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The Preliminaries

2. The Preliminaries: an extensive commentary by Geshe Lama Konchog on the practice of mind training (lo-jong).
A commentary on the root text The Seven-Point Mind Training given by Geshe Lama Konchog at Atisha Centre, Bendigo, Australia, from October 31 to November 3, 1987. Translated by Dhawa Dundrup. Transcribed and edited by Ven. Thupten Konchog, who accepts all errors and omissions. Second edit by Sandra Smith, January 2013.

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

A Commentary on the Seven-Point Mind Training
Chapter 1: Putting Effort into Spiritual Practice
Chapter 2: The Preliminaries
Chapter 3: Equanimity
Chapter 4: Generating Bodhicitta
Chapter 5: Equalising and Exchanging the Self With Others;Taking and Giving
Chapter 6: Conventional and Ultimate Bodhicitta; Taking and Giving

Chapter 2: The Preliminaries

At this present moment we have attained a human body, we have met with the teachings of the Buddha and we have met with a spiritual teacher. All of this is extremely rare, so from our side, if we practice properly, we will have attained all the necessary factors to have a human rebirth again. So think about the great purpose of this human form and the meaning of all the factors contributing towards it.

Do not be attached only to this life’s interests and do not be attached to a good rebirth in the next life, such as a god or a human. Also, do not have the thought of attaining benefit for oneself only, but rather generate the wish, “I must attain supreme enlightenment so that I can liberate others from suffering and so help them to reach the ultimate happiness. For this purpose I must do this practice. To do the practice, I must know it, and to know the practice I must listen to the teacher.” Therefore, with this motivation please establish the right attitude for listening to this teaching.

The teaching to be given is lo-jong, or mind training. Generally it can be said that any spiritual practice is mind training, but with this teaching we have to leave the ego-grasping and the self-cherishing mind behind and instead practice something new. To renounce the ego-grasping and self-cherishing mind and begin to learn a different way is not easy.

When Geshe Chekawa first saw Langri Tangpa’s Eight Verses of Thought Transformation, he noted the lines, “Take the loss and defeat on oneself and give the victory and happiness to others.” He wondered who had the lineage of this text, so he went in search of this person until finally he found Geshe Sharawa, who was giving a public discourse on the subject.

However, Geshe Sharawa never used a single word related to lo-jong or mind training and at that point Geshe Chekawa felt very doubtful about the existence of the lineage of this text. Still, he persisted in listening to the teachings and on one occasion when Geshe Sharawa finished his discourse, Geshe Chekawa said, “I want to ask you one question.”

The teacher, Sharawa, replied, “There is nothing to be asked. Everything has been explained and made clear in the discourse itself and nothing remains to be clarified.”

Finally Sharawa agreed to reply to Geshe Chekawa’s question and so he asked: “If a person seeks enlightenment, then definitely this is the instruction they must have. If one does not want enlightenment then that is another matter.” Geshe Sharawa then gave the lung, the oral transmission of the text to Geshe Chekawa. It was the transmission of the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation.

After Geshe Chekawa received this transmission, he felt that it was such a precious instruction and if it was not explained to the general public there could be a danger of it becoming extinct. So from then onwards, with this motivation in mind, Chekawa started the tradition of giving teachings on the subject in public.

From one side there are so many teachings that we can hear these days because we are so fortunate, but from the other side, although we may be fortunate enough to be able to hear every teaching, we may never get to practice any of them. A time may even come one day when we could feel a bit disrespectful due to having listened to the same thing again and again.

The Seven-Point Mind Training text by Geshe Chekawa is explained by means of three main divisions:

1. An explanation of the quality of the author, which shows the genuineness of the teachings;
2. An explanation of the actual instruction’s greatness, in order to generate respect for it; and
3. The actual instruction.

1. The Greatness of the Author

The first division explains the greatness of the author in order to show the genuineness of the teachings. In the opening of the text it says, “this essential nectar has been passed down from Lama Selingpa.”

“Nectar” in Tibetan has the literal connotation of something that has the means for the attainment of eternal life. What does “eternal” mean? It is the state of buddhahood; once a person attains the state of enlightenment there will be no more death.

2. The Greatness of the Teaching

A line from the text says, “This teaching is like a diamond, the sun and a wish-fulfilling tree.” If this text is practiced, then all these purposes will be fulfilled.

Even a small piece of diamond has a quality unsurpassed by other ordinary stones. This instruction and the practice of eliminating the self-grasping mind, which emphasizes cherishing others, is more superior than any other practice or instructions.

The reference to the sun means that just as the sun eliminates darkness, this instruction and practice expels the darkness of the ignorance of the self-cherishing and ego-grasping mind. Two of the greatest hindrances along the path to attaining enlightenment are these two minds.

The wish-fulfilling tree refers to healing or the medicine tree. All the parts of the medicine tree can be used to heal sickness and so can this instruction on mind training. If we practice well, it will help to eliminate some of the sicknesses of the self-cherishing mind, even though the realizations may be very minor. Therefore, no matter how little we may be able to practice, it will still help towards curing the sickness of our self-cherishing mind.

3. The Actual Practice

Now we come to the place in the text where the actual practice begins. This is turning bad situations into the path. We are now in the time known as the increase of the five degenerations. This is the time called the era of conflict, which refers to any of the five degenerations of life and time itself. The five degenerations are as follows:

1) Defilement of views: when incorrect, perverse thoughts and ideas are predominant;
2) Defilement of passions: when all kinds of transgressions are exalted;
3) Defilement of the human condition: when people are more unhappy and dissatisfied;
4) Defilement of the life-span: we live shorter lives;
5) Defilement of the world age: when war and natural disaster are rife.

The situation we are in during this time is very bad, but we should not think that these bad circumstances are hindrances to our practice, instead we should be able to turn these bad conditions into very effective ones for our practice.

The two areas in which to practice are the two kinds of bodhicitta —ultimate bodhicitta and relative bodhicitta. To generate these two kinds of bodhicitta in our mind is not easy. To gain a realization from merely listening to a teaching is not easy. Actually this has to be preceded by practices to purify negativity and to be able to accumulate merit. We have to remove all hindrances and accumulate many positive factors.

The Preliminary Practices

In order to generate realizations of the two kinds of bodhicitta, we have to begin our practice by doing the preliminary practices which emphasize the purification of negativities and the accumulation of merit. According to Lama Selingpa, these practices can be included in the six preliminary practices.

The six preliminary practices are most important because bodhicitta is not easy to generate just by listening to teachings once; so we must practice them. I will explain the importance of them briefly.

Wherever you are going to do the six preliminary practices—whether in the mountains or in your own home—they must be done in a place that has been well-cleaned. The best place to practice is one where there have been no wars or fighting in the past, it should not be inhabited by spirits and if possible, it should be a place where past masters have done their practices. If you can find such a suitable place with all these factors complete, there is a good possibility of gaining realizations.

1. Cleaning the Place

Merely sweeping the floor is not enough for a real Dharma practitioner. The act of cleaning requires motivation at the beginning and dedication at the end. Even the simple act of cleaning can be included as an aspect of the path.

As we sweep, we need to visualize that the dirt and impurities are like the delusions in our own mind and that the broom and our hands are like the two kinds of bodhicitta and wisdom. We should also think that we are applying the three higher trainings to eliminate the dirt of the self-grasping and self-cherishing mind—especially for Vajra practitioners—because two of the most heavy hindrances for the attainment of enlightenment are the self-cherishing and the ego-grasping mind.

The Tibetan word for cleaning has the connotation of cleaning and throwing away, so merely sweeping the place is not enough; we have to throw away the dirt. At this point we should visualize clearly that we are not only throwing away our own impurities, but also those of all sentient beings. It is most important to realise that the root of all our suffering is the ego-grasping and the self-cherishing mind.

When we are throwing away the dirt, we should visualize that ourselves as well as other sentient beings have uprooted the cause of suffering. Next, visualize that the dirt goes down underground, seven levels below the earth and into the mouth of the Lord of Death. We should think that this is the very best means of prolonging our life.

While we are cleaning and sweeping, it is good to recite these two lines in accordance with the past practitioner, master Chudapanthaka: “I abandon all particles [of dirt]! I abandon all impurities.” Master Chudapanthaka attained the state of arhathood by performing a visualization and reciting these words as he swept. So, if we can do this in accordance with that practice, it is very good. This master was a practitioner of the Lower Vehicle, the Hinayana, therefore he only tried to eliminate the self-grasping mind, whereas we are supposed to be Great Vehicle practitioners, so we have to not only eliminate the self-grasping mind, but also the self-cherishing mind. Our visualization and way of thinking should be much broader, so then the benefits will also be more.

By performing the act of cleaning the place by proper means, the benefits will include having the meditation sessions become very clear. Also, if somebody comes to look at your place of practice, their mind will become clearer and they will have a feeling of delight in just being there.
As well as having these benefits, we will also attract positive spirits and the gods will help us. Not only that, it will also become a cause for purification into the realm of buddhahood, which we will enter when we become enlightened. It will also become a cause for the attainment of a beautiful and handsome body in the next rebirth.

Therefore, if you understand well how to practice the simple act of cleaning the place of practice, it will include all aspects of the Greater Vehicle practices, and it can include all the six benefits.

2. Arranging the Body, Speech and Mind

This is the arrangement of the representations of the body, speech and mind of the enlightened beings—the buddhas and bodhisattvas. I do not need to go into all the details here, but if you have a statue or a painting of a Buddha, you need to look at it every morning before you begin your practice.

If you have a picture of Buddha on your altar, do not think of it as being a mere picture. Think that there is an actual presence of the Buddha there. This will help to eliminate the self-cherishing and the ego-grasping mind. Do the aspirational prayers so that you may can eliminate those minds, and also so that they can generate a loving and compassionate mind within us.

3. Arranging the Offerings

The offerings, such as flowers, food, etc, should be of the best possible material.

The offerings that cost a lot of money are not necessarily the best kind. The best offerings are those made with the two purities: (1) purity of heart and mind, without pretence, and (2) purity of substance.

The purity of substance means that the income used to acquire the offering should not be obtained through income that caused harm to other sentient beings. If the substance of the offering was earned by causing harm to others or by any negative actions, then the offering will not please the buddhas.

If we offer things that are very expensive there is the danger of feeling either miserly or proud. So it’s best if the offerings are not too expensive. The tradition of offering water in the water bowls is very good, because there is no chance of feeling miserly or proud.

The offerings should not be made with impure thoughts or motivation and they should not be mixed with any of the eight worldly concerns. If we make the offering with pure thought and motivation and without any impurities, then the object of the offering, the Three Jewels, will be delighted.

4. Sitting in the Meditative Posture

This means staying in the seven-featured sitting posture on the cushion, concentrating on the breath and not letting the mind go towards a non-virtuous aspect, or into a neutral aspect. Instead, we must generate special virtuous thoughts. This means that we must have a very strong, virtuous mind.

Stay in the seven-featured sitting meditative posture if you can. There is a saying from the great master Marpa, “All the practitioners of Tibet on one side would not be able to compete with my way of sitting.” This was meant to emphasise the importance of the correct way of sitting in meditational practice, because if the body is straight then the channels will be straight and if they are straight, then the mind will also be straight.

In this practice of mind training, if the mind is directed towards nonvirtue or even towards a neutral state, then the actual session will not be good. For example, if you are sitting in your room doing meditation and your mind becomes distracted towards things that are happening outside, then even though you are practicing mind training, it cannot work because the mind has gone out of the room. And if our mind is in a nonvirtuous state, then naturally our practice cannot be good.

This is like having one cushion—there is no possibility that two people can sit on one cushion. Likewise, if the attitude of the mind is towards the negative side, then there will be no room for a virtuous or positive thought. For example, if it is too hot outside and you come inside and find someone sitting on your cushion, you cannot be rude and force them off, but you can be clever and say, “Friend, there is something happening outside, go and have a look.” Then when he leaves the cushion, you can sit on it.

If your mind is in a negative state before starting the session of the meditation, you must concentrate on the breath and do the nine-round breathing technique. When exhaling, imagine all your impurities and negativities going out. When inhaling, imagine that you are drawing in all the qualities of the buddhas and bodhisattvas. This nine-round breathing will help to bring your mind to a neutral state.

This practice of nine-round breathing was appreciated by master Milarepa, who said that it is the best means for bringing our mind to a neutral state. For example, when rain falls into a tank, the water at that time is not very clean or pure but after it sits there for a while, it clears. When we bring it into the house in a jug, it is clean and clear and all the rubbish has gone. It is just the same with the breathing meditation—this will help bring our mind to a state where it is not negative, not positive, just neutral. Once it is in a neutral state, then we must bring it to a virtuous state, aided and motivated by bodhicitta. At the point when we have a very pure mind, we must think, “Now while I have this precious human body with all its qualities, I will not waste it. I will do the practice on mind training and I will do it in this very lifetime. I will do it at this very moment.”

If we generate this motivation at the beginning of the day we will be able to practice during the daytime. Even while engaged in other activities during the course of the day, because of the strong motivation in the morning, somehow our activities will be quite different from what they normally would have been.

If we ever engaged in some sort of warfare, we would not have been bothered by hunger or thirst, or even by injuries, sickness or pain. It is the same if we generate a very strong motivation in the morning to do the practice of mind training during the day. Then, during the day we will not be bothered by distractions.

For example, one person may suffer a little, but he will always remain gloomy even though others around him are cheerful. Another person with great suffering, but with a very strong mind, will always remain cheerful. This is because that person’s motivation will not allow minor things to affect him.

5. Refuge

If we wish to do extensive practice, we need to go for refuge and visualize the merit field. It is to the merit field that we offer the seven main offerings together with the mandala. Together with this, we visualize the drawing of the nectar from the objects of refuge and the merit field.

This thought transformation practice is very profound, so as a basis, you must at least, take refuge. To do this, you must be able to recognize the objects of refuge and having recognized them, then you must go for refuge to them. If you are unable to recognize any objects of refuge, yet you still go for refuge, no realizations can arise.

If you are unable to do the extensive visualization, you should at least be able to recognize one principal figure in the merit field, and that should be the four-arm Buddha of Compassion, Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara) with all the implements in his hands. This is the most abbreviated way to visualize the object of refuge and this is actually what the Seven-Point Mind Training text says to do.

Chenrezig represents not only all the buddhas, but he is also the embodiment of all the Dharma protectors, all the deities and also the lamas and teachers. So for those who cannot do extensive visualizations, this is very good as he represents and embodies the entire merit field.

The seven-limb offerings are prostrations, offerings, confession, rejoicing, the request not to die, the request to turn the wheel of Dharma and the dedication. The older students know these seven main practices, but the new ones may feel a bit embarrassed if they do not know how to prostrate properly.

What we visualize while prostrating is the purification of the negativities of our own body, speech and mind, and we request the blessings of the body, speech and mind of the Buddha. The act of prostration is not something that is insignificant—it has a lot of meaning. It is necessary to explain to beginners how to do the prostration properly.

Another point to be made is that the practice of prostration brings about a healthy body; it is like a yoga exercise. In a place where I once lived, there were many people with chronic diseases that medicine could not cure. However, when they did 100,000 prostrations, they were cured.

There are three types of prostrations: of the body, of the mind, and of the speech.

With the motivation of great faith and respect, just folding the hands together becomes a prostration of the body. By putting the folded hands to the points of the body—the crown of the head, the forehead, the throat and the heart, this becomes the cause for attaining the crown of a buddha’s head along with the qualities of the thirty-two major and eighty minor signs of a buddha.

It is like a form of punishment for beginners if we have to stay sitting in long meditation, or for instance, if we have to meditate on ignorance, so perhaps an alternate practice is do prostrations. If we know how to do the meditations well that is a different matter, but otherwise we are just sitting there and that is not so good. Instead, it is more beneficial to do just one single prostration.

Prostrations normally recommended for the mind training practice are in relation to the Confessions of Transgressions Sutra and also the Suvarnabhasottma’s (?) Confession Sutra (see Lama Tsongkapa’s Collected Works). This has been especially recommended for mind training practitioners, therefore if we do prostrations according to this, it is very good. Recitation of these texts becomes the prostration of the speech.

When prostrating the body, the two thumbs should be put inside the palms, there should be gaps in between the fingers and they should look as if you are holding a gem. It is not proper to hold the palms together with the thumbs outside as it becomes a bad omen, a cause for rebirth in a region that has no Buddhist teachings. However, if we do it properly, it becomes a cause for rebirth where Buddhism has spread.

Realizations do not just arise. It has to be like going to school and going from one class to another until at the end we receive a certificate. It is just the same with mind training, it should first be preceded by the first stage.

While prostrating with our body we can visualize that countless numbers of our own body are prostrating. We can also do prostrations by trying to recollect what past rebirths we have attained. In the past we have attained countless numbers of rebirths that even this whole universe can’t hold or accommodate. Still, with the prostrations of the body, we can visualize this present human body representing all those previous rebirths in human form. This visualization is very effective in purifying the negativities acquired in the past.

I am not trying to invent a new teaching, actually the origin of this way of thought lies in the King of Prayers, called Samantabhadra’s Prayer.

The prostration offered on behalf of all previous rebirths is very effective in purifying the negativities which are hindrances to our mind training practice. If we can eliminate the negativities by means of this method, then even though we might not expect to have the realizations associated with the mind training itself, still, realizations will come naturally by themselves.

Chapter 3: Equanimity