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.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  There can be no greater folly

(4.23) If, having found the freedom and endowment of a human life,
I do not strive to practise Dharma,
There can be no greater self-deception,
There can be no greater folly.

This is definitely worth memorizing.  We have much work to do, purifying and transforming our mind.  Yet we do nothing.  We have fallen into a hole, and it is only by digging ourselves out that we will be able to get out.  We have to stop fooling ourselves that everything is going to be alright.  Then we will stop taking this human rebirth like a holiday.  We will actually work to progress.  It’s not fair to say we do nothing.  We do try, we do some.  But the question is “do we do enough?”  We say, “don’t worry, be happy, just try” to counter our discouragement not as an excuse to do even less when we are already being lazy doing little.  Sometimes we need to be knocked out of our comfort zone.  Sometimes we need to be told, “it’s time to step it up.”

Our usual excuse for why we don’t is we are just too busy.  We have too many other commitments and engagements.  Besides the fact that these commitments and engagements will amount to little or nothing on our death bed, this excuse completely misses the point.  All situations are equally empty, so all situations are equally transformable into the path.  Whether we spend all of our time on retreat, working for a Dharma center or changing diapers while working full time, it’s all the same.  There is absolutely nothing about our busy, modern lives that prevents us from dedicating every second of every day to training our mind, purifying our negative karma, cherishing others and striving to attain enlightenment.  We actually hide behind our busy lives as an excuse for our mental laziness.

The truly ridiculous thing about such laziness is it is self-defeating.  Going through life enslaved by our delusions is exhausting, stressful, and miserable.  We worry, fight, grasp and then collapse at the end of the day.  Even when we try enjoy ourselves, we find it difficult to let go of our worries without the assistance of some form of intoxicant.  Because we listen faithfully to the bad advice of our delusions, our every action only serves to make our problems even worse.  The bottom line is wisdom works not just to escape from samsara but also to navigate through it.  The bottom line is virtuous, peaceful minds are happy minds, so if we want a happy life we should constantly strive to mix our mind with virtue.  It is not like we need to choose between happiness in this life and happiness in our future lives.  Our actual choice is between being miserable in this life and worse in the next versus being happy in this life and happier in the next.  Why choose the former?

Are we intentionally deceiving ourselves?  It’s a big step to take to admit to ourselves that we’re deceiving ourselves.  We have heard the instructions, but why are we not checking them out to see if they are in fact true?  Certainly it would be good to know, in case they are true.  Why do we not look?  There is a step we have to take from knowledge to acceptance.  Even once we have intellectual knowledge, we still haven’t accepted it as truth.  So it is not moving our mind.  We need to meditate on this information again and again until our mind moves and we realize we need to act.  If we are not acting now, we need to do this.  If we are acting now, we still need to do this so that we never stop.

Venerable Tharchin says, “if you do not seize the opportunities you have, the karma creating them will gradually exhaust itself and it will be nearly impossible for find such opportunities again.  But if you seize the opportunities you have, you will create the causes to have even better opportunities in the future.”  It is time we stopped making excuses.  It is time we stop fooling ourselves that our spiritual training is just some hobby.  Normally we take something seriously when our life depends on it.  All of our future lives depend upon whether we seize our spiritual opportunity.  What are we waiting for?

Perhaps we think it is all too hard.  The Dharma just asks too much of us.  But what is the alternative?  Do we honestly think remaining in samsara forever will be any easier?  It is far harder to remain in samsara than it is to get out of it once and for all.  And once again, what is harder, constantly dealing with all of the problems our delusions create for us or enjoying the good fortune that our wisdom and virtue creates for us?  Even in this life, wisdom and virtue are simply easier because they work whereas delusions never do.

If security came to us and said, “terrorists have put a bomb in the building, we have to get out now,” would we hesitate?  Would we say we can’t be bothered, or maybe later?  The Buddhas are telling us there are countless karmic bombs in our mind, and we have to get them out right now.  Why do we hesitate?  A bomb can only kill us in this one life, but our negative karma will kill us again and again until we say “enough is enough.”

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  We need to purify

(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.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  How to have nothing to fear

(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.