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Teachings on the seven points of the cause and effect instruction and tong-len
The essence of the Buddha's 84,000 teachings is bodhicitta: the awakening mind that aspires toward enlightenment, in order to have the perfect ability to free all beings from suffering and lead them to peerless happiness. On his two visits to Singapore in 1997, Venerable Lama Ribur Rinpoche taught extensively on how to generate that precious mind of enlightenment. Rinpoche also gave insightful teachings on lo-jong (thought transformation), the practice that enables us to transform problems into the causes for enlightenment.

How to Generate Bodhicitta is available as an ebook from online vendors.

CHAPTERS
How to Generate Bodhicitta
Preface and Short Biography
The Seven-Point Cause and Effect Instruction
Exchanging Oneself and Others

The second method of generating bodhicitta is that of exchanging oneself with others. The practice of equalising and exchanging oneself with others combined with the practice of tong-len, or giving and taking, is known as "training the mind" (lo-jong). If we look at the lineage of these instructions, they began with Buddha Shakyamuni and Manjushri and were handed down from them in an uninterrupted lineage of great masters including Shantideva. The great master Atisha received the lineage from Lama Serlingpa. When Atisha went to Tibet, he taught the seven-point cause-and-effect instruction publicly, and gave the instructions on exchanging oneself with others only to Dromtonpa, because he felt that his other disciples were not fit vessels for such instructions.

Dromtonpa himself kept this lineage very secret—among his many disciples, he gave it only to his spiritual disciple, the foremost Kadampa virtuous friend, Geshe Potowa. Geshe Potowa also kept this instruction very, very secret. Although he too had many disciples, he gave these instructions only to the great Langri Tangpa and Geshe Sharawa. Geshe Langri Tangpa, on the basis of having received and realised these instructions, composed the renowned text, Eight Verses of Thought Transformation. Because these instructions had been put into writing, they became more widespread and many people were able to learn and practise them. Later, the great master Chekawa came to know them. Geshe Chekawa was a scholar learned in all the five sciences but was not satisfied with his knowledge and wished to learn the Dharma. One day he heard two lines of the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation, which said,

Give to others all gain and fortunes,
And take on yourself all loss and defeat.

Geshe Chekawa was intrigued by these lines and wanted to understand how to actually practise giving to others whatever victory and goodness there is and taking upon oneself all loss and defeat. Thus he went in search of these instructions. He traveled to the region of Penbo in Tibet, where Geshe Langri Tangpa lived, but discovered that this great master had already passed away. Fortunately, he met a disciple of Geshe Langri Tangpa, the master Geshe Sharawa, who gave him the complete instructions on exchanging oneself with others. By practising these instructions, Geshe Chekawa gained the full realisation of bodhicitta in his mind. He taught these instructions to many lepers, who were able to cure themselves of leprosy by practising exchanging oneself with others and tong-len. These instructions thus came to be known as "the Dharma of lepers." Meditating extensively on tong-len, with clear and powerful visualisation, is actually the supreme treatment for leprosy.

Geshe Chekawa, thinking that it would be a great loss if these instructions were kept secret, began to teach more publicly the practices of exchanging oneself with others and giving and taking.

The practice of tong-len, giving and taking, is indeed an inconceivably wonderful practice. In the past, when someone was sick, or had a spell cast on him, or was experiencing obstacles of some kind, he would seek the help of a Kadampa lama. The Kadampa lama would do the tong-len practice, taking upon himself both the suffering of the one who was being harmed and the one who was causing the harm, meditating on compassion especially toward the harm-giver. The lama would take upon himself all these sufferings with great compassion, and with great love would give away all virtues and benefits. The Kadampa lamas considered this practice to be the best remedy against spells, obstacles, sickness and so forth.

The instructions on exchanging oneself with others consist of five main points:

1. Equalising oneself with others
2. The disadvantage of cherishing oneself
3. The advantages of cherishing others
4. The actual thought of exchanging oneself with others
5. The meditation on giving and taking (tong-len)

Equalising Oneself with Others

At what point should you begin to meditate on the first subject, equalising oneself with others? Prior to this meditation, you should meditate on the first five steps in the seven-point cause-and-effect instruction: equanimity, recognising all beings as your mother, remembering their kindness, wishing to repay their kindness, and the affectionate love which sees them as beautiful. Thus you begin to meditate on equalising yourself with others after having gone through these five steps, which I already explained.

How should you equalise yourself with others? First of all, you need to understand what you mean by "self", when you think in terms of yourself. When we think "myself and others", this "myself" has a sense of great importance, whereas "others" has a sense of much less importance.

So when you think in terms of "me" or "myself", there is a much greater sense of importance than when you think in terms of others. Whatever concerns you becomes extremely significant—whether you feel good or bad, whether you are cold or hot—it is always more important than how others feel. Also, everything related to you—"my body, my possessions, my friends, my family, my kids," everything which is part of your life, yourself—has a much greater sense of importance than the same things related to others—"their bodies, their families," and so forth.

Thinking in this way you can see how you do not regard self and others as equal—you esteem yourself much more than others. However, consider it from the point of view of numbers: you are just one, whereas others are countless. So there is a discrepancy in the way you regard yourself and others: although there are so many more others than yourself, you regard yourself as more important than others. this is completely wrong.

You should decide that your objective in this meditation is to correct this discrepancy and learn to equalize yourself and others. The way to do this is by thinking that you and all other beings are exactly the same in wanting to be happy and free from suffering. You need to think over and over again about the fact that there is not the slightest difference between yourself and others in terms of wanting to be happy and wanting to be free from suffering. In this regard, you and others are exactly the same.

If you compare the instructions of the seven points of cause-and-effect and exchanging oneself with others, the five points of recognising all beings as mothers, remembering their kindness, wishing to repay their kindness, the extraordinary intention and bodhicitta, are the same. However, there is a difference when we come to the two points of affectionate love and great compassion. The strength of these feelings is different in the two practices. How is that? It is because when you meditate on the kindness of sentient beings according to the seven-point cause-and-effect instruction, you recollect how kind they were when they were your mother, whereas when you meditate according to the instructions on exchanging oneself with others, you recollect their kindness not only when they were your mother but also at other times, when they were not your mother. This meditation is more extensive. Therefore, when you train your mind in the instructions of exchanging oneself with others, the strength of your affectionate love and great compassion will be greater than when training the mind in the seven-point technique of cause-and -effect.

The aim of these instructions is to train your mind in actually exchanging yourself with others, and the way to push the mind in that direction is by contemplating both the faults of cherishing oneself and the advantages of cherishing others. Therefore the next step in the meditation is contemplating the many faults or disadvantages of cherishing oneself.

The Disadvantages of Cherishing Oneself

The sources of these instructions on recognising the disadvantages of the self-cherishing thought or egoism are texts such as Shantideva's Bodhisattvacaryavatara (A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life), and the Guru Puja. There is a verse in the Guru Puja which says:

This chronic disease of cherishing ourselves
Is the cause giving rise to our unsought suffering;
Perceiving this, we seek your blessings to blame, begrudge
And destroy the monstrous demon of selfishness.

A verse from the Bodhisattvacaryavatara says: "All the suffering in the world comes from the desire for one's own happiness" and so forth. In the root text of The Seven-Point Thought Transformation, it says: "Banish the one to blame for everything." This means that all suffering—whatever unwanted problems, obstacles, shortcomings, and sufferings that exist—should be blamed on the self-cherishing thought alone. "All suffering" includes not only the problems that you yourself experience in your life, but from a larger point of view, it also includes wars between countries, disagreements between the leaders of different countries, disagreements at work, arguments within a family such as husband and wife fighting or parents and children fighting, and so forth. All these unwanted experiences come from egoism, the thought of cherishing oneself, and thus they should be blamed on the self-cherishing thought.

As another example of the disadvantages of the self-cherishing thought, let's say you eat too much and get indigestion, and maybe even die from indigestion. Although it may seem that the cause is some kind of digestive ailment, in fact the real cause of the problem is that your self-cherishing mind was not satisfied but wanted more and more food. So you died not from indigestion but due to the self-cherishing thought.

Even in situations where it seems you are not responsible—for example, you are falsely accused of having done something wrong, or you are robbed of your possessions or killed—even in these situations, the cause is the self-cherishing thought. These experiences are the result of your past evolutionary actions [karma] which were motivated by the self-cherishing thought. In past lives, due to egoism, wanting happiness just for yourself, you harmed others, robbed and killed. In this life you are experiencing the results of those actions, therefore those sufferings are to be blamed only on egoism, the self-cherishing thought.

In the past, you were born countless times in the three lower realms, and this too is due to self-cherishing. The self-cherishing thought motivated you to create the causes to experience the sufferings of rebirth as a preta [hungry ghost], as a hell being and as an animal. For example, being born as a preta is the result of miserliness, which in turn comes from egoism, cherishing yourself more than others. Also, if, out of self-cherishing, you point out the physical faults of someone, saying that his face resembles that of an animal, you create the cause to be born as an animal. Therefore, all the sufferings you experienced in countless rebirths in the three lower realms come from nothing other than the self-cherishing thought.

Even from an ordinary point of view, the egoistic self-cherishing thought causes us so much harm. For example, because of holding yourself in high esteem, feeling that you are so great, when you meet someone who seems better than you, you become miserable with envy. When you meet someone who is equal to you, you will want to compete with that person. For example, you could be a businessman who always wants to be on top—that competitive attitude leads to so many problems. Then, when you meet people who are lower than you, you bully them, put them down and point out their faults. All this comes from the self-cherishing thought, feeling that you are so important, so high, so good. Because of these actions you create a great deal of problems in the present as well as the causes for future suffering. Actually, if you really think about all the disadvantages of egoism, the self-cherishing thought, they are inconceivable.

In brief, all the sufferings and difficulties you have encountered from beginningless time until now, all the unwanted experiences in cyclic existence are caused by egoism, the self-cherishing thought. In fact, all the sufferings of cyclic existence are caused both by self-grasping ignorance and the self-cherishing thought. From the philosophical point of view these are two different things, but in the context of mind training they are considered to be the same. On the one hand there is self-grasping—grasping at a true identity, a true I—and on the other hand there is a mind that, instead of letting go of the I, cherishes it, thinking, "I want to be happy, I need this, I need that." That is the self-cherishing thought, and on that basis all suffering, all unwanted experiences and all negativities are generated. Therefore it is the one to blame for everything.

Those of us who practise the Dharma must think continuously over and over again, about the disadvantages of the self-cherishing thought and the advantages of cherishing others—taking care of others rather than oneself. we also need to consider the disadvantages of taking care of this life and the advantages of preparing for the next life. These are things that we need to do.

The Advantages of Cherishing Others

The next point is contemplating the advantages or qualities of cherishing others, or altruism.

This point is clearly stated in the Bodhisattvacaryavatara by Shantideva, which says, "All the happiness of the world comes from altruism." Also, there is a verse in the Guru Puja which says,

I see that cherishing these beings, my mothers,
Is the thought that leads to happiness
And the door leading to infinite qualities.

The root text of the Seven-Point Thought Transformation says, "Meditate on the great kindness of all sentient beings."

On the basis of these quotations you should realise the advantage of cherishing others. For instance, all the happiness of the human rebirth and other fortunate rebirths—having perfect wealth, surroundings, relations and so forth—comes from altruism, cherishing others. Why? Due to cherishing others' lives you abandon killing, and the result of abandoning killing is a fortunate rebirth and also a long life. So having a long life and a fortunate rebirth come directly from having abandoned killing because of cherishing others' lives. Also, having perfect wealth and surroundings is the result of abandoning stealing and practising generosity, both of which are done on the basis of cherishing others.

In brief, as it says in the Bodhisattvacaryavatara, "There is no need to elaborate more than this; just look at the childish beings who work for their own benefit, and the Buddhas who work for the benefit of others." And there is a verse in the Guru Puja which says, "In short, childish beings work only for their own welfare, while Buddha Shakyamuni acted solely for the benefit of others."

Childish beings act solely for themselves, thinking of their own happiness, in the same way that a child thinks only about himself. On the other hand, the Buddhas became enlightened by cherishing others. Without needing to go into detail, just by looking at the differences between these two types of beings and their actions, we can clearly recognise the differences between self-cherishing and cherishing others.

Consider Buddha Shakyamuni—in the past, since from beginningless time, Buddha Shakyamuni had been like us, trapped in cyclic existence. Then, at some point, He began to cherish others and on the basis of practising altruism, was able to fulfill the two purposes [of attaining enlightenment and leading others to enlightenment]. Now look at ourselves—because of continuously caring for ourselves alone, cherishing ourselves, we haven't been able to achieve even our own purpose but have been wandering in cyclic existence and the three lower realms again and again since beginningless time. We don't need to go into much detail, just compare the results of Buddha Shakyamuni's actions and our own—one comes from cherishing others and the other comes from egoism, cherishing ourselves. Therefore, by following the self-cherishing thought, no good will come about—only the three unfortunate rebirths.

At this point, Lama Dorje Chang Pabongka would tell stories from the life of Drukpa Kunley, a great meditator of the Drukpa Kagyü tradition who was famous for having an unusual way of speaking which made people laugh.

One day Drukpa Kunley went to Lhasa and paid a visit to the Jokhang, the main temple of Lhasa where you find the Jowo, a very famous statue of Buddha Shakyamuni. Normally, you enter and pay homage to the Jowo, then you circumambulate and take blessings. Drukpa Kunley did this—he circumambulated the statue and took blessings—but then he stood directly in front of the Jowo and said, " In the past you and I were the same, but then you began to practise altruism and to take care of others, so you have become a perfect Buddha. I have been taking care only of myself and I'm still in samsara. Indeed I should now prostrate to you."

Drukpa Kunley was an unconventional yogi; he would express the Dharma truth in a very humorous way. It is said that he once visited the Boudhanath Stupa in Nepal, which has an unusual shape, unlike other stupas which are built in one of eight standard designs. When he arrived at the stupa, he prostrated and said "Although you look like a round heap and unlike one of the eight stupas gone to bliss, I still prostrate to you."

Another time he said, "I've lost three important, precious things." When asked what it was he had lost he said, "One precious thing which I lost is called ignorance, another one is called desire, and the third is called aversion. I have lost these three things which others regard as important and cherish so much." This shows his achievements, but it was expressed in an unusual, funny way. At any rate, Drukpa Kunley was a great adept, and I think that there is a translation of his biography containing all these stories.1

Therefore, we should consider what Buddha Shakyamuni achieved by cherishing others and compare this with the difficulties we are still experiencing because of cherishing ourselves alone. It is very useful to read the stories of Buddha Shakyamuni's previous lives when he was still practising on the path as related, for example, in the Jataka Tales. These stories show how he performed many incredible deeds in order to cherish others, and thus they can inspire us to practise thought transformation.

It is at this point in the meditation that you reflect on the kindness of sentient beings, both when they were your mothers and when they were not. This reflection becomes very helpful because you realise even more reasons to cherish others rather than to cherish yourself. To give an easy example of the kindness of others when they were not your mothers: the simple fact that we are able to gather in this room and enjoy listening to the Mahayana Dharma is completely due to the kindness of others. Many people put in a great deal of effort so that we can be here. First of all, there may have been another building here that had to be torn down, and that required a number of workers. Then other people worked to design the new building and buy the materials such as bricks, cement and so forth. Other people were needed to operate the machines, since machines don't work by themselves, and to do the actual construction work on the building. Then, when the building was finished, people worked on decorating the interior and collecting the representations of the Buddha's Body, Speech and Mind to place on the altar. Therefore, the fact that we can enjoy coming together here today and listening to the Mahayana Dharma is entirely due to the kindness of others, isn't it?

The same applies to your own home, your belongings, the things you enjoy—all of these are due to the kindness of others. You might say, "No, this is not true. I bought my house with my own money; I bought my clothes with my own money." Yes, that is true, but you earned your money on the basis of others. "Okay, I got the money from others but this is because I worked hard: I did something to receive this money in return." Yes, but the fact that you are able to work is because of others, isn't it? If you think about it carefully, you will see that whatever happiness you now enjoy comes exclusively from the kindness of others.

When you reflect on the advantages of cherishing others, it is very effective to incorporate all these different thoughts. You can also contemplate that all the benefits right up to the attainment of Buddha's state come about because of cherishing others. How is this? If you want to become a Buddha, you must generate the precious mind of bodhicitta, because without bodhicitta, there is no Buddha. The generation of bodhiciita comes about because of the wish to benefit others: "I must achieve the state of Enlightenment in order to benefit others." Also, the exceptional cause of bodhiciita is great compassion, and great compassion comes from cherishing others. Therefore, it is because of others that you generate great compassion.

Furthermore, the practice of the six perfections depends on others. For example, you practise morality in relation to others, and in order to practise generosity and patience you need an object, and these objects are others. It is so true what Shantideva taught in the Bodhisattvacaryavatara, when he says,

Both the Victorious Ones and sentient beings are indispensable to achieving the supreme enlightenment, and since I pay homage to the victors, why don't I pay homage to sentient beings as well?

This is saying that the achievement of supreme enlightenment is half due to the kindness of the Buddhas and half due to the kindness of sentient beings. When we give so much importance to honouring the Buddhas, why don't we give the same importance to honouring the sentient beings who are equally indispensable to our achievement of enlightenment? As the great master Langri Tangpa says in his Eight Verses of Thought Transformation,

I can achieve the supreme state of enlightenment due to the kindness of sentient beings, therefore they are more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel and I should cherish them to that extent.

There are so many heart-warming instructions on the kindness of sentient beings.

This great master Tangri Langpa was so exceptional, he was truly a superior being. (By the way, he is in the line of the previous incarnations of the late Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche.) It is said that Langri Tangpa was always very serious and smiled only three times in his whole life, so he was known as "Langri Tangpa of the black face" (in Tibetan the term "black face" means "serious"). He spent all of his time meditating on the disadvantages of cyclic existence and bodhicitta, and that is why he didn't find many occasions to laugh.

I'll tell you the story of one of the three occasions when Langri Tangpa laughed and what made him laugh. This story is about his mandala set. In the Kadampa tradition and in the tradition of Lama Pabongka Dorje Chang, the practice of offering the mandala is very much emphasized. When I was young in Tibet, most of us would bring our mandala sets to teachings, so that at the point of offering the mandala very few would be without one. In the row of the tulkus [reincarnated lamas], each tulku would have his own beautiful mandala set—some made of gold, some of silver—but the top would always be of gold. It was quite scene when all the tulkus offered their mandalas! But that was in the past, and then at a certain point everything was taken away. My own mandala set was taken away. There is also a particular implement used to offer the hundred tormas, which is a kind of flat container decorated with symbols. I had one of these because the Kadampa tradition places so much emphasis on the practice of offering tormas, but that was taken away as well. By "taken away" I mean confiscated by the Communists. Nowadays, I use something very simple.

Anyway, one day Langri Tangpa was meditating, and he had his mandala set on the table next to him. It was probably a simple mandala set, not a beautiful or elaborate one. As he was meditating, he noticed that a mouse had come and was eating some of the grains of his mandala. Among the grains was a big turquoise and for some reason, the mouse was attracted to the turquoise and started to pick at it, trying to get hold of it, but it was too big for him. Then another mouse came and began helping the first one, so both of them were trying to get hold of it. Pretty soon there were five mice and they devised a way to get the turquoise: one mouse laid on his back and held the turquoise on his stomach, and the other four mice held his head and legs and were pulling him along. Langri Tangpa had been watching the mice and when he saw this he broke into a slight laugh. Why did he laugh? Because he thought that in cyclic existence when it comes to fulfilling one's needs, animals are more clever than human beings. It's true, sometimes animals can be smarter than human beings in taking care of the needs and happiness of this life.

The Actual Thought of Exchanging Oneself with Others

So now we come to the fourth step in the meditation, which is the actual thought of exchanging oneself with others. What is meant by exchanging oneself with others? Prior to this, we contemplated deeply the disadvantages of cherishing oneself, realising that all unwanted experiences and bad things come from egoism. Like a chronic disease which slowly, gradually destroys your health and physical form, the self-cherishing thought has, from beginningless time, been the source of all your suffering and problems. On the other hand, all the good things—good qualities, happiness, advantages and so forth—derive from cherishing others, from altruism. Realising this, you now begin to train your mind in exchanging the thought which cherishes oneself and disregards others for the thought which cherishes others and disregards yourself.

Until now we have been disregarding others and taking care of ourselves, but from now on, we have to take care of others and disregard ourselves. Exchanging oneself with others doesn't mean that you take others in your place and put yourself in others' place. Instead it means that you exchange the mind which cherishes oneself and ignores others with the mind which cherishes others and ignores oneself. You need to meditate on this again and again, continuously, and in this way train your mind in exchanging yourself with others.

The Meditation on Giving and Taking (Tong-Len)

On the basis of the thought of exchanging oneself with others, you practise the meditation on giving and taking. What is giving and taking? With the mind of compassion you take on the suffering of others and with the mind of love you give them happiness. The root text of the Seven-Point Thought Transformation says, "giving and taking should be practised alternately." In the Tibetan term, tong-len, giving comes first—tong means "giving" and len means "taking"—but in actual practice, you first train your mind in taking—taking upon yourself the suffering of others—and leave aside the practice of giving.

Taking

You begin the practice of taking by contemplating the sufferings of the precious mother sentient beings until an unbearable sense of compassion arises within you. Then you visualise that suffering in the aspect of black light, which separates from the sentient beings in the same way that hairs separate from your skin when you shave. You visualise that this suffering in the aspect of black light comes and absorbs into the self-cherishing thought which is at the centre of your heart.

You can do the meditation in an elaborate way, going one by one through all the different realms of the sentient beings, starting from the hells. For example, you can think about the sufferings of sentient beings in the hot hells—sufferings due to the intense heat, fire and so forth—and then take upon yourself this suffering in the form of hot fire, visualising that it absorbs straight into the centre of your heart, into the egoistic, self-cherishing thought.

You continue to meditate in this way, gradually progressing through all the different levels and kinds of sentient beings all the way up the bodhisattvas of the tenth bhumi, taking all their suffering into the centre of the self-cherishing thought in your heart. You take on not only their sufferings but all the obscurations and negativities as well, wishing that they actually ripen upon you, and feel that in this way, all these negativities are completely purified.

For some individuals, it may be difficult immediately to visualise taking the sufferings of others, such as those of the hell beings, pretas and so forth—upon yourself. If that is the case, you need to first train your mind in taking on your own suffering. As mentioned in the root text, "You should begin by taking from yourself." The way to do this is to consider the sufferings that you will experience tomorrow, and take these sufferings upon yourself in the aspect of black light as I explained before. Then take on the sufferings you will experience the day after tomorrow, and so forth—contemplating and taking on all the sufferings of the coming month, the coming year, the rest of your life, the next life, and all the future rebirths—you gradually take on all these sufferings in the aspect of black light, and they absorb into the self-cherishing thought in your heart.

Once you have trained your mind in this meditation and become familiar with taking upon yourself all the sufferings you will experience in the future, from tomorrow through your future lives, then you train in taking on the sufferings of loved ones: your parents, relatives, friends and those who are close to you. Then, when you are familiar with this, train in taking on the sufferings of strangers, those for whom you feel neither attachment nor aversion. Then you switch to your enemies. In this way, meditating with the thought of compassion, you gradually widen your scope to include all sentient beings, taking upon yourself their sufferings in the aspect of black light that ripens in the centre of your heart, the self-cherishing thought.

Giving

Taking is practised on the basis of intense compassion, and giving is practised on the basis of love. The way in which you meditate on giving is as explained in the verse, "In order to benefit sentient beings, may my body turn into whatever they wish for." You emanate replicas of your body and visualise that these bodies transform the environment and sentient beings. Let's say you start with the hot hells: you first send out countless bodies which become a cooling rain that completely extinguishes the fires of the hells. Due to the soothing rain, the bodies of the hell-beings transform and they achieve precious human rebirths, with the freedoms and endowments. The bodies you send out also transform into pleasant, enjoyable things such as the objects of the six senses, and in this way you completely fulfil their wishes. Then you again emanate countless bodies which take the aspect of spiritual masters teaching Dharma to those beings who then practise Dharma and gradually achieve enlightenment.

Next, you move on to the sentient beings in the cold hells. This time the bodies you emanate become bright sunlight which completely warms up the freezing environment, and you provide the sentient beings with warm clothes. Again, the beings of the cold hells transform and achieve precious human rebirths, and by emanating countless bodies in the aspect of spiritual guides, you teach them the Dharma and they all reach enlightenment.

You progress through the meditation on each type of sentient being in the same way. For the pretas, the bodies you emanate become food and drink; for the animals, they become wisdom that clears away their ignorance; for the titans, they become armour to protect their bodies; for the devas, they become enjoyments of the five senses; and for human beings, who have such strong desire, they become whatever people need or desire. For the Buddhas and spiritual masters, when you train in giving, you emanate inconceivable clouds of offerings and make prayers for their long lives.

While you are training your mind in the practice of taking and giving, you should also practise the following advice given in the root text of the Seven-Point Thought Transformation: "The instruction to be followed, in brief, is to take these words to heart in all activities." This means that in your meditation and in all your activities, you should use the special words of the tong-len practice as a way to recollect and empower your meditation. For example, you can use the verse from the Guru Puja which says:

O venerable, compassionate Guru, bless me.
May all the sufferings, negative actions and obscurations
Of all beings, who were once my mothers,
Ripen on me now, without exception.
May I give all my happiness and virtue to others
And may all beings have happiness.

So while you are training, in your actual meditation and throughout all your daily activities, you should continuously recite this verse. These words from the Guru Puja are so powerful, so full of blessings, that it is indeed very important to recite them all the time. There is even a practice of accumulating one hundred thousand repetitions of this verse while meditating, and this would be an excellent practice to do.

In the prayer, you first entreat the lama by saying, "O venerable, compassionate Guru," and then you say, "bless me—may all the sufferings and negativities of all the precious mother sentient beings ripen on me right now, without exception. And bless me to give all my roots of virtue and goodness to others, so that these may ripen upon them." The verse concludes with the prayer: "may all sentient beings have happiness." This is really an exceptional, powerful prayer.

It has become a tradition that when the Guru Puja is recited, this verse is repeated three times. This tradition was initiated by Lama Pabongka Dorje Chang. Before his time, the Guru Puja would be recited straight from the beginning to the end, but because he placed so much importance on this verse, he began the practice of reciting it three times. So the fact that this tradition has continued up to now is due to the kindness of Lama Dorje Chang.

Practising Giving and Taking with the Breath

The next verse in the root text says, "These two, taking and giving, should be made to ride on the breath." This means that after you have become familiar and proficient with the meditation as explained, then you should combine the meditation with your breathing. The way to do this is as follows: while you are breathing out, think that you breathe out all your goodness, and this transforms into whatever is needed for the benefit of sentient beings. You breathe whatever goodness there is within you—your body, virtues, richness, and so forth—and this transforms into whatever benefits all sentient beings.

Then, when you breathe in, think that along with the flow of your breath come all the sufferings of all sentient beings in the form of black light. These sufferings in the aspect of black light enter you and go straight to the source of all the negativities and sufferings you have experienced since beginningless time—your egoistic, self-cherishing thought—and they ripen right there, in your heart. Your see, the mind and the breath are inseparable. The mind rides on the breath, so this visualisation that combines giving and taking with the breathing becomes a powerful cause for generating bodhicitta. It's also similar to the vajra recitation which is found in the practice of highest yoga tantra.

It is very beneficial to do this practice as you are going to sleep. Before you go to sleep, generate the thought of love and do the visualisation of giving while breathing out; then with the thought of compassion do the visualisation of taking while breathing in. If you go to sleep doing this practice, then the whole time you are asleep, especially if you like to sleep a lot—until eight or nine in the morning!

As for myself, the more i progress in years, the more I need to sleep, and also my sleep gets deeper. But when I was young and studying at Sera Monastery, I had the habit of staying up all night. The night is very long and you can do so many things—you can do prayers, read texts, whatever you want to do. In the early morning, at dawn, I would feel so happy. My mind would feel very fresh and I would rejoice from the depths of my heart, thinking, "How lucky I am! I was up all night and was able to do these things while the majority of the people around me were asleep." I would consider myself so fortunate to be able to stay up all night and practise. This is something Venerable Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche does. But now, as I grow older, I need more sleep, so I am unable to stay awake all night even if I want to.

I really want to stress the importance of transforming sleep into virtuous practice because if you calculate the way you spend your life, almost half of it is spent sleeping. Therefore it becomes very crucial that the time you spend sleeping becomes virtuous practice, doesn't it?

In his Songs of Experience, Milarepa said, "At night, sometimes I sleep, and when I sleep I practise merging sleep with the clear light, because I have received instructions on the clear light of sleep. Other people do not have these instructions—how lucky I am!" There are very few people who are actually able to merge sleep with the clear light practice, so for the majority of us who are beginners, it is extremely practical and useful to go to sleep while meditating on giving and taking. In this way, the entire time you spend sleeping becomes the actual practice of tong-len, and thus becomes virtuous.

Practising in Daily Life

Actually it is extremely important that all the actions we do—sitting, walking, going, coming and so forth—become Dharma. If you divide twenty-four hours into two parts, almost the whole of one part is spent sleeping, and if your sleep is not transformed into virtuous practice, then it becomes empty and even non-virtuous. That means that half the day has disappeared in non-virtue. Then you wake up and, even if you generate a very strong motivation to practise virtue during the day, it is extremely difficult to maintain it. When you sit down to do your prayers, sometimes your mind is so distracted and goes in so many different directions that you're not even sure whether or not you have done all the prayers up to the point you've reached in your recitation. So you have to go back and recite those prayers all over again to make sure that you have at least completed all your commitments.

If it is difficult to generate a pure, virtuous state of mind when reciting prayers, how much harder it is to do so during the day when we are engaged in social activities, especially when most of our time is spent gossiping. Whenever we have the chance to talk, right away we start talking and then we spend so much time gossiping, which is a non-virtuous action, isn't it? Therefore it is extremely crucial that we transform as many of our actions during the day and night as we possibly can into virtue, into Dharma practice.

If we transform our actions into Dharma then we will make our life meaningful. The most important thing is to begin in the morning, as soon as we open our eyes, by generating a very strong motivation. We should think, "I'm still alive this morning, so I'm very fortunate. Due to the kindness of the Three Jewels, I didn't die last night. Therefore I must make this coming day as meaningful as possible by practising Dharma."

After generating a strong motivation in the morning, you should carry it through the day, reminding yourself of it again and again, in all your activities. Normally, the first thing you do after getting up is to jump into the shower, so while taking a shower you can practise the yoga of washing together with the ablution mantras, or do a purification practice. Following that, if you don't have to go to work, you can sit down and begin your daily meditation commitments. Otherwise, if you have to go to work, you can use your time at work to create virtue. If your job mainly involves physical activity, then you can turn your speech and mind to virtue—the mind especially can be made virtuous by recollecting again and again the motivation you generated in the morning.

Then you come to lunchtime. We normally eat at least three times a day, and when eating we can practise the yoga of taking food, which is part of deity yoga. There is a quotation from the great yogi Drogchen Lingrepa which says, "All the holy places are in your body—in your chakras. You don't have to go away. If you want to make pilgrimage, visit there. If you want to do the practice of purification and collecting merit, do it there, in your chakras, in your holy places." According to the practice of deity yoga, the assembly of deities resides in the subtle body of the psychic channels and chakras. Therefore, when you practise the yoga of eating, you visualise the deity's holy body or the body mandala and use the food to make tsog offering. Lama Dorje Chang used to quote this verse—it's very nice.

As you continue with your usual daily activities, remind yourself again and again of the motivation you generated in the morning. Then at night, before going to sleep, think over what you did during the day and check whether or not you have acted in accordance with your motivation. If you realise that you did any negative actions, confess and purify them, but if you realise that your actions were completely compatible with your motivation, then rejoice in all the virtues you created throughout the day.

The Kadampa lamas of the past used to keep count of their virtuous and non-virtuous actions. They kept two piles of stones, one black and one white. Whenever they noticed a delusion or a disturbing thought in their mind, they would add a black stone, and whenever a virtuous thought rose, they would add a white stone. At the end of the day they would count the black and white stones. They would confess and purify the delusions and negativities they had created, and generate the strong intention to keep their mind free from those negativities the following day. They would rejoice in whatever virtues they created and resolve to create even more the next day. Then they would go to sleep doing the practice of merging sleep with the clear light. This may be very difficult for us to practise, so it is important for us to go to sleep merging our sleep with the practice of tong-len.

The Eleven-Point Meditation of Developing Bodhicitta

As I mentioned earlier, when you actually undertake the practice of training the mind in bodhicitta, there is a way of combining the two sets of instructions—the seven-point technique of cause and effect and exchanging oneself with others—into eleven steps. This is according to the tradition of Lama Tsongkhapa. By meditating on either of the two techniques alone, you will definitely generate bodhicitta. However, this uncommon way of merging the two and meditating on the eleven points enables you to generate bodhicitta more quickly and with less hardship.

How do we merge the two techniques into eleven steps?

(1) First of all you meditate on equanimity, visualising a friend, enemy and stranger.

(2) The second point is to recognise all sentient beings as your mother, by using the reasoning of the beginningless nature of the mind and by reflecting on different quotations.

(3) Third is recognising the kindness of sentient beings when they were your mother, just as your mother of this life is kind to you in the beginning, middle and end.

(4) Next is the uncommon point of recollecting the special kindness of sentient beings when they were not your mother.

Then you meditate on:

(5) the equality of self and others,

(6) the disadvantages of the self-cherishing thought; and

(7) the advantages of cherishing others.

(8) Following that, with a mind filled with compassion, you do the meditation of taking upon yourself all the sufferings of sentient beings, and later incorporate this meditation with the breath.

(9) Then with a mind of incredible love, you give all sentient beings all your goodness and roots of virtue, sending these out with the breath as you exhale.

10) At this point you generate the extraordinary intention by thinking, "I have been meditating on taking upon myself the suffering of all sentient beings and giving them all my goodness and roots of virtue, but this has been only on the level of visualisation—it hasn't actually happened, but I am definitely going to make it happen in reality. I myself will definitely take on the suffering of all sentient beings and give them all the roots of virtue and happiness that they wish for." Thinking this way you generate a very special sense of responsibility.

11) In order to fulfill this responsibility, you generate bodhicitta: "I am going to become a Buddha in order to help all sentient beings."

At this point you take the result of bodhicitta into the path by visualising that you transform into the aspect of Buddha Shakyamuni, emanating countless rays of light which purify all sentient beings and lead them to the state of the Buddha. Visualise that they all transform into Buddhas, and stabilise your meditation on this. Conclude the meditation session by rejoicing that you have actually been able to bring all sentient beings to the state of enlightenment.

Transforming Adverse Circumstances into the Path to Enlightenment

The next section of the root text, the Seven-Point Thought Transformation, deals with transforming adverse circumstances into the path to enlightenment. This practice is absolutely crucial, especially for the present degenerate time in which we live. In this degenerate age there are so many obstacles, especially for Dharma practitioners. This practice enables the practitioner to take all the obstacles, all the adverse circumstances, and transform them into conducive circumstances and even into the actual path to enlightenment. In fact, it enables the practitioner to not have any obstacles at all.

This section is divided into two points: transforming adverse circumstances by way of thought and by way of action. The first, transforming adverse circumstances into the path to enlightenment by way of thought is further divided into two: by using reasoning and by using the view.

With regard to the first, using reasoning, the root text says, "When the environment and its inhabitants overflow with unwholesomeness, transform adverse circumstances into the path to enlightenment." And the commentary quotes from the Guru Puja:

Should even the environment and the beings therein be filled
With the fruits of their karmic debts
And unwished-for sufferings pour down like rain,
We seek your blessings to take these miserable conditions as a path
By seeing them as causes to exhaust the results of our negative karma.

For example, when we get sick we tend to think that it is because of the food we ate, or because of spirits or obstacles, or because someone had cast a spell on us. These are the reasons that come to our mind. This is a clear indication that we are not able to recognise the real root of the sickness and to understand why we are experiencing that particular problem. We need to go back and look at [the section in the lam-rim on] the training for the individual of the small scope, which explains the teachings on evolutionary actions and results. Here it clearly explains that results are experienced due to karma, due to actions which we created in the past. It does not explain that a result such as sickness comes from eating a particular kind of food, or because someone has cast a spell on us, or because we are possessed by spirits. It explains that the results we experience are due to evolutionary actions created in the past. Therefore it really is indispensable to know how to transform adverse circumstances such as sickness into circumstances conducive to the attainment of enlightenment.

If you pay very careful attention to the advice of the old Kadampa lamas, it is so beneficial for the mind. They said, "Sickness and pain are the broom which sweeps away negativities." If you think about this advice, it is really powerful. It means that what bring the results of sickness, pain and suffering are the negative evolutionary actions which you accumulated in the past. By experiencing the result, that particular negative karma is cleared away, swept away by the broom of suffering. The advice of the old Kadampa lamas is so powerful.

This advice must be practised continuously. We should think in this way whenever we experience physical or mental suffering. In particular, we should think that up to now we have meditated so much on tong-len, giving and taking, and have made many prayers that all the suffering of all sentient beings without exception may ripen upon us. Now our prayers are bringing some result—we are getting what we wished for—therefore we should rejoice. We should even wish for more suffering to come—the more suffering, the better. Why? Because the more suffering we experience, the more accumulated negativities are cleansed. We can actually get to the point where we wish for more suffering to ripen upon ourselves because we understand that that is what cleanses the negativities.

There is nothing more beneficial that the practice of lam-rim and thought transformation at times of experiencing physical and mental suffering. This is something I have experienced myself. For instance, there were times when I experienced incredible hardships, incredible sufferings of body and mind. At those times, I was able to think that all these sufferings and hardships were the result of past evolutionary actions and that by experiencing them, the negativities will be completely purified. Then in my mind came the thought that the more suffering that comes, the better it is, because in that way more negativities will be purified. It is due to the kindness of my gurus—having received the teachings of thought transformation from Lama Pabongka Dorje Chang and also many times from the late Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche—that when I went through incredible pain, suffering and hardships of body and mind, I experienced the thought of not wishing the suffering to end. When difficulties come, I don't need to be afraid. In Tibetan the word for "existence" is sipa, which also means "possible". In existence, anything is possible, anything can happen. However, on the basis of practising the teachings of lam-rim and thought transformation, you can reach a point where no matter what hardships or difficulties occur, your mind is unshakeable. Your mind cannot be shaken by suffering, hardship or adverse circumstances.

The sayings of the Kadampa lamas are so true. For example, they say, "Adverse circumstances are an incentive for practice," and "Sprits and possession are manifestations of buddhas, and suffering is the manifestation of emptiness." Another saying goes, "I don't like happiness, but I like suffering." Why did they say this? When we experience happiness, we consume the merits accumulated in the past; when we experience suffering, we purify negativities accumulated in the past. Therefore it is much better to experience suffering that happiness. As for ourselves, we like happiness and don't like suffering, but the advice of the Kadampa lamas is completely opposite: "I don't like happiness because in that way I consume merits, but I like suffering because in that way I purify negativities."

Another advice of the Kadampa lamas is, "I don't like a high position, I like a lower position." For us it is completely the opposite: we always like to be on top and don't like to be down below. However, the lower position is the position of the Victorious Ones, which allows one to proceed to become a Buddha. The Kadampa lamas also said, "I don't like praise, but I like criticism." Why is this so? Although we feel uneasy when we receive it, criticism is actually very beneficial because it allows us to see our faults and to change on the basis of that. If we receive nothing but praise, the only thing that increases is our pride. Praise is therefore not beneficial, and it is even damaging because it increases our delusions. Criticism on the other hand allows us to identify our faults and work on them.

Transforming Adverse Circumstances by Way of the View

So now we come to the thought transformation practice of transforming adverse circumstances into the path by way of the view. This is done by reflecting again and again on the fact that if you search for the actual entity of what an adverse circumstance appears to be, if you search in depth, you cannot find a single atom which exists on its own, by its own nature. Instead, what you find is just what is merely labeled. It is completely unfindable in nature; ultimately it is not there. You have to bring this thought into your mind again and again.

However, if you are not proficient in analysing the nature of phenomena with the view, then you should think in this way, "Whatever happens to me in this very short life, whether it is happiness or suffering, at the end of this life all those experiences will be just memories. They are like dreams, completely insubstantial, so there is absolutely no reason to grasp at them with attachment or aversion. There is not even a single atom of them that I can grasp with attachment or aversion."2

The Importance of Bodhicitta

In conclusion, the most important thing is to apply one's energy as much as possible towards the development of bodhicitta in this life. The significance of bodhicitta was shown by the way Lama Atisha greeted people. When we meet people we usually say, "How are you?" or Ni how ma? Lama Atisha, however, would greet people by asking, "Do you have a good heart?" or "Has the good heart arisen within you yet?" This showed the importance he gave to the practice of bodhicitta.

As I mentioned earlier, the great master Shantideva said that just as we churn milk to extract its essence, butter, we should extract the essence of the 84,000 heaps of teachings given by Buddha Shakyamuni—this essence is bodhicitta. Therefore, as bodhicitta is the essence of the entirety of Buddha Shakyamuni's teachings, we must definitely make an effort to develop bodhicitta in our mind in this very life.

Notes

1. See Keith Dowman & Sonam Paljor, The Divine Madman—The Sublime Life and Songs of Drukpa Kunley. London, 1980. [Return to text]

2. Earlier Ribur Rinpoche mentioned that one can also transform adverse circumstances into the path to enlightenment by way of action, but he did not elaborate on the point. As found in Advice from a Spiritual Friend (Geshe Rabten and Geshe Ngawang Dargyey; wisdom Publications, London, 1986, pgs. 68-69), this includes the practice of accumulating merit, purifying negative karma, and making offerings to harmful spirits and dharma protectors. [Return to text]

Teachings on the seven points of the cause and effect instruction and tong-len
The essence of the Buddha's 84,000 teachings is bodhicitta: the awakening mind that aspires toward enlightenment, in order to have the perfect ability to free all beings from suffering and lead them to peerless happiness. On his two visits to Singapore in 1997, Venerable Lama Ribur Rinpoche taught extensively on how to generate that precious mind of enlightenment. Rinpoche also gave insightful teachings on lo-jong (thought transformation), the practice that enables us to transform problems into the causes for enlightenment.

How to Generate Bodhicitta is available as an ebook from online vendors.

CHAPTERS
How to Generate Bodhicitta
Preface and Short Biography
The Seven-Point Cause and Effect Instruction
Exchanging Oneself and Others

Preface

In 1997 the students of Amitabha Buddhist Centre were blessed to receive teachings from the great master Ribur Rinpoche. Rinpoche visited us twice and stayed for a total of three and a half months, during which time he taught lam-rim and lo-jong (thought transformation). This small booklet is extracted from Rinpoche's teachings.

A Brief Biography

Ribur Rinpoche was born in Kham, Eastern Tibet, in 1923. He was recognized at the age of five as the sixth incarnation of Lama Kunga Osel, a great scholar and teacher who spent the last twelve years of his life in strict solitary retreat. All five of the previous incarnations were principal teachers at Ribur Monastery in Kham.

When Ribur Rinpoche was fourteen he entered Sera monastery, one of the great Gelug monastic-universities in Lhasa, to begin intensive studies in Buddhist philosophy, which culminated in his receiving the Geshe degree at the age of 25. During his stay at Sera Monastery Rinpoche also attended many teachings and initiations given by his root guru, Pabonka Rinpoche, the greatest Gelug lama of the time. After receiving his geshe degree, Rinpoche returned to Kham where he spent many years doing retreat in a small hut he had built in the forest. But after the Chinese Communist invasion in 1950, the situation in Kham became increasingly dangerous, and in 1955 he was advised by one of his gurus, Trijang Rinpoche, to return to Lhasa, where he continued to take teachings and do retreats.

But Lhasa itself soon became unsafe. From 1959 (the year of the Tibetan people's uprising) to 1976, Rinpoche experienced numerous hardships and difficulties such as imprisonment and physical abuse, and being a helpless observer of the terrible destruction of the Cultural Revolution. However, during this time he was able to keep his mind peaceful and even happy by practising the teachings he had learned. As Rinpoche described his experiences, "I didn't really experience the slightest difficulty during those adverse conditions. This was due to the kindness of Lama Dorje Chang [Pabongka Rinpoche]. From him I had somehow learned some mental training, and in those difficult times, my mind was immediately able to recognise the nature of cyclic existence, the nature of afflictive emotions, and the nature of karma and so forth. So my mind was really at ease."

Following the Cultural Revolution Rinpoche worked with the Panchen Lama to restore many of the lost spiritual treasures of Tibet as they could. His main accomplishment was recovering the two most precious statues of Shakyamuni Buddha: the Jowo Chenpo and the Ramo Chenpo. These two statues, originally brought to Tibet by the Chinese and Nepalese wives of King Songsten Gampo (ca 617-698), were taken to Beijing during the Cultural Revolution and kept in various warehouses along with thousands of other statues for 17 years, until Rinpoche found them and returned them to their respective temples in Lhasa.

In 1987 Rinpoche left Tibet and travelled to Dharamsala, India, to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Since then he has lived at Namgyal Monastery in Dharamsala, where, at the request of His Holiness, he wrote a number of biographies of great lamas and an extensive religious history of Tibet. Rinpoche has also visted and taught in several foreign countries - Australia, New Zealand. America, and around Europe. His warmth, humour, profound wisdom and practical, down-to-earth teachings have endeared him to many students around the world.

Background of the Teachings

More that 2,500 years ago, Shakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment and then proceeded to teach the path to enlightenment so that others could follow. His teachings have been kept alive to the present day through the great kindness and efforts of an unbroken lineage of practitioners who learned them from their masters, put them into practice, then passed them onto followers. In Tibet, the essential points of Buddha's teachings were formulated into a system known as the lam-rim, or stages on the path to enlightenment, which explaiins all the steps or practices one needs to follow in order to attain enlightenment.

The lam-rim consists of three main stages or levels, according to three different reasons or motivations for practising Dharma. The first level, known as the "small scope," starts from taking an interest in one's future lives. This comes about when we realise that this present life could end at any time, and that after death, we will be reborn in an unfortunate state (as an animal, hungry ghost or hell being), and to achieve a fortunate state (as a deva, titan or human being), by taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and by living our lives in accordance with karma, the law of evolutionary actions and their results.

The second or "intermediate scope" involves developing the aspiration to become free once and for all from the cycle of death and rebirth. Within this scope, one focuses on the Four Noble Truths: the sufferings of cyclic existence, the causes of suffering (delusions and karma), the state of freedom from all suffering (nirvana), and the means to achieve it by practising the three higher trainings of ethics, concentration and wisdom.

The third level, the "great scope," involves opening one's heart to consider the situation of all beings. Realising that all beings experience suffering that they don't want and they fail to find the peace and happiness that they wish for, one develops the aspiration to attain full enlightenment in order to help everyone reach that perfect state as well. That altruistic aspiration is bodhicitta.

This booklet contains extracts of ribur Rinpoche's precious teachings on how to develop bodhicitta, and how to practise thought transformation through which we become less self-centred and more concerned for others.

Numerous people contributed to this work. Rinpoche's teachings were beautifully translated into English by Fabrizio Pallotti. Several ABC students kindly transcribed the tapes, and I edited the transcript with assistance from Doris Low and Rise Koben.

Any errors in the text are entirely the fault of the editor.

Sangye Khadro
October 1998

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 Four: The Second Point - The Actual Practice,Training in Bodhicitta

For practitioners of great scope, the main point is the method of meditating on or practicing bodhicitta—the determination to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. What does this mean? Bodhicitta is a primary mind associated with two aspirations— the first, its cause, is what we practice to generate bodhicitta, the aspiration to benefit all sentient beings; the second, which accompanies and is similar to bodhicitta, is the aspiration to achieve enlightenment.

So, bodhicitta is a primary mind accompanied by the aspiration for enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. There are three kinds of enlightenment—those of the hearer, solitary realizer and bodhisattva. Bodhicitta aspires to the highest form of enlightenment, that of the bodhisattva—the great, or Mahayana, enlightenment. When we understand that bodhicitta is the aspiration to attain the highest kind of enlightenment and that hearers and solitary realizers do not have it, we should feel strongly motivated to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings because of the many unbearable sufferings they experience within cyclic existence.

We should also recognize that we are impermanent, changing from moment to moment, and must eventually leave this life, as we cannot stay here forever. Furthermore, when we do leave this life, even though we might have accumulated enough wealth and possessions to completely fill the whole Earth, we can take absolutely nothing with us and have to leave it all behind. Even if we have a huge family with hundreds of thousands of relatives, we will have to relinquish them all; not one can accompany us. Even this body, which we have inhabited since we entered our mother’s womb and have taken so much care of all our life, will not help us but will be left behind. Understanding all this should encourage us to practice and try to generate bodhicitta right away.

Of course, generating bodhicitta will not protect us from death, but if we do generate this attitude—or even if we simply practice it—we will not die a normal death; we will die with joy. That’s the difference bodhicitta makes. Normally, as we age, we find it difficult to stand up—we have to haul ourselves up on a stick or push against something solid—and when we sit down we just flop down into the chair. It’s difficult to do anything. But if we have developed bodhicitta, we’ll at least know that death is going to bring us a nice new body and will feel very positive about dying.

I speak from personal experience about the suffering of old age. I tell you, if you went to bed one night and woke up the next morning old, with all its attendant sufferings, you’d find it totally unbearable. However, the special sufferings of old age creep up on us gradually, and those who have had plenty of positive experiences from practicing bodhicitta are quite happy to die because it’s a chance to get rid of their rubbishy old body and move into one in which it will be much easier to practice. People who die without having practiced Dharma feel very afraid.

There are two kinds of bodhicitta—conventional and ultimate. Certain earlier presentations of how to generate it explained how to develop ultimate bodhicitta first and then moved on to conventional bodhicitta, but some recent masters have said that this is incorrect and that instead we should begin with conventional bodhicitta and then practice the ultimate. This is the order of the version presented here; the tradition that put ultimate bodhicitta first was taught for practitioners of extremely sharp intellect.

The training in conventional bodhicitta is explained here principally by way of the technique of equalizing and exchanging self and others. The other method, the sevenfold cause and effect instruction, is partly relevant, but equalizing and exchanging self and others is what is mainly explained. In his Compendium of Training, Shantideva says that our bodhicitta will be much firmer if we develop it by practicing equalizing and exchanging self and others from the outset.

Equalizing self and others

What exactly does equalizing self and others mean? Specifically, what is it that is supposed to be equalized? For example, is it that self and others are equal in being selfless, lacking in self-existence? Although this is true, it’s not what is meant here. Is it that self and others are equal in suffering in cyclic existence? Again, although this is true as well, neither is that our focus here. Perhaps the meaning is that self and others are equal in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering? The answer here is yes, self and others are indeed the same in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering, and this is what we are talking about here.

When we talk about equalizing self and others in order to generate bodhicitta, what we mean by the equality of self and others is that we all want happiness and none of us wants suffering.

Since time without beginning we have harbored the selfish attitude that continually makes us afraid of getting cold, hungry, thirsty and so forth or suffering in other ways. We always worry about what will happen to us. This continual worry is the selfishness that’s called the self-cherishing mind—the tendency to focus on our own happiness while neglecting the welfare and needs of others—and we have been under its influence since beginningless time.

Exchanging self and others means switching these two so that instead of being primarily concerned about our own happiness we become more concerned for that of others, and instead of neglecting others we neglect ourselves and strive for enlightenment for their benefit.

There is a connection between the self-cherishing mind and self-grasping, or grasping at true existence. The self-grasping mind is the actual root, or fundamental cause, of all samsaric suffering but it is very closely followed by the self-cherishing mind, which arises on the basis of self-grasping and itself serves as the basis for all the other delusions.

There are said to be 84,000 delusions, each of which arises as a result of the self-cherishing mind. Motivated by these delusions, we engage in harmful actions such as the ten non-virtuous actions, 9  the five immediate negativities 10 and other kinds of negative activity and, as a karmic consequence of doing so, have to undergo all kinds of unbearable suffering.

Thus the very root, the fundamental cause, of all our delusions, negative minds and suffering is self-grasping, the mind that thinks we are completely self-existent, inherently-existent; that we exist in a way that is totally independent of any causes or conditions, utterly independent of anything.

And if self-grasping is the king, then self-cherishing is his most powerful minister, the one who tries to achieve all kinds of objectives on his behalf. Selfishness itself does not conceive of or believe in the self as existing from its own side because that is not its job. However, the selfish mind does act as a protector or helper for the self that is conceived of by self-grasping as existing from its own side.

In order to get nice things for the self, self-cherishing causes us to develop attachment; to protect the self from harm, self-cherishing causes us to generate anger; in other situations it stimulates jealousy, pride and other delusions. Then, by following these negative minds, we engage in negative actions, create negative karma and suffer. Thus selfishness is just like a minister that the king can order around to get whatever he wants done.

Therefore, we should think repeatedly about how self-cherishing creates all our suffering and problems until we see it as our main enemy. Then, instead of allowing selfishness, whose main aim is our own happiness, to lead us around by the nose, we should switch everything around and start thinking about how we can benefit others, how their happiness is more important than our own.

If we think about it correctly we can easily understand how important others are and how all our happiness and fortune definitely and completely depend on them.

I mentioned before that one way of developing bodhicitta is through the sevenfold cause and effect instruction, which, based on equanimity, is as follows:

(a) recognizing that all beings have been our mother,

(b) recollecting their kindness as mother,

(c) thinking how to repay their kindness,

(d) developing love,

(e) developing compassion,

(f) generating the special intention of benefiting all beings by oneself alone, and then

(g) generating bodhicitta itself.

The only way we can gain these realizations is by depending on others.

Likewise, the only way we can develop the six perfections of generosity, morality, patience, enthusiasm, concentration and wisdom is by depending on others. Take, for example, the practice of generosity, the mind wanting to give away all our possessions and even our body in order to benefit others. Obviously we can do this only in dependence upon others; it is only thanks to them that we can develop a generous mind.

Then there’s morality, which means abandoning the ten non-virtuous actions—killing, stealing, lying and so forth. Abandoning killing means giving up taking the lives of others; we can do this only by depending upon others; again, it is only thanks to them that we can do it. Similarly, we abandon stealing by regarding others as important and therefore not taking their possessions; it is only thanks to others that we can do this, too. The same applies to all other beneficial qualities of mind—we can develop them only through the kindness of others.

We should think, therefore, that we must definitely attain the state of complete enlightenment as soon as possible for the sake of all sentient beings, and for that reason determine to spend all our time from now on working towards that goal without wasting even a moment. We must resolve to practice like this in particular for whatever remains of this life—studying, thinking, meditating and practicing as well as we can—especially this year, this month, this week and particularly this day. We must generate the strong determination to not waste time but spend every moment practicing whatever we have to do to attain enlightenment as quickly as possible.

Meditation on equalizing self and others is done by way of nine reasons, of which six work on the conventional level and three on the ultimate. With respect to the six conventional ones, three relate to self and three to others. This is how we should meditate on the equality of self and others.11

The shortcomings of self-cherishing

The fourth paragraph of the text says,

Banish the one to blame for everything,
Meditate on the great kindness of all beings.

The first line means that we should blame the self-cherishing mind for all our negative experiences. Why? Because every problem and fault we experience is a result of our own selfishness. Therefore we should blame ourselves for every unpleasant experience that befalls us, no matter how bad it is; we should grab hold of our own selfish mind and view it as the culprit.

As the great Shantideva wrote in his Guide,

All the suffering in the world
Comes from the desire for one’s own happiness.12

Every problem we experience comes from wanting and thinking of only our own happiness; all our suffering—everything that goes wrong, every kind of fault, everything fearful or unpleasant and all violence—comes from this selfish mind. Furthermore, it all comes equally from the self-grasping mind that conceives everything to exist from its own side.

Shantideva then compares selfishness to an extremely harmful spirit that continuously harms us.

If all the harm, fear and suffering in the world
Occur due to grasping onto the self,
What use is that great demon to me?13

Thus we’re encouraged to ask ourselves, “Why do I hang on to this selfish mind, which is such a harmful entity?”

As the Indian master Padampa Sangye told the people of Tingri, where he had decided to stay because he felt he could help them, whenever things go wrong we always blame others but we should instead point the finger of blame at ourselves, where the root of all problems lies.14

And, as the mind training text The Wheel-Weapon Mind Training says, if we develop this understanding it is marvelous, because by so doing we identify the real enemy that continuously gives us harm—beginning, middle and end. It says, “So now I’ve identified you, you thief.”15

But self-cherishing is not the ordinary kind of thief, who robs people by beating them up and forcibly taking their possessions. Self-cherishing is the type of thief that sneaks in surreptitiously at night and steals on the sly.

The Wheel-Weapon also says, “So now I’ve understood you for what you are, you unfaithful friend!”16 From the point of view of our own selfishness it seems to be our greatest friend, but in practice it does nothing but trick and deceive us. The selfish mind creates all the suffering we experience in this life, such as people being horrible to us, hitting and attacking us with weapons, but more especially, it is the cause of all the unbearable sufferings we’re going to experience in the lower realms in our future lives.

As Shantideva also said, look at the difference between the buddhas and ordinary worldly people like ourselves.17 Because we have not yet discarded our selfishness, we are still suffering here in cyclic existence, not even free from rebirth in the lower realms. Even arhats, who have completely transcended the suffering of cyclic existence, have reached only a limited degree of perfection because they have not relinquished their selfishness. They have not devoted themselves to benefiting others; therefore they have not been able to achieve the state of full enlightenment.

The Buddha, on the other hand, gave up all selfishness and totally devoted himself to benefiting others. As a result, he reached a state of complete freedom from suffering and to this day remains incredibly beneficial to and highly regarded by many beings. By seeing the difference between him and us, we will understand how important it is also to renounce the selfish mind and totally devote ourselves to benefiting others.

Originally, the Buddha was exactly the same as us. When water is boiling, the water on the top goes to the bottom and the water on the bottom comes up to the top, and it keeps on going round like that. Similarly, in many previous lives we were together with the Buddha—sometimes as best friends, sometimes as worst enemies, all the time changing, changing, changing. Then, unlike us, at a certain point he decided to enter the path by renouncing selfishness and devoting himself to others, and kept on developing spiritually until he attained enlightenment.

The kindness of all sentient beings

Furthermore, Shantideva pointed out that everything good—every form of happiness, all positive qualities and so forth—comes through the kindness of others. Therefore, the mind devoted to their welfare is like a wish-fulfilling jewel, the source of all happiness and everything good and useful in the world. Just as a farmer who possesses an extremely fertile field, where everything he plants always grows, is very happy to have it and cherishes and takes great care of it, we should feel the same way about other sentient beings—that they are extremely valuable, and cherish and take care of them.

It is interesting that, whether we are Buddhist or not, if we think about the great kindness of all beings it will be evident that all our happiness does indeed depend upon them.

It is also said that the buddhas and sentient beings are equally kind. The buddhas’ kindness is obvious—through following their teachings and advice we can attain enlightenment. However, we do so only by meditating on love, compassion, bodhicitta, the six perfections, the four means of taking care of disciples and so forth, and doing these practices obviously depends upon others. Therefore, they and the buddhas are equally kind and it is wrong to dismiss sentient beings while holding the buddhas in great esteem.

This does not mean that we should make prostrations, offerings, prayers and requests to sentient beings to be able to generate realizations and so forth but that they and the buddhas are equally important and kind in the genesis of our happiness and we should therefore appreciate and respect them both equally.

Having understood that all happiness, especially the many qualities we are trying to develop on the Mahayana path to enlightenment, results from the kindness of not just the buddhas but also all sentient beings, from this point on we should always remember how all beings are kind. This is what “meditate on the great kindness of all beings” means.

When we think about self and others, self refers to just the one person whereas others are utterly uncountable. Nevertheless, we normally take tremendous care of that one self and basically ignore most of the others. If we think about the difference in numbers here, it seems disgraceful to ignore the numberless in favor of just the one whereas neglecting the one in favor of the countless others doesn’t seem so bad.

As soon as we start meditating on all beings as most kind, even though we can concentrate on love and compassion—wanting all beings to be happy and free from suffering—for only a very short time, it is still a very powerful way of building up an extraordinary amount of merit. That’s why meditation on qualities such as love and compassion is so valuable.

Of course, it is inevitable and to be expected that we beginners meditating on the kindness of all sentient beings will occasionally create negative karma by getting angry at some of them, therefore we also need to know how to purify immediately any negativity we create.

According to the sevenfold cause and effect instruction, above, when we meditate on the four immeasurables, which include love—wishing all beings to be happy—and compassion—wishing them to be free from suffering—and on bodhicitta—the determination to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings—we start by recognizing all beings as having been our mother, recollecting their kindness and resolving to repay this kindness, and then go on to meditate on love, compassion, the special intention and finally the mind of bodhicitta itself. All these recognitions and qualities arise through the kindness of others because it is only by meditating on others that we can generate them.

Once we have entered the path to enlightenment we develop it further by practicing the six perfections and so forth. Again, each of these depends on the kindness of others. When we finally achieve enlightenment we spend all our time benefiting others because of the strength of our compassion, which cannot bear to see or ignore others’ suffering. So again, even when we become buddha, all our enlightened activity depends upon others and their kindness.

A mother’s kindness

Simply by looking at our present life we can see the kindness of others. From conception we were completely reliant on our mother’s kindness for survival. For the nine months we were in her womb she underwent many difficulties carrying us and then faced the hardships of giving us birth. Then, when we were very small, there was no way we could look after ourselves—we were always in danger of falling or getting hurt in various other ways, and when we got a bit bigger we were again in danger of running into traffic, falling from high places and so forth.

Parents constantly have to think about their children, protect them from danger and work to feed and educate them and so forth. Thus when we were small we completely depended on the kindness of our parents for everything.

This is also true for animals. We can see how ducks and geese, for example, look after their young—and while there is actually very little they can do to protect them from predators they will nevertheless defend them with their lives.

As we get older and go to school, our education depends upon the kindness of our teachers and our fun depends upon the kindness of the other children we play with. Later on, when we get married, start a family, live together and so forth, our enjoyment of all this going smoothly and happily depends upon our partner and the other members of our family. And when we become old and find it difficult to sit or stand and can’t cook or take care of ourselves properly, we again need somebody to look after us.

Thus, it’s clear that from the beginning of our life to its end, even our mundane happiness depends entirely upon the kindness of others, and not only the kindness of other human beings—we use animals’ bodies for food, shoes and clothing and so forth and they keep us company, protect us and help us in our work. Therefore we should also appreciate the kindness of animals.

With respect to other kinds of food, consider how grain used for food starts off in dependence on the kindness of others. Somebody plants the seeds in a field; somebody tills the earth; somebody removes the weeds; many people harvest the crop and make it ready to cook; others mill the flour and make bread; somebody else prepares our rice. Thus everything we eat depends on the kindness of the many others who bring it to us. Furthermore, the roads that bring us our food and help us get from place to place were built by the hard work of many people.

We might think that we paid for all this, but where did we get the money? It came from our job, but we only got that because somebody gave it to us.

Therefore, all we have comes from the kindness of others. We came into this world completely naked, without a stitch of clothing or anything in our hands. All we have accumulated since then has come from others.

We must reflect from our own experience on all the other ways in which others have been kind to us. The more we think about this, the more embarrassed we’ll be at thinking of ourselves as important and precious, and the more we’ll realize that in fact it is others who are important and precious. If we don’t think deeply about all this, it won’t make much sense, but if we want to follow the spiritual path we must develop this awareness. Meditating on the kindness of others is priceless.

Giving and taking

The next line of the text says,

Practice a combination of giving and taking.

This means that we should alternate giving and taking [Tib: tong-len]. I’ve been talking about the kindness of others—the more we think about this the more we’ll realize the extent of their suffering and will come to think that it’s so terrible that we must do something about it. Eventually we’ll feel compelled to take their suffering on ourselves and give them our happiness. This is what giving and taking means—giving happiness to all beings and taking on all their suffering—and we practice it in an attempt to destroy our self-cherishing mind.

We might think that since the suffering of others does not hurt us, why even consider taking it on? In response, the commentary reminds us that even in their dreams all beings want happiness and do not want suffering.

We might also think that while it is true that we all want happiness and freedom from suffering, nevertheless, the best thing is simply to take care of our own happiness and eliminate our own suffering. Moreover, we might wonder whether it is even possible to give happiness to others and alleviate their suffering, arguing that, since each of us has our own individual mind stream, we can of course create happiness in and remove suffering from our own mind, but how can we possibly do this for others? After all, their minds are completely separate from ours; surely they must be responsible for creating their own happiness and eliminating their own suffering?

While it is true that our minds are separate, it still makes sense that one person can help another find happiness and freedom from suffering. For example, a mother and her child are responsible for helping each other find happiness and eliminate problems. Now, we might argue that even though mother and child have different mindstreams, because they are so close and have great affection for one another it’s possible to talk of their doing this but not other sentient beings. The answer is that although it is true that in this life we have only one mother and father and don’t have that special connection with other sentient beings, before this life there was a previous one, and before that there was another, and before that another and so on—in fact, there is no beginning to the lives we have had in cyclic existence.

Furthermore, in many of those lives we were born from a womb, just as we were in this one, and if we think deeply about this we will see that every single living being has been our mother and father and has therefore been extremely kind to us. Through reflecting on the kindness of our present mother and father we should understand that in past lives, when other beings were our parents, they were similarly kind and affectionate towards us. Perhaps they were even kinder, sometimes even giving up their very life for our sake.

Thus all sentient beings have helped us in countless ways and saved us from innumerable harms and have even given their life for us on numberless occasions. However, the selfish mind says that while all this might be true, it happened so long ago that it’s all forgotten by now. Moreover, it also says that many of these beings have actually done their best to harm us as much as they can, so caring for all beings is out of the question.

However, the commentary points out that it is only our own selfishness that is raising these objections and denying the need to think so much about others and describes this way of thinking as a debate between selfishness and the altruistic mind dedicated to benefiting others. It’s like a dramatization, which is actually how to reflect and meditate. It discusses potential objections our mind might raise when we think about these issues, several of which will ring true to our experience. When the selfish mind comes up with these objections we have to find a way to respond.

For instance, when the selfish mind asserts that many other people are intent on harming us, the altruistic mind retorts that this is unreasonable because since beginningless time, over countless lifetimes in cyclic existence, others have been extremely kind to us. We cannot possibly measure how kind they have all been or count how many times they have protected and helped us. They have shown us this kindness since beginningless time and now, because of some minor problem, we’re branding certain people worst enemies undeserving of help. This is completely unreasonable and we should be ashamed of ourselves for even thinking it. Don’t we feel even a little embarrassed by our reaction?

Our ways of thinking and behaving are profoundly ignorant and particularly unpleasant because they completely disregard the untold help we have received and merely remember the little harm. It’s as if our parents, having taken care of us all our life, have become old and sick and gone into hospital and then said just one unpleasant thing to us, and we have reacted with anger and attacked them. If our family and friends would come to know how we have completely forgotten our parents’ kindness and reacted with hatred just because of this one comment they would be disgusted at our behavior.

Moreover, we may wonder why we meditate on the kindness of others and take on their suffering because neither we nor they seem to be affected by this practice. To this we can reply that of course no immediately visible, direct effects arise from such practice, any more than they do when we make offerings, prostrations and so forth to the buddhas, which also bring no immediate result. It is different when we give food or drink to those who are hungry or thirsty because such actions bring immediate benefit. But when we do this, do we really experience no benefit? Do we ourselves derive no benefit at all? We might feel that we do not benefit personally from giving to others in this way, at least not directly or immediately, but that doesn’t mean there’s no result at all. Likewise, if we see no immediate, visible result from practicing morality, does that mean that moral conduct has no benefit at all?

With respect to the karma created by various actions, some actions bring results in this life, some in the next and certain others in a more distant future life. Therefore, the altruistic mind has to respond to the selfish mind’s objection above by saying, “You are rather stupid in failing to recognize that the good you do might not bring immediate results. For example, farmers plant various kinds of seed, some of which ripen that very year, others the following year and some only several years later. The fact that they don’t all bring immediate results doesn’t stop the farmer from planting them.”

Likewise, when we try to generate, meditate on and practice bodhicitta, we don’t necessarily experience immediate, visible results like those of eating when we’re hungry, but nevertheless, the future good results that will eventually ripen are endless.

Just as when we see a high quality crop we can infer that its seeds must have been excellent, in the same way, when we see any good result we can confidently infer that it must have had a good cause. The principle that good results must be preceded by good causes applies to the state of enlightenment itself.

The exalted state of enlightenment—in which all good qualities are fully developed and from which all faults and obscurations are totally absent—is a good result. We can therefore infer that it must have been preceded by many good causes, such as the practice of the six perfections and the four means of taking care of disciples and so forth, and we can speak of all such practices along the path, over an extremely long period of time, as the good causes that bring the great result of enlightenment.

Thus we can see that by using our wisdom and intelligence to understand the difference between right and wrong and gradually working at eliminating wrong, harmful states of mind and actions and developing correct, beneficial ones, over time, we can attain enlightenment. Once we have done so we will be able to benefit many, many beings extensively—ripen on the path those not yet ripened, liberate those not liberated and completely free from all obscurations those not yet free. How will we be able to do that? How do enlightened beings do that? While on the path they gradually develop the mind wanting to benefit others, practice actions beneficial to others and abandon all thoughts and actions harmful to others, thereby gradually acquiring the power to attain the omniscient mind of a buddha.

That is the ultimate result, but the benefits of the actions that bring it are not seen immediately, unlike those of eating and drinking to get rid of hunger and thirst. In response to this, the selfish mind might reply, “That’s OK, ultimately there might be such a result, but for the time being I’m not interested in trying to benefit all sentient beings because it’s evident that however much I look at it, I see little benefit to either my body or my mind.”

However, this thought is also a mistake because, even in the short term, there are many benefits from helping others and not harming them. When we live trying to be as helpful to others as we can and avoiding aggressive, negative mental attitudes and actions towards them, our companions and the people with whom we live really appreciate us because our behavior makes them happy and we in turn enjoy being appreciated, popular and well-liked.

Although the selfish mind does not understand and appreciate all this, the buddhas, bodhisattvas and other holy beings do. Similarly, those of us who are trying to develop, practice and meditate on love, compassion and so forth also understand and appreciate it, as do the people with whom we spend our lives, as I’ve just said. Even strangers with whom we’ve just come into contact will appreciate and take a liking to us. They feel something right away, just as we immediately feel uncomfortable and afraid the moment we encounter a vicious, violent person, even somebody we’ve never seen before, or a scorpion or poisonous snake.

The selfish mind might further object that there’s no point in meditating on love or compassion because there’s no direct personal physical or mental benefit. The reply to this is, “Normally you, the selfish mind, say all sorts of unpleasant things to people—perhaps you should give up doing this because it harms neither their bodies nor their minds; so why bother? Moreover, you are normally so full of malevolent thoughts and covetousness towards others—perhaps you should give these thoughts up as well; since they neither help nor harm anybody directly, physically or mentally, just forget them.” It’s only when you take action on the basis of your ill will or covetousness that you actually harm others physically, so since those attitudes themselves neither harm nor help others directly, why not just drop them?

Such objections can arise when we think deeply about the various disadvantages of the selfish mind and begin to gain experience in this area. One lama explored this issue in his writings and, although it wasn’t in relation to the text we’re studying here, I’ll use what he said to illustrate the following point. Debating with the selfish mind about these things until it has nothing left to say is extremely helpful.

To continue the argument, then, the selfish mind objects: “I don’t want to practice altruism or give up selfishness because doing so has no direct benefit.” The reply to this is that we readily accept the benefits of saving money and other things for our old age but since doing so has no direct or immediate benefit us, why bother? Similarly, if we get a thorn in our foot, our hand removes it; since this does not benefit our hand in any way, why should it bother to help the foot?

If we do not abandon selfishness and devote ourselves to the happiness and welfare of others we will never achieve the perfect happiness of enlightenment and will forever be stuck with changeable, unreliable kinds of happiness.

How to practice giving and taking

The text then goes on to say,

Giving and taking should be practiced alternately.

First we were told to practice a combination of giving and taking; now we’re being told to practice them alternately. Finally,

And you should begin by taking from yourself.

Thus these two lines tell us how to practice giving and taking, the second being for those of us who lack the courage to practice taking in its fullest form—taking on all suffering of all beings—straight away. We build up to it gradually by taking on our own suffering first. How do we do this?

We can start by meditating each morning on taking on, in advance, the suffering we’re going to experience that day. On that basis we gradually build up to taking on the suffering of the next day as well, then the day after that, and so on until we’re able to take on all the suffering of this life and finally, the suffering of all our future lives.

Once we can do this we extend the taking to all our friends and relatives, then gradually build up to include all the people to whom we feel neutral, those who are neither friends nor enemies, and when we’ve mastered that we add in our enemies, those who harm us, thus extending our practice to include all sentient beings. Of course, if we have the courage and strength of mind to practice this most difficult technique from the outset we don’t need to train our mind in the gradual method that begins with taking on our own suffering first.

Briefly, in a simplified way, the meditation on taking is as follows.

Reflect on the six realms of cyclic existence: the hell, hungry ghost, animal, human, demigod and god realms.18

Within the hell realm lie the hot and cold hells. The hot hells have eight levels with progressively increasing suffering, as do the cold hells. After the first level, the second has more suffering, the third still more, and so on. Then there are the surrounding hells like the hell of the shalmali tree, the swamps of rotting corpses and so forth, and then the temporary hells as well. However, the main sufferings that we take from the hell beings are those of the intense heat and cold they endure.

The worst sufferings in all of cyclic existence are those of the hell beings. The hungry ghosts experience slightly less and the animals’ sufferings are somewhat less again. The principal sufferings that the hungry ghosts undergo are those of hunger and thirst; they can go millions of years without finding even a gob of spit to eat.

With respect to the animals, if we look at those who live among us, especially in the West compared to Asia, they seem quite well cared for. Sometimes it can look as if pet dogs and cats, and even livestock, have an enjoyable life. They get a pleasant place to sleep and their food is prepared for them; it’s often better than that of humans in many parts of the world. The animals that live among us—pets, livestock and so forth—are referred to as “scattered animals” and compared to other animals actually suffer less than the majority, who live in the oceans.

Nowadays films give us a glimpse of how sea creatures live in water teeming with different species of fish; thousands, even millions, of different creatures living there together. They have more suffering than most land animals.

The general suffering of animals is that of not being aware and of eating and being eaten by each other. The big ones prey on the smaller ones or sometimes the smaller ones gang up on the big ones and kill and eat them instead. This goes on all the time and causes great suffering.

When taking suffering from humans, think about the three, six or eight sufferings. For example, the eight include the sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, and death; of not being able to get what we want; of being separated from things and people we love; of all sorts of unwanted unpleasant things happening to us; and of our physical and mental aggregates, which are under the control of delusion and karma.

The main suffering of the demigods is that of fighting. Out of jealousy, they constantly fight with the gods, who eat the fruit of a tree whose roots are in the realm of the demigods but ripens in the realm of the gods.

The gods live for millions and millions of years, enjoying themselves greatly, experiencing extraordinary pleasure with their divine friends, but at the end of their lives, a week before they die, they hear a sound like an announcement in space, telling them that they will die on such and such a day. From that point on their splendor fades, they start to smell and their friends no longer want to come anywhere near them. Furthermore, they become aware that they have exhausted their merit and will soon be reborn in the lower realms.

Therefore, in that final week of their lives, they experience dreadful suffering, which is made more intense by seeing that all their pleasure is coming to an end and that they are about to experience great suffering. Moreover, even though a week might not sound like much, a week in the life of a god is like billions of years in the human realm.

The three lower realms are called bad realms because their inhabitants create nothing but bad actions and experience only bad results, while the three upper realms are called good realms because their inhabitants experience good results of good actions.19

When we practice tong-len 20 we begin by imagining the hell realms, thinking about the terrible sufferings the hell beings experience, and visualize taking it all on, completely relieving them of it all. Once we have done this we imagine giving the hell beings all our possessions, happiness and merit, the receipt of which brings each hell being to complete enlightenment. We then gradually work our way up in a similar manner through the other realms.

The way to practice taking is to concentrate on our breath and imagine that the sufferings of the beings in the particular realm we’re focusing on leave through their right nostril and enter us through our right. Visualizing our selfish-cherishing mind as a dense blackness at our heart chakra in the center of our chest, the sufferings we inhale descend dissolve into it, completely destroying this selfish mind.

The way to practice giving is to imagine sending out through our left nostril our entire body and all our possessions, happiness and merit from the past, present and future to each and every sentient being in the realm we’re focusing on. All this enters their left nostril, as a result of which they develop all the realizations on the path and become fully enlightened.

After taking on all the sufferings of the hell beings and using them to harm our selfish mind and then giving them all our happiness and so forth, bringing them to complete enlightenment, we move on to the hungry ghosts. We likewise take all their suffering from their right nostril into our right nostril; it too dissolves into and destroys our self-cherishing mind. We then send out all our happiness, merit and so forth through our left nostril; it enters their left nostril and brings them to enlightenment.

When giving, we should feel as if we’re turning on a light in a dark place. It might have been dark for thousands or even millions of years, but no matter how long the darkness has been there, as soon as we turn on the light it’s immediately dispelled. In the same way, when we send our happiness and merit from our left nostril into the beings in the realm we’re focusing on, even though all their obscurations and so forth might have been there for a long time, they are totally eliminated and those beings are established in the state of complete enlightenment.

Thus, we gradually go through this process with all six types of sentient beings up to the gods, taking on their suffering, using it to destroy our selfish mind.

We can sometimes add another visualization to this practice: after bringing all beings to enlightenment we receive back through our left nostril the blessings of their enlightened body, speech and mind. These blessings completely eliminate our self-grasping mind—which resides in our heart and has always believed that everything exists from its own side, independent of all causes and conditions—like switching on a light instantly dispels darkness from a room or a powerful jet of water immediately sweeps away a pile of dirt.

Meditating like this is a way of taking action. Instead of merely generating the aspirational love that wishes all beings to be happy and the compassion that wishes them all to be free from suffering, by practicing tong-len we’re actively doing something that creates an extremely powerful, positive force within us.

Again, the selfish mind will raise arguments against this practice: “It’s just too tiring and difficult,” “What’s the point? It benefits neither others nor myself” and so forth. The objection that it does not benefit us is easily refuted: it clearly strengthens our love and compassion and when we engage in this practice we can see that it creates a tremendous positive force in our mind.

With respect to the objection that this practice does not help others in any way either, once more the selfish mind is considering that the only way to help others is directly; for example, by giving them food or drink when they are hungry or thirsty. It’s true that tong-len does not benefit others in that way but there are many ways in which we do benefit beings through this meditation, albeit neither directly nor immediately.

Anyway, although helpful, the benefits of giving food to the hungry or drink to the thirsty are very limited. Tong-len, by contrast, is incredibly beneficial because it is only through practicing it and similar meditations that we can become enlightened, and when we do we’ll be able to benefit numberless beings in a single moment. So, looking further ahead, the practice of this meditation offers enormous benefits to both ourselves and others.

With respect to alternating taking and giving, if meditating on taking makes you feel uncomfortable and you can’t handle the idea of taking on the evil actions, bad karma and negativities of others, you can leave that part out and just do the giving. Imagine all your merit, good qualities and so forth leaving you in the form of white light, going to all sentient beings, entering them and purifying them of all their delusions and negative karma. Imagine that all this is completely purified, washed out and cleansed, leaving their body in the form of frogs, scorpions, all kinds of other insects and dirty liquid and completely disappearing into the ground.

Actually, when taking, there’s no reason to feel that you’re being polluted because all the negativity, bad karma and obscurations you take is poured onto your selfish mind, thereby reducing its power. So you shouldn’t feel that it’s polluting you. It’s like peacocks eating poison— it doesn’t harm them but actually enhances the brilliance of the colors in their feathers.

The text continues,

These two should be made to ride on the breath.

The two referred to here are taking and giving. Although the text says “giving [tong] and taking [len],” the actual order in which we practice is taking and giving. We first take on their suffering and then give them happiness because while sentient beings are suffering, happiness is of little immediate use to them. Therefore we take away their suffering first and then give them happiness.

When we have had some experience in this meditation we combine it with our breath. Since we are always breathing, when we breathe in we imagine we’re inhaling all others’ suffering and when we exhale we imagine that we’re sending them all our happiness and so forth on our breath, as described above.

When Khädrub-je, one of Lama Tsongkhapa’s main disciples, praised him for being so helpful to others that even his breath helped them, he was referring to this practice, where high level practitioners can combine even their normal breathing with taking and giving.

Concerning the three objects, three poisons and three virtues,

The three objects are pleasant, unpleasant and neutral objects, the three poisons are attachment, aversion and ignorance and the three virtues are the opposites of the three poisons.

For example, when we come into contact with pleasant objects we experience pleasure and as a result generate attachment to those objects. When we come into contact with unpleasant objects we generate hatred, anger or aversion. And when we come into contact with neutral objects we generate a kind of neutral mental stupidity in relation to them.

It’s the same in our relationships with people. We feel attached to our friends, hatred for our enemies and, towards neutral people, “strangers,” our normal ignorance simply continues unabated. If whenever we notice these delusions arising in our mind we can think to ourselves, “May all the attachment, hatred and ignorance that sentient beings experience ripen on me,” we generate the three virtues.

The instruction to be followed, in short,
Is to be mindful of the practice in general,
By taking these words to heart in all activities.

In brief, the way to practice is to constantly remind ourselves of these instructions in all activities, which we can do by always remembering and reciting the words of Nagarjuna mentioned before,21

May the negativity and suffering of others ripen on me
And may all my virtue and happiness ripen on them.

Just as an old person needs to lean on a stick to move around, similarly, reciting words such as these helps remind us of the main points of the Mahayana mind training and keeps us going. By leaning on these words we can remember to practice taking and giving in all our daily activities.

So far this has been a commentary on the section of the text that explains how to meditate on conventional bodhicitta—how to generate the determination to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. There are two methods for developing bodhicitta: the sevenfold cause and effect instruction and equalizing and exchanging self and others. This has been a brief explanation of the latter, making some basic points about equalizing and exchanging self and others.

Ultimate Bodhicitta

Now let’s look at the next section of the root text.

When stability has been attained, impart the secret teaching:

Stability refers to the method side.22 When we have gained stability in the practices of conventional bodhicitta our teacher can give us the highly secret teaching on ultimate bodhicitta.

Ultimate bodhicitta refers to the direct realization of emptiness, so explaining it means explaining emptiness, which here means that everything is empty of true, or inherent, existence. Nothing is truly existent; everything is empty of true existence. That is the emptiness that we must realize.

Generally speaking, all phenomena that exist can be classified as either mind, which knows objects, or objects, which are known by the mind.

The next line of the text says,

Consider all phenomena as like dreams

When external objects appear to our mind, even though they appear to be truly existent, self-existent, existing from their own side, this is not at all the case. Therefore they are likened to dreams, which also seem to be real at the time but are seen to be unreal on awakening.

Both outer and inner objects are actually empty, but still, everything appears to be truly existent. However, if something were truly existent, if it truly existed the way in which it appears, it would have to be completely independent of anything.

For example, external objects like mountains, trees and forests are simply combinations of different particles or atoms; periods of time, such as years, months, weeks and so forth, are likewise combinations of moments. Therefore, none of these things—external objects, time or anything else—is independent of its constituent particles, periods of time and other factors. To be truly existent they would have to be completely independent of everything else.

When we talk about something being truly existent that means it’s independent of everything else. But since there’s nothing like that, there’s nothing that’s truly existent. The reason that there’s nothing completely independent, or truly existent, is because everything exists in dependence upon other factors.

Take a glass of water, for example. When we think about it, of course we know that it is dependent upon this and that, such as the various causes and conditions that have gone into producing it. If, however, instead of thinking about it we examine how it looks when it first appears to us, we’ll see that it has this vivid appearance, an appearance as if it were totally independent of any causes, conditions or, indeed, anything at all. That is how the glass of water appears—truly existent; completely independent of everything else; totally self-existent (which are just different ways of saying the same thing).

If the glass of water were truly existent the way it appears to be, it would have to be completely independent, but when we think about it we know that it depends on many different factors and is therefore not truly existent, independent or self-existent—and neither is anything else we can think of. Since this applies to everything that exists, all existent phenomena are empty of true existence.

Examine the nature of unborn awareness.

This next line refers to the fact that not only its objects but also the mind itself is empty of true existence. Mind, here, refers to the six kinds of primary consciousness—visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile and mental; all completely lack any true existence.

Where it says “unborn awareness,” awareness refers to consciousness. Consciousness itself is produced in dependence upon causes and conditions and is therefore not truly existent. That means a truly existent consciousness is not produced, so a truly existent consciousness is unborn.

You can understand this by examining its very nature of being completely empty of independent existence. This shows that it is neither truly existent nor produced by or dependent upon truly existent causes and conditions. Thus we have only to examine the nature of the six consciousnesses to understand that they’re unborn.

The remedy itself is released in its own place

This line refers to the fact that the wisdom understanding everything to be empty of true, independent or self-existence is the remedy to all of cyclic existence and everything that produces it.

Place the essence of the path on the nature of the basis of all

This means that because everything is empty of true existence, things are produced only from particular causes and conditions and come into existence depending upon specific factors. If things were not empty—in other words, if everything were truly existent—phenomena could not possibly come into being in dependence upon certain specific causes and conditions.

Moreover, because we can see and explain how each event is produced dependent upon its own specific causes and conditions, we can see that it is also impossible to assert that any event is truly existent.

Therefore, “essence of the path” refers to an understanding of the relationship between emptiness and dependent arising, the knowledge that because everything is empty, the various manifestations of dependent arising—things arising dependent upon various causes and conditions—are possible, and because such arisings occur, everything must be empty.

In the period between sessions, be a creator of illusions.

A creator of illusions is a conjuror who can make illusory objects appear due to a special arrangement of sticks and stones together with mantras and various other substances. When he makes things appear to his audience he also sees them but since he knows that he himself has simply conjured them up he knows that they’re illusory. In the same way, even when we have directly realized emptiness, when we come out of meditation, despite our knowing that nothing exists truly, everything will still appear to be truly existent. We’ll see things as truly existent but will know that in reality, they’re not; due to the force of our experience in meditation we’ll have the certainty in the post-meditation period that nothing exists truly, the way it appears.

I mentioned earlier that the self-cherishing mind completely depends upon the self-grasping mind—the consciousness that conceives or apprehends that everything is truly existent and therefore completely independent.

For example, we can figure out that a cake is not truly existent because we know it cannot be made without ingredients—fruit, butter, flour and so forth—but still, the self-grasping mind sees the cake, like everything else, to be completely truly existent and independent of any causes and conditions. This is in total conflict with the knowledge that everything exists depending upon causes and conditions and in this way, the self-grasping mind completely prevents the arising of any awareness of cause and effect, such as happiness resulting from virtue and suffering from non-virtue.

All the problems we experience in life and, indeed, all our beginningless suffering in cyclic existence, can be traced back to our self-cherishing mind and if we delve even deeper we’ll find that beneath this lies the very root of all our problems, the self-grasping mind.

Those with less experience of Buddhist teachings should try hard to understand this important point—the self-grasping mind that conceives everything as being completely independent is the support for the self-cherishing mind, which produces the various delusions that cause us to create negative actions, which, in turn, lead to our experiencing suffering in cyclic existence.

An alternative translation has

In between meditation sessions, be like a conjuror.

This refers to the period subsequent to the meditation session—how to practice in between meditation sessions—and how even though things are empty, they still appear.

An example of how everything is empty yet still appears is the way our face appears in a mirror. When we see our face in a mirror we know that there’s no actual face in the mirror even though there appears to be one there. There’s a reflection that exists there and it appears to be a face, but we know that the reflection is empty of being a real face. However, despite the fact that it is empty of real face, at the same time all the various features of a face appear.

Notes

9 Three of body (killing, stealing and sexual misconduct), four of speech (lying, slandering, speaking harshly and gossiping) and three of mind (covetousness, ill-will and wrong views).[Return to text]

10 Killing father, mother or an arhat, drawing blood from a buddha and creating a schism in the Sangha community. They are called immediate because those who create such actions are reborn in hell in their very next life. [Return to text]

11 Transforming Adversity Into Joy And Courage, pp. 167–171. This entire book, especially chapters 10–12, augments Geshe Tegchok’s thoughts on the development and practice of bodhicitta. [Return to text]

12 A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, Chapter 8, verse 129 (p. 106, note 297). [Return to text]

13 Ibid. Chapter 8, verse 134 (p. 106, note 300). [Return to text]

14 “You say such clever things to people, but don’t apply them to yourself; People of Tingri, the faults within you are the ones to be exposed.” Dilgo Khyentse. The Hundred Verses of Advice of Padampa Sangye. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2002, verse 89. [Return to text]

15 Peacock in the Poison Grove, p. 83, verse 49: “I seize the thief who ambushed and deceived me.” [Return to text]

16 Ibid. Same verse: “The hypocrite who deceived me disguised as myself.” [Return to text]

17 Op. cit. Chapter 8, verse 130: “Enough of much talk! Note the difference between the fool who seeks his own benefit and the sage who works for the benefit of others.” [Return to text]

18 See the relevant sections of Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand for details of all these.[Return to text]

19 The three upper realms are still fraught with all kinds of samsaric suffering (like the three, six and eight) but are relatively happier than the lower realms, therefore they are called “good.” [Return to text]

20 For a highly detailed description of this practice see Meditation Seven in Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s Wish-Fulfilling Golden Sun on the LYWA website. [Return to text]

21 See note 6 above. [Return to text]

22 There are two streams of practice in the Mahayana: method—the development of bodhicitta—and wisdom—the development of the wisdom directly realizing emptiness. Like a bird needs two wings to fly, we need both method and wisdom to reach enlightenment. [Return to text]

 

A teaching on the Seven-Point Mind Training by Geshe Lama Konchog at Atisha Centre, Bendigo, Australia, from October 31 to November 3, 1987.

By Geshe Lama Konchog in Atisha Centre, Bendigo, Australia

A teaching on the Seven-Point Mind Training by Geshe Lama Konchog at Atisha Centre, Bendigo, Australia, from October 31 to November 3, 1987. Translated by Dhawa Dundrup. Transcribed and edited by Ven. Thupten Konchog, who accepts all errors and omissions. Second edit by Sandra Smith, January 2013.

This teaching is also available for download as a free e-book from Amitabha Buddhist Centre, Singapore.

Chapter 1: Putting Effort into Spiritual Practice
Chapter 2: The Preliminaries
Chapter 3: Equanimity
Chapter 4: Generating Bodhicitta
Chapter 5: Equalising and Exchanging the Self With Others;Taking and Giving
Chapter 6: Conventional and Ultimate Bodhicitta; Taking and Giving

Chapter 1: Putting Effort into Spiritual Practice

Lama Tsongkhapa said, in Songs of Experience, that to have attained a human body is a very rare experience and it should be used to its maximum potential for the Dharma. This human body has great potential if used positively but also great power if used negatively. We can illustrate the great potential of human rebirth by putting all the animals of this universe on one side and a single human on the other; even the combined number of the other sentient beings cannot equal the potential and ability that one human has to do positive actions.

Let us imagine a magical machine that has the power to produce anything a person could desire. If such a machine is used to produce only straw instead of using it to produce many wonderful things, we can understand how stupid that would be. Likewise, our human body is just like a magical machine and if we use it in a trivial way then we, too, must be considered to be very stupid. There is not a more ignorant person than the one who possesses a human body yet does not put it to proper use.

If we use this human body in a negative way, it has the potential to be very destructive, but used in a proper and positive way, it has the power to generate bodhicitta and the mind of enlightenment. When it is used meaningfully, this body can help us attain realizations on all the various levels of the path. In the past, many great masters from India and Tibet used their human bodies to reach the desired goal of enlightenment. If we do the same, we can be just like them and have the same kinds of achievements and accomplishments.

Our normal attitude to life is such that the possibility of achieving material gain is far more important than putting our human body to proper use. This attitude is due to not realizing the importance of this precious human body. Maybe some people do realize its importance, yet they are still tempted by the prospect of material gain. These people feel more strongly about acquiring material possessions than they do about directing their mind towards a spiritual path.

We might feel that spiritual practice is beyond us, but if we think and examine this carefully we will realize that spiritual practice is very easy. It is as easy as changing and transforming our mind and attitude; there is nothing to transform externally. If we stop doing something bad that we have been doing for a long time and substitute it with a positive attitude, along with good actions, that is spiritual practice. Spiritual practice only depends on the transformation of the mind; it is easy.

Our present way of thinking is to regard this life’s interests and welfare as far more important than the next life, so we use this body to accomplish the good things of this life only. What we have to do is completely turn this attitude around and instead, be more interested in the next life’s welfare and employ this body to do the things that will bear fruit in the next and following rebirths.

We can make a boundary line to decide whether we are acting for this life’s interests or the next, by deciding whether our actions are Dharma-based—whether they are spiritual or non-spiritual actions.

We usually use our body, speech and mind for this life’s interests only and in doing so we use them in ways that are harmful and not helpful to other sentient beings. So what we must do is change or transform our actions of body, speech and mind so that we help others and do not cause them harm. We also need to be very aware of the next life. From this point of view we can understand that spiritual practice is not something difficult or too distant.

If we put all our efforts into spiritual practice, we can attain the best possible result in the next rebirth and even if not, we can still attain an intermediate result. Even if we can’t attain that, we can attain the lowest result to be achieved by spiritual practice. So there are lots of options which we can choose, in accordance to our abilities and mentalities. It is only a matter of putting in the effort to do so.

In the past we have attained many human rebirths, yet in all those lives as a human we did not use our body for proper spiritual practice or in a proper way, because we were not able to achieve the results of having higher realizations. Now, if we do not use our rebirth properly, the pattern will continue.

Even up to this present moment, we have spent most of our time pursuing things totally related to this life only. If we consider our present life carefully, we would see that we have spent much of our time doing things that can bring no profit for future rebirths.

We have had many rebirths as different aspects of sentient beings, from the top of cyclic existence to the lowest. We just do not remember them. Actually there is no form of sentient being that we have not taken in the past. This pattern will continue if we do not carry out our spiritual practice, and our past will continue to be our future. We have been born into many different forms and experienced many different forms of suffering; if we were to remember them we would find it unbearable.

However the past is the past; it is over, but what we have to do for the remaining part of this life, is to put effort into spiritual practice for the next life. At best, we should be able to achieve enlightenment and at the intermediate level, we should be able to attain individual liberation. If we cannot attain these two levels, then the remaining part of our life should be spent doing spiritual practices, so at least we will avoid future migration into the three bad migrations—as a hell being, a hungry ghost or an animal.

If we know that we will have this human body for a very long time, there will be plenty of time to do spiritual practices, but we do not know this and it is a very bad mistake to think like this. It is also wrong to think that we can put it off until the next rebirth, because it is not easy to obtain a human rebirth as it requires all the proper causes and conditions. What we have to realize is that this is the time we have the freedom to decide: “Am I going up to a good migration or down to a bad one?” It is up to each one of us to use this body to its maximum potential for the purpose of next life.

To take rebirth as a human is not at all easy. Rebirth is not a product without causes or conditions; it all depends on causes and conditions and they do not occur easily. First we have to observe the morality and discipline of observing virtuous conduct and we have to practice the six perfections together with pure aspirational prayers. If all these factors are complete, then the next rebirth as a human is possible, otherwise it is not.

The human body as a basis for spiritual practice depends on being able to do the practice. We may be rich with material possessions, but if we have not used our body for proper spiritual practice, then in the real sense we are not rich. However, a person with no material wealth who has used his body for spiritual practice is in the real sense of the word a rich person.

We may think, “I will use this body for spiritual practice, but first I must have all the material facilities, so I must work, earn some money and look after my family and then I will be able to do my practice.” That kind of procrastinating attitude deludes us.

If the older students are asked, they would have to admit that most of their time is spent in worldly activities and very little in Dharma practice. Even for any of the older students to have done pure spiritual practice is quite doubtful.

Our normal attitude is such that we go on procrastinating. We think, “I will do it tomorrow, tomorrow.” We never think, “I may die today!” So we just go on and on, putting it off from day to day. If death comes today we have achieved nothing, so we must be very intelligent and clever, and practice this very moment.

People who do not procrastinate, do their spiritual practice with a decisive attitude. Even though they realize that they may die today, there is no regret because they are doing the practice right now. Such a person is an intelligent person.

The human body has great potential, but death can come at the most unexpected time, for instance by a car accident or a deadly disease. For some people, when the sickness is very serious and life-threatening, the teacher or lama can only give instructions such as thought transformation, as nothing else may be of help.

The only thing that we can take with us to the next rebirth is our spiritual practice, the Dharma. It is the only thing that will bring happiness and success in the next rebirth. We all want happiness and we do not want suffering, and even if we die today, spiritual practice is important because we can make aspirational prayers in order to have a good rebirth, which is the basis for the attainment of enlightenment. If we have done generous and charitable acts during our lifetime, then there will be no shortage of possessions in the next rebirth. In this life we may have many facilities, but if we have not done spiritual practice then in the next life they will be absent.

Spiritual practice is really a preparation for happiness in the next life, so it is very important. We want happiness and we do not want to suffer—that is the innermost desire within everyone of us and because of this, spiritual practice is so important.

A person who is mindful of death feels afraid now, but does not fear death when he is dying. This person is an intelligent person. However, a person who is not afraid of death at present, but is very frightened when death actually comes, is a foolish person.

Milarepa sang a song which says, in effect, “I am afraid of death because I am not mindful of it, so I have gone to the mountain retreat to understand the relative nature of the mind. Because of this, for the time being, I seem to have no fear of death”. We need to be very mindful of the death process and make preparation for it, so that when the time comes we will feel no fear.

Another good saying from Geshe Potowa is, “I am not afraid of dying, I am afraid of taking the next rebirth.”

At the time of death, our mind will not dissolve into nothingness as the external substances of the body do. The mind is not like that. It is and always has been, a stream of continuity. The subtlest mind, which is inseparable from the subtlest wind, goes on from one rebirth to the next. There comes a time when this subtlest mind, in combination with other causes or other gross minds, becomes more in amount and engages in more activity. However, at the time of death it loses its composite parts and becomes the subtlest mind and wind, and goes to the next rebirth.

We have to understand the nature of the subtlest mind and wind, and once we have attained the realization and understood it completely and properly, there will be no more fear—just like Milarepa, who discovered he had no more fear when he understood the reality of the mind.

We have to understand the nature of the subtlest mind, which is known in Tibetan as “the remote mind.” This is like, for example, a person in total solitude in a mountain retreat. That person is said to be abiding in remoteness. So like that, if our most subtle mind remains too deeply inside, it is only the coarse mind that is performing activities. What we understand is only the external coarse mind and not the innermost subtle mind. Scientists doing studies on the function of the mind only find the external, coarse mind. If we could find the innermost mind by research, then we would not have to experience any more suffering of samsara, cyclic existence.

We all possess this innermost, subtle mind, which is the seed, the very potential, for the attainment of enlightenment. At present we have not been able to find or understand the most subtle mind, so we have not been able to employ it properly. This is why we have not attained enlightenment and have been wandering about in cyclic existence.

Once we have discovered the most subtle mind, it is called by the term “the knowing wisdom.” At present our minds are ignorant, which means in Tibetan “not knowing,” so what we have to do is to find that most subtle mind and use it properly.

Our mind-stream has much more negativity than virtue, so there is naturally a greater possibility that our next rebirth will be in one of the three bad migrations. There is far less possibility that we will attain a higher rebirth such as a human or a god.

After death, rebirth is determined by either of two ways. The first is by the heaviness or lightness of the negativities or the merit on our mind-stream; and the other is by determining which of these we have become more accustomed to.

If we have met with a Dharma teacher and done good spiritual practices, we naturally become more accustomed to performing virtuous deeds and thereby accumulating more merit. So naturally when death comes, if we have become more familiar with doing virtuous acts than non-virtue, we will definitely have a good rebirth.

If we have become more familiarized with doing virtuous deeds we will have accumulated merit, so in the next rebirth we will enter the formless or form realm. This means our rebirth will be as a human or as a god. If we have done many non-virtuous acts, then the next rebirth will be any of the three bad migrations, such as a hell-being, a hungry ghost or an animal.

We have developed great power in collecting negativities onto our mind-stream, which becomes the cause of going down to the three bad migrations. We are like a super-power in collecting negativities, but like an underdeveloped country in collecting virtue.

We can see which rebirth we will be taking just by looking at our actions now—negative or positive, virtuous or non-virtuous. If we have done more non-virtuous actions than positive, then it is likely to be a bad rebirth.

If we are reborn in a hot hell realm, the body will become inseparable from the very nature of the flames, or fire. In hot weather here in Australia, we feel uncomfortable and turn on our air conditioners, but in the hot hells our body becomes fused with the fire and is unbearably hot. If we are born as a cold hell being, then our body becomes inseparable from the coldness of the ice and once again there is no relief. But at the present time if the weather becomes cool, when we find it unbearable we turn on our heaters.

When we do the fasting practice, the nyung-nä, we do it only for the required amount of time, but if we were born as a sentient being in the hungry ghost realm, then for aeons we would have to stay without food in a constant state of starvation.

If we were born as a sentient being in any of those bad migrations we would understand just how bad it is there and we would seek refuge. Just as a criminal turns to a solicitor to defend him, we too, would have to turn to the kind of refuge we could rely on for support.

A criminal must depend on a solicitor for the entire length of time that all charges are made against him. Likewise, we have much negativity created from beginningless lifetimes and so we have to depend for protection on refuge in the Three Jewels. This has to be continuous and for a very long duration. Before death comes we should at least have generated the attitude of going for refuge and observing the law of cause and effect.

If we can generate a feeling of fear towards the suffering of the bad migrations and so generate an attitude of wanting to go for refuge to the Three Jewels as well as observing the laws of cause and effect, then definitely in the next life we will obtain rebirth as a human. However, a practice done only with this much motivation is merely a spiritual practice, without pure motivation, because to be reborn again as a human being is not a permanent release from suffering.

So if a person has not done any spiritual practice, they will still continue with those sufferings. This body is called the aggregates of the contaminated mind, which means that it is the result of negative actions. This human body which has been attained is the result of non-virtuous actions. This is called in itself, cyclic existence.

No matter what kind of body we have, as long as there is suffering, that body is called the contaminated result of non-virtuous actions. The aryas, the ones who have attained realizations on the path of seeing, have eliminated the cause for suffering, the ego-grasping, so they no longer suffer experience cyclic existence. However, as long as we have ego-grasping, there will be this suffering body.

Of course, the wisdom realizing emptiness is the only means to uproot the cause of suffering, the ego-grasping. We can do visualizations, aspirational prayers, the practice of Chenrezig the Buddha of Compassion, as well as other practices and we can be reborn in one of the pure realms. Once we are reborn there, we are still ordinary people of course, but because we are doing practices and receiving teachings, from there we can gain enlightenment.

If we do the nyung-nä fasting practice along with very pure mantra recitation, as well as aspirational prayers to the deity, we will be reborn in one of the pure realms. So from this point of view, we can understand the very great potential of this human body.

If we decide to do a spiritual practice there are many options and alternatives available to us. There are practices that will bring us rebirth into any of the pure realms. It is only a matter of choosing to practice or not. It is just like going to a very big shopping centre where we can choose from the many different products being offered.

If we want to eliminate the causes of suffering during this lifetime, we must attain the wisdom realizing emptiness and for this purpose, for the time being, we have to abide on the three higher trainings. These are the trainings in morality or discipline, in concentration and in wisdom. If we practice these higher trainings, we can, at least, be freed from the three lowest realms of cyclic existence.

When we attain liberation, we are freed from cyclic existence, but that is not enough because there is still self-interest there. It is a completely selfish attitude to be only interested in our own attainment of the goal, because there are still mother sentient beings who suffer. To be freed from cyclic existence is not the ultimate attainment, because we have still not attained all the qualities and overcome all the weaknesses.

The attitude we must generate is one of great courage. We have to think, “I will release all these sentient beings from suffering. With this purpose in mind, I will first have to attain the state that has all the qualities and is completely without any evils or weaknesses.” In other words, we must attain buddhahood. The word for buddhahood in Tibetan means being awakened from the sleep of ignorance and having all the qualities developed. This is the state we must attain in order to help all sentient beings.

In order to do the practice so that we will attain the state of buddhahood, first we must understand the practice. To understand the practice, we must first listen to the teachings, and so it is with this attitude and understanding that we must now generate the motivation for listening to the teachings.

The Seven-Point Mind Training Practice

The practice to attain buddhahood—completely attaining the qualities without any negativities—is a very profound subject. It is called the Seven-Point Mind Training practice.

This is a most profound teaching and in a sense it is the innermost essence of the teaching of the Great Vehicle, the Mahayana path. It is the practice that we must consider as the most important in order to attain the highest form of enlightenment. There is no greater or meaningful practice than this one.

This Seven-Point Mind Training text was written down by Geshe Chekawa, but it was not something that he invented, nor is it new. The subject was taught by Buddha along with all the practices of mind training, but no matter what subject headings and subdivisions there are, they are all included in the Seven-Point Mind Training practice by Geshe Chekawa.

The source of this text originated with the Buddha and most especially when he generated bodhicitta in the hell realm while pulling a chariot along with other sentient beings. The source also lies with the text by Nagarjuna called The Precious Garland and the great Shantideva’s Engaging in the Deeds of the Bodhisattva (Bodhicaryavatara).

At the beginning of the text, Geshe Chekawa pays homage to Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, by saying, “I prostrate to Avalokiteshvara.” This has a special significance because it ensured that his work of compiling the text would be successful and be without any hindrances. It seems that respect is paid explicitly to Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, but it also implies that respect is paid to the compassion that is within all sentient beings, because this was the actual source that the Buddha of Compassion arose from.

All the qualities of the Mahayana path have great compassion as their source either in the beginning, the middle or at the end. In the beginning, great compassion is like the seed being planted in the soil; in the middle, the seed is nourished with water, sunlight and caring which is like the cause for continuous practice; and at the end it is like the ripening of the crop so that we can eat and live.

If there are no continuous conditions such as teachings and discourses, there can be no result, therefore all the qualities of the Mahayana path lie in the beginning, the middle and the end.

In order to show that the Seven-Point Mind Training text was not newly invented by himself, and in order to show its authenticity; that it originated with the Buddha, Geshe Chekawa states in the second line of the text that “this teaching has been passed from Lama Selingpa.”

The teaching was passed from Shakyamuni Buddha to Atisha, who passed it to Dromtönpa under a seal of secrecy. Dromtönpa passed it to Potowa and others in secret. Geshe Sharawa passed it to his disciple Chekawa, who gave the teachings to the public.

In the Beginning

This teaching has its origins in the great compassion or bodhicitta of the Buddha when during one of his rebirths as an ordinary sentient being suffering in a hell realm, he saw others trying to pull a very heavy chariot. Through his great compassion, he understood that the ego-grasping mind was something negative, whereas caring for others was something positive. This became the basis of the Seven-Point Mind Training practice. With this attitude in mind, he helped the other people pull the cart. The agent of the hell realm crushed a very heavy hammer down on the head of Buddha and said, “Why are you taking onto yourself the burden of others? You do not need to do that!” From then on the Buddha took rebirth into a higher aspect. So it is that this teaching, with its emphasis on the great compassion, originated from the very first act of Buddha at that time.

In the Middle

This teaching also has a deed of the Buddha in the middle. Once he was born as a boy, but each boy born to that mother died, so it was believed that he should be given a girl’s name. So this Buddha was named Zaway Pumo. Zaway Pumo sold things in the market place and gave the money to his mother. However, one day he wanted to go with other merchants to trade in faraway countries, but his mother insisted that he didn’t go as it would be too dangerous. He decided to go, so he walked over his mother’s body and was out of control.

This boy went on a sea voyage and passed the coasts of four different islands or countries, each with a different name. The first place was called “the country of joy.” He met four or five different girls there, but still he moved on to the next place. The next place was called “the supreme joy.” He continued on to all these wonderful islands in this way and it was believed that this journey was the result of the boy giving his earnings to his mother. So a very good result ripened from this action and he was able to enjoy the benefits of those countries.

Finally he came to a country where there was a house and inside there were many people who were suffering very badly. An iron rod circulated over the heads of the people like a fan and as it went around it kept cutting and smashing their heads. The boy saw this and it caused him great distress. When he asked these people why they were experiencing such strange suffering, they replied that it was because they had stepped over their mother’s head in the past. This was considered to be a very disrespectful act.

Suddenly a voice sang from somewhere in the sky, saying that the rod that had been circulating over the heads of these people would now stop and the people did not have to suffer any more. But now the iron rods would circulate over the head of the boy instead. This was the result of the ripening of the act where the boy had walked over his mother’s head in the past. While the boy was experiencing the great suffering of the iron bar over his head, he began to consider the self-cherishing and ego-grasping mind and so it was at this point that he generated the attitude of caring for other sentient beings more than for himself.

At the End

He thought about the unbearable suffering of those who had committed similar acts towards their mothers and how they would have to experience similar suffering. With this reasoning he thought, “May the result of sentient beings of the past, present and future who may have stepped over their mother’s body ripen upon me.” Because he generated this attitude so powerfully, the iron rod that had been circling over his head immediately went away.

If we experience problems with sickness or other similar desperate situations, it is good to think about this incident of the Buddha during one of his past lifetimes when he had a girl’s name. Instead of being depressed, we can generate an attitude of courage—that this sickness can be substituted for the sufferings of other sentient beings.

So whenever we experience physical or mental suffering, no matter what the problem, instead of being depressed, generate a good heart towards taking on the responsibility for others. This can be very effective. This method is a very profound instruction; it is very effective in removing suffering.

The spiritual practice of the Great Vehicle, the Mahayana, is something that has to be accumulated bit by bit, atom by atom. It does not come upon us suddenly and at a certain time. The process is not like that, it has to be achieved bit by bit.


Chapter 2: The Preliminaries