In order to have a stable foundation upon which to further develop spiritual practice, it is necessary to begin with the sincere practice of the preliminary practices. Among the external preliminary practices is the single-pointed reflection upon the Eight Freedoms and the Ten Fortunes that are difficult to obtain. In his An Ocean of Instructions for the Preliminary Practices of the A Tri, Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche explains the eight freedoms in his section on the external preliminary practices. Without these conditions of freedom, it is not possible to practice the Bön teachings. By deeply reflecting upon the truth of each of these freedoms, the practitioner realizes the importance of not wasting the opportunity to practice.
The Eight Freedoms that are Difficult to Obtain:
- Freedom from Being Born a Hell-being
The cause of being born as a hell being is the negative karma of hatred and anger. The result is having to undergo the suffering and misery of heat and cold. The torment of heat and cold for the hell-beings is continuously unbearable and there is no freedom to act on the intention to practice Bön.
2. Freedom from Being Born a Hungry Ghost
The cause of being born as a hungry ghost is the negative karma of desire and greed. The result is having to undergo the suffering and misery of hunger and thirst. The torment of hunger and thirst for the hungry ghosts is never-ending and there is no freedom to ever act on the intention to practice Bön.
3. Freedom from Being Born as an Animal or Beast of Burden
The cause of being born as an animal or a beast of burden is the negative karma of mental dullness. The result is having to undergo the suffering and misery of being stupid, mute, and being exploited for work.
From Shardza Rinpoche,
“When born as an animal, there is no opportunity to practice even a little bit of virtue. Even among the highest of the animals in the human world, such as horses and mules etc., even if you explain to them from a hundred different texts, apart from a little benefit from hearing, there isn’t the opportunity to understand even a single word. If they could recite the MA TRI a single time, they could have the opportunity to become enlightened. Because of having to experience the suffering and misery of stupidity and muteness, and never having an opportunity for any recitation, there is no freedom to ever act on the intention to practice Bön.”
From The Sutra of True Sincerity,
“Because there is no opportunity for study or listening during the time of having the body of a hell-being, hungry ghost, or animal along with their suffering and misery, there is no understanding. Because there is no understanding, there is no accomplishment. If there is no accomplishment, how can they attain enlightenment?”
4. Freedom from Being Born as a Long-lived God
Again from Shardza Rinpoche,
“Being a so-called “long-lived god” is one part of the result of the gods that are in a state of sustained concentration. However, there is no concept of good or bad. From the time that they are born, except for the moment of their death, conceptual thought has stopped. They remain for many great eons until this karma has been exhausted and they are reborn in the lower realms. Because there isn’t any teaching, listening, or meditation practice regarding Bön, there is no opportunity to progress towards enlightenment.
5. Freedom from Being Born as a Savage or in a Remote Place
“When one is born as a savage, such as those who believe that killing is a good activity, they will never experience even the mere sound of the word “Bön.” When killing, they experience intense negative emotions. Afterward, they see the act of killing human beings and taking life as good. They inherit this negative activity from their parents and all of this becomes a non-virtuous way of life. Because of that, there is no freedom to practice Bön. When one is born in a remote or outlying area where the teachings of Tönpa Shenrap have not spread, there is no opportunity to practice Bön.”
6. Freedom from Being Born without the Five Senses or with Profound Mental Impairment
“If someone is born mute, even though they encounter the Buddha’s teachings, they are unable to perform mantra recitations. A blind person cannot see the images and objects of enlightenment that support faith and devotion. The deaf cannot hear the sound of Bön speech. Those with profound mental impairments can’t understand what to cultivate and what to abandon. Therefore, there is no freedom to practice Bön.”
7. Freedom from Having Wrong Views
When someone has mistaken concepts that are incompatible with Bön, such as having the view that actions have no result or believing that the teachings of enlightenment are not valid etc., this contaminates the mind-stream. Having contaminated the mind-stream, they are unable to generate devotion towards the completely pure teachings of Buddha Tönpa Shenrap. Therefore there is no freedom to practice Bön.
8. Freedom from Being Born During a Time When a Buddha has not Appeared
For those who will be born during a dark era devoid of the presence of a buddha, there will be no freedom to practice Bön.
Reflecting again and again upon these freedoms brings the recognition of being in possession of a precious opportunity. By deeply appreciating the positive circumstances that support the opportunity to practice Bön, a lasting foundation for spiritual development and motivation is established.
Tibetan translation by Raven Cypress Wood ©All Rights Reserved. No content, in part or in whole, is allowed to be used without direct permission from the author.
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