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 What it Means to be Lucky

The Four Thoughts That Turn The Mind To Buddhist Teachings
Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche,
translated by Ari Goldfield
Excerpted from the transcript of "A Commentary On What It Means To Be Lucky" (Vancouver 1998)
Originally published in Bodhi Issue 3
2 of 4 | 1, 2, 3, 4

First verse of Lucky:

    E ma ho!

    Now you have got what's so hard to get
    The precious freedoms and advantages
    This one life alone means so little
    So why be so obsessed with it?
    If to do some good for yourself and others too
    You listen to Dharma, and then reflect
    Then you are so fortunate–
    This is what it means to be lucky.

Rinpoche explains the meaning of this verse as follows. "E ma ho!" These are words exclaiming something to be a miracle, proclaiming it to be quite miraculous. They are the introduction to this song, which  begins: "Now you have got what's so hard to get, the precious freedoms and advantages."  There are eight precious freedoms and ten precious advantages or resources. These eighteen qualities are what make the human life so precious. The human life that is endowed with these eight freedoms and ten advantages is compared to a wish fulfilling jewel, that can give us whatever it is we wish for. That's how precious it is.  And yet it is incredibly difficult to find, difficult to obtain.  Now we have it, and while we have it, we should know that this one life alone means so little. So why be so obsessed with it?  When we compare what happens to us in this life with our potential to gain liberation from the cycle of existence, with our potential to go even further than that and reach the state of complete omniscience that is Buddhahood, then the mundane affairs of this life seem quite unimportant.  The things that we are so concerned with and that we get so wrapped up with in this life are quite unimportant when compared with that potential which we possess, the potential to reach Buddhahood. Therefore, it doesn't do us much good to be wrapped up in it, to be obsessed with it.  What we need to do instead is to practice the genuine dharma.  And in the practice of the great vehicle, we want to do some good for ourselves and for others also.  This is the motivation of the Mahayana:  to benefit everyone, and reach a state which falls neither into the extreme of existence nor into the extreme of some one-sided peace for ourselves only. Therefore we aim to benefit all.  In order to do that, we listen to dharma. If we not only listen to it, not only take in the teachings, but if we also reflect, using our intelligence to analyze the meaning of what we have heard, and if we then know how to apply it, this is what it means to be fortunate, this is what it means to be lucky.

Second verse of Lucky :

    This life is quite impermanent
    It will definitely disappear
    You think everything will stay just as it is–
    How to come out from this confusion into the clear?
    Cut the root of samsara's confused appearances
    By meditating on the meaning of what you've heard
    If you do this, you are so fortunate--
    This is what it means to be lucky.

This life is something that only exists because of the coming together of a particular set of causes and conditions producing it. Therefore it is not something that is permanent or fixed, but rather it is impermanent and it will definitely disappear. It will definitely disintegrate and be no more.  It is of the nature of impermanence. However, our tendency is not to view things in that way, but rather to think that everything has a fixed nature and will stay the same. In this we confuse ourselves. How can we reverse that thinking? How can we stop clinging like that and end our self-deception? The way to do that is to cut the root of samsara's confused appearances. If we can do that, then we will attain enlightenment. If we can cut through these confused appearances, the appearances which we perceive in a delusive way, then we will attain enlightenment. The way to do that is to apply to meditation the wisdom gained from listening to the dharma and reflecting on it intelligently. If we do that, we are so fortunate. To meditate like this is what it means to be lucky.

Third verse of Lucky:

    If you do good, you'll be happy
    If you do bad, you'll suffer pain.
    Think well about how karma works
    And you'll gain certainty that it's an unfailing law.
    If then you act in a rightful way
    Doing what you should do and giving up the rest
    Then you are so fortunate–
    This is what it means to be lucky.

Karma means "action," and the teachings about karma are about cause and result.  So if we accumulate virtuous karma, meaning if we perform virtuous actions that are helpful to others, then the result that we will experience by the power of our virtuous actions will be happiness.  On the other hand, if we accumulate negative karma by performing non-virtuous actions, which are harmful to ourselves and others, then, by the power of those negative actions, the result we experience will be suffering. This is something that we need to think about very well. We need to think about it excellently, you could say. We need to really understand that this is how things work. We need to gain certainty in the fact that karma works in this way: that by performing good actions we will be happy, and by performing negative ones we will suffer.  We need to gain certainty in karma being this cause and result process. If, as a result of gaining such certainty, we can act in an appropriate way whereby we adopt the causes of  happiness, virtuous actions, and give up the causes of pain , non-virtuous actions,  then we are so fortunate. That is what it means to be lucky.

 There are many, many different ways of explaining karma.  How does karma work? How do action, cause and effect, work? If we want to understand it in a really condensed way that conveys its essence, all we need to know is that it depends on the mind.  So if we have a malicious mind, a mind that has a harmful attitude towards others, a selfish attitude, then whatever we do with that mind-set is negative action, and leads to suffering.  On the other hand, if in our minds we have an attitude of loving-kindness and compassion, then whatever we do will be virtuous action, will be positive.  So in short, it all comes down to our basic intention,  the intention we bring to any action, and by looking at that we can understand what type of karma we are accumulating.  

Fourth verse of Lucky:

    The nature of samsara is the three sufferings
    When you know this in your heart, and it's not just something you say
    And so you can free yourself and others from samsara's ocean
    You cut off suffering right at the root
    If you can do that, then you are so fortunate–
    This is what it means to be lucky.

 Samsara means "to go around," "to spin." It's a cycle of existence in which we spin, and what is spinning us around is ignorance.  What is causing us to be confused is ignorance, and this propels us to spin continuously in the cycle of existence.  This cycle of existence is of the nature of the three sufferings.  There is nothing else there but these three sufferings: the suffering of suffering, the suffering of change, and the all-pervasive suffering of the aggregates. So the first step is to know that samsara is of this nature.  Not that we just say it is like that, "Oh, samsara is of the nature of the three sufferings, and samsara is just suffering." We should not merely say that, but really know it deep in our hearts. When we know from deep in our hearts that samsara is of the nature of three sufferings, when we have that conviction, then we develop the motivation to free ourselves and everyone else from this ocean of suffering. In order to do that, we cut the suffering right at the root.  The way we do that is, first, by knowing the cause of this suffering, which is ignorance. If we know the cause of the suffering, we develop the potential to cut it off.  If we can do that, then we are so fortunate. That is what it means to be lucky. 

Fifth verse of Lucky :

    Meditating on impermanence
    Cuts off attachment to this life
    Thinking over and over of samsara's suffering
    Makes you realize how worthless samsara is
    This gives you the determination
    To strive for nirvana's liberation
    If you do that, you are so fortunate--
    This is what it means to be lucky.

In the first four stanzas, we have had verses on the precious freedoms and advantages that make human lives so precious, on impermanence, on action, cause and effect, and on the disadvantages of living in samsara.  These comprise what are called the Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind.  The first one, which is to contemplate the preciousness of human life, is really the basis or the support for contemplating impermanence, contemplating the fact that all composite phenomena, all phenomena that are created by causes and conditions, are impermanent and will cease to exist.  By meditating on this fact very well, by thinking about it, by meditating on it, we cut off our attachment to this life.  Then by thinking again and again, not just one time, but thinking again and again how it is that the nature of samsara is only suffering, we realize that samsara really has nothing to offer us. There is absolutely nothing in samsara with any pith, with any essence, with any worth, with any value. It's all completely worthless. Whatever our quest in samsara might be, it's worthless, once we know that samsara is of the nature of suffering.  So when we realize samsara is of the nature of suffering we gain the determination to strive for the liberation of nirvana.  There are three different types of liberation. There is the liberation of the sravakas, the hearers, the liberation of the pratyekabuddhas, the solitary sages, and the realization of the Buddhas, the enlightenment or nirvana of the Buddhas.  Whichever type of liberation we strive for as a result of our contemplating the Four Thoughts, we are fortunate, and this is what it means to be lucky.

Next: Selflessness And Compassion
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