FOUR VITAL THOUGHTS

Reflecting on Life

The four thoughts listed below turn the mind toward the Dharma (the teachings of Buddha). They are a preliminary teaching.

Most every system of spiritual teaching includes specific preliminary teachings that serve as a solid foundation for correct perception and correct spiritual practice.  

This preliminary teaching—Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind Toward Dharma—is the very foundation of the Buddhist path. However, these Four Thoughts can serve as a foundational understanding for everyone, regardless of faith, because they provide a clear description of the way reality works.  

Without this preliminary understanding, we are subject to common misperceptions of reality which inevitably cause confusion, stress, dissatisfaction, and suffering. To make progress in our practice, to attain liberation from suffering in this very lifetime, and to be able to assist the awakening of other beings, we need to radically shift our fundamental perception of reality.  

As we contemplate the Four Thoughts, integrating this deep wisdom into our awareness, we transform our mind and heart, thus bringing about this most essential and necessary shift in our perception and in our ways of living. In this way, the Four Thoughts help us to purify ignorance, delusion, and attachment, and will continually strengthen and clarify our Dharma practice.  

By contemplating the Four Thoughts, we overcome the eight mundane concerns (fame/disgrace, pain/pleasure, gain/loss, praise/blame), we find the inspiration to transform our nonvirtuous behavior, and we are motivated to embrace those aspects of life which are of true and lasting value.  

This excellent preliminary teaching brings greater insight, wisdom, lovingkindness, and compassion—the very heart of Dharma.

Meditation on the Four Thoughts

The following are general instructions for meditation on the Four Thoughts.  

It is suggested that you engage in active contemplation of these Four Thoughts by considering the direct importance, merit, and relevance of this wisdom to your own life and to the lives of others as well.  

Deeply contemplate and reflect upon these Four Thoughts until your mind is weary of thinking, then allow your mind to relax into the natural, effortless, and spacious awareness of non-conceptual meditation. The insights you gain through this contemplation and reflection will expand into deeper understanding and realization as you rest the mind.  

As you return to active contemplation, you will find that your mind is refreshed by the time spent in non-conceptual relaxation.

The four thoughts that turn the mind toward Dharma are:

Precious Human Birth

Impermanence and Mortality

Karma—The Consequences of Karmic Actions

Disadvantages of the Worldly Life (Samsara) 

In summary, most every system of Dharma includes specific preliminary teachings that serve as a solid foundation for correct perception and correct spiritual practice. The Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind Toward Dharma are the very foundation of the Buddhist path. To make progress in our practice, to attain liberation from suffering in this very lifetime, and to be able to assist the awakening of others, we need to radically shift our fundamental perception of reality. As we contemplate the Four Thoughts, we transform our mind and heart, thus bringing about this most essential shift in our perception.

For a PDF copy of this information, click on Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind Toward Dharma.

 

Source: Used with permission from Neil Cohen at Naljor Prison Dharma Service, PO Box 1177, Mount Shasta CA 96067.

Photo Credit: HaPe. Used with permission from www.flickr.com