(4.17) If I engage in non-virtuous actions,
I shall not obtain a human body again;
And if I do not attain a human form,
There will be no virtue, only negativity.
(4.18) If I do not practise virtue now
While I have the good fortune to do so,
What virtue shall I be able to practise
When I am suffering and confused in the lower realms?
(4.19) For if I do not practise virtue
But accumulate only evil,
I shall not even hear the words “fortunate rebirth”
For a hundred million aeons.
At present, the vast majority of our actions are neutral, but if we are honest negativity comes easily and virtue comes only with great effort. This clearly shows the natural tendencies on our mind. As Gen-la Losang says, what is natural is simply what is familiar. The fact that negativity comes naturally to us shows that it is what our mind is most familiar with. When we do engage in virtuous actions, it is rare and our virtues are weak. Often we simply show up to Dharma centers or festivals or place our bottoms on our meditation cushion, but fail to bring our mind along too. During daily life, when difficulties arise, our first instinct is to lie, cheat, steal, avoid, retaliate, criticize, judge, and blame others.
If we do not engage in virtuous actions, we will not take another fortunate rebirth. Moral discipline is the principal cause of upper rebirth, and upon that we have scantly relied. If we fall into the lower realms, we will engage almost exclusively in non-virtue. Look at a day in the life of an animal, a hungry spirit and a hell being. How much virtue do they accumulate? How much non-virtue? What causes do they create for their future lives?
If we think about it, when we suffer there’s no space in our mind for any virtue to arise because we are completely preoccupied with the situation. We know when we don’t feel good, even some physical discomfort, our Dharma practice becomes worse, it becomes more difficult to generate and maintain virtue. What will it be like when we return to the lower realms experiencing far more suffering than we are now? Even an animal, where is the space for virtue? We engage in only non-virtue. In the upper realms, our experiences will be so pleasant that we will feel no real motivation to practice. Instead, we will be consumed by jealousy, competitiveness and self-indulgence. Once the merit creating the causes for such a rebirth is exhausted, we will have no choice but to fall once again in the lower realms. From this perspective, an upper or lower rebirth are essentially equally dangerous.
But right now, as a human being, we can create space in our mind for virtue. This is our chance. We have just enough suffering to be motivated to do something about it, and just enough good fortune to have everything we need to be able to do so. It is perfect.
I look at how hard it is for me to just try be a good person, much less an enlightened being. I see how hard it is to not give into my deluded tendencies, much less eradicate them completely. I see how easy it is to become despondent, discouraged or lazy with our practice. Attaining enlightenment seems almost impossibly hard that if I am honest, I mostly don’t even believe it is possible. But Buddha says it is easier to attain enlightenment once reborn as a human than it is to attain rebirth as a human once we have fallen into the lower realms. It is, for all practical purposes, impossible. Again the Christian view is an almost entirely accurate approximation of reality – what awaits us is eternal damnation. Buddhists like to quibble with the eternal part, triumphantly thinking, “oh, those naïve Christians, don’t they understand there are countless lives and nothing is permanent about lower rebirth.” But their naïve view grasping at an eternal fall is far closer to the truth than our wishful thinking that our time in the lower realms will be short-lived.
Once we fall, we will know only terror. There will be no Dharma, no Dharma centers, no spiritual friends, no wisdom. Every day will be a constant struggle, where our only chance at survival will be to engage in actions that condemn us to remain trapped in the lower realms. Our minds will be dark, clouded, full of ignorance, miserliness and rage. Even we who have heard of such things as liberation and enlightenment continue to neglect our spiritual trainings; what chance will we have when we live in a world that knows even not of fortune rebirth, but only torment. Our time is coming. This is no game.