The Berzin Archives

The Buddhist Archives of Dr. Alexander Berzin

Switch to the Text Version of this page. Jump to main navigation.

Home > Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism > Level 2: Lam-rim (Graded Stage) Material > Explanation of The Foundation for Good Qualities > Session Three: Further Detail about Safe Direction and Behavioral Cause and Effect

Explanation of The Foundation for Good Qualities

Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche I
translated by Alexander Berzin
Ulverston, England, October 1982

[edited transcript]

Session Three: Further Detail about Safe Direction and Behavioral Cause and Effect

Review

We need to set the proper motivation, namely that we wish to benefit all beings and to achieve a state of enlightenment in order to be able to do so. With this motivation, listen to these teachings on The Foundation for Good Qualities with the sincere wish to put them into practice for this purpose.

Yesterday, we discussed the way to have a proper whole-hearted commitment to a spiritual master or “Guru-devotion,” which is the root of all the paths of the mind. We also discussed the excellent working basis of a precious human rebirth with all its respites and enriching factors and how difficult it is to find. There are eight respites and ten enrichments and the human rebirth that we have as a working basis is complete with all them.

In general, a human rebirth is very difficult to obtain. As soon as we are born as a human being, we are not immediately able to walk. It takes more than a year before we gain that ability. Animals are able to walk almost immediately after they are born. The reason they can do this is that these beings have been born as animals innumerable times, and so they have very strong animal instincts. The fact that human babies are not able to walk erect like humans when they are born is an indication that it’s been extremely rare that they’ve been born as humans before, and that they have very weak instincts for walking like a human.

The Buddha Shakyamuni, as soon as he was born in a human form, was immediately able to walk erect and took seven steps. This was a result of having been born for hundreds of previous consecutive lifetimes as a human being. Therefore, he was able to walk immediately like a human being. Likewise, he had accumulated through all these human rebirths the complete causes for having a body with the thirty-two major and eighty minor physical features of a Buddha. 

The first point, then, is to recognize the eighteen respites and enriching factors that we have, and then to realize how difficult it is to attain such a working basis of a human rebirth with all of them. Then we can think about how important such a working basis is and what great purposes can be fulfilled with it: namely, that we can achieve enlightenment. We need to think about the famous Milarepa. He achieved enlightenment within his very lifetime on the working basis that he had – a precious human body.

Ours are the same. There is no difference. So, with such an excellent working basis, we need to strive to practice the spiritual measures of the Dharma as much as we can, until life leaves our bodies. We can’t put spiritual practice off for tomorrow, because we never know when we are going to die. The time of death is completely uncertain. Therefore, we need to make a definite decision to practice the Dharma immediately.

Yesterday, we discussed all of these points regarding death and impermanence. We saw that no situation ever remains static and that after death we have to take rebirth. We also saw that if we’ve built up tremendous negative potentials from having been destructive, negative persons, we’ll be reborn in the worse realms. We need to think about all the problems and sufferings that we would experience in such realms, and feel a great deal of dread, wanting to avoid being reborn in such situations. We can then think of the various objects that can provide us with a safe direction to take in our lives so that we can avoid such predicaments. Having recognized the Three Rare Precious Gems that offer such a direction, we then discussed all the various methods for deriving from them that safe and sound direction to put in our lives through taking refuge in them. That we discussed yesterday.

We also need to be aware of the reasons or causes for putting a safe direction in our lives. The first is dread of what might happen to us in future lives without such a direction. The second is confident belief in the abilities of these objects of refuge to provide a safe direction to avoid worse rebirths. In addition to this, if we are taking refuge in a vast-minded Mahayana manner, we need to have as an additional motivating cause compassion for all beings. When we entrust ourselves fully in this way, with these as the causes, that is known as taking a safe direction in life, taking refuge.

How to Train in Taking a Safe Direction in Life

Once we’ve taken a safe direction, it is important to train ourselves with the various points for actually putting that direction in our lives. When we take safe direction from the Buddhas, the way to train is this. When we see representations of enlightened beings, we never criticize them, saying that the eyes are crooked, the faces are weird looking, or anything like that. We must not be disrespectful. After all, we regard all representations of Buddhas as we would regard the Buddhas themselves. So, rather than criticize the Buddha, we can speak about the artist or the sculpture. We can say that the artist wasn’t very skilled, but we leave it at that. In addition, we must never sell Buddha statues. Nor should we be disrespectful toward the various representations of the body, speech and mind of an enlightened being. It is better not to walk over them or place things on top of them.

Also, when we take safe direction from the Buddhas, we promise not to take our direction from worldly deities, such as Brahma or Indra, because they cannot provide us with a safe and sound direction. To rely on them would be like leaning back on a curtain. It was like what was described yesterday in the account of the son of the gods who went to Indra to help him out of his predicament and Indra said, “I am unable to provide you with a safe direction out of your predicament. The only one who can is the Buddha.”

When we take safe direction from the preventive measures, the Dharma, it is important to be extremely respectful of all representations of it, such as the scriptural texts and books, and not to put anything on top of them. There may be certain situations when the pages of a text we are reading might blow away, for instance, and it’s necessary to put something on top of them. But, other than that, we don’t just mindlessly put anything on top of our books, such as a rosary or whatever.

All of you are aware of the various Buddhist customs and are following them properly in regard to books. This is very good. Texts are not to be placed directly on the bare floor, but should have some sort of cloth or something clean placed underneath them. The same is true with respect to the Buddha’s images and statues. If we are extremely respectful of all representations of the Buddha and of the Dharma teachings, this will be very important because it builds up a tremendous positive potential. Also, we don’t turn the pages of our books by licking our fingers in order to wet them. If we find that we have to wet our fingers, we place a small bowl of water next to us and use that. In addition, we need to have a similar type of recognition for things like the printed word. Newspapers and any other printed material are vehicles for being able to transmit the Dharma. It’s important to show great respect in whatever forms the printed word might appear. So, we shouldn’t use newspaper, for instance, to wrap our garbage or wipe the floor or clean up dirt. Nor do we throw newspaper into the toilet or into filthy places; we need to dispose of it respectfully.

When we take safe direction from the preventive measures, a further point that we need to follow is to never harm living beings.

When we take safe direction from the Sangha community, we need to treat all members of the monastic community respectfully and, for instance, not call them nasty names

According Our Behavior in Light of the Laws of Karma

The most important point for putting a safe direction in our lives is to very carefully mould our behavior in accordance with the laws of behavioral cause and effect, the laws of karma. We need to see that from doing glowing, constructive actions, we build up a positive potential and it brings about our experience of happiness. If we act destructively under the influence of murky, dark impulses, that builds up negative potential. It brings about our experience of unhappiness, problems and suffering. Therefore, the main point for putting a safe direction in our lives is to lead our lives with awareness of the results of our behavior, and to act accordingly.

There are four points about the laws of karmic behavior and its results, namely the factors of: (1) certainty, (2) increase, (3) that if we haven’t committed the cause for a certain result, we won’t meet with that result and (4) if we have committed a certain action, then that action will not have been in vain, it will produce some result.

Yesterday, we discussed the certainty factor and the factor of increase. If we ask what the next factor of the law of karmic behavior and its results is, it is namely that if we haven’t committed a certain action, then we won’t meet with the results of that action.

Among the sixteen stable and steady elders, sometimes called the “sixteen Arhats,” at the time of the Buddha, there was one by the name of Kanakavatsa (gNas-brtan gSer-be’u). As soon as he was born, an elephant whose droppings were made of gold came next to him and remained always at his side. The reason this elephant that defecated gold always stayed at his side was that, in a previous life, Kanakavatsa had been born at the time of the Buddha Kashyapa (Sangs-rgyas ‘Od-srung). The Buddha Kashyapa used to ride on an elephant as his mount. During that lifetime, he had offered a gold leaf to that elephant with great respect, and as a result of the positive potential he built up by making such an offering, he was reborn at the time of the Buddha Shakyamuni and, as soon as he was born, an elephant whose droppings were made of gold came immediately to him.

The king of the land where he was born was called Ajatashatru (rGyal-po Ma-skyes dgra). Greedy for the free gold, he wanted this elephant, so he ordered people to bring it to him. But whenever he would get the elephant into his courtyard, it would miraculously disappear into the ground and reappear at the side of the child. The king did this three times and each time the same thing happened.  The reason for this, and the point that is illustrated here, is that the king didn’t have the right karmic potential: he had not accumulated the causes for enjoying, as a result, the wealth of the elephant, whereas the small child had. The laws of behavior and its results are inconceivable, and even a king does not have the power to alter them.

The next point is that if we have performed a certain action, it will not have been pointless; the results will come. This is indicated here by the fact that this small child who became one of the sixteen Arhats had accumulated the causes for being able to have the elephant always at his side. Therefore, it was not a pointless action that he had done in the past of offering the gold leaf to Buddha Kashyapa’s elephant: it brought about this result. Moreover, when Kanakavatsa grew up, he left family life, took robes and eventually became a liberated being, an Arhat. Therefore, keeping this in mind, we need to resolve that we shall try to do even the most minor type of constructive action.  We needn’t consider any positive action too minor, because a bucket, after all, is filled by an accumulation of drops of water.

In this way, we resolve to build up positive potential with whatever types of constructive actions we can do and to avoid even the slightest destructive or negative action. We mustn’t fool ourselves into thinking that it doesn’t matter what we do, because if we are not careful, even a small destructive action can be disastrous. If we swat and kill a mosquito maliciously, and we don’t admit that what we’ve done was a mistake and wrong, the negative potential that we’ve built up from killing one mosquito doubles by the next day into the same potential as if we had killed two mosquitoes. By the next day, it doubles again into four and, in the space of a year if we don’t admit, honestly and openly, that what we’ve done was wrong, and apply the various opponents to purify ourselves of that negative potential, it builds up an unbelievably great negative potential from that one act of killing a mosquito.

From having smashed the mosquito between our hands, for instance, the ripened result will be that we will be reborn in one of the hells and have an enormous body. We will find ourselves standing between two huge mountains and we ourselves will be similarly smashed between them. The mountains will then part; we will revive; and then we will be smashed once more, over and again. This will continue until the negative potential we’ve built up has been fully depleted.

The point is that we need to promise to avoid negative actions and try our best to do whatever types of positive, constructive actions that we can, no matter how minor they might seem. This is the main point, the main thing that has been indicated by the Buddhas. We talk about the main teaching and practices that were indicated by the Buddhas and this is the main one: to act constructively and avoid being destructive.

Gaining Confidence in Buddha’s Teachings about Behavioral Cause and Effect

These points about the laws of behavioral cause and effect are discussed in various scriptural texts, for example, in classics such as The Sutra of the Wise and the Foolish (mDdo mdzangs-blun, Skt. Damamuko-nama-sutra) and others from the collection of the translated words of the Buddha, The Kangyur (bKa’-‘gyur). The volumes of these collected works are numbered by Tibetan letters, and the volumes numbered SA, HA and SHA have a great deal of material concerning these points. It is very worthwhile to study them.

All these various points – for example, that if we act in a constructive manner, then a certain type of happy situation will follow; whereas if we act in a certain destructive manner then a certain type of problem and unhappiness will follow – all these things we find out from the scriptural texts. We accept them on the basis of scriptural authority, because they are extremely difficult to prove on their own through logic.

If we think further about it, we need to consider well who taught these points about karma, who is the author, the source of the scriptural authority. If the source is the totally clear-minded and fully evolved Buddha, it is impossible that such a person would have lied. Furthermore, how to do we establish our confident belief and trust in the scriptural authority of what the Buddha has said about the laws of karmic behavior and its results? We look at some of the other things that the Buddha has said in the three basket-like collections of his teachings – The Tripitaka. There are the basket-like collections of his teachings on ways to become tame (The Vinayapitaka), on themes of practice (The Sutrapitaka), and on special topics of knowledge (The Abhidharmapitaka).

Consider the subject matter found in Buddha’s teachings on the theme of far-reaching discriminating awareness (the perfection of wisdom), The Prajnaparamita Sutras. In this discussion of voidness, the total absence of all impossible ways of existing, we see all the valid lines of reasoning that prove that all impossible, fantasized ways of existing don’t exist at all. Thinking about these lines of reasoning, we’ll be able to become convinced, on the basis of logic, that everything the Buddha said about voidness or reality is actually true. Based on that, we gain a strong and confident belief and trust that the Buddha is a valid source of information. Based on that conviction, we can also feel confident that he is a valid source of information about the laws of behavior and its results and that everything he said concerning karma is correct. On the basis of that, we will be convinced to model our behavior, even on the most minor level, in accordance with everything he said about behavioral cause and effect.

For example, the Buddha said that if we act in a constructive manner by enacting the ten types of constructive behavior, the result that will ripen is a rebirth as either a human or a god. We would then look at all the things the Buddha said about reality in his teachings on the far-reaching discriminating awareness of voidness. When we realize through logic that everything he said about reality is correct, we apply that fact to Buddha’s other statement about reality, namely that if we act constructively, we will be born as a human or a god. In this way, we will be convinced on a sound basis that this statement is also correct.

There are some people who say, “Of course we can see that there are human beings, but there aren’t any gods and it is ridiculous to say that there are hell creatures and hungry ghosts.” They say they can prove that some things don’t exist simply because they have never seen them. But if we merely state that the proof of the nonexistence of something is that we have never seen it, this is rather poor reasoning. On the other hand, to believe that the result of positive constructive actions is a rebirth as a human or a god, and the result of negative destructive actions is rebirth in the worse states of existence as a hell creature, hungry ghost and so forth, this is something that has a sound basis – the source of this information is the fully enlightened Buddha. Therefore, it is perfectly correct to believe confidently that what the Buddha has said was true, because he is a valid source of information and authority. On that basis, we resolve to model our behavior in terms of exactly what the Buddha said, because everything he said, down to the tiniest detail, about the laws of karmic behavior and its results is correct and for real.

The way to put this point into daily practice is to look at ourselves honestly and try to recognize when we are acting in any of the ten destructive ways. As soon as we notice that we are acting destructively, we need to stop ourselves from doing that. Likewise, we need to examine ourselves when we are doing constructive actions and encourage ourselves further in that direction. This is the main way to practice; this is the thing to start with.

From beginningless time, we have been used to acting in a destructive manner. So no matter what we do, we are going to find that, of course, instincts, habits and tendencies to act destructively will predominate. They will show up very strongly. But what we need to do is just go slowly and persevere. Slowly, we’ll be able to build up more constructive habits. When we train ourselves and cleanse ourselves of these bad habits, we’ll find that gradually our tendencies to act in murky, destructive ways will lessen. Our tendencies to act in glowing, constructive manners will increase. Eventually, we’ll always act constructively and positively.

The Example of Geshe Pen Kungyel

Consider the term “building up and cleansing,” which is used to describe preliminary practices. What we build up are various constructive and positive habits and potentials, and what we cleanse ourselves of is all our negative tendencies. If I relate to you now some accounts from the life of Pen Kungyel (‘Phen rKun-rgyal), it might be helpful; they are very nice.

There was a good mentor, a Geshe, from the Kadam tradition in Tibet whose original name was Pen Kungyel, meaning the Bandit King from Penpo. Later, when he became a practitioner, he took the Dharma name of Geshe Tsultrim-gyelwa (dGe-bshes Tshul-khrims rgyal-ba), which means “the spiritual mentor who triumphs with ethical self-discipline.” But, before he became a spiritual practitioner, when he had his old name, he was a notorious bandit and had acted in a very cruel manner. He also had a farm surrounding his house that was about forty acres in size. He also always did negative things while working his land, and so he was also called “the person with forty acres of trouble.”

One day he was up on the mountain pass near his house, and there he met a traveling merchant who, not knowing the person he had met was Pen Kungyel, asked, “Is that notorious bandit Pen Kungyel anywhere around here?” Pen Kungyel replied, “I’m Pen Kungyel.” The merchant got so frightened and startled that he fell off of his horse and fell down the mountain. Pen Kungyel was very moved by this and thought, “If the mere sound of my name has such an awful power; that really is terrible! I’ve really built up such a great negative potential through this!” Developing, in this way, great regret and remorse about his past actions, he decided to give up his thieving ways.

He committed himself wholeheartedly to a spiritual master, and worked and practiced very hard. His main practice was to try to abandon the ten destructive actions and put into practice the ten constructive ones. He would keep an account of what he did each day. He had a piece of charcoal, and if he did anything negative or destructive, he would draw a black mark on a rock. He also had a piece of white chalk and every time he did something positive and constructive, he would draw a white mark. He would keep score like that, a tally. In the beginning, he would have mostly black marks each day, and hardly any white ones at all; but eventually his black marks became less and less. His white marks increased until he scored only white marks each day.

In the beginning while he was training himself like this, when it turned out that he had far more black marks than white at the end of the day, he would take his left hand with his right and, squeezing it very hard, he would give himself a severe scolding. He’d say, “Pen Kungyel! You were such a terrible, rotten person before, and you’re still continuing to act in such an awful fashion. That won’t do at all!” In this way, he scolded himself severely for having been so negative and destructive that day. But then, as he continued his practice and tallied up his account at the end of each day, like a merchant in a store at the end of the day counting up his register, he eventually got far more white marks. Then he would take his right hand with his left and would congratulate himself, saying, “Now you are really this Geshe Tsultrim-gyelwa, the one who triumphs with ethical self-discipline! You’ve done very well!” That was the way he would congratulate himself.

By being such a great spiritual practitioner, his name spread far and wide. One day he went into town begging alms and went into a house to receive some food. There was a basket of tea leaves near the door and, because his instincts from having been a thief were so strong and compelling, he automatically stuck his hand into the basket to take some. He caught himself doing this and, grabbing his hand with his other hand, he shouted out to the lady of the house, “Come here quick, Mama, I’ve caught a thief!”

Another time while he was living in his meditation hut, he received a message that his patron was going to come the next day for a visit. He got up very early that morning, cleaned and swept his hut very well, and arranged very beautiful offerings on his altar. Then he sat down and examined his motivation, because this is the normal way to practice. After we’ve arranged our altar in the morning, when we begin our meditation session, we sit and examine our motivation for what we are doing. When he sat down and examined his motivation and thought, “Why did I take such pains to sweep out my room and clean it so well this morning and set up such beautiful offerings?” he discovered that he was really under the influence of mundane concerns for transitory things. He had done all of this fancy preparation to try to impress his patron. When he realized that this was a really very terrible type of motivation, he got up and went to the door, where he kept a bin in which he put all the ashes from the fireplace. He picked up a handful of ashes and threw them all over his altar and completely messed up his room. He became very famous then, as “the Geshe Tsultrim-gyelwa, the one who triumphed with ethical self-discipline, who threw ashes into the face of all worldly concerns.”

Another time, someone was passing out yogurt to a group of practitioners. He was sitting in the back, and as it was being passed out to all the others, he noticed that everyone in the front was getting an awful lot to eat. Sitting in the back, he became very uptight at the people in the front getting such large servings of yogurt. He started wondering whether there would be anything left by the time it got back to him, and in this way he developed negative thoughts about what was going on there. When the person serving the yogurt finally got to him, Pen Kungyel realized what he’d been doing. He turned his bowl upside down and said, “No thank you, I’ve already eaten my yogurt watching these people in front!”

Pen Kungyel always said that he was just a simple practitioner. The way he went about his spiritual practice was that whenever he found himself acting destructively and negatively, he would get uptight and be extremely vigilant; whereas whenever he was acting positively and constructively, he would allow himself to relax. He used to say, “This is my manner of practice.”

The main point, then, is that as Dharma practitioners, we need to always safeguard our minds. We need always to keep a check on what our attitudes are, and how we are acting. This is the main concern we need to have. We must try not to be hawkish in watching over other people, which is none of our business. We should just tend to ourselves and check up on how we ourselves are doing. This is something that the great Shantideva has mentioned as well. This is described in the verse of our text that follows next:

(4) Like a shadow to a body,
   I request inspiration always to take care
To rid myself of even the slightest, most minor action
That would build up a network of faults and to accomplish
Every possible deed that will build up a network
   of constructive force.

When it says here, “I request inspiration to always take care,” it means inspiration to not act in a wild and mindless manner. For instance, in terms of actions of our body, to make sure that we’re not just spending our time drinking, smoking, taking drugs and so forth, acting in a very wild uncontrolled manner. In terms of our speech, to watch what we say and not just let our mouths go on mindlessly, saying just anything that comes into our heads. Likewise, in terms of our minds, to make sure that we don’t just let our minds go off onto negative lines of thought of either wishing harm to others or being covetous or whatever. It means to be very careful and make sure that we are not just acting recklessly. This is something that the great master Chandrakirti points out as well in his text, Madhyamakavatara (dBu-ma-la ‘jug-pa), A Supplement to (Nagarjuna’s “Root Stanzas on) the Middle Way.” There, Chandrakirti put a great deal of emphasis on safeguarding our behavior so that it is rid of all ten types of destructive actions.

The Importance of Keeping Strict Ethics

When we look at all these practices concerning ethical behavior and we try to avoid any of the destructive actions and to always act positively and constructively, we see that such practice comes under the heading of the training for someone of initial motivation. Now, we shouldn’t put that down as we advance in the practice and think, “This is just a trivial type of practice for beginners, and it doesn’t concern me.” Rather, keeping strict ethics needs to be the stable foundation we set for whatever type of practice we do in the future. It is like standing up on our two feet – it forms a strong stable foundation for walking on.

If we belittle and look down on the practices of ethical self-discipline of not acting destructively and always trying to be positive and constructive,  and say that this is not really necessary, and if, on top of that, we try to analyze voidness or, on top of that, try to dedicate our hearts with a bodhichitta aim or, on top of that, try to get into the hidden practices of tantra, that will not do at all. They won’t work. We have to have this basis of ethics as the legs to stand on and only then go on to taking these further steps; we can’t do without this basis. In the past, there was a very learned great Geshe from Mongolia who was in Sera Monastery. When a rich person came and asked him for teachings on voidness, he said, “Forget about voidness. Take care about not being such a thief!”

It is extremely important to follow this ethical training and avoid acting in any of these destructive manners. You have great spiritual masters here and you should ask them for further teachings and instructions on karmic behavior and its results. Specifically, ask them about what the constructive and the destructive types of actions are, and practice the former and avoid the latter as best as you can. If you practice very well in this way, you can avoid falling to a worse state of rebirth. On that basis, you will be able to gain a rebirth as a human or as a god. Then you will be able to continue having a better rebirth in life after life. You will be able to work in this manner and achieve the enlightened state of a Buddha. It is not so difficult.

There are ten basic constructive and ten basic destructive actions. We need to try to watch out for them and be very aware of what we are doing. We need to be like this great mentor, Pen Kungyel, in terms of keeping a check on ourselves, and in this way we will improve. Pen Kungyel once said, “When I was a bandit and following my old ways, I farmed forty acres. I hunted; I fished; I plundered caravans that came by where I lived. But still, I was unable to get enough to eat. I couldn’t make ends meet. Now, when I’ve given up concern about all mundane worldly matters, I have more than enough and people always keep offering me more and more – more than I can possibly use.” He added this: “Before, my mouth had a hard time finding enough food to put into it, but now the food has a hard time finding enough of a mouth in me to get in!”

Therefore, we need to make proper use of what we have, such as by making offerings with whatever types of possessions and wealth we might have. We shouldn’t just let them go to waste. We shouldn’t only concern ourselves with just trying to get enough food into our mouths. We must try not to be concerned only with the immediate satisfaction of our desires. To do so is to act simply like a chicken walking around, trying to just get food into its mouth, or like a little mouse. If we are a sincere spiritual practitioner, we don’t ever have to worry about starving to death. It has never been heard of at all that, among all the hundreds of thousands of spiritual practitioners, any of them has ever starved to death.

So, having found this excellent basis of a precious human rebirth that we have, it is important to practice properly and make good use of it in this manner. The reason for that is that we want to be happy and we don’t want to have any problems or suffering. The causes for being happy are explained here in terms of acting constructively. The causes for being unhappy and having problems are likewise explained here in terms of acting destructively and negatively. Therefore, since we want to be happy, we need to act in such a way that we build up the causes for bringing it about.

The Disadvantages of All Uncontrollably Recurring Samsaric Rebirths

Even though practicing in this ethical manner can keep us from being reborn in one of the worse states, and we can be reborn as a human or god instead, we mustn’t be satisfied with just that. No matter what type of uncontrollably recurring samsaric situation we might be reborn into, it will involve only further types of problems and suffering. There is no uncontrollably recurring situation that is really happy and secure. When we reach the level of understanding this, it is like advancing to the next grade or the next class in school. This is discussed in the next verse, which reads:

(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.

Before we were talking about trying to avoid all the problematic situations of being reborn in one of the worse states of rebirth. Now we expand our scope and think in terms of any type of uncontrollably recurring situation in our compulsive samsaric existence. No matter how splendid they might seem, the various objects, positions, and pleasures that we have will never suffice. They only beget more problems and difficulties. Therefore, we try to develop the determination to be free from all problems and troubles completely. This is what renunciation means. On the basis of this determination to be free, we take an added interest in achieving a state of liberation. This is the scope of motivation that is explained in this verse.

The basis for all of this is, first of all, having as a firm foundation – namely, a wholehearted commitment to our spiritual master – and then thinking about the excellent working basis of a precious human rebirth with all its respites and enrichments that we have. We need to recognize and appreciate these opportunities and how difficult they are to find. Then, we need to think about death and how no situation ever remains static. These opportunities will be lost, and after death we can be reborn in one of the worse states of rebirth. Thinking of all the horrible sufferings and problems we would face there, we then seek a safe and sound direction for avoiding that. The way to take that safe direction of refuge is to model our behavior in terms of the laws of karmic behavior and its results. All of this has been discussed already.

We will continue our discussion of this verse in the next session.