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LDC Basic Dharma Program

Subject 3 : Mahayana Mind Training
Text : Dharmaraksita's

The Wheel Of Sharp Weapons

Commentary by the Venerable Sam-lo Geshe Kelsang Session 5/2001
Translated by Ven. Thubten Dechen and Ven. Ngawang Jangchup 1st July, 2001

Verse 24:

When our servants and friends are annoyed by our habits,
And after a while cannot stay in our homes,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have imposed our bad habits on others;
Hereafter let’s change and show only kind ways.

Although the text mentioned ‘servants and friends’, we can also include our family members, colleagues, business associates and anyone who is close to us.

The first two lines mean at first, we get along very well but very soon they dislike us, do not enjoy our company. The transition from like to dislike is very short. This is because we had done the same to them in the past. We had offended them and caused them difficulty and trouble. Our friendship did not last long because we had quickly abandoned the friendship with these people.

To rectify the wrongs we had done, instead of creating difficulty and trouble for others, we should start to look at the good qualities in them and not focus on the problems they created. In this way, we will stop creating difficulty for others and gradually our thoughts and actions will turn towards virtue.

There are many people in the world who are renowned for their virtuous conduct. We should look upon them as role models to conduct ourselves in the same way. We should follow their footsteps.

The reason why others dislike us is because we had disliked them in the past. We had seen them creating mistakes and minor wrongs and disliked them as such. Similarly, when they see us doing the same now, they dislike us.

Verse 25:

When all who are close turn against us as enemies,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have held grudges inside us with anger
With thoughts of sly methods to cause others pain;
Hereafter let’s try to have less affectation,
Nor pretend to be kind while we harbour base aims.

Sometimes, we have bad relationship with our parents, siblings, friends, colleagues, etc. It is the result of a past cause. We had constantly quarrelled and fought with people and our harmonious relationship did not last long, it always turned into fights. There is a slight difference between verse 24 and 25. Verse 24 refers mainly to our character in which others dislike, we have not inflicted any harm upon others. Verse 25 refers to us having actually caused harm towards others and they turn against us and dislike us.

‘To hold grudges inside us’ means although we are very angry, we do not express it outwardly. What others see is a smiling face but actually inside, we are burning with anger.

There are two explanations on ‘affectation’ in the text. The first is to conceal one’s faults. When we do something unwholesome, we do it secretly, hiding it from others. It carries the meaning of pretence. The second explanation is to pretend to possess the qualities which we lack. It is something like hypocrisy. An example would be to pretend to be highly educated but actually, lacks such education.

Thus, ‘affectation’ has two meanings and includes the meaning of putting up artificial behaviour to impress others.

In Lama Choepa, there is a verse on the qualities of a Lama. Two of the qualities are ‘a true Lama will not hide his faults from others’ and ‘a true Lama does not show off his qualities’. It is mentioned that if a Lama boast about his qualities, it is not good, not a good sign.

Verse 26:

When we suffer from sickness and such interference,
Especially when gout has swollen our legs,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now without shame and with no self-control
We have stolen or misused what others have given;
Hereafter let’s never take anything offered
To the Three Jewels of Refuge as if it were ours.

‘Sicknesses’ refers to any diseases or illnesses. ‘Interference’ could be a declining businesses or spirit harm. ‘Gout’ is a kind of disease which affects the leg. According to Tibetan medicine, it is caused by the water element (having excess water in the body). The extreme of that is cancer, which cannot be cured by any medicine.

If the fully ordained monks’ and nuns’ precepts or vows have degenerated but they still continued to receive offerings from devotees (espically those with great faith) without any sense of shame, then they would be committing grievous offence. However, if they are to receive offerings with humility such as thinking that they have not got the qualities to receive such offerings thus they should put in more effort in their practice. Then, the offence would not be so great.

In fact, as long as one is not an Arya being, however virtuous one is, there is still slight offence when receiving offerings. Therefore, if we do not practice well, do not hold our vows well, but still continue to receive offerings, we would be throwing ourselves into the lower realms. In the text, the analogy given is: a moth throwing itself into fire. Although we mentioned monks and nuns, this also applies to lay Buddhist with the lay vows. If they receive offerings, such as money from others (especially those with great faith), and they do not hold their vows properly (vows degenerated), they will receive downfall.

It is mentioned in the text that if a monk (fully ordained or novice) has committed the offence of stealing (breaking a vow), he is not eligible to receive any food and drinks that are offered to the assembly of monks because these offerings are only for the good monks (who hold their vows well).

In general, we should not take offerings for the Three Jewels (not just offerings to the Sangha) and enjoy them as if they were ours.

Verse 27:

When strokes and diseases strike without warning,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wongs we have done.
Till now we have broken our vowed words of honour
Hereafter let’s shun such non-virtuous deeds.

‘Strokes’ refers to illness that occurs suddenly, without warning. There are two types of diseases in general. There are diseases whereby the patient will experience pain and those whereby the patient will not experience pain. When we are suddenly struck by diseases without warning such as catching contagious disease like TB, we should know that it is due to having broken our vows or samaya (the lay vows, bodhisattva vows, commitments and tantric vows).

As mentioned above, the vows refer to all the vows. For example, if we have taken up a tantric commitment, we should carry out the commitment faithfully and not break them. Those who have taken the Yamataka or Heruka initiation ought to carry out their daily commitments. Moreover, at the time of initiation, we have made a promise to our Guru to do our commitments therefore we must carry out our promise and not break it.

Similarly, for the monks and nuns, if they do not study their vows well, they would not know what to refrain from and do things which they are not supposed to and not practice what they ought to. As for the tantric vows, because they are very subtle, it is easy to break them but if we are able to hold them well, especially the root vows, then we will be creating great merit. Therefore the way to prevent breaking the vows is to understand them well before taking them.

Although in general ‘shun non-virtuous deeds’ means to avoid all unwholesome activities, the main practice this verse referred to is to avoid violating the vows and commitments we have promised.

Verse 28:

When our mind becomes clouded whenever we study,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have thought that the study of Dharma
Lacked prime importance and could be ignored;
Hereafer let’s build up the habits of wisdom
To hear and to think about what Buddha taught.

Whenever we try to study, our mind becomes unclear (clouded). No matter how many times our teacher explains to us we do not understand. When we meditate, our mind becomes dull and muddle, not clear.

There are people who can understand with one explanation while there are others who cannot understand regardless of numerous explanations, they just cannot grasp the meaning. The latter is the subject of our discussion. The cause is having put off our Dharma practice for mundane activities. We had prioritised our worldly activities above Dharma. We had belittled the importance of our Dharma practice.

When our study becomes difficult we must understand that it is because we had not studied according to the three types of wisdom. The first type of wisdom is acquired through hearing. We have to spend a lot of time listening to the teaching and studying the Dharma. The second type of wisdom is acquired through contemplation. After having listened to and studied the Dharma we need to spend time to think over what we had listened and studied. We need to contemplate on them. The third type of wisdom is acquired through meditation. We meditate on the teachings that we have heard. Thus we need to spend a lot of time listening and studying the Dharma, and then we need to contemplate on the teachings heard and to meditate on the topic.

Therefore, instead of spending lots of time on mundane activities, we should spend more time on Dharma practice.

Verse 29:

When sleep overwhelms us while practising virtue,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have gathered the causes for obstacles
Hindering our practice of virtuous acts.
(We have lacked all respect for the scriptural teachings;
We have sat on our books and left texts on the ground.
We have also looked down upon those with deep insight.)
Hereafter for the sake of our practice of Dharma
Let’s gladly endure all the hardships we meet.

Whenever we try to practice virtue, such as doing our prayers, meditate, study and recite mantras, etc, we always become sleepy. Our mind becomes drowsy, dull and sleepy. The causes for bringing about such results are, having despised the Dharma and not respecting the Dharma.

There are two types of Dharma. The scripture form and the Dharma insight (realisation in a person’s mindstream). We did not respect the Dharma books when we put the texts on the ground, stepped on them, put our mugs or cups on the text after we had our drink, threw our clothings over the texts, etc. Thus not respecting the Dharma texts at all. On the other hand, we had looked down on those who have realisation in their mindstreams. This includes those who have taken the vows and hold the vows in their mindstreams. We had looked down upon them. We did not respect them.

Thus, having done all these, we have created for ourselves difficulties or obstacles in studying the Dharma. The obstacle that is being referred to in this verse is sleepiness, being drowsy.

The practice now is to respect all the Dharma texts and people who have realisation in their mindstreams and those holding their vows. Therefore whenever, we encounter hardship in practicing Dharma, we should endure it and be patience.

Verse 30:

When our mind wanders greatly and runs towards delusion,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have neglected to meditate fully
On defects pervading this transient world;
Hereafter let’s work to renounce this existence
(And see the impermanent nature of things).

There are three types of delusions in general – greed or attachment, anger and ignorant. We usually refer to them as the Three Poisons. When we see beautiful things or desirable objects that others have, we yearned for them. This is the poison of attachment. Desirable objects includes everything, food, clothing, etc. When the mind experiences unhappiness, such as being angry with someone, we curse and wish him or her to be dead. This is the poison of anger. The poison of ignorant includes the first two poisons as they come from an ignorant mind. Ignorance could also be sleeping for long hours, thereby wasting a lot of time. Any indulgence in all the actions of ignorant, attachment and hatred is to syncronise our mind with the Three Poisons. This is what we meant by ‘our mind running towards delusions’. Our mind syncronises with the Three Poisons and runs after them.

There are two aspects to ‘our mind wonders greatly’. The first is that we dislike practicing Dharma or any virtue. Our mind is always after non-virtuous activities such as gossiping. The second is that, when we are reciting prayers, our mind wonders and not focus on the prayers. We think about our office work, about yesterday and tomorrow, etc. Our mind wonders all around instead of focusing on the mantras we are reciting. All these mean the mind is easily distracted.

The cause for having a mind that always runs after negative activities is due to not contemplating well on the imperfections of samsara. We have not seen the faults of samsara.

The imperfection of samara refers to the nature of samsara, that is suffering - the suffering nature of samsara. In samsara, things are always changing. One moment is happiness, the next moment it changes to suffering. One moment we experience good health, then we suddenly fall sick. Falling from a high status and power and being dissatisfied, etc.

The antidote is to cultivate the mind of renounciation from samsara. We must be able to see the suffering nature of samsara so as to bring out the mind of renounciation - to give up samsara. For example when a person is sick and losses his appetite, he would feel like throwing out when food is brought to him. Likewise, when we see the pleasurable objects of samsara, we should also feel repulsive towards them even though they appear to be pleasurable. We do not think of them as pleasure. We feel disgusted at the mere sight of samsaric pleasure. This is the benchmark for a person who has renounced the pleasures of samsara. Renouciation is the opposite of attachment. Another example is to view samsara as a prison. When we send someone to prison, he will not be happy because he will loss his freedom. Likewise, we should see the suffering nature of samsara so as to bring out the mind of yearning to renounce samsara, wanting to get out of samsara.

Due to our imperfections, our actions or speech can easily cause others to dislike us. Likewise, it seems natural for us to dislike the similar behaviour of others and we tend to relate or tell tales about the misdeeds of these people. Can Gen-la give some advice on the appropriate responses to such situations?

In such situations, you could perhaps think about the reasons why you like or dislike that person. Most likely, we like the person because he is kind to us and thus we owe him kindness. On the other hand, we dislike another person because he has caused harm or trouble to us. However, we should not limit our view towards only this life. We had limitless past lives and these people who are causing us harm or trouble now could be our closed ones (parents, siblings, good friends, etc) who had been kind and benefited us in many ways. Therefore, since they all have been kind to us, one time or another, there is no way that we can dislike them now.

One of the bodhisattva’s main practices is the perfection of patience. Patience can only be practiced when we encounter people who harm or hurt us and it is through practicing patience in such situation that we enhance our inner qualities. Also, these people who are causing us harm is under the influence of their delusions. They lack control over their mind as it is being controlled by the delusions that lead them to harm us. It is not their intention to cause us harm. In the text, it is mentioned that bodhisattvas treasured these people because it is through them that the bodhisattvas are able to accomplish the perfection of patience.

There is a story about Lama Atisha. Lama Atisha shared his room with one of his disciples. This disciple is notorious for his quick temper. Whatever task Lama Atisha asked him to do, he never did and when Lama Atisha tried to give him advices, he would fight back. Many other disciples came to know about this and they felt very upset. They suggested to Lama Atisha that he do away with this disciple and get someone else instead. But Lama Atisha replied, “What are you talking about? It is due to him that I am able to improve my patience. He has great kindness towards me.” So this is what Lama Atisha told his students.

For a great bodhisattva, it is easier for him to embrace such practice. For beginners like us, it could be quite difficult. However, as a first step, we must have faith in the teachings on past lives and that in each of these past lives, we have had a mother who would have been kind to us. Therefore, this people who is harming us now could have been our mothers who had been kind to us.

Another way is to contemplate on the uncertainty of samsara which is a characteristic of samsara. For example, I had a very good childhood friend but twenty years later we fought and became enemies. Likewise, current enemies can become good friends thirty years later. Such change is always taking place. Therefore the people who are harming us now could have been very kind to us before and were our great friends. It is possible.

Can the attitude of forgiveness help?

If what you meant by forgivenss is not to hold grudges towards the person who has caused you harm or irritate you, not to keep such occurance to heart then it is fine. It can be a way to counteract. In addition, if we dislike the person who inflicted harm on us, it would be like a vicious cycle. When we disliked that person, we planted a seed for us to experience the negative result in the future. So by thinking like this, it could also help.

I would like to seek some clarifications on ‘distraction from Dharma practice’. For example, instead of doing my prayers and going to Dharma classes, I visit my parents to run some errands as they asked me. Am I creating negative karma?

In such situations, we have to weigh the importance of these two matters. For example if our parents want us to go back for a meal, we could explain that we have to do our practice first and then join them for the meal later. However, if our mother is very sick, we should go back to help her first. But if doing our prayers and dedicating the merits to our mother is more beneficial to her sickness then visiting her, then we should do our prayers. If we abandon our prayers and visit her instead, we would be doing what we are not suppose to do and not do what we ought to do. That means we should prioritise the matter that is more urgent and important. However, our parents are just as important as our Lamas. Therefore whatever it is, we should always focus on Dharma and handle the situation skilfully.

As I understand from a scientific point of view, strokes and diseases are either from a physiological or microbial cause. How does karma come into play?

All sufferings are caused by negative karma. There is not one single disease that is not caused by karma. Although the diagnosis reveals that it is caused by bacteria or virus, etc, the cause is still karma. At the moment, we are not able to perceive the workings of cause and effect, how a situation is caused by a particular karma. For example, there was a monk who was partially paralysed from stroke and he approached a Geshe for advice. The Geshe advised him to stop eating meat, garlic and onion. He followed the advice and was cured but when he recovered, he resumed taking meat, garlic and onion. The disease came back and this time, he could not cure it.

Another story happened in Tibet. There was a monk who was very sick and was dying. Everyday, he took a bit of cow dung from the walls of his tent, burned it and ate it. After a while, he recovered. So this proves that not every disease comes from bacteria or unclean food.

Also, a long time ago in Tibet, there was no proper medicine. The way to cure diseases is by doing lots of prayers and it worked.


Note on authentication

Jacqueline Lam prepared and edited the original typescript from the tape recording. Pek Chee Hen checked and re-edited the typescript based on his notes.

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