By Khenop Karthar Rinpoche

THE FIRST ORDINARY FOUNDATION that helps point the mind towards the Dharma is the realization of the true advantage of our precious human birth. What we are sincerely learning to appreciate here is the inherent capabilities we have as humans and the negativities that we are free of. There are eight gross negativities that reveal just how precious our current human birth is. To begin with, if we had been born as beings in the hell realm and had to experience the agonizing torments they must endure, we would have neither the ability nor the opportunity to practice the Dharma for a single moment. For example, if somebody was being whipped continuously without respite, would this person have the opportunity to practice, let alone think about the Dharma? And actually, the real sufferings that beings in the hell realm go through are far greater than anything we could imagine, and far worse than this situation. Obviously, there is no chance of liberation whatsoever, and we are quite fortunate to have avoided those circumstances.

The second gross negativity that serves to illustrate the value of human birth is rebirth as a preta, or hungry ghost. Even though such beings are not hell-beings, the desire and paranoia they experience is as excruciating as that of the hell realm. Here there is relentless thirst and hunger which is never gratified or eased. In fact, it is so great that with any movement, the friction of the joints and internal organs produces fire throughout the entire being. What is worse is the psychological torture they endure, deliriously believing that food, water, and a host of wealth and riches are waiting nearby. Yet, no matter how frenzied their search, they are unable to find it, or if they do, it suddenly disappears. And of course, as humans we could experience the same torment, because of our own patterns of greed and miserliness. In either case, insatiable thirst would drive away any thoughts of practicing the Dharma. So, lacking this negativity we have another opportunity to actualize the Dharma in our lives.

If the unspeakable misery of such existences seems intangible, the sufferings of those born in the animal realm should be quite familiar to us. Those creatures live such lives of ignorance that they are unable to make any conscious decisions, and are wholly lead by desire and fear. In some cases they have no idea what they should or shouldn't do unless they are severely beaten. They know no better than to constantly bear whatever pain and suffering comes to them. Although some may be slightly more sensitive or more intelligent, the level of suffering is no less intense because of the constant state of paranoia. These beings are not able to eat a single bite in peace for fear of being caught and eaten themselves. And as for domestic animals, they are total slaves to the whims of others. They are unable to express any desires or feelings, but must do whatever is demanded of them, no matter how unpleasant or painful. To that end, there is no opportunity to practice the Dharma in the animal realm.

And yet, as ordinary sentient beings, we too are quite ignorant. We have the limitations of not being able to understand and relate to things in the most proper way. So there was every possibility that we could have been born as animals, but since this has not occurred during this lifetime, we have a third opportunity to practice the Dharma. After all, it's not as if an external force decided who was to be reborn as an animal and who was to be a human, it was merely a result of the habitual patterns and negativities each individual has accumulated. Given that understanding, why should we not entirely put ourselves towards the practice of the Dharma?

Even if one is born a human being, if it is as a member of an uncivilized border tribe, or, more precisely, as a barbarian of some kind, that is still not very favorable. Let alone think of anything uplifting, one wouldn't even know how to dress properly, running around naked killing and hurting others, and living quite barbarously. In that state there is no point in even having been born as a human being, since it is empty of opportunities. Despite their pretensions of deep spiritual practices, all it does is cause harm to themselves and others, so it is not spiritual in the truest sense. Evidently, there is no opportunity to practice the Dharma in this condition either.

If, on the other hand, you are born in the realm of gods, experiencing the psychological pleasures of such beings, still you would be unable to practice the Dharma. Although this happiness would probably be the result of wholesome and virtuous actions in previous lifetimes, unfortunately, it would be nearly impossible to generate the proper attitude and aspirations in order to channel this merit in the proper direction. Completely absorbed in these pleasurable entertainments, you would give no thought whatsoever to practicing the Dharma, because the harshness of reality would not seem relevant. And yet, because this is a part of samsara, you will still experience tremendous suffering sooner or later, and have to return to the same old cycle. Having remained in that condition of attachment and pleasure for such a long period of time without accomplishing anything wholesome and virtuous and Dharmic, the consequences are definitely serious and painful. Thus, not having been born in that situation provides us with another opportunity to practice the Dharma.

There is also the possibility of being born as a human, enjoying all the benefits of wealth, intelligence and popularity and still being completely against the Dharma and spirituality in general. There are many people like this all over the world. Not only do they detest the Dharma, they reject anyone associated with it. Because of this hatred, they deprive themselves of any possibility of real sanity. It's extremely unfortunate to be attached to that which will only cause greater confusion and suffering in the long run, and to reject that which will bring greater wisdom and happiness.

One may also be born as a human being with severe mental and physical disabilities. Since there would be little that could be comprehended by such a person, learning the Dharma would be out of the question as well. In that case, even though there is a human birth, the opportunity of practice is denied. We are extremely fortunate to have escaped these various disadvantages and paranoias, and to have the capability and the opportunity to effectively practice the Dharma. And we have to be very sincere about our undertakings now. We may not be experiencing these limitations in this life, but there is every possibility of experiencing them in the future because of our negative, poisonous habitual patterns. For this reason, we should rejoice in the opportunities we have, and realize that we cannot afford to waste them.

While we may have been able to avoid the eight gross negativities, there still remain the sixteen unfavorable conditions that we can be ensnared by, if indeed, this has not already occurred. Therefore, it is important to know what they are, so that we can maintain a vigilant mindfulness to remain free of them. The first of these is the upheaval of negative emotions: ignorance, pride, aggression, attachment, etc. In this case, even though we may have an understanding of the Dharma and a desire to practice it, we constantly experience upheavals of negative emotion which sway us from our practice. It's like drinking something very sweet and then suddenly adding a tablespoon of salt--which will make it taste very strange. We must be mindful of this possibility and diligently apply the antidote.

The second unfavorable condition is coming under the influence of bad friends, people involved in doing all kinds of non-Dharmic or negative things. Since we are not yet fully established in the practice of the Dharma, and don't have enough experience to withstand various influences, we are very flexible at this point and can be distracted by almost anything. This is why we should be mindful of the possibility of harmful and destructive influences and associations.

The third limitation concerns the possibility of coming under the influence of false views and practices. Many harmful things are done in the name of spirituality and spiritual practice. Certain people advocate killing other beings as the highest and most profound practice and some advocate other destructive practices, and unfortunately, there is a very real possibility of falling under the spell of these false teachings. Quite often, when faith is needed most it is difficult to generate yet sometimes we are able to have faith in the most absurd notions. It is important thus to be aware of the possibility of developing wrong views of the Dharma and its practice.

The fourth obstruction is the habit of laziness. Because of this negative pattern we put off doing our practice until the next day or the day after that or maybe next month or next year, and so on. We just keep procrastinating, and end up not getting anything accomplished. In this way, laziness can have a very undermining effect on our practice, and discipline as well as mindfulness is needed to combat it.

The fifth unfavorable condition arises because of previous bad actions. Whenever we attempt to do anything Dharmic, all kinds of obstacles will spontaneously arise to distract us and divert our energies. These obstructions will consistently arise, and drive us from the path altogether if we do not remain mindful of the fact that they are caused by our own actions and our own negative habits. Therefore, it is crucial to have the determination not to give in to these limitations when they arise.

The sixth barrier to Dharma practice is falling under the control of another person. If you become a slave or a servant, you will always have to live up to the demands of other people whether you like it or not, and won't have the time or the opportunity to fulfill your Dharma practice. You may even be a slave to your own self, always needing to have a boss to tell you what to do in order to make your living. If you are subject to this mentality or this situation, you will be constantly occupied with the tasks of others and won't have the opportunity to practice the Dharma at all.

The seventh unfavorable condition is to practice the Dharma in the hopes of gaining more material comforts for yourself, such as better food, clothing, and living accommodations. The eighth adverse condition for Dharma practice is to seek understanding of the Dharma merely to gain fame and reputation for yourself. Of course, seeking popularity and power runs counter to the true purpose of the Dharma, and in the long run, one would not enjoy the benefit of the Dharma.

These first eight negativities are ones which we are already subject to, or by which we run the risk of becoming ensnared. This is why we must be aware of them. These limitations are highly flexible and can be strengthened or weakened by different circumstances you encounter or create.

Now, the next eight limitations are more gross and more established because they result from negativities accumulated in the past. Because they arise as karmic fruitions they are thus more difficult to unfold and purify. So what is needed is a stronger sense of practice as well as a stronger, more genuine commitment. The first of these hardened imperfections is great attachment to wealth and to oneself. In this case one hesitates to give anything one has to others, because one desires more and more for oneself. Giving something away is very, very painful. One doesn't even see the possibilities of actually extending one's hand to others. But, when it comes to receiving from others, one could just go on doing it continuously, tirelessly. This is all because of heavy habitual patterns which need to be shaken out.

The second limitation is having an overly aggressive and rude personality. This disposition is very apparent in the way one talks because there is a sense of hatred or unwillingness to talk. Even the movements of such a person have something very negative about them and give off negative vibrations to everyone around. Since these patterns are so heavy, much cultivation of discipline is needed.

The third obscuration is having no fear of the different sufferings which one might possibly have to go through. For instance, if the psychological torments the beings of the lower realms experience are explained to one, it has no effect whatsoever. It's like speaking to a rock or a tree-only when it falls or rolls does it move, otherwise it is ignorantly content, completely unaware of what could await it. Similarly, the fourth limitation involves an insensitivity to the teachings. In this case, one has no appreciation of the possibilities of liberation. As far as the sanity, joy, and benefit of liberation are concerned, again, it's like talking to a tree or a rock.

The fifth limitation is having no appreciation of Dharma practice, such that when the opportunity to practice the Dharma is extended, one is not responsive. Even if the facilities are extended and somebody generously offers their sponsorship and hospitality, one has no interest in it-- it's like offering grass to a dog. The sixth limitation is having the propensity for indulging in negativities. Whenever somebody is explaining how to kill or harm others, one is there, completely ready to learn and do it oneself. In this way, one is always willing to strengthen and develop one's neurosis and confusion.

The seventh harmful condition is having negative views about a solemn vow or aspiration one has made and then violating it. If this is done, then it is necessary to reveal the violation, and to purify it by making complete reparation for it. If the proper purification of such a limitation is not made, then continued practice of the Dharma would not make much sense. It would be like trying to put something inside of a closed door, or like trying to pour something into a pot held upside down.

The eighth limitation is breaking the samayas, the sacred commitments, one has with the teacher from whom one has received the sacred teachings and empowerments. A strong Dharmic connection is made when one receives empowerments, and it is extremely destructive to have wrong views about one's teacher and show disrespect towards him. It is imperative that one establishes a good relationship with one's teacher. It is a violation of the sacredness of the relationship to harbor feelings of hatred towards one's Dharma friends as well. And again, it is important that for whatever limitations one may have generated in the past, and may generate in the future, genuine reparation and purification of them is necessary.

Altogether, these three sets of eight form the twenty-four negativities, or twenty-four situations which become hindrances to the practice of the Dharma. They either deprive us of the opportunity to practice the Dharma or obstruct our progress on the path of the Dharma. As far as the first set (the Eight Unfavorable Conditions of Existence) is concerned, we should rejoice that we are not bound by such severe limitations. As for as the second two sets, there is the possibility that we have some or all of these limitations, or that we will still may still fall prey to them. In any case, whatever obscurations one has should be acknowledged so that one can work on the purification of them. And whatever negativities one does not have, one should still be mindful of them, so as not to get caught up in them later. For this reason, wakeful discipline is a necessary part of the practice.

As human beings, we enjoy ten blessings which enable us to practice the Dharma. The first five have to do with our personal circumstances. The first of these is that we have the precious human birth, and are not deprived of the opportunity to practice the Dharma. If we had been born in one of the unfavorable states of existence or were burdened with some of the unfavorable mental conditions, we would not be able to practice at all.

The second blessing is being born in a land where the Dharma is prevalent or at least available. The third blessing is having all of our senses intact, and being able to thus understand and practice the Dharma.

The fourth blessing is that we have a karmic link with the Dharma, and hence, have a desire to practice it. Even if we have no real desire to do so, there is still the link of this practice. Many people do not want to practice the Dharma, and many go astray, but we are all here so we must have some link. The fifth blessing is that we not only have a link to the Dharma, but we also have an appreciation of the Three Jewels-the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, and relate to them as the most profound examples and witnesses. These are the five opportunities that we each personally enjoy.

The second group of five blessings are the benefits that we receive from others which facilitate our ability to practice. The first of these is that the Buddha was born within the current kalpa. If this had not taken place, then although we have human birth, there would currently be no Dharma to practice. The second blessing is that the Buddha did not seek enlightenment merely for himself, but has made the Teachings available to others as well. The third blessing is that the Teachings have been maintained as a living tradition. If this had not been done, then all that would remain would be a legend that the Teachings had once been prevalent, but are no longer available.

The fourth blessing is that the Teachings are available to anyone who is willing to learn and understand them, with no discrimination in regards to sex, age, race, or whatever categories. The fifth blessing is that there are spiritual teachers who will transmit the Teachings to others, and who have the wisdom to make the Teachings understandable. If there were no teachers who had the compassion to give the Teachings, then we would have no opportunity to practice the Dharma. Therefore, because of these five opportunities afforded us by the compassion of others, the teachings are available to us as long as we have the desire to hear them.

The first ordinary foundation of the ngondro practice, the first foundation that we need to meditate upon and sincerely consider, is the preciousness of our human birth. This human birth is extremely valuable because we are currently experiencing the eight opportunities and the ten blessings. Indeed, this precious human birth is like a wish-fulfilling gem. Definitely, we can make the best of it and have the favorable circumstances to do so. And it is rare like a gem, because although there are many who are experiencing a human birth, those who can open up to and appreciate the Dharma are very rare. Unfortunately, not many have accumulated meritorious actions and wholesome qualities in the past, and therefore, few experience the possibilities favorable to the Dharma. Among thousands of beings, there is hardly one who is experiencing the opportunities you enjoy. For this reason you should be tremendously joyful and appreciative, and not let this chance go to waste.

Still, these opportunities and these blessings are not permanently established. In fact, they could easily be destroyed and disappear. After all, these opportunities are not the experience of enlightenment or a state of realization, they merely point to such a possibility. It's like you have various sicknesses and are given a unique medicine that can cure whatever illness you may have. But, if you don't use the medicine and attend to your sickness immediately, things could easily get worse. You could lose the medicine or get too sick to use it. Any number of unexpected things could happen. So you must be aware of how easily you could lose your opportunities. Thus, for your own personal benefit and for the benefit of others, you should make this lifetime meaningful.

We may have an appreciation of the reality of this first foundation and yet believe that we will have a better understanding and a greater opportunity to practice sometime in the future, and put off serious practice until then. Or we may think that when we are young we can satisfy our mundane needs and learn from that type of existence, and then fully commit ourselves to the Dharma when we are old. But Death is not going to come talk it over with you and say, "Well, since you haven't really established yourself in the practice of the Dharma, I'll just procrastinate for a little while longer. . ." The time of death is uncertain. This is why we must make use of the opportunities while we can.

This leads us into the second ordinary foundation practice, which is to meditate upon the reality of impermanence. The natures of all things--the outer phenomenal world, as well as the inner psychic world--are impermanent. Thus, we have four different names that correspond with each of the four seasons because they are constantly changing and never stay the same. If day and night stayed the same, we wouldn't have to make a distinction between them. In terms of these gross changes, whatever we build, no matter how high the walls, will collapse and fall.

As for the inner life of things, this too changes, for instance, when we talk about different nations, the names may seem to be continuous, but there are constant changes. There are conflicts with other nations, there are civil conflicts among different communities, there are governmental changes, individuals come and go, and so forth. The play of impermanence is constantly at work, even if we cannot keep track of it. It is very real. Everything is impermanent, and that which we have managed to gather around ourselves is no exception. Yet we have the opportunity to pursue something very meaningful. To that end, we should not continue to waste our time and procrastinate, but should sincerely and wholly commit ourselves to the Dharma.

There have been countless numbers of people that suffered misfortunes and died in the past, and it was not because they were willing to die or because they were completely stupid and helpless. In fact, these were people who were extremely popular and intelligent, people whom others looked up to as examples, people who were well-known for their qualifications, their wealth and their security. But when the time of death overtook them, there was nothing they could do, no matter how powerful or popular they were.

Think back on all of the people that you have known in your life that have died, from your first moment of remembrance up to this day. Never mind all of the rest, just think of those you knew: friends, relatives and so on. The number is probably so large you can hardly keep track of it. Some were just infants. Some were merely children. For all of them, this you well know: that none of them had the satisfaction of saying, "Yes, I have completed everything, now I'm ready to die, and will be very pleased to do so." None of them! Every one of them had a long list of things to do in the future, and in the midst of something unfinished, they died. This was not expected, this was not planned, nor was it enjoyed or welcomed, it just happened.

Again, they didn't die because they were completely helpless or stupid, or because they couldn't provide food, clothing, and the basic necessities for themselves. For the most part, they were probably quite able to do just fine for themselves. But still, no matter how many facilities were at their disposal, nothing could keep them alive. Pondering this reality, it's a wonder that we're still alive, that we haven't died yet. For all the strange causes of death, we could have died several times by now. Frankly, our bodies are actually very weak and sensitive, and the slightest thing could cause our deaths. And we have hardly any protection against these different causes. From that point of view, we are actually quite defenseless.

In this defenseless state, the time of death is uncertain. All we can say is that we are very fortunate to have lived to this day. This is why the practice of the Dharma is so important. It is the only way we can utilize this knowledge to actually make some kind of progress. One has to take all these things into account in order to sincerely and genuinely practice the Dharma. If one does not integrate these realities into one's life, then the practice will remain a game of sorts--a form of play that keeps us occupied--and one will not become an accomplished practitioner of the Dharma, and that practice will not be very meaningful.

We all love our bodies and are tremendously attached to them. In fact, everyone likes to believe that other people find their bodies very attractive and elegant. For this reason people go through many hassles and great expenses to protect this beauty and elegance. But does this preserve us from the experience of death? Although many people may currently find you very good-looking and attractive, when you're dead and your body is lying there in a state of decay, smelling, no one will want to be with you or even look at you. You'll be without shelter, utterly homeless. Even to those people who were close to you and loved you, you'll be just a piece of stuff that no one will want around.

And on your death bed, surrounded by all your relatives and friends, they will all be crying and begging you to continue living and to think of them, as if you really had any say in the matter. And no matter how sincerely they may mean it, not a single one is capable of protecting you and extending your life. Although all of them will be very sad and grieving, none of them will be going through as severe and traumatic pain as you will be going through. At the moment of death, when the breath stops altogether, the fear and frustration of the dying person is extremely great. And the minute you are dead, they will all want to leave immediately. But as far as you are concerned, you'll still have considerable attachments to them. You thought some of them were going to come with you, you thought you'd live with some of them forever, but you'll be completely powerless.

During your life you may have thought you were intelligent and capable, and that you would continue doing many more exciting things, but in death you'll be helpless. During your entire life you worked to accumulate wealth with great attachment, harming and inconveniencing those who got in your way. But now, here you are. You can't even take a piece of thread or a needle with you. Everything gets left behind. In addition, all of the suffering that those around you have caused you, and will continue to cause you, will leave you feeling taken advantage of. You will want to stay with them and with all of the wealth for which you have worked so hard. You will have no choice.

Now, if this situation describes reality, then all we really need is the basic necessities, enough to keep our bodies functioning properly. If we have this, then we have everything we physically need to relate to the practice of the Dharma properly. After all, this is the view of reality we have to integrate into our lives if we wish to fully benefit from our practice. The hopelessness of these situations is what should provide us with the impetus to accomplish this. And therefore, we understand that all recollections of the past and all expectations of the future are meaningless, and all that is important is the present and our practice of the Dharma.

If you are able to fully commit yourself to the practice, there is the possibility that you may attain enlightenment within this lifetime, or at least at the time of death or in a couple of lifetimes. If you have no attachment to this life and to the Self, then in the next life you will be born with a greater understanding of the Dharma and with better opportunities to practice it. You will also enjoy a greater ability to benefit others, and perhaps even greater beauty and intelligence.

Clearly, the practice of the Dharma is all that really matters. Rinpoche says that in the Kagyu lineage there is a special emphasis on the ordinary foundation practices, the "four thoughts which turn the mind towards the Dharma," because this is how our forefathers applied the practice and became awakened. And this possibility is very real for us as well.

If we do not take these realities seriously enough, we run the risk of practicing only when we feel good about it, when we are getting a lot of attention, and things are going right for us and we're receiving respect and compliments. In these cases, we even try to do it a little longer, to prolong this exaltation. But when we are sad and nothing seems to be going right, and when no compliments are forthcoming, then we find excuses not to practice. Or else, even if we always try to sincerely practice, if we lack these understandings of reality, we won't do it long enough.

As long as we don't integrate these understandings into our lives, we will lack the motivation to practice intensely enough. We will always come up with excuses for the poor quality of our practice, saying "Oh, the Dharma is not really as effective as they had told me it was. I've been practicing for so many years or so many months, and still nothing has happened." Rinpoche says that it's like trying to take back a black piece of cloth for not being red enough. It is a very unfortunate thing to lose confidence in the Dharma and blame it for our own shortcomings.

The third ordinary foundation practice is the truth of karma, cause and effect. Unfortunately, many deluded people believe that although death may be a very harrowing experience, after it has occurred, one is then completely free. Some believe that once you're dead, things are all taken care of for you, as if somebody picks you up and puts you in a very enjoyable place where there are all kinds of pleasant entertainments. Other people believe that after death there is nothing, all experience just abruptly ends. There's no good or evil, it's just ashes to ashes and that's that. Of course, such attitudes are the epitome of ignorance, and reveal a total lack of wisdom. It is utter delusion to believe that there will be no suffering, only pure enjoyment awaiting you after death. It is grievous that people do not realize that we are experiencing this life and its various conditions because of our conduct in previous lives.

Sometimes we think that once we are dead we will experience a very magical realm, and that even if we face suffering we'll have the ability to immediately transform it. But how could this possibly be done? We should use our intelligence and other abilities now, while we have time, to see through our delusions. For instance, if it's winter and you want it to be summer, no matter how much you long for the seasons to change, you are powerless to do anything about it. And if you are sick and want to be healthy again, you can't just miraculously cure yourself. All suffering and experiences of the phenomenal world are caused by our habitual patterns and our karmic accumulations, and these are the materials with which you must work.

Furthermore, when somebody says that nothing exists after death, that you are free of suffering because you're dead and it's all finished, that is a very ignorant attitude. It's something like standing before a blazing fire and telling somebody that if they close their eyes and jump into it, it'll be okay. This will of course just make the situation worse. It's a simple refusal to acknowledge reality, a wishful desire to escape the order of things. But it doesn't change anything. It will only make reality that much more difficult to face. It's also akin to playing around on the edge of a cliff, believing you won't fall off. But then, once you've fallen, and you're in midair, it's completely useless to say to yourself, "Oh no, I hope I land softly." No matter how much wishful thinking you do at that point, it won't help you at all.

Now is the time to change the course of things, since you have the opportunities and the abilities currently at your disposal. No matter what limitations you may have, you possess a very powerful antidote, you have the facilities, and you have people around you who will encourage you. So once this is over, don't expect something better to be waiting for you.

Ordinarily, when people go to receive teachings or to relate to some form of spirituality, they expect to be placated with talk about bliss and ecstasy, but here we're discussing mostly unpleasant things. This is because we're interested in learning to deal with reality, and our practice concerns reality. For this reason, Rinpoche says that if you feel somewhat sad about your life, and think that your life at this point is quite meaningless and can be made more meaningful, that's actually a valuable thing to experience. Some sense of the meaninglessness of the whole thing is necessary before you can have any sense of renunciation about it, so this sadness can be quite beneficial. As Rinpoche says, if you are hungry you appreciate food more and can better understand the importance of it to your well-being. Similarly, if you are extremely cold, then you are more capable of appreciating the warmth of heavy clothing, both for yourself and for others. In order to make any progress, we must realize what our suffering actually is, how it arises and how we allow it to overwhelm us.

So far we have gone through the first three ordinary foundation practices: the meditations on the preciousness of the human birth, the reality of impermanence and death, and the truth of karma, cause, and effect. The fourth meditation is on the defects of samsara and the possibilities of becoming overwhelmed by them in many destructive ways. For example, we may feel very happy with our lives as they are now, things may be going quite well and we may desire for this to continue indefinitely. As long we don't suffer rebirth in any of the lower existences, we don't mind not being born in the higher realms, because we are satisfied with the comforts we are now enjoying.

As a result, many people engage in prayer or various spiritual practices with the aspirations of attaining a similar rebirth, again and again. They desire to live in the same country, in the same environment, among the same people, and to enjoy similar opportunities to what they now enjoy. But if one is filled with such attachment, and liable to such limitations and confusion, it would be nearly impossible to be born at the level of existence one now has. Let alone attaining a similar birth, one may experience even grosser conditions of suffering and confusion. If one's aspirations and understanding are so exceedingly limited, there is the possibility of never actually experiencing liberation, but remaining forever subject to samsaric existence.

As we discussed this morning, we are greatly attached to wealth and to ourselves. In fact, our attachment is so great that we find Dharma practice to be too strenuous for our minds and bodies, and would always prefer to be in a more rested condition. But there is no end to the comforts we could provide for our bodies, since our ability to absorb and demand more and more luxuries is immeasurable. We could experience incredible luxury and still feel dissatisfied and unhappy. There is no point where we will finally feel completely satiated, yet we still continue to strive for it with a ridiculous intensity.

And so, this is how we become completely absorbed in samsara. The phenomenal world is tremendously entertaining and manipulative, and we end up just getting sucked right into it without thinking about it. And yet, all we really need is enough to keep our body healthy and functioning properly, and the only pursuit that is worthwhile and meaningful is the practice of the Dharma. After all, it's a complete waste to struggle and toil in order to accumulate possessions that you will have no use for in death. As Rinpoche said earlier, we can't even take a piece of thread or a needle with us. We do, however, carry our karmic baggage, and will have to experience the consequences of our unwholesome actions and attitudes.

Furthermore, if we could see the true situation behind our tremendous attachments to friends and relatives, we would see how little sense it makes to remain so. Which is not to say that we should create disharmony and be unfriendly with our friends and relatives, and with other people. But our relationships are based on expectations of all kinds, and when we make a hundred friends we are also making a hundred potential enemies since we are creating that many more situations where hatred and negative intentions can erupt. Furthermore, because of our possessive attachments we want to protect our friends and agree with them, and then end up creating disharmony with others.

Still, when we are on our death beds, no matter how sincere and genuine their attachments to us and our expectations of them may be, there is nothing these friends will be able to do for us. All we are really doing is causing greater problems and inconveniences for each other. And our realization of our true solitude at the time of death will probably cause us to be filled with hatred and distrust and various negative emotions, which is completely unnecessary. This is why a sense of renunciation is a good thing to have. Friendship should not be based on attachment and expectations, for that would merely create a situation of adversity instead of amity. One would do better not to have such friendship at all. From that point of view, when we talk about giving up relationships, we specifically mean those relationships which are based on creating further problems for each other.

So, as long as we are subject to rebirth in the realms of samsara, no matter how pleasurable or entertaining, we will experience further confusion and sufferings. Let alone having the ability to benefit others, we will not be able to benefit ourselves. True renunciation means having a sense of the realities of samsara and therefore having a willingness to disavow them. In this way, you show a desire to do good to yourself and to others, and to cease doing anything harmful. It is very easy to get caught up in all kinds of negativities, and the majority of people unfortunately have no interest in the practice of the Dharma. Those who genuinely want to practice the Dharma are becoming rarer and rarer as time goes on, and the spread of the teachings is diminishing as well. This is because the number of those who have accumulated meritorious actions and have the good fortune to be connected with the Dharma are decreasing. Yet, at the same time, the birth of humans in general, with all kinds of negative accumulations, seems to be increasing. There never seems to be a shortage of anything that is not good, whereas that which is precious is always more rare.

In this way, enjoying a human birth is not necessarily precious, especially if we indulge in things that will only bring greater confusion and suffering. Just as Milarepa once said, "Though human birth is precious, the birth of your kind is not." There's no real point to having obtained a human birth, even one with opportunities like ours, if we simply misuse it and create further suffering. So, looking at the broad picture, it becomes very clear that the practice of the Dharma is the only activity that has any real meaning. Therefore, when committing oneself to something profound and sane, the choice of the Dharma is very obvious. And with that understanding, we can easily see why one should not neglect one's practice but should remain mindful of all the limitations that one could get caught up in, and of all the opportunities that one has. Samsara is very deceptive, and one must be careful to remain in situations where one is always reminded of and influenced by the Dharma.

Here we will conclude our discussion of the four ordinary foundations, the four thoughts which turn one's mind towards the Dharma and away from samsara. Yet, it cannot be stressed enough how important an understanding of these teachings on the reality of suffering is. One must realize that samsara is impermanent and all of its activities and exertions are ultimately worthless and bear no meaningful fruit. Only with such an understanding will one be able to turn to the Dharma sincerely and with devotion. Without a proper understanding of the limitations of samsara, there will always be a very strong limitation to one's practice. Either one's practice will be very spiritual-materialistic, based on expectations and doubts, or one will relate to it as to any other mundane activity, and one's realization will be neither immediate or meaningful.


Taken from a transcript of a teaching given by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche at KTD. This transcript is available in its entirety from Namse Bangdzo Bookstore.