About – The Four Thoughts
from a teaching by Khenchen Tsewang Gyatso Rinpoche
The first part of Ngöndro practice is spent contemplating “The Four Thoughts” that turn the mind toward the practice. These are: the preciousness of this human birth; impermanence and the certainty of death; the defects of this worldly life (“samsara”); and the principle of cause and effect (“karma”). Here Khenchen Tsewang Gyatso Rinpoche speaks about “The Four Thoughts” in the context of the importance of actual practice.
Holy Buddhist Texts or “pechas”The Four Thoughts that turn the mind from samsara are very important. Our minds are distracted by this world. We practice a little bit, and then get distracted thinking life is good, eating pizza in the restaurant, going to the beach on weekends and enjoying ourselves. It is really nice. You could have a very happy life with your family, eating and experiencing all those happy experiences. At the end of life, if you do not continue to have that kind of happiness in the next lifetime and many future lifetimes, you may get a little upset and think, “I should have done something. I have just been going to the beach, the mountains, camping, bungee jumping, and all that. I’ve spent my time doing all that, but I really didn’t do anything.”
Since you have a precious human birth, you should not waste it. If you waste this time, then you are wasting something very great. Even were you to waste a billion dollars, it doesn’t matter. You can make it up. You can do something, and you can make it up. But if you waste this precious human birth, it is very, very difficult. You cannot make it up.
So since you have a precious human rebirth, you must immediately think that you should not waste it. You should think, “I have to get some advantage from this opportunity. Then how can I do it?” By thinking that all phenomena which are composed of cause and condition are impermanent. Impermanence does not just mean that everything comes to an end. Impermanence means that each and every moment is impermanent. Each and every moment of our lives we are becoming older and older, we are getting nearer and nearer to death. If you waste even one hour, that is one hour closer to death. If you spend your weekend enjoying yourself, still you are getting nearer to death. Whenever you sit idle, still you are getting nearer to death. Even if you do practice, still you are getting nearer to death. Even if you don’t do anything, still you are getting nearer to death. You are always getting nearer and nearer and nearer. Every sentient being who is born is subject to death.
At the same time, death is uncertain. You can see many examples of the many conditions that may bring death. If I could not do actual practice and if I did not have something I could carry with me, then tonight if something happens, what can I do? What are you really going to carry with you? You cannot pack up like when you get divorced or when you get mad at your friends, and you say you’re going to leave, and you take your suitcase and pack all your clothes and everything and whatever money and credit cards you have and you leave and go some other place. When death comes, you cannot do that. There is no way that one could do that. Up until now in this world, even the great popes, even Milarepa, even Shakyamuni Buddha, even His Holiness Karmapa and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, all of these masters left all their belongings behind. All the great ones and not so great ones, when death came, nobody could pack anything, nobody could carry anything along. You could not even make a phone call: “I’m coming very soon, so could you please reserve a place for me?” There is no way one can do it. So you have to realize that life is like that.
So we need to understand the fault of samsara. We need to understand that in samsara, as we explained, there is some enjoyment, some peace, which distracts our minds and keeps us from having any accumulation of merit or purification. It is just like in Christianity, where in the beginning God said there is a very nice apple tree, but you should not get distracted and eat of it. If you do, then you will get spoiled. By not listening to that and eating the apple, all evil and bad things happened. Just like that, in this world there are certain things that really feel attractive, but when you look at the object of attraction and really examine it deeply, there is nothing which can be attractive. It is just like a magician’s creation which looks very real, but when you approach nearer to it, then you see that it is artificial with no essence.
When you have a clear understanding of these four thoughts, you could have some kind of feeling that you have to do some practice. This world looks so attractive, but it doesn’t have any essence, like the rainbow. The rainbow looks so colorful, so nice, and you have so much desire and attachment. You really want to have it, but when you jump up to get it, you cannot get anything. Then you feel very sad and get so depressed: “Why can’t I have some of this beautiful rainbow?” You get upset, but nothing happens. All these worldly pleasures are exactly like a rainbow. When you really enter into them, there is nothing there to have.
That is why one must have a deeper understanding of cyclic existence. Then you can become more relaxed and have more enjoyment, thinking how attractive everything is, but having no attachment to it, not having desire, while at the same time enjoying but not creating any negative karma, and being more relaxed because you don’t have to try to get anything. Whether you get something or not, you just relax. If you can’t get it, you won’t feel depressed because you know that it has no essence.
Those who could not do this Ngöndro practice may think not this year, maybe next year or some other year, and when you have already finished ten years of complete practice, then they say, “Oh, we were actually together at that time, but then I didn’t have time. I went to there and there and there. You finished it all? I didn’t really start it.” So then they’re way down at the the bottom of the practice, while their friends are at the top.
Right now you have a full opportunity. You can really apply yourself into some practice. Even if you could not get everything purified, at least you are going to purify something. Even if you do one prostration, still there is some karma that is erased, even though you cannot see it. So for the practice, whatever difficulties or small amount of pain arise, if you can bear it through the practice, it is worthwhile kind of pain that is bearable so that one can have some kind of purification. This is a great opportunity since you are interested, and you must have created some kind of good karma and accumulated some merit. That is why it is happening in this way. So this is something very great and wonderful and amazing that could heal yourself and benefit your family and relatives and all sentient beings. That is something really, really wonderful!