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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 6/2001
Translated by Ven. Thubten Dechen and Ven. Ngawang Jangchup 8th July, 2001

Verse 31:

When all our affairs, both religious and worldly,
Run into trouble and fall into ruin,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have felt cause and effect could be slighted;
Hereafter let’s practise with patience and strength.

There are two aspects – religious affairs and mundane affairs. From the religious perspective, our practice or qualities degenerated. When we study the Dharma, our knowledge should increase. As we practice (e.g. meditation) our mind should improve and become clearer. However, these do not happen. Instead, our mind becomes cluttered and dull, our concentration does not improve, our qualities degenerate and new qualities could not be developed.

From the mundane perspective, whatever we do simply fall apart. When we invest in businesses we make losses instead of profit. We lost our wealth, belongings, and possessions.

Thus we hardly gain anything – both religious and wordly. This is because we had felt that the law of cause and effect could be slighted. That means, according to the law of cause and effect, a virtuous cause will lead to happy result and non-virtuous cause will lead to suffering result. This is definite. But we did not believe, we claimed that virtuous cause would not lead to happy result and non-virtuous cause would not lead to suffering result. For example, the cause for prosperity and wealth is to practice generousity. But we did not believe, we claimed that it was not true. Thus, we had disputed the law of cause and effect by not believing in it.

For example, there are people who do not believe in the law of cause and effect because they feel that they have been virtuous all their lives but still they are facing a lot of difficulties (suffering). They think that their sufferings in this life come from their virtuous deeds. This is not true because whatever suffering result has to come from a non-virtuous cause which they had done in the past. Without this fundamental understanding, they have slighted the law of cause and effect.

As mentioned in the last line of the verse, we are to practise with patience and strength. ‘Patience’ carries the meaning of ‘bearing the load’. It is like carrying a load on the shoulders. In our practice of virtue, such as making offerings, meditating, prostrations, etc all require effort. It is not easy to carry them out because our mind will get bored and our body will be exhausted with the numerous prostrations. Therefore we need to have patience in practicing virtue. That means, being able to bear the hardships in practise without complaining about them and without feeling displeased or annoyed.

We may have witnessed people who are very kind hearted and are very helpful to many people and have sincerely put the teachings into practice. However, they often have a lot of obstacles, such as, lack of success in their businesses and are always plagued by various illnesses or diseases.

On the other hand, there are others who are wicked and have not done anything beneficial to mankind. However, they are rich and healthy and lived a long life although they have caused a lot of harm to sentient beings.

By looking at these two scenarios superficially, they seem contradictory to the law of cause and effect. Those who lack understanding of Dharma would tend to deduce that the wealth and long life of the wicked are the result of causing harm to sentient beings while the sufferings of the kind hearted are the result of their virtuous actions.

According to the Dharma, neither is valid. Both are wrong views. Therefore without proper understanding of the Dharma, we would easily be lead to develop wrong view (denial of the law of cause and effect). In order to avoid developing wrong view, we have to medidate on the law of karma over and over again.

There is one characteristic of karma that would never change - that is, a virtuous cause can only produce happy result and a non-virtuous cause can only produce suffering result. This will not change.

Therefore, those who are plagued by various sufferings now despite their virtuous actions are due to having created the negative causes in their past lives. Meanwhile the wicked that are enjoying wealth and long life now are due to having created the good cause for themselves in their past lives.

The teaching on emptiness is subtle however, the law of cause and effect is subtler. Only a Buddha can completely perceive the law of karma. Even Ayra beings who have attained high realisations cannot perceive the complete workings of karma.

Verse 32:

When rites we perform never seem to be fruitful,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have relied on the gods of this world
Or on unskilful actions to bring us relief;
Hereafter let’s turn in another direction
And leave our non-virtuous actions behind.

‘Never seem to be fruitful’ means not helpful in at all, it does not bring any benefit. For example, when people seek divination and prayers for recovery of sickness, they never get cured. When people seek the same to eliminate obstacles to their businesses, nothing improved. According to the text, all these happened because we had relied on ‘the gods of this world’. Here ‘the gods of this world’ also includes any action that is non-Dharma or against Dharma (non-virtuous actions).

There are people who have strong inclination towards non-virtuous actions. For these people, when they do pujas, it is very difficult to see (immediate) result because the effect of the pujas is overshadowed by their strong negative karma. However, we should not think that the positive effect of the pujas would not ripen. It will ripen in the future. After having done a puja, if we do not see the benefit immediately, we must understand that the benefit of the pujas will come in the future. Our problems do not come from doing the pujas.

There are people who think that if they request Gen-la to do the puja for them, the power is greater than if they were to do it themselves. This is not true. We should not doubt the power of the prayer. The power of the prayer is the prayer itself, not the person who performs it. The power of the prayer does not depend so much on the person who performs it.

Is the power of prayer dependent on a person’s karma? For example, if a person’s karma were too heavy then the benefit of the prayer would not be so immediate?

The power of prayer also depends on faith. The effect would be greater if the person who does it have faith as oppose to another who does it without faith. If a very sick person does not see any improvement in his conditions after having done the pujas, it is because of his vast amount of past negative karma. Thus the power of prayer does not happen immediately. However for a person who has less negative karma, he would be able to see the benefit of the pujas faster. Such as recovering from illness or severe conditions turn mild, threatening problems become less significant, etc.

The practice now is to avoid all negative actions which we can give up and not to repeat them in the future. If we are forced by circumstances and cannot avoid the negative actions, we should at least try to reduce the frequency (of such actions). We should also distant ourselves from people who are always involve in negative actions so as to avoid their bad influence. If we cannot avoid the negative actions, we should be aware of the faults of these actions and generate a sense of regret or shame for having done such actions.

Verse 33:

When none of the wishes we make reach fulfilment,
Although we have made prayers to the Three Precious Gems,
This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning
Full circle upon us from wrongs we have done.
Till now we have had an imperfect commitment
To Buddha whose teachings deserve complete trust,
Hereafter let’s place our exclusive reliance
On Buddha, his teachings and those in his fold.

This verse is quite similar to the previous one. Generally, whatever we wish is never fulfilled. The cause for all these (according to the text) is that we had not have conviction in the existence of the Three Jewels and the Teachings of Buddha. In addition, we also urged others not to believe in them and we propagate that there is no benefit in taking refuge in the Three Jewels. Not believing in the Three Jewels also means not believing in the law of cause and effect (holding wrong view). Thinking that non-virtuous cause will not bring suffering result and virtuous cause will not bring happy result.

To belief in the Three Jewels is, to take refuge in them and not to take refuge in any objects other than the Three Jewels. Buddha is the one who clarifies the path (the actual path to relieve us from suffering). Dharma is the actual refuge. In order to be free from suffering, we have to generate the Dharma jewel in our mindstream. Dharma is the actual refuge because only through practicing Dharma and realising it in our mindstream that we can be free from suffering. Even if Buddha or bodhisattvas appear directly in front of us to teach us, without practicing and realising Dharma in our mindstream, it would not be helpful at all. Therefore the only way for us to be free from suffering is to practice Dharma and that is why it is the ultimate refuge.

There are two types of Sangha. The Arya Sangha refers to anyone who has perceived emptiness directly (including lay Buddhists). There are two types of emptiness. The emptiness of the person and the emptiness of the Dharma. The Arya Sangha is important to our practice as they can clarify our understanding and act as a role model to inspire us on the path.

Although we have heard many teachings but it seems difficult to retain them in the mind. The teachings go in through one ear and out through the other. Is this due to lack of faith or lack of effort? If it is lack of faith, how do we increase our conviction in the teachings?

The main practice to over come such problems is to mediate on death and impermenance and the preciousness of this human rebirth (the Eight Freedom and Ten Endowment). Not being able to practice Dharma is exactly the fault of not mediating on death and impermenance and on the preciousness of this human rebrith. Even if we have firm faith in the Three Jewels, if we do not mediate on death and impermenance, we will not feel the urgency to practice Dharma. We will always postpone our practises and prioritise wordly matters above Dharma.

We can also mediate on the general faults of samsara. Once we have developed realisation on death and impermanence and the preciousness of this human rebirth, it will be very clear to us the importance of each activity. At that point we will naturally put aside worldly activities without hesitation and practice Dharma.

In India some practitioners will have a thighbone and a skull. They will blow on the thighbone and collect food with the skull. This is not for pleasure but to remind them of death and impermanence. When they look at the skull they will remind themselves that when they die they will look exactly the same. They attempt to remember death and impermanence as much as possible. If they can maintain this reminder all the time, it can help to enhance their practice. Usually, these practitioners are bodhisattvas. If a bodhisattva (with high realisations) has to keep reminding himself of death and impermanence, we as ordinary people, would have to do more. We need to put in more effort in our practice.


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.

@ Losang Dragpa Centre, July 2001

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