The title may tempt you to skip this chapter — who wants to hear more about suffering! Indeed, Gampopa’s Ornament of Precious Liberation includes vivid descriptions of the six realms of samsaric existence as places we could be reborn into, depending on which obscuring emotions we are most caught up in in this life. But — it is also where you will find the key to complete liberation from the whole thing. And freedom is what we want, right? (It’s actually worth checking in with ourselves from time to time to make sure.)
To claim your key, click on “continue reading,” below.
In truth, anyone who practices with great effort cannot fail to reach enlightenment. Why? Because all forms of conscious life, including ourselves, possess its prime cause. Within us is buddha nature.” ~ Gampopa OPL, translated by Ken Holmes.
We got the bad news right off the bat in Gampopa’s introduction to OPL: the confusion and suffering of samsara will never clear up without hard work on our part. Fortunately, he leads off the first chapter with the good news: if we do that work, the result is guaranteed. In this chapter, “we” includes not only present students of the dharma, but all humans whatever their material situation or belief system; and not only humans, but all beings, from the highest gods to our cherished pets to the earthworms in our garden to the most miserable denizens of literal or psychological hell. We all meet the first and most important of the three prerequisites for buddhahood. We all have the potential to wake up.
Why should we believe this? Gampopa backs up his guarantee with three categories of evidence:
Gampopa Sonam Rinchen, the 12th-century physician from Dakpo who entered monastic life after his wife and two children died in an epidemic, and who went on to “unite the two streams” of practice and establish the Kagyu Lineage that continues to flourish today, began his A-Z guide to the path of awakening with a concise introduction that makes a compelling case for why we should go to all this trouble in the first place. But what, exactly, is wrong with life as we know it?
Like drops of dew upon each blade of grass / The three realms’ happiness evaporates.
In contrast, the supreme and highest state / Of liberation doesn’t ever change.
To strive in all my efforts just for that: / This is the way a bodhisattva trains.
Verse 8 audio above. Audio for verses 8-10 is here.
So…. in verse 8 we begin to practice the dharma in order to become free from the intense, outright sufferings of the three lower realms, which result from harmful actions motivated by the corresponding poisons of anger (hell realms), desire (hungry ghost realm) and ignorance (animal realm).
The motivation of verse 8 is the essential foundation for any progress on the path, and it’s important not to gloss over it. But the point of verse 9 is that as we begin to progress along the path, we realize that freedom from outright suffering isn’t enough — the kind of happiness, pleasure, and comfort samsara has to offer even in the higher realms of humans, gods, and not-quite-gods is in fact the three types of suffering in disguise. At the very least, the highs of samsaric happiness don’t last very long (this is the all-pervasive suffering of conditioned existence, that it is deteriorating moment by moment). At worst, they turn at some point from pleasure to pain (the suffering of change — our old friend, outright suffering, e.g., Hurricane Harvey, August 2017).
With this realization comes the second, middle level of motivation: to attain freedom not only from suffering but also from the entire cycle of confusion that is samsara —the good, the bad, and the ugly. In this verse, Togme Zangpo instructs himself (and us) to direct all efforts in this life toward “the supreme and highest state of liberation.” Yep, he said all!
This is a brief summary for the KDC class on the Ornament of Precious Liberation, where we are studying the paramita of meditation, within the general heading of action bodhicitta. (Or for anyone else who is interested in these topics.)
I found a pretty good image of the Buddhist Wheel of Life with the 12 links of interdependent origination. Other resources: Kalu Rinpoche, Luminous Mind (with image) and Tai Situpa, Awakening the Sleeping Buddha, chapter on karma and reincarnation (no image, but a very clear and concise explanation).
You can see the video of this teaching by clicking here. In fact, if you click you will find a small and growing treasure trove of teachings in the PTC PPV video archive. The cost per video is $20 to help support teacher visits and the cost of livestreaming. The archive includes two wonderful teachings by Khenpo Donyo about the enlightened female teachers who inspired the Shangpa lineage, Niguma and Sukhasiddhi, and their Vajra songs expressing the nature of mind. (The video archives are unavailable at this time.)
When I avoid conditions that disturb me, / Emotional afflictions lose their strength.
When there are no distractions to engage me, / My dharma practice grows to fill the space.
Awareness – knowing – rigpa clarifies, / And certainty in dharma dawns and thrives.
On solitude and silence to rely: / This is the way a bodhisattva trains.
verse 3 chanted 3x.
verses 1-3 chanted 1x.
Verse 3! I think this may the hardest challenge of all in our 21st-century lives so rich with technology and other distractions. We will spend another week on verse 3, so please continue your study, contemplation, and meditation on it.
In recent years, this heron (or maybe several, but I’ve always seen just one at a time) has regularly hung out by the koi pond in Richmond’s Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Visitors pay their quarter and toss in a handful of pellets, the fish surface for their breakfast, et voila: the heron breakfasts, too. Herons are usually quite shy, but this one is now savvy enough to stay put when a visitor appears with pellets, and today it got quite close and followed me around. I cleverly threw my pellets on the opposite side of the path from where the heron was poised to strike, so it had to go back and forth, which is a slow process for a heron on foot, and the only breakfast served while I was there was to the koi.
As a Buddhist, I feel I can’t prefer fish over herons or vice versa–they all have an equal desire to live and an equal need to sustain themselves. But I always try to err on the side of not contributing to anyone’s immediate peril.
OK, the title is a trick–as we know, compassion and wisdom are complementary, and in the end of course there is no difference between them at all. Buddhahood, enlightenment, full awakening is the ultimate development of both, and they are ultimately undifferentiable, like any qualities we may ascribe to the nature of mind for the purpose of discussing it. Buddhahood is sometimes likened to a bird with two wings–both wings have to function fully for flight to take place.
I hear a lot about the importance of engaged Buddhism, putting compassion into action, not thinking it is enough to sit on our cushion or chair and meditate. Sometimes there seems even to be an implication that sitting on the cushion is indulgent compared with being up and about to help others in active ways. Why waste time in solitude when so many are suffering?