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Meditation on the four common foundations

The four common foundations

November 2003

First it is good to think that we are not in an ordinary place, but in a special place that has been blessed by many great masters and practitioners, and that we sit in this special place to reflect and we are very fortunate. This is beyond expression, to have this kind of opportunity, this sacred place, this Buddhist temple. It is then important to bring up all the positive qualities of one's life that help inspire the Buddha-dharma.

As we know, we are like short-term guests on the earth - we are not going to be in this human life forever. However, this human life is the perfect condition with which to cross the samsaric ocean. From beginningless time until now, our dream has been to find lasting happiness and to be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. If we reflect upon each and every part of our fortune, we find that it is beyond expression, and we begin to realise how much of an opportunity we have in this life.

Firstly reflect that just to obtain a human life alone is not easy. One of the hardest things to obtain is a human life. Human life is the result of keeping proper conduct not just once but for many lifetimes. We are so fortunate to have this precious human life.

If we just observe human life in this world, we see how many out there engage in non-virtuous deeds, for the sake of their own happiness, due to a lack of an opportunity to meet the precious Dharma. All these beings are committing negative deeds and not realising the consequences of negative actions. So if we compare ourselves to those beings out there wishing to be happy, but engaging in the causes of unhappiness due to a lack of understanding of cause and effect, then we realise we are so fortunate.

In this life we've met the precious Dharma. The Dharma helps us to light up what to adopt and what to reject. Even if we cannot live a perfect virtuous life, at least we can recognise what is virtuous and what is non-virtuous. Just having this understanding can have vast benefit in this life. Whenever we commit some negative action, if we have a strong sense of regret or feel bad about our behaviour and never feel happy when we commit these actions, then that is an understanding of karma or cause and effect. Similarly whenever we commit some virtuous actions, we also realise that we have done something good, then immediately we feel good and we know the consequences are always positive.

Once we know about this system of cause and effect, then there is less confusion about what is good for me and what is not good for me, because the nature of each is clearly separated into what is virtuous and what is non-virtuous. For each of these we know the consequences, and we realise this when we practise. This is a true blessing of the Buddha's teaching. A blessing is none other than one's own practice, which arises then into daily life and transforms ignorance into wisdom. The end result is that one can transform this samsara into nirvana.

These are the true blessings of the teaching and teachers. So it is good to reflect not only on our individual viewpoint but also on what kind of beings we have met in this life such as a great master. Not only have we met them, we have also received profound teachings. Even if we do not understand them, just by being present with those masters we have planted many precious and profound seeds in our mental continuum.

So if you just reflect on that aspect, it brings so much joy and inspiration that we can recognise how fortunate we are - not just because we live in a rich country, but because we have a rich culture that provides us with happiness in this and future lives and will lead us to attain mastery over suffering. If you really seriously think about it, it is almost impossible to have all these facilities at the one time. So from that point of view, we are very lucky - we are very fortunate.

However, even when we realise how fortunate we are, it is not good to cling or attach, because clinging or attachment to one's fortunate way of life in the end causes some ego or pride that can pollute the positive qualities of life. So whenever ego or attachments start to arise, immediately reflect on the consequences of attachment, ego, and so forth and apply the right antidote.

We learn through the Dharma that the point of practising Dharma is not to increase our defilements or mind defects. The purpose of practising Dharma is to uproot these defects or defilements because they are the manifestation or causes of samsara and all sorts of suffering and unhappiness. So each and every day if we reflect on the right way, that is, whatever we learn about Dharma, then eventually this creates a very healthy mind, which is the path of the Dharma leading to nirvana or lasting happiness.

If we do not commit virtuous deeds in this life, or if maybe we only commit neutral deeds, then imagine what a great waste this precious human life is. So it's good to think about the difficult states beings can be born into, such as animals, hungry ghosts and hell beings. There is no guarantee that we will not be reborn in that state. Because of all our defilements, just imagine in this life alone how much attachment we have created, enough to be born as a hungry ghost. Also if we reflect on how much anger we have created in this life, we have enough to be reborn as a hell being. How much ignorance we have lived with is enough for us to take rebirth with the animals. So if we seriously reflect about our current defilements, we recognise there is not really time to rest. The only time we can feel relaxed or rest or feel confident in life, is when we have minimised anger, attachment and ignorance. Then there is no need to fear where we will take rebirth in our future life.

So with every practice that we do, it is important to bring it into our daily commitment. Then, if you apply each and every day, day by day your practice will increase just like each individual drop of water combines to make an ocean. So each day, just think about whatever you have learnt, and then in one week's time we have gained that much more knowledge, wisdom and experience. In this way if you calculate the entire year's practice without missing a single day, what you can achieve and its virtue is almost uncountable.

So in this way the precious human life is the best moment to invest in the precious Dharma. We have all the right facilities and wealth to invest. Once we lose this human life, we don't achieve anything if we are born in the lower realms - it is like being bankrupt. From the lower realms it is very hard to recover from that state to be reborn back into human life. These words are not just imagination or tales - these are really what Buddha taught in his teachings.

So we reflect on these ideas - they are the causes of our motivation and explain the importance of practising the precious Dharma. They also explain the results we can expect from practising the precious Dharma. So in this way it helps us to create stronger or deeper motivation to practise Dharma successfully.

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