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Meditation on the four common foundations

The four common foundations

November 2003

We start with a short meditation. The whole purpose of doing this meditation is to train our mind. The reason that we need to train the mind is because other than in the mind, there is no samsara and no nirvana. There is also no happiness or unhappiness, defilement or non-defilement. Samsara, nirvana, happiness or unhappiness are all qualities of one's mind. Because of that it is very important to make the time and reflect on our own mind. The more we reflect, the more we will understand the nature of the mind.

It is important to see one's own mind not just in meditation, but also in the post-meditation state, when it is essential to accumulate virtuous qualities and minimise our attachment, anger and ignorance. We need to try to develop positive qualities of the mind. The best method to accumulate merit is to understand the qualities of the higher beings like Buddha, Dharma, Sangha and all the Bodhisattvas and suitable objects. These are our role models and we try to achieve similar qualities to them. At the same time it is important to understand the method and path to be practised in order to achieve the result.

The great beings also respect other higher beings and perform many levels of practice, offering from the heart whatever they can. That way all sentient beings who are not enlightened and who have many needs also receive help on many levels. So instead of thinking of sentient beings as lower than ourselves, we need to know where and when to help them. In the practice of Dharma we always respect other sentient beings and reflect on their kindness to us, because these beings provide us with a great opportunity whenever we practise for them. We are actively engaged in helping others whenever we cultivate the intention to do so, and with whatever practices we choose - whether prayers, recitations or mantras. So in this way, if we live with positive intentions towards all the enlightened and non-enlightened beings, this will cause an accumulation of merit.

The more we continue to practise this way, the more we will develop our inner spiritual wealth. This inner spiritual wealth is the perfect cause with which to gain the realisations one can have of ultimate reality, as well as an understanding of conventional reality. But whatever realisation we have is caused by the wisdom mind. So this wisdom mind is the main antidote to uproot the root of defilement, which is the clinging self. Therefore this is the whole purpose of doing meditation, digging down to find the root cause of the problem and all of samsara. As long as we do not recognise the defilements or the roots of samsara, and as long as we do not know the point of meditation and practice, then it is very hard to see what benefits we gain from them. Without this recognition then meditation and practice cannot be the cause of overcoming difficulties and cannot be the antidote to uproot the root of the defilement.

As we know, gaining human life is extremely rare - almost impossible. There are four reasons or points of view that lead to this conclusion. There is the viewpoint of cause (moral conduct), viewpoint of number (humanity is only a small part of the round of existence), viewpoint of example, and viewpoint of nature (humanity is rare by its very nature). So once we have this precious human life we have a life of opportunity. This means we have the chance in this life to uproot all the causes of defilements and to attain the perfect state of Buddha. Therefore it is important to use our precious life in the right way.

When we do not understand or realise these things, it is very easy to waste this life and lose this fortunate moment. So the result of understanding the preciousness of human life and the importance of accumulating merit and transcendental (or common) wisdom is that we have got all the necessary causes and conditions needed to accomplish what we are trying to achieve in this life.

Once we are fully aware of what we can do in this life because we've got all these right facilities, then we kind of observe other human beings. We know they too have this quality, opportunity exists in their life, but due to karma or different reasons those beings don't recognise how much they can do to make happiness in their lives and the lives of others.

We can use this information to illustrate two separate points:

  1. We observe others and realise how fortunate we are to have Dharma in our life, and
  2. We can make our lives different.

Even when we think this way it is important to be careful, otherwise we may judge others or maybe we think we are in a better position than others, but that is not the point. The point is to recognise just how fortunate we are and to feel compassion towards others, not superiority. So when we develop compassion to those beings that haven't got an understanding of this facility, they become the cause for developing loving kindness, compassion and even the mind of enlightenment.

So thus we can see that the practice of loving kindness, compassion, or bodhicitta is the most precious mind one can have in order to transform the entire negative into the positive. When you have this quality of mind there is nothing that can make you angry or create a negative mind. If we do get angry, upset or feel bad, these negativities all arise from a lack of understanding of the human nature of oneself and others. Negativities also come from a lack of the practice of loving kindness, compassion and bodhicitta. In this way it is very important to recognise this precious moment and that we have all this opportunity. You can really make a difference to your own life and also contribute very positive things to the lives of others. So if you do not remind yourself of this ability and opportunity then it becomes very easy to waste one's life.

The main antidote to wasting this precious human life and its opportunity to practise Dharma is to reflect on the nature of impermanence. If we do not create the time for practice - and it's very hard to make time for practice because of our attachment - then laziness will always steal time from meditations. We need to recognise that attachment and laziness took away our practice opportunities in many previous lives. Due to that we are still in samsara, still with the causes and results of suffering. If you do not recognise these two in this life, you will not break the pattern and will have continuous wasting of life and stealing of opportunity.

Also we know, and have heard many times, that our time is uncertain. No one knows when he or she is going to die. So if time is not guaranteed then it is not good to delay one's practice because before you take up the opportunity you may already lose your life. If there were a guarantee that future life would again contain this opportunity to gain Dharma, then maybe it would be worthwhile to postpone. But there is no guarantee that we will regain precious human rebirth. So it's not worthwhile to take the risk. So whenever we have the opportunity, we need to make time for Dharma practice, as it is the most important method to provide us with lasting peace and happiness in this life and others. Whatever we achieve in samsara, we cannot take it with us when we die. All that will follow us is our karma, whatever we engage in, both good and bad.

So in this human life we have an option, we have a choice. Therefore it is very important to choose the right thing. That is how Buddha himself discovered that unhappiness is the engagement of the mind, body and speech. Other than mind there is no creator of suffering and unhappiness.

So for all these reasons, the necessity is to really look into our mind and try to recognise the nature of the mind. The more we understand the nature of mind, the more we awaken from delusion, and the more we awaken from delusion the closer we are to enlightenment.

This is the result of meditation - that one day we can be free from all this defilement and obscuration. Freedom from defilement and obscuration is liberation, and that is the ultimate goal to achieve. So enlightenment is not impossible - there are many beings in the past that, by the practice of meditation, achieved enlightenment. Many teachings say, statistically, each moment somewhere in this world, one person attains enlightenment. Enlightenment is not just imagination, it is reality.

With this guidance we once again reflect upon our mind to recognise the true nature of the mind.

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