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Meditation on the four common foundations

The four common foundations

December 2003

First of all it is important to sit in the right meditation posture, because the posture reminds us of this present moment with all our body, mind and speech fully engaged in the precious Dharma. No matter what else we do, nothing exists outside of Dharma that can lead us to lasting happiness and peace.

First, it is important to understand what the Dharma is. Dharma has two levels - conventional Dharma and absolute Dharma. Conventional Dharma is the cause or path to attain absolute Dharma. So this Dharma is none other than one's own mind; Dharma here is the positive quality of the mind, and that positive quality of the mind depends entirely on the motivation we create. Whatever good or positive things we do, if the motivation we create at the beginning of our practice is only for the sake of this life, then no matter what we practise, those things are not Dharma. It is very important to remember what the great Sakyapa master, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo taught in "Parting from the Four Attachments", that is - if you have attachment to this life, you are either not a spiritual person or you are not a Dharma practitioner.

Therefore it is very important to define what Dharma is and is not. Most of us think that when we recite some prayers, or do some meditation or good deeds then we think "this is Dharma". But real Dharma is based on a renunciation mind and bodhicitta mind. When practice is based on a renunciation and bodhicitta mind, this we can call pure Dharma, because that path of practice will lead us to freedom from the cycle of existence or lead us from samsara.

Due to this, whenever we practise, it is always important to examine our motivation, because our motivation can easily fall into mundane reasons. If we don't fix our mundane motivation then we don't have any opportunity to practise the real and precious Dharma. As we know, if we practise Dharma just for the sake of happiness in this life, then Dharma is not that special. Other activities can also make you happy in this life. Watching a movie, going to a party or other samsaric things can give you a level of happiness now. But those things cannot liberate us from samsara. This is a very deceptive situation because in the short-term it is pleasant; then because of the pleasantness more greed and more attachment are created, and then we are trapped in the samsaric web. Once we are trapped in the samsaric web, it is very hard to get out.

Because of this it is very important to be careful in the use of our own body, mind and speech. If we do not try to liberate ourself from samsara, there is no one else out there who can do it for us. In this way we are fully responsible for our own happiness and the cause of our happiness. Of course it is important to seek guidance from one's teacher but a teacher can only guide and help us to know how we can be free from the samsaric web.The teacher cannot help you to liberate yourself if you do not practise.

So if we reflect on our own situation in this life, then we can see that we are so fortunate, we have all the facilities needed to free oneself from samara. No matter how busy we are, we can still make time for ourself, we can still make time for practice. Then, if you think about living and learning in this country, remember that no matter what you believe, there is freedom of practice. No one is controlling you or stopping you from practising your beliefs. We are also very fortunate in other facilities, we don't need to worry that much about our own survival, with regard to a place to live, things to eat, things to wear - we have plenty of physical and material possessions. So, if we try to reflect on each and every part of our lives, we have almost everything we need.

Satisfaction and appreciation is the most important part of how we can support our practice. If you are satisfied or appreciative, then you have more time to practise Dharma because we have everything we need. But if there is no satisfaction or appreciation then dissatisfaction and non-appreciation depletes all our energy and time. We always feel there is 'not enough' and want more. Regardless of what you have already, if you are not satisfied then you are never going to be fulfilled. This is the only robber stealing all our time and energy. So in this way it is very important to recognise the most serious robber to enlightenment is our own unsatisfied mind.

Sometimes we take for granted our precious human life and we do not realise how fortunate we are to obtain this precious human life. If you study the precious teaching of the Buddha, he explains in great detail how difficult it is to obtain this precious human rebirth. Everything that Buddha taught is not to frighten or threaten you into practising Dharma; every teaching he gave is from real life, his own experience and his own realisation.

Buddha's teachings always talk about the four reasons for practice, and one of these is the extreme difficulty of obtaining precious human rebirth. Therefore from that aspect it is important not to waste a moment of the precious life. If you utilise this lifetime in the right way, you not only liberate yourself, but can also help countless other sentient beings - we have this potential and opportunity in our human mind.

So in that aspect we are very fortunate. We should rejoice because, even if we do not have any more than what we have obtained by being in this life, we are still fortunate. Happiness or unhappiness is none other than in one's own mind. When you recognise your good fortune this recognition itself brings happiness. When you do not recognise your good fortune in this life the result is unhappiness. For this reason the whole purpose of doing the practice, the meditation, is to train our existent mind.

Training the mind is a unique quality of the human mind. The more we understand the inner world of the mind, then the better we can deal with the outer world of what we see or hear or touch or taste. If we train our mind in a very positive way, then we have a better chance to achieve more positive things. If we don't train this mind, it is easy to be trapped in a samsaric delusion or defilement mind. So if we do not fix this defilement or delusion mind, no matter how beautiful or attractive outside things are, they do not mean anything because they cannot bring you any lasting happiness and therefore collecting them is a waste. No matter how much we collect in this world, at the time of the death we cannot take it with us, so all the effort, time, energy, knowledge and money we spent is wasted.

So every effort that we put into training our mind so that the mind continuum follows us into the next life is worthy. When we die there is no need to leave our mind, because it is continuous. That is how we can progress life after life - by training our mind in this life. So the only thing that can follow us from this life to a future life is the continuation of our own mind. Because of that, whether you are having a good time or a bad time, the most important thing is to give time to train our mind to be positive. The positive mind is the source of all peace and happiness; temporarily and ultimately, this mind is the cause by which to create full and perfect enlightenment.

In this way we learn to understand ourself a bit more. Then when other people make difficulties for you or make you uncomfortable, these incidents are not that important any more. If you do not engage when people are making life difficult for you, then they cannot do much damage. We do the most damage when we engage ourself with the negativity of others. The main cause of suffering, unhappiness and depression is when your mind negatively engages with others. So in this way, the practice of Dharma is maintaining or taking care of the mind, learning mindfulness and alertness.

Once we properly train our own mind, then naturally and automatically it helps to train our speech and our physical actions, because most of what we say and do is influenced by our own mind. If you are mentally very happy, then you say positive things and physically you show openness by smiling and other good gestures toward others. If you are mentally a very negative person, then whatever you say always hurts others and also hurts yourself. Physically you will show expressions of anger and other negative emotions.

Therefore the purpose of meditation is the training of one's mind. It is very important to know the meaning of meditation. Sometimes people think to meditate, all they have to do is just sit there and relax and do nothing. That is not meditation; that is not helping you to train your mind. That is a small break, resting your mind for that moment and creating peacefulness for a short time afterwards. This can be pleasant but it is not long lasting. The real definition of meditation is a state of mind that is fully aware, with which to reflect on our mind and to recognise what parts are positive and what parts are negative. So when we recognise the negative parts, we either let them go or we uproot them. We maintain the positive qualities of mind we identify from our fully aware reflection and, day by day, we increase this positive quality of mind. So that is the real meaning of meditation.

So based on that description of meditation, we can improve the quality of our mind each and every day. The more we improve our quality of mind, that much we can experience wealth, happiness, peace, joy and so forth. So in this way we reflect according to what has just been explained, making sure you are not just distracting your mind or thinking about what you are going to do after this. At this moment, give yourself the opportunity to recognise the mind and acknowledge that we have to train the mind for the sake of one's own benefit and for the benefit of others.

In this way we just reflect for a few minutes on our mind, body and speech.

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