The Buddha identified four main misperceptions that obscure our minds:
- Seeing impermanent things as permanent
- Confusing suffering with pleasure
- Seeing the impure as pure
- Thinking of that which is selfless as having independent, absolute reality
Practitioners of the small scope meditate primarily on the first of these misperceptions. By accustoming their minds to gross and subtle impermanence and the inevitability of death, they make preparations for the next life the top priority of this life. Geshe Sopa makes the point that we cannot pursue both worldly goals and Dharma goals in a single, short lifetime. If we try to do both, our spiritual practice will be weak and diluted (Geshe Lhundup Sopa, Steps on the Path to Enlightenment. Vol. 1. Wisdom Publications).
It is important to recognize that the cycle of birth and death is driven by ignorance and karma. Due to attachment to worldly pleasures that our minds generate, afflictive emotions arise and karmic actions follow. Death itself is a conditioned phenomenon.
The 9-point meditation on death
- Death is definite:
- Everyone has to die.
- Your lifespan is continuously decreasing.
- The amount of time you have for spiritual practice is very little
Develop the determination to use your life to practice the Dharma.
2. The uncertainty of the time of death:
- Human life expectancy is uncertain
- There are many causes of death
- The human body is very fragile
Generate the determination to start practicing Dharma now as the future is so uncertain.
3. Only spiritual practice can help you at the time of death:
- Your loved ones cannot help
- Your possessions and enjoyments cannot help
- Your own body cannot help
Make the decision to practice the Dharma purely without being mixed with the eight worldly concerns.
In summary, Dharma practice is like a skilled, brave leader who we trust to take us on a journey through dangerous lands. By living in accordance with the Dharma, by not being attached to the meaningless temporary, distractions of this life, we will reach our destination safely. The positive karma that we create by choosing right actions is the actual brave leader. The essence of Dharma practice is abandoning self-cherishing and practicing the good heart — bodhicitta.