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The Buddhist Archives of Dr. Alexander Berzin

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General Introduction to the Initial Scope
Teachings of the Graded Path (Lam-rim)

Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche I
translated by Alexander Berzin
edited by Samaya Hart
Huizen, Holland, May 1980

[Lightly edited transcript of an incomplete recording]

Day One: Spiritual Teachers, Precious Human Life, Death and Impermanence

[The recording of the beginning of the lecture is missing; this transcript is therefore incomplete.]

Healthy Relationships with Spiritual Teachers

It is very important for the disciple to examine and check the lama very carefully before studying with him. Don’t go just because a famous teaching is being given. You have to examine the lama very carefully. It is said in a text, that it takes about twelve years for the master and disciple to check each other to see whether they can establish a proper relationship. Although this is the case, that is actually a very long time, and there are many shortcomings in taking so long.

There is the example of a great Sakya master who was invited to China to teach the emperor. The emperor examined him for a period of nine years before finally deciding to study with him. After the nine years, he asked him to teach. When the master asked him, “Why did you wait nine years before asking for teachings?" the emperor said, “I was checking you this whole time.” The master replied, “Now I will take another nine years to examine you!” In fact, it turned out that he was never able to teach the emperor. If you wait too long, that can happen.

As for how to examine a lama these days, the first point can be made with these two questions: What type of feeling did you get when you first met the master? Did your mind immediately become very happy, or did nothing happen at all? Also, when you just heard the name of the master for the first time, did it make you feel happy, or not? The second point is when you first went to meet the master, was he actually there, or not? Sometimes, when people go for the first time to meet a master, the master is not at home. That is not a very auspicious sign. The third point is to listen to what others say about the spiritual master, and hear various opinions. Even though it is difficult for spiritual masters to have all the proper qualifications, the main points are that they need to have a very warm and kind heart, a very intense loving concern for everyone, and they need to be honest.

It is very important to make a proper examination of the spiritual master or lama before going to study with them. Don’t just get excited when you hear that some lama is coming, and go without giving it any thought. That is not at all proper. But once you have committed yourself wholeheartedly to a spiritual master, it is no longer the proper time to have doubts and check up on him or her.

In the past, translators and people from Tibet, like the great translator Marpa, went through a great many difficulties to gather gold to travel to India and meet spiritual masters. Milarepa, who studied with Marpa, had to build a nine-story tower by himself, by hand. He carried the rocks on his back, and developed terrible sores. He experienced a great deal of pain. Even after he built the tower, Marpa would not give him any initiations or teachings. Marpa had another disciple called Ngog Choku-dorjey (rNgog Chos-sku rdo-rje) who had requested Chakrasamvara initiation. He lived about one day’s horse ride away. When the tower was finished, Marpa’s wife Dagmeyma (bDag-med-ma) gave birth to a son named Darma-dodey (Dar-ma mdo-sde). In celebration of the birth of his son, as well as a celebration of Milarepa’s finishing the nine-story tower, Marpa sent a message to Ngog Choku-dorjey saying that he was going to give a Chakrasamvara initiation, and that he needed to come for that.

When Ngog Choku-dorjey arrived, he brought everything that he owned as an offering to Marpa. Among his possessions, he had a goat that had broken its leg and couldn’t walk. He left it behind. Marpa said, “What’s the matter? You didn’t bring the other goat? I went through such terrible trouble to go to India three times to get these teachings, and this is a very precious initiation. You’ll have to go back and get the goat.” When Marpa gave the initiation of Chakrasamvara, Marpa’s wife Dagmeyma took pity on Milarepa and brought him in for the empowerment. Marpa took a big stick and chased Milarepa out while scolding him, and would not allow him to receive the initiation. Marpa’s wife kept asking Marpa to let Milarepa stay and receive the initiation.

Marpa finally agreed to give the initiation to Milarepa, because of the compassion that he had for his wife. The reason Milarepa met with such obstacles was that Marpa had achieved enlightenment by means of having undergone a tremendous amount of difficulty to study with Naropa in India, and Naropa had undergone a tremendous amount of difficulty and hardship to study with his teacher, Tilopa. Enlightenment doesn’t come easily. To reach the same attainments, Milarepa would have to undergo difficulties too.

Marpa said, “While Milarepa is serving me, I am always very wrathful and forceful with him. But, as a result of serving me, he will be able to achieve enlightenment in this very lifetime. Already he has done such difficult things as building the tower.” But Marpa did take pity on his wife, who was showing so much compassion for Milarepa, and he allowed him to receive the initiation. After the initiation, Milarepa had to go off and do a tremendous amount of meditation and practice in order to achieve enlightenment in his very lifetime. But, on the basis of his being a very faithful servant to Marpa, he was able to achieve enlightenment – but even then, still having to undergo the hardships of meditating in caves.

The Rarity of Opportunities to Meet with the Dharma

If we apply all of this to present times, there are many great countries in the world where the word Dharma is not even heard. There is not even a representation of the body, speech and mind of the Buddhas the size of a finger. Even if there are any, they are not treated as holy objects, and are not treated as precious. In these countries, everybody has been completely involved in trying to have things go well for this lifetime, and everybody has put all their energies into themselves. In this way, they fool themselves into thinking that this is the only thing in life. On that basis they have wanted to achieve great material progress, build roads and do all sorts of things. No matter how wonderful they make everything, no matter how much material progress they have, it only makes more and more problems, unhappiness and dissatisfaction. This is something that all of you know. The Buddha Shakyamuni himself was born into a royal family. He was the son of a king, and he had a tremendous amount of wealth. He saw that this had no essence at all, so he left it behind and, through all his hard efforts, achieved enlightenment.

All of you as well have seen that to just spend your entire life in the pursuit of material objects for the happiness of this life does not have any great essence or meaning. Because of that, you have turned to spiritual matters of the Dharma, and I think this is very good. As for what the spiritual matters involve, they are the various measures and practices that will benefit your future lives and beyond. The best methods for that were first taught in India, and then spread to Tibet.

It has happened that the conditions have become unbearable in Tibet, and it was no longer possible to practice Dharma there. We felt that to live a life without the spiritual practices of Dharma was not worth it, and so we left Tibet as refugees. We have come to countries like this, and here we meet with people like you who have great interest in the Dharma and spiritual matters, and who don’t know the Tibetan language. It is because of your great interest and great intentions to practice the Dharma that we explain to you as best as we can.

If you consider me as an example, in Tibet, I mostly studied with lamas and masters from the Gelug tradition. In fact, I have also received teachings from various lamas and masters from the Sakya, Kagyu and Nyingma traditions as well. I’ve studied with fifty-three spiritual masters altogether. I am very concerned that the continuity of the Dharma teachings does not deteriorate and just disappear. You all have such interest in studying the Dharma. Therefore, I try to teach people like you with the feeling to try to be of benefit to you.

You have seen that there is no great essence to being involved only with things of this lifetime. You are all interested in learning these spiritual measures, and you don’t know the Tibetan language. It is very hard for you. I am becoming quite old, and if the Dharma is not taught, it will no longer be available. Therefore, even if I don’t know everything completely, I have tried to explain to you the sutra and tantra teachings as well as I could.

It is quite possible that you have doubts. You hear that it is proper to ask for teachings, to make a request over a period of three years. You know that it is customary to ask many times for an initiation before it is actually given and that is not proper for initiations to be given immediately upon first request. So, we might have a doubt about why teachings and initiations are given so readily at this time. In my own case, I think in terms of not wanting these teachings and lineages to disappear. Since you all have great interest and intentions to practice, and I myself am becoming old, I agree to give teachings and initiations when people ask, without making them wait a long time. I do this with the thought to benefit others.

The Meaning of Dharma and the Three Levels of Dharma Practice

What is the meaning of Dharma? Dharma is a preventive measure that will benefit one’s future lives and beyond. Whatever efforts you put into improving things for this lifetime – to have good food and drink and a nice house to live in – none of that can be considered a preventive measure (Dharma). Those are not spiritual practices. If you wish things to go well for you in this lifetime, and make an offering of a hundred thousand Dutch guilders in gold to an official to that end, it cannot be considered a preventive measure. The way you are thinking is that if you give a hundred thousand guilders of gold, you’ll get a million in return. That is doing business; that is not spiritual practice. If you just do a small act, like giving a piece of bread to an animal, with the intention that it will bring happiness for you in future lifetimes, this is in fact a preventive measure; this is a spiritual practice.

There are many different levels and scopes of preventive measures for improving future lives and beyond. If you are taking preventive measures to be happy yourself in future lifetimes, this is a modest-minded Hinayana practice. If you are taking preventive measures to bring about happiness for everybody in all future lives, this is a vast-minded Mahayana practice. The best thing, therefore, is to always work with the idea of trying to make things better and help all beings with limited minds, all sentient beings.

Everybody has a different idea of how to be happy, and everyone has a different method that they follow to achieve happiness. Likewise, there are many different methods of practicing in the pursuit of future lives. Among these, it is necessary to practice in a way in which you wish for happiness for everybody – for all limited beings without exception. The least type of motivation that you need to have is one in which you don’t wish to fall to any lower type of rebirth in future lives. For that, you learn the practices of giving up the ten destructive actions – the ten non-virtuous actions. Someone who is teaching the Dharma would start with explaining how to avoid destructive actions in order to avoid being reborn in worse states.

There are many different types of spiritual practices and religions, and all are aimed toward bringing about happiness, and alleviating or getting rid of problems, suffering and unhappiness. In Buddhism, there are three major methods involved. The first is the practice of avoiding the ten destructive actions in order to prevent being reborn in a worse state. Then there is following the three exceptional trainings in order to allow you to get out of all uncontrollably recurring problems – samsara. The third method of practice is to do all the different practices to achieve enlightenment to be able to benefit everyone. These are the three levels of practice.

Achieving Happiness

When I teach the Dharma, my intention is to be able to impart to you the various methods to achieve these goals. I don’t teach with the intention to make everybody Gelugpa by teaching Gelugpa Dharma. I am not teaching even with the idea that everybody has to become Buddhist. What I wish to explain or tell you about, since you don’t want to be unhappy, is that all of your problems and suffering come from acting negatively. And that if you stop acting negatively, you won’t have any more problems or suffering. If you want to become happy, because happiness is the result of acting constructively, you need to act constructively. That is what I have to tell you. Everybody is the same in that everybody wants to be happy, and nobody wants to be unhappy and have problems. Everybody wants the greatest happiness possible and one that will last forever.

As for being able to bring about a state of happiness that is long-lasting, that will continue on and on, and is the greatest level of happiness possible, it is only brought about by attaining the fully enlightened state of the Buddha. Attaining this state means to become totally clear-minded and fully evolved, and to achieve the highest level of all potentials. As for how to become a totally clear-minded and fully evolved Buddha in this very lifetime, the methods for doing so are explained in the teachings of tantra. These are the hidden measures to protect the mind. As for the type of person who could actually do such practices, we all have the basis for being able to do them. We have the basis of this human life.

Although we have the basis of a human mind and body, the best way to actually use it to become enlightened in our very lifetime is to do a type of practice like the great Milarepa did. He was totally involved in putting all of his energies, from the depth of his heart, into undergoing whatever difficulties were necessary to be enlightened. It is because we are not willing to make such a complete commitment, and we are not willing to undergo such tremendous hardships that we are not able to become clear-minded and fully evolved in our lifetimes. If we look at the example of Milarepa, he had to undergo tremendous difficulties and do an enormous amount of hard work before he was even given any instructions or teachings. After that, on the basis of practicing tantra, he was able to achieve his fullest potential and become a Buddha in his very lifetime. All of you are very fortunate, because in fact, His Holiness, a completely enlightened being, has been here in the West. He has given you initiations, and you have in fact had the fortune to be able to receive such initiations. That you have been fortunate enough to receive them indicates that you have had the fortune to be proper vessels to receive them.

Becoming Mindful of Death and Impermanence

If you ask where you actually start doing a Dharma practice, the first point is not to fool yourself by being totally involved with things of this lifetime. If you ask why we have been fooling ourselves into just working with things of this lifetime, the reason is that we have not been mindful of the fact that we are going to die. We have not been mindful of death or impermanence, the fact that no situation in life ever remains static or lasts forever. First, it is extremely important to think about and become mindful of death and impermanence.

If you could make death go away by not listening to anything about it, because you don’t like it, that would be very nice. But whether you like it or not, death is going to come to everybody. When it does come, you are going to have a lot of unhappiness, problems and suffering. It is just a matter of time, and there is no way to prevent it. What you can prevent is all the unhappiness and suffering when death actually does happen to you. If you follow a practice of trying to act as constructively and positively as possible, and to refrain from the ten negative actions as much as you can, and you live your life in this way, then as you become older you will become happier and happier. You will not be unhappy and in a terrible state of mind when you die. This is where the whole Dharma practice starts. Going further, there are all the various methods involved in the various sutra themes of practice and in the everlasting streams of tantra deity practice (tantras). In the next lectures, I will explain a little bit about the differences.

If you want to meditate, to build up a beneficial habit of mind, the first thing to think about is that having been born, there is nothing to do but to die at the end. This is the natural outcome of being born. You will build up a very beneficial state of mind if you become aware and mindful of the fact that, one day, you will die, and if you take that seriously. When you think about it seriously, the thing that comes to mind is that if I spend all my time just working to accumulate various objects and things during this lifetime, at the time of death these things are not going to be of any help. Out of all the objects that I have accumulated, there is nothing that I can take with me. That is something that you build up as a strong habit of mind.

A Precious Human Life

You will also build up a very good habit of mind if you try to rejoice in the fact that you have such a precious human life now. You need to think that it is a result of all the positive things that have been done in past lifetimes. You need to rejoice and feel very happy about what you have done in the past to produce this precious human life. On the basis of this human life, it is possible to take all the preventive measures of the Dharma that will allow us to be reborn in future lives in very happy states and conditions. We can do that now on the working basis that we have.

The best thing, of course, that we can do is to reach our fullest potential and become a totally clear-minded and fully evolved Buddha in our very lifetimes. This is something that we can do on the basis of this precious life that we have now. Therefore, it is very important to learn to appreciate your precious human life, and to rejoice and to feel happy about all the possibilities you have for making progress. You meditate, thinking that on the basis of the human life that you now have, you can actually prevent yourself from having to fall to worse states of rebirth in the future. In this way, you can actually prevent yourself from ever having to experience again the uncontrollably recurring problems and unhappiness of samsara. You can actually reach your fullest potential, achieve the state of enlightenment of a Buddha, and be able to benefit everyone. You meditate first to try to build up the beneficial habit of mind of being aware of all these possibilities and feeling happy about them.

Is my speaking like this helpful to you? Would you prefer me to teach in a different way?

Students: No.

If all of you know all of this already, I could explain to you in a different manner. But if this is something that you find beneficial, I can continue to explain like this. Even if you know all of this already, it is very important to hear and listen to teachings over and again. It is possible that you know all of this, and when you go to teachings you are aware that the teacher is explaining this now, and next he will explain this, and then he is going to use this example. But even if it is exactly the same words, a disciple can have a different understanding; the level of their understanding will change. When you listen to teachings, don’t listen just with the idea of being able to collect information, but rather you need to listen to it in order to actually put what you hear into practice. This is the main point.

The Pointlessness of Working for Accomplishments Only for This Lifetime

This is a story about Geshe Langri-tangpa (Glang-ri thang-pa). During his lifetime, he laughed only three times. In his mandala offering, he had a very large piece of turquoise. Once he saw five mice. One of them was on its back with the stone on its stomach, and the other four mice were dragging it along, each with one leg in their mouth. When he saw that, he laughed. After all, it is no great accomplishment to be able to get material objects. Even animals like mice are able to gather things.

The second time this great master laughed was when he saw someone who was to be executed the next day spending his last night mending his shoes. The third time was when he saw some people in a meadow collecting rocks to construct a fireplace. One of them saw what looked like a rock with grass on top of it and went to dig it out of the ground and actually it turned out to be the head of an ogre lying on the ground. As we can see, it is no great wonder to be able to accomplish things in this lifetime. It is a much greater accomplishment to be a person who is interested in spiritual practices that will benefit future lives and beyond.

When we have a precious human life with which we take such an interest, we need to feel very happy about it. In general, if we have a hundred thousand guilders in the bank, we feel very happy. But with that money, you cannot prevent yourselves from being reborn in a worse state of rebirth, and you cannot buy the state of enlightenment. On the basis of this precious human life, we can in fact reach the enlightened state of a Buddha. Therefore, we need to rejoice at what we have. The best thing, of course, is to follow the example of the great Milarepa and to give up all concern for this lifetime, and just devote ourselves single-pointedly to becoming enlightened in this lifetime. But it is very difficult for all Dharma practitioners to be like that. If we cannot do like Milarepa and completely give up all things of this lifetime, we can at least have an attitude of not being so involved in and concerned with things in this lifetime.

For instance, we can try to develop the attitude with which we see that there is no essence at all to various possessions that we have, because when we die, we won’t have them any more anyway. So, in a sense, they already belong to other people. If we think in this way, we are not grasping as tightly to what we have. We use what we have for spiritual practice, like giving to people who are needy.

Even if you have this attitude of not being so involved or caught up in things of this life, if, as a result of the positive things that you have done in past lifetimes you are born in circumstances in which you have possessions and material wealth, don’t just throw it all away and waste it. The other extreme would be to hold on tightly to what you have, and never being willing to part with anything. That is dangerous because if you are so possessive and hang on so tightly to what you have, you could be reborn as a clutching, hungry ghost. These are some of the things to consider in terms of how you go about a spiritual practice of Dharma.

The fact that we have had an opportunity to meet with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is actually a real enlightened Buddha, and the fact that we have interest in spiritual matters is a result of having done a tremendous amount of hard positive work in previous lifetimes, which built up tremendous positive potential. Now on the basis of this precious human life, we need to work very hard to achieve a dedicated heart of bodhichitta, and to try to achieve the enlightened state of a Buddha. We have already put in so much hard work in past lifetimes to get this far and to have this precious human life, so we need to think about whether we want to have to do that all over again. Now that we have gone, this far we need to go all the way, and develop this dedicated heart of bodhichitta and actually achieve enlightenment. Since it is possible to achieve enlightenment on the basis of this life, it is important not to waste our lives.

If you had a piece of gold the size of your hand, you would not just throw it away. If you were to take this piece of gold and throw it in the river and then make prayers to get another piece of gold, it is going to be very difficult for that wish to come true. To not follow any spiritual practices in this lifetime, to waste our life, and then to pray to have another precious human lifetime in the future is exactly the same. If you ask, “What are the various types of preventive measures that I can actually take?” there are many things that can be done. Let me explain some of these.

Refraining from Taking the Life of Others

The first thing is in terms of the actions of your body. Don’t take the life of any creature. In order to actually kill someone, four things need to be complete. The basis of the act of killing might be, for example, a sheep. The intention or thought involves both a motivation and the recognition. You can kill out of three different types of motivation: out of desire, out of anger and hatred, or out of ignorance. The way you kill out of desire is for example, by slaughtering an animal out of desire for eating meat. Or you become angry and hate something so much that you go out and kill it. The way that you can kill out of naivety and closed-minded ignorance is out of just not knowing any better. There are people who sacrifice many animals to make offerings of blood to some gods; likewise, some people feel that when they are sick if they go out and sacrifice an animal, it will cure them of their sickness. As for the recognition, if you have the intention to kill a sheep and there are two animals there, one is a goat and one is a sheep, for the act to be complete, you need to kill the sheep, not the goat.

As for the actual action involved in killing, some people kill animals by smothering them, by putting something over their mouth and nose so they can’t breathe. Others stick their hand in and pull out all the insides. There are others who cut the throats of the animals. For the action of killing the sheep to actually be completed, it has to lose its life; its life has to come to an end.

There are four types of results. The first type of result that follows is the ripened result. The ripened result of killing is a rebirth either as a hell being, as a ghost, or as an animal. Even when that rebirth comes to an end and you are reborn as a human being again, the results from that previous action are still not finished. There are further results that are similar to their cause in terms of what we experience. As a result of shortening and taking the life of someone else, you yourself will have a very short life that will be filled with sickness. There is also a result that is similar to its cause in terms of instinctive behavior. As a result of killing, when you are reborn as a human, even from childhood you will be a very sadistic person who always enjoys killing creatures. Then there is a comprehensive result, which involves a whole area or group of people getting killed. In the area in which you are born everything has a very low ability to sustain life. The food is very poor and weak; the medicine is not very effective or powerful, etc.

If you see all these disadvantages and shortcomings that follow from killing, and as a result you decide to not kill, then to restrain yourself from killing, that is a constructive action. The result of a constructive positive action is that you are reborn as a human or a god. A result that corresponds to its cause in your experience is that, having been reborn as a human, you yourself will have a long life and good health, free from sickness. Since everybody wants to have a long life and not be sick, and nobody likes to die young and to have any illnesses, the thing to bring that about is to always to refrain from killing. The result that corresponds to its cause in our behavior would be, even as a small child, to always be horrified by killing. You never would kill, and you would even be repulsed at the thought of eating meat. The comprehensive results are that in the area in which you are born, the food will be very rich and nutritious and the medicines will be very potent and effective. If, by just restraining once from killing, it has one positive set of effects like this, then if you actually promise that you will never kill again, it will bring effects continuously, even while you are asleep. It will be a constructive action all the time.

The Buddha Shakyamuni had many great disciples – great listeners to the teachings, shravakas – and each of them had a specialty. Some had the specialty of miraculous powers, others of wisdom, and so on. The one who had the great specialty of being able to tame the minds of people in the uncivilized border areas was the highly realized arya being, Katyayana (Ka-tya’i bu). Once, when Katyayana was out begging for alms, he went to the house of a butcher. He explained all the shortcomings and disadvantages that come from slaughtering animals and the butcher said to him, “I can’t promise to stop slaughtering animals during the day, but I will promise to never kill an animal at night.” And he did that.

Some time after that, there was another highly realized being called Sangharakshita (dGe-‘dun ‘tsho). In those days, there were many people who used to go out on the ocean to try to find great treasures. They did not have great ships that we have now. They just had sailboats. It was the custom to invite a spiritual person to be like a chaplain on the ship, so they invited this highly realized being, Sangharakshita. They lost their way, and ended up in a strange distant land. Sangharakshita went out and came to a very beautiful house. At night, everything was beautiful. There was a great deal to eat and drink, and everything was very comfortable. The owner of the house said, “Please don’t stay here until the sun rises in the morning.” He explained that during the daytime, as soon as the sun rose, the animals would come. They all attacked him. Some bit him, some kicked him, and others gored him with their horns. It was just terrible. But at night, everything became peaceful and quiet as soon as the sun set. “So please go away when the sun rises, but come back again as soon as it gets dark.”

Later, Sangharakshita returned and met the Buddha Shakyamuni and explained what he had seen. The Buddha explained that the person in this house was the rebirth of the butcher who had taken a vow not to kill at night, but continued to kill during the day. Because of not killing at night, everything was very lovely at night. But because he continued to kill animals during the day, animals always attacked him.

In terms of what you kill, there is a difference in the type of negative potential that is built up according to the size of the creature. It is much worse to kill a human being than an insect. If you kill an arhat, someone who is a completely liberated being, or you kill your mother or your father, this is what is known as a heinous crime, and is the most serious type of killing that you can do. For instance, you might kill a tiny louse. Even though it is a small unwholesome act, if you kill it today and you don’t admit that what you have done is wrong and don’t try to purify yourself, the negative potential builds up, and by tomorrow, it’s as if you had killed two. If you leave it for another day, the negative potential is the same as if you had killed four. It continues to increase like that, becoming twice as much each day. If you let it go for one year, the negative potential of having killed one small louse is very great.

The result of having crushed an insect between your fingers is being reborn in a joyless realm, a hell in which you have a very large body, and you are smashed between two large mountains. This is something that you see as well in the human realm. There are people who fall off of rocks and cliffs and are smashed on the rocks below, or people whose houses collapse on top of them. This is likewise the result of a similar type of action of crushing a creature in their previous lives. If you consider all the horrible things that happen, all the disadvantages and shortcomings that follow from killing, and you promise never to take the life of any living creature again, it is very beneficial. When you are walking and you see that there are many insects on the ground, you need to try to avoid stepping on them. If, while you are walking, you accidentally step on small insects that you were unaware of, it is unintentional. Therefore, it is not a similar type of negative action.

It is very important to see the disadvantages that come from killing, and to promise not to kill again. By making such a promise you will be able to live a long life, and have good health and freedom from sickness. If you are practicing as a bodhisattva, as a dedicated being, you have an extremely broad, vast mind and aim. We can look at the examples of the previous lives of the Buddha when he himself was a bodhisattva.

Once, there were five hundred passengers on a boat, who were bringing back great treasures of pearls and other precious things. Among them was one criminal called Minag Dungdung (Mi-nag gDung-gdung). The Buddha was at that time a very strong oarsman. He saw that Minag was going to murder the other four hundred and ninety-nine passengers, steal their treasures and commandeer the boat. Buddha felt great compassion at how terrible this would be for all the victims. Not only that, it would be terrible for the criminal himself because, as a result of killing four hundred and ninety-nine people, he would build up such a terrible negative potential, he would be reborn in a unbelievably bad situation. As a dedicated bodhisattva, Buddha saw that the only thing that would help was for he himself to kill Minag Dungdung. He realized that if he did, the four hundred ninety-nine people would not lose their lives and he would prevent Minag from building up such terrible negative potential. He thought, “If I kill this criminal, then I will build up the negative potential of having to kill one person, but that is alright. It does not matter that I am going to have to experience very bad suffering and consequences from this. It is worth it to alleviate all the suffering of the other people involved.” With this very courageous thought, he killed Minag Dungdung. If you are a bodhisattva, then in such situations killing is called for. But if you are not on that level yourself, then it is not at all proper to kill.

You could kill someone yourself, or get someone else to do the killing for you, which also builds up a very negative potential for you. In fact, it is much worse. It creates a double amount of negative potential because not only do you build up the negative potential of causing somebody else to kill, but the other person as well builds up negative potential by actually carrying out the act for you. If you go into a battle as part of an army of five hundred soldiers, and you have a strong feeling in your mind that we are going to go out there and slaughter the enemy, then even if you yourself don’t kill anyone, you build up negative potential as if you had personally killed however many people the army kills. Even if one person in that group of five hundred were to kill a thousand people, you would build up the potential of having killed a thousand people yourself.

When you are in a group of soldiers, there is what is called a “vowed non-restraint.” In other words, one makes a very definite decision to not restrain at all from killing, to just go out and completely destroy everything that comes in one’s way. That builds up an even greater negative potential. If someone takes that type of pledge or vow, they continue to build up a negative potential even while they sleep. On the other hand, even if you are a soldier by name, if you have no thought at all ever to kill anyone, there is no fault. So even if you are a soldier, if you realize that it is very bad to kill, have no intentions to kill, and promise not to, there is no fault at all. If someone is going to kill a large number of people, and there is no way to stop him except by killing him, then to do so with a pure motivation, like in the example of the previous life of the Buddha, is a positive action, although it builds up the negative potential of killing.

These are some of the things involved with refraining from killing. If you promise not to kill, it will be very positive. Sometimes, there are annoying insects like mosquitoes, which might give you malaria, etc. There are sprays and chemicals that you could put out to kill them. When you put such chemicals out when there are no insects in the house to prevent them from coming, there is no fault involved. But if you do that while the house is infested with insects, there is the fault of killing. There are many points of practice in terms of how to refrain from killing.

Refraining from Stealing

The second point is not to be a thief, not to steal. The object involved, the basis, must be an object that belongs to someone else. The motivation can be desire or anger. As we described before, you might steal from someone because you have great desire for an object, or because you are very angry with someone. The action of theft is completed when you have the attitude of feeling that now what I have taken is mine. The results that follow are rebirths as a hell creature or a hungry ghost. Even when you are reborn as a human being, you can be reborn as someone who is completely poor, and who has no possessions at all. Or whenever you get something, it is always stolen from you. This would be the result corresponding to its cause in terms of what you experience. As for results that correspond to their cause in terms of instinctive behavior: there are children who instinctively go out and steal even if they are reborn in a rich family. A comprehensive result is being reborn in a very poor area or country where everyone has nothing. The result of always refraining from stealing, on the other hand, is being born as someone who is very wealthy in a very rich country.

At this point, I can give an example from the life of the great Geshe Pen Kungyel, (‘Phen rKun-rgyal), the great bandit from Penpo. Have you heard the accounts of his life? Who has heard them? Who did you hear them from? If you will excuse me, I will explain them again for people who have not heard them before. I tell these accounts because it is very helpful for your mind. It illustrates a great point and it is not just a fairy tale or a made-up story.

Pen Kungyel means “bandit king from Penpo.” He was a notorious thief. He lived in a house with forty acres of land that he used to farm. He also went out to hunt and kill animals and fish and steal. Once, on the high mountain pass between his home and Lhasa, he met a traveler on a horse. This traveler, not recognizing whom he was speaking with, asked, “That bandit Pen Kungyel isn’t around anyplace is he?” When Pen said, “I am Pen Kungyel,” the traveler became so frightened that he fell off his horse and fell down the mountain. Pen was so upset that just hearing his name had the power to cause someone to fall off the mountain that he decided that from then on he would never rob again.

After that, he practiced the Dharma. He tried to restrain himself from doing the ten destructive actions, and to always follow the ten constructive ones. Every time he did something constructive, he would draw a white line on a piece of rock. If he did something negative or destructive, he would draw a black line. At the beginning, he would get very few white marks and very many black ones. Eventually, he had less black marks and more white ones. At night, if he had more black marks, he would take his right hand into his left and say, “You bandit king from Penpo! You are a terrible person! In the past you were such a terrible thief and now you are continuing to be a horrible person!” He would give himself a very bad scolding. If he had more white marks at the end of the day, he would take his left hand in his right, shake his hand and congratulate himself. He would call himself by his Dharma name, Tsultrim Gyalwa (“The one who is victorious with ethical self-discipline”) and say, “Now you really are becoming a positive person,” and he would congratulate himself.

Eventually he became quite well known as a great Dharma practitioner. Once, a patron invited him to her house for a meal. When the patron went outside, then because he had such strong instincts to steal, he put his hand in a basket where she kept tea and started to help himself. He caught himself, grabbed his hand with his other hand and shouted, “Hey mama, come quick, I’ve caught a thief!”

Another time he was invited with many other Dharma practitioners to someone’s house where they were all being served yogurt. He was sitting in the back and watching as the patron poured out very large portions of yogurt for the people up front. He started to get worried and upset that there would not be any left by the time it got back to him. He sat there with negative thoughts, watching the yogurt being poured out. By the time the person reached him, he realized what kind of mind he had, so he turned his bowl upside down and said, “No, thank you, I’ve already eaten all my yogurt watching the others.”

Another time, a patron of his was going to come and visit his house. He got up very early that morning, cleaned his room very well and arranged a beautiful altar with flowers and all sorts of incense. Then he sat down and honestly examined his motivation for what he had just done. He realized that he went through so much trouble to set up a beautiful altar simply because his patron was coming and he wanted to impress her. He went outside and picked up a handful of ashes, went back inside and threw ashes over everything. He said, “Before, when I was a thief and worked so hard, my mouth often could not find enough food to feed it. Now having become a Dharma practitioner, so many people come and make offerings to me that the food cannot find enough of a mouth in me to get inside.”

If you think about all the points illustrated by Geshe Pen Kungyel’s life, it gives you much to think about and much indication of the way to actually practice. You cannot just immediately stop yourself from being a negative person and acting so destructively. You have to approach it gradually.

If you practice to the best of your ability, you become more of a positive and constructive person. Then, at the time of your death, you won’t have any problems, unhappiness or suffering. Everybody has to die. You are not the only person who is faced with this situation. If you die having worked all your life to become a better person, then you will feel, “I don’t really have any regrets about the life that I led. I did my best and I worked my hardest to be positive.” Then you can pass away without feeling horrible. That would be very good.

Refraining from Inappropriate Sexual Behavior

We have dealt with the first two destructive actions of body. The third type of destructive physical action is inappropriate sexual behavior. An example is a married man taking another woman as a sexual partner. As a result, when you are reborn as a human being again, your wife will be unfaithful and have many affairs behind your back. Furthermore, when you look at insects born in latrines or in very filthy areas with a lot of refuse, like flies and maggots, it is mostly the result of inappropriate sexual behavior.

The great realized being Katyayana once met someone who was always engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior and having affairs. He promised that he would not do anything like this during the day, but that he could not help himself or stop indulging in such behavior at night. So he took a vow to just stop during the day. Later, the realized being Sangharakshita came across a household with someone who was very happy during the daytime, but at night the situation just became horrible and unbearable. He had awful problems. Sangharakshita asked the Buddha about this and the Buddha explained that it was the result of this person’s promising not to indulge in inappropriate sexual behavior during the day, but not refraining from doing so at night.

Refraining from Lying

Turning to speech: If you lie and say what is untrue then this as well builds up a negative potential. A lie is to say, for example, that something that is the case is not the case, that something that is not the case is the case, or to say that someone does not have something when they do, and vice-versa. The result of lying would be to become like those we see in this lifetime to whom everybody always lies – they are always being tricked and deceived. As a result of refraining from lying, you are reborn in a country where everybody is honest and you are never cheated by anybody. Nobody ever lies to you.

At the time of the Buddha, there was a person by the name of Kyewo-sudey (sKye-bo bsu-bde). As a result of never lying, every time he laughed a pearl would fall from his mouth. Everybody used to tell him jokes to try to make him laugh, but he very rarely would. One day, a monk pompously wearing yellow monks’ robes and holding a monks’ staff went to the court of the king of the area. The king led him around to have a look at the palace. There were many pieces of gold lying all around, sometimes in big piles. The monk put some sticky honey on the bottom of his monks’ staff. As he went around, he put his staff down on top of the gold coins and the gold would stick to the bottom of his staff. When he went outside of the palace, a piece of fluff, like a bird’s feather, was stuck on his monks’ robe. He thought that it didn’t make him look very nice, so he plucked it off his robe and blew it away. Kyewo- sudey saw this pompous monk walking out of the palace having gold coins stuck onto the bottom of his monks’ staff, but pulling a little piece of white fluff from his robe and blowing it away, because he was concerned about how he looked, and he laughed. It was only occasions like this that would make this Sudey burst out laughing.

The queen of this land had very loose sexual morality. She would go to the room in the palace where the servant who took care of the royal horses stayed. One day, she did something that this servant didn’t like and the servant slapped the queen in the face. But the queen thought nothing of it. At another time, the king took the ring off his finger and playfully threw it at his queen. It hit her gently and she started to cry. Sudey saw this and burst out laughing. If you refrain from lying, it is possible to have this type of result as well; every time you laugh, a pearl will fall from your mouth. These types of results will follow.

Refraining from Using Divisive Language

The result of using divisive language is like you see in some families. The members are always fighting and arguing with each other; the parents and children don’t get on at all together. This is all a result of having used divisive language and saying things that caused people to be distant from each other. Likewise, if you are in an area in which things are very rough and difficult, where the landscape is uneven and very difficult terrain, this as well is a result of divisive language. As a result of refraining from using divisive language, you are reborn in a place that is very flat, even and beautiful, and you yourself have very harmonious relations with everyone.