Preliminary Teaching

Spoken by Ven. Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche

Buddhist Himalaya: A Journal of Nagarjuna Institute of Exact Methods

Vol. II No. I & II  (1989)


Copyright 1989 by Nagarjuna Institute of Exact Methods

When putting the Buddhist path into practice, all the panditas of India and the masters of Tibet agree that one must purify the obscurations and gather the accumulations. Due to the vastness of the Dharma teachings, one person is unable to practice all of them. For this reason the essence of all the sutras and tantras were condensed into four things to think of the four mind changing, and four things to practice, the preliminaries of four time one hundred thousand. 

The four mind changings are reflections on the precious human body, death and impermanence, cause and effect of karma and the defects of samsara.


All the vehicles mention the precious human body, endowed with the eight freedoms and ten riches. The eight unfree states, however, are rebirth among hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, barbarians, long-living gods, or rebirth in a time without buddhas or among humans having false views, or rebirth as someone unable to communicate. Born in any of these eight circumstances. We were fettered by our conditions and lack the freedom to practice.


In the three lower realms: the hells, the hungry ghosts or animal realms, one has no change to practice Dharma. As a barbarian, a long-living god, a person with wrong views or an idiot one has neither thought not ability to practice: one is not a suitable vessel for Dharma practice: A vessel is a place to put things. With no container, where can you pour your tea? Likewise when born in one of the eight unfree states, one lacks the karma or fortune to practice.


One cannot practice in the hells because of the suffering of heat and cold. The pretas are unable to practice because of the suffering of hunger and thirst. The animals are too dumb and stupid to know how to practice. Barbarians, like the primitives who live on the border between India and Tibet, for instance, have a human form but wear no clothing expect for a small belt, and kill wild animals, which they eat raw.


The long-living gods who remain for one or two kalpas in the Realm of the Thirty-three on the top of Mount Meru, have no interest whatsoever in Kharma practice: the thought never enters their minds. They distract themselves in godly luxuries for the whole of their long life. One day, however, their life span ends and like rain falling from the sky they fall to the lower realms. They can even fall to the hells without an intermediate state.


Holding wrong views is another unfree state. Mistakenly thinking. "There is no karma, no cause and effect. How can there be Buddha fields? Who has seen them? Who has returned from hells? How can anybody know such things? There are no past and future lives, there are none of these things". Even if one met the Buddha himself, one would have no interest whatsoever.


Right now, we don not live in a time without buddhas. This excellent kalpa is a time in which buddhas appear and teach, and where the teachings last for some time. One thousand perfect buddhas will appear during this aeon. So far, only four have come; many more will come in the future.


A mahakalpa is divided into four parts: creation, abidance, destruction and voidness. Each lasts and equal amount of time, a very long time. We are now in the abiding kalpa. During this time, there are eighteen middle kalpas. Sometimes the life span grows longer and longer the fortune greater and greater; then again it lessens, the life span gents shorter and shorter, everything becomes worse. Right now we are in decending kalpa where everything worsens. There are eighteen middle kalpas with a long kalpa at each end, making twenty in all. These twenty kalpas together make one fourth of a mahakalpa.


For long as the abiding kalpa lasts, the kalpa of destruction also lasts, when everything is destroyed by seven suns. The suns become hotter and hotter, drying up rivers, burning mountains, completely destroying everything. Everything ends in total voidness. This state of voidness lasts for as long as the creation. Only now, during the kalpa of abiding, can we hear Dharma teachings. During neither the creation nor the destruction, is there Dharma, And how, during the void could there be any Dharma, teachers or listeners? In any of these three kalps, one is in an unfree state. But just now, we are not in any of the eight unfree states, we have the eight freedom.


We also have the ten riches, the ten favorable conditions; five from oneself and five from others. The five from others are the fact that the Buddha appeared, he taught, the doctrine survived, there are teachers and they have the kindness to teach. These five together are considered to be the external favorable conditions.


Among the five favorable conditions from oneself, the first is to be born as a human; the second is to be born in a central country, a place where the Buddhist  teaching is being spread; the third, to have the five senses intact: the fourth, to have unperverted livelihood enabling one to enter the teachings:  and the fifth, to have confidence and to take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, the Three Precious One, With these five, the five favorable conditions from oneself are complete.


Now we have the favorable conditions from others and the five from oneself. Not being born in the eight unfree states and having the ten endowments is truly a supreme human life like a wishfulfilling gem. Through this body, this precious human life, we have the good fortune to practice.


Though we have obtained the precious human body, it is like holding an old piece of chinaware in out hand; the moment it hits a stone it completely breaks. It will not stay intact. I often quote: "As life is composite, it has no permanence". Life is impermanent. The external universe will, late at the end of this kalpa, be completely destroyed by the great of the seven suns. Cosmic annihilation moreover is not the only thing to consider. Supreme individuals are also impermanent. What of the buddhas and bodhisattvas who appeared in the past? And the universal monarch of golden wheel who ruled all the four continents. The universal monarch of the silver wheel who ruled three continents the universal monarch of the copper wheel who ruled two continents, and the universal monarch of the iron wheel who ruled the continent of Jambudvipa-where are these powerful beings now? Many Indian kings of the past could fly, never needing to walk on the ground. They could enjoy the seven royal possessions: the precious wheel, the precious jewel, the precious queen, the precious elephant, the precious house, the precious minister and the precious general. Some could visit Indra, the king of the gods, and sit together on the same throne. Of theirs fabled kings, only their names remain. Powerful people are also impermanent.


Consider, further, impermanence due to the many causes of death. The 404 Sicknesses and eighty thousand evil forces are the circumstances for death. Due to the unavoidable fact of death, one has to face the impermanent nature of life. When the moment of death comes, you can put yourself in an iron chamber guarded by one hundred thousand soldiers. Will that ward of f death? One cannot protect oneself from the Lord of Death. Beauty, heroism and wealth are not death's equals. A pretty face cannot seduce death, not bravery vanquish it. All the gold in the world is not a sufficient bribe. Nothing can be done: death is unavoidable.


Impermanence has four ends. First, the end of birth is death. No one born from a father and mother has yet survived death; not now, nor ever. Milarepa said: "As soon as you have a body, you have death." Thus, to assume a body is to assume death. As he added: "Between life and death is the difference of only one breath." The so-called terrifying corpse, the dead human body, is loathsome: yet it is our own body we are speaking of. Were sickness to take us away right now, leaving the corpse behind to be disposed of in one way or another, what could be done? Right now we are breathing, we are alive, and then with just a single breath, a corpse. That death follows birth is the most significant point of impermanences.


Next, regardless of the inconceivable wealth and possessions one may amass, the end of hoarding is dispersion. Years ago in Tibet a great merchant named Norbu Sangpo had so many mules that if one lined them up they would reach from Lhasa to China, like a rosary stretching all the way without a break. Apart from his name, nothing remains now; not a single one of his possessions. All have vanished. 


The end of meeting is separation. People gathered together in a city or a country or in any community, like the nuns who stay at Nagi Gonpa, or the members of a family, the husband and wife and children, are all like customers in a market place who come and go. Their staying together has no permanence. Although we are together now, we have no power to stay together forever. We are like people mingling in a dream. The end of meeting is separation.


The end of building is destruction. The houses built in the past never last more than a few thousand years at the most. They fall apart. Even though a house can withstand time for one or two thousand years, it will end in ruins.


We should really think about these four ends of impermanence because they are reality. The years pass by and will never return. The month we stayed together in the past is gone. and now we are here at a Nagi Gompa. The month that passed can only disappear further. Moreover, in each short moment we become older and as time passes our life grows shorter. The Lord of Death is like the mountain shadow coming closer and closer. The Lord of Death does not linger for even an instant; he always come closer while the life span diminishes, without the power to stop for even a second. We might not notice, but one day the Lord of Death catches up in the last moment of out life, and (Rinpoche snap his finger) we can do nothing about it. The time is up, gone.


The external world is impermanent. Yesterday and today are impermanent. Right now, when we are together, is also changing in the three times. The times are in constant movement, we are spending our lives every moment, and there is no possible way to make our lives last longer. Life only runs out. Contemplating impermanence and death, we must recognize this.


Impermanence pertains not only to death, but also to enemies, friends and all relationships which lack any permanence or stability, Nothing remains as we know it for even an instant; change is constant. As time runs out we get older, friends and enemies change, cities change, the local people change, and at home our family ages. Nothing in the world endures. All things change.


Through impermanence weariness arises. For example, if one's father and mother did or if one of a married couple passes away, what anguish the one left behind must bear! This is true even among animals. For instance, when the baby of a cow dies, doesn't the mother suffer? So weariness and suffering are the same. With such weariness comes the feeling. "Now my time is running out, what else is there to do but practice Dharma? Nothing else is of any use, nothing at all." With that kind of revulsion clearly in one's mind, unenlightened existence becomes unbearable. That is the meaning of weariness.


Through renunciation one recognizes: "There is nothing in samara with any permanence. "The five sense objects deceive us. The eyes, fascinated by form, are like a month diving into a flame. Set a butter lamp for an offering and these winged insects, attached to what they see, fly straight into the flame and die, don't they?


The ears, fascinated by sound, similarly bring suffering. Previously, in Tibet, hunter used very melodious flutes. Going to the forests they would play very sweetly and the deer would listen to the sweet music while a hunter would slowly sneak up and kill them. The are clinging to sound is like a deer killed by a hunter by means of flute and arrow.


The nose clinging to a smell is like a bee getting caught in a flower. A bee likes honey and the flower's fragrance. It goes into the flower to drink and it the evening the flower closes and the bee dies inside, captivated and captured through its sense of smell.


The tongue's clinging to taste is like a fish caught by bait on a hook. The hook is thrown is the water and the fish, linking the bait, is caught, fascinated by a delicious taste. When the body clings to touch it is like an elephant drowning in a mud pool. An elephant is very heavy. So when it goes down in a big pool it may be unable to get up and it dies there. Like this, if one clings to the five sense objects, they become enemies. Therefore, regard them as pointless and futile.


If you think there is no cause and effect, then you lack understanding of positive and negative actions. This must be understood. If the cause is virtuous the effect is also virtuous; one goes to higher realms, and further, to liberation and enlightenment. If the cause is unvirtuous, negative tied to the five poison, one will wander about in the three realms of samara. Cause and effect is infallible, like the shadow that follows one's body wherever it goes. Karma follows oneself like a shadow follows a body. To create white karma is to practice to true teachings. To create black karma is to engage in negative actions. Their effect is infallible. You will have to experience the results of karma, your own actions. You must really understand this.


Through intense renunciation endeavor in accepting and rejecting that which concerns cause and effect. Accepting means taking up the white and virtuous actions as much as possible and 'rejecting' means abandoning the black, negative actions. Endeavor in this. 'The white and virtuous' refer to the ten virtuous actions; three of body, four of speech and three of mind. One should take up these ten. Without practicing the then virtues, one's actions automatically become the ten unvirtuous ones. One needn't develop or encourage wrongdoing, it occurs automatically. We must renounce the ten unvirtuous actions and having given them up, the ten virtuous actions are automatically produced. Giving up the ten negative actions, we needn't add the ten virtuous actions on top.


If one sincerely practices the ten virtuous actions as cause, then the effect is happiness in the higher realms and ultimately liberation and buddhahood. This is happiness resulting from a virtuous cause: truly high position, which refers to the higher realms of humans, asuras and devas, and the true goodness, which is the level of buddhas and bodhisattvas.


By committing the ten negative actions one produces the suffering of the three reams of samara. The cause of liberation is to endeavor in the ten virtuous actions and to turn away from the ten negative actions. In the three lower realms of the hells, pretas and animals, their is no happiness whatsoever. In the higher realms, the joy does not last. One alternates between joy and sorrow.


The three kinds of suffering are: suffering upon suffering, changing suffering, and all-pervading suffering of formation. What is changing suffering? Suppose there was an earthquake and the houses crumbled. You can imagine how it felt. Parents died, fire burned everything and one is felt behind alone as in wartime. Such things happen in this would. Yesterday everybody in the family was together and everything was fine. But today, because of some sudden circumstances, one has no food to eat and nothing to wear. One walks around holding a stick and begging for something to eat. Suffering upon suffering is that, in addition to this misery, one gets leprosy a naga sickness or an illness like cancer.


What exemplifies the all-pervading suffering of formation? This suffering is that one draws closer to death with each passing moment. The beings of the three worlds are not aware of this, but the sublime beings perceive it. All the arhats, bodhisattvas and buddhas know it, but sentient beings are not at all aware of the all-pervading suffering of formation. As an example, sentient beings are like a hand: put a single hair in the palm of the hand and one feels nothing. But the sublime beings are like an eye: put a hair in the eye and one is immediately aware on it, one has no happiness for the wish for it to remain.


In the past, in Tibet, these was one man from Langrothang who had a dark face (was depressed) for his whole life. His face never showed any other expression that sadness. Why was that? Because he was aware that life was running out and so he was called "dark face from Langrothang". We too should consider impermanence and suffering, not just as a mere theory. We should assimilate the meaning in out heart.


Concerning practice, in order to purify all the eil deeds and obscurations accumulated since beginingless time buy one's body, one takes refuge and makes prostrations. In order to purity the evil deeds of one's speech, one practices Vajrasattva meditation and recitation. In order to purify the deeds of one's mind and to gather the accumulations one offers mandalas. In order to purify the combined evil deeds of body, speech and mind, one practices the guru yoga. It is said that when the evil deeds are purified, realization will occur spontaneously. Therefore one should purify the obscurations and gather the accumulations.