“Until death, animals strive merely to avoid suffering and achieve happiness. Therefore, if you do this and do not practice the pure teachings for the sake of achieving lasting happiness, then you are like an animal despite being born in a happy realm” (The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, Lama Tsongkhapa)
While there is nothing wrong with seeking happiness and trying to avoid suffering, and indeed these activities are what unite us as human beings, if we fail to recognise the reality of cyclical existence, via meditating on the 4 Noble Truths, we will almost surely fall back into a miserable existence in our next life (a rebirth without the opportunity to grow spiritually and which will inevitably comprise mental states of significant suffering)
What we have now, or I wouldn’t be writing this and you wouldn’t be reading it, are conditions that physically, mentally and socially allow us to freely look beyond our basic needs of survival and to contemplate issues such as the reality of cyclical existence and fundamental views including, perhaps most importantly, cause and effect and rebirth. If we did this we would rapidly become disenchanted not only with this life, but also future lives, and would be strongly motivated to find a way out of cyclical existence (renunciation).
So we must start by truly valuing this existence of leisure and opportunity and invest a significant part of our time and energy in ensuring, at the very least, that in our next life this can be repeated (Note: Lama Tsongkhapa makes it abundantly clear that even this apparently modest desire is almost impossible to achieve for the simple fact that we spend much of our time involved in such ignoble activities as the Ten Nonvirtues)
A good starting point is to continually remind ourselves of these favourable conditions we currently enjoy by following the advice of Jen-nga who explained that each time he entered meditation he recited the following verse:
Now I have independence and favourable conditions.
If I do not take full advantage of this time,
I will plunge into the abyss and fall under the control of others.
Who will lift me out?
We need to go on to contemplate the great importance of leisure and opportunity in respect of both your temporary (perfect human rebirth) and final goals (enlightenment) by considering how you can achieve with this life qualities such as generosity and the other 6 Perfections.
More specifically Lama Tsongkhapa advised that to develop a fully qualified desire to take full advantage of a life of leisure, one must reflect on it’s four elements as follows:
- The need to put into practice the teachings. As I mentioned before all beings want to be free of suffering and attain happiness but success is fully dependent on putting into practice what the Buddha taught.
- The ability to practice – being endowed with the external conditions – a teacher, and internal conditions – leisure and opportunity.
- The need to practice in this lifetime – because if you do not it will be very difficult to obtain leisure and opportunities again for many lifetimes.
- The need to practice right now – because there is no certainty when we will die.
The first point reminds us that the teachings are for putting into practice and will be of no use to us if all we do is consider them as some intellectual philosophy for study alone. The second point reminds us of the importance of the teacher (qualified) for passing on the teachings so that we can put them into practice without error. The third prevents us from being lazy and giving up with the thought, “I will practice the teachings in a future life”, and finally the fourth helps pacify the laziness of disengagement that thinks that putting into practice the teachings can await until we “have more time” or when “we retire” etc!
Geshe Dol-wa greatly valued the teachings on leisure and opportunity, stating that “the practice of all other teachings follow this one”. It makes sense as if you grasp the essence of leisure and opportunity then you will be sufficiently motivated to practice the rest of the teachings!
As my teacher, the Venerable Geshe Tsering Palden says, “use half your life for enjoying this life and the other half for preparing for the next one”!!
This article contains my humble opinions and thoughts and should not be mistaken for the wisdom of my teacher, the Venerable Geshe Tsering Palden, or any other fully qualified Buddhist teacher or Guru. My only aim in writing this Blog is to try and train my mind in the path of the Buddha and if by so doing I am able to benefit others I dedicate all merits for the relief of suffering of all sentient beings.
Note: Any error in this text is wholly attributable to me, and me alone, and should never be attributable to the perfect dharma teachings. I sincerely apologise for any errors.