|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 4: Generating Bodhicitta
Please make your motivation like this: “Since attaining this human body with all the leisures and endowments, I will not be attached to the three realms of cyclic existence. Instead, this very day I will try to eliminate the source of all suffering—the self-cherishing thought. In order to do this, I will listen to these profound instructions on the teachings. By listening to this teaching, may I have the potential to liberate myself and all other sentient beings from suffering.”
This instruction is very profound in the sense that it has been passed on from the great master Shantideva. The instruction is called the Great Way, which leads to conduct of great benefit to oneself as well as all beings. It is called the Great Way conduct as it includes the instructions taught on the wheel by Manjushri and others. It places great emphasis on the method path and it is normally referred to as the Great Way instruction.
If we rank this instruction with others in respect to quality, it would be placed first above all. This is the one that offers the most potential for us to accomplish the purpose, not only for oneself but for others.
This instruction on mind training has, as we explained before, two main divisions—the preliminary and the actual. The actual training is the generation of the two kinds of bodhicitta—relative and ultimate. According to the root text, the first one to be explained is ultimate bodhicitta and relative bodhicitta is explained after that. However, according to the traditions of other great masters of the past it would be better to have the explanation of relative bodhicitta first, followed by ultimate bodhicitta.
Training on the Method Path
The main focus of these instructions is the generation of bodhicitta. There are two intentions for the generation of this—first, the aspiration for enlightenment and second, the desire to attain it for the benefit of others.
In order to help other sentient beings, the best means to do so is to attain the state of buddhahood. So what we have to do is try to train on the path and have the realizations that lead to enlightenment.
Once we have gained all the realizations and qualities of enlightenment, from that enlightened state we can transform into an emanation body to administer to the welfare of other sentient beings. In this state, even one light from our body can transform into many emanation bodies and help so many, many beings. This is, of course, the best state to be able to remove the suffering of sentient beings entirely and lead them to ultimate happiness.
In order to attain the state of dharmakaya and enlightenment for oneself, or to attain the major body of a buddha, first we must train on the method path. In order to do this we must understand and generate bodhicitta. If we have not generated this great compassion, there can be no possibility for the attainment of enlightenment.
In order to generate precious bodhicitta, first we have to generate delightful love and compassion. Without these two, there is no possibility of generating bodhicitta. In order to have these two, we must have the mind of equanimity. As long as our mind is not levelled towards all sentient beings equally, even though we may feel love and compassion, it will be only partial love and compassion, because it will be meted out to some and not to others. The definition of love and compassion is that it should be a state of mind that focuses fully on all sentient beings equally and wants them to experience only happiness and to be separated from suffering. To achieve this, we must generate the kind of mind that does not discriminate.
To be able to gain the recognition that all sentient beings have been our mother, we must begin by thinking of our mother in this lifetime. Merely acknowledging that all sentient beings are our mother is not enough. We must be mindful of the kindness of our present mother—how she was kind in the beginning when she carried us in her womb, in the middle when she delivered us and at the end when she cared for us.
We should be mindful that it is not just human mothers who do this; it is all mothers, who have been kind to us in all our past lives. We must also be aware that our mother has not only done many positive things for us, she has also committed many negative actions in order to help us. On some occasions she has killed other sentient beings just to protect us. It is very possible that our mother is somewhere down in the hell realms and the same could be true for our mothers of past lives. They may be experiencing suffering in the hell realms, all because they have committed negative actions for our sake.
Even now there is the possibility that our present mother has negativities on her mind-stream which are complete factors and causes to be reborn in the hell realm. There are many others who have created negative actions in order to help us and they, too, are in the same situation of being born in the hell realms.
Our mothers in the past may have sacrificed their own lives countless times just for our sake. There have been many times when our mother would not have been mindful of any danger to herself in order to guard and protect us. She has suffered and died for us many, many times. We might agree that our mother is kind now and would have been kind when she was our mother, but not at any other time.
The Kindness Shown When Not Our Mother
Both directly and indirectly, many, many beings have been very kind to us. For example, a room in a house has timbers, carpets, windows and other parts that are all the outcome of the labour of many people. Yet because those people will never be recognised, we feel no connection to them. However, when we really think properly about this, everything to do with this life is the result of the kindness of others. Even this body that we think of as ours, is due to the kindness of another sentient being—our mother.
To attain this human body we have observed the practices of the six perfections such as generosity, morality and so forth, in the past. If there were no sentient beings towards whom we could direct all those positive actions, there would be no possibility of attaining rebirth as a human.
Even enlightenment, the state of buddhahood, is attained only by dependence on other beings. It is only due to the practice of compassion and love, and if there were no sentient beings, there could be no enlightenment.
Not only are the happiness and comfort that we experience now due to having had a loving attitude towards others, but all the suffering and problems we have are the result of harming other sentient beings. If we really think about this, we must realize that every act we do to others either harms them, which results in discomfort and problems to ourselves, or we help them and bring happiness to ourselves. This understanding should bring about the belief that the law of cause and effect is definitely true.
The great Indian master Shantideva said in one of his works that many people meditate on bodhicitta; they do prostrations and pay respect to the Buddha, but they completely neglect all other sentient beings. “But,” he wondered, “Whose tradition is this?” To devote to the Buddha and not to other sentient beings is wrong. He said that all beings should pay equal respect to the Buddha as well as to all other sentient beings, because the state of enlightenment is attained only in dependence upon both of these objects equally.
Some people attain high positions and are very popular and famous, but that greatness is only due to the kindness of other sentient beings. If such a person were to stay alone in an isolated place, they could not become famous or popular because there would be no sentient beings around to respect and praise them. Fame, affection and popularity all depend on other sentient beings. No matter how much we believe that we have supreme knowledge or that we are the best type of person, if others do not appreciate us, we are nothing.
So all sentient beings, no matter whether they are our mother at this time or not, have been very kind to us. Our food, shelter, reputation, name and fame are all due to other sentient beings. If there were no sentient beings there would be nobody to help and then there would be no source of happiness. And if there were no sentient beings who could harm us, we would have no cause to practice. Everything depends on other sentient beings.
Waging War on Self-cherishing and Ego-grasping
Most of the time we have a strong fortress around the centre of our self-cherishing mind in order to protect it and keep other forces out. We consider our self-grasping and ego-cherishing mind as our personal protecting deity, and we act as if offering prostrations towards it. It seems that we have become a siddha or a very accomplished person in the matters of samsara. We really have become highly realized people in this regard.
Now is the appropriate time for us to wage nuclear war on our self-grasping and ego-cherishing mind with the nuclear weapons of love and compassion. If we do not wage such a war at this moment, it will become impossible to destroy those two types of mind.
So with the visualization of Chenrezig on the crown of your head, imagine drawing the nectar into your body. This will destroy all possible hindrances to the recognition that all sentient beings are your mother. Then remember their kindness. The nectar enters your body and purifies it. Then generate a very firm and strong realization, recognizing that all beings have been your mother, now and in the past.
Think that the essence of the love and compassion from all past enlightened beings has been received by you in the form of nectar. Think that when the nectar enters your body, it crushes down and destroys the ego-grasping and self-cherishing mind.
Repaying The Kindness
Just remembering the kindness is not enough. We must repay the kindness.
What we have been doing until now is borrowing others’ kindness. We have always been the subject of others’ kindness and we have never been able to repay it. We have never even tried to repay the interest. But now, at this time when we have attained this precious human body and have met with the supreme Dharma and are able to practice the Dharma, we are in the right position to repay.
There is a Tibetan saying that says, “We borrow wine, but we repay with water.” This has been our normal attitude to now.
As an example of this, a son has a blind mother who suddenly goes crazy. If this mother grabbed a sword and threw it at her son, he would not react with anger because she is not only blind, but also crazy. He would react with compassion, understanding that she cannot help what she has done.
It’s the same when we think that some sentient beings are our enemy because they cause us pain and suffering. If we think clearly, they are only harming us because they have no control over their behaviour and they are under the control of the three poisonous delusions—hatred, ignorance and attachment.
If the son remained unmoved and totally neglected his mother, refusing to help her, it would be very sad. In the same way, if we do not try to help other beings, that is also very sad.
We are often too familiar with the discriminating mind, which we have had since the beginning of time. It is still possible at this time, when seeing someone who has harmed us, to think of that person as our enemy and not as our mother. Or maybe we just feel indifferent and treat him or her as a stranger. According to the lineage instruction, the recommended practice is to generate a special equanimity of mind at this point. To do this, we have to equalize ourselves with others.
This type of equanimity is different from the one I explained before. At that time, equanimity simply meant that all sentient beings want happiness and do not want to suffer, so in that sense they are all equal. Also that type of equanimity refers to all sentient beings as our mother—our enemies, our friends and strangers. In this way, they are all the same; they just want happiness without suffering.
But in this instance we generate the feeling of equanimity by thinking, “I will try to bring happiness to all sentient beings equally, and I will try to remove their suffering equally, without any form of discrimination.”
This is the attitude of the Buddha, who cares for the welfare of all sentient beings without showing any discrimination, such as being distant from some and close to others. It is this special thought of equanimity that we must try to generate at this point.
We must meditate on the thought that all sentient beings, down to the very smallest ant, want only happiness and do not want to suffer. However, because they are ignorant of the means for gaining that happiness, they continue to suffer.
As an example of the discriminating mind that wants to look after the welfare of sentient beings, imagine that there are many beggars pleading for food, but we do not have enough food for all of them, so some will eat and some will not. To discriminate between them would be an inappropriate act, because they are all hungry and they all need food. They all equally deserve to be fed.
As human beings, we all want two levels of happiness—the contaminated (worldly), and the uncontaminated (beyond worldly happiness). From our side, however, we cannot bring happiness equally to all beings and so our help is inefficient. Like the example, we, too, would be unable to feed all the beggars without discriminating between them, and feeding some and not others.
It is inappropriate to give medicine to some people who are dying but not to others. All sentient beings are suffering from the sickness of the three poisonous delusions. If we discriminate between them, helping some while neglecting others, that is inappropriate. As long as all sentient beings have the sickness of the three delusions, there will definitely be death, and that is suffering. We must not discriminate and we must relieve the suffering of all sentient beings equally.
If a friend and an enemy are standing side by side, we should not discriminate between them. According to Shantideva’s A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, (Bodhicaryavatara), Buddha once was cut on the shoulder by an enemy with an axe. A friend stood on the other side offering ointment. Buddha looked upon these two people equally and without discrimination, and showed compassion towards both of them.
The Buddha did not accept that there was a friend and an enemy who truly existed from their own side and neither should we. If the enemy truly exists from his own side, he would always be seen as an enemy. But this is not so, because the enemy of our last life can turn into the friend of this life, and even the enemy of this life can later turn into our best friend. It’s the same with the best friend who turns into our worst enemy in one lifetime.
We have strong non-believing minds, therefore we think that we should do more for our friends and less for our enemies. This is like not using our hands to remove a stone that hurts our foot because the two parts are unrelated. We might say that this is not the same thing and does not apply to the friend/enemy relationship, but feet and hands are part of the same mental continuum of our mind. They are not separate.
There is not even any need to cherish our feet and hands, because with proper reasoning we can understand that this body does not even belong to us—the flesh and blood has come from our parents.
We have a strong non-believing mind, so we can even think that there is no need to look after the welfare of other sentient beings. This way of thinking stems from beginningless time, as we have always been under the influence of hatred, ignorance and attachment, and because of this, we suffer. Unless we change our attitude, we will remain under the power of these three and we will continue to suffer.
After thinking about this reasoning, we should come to the realization that there is no reason for us to have a discriminating mind that views some sentient beings as near to us, as friends, and others as distant, as enemies or strangers. By understanding this reasoning, we should come to the conclusion to take responsibility for the welfare for all others’ happiness equally and to separate them from suffering equally.
At this point, visualize nectar entering your body. Visualize or imagine that this nectar purifies any hindrances to realizations on this subject. At the conclusion, think that you have attained a very special realization on this subject of equalising oneself with others.
The Self-cherishing Mind
To be able to generate the precious bodhicitta, we need to precede it by thinking about every possible reasoning for eliminating the cherishing thought, and we need to think about every possible reasoning and viewpoint on the qualities of cherishing others.
We have become so familiar with self-cherishing that really we have become inseparable from it. There is a line in the text that says, “I am also an enemy of myself.” Unless we recognize the fact that we can be our own worst enemy, there is no possibility of bodhicitta arising.
The meaning of being our own enemy should be understood in terms of having this self-cherishing mind. While we have it, we will remain very much under its control. Our self-cherishing mind is like, for example, a sesame seed which is the source of oil—the oil and the seed are of one nature and cannot be separated. That is like our situation.
The suffering experienced in the hot hell realms is caused by the self-cherishing mind. It has led us into performing negative actions such as killing due to attachment and seeing someone as an enemy, motivated by the self-cherishing mind. All the suffering that we experience is caused by our own self-cherishing mind.
The cause that leads us to the hungry ghost state is also the self-cherishing mind which makes us miserly with our possessions. Normally the cause for taking rebirth in this realm is said to be miserliness. There is no other factor that can lead us to this realm, it is only the self-cherishing mind.
The self-cherishing mind prevents us from observing ethics and morals properly and this leads us towards attaining a rebirth as an animal. In the animal realm there are many different and frightening aspects of animals which are the outcome of the self-cherishing mind.
Wars and fighting between nations are created because of the self-cherishing mind. Even fighting and arguments within a family have the same cause. The self-cherishing mind is the commander who governs over wars and arguments.
The arhats and solitary realizers cannot attain the state of enlightenment because of the self-cherishing mind. Even a small injury to our foot by a thorn is the result of the self-cherishing mind, because anger in a past life brings the result of thorns hurting our feet.
As Dharma practitioners, we know that during some teachings we do not feel like staying in the cross-legged position on our cushion because it causes discomfort. This is only due to the self-cherishing mind. In competitions such as horse or car racing, people put up with great discomfort just to be there, but when it comes to Dharma practice, those same people feel too much discomfort after sitting for a very short time. This is because of the self-cherishing mind.
Consider horse racing. The race is very fast and the jockeys do not really mind much if they fall of or get hurt. Even the spectators are willing to pay as much money as the entry ticket demands. However, if we are asked to listen to a teaching on the Dharma, many of us instantly try to have our ears somewhere else. With regard to Dharma projects, when people are asked to give some sort of financial help, they just refuse to hear.
We can see this self-cherishing attitude with regard to the development of a country. Many firms profess to support the aims of the developing nation, but if we look carefully, we find that they are really deeply rooted in self-development.
It is the self-cherishing mind that brings the 21 inauspicious omens, sufferings and troubles. Whatever is wrong in the world has been created entirely by the self-cherishing mind.
As long as we have not been able to expel these inauspicious signs or the bad luck that comes with the self-cherishing mind, no matter what practices we do, they will not be good. If we have not expelled this from our heart, even though we may call ourselves a Mahayanist, it would be inappropriate.
As long as the self-cherishing mind is firmly rooted inside our heart, even if we show outwardly that we are a Mahayanist, it is without meaning. This is just like a very great person living inside a house with somebody guarding and protecting him. If no-one can talk to him, what good does he do?
This centre is called Atisha Centre. Atisha was the person who was successful in expelling the self-cherishing and ego-grasping mind. All those who are connected to this center should try, with true meaning, to expel these two minds. If we can do this, the name of this center will be appropriate to all the people living here and who are connected to it. We should all aspire to do this.
Chapter 5: Equalising and Exchanging Self With Others