(2.50) To Protector Avalokiteshvara,
Who acts unerringly out of compassion,
I utter this desperate cry for help:
“O Please protect me, an evildoer!”
Normally, when we hear language such as this we cringe. It just sounds so fire and brimstone, Inquisition-esque, or worse it reminds us of George W. Bush! But if we are honest, that is exactly what we are. Let me explain.
If you look at the long arch of our mental continuum, we will see that we have spent virtually all of our past lives in the lower realms. What do beings do in the lower realms? The kill their prey, steal from the weak, and torture their enemies. When we read the descriptions of the lower realms in books like Joyful Path, we shouldn’t think they are describing some distant place, rather they are a description of our own past deeds. There is no reason to assume we were a saint in the lower realms, there is every reason to assume we were like everybody else. If a prisoner spent his entire life committing horrific acts, but then one day acted nicely, would we not fairly describe the bulk of his actions as bad? In the same way, if we spent our countless past lives engaging in evil, but have managed so far in this life to avoid anything that would throw us in prison, can we say we are not an evil-doer? In this life, we have lied, stolen, cheated, killed insects, said hurtful things, grasped tightly onto wrong views, wished harm on our enemies, etc. While we may not be as bad as beings in the lower realms, nor as bad as some in this realm, compared to the holy beings our actions are beyond the pale.
As was described in an earlier post, the number one obstacle to our engaging in purification is our total denial of our wrong-doing. If we can’t admit our wrong deeds, how can we hope to purify them?
Admitting we are an evil-doer does not mean we need to fall into some extreme of guilt and self-hatred at how awful we are. Self-flagellation is not a stage of the path. An honest reckoning of our deeds is. Beating ourself up for our mistakes is actually a form of distraction from actually changing our ways. So we admit our mistakes without guilt, realize they were driven by being confused by our delusions and through the force of karmic habit, and then we try do better going forward.
(2.51) Seeking refuge, from my heart
I pray to Arya Akashagarbha,
To Arya Ksitigarbha,
And to all the compassionate Protectors.
For purification to be effective, it has to be heart-felt. When I was a young child, my father was thinking of buying some land right on the edge of a bluff overlooking the city. Since we were little, he was worried that we might not appreciate the danger the cliff represented. So he took us literally to the edge, held us tight and safe so we wouldn’t fall, but showed us what lay below. I do not remember much from my early childhood, but this memory was burned into me forever. I have since always been wary of getting too close to the edge.
In the same way, we literally need to stare into the abyss of the lower realms and see what lays below. The compassionate Buddhas, like my father, will take us to the edge, hold us tight and safe so we won’t fall, but then describe to us the terrors that lie below. Every 21 days, we come to the meditation on the lower realms and do exactly this. The point is not to scare us, the point is to warn us of the dangers that lie ahead if we do not change our ways.
Irrational fear is destructive, rational fear is protection. We should have a rational fear of the lower realms. If we look honestly, it is far more likely we will fall into the lower realms than take another fortunate rebirth. When adversity strikes, we respond with delusion and negativity. Delusion and negativity activate further negative karma. There is no adversity greater than death. If we generate big delusions with respect to small things, what chance do we have to only generate small delusions with respect to the biggest thing of all – our own death. And even small delusions are not enough, we need to respond with virtue if we are to have any chance of remaining in the fortunate realms. How often do we do that now?