Day 2: Teachings on The Four Freedoms from Attachment - Contemplating the Sufferings of Samsara is the Antidote to Attachment
Monlam Pavilion, Bodhgaya
30 December, 2014
Once more, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche is led in procession to the carved wooden throne, the second session of a four-part teaching. He prostrates three times, and ascends the throne. In an authoritative but gentle voice, he asks everyone to stand. To the beat of a wooden bell, the sangha prostrates three times in unison, like rising and falling waves of yellow ochre and maroon. Then the chant masters lead everyone in three repetitions of the refuge prayer.
The mandala offering requesting the teachings follows. While the chant masters recite the 37-Feature Mandala Offering, Osel Nyingpo, the Gyalwang Karmapa’s ritual master, puts on his red ceremonial hat and heaps piles of saffron-scented rice onto the mandala plate. The young Rinpoche looks on nervously at the seemingly endless line of people bearing offerings coming towards him. In the Monlam Pavilion, twelve thousand pairs of eyes are watching him, let alone the thousands world-wide watching the webcast.
It’s turned nine o’clock but the morning is still cold and the sangha huddle into their heavy winter cloaks. Today, as well as butter tea, the servers come round ladling out steaming hot porridge into their rich brown bowls, given to each monk and nun at the beginning of the Monlam. Finally, the ceremonies are over and the teaching can begin.
First Rinpoche reminds everyone of the correct motivation for listening to Dharma:
Think to yourself it’s in order to bring all sentient beings as limitless as space to the unified state of Vajradhara that we must listen to the Dharma today. Thinking in this way, “We must have a pure motivation and pure action,” as you listen.
Then he resumes his discourse on Jetsun Drakpa Gyaltsen’s text. Today’s focus will be on the second of the four slogans: if you are attached to samsara you don’t have renunciation. But first, Rinpoche wants to add to what he said yesterday on the first slogan: if you are attached to t his life you are not a dharma practitioner.
Dharma practitioners, he explains, are classified according to their capacity into one of three categories, the lesser, medium and greater individual. However, a defining characteristic of the lesser individual is that they are concentrating on future lives and have given up attachment to this life. Hence, giving up attachment to this life is the very basic qualification for someone to be called a dharma practitioner.
So in order to be even a lesser person you must have full revulsion for this life. If you still have attachment and fixation on this life, you are not even included in the three categories of dharma practitioner.
Rinpoche also has a word of warning for the monks and nuns. At the stupa he has noticed ‘monastic’s’ who recite mantras when people are watching, but when no one’s there to watch either they’re sleeping or talking or counting their money. We might like to think that we’re not like them, he cautioned, but actually there may not be a great difference; it’s hard to tell who is really practising! Only by honest self-examination can we know. “It’s important to realize although we say we are dharma practitioners, if we are attached to this life we’re not true dharma practitioners. We are imposters. “
Returning to the text, he began reading from the ‘Song of Experience’ which accompanies the four slogans. It clearly states that in order to attain nirvana, we have to develop renunciation, and the way to do this is by reflecting on the sufferings of samsara.
Wherever we are in samsara, from the depths of the incessant hell to the peak of existence, there’s not a bit of happiness anywhere. Everything is suffering by nature.
First there is the suffering of suffering which divides into two:
- The suffering arising from having the 5 aggregates, due to the force of karma and the afflictions;
- Additional suffering such as heat, cold.
Contemplating the suffering of the lower realms can be very frightening, but, we continue to collect more non-virtues. This is really pitiful. The text says:
…by failing to practise the virtue of restraint,
You keep on tilling the fields of the lower realms,
And there, wherever you find yourself, how dreadful it will be!
The result of non-virtue is the experience of suffering, and this is certain because it is impossible for karma to fail.
Second is the suffering of change. The Jewel Ornament of Liberation states that all of the happiness in samsara no matter what, will in the end turn into suffering. One can fall from the higher to lower realms.
As it is said, many people fall from higher realms to lower realms. Those who do so are as numerous as atoms in the earth. Those who go from lower to higher realms are as numerous as atoms in a pea.
We can see evidence of this all around us. Someone might be rich, strong, powerful and influential in the early part of their life, but in the second part of their life they have neither power nor influence – these situations are common among humans, Rinpoche commented. A family may have lots of members but in the end only one is left.
Third comes the suffering of formation or conditioned existence. According to the Jewel Ornament of Liberation, this suffering arises simply from taking the five aggregates of grasping. As the text reads:
To contemplate the suffering of conditioning,
See how there is never an end of things to do,
And suffering is found among the many and the few,
Among the well-off and the starving alike.
Our whole human life is spent preparing,
And in the midst of our preparing, we are swept away by death;
But not even in death is there any end to preparation,
As once again we begin making ready for the next life.
How perverse they are who keep clinging
To this heap of misery that is samsara!
For that reason if we are attached to samsara it brings us no benefit and causes many difficulties. However, we ordinary people have difficulty appreciating that the suffering of formation is suffering, in contrast to the Noble Ones for whom it is great suffering. We perceive the pervasive suffering of formation like a hair in the palm of the hand, but for the Noble Ones it is like a hair in the eye, a painful irritation.
We experience so much suffering because we do not acknowledge karma cause and effect, what we should do and what we should give up. There are three different types of karma: virtuous, non-virtuous and neutral. Keeping the ten virtues without mixing them with the afflictions produces virtuous karma. Non-virtuous actions or those with impure motivation, fuelled by the three poisons of greed, hatred and delusion, produce non-virtuous karma. Finally, we should do all we can to turn neutral actions into virtuous ones.
The session ends with a one-minute resting meditation, followed by a four minute meditation on the sufferings of samsara and the role of karma, cause and effect, to reinforce what has been said during the teachings.