Skip to content

Part One: Introduction

A commentary on the emptiness section of the Seven Point Mind Training text

Mirror of Wisdom includes commentaries on the emptiness section of Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun and The Heart Sutra.

CHAPTERS
Mirror of Wisdom
Part One: Introduction
Part One: Mind Training - Developing Bodhicitta
Part One: Mind Training - Developing Emptiness
Part One: Learning to Become a Buddha
Part Two: Commentary on the Heart Sutra

Part One: Introduction

MOTIVATION

Please take a moment to cultivate the altruistic motivation of seeking complete enlightenment for the sake of liberating all sentient beings throughout space. It is with this kind of motivation, which we call the motivation of bodhicitta, that you should participate in this teaching. It is very important that you don't read or listen to teachings simply because someone else coerces or expects you to do so. Your involvement should spring from your own wish to practice the teachings with the aim of accomplishing enlightenment for yourself as well as for others. As you apply yourself to this mind training practice, you should do so full of sincerity and whole-heartedness. If you have a wavering or doubting mind, it will negatively affect your practice.

In the lam-rim—the treatises on the graduated path to enlightenment—the great Tibetan master Lama Tsongkhapa states that if our mind is positive and wholesome we will attain positive and wholesome results. Cultivating a good attitude motivates us to engage in positive actions and these return positive results to us. If our attitude and motivation are negative, however, we will create negative actions that will bring us unwanted pains and problems. Everything depends on the mind.

This is why the teacher or lama always advises the audience to cultivate a proper motivation at the beginning of every teaching. The historical Buddha often advised his disciples that they should listen well, listen thoroughly and hold the teachings in their minds. At the beginning of the lam-rim, there is an outline that states that one should be free from what are known as "the three faults of the container." When Buddha said, "Listen well," he meant that when we participate in the teachings we should do so with pure motivation. We should be like an uncontaminated vessel-a clean pot. When he said, "Listen thoroughly," he meant that the listener should not be like a container or pot that is turned upside-down because nothing will be able to enter it. And when Buddha said, "Hold the teachings in your mind," he meant that the listener should not be like a leaky pot, one that does not retain its contents; in other words, we should try to remember the teachings that are given.

The simple reason we all need spirituality, especially Dharma, in our lives is because it is the source of true peace and happiness for ourselves as well as for others. It is the perfect solution for the unwanted problems and pains we face in this cycle of existence, or samsara. For example, we all know that if there were no food or drink in the world, then our very existence would be threatened because these are the basic necessities of life. Food and drink are related to the sustenance of this earthly life, but Dharma is much more important because it is through Dharma that we can remove the misconceptions and ignorance, which cause all our deeper problems. The Tibetan word for Dharma is nang-chö, which means "inner science" or "inner knowledge." This tells us that all of the Buddha's teaching is primarily aimed at subduing the inner phenomenon of our mind.

In this way, we begin to understand the significance and necessity of Dharma in our lives. As we learn to appreciate the Dharma more and more it enables us to do a better job of coping with the difficulties we encounter. With this understanding and appreciation we will then feel enthusiastic about applying ourselves to spirituality. We will find ourselves cherishing the Dharma as if it were a precious treasure from which we wish to never part. For example, if we possess some gold we are naturally going to cherish it. We're not going to dump it in the trash because we know its value and what it can do for us. Yet the value of gold is limited to only this existence; when we die we can't take even a speck of gold with us. But spirituality is something that follows us into our future lives. If we don't practice Dharma then our spiritual life, which exists forever, will be threatened.

Having become an enlightened being, Buddha showed us the complete path leading to liberation and enlightenment. He did this out of his total love and compassion, without any kind of selfish motive. The kind of love we are talking about is the wish that everyone will have true peace and happiness and the best of everything. Compassion means the wish that everyone will be free from all kinds of suffering. The best way to follow the Buddha's teachings is to do our own practice with this kind of attitude and motivation.

It may seem that this world is filled with people who generally don't appear to care about spirituality at all. So why should we care so much? But the fact that these people don't care for spirituality doesn't mean that they don't need it. Every sentient being needs spirituality, from humans down to the smallest insect living beneath the earth. The wish for lasting peace and happiness and the wish to be free from any kind of suffering is not something exclusive to us; it is something that is shared by all sentient beings. However, many people don't realize the value of spirituality and do not have access to the Dharma. In his Ornament for Clear Realizations, Maitreya states, "Even if the king of divine beings brings down a rain upon the earth, unsuitable seeds will never germinate. In the same way, when enlightened beings come to the world, those who do not have the fortune to meet them can never taste the nectar of Dharma."

So, we shouldn't look down on those who don't engage in spirituality or consider them to be bad people; it is just that they have not been fortunate enough to encounter spirituality and put it into practice. This is a good reason to extend our compassion to them. Like us, they seek true peace and happiness, but unlike us, they do not have the means to find what they desire. Basically, there is no difference between us and them-we are all in the same boat-but at the same time, we should appreciate our own great fortune in having the opportunity to participate in the Dharma. Understanding this, we should develop the strong determination that in this lifetime we will do our best to study and practice spirituality in order to take the best care of our future lives. We should try to remind ourselves of these points as often as possible.

It is important for us to understand that all our Dharma actions are very valuable, whether we are studying or listening to spiritual teachings, giving spiritual teaching to others or engaging in our practice. Whatever Dharma teaching we practice we must be sure that it is helping us to transform our state of mind for the better. We have to integrate the Dharma with our own mental state. If, as we study, we leave a gap between our mind and the Dharma, we defeat the purpose of spiritual practice. We wear the Dharma like an ornament and, like an ornament, it might look attractive, but it does not affect us on the inside.

If we want to grow a tree, we need to water the soil around the seed. It's not enough just to fill a bucket with water and leave it near the field. This is sometimes the case with our practice. Burying ourselves in all kinds of Dharma books and other publications and collecting intellectual knowledge about the Dharma is not sufficient. What is required is that we apply the Dharma to our own lives so that we bring about positive changes in the actions of our body, speech and mind. Then we get the true benefit of the Dharma and manifest such changes as can be seen by other people.

Let's examine where our unwanted pains and problems come from. For example, most of you work all day and keep yourselves busy mentally and physically. You would probably rather relax, so what is it that makes you rush about leading such a busy life? What is it that makes you work like a slave, beyond trying to pay the rent or feed your family? Maybe you get upset over some disagreement or maybe your mind becomes disturbed and as a result you also become physically tense. Or perhaps, due to some kind of sickness, both your mind and body become unsettled. You have to find the root cause of all such problems and difficulties of daily life.

The fact of the matter is, eventually all of us must die. After we die, we have to take rebirth. We need to discover what precipitates our rebirth in "bad migrations"—the negative situations of the hell, hungry ghost and animal realms. Even when we take a very good rebirth, we still experience many problems related to work, health, aging, dying and death. We have to determine the underlying cause of all these difficulties.

First, what is it that experiences all these problems? Is it only beings with a mind or do even inanimate objects experience them? Secondly, what creates these problems-mind or inanimate phenomena? The answer to both questions is the mind. Only mind can experience and create all the kinds of suffering that we and others go through. Is it another's mind that creates our problems and puts us through all this hell or is it our own mind that creates them? The minds of others cannot create the difficulties that we as individual people go through, just as the karmic actions of others cannot cause our problems. You cannot experience the karma created by others. That is simply not part of the law of karmic action and result. You don't have to take this on faith; it is a good idea to investigate this matter from your own side.

If we continue to study and practice, one of these days we will be able to see the kind of problematic situations we create for ourselves. We will see that motivated by delusion, we engage in all kinds of wrong karmic actions, which cause us pain and difficulty.
Now I am going to comment on a text called Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun, which is Namkha Pel's commentary on the Seven Point Mind Training text composed by the great master, Geshe Chekawa. It belongs to a special category of Buddhist texts called lo-jong, which means "mind training" or "thought transformation." The mind training system provides methods to train and transform our minds and focuses on how to generate great love (mahamaitri), great compassion (mahakaruna) and the altruistic mind of enlightenment (bodhicitta).

When we read different Buddhist treatises or listen to different teachings on the same topic, we should try to bring together our understanding from many different sources. When we work on a project we use both hands. Our left and right hands don't clash but rather complement each other and work in unison. In the same way, we should bring whatever understanding we gain from studying different texts concerning a specific topic, to augment and complement our practice.

WHAT IS A BUDDHIST?

The Tibetan word for Buddhist is nang-pa, which literally means "one who is focused on inner reality." This refers to someone who concentrates more on his or her inner world than on external phenomena. This is perhaps the most important point regarding Buddhist practice. Our primary goal is to subdue and transform our state of mind-our inner reality. In this way, we seek to improve all our actions of body and speech, but especially those of mind.

I occasionally observe that some people modify their external actions while internally there isn't any kind of positive change going on at all. Things might even be deteriorating. Even as we try to practice the Buddhist teachings, our delusions of ignorance, attachment, anger and so forth become more rampant. When this happens, it is not because there is something wrong with our spiritual path. It is because our own faulty actions contaminate the teachings and therefore we cannot experience the complete results of our practice. When such things happen, it is very important not to let go of our practice. Instead, we should understand that in some way we are not properly applying the teachings to ourselves.

How do we distinguish Buddhists from non-Buddhists? A Buddhist is someone who has gone for refuge from the depths of his or her heart to what are known as the Three Jewels or the Triple Gem-the Jewel of Buddha, the Jewel of Dharma and the Jewel of Sangha. Having gone for refuge to the Jewel of Buddha, we should be careful not to follow misleading guides or teachers. Having taken refuge in the Jewel of Dharma, we should not harm any sentient being no matter what its size. Furthermore, we should cultivate compassion, the wish to ensure that all beings are free from unwanted mental and physical problems. And having taken refuge in the Jewel of the Sangha, or the spiritual community, we should not participate in a club, group or organization that brings harm to ourselves or other beings.

We need to try to discover the source of our own and others' suffering and then find out what path or method we can use to destroy it. The next thing is to apply ourselves enthusiastically and consistently to this method. If we do that, we will be able to free ourselves from all kinds of suffering, which means that we will free ourselves from samsara, help others free themselves from samsara and eventually attain the state of highest enlightenment.

WHAT IS BUDDHA NATURE?

Buddha nature is the latent potentiality for becoming a buddha, or enlightened being-it is the seed of enlightenment. There are two kinds of buddha nature—"naturally abiding buddha nature" and "developable buddha nature." According to Theravada Buddhism, there are certain beings that do not have buddha nature, but from the Mahayana perspective, every sentient being down to the smallest insect has both seeds of enlightenment within them. Even a person who is incredibly evil and negative still has these two buddha natures, both of which can be activated sometime in the future.

This does not mean that people who are making a great effort to accomplish enlightenment and those who do no spiritual practice at all are no different from each other. For those who don't practice, realization of their buddha nature is only a mere possibility and it will take them an unimaginably long time to become enlightened. Others, who are striving for enlightenment, will reach that state much faster because what they are practicing is actually contributing towards the activation their buddha nature.

There are three levels of bodhi, or enlightenment. There is the enlightenment of hearers, or shravakas; the enlightenment of solitary realizers, or pratyekabuddhas; and the enlightenment of the Greater Vehicle, or Mahayana. It is the latter that we are discussing here-the highest form of enlightenment, the enlightenment of bodhisattvas. It is a unique characteristic of Mahayana Buddhism that each of us who follows and cultivates the path as a practitioner can eventually become a buddha, or enlightened person. We may doubt our ability to become an enlightened being, but the truth is that we all share the same potential.

Developable buddha nature and naturally abiding buddha nature are posited from the point of view of potencies that can eventually transform into enlightened bodies. Our naturally abiding buddha nature eventually enables us to achieve the truth body of enlightenment, the state of dharmakaya. The form body of enlightenment, or rupakaya, is called "developable" buddha nature because it can be developed, eventually transforming into rupakaya. If all the favorable conditions are created then these buddha natures, or seeds, will germinate on the spiritual path and bloom into the fruit of enlightenment. However, if we just keep on waiting around thinking, "Well, eventually I am going to become a buddha anyway, so I don't have to do anything," we will never get anywhere. The seeds of enlightenment must be activated through our own effort.

COMPASSION AND BODHICITTA

Bodhicitta is the altruistic mind of enlightenment. There is conventional bodhicitta, or the conventional mind of enlightenment, and there is ultimate bodhicitta, or the ultimate mind of enlightenment. Bodhicitta is the bodhisattva's "other-oriented" attitude-it is the gateway to Mahayana Buddhism. The wisdom perceiving emptiness is not the entrance to Mahayana Buddhism because it is common to both Theravada and Mahayana. Hearers and solitary realizers also cultivate the wisdom of emptiness in order to realize their spiritual goals.

Before we can actually experience bodhicitta we must experience great compassion. The Sanskrit word for great compassion is mahakaruna. The word karuna means "stopping happiness." This might sound like a negative goal but it is not. When you cultivate great compassion, it stops you from seeking the happiness of nirvana for yourself alone. As Maitreya puts it in his Ornament for Clear Realizations, "With compassion, you don't abide in the extreme of peace." What this means is that with great compassion you don't seek only personal liberation, or nirvana. Compassion is the root of the Buddha's teaching, especially the Mahayana. Whenever anyone develops and experiences great compassion, he or she is said to have the Mahayana spiritual inclination and to have become a member of the Mahayana family. We may not have such compassion at the present time; nonetheless, we should be aspiring to achieve it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *