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A compilation of advice about Dharma studies and practice
Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

CHAPTERS
Daily Reflections
i. Introduction and Biography
1. What is Dharma?
2. Studying the Dharma
3. Need for Reflection and Analysis
4. Overcoming Negative Emotions
5. Practising Pure Perception
6. Faith
7. Advice on Practice
8. Precious Human Rebirth
9. Death and Impermanence
10. Overcoming Attachment to the Body
11. Joyous Effort
12. Subduing Anger
13. Generating Bodhicitta
14. Wisdom Realizing Emptiness

Bodhicitta is the most powerful of virtuous minds

Where is there a comparable virtue?
Where is there even such a friend?
Where is there merit similar to this?
(Verse 30, Chapter 1, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva)

The bodhicitta mind is the most powerful amongst all virtuous states of mind. Nothing is comparable to its strength and power. It can remove all the sufferings of all sentient beings and establish them in the state of bliss. It is able to provide sentient beings joy and happiness and remove the darkness of ignorance from their minds.

When we praise bodhicitta as being the most powerful mind, capable of removing the ignorance that obscures the minds of sentient beings, how does this work?

We should understand that the bodhisattva, with his strong bodhicitta mind, considers our condition. Since we sentient beings are ignorant with regard to what should be abandoned and how to abandon that and what should be cultivated and how to cultivate that, the bodhisattva teaches us these points without mistake. This is how the bodhisattva removes our mental ignorance.

Bodhicitta is also praised as an unequalled virtuous friend. Here, one can understand a virtuous friend to mean a good friend. The bodhicitta mind is praised as the most supreme amongst our virtuous friends because it is able to protect us from all harms and enable us to accomplish benefits, not only for ourselves but for others.

This verse also says that there is no merit comparable to bodhicitta. This means that, by relying upon bodhicitta, one can easily accumulate extensive amounts of merit and will continue to do so, from moment to moment. Having the bodhicitta mind naturally causes us to engage in virtue and to pacify all negativities. It is mentioned that as long as we have the bodhicitta mind, we will continuously generate merit even when we go about doing our usual activities such as sleeping, walking, sitting and so on. Therein lies the power of the bodhicitta mind. Since we aspire to attain buddhahood, we need to accumulate merit and the supreme method for doing this is through the practice of bodhicitta.

Therefore, we should contemplate over and over the inconceivable benefits of bodhicitta, till the aspiration to generate bodhicitta arises in our minds. Realising the need to cultivate bodhicitta, we will be inspired to put in every effort to do so. We should pray continuously to generate bodhicitta within this lifetime and also to rely constantly on effortful and sustained practice.

By remembering that the bodhicitta mind is the most powerful virtue, the most powerful friend and the most powerful merit, we engage in listening to the Buddha’s teachings with the intention to practise and cultivate it. Due to the force of this motivation, we receive infinite benefits from listening to the teachings and are also able to do so with a joyful mind.

Fulfilling the wishes of others

It is like the supreme gold-making elixir,
For it transforms the unclean body we have taken
Into the priceless jewel of a Buddha-Form.
(Verse 10, Chapter 1, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva)

When we achieve the state of full enlightenment, we will be in a position to fulfil all the hopes and wishes of sentient beings and help eliminate all their sufferings. What would enable us to achieve this state? It is generating bodhicitta in our minds.

The bodhisattvas take rebirth in samsara, using their unclean, impure bodies to benefit others, unlike the hearers and solitary realisers, who abandon their bodies to get out of samsara, in pursuit of their personal liberation.

The bodhisattvas are able to take on such samsaric rebirths for the benefit of others due to their great compassion and complete abandonment of self-cherishing. The hearers and solitary realisers are unable to do so because they are not free from their self-cherishing attitude.

When self-cherishing is absent, one is able to work solely for the benefit of others, so the weaker one’s self-cherishing is, the greater will be one’s ability to benefit others. The stronger one’s self-cherishing, the more difficult it will be for one to work for others. Basically, it all boils down to whether one has bodhicitta or not. So, we should try to develop bodhicitta and once it is generated, strive to ensure that it does not decline but work to strengthen that virtuous mind.

Bodhicitta and the practice of the perfections

Should even the myriad beings of the three realms without exception
Become angry at me, humiliate, criticise, threaten or even kill me,
I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of patience not to be distraught,
But to work for their benefit in response to their harm.

Even if I must remain for an ocean of eons in the fiery hells of Avici
For the sake of even just one sentient being,
I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of joyous effort,
To strive with compassion for supreme enlightenment and not be discouraged.
(Verses 103 – 104, Guru Puja)

These verses from the Guru Puja show that even when all sentient beings turn against us, instead of returning harm for harm, it is actually possible to develop patience when there is bodhicitta in our mental continua. When we train our minds in the method of exchanging ourselves for others, we develop loving kindness and compassion for all sentient beings, which then enables us to behave in the manner mentioned in these verses.

When we look at such verses, we find it very difficult to comprehend that such a thing is possible; it is just beyond our mental capacity. We think in this way because we have yet to develop bodhicitta in our mental continua. Once we have generated bodhicitta, instead of being disturbed, our minds will remain very calm and we can work for the benefit even of those who harm us.

With bodhicitta, we will also be able to develop the kind of joyous perseverance that is mentioned in the Guru Puja. We will have the courage, determination and the joyous perseverance needed to benefit other sentient beings.

Whether the practice of the perfection of patience and joyous perseverance can be cultivated in our minds depends on whether we can develop the altruistic intention, bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is a mind that cherishes others more than oneself, forsaking one’s own purposes and placing others’ welfare before one’s own.

Because the bodhisattvas have such unbearable compassion for sentient beings, they have tremendous determination and are able to work with a happy mind for countless oceans of eons to help just one sentient being. We find it difficult now to work for the benefit of even one sentient being because we do not have such a mind and we become easily discouraged. The opposite happens when we have bodhicitta. Then, even if we had to spend an eon to benefit a single sentient being, we would happily do so.

There are six perfections:

  1. The perfection of generosity
  2. The perfection of ethics
  3. The perfection of patience
  4. The perfection of joyous perseverance
  5. The perfection of concentration
  6. The perfection of wisdom

Whether we are able to develop these perfections depends on whether we are able to develop bodhicitta in our minds. Until that time, even when we do practise generosity, it will not become the perfection of generosity.

Bodhicitta as medicine and wish-fulfilling jewel 

The panacea that relieves the world of pain
And is the source of all its joy
(Verse 26, Chapter 1, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva)

Shantideva said that bodhicitta is the cause of happiness and joy and is like the great medicine for all sentient beings of the six realms. When we are able to develop bodhicitta in our own mental continuum, we can obtain the higher rebirths of humans and gods and progress from there towards liberation and full enlightenment.

Bodhicitta is also like the medicine that eliminates all our sufferings. Once bodhicitta is generated in our minds, our mental sufferings will definitely be reduced. In the same way, when bodhicitta arises in the minds of other sentient beings, they will also be able to reap the benefits of gaining higher rebirths of humans and gods, and the opportunity to achieve liberation and enlightenment as well.

You may wonder, “What are the benefits of developing bodhicitta?” The benefits of bodhicitta are inexpressible. In short, bodhicitta is like a wish-fulfilling jewel. It is stated in one sutra that if the benefits of bodhicitta were to take a physical form, the entire space of the three thousand great world systems would not be able to contain it.

Bodhicitta is like a wish-fulfilling jewel because it is able to eradicate the poverty of all sentient beings. Our own sufferings will be reduced as we will no longer become the causes for others to generate negative karma and by our causing others to develop bodhicitta, they too can be freed from their sufferings.

More qualities of bodhicitta 

The bodhisattvas constantly train in the practice of bodhicitta and are not discouraged when they encounter hardships, such as famines, financial difficulties or sickness. Instead, they use these conditions to remind themselves to refrain from engaging in negativities and creating negative karma. They are able to transform whatever negative conditions they meet with into the path of reinforcing and strengthening their practice of bodhicitta. Regardless of the level of hardship, the bodhisattvas will not resort to negative actions or creating negative karma to make things easier for themselves, eg. they will  not lose their temper just to get some temporary relief from their suffering.

The bodhicitta mind of the bodhisattva is therefore called an extremely precious holy mind. In general, there are different kinds of virtuous minds that we can cultivate or practise. However, this bodhicitta mind is praised as being like a wish-fulfilling jewel that can remove the poverty of impoverished sentient beings. Samsara and the lower nirvana of the arhats are extremes that the bodhisattva tries to avoid.

Bodhisattvas are praised as worthy objects of refuge because they are, “that source of joy/Who brings happiness even to those who bring harm.” The true bodhisattva does not retaliate or take revenge against those who harm them. Instead, the bodhisattva makes every effort to establish that person on the path to liberation and omniscient buddhahood. Therefore, the bodhisattva possessing the mind of bodhicitta is praised as the “source of joy” and all happiness.

By understanding how bodhisattvas transform all negative circumstances into the path, how they never return harm for harm and how they only strive to place beings in the state of buddhahood, we can see the qualities of the bodhicitta mind. When we are able to generate the bodhicitta mind, we will be able to receive the same benefits as those associated with bodhisattvas.  Our bodhicitta becomes the supreme basis for naturally restraining ourselves from creating negative karma. Because we have yet to generate such a mind, presently, we find ourselves creating negative karma all the time.

The enemy, our self-cherishing attitude 

The moment an Awakening Mind arises
In those fettered and weak in the jail of cyclic existence,
They will be named a ‘Child of the Sugata,’
And will be revered by both humans and gods of the world.
(Verse 9, Chapter 1, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva)

As soon as bodhicitta is generated in one’s mind, one’s status becomes exalted, regardless of whether one is young or old, male or female. As a bodhisattva, one acquires a different name (a child of the Sugatas) and becomes an object worthy of homage, prostrations and respect by all humans and worldly gods.  This happens because of the generation of bodhicitta and not because one had a better rebirth, lineage or gender or was born wealthier than others. One becomes a bodhisattva primarily because of one’s state of mind.

The whole purpose of engaging in mind training is to develop bodhicitta, the altruistic intention to become enlightened for the benefit of all sentient beings. There are two ways of doing this; one is by following the seven-fold cause and effect instructions, and the other is by following the instructions on exchanging oneself for others. The Wheel-Weapon text presents the latter system and gives instructions on developing love and compassion through the practice of tong-len, the practice of giving and taking.

The main obstacle that prevents us from developing bodhicitta is our self-cherishing attitude. Until that is abandoned, there is no way we can develop bodhicitta. What we are trying to do here is to learn these instructions for developing bodhicitta because when we achieve this, we can overcome our self-cherishing attitude that is the source of all our problems and sufferings.

We should pray, “May I and all sentient beings develop bodhicitta. I will cause this to happen by myself alone. Please, guru deity, bless me to be able to do this.” We are adapting the prayer of the four immeasurables and substituting the words for developing bodhicitta.

When we pray, “May I and all sentient beings develop bodhicitta,” that is only at the level of prayer. Although it is important to pray for this, we will never get anywhere by leaving it at this level. It is impossible to develop bodhicitta in this way.

So, then, we have to go on to the next line that says, “I will cause this to happen by myself alone.” Here, not only are we generating the aspiration to develop bodhicitta, we are actually saying, “I am going to do something about it. I am going to develop bodhicitta.”

But even that is still not enough because when we try to develop bodhicitta, we will meet with all sorts of obstacles and difficulties. Therefore, we have to seek the blessings of the guru; we recite the last line of the prayer, “Please, guru deity, bless me to be able to do this.”

We should remember this motivation and aspiration when listening to the teachings on the instructions for developing bodhicitta. When we do this, it will be of great benefit.

When you finish your work or as soon as you are about to set off for class to listen to the teachings, you should immediately generate this motivation. Quickly generate the thought, “I am going to class to learn about the instructions to develop bodhicitta.” With this motivation, each and every single step we take towards the centre causes us to accumulate an immeasurable amount of merit.

When you are in class, you should again generate this motivation, “I am listening to these teachings because I want to learn how to develop bodhicitta.” As you listen to the teachings, pay attention and keep this motivation very close to your heart. As mentioned in the first chapter of Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds, when it comes to purifying any kind of negative karma, even the heaviest karma, there is nothing more powerful than developing the mind of bodhicitta.

Most of the verses in The Wheel-Weapon state that the real problem is our self-cherishing attitude. Whatever problems we experience are the results of the karma we have created in the past under the influence of our self-cherishing attitude. If you are looking for someone to blame, blame the self-cherishing attitude. The instructions say that other people are actually very precious and kind. If there is a problem, then it is our own self-cherishing attitude.

Most of the verses also point out how the different kinds of sufferings are the results of our own karma, “It is the weapon of my own evil deeds turned upon me.” We try to take all these unfavourable conditions into the path and throw them at our self-cherishing attitude to try to reduce the strength of this self-cherishing attitude.

The mistake of not having a bodhicitta mind 

When we read the text, The Wheel Weapon, we may feel that everything we have been doing had been inappropriate or wrong. It is natural to feel this way because the purpose of this text is to point out our faults, the mistake of not having a bodhicitta mind.

We should understand that what this text is trying to tell us is that, without the mind of bodhicitta, naturally we would always remain sentient beings with faults. Therefore, when we read mind-training texts that seem harsh in this way, we should not feel discouraged or depressed. We should understand that it is natural for us sentient beings to have faults. However, we should move beyond just seeing our faults to understand the true purpose of having our faults exposed in this way. We should strive to generate bodhicitta because, as long as the bodhicitta mind is not present, our faults will remain.

This text explains the practice of bodhicitta. Since we are not bodhisattvas yet, it is only natural that, at our level, the practice seems to be very difficult. The main purpose of this text is to inspire us to work for the generation of bodhicitta. This text tells us over and over again that the more powerful our egoistic mind, the more faults we incur. Therefore, it advises us to be inspired to reduce the intensity of that egoistic mind and, instead, to nurture the mind that cherishes others.

A compilation of advice about Dharma studies and practice
Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

CHAPTERS
Daily Reflections
i. Introduction and Biography
1. What is Dharma?
2. Studying the Dharma
3. Need for Reflection and Analysis
4. Overcoming Negative Emotions
5. Practising Pure Perception
6. Faith
7. Advice on Practice
8. Precious Human Rebirth
9. Death and Impermanence
10. Overcoming Attachment to the Body
11. Joyous Effort
12. Subduing Anger
13. Generating Bodhicitta
14. Wisdom Realizing Emptiness

The purpose of Dharma practice 

The purpose of engaging in Dharma practice is to remove suffering and to improve our minds. When our Dharma practice leads to suffering, then I do not see the point in doing it. Dharma practice is essentially performed with our minds and should be done willingly from one’s own side and should contribute to the removal of suffering.

When one understands the purpose, one would not feel forced to practise. Instead, the practice will be done with great enthusiasm.

Creating obstacles for ourselves 

We should not be lazy when it comes to our Dharma practice or studies. Sometimes we think, “I am getting old, I am not intelligent enough to understand this, I do not have enough time” and so forth and we put ourselves down. Thinking in this way, we are hindering ourselves from taking advantage of the opportunity for Dharma studies and practice. Because of this way of thinking, we do not study and practise and become lazy.

We should not stop ourselves from our fair share of Dharma practice and studying. All of us are different. Some are predisposed towards anger, others towards mental distractions. The angry ones may think, “I am the angry type. There is no hope for me. It is impossible for me to meditate on compassion. Forget about it.” Thinking in this way, they do not give themselves the opportunity to improve. Others may think, “My mind is so distracted. There is no way I can meditate and develop concentration.” Again, thinking like this, they stop themselves from being able to change.

The point here is not to create obstacles for our own Dharma practice. Instead, we should open the door to our Dharma practice and studies. We have already discussed the human life of leisure and opportunity. We should reflect on this. All the good conditions are gathered together to enable us to study and practise and we also have the ability to do so. Remembering this, we should encourage and persuade ourselves to study and practise Dharma.

Time management

It is your responsibility to manage your time and to adjust your lifestyle in such a way that Dharma practice and studies can fit into your life in a comfortable and nice way without your feeling stressed. It is pointless to force and push yourself too hard. Then you become depressed and end up feeling that your Dharma practice and studies are making you suffer even more. It is pointless if you end up like that.

One has to expect some difficulties when it comes to practising and studying the Buddhadharma. Everything is difficult. The moment you move your body to start doing anything, the difficulties begin.

Ours is a materially advanced and progressive society.  But there are also many instances of mental frustration, stress, anxiety and mental suffering. These sufferings already exist. So we should not create more suffering with our Dharma practice and studies. That is never the point. The point here is to do things at a comfortable pace.

Our motivation 

Whether the outcome of a course of action is positive or negative depends on the originating intention or motivation. A virtuous intention produces positive results and a negative intention produces bad results. Therefore, we should always rely on mindfulness and vigilance to keep our minds in a virtuous state. We assert that attending teachings is a virtuous act. However, if the motivation for listening to the teachings is not virtuous, then being present and listening to the teachings is not necessarily virtuous.

A beneficial motivation would be to think, “Whatever knowledge I get in class, I am going to blend it with my mind and try to practise it as much as possible.” When we make the effort to practise, we can have positive experiences that will give us the understanding and confidence that the Dharma we are studying and practising really works. What is the result of such positive experiences? Faith in the Dharma will naturally arise and faith in our virtuous friend and guru will be generated from the depths of our hearts.

The problem is that people attend but do not apply the teachings in their daily lives. When the teachings we hear remain simply at an intellectual level for us, without our practising them, it is very difficult for us to generate faith in the Dharma. We do not taste the Dharma. Without such faith, it becomes very difficult to talk about generating faith in our guru who gives us the teachings. But when we blend the teachings with our minds and try to practise them, then over time, the quality of our minds will improve; we become more good-hearted and so forth. Our faith in the Dharma and our guru also increase.

Therefore, it is important that before engaging in any action, we should ask ourselves, “Am I motivated by a positive or negative state of mind?”

The practice of offerings 

When making unsurpassable offerings, we should think, “Just as the great bodhisattva Samantabhadra emanated countless replicas of himself, making offerings filling the entire space, to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, I shall make offerings in the same way.”

Samantabhadra is not only a bodhisattva but an arya bodhisattva abiding in the grounds. Bodhisattvas like Samantabhadra made such extensive offerings in order to complete the accumulation of merit. Relying on the factor of wisdom is not enough to enable them to achieve the final goal of enlightenment, because they still have the obstructions to omniscience, and removing these obstructions require vast stores of merit.

If such a bodhisattva makes such extensive offerings to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, it goes without saying that we ordinary beings, who are bound by our afflictions, must do likewise.

We need to make extensive offerings “in order to seize that precious mind” of bodhicitta. It is very difficult to generate bodhicitta especially when our minds are not purified of their obscurations and negativities. We need to accumulate the collection of merit so that the favourable conditions for generating bodhicitta can arise.

Prostrations

Prostrating with our speech means we offer praises to the buddhas with a melodious voice. Prostrating with our minds means reflecting on the qualities of the Buddha and generating faith towards him.  Prostrating with our bodies involves touching the five points of one’s body to the ground or performing the full length prostration.

Our prostrations should always be preceded by reciting the prostration mantra, Om Namo Manjushriye Namo Sushriye Namo Uttama Shriye Soha. There are inconceivable benefits to doing this. By reciting this mantra, every prostration performed is equivalent to one thousand prostrations and the benefit is comparable to hearing and reflecting on the meanings of the three scriptural collections. It is said that when we prostrate continuously after reciting this mantra, we can achieve the path of seeing in this very life itself.

Whether we benefit from our prostrations depends on how well we perform them, our ability to sustain our visualisation and keep our minds focussed on what we need to do with our bodies, speech and mind throughout the prostration. The quality of the prostration is most important, the quantity less so.

There is much to contemplate as we perform each stage of the prostration, placing our palms on our crowns, throats and hearts. We are also advised to visualise countless replicas of ourselves when prostrating. The main thing is to generate faith in the Three Jewels. We will reap the benefits if we reflect properly during the prostration.

Usually, our bodies are prostrating but our minds are distracted. Although we can still accumulate merit from performing such physical prostrations, obviously the merit we accumulate is far greater when our speech and minds are also engaged in the practice.

We are performing prostrations everyday and even if we cannot do many of them at the moment, we can, at least, make a commitment to make three prostrations in the morning and at night as a daily minimum. In this way, we accumulate six prostrations every day.

We should not feel this is a burdensome chore but, instead, we should contemplate and understand the benefits and prostrate voluntarily from our own side to the Three Jewels. Even with six prostrations a day, multiplied by whatever number of days we have left in this life, by the end of this life, we will have accumulated thousands of prostrations.

Advice from Gungtang Rinpoche: Reliance on the merit field 

Gungtang Rinpoche said: “In these degenerate times, when sentient beings have very little merit and our minds are so weak and degenerate, it is very important to make strong requests to our personal deities for blessings. We should work very hard at accumulating merit and purifying our minds of obscurations. It is important to make offerings, prostrations and engage in the practices of the seven limbs.”

Generally speaking, our motivation determines whether our actions are virtuous or not. When our motivation is virtuous, then our actions are also virtuous. But all actions performed in relation to the merit field or to the holy objects are exceptions to this rule. Even when we make offerings or prostrations to the merit field or holy objects with an incorrect motivation, we still accumulate a great deal of merit. This is due to the power of the merit field and the holy objects.

You should therefore grasp the opportunity to rely on holy objects and the merit field to accumulate merit and purify your karma, especially those of you who really want to study the Buddha’s teachings and complete your studies.

It is very difficult to complete your studies, no matter how hard you study, if you do not strive to do this.  This is my own experience from my life in the monastery. There is no guarantee that those who are naturally more intelligent or who do well in their studies can complete them. Generally, those who work at accumulating merit, purifying their negative karma, and making whole-hearted requests to their gurus and special deities are the ones who make it in the end and successfully complete their studies. Those who are more intelligent tend to take things easy and do not work as hard, whereas those who are not so intelligent realise that they have to work harder.

Supplication to the guru-deity 

When we look at the example set by Lama Tsongkhapa in his life story, we see how extremely important it is to make requests continuously to one’s deity and  to strive in accumulating merits and purifying obscurations in order to have some success in our practice, especially if we aspire to realise emptiness. Therefore, when we recite the Heart Sutra, the guru yoga of Lama Tsongkhapa, the prayer, Dependent Arising - A Praise of the Buddha and so on, we should recite them with the motivation of creating the causes for us to complete our studies and to accumulate merit.

When we make requests to our personal deity, we should do so by seeing the deity as inseparable from our root guru. This supplication should be made with single-pointed devotion as shown in the Guru Puja:

You are my guru, you are my yidam,
You are the dakinis and Dharma protectors.
From now until enlightenment I shall seek no other refuge than you,
In this life, the bardo and all future lives,
Hold me with your hook of compassion;
Free me from samsara and nirvana’s fears,
Grant all attainments,
Be my constant friend and guard me from interferences.
(Verse 53)

We see here that the supplication to the guru-deity is not only to be cared for in this life but also in the intermediate state and all future lives to come.

In the monasteries we recite many prayers, sometimes doing so for one to two hours. The purpose of doing so many prayers is to accumulate merit for success in our debating and studies. Sometimes, we even recite the Praises to Twenty-one Taras 70 to 80 times. By comparison, therefore, what we recite in class is nothing as the duration is very short. I thought it is good to give you some perspective. There are some students who may wonder why we are reciting so many prayers and they may feel bored. There are others who think reciting mantras is more beneficial than reciting prayers. Reciting prayers is definitely beneficial. There are only two possibilities: Recite mantras or prayers or do both. When you hold the position that one does not benefit, then you have to say that the other is also useless. This is my own view on this matter. I think that reciting mantras or reciting prayers brings the same benefit.

Focussing on three things 

When we study the Great Treatises in our quest to understand and realise dependent origination, we have to focus on three things:

  1. Making whole-hearted requests to our  guru-deity
  2. Continuously studying and analysing the treatises and
  3. Accumulating merit and purifying obscurations

Some intelligent students may think, “I have sharp faculties. I will be able to study these Great Treatises without accumulating merit.” Such students, who focus only on studying and do not perform any purification practices or work at accumulating merit, may learn something but they will never be able to complete their studies. Instead, they will encounter many obstacles and find it difficult to understand the treatises, especially the teachings on emptiness.

Then there are those who do not study at all thinking, “Studying is not important. I will concentrate on accumulating merit and purifying my negative karma. That is enough.” There is no way such people can realise emptiness without Listening to, studying and reflecting on the great treatises, especially the presentations on dependent origination.

Can we realise emptiness and the meaning of dependent origination simply by making requests to the guru-deities? This is also impossible. We may supplicate our guru-deities with single-pointed faith, “Please grant me blessings to realise emptiness.” But that alone will not bring the realisation we seek.

So, the three things must go together hand-in-hand: supplicating our guru-deities, studying and analysing the great treatises, accumulating merit and purifying negativities. This is what Lama Tsongkhapa did and we should follow his example.

Doing our own Dharma practice 

Whether we are prostrating or reciting OM MANI PADME HUM it is our responsibility to make this beneficial for our minds by doing this happily and willingly from our hearts. It is a mistake to think that studying or listening to the teachings is purely to accumulate information and knowledge, leaving our hearts and minds untouched.

We have to do our own Dharma practice. We should mind our own instead of other people’s business, focus on our practice and check our progress to see how far we have been able to apply what we have learnt. Dharma should be used to check up on ourselves, not others. It is not hard to find examples of good practitioners. When we look at the examples set by the holy beings, we should be inspired to strive and pray to be like them one day.

Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga 

And please remain stable, without separation from my body, speech,
And mind, until I attain enlightenment.

This is an important prayer from the Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga practice we have just recited. It is important for us to think and pray that Lama Tsongkhapa is in our hearts all the time. It makes a definite difference to our sense of being taken care of by him in all our future lives by being able to meet his teachings again. Meditating on the inseparability of the great Lama Tsongkhapa at our hearts is also one of the best ways of doing the protection wheel meditation to protect ourselves from spirit harms and the different kinds of obstacles.

We benefit from visualising with faith, Lama Tsongkhapa abiding in our hearts, as he embodies the protectors of the three lineages, Chenrezig, Manjushri and Vajrapani. This visualisation helps in developing a good heart since Lama Tsongkhapa is inseparable from Chenrezig. We also develop our wisdom because Lama Tsongkhapa is the manifestation of Manjushri and since he also embodies Vajrapani, it helps us to overcome our problems and obstacles. So if we do this practice with faith, we enjoy all these benefits. Furthermore, it will help us to meet Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings again in all our future lives.

There is also a great difference when we meditate on guru devotion conjoined with entrusting ourselves to Lama Tsongkhapa abiding in our hearts. This is because Lama Tsongkhapa, embodying the protectors of the three lineages, is the definitive spiritual master. Relying on him as our protector, with strong faith and with the determination to accomplish all his wishes and advice, he becomes our ultimate object of refuge.

There are many different kinds of prayers we can do on top of the many commitments we may have. But it will be very beneficial if we can do this visualisation with this short practice of Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga.

Increasing our happy thoughts 

Gungtang Rinpoche advises, “Even if you owned mountain-high piles of gold, enough to cover the entire country, at the time of death, you will not be able to bring along a single atom of it with you. On the other hand, by reciting a mantra like OM MANI PADME HUM just once, that can open the door to a good rebirth in your future life. Simply reciting OM MANI PADME HUM is very beneficial.”

Analysing our situation more deeply, we can understand that material wealth cannot really benefit us, even in future lives. In fact, the more we own, the more we grasp at these things, increasing our self-cherishing and attachment which only create more negative karma that will not benefit us in our future lives.

Sometimes, we think, “I will definitely achieve something and I will be happier and more satisfied if I am rich in this life.” But if we profess to attach greater importance to the happiness of our future lives, then having this kind of worldly goal is incorrect. If we are concerned with this life alone, then that is a different matter. Otherwise, our goal should not be like that.

Reciting OM MANI PADME HUM is just an example. We should engage in our meditation practice and daily prayers or a single recitation of OM MANI PADME HUM with the conviction and single-pointed faith that we will definitely achieve happiness in our future lives. We need to generate that faith of conviction and be happy with whatever we are doing. Rejoice that we are doing this wonderful practice. It would be very good if we can do this.

The whole point of practising the Dharma is to remove suffering and misery. Some people think like this: “I am just a nobody in this life. I am poor and will probably stay that way. I will never amount to anything.” Thinking like that only brings unhappiness.

Practising the Dharma is to increase whatever happy thoughts we may have. We need to know how to be happy. We should think: “Even if I do not become rich, at least now I have the opportunity to study and practise the teachings and I am creating the causes for happiness in my future lives.” We need to generate this belief, to have this faith of conviction and to feel happy doing our practices by seeing the purpose in what we are doing. In his advice, Gungtang Rinpoche is telling us to practise the Dharma because it creates the cause for our happiness. As the lam-rim says, at the time of death, only the Dharma helps.

Practice of nyung-nä  

I have been requested to talk a little about the nyung-nä practice, especially on how to mix it with what we have learnt so far about generating the altruistic intention. Gungtang Rinpoche says that if someone were to ask this question: “If there is a very evil person who has accumulated a great deal of negative karma, what is the best and fastest way for him to create the cause for and to achieve enlightenment?” His reply would be, “The best practice for such a person would be the nyung-nä.”

It was mentioned in the previous lesson that a single recitation of OM MANI PADME HUM definitely becomes a cause for us to experience happiness in our future lives.

Gungtang Rinpoche says that amongst all the mantras, the best one is OM MANI PADME HUM and reciting it with the nyung-nä practice has skies of inconceivable benefits.

His Holiness often says that reciting OM MANI PADME HUM is a very good practice. He points out that when we recite the mantras of Medicine Buddha, White Tara or Dzambala, our motivation for doing so is somehow connected to the affairs of this life. We recite the Medicine Buddha mantra for good health or to get rid of sicknesses. We recite the White Tara mantra to clear life obstacles and for longevity and we recite the Dzambala mantra for wealth.

But when we recite OM MANI PADME HUM we do so solely with the motivation to benefit others and to develop a good heart. His Holiness said that it is a very good thing to recite OM MANI PADME HUM because the motivation is very good. That is why we can say that OM MANI PADME HUM is probably the best of all the mantras.

Whatever we do, when it is mixed with the affairs of this life, it is difficult for these activities to be Dharma. For anything to be Dharma, it cannot be mixed with grasping at the happiness of this life. All the valid texts say the same thing.

In the nyung-nä sadhana, there is the practice of the self and front generation of the deity. If you have received the Great Chenrezig initiation, on the basis of holding divine pride, you generate yourself as Chenrizig with clear appearance and you proceed with the rest of the practice.

The most important things to do in a nyung-nä practice are:

  1. Generating divine pride of oneself as the deity with clear appearance.
  2. Seeing one’s fellow retreatants as the deity one has self-generated.

In this way, there is no basis for jealousy, competitiveness, pride, anger and so forth to arise. This is the ideal way of doing nyung-nä.

The motivation for doing nyung-nä should be to benefit others. The motivation should not be purely to purify sicknesses or spirit harm nor should it be to fulfil a commitment, so that one is only doing it out of obligation. Rather, the motivation for doing the nyung-nä should be to purify our minds of obscurations and negative karma in order to quickly achieve enlightenment for the benefit of others. We usually do not think in this big way but only consider limited worldly goals. But when we focus on the big picture, then all the small obstacles will be eliminated along the way, without our having to even think about them.

Since the nyung-nä is a Mahayana practice, it has to be done with the Mahayana motivation of benefiting others, without any self-interest. When we have the thought, “I am doing this to get rid of my obstacles,” that is a selfish motivation. When the nyung-nä is done with such a motivation, it is questionable whether the practice is Dharma. When the motivation is insincere and does not come from the heart, the whole practice is no longer Dharma. Not only is it not Dharma, you have to spend two or three days suffering with no food and water, feeling tired and, perhaps, even generating anger.

So it is very important to try, as far as possible, to have the correct motivation for doing the practice. Of course, that is not easy because our self-cherishing is very strong. But the point is to try to have a good motivation as far as possible.

Relating the nyung-nä to what we have studied so far, you should take the opportunity to reflect on the faults of the self-cherishing attitude. You should investigate from every angle how your self-cherishing attitude is the source of all your unwanted experiences, problems and suffering. You should also examine how cherishing others is the source of happiness.

During the nyung-nä, you can start by practising with the persons sitting on your left and right, thinking how you are all equal in the sense of wanting happiness and not wanting suffering. Even if there had been some misunderstanding or conflict in the past with these people, think: “That person wants to be happy just like me. Like me, that person does not want to suffer.”  On that basis, try to remove those feelings of resentment and aversion and try to help one another.

When you engage in the nyung-nä practice, you do so with your body, speech and mind. Physically, you will probably be making many prostrations. You will be using your speech to recite the prayers and mantras. When you are reciting the mantras, it is not like ordinary speech. You should remember the power and the benefits of reciting the mantra of Chenrezig. Mentally, you guard against the arising of anger and attachment for the duration of the nyung-nä. The essential thing is to do the practice, as far as possible, always with the thought to benefit others and to try to minimise the thoughts of jealousy, competitiveness and so forth.

Generating oneself as the deity and also seeing the other participants as deities during the retreat means there would be no basis for anger to arise, since we should not be angry at a deity. Instead, you should cultivate mutual respect and consideration for one another. If you can do this, then the practical benefit will be that you can continue to be friends with that person even after finishing the nyung-nä.

A compilation of advice about Dharma studies and practice
Advice from Khen Rinpoche Geshe Thubten Chonyi, resident teacher at Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore. These teachings offer valuable advice related to our Dharma studies and practice: how to check whether our practices are Dharma, the need for study and constant reflection on the Buddha's teachings, and how to overcome our afflictions and problems so that we can truly benefit others. Transcribed, edited and prepared for publication by the editorial team at ABC, Singapore.

Daily Reflections is available as an ebook from online vendors.

CHAPTERS
Daily Reflections
i. Introduction and Biography
1. What is Dharma?
2. Studying the Dharma
3. Need for Reflection and Analysis
4. Overcoming Negative Emotions
5. Practising Pure Perception
6. Faith
7. Advice on Practice
8. Precious Human Rebirth
9. Death and Impermanence
10. Overcoming Attachment to the Body
11. Joyous Effort
12. Subduing Anger
13. Generating Bodhicitta
14. Wisdom Realizing Emptiness

What is more important - the happiness of this life or future lives?

“What am I looking for - the happiness of this life alone or the happiness of my future lives?” This is a very important question that we must ask ourselves every day. When we are more concerned with the happiness of this life, whatever Dharma practices we engage in become impure because the mind is controlled by the three mental poisons of anger, attachment and ignorance.

If we are more concerned about our future happiness, then we have to think: “What can I do now that will definitely benefit me in my future lives?”

If we are honest with ourselves, we will find that instinctively, we are looking for the happiness of this life alone. As this is our main motivation for everything we do - whether we are reciting our daily prayers, listening to teachings, receiving initiations or consulting our gurus -all our actions are motivated by the afflictions and are only expressions of our desire to achieve the happiness of this life.

Because of this attitude, the Dharma practices we engage in may look like Dharma but in reality do not become Dharma and they will not benefit us in our future lives.

We need to shift our emphasis from focussing on the happiness of this life alone to placing greater importance on the happiness of our future lives. As Buddhists, we should accept the law of karma. Consider our lifespan. Maybe we can live till we are 60 years old, but compared to the duration of our future lives, we have to take rebirths for many eons to come. Based on this comparison alone, the happiness of our future lives is clearly far more important.

Whether we end up with good or bad rebirths depends on what we do in this life. If we end up with bad rebirths in our future lives, we will have to suffer for eons. Compared to the suffering we will have to endure then, this life’s suffering no longer seems so unbearable. Happiness in our future lives is definite, provided we create the causes now.

When our goal is the happiness of our future lives, then our actions will all become Dharma. Once they become Dharma, these activities will definitely benefit us in our future lives. Therefore, it is very important that we consider this very carefully: “Am I doing this for this life or for my future lives?” Whatever our answer may be, we then have to ask, “Why am I doing this for this life/my future lives? Which is more important - this life or my future lives?”

We should have the confident attitude: “What I am looking for is the happiness of my future lives.” What is the benefit of having this attitude? Because we place more importance on our future happiness, the three mental poisons will naturally weaken and we will experience more mental peace and happiness. Otherwise, when our motivation is focussed on the happiness of this life alone, the afflictions only become stronger, leading to more unhappiness, problems and suffering.

From my side, it is my responsibility to tell you this. But whether this advice benefits you depends on you. Just listening to the advice does not help. You need to think about it, not just once but every day until you have some feeling or experience in your heart.

The purpose of the Buddhadharma  

There are only two goals for studying and practising the Buddhadharma - either the temporal goal of higher rebirth or the ultimate goal of liberation and full enlightenment.

There are no other reasons for studying and practising the Dharma. It is not for improving one’s business, removing health obstacles or solving other worldly problems. The main reason is either to achieve a good rebirth or ultimate happiness, since we want happiness and not suffering. Obviously we also want the best form of happiness, which is liberation and full enlightenment.

It is so important to remember this and to remind and ask ourselves all the time, “Why am I engaging in these studies and practices?” We should not be mistaken and confused about our goal. When people come to the Buddhadharma with the expectation that it will solve their worldly problems and things do not turn out according to their wishes, they become disappointed and lose faith in the Buddhadharma, abandoning and criticising the teachings. This happens because of the lack of clarity about what one is working for, and being too short-sighted with regards to what one wants to achieve.

Working for a good rebirth as a human being or a god is a bigger goal than just being concerned about this life.  When we work at cultivating the causes for such a rebirth, this means avoiding negative actions and engaging positive actions. Such behaviour will naturally bring us fewer problems in our daily lives.

What is Dharma practice?

This is very important - we must ensure that whatever practice we do becomes Dharma practice. Often, we seem to be practising Dharma, but most of the time, that practice does not actually become Dharma.

There is a historical account of a conversation between Dromtönpa - Lama Atisha’s heart disciple - and a practitioner. One day, Dromtönpa saw this practitioner circumambulating a stupa and he said to him, “It is good that you are circumambulating the stupa, but would it not be better for you to practise the Dharma?”

Upon hearing this, this practitioner thought that he should do something else. So, the next time Dromtönpa saw him, he was reciting a sutra.  Dromtönpa said, “It is good that you are reciting this sutra, but would it not be better for you to practise the Dharma?’

This practitioner then thought that maybe Dromtönpa was referring to meditation. He decided to go to his room and began to meditate. When Dromtönpa saw this, he said to him, “It is good that you are meditating, but would it not be better for you to practise the Dharma?”

This practitioner was now thoroughly confused. He could not think of any other  Dharma practices to do, so he went to Dromtönpa and asked him, “What should I do? What is Dharma practice?” Dromtönpa replied, “You have to give up this life.”

What is the significance of Dromtönpa’s reply?

  1. It shows that Dharma practice is primarily done with the mind and not with the body or speech.
  2. It shows that, in order to practise the Dharma, we have to give up our preoccupation with the happiness of this life, i.e., giving up the eight worldly dharmas because failing to do so means that our actions may look like Dharma but are not Dharma.

How do we give up our preoccupation with the happiness of this life? We have to reflect on how this human life of leisure and opportunity that we have is finite and will not last forever. Death will come. By reflecting on this repeatedly, we will be able to reverse the attraction to the preoccupations of this life.

Lessons from Lama Yeshe 

I was twelve years old when I went to Kopan monastery. Lama Thubten Yeshe was still alive then and he taught us by making us memorise questions and answers he had written and pasted on the wall.

There were many questions but one I can still remember was, “Why do we need to practise the Dharma?” The questions were in Tibetan, and at that time, I was more familiar with my native dialect, Sherpa. Still, I memorised the question even though I did not understand its meaning. The answer was: “We all desire happiness and do not want suffering. The only way to abandon all suffering is the practice of the Dharma. Therefore, we have to practise the Dharma.”

Another question was, “Just beating the drum, ringing the bell and performing the rituals – are these actions Dharma?” The answer to that was, “Beating the drum, ringing the bell and reciting mantras alone are not necessarily Dharma. Why? Because you can also teach animals to do these things.”

At that age, the young monks were all preoccupied with games and playing, but since we had to pass our examinations and memorisation tests, we had to memorise the questions and their answers even though we did not fully understand their content.

I am telling you this story to emphasise that Dharma practice is performed primarily with our minds and not our bodies or speech. Reciting mantras, doing our daily commitments and prayers, knowing how to do some rituals - these things are not necessarily Dharma.

Practising the Dharma means improving our minds and weakening our afflictions, the nature of which is to disturb our minds, leading to suffering and unhappiness. Until the afflictions are eliminated, we will continue to experience problems and difficulties. The Dharma is the only way to eliminate afflictions.

The distinction between Dharma and non-Dharma

The way to make our practice Dharma is to reflect on lam-rim topics such as the difficulty of obtaining a precious human rebirth and the nine-point meditation on death. These contemplations will gradually weaken our attachment to this life and also help us set a larger, more far-sighted goal. Gradually, all our actions will become Dharma.

Dromtönpa was once asked, “What separates Dharma from non-Dharma?” His answer: “When the activity you are engaged in becomes an antidote to your negative emotions and afflictions, that activity is Dharma. When your activities are not an antidote to your afflictions, then it is not Dharma.”

We need to remember and reflect on these special instructions of the great Kadampa masters, especially the advice on the distinction between what is Dharma and what is non-Dharma. Whatever we do in our daily lives – our daily commitments, coming to class to listen to teachings and so forth – we must check to see whether these activities are Dharma or not.

If we find that we have been practising for years but are not getting anywhere, it is because our practice has not been Dharma. They have not been antidotes to our afflictions and the result is that we are stuck and unable to make any progress.

Beginning to overcome our afflictions 

The advice of the great Kadampa masters, especially the advice pertaining to the differentiation between what is real Dharma practice and what is not Dharma, is extremely important. In a nutshell, Dharma is any action that is an antidote to our negative emotions. You must keep this in mind.

From the moment you consider yourself to be a Dharma practitioner, you should always relate the teachings to the state of your mind and check if you are working to defeat your afflictions. Whatever you do – be it listening to the teachings, doing your daily commitments, practising generosity and so forth -you should check: “Will doing this help to weaken or even destroy my negative emotions?” and set the motivation, “I am doing this so that I can subdue my afflictions.” By sincerely setting such a motivation, the process of destroying our afflictions has already begun. Overcoming our negative emotions does not happen overnight. Although the realisation of emptiness is the direct antidote to them, we can start fighting them now with our determination and motivation.

When you listen to the teachings and find the advice useful or inspiring, try to put it into practice. Even if you are unable to apply the advice immediately, at the very least, think, “May I be able to do so in the very near future.”

Integrating the Dharma with our minds 

Gyalsab Je’s message is: “If you are someone who seeks liberation or enlightenment, you need to exert joyous effort especially when you have this human life of leisure and endowments; your faculties are complete; you are free of obstacles to your Dharma practice and you have the necessary conditions for your spiritual development. Having found this opportunity, you should not waste it but use it to engage in something beneficial for your future lives.”

Our problem is that we do not integrate the Dharma with our minds. For example, we have heard countless teachings on the precious human rebirth but our minds remain unmoved. Instead of reflecting on the topic, we feel bored, thinking “I have heard this so many times.” There is no feeling for and little interest in this subject. We should not allow ourselves to end up in this state.

It is important that we do not simply look like a practitioner from the outside – doing our commitments, prayers and practices – but feeling empty inside. If our minds don’t change, we will encounter many problems and much suffering at the time of death. It would be ridiculous if we finally ended up in the lower realms.

Therefore, whatever Dharma we engage in, make sure it becomes Dharma. Whatever virtuous actions we do, make sure they are virtue. We should check our minds all the time.

Transforming our minds for the better 

The Kadampa masters said: “The purpose of all the Buddha’s teachings, the great treatises and commentaries that clarify the meaning of those teachings is to help us transform our minds for the better. When the mind does not improve, then even if we strive for eons to accumulate virtue with our bodies and speech, it is very difficult for those practices to become causes for liberation.”

This advice reminds us of the purpose of attending class and listening to the teachings, that is, to improve the quality of our minds. Regardless of the nature of our virtuous activities, we should always ask ourselves, “How does doing this help to improve my mind?”

Relying on mindfulness and vigilance when we engage in our Dharma practice, we should check to see if the practice is beneficial for our minds. If the mind does not change, it is like immersing a stone in water. No matter how long it stays there, the stone doesn’t change.

It is important to generate a pure and correct motivation for attending these classes. We should always remind ourselves why we are here, that we are here to learn how to improve our minds. The purpose of studying the Dharma is not to use it to check the minds and actions of others. Using the Dharma against other people is a mistake. That is not why we study the Dharma.

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

PRELIMINARIES

We should always begin our study and practice at the basic level and slowly ascend the ladder of practice. First of all, we should learn about going for refuge in the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and put that into practice. Then we should study and follow the law of karmic actions and their results. Next, we should meditate on the preciousness of our human life, our great spiritual potential and upon our own death and the impermanence of our body. After that we should develop an awareness of our own state of mind and notice what it is really doing. If we are thinking of harming anyone, even the smallest insect, then we must let go of that thought, but if our mind is thinking of something positive, such as wishing to help and cherish others, then we must try to enhance that quality. As we progress, we slowly train our mind in bodhicitta and go on to study the perfect view of emptiness. This is the proper way to approach Buddhist study and practice.

As we engage in our practice of Dharma there will be definite signs of improvement. Of course, these signs should come from within. The great Kadampa master, Geshe Chekawa, states, "Change or transform your attitude and leave your external conduct as it is." What he is telling us is that we should direct our attention towards bringing about positive transformation within, but in terms of our external conduct we should still behave without pretense, like a normal person. We should not be showy about any realization we have gained or think that we have license to conduct ourselves in any way we like. As we look into our own mind, if we find that delusions such as anger, attachment, arrogance and jealousy are diminishing and feel more intent on helping others, that is a sign that positive change is taking place.

Lama Tsongkhapa stated that in order to get rid of our confusion with regard to any subject, we must develop the three wisdoms that arise through contemplation. We have to listen to the relevant teaching, which develops the "wisdom through hearing." Then we contemplate the meaning of the teaching, which gives rise to the "wisdom of contemplation." Finally, we meditate on the ascertained meaning of the teaching, which gives rise to the "wisdom of meditation." By applying these three kinds of wisdom, we will be able to get beyond our doubts, misconceptions and confusion.

INVESTIGATING OUR ACTIONS

The text advises that we should apply ourselves to gross analysis (conceptual investigation) and subtle analysis (analytical investigation) to find out if we are performing proper actions with our body, speech and mind. If we are, then there is nothing more to do. However, if we find that certain actions of our body, speech and mind are improper, we should correct ourselves.

Every action that we perform has a motivation at its beginning. We have to investigate and analyze whether this motivation is positive or negative. If we discover that we have a negative motivation, we have to let go of that and adopt a positive one. Then, while we're actually performing the action, we have to investigate whether our action is correct or not. Finally, once we have completed the action, we have to end it with a dedication and again, analyze the correctness of our dedication. In this way, we observe the three phases of our every action of body, speech and mind, letting go of the incorrect actions and adopting the correct ones.

We should do this as often as we can, but we should try to do it at least three times a day. First thing in the morning, when we get up from our beds, we should analyze our mind and set up the right motivation for the day. During the day we should again apply this mindfulness to our actions and activities. Then in the evening, before we go to bed, we should review our actions of the daytime. If we find that we did something that we shouldn't have, we should regret the wrong action and develop contrition for having engaged in it and determine not to engage in that action again. It is essential that we purify our negativities, or wrong actions, in this way. However, if we find that we have committed good actions, we should feel happy. We should appreciate our own positive actions and draw inspiration from them, determining that tomorrow we should try to do the same or even better.

Buddha said, "Taking your own body as an example, do not harm others." So, taking ourselves as an example, what do we want? We want real peace, happiness and the best of everything. What do we not want? We don't want any kind of pain, problem or difficulty. Everyone else has the same wish-so, with that kind of understanding we should stop harming others, including those who we see as our enemies. His Holiness the Dalai Lama often advises that if we can't help others, then we should at least not harm them, either through our speech or our physical actions. In fact, we shouldn't even think harmful thoughts.

PRACTICING PATIENCE

The text states that we should not be boastful. Instead, we should appreciate the good actions we've performed. If you go up to people and say, "Haven't I been kind to you?" nobody will appreciate what you've done. In the Eight Verses of Mind Training, we read that even if people turn out to be ungrateful to us and say or do nasty things when we have been kind and helpful to them, we should make all the more effort to appreciate the great opportunity they have provided us to develop our patience. The stanza ends beautifully, "Bless me to be able to see them as if they were my true teachers of patience." After all, they are providing us with a real chance to practice patience, not just a hypothetical one. That is exactly what mind training is. When we find ourselves in that kind of difficult situation, we should just stay cool and realize that we have a great opportunity to practice kshantiparamita, the "perfection of patience."

In the same vein, the text also advises us not to be short-tempered. We shouldn't let ourselves be shaken by difficult circumstances or situations. Generally, when people say nice things to us or bring us gifts, we feel happy. On the other hand, if someone says the smallest thing that we don't want to hear, we get upset. Don't be like that. We need to remain firm in our practice and maintain our peace of mind.

DEVELOPING CONSISTENCY

The text reminds us to practice our mind training with consistency. We shouldn't practice for a few days and then give it up because we've decided it's not working. At first, we may apply ourselves very diligently to study and practice out of a sense of novelty or because we've heard so much about the benefits of meditation. Then, in a day or two, we stop because we don't think we're making any progress. Or, for a while we may come to the teachings before everyone else but then we just give up and disappear, making all kinds of reasons and excuses for our behavior. That won't help.

If we keep in mind that our ultimate goal is to become completely enlightened, then we can begin to comprehend the length of time we'll need for practice. The great Indian master, Chandrakirti, says that all kinds of accomplishments follow from diligence, consistency and enthusiasm. If we apply ourselves correctly to the proper practice we will eventually reach our destination. He says that if we don't have constant enthusiasm, even if we are very intelligent we are not going to achieve very much. Intelligence is like a drawing made on water but constant enthusiasm in our practice is like a carving made in rock-it remains for a much longer time.

So, whatever practice each of us does, big or small, if we do it consistently, over the course of time we will find great progress within ourselves. One of the examples used in Buddhist literature is that our enthusiasm should be constant, like the flow of a river. Another example compares consistency to a strong bowstring. If a bowstring is straight and strong, we can shoot the arrow further. We read in a text called The Praise of the Praiseworthy, "For you to prove your superiority, show neither flexibility nor rigidity." The point being made here is that we should be moderate in applying ourselves to our practice. We should not rigidly overexert ourselves for a short duration and then stop completely, but neither should we be too flexible and relaxed, because then we become too lethargic.

EXPECTATIONS OF REWARD

The next advice given in the text is that we should not anticipate some reward as soon as we do something nice. When we practice giving, or generosity, the best way to give is selflessly and unconditionally. That is great giving. In Buddhist scriptures we find it stated that as a result of our own giving and generosity, we acquire the possessions and resources we need. When we give without expecting anything in return, our giving will certainly bring its result, but when we give with the gaining of resources as our motivation, our giving becomes somewhat impure. Intellectualizing, thinking, "I must give because giving will bring something back to me," contaminates our practice of generosity.

When we give we should do so out of compassion and understanding. We have compassion for the poor and needy, for example, because we can clearly see their need. Sometimes people stop giving to the homeless because they think that they might go to a bar and get drunk or otherwise use the gift unwisely. We should remember that when we give to others, we never have any control over how the recipient uses our gift. Once we have given something, it has become the property of the other person. It's up to them to decide what they will do with it.

KARMIC ACTIONS

Another cardinal point of Buddhism concerns karmic actions. Sometimes we go through good times in our lives and sometimes we go through bad; but we should understand that all these situations are related to our own personal karmic actions of body, speech and mind. Shakyamuni Buddha taught numerous things intended to benefit three kinds of disciples-those who are inclined to the Hearers' Vehicle, those who are inclined to the Solitary Realizers' Vehicle and those who are inclined to the Greater Vehicle. Buddha said to all three kinds of prospective disciples, "You are your own protector." In other words, if you want to be free from any kind of suffering, it is your own responsibility to find the way and to follow it. Others cannot do it for you. No one can present the way to liberation as if it were a gift. You are totally responsible for yourself.

"You are your own protector." That statement is very profound and carries a deep message for us. It also implicitly speaks about the law of karmic actions and results. You are responsible for your karmic actions-if you do good, you will have good; if you do bad, you will have bad. It's as simple as that. If you don't create and accumulate a karmic action, you will never meet its results. Also, the karmic actions that you have already created and accumulated are not simply going to disappear. It is just a matter of time and the coming together of certain conditions for these karmic actions to bring forth their results. When we directly, or non-conceptually, fully realize emptiness, from that moment on we will never create any new karmic seeds to be reborn in cyclic existence. It is true that transcendent bodhisattvas return to samsara, but they don't come back under the influence of contaminated karmic actions or delusions. They return out of their will power, their aspirational prayers and their great compassion.

THE DESIRE TO BE LIBERATED

Without the sincere desire to be free from cyclic existence, it is impossible to become liberated from it. In order to practice with enthusiasm, we must cultivate the determined wish to be liberated from the miseries of cyclic existence. We can develop this enthusiastic wish by contemplating the suffering nature of samsara, this cycle of compulsive rebirths in which we find ourselves. As Lama Tsongkhapa states in his beautifully concise text, theThree Principal Paths, without the pure, determined wish to be liberated, one will not be able to let go of the prosperity and goodness of cyclic existence. What he is saying-and our own experience will confirm this-is that we tend to focus mostly, and perhaps most sincerely, on the temporary pleasures and happiness of this lifetime. As we do this, we get more and more entrenched in cyclic existence.

In order to break this bond to samsara, it is imperative that we cultivate the determined wish for liberation, and to do that we have to follow certain steps. First, we must try to sever our attachment and clinging to the temporary marvels and prosperity of this lifetime. Then we need to do the same thing with regard to our future lives. No matter whether we are seeking personal liberation or complete enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, we must first cultivate this attitude of renunciation. Having done that, if we want to find our own personal liberation, or nirvana, then we can follow the path of hearers or solitary realizers, but if we want to work for the betterment of all sentient beings, we should at that point follow Greater Vehicle Buddhism-the path of the bodhisattvas-which leads to the highest state of enlightenment.

The determined wish to be liberated is the first path of Lama Tsongkhapa's Three Principal Paths, which presents the complete path to enlightenment. Tsongkhapa said that this human life, with its freedoms and enriching factors, is more precious than a wish-fulfilling gem. He also tells us that, however valuable and filled with potential our life is, it is as transient as lightning. We must understand that worldly activities are as frivolous and meaningless as husks of grain. Discarding them, we should engage instead in spiritual practice to derive the essence of this wonderful human existence. We need to realize the preciousness and rarity of this human life and our great spiritual potential as well as our life's temporary nature and the impermanence of all things. However, we should not interpret this teaching as meaning that we should devalue ourselves. It simply means that we should release our attachment and clinging to this life because they are the main source of our problems and difficulties. We also need to release our attachment and clinging to our future lives and their particular marvels and pleasures. As a way of dealing with this attachment, we need to contemplate and develop conviction in the infallibility of the law of karmic actions and their results and then contemplate the suffering nature of cyclic existence.

How do we know when we have developed the determined wish to be liberated? Lama Tsongkhapa says that if we do not aspire to the pleasures of cyclic existence for even a moment but instead, day in and day out, find ourselves naturally seeking liberation, then we can say that we have developed the determined wish to be liberated. If we were to fall into a blazing fire pit, we wouldn't find even one moment that we wanted to be there. There'd be nothing enjoyable about it at all and we would want to get out immediately. If we develop that kind of determination regarding cyclic existence, then that is a profound realization. Without even the aspiration to develop renunciation, we will never begin to seek enlightenment and therefore will not engage in the practices that lead us towards it.

MOTIVATION FOR SEEKING ENLIGHTENMENT

There are three kinds of motivation we can have for aspiring to attain freedom from the sufferings of cyclic existence. The lowest motivation seeks a favorable rebirth in our next life, such as the one we have right now. With this motivation we will be able to derive the smallest essence from our human life.

The intermediate level of motivation desires complete liberation from samsara and is generating by reflecting upon the suffering nature of cyclic existence and becoming frightened of all its pains and problems. The method that can help us attain this state of liberation is the study of the common paths of the Tripitaka, the Three Baskets of teachings, and the practice and cultivation of the common paths of the three higher trainings-ethics, concentration and wisdom. This involves meditating on emptiness and developing the wisdom that realizes emptiness as the ultimate nature of all phenomena. As a result of these practices, we are then able to counteract and get rid of all 84,000 delusions and reach the state of liberation. With this intermediate motivation we achieve the state of lasting peace and happiness for ourselves alone. Our spiritual destination is personal nirvana. The highest level of motivation is the altruistic motivation of bodhicitta -seeking complete enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. With this kind of motivation, we are affirming the connections we have made with all sentient beings over many lifetimes. All sentient beings are recognized as having once been our mothers, fathers and closest friends. We appreciate how kind they have been to us and we develop the responsibility of helping them to become free from all their suffering and to experience lasting peace and happiness. When we consider our present situation we see that at the moment, we don't actually have the power to do this but once we have become fully enlightened beings, we will have all kinds of abilities to help sentient beings get rid of their pains and problems and find peace and happiness.

THE SUFFERING NATURE OF SAMSARA

If we reflect on the situation in which we find ourselves, we will realize that with so much unbearable pain and suffering, it is as though we were in a giant prison. This is the prison of cyclic existence. However, because of our distorted perception, we often see this prison as a very beautiful place; as if it were, in fact, a wonderful garden of joy. We don't really see what the disadvantages of samsara are, and because of this we find ourselves clinging to this existence. With this attachment, we continue creating karmic actions that precipitate our rebirth in it over and over again and thus keep us stuck in samsara. If we look deep within ourselves, we find that it is the innate grasping at self that distorts our perception and makes us see cyclic existence as a pleasure land. All of us who are trapped in samsara share that kind of distorted perception, and as a result, we find ourselves creating all sorts of karmic actions. Even our good karmic actions are somewhat geared towards keeping us imprisoned within cyclic existence.

We should try to understand that being in cyclic existence is like being in a fire pit, with all the pain that such a situation would bring. When we understand this, we will start to change the nature of our karmic actions. Buddha said this in the sutras and Indian masters have carried this teaching over into the commentaries, or shastras. No matter where we live in samsara, we are bound to experience suffering. It doesn't matter with whom we live-our friends, family and companions all bring problems and suffering. Nor does it matter what kind of resources we have available to us; they too ultimately bring us pain and difficulty.

Now, you might think, "Well, that doesn't seem to be altogether true. In this world there are many wonderful places to visit-magnificent waterfalls, lovely wildernesses and so on. It doesn't seem as if samsara is such a bad place to be. Also, I have many wonderful friends who really care for me. It doesn't seem true that those in cyclic existence to whom I am close bring me problems and sufferings. Moreover, I have delicious food to eat and beautiful things to wear, so neither does it seem that everything I use in cyclic existence is suffering in nature." If such are our thoughts and feelings, then we have not realized the true nature of samsara, which is actually nothing but misery. Let me explain more about how things really are in samsara. The first thing the Buddha spoke about after his enlightenment was the truth of suffering. There are three kinds of pains and problems in cyclic existence-the "suffering of misery," the "suffering of change" and "pervasive suffering." We can easily relate to the suffering of misery, as this includes directly manifested pain and problems, such as the pain we experience if we cut ourselves or get a headache. However, our understanding of suffering is usually limited to that. We don't generally perceive the misery of change, which is a subtler kind of suffering. Even when we experience some temporary pleasures and comforts in cyclic existence, we must understand that these things also change into pains and problems. Pervasive, or extensive, suffering is even more subtle and hence even more difficult for us to understand. Suffering is simply the nature of samsara. When we have a headache we take medicine for the pain or when there is a cut on our body we go to the doctor for treatment, but we generally don't seek treatment for the other two kinds of suffering.

Buddhas and bodhisattvas feel infinite compassion for those of us who are trapped within cyclic existence because we don't realize that our pain and suffering are our own creation. It is as though we are engaged in self-torture. Our suffering is due to our own negative karmic actions, which in turn are motivated by all sorts of deluded thoughts and afflictive emotions. Just as we would feel compassion for a close friend who had gone insane, so are the buddhas and bodhisattvas constantly looking for ways in which to help us free ourselves from these problematic situations. With their infinite love and compassion, they are always looking for ways to assist us in getting out of this messy existence.

None of us would like to be a slave. Slaves go through all kinds of altercations, restrictions and difficulties and try with all their might to find freedom from their oppressors. Likewise, we have become slaves to the oppressors of our own delusions and afflictive emotions. These masters have enslaved us not only in this lifetime but for innumerable lifetimes past. As a result, we have gone through countless pains and sufferings in cyclic existence. Obviously, if we don't want to suffer such bondage any longer, we need to make an effort at the first given opportunity to try to free ourselves. In order to do this, we need to cultivate the wisdom realizing selflessness, or emptiness. In Sanskrit, the word is shunyata, ortathata, which is translated as "emptiness," or "suchness." This wisdom is the only tool that can help us to destroy the master of delusions-our self-grasping ignorance. Emptiness is the ultimate nature of all that exists. As such it is the antidote with which we can counteract all forms of delusion, including the root delusions of ignorance, attachment and anger.

THE SELF-CHERISHING ATTITUDE

Buddha has stated that for Mahayana practitioners, the self-cherishing attitude is like poison, whereas the altruistic, other-cherishing attitude is like a wish-fulfilling gem. Self-centeredness is akin to a toxic substance that we have to get out of our system in order to find the jewel-like thought of cherishing other beings. When we ingest poison it contaminates our body and threatens our very existence. In the same way, the self-cherishing attitude ruins our chance to improve our mind. With it, we destroy the possibility for enlightenment and become harmful to others. By contrast, if we have the mental attitude of cherishing other beings, not only will we be able to find happiness and the best of everything we are seeking, but we will also be able to bring goodness to others.

In order to cultivate the altruistic attitude, we should reflect on the kindness of all other beings. As we learn to appreciate their kindness we also learn to care for them. We might accept the general notion that sentient beings must be cherished, but when we come down to it we find ourselves thinking, "Well, so and so doesn't count because they have been mean or unpleasant to me, so I'll take them off the list and just help the rest." If we do that we are missing the whole point and are limiting our thinking. We need all other beings in order to follow the path that Buddha has shown us.

It is others who provide us with the real opportunities to grow spiritually. In fact, in terms of providing us with the actual opportunities to follow the path leading to enlightenment, sentient beings are just as kind to us as are the buddhas. To use a previous example in a different context, in order to grow any kind of fruit tree we need its seed. However, it's not enough just to have the seed-we also need good fertile soil, otherwise the seed won't germinate. So, although Buddha has given us the seed-the path to enlightenment-sentient beings constitute the field of our growth-the opportunities to actually engage in activities leading to the state of enlightenment.

PRACTICES FOR DEVELOPING BODHICITTA

There are two methods of instruction for developing bodhicitta. The first is the "six causes and one result," which has come down to us through a line of transmission from Shakyamuni Buddha to Maitreya and Asanga and his disciples. The second is called "equalizing and exchanging self for others," an instruction that has come down to us from Shakyamuni Buddha to Manjushri and Arya Nagarjuna and his disciples. It doesn't matter which of these two core instructions for developing bodhicitta we put into practice. The focal object of great compassion is all sentient beings and its aspect is wishing them to be free from every kind of pain and suffering.

We start at a very basic level. We try to cultivate compassion towards our family members and friends, then slowly extend our compassion to include people in our neighborhood, in the same country, on the same continent and throughout the whole world. Ultimately, we include within the scope of our compassion not only all people but all other beings throughout the universe. We find that we cannot cause harm to any sentient being because this goes against our compassion.

Before generating such compassion, however, we need to cultivate even-mindedness-a sense of equanimity towards others-because our compassion has to extend equally towards all sentient beings, without discrimination. Usually, we divide people mentally into different categories. We have enemies on one side, friends and relatives on another and strangers somewhere else. We react differently towards each group. We have very strong negative feelings towards our enemies-we put them way away from us and if anything bad happens to them we feel a certain satisfaction. We have an indifferent attitude towards those who are strangers-we don't care if bad or good things happen to them because to us, they don't count. But if anything happens to those near and dear to us, we are immediately affected and experience all kinds of feelings in response.

In order to balance our attitude towards people and other beings, we should understand that there is nothing fixed in terms of relationships between ourselves and others. Someone we now see as a very dear friend could become our worst enemy later on in this life or the next. Similarly, someone we regard as an enemy could become our best friend. When we take rebirth our relationships change. We may become someone of a different race or some kind of animal. There is so much uncertainty in this changing pattern of lives and futures. As we take this into consideration, we begin to realize that there's no sense in discriminating between friends and enemies. In the light of all this change we should understand that all beings should be treated equally.

As we train our minds in this way, the time will come when we feel as close to all sentient beings as we currently feel to our dearest relatives and friends. After balancing our attitude in regard to people and other beings, we will easily be able to cultivate great compassion. However, we should not confuse compassion with attachment. Some people, motivated by attachment to their own skill in helping or to the outcome of their assistance, become very close and helpful to others and think that this is compassion, but it is not. Great compassion is a quality that someone who hasn't yet entered the path of Mahayana could have. So, after cultivating compassion and bodhicitta, you should combine it with cultivating the wisdom that understands emptiness. This is known as "integrating method and wisdom" and is essential to reach the state of highest enlightenment.

I always qualify personal nirvana to differentiate it from enlightenment. In the higher practices, Theravadins cultivate a path that brings them to the state of nirvana, or liberation. These are people who are seeking personal freedom from cyclic existence. They talk about "liberation with remainder"-liberation that is attained while one still has the aggregates, the contaminated body and mind. "Liberation without remainder" means that one discards the body and then achieves the state of liberation. To attain the highest goal within the tradition of Theravada Buddhism, one has to observe pure ethics, study or listen to teachings on the practice, contemplate the teachings and then meditate on them. For those of us who are following the Mahayana tradition, however, our intention should be to do this work of enlightenment for the benefit and sake of all other sentient beings. In Mahayana Buddhist practice we also need to follow the same four steps, but we are not so much seeking our own personal goal as we are aspiring to become enlightened beings in order to be in a position to help others.

READINESS FOR RECEIVING EMPTINESS TEACHINGS

Mahayana Buddhism consists of two major categories or vehicles. The first is the Sutrayana, the Perfection Vehicle; the second is the Tantrayana, the Vajra Vehicle. In order for anyone to practice tantric Buddhism, he or she should be well prepared and should have become a suitable vessel for such teachings and practices. Sutrayana is more like an open teaching for everyone. However, there are exceptions to this rule.

Even within the Sutra Vehicle, the emptiness teachings should not be given to just anyone who asks but to only suitable recipients- those who have trained their minds to a certain point of maturity. Then, when the teachings on emptiness are given, they become truly beneficial to that person. Let's say that we have the seed of a very beautiful flower that we wish to grow. If we simply dump the seed into dry soil it is not going to germinate. This doesn't mean that there is something wrong with the seed. It's just that it requires other causes and conditions, such as fertile soil, depth and moisture in order to develop into a flower. In the same way, if a teaching on emptiness is given to someone whose mind is not matured or well-enough trained, instead of benefiting that person it could actually give them harm.

There was once a great Indian master named Drubchen Langkopa. The king of the region where he lived heard about this master and invited him to his court to give spiritual teachings. When Drubchen Langkopa responded to the king's request and gave a teaching on emptiness, the king went berserk. Although the master didn't say anything that was incorrect, the king completely misunderstood what was being taught because he wasn't spiritually prepared for it. He thought that the master was telling him that nothing existed at all. In his confusion, he decided that Drubchen Langkopa was a misleading guide and had him executed. Later on, another master was invited to the court. He gradually prepared the king for teachings on emptiness by first talking about the infallibility of the workings of the law of karmic actions and results, impermanence and so on. Finally, the king was ready to learn about emptiness as the ultimate reality and at last understood what it meant. Then he realized what a great mistake he had made in ordering the execution of the previous master.

This story tells us two things. Firstly, the teacher has to be very skillful and possess profound insight in order to teach emptiness to others. He or she needs two qualities known as "skillful means" and "wisdom." Secondly, the student needs to be ready to receive this teaching. The view of emptiness is extremely profound and is therefore hard to grasp. There are two aspects of emptiness, or selflessness -the emptiness, or selflessness, of the person and the emptiness, or selflessness, of phenomena.

People who are unprepared get scared that the teachings are actually denying the existence of everything. It sounds to them as if the teachings are rejecting the entire existence of phenomena. They don't understand that the term "emptiness" refers to the emptiness of inherent, or true, existence. They then take this misunderstanding and apply it to their own actions. They come to the conclusion that karmic actions and their results don't really exist at all and become wild and crazy, thinking that whatever makes their lives pleasurable or humorous is okay because their actions have no consequences.

Additionally, the listener's sense of ego can also become an obstacle, as the idea of emptiness can really frighten those who are not ready for it to the extent that they abandon their meditation on emptiness altogether. Buddha's teaching on emptiness is a core, or inner essence, teaching, and if for some reason we abandon it, this becomes a huge obstacle to our spiritual development. It is very important to remember that discovering the emptiness of any phenomenon is not the same as concluding that that phenomenon does not exist at all.

In his Supplement to the Middle Way, Chandrakirti describes indicative signs by which one can judge when someone is ready to learn about emptiness. He explains that just as we can assume that there is a fire because we can see smoke or that there is water because we can see water birds hovering above the land, in the same way, through certain external signs, we can infer that someone is ready to receive teachings on emptiness. Chandrakirti goes on to tell us, "When an ordinary being, on hearing about emptiness, feels great joy arising repeatedly within him and due to such joy, tears moisten his eye and the hair on his body stands up, that person has in his mind the seed for understanding emptiness and is a fit vessel to receive teachings on it."

If we feel an affinity for the teachings and are drawn towards them, it shows that we are ready. Of the external and internal signs, the internal are more important. However, if we don't have these signs, we should make strong efforts to make ourselves suitable vessels for teachings on emptiness. To do so, we need to do two things- accumulate positive energy and wisdom and purify our deluded, negative states of mind. For the sake of simplicity, we refer to these as the practices of accumulationand purification.

In order to achieve the two types of accumulation-the accumulation of merit, or positive energy, and the accumulation of insight, or wisdom -we can engage in the practice of the six perfections of generosity, ethics, patience, enthusiastic perseverance, concentration and wisdom. Through such practices we will be able to accumulate the merit and wisdom required for spiritual progress.

We can talk about three kinds of generosity (dana, in Sanskrit)- the giving of material things, the giving of Dharma and the giving of protection, or freedom from fear. The giving of material help is easily understood. In the Lam-rim chen-mo, Lama Tsongkhapa's great lam-rim text, we read that even if you have only a mouthful of food, you can practice material giving by sharing it with a really needy person. When we see homeless people on the streets, we often get irritated or frustrated by their presence. That is not a good attitude. Even if we can't give anything, we can at least wish that someday we will be in a position to help.

The giving of Dharma can be practiced by anyone, not just a lama. For example, when you do your daily practice with the wish to benefit others, there might be some divine beings or other invisible beings around you who are listening. So, when you dedicate your prayers to others, that is giving of Dharma, or spirituality. Somebody out there is listening; remember that. An example of giving protection would be saving somebody's life.

In his Supplement, Chandrakirti says, "They will always adopt pure ethics and observe them. They will give out of generosity, will cultivate compassion and will meditate on patience. Dedicating such virtue entirely to full awakening for the liberation of wandering beings, they pay respect to accomplished bodhisattvas." In Tibetan, ethics, or moral discipline, is called tsul-tim, which means "the mind of protection." Ethics is a state of mind that protects us from negativity and delusion. For example, when we vow not to kill any sentient being, we develop the state of mind that protects us from the negativity of killing.

In Buddhism, we find different kinds of ethics. On the highest level there are the tantric ethics-tantric vows and commitments. At the level below these are the bodhisattva's ethics, and below these are the ethics for individual emancipation-pratimoksha, in Sanskrit. If we want to practice Buddhism, then even if we have not taken the tantric or bodhisattva vows, there are still the ethics of the lay practitioner. And if we have not taken the lay vows, we must still observe the basic ethics of abandoning the ten negativities of body, speech and mind. Avoiding these ten negativities is the most basic practice of ethics. If anyone performs these ten actions, whether they are a Buddhist or not, they are committing a negativity.

There are three negativities of body-killing, stealing and indulging in sexual misconduct. There are four negativities of speech-lying, causing disharmony, using harsh language and indulging in idle gossip. There are three negativities of mind-harmful intent, covetousness and wrong, or distorted, views. When we develop the state of mind to protect ourselves from these negativities and thus cease to engage in them, we are practicing ethics. Furthermore, we must always try to keep purely any vows, ethics and commitments we have promised to keep.

In addition to these ten negativities there are also the five "boundless negativities," or heinous crimes. These are killing one's father, killing one's mother, killing an arhat, shedding the blood of an enlightened being-we use the term "shedding the blood" here because an enlightened being cannot be killed-and causing a schism in the spiritual community. These negativities are called "boundless" because after the death of anyone who has committed any of them, there is a very brief intermediate state followed immediately by rebirth directly into a bad migration such as the hell, hungry ghost or animal realms.

We have discussed generosity, ethics, patience and the need for enthusiasm and consistency in our practice. Regarding the remaining perfections of concentration and wisdom, even though we may not at present have a very high level of concentration, we do need to gain a certain amount of mental stability so that we don't indulge in negativities. We must also cultivate the perfection of wisdom, which understands the reality of emptiness. We may not yet have developed the wisdom that perceives emptiness as the ultimate nature of all phenomena, but we should begin by developing our "wisdom of discernment" so that we can differentiate between right and wrong actions and apply ourselves accordingly. All these things constitute the actual practice that can help us to attain good rebirths in future.

PURIFICATION

We know that if we create any kind of karmic action-good, bad or neutral-we will experience its results. However, this does not mean that we cannot do anything to avoid the results of actions that we have already committed. If we engage in the practice of purification we can avoid having to experience the result of an earlier negative action. Some people believe that they have created too many negative actions to be able to transform themselves, but that's not true. The Buddha said that there isn't any negativity, however serious or profound, that cannot be changed through the practice of purification. Experienced masters say that the one good thing about negativities is that they can be purified. If we don't purify our mind, we cannot really experience the altruistic mind of enlightenment or the wisdom realizing emptiness.

As we look within ourselves, we find that we are rich with delusions. There are three fundamental delusions-the "three poisons" of ignorance, attachment and anger-which give rise to innumerable other delusions; as many as 84,000 of them. So, we have a lot of work to do to purify all these delusions as well as the negative karmic actions that we have created through acting under the influence of deluded motivation.

Let me tell you a true story from the life of Lama Tsongkhapa, who is believed to have been an emanation of Manjushri, the deity of wisdom. When Lama Tsongkhapa meditated on emptiness in the assembly of monks, he would become totally absorbed and simply rest in a non-dual state as if his mind and emptiness were one. After all the other monks had left the hall, Lama Tsongkhapa would still be sitting there in meditation. At times he would check his understanding of emptiness with Manjushri through the help of a mediator, a great master called Lama Umapa. Through this master, Lama Tsongkhapa once asked Manjushri, "Have I understood the view of emptiness exactly as presented by the great Indian Master, Nagarjuna?" The answer he received was "No." Manjushri advised Lama Tsongkhapa to go with a few disciples into intensive retreat and engage in purification and accumulation practices in order to deepen his understanding of emptiness.

In accordance with Manjushri's advice, Lama Tsongkhapa took eight close students, called the "eight pure disciples," and went to a place called Wölka, more than one hundred miles east of Lhasa. There, he and his students engaged in intensive purification and accumulation practices, including many preliminary practices such as full-length prostrations and recitation of the Sutra of Confession to the Thirty-five Buddhas. Lama Tsongkhapa did as many as 350,000 prostrations and made many more mandala offerings. When making this kind of offering, you rub the base of your mandala set with your forearm. Today, mandala sets are made of silver, gold or some other metal and are very smooth, but Lama Tsongkhapa used a piece of slate as his mandala base, and as a result of all his offerings wore the skin of his forearm raw.

We have a beautiful saying in Tibet: "The life-stories of past teachers are practices for posterity." So, when we hear about the lives of our lineage masters, they are not just stories but messages and lessons for us. The masters are telling us, "This is the way I practiced and went to the state beyond suffering."

During his retreat, Lama Tsongkhapa also read the great commentary to Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamaka called Root Wisdom. Two lines of this text stood out for him-that everything that exists is characterized by emptiness and that there is no phenomenon that is not empty of inherent, or true, existence. It is said that at that very moment, Lama Tsongkhapa finally experienced direct insight into emptiness.

Some people think that emptiness isn't that difficult an insight to gain, but maybe now you can understand that it is not so easy. It is hard for many of us to sit for half an hour, even with a comfortable cushion. Those who are trained can sit for maybe forty minutes and if we manage to sit for a whole hour, we feel that it's marvelous. The great yogi Milarepa, on the other hand, did not have a cushion and sat so long that he developed calluses. This is a great teaching for us. If masters or holy beings have created any negative karmic actions, they also have to experience their results unless those actions have been purified. Even those who are nearing enlightenment still have some things to purify and need to accumulate positive energy and wisdom. If this is true even for great masters and holy beings, then it must also be true for us. We have created innumerable negative karmic actions, so we should try to purify them as much as possible. All of us-old students, new students, and myself included-need to make as much effort as we can to purify our negativities, stop creating new ones and create more positive actions. This should be our practice. Many people might be doing their best to purify the negativities they have already accumulated but feel that they are not yet ready to completely stop creating more. As a result, they naturally get involved in negativities again. This is not good. You must do your best to both purify past negativities and not create any new ones.

The practice of purification, or confession, must include the "four opponent powers," or the "four powerful antidotes." The first opponent power is the "power of contrition," or regret. If we happen to accidentally drink some poison then we really regret it because we feel so terrible. This feeling motivates us to go for treatment to detoxify our body, but we also make a kind of commitment or determination not to make that same mistake again. So, we also need to generate what is known as the "power of resolution"-the firm determination not to repeat the negativity.

The other two opponent powers are the "power of the object of reliance" and the "power of the application of antidotes." Taking refuge in the Three Jewels and generating the altruistic mind of enlightenment constitutes the power of reliance. Cultivating any general or specific meditation practice (such as meditation on the equality of self and others) constitutes the power of the application of the antidote. There is no negativity that can stand up to these four opponent powers.

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.

A Commentary on the Seven-Point Mind Training
In this book, Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Jampa Tegchok explains how we can train our mind away from self-cherishing, the cause of all suffering, and develop compassion, the cause of everything that is good. He bases his explanation on Kadampa Geshe Chekawa’s classic text, The Seven Point Mind Training, which, amongst other things, teaches us how to transform problems into happiness.

You can read this book here or order a print copy or ebook version of the book from the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.

The Kindness of Others
The Kindness of Others: Editor's Introduction
Chapter One: Motivation
Chapter Two: The Seven-Point Mind Training
Chapter Three: The First Point - The Preliminaries as a Basis for the Practice, Training in Bodhicitta
Chapter Four: The Second Point - The Actual Practice,Training in Bodhicitta
Chapter Five: The Third Point - Transforming Adverse Circumstances into the Path
Chapter Six: The Fourth Point - The Integrated Practice of a Single Lifetime
Chapter Seven: The Fifth Point - The Measure of Having Trained the Mind
Chapter Eight: The Sixth Point - The Commitments of Mind Training
Chapter Nine: The Seventh Point - The Precepts of Mind Training
Chapter Ten: Conclusion
Appendix: The Seven-Point Mind Training
Bibliography and Recommended Reading

Bibliography and Recommended Reading

Nagarjuna. Nagarjuna’s “Precious Garland": Buddhist Advice for Living and Liberation. Analyzed, translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 1998.

Pabongka Rinpoche. Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand. Translated by Michael Richards. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991.

Shantideva. A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life. Translated by Vesna A. Wallace and B. Alan Wallace. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 1997.

Sopa, Geshe Lhundub. Peacock in the Poison Grove. Edited and co-translated by Michael Sweet and Leonard Zwilling. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2001.

Tegchok, Geshe Jampa. Transforming Adversity Into Joy And Courage: An Explanation Of The Thirty-Seven Practices Of Bodhisattvas. Edited by Thubten Chodron. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 1999.

Tsong Khapa, Lama Je. The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment. Three volumes translated by the Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 2000, 2002, 2004.

Other teachings on the Seven-Point Mind Training

Chödrön, Pema. Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1994.

Druppa, Gyalwa Gendun, the First Dalai Lama. Training the Mind in the Great Way. Translated by Glenn H. Mullin. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 1993.

Gehlek Rimpoche. Lojong: Training of the Mind in Seven Points (edited transcript). Ann Arbor: Jewel Heart Publications. See www.jewelheart.org.

Gomo Tulku. Becoming a Child of the Buddhas: A Simple Clarification of the Root Verses of Seven Point Mind Training. Translated and edited by Joan Nicell. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1998.

Gyalchok, Shönu & Könchok Gyaltsen (compilers). Mind Training: The Great Collection. Translated and edited by Thupten Jinpa. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2005. (This excellent book contains the root text and several important early commentaries to the Seven-Point
Mind Training
as well as many other essential mind training texts, more than forty in all.)

Gyatso, Tenzin, HH the Dalai Lama. Awakening the Mind, Lightening the Heart. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995.

Gyeltsen, Geshe Tsultim. Mirror of Wisdom: Teachings on Emptiness. Long Beach and Boston: TDL Archive and Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive, 2000. (Contains a commentary on the Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun.)

Khyentse Rinpoche, Dilgo. Enlightened Courage: A Commentary on the Seven Point Mind Training. Translated by the Padmakara Translation Group. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 1993.

Konchog, Geshe Lama. A Commentary on the Seven Point Mind Training. On www.lamayeshe.com.

Kongtrul, Jamgon. The Great Path of Awakening. Translated by Ken McLeod. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1987.

Nam-kha Pel. Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun. Translated by Brian Beresford, edited by Jeremy Russell. Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1992.

Pabongka Rinpoche. Op cit. Contains a translation of and a commentary on the Seven-Point Mind Training, pp. 589–625.

Rabten, Geshe, and Geshe Dhargyey. Advice from a Spiritual Friend. Translated and edited by Brian Beresford, with Gonsar Tulku and Sharpa Tulku. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1977, 1996.

Tharchin, Sermey Khensur Lobsang. Achieving Bodhicitta. Howell: Mahayana Sutra and Tantra Press, 1999.

Trungpa, Chogyam. Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving Kindness. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1993.

Wallace, B. Alan. Buddhism With an Attitude: The Tibetan Seven-Point Mind-Training. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 2001.

———. The Seven-Point Mind Training. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications,
1992.

There’s also a website devoted to this practice: http://lojongmindtraining.com/

A Commentary on the Seven-Point Mind Training
In this book, Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Jampa Tegchok explains how we can train our mind away from self-cherishing, the cause of all suffering, and develop compassion, the cause of everything that is good. He bases his explanation on Kadampa Geshe Chekawa’s classic text, The Seven Point Mind Training, which, amongst other things, teaches us how to transform problems into happiness.

You can read this book here or order a print copy or ebook version of the book from the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.

The Kindness of Others
The Kindness of Others: Editor's Introduction
Chapter One: Motivation
Chapter Two: The Seven-Point Mind Training
Chapter Three: The First Point - The Preliminaries as a Basis for the Practice, Training in Bodhicitta
Chapter Four: The Second Point - The Actual Practice,Training in Bodhicitta
Chapter Five: The Third Point - Transforming Adverse Circumstances into the Path
Chapter Six: The Fourth Point - The Integrated Practice of a Single Lifetime
Chapter Seven: The Fifth Point - The Measure of Having Trained the Mind
Chapter Eight: The Sixth Point - The Commitments of Mind Training
Chapter Nine: The Seventh Point - The Precepts of Mind Training
Chapter Ten: Conclusion
Appendix: The Seven-Point Mind Training
Bibliography and Recommended Reading

The commentary I have been following talks about the old and new translation schools. The former means the Nyingma School. Of the four main traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, the Nyingma is the old Kadam and the Sakya, Kagyu and Gelug are the new Kadam. Within these traditions we find slight differences in the wording of the different versions of the root text of the Seven-Point Mind Training. This is not a case of correct or incorrect but simply that over the years certain differences have arisen.

The root text I have been following was compiled by the twentieth century Gelug lama, Pabongka Rinpoche,29 and the commentary I have used was composed by Chigja Rinpoche at the request of Kungo Palden, his manager, who explained that he found the root text and extant commentaries hard to understand and asked Chigja Rinpoche to compose one he could comprehend.

This now finishes the explanation of the Seven-Point Mind Training based on that root text and commentary.

Within the entire Seven-Point Mind Training, perhaps the most important point is made under the seventh point in the line

There are two activities—at beginning and end.

As I mentioned in the teaching, the important activity at the beginning is motivation, so please try to be careful with that. Cultivate the habit of thinking about your motivation first thing in the morning, the way a smoker lights up as soon as he gets out of bed. Once we become familiar with setting our motivation first thing, it goes quite smoothly.

However, we have to continue working on our motivation lest faults creep in. It’s not enough to assume that since what we’re doing is beneficial for others we can just leave it at that and not think about our motivation any more.

On the other hand, if we continue to think about our motivation all the time, our practice won’t be quite right either. What we should do is reflect on our motivation at the beginning, do the practice properly and then conclude it in the right way. If we do all this correctly our practice will be complete.

We should also make a habit of reviewing our day before we go to bed each night, asking ourselves how well we did in actually working for the benefit of others, as we set out to do at the beginning of the day. If we find that we did quite well in working for the benefit of others, we should feel very appreciative of ourselves, rejoice, and make prayers and dedications. If we find that we did not do so well, we should try to feel remorse, regret whatever went wrong and purify it. This is the way to shape our mind.

Thus, in the context of the two important activities, one at the beginning and one at the end, the latter is dedication. Dedication is a specific type of prayer we make when we have something to dedicate. If we do something virtuous we can dedicate it with a special prayer; merely saying the prayer itself does not create any merit to dedicate towards the intended result. However, if we have been careful to start our day with bodhicitta motivation, as above, our actions that day should have produced some merit, so that night we should dedicate it to attaining enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings.

Practicing Dharma in daily life

Even though we talk about these important activities at beginning and end, the teachings actually say that we don’t need to set aside a special time for practice. Rather, we should transform all our daily activities—walking, coming, going, sitting, sleeping, eating, working and everything else we do—into practice. We might find it difficult to do this at first because it’s hard to remember to do it all the time but if we make the effort it will get progressively easier.

Take the simple activity of eating, for example. There are many ways to eat in a Dharma way, depending upon the level of our practice. Those who have taken bodhisattva vows can transform eating according to Paramitayana or Vajrayana, but at the basic, less esoteric, level we can think simply that we’re offering what we’re eating to all the sentient beings that inhabit our body, aspiring in future to satisfy them with the Dharma just as we’re presently satisfying them with food. In this way we can transform our action of eating into Dharma.

When we go to bed we can recollect the qualities of the Buddha and our various Dharma practices and in that way go to sleep in a positive frame of mind, thus making the whole time we’re asleep virtuous.

Therefore, even though it is good to set time aside to do retreat when the opportunity arises, it is probably more important to try to transform all our activities into Dharma. The methods for doing so exist. I know they’re difficult and I don’t claim to practice them all myself; if someone were to ask me if I can do all these practices I would reply that I cannot do them all. However, it is excellent to try, and the more effort we put in the easier it becomes.

Another thing I’d like to stress is the importance of keeping our mind steady in the sense of not getting too puffed up because of our accomplishments and knowledge, worldly or spiritual. Either way, it’s dangerous and harmful. If we find ourselves becoming arrogant we should look around and recognize there are definitely other people who know more and can explain things better. Whatever we feel proud of knowing, we should remember that others know more and looking up to them can help bring our mind back down.

Alternatively, sometimes we might feel a bit depressed, thinking, “No matter what I try, I’m just no good at anything. I’m no good at worldly things; I’m no good at Dharma practice.” But if we look around we’ll see that there are others who are worse. Comparing ourselves to them can help bring our mind back up.

We need to apply the mental factor of vigilance to check ourselves all the time to see whether or not what we’re doing is worthwhile, whether or not we’re really practicing. We don’t have to be doing anything visible, reciting mantras or sitting in the meditation posture to be genuinely practicing Dharma. As long as what we’re doing is truly beneficial for others there’s no reason it’s not Dharma. Therefore we must be constantly mindful and aware of what we’re doing to make sure that we’re always on the right track.

There’s a story from Atisha’s time in Tibet, where he had many disciples. Once he checked to see who had the higher realizations—Dromtönpa, the disciple who spent all his time serving Atisha, or Neljorpa, who spent all his time meditating in retreat. What he found was that Dromtönpa, who continually waited on him hand and foot, helping and serving him, had more realizations than Neljorpa. That was because Dromtönpa was constantly vigilant to ensure that everything he did was of service to his guru. Since he was able to transform all his activities of body, speech and mind into Dharma, he became the more highly realized.

Also, when Tibet’s great yogi Milarepa was living up in the mountains, people would come up and make offerings of food and help to the meditators. He observed that the meditators and those offering food and help became enlightened simultaneously. Actually, the fact that they reached enlightenment at the same time is a dependent arising. Like the story of Dromtönpa and the meditator, this story shows that those who helped the meditators up in the mountains with a good motivation purified much negativity and accumulated extensive merit.

It is said that the root of all Dharma practice is the mind—our attitude and way of thinking—and that if our motivation is pure, whatever we do becomes Dharma, whether it benefits others directly or not. There’s a saying that a person with a good mind lying down sleeping is much better than a person with a bad mind sitting in meditation. This is very true. So what if a person full of malicious thoughts, who always harms and speaks very spitefully to others, sits up straight, eyes half-closed in the correct meditation posture? That’s not particularly amazing.

What’s more remarkable is an ordinary person full of friendly and caring thoughts, who always avoids harming others and is very humble and considerate, lying down to sleep—that person’s mind doesn’t become negative but continues to grow more positive, even when asleep.

As I mentioned before, when we see that death is imminent we should be able to think, “Well, it’s OK to die. I’ve led my life as best I could, I’ve not done anything really bad, so there’s no reason to regret dying.” However, when we see that our death is not imminent we should feel happy that we’re not about to die and that there are many good things we can do with the rest of our life.

A final note on motivation

Because it is a Mahayana practice, we should never engage in mind training for ourselves alone but always for the sake of all the countless other sentient beings.

When our motivation is to attain personal liberation for ourselves alone, although in general this is neither bad nor non-virtuous because it leads to the state of a Hinayana arhat, it’s not appropriate for Mahayana practitioners.

Similarly, if our motivation is to be reborn as a human or a god because we’re desperate to avoid the unbearable sufferings of the lower realms, this isn’t bad or non-virtuous either—it’s still Dharma—but it’s a small scope practice and again not worthy of a great scope practitioner.

However, if we practice simply to receive praise, veneration or offerings, gain followers or become rich and famous, then even if we meditate all night and day, it can never become Dharma. No matter how hard we practice, if we’re doing it for just this life, it’s not Dharma.

For our actions to become Dharma they must be completely unmixed with any thoughts of gain for just this life. If our motivation is mixed with the purpose of this one life, it is deeply polluted and nothing we do will turn out well. It’s like pouring nectar into a jar of poison.

The very best thing we can do is to work constantly for the benefit of all sentient beings, who are as infinite as space. If we can’t manage that, we should try to gain personal liberation, and if that too is beyond us, then we should at least try to avoid the suffering of the three lower realms. That’s still Dharma practice; it’s not non-virtue. It’s neither wrong nor evil; it’s just not the highest practice we can do.

Notes

29 See the appendix of this book. [Return to text]

A Commentary on the Seven-Point Mind Training
In this book, Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Jampa Tegchok explains how we can train our mind away from self-cherishing, the cause of all suffering, and develop compassion, the cause of everything that is good. He bases his explanation on Kadampa Geshe Chekawa’s classic text, The Seven Point Mind Training, which, amongst other things, teaches us how to transform problems into happiness.

You can read this book here or order a print copy or ebook version of the book from the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.

The Kindness of Others
The Kindness of Others: Editor's Introduction
Chapter One: Motivation
Chapter Two: The Seven-Point Mind Training
Chapter Three: The First Point - The Preliminaries as a Basis for the Practice, Training in Bodhicitta
Chapter Four: The Second Point - The Actual Practice,Training in Bodhicitta
Chapter Five: The Third Point - Transforming Adverse Circumstances into the Path
Chapter Six: The Fourth Point - The Integrated Practice of a Single Lifetime
Chapter Seven: The Fifth Point - The Measure of Having Trained the Mind
Chapter Eight: The Sixth Point - The Commitments of Mind Training
Chapter Nine: The Seventh Point - The Precepts of Mind Training
Chapter Ten: Conclusion
Appendix: The Seven-Point Mind Training
Bibliography and Recommended Reading

Chapter Seven: The Fifth Point - The Measure of Having Trained the Mind

The fifth point is the measure, or criterion, of success in the mind training practice. The text says,

Integrate all the teachings into one thought.

We should understand that the one underlying purpose behind all the teachings of the buddhas and bodhisattvas is the elimination of the self-cherishing and self-grasping minds.

Primary importance should be given to the two witnesses.

This means that if, for example, we’re falsely accused of stealing, even though we might be able to call up a witness to testify to our innocence, we ourselves are the main witness because we know that we are, in fact, innocent and will not have to experience the karmic results of this action that we have not actually created.

Constantly cultivate only a peaceful mind.

We must sustain our practice whether things are going badly or well. When they go badly we sustain ourselves by using the techniques of transforming difficulties into the path, and, in this way, whatever happens, always maintain our practice and remain on the spiritual path.

Some people tend to get angry at the slightest provocation and say or do all kinds of destructive things. We should not be like that but try to remain steady in our practice. Instead of being touchy and easily upset, when things go badly we should think that it’s OK; we should be easygoing. Equally, when things go well, we should think that that’s OK too and be easygoing at such times as well. Everybody appreciates easygoing people and their consistency throughout the day. This is how we should be in our practice.

The measure of a trained mind is that it has turned away.

At this point the commentary mentions certain signs indicating some success in our mind training. For example, when we’ve been practicing for a while, even though we might not have fully abandoned every last sign of selfishness, having been able to weaken it a little is a sign of success. In other words, we know that we’re doing well if our selfishness has at least diminished.

There are five great marks of a trained mind.

A person who has practiced mind training may exhibit five great signs:

(a) The great ascetic—when we’re well trained we can accept all kinds of suffering if doing so enables us to benefit others and sustain our practice and can tolerate difficulties for the benefit of all beings or even just the community in which we live. It has various levels.

(b) The great being—we care more for others than ourselves.

(c) The great practitioner—our mental, verbal and physical activities mostly, though not completely, accord with mind training.

(d) The great disciplined one—we refrain from activities that harm others.

(e) The great yogi [or yogini]—we can combine the understanding of emptiness with our activities on various levels for the benefit of others.

By persevering in our practice of mind training we’ll find that these five signs gradually manifest and then become stronger and stronger.

The trained (mind) retains control even when distracted.

The commentary says that when we have trained our mind we can maintain control and continue practicing even when we’re distracted, just like an experienced horse rider doesn’t fall off, even when distracted.

 

A Commentary on the Seven-Point Mind Training
In this book, Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Jampa Tegchok explains how we can train our mind away from self-cherishing, the cause of all suffering, and develop compassion, the cause of everything that is good. He bases his explanation on Kadampa Geshe Chekawa’s classic text, The Seven Point Mind Training, which, amongst other things, teaches us how to transform problems into happiness.

You can read this book here or order a print copy or ebook version of the book from the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.

The Kindness of Others
The Kindness of Others: Editor's Introduction
Chapter One: Motivation
Chapter Two: The Seven-Point Mind Training
Chapter Three: The First Point - The Preliminaries as a Basis for the Practice, Training in Bodhicitta
Chapter Four: The Second Point - The Actual Practice,Training in Bodhicitta
Chapter Five: The Third Point - Transforming Adverse Circumstances into the Path
Chapter Six: The Fourth Point - The Integrated Practice of a Single Lifetime
Chapter Seven: The Fifth Point - The Measure of Having Trained the Mind
Chapter Eight: The Sixth Point - The Commitments of Mind Training
Chapter Nine: The Seventh Point - The Precepts of Mind Training
Chapter Ten: Conclusion
Appendix: The Seven-Point Mind Training
Bibliography and Recommended Reading

 Chapter One: Motivation

The Buddha said that when we meet to teach, listen to or discuss the Dharma it is very important that we have the best possible motivation for doing so. Whether what we do is good or bad depends almost entirely on our reason for doing it—in other words, our motivation. And while this is true in general, it is especially important to have the purest possible motivation when teaching or listening to the particular thought transformation practice we are discussing here. From the side of both teacher and student a virtuous motivation is critical, otherwise they risk putting much effort into something that has no chance of a positive result.

It is extremely negative if the teacher is teaching to enhance his or her reputation, win new followers, receive many offerings or become highly venerated or the student is listening with competitive thoughts or to gain fame, a good reputation, wealth or a big following. The great Indian practitioner and scholar Atisha said that anything done merely for this life is not a Dharma practice. Moreover, while the motivations to avoid rebirth in the three lower realms or achieve complete personal liberation from cyclic existence are not negative, they are still not the best.

When your motivation for giving or listening to teachings, meditating, helping others and so forth is simply to avoid rebirth in the lower realms it is called small scope motivation. When it is longer term and greater than that and aimed at complete liberation from the whole of cyclic existence it is called middle scope motivation.

When your motivation is even greater than that and aimed at benefiting every single sentient being and if, in order to do that, you are determined to achieve the state of full enlightenment—which is completely free of all faults and has all good qualities fully developed to their highest potential—it is the supreme motivation and called that of the great scope. When this is your motivation, every activity in which you engage—giving, listening to or meditating on teachings and so forth— becomes a practice of the great scope and is the best and highest kind of practice you can possibly do.

What about practices associated with deities such as Medicine Buddha, Tara or Saraswati? For example, certain Medicine Buddha practices can help you overcome obstacles and illness and have a long life. Are such practices considered spiritual? It depends on your motivation.

If you genuinely feel that a long life will help you be of greater benefit to others and with that kind of attitude engage in practices for overcoming obstacles, ill health and so forth, they will definitely be spiritual because you will not be doing them merely for this life.

Engaging in such practices after you have recognized that you possess the many characteristics and supportive conditions needed for engaging in meaningful and powerful spiritual practice in this life is completely different from simply doing them for worldly purposes. A life completely free from adverse conditions that prevent such practice provides exceptional opportunities. Therefore, not only should you engage in practices that allow you to keep your life conducive to Dharma practice but you should also abandon any urge to waste it and, instead, feel compelled to use your life to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of others.

In fact, the kind of life we presently have is so exceptional that even the gods, who appear to have extraordinarily good fortune, actually have nothing like the good fortune that we do because they have no opportunity to practice Dharma.

Therefore, we should use this opportunity to pursue enlightenment for the sake of others because not only is it the very best way of using our life, it’s also because all beings are basically the same as us in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering.

We all want the greatest, longest lasting and best possible happiness; we utterly dislike suffering, problems and even the slightest difficulty. That we abhor even one or two problems let alone many shows that we all want happiness and freedom from suffering, and the best way of getting what we want and avoiding that which we don’t is the practice of Dharma.

We might think that even though it’s important to practice Dharma, it’s not essential to do so just yet because we can always do it in future lives. However, that’s a very mistaken way to think because our present human life has exceptional opportunities and attributes. There are eighteen advantages to this human life—the eight freedoms and the ten richnesses—and a life like this is very difficult to find.

The perfect human rebirth is difficult to find because its causes are very difficult to create. Furthermore, it combines many different characteristics, attributes and qualities that very rarely come together and therefore there’s no certainty that we’ll be able to enjoy this kind of opportunity again in future. Certain things almost never happen3 and this human life is even more difficult to acquire than those. Therefore we should definitely practice Dharma in this very life.

We might also think, “Yes, I should practice Dharma in this life but not right now—maybe next month, next year or some other time in future.” This, too, is a big mistake because there’s no guarantee that we’ll be around that long. Our lifespan is not fixed. If we could be sure of living for, say, a hundred years, it might be reasonable to put things off for a while, but in fact our time of death is totally unfixed. We have no idea at all when we’ll die. Therefore we should resolve to practice immediately.

As long as we’re ignorant of such things it’s quite understandable that we don’t feel responsible for our future but once we do know, it’s vital that we start making our life meaningful. As the Buddha taught, we are our own protector; the responsibility is ours. Nobody else can practice for us. We have to practice and take responsibility for ourselves, especially for our future lives. It’s the same as when we’re ill—the doctor makes the diagnosis and prescribes the appropriate medicine but it’s our responsibility to actually follow the advice given and take the medicine prescribed. Nobody else can do it for us.

Over the centuries many practitioners from all four major traditions of Tibetan Buddhism have attained enlightenment in a single lifetime but it’s not easy to do. It takes hard work and great intelligence. Therefore we should expect it to take many lifetimes for us to do so. But if we devote our life to developing qualities such as love and compassion and avoid actions that harm ourselves and others as much as we possibly can there’s reason to hope that in our next life we’ll be able to continue from where we left off. In this way, over a series of lives, we’ll gradually progress to buddhahood.

The Buddha said that all he could do was to teach the path to liberation and enlightenment and that it was then up to us whether or not we reached those states. To do so, therefore, we have to follow his advice and live according to his teachings. There’s no other way. He said, “I can’t pour my wisdom and compassion into your mind, wash away your negativities or remove your suffering by hand, like pulling out a thorn. All I can do is to explain what you have to do to achieve the freedom from suffering, realizations and qualities that I did.”

Therefore, please generate the highest motivation for studying these teachings by thinking, “I must help all sentient beings as much as I possibly can. In order to do so, I must attain enlightenment. Then I will definitely be able to benefit others in the highest possible way.”

Even if you don’t have an extensive understanding of Buddhism, if you generate that kind of motivation you will ensure that your time is not wasted, and as you discover and read more about the Dharma, your understanding will gradually increase.

Notes

3The teachings mention such things as stars shining at noon and rice grains thrown against a wall adhering to it. See also Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, p. 319 ff. [Return to text]

 

A Commentary on the Seven-Point Mind Training
In this book, Khensur Rinpoche Geshe Jampa Tegchok explains how we can train our mind away from self-cherishing, the cause of all suffering, and develop compassion, the cause of everything that is good. He bases his explanation on Kadampa Geshe Chekawa’s classic text, The Seven Point Mind Training, which, amongst other things, teaches us how to transform problems into happiness.You can read this book here or order a print copy or ebook version of the book from the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.

The Kindness of Others
The Kindness of Others: Editor's Introduction
Chapter One: Motivation
Chapter Two: The Seven-Point Mind Training
Chapter Three: The First Point - The Preliminaries as a Basis for the Practice, Training in Bodhicitta
Chapter Four: The Second Point - The Actual Practice,Training in Bodhicitta
Chapter Five: The Third Point - Transforming Adverse Circumstances into the Path
Chapter Six: The Fourth Point - The Integrated Practice of a Single Lifetime
Chapter Seven: The Fifth Point - The Measure of Having Trained the Mind
Chapter Eight: The Sixth Point - The Commitments of Mind Training
Chapter Nine: The Seventh Point - The Precepts of Mind Training
Chapter Ten: Conclusion
Appendix: The Seven-Point Mind Training
Bibliography and Recommended Reading

Editors’ Introduction

We are extremely fortunate to live at a time when the Mahayana mind training teachings abound. There was a time not so long ago when they were much harder to find. Of course, as many lamas point out, all of the Buddha’s teachings are for training the mind, in that mind training can be said to be the subject of the oftquoted verse,

Do not commit any non-virtuous actions,
Perform only virtuous actions,
Subdue your mind thoroughly—
This is the teaching of the Buddha.1

But in the Tibetan tradition, at least, the connotation of mind training is the development of bodhicitta, the determination to attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. And of the various methods for the development of bodhicitta, mind training emphasizes the practice of transforming suffering into happiness, using the various problems and obstacles we encounter in life as supports for our spiritual practice and not allowing them to overwhelm us or even slow us down.

Based on a couple of lines from Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland, the main Tibetan source of the mind training teachings is Kadampa Geshe Chekawa’s Seven-Point Mind Training. Currently there are at least fourteen English-language commentaries on this text by both Tibetan and Western teachers, as detailed in the bibliography of this book, which is another reason that we’re extremely fortunate. However, the availability of these teachings is not enough. We have to put them into practice.

Therefore we are most grateful to the great Geshe Jampa Tegchok for adding his lucid explanation of how to practice mind training. With reference to a special Tibetan commentary,2 he engages us in a debate between our inner selfish voice and our altruistic motivation, which makes this teaching especially personal in helping us take on that greatest of challenges—defeating the false logic of our own selfishness. We are honored to have been able to edit this oral teaching to make it available for worldwide distribution free of charge.

We thank Ven. Steve Carlier for his excellent translation, Ven. Geshe Lhakdor, director of the Tibetan Library of Works and Archives, Dharamsala, for allowing us to use the translation of Pabongka Rinpoche’s edition of the root text found in the LTWA’s Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun, Clive Arrowsmith for his beautiful photography, and Jeff Cox of Snow Lion Publications for sending us Alan Wallace’s teachings for reference.

Notes
1. The Dhammapada, Chapter 14.
2. See Chapter 10: Conclusion.