Four Motivations For Practice

Audio loading...

Welcome! You can log in or create an account to save favorites, edit keywords, transcripts, and more.

This talk will not appear in the main Search results:

Sunday Lecture: 1- rare to be born as human; 2 - impermanence of life; 3 - the effect of actions; 4 - suffering of cyclical existence. What is the practice? Letting go of fear, of insecurity, of not being in control, fear of death (loss of life), of loss of health and happiness, loss of livelihood, loss of reputation, loss of confidence speaking to large groups (fear of being loved) (fear of lossof identity), the wish to be free must be stronger than the fear of insecurity, surrender control to the care of the universe, subtle illusions of spiritual path vs living in the present.

AI Summary: 



I bow to taste the truth of the Tathagata's words. Good morning. Today I'd like to talk about some ways to develop and increase motivation for practice and then hopefully be able to talk also some about what is practice. In the Tibetan tradition there's a teaching called the four mind changings and four contemplations for arousing motivation for practice


or arousing a wish to realize liberation for all beings. And these four are universal practices that don't have to even apply to Buddhism. So I think any kind of spiritual practice these four would apply to. And I find they're very powerful, simple meditations that if contemplated again and again really do shift the mind. And I've actually spent many periods of zazen beginning the period of meditation contemplating briefly these four mind changings and find it very effective. So the first mind changing or contemplation is contemplating the rarity of human life. The incredible rarity of this gift of being born as a human.


All these four mind changings are basic teachings of the Buddha and all paths of Buddhism. I speak about these but not necessarily as a group of four. But the Buddha spoke of this contemplating the rarity of human life. He came up with this metaphor that's a little bit strange. But it's like imagine a piece of wood floating in the ocean with a hole in it. And it's drifting all around with the tides and the wind and constantly moving. And then there's this one blind turtle at the bottom of the ocean. And this turtle lives for maybe thousands of years. And once every hundred years the turtle comes up to the surface of the ocean and just kind of like pokes his head out and looks around and then goes back to the bottom for another hundred years. And in maybe even all the oceans of the world there's this one board with a hole in it


and this one blind turtle. And the chances of one of the risings to the surface that this turtle will put its head through the hole in this piece of wood are pretty rare. It doesn't seem so likely. It's going to take a long time. And then the Buddha says the chances of being born human are more rare than this turtle putting its head through that hole. So if you believe in rebirth you could say, well, there's all these births in all these different realms, animal realms and then all these unseen realms of different kinds of spirits and hell beings and heavenly beings and so on. And in all these births it's very rare that one is born a human. But you don't even have to think of rebirth for this contemplation to really hit home


just in the sense that even if it's only this one life, it's like, well, wow, how did this happen, this life? And we could have been born as an insect, for example, and if you look at the number of insects around it seems like there's maybe more than humans and they're born and die very quickly. And all the other realms of beings that we can see when we happen to be born human. And the unique thing about being born human is that we have this unique capacity to actually realize the way things are and be freed from all difficulties and delusion. And other beings, according to the Buddha and these other realms, don't really have that possibility. They might not need to be free as much either because humans have more problems than other beings. We create so much trouble for ourselves just because of our mental capacity.


But it seems to be worth it that we have this great capacity because we can also realize freedom. So, you know, it's so easy to take for granted this human life. It's just what happens every day. We're just human again. But to really contemplate it and meditate on how rare it is, we come to really appreciate it more and more. And not only, kind of along with this meditation of human birth, there's often these other related rare things that are even more rare than being born human is we have all our sense faculties pretty much intact. Like we can see and hear, for example. There's probably nobody here in the room who's both blind and deaf.


And so with these faculties, then we can hear about truth or read about truth and see truth. At the beginning of the Dharma talk, we say having the Dharma to see and listen to, we've had to taste the Buddhist words. So we have these faculties of seeing and hearing, for example, that other beings might not have and definitely non-beings wouldn't have. So this gives us even greater potential. Again, we just take it for granted. Of course, we can see and hear. But it's really this incredible gift. And along with this, not only are we born human with these sense faculties complete, but we're born in a land where there's teachings of truth that are actually available all the time.


There are places in the world where there's just incredible restrictions on what people even think about. So we have, you could say especially in this part of California, we have all this Dharma activity available, all kinds of teachers coming through and teachings happening and people practicing in places like Green Gulch. And it's actually, it's not like this everywhere. So we have that gift also. And then we also have the gift of actually having enough faith in these teachings to at least be in this room now. We might be here for the first time.


Maybe we just came with a friend and we don't really know what the teachings are. But to actually be around a spiritual community is really rare. And also they say another kind of thing we can be grateful for is that we haven't committed horrible deeds. And we might think, well, yeah, we have. But we haven't killed our parents, for example. It's pretty great. Some people actually have. And it may be almost impossible to even actually end up in a place like this or hear these teachings. So all these gifts, we can take for granted, but it's kind of like if you compare, if you say we have all these aspects of the human life and the gifts that come with it, of being around teachings of liberation and so on, really rare if you compare that to being in this room


around a spiritual community to an insect, for example. If we've really come far, you can even contemplate how Buddha would say according to karma, we've done a lot of really good things to get this far. And then part of this meditation is when you realize that we've come this far, when you really contemplate how rare it is, you don't want to waste it naturally. If you think you've come this far and to blow it now, it would be like, what a shame. So then the next contemplation is contemplating the impermanence of life. And this is kind of like related to the rarity of human life. And realizing how rare it is, we might become very joyful, and this can kind of modify the great joy


when we kind of realize, well, actually, it's quickly passing. It's this great gift, but it's disappearing moment by moment. And like the Buddha says, you can meditate on how death is sure to come. It will definitely come to every one of us. And we don't know when it's going to come. And when it comes, actually our practice is going to be the only thing that will help us at that time. Nothing else actually matters at that moment. And it's coming soon. So you can actually kind of contemplate how everybody in this room in 80 years, say, probably there won't be anybody in this room alive still, but 80 years from now, we'll all be gone. And a lot of us before then.


Again, we don't think about it so often, and it seems like maybe it's kind of mortally to think about. But it can be, in a sense, even joyful to think about this, combined with how rare this opportunity is, and then how quickly it's passing. If we really start contemplating that, we just really want to live completely, to really experience our life completely, because here it is, and we don't know when it's going to end. So if we thought, if we knew we were going to die tomorrow, how would we want the practice ended today? So I remember when I was young, and maybe first kind of realizing what a cemetery was. We'd drive by the cemetery in town all the time, and it took a few minutes to get by it, because it's pretty big. And it never felt like so frightening or depressing.


It was actually, when I realized all these people were alive, and they were experiencing the world like I am now, and now they're not, it actually made me appreciate my life, just naturally as a kid, to drive by the cemetery like that. So we can think of death in this way, like we're actually alive now. As it says on the Han that we use for timing, to call people to the meditation period, it's the Han, it's the board outside of Cloud Hall here, and the traditional kind of inscription where it says something like, birth and death is the great matter, time passes swiftly and opportunity is lost, awaken, don't waste this life. And so when you're striking that Han, you can read this kind of meditation about impermanence, and the kind of precious rarity of human life.


And it's a time-keeping device, so every time that that's being used, it has to do with time for the next period of meditation. And so hopefully it's an encouragement to really take advantage of the meditation. And then the third mind-changing contemplation is contemplating the effect of actions, which actually comes down to everything that we do has some effect. And we kind of know that basically, but we don't really think of it like everything we do. Every moment, everything we're doing is actually having some effect that we can't actually even see, but it's affecting everything else. And so to really meditate on that over and over again, we start to realize how important it is,


everything that we're doing. So again, you can see how these are kind of all related, and build on each other. We have this great rare gift of human life, it's quickly passing, and everything we do matters completely. So you can see how these can motivate our practice. It's so easy to come into a meditation period, especially living at Green Gulch, where it's just every day you're just coming in and following the schedule, and to just treat meditation as like a rest period or something. But to actually realize that each period of meditation, and each period of moment of life actually, is this opportunity to actually be free. And there's actually complete potential for every being,


every human being especially, to really be completely free. So then the fourth meditation or contemplation is on the suffering of cyclic existence. Cyclic existence is samsara, which you can think of as just going around and around in the loops of our habit patterns. We keep making the same mistakes over and over, in a cyclical kind of way, and we feel like we're just trapped in those cycles. And it's basically... Sometimes suffering sounds like a very heavy-duty word, and I'm not really suffering so much, but to think of it as actually just dissatisfaction. Are we even slightly dissatisfied with how things are going? And this kind of being driven around and around again by our habit patterns. And this suffering or dissatisfaction that we spoke of,


there's a few different kinds. There's the basic suffering of pain, lamentation, grief, sorrow, despair, and not getting what we want and getting what we don't want, and these kind of things. And then there's also, maybe in a more subtle level, it's called the suffering of pleasure, or also the suffering of change, which is basically the fact that even when we're enjoying things, we kind of, in the back of our mind, we kind of know that they're impermanent and they're going to end. So we can't, in a sense, with this kind of understanding, we can't really enjoy them completely, because we're already thinking of the ending of happiness. And then there's this third kind of suffering or dissatisfaction, which is just the basic kind of underlying uneasiness of just being a human being, a conditioned being that's going to die,


and the suffering of not being in control and wanting to be in control of everything. So these four mind changings, contemplations over and over again, and not just repeating the words or thinking about it at a kind of surface level, but really actually taking the heart on a regular basis, you can see if it actually shifts the way you think about life. So through this kind of contemplation, if we don't have any reason to practice at all in the first place, we maybe start to have a reason


after thinking about things in this way. And if we already are on some spiritual path and practicing, thinking about these helps to increase the motivation and the wish to be free. And we actually have to know that it's possible to be free. Kind of thinking about these contemplations from a certain angle could seem almost depressing, especially like impermanence and suffering, but they're not meant to be this way at all. They're meant to be a way to see, actually this is our situation at this time, but it doesn't have to be this way. We actually can be free. We have this incredible opportunity, very rare, but it's passing quickly. Everything we do has some effect, and basically the effects are wholesome or unwholesome.


So they lead to happiness or unhappiness. In some sense, almost everything we do is in some slight way leading to happiness and contentment or to unease and dissatisfaction. And to really see it that way, and then to really examine how this suffering, especially the kind of low-level, all-pervading dissatisfaction, we don't have to live that way. Again, maybe you could take it for granted that this is part of life, this is being dissatisfied a lot of the time, but the Buddha says it's not necessary. It's maybe going to take some effort and contemplation to be completely free of this on an ongoing basis, but then it's possible. So then, once we have this motivation and this intention and enthusiasm for practice,


practice to be free and wish to be free from this kind of contemplation, then what is the practice? And recently I've been thinking of many ways to talk about practice and talk about the same thing from different angles, but one kind of angle I've been thinking of recently is something like, the practice is letting go of the fear of insecurity and the fear of not being in control, which are similar but not exactly the same. So you could say, well, this is an aspect of practice, but I think with a lot of these different ways of thinking about practice, if you take any one of them to completion, it actually includes the entire practice.


So, fear of insecurity and fear of not being in control are actually what can keep us bound in this cyclic existence, this habitual routine of going around and around. The Buddha spoke of five kinds of fear. It seems like a somewhat arbitrary list, but you can see that they all include these aspects of insecurity and not being in control. The fears that basically all beings have is the fear of death, and in terms of loss, they're all fears of loss of one kind or another. So this would be the fear of loss of life, and you can see how that's actually the ultimate insecurity,


and lack of control is actually not having life anymore. It's like the final end of all control and security, so it seems. And another fear is fear of loss of things maybe close to death, but not quite, like losing body parts or mind parts or health or happiness, these kinds of things. Loss of aspects of body and mind, which is it. In Zen we say liberation, we sometimes say it is dropping off body and mind. So this would be like, it sounds like that's our fear, actually, is losing body and mind. So how could that be liberation? And then another fear is fear of loss of livelihood.


Maybe that doesn't seem so bad, just another job or something. But actually, ultimately, loss of being taken care of materially and how much we really can fear that, especially if we think, well, what if we really lost everything and we were just on the street? Are we afraid of actually dying in the gutter without anybody even knowing that we're there? This is a possibility. And if there's a fear of that, then it is that fear of some kind of great insecurity and lack of control. Because livelihood is definitely about security, material security and control, in a sense. With security, with material security comes some sense of control.


But looking deeper into these, you can see that it starts this kind of illusory, this kind of control. It kind of binds us, in a way, to this cycle of suffering, dissatisfaction. And then another fear is loss of reputation. And I think maybe different people, probably different common tendencies, have different aspects of these five fears would be more dominant. And some people might really worry about livelihood a lot. But I think, for me, this one is a really big one, this fear of loss of reputation. And it's kind of like, you could say, it's basically fear of not having people like me. So I feel like I actually, from early on, like to kind of avoid conflict and being on people's bad side.


Sometimes conflict happens, but this kind of trying to not cause too much trouble is actually, not that that's a bad thing, of course, but that it can come from this fear of loss of reputation, actually. So I really have to look at that one. And then the fifth fear is the fear of losing confidence while speaking to large groups. So this is a great opportunity for this. And in a sense, I think that one's related to the reputation one. You could say it's related to all of them, because if the group is big and angry enough, it could threaten life, loss of body parts, and livelihood, maybe. But at least reputation, even on some subtle level, like, you know, I might think,


oh, these people didn't think that I gave a very good talk today, so I kind of lost a little bit of reputation. So I think it's funny that that one was included on the list of five, but I guess it's a common thing for human beings. And then when my teacher was giving a workshop on fear, he brought up this list of five, and he added another one to it, which is the fear of being loved. And you could almost say, well, this almost sounds like the opposite of this loss of reputation, because the reputation one is kind of like, sort of like fear of not being liked or loved. And then this is sort of the opposite, the fear of being loved. So that's how confusing it is to be a human. You're basically afraid of a lot of things. And fear of being loved, you could say,


it's actually the way life is, because actually we are, in a sense, ultimately loved by the universe, by everything. There is just love happening, but we don't. If we really faced that, it would be maybe our life would be kind of less secure. Fear of being loved is kind of like giving up a kind of security and sense of control, actually. And then I would add a seventh one to this list, I think, of today, is fear of loss of identity. And you could say this is like maybe the big one in terms of Dharma practice,


and you could say it's also related to all the other ones. But basically, like a self, an identity would be like a sense of a separate self, and everything that goes with that, that we think represents, that I think represents me, to actually let go of all of the beliefs in who I think I am, and so on. It's almost like the ultimate fear, actually, because it's kind of like the fear of death. It's the end of who I am, if I really give that up. And so all of these, these seven fears, and even more that we can think of probably fall into these categories of fear of insecurity, of giving up security,


and fear of lack of being in control. And, actually, they're all based on this view of the separate self. It's a kind of autonomous self that we think is in control, and we think needs to maintain security for itself, for this sense of separate self to survive. It gathers all kinds of security around it to keep it alive. This is the nature of being a human with a sense of self, which is how we've all evolved to be. And so to actually realize how this sense of separate self is really just an illusion


is we really have to really approach this fear, really actually go into this fear of what it... We have to really be willing to at least contemplate what it would be like to actually let go of this belief, this false belief. And it seems like that's giving up all security and all control, which in a sense it is, but there's security and control the way we think of it. So the kind of paradox of it is actually when going beyond, giving up that sense of identity and control and security,


kind of transcending it, is actually the ultimate security. It's that if we don't know who we are anymore and we don't have anything left to hold on to, actually that is the ultimate security in the sense that nothing can shake that or touch that or destroy that because it's what can't be destroyed, because it actually is just what's happening. So then even when death comes, without that sense of separate self, it's just what comes. And the actual... What prevents us from seeing this way seems to be actually this kind of blockage of fear.


And how we... So how can we overcome that fear? And I think we have to... I think it relates to these four mind changes too. If we really contemplate how that works over and over and become more and more convinced in how it's so, that this human life is incredibly rare, quickly passing, that everything we do is making some difference and that we're kind of bound in these circular patterns that seem to be just keeping us from actually being completely alive and free and how we really, really want to be free. And then we can maybe face that fear and that fear. It's almost...


Maybe what it ends up taking, actually, is the... What needs to happen is that the wish to be free and actually see truth needs to be stronger than the wish to avoid insecurity. I think that's what it all comes down to in the end. And when it gets to the point where that wish to be free is stronger, then it's not like something special has to happen. Then life is being steered by something else at that point. So... In other words, when we're willing to give up control, then actually we kind of surrender


our personal control to the universe, which is just the way everything is happening. And then that actually, the universe takes care of us, actually, completely. But it means giving up, thinking that we have to take care of ourselves. It's all based on this belief that there is somebody here in this permanent, continuous entity of self that needs to be taken care of by us. So somehow we come more and more to see how this illusion is just really an illusion, and that there's this possibility for everybody, actually, to see this. And another, I think, very subtle form


of maintaining this sense of security and control is being on a spiritual path, actually, to set up a spiritual goal in the future, and that now I'm a spiritual practitioner, I'm on this path, and I'm going to realize this thing by no self someday. I mean, some people get into it like, I'll probably realize it in ten lifetimes from now, and I'll just try to do some good karma in this life so that in the future I'll realize it. But actually, even to say that I'll realize it in Sashin, or next week, or even next period of Zazen, or something, as opposed to right now, for example, is still based on this. It's like setting up this future thing. It maintains an identity of a spiritual seeker, basically, and a spiritual path. It's like, this is my identity,


and it's a good one, too, because it's based on this liberation thing. So I think that's a really subtle one for people who are maybe really devoted to practice, is we set up this future thing like this. Because, actually, we don't have to face our fear so much then. Like, I'll get there eventually. But actually, in the present moment, to say, what am I holding on to now, in terms of my identity, is keeping me from actually realizing, seeing, just tasting in the moment that there's actually nobody here to maintain. But really, I think, we have to really go into that fear of what's holding us back from that. And then we also maybe have all these ideas


of what that would look like. It would mean like, everything would be really bright, and I'd just become really, really happy, and various ideas of maybe what it would look like. I would just start crying immediately or something. But all these things too, all these ideas about what it might look like, are also kind of like... In a sense, those ideas are part of what maintain our identity, my idea of what this awakening from this is going to look like. So it gets very, very subtle, I think. But it seems to be that what it actually takes is to completely not identify with anything, especially any sense of self or path or anything like this.


You can say, well, then why do we have a Zen center and do all these Zen things? And you can say, well, you know, there tends to be enough time in the Zen thing to actually have time to quietly contemplate these kinds of things. And also you can see it as, even if we're free of even the identity of being a Zen student, something like this, then still we can practice in this way as a most artistic expression. It's just a beautiful way to live. And maybe many ways can be beautiful ways to live.


And that just comes down to our own dispositions. Even if we're free of the dispositions, still people are going to live in many different ways. So it's a little hard not being able to interact so much with you all. But I'd say we can still start having a conversation now. But since time is getting kind of going on, you can come back and question and answer if you'd like, because I'd like to hear what people think of these things. Can we wish to be free and go beyond fear of insecurity,


be stronger than the wish to be secure in the ways that we know of as our security? Thank you.