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Advice from Atisha

Buddhism was founded in Tibet in the seventh century by King Song-tsen-gampo and flourished all over Tibet, until Langdarma who came to the throne in 836 C.E. Langdarma instigated a savage suppression of Buddhism, destroying monasteries, burning scriptures, and slaughtering monks. When Langdarma’s reign was finally over, six years later, he had eradicated all except the most ancient lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Atisha Dimpamkara Shrijnana (982-1054) was a principle teacher at the great monastic university of Vikramashilia in India. He was also named as the Holder of the Seat of Bodhagaya (the location of Buddha Shakyamuni’s Awakening), in recognition of his mastery and achievement. In 1042C.E. Atisha was invited to Tibet to revive Buddhism and spent the last twelve years of his life there, during which he founded the Kadampa school which had a decisive influence on Tibetan Buddhism, especially on the Gelugpa school to which the HH the 14th Dalai Lama belongs. When Atisha first arrived in Tibet, he went to Ngaris where he delivered many Dharma teachings to Devaguru Bodhiprabha and others. After two years, Atisha had the thought of returning to India, and Bodhiprabha requested him to give one last teaching before he left. Atisha replied that he had already given them many teachings, but Bodhiprabha persisted, and so Atisha accepted, and the following advice was given:

"Oh! Being of insignificance, because of my inferior wisdom, it is improper for me to deliver advice to you who are already in possession of high knowledge and clear mind. However, being inspired by you, my most cherished friend, whom I hold supremely dear to my heart, I am leaving you this essential advice.

Friends, until you attain enlightenment the Spiritual Guru is indispensable, therefore rely upon the holy Spiritual Guru. It is indispensable to listen to the teaching of the Spiritual Guru till you realise the ultimate truth. Listen, therefore, to the instructions of the Spiritual Guru. Since mere knowledge of the Dharma is not enough for attaining Buddhahood, practise virtue and Dharma earnestly. Avoid places that cause disturbance to your mind, and stay at places where your virtues increase.

Activities of transient pleasure cause disturbance to the mind, therefore remain in a place where such harm cannot reach you, till you attain equanimity. Avoid those friends who add to your delusions, and depend upon those who increase your virtue. Since worldly activities have no end, stay clear from such activities and keep yourself free. Accumulate your virtues day and night, and keep watch on your mind.

Merely meditating on the advice is not sufficient; always practise with reverence in accordance to the instruction of the Spiritual Guru. Practice with devotional commitment is the fastest and most reliable way of attaining fulfilment. The Spiritual Law ensures whoever practises sincerely, in accordance with the Dharma, is free from the adversity of livelihood. Friends, mundane desires offer no more satisfaction than thirst can be quenched by sea water. It is, therefore, a hopeless task to try to satisfy mundane desires.

Extinguish pride and arrogance from the mind, and remain peaceful and disciplined. Any activities which pretend to be meritorious should be renounced, for they are rituals of no benefit and are obstacles to Dharma. Material gain and worldly honour are the devil’s snare, so remove these as you would remove boulders from a path. Words of praise and fame are mere deceptions. Therefore, throw these out as you would spit.

Happiness, prosperity, and friendship of the present life is temporal by nature, and last but momentarily. Therefore, do not attach yourself to such transient matters. Since future lives last infinitely longer than the present one, save the virtues of Dharma to provide for the future. You will eventually have to abandon everything and depart. Therefore, have no craving. Have compassion for beings of less fortune, do not injure or despise them.

Love thy enemies and friends equally and impartially. Have no jealousy for those with good qualities, but instead, have respect for them and develop those qualities in yourself. Do not seek faults in others, but examine those of your own, and purge them like poisonous blood. Do not think of your own virtue, but think of the virtue of others. Respect and serve all beings.

Extend the same loving feelings to all beings, just as parents have love for their son. Always have a smiling face. Avoid anger and speak kindly with a loving heart. Be mindful of the words you use and speak in simple terms, for careless words give rise to error. Partaking in unnecessary activities taints virtue. Therefore, avoid activities that are non-virtuous.

There is no merit in being burdened with meaningless activities. Nothing happens by wish alone, for everything is governed by past karma. Therefore, keep relaxed and be happy. Listen, for a noble person a non-virtuous act is worse than death. Therefore, be honest and straightforward. The happiness and sorrow of this life are but the result of past actions. Therefore, do not blame others for these.

All happiness comes from the blessings of the Spiritual Guru, one must always therefore be grateful to him. You cannot successfully help others till you have succeeded in helping yourself. Therefore, work hard to perfect siddhi - the mastery over the powers of the body, mind and of nature. When it is time to depart, one will have to leave the worldly-possessions one has gathered behind. Therefore, do not generate non-virtue for the sake of worldly-possessions.

Transient pleasure and mundane distraction have no value. Therefore, enrich yourself with the only wealth which really matters - the practice of generosity. You will thereby become beautiful in this life and enjoy happiness in the next. Unwholesome attitude - anger, hatred, deceit - abound in the kaliyuga (age of decadence). Therefore, protect yourself with the armour of patience. Do not procrastinate in samsara due to laziness. Kindle the fire of the effort to attain siddhi.

Human life is wasted by senseless indulgence in distractions. Therefore, practise meditation. The nature of the Ultimate Truth cannot be realised under the influence of ignorance. Therefore, differentiate the adapted meaning from the ultimate meaning of truth. Friends, do not bury yourself in the mire of samsara. Reach for the firm land of liberation. Develop correct understanding of the teaching of the Spiritual Guru. Meditate on samsara as the river of suffering.

These are not meaningless words. You should contemplate these with care and keep these in the depth of your heart. If you practise thus you will generate happiness for yourself and others. This is my humble advice. And I pray you take heed of it."