10. If you do not cultivate now, you will go off in the wrong direction for ten thousand kalpas.
If we consider our actions in our past wanderings in samsara, we have no way of knowing for how many thousands of kalpas we have fallen into the darkness or entered the Interminable Hell and endured all kinds of suffering.34 Nor can we know how many times we have aspired to the path to Buddhahood but, because we did not meet with wise advisors, remained submerged in the sea of birth and death for long kalpas, dark and unenlightened, performing all sorts of evil actions. Though we may reflect on this once in a while, we cannot imagine the duration of our misery. How can we relax and suffer again the same calamities as before? Furthermore, what allowed us to be born this time as human beings¡ªthe guiding spirits of all the ten thousand things¡ªwho are clear about the right road of cultivation? Truly, a human birth is as difficult to ensure as "a blind turtle putting its head through a hole in a piece of wood floating on the ocean"39 or "a mustard seed falling onto the point of a needle." How can we possibly express how fortunate we are?
Whenever we become discouraged or indolent, we should always look to the future. In one instant we might happen to lose our lives and fall back into the evil bourns where we would have to undergo unspeakable suffering and pain. At that time, although we might want to hear one phrase of the Buddha‐dharma, and would be willing to receive and keep it with faithful devotion to ease our misfortune, how would we ever encounter it there? On the point of death, remorse is of no use whatsoever. I hope that all of you who are cultivating the path will not be heedless and will not indulge in greed and lust. Do not forget to reflect upon this as if you were trying to save your head from burning. Death is fast closing in. The body is like the morning dew.3' Life is like the twilight in the west. Although we are alive today, there is no assurance about tomorrow. Bear this in mind! You must bear this in mind!
By relying on worldly conditioned, wholesome actions we will avoid the suffering of samsara in the three evil bourns. We will obtain the favorable karmic reward of rebirth among gods or men where we will receive abundant joy and happiness. But if we give rise to faith in this most profound approach to dharma of the supreme vehicle for only a moment, no metaphor can describe even the smallest portion of the merit we will achieve. As it is said in the sutras:
If one takes all the seven jewels in all the world systems of this trichiliocosm and offers them to all the sentient beings of those worlds until they are completely satisfied; or, furthermore, if one instructs all the sentient beings of those worlds and causes them to realize the four fruitions, the merit so gained will be immeasurable and boundless. But it is not as great as the merit gained from the first recollection of this dharma for the period of one meal."
Therefore, we should know that our approach to dharma is the holiest and most precious of all; its merit is incomparable. As the sutras say:
One thought of purity of mind is a bodhimanda,
And is better than building seven‐jeweled stupas as numerous as the sands
of the Ganges.
Those jeweled stupas will finally be reduced to dust, But one thought of purity of mind produces right enlightenment."
I hope that all of you who are cultivating the path will study these words carefully and keep them always in mind. If this body is not ferried across to the other shore in this lifetime, then for which life are you going to wait? If you do not cultivate now, you will go off in the wrong direction for ten thousand kalpas. But if you practice assiduously now, practices which are difficult to cultivate will gradually become easier until, finally, meritorious practice will advance of itself.
Alas! When starving people are given princely delicacies nowadays, they do not even know enough to put them in their mouths. When they are sick they meet the king of doctors but do not even know enough to take the medicine. If no one says, "What shall I do? What shall I do?" then what shall I do for him?39
Although the character of mundane, conditioned activities can be seen and its effect experienced, if a person succeeds in one affair, everyone praises the rarity of it. The source of our minds has neither shape to be observed nor form to be seen; the way of words and speech is cut off there. Since the activities of mind are ended, maras and heretics have no way to revile us. Even the praises of Indra, Brahma, and all the gods will not reach it; so how can the mind be fathomed by the shallow understanding of ordinary men? How pitiful! How can a frog in a well know the vastness of the sea?40 How can a fox roar like a lion?41
Hence we know that in this degenerate dharma age, a person who is able to hear this approach to dharma, realize its rarity, and receive and keep it with faithful devotion has for innumerable kalpas served all the saints, planted all the roots of goodness, and fully formed the right cause of prajna ¡ªhe has the most proficiency. As the Diamond Sutra says, "If there is a person who can have faith in these words, it should be known that this man has planted all the roots of goodness in front of incalculable numbers of Bud‐dhas."42 It also says, "This is spoken in order to produce the great vehicle; this is spoken in order to produce the supreme vehicle."43 I hope that those of you who are aspiring to the path will not be cowardly. You must display your ardor. Good causes made in past kalpas cannot be known. If you do not believe in your superiority and, complacently resigning yourself to being inferior, you decide that you will not practice now because it is too difficult, then even though you might have good roots from past lives, you sever them now. The difficulty will keep growing and you will move farther from the goal. Since you have now arrived at the treasure house, how can you return empty‐handed? Once you lose a human body, for ten thousand kalpas it will be difficult to recover. Be careful. Knowing that there is a treasure house, how can a wise person turn back and not look for it¡ªand yet continue to resent bitterly his destitution and poverty? If you want the treasure you must throw away this skin‐bag.