The Seven Limbs

16 March 2010 - 3:36pm Comments Off

Thierry Janssens began by listing his own imperfections:

I am envious, jealous, depressed, angry – if not with others, myself. I am arrogant or paranoid. I hate a few people, I speak behind people’s backs. I wish for certain people to be hurt and to drop dead. I’m selfish. I’m moody. I’m rude and I’m grumpy. I’m ignorant but I don’t know it and I think I know better than those more qualified. I rejoice at people’s misery. I have doubts over people who are kind to me – I doubt their motivation. I want praise even when I don’t deserve it. I want praise but I don’t want to work for it.

Does this sound familiar? Well, there is good news for you. The good news is that there is a treatment.

The best treatment is from the doctor, who is the Buddha. The best medicine is the Dharma and the best nurses are the Sangha.

There is a highly qualified nurse here – a nurse who is just as good as the doctor – and maybe even better than the doctor because the nurse is with us right now, here. The nurse is His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche.

From the outside, the ‘diseases‘ (e.g. anger, ignorance, jealousy) may look different but inside, they are the same…and luckily the treatment that exists for them is infallible. If you follow it, it does not fail and it can fit anyone’s disease. The treatment is so efficient because once you are cured, you are guaranteed not to fall ill again. There is no remission.

This is the final treatment. Once you’re cured, you are liberated from all states of sufferings. Like all medication, there is a major side effect – it is Happiness.

As with many treatments, we may not understand how it works. Especially if we are not qualified doctors, we certainly will not understand how it works. We are not qualified because we have the disease. However, if we are picky and selective when the doctor tries to give us treatment, and we select only what we want to do, we will not be cured.

We are selective with following our spiritual ‘treatment’ for two reasons – first, we think we know better and second, we think we are not sick. If we think we know better than our Guru, wouldn’t we be a Guru? If we are not ill, wouldn’t we also be a Guru? Are we still suffering from the ailments mentioned at the beginning? If yes, then we definitely need to consult a specialist.

If we think deeper about it, we will come to conclusion that we need treatment. This is logical. If we want results fast in spiritual practice, we cannot act like this. Fast results are results in this lifetime. If we want results fast, it’s best to follow advice of the specialist.

Thierry shared that he used to have a lot of doubts about prayers. He could not understand the effect of reciting in front of the statue. However, this changed when he realised the importance of refuge. Thierry’s personal tips are to understand the refuge commitments, which is the key to how one should regard the doctor, medicine and nurses.

We go for refuge to the Three Jewels, Buddha (doctor), Dharma (medicine) and Sangha (nurses). The Refuge vows and commitments can be seen as ways to train the body, speech and mind, encouraging it towards more positive ways of living.

The Refuge Vows:

Body – refrain from killing, stealing and sexual misconduct

Speech – refrain from lying, divisive speech, harsh speech and idle chatter

Mind – refrain from envy, malice or ill view, and wrong views

Furthermore, there are 12 refuge commitments that come with taking refuge. These are:

  1. Not to take refuge with teachers who contradict the Buddha’s teaching or samsaric gods. Once you decide on one doctor, stick with them. In spiritual practice, you should stick with one spiritual guide
  2. Regard an image of the Buddha as the Buddha himself. We do not just pray to a statue but we pray to what it represents, a Buddha and our own potential for Buddhahood. It is more than a statue
  3. Do not harm others and do not harm yourself. By taking the doctor’s advice, we can fix ourselves. If we fix ourselves, we can then help others more. Helping others is the next level we progress to after not harming others
  4. Regard any Dharma scripture as the actual Dharma Jewel. We cannot be selective. The medicine is valid, has value and will have effect. When we have faith in this, we can then follow the Dharma more easily
  5. Do not allow yourself to be influenced by people who contradict the Buddha’s teachings. Don’t let your friends create doubt in you. We should have faith in our doctor, and not allow others to undermine our faith. Who is more qualified? Your doctor or your friend? Use logic
  6. Regard those who wear the robes of an ordained person as the actual Sangha Jewel. If you see a nurse coming, you trust that she has studied to be qualified to be a nurse. The nurse is recognised by the doctor and she will carry out the doctor’s prescription. The nurse helps the doctor. Therefore we must also have trust in the nurse. This corresponds to the importance of having trust in the Sangha
  7. We commit to go for refuge to the Three Jewels again and again, remembering their qualities. Buddha is the goal, Dharma is the way, Sangha is the help to get to our goal
  8. Offer the first portion of whatever we eat or drink to the Three Jewels, remembering the benefits of refuge
  9. To go for refuge at least three times during the day and three times a night, remembering the benefits of going for refuge. This is equivalent to taking your medication three times a day. You must remember the benefit of taking the pills – likewise, remember the benefits of refuge
  10. With compassion, always encourage others to go for refuge. If your friend is sick, we should advise them to go to the doctor. We should help them to seek a cure. We cannot take our friend’s suffering. Compassion is more than just looking at someone’s broken leg, compassion goes to higher level. It looks at alleviating other deeper ailments (e.g. anger, depression)
  11. Perform every action with total trust in the Three Jewels. When you take the medicine and follow the doctor’s advice, you trust the doctor, medicine and nurses. You have faith that they can cure you. Otherwise the help is limited. Faith can be effective…just look at placebos, which can be effective for some who have enough faith
  12. Never to forsake the Three Jewels even at the cost of my life or as a joke. This is not just worldly medicine or a simple cold we are talking about. We are talking about liberation from samsara and realising Buddhahood. It’s more valuable than anything. Buddhahood is something much more valuable than this life. We should therefore hold it with the highest respect and esteem.

Prayers are part of the medicine given to us by doctors and nurses. It is prescribed by the doctor so we should practise it and see where it takes us. For those who need to understand everything from logic – prayers are mind training. Rinpoche said that when you pray, you aspire to something better than yourself.

We can compare mind training and body training. It is like going to the gym for the mind. Doing reps on the weight machines are like reciting mantras. When you go to the gym, you aspire to go everyday, or as regularly as you can. If you break the routine, the next day is harder. It is the same with mind training. If you do mind training exercises everyday, you understand them better and gain the benefits everyday.

If you go hiking in the mountains or cycling, this is intensive training and can be compared to doing special pujas which are more powerful or intense. Retreats are also intensive mind training.

We are praying to the doctor, the nurses and the medicine because we need help and we aspire to be better. We aspire to let go of our self-cherishing mind. We start with doing a little bit more for others until we eventually do everything for others. Eventually, we can become doctors so we can help others.

The Seven Limbs

  1. Homage to the Three Jewels – (body) prostration, (speech) praise, (mind) both
  2. Offering – presenting visualised vast offerings, all the most beautiful things in the world that we regard as precious
  3. Confession of sins – this helps us on many levels. We confess because we want to do something about what we have done wrong. We want to fix it. We fix this mainly by “going to the doctor” – this is by taking refuge
  4. Rejoicing – rejoice for others’ good fortune, good deeds and accomplishments
  5. Requesting the wheel of Dharma to be turned – even when the Buddha taught for the first time, disciples requested for the teachings. When they requested for the first and second time, Buddha declined. When they requested for the third time, Buddha agreed. This is the tradition. If we request for the teachings, we will value them more when we receive them. You cannot teach a child something if the child is not interested. If the child comes with a question, then the child is interested, open and willing to learn
  6. Petitioning to remain – we request the teachers and Buddhas to stay; when they stay, we can continue to receive the teachings from them
  7. Dedication – we dedicate the merits that we have accumulated by the practice of Dharma to serve all sentient beings. We can share the merits by dedicating it to everyone. This also helps us to always remember others and to be generous by putting others before us.

We should not be selective over what medicine we take – we are not qualified to do that. If we want results and we want results fast, then we have to follow all the prescriptions and take the medicine.

It is very useful to note also that each limb within the Seven Limbs prayer is an antidote to a problem or obstacle within our mindstream.

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