Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  When it comes to the fight against your delusions, …!

(4.35) How can I ever be happy
While these guardians of the prison of samsara
That torture and torment me in the hells and elsewhere
Dwell like a net of iron in my mind?

In the last post we examined the first reason we don’t declare war on our delusions, namely we are not convinced they are our enemy.  In this, post we look at the second reason, we doubt we can win.

We doubt, “can I really win the fight against my delusions?”  Maybe our delusions are purely evil, but if they are stronger than me isn’t it better to not fight them?  A good rule of thumb in life is don’t pick a fight with somebody you can’t defeat.  As Buddhists, in general we avoid fighting altogether, preferring to find more virtuous ways of resolving our differences, but when we do have to fight, we should make sure our battle is winnable.  This is how people normally operate in the world.

We can win.  It will not be easy, but all it takes to win is an vajra-like determination to never give up no matter how hard it gets and no matter how long it takes.  Delusions are just thoughts, simply wrong ways of thinking.  We have seen from our own experience when we look at our small victories over our delusions that when we shine the light of wisdom on delusions, they are defeated.  They are seen to be wrong, and when we see their lie, their power over us is broken.  It is no different than spam in our email.  Once we see through the lie of the Nigerian businessman promising us his millions if only we send him our bank account information, that email has no power over us at all.  It only has the power to harm us if we believe its lies.  But when we see the lie for what it is, the power is broken.  Delusions are the same.  They only have power over us when we believe them to be true.  When we see through the deception, their power is broken.  They can be defeated.  Each delusion has its own false logic, the only difference being one of scale.  Small attachments or large attachments use the same false logic.  The same is true for frustrations, jealousies, doubts, etc.  If they can be defeated in one instance, the same false logic can be defeated in all instances.  The sword of wisdom is stronger than the enemy of delusion.  If we continue to strengthen the power and depth of this wisdom within our mind, we can defeat deeper and deeper levels of delusion until finally every last one has been slayed.

Just because we declare unconditional total war against our delusions does not mean we fight stupidly without strategy or tactics.  Strategy is the big picture for how we will win the war, tactics is how we win individual battles in that war.  We actually don’t overpower our delusions, we outsmart them.  Our ultimate strategy against our delusions is encirclement followed by decapitation.  We accomplish encirclement with a systematic practice of the Lamrim.  We completely surround the enemy of delusions on all sides with the Lamrim, like in a medieval siege.  Geshe-la explains the Lamrim opposes, directly or indirectly, all delusions.  It is a system of inter-locking virtuous minds that creates a vajra-like cage around our delusions from which they can’t escape.  The Lamrim contains the enemy in an ever tightening noose as our experience with the Lamrim grows.  At the same time, we pursue a strategy of decapitation of the king of all delusions – the self-centered mind.  The self-centered mind is the union of self-cherishing and self-grasping, and this mind is the root and power of all delusions.  In Lord of the Rings, it is the Ring of Power, the one ring to rule them all.  If it is destroyed, all delusions are destroyed with it.  Ultimate Bodhichitta, the union of conventional bodhichitta and the wisdom realizing emptiness, is our Spiritual Hercules that cannot be defeated.

Tactically, we need to pick our battles.  Perhaps we have a wide range of attachments, from chocolate to sex.  Perhaps we are not ready to take on sexual attachment quite yet, but surely we can break our attachment to chocolate.  Perhaps we have a wide range of frustrations, from having to wait in line to the dysfunction of our government.  The point is start with small, winnable battles.  Gain some experience for how wisdom can indeed defeat delusions.  Learn how to request blessings for wisdom and strength to assist you in your fight.  Lock in some definitive victories against small delusions.  This will grow your confidence that it is possible to win.  You then gradually grow in spiritual power, taking on greater and greater foes, until eventually you become a Conqueror Buddha.

Some people mistakenly think being a Buddhist means to be a wuss.  A dear friend of mine was once chastised by his South American bride, “its King-like Bodhichitta, not Smurf-like Bodhichitta.”  A teacher of mine often used to say, “show some backbone.”  She said, “there is nothing weak about being a Buddhist.  Delusions are what make us weak, wisdom makes us strong.”  Rocky Balboa does not fear getting his nose bloodied when he confronts Ivan Drago, and neither should we when we confront our delusions.  The Patriots in the American revolution didn’t stand a chance against the mightiest empire on earth, but they won anyways.  Ghandi was no coward – he stood against the British Empire armed with nothing more than the truth and a home-spun loin cloth.  Shantideva is not weak, and he doesn’t hesitate to kick delusions right where it hurts.  Sadly, when it comes to the language of warfare, sexist language is often the best, so forgive my use of these terms.  But what Shantideva is really telling us – in our modern terms – is when it comes to our fight against our delusions we “need to grow a pair.”

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Delusions are pure evil

(4.34) So how can I remain in samsara joyfully and without fear
While I readily reserve a place in my heart
For this interminable enemy of long duration
That alone is the cause of increasing all my suffering?

I think there are two main reasons why we don’t declare war on our delusions:  we aren’t convinced they are our enemy and we don’t think we can win.  Over the next two posts we will look at each of these in turn.

Are delusions our enemy?  Normally, we actually think they are our friend.  Before the Dharma, we never stopped to question whether things like attachment, aversion and ignorance were wrong.  The movies and poetry extol attachment as the meaning of life.  The movies and the news media lift up on a pedestal those who hate.  Every human endeavor of knowledge seeks to provide an “objective” explanation of reality.  Delusions are not our enemies, they are our gods.  This is why Dharma is so radical.

Shantideva says this enemy of long duration alone is the cause of all our suffering. We don’t feel this is the case.  We blame others, find fault in others and blame them for our suffering. The reality is no one is at fault; only delusion is at fault.  We need to realize this personally where we come to see our delusions as our real enemies, the cause of all our difficulties.  We need to see what difficulties we are having in life, and then trace how delusions are the real cause.  Then we will come and see.  Whenever we suffer, even when it appears that others are to blame, we should try to recognize how delusion alone is to blame.   Then we’ll stop blaming others.

Sometimes people misunderstand the Dharma to mean we can’t be happy or enjoy ourselves.  But this is not so.  Ordinary beings have their four minutes of happiness for their four months of secondary misery.  Dharma practitioners are happy about the fact that they are destroying their inner enemies of delusions.  This makes them happy because they see clearly that their delusions are the cause of their suffering.

Delusions are like a relentless enemy that will never stop.  External enemies you can compromise with and even make your friend, but there is no compromise, nor peace possible with delusions.  The reason for this is clear – it is a faulty logic.  If you have a little bit or a lot of faulty logic, it remains forever faulty.  In external affairs, there are legitimate interests on both sides which can and need to be addressed for peace to occur; but delusions have no legitimate interests.  They deceive us into thinking they do, but closer examination always reveals following their advice is always self-defeating.  While delusions are just thoughts and therefore have no intention, Shantideva correctly “personifies” them with a personality of their own with purely evil intent.  If someone is purely evil, there is only one possible course of action – to destroy them completely.

Language like this makes us uncomfortable.  Buddhists are supposed to be peace-loving.  In our external relations, we renounce combative ways and we like being centered in the nicey-nice.  We are taught to make friends with our enemies.  All this talk of evil and war and battle rattles us a bit.  That’s the point.  Shantideva is our drill sergeant who reminds us sometimes we are faced with a kill or be killed scenario.  It’s not all roses and flowers, sometimes it is trench warfare.  The logic of military planners is entirely correct – they have just identified the wrong enemy.  We should adopt – wholesale – military-like thinking directed against our only true enemy, delusions.

 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Who do you trust?

We need to ask ourselves why do we trust our attachment and all our other delusions?  We should personally go through each one of our delusions and realize how much suffering they bring us.  For example, how does my own desirous mind bring me so much suffering?  How does my own mind of doubt bring me so much suffering?  We need to make it personal.  We have to know, recognize, that there’s suffering in our mind whenever attachment and the other delusions arise.  Then we will be able to identify how delusions are a cause of suffering.

All delusions are necessarily deceptive minds.  They promise us one thing, but they deliver us the exact opposite.  Attachment promises us happiness if we have the object of our attachment, but then when we don’t have it we suffer and it just increases our desire.  Doubt promises us to protect us from making a mistake by believing something that is potentially wrong, but then we don’t believe anything and so we can never get better.  Pride tells us it will give us self-confidence, but instead it makes us feel insecure and when we don’t live up to our unrealistic expectations of ourself we feel discouraged, guilty and lose self-confidence and we do even worse.  Anger promises us to put an end to the things that cause us suffering, but it always makes the situation worse and makes us miserable even if the external situation changes.  Self-cherishing promises us that it is only by taking care of ourself that we will find any happiness, but it is the root of all other delusions, causes us to engage in negative actions and makes us into a drama queen every time something happens to us.

We need to look at each delusion in turn and see clearly how we suffer while they’re present, and then ask ourselves “why do we trust these minds?”  Problems come straightaway when we have delusions.  They always betray us and makes the situation worse.  Worse than that, they throw us into the lower realms.

(4.32) No other type of enemy
Can remain for as long a time
As can the enduring foes of my delusions,
For they have no beginning and no apparent end.

More important than realizing they have been harming us since forever is to realize they will go on harming us for as long as we don’t stop them.  Our external enemies can at most harm us in this life, but the inner enemies of our delusions harm us in all our future lives, so they are infinitely worse.  A student of mine was once having a complete psychiatric breakdown, and she asked how long it would last.  I then in turn asked Gen Lhamo and she said it will last for as long as she doesn’t purify its causes.   In the same way, our delusions will continue to torture and kill us in life after life until we purge them completely from our mind.  They won’t ever stop until we stop them.

(4.33) If I agree with external enemies and honour them,
They will eventually bring me benefit and happiness;
But if I entrust myself to delusions,
In the future they will bring me only more pain and suffering.

Our delusions dress up as our friend, and we’re fooled.  All delusions are necessarily deceptive minds.  They tell us that they do us good, we then believe them and act upon what they suggest. But then, they wind up harming us.  They deceive us.

Delusions are deceptive because they pretend to help.  Aversion promises us to be separated from the object of our dislike, but it creates the cause to attract it.  Jealousy promises us the ability to obtain the other person, but it pushes them away.  Ignorance thinking things exist from their own side promises us an ‘objective look at reality’, but it blinds us to the real reality that things are empty.  Our job is to identify the deceptions of our delusions and then when they arise we will no longer be fooled by them.  Then, they will no longer have any power over us, even if they continue to arise in our mind.

If we respect our external enemy, then there’s every possibility that person will become our friend.  If we respect delusion, it will become our worst enemy, just grow bigger and bigger.  We must now try to see through the disguise of the delusions.  It’s not difficult!  It is not a good disguise.  We just have to observe our experience to see how our delusions betray us.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  How do we find release?

(4.30) If all living beings, including the gods and demi-gods,
Were to rise up against me as one enemy,
They could not lead me to the fires of the deepest hell
And throw me in;

(4.31) But this powerful enemy of the delusions
In an instant can cast me into that fiery place
Where even the ashes of Mount Meru
Would be consumed without a trace.

How do delusions harm us?  This is what we need to contemplate deeply.  I think we need to dig deep and understand why it is delusions are able to deceive us?

Generally people need to find some release or relief from their suffering.  Because we want things to go in a particular way, when they don’t tension builds within us.  Our situation is very difficult and we don’t accept it as it is, so tension builds up within us until it becomes unbearable.  We need to find some form of release.  Why do people take drugs, intoxicants?  For that time there’s some relief.  Because they cannot bear it.  Why do people distract themselves beyond belief, with TV, movies, anything?  Because they can’t bear it.

We then turn to samsaric objects to find our release, and to a certain extent they work in temporarily releasing the tension we feel.  We then think that these external objects have the power to relieve our tension, and so we relate to them as causes of happiness.  This is the origin of attachment.  But because we do not challenge the fundamental assumptions of our delusions – namely believing it is our external circumstance which needs to change – the tension builds up again, and so we need to once again find release.  And the cycle continues forever.

The need for release from tension is normal, the question is what do we turn to for our release?  An ordinary being turns to samsaric objects and the cycle continues indefinitely.  A Dharma practitioner turns to renunciation, compassion and the wisdom realizing emptiness.  This leads to a permanent release.  The Sanskrit translation of “moksha” (of Pratimoksha) is “release.”  We need release, we just need to find spiritual means of accomplishing release.

Renunciation.  Quite often renunciation is completely misunderstood as denying oneself what one wants.  We want samsaric objects, but out of some feeling of we “ought” not because we have received Dharma teachings, we refrain.  But if we still want it but hold back, all we really do is suppress our delusions.  Renunciation is not suppression, it is seeing through the lies of our delusions to the point where we don’t want their objects anymore.  There is a big difference between “shouldn’t” and “don’t want.”  One is suppression, the other is renunciation.   The mind of renunciation is a mind that lets go, seeing that there is nothing there that can give us any happiness.  We release the tension by letting go of the assumption that there is something to be had.  In fact, we realize that it is because we are turning to external objects that the cyle of build up and release is perpetuated, so we realize that it is just a cause of great suffering.  This doesn’t mean we abandon all objects, it means we stop wanting “objects of attachment.”  We can still want “objects of love” or “means to help living beings.”  Objects, such as our family or money, in and of themselves are not inherently objects of attachment, they only become so when we relate to them with a mind of attachment.  These are important distinctions.

Compassion.  Normally we think I have enough problems, how can I think about others?  But it is because we think we are important that we think what happens to us is important.  If we realize that we don’t matter (at all) then what happens to us doesn’t matter (at all).  We are just one person, but others are countless.  And they are all trapped within this same cycle of build up and release.  Realizing we are not important, we are able to let go and find release.

Wisdom realizing emptiness.  This goes further than renunciation.  Renunciation realizes that external objects have no power to give us any happiness – everything depends upon our mind – so we let go of turning to them for happiness.  The wisdom realizing emptiness understands that there is no external object to begin with – these are all just appearances to mind.  There is nothing there to be attached to and nothing to be upset about.  This doesn’t mean that nothing matters, it means that nothing external matters because it doesn’t even exist (technically external objects do exist as object conditions, but I leave that technicality aside for purposes of making the point).  The only things that matter are the minds that we generate.  When we realize everything is created by our mind, we then realize what needs to change is our mind.  If we change our mind, we change our world.

These three will bring us a permanent release, one that doesn’t build up again.  We are released from this cycle and experience permanent release.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  How have they made me their slave?

In the first part of this chapter, Shantideva is encouraging us to observe the law of karma by abandoning non-virtue and practicing virtue.  Otherwise we will remain for a long time in the lower realms.  Now he encourages us to abandon delusion (the cause of negative actions), otherwise we will remain for a long time in samsara. Our suffering will never come to an end otherwise.  Shantideva includes all the stages of the path before we go on to the six perfections.

First of all Shantideva goes on to describe the faults of delusion.

(4.28) The inner enemies of hatred, attachment, and so forth
Do not have arms and legs,
Nor do they have courage or skill;
So how have they made me their slave?

There’s only one enemy that has the power to harm us—delusion. There is no enemy that possesses arms, legs, weapons.  Only the enemy of delusion gives the objects of delusion the power to harm us.

We are under the control of delusion.  We think, speak, act as delusion wishes.  We are its servant, its slave.  Delusions give us no choice.  If we check, delusions simply, without obstruction, move into our mind and take over, even if we don’t want them to.  We don’t ever wish to get angry, yet when an object of anger appears to our mind, it moves in and takes over, forcing us to say things and do things.  We become its slave or victim.  Anger uses us.  It uses our body and mind to do whatever it wants.  Geshe-la said it is like an evil spirit abiding in our heart, controlling us.

We need to become more aware of what delusion makes us do.  We need to become precisely aware of what attachment of uncontrolled desire makes us do, what pride makes us do, what anger, ignorance, etc. make us do.  Until we really do feel like we’re under their control, we won’t be motivated to abandon them.  We must feel like—“I have no choice but to obey,” “my delusions actually are in charge, in control; I’m not.”  We also need to see how there’s no resistance.  We wouldn’t let anybody take over, tell us what to do.  Not at all, quite the opposite, we would fight back.  We rebel.   Yet we don’t fight those delusions, even though they have “no arms or legs, no courage or skill” we don’t fight back.  Why?

(4.29) While they remain within my mind,
They harm me at their pleasure,
And yet, without anger, I patiently endure them.
How shameful! This is no occasion for patience.

We are taught we need to be patient with our external enemies.  Geshe-la said, “love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all enemies.”  By loving our external enemies, they can become our friends.  We are taught we need to be patient with our suffering, accepting it as purification for our past wrong deeds, and using it as a reminder to avoid negative actions, engage in virtuous actions, generate compassion for those whose suffering is far worse than ours and generate bodhichitta.

But we should never be patient with our delusions.  They are not an enemy who can be pacified by giving them what they want, instead they come back stronger asking for even more.  They are the schoolyard bully who will only stop when they are stopped.  Being kind with delusions will not make them any kinder to us, rather they will abuse our kindness and betray us at the first opportunity.  We don’t negotiate with terrorists because to do so is to encourage more terrorism; in the same way, we don’t compromise with our delusions because the more we give them the more they attack us.  Venerable Tharchin says giving delusions what they want is like feeding the dinosaur that will eventually devour us, the more we feed them the bigger they get.  When somebody is just trying to provoke us into overreacting to them, we don’t do them that service, instead we keep calm.  When somebody is out to deceive us, we don’t go along with their lies as if they were true.  All delusions are deceptive lies.

Just because we should not be patient with our delusions does not mean we should not be patient with ourself.  We cannot expect just because we have received a few teachings on the faults of delusions that we can somehow turn off like a switch deluded habits we have been forming for aeons.  Kadam Morten says, “we need to accept the existence of delusions, not their validity.”  Geshe-la explains in Eight Steps to Happiness that pretending we are not deluded when we are just leads to repression.  They then come back stronger.  So when a deluded tendency arises in our mind, no point pretending otherwise – we need to accept the reality of the situation as it is.  But it doesn’t mean we accept the validity of what the delusion says as being true.  The arising of a deluded tendency is a karmic effect of a past delusion, our assenting to the truth of the deluded tendency is the new mental action of generating a delusion.  If the tendency arises but we see it as a lie, we have not actually generated a delusion, in fact we have generated wisdom and the karma of the moral discipline of restraint.

 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  What is it that dwells within me?

(4.26) Having found, by some very slight chance,
This beneficial state, so rare to find,
If, while I am endowed with such good fortune,
I am once again led to the hells, 

(4.27) It is as if I am confused by a spell
And my mind has been reduced to nothing!
Even I do not know what causes this confusion –
What is it that dwells within me?

What dwells within me?  A spiritually lazy bum.  I understand, yet I remain indolent.  If we die this way, our mind will be full of regret.  At the time of our death, we will see our whole life flash before us and all the times we could have practiced but didn’t.  We will realize that we did not use the chance we had to practice and now it is too late and we will fall.  We will realize that our doubts have deceived us.  Our doubts told us to not fully engage in the practice in case they are not true, but at the time of death we will realize they are true and it will be too late.  We will realize where we are headed and we will panic.  This will activate negative seeds on our mind, and we will fall.  We need to realize that this is our future.  This will happen if we don’t practice right now.  It is better to be freaked out about this now while there is something we can do about it than at the time of death when it is too late.

What dwells within me?  An inner coward that causes me to look the other way when hard questions are asked.  What’s going on in my mind?  Why can’t I see what lies ahead?  Am I afraid to look?  Am I stupid?  What is it?   Is it merely that we distract ourselves with samsaric life and its endless possibilities of enjoyment because we cannot face the truth?

What dwells within me?  The “devil” of delusion.  It has almost total power over us.  One of the most interesting experiences one can have is to listen to the sermon of a good Baptist preacher when they talk about the temptations of the devil.  Every time you hear devil, think delusion, and you’re there.  The devil’s principal means of ensnaring us is through his deceptions.  Geshe-la says, “all delusions are deceptive.”  They trick us into following their mistaken advice, and lead us onto the road of hell.  It is only by choosing to not listen to our delusions, but instead to rely upon the wisdom of the holy beings that we can find our way.  Before we found the Dharma, we were complete slaves to our delusion’s every word.  Even with the Dharma, again and again we are deceived into giving into our attachment, lashing out at our loved ones with anger, becoming jealous of those who enjoy a few crumbs of happiness.  The Baptist preacher is completely correct that the devil of delusion’s only purpose is to cast us into hell where we can never escape.  He is correct that only faith and the word of holy beings can guide us to light.  He is correct that we at war with this devil, and only one of us can emerge victorious.  He is simply wrong about who the enemy is.  The enemy is not gays, government, Facebook, the liberal educational establishment, there is only one enemy:  delusions themselves.  Geshe-la says there are no external enemies, but Shantideva is clear there are internal ones.  So take the passion of a Baptist preacher and direct it against the inner enemy of delusions and you have found Shantideva.

What dwells within me?  An inner demon that we must exorcise from our mind.  It is not an actual being tormenting us, but delusions are so clever at adapting and manipulating us into following their wrong advice that it is as if our delusions were actual demons dwelling within.  What has the power to cast out delusion?  The sword of wisdom.  Wisdom cuts through the lies of delusions and lays them bear so that they have no power over us and we are no longer fooled.  Only wisdom can do this.  On our own, we are weak and unskilled at wielding the sword of wisdom.  But the Wisdom Buddha Manjushri in the aspect of Dorje Shugden is a master swordsman, who, activated with our faith, can cut down all of our inner foes.  He is not just our Protector, he is also our Spiritual Champion we can send into battle against our delusions.  To enlist his support, all we need is faith and a good motivation and he will do the rest.

What dwells within me?  An inner cancer of delusion that if left unchecked will gradually devour us.  Cancer left untreated grows, mutates, and metastasizes.  But cancer can only kill us in this life, the inner cancer of delusions will follow us in life after life, eating away at our good heart.  If even one cell of cancer goes untreated, it will reassert itself until eventually it has taken over our body.  It takes just one seed of delusion to gradually take over the rest of our mind.  Only the truth of Dharma can destroy this cancer.

The question is not, therefore, what dwells within me.  The question is what am I going to do to get it out?

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Don’t be choked with unimaginable terror

(4.24) Having understood this,
If out of ignorance I remain indolent,
Then, when the time comes for me to die,
I shall be choked with unimaginable terror.

(4.25) If my body will burn for a very long time
In the unbearable fires of hell,
Then, without doubt, my mind will be consumed
By the raging fires of regret.

In Buddhism, the time of our death is the most important moment of our lives.  In many ways, we can say that all of our trainings in life are really preparations for the moment of death.  The reason why the moment of death is so important is the quality of mind we have at the time of our death determines the quality of our next rebirth.  The reason for this is simple:  each mind we generate activates a karmic seed which ripens in the next moment.  The karma activated at the time of death ripens in the first moment of our next life, indeed it determines what that next life will be.  Due to the total absorption of the inner winds during the death process, the mind of death activates what is called “throwing karma.”  This is also known as the “ripened effect” of our actions.  If we die with a negative mind, it will activate negative throwing karma throwing us into a lower rebirth.  We can say that throwing karma is the substantial cause of our life, and the other types of karmic effects are the circumstances we will experience in a given life.

We have received Dharma teachings.  We have received sacred spiritual vows on our mental continuum.  We have received many empowerments into the precious tantric teachings.  We have been given everything we need to enter, progress along and complete the spiritual path.  Those who choose to take full advantage of this spiritual opportunity will approach death in the same way we do when embarking upon a long vacation.  We are excited about the adventure that awaits and we know we have prepared everything well.  Those who waste their life following their delusions and squandering the spiritual opportunities they have been given will realize – too late – that their time is now up and they have little to nothing to show from their time here on earth.  Such people die full of regrets.

When Dharma teachings refer to “dying full of regrets” the meaning here is not the regret we generate in  purification practice, but rather a deluded form of self-guilt of having completely wasted our precious spiritual opportunity and now we realize, too late, that we are bound for the lower realms and there is nothing we can do to stop it.  Our mind is seized by self-hatred and panic, activating negative throwing karma, casting us down into the lower realms.

In popular culture and movies, we are told when we die our “life flashes before our eyes.”  This is actually true, from a certain point of view.  The teachings on the 12 dependent related links explain that at the time of our death we will experience two death-specific delusions, namely dependent-related craving and dependent-related grasping.  Practically speaking, dependent-related craving is at the time of death we will feel a sudden surge of craving for all of our strongest objects of attachment in life.  Essentially all of our unresolved attachments – be it or chocolate, sex, a good reputation, whatever – will come flaring up in a sudden blast.  If we have not worked to let go of our attachments in life, we will develop a strong desire for these things combined with a knowledge that we will never have them again.  If in life we respond to our frustrated attachments with delusion and negativity, odds are we will do the same at the time of death. Deluded, negative minds activate deluded, negative karma.

Practically speaking, dependent-related grasping is a strong grasping at our self and body at the time of death.  We realize our life and body are about to be ripped away from us permanently, and we grasp desperately trying to hold on to them.  Think of the panic people feel when they have trouble breathing.  Now imagine it really is the end and you can no longer breathe.  Think of the grasping we feel when we fear our life is in danger from some criminal or terrorist.  Now imagine it is the actual time of death and you know there is no turning back.  If in life we respond with delusions and negativity when things are taken away from us, odds are we will do the same at the time of death.  Deluded, negative minds activate deluded negative karma.

In many ways, I think the regret experienced by Dharma practitioners at having wasted their life must be far worse than that of non-practitioners.  Most people are completely ignorant of what is spiritually achievable in this life, but we know exactly what is possible.  Most people know nothing about the lower realms, but we know they are waiting for us.  We might then wrongly conclude, “well maybe it is better to not know then,” but being an ostrich is no strategy for avoiding lower rebirth.  It is not easy to confront the horror of samsaric existence.  It all seems so exaggerated or so far removed from our daily experience, that we kid ourselves into thinking it’s all just a bunch of superstition, or in any case it is too depressing to think about so better to change the subject.  But we’ve done the contemplations, we know it’s all a karmic dream, we know it is all empty, we know how karma works, we know the arguments establishing past and future lives.  In short, we know better.

So we have a choice:  face the horror now, and do what it takes to avoid it.  Or face the horror at the time of death and fall in utter panic.  Time to choose.