The foundation of all practice


A timely reminder by Geshe-la last Sunday May 19, that the foundation to all buddhist practice is the commitment to follow a code of behaviour. This may be in the form of vows or in a secular form whereby one relates to others on the basis of loving kindness and compassion. Without this it is very difficult to refine the mental factors of mindfulness and introspection necessary for concentration and wisdom.

From the text, The 37 Practices of a bodhisattva:

Samsaric pleasures are as unstable as drops of dew on the blades of grass. To aspire for the stable happiness of liberation and enlightenment is a practice of a bodhisattva.

The definition of renunciation is the unceasing (day and night) wish for liberation.  

What is liberation? 
Liberation (tib: thar-pa, skt: moksha) is a state which is not bound by karma (tib: les) and delusions (tib: nyon-mongs skt: klesha). Of the two, the main cause of samsara are the delusions. To put it another way, if you ask where beings are bound by the three poisons, you would point to the three realms of existence (desire, form and formless). So, liberation is a state outside of these three realms. 
Panchen Losang Chokyi Gyaltsen puts it this way:

Animals fear unpleasant states and non buddhists fear contaminated happiness. But it is the aggregates bound by delusion and karma that are samsara.

So one can develop wordily calm abiding and insight, thereupon entering the form and formless realms, believing one has achieved liberation. However, Buddha recognised this was not the case, absorption into these realms is not the stable happiness of liberation because it does not last.To absorb into these states only frees one from the first two types of suffering but not the third (all pervasive suffering). 
With a clearer understanding of what liberation is, Lama Tsong Khapa shows us how to develop the mind that seeks this state (the mind striving for liberation is called renunciation): 

This precious human rebirth is difficult to find, there is not much time in this life, 
getting used to these facts will stop infatuation with this life. 
If you reflect on the unfailing results of actions and the sufferings of samsara, 
infatuation with future lives will also stop.

The three higher trainings. 

The goal of libration is associated with the middle capacity practitioner who, relying on the three trainings of ethics, concentration and wisdom, develops the true cessations in his midstream through the wisdom realising emptiness. True cessations is referring to the cessation of delusions, which is the very definition of liberation. 
The first of these trainings is ethical conduct. Within the buddhist tradition, there are three levels of vows one can take to strengthen our practice of ethical discipline: the pratimoksha vows protect one from the lower realms, the bodhisattva vows protect one from self centredness and the vajrayana vows protect from ordinary appearances. 
Having taken vows, one needs the two mental factors of 1) mindfulness (tib: dran-pa, skt: smrti) to hold in mind the advice of the vows and 2) introspection (tib: shes-bzhin) to check if one is acting accordingly. 
Concentration needs mindfulness and introspection which are developed on the ground of contentiousness, the first of the higher trainings. Once grounded in this, mindfulness and introspection are strengthened in order to reach the state of calm abiding and single pointed concentration (the second higher training). 
Therefore, ethics is the cornerstone of concentration and wisdom. Like a fence, nothing leaves from within and nothing enters from without, ethics protects our vows and guards against excitement. As Shantideva says in the guide to a bodhisattva’s way of life 

“…if the elephant of my mind is firmly bound 
On all sides by the rope of mindfulness, 
All fears will cease to exist 
And all virtues will come into my hand.” 

The higher training of wisdom has three aspects, the wisdom of hearing, the wisdom of reflection and the wisdom of meditation. The first wisdom is weak, it can be influenced, it lacks stability, so don’t stop there. Reflect again and again to develop the inferential perception and then go deeper, combine analytical meditation with calm abiding to gain direct perception and obtain the third form of wisdom, the wisdom of meditation. 

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