FOUR VITAL THOUGHTS
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
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