The Common Preliminaries are the Foundation of Dharma Practice – Day 6: Teachings on One Hundred Short Instructions
6 December, 2014, Tergar Monastery, Bodhgaya
The theme of karma cause and effect begun yesterday continued.
The first meditation concerned all aspects of karma cause and effect combined.
The meditation begins with a reflection on how, lifetime after lifetime, we have clung to our bodies, our possessions, our families and friends, ignoring impermanence and the certainty of death, only to be reborn again in the lower realms, not knowing how to free ourselves from the prison of samsara. Having accepted that our lives are impermanent, we should then use contemplation and meditation to develop certitude that karmic cause and effect is infallible.
When we consider our own self-clinging, we should contemplate how we have been deceived by this mistaken view from beginningless time, and then resolve to completely eliminate self-cherishing.
The text moved on to the final contemplation in the four common preliminaries, that of the defects of samsara.
Mikyö Dorje’s text details the three types of suffering.
With reference to the first, the suffering of suffering, he describes the suffering of the three lower realms. In the different hell realms, beings endure suffering far greater than anything we experience as humans. To fall into these realms is a consequence of acts of hatred or anger. Then there are the hungry ghosts who live tortured lives and can never be satisfied. Finally, there are the animals living in fear, eating each other, caught on hooks, forced to plough fields, or else deprived of their milk and offspring. If you are born in any of these three lower realms, in addition to the suffering you must endure, you are also unable to practice Dharma, Mikyö Dorje warns.
Then comes the suffering of change. All the pleasures of samsara are temporary. Although we may have been born in a higher realm, there will still be many problems and much suffering is inevitable, for example we will be parted from loved ones, and this is true even in the god realms, where death is a far greater suffering than in other realms. Finally, there is the all-pervasive suffering of conditioned existence, which means that all our actions of body, speech and mind, are the seeds of future suffering. In samsara, all pleasure and happiness will turn to suffering.
Contemplating this, we should develop renunciation and want to escape from the sufferings of samsara ‘like a bird flying from a frozen lake’. Thus, our minds are turned to the path to liberation. In this way, from the correct practice of the common preliminaries, we develop fear of samsara and renunciation, love and devotion towards the guru, compassion for all sentient beings, and the wish to achieve liberation.
The three vows become ‘a ferryman who can carry us across the river’. Keeping these vows purely without any infractions is essential. We must supplicate the Gurus that we may develop unbearable compassion for all sentient beings and achieve the level of omniscience.
Commenting on the text, the Gyalwang Karmapa emphasised the importance of meditating on the four common preliminaries before beginning the meditations on bodhichitta.
Since beginningless time we have grasped at the five aggregates as ‘I’, we think of ‘my body’ and ‘my mind’, and have committed many unvirtuous acts in pursuit of what this ‘I’ wanted. We repeatedly forget the kindness of our mother sentient beings. Because of our concentration on ‘me’ and ‘mine’ we have made a prison for ourselves, an iron cage of ego-clinging, which cuts us off from most other people as surely as a prison cell would. And we don’t even realise we are in prison.
The only way to free ourselves from this prison is through our compassion for other sentient beings which will force us to break out in order to help them.
His Holiness illustrated this with the story of an only child who committed a crime and was imprisoned. Because he was in prison, there was no one to care for his parents and, in addition, they suffered mentally at the thought that their son was in prison. They became ill from worry and neglect and had to be hospitalised. They needed someone to help them, but there was no one. The son needed to free himself from prison in order to help his parents.
All our parents who have been kind to us from beginningless time are outside the prison we have made, and waiting for us to escape so that we can help them. We need to think about the process by which we have put ourselves in prison, and of all the beings who have been kind to us. We need to develop compassion and give up self-cherishing.
These four common preliminaries are extremely important, and we have to meditate on them until we have stability and confidence. They need not be practised in the order they appear, but rather the order in which we practise them should be based on what is most effective for us personally. They are called the preliminaries not because they are of lesser value than later practices, but because they are the indispensable basis for our practice and must be completed first.
“If we do not practice the four common preliminaries well,” His Holiness explained, “the actual practices will not go well.” For example, the great masters said, “If you have not meditated on death and impermanence, Guhyasamaja will not be profound.” The profundity of a practice depends on its benefit for your mind. If you have contemplated death and impermanence properly, reciting the three lines of the refuge prayer is profound because you have a stable view.
Likewise, whether we have entered the Middle Way [Madhyamika] depends on our view. If when we study the Madhyamika, we find afflictive emotions are growing stronger, perhaps we feel more partisan, and the clinging to our own school grows, we do not have the Middle Way view in our beings. Likewise, when we practise Mahamudra if we grow proud, we do not have the view.
When people hear the term ‘preliminary practices’, they immediately think of the uncommon preliminary practices–prostrations, Vajrasattva, Mandala and Guru Yoga– but in fact the real foundation is the four common preliminaries. We must have established these in our being through contemplation and meditation before we move on.
The Conference on The Jewel Ornament of Liberation
His Holiness gave further details of the conference from 13th – 16th December, which would be part of a three year programme of in-depth study and discussion of this great Dagpo Kagyu text.
Finally, he gave the oral transmission of the first part of The Jewel Ornament of Liberation.