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Meditation on the four common foundations

The four common foundations

November 2003

So again, we sit in the right meditation posture. It is important to realise that in this posture all the past, present and future Buddhas have, and will, gain full enlightenment. Because of that we are so fortunate to obtain this precious human life. In order to have success in our practice, it is very important to understand how fortunate we are by just meeting this precious Dharma. It is almost miraculous to have met this precious Dharma in this life. This is because in this world there is a very small chance to really understand how precious the Dharma is. We all know that it is called the 'precious Dharma' because in this world there are so many paths and beliefs. However, there is no path like the Dharma that really takes us beyond samsara, which is free from all the causes and results of suffering and unhappiness. If we can maintain the practice, we have a chance to overcome our difficulties and we can lead many other beings to gain lasting happiness. This kind of opportunity won't come very often in this human life or other lives.

The best way to start approaching this precious Dharma is to generate kindness towards ourselves and others. However we may have thought previously, such as thinking others are making difficulties for us, we now need to think that we are all innocent. As individuals we all want to be happy and be free from suffering. There is no difference between us. The reason we continuously experience others as unpleasant is because of our defilements, creating self and others, life after life. So the point or focus when practising the Dharma is not to defeat other sentient beings; the whole purpose is to defeat our inner defilements as well as others' defilements. Whoever works on that, defeating one's defilements and helping others defeat theirs, that person understands how to practise the Dharma. That Dharma is the true medicine, which can uproot the defilements and their residues. By practising in this way, this practice of Dharma eventually frees us from all defilements and their residues. That person we label as enlightened or liberated, and is free from all suffering and its causes.

If we look in this way, liberation is possible - to gain enlightenment is also a possibility. Whether we attain that state or not is firstly dependent on our understanding and then, secondly, on how we maintain the practice in our everyday life. To achieve our ultimate goal it is very important that we always improve our quality of mind, body, and speech. To do this we need to decrease our defilements and increase our kindness, day after day. This is a sign that what we are practising is the right practice. Otherwise, no matter how hard and how diligently we practise, we may get an opposite result, a result that increases the defilements and decreases our wisdom and kindness. That practice is not the right practice.

We need to rethink our situation. If we don't realise that we are doing the wrong practice, we may be developing the wrong view. We may not recognise this and then we blame the path. In this way, it is important to always be mindful and have awareness whenever we speak, think and act. If we aren't aware, then our competitor, our defilements are extremely smart. They can come in different forms. Sometimes it is very hard to recognise whether they are defilements or kindness. If we can't distinguish between the two, then sometimes we abandon the true kind qualities and we adopt all the defiled qualities.

Therefore, again, to study the teaching of the Buddha is extremely important because the teachings clearly distinguish what is the defilement and what is the path. Without knowing the differences, we cannot distinguish between the practices. Also the best way to improve our practice is to always respect other sentient beings, particularly those we may think are negative beings or who we think may have less understanding than ourselves. Whenever we think negative things about someone, then this means that we are much worse than that person. It is always important to respect others, this is more important than respecting ourselves - particularly when we practise this Mahayana path, because the foundation to this path is compassion. Without compassion there is no Mahayana path.

So how can we generate and develop this compassion for other sentient beings? When we understand their difficulties and we understand the cause of their difficulties, all their negativities and defilements and their results - the greater the understanding that we develop, the more these become the true cause of compassion. From that aspect, the teachings say that all other sentient beings are the most important to stabilise one's compassion. Compassion is the only liberator from suffering and the cause of suffering. Without compassion, logically we cannot prove that we can be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. Whenever we have negative thoughts or speech to others, it is always important to remind ourselves that these are the destroyer of my compassion. When we exhaust our compassion then there is no chance for us to be free from suffering and the cause of suffering. Due to this, to defeat self and others' defilements is the main path of the Dharma. If we don't take this opportunity or advantage whilst we have this human life and only live with the negative, then whatever positive karma we have is very easy to exhaust within this life. Once we have exhausted all our positive karma and virtuous deeds, then there is no further cause to take rebirth as a human in future lives.

This is the most opportune part of our life - we can make things better for ourselves and others. This is our golden opportunity. It is important, every day, to reflect on the difficulties experienced by those beings in the lower realms, like animal, hungry ghost and hell beings. At this moment we don't have any guarantee that we aren't going to be reborn in that unfortunate state in the future. Imagine how much negativity through our body, speech and mind we have created in this life. If we aren't careful we already have enough to take rebirth in the unfortunate realms. So there is no time to sit and relax and exhaust our virtuous mind. This is quite a serious part of life and a very important responsibility, how to take care of ourselves.

Again, to practise the Dharma, the first, the most important thing, is to believe in cause and effect. Without having strong faith in cause and effect it is impossible to understand the general Buddhist path. The whole Buddhist path is based on cause and effect. Therefore, everything that we create through our three doors of body, speech and mind, brings its own result. Because of that we are always careful not to engage in the ten non-virtuous deeds, directly or indirectly. It is also always important to encourage ourselves to perform and develop the ten virtuous deeds. To do this practice there is no need to have a specific time to go somewhere, we can practise these things while we are thinking, speaking and acting, each and every moment, day and night. In this way it is very important, every day, to feed healthy food into our body, mind and speech. Then, whatever we are engaging in or applying, it always brings positive results for that moment and also for future moments.

Again, it is not worthy to stress out unnecessarily in this life just for the sake of samsaric reasons. It is not worthy to use our precious life for suffering, for mundane possessions or mundane ego. We can use this great opportunity for the cause of suffering; this is very unwise. This is one of the worst ways to do foolish things in this life. If we don't take care of ourselves, then there is no one out there to protect us. We are our own saviour or protector. Attaining happiness is entirely dependent on how we maintain our everyday life.

With this understanding, we reflect for a few moments on how important it is that we have this precious life and how the easiest way to waste this life is to use it for negative reasons. It is important to understand how to avoid wasting our life, and how to generate more positive actions in order to attain temporary peace and happiness. From this we can understand how to gain lasting peace and happiness or attain full enlightenment.

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