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Meditation on the four common foundations

The four common foundations

October 2003

We start with a meditation. First of all it is very important to sit in the right meditation posture. Sitting in the correct posture helps us to be comfortable and to focus our minds.

The definition of meditation is training the mind. Our whole life is dependent on our mind. How we perceive ourselves in this world is entirely dependent on our inner consciousness or mind. This is because if we try to explain ourselves or the world, all of us have different views. These differences aren't because things are different outside, it is because we all perceive the world differently. Because of that the mind is the most important. If we train it in the proper way and develop positive qualities, then there is no need to externalise things that much. This is very healthy because if we rely too much on outer phenomena, we find that it doesn't stay the same. It will change because everything is impermanent. The same outer phenomena that make us feel happy and pleasant one moment, can cause us great suffering the next. So in this way it is very important to rely on our own mind rather than outer beings or phenomena.

If we don't spend the time to analyse this, it seems that our happiness or unhappiness arises from other beings. However, the reality is that this isn't the case. Everything, whatever we experience, is the mind. On a deeper level we are talking about samsara, which has all the suffering, and nirvana, which is free from all the suffering. This also relies on one's mind. Samsara and nirvana are also nothing other than one's mind. There is no specific location of samsara, and there is no place that we can point to and say you can go there to nirvana. Samsara and nirvana are within one's mind. Therefore, in the beginning, training our mind is very important.

Then it is very important to know what type of condition arises to cause our unhappiness and our defilements. We will examine firstly the condition of attachment.

Due to our ignorance we believe that animate and inanimate objects are the cause of happiness and peace. Because of this mistake and misunderstanding we get attached to the people we love. Out of that attachment arises grasping, clinging and so forth. So no matter how strong we cling to things we like the most, this clinging increases the flame of desire and attachment. The state of mind that is dominated by this attachment is like wearing handcuffs. One is arrested in samsara by oneself. There is no person to rescue us from this prison. If we think this, then it is a misunderstanding. We have to release ourselves with an understanding of the defilements. How then can we release ourselves from this prison of defilement?

To do so we have to relax and think about the difficulties in our life, instead of blaming and criticising others; to honestly think and research and analyse. If we do this carefully then one may find out that the external beings are not the cause of our problems. The problems we have are created all by ourselves. We have to train the mind to think "if I don't have this attachment then I am not going to get these problems." As soon as we discover the root cause of the problem, and if we truly want to be free from suffering and this samsaric prison, we must minimise our own defilements. The nature of attachment is exhaustible - the more we do things the right way, the more the attachment or other defilements will be exhausted. It is helpful to remember that the very nature of all phenomena is exhaustible.

Many Buddhas have described sentient beings as their own saviour - other than ourselves, there is no saviour. Other than self, there is no being that exists that can save us. Of course, people can help and guide us. That is all they can do for us. Even Buddha Shakyamuni, a fully enlightened being with teachings so precious, can't come and rescue us without our own practice, without our own realisation of the root of our own problems.

We will now analyse the defilement of anger. Anger is like a burning fire, if we aren't careful even a small fire can burn a whole house. One small spark can even burn thousands of acres of bush. Therefore, we have to be very careful with one small spark of anger, because a big anger doesn't arise without a small one. The result of anger in this life alone can be very damaging to our relationships, reputation, happiness and peace. It isn't worth spending our time on anger, because when we get angry we are hurting ourselves more than others. However, we don't realise this. One minute we want to be happy, then the next we are acting the opposite. We have to recognise our own anger.

When we are angry to an enemy or disliked person, out of our ignorance we may think I am making things difficult for them. However, in reality we are making more difficulty for ourselves. This is because out of our anger, whatever negative karma is created, we cannot give it away to that person. We have to experience it ourselves. Therefore, from a karmic perspective, anger has some very heavy consequences. From this view when we look at many parts of our anger, we can't find anything that is good. Therefore, it is very important that, should the anger arise during meditation, we need to demolish it straightaway. Like when we see a small flame in some part of a house, we immediately extinguish it as we know how dangerous it can be. The same with this anger. No matter where it is, in whatever parts of the body, wherever the anger flame arises, it is going to destroy all our positive karma, our peace and happiness.

So in this way the more we reduce our defilements, the more we will experience peace of mind and happiness. Peace and happiness only can be experienced when we have less defilements. Defilements are like a sickness, the more sickness we have, the less pleasant our life. Mentally it is very unpleasant, physically it is very painful. Through taking medicine, we can improve our health and start to feel better. The Dharma is like a medicine, helping us create less defilements and through that, helping us find true peace and happiness.

It is very important to find out what makes us happy and what makes us unhappy. Then we can't blame others, it is our own defilements, our own delusion, our own ignorance. Through taking the medicine, when we improve our health, eventually we will not allow any form of attachment or anger to arise. Therefore, we remain steadfast in our loving kindness and compassion. The power of love and compassion doesn't give us an opportunity to get angry with ourselves and others.

We will now do a short meditation to focus our minds on ourselves and others, instead of wandering around distracted. It is good to utilise our resources for the long-term benefit in our life. In that way we can be more positive. It isn't only helpful for ourselves but by creating positive actions it is also helping others as we aren't harming them. When we stop creating problems for ourselves we also stop creating them for others. The best way of helping ourselves and others is to be positive. To be positive, we have to minimise our defiled mind. In this way we will do a short reflection.

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