Geshe Rabten Rinpoche

Preliminary Practices

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Je Tsongkhapa

Preliminary Practices

An oral teaching by Geshe Rabten Rinpoche, based on the root-text by Guru Padma Karpo. Although called 'Preliminary Practices', these teachings show all the essential points of a life-time's complete practice of Dharma. The power of Geshe Rinpoche's words, if reflected upon thoroughly, will inevitably transform the reader's mind to a deeply beneficial wholesome life.

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Geshe Rabten Rinpoche:

To practise Dharma, you must first accomplish the Five Preliminaries, and if this is done properly, all further practices will develop better. The Preliminaries are beneficial not only it terms of the Dharma, but also for your daily life.

Most people want to be given the main practices immediately but do not realise that the person who is unprepared for them will not achieve the results he expects and will soon become discouraged. It is for this reason that such practices cannot be given at the outset. Before constructing a house, you must level the ground and lay a solid foundation. To build the house of Dharma, you must prepare the mind by means of the Preliminaries. Intellectual understanding is not enough and must be followed by intensive practice if true realisation is to be gained. A museum approach to the Dharma, merely looking at and recognising objects, is of no help whatsoever for inner development. The way to effect change is to observe Dharma, watching and correcting the actions of body, speech and mind at all times.


Contemplation on the great value of a perfect human rebirth

By means of this rebirth, through work and study, you can attain all worldly goals and happinesses. However, these are not important compared with the goal of the Full Enlightenment of Buddhahood. Liberation is achieved by the correct use of the precious rebirth and is not automatically produced by the eighteen conditions. Even if you possessed all the wealth of the universe, it would not help to attain Liberation.

Until now you have been unable to raise your head above the misery of samsara. By abandoning the unskilful karma and by practising Bodhicitta, Great Compassion, Great Loving Kindness and the various levels of the Path, you can not only attain Liberation, but also Supreme Enlightenment in this very life. At this stage you will realise that you have the ability to practice the Dharma.

Contemplation on the scarcity of the perfect human rebirth

The purpose of this teaching is not that it should be read through and kept in a book, but that it should be interiorised and used for contemplation. Only if you do this at least three times a day can you hope to effect a definite change in your mind. You are quite willing to dedicate your energies to a highly paid job; likewise the follower of Dharma must be willing to exert all his energy in the practice. If these contemplations are not done properly they will not yield fruit, and eventually doubts will arise as to their effectiveness and validity.

You may think that so far your life has been wasted, and form the intention to do better in your next rebirth. This is a false hope. You must realise the unlikelihood of ever finding such favourable conditions again. Contemplation on the scarcity of the human rebirth will help avoid the forming of such a hope.

This contemplation is done in the following order:

1. By number

2. By example

3. By cause

1. By number

From the hells to the deva worlds, the number of beings decreases in each realm. The population of hells far outnumbers that of the hungry ghosts' realm, and it is obvious that animals are much more numerous than human beings. Even in this human realm very few are endowed with the eighteen conditions. Why is this rebirth so scarce and why are the lower realms so heavily populated? It is because of the immense number of unskilful deeds committed. To act skilfully you need a sound understanding of the law of karma, and this is as difficult to acquire as for a stream to run uphill.

In the Bodhisattvacharyavatara the Bodhisattva Shantideva said:

"How rare is this precious life.

If a man who is endowed with it fails to benefit from it,

How difficult it will be for him to acquire it again!


"With the boat of this precious life,

You can cross the waters of samsara.

How rare to find this boat!

O ignorant one, do not fall asleep now!"

Milarepa, addressing the hunter, said:

"I have been told that it is rare to acquire a precious human life.

If your life is such, then I can find no truth in these words."

Only the shape differentiates the hunter from the animal he hunts, for both are dominated by delusions.

Those endowed with the eighteen conditions are very few because unskilful deeds are numerous and virtues are rare. You may learn this not only by number but also by example.


© 27.05.20 Rabten Choeling • EditorialData protection