|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 5: Equalising and Exchanging the Self With Others; Taking and Giving
The great Atisha had 150 teachers, but he was not satisfied with 149 of them because he wanted the instructions on generating the precious bodhicitta. He searched for a long time for a lama who would teach this subject and in the course of this he endured many hardships. One such hardship was a long sea voyage which ultimately led him to Lama Selingpa.
This lama asked Atisha whether he was able to train in the precious bodhicitta and Atisha replied that he could. Then Lama Selingpa asked whether he could stay for twelve years to undertake the training needed and Atisha replied that he could. We, too, should try to be like Atisha and generate the precious bodhicitta in our mindstream.
Although Atisha had 150 teachers and received extensive teachings on both aspects of the path—sutra and tantra—when the names of any of his teachers were mentioned Atisha was not moved, except for the sound of the name of Selingpa. Then Atisha would fold his hands together in reverence and tears would fall.
When people saw this they would ask, “Is this because Lama Selingpa has higher realizations?” Atisha would reply, “No. It is because at present I have a good heart and it is due to the instructional path taught by Lama Selingpa. It is because of this that I feel reverence even at the sound of his name.”
Even if we are not able to generate the precious bodhicitta in full, to be able to generate a fraction of it would be very great. To be able to generate love and compassion is very profound and this can even surpass all the other qualities. For example, a diamond surpasses all other jewels; the sun gives light to darkness; and the healing medicine tree can cure every type of sickness.
To be able to generate the precious bodhicitta, we need the method of the six causes and one result, which is the Seven-Point Mind Training instruction. With this instruction we can generate the precious bodhicitta, but it will not be very strong. What we have to do is combine together the practice of equalising and exchanging oneself with others.
Equalising and Exchanging the Self With Others
There is a prayer in the tradition of Lama Tsongkhapa which is very special because it speaks of the superior method of combining the generation of bodhicitta with the seven-point instruction on equalising and exchanging self with others.
We should think that we will immediately begin this practice and that it will become a counter-measure against our own self-cherishing mind. This is stated in a line from Guru Puja where it says that the self-cherishing mind is the source of all unwanted suffering.
So what we have to do is realize that when we become angry with our enemies, we should be angry with ourselves. We should direct that anger towards our own self-cherishing mind and not towards other people. We have to begin to develop the outlook that the real enemy is our own self-cherishing and ego-grasping mind and then try to suppress them as much as we can. Eventually we should reach the conclusion that these two are the source of all our suffering.
Next we consider from every viewpoint and reasoning the benefits to be gained from cherishing others. We have a long life now because we have cherished others in past lives and not killed them. We are quite wealthy and have many possessions in this life because we have cared for others in previous lives and we have practiced generosity. We should think that from now on all the happiness and comfort we experience in this life is all due to cherishing others.
From now on we should try to generate bodhicitta. We should train our mind in cherishing others and then our own happiness and comfort will increase. This is the beginning of true happiness. Therefore, cherishing other sentient beings as if they were our mother creates the cause for all the qualities and happiness to arise. All the qualities and realizations attained by the bodhisattvas and solitary realizers are all the result of cherishing others.
In the beginning the Buddha was an ordinary person just like us, but after training on the path he came to an understanding that the self-cherishing and self-grasping mind needs to be suppressed and the cherishing of others needs to be adopted. After training on this he became enlightened.
In one of the Buddha’s past lives, he was born as a prince in Nepal. His father had three sons who were named the Great God, the Great Love and the Great Windfall. The Buddha’s name was the Great Windfall.
Once these three princes went to a forest and they saw a starving tigress with four cubs. The Buddha’s two brothers felt great compassion for the mother and immediately went in search of food for them. However, instead of looking for food, the Buddha thought deeply on the nature of the situation.
He came to understand that from beginningless time he had been under the power of the self-cherishing mind and it was this that caused him to experience suffering. The instant he realized this, he immediately abandoned that type of mind and adopted the mind of cherishing others. He realized that it was the self-cherishing mind that deceives and causes suffering, whereas the cherishing of others becomes a source of happiness. He then generated great courage and will-power and offered his own body to the starving tigress and her four cubs.
Even though his brothers were very compassionate to others, their compassion was not as strong as the Buddha’s because he offered his own body, whereas his brothers did not. We should remember this incident of the Buddha’s great courage which came about only by the thought of cherishing others more than oneself, and we should try and act in accordance to that.
A line in the text says, “To cherish mother sentient beings is the source of all happiness.” Even though others may rise against us and cause us harm, we should still consider them to be more dear to us than our own life. We gave the example previously of the crazy, blind mother who threw a sword at her son. The son was not angered, but became even more compassionate by understanding the condition of the mother and how she was under the control of delusions.
From beginningless time until now, we have cherished only ourselves and neglected others, but now we must exchange this thought so we cherish others more and neglect our own interests. This is what is meant by the term, “exchanging oneself with others.” It does not mean that we have to turn into another person.
We might get the impression that it is just not possible to exchange our normal attitude because we do not have the kind of courage which permits this to happen. However, if we put real effort into doing this, we will succeed.
If we can think about the outcomes of the two kinds of thoughts—the self-cherishing and the cherishing of others—we must surely gain an understanding and then we really want to exchange ourselves with others. By understanding that our problems develop because of the self-cherishing attitude and our happiness comes from cherishing others, we can gain the courage to change.
So from now on, we should develop an attitude that all the activities of our body, speech and mind will be dedicated to others instead of ourselves. If we can become mindful of others instead of following our own self-interest, that is the real starting point. This is what we mean by exchanging ourselves with others. Let us presume that we have exchanged ourselves with others as a sign of auspiciousness.
Taking and Giving Meditation
Now we come to the part of the text that says, “Combine the giving and the taking together.” So along with the special force of compassion, we do the visualization of taking and with the special force of love, we give.
1. The Taking Visualization
The text says, “Start the taking visualization from oneself.” This means that we take upon ourselves now whatever possible suffering we are to experience in the next life, or next year, or now. This should be extended into future rebirths. We should visualize taking on that suffering now.
Next, we extend the same visualization to our parents of this life. Then we extend it to the people within our locality and then we take on all the suffering of all the people in Australia and then the world. Next we take on the suffering of all other sentient beings such as those in the hell realms, the hungry ghosts and the animal realms.
When doing the taking visualization, we have to feel real compassion for sentient beings and their critical situations. We want to take on their sufferings of sickness and other unwanted obstacles.
2. The Giving Visualization
In the giving visualization we offer our body, wealth and all the merit that we have accumulated.
To give our body, we visualize that it is transformed into a wish-fulfilling gem that has the potential to give sentient beings whatever they need. For instance, visualize that this body has the power to bring a shower of rain to the hot hell realm which removes the suffering of intense heat. For those in the cold hell realm, visualize that this body has the power to bring warmth. For the hungry ghost realm, visualize that this body has the power to transform and give food and drink to those beings. Visualize that this body has the power to give wisdom to the animal realm, because the animals are supposedly ignorant and lacking wisdom.
Imagine that this body has the power to give whatever is necessary to each and every sentient being. For those who are in need of flesh, transform your body to fulfil that potential. For those who want blood, give blood, and for those who want shelter, visualize the power to give shelter. For those who need a lamp or a light, then visualize that. Whatever is needed, our body has the power to give.
There are two aspects to the giving of the body:
(1) Offerings of different kinds of substances to the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions, and
(2) The body has the potential to give the things needed by sentient beings.
When you have become proficient at the visualization of taking and giving, then do it on the breath. It is not recommended initially to do the giving and taking on the breath. First you need to become familiar with the practice for quite awhile and then shift the visualization to the inhalation and exhalation.
When you become very familiar with this training, it is possible for you to actually take on the pain and suffering of others. There was once an incident where a lama saw someone throwing stones at a dog and because of his training, he immediately took upon himself the pain the dog was suffering. Later, a swollen mark appeared on the lama’s back which indicated that the pain had actually been transferred to him.
The taking and giving meditation on the breath begins with the visualization of the self-cherishing, self-grasping mind in the aspect of something very black in the centre of your heart.
As you inhale, visualize that you are taking on the negativities and obscurations of all the sentient beings in the hell realms. This air enters in the form of black smoke with black impurities and goes into your heart where it crushes and destroys your own self-cherishing mind.
With the exhaling breath, visualize that you are giving out all your accumulated merit to all the sentient beings in the hell realms, so that they can become a suitable basis for training on the path and so they can gain enlightenment.
Then shift this visualization on the exhaling breath to the sentient beings of the hungry ghost realm, animal realm and others.
This is an outline of how to do the visualization of taking and giving on the breath. It cannot become a good practice to merely think, “I’m taking the suffering of sentient beings on to myself and giving them my merit.” This is too vague and general and is not an appropriate meditation or visualization.
When you visualize taking on the negativities and obscurations of other sentient beings, imagine that they have completely gone; nothing is left.
Imagine taking on to yourself even the grossest negativities incurred by others that might bring rebirth in the hell realm. Imagine taking on the subtle obscurations of those who are about to attain liberation, such as the wisdom-obscurations of the bodhisattvas who are attaining enlightenment.
The sufferings of others can be visualized in the form of a terrifying and ferocious animal who comes by means of hailstorms or as thunder. When this visualization is done over and over again, there is the distinct possibility that you feel very afraid. You might think, “Is this thing really coming at me?” This is usually a very good indication that something is beginning to happen to the self-cherishing mind.
When a person is trained in this visualization of taking and giving, when they become sick or in a critical situation, instead of feeling depressed or sad they become happy. They feel that the negativities of others have ripened on them.
Amongst us here today there are many elderly students who have had contact with the Dharma for many years, so now you know how to react in critical situations.
Although I have not had a lot of contact with Westerners, in fact only for about two years, I find many people asking for observations for illness and advice on remedies for obstacles. There is no need to contact a teacher about having observations done any more, because you should be able to do the visualizations based on these practices. You should be able to react in the proper way and with a spiritual person’s way of thinking.
When we are well-fed, the sun is shining and everything is right in the world, we feel that we are very good spiritual practitioners. But when we are sick and depressed and we feel worse off than any of our friends, we lose sight of our spirituality.
However, that person who is always practicing mind training is referred to in the text of the Seven-Point Mind Training where it says, “One should be able to turn these adverse conditions into the path and one should be able to turn inauspiciousness and obstacles into a blessing.” What some people do when they encounter a very critical situation is renounce their Christian faith and enter Buddhism. If they cannot find a religious solution, they go to hospital and have a surgical operation. These people just jump from one critical situation into another, trying to find a solution to their problems.
Actually what we should do if such situations arise is apply these instructions as a means to bring about a solution.
When people come and ask me to do a mo for them when they are sick, it is very difficult to recommend that they do this practice of taking and giving. But now you know the background reasoning for doing the practice, you should be able to apply it if you get very ill or if you are in a very serious situation.
What happens when people who are very new to Buddhism or who do not understand the reasoning behind this practice come to seek help, it is very difficult to help them. This is because there is no effective medicine that can be given to them, and to explain these teachings would take too long. They would not be willing to listen for so long. Teaching people who have not studied the lam-rim the practice of taking and giving would not be suitable to their mind and they would not be able to accept it.
For the last few days we have been talking about the mind training instructions, so perhaps you now have an adequate basis on which you can rely if such a situation arises in the future. You can then put it into practice.
If you put aside this mind training practice and jump into a practice on the concentration on the winds and channels, or have high tantra initiations, it is like saying, “The food in the mouth is pushed away by the tongue.” This means that something delicious cannot be swallowed. It would be pointless, in other words.
Mind training should be the basis on which you add additional practices such as initiations. Mind training is like the body. If you have a body, you can adorn it by adding jewels, clothing and ornaments, but without a body, the ornaments are meaningless.
So if you do the deity visualizations or the practices related to the channels and the winds on the basis of mind training, they will be appropriate and meaningful.
Listening to a few days’ teaching on this subject will not make us firm enough to be able to apply this practice. Reading books will not be enough either. We need the instruction that directly points out and details the instruction, so what is very important is to try to receive more instruction and then study this subject.
In the past when there was no cure for leprosy, Geshe Chekawa gave the mind training instructions to the lepers and many were cured. These days when there are many incurable diseases, it is possible that they can be cured by means of this practice, if it is done properly. Even if a person is not cured and dies, that person will have no regrets about dying.
The teaching on mind training is a high practice, but as you have requested it, I have explained it as best as I can. So try to put it into practice as much as you can.