Noble Living, Noble Caring, Noble Dying

Four Reminders for Noble Living

In the Buddhist tradition, we speak frequently about Four Mind Changings. The Four reminders, or Four Mind Changings that turn the mind towards the dharma are powerful contemplation on both life and death. Contemplating them turns our mind inward and helps us reverse our habitual patterns.

The Four Reminders

  • Precious human life
  • Impermanence
  • Karma
  • Faults of samsāra

Contemplating these four regularly helps us to of living nobly and honestly. And the contemplation supports both our noble caring and our noble dying. The Samye team has lightly edited a brief teaching by Phakchok Rinpoche that covers these four reminders.

Precious Human Life

Human birth is precious. It is very important that we feel lucky and blessed. Fortunate. We need to cherish what we have and appreciate the fortune we have. Human birth is precious. Cherish what you are now, that feeling of being blessed and lucky and fortunate is very important.

—Phakchok Rinpoche

Impermanence

We have to really examine—is it true that things really are changing? When you sit, every moment is changing: physical mind, our conditions. Whenever changes come, I accept. Look around and acknowledge that this is true. That nothing is steady—the only thing that is reliable is dharma practice. Everything, every moment is changing.

My mind, conditions, are changing. I accept every single change. I realize the practice of dharma.

—Phakchok Rinpoche

Karma

How do we reflect on this? We think about our own actions and their results—and remind ourselves what good and bad mean. What is our intention? Karma is the way to be mindful of our actions and mindful of the results. Physical, verbal, mental, I must practice mindfulness. Be mindful. What is good action, what is bad action? Motivation and intention are important. Sitting there, karma is the way to be mindful of your actions, and mindfulness of the results. These are very basic things. Dharma is always important to practice.

—Phakchok Rinpoche

Faults of Samsāra

What does that mean? Actually, we should understand that samsāra is not external–it means how we think. We need to be very familiar with the five poisons—we cannot forget these: anger, attachment, ignorance, and jealousy, pride. Samsāra is how you think. Me, I, good and bad, judgments, negative emotions, anger, jealously, price, ignorance, desire. We need to be very familiar with these. Reflect. My mind never stops, thinking, thinking. When we use this word, samsāra, we are referring to the confused inner world of our emotions, judgments, expectations, and the actions that we create through being influenced by these confusions. This is why we practice dharma, in order to see this. All of our problems are actually self-created; therefore they have the potential to be self-liberated.

—Phakchok Rinpoche

Practice Tips

Phakchok Rinpoche reminds us:

It only takes five minutes to review these mind changings—and we need to do this every day. One by one. It helps you to be awake. There are several ways to practice these—first a very gentle way, and then with more intensity. Feel fortunate and think,

Now I must practice. If I miss one day of practice I miss realizing that human birth is precious. Only dharma is reliable. Everything is moment by moment; I can die in a second, what is my mind state? I must practice. Everything changes, impermanence. I must be mindful of my physical and verbal actions. All of the poisons I need to get out from this.

Start with gentleness. We need to work with our own minds in this skillful way. We should begin with a gentle contemplation, and then as we develop more stability and continue to practice, we should develop a greater sense of urgency and be more dramatic in our contemplation.

—Phakchok Rinpoche

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Suggested Reading

Dudjom Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, trans. and ed. by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991), vol. 1, pages 468–474.

Ngawang Zangpo, Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2002.

Nyoshul Khenpo, A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biographies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage, trans. Richard Barron (Junction City: Padma Publishing, 2005), pages 41–48.

Padmasambhava, Legend of the Great Stupa, Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1973

Padmasambhava & Jamgön Kongtrul, The Light of Wisdom, trans. by Erik Pema Kunsang (Boudhanath: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1986-1999), pages 43-47 & Appendix 5.

Taranatha, The Life of Padmasambhava, Shang Shung Edizioni, 2005

Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Shambhala, 1996.

Yeshe Tsogyal, Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, translated by Kenneth Douglas and Gwendolyn Bays (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978, republished 2008).

Yeshe Tsogyal, Lotus Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2004.

‘The Life of Guru Padmasambhava’ in A Great Treasure of Blessings, The Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2004.