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Natural Liberation

1. Preliminary Practices for Subduing Your Own Mind-stream

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Preliminary Practices for Subduing Your Own Mind-stream

NOW WE GO to the preliminary practices, which are the very core of Dharma practice. This is not the time to cut corners. We’ve been cutting corners since beginningless sasāra, and this has led us to perpetuate our own existence in sasāra. If we cut corners in the present as we have in the past, then in the future too, we’ll simply continue to wander in the cycle of existence. Therefore, it’s very important to listen and study well and put the teachings into practice. Without doing that, if you then think that you can teach this to other people, it is a disgrace. You’re finished. All of these teachings are Atiyoga teachings, and they’re not to be treated lightly or casually in that fashion. For those of you who are planning to skip ahead to the six transitional processes, if you omit the preliminary practices, then you’re really making a mistake and you’re missing the whole point.

This introduction concerns the preliminary practices for subduing your own mind-stream, and this begins with a prayer.

The Preliminary Practices for Subduing Your Own Mind-stream

With faith and devotion I mentally bow

To the Dharmakāya, the original lord Samantabhadra,

The Sambhogakāya, the victorious peaceful and wrathful deities,

And to the Nirmāakāya, Padmasambhava.

First, what is the purpose of the text’s having a title or name? There are various reasons for that. First of all, simply by seeing the title of a text, a person who is very well versed in Dharma will have a very clear sense of what the text is about from beginning to end. The title allows such a person to place the text among the three yānas and identify what type of teaching it is.

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To take an analogy, it’s as if you have a medicine with a label stating its name, ingredients, and benefits. That is the purpose of the title of a text for knowledgeable people. For people who are not so learned, the title of a text will at least give them some idea that it is perhaps a Mahāyāna text. They get some idea of the contents of the text, although they will not have a total grasp of its context and meaning. Thirdly, when you have the title of a text, you will at least know how to find it.

Following the title there is a four-line homage. What’s the homage for? Clearly, there are many types of homage: there can be homage to the guru, to the chosen deity, and many others. What’s the point of this? There are various reasons for including the homage at the beginning of the text. One is that by presenting the homage, the author is in effect asking for the permission of the enlightened beings to compose the work that follows. It also entails calling for a blessing from the enlightened beings, and specifically that the work in question can be brought to culmination and that it can be completed. It is also used to pray that the teachings that one is about to compose may be of benefit for sentient beings and for the preservation of the Dharma.

Next is what we traditionally call “the commitment to compose the text,” through which the author makes a commitment to give these teachings. Once again, what is the reason for the author to make this commitment to compose this work? If this were an author with a modern, worldly mentality, then the composition probably would be made for the sake of profit. This is not the case with these great beings who composed such texts as this. Rather, their motivation was that they would compose such texts for the benefit of sentient beings and for the sake of Dharma. It’s like the case of the chosen deity: you choose your chosen deity; and, with that choice there is also the commitment to actualize that deity. In this process when you make this commitment, you may, for example, generate yourself as Mañjuś’rī. As Mañjuśrī then you carry forth with the activity. That’s one route. Another one is that you simply ask that the blessings of Mañjuśrī might enter into you so that you can carry this work 15through to its culmination. Another major purpose for the initial commitment is so that the work can be brought to its culmination, that it can be done well, and that it can be done well for the sake of others. Thus, we see that all of this hinges upon one’s motivation, and it’s important that it’s right there from the beginning. Just as we so commonly recite “for the sake of all sentient beings throughout space” and then carry on with whatever practice it is, as we do in our daily practice, so is this the case in composing a text. The motivation is of initial, paramount importance.

Due to the power of prayers, the experiential instructions on the transitional processes

Are revealed for the sake of disciples who are training their mind-streams.

In this there are the preliminary practices, the main practice, and the conclusion;

And here the gradual instructions in the preliminary practices

Will be clearly presented for those of inferior intelligence,

With the introduction and practice in accord with the guru’s tradition.

Here, the author is saying that this is not something simply of his own fabrication. It’s in accordance with the guru’s tradition; and, in saying that, the implication is that it goes back to Vajradhara, the primordial Buddha.

There is a lot of significance in the simple words, “clearly presented.” For some texts, you have the root, or primary, text, as well as many commentaries. All of these commentaries are like branches that grow out from the trunk. There may be so many that they actually obscure the root. You get caught up in so many of the details that you lose sight of the root. That can be a problem. There’s another problem, though, and that is not being able to understand a text because it is so concise. When it says “clearly presented” here, the implication is that the text will not be so 16extensive that you lose sight of what it’s really about, nor will it be so concise that you can’t figure it out at all.

Here the subject is taught in terms of six general topics: (1) pondering the sufferings of the cycle of existence, (2) the difficulty of obtaining a human life of leisure and endowment, and (3) meditating on death and impermanence are the preliminary practices for subduing your own mind-stream. The preliminary practices for training your own mind-stream include: (4) guru yoga, (5) the hundred-syllable mantra, and finally (6) the spiritual activity of offering the maala.

PONDERING THE SUFFERINGS OF CYCLIC EXISTENCE

If you do not ponder the sufferings of the cycle of existence, disillusionment with the cycle of existence will not arise. If disillusionment with the cycle of existence does not arise, whatever Dharma you practice, it cannot be disengaged from this life, and the craving and attachment of this life are not severed. Thus, pondering the sufferings of the cycle of existence is extremely important.

When the text addresses the sufferings of the cycle of existence, this is referring to the first of the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Truth of Suffering. What needs to be done is to recognize the truth of suffering and to recognize the manner in which this suffering is, in fact, suffering. How is it suffering? That, too, needs to be known. Without that, there will be no disillusionment with sasāra. Without such meditation, our natural tendency is to be attached to the cycle of existence. Therefore, it’s through such meditation that we counteract the grasping onto the cycle of existence. Without such meditation, whatever purportedly spiritual activity we engage in with our bodies and our speech will be ineffectual, because it has no foundation. Thus, it cannot free us from 17suffering. Without this disillusionment with sasāra, even if one engages in some semblance of practicing Dharma, in fact there is no genuine Dharma. In the absence of any genuine Dharma practice, there’s no liberation nor is there any enlightenment.

A lot of people may respond, at least internally, that they’ve heard about the preliminary practices many times already, and that they are thoroughly familiar with them. You may think you know it, but in reality you may not. What would indicate that? You’re still attached to sasāra. The very fact that you’re still attached to this cycle of existence is itself proof that you do not know the preliminaries. You’ve not gotten the real result from the practice of the preliminaries. You’ve not turned your mind away from sasāra. If you look at the Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind,18 the sufferings of sasāra are discussed there. Just having heard about them or having done a little bit of meditation does not mean you’ve understood this yet. If you had understood it, you wouldn’t still be attached to sasāra. It’s very straightforward, but here we are; we’re still in sasāra. We’re still attached to sasāra, and the reason for that is we haven’t fathomed the preliminaries.

First, go by yourself to a place that arouses disillusionment. If possible, go to a deserted place, broken-down ruins, a field of dried grass rustling in the wind, or an eerie place, or else go where there are pathetic ill people, beggars, and so on who were previously prosperous and later fell on hard times. If that is not possible, go by yourself to a place of solitude. In terms of your posture, sit on a comfortable cushion with one leg folded. Plant your right foot on the ground, press your left leg against the ground, rest your right elbow on your right knee, press your palm against your right cheek, and clasp your left knee with your left palm. This posture of despair will lead to stark depression.

Then with your mind ponder the sufferings of the cycle of existence, and with your speech occasionally utter these words, letting them arouse your mindfulness, 18“Alas! Alas! Wretched me! This cycle of existence is suffering! Nirvāa is joy!” Ponder in this way, “O dear, I am trapped in the sufferings of the cycle of existence, which is like a fire pit, and I am afraid! Ah, now the time has come to escape from within this life. This suffering of the three miserable states of existence is impossible to endure, and it is limitless. Occasions of joy do not occur even for a moment. Now is the time to prepare for a quick escape.”

Imagine this: “This cycle of existence is a great fire pit of intense heat. It is deep, broad, and high. In such a terrifying fire pit, I cry out as I am trapped, together with every other sentient being in the cycle of existence.” Verbally express this ardently, with a grieving voice: “O dear, I’m afraid in this great fire pit of the cycle of existence. Since beginningless time, I am still burning, and I am afraid.” While you are uttering these words of lament, in the space above that pit, imagine your primary spiritual mentor, whose body is adorned with the six types of bone ornaments, and who holds in his hand a hook of light rays. Imagine him saying this to you: “Alas! The joyless cycle of existence is like a fire pit. Now the time has come to escape from it. The sufferings of the three miserable states of existence are limitless, and occasions of joy do not occur even for a moment. Now is the time to escape from the pit of fire.”

Simply by hearing these words, the thought arises, “Alas! Long have I been trapped in the fire pit of the sufferings of the cycle of existence. Now, heeding the words of my spiritual mentor, I shall escape from this, and I shall also liberate every one of these sentient beings.” As soon as you sincerely bring forth this spirit of awakening, imagine that you are caught by your heart with the hook in your mentor’s hand; and you are instantly liberated into the realm of Sukhāvatī. Instantly, a hook of light rays appears in your hand as well, and one by one you save every sentient 19being in the fire pit. Earnestly cultivate compassion for all the sentient beings in the cycle of existence.

When you’re meditating in this way, you should apply other teachings you’ve received in more extensive presentations of these preliminary practices in which the individual types of suffering pertaining to the six realms of existence are all taught. What is the effect of such meditation? It serves to make your mind turn away from sasāra, and it also helps you progress in the cultivation of the two types of spirit of awakening: the spirit of aspiring for awakening and the spirit of venturing toward awakening.

Continually reflect in that way upon the fire pit of the cycle of existence, and ponder all the sufferings of the cycle of existence. Day and night, bear this in mind without being distracted. A sūtra states, “Joy is never present on the tip of the needle of the cycle of existence.” Thus, meditate on the problems of the cycle of existence until disillusionment arises. Once your mind has turned away from the cycle of existence on which you have been meditating, you will ascertain the need for Dharma; and meditative experience will arise as there is no craving for this life.

If your mind does not turn away from the cycle of existence, meditation is pointless. Meditate on this for three days, and then return. By meditating on this, for the time being, your mind will withdraw from the cycle of existence, and ultimately it will ascend to nirvāa. Practice this! The meditation on the sufferings of the cycle of existence is the first session in the Natural Liberation through Contemplating: Experiential Instructions on the Transitional Processes.

When the text uses the term “all the sufferings of the cycle of existence,” this refers to the suffering of every type of sentient being within sasāra throughout the six realms. Once your mind is turned away from sasāra, then phrases like “I will practice 20Dharma” or “I need to practice Dharma” or “I want to practice Dharma” will really be true. Your aspiration will be authentic, and it will lead you to the genuine practices of hearing, thinking, and meditation.

Whether you’re meditating in retreat or at home, this is the place to start. This type of meditation lays a foundation; and, if you cultivate this well, what follows from it is very meaningful. You’ll have good results if you establish a solid foundation in this type of meditation to turn your mind away from sasāra. If you do this, you won’t be like the person who is always eagerly anticipating “what’s next” in terms of the practices, as if you are watching a movie and are wondering how it will turn out. Rather, you will have a firm foundation, and you will progress well. However long we have been practicing Dharma, whether it’s for twenty years, ten years or eight years—or like in my case, about sixty or sixty-five years—we can look at what is actually arising in our minds right now. What have we realized? Spiritual realization has still not arisen in many peoples’ minds, and this is due to failing to comprehend the fundamental point that we’re not yet enlightened. This is the reason why we’ve not accomplished our own ends. Why have we been unsuccessful in accomplishing our own self-interest? Because we’ve not sufficiently laid this foundation.

If we’re looking for peace of mind, we should look to such practice, for it is by this means that the mind comes to equilibrium. The spirit of awakening arises from this type of meditation, and it also leads to the attenuation of our own mental afflictions. When Dharma practitioners find that their minds are really transforming, it’s because they’ve established a firm foundation in such meditations as this. It is through this that Dharma actually arises in the mind. Otherwise, without this, one might be very arrogant about one’s knowledge and experience and so forth. This attitude is like the rack of antlers on a deer—it reaches out in an impressive display. However, all of that is an indication that the Dharma has fallen into one’s mouth and not into one’s heart.

Padmasambhava says, “Meditate on this for three days and then 21return.” A number of you have been meditating on this for quite a bit longer than three days. However, this is something you can meditate on for three days, three months, or three years. After you become a buddha, you don’t need to meditate on it any more. Through this practice, the mind turns away from sasāra. Through the practice of hearing, thinking, and meditation, you eventually do achieve nirvāa. How is it that the nature of sasāra is suffering? What does that mean? The first point is to recognize the very nature of sasāra itself. On that basis, you seek out the causes of sasāra. In this process, it’s very important to distinguish between the genuine causes of happiness and the genuine causes of sorrow or suffering. These you need to know for yourself, so identifying the causes of happiness and sorrow is most important. It’s not enough just to say, “Oh, I don’t like suffering” or “I don’t like sasāra.”

When we speak of sasāra, it seems to be something bad. What is sasāra? What do you point to when you want to identify sasāra? Who is sasāra? If you’re wondering who sasāra is, you can point to yourself. Each of us is our own sasāra. Is it the same or different from ourselves? It’s not to be found anywhere else apart from our own existence. We are the ones who experience suffering; we are the ones who experience joy. Moreover, we are the ones who create our own sasāra. Is sasāra created? Yes it is, and we’re the ones who create it. How does this take place? With such mental afflictions as the three poisons of attachment, hatred, and delusion, we create sasāra. The nature of all of these poisons is delusion. That is what creates our sasāra.

All of us here have attachment. We grasp onto one thing after another. All of us are subject to jealousy, we all have hatred, and we all have pride; and the nature of all of these poisons is delusion. This is what we have. We possess a composite of these five poisons. The nature of these is grasping onto a real “self,” whereas, in fact, no real inherent self exists. That’s one form of delusion. Another form of delusion is the dualistic grasping onto the real existence of subject versus object. Those are the nature of delusion, which is itself the nature of all of the five poisons.

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We are now endowed with a body created out of the four or five elements, and this body itself is the basis of suffering. On this basis, we engage in various types of nonvirtues. Within a tenfold classification, there are three nonvirtues of the body, four of the speech, and three of the mind. Of course, there are not only ten nonvirtues, but these ten lead to a great variety of other non-virtues. Engaging in nonvirtue leads to rebirth in various miserable states of existence. Depending upon the intensity of the motivation, such nonvirtue may lead to rebirth in one of the eight hot hells or eight cold hells. Also, such deeds may lead to rebirth as a preta, or spirit. They may lead to rebirth as an animal, of which there are countless different species. Within the human realm we see a tremendous diversity of individuals. Beyond the human realm are the asuras, or demigods, who are especially characterized by the pain of aggression and competition. Finally, there are the devas, or gods, who experience intense suffering when their lives are about to come to an end.

Diversity is especially evident in the human realm. Even in one family, there are tremendous differences even from one member to another in terms of their merit, lifespan, and their degree of suffering. All of these variations in human life and in these other life forms are a result of our own previous actions. We are the ones who have created this. We are the creators. In terms of the wide variety of sentient beings, we can look at the people gathered here. On the one hand, there are the obvious differences between men and women; and there are other differences in the ways you appear and so on.

We ourselves are the creators of our own suffering. This being the case, it’s very difficult to find any people in positions of authority, like kings or world leaders, who are without suffering or without the five poisons. Even among lamas, it’s difficult to find. The greatest lamas are really inconceivable; but most of the rest have suffering and are still subject to the five poisons. Whether one is powerful or rich, pretty or handsome, there are no grounds for being puffed up about one’s position. If one becomes filled with self-importance, this simply leads to one’s 23own disgrace. Even if you’re in a position of great authority like a president or a king, if you become arrogant about this while you’re still subject to suffering and to these five poisons, this just leads to your own disgrace. Moreover, if after a while spiritual teachers develop a sense that they are really quite special, then they too are making a very big mistake.

All of the previous instances mentioned can lead to disgrace if you’re not careful. The way to be careful is to check up on your own mind. If you’re not conscientious about that, you’re bound to fall into disgrace. Even if you’re acting under the guise of serving sentient beings with a motivation of altruism or for the sake of Dharma, if you’re not checking up on your own mind, then the chances are that you’ll come to resemble the subject of a Tibetan aphorism that speaks of people presenting an outer semblance of being of service, while inwardly they’re conniving to get things only for their own self-interest. What’s coming out your mouth is altruistic, but what’s inside is really still self-centered. If one operates in that devious way, it actually leads to disgrace for sentient beings, and it’s a disgrace for Dharma as well. By presenting an outer semblance of being of service while in fact trying to twist things for your own benefit, you wind up damaging your own self-interest. If you try to deceive people, you may, in fact, be effective for a couple of months; but after a while, they’ll catch on. The buddhas and bodhisattvas are all-knowing, so you can’t deceive them at all! There’s no tricking the buddhas and bodhisattvas, nor can we trick the Dharma protectors or the various spirits who accompany them.

There’s one person, though, who’s been tricked; and that’s yourself. If you’re trying to trick other people, the first person you can be sure you’re deceiving is yourself. The result of this is that you lose. If you feel you are a compassionate person, it’s most important, first of all, to look to see whether you really in fact do have compassion. At the beginning, it’s very difficult. Insofar as we have strong self-grasping, that really precludes compassion. Therefore, look carefully. Buddhas and bodhisattvas have abandoned this self-grasping tendency and genuinely strive for the welfare of others.

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When I was a little boy, I used to lie to my own spiritual mentors. I would fib to them and make up stories, and they would listen and say, “Oh, I see, I see,” as if they were admiring everything I was saying. I would feel that I had tricked them, whereas in fact they knew all along what was going on. They were just leading me on. Later on in India, there were great lamas with whom I had contact, including His Holiness Karmapa, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, and so on. When speaking to such lamas then, even if they are saying, “Oh yes, oh yes,” as if they’re agreeing with us and accepting everything we’re saying, if we are lying, this simply leads to our own disgrace. From their perspective, what they’re seeing is that all composite phenomena are impermanent. They are viewing the world in light of the ten analogies of the world being like an illusion, like a reflection in a mirror, and so on. Some of these lamas are actual masters of Atiyoga and are living the experience of the Great Perfection. The point of all this is that, if one tries to deceive others, it really is only one’s own loss. In India and Tibet there were a lot of people who lied to the great lamas. A lot of aristocrats would go to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and tell all kinds of stories; and they would think they had succeeded. However, all they really succeeded in doing was to bring disgrace upon their own heads. Be careful about how you speak. It’s important not to deceive. On the other hand, you don’t have to be so honest that you run off at the mouth, telling everything that you’ve seen or heard and so forth. You don’t need to do that either. Sometimes you can just be quiet.

When we look at the situation of the six realms of existence and consider that we are the ones who create this, it makes us look like we’re really intelligent and powerful. In a way, yes; in a way, no. When we are judging other people, we say, “He did this. She did that. They did this. I’m good, but they did this.” There is some satisfaction when we point out others’ faults and put them in their place. However, for the person who is listening to us as we’re slandering another person, we are falling into disgrace. Other people will see the kind of person we are, getting a thrill 25out of slandering other people. It seems as if we have some inconceivable power in being able to create these various realms of sasāra.

PONDERING THE DIFFICULTY OF OBTAINING A HUMAN LIFE OF LEISURE AND ENDOWMENT

If the difficulty of obtaining a human life of leisure and endowment is not pondered, one will not think of Dharma, so such reflection is extremely important. In terms of location, go where there are insects, ants, and many kinds of animals. As for your posture, sit cross-legged, and place your hands in the mudrā of meditative equipoise.

The reference to “leisure and endowment” is to the eight types of leisure and ten types of endowment with which we are presently endowed. It is this life that makes the difference. This present body is very difficult to achieve. With regard to this body, we are in an unusual situation in these modern times. Nowadays women commonly kill their own children when they’re in the womb. Not long ago an American woman in the South drove her vehicle into a lake and killed her two children; and people were stunned at how anyone could do that. They were so amazed. I don’t find that amazing at all. There was another woman who threw her children off a bridge, and people were amazed at how a mother could do that. From my perspective, this is not amazing at all. Some women have had abortions three or four times. When that’s so common, why is it so amazing that a woman should wait a little bit and kill her children when they’re older? What’s the big difference?

The human life with which we are presently endowed can serve as a cause for achieving buddhahood. It can be a cause for us to effectively serve the needs of others and to relieve them from suffering. This is the potential that we have with this present body. When we consider the qualities of buddhahood, these may seem amazing. That’s fine, but we should recognize that this 26present body acts as a cause for achieving those amazing qualities of buddhahood. Similarly, in terms of the spirit of awakening, we may hold in awe the great love and compassion that saturates that mind state. Once again, recognize that the spirit of awakening is something that can be cultivated with this body. To learn more about the preciousness and rarity of this human life of leisure and endowment, simply go back to the Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind. It’s going back to the A B C’s, but until you completely get it, keep on going back to it.

With your mind, ponder in this way: “Oh dear! The acquisition of a human life is just for now. If I can’t bring Dharma to it now, it will be very difficult to obtain it later. Moreover, it is not enough that I alone have obtained a human life, for these sentient beings of the three realms have long wandered in the miserable states of existence. Oh compassion!”

Verbally utter these words in a melodious voice and let them arouse your mindfulness: “Alas! Alas! Wretched me! The procurement of a precious human life is just for now. If I fail to accomplish any Dharma in this life, it will be difficult to obtain a human life later on. Alas for those who have taken birth in the three miserable states of existence!”

Arouse your mindfulness with those words and meditate on the following: “Throughout the vast universe as far as the extent of space, sentient beings are screaming with pain in the hell realms, pretas are enduring the incapacitating miseries of hunger and thirst; and all animals—including tigers, leopards, black bears, brown bears, dogs, foxes, wolves, yaks, goats, and sheep—devour one another. Under the soil, red ants, black ants, scorpions, spiders, and every kind of insect that fills the earth kill each other. In the water, incalculable aquatic animals including fish, frogs, and tadpoles kill one another. And in the sky, vultures, kites, hawks, eagles, sparrows, crows, doves, magpies, warblers, and so on 27that fill the sky kill and devour each other. Even the winged insects that fill the sky and earth devour each other alive, making sounds of anguish.”

Within this cycle of existence, there are general types of suffering to which all sentient beings are subject. Then there are specific sufferings pertaining to the various realms of existence in which one might be reborn. Generally speaking, the intensity of the suffering, the manner in which the suffering is experienced, and the duration of suffering are created by one’s own actions. One’s own karma is the determining factor.

Imagine the whole sky and the earth moving and trembling, fearful and vast. Then ponder this: “Within their midst, I am alone upon a high, rocky peak, with no companion. I alone have obtained human life, and I am on the verge of falling down. Oh dear! Amidst such a multitude of denizens of the hell realms, pretas, and animals, I alone have obtained human life...

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