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Conventional and Ultimate Bodhicitta; Taking and Giving

A teaching on the Seven-Point Mind Training by Geshe Lama Konchog at Atisha Centre, Bendigo, Australia, from October 31 to November 3, 1987.
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 6: Conventional and Ultimate Bodhicitta; Taking and Giving

Since we have received the opportunity to be able to practice Dharma, we should no longer be attached to the three realms of cyclic existence. Instead, we should aspire to the attainment of enlightenment, so we can liberate all sentient beings from the suffering of cyclic existence. Please make this understanding the motivation for listening to this teaching.

The teaching to be given is the very noble path which has been delivered by the buddhas of the past and the present, and will be delivered again by the buddhas of the future. This is a very profound instruction which summarizes the different activities of the bodhisattvas into a practice of Seven-Points. The actual practice of the Seven-Point Mind Training consists of training the mind with the two kinds of bodhicitta—the conventional and the ultimate.

Conventional Bodhicitta

There is a saying in one of the texts: “On the ground of equanimity, one has to sprinkle the water of love.”

First we should try to level our mind towards the three kinds of sentient beings: the friend, the enemy and the stranger. We should try not to discriminate between them by being close to some, distant from others and indifferent to strangers. Instead, we should try to have the attitude of altruism towards all. As we explained before in the example of the blind and crazy mother with a sword, this boy did not get angry with his mother because: (1) she was his mother; (2) she was blind (with ignorance); and (3) she was crazy (with delusions).

We should be more compassionate towards our enemies because of the reasoning and understanding that they are under the control and influence of ignorance and delusions. This is why they are trying to harm us, therefore, we should try to become more compassionate to our enemies.

Once we have managed to think this way towards the enemy, it becomes a bit easier to relate to the friend and the stranger. However, this way of levelling the mind towards all sentient beings is quite difficult to do initially and so we must put effort into it.

However much we may try, there is still the feeling of being distant or close to some and indifferent to others. The cause for this lies in our self-cherishing and self-grasping mind, therefore we have to uproot these two minds.

Two of the three poisonous delusions—attachment and hatred—can be eliminated when we directly see the nature of phenomena; in other words, when we have the realization of selflessness. However, the self-grasping, ignorant mind is very difficult to uproot unless we can generate the precious bodhicitta.

On the mind-stream of the bodhisattvas who are on the first path of accumulation, there is no self-cherishing, but the self-grasping mind is still strong. Whereas on the arhats’ mind-stream there is no self-grasping, but self-cherishing is still very strong. As ordinary people, we have both the self-cherishing and the self-grasping mind very strongly embedded onto our mind-streams.

Within our mind, the three poisonous delusions are very strong, therefore practice of the two kinds of bodhicitta is recommended. Conventional bodhicitta eliminates the self-grasping or ego-grasping mind.

Ultimate Bodhicitta

The first item to be explained in this mind training text is ultimate bodhicitta. The text presents its theory by saying that our mind is of two kinds—objective and subjective— and they are both without any true existence or inherent existence from their own side.

The text also presents the view that the mind is the object and the subject, so external phenomena are the object of the apprehending mind. From that point of view, there is no phenomenon or thing that truly exists from its own side. According to this way of understanding, emptiness itself is devoid of inherent existence and so it does not truly exist.

This is the real nature of all phenomena—whether they are subjective or objective things, they are devoid of inherent existence. Still, in the times between sessions, it is like being in a dream. This means that although subjective and objective things do not truly exist from their own side, we can still say that there is a valid functioning of those things.

We can say that things do exist. It is like an illusion or magic where things actually do not exist, yet they still appear. So within the basis of non-inherent existence, things can still appear and we can put a valid presentation of things performing a function. And so from emptiness we can still present the theory of dependent arising. This is a short explanation so as not to miss the point where the text says that in between sessions it is like a dream or an illusion.

The three root poisons are hatred, ignorance and attachment. They arise due to our partiality and because we take sides. For instance, we think, “This is my group, they belong on my side.” This comes about in the first place from the belief that there is a truly existent “I” or self.

We then discriminate by thinking that someone who helps this “I” is a friend, while someone who harms this “I” is an enemy. Therefore, we generate attachment to a friend, hatred towards an enemy and indifference to a person who does neither good nor bad to us. This is where ignorance arises.

As long as we have this grasping at the “I”, those three thoughts will arise, however, this self-grasping mind is not a valid mind. It is not a reasonable mind; it is a distorted and wrong mind. As long as we have this wrong way of thinking that there is true existence, we will definitely discriminate between people by putting some “on my side” and others “not on my side” and yet others as just being indifferent. If we can understand the view that there is no self-existent self, then definitely we can bring about an end to the other two root delusions—hatred and attachment. If we can do this, our body, which is in cyclic existence and is actually in the nature of suffering, will become lighter and lighter. However, if we maintain a self-grasping mind, it will become heavier and heavier, and cause more and more suffering.

In the text it says, “Between sessions be a creator of illusion.” For instance, if we film our daily routine and watch it as a video, we see ourselves reflected on the screen. We do not think, “That is me and that is how I behave,” yet we understand that it is not us in person. Therefore, there is no grasping feeling towards the person on the screen.

Likewise, when we become very familiar with the theory of selflessness, then even though we are engaged in activities and external phenomena appear to us, we will not have a grasping mind—we will just look on them as illusory.

We can become familiar with the theory of selflessness and may not have a grasping mind, but the self-cherishing mind still remains. Even though the arhats of the hearers’ and solitary realizers’ path have attained an understanding of selflessness, because they have not eliminated the self-cherishing mind, it is said that, “Although they have stopped the extreme of existence, they have not reached the extreme of peace.” This means they have not attained the supreme enlightenment.

As practitioners of the Greater Vehicle, we are supposed to be training of the mind, so we should be able to suppress and uproot the self-cherishing mind. Even greatly realized persons such as the arhats still have a self-cherishing mind, even though they have an understanding of selflessness. This is because they have not been able to generate great compassion. We should literally try to “hammer” at the self-cherishing mind.

Since beginningless time we have continued to cycle in samsara or cyclic existence because of our self-cherishing mind. The Buddha, however, attained enlightenment because he cherished all sentient beings more than himself and neglected his own interests.

By understanding the benefits of cherishing others and the shortcomings of the self-cherishing mind, we should realize that the thought of equalizing and exchanging oneself with others is not a secondary or insignificant practice to the attainment of enlightenment. It is the principal practice of the path.

With this understanding, we should think that this is the most essential practice to be adopted and we should make the vow to ourselves never to give it up, even at the cost of our life. We should not give up in the intermediate state or in future rebirths.

At this stage, we visualize the drawing of the nectar, while imagining that we will be successful in this attainment.

The Practice of Taking and Giving

The practice of equalizing and exchanging oneself with others is considered to be the ultimate or the most essential practice, therefore, it is appropriate to do the practice of taking and giving.

The practice of taking should be carried out with the special force of compassion and the practice of giving should be motivated by the special force of love.

When doing the visualization of taking, as explained before, if we cannot comprehend taking a very large amount of suffering, then visualize taking on the suffering of this life and extend that to the next life and to future rebirths.

Visualize taking on whatever suffering you are supposed to be experiencing in the future, right now; at this very moment. Then visualize taking on the suffering of your parents, relatives and all other beings. This should be motivated by the force of compassion.

When you visualize giving, it should be with the very special force of love and as I explained before, you can give the body, possessions and the roots of your merit.

As you become better and better at this practice of tong-len, you can do the giving and taking on your breath. So I will elaborate more fully on this meditation from yesterday.

Taking and Giving on the Breath Meditation

Visualize the self-cherishing and self-grasping mind at the centre of your heart as something very dark, then imagine taking the suffering of other beings into it. This suffering comes from their right nostrils and enters into your left nostril, then it goes to the centre of your heart in the form of black smoke and black impurities. Visualize that this suppresses the self-grasping and the self-cherishing mind.

Then visualize the suffering of others entering the bones of your body in the same way, but in the form of a thunderstorm with rain. Really feel that the storm destroys the self-grasping and the self-cherishing mind.

You can visualize all the impurities sentient beings have committed by not observing the ten moralities perfectly and so forth.

When you visualize giving, however, do it by giving your accrued merits in the form of air going out from your right nostril towards sentient beings.

With regard to the very coarse manifest suffering of sentient beings, you can visualize these as scorpions and other terrifying animals entering your body through the left nostril. Imagine that these animals are eating your self-grasping and self-cherishing mind, just as vultures rush to eat a corpse.

This is actually recommended in the text, but I think it may not be appropriate for some people to visualize the forms of ferocious animals eating the self-grasping and self-cherishing mind because if fear arises there is the possibility of sickness, such as influenza, due to the stress. However, if you are quite familiar with this mind training, then it is very good.

As I explained before, the realization should be done by taking on the suffering of sentient beings in the hell realms first, then hungry ghosts and then animals. Afterwards take on the suffering of all sentient beings.

Visualize taking on the suffering of the beings in the hell realm, the hungry ghosts, the animals and then the sentient beings’ suffering and think that their karma becomes less impure. Then visualize giving the merit to these beings. Imagine that they receive many qualities, more knowledge and that they attain the different levels of realization on the path.

This visualization should go on continually until you come to the realization of thinking that now all sentient beings have attained enlightenment.

Eventually you should reach a point where you feel that the external environment becomes pure and so do the inhabitants. Now imagine that all sentient beings are without any weaknesses; that they have all the qualities and have attained enlightenment.

It is good to have the feeling at the end of the practice that whatever effort has been made has been meaningful and of value, because now all sentient beings have attained enlightenment. It is good to feel a kind of divine pride at the end.

Unfortunately, sentient beings have not been enlightened. We need to understand that in fact they have not attained true happiness; they have not been separated from suffering and they have not been enlightened. So where does the solution lie?

We must investigate this and come to the realization that it is only through the state of buddhahood that we have the potential to be able to free all sentient beings. Although we can do many practices of giving and taking, the real solution for removing suffering and actually providing other beings with happiness lies only in the state of enlightenment.

When we examine the question of whether we can attain the state of buddhahood or not, the answer is that we can. Even Buddha was an ordinary person in the beginning, but he later attained the state of enlightenment.

However, the state of buddhahood, or enlightenment, is not achieved without effort. The Buddha understood all the hardships of training in the conduct of the bodhisattvas, yet he accumulated merit for three great aeons. During all the times he was an ordinary person training in the path, he underwent great hardships during his five hundred rebirths, yet he ultimately attained enlightenment.

Before we began this practice, we generated the aspiration of wishing that all beings may be freed from suffering and that they may have all the qualities and comforts of happiness. That was just a thinking process, but now we understand that the actual way to free all beings from suffering so they can enjoy happiness is only through the state of buddhahood.

This is the very beginning of the generation of bodhicitta with the two intentions:

(1) The intention to help all sentient beings, and
(2) (for which purpose) I wish to attain enlightenment.

The Buddha’s body has the ability to emanate into as many bodies as are needed by limitless numbers of sentient beings. With regard to Buddha’s speech, even though many sentient beings may put different questions to the Buddha at the same time, he can still answer each one appropriately by using a single word. Buddha’s heart or mind is always engaged in caring for the welfare of every sentient being, because the great compassion of Buddha is always directed towards all beings.

So we must come to the understanding that it is only through the state of buddhahood that we have the real potential to be able to remove the sufferings of sentient beings and lead them to happiness. Please try to think: “I will not lose this aspiration to attain enlightenment to be able to care for others.” This promise is the real generation of bodhicitta.

Think that with this wish all the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions are pleased with you, and because of this, they all absorb into Shakyamuni Buddha. Then Buddha Shakyamuni, who is the main figure, absorbs into your body. Think for awhile that you have attained the actual state of enlightenment. Remain with this thought for as long as possible.

You can also imagine the central figure as Chenrezig. Visualize all the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions absorbing into Chenrezig on the crown of your head, then he absorbs into you. Feel that you have attained the state of enlightenment.

Imagine that any actions you do with your body, speech and mind become the means for the increase of bodhicitta. Think that no matter what you do, it will be an enhancement for the bodhicitta in your mind and also that you will never be separated from it. This is what is termed in the text: “Let the practices, or yogas, be one.”

From now on, your mind should be with the three inseparables. This means that your speech should not be separated from the recitation of mantras;y our mind should not be separated from bodhicitta; and your body should not be separated from being in the form of a deity. These three are among the precepts or the things to be observed after having generated bodhicitta.

Taking Adverse Conditions onto the Path to Enlightenment

Not only must we observe the precepts, but we must take adverse circumstances onto the path. Normally if something bad happens to us, we try every possible means to get rid of the problem, by consulting doctors or special teachers. But now, instead of trying to apply a solution to remove those unwanted conditions, we have to take those problems onto the path.

To do this, we must perform four actions, which are:

1) The accumulation of merit;
2) Purification of negativities;
3) Offering tormas to the spirits and elementals; and
4) Invoking the protectors.

When we make offerings to the spirits we ask them not to harm us and when we offer to the Dharma protectors we ask them to protect us from sickness and hindrances. However, when we do the Seven-Point Mind Training practice, we request the spirits and protectors to ripen all sentient beings’ sufferings and adverse circumstances upon us. The requests have to be reversed.

We must think that all our own happiness and comfort is given to others. As the line in the text says, “May the happiness and the benefits fill space.” Visualize giving all the happiness and the benefits we possess to others, so whenever we feel some form of suffering, instead of getting depressed, we feel more joyful and happy.

At this point we must request in our mind that all sentient beings’ suffering be upon us. As the line in the text says, “May the ocean of suffering be dried up.” We have to aspire to the thought that while we are suffering, the suffering that others are undergoing will be dried up or extinguished. There is a saying: “When praised or admired, I am not happy, but when criticized, I am happy. When rich, I am not happy, but when not rich, I am happy. When comfortable, I am not happy, but when suffering, I am comfortable. Spirits and the hindrance-bringing spirits are my teachers.”

Usually if somebody praises us we feel happy and puffed up, but this is a wrong attitude. Instead of feeling depressed if somebody criticizes us, we should feel more joyful. If we become too wealthy and have too many possessions we become attached to them, so we can’t possibly practice Dharma. Whereas if we are poor and in the aspect of a beggar, this is a conducive factor to be able to practice. Therefore, if we are poor we should be really happy.

Having a lot of comfort and happiness can create attachment, hatred and anger, which make it impossible to be mindful of the Dharma, however, if we experience suffering, we naturally try to remove it. If we create the cause to try to remove that suffering, we naturally begin to practice Dharma.

Our self-cherishing and self-grasping mind is entrenched, so when spirits and hindrance-bringing spirits try to harm us, they are really harming that mind. What they are really doing is helping us destroy self-cherishing and self-grasping, so they are really our best teachers.

When spirits harm us, we feel sick, however, if we examine the cause of sickness very carefully, we will realize that it originated from our self-cherishing mind.

There was once an incident that happened to the great Milarepa when he entered a cave that was inhabited by spirits. Due to having trained his mind, when the spirit appeared to him, it said: “If your conception of me is such that I do not appear as an enemy, then there is no point in seeing me.”

From now on, whatever bad circumstances arise, remain joyful and think that it is very good, because if the suffering had occurred in the hell realms, it would have lasted for a very long time. Luckily it has ripened in this lifetime while we are in the human realm.

While feeling joyful, visualize that our suffering may become a substitute for all sentient beings’ suffering. In accordance with the lines in the text called “The offering to the teacher,” we have to make request that the suffering of all sentient beings ripen upon us and that all our comforts, happiness and merit ripen upon others. In other words, no matter what situation arises—whether it is good or bad—we should be able to take it into the practice of mind training. We should be able to turn all conditions into factors for our own development of the two kinds of bodhicitta.

If we are able to do this, we are real siddhis. We will be real Dharma practitioners and will be called by all the attributes usually given to good Dharma practitioners. Everything becomes a pure land, because wherever we go there is no suffering. This is because everything can be turned onto the path. Usually, if we experience even a little bit of suffering or have a problem we cannot bear it, however, a mind training practitioner can bear anything.

The Time of Death

When people who have done the mind training practice die they will have no regrets, so there is no need to perform the special transference of consciousness practice. This practice supposedly brings a good rebirth. However, when death comes to a person who has not done the mind training practice, if he relies on a ritual such as the transference of consciousness, then it is like saying, “'The king’s wealth is of no benefit to him when he is sick. There are occasions when the king has to beg food from beggars.”

The author of this Seven-Point Mind Training text, Geshe Chekawa, became so familiarized with training the mind in taking the suffering of all sentient beings onto himself that when he was about to die he decided that he wanted to go to the hell realms. He wanted to take on the suffering of those beings onto himself. He definitely decided to do this but when he was about to die, a sign of his future rebirth appeared to him as a vision of the pure land. He felt sad at this vision and said: “This is not where I should be going!” This really happened.

The text says that we must apply the five powers at the time of our death. These are:

  • The power of familiarity
  • The power of the white seed
  • The power of determination
  • The power of repudiation
  • The power of prayer

These five powers are the real acts or rituals of the transference of consciousness. If we do them there is no need to do any separate rituals for the transference of consciousness at the time of death.

The power of familiarity comes about by practicing the mind training over and over again.

The power of the white seed is destroying all attachment. Before we die we should give away all our possessions, so that there is no attachment. Also, this becomes an act of generosity which will also create merit.

The power of determination is to be determined not to be separated from the precious bodhicitta.

The power of repudiation is to confess and retake broken vows when dying.

The power of prayer is not to pray to go to the pure realms. Instead, pray that the suffering of others will ripen onto you.

Precepts for this Practice

This Seven-Point Mind Training practice should be done continually, and even if we go to another country, we should continue the practice without a break.

We must not do this practice without first generating proper mindfulness, because it could cause harm to local spirits and others. Mind training should become an antidote against the self-cherishing mind and should not be a cause to increase self-cherishing. As the text says, “Do not let the god become a devil.”

Do not retaliate and cause harm to another. A mind training practitioner has to accept harm. The practice should not be done for the purpose of obtaining an income, food or clothing. We should not practice mind training only with regard to our friends.

No matter what activities we engage in or whatever situation we encounter, we should not consider these as being either good or bad. This means not being happy when we are praised or sad when there is suffering.

We should think that attachment and desire have been following us since beginningless lifetimes and now we must stop this thought. Visualize taking all the attachments and desires of all other sentient beings onto ourselves and think it has all been removed. This also applies to all delusions and obscurations that cause suffering.

I have not been able to elaborate with detailed explanations on this mind training text due to time constraints.

However, if these teachings have benefited your mind, that means there is real benefit in me coming to Atisha Centre. If it is just a mere explanation, just for the sake of doing it, and from the side of the students, just listening; it is just fooling oneself and others. It becomes a waste of time.

Whatever merit we have created, we dedicate for the long life of all the teachers, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the supreme teachers in all directions. Let us hope that this stainless, supreme teaching will spread to places where it has not been and let it flourish within the mind-stream of all sentient beings.

Please make the aspirational prayer that a time may arise when Atisha Centre will become a great community of ordained monks and nuns who will study and practice the teachings. Let us make prayers that this will happen soon.

It is also good to make aspirational prayers that all sentient beings will not have any sickness, disease or problems. And if they should arise, may we be able to take them into the practice of mind training.

We need to do aspirational prayers that we may individually expel the self-cherishing and self-grasping mind and try to generate the thought of cherishing others, and may we be able to generate the precious bodhicitta.

Whatever activities we do and whatever situation we are in, we should transform them into the practice of mind training. For instance, when we eat, visualize that the food we eat helps feed the organisms in our body. Think that this will help them generate bodhicitta in the future.

Even when we wash our face, visualize that the water is the wisdom realizing selflessness and that it is also bodhicitta washing away impurities and obscurations.

When opening a door, visualize that we are opening a door to the great city of liberation. When shutting a door, think that we are shutting the door to the hell realms and that no more sentient beings can enter.

When lighting a fire think that we are burning the self-grasping and self-cherishing mind with the flames of love and compassion.

There is very little to be explained in detail, other than realizing that all our activities should be put into the practice of mind training. This is what the line in the text says: “All conduct and activities become training.”