Practice the three main causes.
There are three main causes that are essential for successful Dharma practice: the wish to practice Dharma, relying upon a spiritual guide who teaches Dharma, and having the necessary conditions to practice Dharma. Each of these is fairly self-explanatory, if we do not wish to practice Dharma, we won’t do it. If we don’t rely upon a Spiritual Guide to who teaches the Dharma, we won’t know what to practice. And if we do not have the necessary conditions to practice Dharma, we won’t be able to even if we want to. If we have these three main causes, then there is nothing that can stop us. We will continue to practice and progress until enlightenment is attained. So the relevant question is how do we assemble these three main causes.
We assemble the first cause, the wish to practice Dharma, by correctly identifying what our problem is. Normally we think our problem is a lack of money, the annoying people in our life and our government. Geshe-la says we need to distinguish between out outer problem and our inner problem. To illustrate this, he uses the example of our car breaking down. If our car breaks down, we normally say, “I have a problem.” This is not correct. Our car has a problem, we do not. Our problem is our deluded mental reaction to our car breaking down. This deluded reaction creates an unpleasant feeling within our mind which leaves us unhappy. Dharma has no power whatsoever to fix our car, we need a mechanic for that. But Dharma practice can solve our inner problem of our unhappy mind. If we solve our inner problem, we have no more problem. We still need to get our car fixed, but it will not be a problem for us. The same reasoning applies to all of our other outer and inner problems.
The lamrim meditations are, if we check, nothing more than a series of meditations helping us identify what exactly is our problem. If we correctly diagnose the problem, then the solution becomes self-evident. It is because we are confused about the nature of our problem that we apply the wrong solutions, and despite considerable effort on our part, we remain unhappy. In this life, our problem is our deluded reaction to what happens in our life. Looking beyond this life, we realize our problem is we will eventually die and, due to all of the negative karma on our mind, we will quite likely fall into the lower realms. If we die with a negative state of mind, a common reaction we have to unpleasant circumstances, of which death is the most unpleasant, then it will activate negative karma, which will propel us into a lower rebirth where we can remain trapped for incalculably long periods of time.
Looking deeper, even if we manage to avoid a lower rebirth in our next life, since our mind is still controlled by delusions, in particular by self-grasping ignorance, we have no freedom or control to choose our next rebirth. Without choice, at the time of our death we will spin the roulette wheel of samsara, and no matter where we land we lose. For as long as we are in samsara, we are, for all practical purposes, in a perpetual slaughterhouse where we are born only to be tormented and eventually slaughtered, only to be revived again to start the whole process over again. Such a situation is completely intolerable and we must break free. In reality, we are trapped in a perpetual nightmare from which we can’t wake up. This is our situation, and we must escape from it.
But we are not alone. All of our friends, family and loved ones – indeed all living beings – are likewise trapped in the same nightmarish slaughterhouse. It is not enough for us to escape, but we must help everyone break free. Noone need suffer. Everyone can abide in the eternal bliss of enlightenment. At present we lack the ability to help others escape. This is our problem.
If we understand our problem, then we naturally look for a solution. There is nothing in samsara that can help us solve the problems of being in samsara. Samsaric solutions, such as mechanics, dentists, lawyers, etc., can help us with our outer problems, but they can do nothing for our inner problems of delusions, negative karma and so forth. What can help us? If our problem is our mind, we need something that can help us change our mind. The Dharma is exactly such a method. It teaches us how to maintain inner peace in this life; it teaches us how to purify our negative karma, accumulate merit and receive the special blessings of the Buddhas at the time of our death; it teaches us how to gain complete control over our mind by permanently eradicating all of our delusions, thus enabling us to wake up from the nightmare of samsara; it teaches us how we can develop within ourselves all of the qualities of a Buddha, such as the minds of great compassion, love, generosity, patient acceptance, moral discipline, effort, concentration and wisdom. It teaches us how to acquire these qualities quickly by explaining how we can effectively download them into our mind from our highest yoga tantra deities. In short, the Dharma provides us with a solution to all of our problems in this and all our future lives, and it gives us the ability to help others do the same. It is the solution to all our inner problems. Seeing this, we will naturally be very motivated to practice Dharma and we will have assembled within our mind the first of the three main causes.