The four basic thoughts or the four common preliminaries are of great importance. It is said that we could study and meditate on just them in order to reach enlightenment. They form the basis of the Theravada view and are a constantly recurring theme from many teachers, and they are the beginning of many Buddhist meditations. They set the frame for not only for our meditation but after a few years, they set the frame for our entire lives as well. Constantly reminding us of our motivation and goal. They have the effect of refocusing our view, that for at least for most of us gets a little blurry once in a while.
The classical explanation for the precious human existence details to us how difficult it is to obtain a human body. There are 8 unfavourable states or conditions that have not come together in our lives to prevent us from understanding our Buddha nature. They are as follows:
We are not,
1. Hell beings that suffer from heat and cold without the slightest break.
2. Spirits are tormented by hunger and thirst.
3. Barbarians that are born in those numerous borderlands untouched by Dharma, which far outnumbers Buddhist countries.
4. Animals that are stupid and confused, incapable of any understanding or knowledge.
5. Long living gods of desire, in the Form, and Formless realms that are distracted by their love of worldly pleasures and samadhi and have no interest in Dharma.
6. Heretics, and those who have a natural dislike for the Dharma and hold perverted views.
7. Those born in a dark age in which no Buddha has come and the attributes of the precious ones are not renowned, the world is a desolate place.
And 8. Mutes said to be ignorant of the world of language, are dumb and have not turned their thoughts to the Dharma.
All these beings are not fortunate enough to practice Dharma they lack leisure, opportunity, surplus, and possibility. Those of us who were not born into any of these states have the eight kinds of opportunities but we must also be free of the 16 unfavourable conditions.
These are divided into two sets of eight:
The 8 unfavourable conditions based on our present circumstances are,
1. Because the five emotional poisons are extremely potent, the individual is mentally disabled.
2. We are also not under the influence of corrupting companions.
3. of false views and practice, or
4. subject to extreme laziness.
5. Due to previous bad deeds, a flood of obstacles now advances.
6. The individual comes under others’ control as a slave or servant.
7. enters the Dharma out of nonreligious concerns, such as fear of death of being without food or clothing, or
8. is insincerely involved in Dharma for the sake of profit or renown.
The second set of 8 unfavourable conditions are those in which the mind is cut off from the Dharma.
1. The individual has great desire and attachment for his body, wealth, and other things.
2. Since his character is very coarse, all his acts are mean.
3. No matter how much the teacher explains all the miseries of the lowest realms he is not motivated.
4. No matter how much the teacher explains the great blessing of liberation, he has no belief or trust in it.
5. He naturally delights in unwholesome action.
6. He is as much inclined to practice Dharma as a dog is to eat grass.
7. He violates the ROOTS of his Bodhisattva and other promises.
8. and he breaks his sacred commitments to his guru and other religious companions.
It is believed that when we are free of all this, we end up here, practising Dharma. We can be very happy about this, as it is often illustrated in this story. That on the bottom of the ocean, there lives a special turtle that surfaces briefly only once every hundred years and that there is a ring floating in the middle of the ocean. The probability of the turtles head surfacing within the ring is pretty slim but far greater than the chance of obtaining a precious human body.
We also have the Ten Blessings of the Human Birth:
The five personal blessings:
1. We have a human body and the reverse of the eight unfavourable states.
2. We were born in a land where the Dharma is taught.
3. Our eyes and other sense organs work well and we can understand the Dharma.
4. We have entered the Dharma, and do not associate with heretics and we are productive.
5. We have profound confidence in the three Jewels.
And then there are the five blessings from others:
1. The Buddha has come and taught in our age.
2. The Pratyekabuddhas and the excellent ones who taught the profound and extensive Dharma have come in our era.
3. The buddhas teachings have not declined but endures.
4. The teachings have many followers.
5. Generous people give so that others might practice. We are not poor.
It has been said that the few men and women practice Dharma are as rare as daytime stars.
So now that we have this wonderful body and the perfect conditions how can or should we use it to bring benefit to others? Firstly let us talk about how to use it within the frame of meditation.
The 7 Points of Vairochana:
The seven points of Vairochana are our guide to sitting. When the body is in the correct position the energy channels and their winds or the energies can flow correctly. This means that the mind is attentive and we can focus more easily. The Tibetans often compared our body and mind to two stones tied together with a string and that because of our close relationship and understanding of the body we can use it to calm mind. So if you throw one stone the other will follow. And in this way coupled with following our breath, we calm the mind with our breath and body together. The points are as follows:
1. Our back as straight as possible. We should try to align the spine to the centre of the earth. The spine should be straight like an arrow. Note we are not to try to remove the natural curvature of the spine this would be very painful but we are not to be leaning forwards, backwards or to the sides. One very helpful exercise I use is to imagine a string pulling the crown of my head up higher while rotating the top of my hips forward and sucking in my belly just a little bit. I can sit for hours like this I am stable and comfortable.
2. Our legs are crossed. Here we have several options, Full Lotus or Vajra, Half Lotus or Bodhisattva, or the Burmese position is possible. Right leg on top of the left one. Crossed legs give us stability.
3. Our hands are placed on our knees palms down with the thumbs touching the base of our ring fingers or we can hold the right hand on the left with the thumbs lightly touching 4 fingers below the navel but not on your lap or legs.
4. Shoulders back and spread like a vulture’s wings. Slightly back and upwards.
5. The chin is slightly lowered, 15 degrees, almost in reverence. In men, the Adam’s apple should not be so visible.
6. In our mouth, the tip of the tongue is touching the palette just behind the teeth. The teeth and lips relax in a natural state slightly touching each other. And the breath is calm and relaxed from the diaphragm. There is no heavy or forced breathing.
7. And when our concentration grows we can keep the eyes open gazing just past the tip of the nose, roughly 4 fingers. When thinking of keeping the eyes open I am always inspired by the piercing gaze of Guru Rimpoche. Meditating with open eyes is said to improve clarity.
So in this way, we use our body in a very practical way and we can easily see how without our body or with a different one it would be very hard to focus and meditate properly. However, I must add here that those of us who cannot sit in this somewhat rigid position due to injuries or other difficulties can be flexible and adapt to it as closely as possible. There is no need to have pain or make an injury worse.
The Tibetans also compare our body to a golden pot, they do this because even when broken our body had great worth. As long as we are alive we can still learn something. We can even learn when dying.
Now how can we apply this outside of the meditation in our daily lives? This is just my supposition, but since I have my body and not only have met the teachings I am able to practice them as well; I should use my body to do good work, please others, practice the Dharma and share the dharma when needed. Just as I endeavour to do here in my blog and in my Dharma Center.
Furthermore, if we can look to a Lama as an example and see him or her as a Buddha we have an excellent bridge to our goal. If we are blessed with a great Lama it should be difficult to ignore the Lama’s activity and the bliss one finds in the Buddha Dharma.