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Meditation on the four common foundations

Meditation on the four common foundations

April 2001

First, it is very important to sit in the right meditation posture, in a comfortable position. Try to relax your mind. It is very important to try to free one's mind from all daily activities. This is now the time to relax and focus on the practice of the precious Dharma.

Once the mind is relaxed, it is important to look into oneself to see if all the difficulties, whatever we face in this life, are caused by external phenomena or internal states of mind. Whenever we feel our difficulties are caused by external phenomena, this is just an illusion. The true cause of one's difficulty is not coming from external things. The true or real cause of suffering is coming from one's own state of mind.

In the relative, the mind is the creator, creating all our experience of happiness and suffering. Other than in the mind, feelings of good or bad or positive and negative experiences do not exist. When we don't realise everything is created by the mind, we are always looking outwards to try to fix our problems. No matter how much time and energy we spend, there is nothing to fix, there is nothing to end. If we try to fix one problem, another arises. For this reason, it is very important, if we really want to be free from suffering or difficulties, to try to free our own delusion mind.

Like the great master Shantideva mentioned in his text, The Way of the Bodhisattva, just imagine this world is full of thorns and that to walk on it causes our feet much pain and discomfort. To protect our feet, we need to cover the whole world with leather, but we cannot find a piece of leather big enough to cover the whole planet. If, however, we wear leather shoes, this will be enough to cover the whole planet and our feet. In the same way, if we protect our own mind we protect everything. If we don't know how to protect our mind, we are not safe, we are very insecure. That is the nature of samsara.

All our fears, insecurities, hopes - they are caused by the delusion mind. So, the reason we practise the Dharma is to free this delusion mind, that's the most important thing. In order to free this illusion or delusion mind, it is very important to find the true teaching of the Buddha. Like Buddha, many other enlightened ones followed this path and obtained lasting peace and happiness. Some of us, too, want to follow in his steps.

Just to be born as a sentient being is not good enough to practise this precious Dharma. We need special qualities, the qualities that allow us to understand the meaning of the Dharma. All sentient beings don't have this kind of opportunity to meet the Dharma and understand the Dharma. So, in this way it is very important to realise that we are very, very fortunate to have obtained this precious human life.

In this life, we have so much power and opportunity to liberate ourselves. If we use this opportunity in the right way, as human beings we have the potential to achieve the highest result in this existent world. Other than Dharma practice, no matter what worldly things we do, nothing ends. Just like a wave - if we sit in front of the ocean looking at a wave, we may ask when it is going to end. But there is no end - one wave comes after another, and so on. Our mundane activities are like a wave. With this realisation, it is very important that whenever we have the opportunity to focus on the Dharma we never delay. Sometimes we say, "I will do my practice after I have finished my work." When our mind thinks, "I am going to do my practice when I have finished my work, or sport or whatever", this is creating a big delusion, deceiving oneself.

Again, practice does not mean just sitting down reciting. Practice means always creating a kind heart, being honest to oneself and others. Try to bring your mind into peace rather than let it be dominated by greed and other defilements. The only way we can liberate ourselves from this samsara is to have the right practice of loving kindness, compassion and bodhicitta. These are the true causes to attain the state of liberation.

Even when we achieve this precious human life, it isn't going to last forever. We all know that life is impermanent. We even know from our own experience that we are not born at the age we are now, we were born as a baby. Reflect on how much we have changed, mentally, physically, since that time. Just imagine how much we could have achieved by now if we had started this practice at a young age. Even starting at a later age, there is no need to worry, as we are still very fortunate.

We have so much time to practise the Dharma. Dharma is not just worshipping the Buddha. Dharma is the true medicine to overcome one's samsaric sickness. Whether we want to practise Dharma or not, we are always trying so many different things to overcome our suffering, pain or difficulties. But if we don't have the right wisdom, we may continually be doing the wrong things. This can lead us to experience more suffering and difficulty than happiness and peace. For this reason, it is important to have the right wisdom to know what to adopt and what to abandon.

So, true happiness comes from within one's mind, not from outside. Sometimes when we are not happy, we may go shopping or to a nice restaurant or we may go to see a movie. These are only short-term solutions - they are not going to bring lasting peace and happiness. Instead of spending all this energy on this short-term happiness, we could spend time for the longer term benefit for ourselves and others by gaining the right wisdom. This is very wise. It is very important to have confidence and belief in the teachings of the Dharma. Dharma has the qualities of peace and positivity. If our mind is full of positive, virtuous merit, then even if we try to find suffering or difficulty we cannot. With a positive mind, nothing exists that will be the cause of suffering.

If we are always doing negative deeds mentally, physically and vocally, then no matter how hard we try, we cannot find any peace or happiness. This is because the causes and conditions of peace and happiness do not exist. So, practising the Dharma spontaneously achieves the result. We don't have to wait for a long time to gain the result of happiness. While we practise the Dharma, our mind is totally engaged in positive deeds. These positive deeds abandon all the causes and results of suffering. For this reason, many people, both during or after meditation, find so much peace because the mind is engaging in positive directions.

Again, it is very important to remind oneself, not just once or twice but many times, that this sickness or samsaric suffering is not just a short-term problem. It is a very serious sickness, as we have had this pain and suffering for many lifetimes. So, we need to take regular medicine to fix this ongoing suffering. For this reason it is very important, on a daily basis, to discipline ourselves and take on the responsibility of treating our sickness.

The suffering or happiness, whatever we are experiencing, is not up to somebody else like Buddha or other spiritual beings. It is entirely up to us. If we really want to be happy, it is our responsibility to accumulate the cause of happiness. If we wish to avoid all the suffering, it is our responsibility to avoid all the causes and conditions of suffering. Without our own practice, there is no one who can give us lasting peace and happiness.

Even though we realise this, we might think, "I can't do that by myself". This is why it is very important to have a teacher. A teacher is like Buddha, protecting us. It is important also to have a path, the Dharma, and a community for support, the Sangha. If we have these three most precious objects, we will never feel lonely. We will always have support, nourishing our mind, to be able to develop a more positive mind. In this way, we will find more peace in our mind and peace surrounding wherever we live.

Most human beings have the power to change the environment. If one person has one negative mind, this can totally pollute that environment and create great difficulties. If someone has a very positive mind, this can also greatly contribute to changing the environment to the positive. Like when the sun rises, light issues from it and illuminates all the darkness. So, too, a kind heart is like the sun, illuminating all the ignorance and bringing all the peace and happiness.

This is why it is very important to reflect on the Dharma on a daily basis. The reason we are doing this is for peace and happiness. There is nothing more important than practising the Dharma. No matter what important project we take on, the reason we are taking it on is that we think it is going to benefit ourselves and others, but there is no guarantee that mundane activities are going to bring peace. More than likely, they are going to bring more suffering, more worry, more stress.

I am not saying that we should totally renounce all mundane activities because we do live in the ordinary world. We need a job, we need these activities. What I am saying is don't rely on them for the ultimate cause of happiness. These mundane activities are only for a temporary benefit, to help us to live day to day. They are not going to bring final, lasting peace and happiness. Only the Dharma can be guaranteed to do this.

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