(4.21) Since just one moment of evil
Can lead to an aeon in the deepest hell,
If I do not purify all the evil I have collected since beginningless time,
It goes without saying that I shall not take a human rebirth.
In Christianity, people are often taught if you are 51% good in life, you can go to heaven. People come into the Dharma and learn we basically need to be 99% good in life to have a chance just at another human rebirth! In Christianity, people are told that God will judge them at the Pearly Gates, and weigh the balance of their actions in life. People come into the Dharma and learn it all comes down to how we respond to the most traumatic and challenging moment of our life, namely the time of our death. Then they think, better go back to being a Christian!
In its easiest to understand form, samsara is uncontrolled death and rebirth. It is a game of karmic Russian Roulette we play at the end of each lifetime that then throws us into our next rebirth. The quality of mind we have at the time of death determines the quality of the karmic seed that gets activated. If we die with a negative mind, a negative karmic seed will be activated and we will be cast into the lower realms. If we die with a positive mind, a positive karmic seed will be activated and will be rise to the upper realms. If we die with a pure mind, a pure karmic seed will be activated and we will escape from samsara to the pure land, liberation or even full enlightenment.
The fundamental question, then, is how do we know what mind will we have at the time of death. Most people go through life completely oblivious to the fact that we have a choice regarding how our mind responds to what happens. Karmically speaking, we more resemble a leaf in the wind than a conscious sentient being. Misfortune strikes, we become angry, depressed and self-absorbed. Good fortune ripens, we become attached, overly elated and we feel self-important. When asked why we feel the way we do, we come up with a long list of external conditions as our explanation, as if it were self-evident that our external circumstance dictates our internal experience.
If we check, we see that in virtually all circumstances, when misfortune strikes we respond with a deluded, often negative mind. If this is our habit in life when minor adversity occurs, what chance do we have at the time of death when we will lose everything? When something is taken away from us in life, we grasp tightly onto the thing for fear of losing it. How are we likely to respond at the time of death when our body is ripped away from us? When our body experiences even the slightest discomfort of illness, we become moody and despondent. How are we likely to respond when the cancer seeps into our bones and our body is racked with pain? We feel tired and incapable of virtue after a hard days work, and when we go to sleep we collapse without giving Dharma another thought. How likely are we to generate compassion and faith after a lifetime’s worth of toil and our inner winds are collapsing in on themselves? We all fantasize of passing away quietly in our sleep, but how often do we dream we are in the pure land?
If we don’t make responding to adversity with virtue our habit in life, we won’t stand a chance at the time of death. This is our reality. Denial won’t make it go away. We should be afraid. We should be very afraid.
(4.22) Simply experiencing the effects of my non-virtue
Will not lead to my being released from the lower realms,
For, while I am experiencing those effects,
I shall be generating yet more non-virtue.
Sometimes people mistakenly think that simply experiencing suffering is a form of purification. While it is true that one singular negative seed might be exhausting itself, if we respond to our suffering with further negativity and delusion, our experience of suffering will not be an occasion of purification, rather it will be tragic spike in our quantity of negative karma. Usually when things go badly we respond with angry, non-accepting minds. We respond with more negativity and keep the cycle going. If we don’t break this cycle, it will go on forever.
The experience of suffering only results in purification if we mentally accept the suffering as purification. To actually purify, we must generate the four opponent powers: the power of regret, the power of reliance, the power of the opponent force and the power of the promise. To mentally accept suffering as purification, all four powers must be present. The mere presence of suffering is not purification, the acceptance of it with the four powers is. When suffering strikes, we recognize it as the ripening of our past negative karma. We then consider how we have countless other similar seeds on our mind and if we don’t purify them, it is just a question of time before we are condemned to experience their effects. We then turn to the Buddhas, requesting them to bless our mind with the strength to patiently accept our suffering as purification. The power of the opponent force is any virtuous action motivated by regret. In this instance, our virtuous action is patiently accepting our suffering. Patient acceptance is a type of virtuous action we can practice when misfortune occurs. We then use our suffering as a fuel for the promise to in the future stop engaging in actions which cause such suffering, making effort to examine our behavior to identify instances where our moral discipline is less than perfect in ways consistent with the particular suffering we are experiencing.
If we accept our suffering with such a mind, we purify our negative karma. Otherwise, we just suffer with no meaning to it at all.