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Techniques for Improvement
All of us have attained a human life; we are, in a sense, incomparable among the various types of sentient beings as we are able to think about many topics with a subtler mind and are endowed with vaster capabilities. Dogs, birds, and so forth do communicate, but only humans can settle and ascertain deep topics on the basis of words; it is obvious that there are no other sentient beings capable of as many thoughts and techniques. Nowadays, humans are engaging in many activities that were not even objects of thought a century or two ago. The metaphors of the poets of the past, such as `the wonderful house of the moon', are becoming actualities.
Still, it is definite that we must die and prior to death must all suffer inadequacies, whether in terms of resources or our own bodies. Our sources of happiness and welfare are essentially our body, companions, and the use of resources gaining happiness in dependence on good food, clothing, companions, and conversation. These are said to be sources of happiness and comfort, but are in fact sources of suffering.
After our conception a body which is a basis of suffering is formed. When we gather relatives, friends, and companions, we form the basis for the suffering of losing them. We make effort over our whole lifetime, thinking `May I be happy and comfortable', hoping for the arising of happiness and comfort, and temporarily we achieve a little superficial pleasure. However, in terms of their own inner nature all these means serve as bases of suffering. In essence, wemust all spend our lives suffering either physically or mentally. The mass of people suffer in terms of food, shelter, and clothing and even those who have these suffer mentally.
In general, the countries of the East have had less material progress and thus have great suffering from poverty. In the West, though poverty is not severe, there is the suffering of worry and not knowing satisfaction. In both East and West, many persons spend their lives in jealousy and competition; some think only of money, and when they meet with conditions unfavourable to their wish develop a dislike or enmity for these unfavourable circumstances from the very orb of their heart. Within and between countries people are disturbed, not trusting and believing each other, having to spend their lives in continual lies and deceit. Since the most we can live is a hundred years, what point is there in spending our lives in jealousy, deceit, and competition?
People have made great effort right up to this century, thinking to become free from suffering, but we cannot point to even one person in the world, no matter how rich he or she is, who has no worry except for those who have the inner happiness of renouncing the material way of life. Without internal renunciation it is difficult to achieve happiness and comfort.
Seeing that the people of the world could not achieve happiness solely in terms of food and clothing, many teachers including Buddha whether they were capable or not of presenting `the final mode of existence of phenomena set forth teachings for the achievement of happiness and comfort in terms of the mind inner happiness. Among these the best is the doctrine of dependent-arising of Buddha, the King of Subduers, who taught it to others exactly as he knew it, in accordance with their dispositions, interests, and beliefs. Born in the Shakya clan over 2,500 years ago in India, the country of Superiors, he established limitless sentient beings in the path of liberation through the sport of his speech. Among the many religious systems of the world the doctrine that he taught is without parallel.
Although it may seem, when we superficially look at it, that happiness and comfort can be achieved in dependence on external factors, in fact, if one's mind is tamed, there is happiness and comfort even as a householder. If one's mind is not tamed, there is no happiness and comfort even as a monk or a scholar learned in doctrine.
The essence of the 84,000 bundles of doctrine is just to tame this wild mind, not letting it go under the influence of the afflictions desire, hatred, and ignorance. When the mind is no longer polluted by afflictions or their latent predispositions, then its taming is complete. The aged should engage in a method suited for old age; the young, in one suited for youth; the learned, in a method suited for the learned, and those not so learned, in one suited to their abilities.
Religion does not mean just precepts, a temple, monastery, or other external signs, for these as well as hearing and thinking are subsidiary factors in taming the mind. When the mind becomes the practices, one is a practitioner of religion, and when the mind does not become the practices one is not.
Do we not see among our acquaintances that their happiness is proportionate to the extent to which they have tamed their minds? Also, considering ourselves, is it not the case that as much as we tame our minds, so much do we have happiness and comfort? We have happiness of mind and freedom from anxiety to just the degree that our minds are tamed. To that same degree are unsalutary deeds of body and speech lessened; as much as they are lessened, so much is lessened the accumulation of bad karma. As much as that diminishes, so much does hope of ending cyclic existence arise.
At this time, when we have a physical life-support of a human such that we are capable of many techniques and thoughts, it is very important to engage in religious practice. It is our own choice to have no belief, faith, interest, or wish to practise. Buddha did not forcibly say, `You must practise'. The great commentators will not bring guns and swords. We must ascertain the need for religion with reasoning. Once we want happiness and do not want suffering, we should engage in the means to achieve happiness and eliminate suffering. Practice is based on reasoning, not force; it is up to oneself.
Indeed, if we think about it, happiness of mind comes with religious practice. No matter how much goes wrong, one reflects that this is the nature of cyclic existence, that these are irreversible effects of actions accumulated in the past, that, even if the Blessed Buddha were here himself, he could not stop the unfolding of these effects. One reflects on the cause and effect of actions and the nature of cyclic existence, and, if capable of more thought, one engages in meditation, giving away whatever happiness one has and assuming the sufferings of other sentient beings, having thought about the faults of cherishing oneself and the advantages of cherishing others. It is confirmed by our own experience that as much as one can engage in such thoughts, so much is there peace of mind; therefore, methods for taming the mind are extremely valuable.
The time for engaging in these techniques is now. Some feel, `I did not succeed in this lifetime; I will ask a lama for help in my future life.' To think that we will practise in the future is only a hope. It is foolish to feel that the next life will be as suitable as this. No matter how bad our condition is now, since we have a human brain, we can think; since we have a mouth, we can recite mantra. No matter how old one may be, there is time for practice. However, when we die and are reborn, we are unable even to recite `om mani padme hum.' Thus, it is important to make all effort possible at this time when we have obtained the precious physical life-support of a human.
Religious activities involve mixing the mind with the practices causing the mind to become the practices. Among these the lowest is to turn away from the marvels of this lifetime and seek to provide for the next lifetime. One should also turn away from the marvels of future lifetimes and seek to become liberated from cyclic existence entirely, thinking from the depths of the heart, `How nice it would be if I did not have to take rebirth by the power of contaminated actions and afflictions!' Then one identifies ignorance as the root of cyclic existence and seeks by overcoming ignorance to attain a state of liberation. This is a middling mode of the mind's becoming religious practice; it is very good the internal motivation is steady and decided.
Then, not just thinking of oneself, one realises that all sentient beings, self and others, equally want happiness and do not want suffering. Oneself is just one; others are as vast as space and, therefore, should be cherished more than oneself. Based on this, one generates a mind wishing to free all sentient beings from suffering and the causes of suffering and, motivated by that aspiration, seeks from the depths of the heart to attain Buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings. This is the highest mode of the mind's becoming religious practice.
At the least, one must have turned away from this lifetime; there is no way without reversing attachment to this life. Death is definite, but the time of death indefinite. We make many plans for the future, but there is no certainty that we can carry them out. Even monks and nuns plan this and that, to go here or there, to meet acquaintances, and so forth; yet there is no certainty that before carrying out these plans we will not see the time of death.
Since the choice is in our own hands, we should make sure, using our past experience as an example, that the months ahead are not wasted. There is no way to return the years that have already passed. We cannot say, `I have erred', and exchange those years. Wasted time is gone. If we ourselves do not take care, then, even if someone at our side attempts to force us, he cannot help at all.
We may not wish to engage in religious practice or we may wish to but because of our own fault postpone it, but we are not bereft of a religion to practise. Within Buddhism, the most profound is Mahayana; within Mahayana the most profound is Secret Mantra; and common to all four tantras is deity yoga, which contains within it the important essentials of the entire path. Transmitted from Vajradhara, deity yoga was formulated in India on the basis of much profound thought. Being the simultaneous unification of method and wisdom in one consciousness the appearance of oneself as a deity, such as Vairochana, coupled with realisation of emptiness it is the essence of tantra. Merely ascertaining the significance of deity yoga aids the mental continuum, not to speak of the immeasurable improvement that occurs through incorporating it into daily practice.
Excerpted from Deity Yoga by H.H. the Dalai Lama, Tsong-ka-pa and Jeffrey Hopkins. Copyright © 1981 by George Allen Unwin, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.