Verse 3 of The Three Principal Aspects of the Path

Summary of commentaries by Venerable Thubten Chodron and Geshe Sonam Rinchen

Verse 3 tells us why we develop renunciation:

For you embodied beings bound by the craving for existence, without the pure determination to be free (or renunciation) from the ocean of cyclic existence there is no way for you to pacify the attractions to its pleasurable effects. Thus from the outset seek to generate the determination to be free.

"For you embodied beings bound by the craving for existence"
[Alternate translation: "Since those with bodies are fettered by their thirst for being"]

We are embodied beings, i.e., beings with a body.

  • This means having a body that has gotten born, gets sick, gets old, and dies.
  • Just by having this body and craving for the existence of this body, we have to put so much energy into protecting it and keeping it healthy.
    • We get attached to it and we want it to look beautiful.
    • We get afraid of getting old or sick, because we don't want to look ugly.
    • We get afraid of dying.
    • So just being born with a body means we are full of fears of things going wrong with our body.

We also generate so much of our personal identity based on our body: nationality, ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation.

  • So we get caught up in all those other identities.
  • That puts us in conflict with others with different identities.
  • So just by having a body, we're predisposed towards much suffering:
    • the physical suffering of the body
    • the mental suffering of fearing aging, sickness, and death
    • the mental suffering of our attachment to identities based on our body
    • the mental suffering of quarreling with others with different identities based on their bodies

The Buddha's intention in getting us to look at the nature of this body as impermanent, as suffering, was not to depress us. Rather, it was to give us an alternative to being embodied beings.

  • We take this body under the influence of ignorance and karma, but we don't have to remain ignorant and create karma.
  • We don't have to remain "embodied beings craving for existence," caught up in craving, suffering because we don't get what we want, etc.
  • Renunciation means wanting out of all that misery, and seeing that we have other potentials.
  • The way for us to get out is to see the unpleasurable effects of samsara, to see its suffering nature.
  • The pleasure from Dharma practice comes from renouncing the pleasure of cyclic existence because we see that pleasure as small and inadequate.

"Without the pure determination to be free from the ocean of cyclic existence, there is no way for you to pacify the attractions to its pleasurable effects."
[Alternate translation: "Without the wish for freedom, there is no way to calm the pursuit of pleasant effects in the sea of worldly existence."]

We need to generate renunciation (the determination to be free) because, without it, there's no way to "pacify the attractions" to the "pleasurable effects" of samsara. Or as a different translation words it, "no way to calm the pursuit of pleasant effects in the sea of worldly existence."

  • In other words, if we think we can find happiness in samsara, we'll go for that rather than for liberation or enlightenment.
  • Prison analogy: If you're in prison and don't see the disadvantages of your situation—e.g., if you think only of the advantages of being fed, housed, and clothed—then you won't have any desire to be out of prison. You're comfortable enough to spend your whole life in prison with no interest in freedom.
  • Similarly, if we think there's happiness in cyclic existence, we remain preoccupied with the good things of cyclic existence and lack the incentive to free ourselves.
  • With renunciation, we come to see the faults of cyclic existence, which gives us the energy to change our situation.
  • Even if we have developed some renunciation, we need to check and ask ourselves what most of our thoughts during the day concern. Is it how to get out of samsara, or is it how to get some pleasure in samsara?

We are in cyclic existence as long as we have a contaminated body and mind which results from actions underlain by the disturbing emotions.

  • Disturbing emotions stimulate compulsive actions, which lead to rebirth with a contaminated body and mind.
  • Ignorance causes craving, which provokes action and leads to further rebirth with the same contamination.
  • This goes on life after life.

The fetters of contaminated action and disturbing emotions keep our mental consciousness bound to this cycle of involuntary birth and death.

  • Presently, we lack control over our destiny because we are driven by these emotions.
  • This lack of freedom is clearly a condition of suffering; cyclic existence is synonymous with suffering.
  • We have to recognize this and develop a strong aversion to it in order to cultivate the wish to free ourselves.
  • Without a strong drive to free ourselves, we continue to desire the pleasures of this world; this, in turn, keeps us bound to worldly existence, and the true satisfaction we seek will continue to elude us.
  • Deep within, we know that our present condition is uncomfortable. Sooner or later, something always goes wrong—we get sick, we become unhappy, etc.

Cyclic existence is not a place and it affects every ordinary living being.

  • Ignorance, our lack of understanding, is the root of our suffering, the cause of our troubles.
  • The second most influential factor that fetters us is craving.
  • Ignorance, craving, and grasping prepare the ground for suffering.
    • Ignorance is our confusion re: the fundamental nature of things, especially of the self.
      • Without ignorance, the strong sense of "I" doesn't arise.
      • Though there is a self, our ignorance magnifies it disproportionately, causing intense disturbing emotions to arise.
      • Focusing on this false self, we are preoccupied with its happiness.
    • Craving is the desire for that happiness.
    • Grasping is the reaching out for that happiness.
    • Craving and grasping must cease if we are to gain liberation and enlightenment.

How do we end craving and grasping?

  • First, create the motivation to do what is constructive and turn our minds towards the teachings.
  • Next, work at decreasing our desires and cultivating contentment.
    • Various disturbing emotions and carelessness lead to our unwholesome physical actions and speech.
    • Ethical discipline decreases such actions and the craving to have the best of everything just for ourselves.
    • As long as we crave and grasp, our practice won't be genuine.

"Thus from the outset, seek to generate the determination to be free."
[Alternate translation: "First seek the wish to leave cyclic existence."]

Verse 3 addresses why we should generate renunciation, why it's important. Lama Tsongkhapa says, "From the outset seek to generate the determination to be free."

  • He puts that first because being fed up with our current situation is what spurs us into Dharma practice.
  • Without renunciation, our bodhicitta isn't real bodhicitta; neither do we have any inspiration to gain the correct view.
  • Admitting that our current existence has this unsatisfactory nature is actually quite a relief.

Developing renunciation encompasses the practices of the initial and intermediate levels of the path.

  • Until you have a very strong personal wish to escape from cyclic existence, you can't truly wish the same for others (leading to bodhicitta), nor can you truly aspire to gain enlightenment.
  • Simply understanding what renunciation and bodhicitta entail does not make you a real practitioner. These attitudes must be so deeply ingrained that they become the motivating force for everything you do.

The Diagram

Verse 3 Concepts