Dear friends near and far
I hope this email finds you all healthy and happy. For those of you who are receiving this email for the first time, every month on the 10th day of the Tibetan Lunar calendar which marks the birth of the Lotus Born, I try to remind all my friends to take a moment to reflect on their lives. Perhaps, this may serve as a reminder for those who have gone astray from practicing the dharma and to bring them back on the path.
Before I continue with Śāntideva’s Bodhisattvacaryavatara: The Way of the Bodhisattva, I would like to share a teaching given to me by my root teacher, Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche, a great Dzogchen master. This teaching is very dear and near to my heart, as it concerns the topic of the natural ease of the innermost nature of mind. It is called Semnyi Ngelso, the ‘natural great peace’. Rinpoche writes:
Rest in natural great peace
This exhausted mind,
Beaten helpless by karma and neurotic thoughts
Like the relentless fury of the pounding waves
In the infinite ocean of samsara.
Rest in natural great peace.
The Way of the Bodhisattva: The Teaching on Carefulness
Carefulness in action resulting from thinking how difficult it is to obtain the freedoms and advantages of the precious human condition.
The appearance of Buddhas in the world,
True faith and the attainment of a human form,
An aptitude for good: all these are rare.
When will they come to me again?
Today, indeed, I’m hale and well,
I have enough to eat and I am not in danger.
But this life is fleeting, unreliable,
My body is like something briefly lent.
And yet the way I act is such
That I shall not regain a human life!
And losing this, my precious human form,
My evils will be many, virtues none.
Here is now my chance for wholesome deeds,
But if I fail to practice virtue,
What will be my lot, what shall I do,
Bewildered by the sorrows of the lower realms?
Never, there, performing any virtue,
Only ever piling up my sins,
And for a hundred million ages,
I’ll not even hear of happy destinies.
This is why Lord Buddha has declared
That like a turtle that perchance can place
Its head within a yoke adrift upon the mighty sea
This human birth is difficult to find!
The above verse describes that the entire earth is imagined to be covered by an immense ocean, on which floats a yoke blown here and there by the wind. Coming to the surface once in a hundred years, a blind turtle living in the ocean’s depths could in theory, find its head inside the yoke. But since the ocean is vast, the yoke mindless, and the turtle blind, the odds against such a thing happening would be immense. Yet to find a human birth is far more difficult than this!
Śāntideva thus explains:
When one obtains a precious human existence endowed with freedoms and advantages, one is fortunate in having the capacity to do good with one’s body, speech, and mind. But if he fails to practice virtue even to the slightest degree, he will, as the result of his evil actions, be tormented in subsequent lives in the hells and other lower realms. And being ignorant of what to do and what to avoid, how will he ever be able to accomplish virtue? It is impossible.
May the strength of virtue increase!
May the power of aspiration grow!
May negativity be swiftly purified!