By Laura Ellis, October 2018
Venerable Thubten Chodron is an author, teacher, and the founder and abbess of Sravasti Abbey, one of the first Tibetan Buddhist training monasteries for Western nuns and monks in the US. She graduated from University of California at Los Angeles and did graduate work in education at University of Southern California. Ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977, she has studied extensively with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tsenzhap Serkong Rinpoche, and Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche. She received full ordination as a bhikshuni in 1986.
She was invited by Sakya Monastery to teach about how cultivating compassion day to day makes our lives meaningful, which in turn helps us to approach our own and others’ deaths with a clear mind and open heart.
On October 21, 2018, Ven. Chodron shared her wisdom through a number of delightful stories which illuminated teaching points about the Buddhist approach to life and death; or rather how to live life because death is certain and our next rebirth will be influenced by the way we live now.
Of foremost importance is to live an ethical life and to practice generosity. Ven. Chodron referenced Nagarjuna’s “Precious Garland” teaching where there are two aims with regard to the activities of this life:
- To obtain a higher rebirth
- To obtain the highest good (enlightenment)
Our ultimate goal is to attain enlightenment. However, in order to attain full awakening, it is first necessary to attain a series of higher rebirths where we will have the opportunity to practice the Dharma. If we spend our lives purifying negativity and creating merit, the seeds of the Dharma are planted in our minds. When we begin studying the Dharma in a future life it will not seem foreign to us. Familiarity with the Dharma in future lives depends on planting the seeds in this lifetime.
Nagarjuna taught that because of karma and its effects, some of our actions will have an immediate result in this lifetime but some long term results will not be experienced until the next lifetime. If we practice the Dharma in this lifetime our mind will be attracted to a good rebirth where we can practice the Dharma in a future life. This requires faith. We have to trust the Buddha. What the Buddha teaches about karma is true, it exists and it functions. With causation in physics and chemistry one can see the results immediately. But causation of actions is a hidden phenomenon. Therefore, it is necessary to have faith that what the Buddha taught about the laws of karma is true.
Nagarjuna taught that generosity is the cause of wealth; and ethical conduct is the cause of a good rebirth.
What causes happiness and suffering? This question can be answered by the 8 Worldly Concerns. Most beings are captivated by these. There are 4 pairs:
- Delight in money and material possessions.
- Dismay when we lose them.
- Desire for praise and approval.
- Aversion to blame, disapproval and criticism.
- Attachment to having a good reputation.
- Aversion to having a bad reputation.
- Attachment to sense objects – things that are beautiful, clean and pleasant.
- Aversion to sense objects that are ugly, dirty, and unpleasant.
We have the potential in this life to create the causes for a good life in the future and yet we spend most of our life chasing temporary pleasures and creating negative karma.
If we contemplate the Eight Worldly Concerns and use them to motivate us to do good, we will see benefits here and now as well as know that we are creating seeds for a better rebirth. At the time of death, we will have no regrets. We will rejoice at a life well lived.