(4.20) It is for these reasons that Buddha, the Blessed One, said
That it is extremely difficult to obtain a precious human life;
Just as it is rare for a turtle to insert its neck
Into a yoke adrift on a vast ocean.
It was discussed in an earlier post how we only attain a precious human life once every 637 quadrillion lifetimes. But we can change these odds through the practice of moral discipline.
Moral discipline in general creates the cause for a fortunate rebirth. Moral discipline engaged in with a spiritual motivation creates the causes for another precious human life. The way it works is as follows: first we contemplate the valid reasons for voluntarily adopting certain vows and commitments until we develop a wisdom desire to do so. We actively choose to practice moral discipline because we want to and we see the value of doing so. We then formally take the vows, making the decision to live our life in a way consistent with them. Later, deluded tendencies that move in the opposite direction of our vows arises within our mind. Our job at that time is to recall the disadvantages of following our delusions and the advantages of keeping our vows. We try see through the lies of our delusions and reconnect with the wisdom that lead us to take the vows in the first place. Once we have rediscovered that clarity of mind, we then voluntarily choose to not follow the deluded tendency, but instead we reaffirm our moral commitments.
This mental action is the moral discipline of restraint, and since it is motivated by spiritual concerns, it creates the causes not just for another upper rebirth, but a precious human life in which we re-find the Dharma. If 50 deluded tendencies ripen in a single hour (which can sometimes happen when our delusions are really flaring up), and we engage in this process of reconnecting with our wisdom that lead us to take the vows until we no simply do not want to follow our deluded tendencies, then we created the causes for 50 precious human rebirths in that hour! Not bad for an hour’s worth of spiritual work.
What distinguishes the mere practice of moral discipline from training in actual vows and commitments, such as the Pratimoksha or Bodhisattva vows, is when we train in vows we not only create the causes for another precious human life, but more importantly we create the causes to maintain the continuum of our spiritual practice until enlightenment is reached. This is a qualitative difference in effect. If we have countless trillion negative seeds on our mind, and we create a few dozen good ones, the odds of these good ones ripening is still microscopically low. If, however, we train in our sets of vows, it creates a different karma altogether, one that maintains the continuum of our practice in life after life. Geshe-la said when we die, we should try do so with fresh vows on our mind.
Why the different effect between individual moral discipline and keeping the sets of vows? Because when we practice an individual act of moral discipline, we are throwing our future selves a spiritual life-line. When we practice a set of vows, we are karmically weaving for ourself a spiritual safety net. Each vow strengthens and reinforces all of the others in an interactive way that creates for us this minimum spiritual flooring. Geshe-la explains in Essence of Vajrayana that practicing Tantra is like climbing a high mountain, but doing so on the foundation of our Tantric vows is like adding the necessary safety equipment so that even if we slip, we do not fall.
Different types of vows will create different types of precious human rebirths. Keeping our refuge vows creates the causes to maintain the continuum of our Buddhist practice between now and our eventual enlightenment. Keeping our Pratimoksha vows creates the causes for us to maintain the continuum of our practice of a path that leads to liberation from samsara. Keeping bodhisattva vows maintains the continuum of our Mahayana trainings to enlightenment. Keeping Tantric vows maintains the continuum of our Vajrayana trainings; and keeping our mother Tantra vows maintains the continuum of our Heruka and Vajrayogini practice. We invest in insurance for all sorts of things in life; how much more important is it to invest effort in the spiritual insurance provided by our practice of the sets of vows?
The reality is this: if we keep finding the path and have the wish to practice it, our samsara will slowly but surely come to an end. If we lose the path, we lose everything and it might be countless aeons later before we can rebegin our practice. While we have found the way out, we should do whatever is required to stay on the path. In short, if we lose the path, we have everything to fear; if we fear only losing the path, we will have nothing to fear.