Ven. Khempo Ringu Tulku
Today, I am going to introduce a very important text of instructions on the practice of Bodhicitta, which is called:
"The Seven Points Mind Training Program".
This text is the heart of the Mahayana tradition and it can be said without any doubt that there is no deeper or more sacred teaching for a Mahayanist than this one.
This teaching goes back to the Buddha,
has been transmitted through many teachers in India,
and was brought to Tibet by Atisha Dipankara in the XIth century.
Chekawa Yeshe Dorje
We owe the root text of this particular teaching to Chekawa Yeshe Dorje,
a Tibetan saint and scholar who lived between 1102 and 1167.
He was a great Kadampa geshe, or scholar.
Visiting a friend,.he caught sight of two lines of a text lying on a table. It said:
"Profit and victory, give it to the others,
Loss and defeat, take it for yourself."
He was very impressed by that saying, but did not understand it very well. He asked his friend for explanations, and he thus learned that this stanza was part of a text written by another Kadampa geshe, Langri Tampa. Langri Tampa had already passed away but Chekawa was able to meet his brother, Yeshe Sarawa, from whom he got the teachings of Lodjong.
Sarawa and Langri Tampa were the disciples of Geshe Potowa, who was himself the disciple of Dromtönpa, one of the three main disciples of Atisha. They were the founders of the Kadampa tradition.
Atisha himself had received these teachings from three different masters. One was Serlingpa, in Indonesia. Another was Ragjita, who could give his own flesh out of his great compassion for other beings. The third was Shambinandjur, who could take on himself the sufferings of others. The following story is told about him:
While he was giving a teaching to a large audience, a dog came by. Somebody threw stones at the dog. Shambinandjur cried and fell off his seat. Everybody thought that this was an exaggerated show, but when they looked at the dog, they saw he had not been hurt, whereas they saw the bruises and wounds on the teacher's body at the place where the stones should have hurt the dog.
The teachings of Atisha can be divided into three categories:
The canonical teachings on the words of the Buddha and the literature already existing. There were basically 6 texts on which these teachings were based, called the Six Canons of the Kadampas: the Jataka stories, the Paraboles, the “Bodhicaryavattara” of Shantideva, the “Lapdu” by the same author, the Bodhisattva Bhumis, and the Lankavattara Sutra.
The direct instructions, which consist of teachings like the Lodjong.
The tantric pith instructions, like for instance the “Sixteen Essence” teachings.
Some of these teachings were adopted by the Gelugpas, some by the Kagyupas, or were merged in other traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. There is no existing Kadampa tradition as such left nowadays, but its teachings have been integrated in other living traditions.
Gampopa, the main disciple of Milarepa, who can be called the founder of the Kagyu lineage, combined the teachings of Mahamudra with the Kadampa teachings to establish the existing Kagyupa tradition.
These Kadampa teachings are what we call The Seven Dharmas, with the three trainings:
training of body as discipline
training of meditation
training of wisdom
and the meditation on four main deities:
the Buddha as the teacher of Dharma
Avalokiteshvara as embodiment of compassion
Tara as protector against outer obstructions
Miowa as protector against inner obstructions
The practice of these four deities and three trainings form the complete teachings of the Kadampa tradition.
Mind training is aimed at the development of Bodhicitta, the enlightened mind, which has two aspects:
Ultimate Bodhicitta, which is the understanding of the true nature of things, of the mind, the ultimate realisation of the Buddha nature.
Relative Bodhicitta, which is the cultivation of an all-pervading and equal compassion towards all sentient beings.
Basically, we believe that an enlightened being is nothing but the limitless and highest development of these two types of Bodhicitta in the same person.
It is also believed that all beings, including the lowest forms of sentient beings, have the capacity to develop these two aspects of Bodhicitta. However ferocious and heartless a being may be, it has a small spark of love in him, for his own children, parents or friends. Every being is capable of some love, some affection (which is the root of the relative Bodhicitta), and has some sense of right and wrong (which is the potential to be developed as the ultimate Bodhicitta).
At the initial stage, we cannot realise, understand, the Ultimate Bodhicitta, which is the true nature of things, the Buddha mind, because our mind, our conceptions, are presently deluded and obscured by the different defilements.
The Madhyamyka philosophy, the philosophy of transcendental wisdom, what we call the "Prajnaparamita" is an attempt to elucidate, to give a conceptual explanation of the ultimate nature of things, but this approach remains conceptual, playing with ideas that "it may be like this, because it is not like this and not like that", and so on. We come to a conclusion by dismissing other possibilities.
It is believed that we should first develop the Relative Bodhicitta, or compassion, and through it, our power and inspiration will increase, enabling us to realise the Ultimate Bodhicitta.
Nagarjuna said in a stanza:
"If the rest of humanity and myself wish to attain unsurpassable awakening, the basis for this is a Bodhicitta as stable as the king of mountains, compassion and pristine wisdom, that do not rely on duality."
It is also believed that if we develop compassion, we will earn so much merits that we will be reborn again and again in favourable conditions giving us all the opportunities to learn and practise more, through which we will finally be able to realise the ultimate truth.
Even after the realisation of Buddhahood, the main actions of an enlightened being would be to work for the welfare of other beings. Therefore, to try at this stage to exchange one's happiness and well-being for the sufferings of others is a very direct exercise towards the attainment of Buddhahood.
Shantideva also says that:
"Whoever wants himself and others to be saved soon, has to practise the most secret and sacred of practices, which is to exchange oneself with others".
In fact, all the different techniques given below are only elaborations on this basic theme.
We now come to the Seven Points Mind Training:
The preliminaries, which teach the supports for Dharma, the basis for practice,
The actual practice or training in Bodhicitta,
The transformation of adverse conditions into the path of awakening, the path of the Bodhisattva,
The application of the practice in all circumstances of our life,
The extent of our proficiency in mind training, signs and stages of attainment,
Commitments of mind training,
Guidelines for mind training, the other instructions pertaining to mind training.
1. The first point, how to start the meditation, how to begin a meditation of this kind, or any type of meditation according to the Mahayana tradition.
All meditations, and especially this one, are to be started with the accumulation of merits, with dispelling all the obstructions to attaining the true Bodhicitta. Therefore, before starting any meditation, we should make sure that the environment is correct.
We should first prepare the room nicely, clean it, dispose a shrine or an image of the Buddha and arrange the offerings. We offer light, water, flowers, whatever we think of as pleasant and valuable. Then we sit on a comfortable cushion or seat.
Having done this, we imagine in front of us the Lord Buddha, surrounded by all the Bodhisattvas and Arhats, the Buddha himself being the embodiment of all Buddhas and Gurus.
If we like, we can also visualise our guru, with a smiling expression, in front of us or on top of our head. He is the embodiment of all the Buddhas and gurus, full of relative and absolute Bodhicitta, surrounded by all the lineage of Lodjong training.
We imagine that we are surrounded by all the sentient beings in the world, and together, we pray that all the beings may be delivered from suffering, that we may be able to develop Bodhicitta to the ultimate stage in order to lead all sentient beings to that same stage.
We pray to receive the blessing from our guru, our great and completely worthy spiritual friend. We pray that he will cause love, compassion and Bodhicitta to arise in our minds. We repeat this prayer as often as possible. We can also recite the refuge prayer as often as possible. The refuge prayer means:
"Until I reach the very heart of enlightenment, I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. By the practice of all meritorious actions, may all beings attain Buddhahood."
We can also recite the “Seven Branch Prayer”, which is very effective to accumulate merits. We imagine that all the Buddhas, as many as there are dust particles in the world, are present around us, surrounded by the Bodhisattvas and other beings.
Each of us manifest our own body in millions of bodies, and we do prostrations to the Buddhas, make offerings to them, confess whatever negative deeds we have done since time immemorable, rejoice at the positive actions of others, we request the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to give us guidance and teachings, request them not to pass away, and finally, whatever merits we have earned and accumulated so far we dedicate for the well-being and attainment of all sentient beings.
We then imagine that our visualisation melts into light, enters into us through the upper aperture on top of our head, and settles in our heart, radiating light. This exercise, practised with intense devotion and respect, is called the "Guru Yoga".
It is advised to do this preliminary practice at the beginning of every session of meditation. It is believed to give us the blessing, the power, the energy, not only to develop Bodhicitta, but also to clear all obstructions for the meditation.
The next point, the preliminary meditation or contemplation aims at developing the two Bodhicittas. They are called the Four Preliminary Contemplations in Ngöndro:
The meditation on the difficulty to obtain a human existence,
The contemplation on impermanence and death,
The contemplation of the sufferings of Samara,
The meditation on the mechanisms of karma.
You must have heard about this already many times. In the Tibetan system of Buddhism, we think that these four contemplations are more important than any other teachings, because if we have them as a foundation, all the rest follows whereas if we lack this foundation, our practice of Dharma will only give us short-lived benefits for this life, or for the next life only. In Tibet, beginners used to contemplate on each of these for a number of months or years, until they got a true realisation. With this deep understanding, they would no longer have any attachment for the samsaric world, everything besides the practice of Dharma has become useless and unimportant. This is why these four contemplations must become a part of our thinking, a part of our life.
The first one is to realise the good fortune we have of being human beings.
When we talk of a "precious human life", we can deduct that many other human lives are not precious. They are not considered precious because they do not give the opportunity to practise Dharma. If we waste our lives only for the sake of making a living, getting food, clothes and a place to live, it is not a precious human life. Any living being, however low, every animal does the same, it is only a question of survival. We must contemplate that human life is the highest form of life. We have privileges that other beings do not have.
What is the basic difference? We can think. We can chose between right and wrong, we can help others, we can contemplate, meditate, practise and develop our spiritual standards. Having these opportunities, this understanding is what we call the precious human body. We can understand how precious the human form is just by thinking of the percentage of human beings compared to the number of other living beings. And among human beings, how many are ready to follow a spiritual path?
How long will we enjoy this precious human body? This is the second contemplation: impermanence.
Nobody knows when he is going to die, but we can be absolutely sure that we will die. None of us has any certainty about the moment of his/her death: maybe this evening, or tomorrow, next year or at this very moment. Because we do not know when we are going to die, we usually act just as if we were never going to die at all.
We fight with each other, we spend all our time in trying to earn or win things for the comfort of this life, we harm and cheat people, so many bad things in order to get some luxury or some name in this life! It is the illusion of permanence that creates all these negative things. If all of us really understood the impermanence of everything, we would not make such a bad place out of this world, we would love and help each other. We would turn this world into a good place to live, because we would know that whatever we gain, whatever we have, even if we rule the whole country, we will not be able to take anything with us at the time of our death. The Buddha said that out of all the different kinds of contemplations, the contemplation on impermanence is the most beneficial, and he compared it to the footprints of the elephant, which of all possible footprints are the most impressive.
We have to remember it as often as possible and not only to contemplate on this at the beginning of every meditation. It will give us the correct, unselfish way to practice Bodhicitta.
If after we die, we just disappear, then it is all right. But we have many signs, I would not say proves, but many experiences, that tend to show that, even after death, we are not going to vanish and disappear completely, but instead to be born again. If we are born again, we will again and again experience the misery, the suffering of birth, old age, death, illness, of not getting what we want and of being confronted with what we do not want.
If we believe in the six realms of the world, we know we can be born in hell, as a hungry ghost or as an animal. In these lower realms, the sufferings are extreme, beyond belief! Even in the higher realms of gods and semi-gods, there are sufferings. The time passes so quickly there that they feel they will die very quickly, they know when they are going to die, and in what lower realms they are going to fall afterwards.
It is essential to understand that, as long as we are in Samsara, we are like a fly trapped in a closed vase, we go up and down, but cannot get out. And as long as we are in it, we suffer. The right thing to do therefore is to get out of this circle. As we already have this precious human life, we have the ability to get out of it. To contemplate on this is the third preliminary contemplation.
As long as we are in Samsara, our volition, our actions produce karma. Negative actions give negative results, positive actions have positive results. There is no other alternative but to reap the results of our own actions: what grows is in accordance with the seed we have planted. One great scholar and saint, Padmasambhava, said that:
"You need not consult any astrologer, prophet or fortune teller: to know what you have been in your past life, you just have to look at what you are now. And you can deduct what you will be in the future from what you are doing now."
The theory of karma is a very simple cause and effect theory. According to it, we say that if we are angry, we will take rebirth in hell and be boiled in molten iron. But in this life also, if we get very angry, we can look at what happens: our surroundings get uncomfortable with tensions, as if burning with flames, and we ourselves reach a kind of "boiling point". If immediate action can have such a great reaction, it is not very difficult to imagine the effects in the next life of such actions that have built up in time. To think about these causes and effects is the fourth contemplation.
It is advised that before the Bodhisattva meditation, we practise those four contemplations every day. They are done at the beginning of any practice, whether Mahamudra, or Dzogpa Chenpo.
After this, it is suggested that you also recite the seven branches prayer, as we discussed briefly previously.
Q. What is the difference between Lodjong and Mahamudra?
A. Lodjong is a practice which is almost exclusively on Bodhicitta, whereas Mahamudra, though also dealing with Bodhicitta, emphasises the Ultimate Bodhicitta. Mahamudra practice is Vajrayana, the deepest, the most direct method in the Vajrayana tradition. Lodjong belongs more to the Sutra tradition.
Q. Is it possible for a Bodhisattva to take on the negative karma of someone else, or is it just help given by him on the way?
A. A Bodhisattva cannot totally take someone else's bad karma, he can help others to get rid of their karma in a better way, in a more simple way.
If somebody performs something, some action, he will get the reaction. It cannot be transferred on anything or anybody else. If Bodhisattvas could take others’ karma, then all our negative karma would already have been taken away by them.
The Buddha said: "I show you the way to Liberation, but understand that Liberation depends on yourself". The relationship of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Sangha with us is like the relationship between a doctor and his patient. The doctor can give us medicine, show us ways how to get rid of the disease, but he cannot take it away. If we are really co-operating, the disease may be cured, or taken away, just like a surgeon would do.
Q. What is obtained through the practice of exchanging oneself with others?
A. The fruit of this practice is the development of compassion, genuine concern for other beings. We can say it is the basis, the most important aspect and path to Liberation. Besides, with this attitude, we can probably help others also. We can get many mundane or temporary benefits too. All our problems arise from egocentric attitudes, we always try to protect ourselves. "I am not being loved, I am not being respected, I may lose this, I may lose that, ..." These ego-clinging attitudes we always have can be hopefully dispelled by exchange of oneself with others. It is the most direct step towards the understanding of non-duality, egolessness and emptiness: the transcendental wisdom, Sunyata.
Q. About Sutras and Tantras, I find the teachings on the Bardo are very important. Why can't we find these teachings in the Sutras? Why are they absent in the Theravada tradition, as they are so essential? Is there any reason?
A. In Sutras also, there are mentions of these teachings about Bardo, the transitional period, but it is not so elaborate as in the Tantric teachings. It is given in a more philosophic or metaphysical way than in the Tantric teachings. It appears for instance in the Abhidharmakosha.
A. Are the sutras of Theravada the same as the Sutras of the Vajrayana?
Q. The Mahayana tradition accepts all the sutras of the Theravada, but the exclusively Mahayana Sutras are not present in the Theravada Canon. For instance, the Prajnaparamita Sutras. You will find certain small sections in which these teachings are present in the Theravada tradition, but not the whole text of Mahayana Sutras. In Tibetan, there are 80 volumes of Prajnaparamita Sutras, which are absent from the Theravada tradition. And there are many others like this.
Q. In the teachings, we see that compassion and wisdom are always associated. Can't we find wisdom without compassion? What makes compassion so important?
A. Without compassion, it may be possible to realise certain kinds of ultimate truths, but we cannot attain Buddhahood. It is said that if you attain any kind of wisdom without compassion, you will become an Arhat, not a Buddha.
Q. What is the difference between Buddhas and Arhats? Are they holy beings?
A. Of course, they are holy beings. We cannot say they have no compassion, but they have not developed it to the stage of a Buddha's compassion.
In connection with a question that was asked previously, I wish to add that though Bodhisattvas, Buddhas or anybody else cannot take away our bad karma, if we are open, if we cooperage, then I think we receive their blessings, their help very easily. It is also believed that to generate true compassion and loving kindness opens up our mind so that the blessing of the holy beings can enter into us. In other words, it weakens our defilements, lessens our negative karma. In this connection, I would like to tell you a story of one of the greatest exponents of Mahayana Buddhism in India, the saint Asanga.
Asanga wanted to spread Mahayana Buddhism in this world, and to receive the teachings from Maytreya, the future Buddha himself, and spread his teachings in India.
He went to a cave and meditated for three years, but there was not even a sign. He got fed up and went away, but on his way, he met a man who was brushing a feather on a big rocky mountain. Asanga asked what he was doing, and the man answered that his house was below this rocky mountain, which was obstructing the sun rays falling on his garden. Therefore, he was wiping out this rock. Asanga thought that he himself was really lacking patience. For a very small purpose, this man was ready to waste uselessly his whole life. He went back to his cave to meditate for three more years, but again, nothing happened. He got fed up and left his cave. He met another man who was brushing a big iron rope with a cloth. The man told him that he wanted to make a needle out of this iron rope. Asanga thought again that he was too impatient, and went back to meditate for another three years. But even after nine years of meditation, nothing had happened, not even a favourable dream! He thought then that it was his karma, he would never get any result. He went down to the village and there, he saw a dog whose lower part was being eaten up by worms, but who was still barking at him with lots of hatred. He suddenly felt a great loving compassion for this dog, suffering so much but still incapable of controlling his anger and feelings. He really wanted to help this animal, but did not know how to do it. If he took the worms away, the worms would die, he would help the dog, but kill the worms. He took out his knife to cut a piece of his own flesh to put the worms on, and thought he should take the worms out with his tongue in order not to hurt them. He closed his eyes to do this, but then his tongue, instead of touching the dog, touched the ground. When he looked up, the future Buddha Maytreya was there standing in front of him.
Asanga asked Maytreya what this was all about. Nine years long, he had done all the practices and meditations in order to see him, without the slightest result. And now he stood there before him! Maitreya answered that he had been with him all the time, from the very first moment he had expressed the wish to see him, but Asanga had been unable to see him because Asanga had not developed enough compassion.
This story exemplifies the fact that to generate compassion is the best way to eliminate bad karma.
Q. Who is Maitreya?
A. It is believed that in this world, until the destruction of this world, there will appear a thousand Buddhas, like Buddha Sakyamuni. And the teachings will remain for a certain time. It is believed that we have had four Buddhas so far, and that the fifth one will be Maitreya. He is now a Bodhisattva in the Tushita heaven ready to become a Buddha very soon.
A. What is Tushita heaven?
Q. It is believed that there are three different realms, the Desire World, where the desire is the most overpowering element. Then there is the Form Realm, which is overpowered by some meditative states, and the Formless Realm, of very subtle meditative states. In the Desire Realm, there are different Heavens, and Tushita is one of them.
Q. Why is Maitreya in this Tushita heaven? Why do Buddhas have to reincarnate there first?
A. I don't know either. Maybe it is the best waiting room ...
Q. We sometime wish to help other people, but are not clear minded enough to know exactly how to do it. Is the motivation most important, or should we refrain from action altogether?
A. If you have a good motivation, real compassion, then I think you will try to find the best way to help another being. There is no reason to hesitate to act.
© Ringu Tulku