|Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.
Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.
i. Introduction and Biography
1. What is Dharma?
2. Studying the Dharma
3. Need for Reflection and Analysis
4. Overcoming Negative Emotions
5. Practising Pure Perception
7. Advice on Practice
8. Precious Human Rebirth
9. Death and Impermanence
10. Overcoming Attachment to the Body
11. Joyous Effort
12. Subduing Anger
13. Generating Bodhicitta
14. Wisdom Realizing Emptiness
Advice that is to be hammered like a nail into the mind
A faithful student went to his guru, a high lama, for advice that would be “hammered like a nail into the mind” i.e., advice which goes directly to one’s heart and brings about some real transformation. This is what his guru said:
First, we pay homage, “I prostrate to the venerable lamas.” If you have the desire to practise the Dharma, listen to these words.
This precious human rebirth that can fulfil great purposes is difficult to obtain and can easily be lost as the time of death is uncertain. Nothing else except the Dharma can benefit us in our future lives.
There is no point in just listening to the words – you must put them into practice. Don’t you regret all the precious time that you have already wasted in this life? Having accumulated so many negativities, you will be reborn in the lower realms. Once born there, it will be difficult for you to endure the inexpressible sufferings there.
If you want to practise the Dharma, you have to do it now. You are now sitting on the border between happiness and suffering. If you only accumulate negativities, you are opening the door to the lower realms. If that happens, it is not due to the fault of external demons or spirits.
When you live your life according to and not against the law of cause and effect, then taking refuge in the Three Jewels will be an infallible source of protection. From now on, go for refuge from your heart to the Three Jewels. From now on, whatever you do, let karma be your witness. If you knowingly jump over the cliff and expect someone to pull you up again, that is a vain hope. Renunciation, bodhicitta and the correct view are the essence of all the scriptures of the Conqueror.
The essence of the above advice is that if one knowingly accumulates negativities, that can only result in rebirth in the lower realms. Once there, we will find the suffering unbearable. Despite knowing this, we continue to hope that the Triple Gem will protect us by making prayers, “May I be reborn in Sukhavati, the Pure Land of Amitabha.” This is wishful thinking.
Having taken a human rebirth, all the favourable conditions are assembled now and it is important to place as many imprints as possible in our mental continua. From this very moment, we should try to make sure that virtuous imprints are placed in our minds. If we are unable to meditate and unable to place many imprints in our mental continua, at the very least, we can make aspirational prayers. But, instead of moving our minds towards the Dharma, we expect the Dharma to come to us. This is a very arrogant way of thinking.
The guru is the source of all the excellent collections, morality or ethics is the foundation of all the qualities, and keeping pure vows and samaya is the source of all attainments. It is not sufficient to leave it at that. One must actually make these conditions come about for oneself. While we have all the favourable circumstances, we should practise right now. When the Lord of Death catches us, it would be too late.
At the time of death, we will have frightful visions of the messengers of death. By then, it will be too late to do anything. We talk about and listen to the Dharma but it is very rare for us to put the Dharma into practice. If we practise whatever we know, even if it is a single piece of advice or a single word, we benefit. But if we know a lot but do not practise, then it is useless.
The worst kind of self-deception
Reflect on this: For most of our samsaric existences, we had been circling in the lower realms. This time, however, we have achieved a human rebirth. Not only that, we have even met the Mahayana teachings and, on top of that, we have the opportunity now to study this very wonderful, perfect text by the bodhisattva Shantideva that talks about the deeds of the bodhisattvas. Whether we understand everything in the text or not, we should rejoice at the mere fact that we have this opportunity to simply look at the text. So be happy and rejoice.
Listening to the teachings should be done joyfully and enthusiastically from your own side and not out of a mistaken sense of obligation, “Since other people are going for class, I should go too.” This is not beneficial at all. When we engage in virtue, we should be able to decide for ourselves as it would be meaningless for us to depend on others for this.
When we know how to think, we should be able to uplift our minds to make ourselves happy. Then, just listening to the teachings alone is, in itself, a joy. On top of that, if we can reflect or meditate on the teachings, then there is even more reason to be happy and to rejoice.
We should try not to waste our human rebirth. As mentioned in chapter 1, when we misuse and waste our human lives, there is nothing more foolish than this. It is the worst kind of self-deception.
Taking the essence
Understanding that the precious freedom of this rebirth is found only once,
Is greatly meaningful, and is difficult to find again,
Please bless me to generate the mind that unceasingly,
Day and night, takes its essence.
(from The Foundation of all Good Qualities by Lama Tsongkhapa)
We should reflect on this regularly and, day and night, strive to take the essence of this meaningful opportunity that we have. Not only have we obtained a human body but our faculties and senses are all complete. We have the opportunity to listen to and study Dharma teachings. When we reflect deeply on this, we will be amazed at and rejoice in our good fortune.
While all the conditions for us to study and practise exist, it remains up to us to study or practise the teachings.
It is questionable whether we will obtain such a rebirth again in our next lives. As the prayer says, “The precious freedom of this rebirth is found only once, is greatly meaningful and is difficult to find again.” Since we have obtained such a rebirth, it is important that we do something meaningful with it. We already find it difficult to practise with all the conducive conditions we have. There is no guarantee that our faculties or senses will be complete or perfect even if we were to obtain another human rebirth.
Practice will become even more difficult then. So, we need to study and practise right now.
I know many of you recite this prayer, The Foundation of All Good Qualities, on a daily basis but you should not leave it simply at that level. You should reflect on the meaning of the verses, especially the one dealing with the precious human rebirth. By doing so, it encourages you to practise the Dharma.
Every day, we can see for ourselves the instability of this human life. We are not immune to sickness. Many people are well one day and sick the next and within a short time, they die and move on to the next life. While we are still healthy, we should not postpone our Dharma studies and practice, as it will be too late to do so when we suddenly fall ill. We may wish to practise the Dharma then but our bodies will not allow us to do so. The same applies to our studies. They should not be postponed. When we have the time, it is good to continue to come to class to listen to the teachings and to apply and put into practice, as much as we can, whatever we have learnt.