The General Preliminaries
The general preliminaries essentially comprise reflecting and meditating on the following four points :
1. The difficulty of obtaining a human body
3. Karma or Cause and Effect
4. Suffering and the unsatisfactory character of any form of existence.
1. The difficulty of obtaining a human body
A human life like this one, endowed with all conditions necessary for practicing, is difficult to obtain because of its cause, which is a virtuous action.
It is difficult to obtain because of its number, which is infinitely small if compared to the limitless number of non-human beings (think, just to take an example, of the limitless number of insects).
It is difficult to obtain because of its essence, which is the combination of 18 conditions, i.e. the ten attainments and the eight leisures:
The eight leisures refer to the freedom from eight states which prevent Buddhist practice :
- the state of a hell-being
- the state of a hungry ghost (yidak)
- the state of an animal
- the state of a long-living god
- living in a barbarous country where habits are contrary
- holding wrong views and doubts
- being born in a country where Buddhism is unknown
- having non-receptive senses.
The ten attainments comprise the five personal attainments :
- birth as a human
- birth in a country where Dharma is known
- possessing all sense faculties
- confidence in the Dharma
- right actions
and the five general attainments :
- the coming of a Buddha
- that the Buddha has taught
- that his teaching has remained
- that there are followers of his teaching
- that there are benefactors protecting religious practice.
Having reflected a long time on how rare such an incarnation is, we then reflect on its incalculable benefits if we know how to use it properly.
It would be a great pity and very stupid indeed to waste such a life, which is so difficult to obtain, by just pursuing worldly aims, of which nothing will remain once we have died: fame, money, professional success, power, etc.. This human life is the best of all prerequisites for obtaining Buddhahood, the absolute freedom from all conditioning, the definitive cessation of all form of suffering, if we know how to make use of it by means of the buddhist practices of mastering one's mind.
We should be aware of and reflect for a long time on the fact that if we waste this present life to worldly ends, it will be very difficult for us to once again gather the causes and conditions which are necessary for another human rebirth.
We should then proceed to reflect on impermanence: every month, every day, every second gets us inexorably closer to the moment of our death, inevitable end of each life and birth.
We think about all those around us who have already disappeared and about the never-ceasing changes which take place continuously, even though we are often not conscious of them. We have to remind ourselves that death will one day come by surprise, a day like today, when we do not expect it and when it will be too late to do anything and when no method whatsoever can turn it away.
As we cannot have any certainty whatsoever about the time of our death, we have to engage in practice immediately, because practice alone is able to effect this profound change of our being which leads up to the highest realisation. The being we are, (not the amount of richness nor success of any kind), will determine the happiness or misery of our next existence.
3. Karma or cause and effect
Thirdly, we need to think about Karma or cause and effect . Every thought, word or action will bring about positive or negative results, they are the causes which will ripen in the future in happiness or misery for their author. We therefore need to train in positive, virtuous attitudes and actions and in care for others, because we are all similar in desiring happiness and being afraid of suffering.
One will begin by abandoning the ten non-virtues which are brought about by the three root poisons of passionate desire, aversion and ignorance. These three poisons dominate all beings. The ten non-virtues are :
-The three non-virtues of body : taking the life of a living being - taking what has not been given - sexual misconduct
-The four non-virtues of speech: - lying - slandering - voluntarily hurting others by one's words - chatter (talking aimlessly, motivated by the three poisons)
-the three non-virtues of mind: - covetousness - malevolence - wrong views
We will thus begin by abandoning these ten non-virtues who result in all kinds of suffering, and we will then engage in the ten virtues, which are their opposite. It is important to cultivate mindfulness and attention at every moment.
As it is useful not to waste any opportunity, we will transform the so-called "neutral" actions into virtue. Those are actions which generally do not have any positive or negative karmic effect such as sitting down, getting up, walking, sleeping etc... They become virtue if we accomplish them by constantly retaining mindfulness and remembering the benefit of others. For instance, if we remain at home, we may think: "May all sentient beings attain the city of liberation", and we thus form wishing prayers in accordance with any activity we are involved in.
4. Suffering and the unsatisfactory character of any form of existence
The fourth meditation will be the consideration of the suffering and dissatisfaction which is inherent to any conditioned existence within the six realms of existence (Samsara).
Among these sufferings, there are the four sufferings which no human being can avoid: birth, sickness, old age, death, as well as sufferings such as being separated from what one likes and having to meet what one dislikes, etc...