This fifth “lesson before the lesson” completes the introductory teachings from Nagarjuna, Letters to a Friend, Verse 14 (see past blogs) by Geshe L. Sopa. On Monday I offer the 2nd teaching on Creating the Causes and Conditions of True and Lasting Happiness, a lesson taken from Shantideva, Bodhicaryavatara (chapter 4, verse 18). (My translation of Geshe-la’s words continue to be in blue). My commentary and spiritual writing prompts follow the lesson.
You don’t need spiritual teachings to help you be temporarily happy in this lifetime. For such temporary happiness you don’t need to study or practice the Dharma. If you are hungry, you know to eat. If you are tired you can go to sleep. If you are thirsty, you can drink. These are just temporary solutions to immediate concerns but these are not real solutions to lasting happiness and freedom.
As the messages from these stories tell us, real solutions to lasting happiness and freedom are found when you have a sincere wish to purify past karma and you apply yourself with diligent effort. Through the combination of this capable human life and these wonderful teachings even giant, powerful negative karmas can be purified. Not only can you free yourself from falling into lower realms in the next rebirth, you can actually attain arhatship, or enlightenment, in a single lifetime.
So this is where we start, or continue, with our motivation to learn and practice the Dharma—strongly motivated by karma and the desire not to fall into lower rebirths. To not fall into a lower rebirth you need to use your human intelligence. Once you achieve permanent cessation you will achieve enlightenment, which is never ending. Once you cease thinking and living from delusional states and you never fall down, you will achieve permanent cessation from negative actions and you will have permanent freedom. Through such a practice and commitment you will achieve complete and permanent emancipation, as revealed to us in countless historical stories. The final goal is complete liberation. You now know that no matter where you are or what you have done it is worth continuing your practice.
Note: These four examples (see previous blogs) are taken from what Nagarguna taught a king in Letter to a Friend. Kings had strong influence over their people and were spiritual leaders as well as political ones. If they were evil then they ruled in an evil way. That is why Nagarjuna was offering his teachings to the king; they affected the lives of everyone under the king’s rule.
Next lesson before the lesson: Creating the Causes and Conditions of True and Lasting Happiness
Once we truly grasp how we are creating the conditions right now for our future, we are more likely to take advantage of the rare opportunity that this life has given us.
My commentary: The core of my spiritual practice is from Atisha’s Lojong principles. Each day I pick one of the 59 pithy slogans, study it and go about my day with the intention to practice this particular slogan.
Over the years I have angered the religious sorts because I reject any dogmatic approach to explain or direct our experiences. I also have angered the atheists because I rely on practices that are spiritual in nature. So this is my own “middle path:” the one that allows me and others to explore our humanity and the meaning of life. I give myself permission to explore the meaning and significance of Geshe-la’s teachings. I don’t need to accept them without consideration and exploration on my part. I also do not believe we need fear to teach or guide each other or ourselves onto a good path. I practice the Lojong teachings because they uplift my life, imprint the future (this or future lives) with compassion and mindfulness, and they transform difficulty “on the spot.” Some people want to insist that I understand these and other teachings (from their religious perspective) in a certain way. I do not sense that the fundamentalists are afraid for my soul. They are afraid for themselves–they want everyone around them to be in agreement. This agreement to believe the same thing (in the same way) then leaves their belief system unchallenged. The atheists are more judgmental than angry. In my experience they think me a fool for some of my practices or beliefs. I understand. We have all witnessed how religion divides us. So, I rely on exploring the teachings in my own way without having the need for anyone else to agree with me. This world would be so much saner if we could let each of us explore religious teachings, explore the meaning of things and not try to convert or scare anyone into believing what we have come to believe ourselves.
* Write about a personal spiritual experience you had. Claim back stolen words and incorporate them into your story. Stolen words are ones that have been claimed by a group or have been altered so much that they are no longer resonate with the original meaning. Some examples of stolen words: Pagan, patriotic, family, christian, forgiveness.
* Write about something you don’t believe. (Notice afterward how this represents something you do believe).
* Write about what this Lojong slogan means to you: “Don’t Bring Things to a Painful Point.”