The 1st of the 4 Revolutions in Outlook: Rare and Precious Human Rebirth

B. Alan Wallace, 09 Apr 2020

09 Apr 2020 Make the Best of This Human Birth

Lama Alan begins by reading the next lines of the text, which refer to the initial instructions for mind training of the disciples –who maintain the samayas–, when encountering the entrance to the path. This pertains training in the four outer and seven inner preliminaries.

Lama Alan talks about the four outer, four revolutions in outlook, these are questioning our preconceptions, habitual way of seeing the world we inhabit. He compares this to the Galilean revolution, Darwinian, modern cosmology, and other such shifts in human history. The first of the four revolutions directly shifts the way we regard this human life, from regarding us as a unitary individual, which in the materialistic view comes from nothing and turns into nothing at birth and death, to realizing that each of us is endowed with this inconceivably precious opportunity, as rare as a star in the daytime, to achieve awakening. So our way of engaging with the world radically changes. Wether this is true or not, can be put to the test. Do we have the potential to be forever freed from Samsara? If it turns out to be true, then what do we do with this wish-fulfilling jewel?

Then the lake born Vajra lays the first step for seeking the path: merge your mind with your Guru’s mind, rest there for a little while.

Our Lama clears out that in the sessions it is assumed that we have already done our dharma practices by ourselves in the morning, so recitations will be done just once (sometimes English sometimes Tibetan), and we will go straight into the main practice. Today’s practice is about precious human rebirth, in the particular context we face today.

Meditation starts at 19:10

We close the session with dedication prayer.

Download (MP3 / 10 MB)


15 - 2020 Make the Best of This Human Birth: The 1st of the 4 Revolutions in Outlook: Rare and Precious Human Rebirth

Good afternoon. That was rather a long talk this morning, but an hour and a half. So perhaps our afternoon session will be a bit shorter. There’s a lot of information to assimilate. Hopefully it’s nourishing food for thought. So this afternoon maybe a bit shorter will be fine. But to just dip into very briefly the place we are in the text. He speaks of the first two methods of taking the mind as a path, taking ultimate reality as the path. And he says of these two stages first here is the way to take the mind as the path. That’s where we left off yesterday. And I’m just going to read the, I guess the first or maybe no, yeah, first, the next paragraph is enough. So in the next paragraph from the Lake-Born Vajra is:

At the outset, disciples who maintain their samayas initially train their minds by way of the [four] common outer preliminaries — namely, the four revolutions in outlook — and the seven uncommon inner preliminaries.

And so he’s laying the foundation, but with extreme brevity. Because in this text, which is not really a beginner’s text, as he said, this is, this text, this path of Dzogchen is for people who have accrued enormous merit and have deep familiarity with Dharma, great momentum from past lives and in this lifetime as well. This is not really an intro to Buddhism text, or even an intro to Dzogchen text. This is for people who are very dedicated to achieving rainbow body in this lifetime. That’s the intended audience. He’s made that pretty clear.

So, in Tibetan we say [Tibetan 2:05], the trainees for whom the teachings are intended. They are disciples who maintain their samayas, and that is they established a very clear, transparent and pure foundation in ethics. The pratimoksha, the ethics of individual liberation of the Mahayana, samayas if they’ve taken any empowerments, then the samayas of Vajrayana — and Eva covered that material quite in some detail last year in our 8-week retreat, so the material is there, very clearly presented. So the ethical foundation, and then on that basis, they train their minds by way of common outer preliminaries. Now, these are four and their standard translation is Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind. In Tibetan is blo ldog rnam bzhi. “blo” means an attitude, a way of viewing reality, could be intelligence, different meanings; “blo ldog” means a total irreversal, an about-face 180 degree turnaround. And then “rnam bzhi” [means] four types of total turnaround of your attitude, way of viewing reality, your perspective, how you view what’s going on. And so these, as many of you all know, just to list them now, and then I’ll unpack them a bit more slowly over the coming days.

[3:26] Each of these, I’m translating rather than the rather flaccid. Not much potency. Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind: they’re not four thoughts. May I have a little memories as thought. They’re not thoughts. They’re fundamental revolutions in the way we view reality. And therefore revolution in outlook is a good translation. And I’m drawing on my background in history and philosophy of science and that Galileo, the Galilean Revolution, the Copernican Revolution, to think that the Earth is in the center of the entire universe and everything out there is kind of decorations and revolving around us. Because it’s all for us. Shifting from that to the sun is in the center. That’s a revolution. That’s just not at all like what you thought previously, a great big ball of fire is in the center, and we’re just orbiting around that with other planets. Let alone how things have evolved since then, that now, astrophysicist, cosmologists think there are probably something like 100 billion galaxies, with each galaxy having something like 100 billion to a trillion stars. So that’s a rather big revolution. It started with Galileo and it keeps on unfolding. Darwin was a revolution, a fundamental shift in the way we view human existence relative to all the other species on the planet. And so, there’s no doubt that in our modern pluralistic society, Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and so forth, and atheists and agnostics and humanists, there’s no doubt of course, that there’s a wide variety of ways of viewing reality according to different worldviews, religions, philosophies, and so forth. So clearly, there’s nothing monolithic about the modern age.

[05:16] And yet to step out a little bit on thin ice, perhaps, I think it’s widely assumed, at least where I’ve spent much of my life, United States — many, many years in Europe —, I think there’s a widespread kind of unquestioned assumption that if you’re a human being, well, for as long as you’ve existed, you’ve been a human being, this one, and then when you die, you won’t be this one [anymore], but there’s just nothing about you that is not a human being. And people I think, generally don’t even consider the possibility they might have been something else, or they’ll ever be anything else. And even those who believe in an afterlife, like heaven or hell, my impression is they pretty much think, “That’s going to be me. I’ll be in heaven forever. I’ll be in hell forever. But it’ll be me.” And so something like, it’s called in Tibetan [Tibetan 06:07], an unchanging, unitary, independent individual, person, self, ego, soul is human. And we’ve never been anything else. And then for the, any materialistic view, which is not, is not uniform around the globe, but it has a very loud voice, that we weren’t anything before we are conceived, and after we’re dead we won’t be anything at all. And so we’re simply wall to all human and that’s it. And we got there because our parents got their egg and sperm together.

To shift from that, as in, “What else would I be? And I’m here for a little while and I’ll be dead, finished, lights out.” and many people,that’s their view. It’s very, very, very common in the press. It’s very, very common in scientific literature. It’s very common. Not everybody believes it, but it’s definitely in the air and what dominates modern media. To move from that to the Buddhist view, the first of these four revolutions in outlook, that each of us, each of us listening, participating in this retreat, that each of us is endowed with something of almost inconceivable rarity and preciousness and wish we have the opportunity because we are human, because our intelligence is clear, because we have leisure, we have the opportunity and we’ve encountered the Dharma that lays out the entire path to enlightenment, whether by Sutrayana or Vajrayana or Dzogchen or Mahamudra, but we have coming to such a path, and it’s from where we are to perfection of enlightenment. And this life, in this life, 18 independent variables have come together, 18 of them in terms of the outer conditions and inner conditions, to provide us with the leisure and the opportunity to set out on a path to liberation and perfect awakening. And it said this is like as rare as a star during the daytime, and they give many analogies how incredibly rare this is. And precious. Well, that is a fundamental change, a radical turn about from the notion “You have about one life to live, so make the best of it, and live a colorful life and enjoy your life, enjoy your life, because you’re here only for a short time, so enjoy it.” It couldn’t be more different than that.

[8:49] So [if] is this true or not? Is it true or not? Each of us listening, watching, are we right now in a place of tremendous opportunity, which means therefore a tremendous responsibility, tremendous potential for really setting out to be free of samsara, suffering and its causes forever and to fully unveil the potentials of our own Buddha nature. To say it’s rare, I think it’s simply true. Incredibly rare. But if we take that seriously, then everything changes: our worldview changes, our priority changes, our way of life changes, and if we totally assimilate, absorb that way of viewing our own existence, this existence, [excuse me, Alan sneezing] then nothing will be the same. We all so have revolutionized our way of viewing our own existence in this lifetime, and then view reality as a whole, that it will touch every aspect of our lives if we really take it in, completely absorb it into our way of viewing ourselves and others, rest of reality. And that’s just the first of the four revolutions. The other three are just as revolutionary.

[10:17] If we investigate these four, find them to be true, they lend themselves to investigation by hearing them and then thinking about them, investigating them, testing their veracity. And if we determine “this is true”, then we utterly familiarize ourselves with that, such that it seeps into all of our interaction with other people, our life, our priorities, how we spend our leisure time, how we spend our time making a living and so on. But it really comes down to meditation, not just thinking about it, but absorbing it and shifting our view, our outlook, our perspective. That it seeps into our way of just our sense of who we are, and where [? 11:05 is such(?):]. What are the potentials of this life? Nada [Nothing] that we have come across this spiritual wish fulfilling jewel that could lead us to the fulfilment of our deepest aspirations. So that’s the first of the four of the outer preliminaries.

So I’ll touch on these over the next couple of days. Try to do them justice. And then Eva of course, Yangchen, will discuss in detail the seven inner preliminaries and these lay the foundation then for everything that follows. Cannot be overemphasized. If you’re a Buddhist and following Dzogchen, following Dudjom Lingpa, within this Buddhist framework then, this is your rocket fuel. I’ve often spoken of — you might remember, some of you — four types of intelligence starting with conative, aspiration, ideals, yearnings, goals, priorities. First that: get real, make sure that your aspirations are rooted in reality, and not just some fanciful hopes or something it will never happen like finding satisfaction in samsara. And on that basis, then developing attention — or going directly there, shamatha. On that basis, developing the cognitive intelligence, the wisdom, the insight, the knowing — that’s vipashyana. On that basis, emotional balance, emotional intelligence. And that comes from your four immeasurables and your bodhichitta. So there’s a sequence here that we start with motivation, motivation. And so that’s how we start, that’s how we launch and then just to finish the paragraph, it’ll be very familiar by now. The Lake-Born Vajra says:

Subsequently [or on that basis of the outer and inner preliminaries], here is the way to embark upon the stage of seeking the path, which is the main practice:

[13:12] In this phase one, the main practice is seeking the path, seek and you usual find, if you know where to look, seek the path, know what it means to find the path, find that entry to the path such that when you reach that, you can now set out on a straight trajectory not going around around in circles, a straight direct, straight trajectory. Shamatha and vipashyana and trekchö, ascertaining pristine awareness, unfolding that with the direct crossing over and becoming a Buddha in this lifetime. Great transference rainbow body would be quite excellent. So, we’re seeking the path. That’s what this first phase, the second phase are all about. So here’s the way to embark upon the stage of seeking the path, which is the main practice. The most important thing in the outset. Do you know what it means, path? Can you find it? And he’s here to help us find the path. And so he says, as you say, “Okay, I’m ready to go, ready to launch.” He says,

First, retreat to a secluded forest, pray to your guru, and, merging your mind with your guru’s mind, rest there for a little while.

We covered that, we covered that. So that’s where we start. And I think that’s all of the text that I’d like to cover today. Tomorrow is another day. So what I’d like to do now is have the meditation. As I mentioned before, when we gather here for the morning sessions we’re gathering at 10 o’clock. And so I think all of us here have already begun our practice hours before that. Our preliminaries, our daily practice — I have, I think we all have here, and probably 10 o’clock in the morning you’ve already had your morning practice as well. So as I often do when I’m leading retreats, for example, in Italy, the 8-week retreats that we’ve done in the past, we have gathered there at 9 o’clock. So once again, I’m assuming everybody here is coming into the room about 60 people, you’ve already begun your practice hours ago. So you’re already in the stream. So we’re not going to go back as if this is your first session for the day. We’ll assume you’ve already done that. The refuge, the bodhichitta, maybe the ninefold expulsion, settling body, speech and mind in the natural state, preliminary practices and so forth. So we’re gonna assume you’re, you’re up and running already. And so I’m going to assume that from now on, that this is not your first session of the day. Of course, you can watch or listen to this anytime you like. But I’m going to assume this is not the first thing you’re doing in the morning. That you’ve begun the day.

[16:02] So what I’d like to do for the meditations, I think from now on, but I can always change my mind, is we’ll start reciting just once, not three times, just once, the verse of refuge and bodhichitta and we’ve been tweaking the translations, just fine polishing, I think we’ve now come to translations we’re content with here. So just one time. You’re very familiar with it. We’ve recited in Tibetan, we’ve recited in English. A tiny modification of the translation, we’ll recite that just once, slowly, taking refuge. Letting our minds really alight on the referent, the meaning of each of these lines, arousing bodhichitta and then just once the prayer, the Seven-Line Prayer to Guru Rinpoche, and then, then settling body, speech and mind in the natural states. And then the main practice. So that’s what I think we’ll do. And we might go back and forth, because there is something very pleasing to my ear anyway, something very pleasing about the reciting the Tibetan, if you know what it means. And here in the notes that we’ve sent to Wisdom Publications and Santa Barbara Institute, we now have the Tibetan in Tibetan script, Tibetan in phonetics, and then the translation. And so sometimes I really think it might be nice to continue reciting in Tibetan. And then you see the translation right here, so you’ll know what we’re saying. And that goes for the Four Lines of Refuge and Bodhichitta, as well as the Seven-Line Prayer. So maybe sometimes in English, sometimes in Tibetan. That connection with the lineage, that connection with a prayer, the Tibetans have been reciting for hundreds and hundreds of years, and great lamas and yogis and scholars and so forth reciting in Tibetan these verses for hundreds of years, to be part of that current could be quite meaningful. And then on occasion we’ll recite it in English, which you’re all fluent enough to understand what I’m saying. So I think fluent enough, we may have very meaningful reciting it in English as well.

So, I’ll guide you in a meditation now, immediately relevant to this opening discussion about precious human rebirth of leisure and opportunity, but also couching it, embedding it in the situation that we find ourselves in on this day, in this year, globally. To take that into account, what’s happening these days? And in this context today, what is the significance of having a precious human rebirth and that leisure and opportunity? So, let’s practice one 24 minutes session.

[Meditation: 19:10 - Rare and Precious Human Rebirth]

So we begin with the four line verse of taking refuge and arousing bodhichitta:

In the Buddha, Dharma, and Supreme Community, I take refuge until my enlightenment. With the collections gathered through my cultivation of generosity and so on May I achieve Buddhahood for the benefit of all beings.

And then we’ll recite just once the Seven-Line Prayer to Padmasambhava.

Hūṃ In the northwest frontier of Oḍḍiyāna, in the heart of a lotus sits the one renowned as Padmasambhava, who achieved the wondrous supreme siddhi, and is surrounded by a host of many dākiṇīs. Following in your footsteps, I devote myself to practice. Please come forth and bestow your blessings. Guru Padma siddhi hūṃ

[21:21] So with this verse of invocation, calling upon Padmasambhava to be present with us, attend to us and grant his blessings that we may find the path and swiftly proceed along the path to its culmination.

I invite you now to imagine Padmasambhava in the space in front of you. Imagine him having heard, attended to your request. And imagine at your request receiving the four empowerments from the white OM at the crown of his head, rays of light and nectar flowing from that seed syllable to the OM at the point between your eyebrows. Imagine the stream, this luminous fluid stream of nectar and light flowing into the chakra there between the eyebrows and then permeating your entire body. An incandescent white light purifying all obscurations, illnesses, harmful influences, obscurations so that your whole body appears as a field of light, translucent, immaterial, radiant, utterly pure. Imagine all negative imprints from actions by way of the body being purified. Imagine sowing the seeds for your own eventual actualization, realization of nirmanakaya.

And then from the red A, the ruby red A at the throat of Padmasambhava. Again, light and nectar ruby red flowing in a stream to the red syllable A at your own throat, the throat chakra. Again filling your whole being with this beautiful red light and nectar purifying all negative karma accrued by way of speech, all obscurations, all impurities. And sowing the seeds for your realization of sambhogakaya.

And then from the indigo syllable HUM at the Guru’s heart, again rays of light, deep sapphire blue flowing, in the stream of nectar to the HUM at your heart purifying this time all imprints, all obscurations pertaining to the mind, filling your entire being, purifying your entire being. Sowing the seeds for your realization of the dharmakaya.

And then following the teachings of Padmasambhava in Natural Liberation, again red light, this time, emitted from the seed syllable of the lotus family of Amitabha, Avalokiteshvara, Tara, Padmasambhava, the red syllable HRI at the navel chakra of the guru, again red light, a flow of red nectar flowing to your navel chakra four finger wits beneath your navel. This red light again permeating your entire being, purifying body, speech and mind simultaneously, all obscurations, all imprints. And sowing the seeds for the realization of the svabhavakaya, the indivisibility of the nirmanakaya, sambhogakaya and dharmakaya.

And upon the conclusion of receiving these four empowerments, then imagine Padmasambhava coming to the crown of your head at your invitation, diminishing in size, facing the same direction as you well and blissfully dissolving down through the central channel, reforming at your heart. Sets of your own body, speech and mind become indivisible from the body, speech and mind Vajras of the Guru Padmasambhava, Vajradhara, Samantabhadra, and rest there for a moment.

[27:29] And then as we’ve read in the sacred text, this pure vision, there are indeed many entrances of skillful means and wisdom to lead sentient beings to the path, the path to their own perfect awakening. It is wondrous that there are so many entrances. And I would suggest that we can identify an entrance to the path across a multitude of religious traditions, philosophies, worldviews, and so on. But what I believe they all have in common, inside and outside of religion, is each of these paths, entrances to the path, points out and highlights the distinction between the pursuit of mundane pleasures — wealth, power, prestige, and all that you can get from them, sensual pleasures and so on —, the distinction between these worldly pleasures or hedonia, the whole bandwidth of hedonia, and in Buddhism called authentic well-being, sublime well-being. Different names of course in different languages — in Greek eudaimonia. That is the cultivation of eudaimonia, of genuine well-being that is the very meaning of life. Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever kind of sentient being you are, to prioritize above hedonia, the cultivation of genuine well-being rooted in ethics, rooted in the meaningful transformative cultivation of the mind, and finally, rooted into deep insight in the nature of reality. There are many entrances and we have found such an entrance in the Buddhadharma as a whole and in this sublime path of the Great Perfection.

[30:02] So as we imagine the sentient beings with whom we share this world, the 7.8 billion human beings, the 20 billion billion animals with which we share, or with whom we share this world. How many have actually encountered an entrance to the path, who recognize the distinction between genuine well-being and the ways to cultivate it, in contrast to scurrying around and around and around endlessly in the pursuit of mundane pleasures, false security, fleeting instances of joy and always returning to dissatisfaction, birth, aging, sickness and death? How many have found an entrance to cultivating genuine well-being? Are they a minority, especially if we consider non-human beings our fellow creatures, but even among the 7.8 billion human beings, how many have actually found the entrance to cultivating genuine well-being rooted in reality as opposed to a mere response to circumstances we find pleasurable? A path to a meaningful life. Is it not rare? Are we not extraordinarily privileged to found an authentic path leading to greater and greater genuine well-being? Is it not rare? And is it not precious? Should we not prize this, this knowledge, cherish it and shape our lives around it as our highest priority?

[32:30] In the Buddhist tradition, it is this priority that will lead us to liberation and awakening. In the Christian context, it is this priority that will lead you to knowledge of God, to salvation. And for the Taoists, the Hindus and so forth, start here. It is what unites us all, religious and non-religious, it’s what can save this planet if we prioritize genuine well-being over mere consumption, acquisition and the exhaustion of the natural resources of this blessed planet. The great sages of the past have said repeatedly over the centuries that happiness, the cultivation or pursuit of happiness is the meaning of life. But we must know what they’re referring to: not just pleasure that is fleeting, becomes a memory and then not even that. How precious is this life, how rare to have this opportunity.

[33:52] But then more specifically, we turn to the splendor of this Buddhist path, the Buddha’s own teachings on the Four Noble Truths, identifying with certain radiant clarity what are the true causes of suffering, such that when they are banished, when we eradicate these inner poisons of the mind, immutable bliss is what remains, we don’t have to cultivate that separately. Nirvana is what remains, it is waiting for us once we cut through the roots of delusion and craving and hostility. How extraordinary! The great physician showing us the way to the ultimate cure from all suffering. We have found this path. It is common to all schools of Buddhism and it lies right before us, we just need to step forward. Is it not rare to find such a path so direct to liberation from suffering and the causes of suffering, leading to the immutable bliss of liberation? So transparent, so clear, so sensible, so profound. But there’s more.

[35:27] Within this broad spectrum of the Buddhist teachings we have encountered, the path is right in front of us. It is within reach, this path of all the bodhisattvas of the past, present and future, setting out with the arousal of bodhichitta, the most sublime of all aspirations and resolves, setting out and finding the path, the entrance to the path of all the bodhisattvas. That is, we ascend along the five paths to its culmination, it is the perfect awakening of a Buddha that awaits us. And it’s crystal clear. It’s been revealed to us. It invites us: realize your own Buddha nature. We have found such a path. Is that not rare? Is it not inexpressibly precious? However long it may take to achieve such perfect awakening, to set out on such a path with confidence and knowing you’re on the path. In this world of samsara, this ocean of samsara permeated by so much suffering and delusion and the darkness of ignorance. It’s right here. It’s been shown to us.

[37:03] But there’s more. The path of Vajrayana, the secret mantra, the ever so swift paths, which their many methods, skillful means, many modes of wisdom to hasten quickly along that path, to realize perfect awakening in one or just a few lifetimes. So rare, so inconceivably precious and it is a living tradition, there are masters living today who can share with us their insights and their experiences, they extend the right hand, “Come if you wish to be guided, we will guide you”. You sound the Vajrayana path, how extremely rare.

And then the pinnacle of Vajrayana, this Great Perfection. How could the Lake-Born Vajra present this any more clearly than he has in these pure visions of Dudjom Lingpa? So concise, so clear, so radiant, so inviting, so accessible. In this very lifetime the possibility of achieving rainbow body, even the great transference rainbow body, everything we need to know in order to realize this great transference rainbow body in this lifetime, everything we need to know is found in this one text, so declare the Lake-Born Vajra when we come to the end of the text. It’s in the palm of your hand.

[38:56] There are guides living today who can guide us, lead us confidently. Is this not rare? And isn’t this more precious than words can express, to have this opportunity? It doesn’t make us elite, it doesn’t make us superior or special. It is a jewel that has fallen into our hands. To be sure we bring merit, our prayers and aspiration from past lives, but in this lifetime, it is simply as a gift. This most precious of all jewels, the jewel of the Dharma, the opportunity, the potential is inconceivably great. The rarity, inconceivably rare. Does that not come, then, with an inconceivable responsibility to take full advantage of the opportunities that we have, that virtually no one else has? And if we do take full advantage, what might we bring to this world that is so in such desperate need, urgent need of wisdom, to set us on a new course, human civilization, to preserve and cherish our environment for countless generations to come? We must reset our course.

[40:49] And with this path we have the potential to help shift the course of human civilization. Not only the hundred who are prophesied to manifest the great transference rainbow body, but how many more realizing the state of vidyadhara? Thousands, could it be 10s of thousands. He said 1000 of Dudjom Lingpa’s disciples during his lifetime achieved the state of vidyadhara and this is the wild out, outback of Tibet, the nomadic country of the wilds of Tibet, 1000. How many following these teachings might realize and manifest the wisdom, the compassion, the extraordinary powers that emerged from becoming a vidyadhara with direct realization of pristine awareness and dwelling in the flow of such divine consciousness? Could we not reshape the whole world and save us all? We have tremendous opportunity. So rare, so precious. But I think we must not overlook the fact this comes with tremendous responsibility. Let’s embrace it joyfully and gratefully, and dedicate our lives to this path.

[End of the meditation]

[43:41] So as we conclude this session, let’s recite together, in English, the prayer of dedication specifically for this lineage:

By this virtue may I swiftly realize the Lake-Born Vajra, And may I bring all beings without exception to that state of realization.

So we bring this session to a close. I wish you all well. Good journeys.

Transcribed by Ana Carolina Boero

Revised by Rafael Carlos Giusti

Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti


Ask questions about this lecture on the Buddhism Stack Exchange or the Students of Alan Wallace Facebook Group. Please include this lecture’s URL when you post.