Introduction

An Opportunity

1 0f 1

On the path of awakening, you need to know your world, so you need to know yourself. For this the Dharma is an unmatched guide. Once on the path, you may decide that this life is an opportunity for you to take charge of your own evolutionary process, and the Dharma is the art for doing this effectively. Taking advantage of such an opportunity requires that you be brave and concentrated and that you first master the basic structure of the path.

Are you taking advantage of the opportunities of this—your—lifetime? Are you realizing the potential of a human life? Is your life a benefit to others and yourself? Or are you letting this lifetime slip away?

Realistic view

Buddha — with the insight of a psychologist and a social scientist —recognized that we act and behave in accord with what we understand to be reality. You are not going to commit hara-kiri if you believe there’s going to be some terrible result in a future life. We have in our minds what we think, as a baseline of reality, is in our self interest, what’s healthy for us. And self-interest is determined by what your situation is. We’re constantly evaluating where we go, what we do — should we go forward or back, is there quicksand in that direction? We’re practical in this sense.

Reflect on some of the ways this is true for you.

The four contemplations

The Four Reminders form the bedrock of Buddhist practice. They encourage us to make our lives meaningful.
H.H. Dalai Lama

In this course you reflect on some basic themes with which to begin your relationship to the path of inner development.

  • the preciousness, magnificence of our human embodiment endowed with liberty and opportunity
     
  • the immediacy of death
     
  • the infinity of causality and consequentiality and connectedness to everything
     
  • the inherently and fundamentally wretched state of being self-centered vs. the universe

It’s in our practical interest to be clear about these four basic themes, and so we think about them, we reflect on them, we remind ourselves about them.

These four contemplations are often referred to as the four thoughts that turn the mind. Turn the mind to what? To the Dharma, to the path of practice that leads from suffering and disillusionment to awakening and happiness. Contemplating these thoughts, we aspire to a life of Dharma, of freedom.

These four contemplations are also called the four thoughts that transform the mind. Can thoughts transform the mind? Reflecting on these four thoughts can indeed transform our habitual negative thoughts and profoundly affect the way we view the world.

Sometimes the four thoughts are referred to as the four reminders. These reflections remind us of the preciousness of human life and remind us to turn our mind from attachment and suffering.

And these are also called the preliminaries. They are our inspiration for studying and living the Dharma, and they keep us focused on our ultimate goals.