|A commentary on the root text The Seven-Point Mind Training given by Geshe Lama Konchog at Atisha Centre, Bendigo, Australia, from October 31 to November 3, 1987. Translated by Dhawa Dundrup. Transcribed and edited by Ven. Thupten Konchog, who accepts all errors and omissions. Second edit by Sandra Smith, January 2013.
This teaching is also available for download as a free e-book from Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore.
A Commentary on the Seven-Point Mind Training
Chapter 1: Putting Effort into Spiritual Practice
Chapter 2: The Preliminaries
Chapter 3: Equanimity
Chapter 4: Generating Bodhicitta
Chapter 5: Equalising and Exchanging the Self With Others;Taking and Giving
Chapter 6: Conventional and Ultimate Bodhicitta; Taking and Giving
Chapter 3: Equanimity
We have at this present time attained the very good basis of a human body and we have also met with the essence of the Mahayana teachings, both of which are very difficult to find. The world is now in a degenerate time, called the age of conflict, It is, in fact, a very bad time. Although we were not born during the good times when the Dharma was freely taught and was widespread, nevertheless, we have heard the teachings and have engaged in learning about the practice of Dharma and precious bodhicitta. So, we are extremely fortunate.
No period of time can be classified as either good or bad—summer will be summer and winter will be winter— but we say a time is bad when the conduct of human beings degenerates. However, if we practice Dharma and in particular, bodhicitta, and try to be on a spiritual path, even though we live in a bad time, it will be good for us.
At such a time, we should think how very fortunate we are to be able to practice the conduct of the bodhisattvas, therefore please think, “I will practice Dharma not only in this lifetime, but this very hour. In order to do this practice on mind training I must understand it, and to understand it, I must listen to these teachings.”
This teaching was summarized by Geshe Chekawa after it had been passed on by a Kadampa master. When he read Langri Tangpa’s Eight Verses of Thought Transformation and in particular the lines:
Give the gains and victories to others;
Take the losses and defeats on to yourself...
Geshe Chekawa taught this to many lepers and after listening to the teaching many of the lepers were cured. As a result, this teaching was at one time known as the lepers’ Dharma.
If the practice on mind training is done properly, we will generate a very strong sense of renunciation, which will become the basis for very pure and strong bodhicitta. Strong bodhicitta can only arise by dependence upon renunciation, but first we must know the different factors related to renunciation.
Renunciation has been explained during the practices of the small and intermediate practitioner. First we should try to generate renunciation within us so that we can experience compassion. Renunciation directed at ourselves is just renunciation, whereas when it is generated for the benefit of others, it becomes a compassionate basis for bodhicitta. For example, a power station holds much power within itself and can distribute that power to others, but if the main power station is underpowered, the people will not benefit from it. Renunciation is like that; it all depends on the strength of the renunciation.
Next we have to generate love with compassion, but this is not ordinary love, which is the type of love we feel when we see our friends and relatives and they appear delightful and attractive to us. People we do not like usually do not appear to us like this, and when we meet a stranger we usually do not feel anything.
Unconditional love is when we feel real affection towards any type of sentient being appearing before us. It is this unconditional love that we must generate first, because without it there is no possibility for compassion to arise. We should see all sentient beings as equal; not feeling love for the friend but no love for the enemy. We have to see all sentient beings as the purest form of friend and most kind.
We usually think that our mother has been most kind to us, so we should imagine that all sentient beings are as kind as our mother. However, this way of thinking should not just be limited to the mother, because some mothers have not been the kindest parents; perhaps it was the father. Those people should look upon all sentient beings as having the kindness of their father. Actually, this is in accordance with Buddha’s recommendation where he says in a sutra text, “Look upon sentient beings as being one’s mother, father, brother, son or daughter.” So if you feel that your son has been the most kind and delightful to you, then think that all beings are as kind as he is. The mother is usually the one considered to be the most kind and that is why we should think that all sentient beings are our mother.
In order to generate this attitude it is important that it is preceded by the mind of equanimity, because if we do not have a level mind we will not be able to have the outlook that all sentient beings are our mother. We may even do a meditation and try to think that these sentient beings are our mothers, but it will not be clear. There is a saying, “One has to make the ground of equanimity wet with the water of love,” so first of all we have to bring our mind into a state of equanimity towards all sentient beings.
According to our self-cherishing and ego-grasping mind, we have three different ways of perceiving the three objects, which are the friend, the enemy and the stranger. For instance, we feel close to someone who has helped us and we call them a friend; we look upon somebody who has harmed us as an enemy; and we feel neither distant nor close to a stranger with whom we have no relationship at all. Therefore, we have three different thoughts that arise from these three different objects.
While we maintain this view we will always have obscurations when we try to meditate on the precious bodhicitta, because something is definitely wrong.
In order to level our thoughts and mind into a state of equanimity, first consider the relationship that we have with this life’s mother, be aware of her kindness and appreciate the suffering she has undergone for us. For instance, we can think about how we were in her womb for nine months and the pain she went through to deliver us. By doing this, we should come to the conclusion of just how very kind she is and of all our relatives, she is the most dear to us.
Next, think about a person who we do not like and then think of the person who means nothing to us. By looking at the different ways we relate to each of these three types of person, we will come to understand that it is based on three different types of reasoning. We can change the way we see the friend who has been most kind and understand that in previous lives he has also been our enemy and has hurt and even killed us. Also, the good friend of this life has also at other times been indifferent and a stranger.
We can think that the second type of person, the enemy, for the time being only appears this way because in the past this same person has been my relative and friend and has been very helpful and kind. With regard to the harm that he is causing in this life, there is always the possibility that in the past we did more harm to him than he is doing to us now.
There was an incident from the past where a past master, Utpalavarna, who could see by clairvoyance, sang a song:
He eats his father’s flesh and hits his mother.
The enemy he killed sits on his knee.
A wife gnaws at her husband’s bones.
Samsara can be such a farce!
This happened once in a family where the father and the mother both died. The father was very attached to the property of his family and was reborn as a fish somewhere behind the house in a small pond. The mother also had attachment to the property and was reborn as a dog of that family. The enemy of that family was reborn as a grandson.
One day the dead mother and the father’s son caught the fish from the pond, cooked it and ate it. As he was eating the fish, the dog came by and wanted the scraps, but the son beat the dog over the head and sent it away. At the same time, the son was holding his son on his lap, and it had previously been his enemy. The nature of samsara is a laugh.
Even our enemies cannot be seen as definite because they may have been our friend or even a stranger in the past and it is the same with the person who is a stranger to us now. If we really think properly, it is only for the time being that this person appears as such. They may have been our parents many, many times in the past.
We can see that the stranger of today may not only have been our parent in the past, but he could also have been our best friend or our worst enemy. It is only because we perceive these three people differently, that we relate to them differently. But they are, in fact, all the same—they have just played different parts.
We might still have the feeling that there really is a big difference. Even though we try to think that this person was our friend in the past, at present he is our worst enemy and we really feel justified in condemning him. We can’t even think that there is no point in concerning ourselves with past rebirths. This is not the case because it is like, for example, a person who beat you with a stick last year and then someone causes a similar injury this year—both are equally to blame for what they have done to us.
It is just the same with the relatives and friends who delight us so much in this life. They have also been our worst enemies in the past. It is the same with the enemy who beat us with a stick last year and the one who did the same this year.
We might still tend to think that even though our enemy now may have been very kind to us in the past, nevertheless, he is our enemy in this life. This way of thinking could also apply to the relative or friend who we love dearly now—even though we understand that they have been our enemy or a stranger previously, they still seem much better.
This kind of thinking is not correct, because if someone gave us a feast of delicious food last year and this morning someone else gave us the same thing, both of these people are to be considered to be equally kind.
There is very good reasoning behind why we should not have a mind that feels distant towards some and close to others, because that is a discriminating mind. All types—friends, enemies and strangers, want happiness and do not want suffering. They are all alike in this way; there is no difference. So there is no justification for feeling either distant, close or indifferent towards people.
It is important to maintain a level mind—a mind of equanimity—towards all three different objects.
There is a section in the mandala offering that says, “I offer the three objects—the friend, the enemy and the stranger—who are the very basis for the arising of hatred, ignorance and attachment. I offer these, and may I be blessed to be released from the three poisons.”
If we can have this level mind, feeling the same towards everyone, it becomes a very good basis for the generation of love and compassion. It is like the example of a car which cannot go over terrain that is covered with bushes and trees or very steep hills. If the surface of the ground is levelled out, it can move along easily. Likewise, in order to have the car of love and compassion progressing along well, the mind’s surface needs to be levelled out.
None of us has exactly the same type of complexion or colour, but we can imagine a painter who uses three different colours: white for the friend, black for the enemy, and grey (a combination of both) for the stranger, because this is the way we discriminate. If we can level our mind to a state of equanimity, the colours of all sentient beings will be exactly the same.
We should not feel distant from some and close to others and we should not have the three poisonous minds of ignorance, hatred and attachment. As long as we have these three poisons on our mind-stream we cannot see a friend without becoming too attached and we cannot see an enemy without getting angry. We cannot see that the friend can make us angry and the enemy can show us kindness.
This is like a demon’s perception. What does a demon’s perception mean? In the past there were demons or spirits who were cannibals and survived on human flesh. When they came to where humans were, they behaved like humans in order to deceive people. The humans accepted them as part of their group and became very attached to them. They then tricked the humans and took them away to their place where they killed and ate them.
Being attached to our friends and angry with our enemies is like a pig that is attached to its master. The pig feels very secure and trusting, because it is well-fed and cared for, but it is only a matter of time before the master will kill and eat it.
If we can maintain a levelled mind of equanimity, we will succeed in whatever we engaged in. Maybe it is the recognition of all sentient beings as our mother. This is like the foundation being laid for the construction of a house. If the foundation has been well-levelled, then the upper part will be sound and strong. In this way, if we can gain the attitude of thinking that no matter how a sentient being appears to us, we will not respond by holding them near with attachment, distant with hatred or indifferent with ignorance. We must react to all beings in the same way and treat everyone equally, and then we will have no trouble meditating on the recognition that all sentient beings are our mother.
Meditation One: Recognizing All Sentient Beings As Our Mother
To do this, first start with the mother of this life and understand that she has not only been your mother this time but for many, many rebirths. Meditate on that until you get the absolute belief that this life’s mother has been your mother during all your past lives.
Next, shift your thoughts to your father of this life and try to meditate on the recognition that your father of this life has been your mother in all past lives. Meditate until you get the determined belief in this. Actually this is true because if you were to count our rebirths since time beginningless, the number would be infinite and uncountable. In actual fact, your father of this life has been your mother many, many times for countless rebirths. Then think about any other relatives who are very dear to you and imagine they have been your mother for countless numbers of rebirths in the past.
Continue meditating on this recognition that all family members have been your mother and then meditate on seeing all your spiritual friends—your Dharma brothers and sisters—as your mother.
Finally, extend this meditation to cover all the people of your own country and beyond, to all sentient beings across the sea and to all the other countries of the world. Then cover all the other worlds, gaining the distinct recognition that all sentient beings—every one—have been your mother in past lives.
This has to be a gradual extension from one to hundreds of thousands. It is like drops of water being put into a container—drop-by-drop, each one goes in until at last the container is filled. It is not possible to just go into a meditation session and think that all sentient beings have been our mother. That does not work.
We need to extend our meditation to all the sentient beings around us and extend it to all the beaches and towards the sea, thinking about the many animals and insects on the surface of the water and underneath the water. Then extend it to the other countries until we have covered the whole world in your meditation.
This meditation on the recognition that all sentient beings have been our mother is quite difficult to do in the beginning. In fact, it is believed that a realization of this subject is one of the most difficult to arise amongst the six causes and the one result instruction of bodhicitta. It has been said that if we are able to attain a realization of this subject, then realization of other subjects will be very easy. Even though it may take years and years, we should try to gain a realization of this subject.
A point in time should come when we get the feeling that no matter what type of sentient being appears to us, there is a feeling that he or she is really our mother. At this point, realization has been achieved.
Some people think it is not really possible for another sentient being to have been their mother—especially those who do not accept the belief in past rebirths. But this is a different matter. As long as we accept the existence of past lives, then we have to implicitly accept that there have been other mothers. Birth in a past life did not arise, like stones and pebbles, without a mother. As long as we have taken rebirth in the past, there must have been a mother. In the past we have taken countless numbers of rebirths since beginningless time—even the Buddha has not been able to see the beginning of our existence. If we have taken one hundred thousand rebirths, for instance, then there must have been the same number of mothers.
We could, however, have the belief that all sentient beings may have been our mother in the past, but the past has gone and so there is only the mother of this life. But the same reasoning would apply to this life’s mother, because the time when we were born is now the past. This mother who gave birth to us 50 years ago is still our mother and the mother who gave birth to us 250 years ago is still our mother, and the one who gave birth to us countless aeons ago is still our mother.
As long as we can recognize that all sentient beings have been our mother, then we will definitely have the attitude that they appear delightful. However, it would be different in the case where the mother had not been kind to us in this life.
Either you have been convinced that all sentient beings have been your mother, or you have not. Let us leave it at this. You can do your own study of this afterwards.
At the beginning of the meditation session, visualize Chenrezig at the crown of your head, then visualize drawing the nectar from him. Even while doing the meditation on the mind of equanimity and while doing the visualization of drawing the nectar from Chenrezig, we should make this request: “May I be blessed to have a realization of the mind of equanimity.”
When doing the meditation on the recognition of all sentient beings as our mother and visualizing drawing the nectar from Chenrezig, imagine that the nectar purifies all hindrances and obstructions to this realization. This is important, because it is very difficult to believe that all sentient beings have been our mother. This is caused by our own self-grasping ignorance and self-cherishing mind. So, these hindrances must be removed and purified before we can generate this recognition. The drawing of the nectar will purify and remove the hindrances to that realization.
At the end, think that you have been blessed by the nectar coming into your body and that you have attained a very special realization of this subject.
Remembering the Kindness
Just to have a mere recognition that all sentient beings have been our mother is not enough; we have to remember their kindness.
There are two parts to this section:
(1) Remembering the kindness, which is remembering the kindness of all sentient beings as being our mother; and
(2) Remembering the special kindness of all sentient beings, even though they are not our mother at this time.
Right from the very beginning, our mother has been kind to us. She gave birth to us and therefore gave us this body. She gave us the flesh and blood of this body, which can be used as the basis for the practice of Dharma. At the time when she carried us in her womb for nine months and ten days and then gave birth to us, she underwent pain and suffering. She was also very careful in any activities that she did so that we were not harmed in any way. If she had not been very careful while we were still in the womb; if she was harsh and rough, we could have died.
Even at the time of delivery when we were covered with blood and afterbirth, she considered us to be very precious as if she had just found a gem. She would have been totally unmindful of how we looked. That act of affection is shown even by animals and insects who try to protect their young and would sacrifice their lives for the sake of their babies.
When we were babies, we were very vulnerable and many conditions could have brought about our death and yet she never forgot about our welfare for a moment. She tried not to leave us unattended for even a few moments. She cared for us so much during this early stage of our life that the merit she accumulated would be equal to buying animals from the slaughterhouse and setting them free, hundreds and hundreds of times over.
Once in Tibet a merchant was riding a pregnant mare when he was accosted by a robber. The robber hit the mare in the belly with his sword and the baby foal fell out. Before the mare died, she licked her tiny baby as a final act of caring for it. So even with regards to the animals, we can really believe how very kind our mothers have been.
Even the insects on the ground and the birds in the sky all try to defend and protect their babies. They are not just trying to show their anger or strength, they are just trying to protect their babies and for this cause, they will undergo any hardship whatsoever.
Most mothers have the attitude that they would rather be sick themselves than for their child to be sick. The mother would often prefer death for herself than death for her child. Not only the mother of this life has been so kind in this way, but also the many countless mothers we have had.
Remembering the Special Kindness
Remembering the special kindness refers to the kindness of others who provided things such as food, clothing and even our fame and name. It is only due to the kindness of other sentient beings that we are able to exist. It is only due to the kindness of others that we are able to attain a high position, a good name, fame and fortune.
For instance, just one grain of rice is the result of the labour and caring of countless numbers of sentient beings. One grain of rice has passed through countless numbers of hands until it reaches us.
We normally just pay for things with our money, and that is it. But if we think carefully, the object that we are buying is the outcome of the work of many sentient beings. Even the money with which we buy things is the product of the work of countless numbers of sentient beings.