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The purpose of this meditation is to develop the strong wish to avoid rebirth in the lower realms, and then to meditate on this wish in the light of renunciation – the wish to attain complete liberation from the cycle of contaminated rebirth.
I began the meditation by thinking about how normally I relate to my body as the source of all my experiences and my mind as being almost secondary. It seems that my mind is created by my body, but this is not the case. My mind is created on the basis of my previous moment of mind and my karma. It is my karma that creates the illusion of my body. When I go to sleep, I slip effortlessly into a new world with a new body. The dream world is as real to me then as my waking world is to me now. In my dream world I have forgotten all about my waking world.
In the same way, when I die a new world will appear to me and I will have forgotten all about this life.
I will have forgotten all the Dharma I have learned. I will have forgotten the importance of cherishing others, the truth of cause and effect, and the way to attain enlightenment. All the teachings I have heard will simply vanish from my recollection. All the work I have done in this life will come to an end as I wander off in random directions, rather than trying to follow the path to enlightenment.
When I die I will lose the path to enlightenment. That thought scared me. In all my past lives I have wandered in samsara, experiencing suffering after suffering. At this time I have attained a precious human life and I can see a path to enlightenment. If I can follow this path correctly then I can alter my course forever. When I die, instead of taking another samsaric rebirth I will be able to divert my path to a pure land and attain enlightenment for the sake of all living beings. It will be the most important moment not only in my life, but in all my countless past lives – it will be the most important moment in history.
If I die before I am ready, I will forget all about this supreme aim, and return to following the paths of suffering in samsara.
The thought chilled me to the bone. I stayed with that feeling for a while, dreading the prospect of losing the path and wandering hopelessly in samsara.
After a while I decided to see that this means in the light of renunciation – the wish to abandon samsara completely. The fear of lower rebirth seems to fit within renunciation. Fear of lower rebirth is specifically fear of rebirth in the three lower realms of samsara, whereas renunciation is the fear of being reborn in any of the six realms of samsara – the three lower realms and also the three higher realms.
I returned to my fear and dread of lower rebirth with the added understanding that this is a vital component in the larger thought of renunciation for the whole of samsara. I stayed with this feeling for the rest of the meditation and developed the very firm wish to follow the paths to higher rebirth and liberation rather than the paths that lead to lower rebirth.
On the inside of my wardrobe door I have the words ‘fear negative actions as much as hell itself’. This could also read ‘fear the paths that lead to lower rebirth as much as lower rebirth itself’. I tried to stay with this thought for the rest of the meditation.
May all living beings come to see the paths that lead to suffering and the paths that lead to freedom, and with this clarity choose to follow the paths to enlightenment for the benefit of all.
Practice in the Meditation Break
I will fear negative actions as much as hell itself, and try to perform only virtuous actions of body, speech and mind.
The purpose of this meditation is to consider the whole of the Lamrim within the context of the dangers of lower rebirth.
I began the meditation by thinking about the Lamrim. It is a special presentation of all Buddha’s instructions. By meditating on all the Lamrim objects we are becoming familiar with the entire path to enlightenment. I thought of all the Buddhist Libraries around the world, full of scriptures and commentaries. I thought about what I would have to do if there was no Kadam Lamrim. I would have to travel to all these libraries and learn the languages of the texts – then read and understand them, and then practice them. There is no way I could do it.
I thought about how fortunate we are to have Geshe Kelsang, who has learnt and practised all the stages of the path, and who, out of his great compassion, has planned out and written Kadam Lamrim texts for us to study and put into practice. Kadam Lamrim is the presentation appropriate to the people of this world. I rejoiced at this recognition – how wonderful!
I then thought about the dangers of lower rebirth and what this means for the Lamrim. The purpose of meditating on the dangers of lower rebirth is to produce a sincere fear of taking lower rebirth. We need to have a genuine terror of being born in the lower realms.
Most of the time we are simply in denial of this possibility, but if we contemplate life with wisdom we will find that the sufferings of the lower realms will be as real as this world and experience is to us now.
Along with death, it seemed to me that recognition of the dangers of lower rebirth was the essential foundation of the entire path to enlightenment. Firstly we need to understand we are going to die. Without that acceptance we cannot begin to make progress on the path. But one we accept the reality of our death, we need to understand that we have future lives and they will be far worse that this current life. We need to generate genuine eye-widening, stomach dropping terror.
I decided to imagine I was a bear being used to produce ‘traditional medicines’. I imagined I was in a cold metal cage. I was in constant pain. I could not move. The part of my body next to the base of the cage was covered in open wounds from the constant pressure of my body weight. I could not communicate with anyone else. I had an open wound in my stomach and a pipe protruding out. It was so painful. My whole body was saturated in pain. I wanted to die so the pain would end but I was being kept alive. My captors were completely oblivious to my pain. They did not have any emotional connection at all to my suffering. In some ways, if I was being tortured by someone who was taking pleasure in my pain, at least in some bizarre way I could take comfort in the fact that I had a companion. But here I was alone – in terrible pain and no-one cared.
I let the feeling of suffering fill me, and kept one part of my mind on the recognition that I need to keep this suffering in my mind so I will sincerely practice the stages of the path of a person of initial scope, and from that solid foundation, practice the stages of the path of a person of middling and great scope.
May all living beings use their Dharma wisdom, overcome their denial, and by recognising the sufferings of lower rebirth, make swift progress upon the path to enlightenment, and become Buddhas for the benefit of all.
Practice in the Meditation Break
To motivate my moral discipline, I will try to remember the sufferings of my future lives, which could begin AT ANY TIME.
The purpose of this meditation is to encourage us to seek refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha but generating sincere fear of lower rebirth, while viewing this fear in the light of our precious human life.
I began the meditation by thinking about what will happen after I die. I will experience dream-like appearances and then take a rebirth in samsara. The nature of this rebirth will be decided by the karma arising at the very end of this life. What will be the nature of that karma? As I have accumulated so much negative karma since beginningless time, I will probably take a rebirth full of suffering in the lower realms.
It will be very difficult for me to regain a human rebirth because when I am in the lower realms it will be much more likely that I will create more negative actions.
I then thought about my precious human life. It is perfectly suited to transforming all my experiences into the spiritual path and leading me up and out of samsara. This human life is the perfect vehicle for me to attain enlightenment, but when this life ends I will lose this vehicle. My chance will be lost.
This line of thought intensified my feeling of fear, recognising just how much I will have lost. I stayed with this sense of deep fear and dread for the rest of the meditation.
May all living beings develop fear of lower rebirth and sincerely go for refuge to the protection of the Three Jewels, and ultimately become Buddhas for the benefit of all.
Practice in the Meditation Break
I will remember my fear of lower rebirth and transform all my experiences into the spiritual path.
The purpose of this meditation is to encourage us to seek protection from the dangers of lower rebirth.
In Modern Buddhism, Geshe-la says that it is easier for us to attain enlightenment when we have a precious human life than it is for an animal to attain a human life. Following on from my previous meditation I remembered that this life will definitely come to an end, and when it does, if I take rebirth in a lower realm, my special opportunity to attain enlightenment will be lost.
I thought about this point over and over again. I developed a strong wish for my opportunity to not be lost. This special chance I have to attain enlightenment felt very fragile. I thought again and again ‘I don’t want to lose this opportunity’.
I developed a fear of losing this precious opportunity to make my life meaningful, and settled on this feeling as my object of meditation.
May all living beings recognise the dangers of lower rebirth, and use this wisdom to attain Enlightenment for the benefit of all.
Practice in the Meditation Break
I will try not to take this life for granted, and remember that when it ends, I will lose my opportunity to make my lives truly meaningful.
The purpose of this meditation is to encourage us to seek protection from lower rebirth, to purify non-virtues, to practise virtue, and to seek refuge in the three Jewels.
I began the meditation by thinking about other realms. I already exist in two worlds – my waking world and my dreaming world. I had a dream last night which was perfectly convincing at the time. I touched things and I felt emotions quite clearly. Where is that world now? It has vanished – a projection by my mind. Although it was a projection, it was also a real experience.
Why should this not happen when I die? Buddha says that when we die our karma will blow us to our next experience. Whatever karma ripens will dictate my experiences in the next life. Geshe-la tells me that if my negative karma had form it would fill the universe. It is almost certain that I will take a rebirth full of suffering and heartache.
I thought about what it will be like when I die. I will be in pain – I will know my life is ending. I will want more life – another day; another hour – please just a few more minutes. But it is useless. I will die and I will experience my next life.
Everyone will experience this.
I felt like I was on a smooth metal roof so high up I could not see the ground. The roof was sloping and I was right at the edge scrabbling to stay on. I was filled with dread. I let my mind dwell on that dread for the rest of the meditation. I can’t say it was a pleasant experience.
May all living beings develop a healthy fear of lower rebirth, and through this understanding may they attain Full Enlightenment for the benefit of all.
Practice in the Meditation Break
I will try to maintain the continuum of dread in my mind, with the added thought that there is a way out: taking Refuge in the Three Jewels.
The purpose of this meditation is to encourage us to find protection from lower rebirth.
I began by thinking about how my mind will move on to another body once this life comes to an end. The form of the new body will be dictated by the nature of the karma that ripens at my time of death. Negative actions are the cause of lower rebirth. I know I have committed far more negative actions than positive ones, so it is almost certain that I will take rebirth in the lower realms.
Once this happens, I will have lost my opportunity to attain enlightenment for many aeons.
I focused on this loss of opportunity, and settled on it as the object of my meditation. I felt very sad that my opportunity had slipped through my fingers, and fearful of the suffering that will have to be experienced. My mind felt still and peaceful, like an autumn day, when everything is still, and the colours indicate that the season of growth and health is over, and ahead lies cold and decay. It felt peaceful, but deeply sad and fearful.
May all living beings recognise the prospect of rebirth in the lower realms, and develop fear, and thereby turn to the Three Jewels for refuge. May they attain enlightenment.
Practice in the meditation break
Given the precious human life I have, and the inevitability of death, I will bear in mind the value of my opportunity, and how, once it is gone, my opportunity will be over.
I began the meditation by recognising that one of the ways of making my Refuge powerful is to contemplate the dangers of lower rebirth. The more I feel the danger of lower rebirth, the more powerful my Refuge will be.
So I began thinking about what appears to my mind at the moment, and whether I have any control over it. At the moment, objects appear to my mind and I have no control. I have no control over whether I get sick, whether my family or friends get sick, whether I will be involved in an accident today. I have no control over these things.
I remembered that my death will be another appearance to my mind, and I don’t have any choice over that either.
Then I thought about what will appear to my mind after my death. I have vast amounts of negative karma on my mental continuum and it is this karma which will probably ripen at my death. This will send me into the lower realms, where only horrible and painful things appear to my mind. My next life will be filled with pain and turmoil.
I let these thoughts roll around in my mind for a while, seeing how these appearances are beyond my control, and depend on my karma. I got the feeling of being on a slide, going down. I was sliding down towards lower rebirth, and the sides were very smooth so I could not stop myself. I felt hopelessness and fear as I slide further down into darkness. It was a dreadful feeling. I stayed with the feeling for the rest of the meditation.
May the merit I have accumulated by doing this meditation lead to my realising the dangers of lower rebirth, and also lead to the enlightenment of myself and all other living beings.
Practice in the meditation break
I will try to maintain this feeling of fear, remembering that it comes from my wisdom rather than my ignorance. It will also be my guide in avoiding non-virtuous action. I will also try to purify my negative karma by applying for four powers to all my virtuous actions – the power of regret, the power of reliance, the power of the opponent force and the power of the promise.
I began with considering my experiences when I am asleep. My dreams are very real while they are happening. I already ‘exist’ in two independent, ‘worlds’. It only seems normal through familiarity. If I had never had a dream before, and I suddenly had one, what would I think? I would be terrified, thinking I had been transported somehow to another place – or that I had gone mad. Dreams indicate to me that the experiences we have are not just to do with the external world, but with our minds. I considered that when I die I do not know what my experiences will be, but there is no particular reason why they should not continue.
And what would those experiences be like? They would be the results of my karma. And I have lots of negative karma. Will I be reborn as an animal, to be terrorised by predators or eaten alive in agony by parasites? Will I be reborn as a hungry ghost, perpetually starving and experiencing constant agonising pain throughout my emaciated body? Or will I be reborn as a hell being, tortured by merciless monsters who delight in my excruciating pain?
I spent some time considering these ‘dreams’ that I won’t wake up from, and started to develop the thought ‘I don’t want this to happen’. I felt like I was being pushed by a white wall directly into these experiences – the white wall of my negative karma. The wall pushed without slowing or any chance of me stopping it.
I developed a very uncomfortable feeling of fear of lower rebirth, and stayed on that feeling for as long as I could.
This is a meditation designed to encourage us to seek protection from these sufferings by practising virtue, accumulating merit and by purifying negativity. It is important to remember that it is a means to an end, not an exercise in making ourself upset or despondent. I like to think of this meditation as winding up our spring of motivation, so we can easily put effort into our practice.
Meditated in the morning, with the sun just coming over the tops of the houses, and lighting up the leaves on the trees along the road.