Happy Tsog Day: Understanding the Truth of Samsara for Ourself and Others

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 28 of a 44-part series.

Developing the wish to gain liberation

Being violently tossed by the waves of delusion and karma
And tormented by the sea-monsters of the three sufferings,
I seek your blessings to develop a strong wish for liberation
From the boundless and fearful great ocean of samsara.

Even if we take an upper rebirth, our situation is only temporary. It is just a question of time before we burn up the virtuous karma giving rise to our upper rebirth and we fall once again into the lower realms. Beings in the upper realms primarily just enjoy their good karma ripening. We can see this in our world with those who are extremely fortunate. How many dedicate their lives and their good karma to helping others? Besides Bill Gates, there is virtually no one. Taking an upper rebirth is extremely dangerous from a karmic perspective because we essentially create a bonfire for all our virtuous karma. Once it is burned up, all that remains on our mind is negative, and then we once again fall into the lower realms. Thus, to be in samsara is to be in the lower realms with only very temporary exceptions.

It is helpful to consider what exactly is samsara. In truth, it is a karmic nightmare that we are trapped in that we believe to be true. Everything we normally perceive does not exist, but we think it does, and as a result we suffer. To wish to escape from samsara, therefore is the wish to wake up.

How to practise the path that leads to liberation

Forsaking the mind that views as a pleasure garden
This unbearable prison of samsara,
I seek your blessings to take up the victory banner of liberation
By maintaining the three higher trainings and the wealths of Superiors.

All the so-called good experiences we have in samsara are in reality changing suffering – the temporary reduction of our discomfort. Eating temporarily reduces the suffering of hunger. Sleeping temporarily reduces the suffering of fatigue. Companionship temporarily reduces the suffering of being alone. The list goes on and on. And even if we were able to experience good things for all this life, we would still all inevitably get sick, get old, and die. We are imputing our “I” onto a sinking ship. From a tantric perspective, samsara is identifying with contaminated aggregates of body and mind. More profoundly, it is ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions. These have all been explained in detail in previous posts. The point is, there is no lasting happiness to be found anywhere in samsara. If we contemplate this deeply, we see our only rational choice is to escape.

What are the three higher trainings? They can properly be understood as the process of letting go of samsara. The three higher trainings are higher moral discipline, higher concentration, and higher wisdom. They are called higher trainings because they are motivated by renunciation, the wish to escape from samsara. With higher moral discipline, we let go of deluded behavior. With higher concentration, we let go of our distractions being fascinated by samsaric objects. With higher wisdom, we let go of grasping at the things we normally see existing from their own side. In particular, we let go of grasping at our ordinary body in mind as ourself. Once we let go of samsara, it will gradually exhaust itself because it was never anything more than mere karmic appearance.

How to generate great compassion, the foundation of the Mahayana

Contemplating how all these pitiful migrators are my mothers,
Who out of kindness have cherished me again and again,
I seek your blessings to generate a spontaneous compassion
Like that of a loving mother for her dearest child.

Just as we are trapped in samsara, so too are all other living beings. But frankly, we generally do not care. Why? Because we do not think these other living beings are important, or that their happiness matters. Once we consider them to be important, then we consider how they too are suffering, and we will naturally generate a compassionate wish that they too escape from samsara. In the Lamrim teachings there are two principal methods taught for how to consider the happiness of others to be important. The first is to consider how all living beings are our mothers, and the second is to engage in the practice of exchanging self with others. In this verse, we train in the first method.

The logic here is very simple. Because we have taken countless rebirths in the past, we have had countless mothers. Where are all these mothers today? They are the beings around us. Buddha said there is not a single living being who has not been the mother of all the others. This is difficult for us to understand only because we fail to grasp the infinite past of our lives. We tend to think in very narrow terms just the human world on this planet. Time is without beginning, therefore there has been plenty of time for each and every living being to have at one point been our mother.

Some people also struggle with this meditation because they have a bad relationship with their mother of this life. For these people, considering how everyone is our mother does not help us to generate compassion for them because we do not like our present mother. There are two answers to this problem. The first is to see things in perspective. No matter how much harm our mother caused us after we were born, the truth is we would not even have this life if she had not kept us and kept us alive when we were younger. Thus, everything we have in this life is indirectly thanks to our mother. And even if she was abusive with us, this has taught us how not to be with others, and so even her negative actions have brought us benefit. The second way of avoiding this problem is to consider that all living beings are equally our child. We have been the parent or mother of all living beings at one point in the past. It is because our mother so mistreated us that we now wish to not repeat her mistakes and instead to care for all living beings as a good mother should that we can consider everyone as our child who we must care for. The point is to realize each and every living being is someone important whose happiness we should care for. It does not matter whether we reach this destination by considering how everyone is our mother or by considering how everyone is our child.

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