosts, they have the terrible sufferings of hunger, thirst, heat, cold, exhaustion, and fear.”

Let alone not eating food or drinking any liquids for hundreds of thousands of centuries, they don’t even hear the word “food” or “drinks.”

“Animals have many sufferings. Those that live in the depths devour one another, while those that are scattered around are used for labor or exploited.”

There are two kinds of animals: those that live in the depths and those that are scattered around. Those that live in the depths live in the deep oceans. Those that live there devour each another. Those animals with large bodies, like sea monsters and so on whose bodies are many meters long – their bodies are eaten by many small animals. The larger ones swallow the smaller ones in a single gulp.

The ones that are scattered around live in the human world. Horses, sheep, oxen, male yaks, female yaks, goats and tigers – since they are needed by people for their bodies, some are slaughtered for the sake of their meat; some are slaughtered for the sake of their pelts; some, though not slaughtered, are exploited for their milk, and so on. 

Compared to these worse rebirth states, a human rebirth is one of higher status. It is the best alternative and highest physical basis. But humans, as well, endure the worst sufferings – birth, old age, sickness and death. In addition,

“Humans have the sufferings of changing status from high to low, not finding what they wish for, meeting with what they do not wish for, being parted from loved ones, and so forth. These can be seen with bare perception.”

Of those with higher status rebirth – the celestial beings, anti-gods and humans – these gods on the plane of sensory desires are the highest and the happiest. Each one among them has the happiness of carefree enjoyment of the five sensory objects of desire for a very, very long time. Nevertheless, a time comes when the time for their being thrown to this rebirth state is finished.

“The celestial beings, the gods on the plane of sensory desires, as well, when they receive the portents of death and the portents of being close to death, their mental suffering is worse than the physical sufferings of the beings in the hells.”

From meditating with one of the states of mental constancy (dhyana) or of balanced absorption as a cause, you will come to be reborn in your next life as a celestial being on the plane of ethereal objects or as a celestial being on the plane of formless beings. Then for many eons, you will enjoy the bliss of mental stability.

“The gods on the planes of ethereal objects and of formless beings – although they do not have any manifest suffering, nevertheless, since, at some point, they will fall to a lower rebirth and will have the experience of all the various sufferings of the worse rebirth states, uncontrollably recurring samsaric rebirth on the three planes of compulsive existence does not go beyond having a self-nature of suffering.”

Therefore, contemplate, thinking. “After having abandoned all the various states of rebirth, I must attain the topmost achievement of liberation.” 

Gorampa says this over and again. He says, if you can do this, you will also turn back your clinging to this life and will come to develop the thought that samsaric rebirth, as well, has no essence. If you develop that, then it is easy. Based on this, the state of mind will arise wishing to realize liberation. And based on that, meditating on the meaning of selflessness, as well as love and compassion will follow.

Up to here, if correlated with the graded stages of the path of the persons of the three scopes, this completes the paths of persons of initial and middling scopes.

In texts like Tsongkhapa’s Grand Presentation of the Graded Stages of the Path (Lam-rim chen-mo), if it is a Dharma teaching for developing interest in improving your worldly rebirths, it is for someone of initial scope. Based on that, if it is for developing interest in liberation for your own peace and happiness as the topmost achievement, it is for someone of middling scope. Gorampa says here that everything of those paths is complete here when you are able to have contemplated well the difficulty of finding (a human rebirth with) respites and enrichments, death and impermanence, karmic cause and effect, and the disadvantages of uncontrollably recurring samsaric rebirth.

And then, as with the great master Serlingpa’s approach, the four foundational Dharma teachings as the preliminaries are also complete.

The four foundational Dharma teachings (rten-gyi chos-bzhi), which are the first point, the preliminaries, in the seven-point mind training that Serlingpa imparted are, again, (1) the difficulty of finding (a human rebirth with) respites and enrichments, (2) death and impermanence, (3) karmic cause and effect, and (4) the disadvantages of uncontrollably recurring samsaric rebirth.

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