The Sufferings of the Higher Planes of Existence
An actual spiritual person, or Dharma practitioner, is someone who is working to be able to benefit future lifetimes and beyond. Such a person then, on an initial level, would follow the ethics of restraining themselves from the ten destructive actions. They will engage themselves in constructive actions in order to gain better rebirth and so on. Such a person has an initial level of motivation. Taking refuge by putting a safe and positive direction in their life in this way, such a person will, in fact, be able to achieve rebirth as a human or as a god. But just being satisfied with that much is not enough. That is because even if such a person is reborn as a human or as a god, these situations fall within the range of compulsive types of existence, and the kinds of happiness they achieve are forms of happiness that are mundane and perishable.
In fact, all theses states they achieve are just examples of true sufferings or true problems. On the basis of having been reborn as a human or as a god, it is possible to go on and achieve a stilled and settled state of mind, a mind of shamatha, mental quiescence. And, on the basis of having such a stilled and settled mind, it is possible to be reborn in one of the higher planes of existence, one of the higher realms. In such a stage, for instance, if we are reborn on the plane of ethereal forms (the form realm), we don’t have any manifest disturbing emotions or attitudes associated with the plane of sensory desires (the desire realm). Likewise, if we are reborn on the plane of formless beings (the formless realm), we don’t have any manifest disturbing emotions or attitudes associated with the plane of ethereal forms. As we go up these higher and higher planes of being in the various god realms, the states become even more distinguished, one after the next. For instance, the ground in the area where such planes exist is made of jewels. The bodies of the various beings there are exquisite and beautiful, and the various distinguishing features become even more marvelous as we go higher and higher.
However, even if we are born on one of these higher planes of existence, where everything is so lovely and nice, we still have a compulsive type of existence. We still have to experience the uncontrollably recurring problems of samsara. For example, we might be reborn on one of these higher planes, but then the uncontrollably recurring situation happens of falling to a rebirth on a lower plane. Then again we might be reborn on a higher one, going up and down; but, in fact, most of the time we spend in the various worse states of rebirth. This is not a satisfactory situation at all, and is similar for instance, to when we go up to the top of a tall skyscraper: once we get up there, the only thing left to do is to come back down.
We can see that having a rebirth as a human or as a god has no great essence at all and just involves uncontrollably recurring problems. Based on that understanding and realization, a doubt might arise in our minds that maybe there is no need to try to be reborn as such, and that there is no need to keep the ethics of refraining from the ten destructive actions in order to be reborn as a human or as a god. But, the point is not to be satisfied with merely attaining one of these better rebirths, but rather to wish to achieve such a rebirth in order to be better able to benefit others and where we can make further spiritual progress. We won’t be able to do either of those unless we attain such a rebirth.
The Most Favorable Circumstances of a Human Rebirth
If, when we are reborn as a human, we have a long life, with great physical strength, a strong positive influence on others, and a great wealth of resources available to us, this allows us to be of more benefit to others. For instance, if we have a short life, then even if we are intensely interested in the spiritual practices of the Dharma and we devote ourselves to them, it will be very difficult to see all our training and studies through to their end. If we suffer from severe diseases or physical afflictions, this will also handicap us greatly. It may even prevent us from taking robes and becoming a monk or a nun; so it is also very important and helpful to have good health.
Furthermore, if we are reborn in a good family and we’re a very influential person, then we will naturally be able not only to have the circumstances favorable for making progress ourselves, but we will also be in a position in which others will listen to us. We’ll be able to provide incentive to others along their spiritual path. Therefore, if we wish to have that type of human rebirth, it is necessary to build up the various causes that will bring it about. Such causes include paying great respect to our parents and to all those who have great skills and good qualities.
In addition, if we have a very good-looking body and appearance, others will naturally be attracted to us. They will come where we are and will want to listen to what we say. To have that, the causes are, for instance, to meditate on and build up as a habit patience and tolerance, never to get angry, and to make offerings of food, flowers, ornaments and clothing to the various statues and representations of Buddha. Likewise, we need to offer food and clothing to those who are very poor or sick. In this way, we build up the causes for being good-looking.
If we have a great deal of physical stamina and mental willpower and strength, we will be able to accomplish great deeds and be able to see all our practices and endeavors through to their end. The causes for this are to undertake various physical and mental actions that others cannot even conceive of doing and to see these through to completion.
It is also important to have credibility of speech, so that others will take what we say seriously, whether it is humans or gods, or whoever might be listening to us. If we have credibility, it allows us to be of great help to them. The cause for this is to be very honest in whatever we say, not to lie, not to use harsh language, and not to commit any other destructive action of speech. For instance, we might have two persons who say exactly the same words with exactly the same meaning, but people will listen to one and won’t listen to the other. The difference comes from the various types of actions that such persons have done in the past. The one who has frequently lied and spoken empty words and idle chatter – nobody will pay any attention to what he or she says.
There are all these causal actions that bring about these good qualities as a result. Therefore, it is necessary to build up all the causes to be reborn with a human body that has all these distinguishing characteristics. So it is important to perform all these causal actions because, if we are reborn, for instance, in a family or society of criminals or extremely negative people, it will be very difficult for us to overcome this obstacle for our spiritual practice. Even if we ourselves have various excellent qualities, it is important not to have other factors that would hamper us from fully using them. To bring this about, we need to offer various kinds of prayers, such as, “May I always have a precious human rebirth fully endowed with all the positive qualities and favorable conditions. For all my lifetimes, may I never be reborn in situations in which I have a great deal of obstacles to overcome. May I always be in a position to help others and may I never, in any of my lifetimes, be reborn as someone who causes a great deal of harm or trouble to others.” These are the types of prayers that we need to make in order to be reborn with a precious human body having all the positive qualities and the circumstances conducive to using them.
Determination To Be Free of Samsara
But we must not be satisfied merely with achieving a precious human rebirth with all these positive qualities. This is because no matter how splendid such a life might be, it still has uncontrollably recurring problems. In fact, no matter how good it might seem, there are always problems and suffering. Any of these uncontrollably recurring situations that we might be reborn in, situations of samsara, involve nothing but problems. It is necessary to be aware of and think about this: “No matter how wealthy I might be, no matter how many positive things I might have going for me in my life, still I must face many problems.” If we think very seriously about all the different problems and sufferings there are, we will develop the attitude with which we wish to be free from them all. On the basis of that strong wish to be free from all problems and sufferings, we will work toward achieving a state of liberation. And this is something, again, that we can do on the basis of this precious human rebirth that we have.
This subject matter is dealt with here in the text by the stanza:
(5) The splendors of a compulsive existence, even when indulged in, never suffice; the gateway of all problems, they are unfit to make my mind secure. Aware of these pitfalls I request inspiration, to develop a great, avid interest in liberation’s bliss.
The Pitfalls and Problems of Samsara
The first line, “The splendors of a compulsive existence, even when indulged in, never suffice,” refers to the first type of problem all of us inevitably face no matter what rebirth we find ourselves in. The problem that no matter how many splendid things we might have – no matter how much wealth and pleasure we might have – nobody every feels it’s enough; it never suffices. It is like when we are very thirsty and drink salt water: no matter how much salt water we drink, it is not going to quench our thirst. It is the same thing when someone has a great deal of pleasures and so on. Because they are bound in the uncontrollably recurring situation of samsara, they never feel that they have enough. They always want more and more. When someone achieves a high position or rank, they never feel that it’s high enough; they always want to strive for a higher and higher position. This is a situation that everyone finds: no matter how much wealth they have, no matter how many things they have accumulated or built up, everybody wants to get more and more. But all these things just perish in the end. No matter how much we accumulate or build up, it’s going to fall apart.
The more we have, the more problems it gives us, as it says here, it is “the gateway of all problems.” For instance, if we have a fortune of a million pounds, then we have all the worries associated with keeping it, with not losing it, and so on. It just gives us a great deal of worry. There are some people who have only five or six pounds, just enough to buy a meal, and they are quite happy with this. Their minds are free. Whereas there are some people who have a great deal of money, yet they just hold on to it very tightly and are unwilling to spend and enjoy even five or six pounds. So the more we have, the more and more problems it tends to bring: we become miserly and so on.
And no matter how many friends and acquaintances we have around us, the final outcome of gathering friends together is that everyone departs and goes home. The final outcome of anything coming together is that it comes apart and things go their own way. No matter how high we go, the natural outcome is coming back down. For instance, when this castle we are in was built, it was a very beautiful edifice, and then through time it has fallen into ruin. Things like this, as it says in the text, “are unfit to make my mind secure.” No matter how splendid something might be, it only has pitfalls.
There are various other problems that are also found no matter what kind of rebirth state we find ourselves in. There is the problem of never having satisfaction. That was already mentioned. There is also the problem of there never being any certainty in life. Someone can be a great official, in a very high position and then, at the end of their life, fall into ruin and become very poor. This is something we can see happening even within someone’s very lifetime. And likewise, someone who might be a friend in the early part of our lives can turn into our worst enemy later on in life. Likewise, someone we hated in the beginning of our life and considered our enemy can change and become our best friend later. So, likewise, there is no certainty of status of anyone being a friend or an enemy. In addition, no matter how much desire we might have for certain things to happen, or to obtain certain things, we frequently have great difficulties in getting what we want and the opposite usually happens. In fact, it seems that all the things that we don’t want just shower down upon us.
The Sufferings of a Human Rebirth
Speaking just about humans and the sufferings they experience, there are all the problems of growing old and being elderly. As we get older and older, we get worse and worse sicknesses. This is something that we can all see clearly with our own eyes. There are also the sufferings and problems of being ill. This is something we can also see all around us: there are plenty of sick people. When we ourselves become sick, we experience all the suffering and unhappiness of being ill, the same as other people do.
There is also the terrible suffering that befalls us at the time of death. No matter how good the medicine or the doctors at the hospital that we are in at the time of death might be, none of them are of any help. At that time, the unhappiness and suffering that we experience is the worst type of suffering that we will have. If there were no such thing as future rebirth, that would be fine. That would be the end of it when we die, but in fact that is not so. There are future rebirths. We have to take one.
Before we take rebirth, we die, and immediately after that, we pass into the in-between state, the bardo. There, if we have built up a great deal of negative potentials, we are going to experience many frightening things and be terrified and suffer greatly. No matter how much we have worked in our life trying to build up material security around us by accumulating a great deal of wealth and possessions, at the time of death we are going to have to leave them all behind. We can’t take anything with us – no friends, companions or relatives; nobody can come with us. We have to go into the in-between period alone, by ourselves. Having built up a great deal of negative potentials all our life, we will find it an extremely terrifying experience. The suffering that we will have there will be very bad.
As for the beings in this in-between period, we will have the form of a human about the size of an eight-year-old child. The in-between state for this lifetime has already passed; it was before we took birth. The in-between period that we will face after our death is the in-between period before our next rebirth. So if we were to be reborn again as a human being, then during that in-between state after we die, we will take a form similar to that which we will have in our next life. This is because the in-between state of existence and the next rebirth state of existence are both thrown by the same throwing karma that propels us into our future rebirth.
Just for auspicious reasons, I have been speaking in terms of being a human being in this lifetime and being born in our next lifetime also as a human being. But obviously, that is not always the case. We can pass from any rebirth state into any other. But, if we are to be reborn as a human again, at the end of this in-between state of existence, we will have to go through the existence of the moment of conception. We will then find ourselves inside a mother’s womb, and the suffering and unhappiness that we will have there are very intense. We will be shut up and confined in this small space for a period of more than nine months – nine months and ten days. If we think of being shut up now in a very tiny closet with no windows and no doors for nine months, just think how unhappy we would be – how much we wouldn’t like to be confined like that for that period of time. Just like that, when we think about it, the suffering of being confined in a womb is awful.
Then, think about all the problems that an infant has to face. It is no fun being a baby: we can’t talk, we can’t walk, and we have no control over our bowels. We soil ourselves all the time and it is no fun at all. Then, as we get a little bit older, as a child we have to go through the whole process of going to school. That, as well, has lots of problems and isn’t very pleasant.
These are the types of situation that uncontrollably recur. We go through this cycle over and again. That is what samsara is all about, uncontrollably recurring existence. And even if we are reborn over again as a human being, we are going to have to go through this uncontrollably recurring cycle again and again. Sometimes things will work out okay and other times they won’t. In fact, most times things won’t work out very nicely. In fact, our lives will just be filled with problems and sufferings. If we have things – money, possessions, friends, fame, and so on – we are going to have problems concerned with having and keeping them, and if we don’t have these various things that we want, we will have problems of not having them and wishing we had them. In short, no matter which way it is, whether we have things or not, we lose out; we still have problems and suffering.
The True Source of All Problems
Now, the thing to look at is this: What are the causes, what is the root, of all these various sufferings and problems? If it were the case that the problems had no cause at all, there would be no way of getting rid of them. But in fact they do have a cause. If we ask, “What is the root or what is the thing that all our problems rest upon?” we will see that they all come from the true sources of all problems and suffering, namely our impulsive behavior and our disturbing emotions and attitudes. The chain of our problems all comes about because we act impulsively, and that is karma. We act impulsively because we have various disturbing emotions and attitudes or delusions. Where do these come from? They all arise because we grasp at things as if they existed in impossible ways – for instance, as if they had true, findable, inherent identities established independently, from their own sides. This type of unawareness or ignorance with which we grasp at things as if they had true findable identities is the root of all our problems. When we grasp in this way, it causes everything to go wrong; this is the root of all our problems and sufferings.
The Buddha himself turned the wheel of the Dharma three times and set flow three rounds of transmission of the preventive measures. This is quite well known. The first round of transmission concerned the four facts seen as true by highly realized beings, the Four Noble Truths. Of the four facts that are seen as true by highly realized beings, by aryas, the first of these are true problems or true sufferings; the second of these is the true source of all problems or sufferings, namely impulsive behavior and disturbing emotions. These come about from grasping at things as if they had true identities.
Ridding Ourselves of Grasping for True Identities
In fact, things to do not have any true, findable, inherent identities established independently from their own sides. When we project that things have such identities, when in fact they do not, and believe that what we perceive is true, this is what is meant here when we speak of grasping at things as if they had true identities. This is distorted cognition, because it is grasping at something impossible that does not exist at all; there is no such thing as true identities. To try to grasp at things as if there were such identities is distorted. It does not refer to anything real; it does not correspond with reality. Therefore, if we can develop the understanding that there is no such thing as true identities, that will be the direct opponent to the unawareness or ignorance with which we would grasp at things as if there were. So the understanding and mind with which we realize that there is no such thing as true identities will adversely affect the type of attitude with which we grasp at things as if they did have such identities.
If we ask, “How can that understanding affect that distorted attitude?” it is because when we have strongly built up as a beneficial habit of mind the realization that there is no such thing as true identities, we will automatically eliminate this attitude with which we grasp at things as if there were. That is because the belief that something exists and the realization that it does not exist and never has existed are mutually exclusive. Through this process, when we no longer grasp at things as if they had true identities, we will no longer have any disturbing emotions or attitudes.
It is like when we cut the roots of a tree, the tree falls down and leaves and branches will no longer grow. When we eliminate this grasping at things as if they had true identities, it eliminates all the 84,000 types of disturbing emotions and attitudes that would arise from this misconception of reality. In other words, since the 84,000 disturbing attitudes all arise from grasping at things as if they had true identities, when we realize that there is no such thing as such identities, that pulls out and eliminates this root of all suffering. So the understanding that there is no such thing as true identities is the actual root for liberation. It is therefore extremely beneficial to accustom ourselves to this understanding and build it up as a beneficial habit. Then all our problems and sufferings will stop arising.
The Purifying and Disturbing Pairs within the Four Noble Truths
This state in which all our problems have stopped arising, this state of the absence or cessation of our problems, is known as a “true stopping,” a “true cessation.” If we ask, “How are these problems gotten rid of; how is this state of the true stopping of problems achieved?” it is achieved through a path of mind with which we understand that there is no such thing as a true identity with regard to anything. Such understanding is a true path of mind – the fourth noble truth. Therefore, the thing that causes the stopping of all our problems is a path of mind with which we have the discriminating awareness with which we see there is no such thing as true identities – in other words, the discriminating awareness of the voidness or total absence of true identities. This true path of mind is a cause that brings about as its result a true stopping of our problems, such that they never recur again. So, the true paths of mind and the true stoppings are set as the former being a cause and the latter being a result.
But we have to distinguish carefully what type of result a true stopping is. It is a result of a separation, which is a specific type of result. It is not the type of result that is produced or collected by causes and conditions, like the attainment of that true stopping is. Rather, the true stopping itself is the type of result that is a static unconditioned phenomenon. As a separational result, it is a static absence of something that does not depend on causes and conditions and it never changes.
So, true stoppings and true paths of mind are the purifying side of the four facts seen as true, the Four Noble Truths. And when we look at the disturbing side of these truths, this refers to the first two truths. Here, the true causes of all problems are set as a cause, and the true problems themselves are the result.
There is a mantra called “the essence of dependent arising” (rten-‘brel snying-po) that we frequently recite: Om ye dharma hetu prabhava, hetun teshan tathagathohya vadate, teshanca yo nirodha, evam vadi maha-shramanaye svaha. It is a Sanskrit sentence that means: “Om, whatever phenomena have originated from a cause, the Thusly Gone One has in fact spoken of the cause of them; and whatever is the stopping of them has been likewise spoken of by the Great Ascetic, Svaha.” This mantra refers to these two cause and effect relationships within the Four Noble Truths.
The Buddha achieved a state of total clear-mindedness and fully evolvement – he achieved enlightenment. Once he achieved enlightenment himself, he taught his various disciples the way to achieve liberation from all their sufferings too. He taught them these four facts seen as true by highly realized beings. If we follow these teachings and instructions concerning the Four Noble Truths, it is possible to actually achieve a state of liberation just as the Buddha has.
Taking Interest in Achieving Liberation
We have seen that all problems are something that we certainly don’t want, and all of us certainly want to have happiness. Moreover, we want to have the type of happiness that is long lasting and stable. The only type of happiness that is like that is the happiness of achieving a state of liberation – freedom from all our sufferings and problems. We not only have an interest in achieving liberation from samsara, but also we are convinced that liberation is something that actually can come about. But, the achievement of a state of liberation from suffering doesn’t come about from no cause at all. Rather, it comes about definitely from a cause: the cause is gaining the discriminating awareness with which we see that there is no such thing as a true identity to anything. If we gain that understanding and thus bring about the cause for liberation by developing that discriminating awareness, we can actually achieve the happiness that we had desired. We can achieve the long-lasting state of happiness, the happiness of a state of total liberation from all our problems and sufferings. If we wish to achieve this state of liberation, we need to develop an avid interest in it.
How do we develop this avid interest? How do we actually achieve this state? It is, first of all, through having what is known as “higher discriminating awareness,” sometimes called “training in higher wisdom.” In order to gain this training, we need to have training in higher absorbed concentration beforehand. And, in order to gain that, we need training in higher ethical self-discipline first. Ethical self-discipline and absorbed concentration act as the stable foundation for gaining higher discriminating awareness. This training in higher ethical self-discipline entails keeping the various sets of restraints for individual liberation – the pratimoksha vows.
The Vowed Restraints for Individual Liberation and the Importance of Keeping Ethics
(6) I request inspiration to take to heart, with mindfulness, alertness, and great care, induced by this pure motivating thought, the practices for individual liberation, the root of the teachings.
There are eight sets of vowed restraints for individual liberation – three for householders and five for those who have taken robes. Of those five sets of vows for people have taken robes, there is the set for full monks, with two hundred and fifty-two vowed restraints. The ordination lineage for full nuns in the Mulasarvastivadin tradition of vows followed in Tibet is no longer extant, but then there are the two sets of vowed restraints for novice monks and novice nuns, and also the set of vows for probationary nuns. There are also the two sets of lay person’s vows – those for laymen and laywomen, and then also the one-day vows. So there are eight different levels of vowed restraints for individual liberation. Whichever ones we promise to keep, we need to do so very purely and seriously, even at the cost of our lives. Whatever type of ethical discipline we commit ourselves to and promise to uphold – even if it is just following the ethical self-discipline of restraining ourselves from the ten destructive actions – we need to uphold very purely and carefully. Keeping ethical self-discipline in this way is the root of all the attainments that the Buddha has indicated. It can bring about the individual liberation of whoever upholds these various vowed restraints. Therefore, they are called “the vowed restraints for individual liberation.” That is the meaning of the Sanskrit word for them, pratimoksha.
If we don’t keep any type of decent ethical discipline or morality, there is no way that we can be reborn as a human or even as a god. For instance, even if we practice great generosity – let’s say we have a room like this full of money and possessions and we give them out to thousands of people every day – still, if we haven’t been a moral person and kept decent ethical self-discipline, then as a result of our generosity we may be reborn wealthy, but not necessarily as a wealthy human. We could be reborn in one of the worse rebirth states, for instance as a wealthy animal, such as a naga (a half-human and half-serpent type of creature) or as a hungry ghost that has a great deal of possessions and jewels. There are hungry clutching ghosts, for instance, that live in palaces made of gold. But, because of the power of their having been so miserly, they are obliged to cut off pieces of their own flesh and eat them, because they have nothing else to eat. Such things exist and they come about as a result of being generous while not being ethical.
But if we did the same types of generous acts while also keeping very strict ethical self-discipline, then as a result we will be reborn as a human being and be able to enjoy a great deal of wealth. Further, we will be able to use these resources that we have to continue being a giving person, and to build up stronger and stronger positive potentials to continue and make further spiritual progress. So our generous and ethical behavior will give fruits over and over again. Whereas, if we are generous without being ethical, then the result is not being reborn as a human, but in one of the worse states. What we have done will just give one result in terms of the wealth that we might have in these worse states and we won’t be in a position to accumulate any further positive potential on that basis.
Following ethical self-discipline and training completely, down to the tiniest detail of what the Buddha taught, is, of course, the best way to practice the Dharma. But even if we cannot do that, if we follow the root types of ethics that were taught by the Buddha, we will be born among the circle of disciples of the next universal teacher, the fifth Buddha of this eon, Maitreya. This is a special distinguishing feature that the Buddha has indicated.
Ethical self-discipline, then, is the heart or essence of all the Buddhist practices. In order to gain liberation, we need the training in higher discriminating awareness, with which we understand that there is no such thing as true identities. In order to gain that, we need the training in higher absorbed concentration. And in order to gain that, we need the training in higher ethical self-discipline. This is what was discussed in that last verse.
Summary of the Intermediate Scope of Motivation
Now we have made great progress from where we started as someone of initial scope. Before, we were just interested in improving our future lifetimes and in being reborn as a human or a god. But now we see that no matter where we are reborn, it only has uncontrollably recurring problems. We have developed a wish to gain liberation from all problems and sufferings whatsoever. This is the intermediate level of motivation, with which we wish to gain a state of liberation from all uncontrollably recurring situations of samsara.
If we develop these various paths of the mind indicated here, we can cut through the root of all our problems. We can actually achieve the state of liberation of a liberated being. In short, if we engage in all the practices indicated here and do so for the sake of achieving liberation ourselves from our own individual problems, that is the actual level of motivation of someone of intermediate scope.
The Need for Going Further, to an Advanced Level of Motivation
But it is not sufficient to be free of all of our problems just ourselves. Sure, it is very lovely and nice to be a liberated being, an Arhat, and have no disturbing emotions or attitudes. We have all sorts of powers of extrasensory perception, the five different powers of emanation and so on, but it will never do just to be free of problems by ourselves alone. So, just as ordinary people are not satisfied with what they have, a spiritual practitioner thinking about the situation of just freeing themselves would not be satisfied with that; it is not enough.
The problem, here, is that we aren’t able, in this merely liberated state, to fulfill the purposes of everybody else, of all the other limited beings, all sentient beings. And how will we be actually able to help everyone else with limited minds and bodies? The only way we can help these limited beings is if we ourselves become totally clear-minded and fully evolved, if we ourselves become a Buddha. Merely being a liberated being, an Arhat, is not enough. As an Arhat, we still don’t have the ability to help everybody.
Why is it that, as a liberated being, we are still unable to fulfill the purposes of everybody else? Yes, it is true that we have, in this state, eliminated all the obscurations that come from disturbing emotions and attitudes – we have no more disturbing emotions or attitudes. But there is another set of obscurations besides the emotional ones. There are two sets of obscuration, in fact, and we haven’t eliminated the second of these – the cognitive obscurations concerning all knowable things. Because we still have obscurations concerning all knowable things and preventing omniscience, we haven’t even fulfilled our own purposes perfectly. If we haven’t done that and achieved the highest state that we ourselves can achieve, how can we possibly be able to do that for others? And how is it that we haven’t fulfilled our own purposes? It is that even if we have achieved a state of liberation, we still haven’t realized our highest and fullest potential; we haven’t achieved the state of a Buddha.
General Definition of a Dedicated Heart of Bodhichitta
What is the need for achieving a state of enlightenment? What is the need for achieving a state of total clear-mindedness and full evolvement, a state of total purification and complete growth? The reason for achieving these things is to be able to help everybody else as much as is possible. When we develop full dedication to that aim, that state of mind is what is known as a dedicated heart of bodhichitta. What we are aimed at, then, is the purposes of all other beings and what we are intending to do is to fulfill those purposes as best as is possible. In addition, our minds are focused on our own individual future enlightenment, which we have not yet attained, but which we can attain, and when we do attain it, will enable us to fulfill all the purposes of others. If we don’t have a dedicated heart aimed in this way, we haven’t achieved any type of vast-minded Mahayana vehicle of mind. Even if we have gained a correct understanding of voidness or reality, if we don’t have this dedicated heart of bodhichitta, we won’t be able to achieve the full state of a Buddha.
This type of dedicated heart of bodhichitta is something we have to work up to. Developing this dedication sincerely is not something we can just get in an instant like pushing a button. So, what does this type of dedicated heart of bodhichitta rely on? It relies on compassion as its basis or root. And so great compassion is the main thing that we have to meditate on first and build up as a beneficial habit of mind.
What is compassion? It is a state of intense loving concern, with which we wish for everybody to be free from his or her problems or unhappiness. That is compassion. The wish for everybody to be happy is what is known as “love.” And when we have an attitude, thinking, “I myself am going to do something about it; I myself am going to work to bring everybody happiness and remove everyone’s suffering,” that state of mind is called “an exceptional resolve.” But even if we have this state with which we resolve that we ourselves are going to bring everybody happiness and remove all their suffering, in fact we don’t have that ability. Well, who does? Only a fully enlightened Buddha, someone who is totally clear-minded and fully evolved, has that ability. So then, when we dedicate our heart to being able to achieve that state in order to be able to actually benefit everyone, bring them happiness and remove their suffering, that is what is known as a dedicated heart of bodhichitta.
The state of exceptional resolve and the dedicated heart are both the results that follow from having great compassion, while love is its cause. It is very important to build up compassion as a beneficial habit of mind – in other words, to meditate on it – because it will act as the root to bring about these great states of mind and heart. If we build up compassion as a beneficial habit of mind, this will automatically purify us of a great amount of negative potential that we might have previously built up.
Asanga’s Development of Compassion
Of the two great pioneers of the vast-minded Mahayana teachings, one was Asanga. He spent a great deal of effort for years trying to gain realization so that he could actualize and directly behold the Buddha-figure Maitreya. The place where he did this retreat was near Nalanda Monastery, very close to Vulture’s Peak, in a cave. For twelve years he did intensive practice to actualize Maitreya. He practiced first for three years, and then gave up and went back down, and then he went back to the cave and continued for another three years. He continued like that in spurts of three years for a total of twelve.
When he came back down from the cave quite disgusted after twelve years with no results, he saw a large dog that had a terrible type of skin disease – a condition in which it had no fur on its body, just raw skin with open gaping wounds filled with maggots on the lower part of its body. Still, the dog was barking very fiercely. Seeing this dog in such a wretched condition, Asanga developed a great compassion for it, because looking at it, not only did it have no fur, but its skin was full of terrible wounds. And not only that, the wounds were infected with maggots, crawling all over them, and looking absolutely horrible. So, moved by his compassion for this poor animal, he decided to try to do something. He went into the local town and got a sharp knife. He came back out and wanted to remove the maggots from the dog, but in a way that the maggots would not die. So he cut off some of his own flesh and put it down on the ground as an alternative source of food on which to place the maggots he removed from the dog. He didn’t want to hurt the maggots by taking them off the dog with his fingers, so he bent down to gently remove them from the sores on the dog with his tongue.
He closed his eyes, bent down, and stuck out his tongue to try to remove the maggots, but he was never able to make contact with the dog. He opened his eyes and saw before him, where the dog had been, Maitreya himself, in all his splendor. He took hold of Maitreya’s robe and asked, “I have been working hard for twelve years trying to gain a vision of you. How come I was never able to do that until now?” Maitreya said, “Well, I’ve been right here with you all this time over the twelve years. It’s just that you’ve been too blind to be able to see me. Your mind has been too obscured. But the circumstance of your great compassion has acted as a cause to remove those obscurations, so now you are able to see me. As proof that I’ve been there right in front of you all this time, look here at the bottom of my robes. Here is all the spittle and snot that you’ve brought up over the years, resting right here on my robe.”
Asanga was so delighted now at actually having seen Maitreya that he placed Maitreya on his shoulders and went into the town, which was quite a large town, and paraded around shouting out to everybody, “Everybody come out and see the glorious Maitreya!” People came out, but nobody was able to see anything on Asanga’s shoulders. They all said, “Poor Asanga, he has been working so hard at his intensive practices. He has gone quite mad.” Then Maitreya took Asanga with him up to Tushita Pure Land. There he taught him the five scriptures of Maitreya, after which Asanga brought them back down to the earth. The lineage of the extensive practice comes from this.
This is what is indicated here in the verse:
(7) Just as I have fallen into the ocean of compulsive existence, so, too, have all wandering beings – they have been my mothers. Seeing this, I request inspiration to grow to a supreme bodhichitta aim to take responsibility to free these wandering beings.
This verse deals with someone of an advanced scope of motivation. First, when we were had an initial level of motivation, we thought about all the sufferings of death and being reborn in one of the worse states of existence. Then, when we progressed to someone of the intermediate level of motivation, we thought about all the problems and sufferings involved in any uncontrollably recurring situation of samsara and we developed a determination to be free from them all: we developed renunciation.
There are two types of determination to be free: there is the determination to be free of problems with which we turn away from obsession with things of this lifetime and there is the determination to be free with which we turn away from our obsession with things in future lives. When we develop this second type of determination to be free, on the basis of having thought about all our own problems and what it would be like for us to be free from them, we then turn that determination around from being focused on ourselves to being focused on all others and we think about everybody else’s problems. The determination to be free in this way will become a state of determination for everyone to be free from their sufferings and problems. In this way, we develop a state of great compassion, with which we wish for everyone else to be free from his or her suffering. This great compassion will act as a basis from which we can move in the direction of gaining an exceptional resolve of taking responsibility for others’ welfare and a dedicated heart of bodhichitta, with which we dedicate ourselves to fulfilling the purposes of all others and to achieving a state of enlightenment in order to do so. These are the progressive stages through which we train ourselves.
We shall continue tomorrow with the remaining points referred to here as we expand further on this verse.