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Benefits of mind training

Benefits of mind training

A series of commentaries on Mind Training Like Rays of the Sun by Nam-kha Pel, a disciple of Lama Tsongkhapa, given between September 2008 and July 2010.

  • The self-centered mind
  • The preciousness of the teachings
  • Practicing in less than ideal conditions
  • The five degenerations
  • Transforming unfavorable circumstances

MTRS 03: Benefits of mind training (download)


Good evening everybody. Let’s begin by cultivating our motivation and really have a sense of how this life is like a dream. It’s here now, but at any moment, totally unexpectedly, it could cease. And even though our life seems so solid and real, it’s constantly changing each moment. It’s arising and disintegrating so that all these things that we experience become like last night’s dream. They were there at one time, but they’re gone. So seeing how our actions condition our experiences, and how constructive actions bring happiness and destructive actions bring suffering, then rather than be attached to all the momentary events in our life, or get angry about the momentary events in our life, thus creating destructive karma, let’s make our minds spacious so that we can be aware of impermanence. And without grasping with attachment or with anger, let us dedicate our lives to cultivating kindness and thereby release the self-centered thought so that we can make a positive contribution to society so that we can progress along the path to enlightenment for the benefit of each and every living being.

The self-centered mind

There may be people listening this evening who are not usually on Thursday nights because this event is part of the Interfaith Alliance, an interfaith cooperation program that’s happening this week between many religious traditions on the topic of peace. And this talk was included in that. So I’m teaching from a Tibetan text that’s called Mind Training Like Rays of the Sun, and this is the third talk from the text. I’ve been reading it and commenting on it so I think people who are new will be able to catch on pretty easily. That shouldn’t be a problem.

The text deals very much with how to transform difficulties into the path to enlightenment and how to counteract the self-centered thought that is always saying, “me, me, me, I, I. I, my, my, my, mine, mine, mine.” Okay, our constant refrain of “me, I, my and mine”—you know that refrain? “I want this. I don’t like that. Give me, give me.” They say “the terrible twos”—little kids and the terrible two—but I don’t think it ends on your third birthday. We’re adults and we act just like the kids, except we’re much more polite about it and we mask it, but the mind state is still the same, isn’t it? My happiness is most important. I want to get what I want to get, when I want it, which is usually right now. And the universe should respond to what I want and give me what I want. I’m entitled to everything, yes? So these are the thoughts that we live with for so much of our day and then of course the universe doesn’t cooperate so we get really mad. I’m entitled to have everything be the way I want it to be. Why am I entitled? Because I am. And it doesn’t matter whether other people’s needs and wants and concerns intervene or are different than mine. Mine are most important.

So you can see how these thoughts are the root of conflict, aren’t they? We’re not going to have peace in this world simply by legislation. Legislation is helpful, but we have to change our minds first, otherwise we won’t even follow the legislation. So what we have to really see is that the real enemy inside of us is the self-centered mind that is always clamoring for “what I want,” and realize that the mind is actually our enemy. We’re not very good at telling who our enemies are and who our friends are. We’re actually pretty dumb when it comes to that; and we’re pretty fickle. Even if we think that our enemies are external, we change our mind all the time about who our external enemies are. Some years ago, in World War II, we were fighting against Germany. Now Germany is a really good ally; it’s the same with Japan. Even on a personal level, we have enemies and then they become friends. Then friends become enemies. So, it really isn’t the external enemy that causes us suffering because they so easily can become friends again. But the real enemy is what’s happening to the self-centered mind inside of us. Because it’s the mind that creates all the conflict. It’s not what other people do that creates the conflict, it’s our self-centered mind that says, “I don’t like what they do, and they should be able to read my mind and know what I want and do it,” right? They should be able to; without a doubt. But they should only be able to read my mind insofar as fulfilling what I want them to do. They shouldn’t read my mind in terms of knowing all the nasty thoughts that go on in my mind. That’s off limits. But they should give me what I want and know what I want, and I shouldn’t have to say anything. Once in a while, “thank you,” but nothing else. And as for what I should do for them: Nothing. Why should I? I’m the center of the universe; they should do everything for me. Why should I do something for them? So you can really see how this self-centered mind is just such a mess. It creates so much conflict, so many problems and so much unhappiness inside of us, doesn’t it? And this self-centered mind makes us so ego sensitive. We’re always so concerned with “what do people think of me?” And, “do they like me? Do I fit in?”

We had a program last month at the Abbey and there were 15 or 16 people in the program. At the beginning I asked people what one of their fears about the program was; what their biggest concern was. And everybody’s biggest concerns related back to, “what are other people in the group going to think about me.” Do you remember that? It was amazing, wasn’t it? And so you can see what’s behind that mind that worries about, “are they going to like me? Are they going to hate me? Did I say the right thing? Do I look okay?” What mind is behind all of that anxiety that we feel about whether we fit in or not? Is that a mind of benevolence and kindness? That’s the mind of self-centeredness, isn’t it? Yes—worrying about ourselves. And it makes us so unhappy, doesn’t it? That’s why I had everybody at the beginning of that program talk about it; because I know that and if we talk about it, we bring it out so it doesn’t have so much control over us. But otherwise, boy, it can make us so miserable because then every small thing everybody does is viewed as, “Oh, what did that mean? Did they really mean that? Why are they talking this way to me?” So we just spin and spin and spin around ourselves and we waste so much time—so much time. It’s as if we think everybody only thinks about us all the time. That’s really silly, isn’t it?

We don’t even realize how self-centered other people are; that they’re too busy thinking about themselves to think about us all the time. But we’re thinking about us all the time so we suppose that they are too. And then we’re worrying and we’re anxious. Oh, such a waste of time, isn’t it? It’s such a waste of time. And if we just went into environments with a happy heart thinking, okay, here are other people who want to be happy, just like me; who don’t want to suffer, just like me. Now, how can I smile and do something that brings them a little bit of happiness? How can I be friendly? How can I help them not to be anxious? Imagine going into a situation with that kind of attitude instead of with this, “look at me, nuh, nuh, nuh nuhhh.” Maybe if you’re in sixth grade you can worry about that.

Do you remember in sixth grade how we used to make lists of people? Every Friday we made a list of who we liked and who we didn’t like. And we rated people because we had learned about making graphs in class. So we applied what we learned in class to our friendships. And the people that we liked we put at the top; the people that we didn’t like at the bottom. And we ranked everybody else in the class. Of course, the next day it all changed, but we took ourselve very seriously. So maybe if you’re in sixth grade then every Friday everybody’s going to think about where you rank, but I hope we’re beyond sixth grade. At least some of us, maybe, I don’t know. Did you do that in sixth grade? You didn’t do that? Oh, what did you do?

Audience: We had some little paper things that had people’s names on them. They folded up and you could have your best friends’ names on them.

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): Oh yes, those little things that you go like this with and you put your best friends’ names in it. We thought everybody thought about us. We thought about them and that was the most important thing, wasn’t it? Yes. Sixth grade history was so boring; we’d much rather gossip about our friends.

Okay, let’s go on to the book. Let’s leave sixth grade behind. But the point is that our real enemy is our self-centered thoughts. That’s the real enemy. So whenever you find your mind, or your self-centered thoughts, throwing a temper tantrum, then you need to identify it: “That’s my self-centered thought and it’s throwing a temper tantrum.” So all this confusion and pain and anxiety is the fault of the self-centered thought. So I’m going to disregard it. I’m going to put that one in the dog house so that I can have a peaceful mind; that’s what we need to do, okay? So whenever you’re involved in self-pity or whenever you’re involved in all the numerous dramas that we get involved in, you need to identify that that’s the problem. That self-centered thought is the real enemy.

The unique features, value, and extraordinary function of this secret instruction

Okay, so we’re reading the text and we’re on a section that’s called, “The Unique Features, Value and Extraordinary Function of the Secret Instruction.” So we’ll start reading here,

So that others may come to respect and appreciate this oral teaching, let me commend it, pointing out some of its unique features.

So the author, Nam-kha Pel, is going to talk about some of the specialties of this text. And what he’s quoting now are two lines that actually come from the root text of the Seven Point Thought Transformation.

The text says:

“You should understand the significance of this instruction
As like a diamond, the sun and a medicinal tree.
This time of the five degenerations will then be transformed
Into the path to the fully awakened state.”

Analogy of the diamond

Let’s start with the first line: “You should understand the significance of this instruction as like a diamond, the sun and a medicinal tree.” His commentary says:

There is no need to mention the extent to which a diamond is able to satisfy desire and dispel poverty, for even a fragment of one surpasses all other jewels, retaining the name diamond and averting impoverishment. Similarly, knowing even a small part of this teaching on mind training, which leads to the activation of the awakening mind [the bodhicitta1], means that one retains the name of “awakening warrior,” a bodhisattva, while at the same time excelling the crowned masters of both the Hearers, and the Solitary Realizers, as well as completely dispelling the poverty of cyclic existence. This being so, what need is there to mention what a full comprehension of the whole teaching on mind training would mean in terms of its qualities and value.

So what he’s saying is that the mind training teachings are like a diamond, because even if you have just a little bit of diamond, it’s still a diamond. Even though it’s small, it’s still a diamond. And even a fragment of a diamond is very very precious and it’s worth a lot. So in the same way, this teaching on mind training is like a diamond. It’s very precious and very worthwhile, and even if you only know a little bit of it, it’s still so helpful to the mind. So that’s one of the benefits of it; that even just a little bit of the mind training teaching is like a diamond and eliminates the poverty of not knowing the teachings in our mind and gives us that richness.

Analogy of the sun

Then the second example is about the sun. And here he says,

There is no place or time where darkness directly covers the sun and there is no darkness anywhere where the sun is shining.2 [I think he means there is nowhere in the universe where the sun is not shining at some time or another.] Similarly, there is no need to mention the extent to which the instructions for training in the awakening mind, described below, eliminate the darkness of the mind, for by knowing just one part of this teaching you can eliminate the self-centered attitude induced by the ignorance of misconceiving the self and the darkness of the primary and secondary disturbing emotions.

What he’s saying here is that the sun shines everywhere. There’s no way that the darkness can permanently override the sun or completely eliminate the sun. And that just as the sun radiates and eliminates darkness, so too do these teachings on the mind training, especially on how to develop the awakening mind of the altruistic intention and the wisdom-realizing emptiness. These teachings are like the sun because they can eliminate the darkness of ignorance, the darkness of the self-centered thought.

Analogy of the medicinal plant

And then he goes on to the third analogy; that of a medicinal plant. And he says:

In the case of a medicinal plant which has the power to cure the 424 diseases, even its parts, such as its roots, fruits, leaves, flowers and branches, also have such power. Similarly, there is no need to mention how, if you understand the teachings on mind training, they will uproot the chronic disease of the 84,000 disturbing emotions, because understanding but one part of this teaching will serve as the most perfect remedy for these ailments.3

So he’s talking about some kind of medicinal plant that must have existed in ancient India, and any part of this plant had the ability to cure any disease whatsoever, so it was a very precious kind of plant. And again, even if you just had a little bit of it, or a little bit from a certain part of the plant, your illness could be cured. So it is the same way with this mind training teaching; just knowing a little bit of it—just knowing a little bit from here, from there—if you put it into practice, can really cure the afflictions of the 84,000 disturbing emotions. Because these 84,000 afflictions—these 84,000 disturbing emotions and negative attitudes—these are the things that really afflict us.. And so these teachings are like a diamond, like the sun, like a medicinal tree, in terms of helping cure us from the illness of ignorance, anger, attachment, pride, jealousy and all the other 83,995 afflictions. So, this is talking about the benefit. Many authors start off with the text talking about the benefit because when we understand the benefit of something, then we’re eager to know more. It’s like if you understand the benefits of going to school, then you go to school because even though it’s hard, and even though you don’t like some courses, you do it because you know in the long term it’s going to benefit you. So this is the same idea. If we know that this teaching is going to benefit us, then we’ll go through whatever it takes to hear the teachings, contemplate them and put them into practice.

Disturbing emotions, negative actions, and conditions conducive to practice

So then he continues,

Buddha Shakyamuni descended particularly at a time when the five degenerations were at their worst and beings’ thoughts were preoccupied by disturbing emotions and their actions unwholesome, accumulating only negativity.

Okay, I’m just going to read a little bit here, finish this paragraph, and then I’ll go back and tell you what the five degenerations are, okay? Because he describes them in a very general way here, I’ll go through and list them. So he continues:

When misfortune falls upon others, they perversely rejoice and are jealous when hearing of others’ well-being, [So this talks about how corrupt our world is. That when misfortune falls on our enemies, we rejoice. And when other people have well being, we get jealous, right? It’s kind of a degeneration, isn’t it? So, we get jealous when hearing of others’ well-being] which gives rise to pain in their hearts. [In our hearts. True or not true? Jealousy’s painful, isn’t it?] Cyclic existence is filled with those whose actions of body, speech and mind are employed only in harming others, so at this time the protectors of the doctrine, the gods and nagas who support right actions have gone to other worlds to support the doctrine and the four classes of Buddha’s disciples.

In cyclic existence, the state that we’re in—the state of being born under the influence of ignorance and afflictions and tainted karma—then our actions of body, speech and mind, are very much employed in harming others, and harming ourselves for that matter. Because every time we get angry, we harm others. And we also harm ourselves, don’t we? Every time we get jealous, we harm others. But the worst harm is to ourselves. So whenever we let our greed run wild, our greed can make us do actions that harm others, and our greed harms us. Witness what’s happening on Wall Street right now and this whole financial crisis caused by greed. Greed makes us do things that are unwise; that harms ourselves and harms others. And as a result of this, some of the protectors of the teachings just say, “forget it.” These are worldly protectors, you know. The Buddhas never give up on us, but the worldly protectors sometimes say, “These people are too much! I’m going to go somewhere else where the Buddha’s doctrine is pure and where you have the four assemblies of Buddhist practitioners: the fully ordained monks and nuns, and the male and female lay followers.” Okay?

On the other hand all hostile human and non-human beings who favor wrong actions increase their activities, creating various calamities, particularly against those who follow the theory and practice of the holy doctrine.

So, our world is a world of many calamities. There was just a hurricane in Galveston. Haiti is suffering tremendously from the past few hurricanes. We’ve had the Tsunami and we’ve had earthquakes. So we’ve had natural disasters, and then of course terrorism, and everything else. So this isn’t a theme to get everybody all afraid, but it’s saying that we live in a world where our ignorance, anger and clinging attachment create the causes for us to experience these various calamities, that are either due to nature or are made by us human beings. You know, like global warming.

It is therefore all the more important that such people implement the teaching explained in this text, otherwise they will be unable to continue their practice of the doctrine.

So what this means is that if you really want to practice the Buddha’s teachings or the Dharma, you need good conditions to practice. But at the same time we live in a world that’s filled with bad conditions. What are good conditions? The best condition is that you live in a place—this is our dream, isn’t it—where there’s no warfare, there’s no hunger and there’s no famine. Everything is very very comfortable. We have our teacher there, we have the teachings, we don’t have to do any work, we don’t have to pay taxes, we don’t have to cook, we don’t have to clean up after ourselves, and we don’t have to answer email. Everything is just perfect. All we have to do is listen to teachings and practice. That’s our ideal situation. What is the reality of our lives? Is it like that? No. The reality of our lives is not like that. We live with a body that gets old, that gets sick and that dies. We live with people who sometimes are disagreeable. We live with noise that we don’t like and all sorts of things that go on. So we have to learn to deal with these situations, otherwise at the smallest, tiniest thing, we’re just going to fall apart and say, “I can’t practice.” And then go back to our same old way of complaining and saying, “Oh, I don’t have the right conditions to practice. I have to work. I have to do this, I have to do that. “Oh, when I’m free of all this, then I can go somewhere and then I’ll practice the Dharma.” You know that line? That line that says, “Oh, Dharma’s wonderful and I really want to practice. I’m so serious and earnest about practicing but I just don’t have the conditions right now. So if I don’t have the conditions, I might just as well enjoy my samsara. So you go to the beach and go to the pub and go to the mall and watch the movies, and later, when the circumstances change, and I’m in this perfect ideal world, then I’ll practice the Dharma.” Do you know that line? That line that says, “Oh, I can’t practice now; I need different conditions.” Well, with that kind of mind, no practice is ever going to get done because we’re never going to have our ideal situation.

I think what’s especially powerful about the mind training teachings is that they teach you how to practice in all the less-than-ideal situations so that you transform these less-than-ideal situations into the path to enlightenment. Then these situations, instead of becoming hindrances and obstacles, become things which spur you on to enlightenment. And the only thing you have to do is change your mind. Because the external situations are going to be the same. The only thing that we need to do is change our mind and that is what transforms all the situations into the path to enlightenment.

For example, one of my Dharma friends, many years ago, was doing retreat and she got a huge boil on her cheek—an enormous, very painful boil. And she was walking around the monastery and her teacher saw her. And she said, “Oh, look at me; feel sorry for me, Rinpoche.” And Rinpoche looked at her and he said, “fantastic.” Of course she didn’t want to hear that, and he said, “that’s so good that so much negative karma is ripening and being experienced. You’re so fortunate to have that boil.” Now, if you hold onto your self-centered mind, then you think what he’s saying is a bunch of ‘B.S..’ But if you really believe in karma, then you see that when we experience suffering it’s because of our own negative actions. And that this action and this experience—especially when you’re in retreat and you’re trying to study or something, and you get an obstacle like this—this is actually a horrible negative karma that is ripening in a very small suffering in this life. And that karma could ripen in a future life in a horrible suffering, but instead it’s ripening in this life as some kind of disease or illness or discomfort, or whatever, which actually, in comparison to a horrible rebirth, is something that’s quite manageable.

And I remember when you had cancer and Geshe-la told you, “Don’t think of it as anything else but as a blessing.” And you did that the whole time and you really transformed the whole situation. You did so well with that and that’s really what we have to do because obstacles and hindrances come our way all the time. We don’t even have to go look for them; they just come on their own. But if we have this kind of teaching, then we can transform them. So that’s why it’s so precious; really precious.

The five degenerations:

Okay, so let’s talk about these five degenerations, because in another version of the Seven Point Training of the Mind, the line says, “When the five degenerations flourish, transform them into the path to awakening.” Okay, so don’t just hear about how degenerate the world is and get depressed, but transform the whole situation into the path to enlightenment. This is a big difference because we’re going to talk about the five degenerations. We get the idea that everything is worse now than it ever has been. Actually, we’ve always had all these 84,000 afflictions. Maybe we have more technology to be able to create havoc with them, but the afflictions are still there. All of this can be transformed into the path. So Buddhists, when we see difficulty in the world, we don’t say, “Oh, the world is ending, save your canned food in your basement for when your world ends.” Instead, we say, “Oh, there are problems in the world; how can I transform them into the path to enlightenment?” So this is very very useful.

  1. Degeneration of the time

    Okay, so these five degenerations are: the degeneration of the time. What that means is that there’s no lasting peace—there’s a lot of warfare, there’s famine and the material resources decrease. So what’s happening is a degenerate time, in that sense.

  2. Degeneration of sentient beings

    The second degeneration is the degeneration of sentient beings. They have outrageous behavior—they’re intolerant, biased and prejudiced, and they are holding wrong ethical views, and so they think that negative actions are constructive. You can see this very well, can’t you? They sabotage others’ good works; they are stubborn and not wanting to listen to others’ wise advice. It almost sounds like us, doesn’t it? You mean we’re part of the degenerate sentient beings? Me? I’m part of the degenerate sentient beings? Okay, it’s true, isn’t it? We’re so stubborn that we don’t want to listen to anybody who’s trying to help us or someone who gives us good advice. We just say, “Go away and leave me alone. You don’t love me.” We’re terrible to people sometimes, aren’t we?

  3. Degeneration of the view

    Third degeneration is the degeneration of the view. We have very distorted views. People don’t believe that their actions have any kind of ethical dimension. They don’t consider what their motivation is or the ethical degrees of their actions. They don’t believe in rebirth and they follow wrong psychologies or wrong philosophies. We think that we can make up our own path to enlightenment. We believe that there’s a real solid “me” and then we psychologize all about me. We think killing is good and we have no interest in doing virtuous actions. So our views and our values are really screwed up. True or not true? Yes? Okay. So it’s not just pointing at Al-Qaeda, or the Bush administration; it’s also pointing at our own mind.

  4. Degeneration of afflictions

    Then the fourth degeneration is afflictions. Our disturbing emotions are very gross. We are obsessed with attachments. We are obsessed with anger and retaliation. And it’s very rare to find people who are practicing properly. Even sometimes the spiritual practitioners aren’t practicing very well because of very gross afflictions. And you can see it. What’s road rage about? Isn’t road rage a pretty gross affliction? When somebody cuts you off, do you think that that person in the car said, “Oh, there’s somebody driving where I can’t easily see them, I think I’ll cut them off and make them angry?” Does anybody think that? No. But when we get angry when we’re driving, then we have a negative motivation and want to cut them off. But the person who cut us off never does it deliberately. I don’t think that the person who changes lanes in front of us deliberately intends to cause an accident, do you? Yes?

    Why do we get so mad at people when we’ve sometimes made the same mistake? And especially since road rage is so dangerous. I talked to one young man—I remember this so clearly on one retreat that I led—and he was driving in a car with his fiance and somebody cut him off; of course not intentionally. But he got furious and he was speeding up after the guy, and he wanted to retaliate and he started to cut him off. And so he deliberately cut the other guy off. But in the process of doing so, he lost control of his car, went over three lanes of the highway and then hit one of the poles and that stopped the car. Otherwise, he would have gone into the ditch. He could have killed his fiancee, the person he loved most, just because of his own ridiculous anger—because somebody cut him off without the intention of harming him. How often does this happen? All too often, doesn’t it? So this is what’s meant by gross afflictions. We need to be very careful. Could you imagine living with that for the rest of your life—if he had killed his fiancee?

  5. Degeneration of the life span

    The fifth degeneration is the degeneration of life span, which means that there’s increasing danger from sickness, accidents and pollution. And that the duration of our natural life span, without the aid of all sorts of medicine, is decreasing.

So those are five rather inauspicious conditions: the times, the sentient beings, the view, the afflictions and the life span. But that’s the world we live in. Why do we live in it? Because we created the karma to be born here. So now that we are born here as a result of our afflictions, we have a choice and either we can sit and feel sorry for ourselves and blame everybody else, or we can transform all these conditions into the path to enlightenment. So the choice is completely up to us. Nobody forces us to practice the Buddha Dharma. The Buddha just offered the teachings, but it’s completely up to us. We can sit and bellyache, or we can change our attitude. So, when your mind is really into its pity party and bellyaching and blaming, sit there and just really put that to yourself: I can change my mind, or I can get miserable. Those are the two choices I have. Which one am I going to take? But then our mind goes, yes, yes, yes. I’ll change my mind, I’ll change my mind. But that guy still betrayed my trust and he deserves to be punished for betraying my trust, doesn’t he? And all my friends agree with me. He betrayed my trust and I’m right and he’s wrong and I have to punish him. And because everybody else agrees with me, if I trash this person and do something mean to him, I am completely justified. In fact, I’m even being compassionate because then he’ll get a taste of his own medicine and then he’ll think twice before doing it again.

We even have a philosophy to support our negative actions, don’t we, yes? Are we really doing it out of compassion? With that tone of voice, are we doing anything out of compassion? When somebody betrays our trust, we feel like we’re the only person in the world whose trust has ever been betrayed, don’t we? Nobody else has ever been hurt or betrayed like I’ve been. That’s the way we feel, isn’t it? And I’m sure we could all tell many stories of all the people we’ve trusted and all the horrible things they did to us. They talked behind our back, they were unfaithful, they told our secrets, and they took our money—and all sorts of things. We have so many stories and then we use that as a reason to be angry and belligerent; to blame and hurt people. And then what happens? We just continue the cycle, don’t we? We go and we do something and we get our vengeance against somebody else, and after we’ve got our revenge and we’ve really ruined their life, does that person all of a sudden say, “Oh, they did this to me because I harmed them and I need to go and apologize to them.“ Do they ever think that after we’ve harmed them in retaliation? No, never. So it is our mind that says I’m going to retaliate and teach them a lesson and then they’ll see that they were wrong and they’ll apologize. They never do.

How often do we apologize to other people? As infrequently as possible. We’ll do whatever we can do to not apologize. We’ll do the silly apologies, you know, where we aren’t really sincere but genuine apologies—not very often. And yet we’re so upset when other people betray our trust. You know, I wonder who those people are who betray other people’s trust? Because if I talk to you and ask who betrays other people’s trust, the answer is other people. Every person on this planet that I ask, “Who betrays other people’s trust,” is going to tell me, “somebody else.” But even the people they say betray their trust, when I ask that person, “who betrays trust,” they say, “somebody else.” They don’t say, “I do.” So who are all these people who betrayed other people’s trust? It’s always somebody else; it’s never us, is it? We don’t do terrible things like that. But I really wonder who it is then? Who are these people who betray other people’s trust? Because it’s not anybody we ask, is it? Are you getting what I’m saying? Somebody comes up to you and asks, “Are you trustworthy?” “Oh yes, I’m very trustworthy.” “Have you ever betrayed anybody’s trust?” “Oh no, I would never do anything like that. I value my word. I’m very honest. I’m very compassionate. I would never betray anybody’s trust.”

You ask every single person and they answer like that. So who is it that’s doing this betrayal of trust? Not me. I’m sure there’s some fairy tale like that where they always say, “Not me, not me.” I don’t know, I can’t remember my fairy tales.

Audience: “Not I,” said the fly.

VTC: “Not I,” said the fly? What did the fly do?

Audience: I don’t know but….

VTC: But you know, it’s always on somebody else. And yet we need to do a little bit of investigation, don’t we? So instead of bellyaching when other people betray our trust, we need to hold up the mirror and look at our own conduct and see if we’ve ever betrayed anybody else’s trust. That’s much more uncomfortable, isn’t it? It’s the only way to cure our own unhappiness, because as long as we blame others we’re going to be miserable.

Transforming unfavorable into favorable circumstances

Let’s continue on:

If we enter the gateway of this practice, we will be able to transform unfavorable into favorable circumstances. This is the action of a wise person. This teaching provides the power to defeat all adversaries and overcome all obstacles on the path.4

When he’s talking about defeating all adversaries, it doesn’t mean external adversaries. It means the adversaries of our own jealousy, of our own arrogance, of our own conceit, yes, our own greed. Those are the adversaries.

If we travel in this way, the way of development and meditation, we can see our bodies as the Blissful Pure Land.

In other words, if we transform our mind, we create the environment of a bliss land, of a pure land, because we start seeing everything as advantageous to our practice. And that’s what pure land is, where everything around you is advantageous to your practice.

Then unfavorable circumstances, whether internal [such as unhappy mind or illness] or external, [such as, you know, what’s going on in the world, then these unfavorable circumstances] will neither cause misery nor upset the mind, but will be transformed into factors conducive to happiness. This is known as the undisturbed worldly realm and even a great heap of fire-like afflictions, whether physical or mental, will not move or disturb the mind. This is called the city of the source of happiness and is the point of attaining the single-pointed meditation capable of easily following all doctrines. A little practice at this time when the five degenerations arise and we are overwhelmed by both internal and external impediments will be more swiftly effective than accumulating merits for eons in a pure land. Such is the special method for transforming bad times into good ones, an explanation of which follows here.

Okay, so a little practice of these teachings, even if we’re in a horrible circumstance, propels us along the path to enlightenment and to doing purification and accumulating merit much more quickly, and is much more effective than accumulating merit for eons in a pure land. Good deal, isn’t it? Do you want to spend eons accumulating merit in a pure land? Or do you want to transform your mind now, so that you give up anger and self-pity and all these kinds of things, so that we develop a little bit of courageous mind that can endure hardship and difficulties? All we have to do is change our mind. These teachings are not difficult. It’s not like you have to lift boulders,. it’s just changing the mind. Sometimes, changing the mind is harder than lifting boulders. But if you think about lifting boulders, it’s pretty hard. I’m going to go out and lift that boulder. It’s easier to change the mind, isn’t it? No? You’re going to go lift boulders? Oh good, okay. Anytime we need boulders, remember you volunteered. Okay, any questions right now?

[In response to audience] You said that you did some research on Serlingpa who was Atisha’s teacher, and found that he was also called Dharmarakshita, who was the author of The Wheel of Sharp Weapons. Actually, that’s incorrect. I think the other name was Dharmarata; it wasn’t Dharmarakshita. And so Serlingpa was not the author of The Wheel of Sharp Weapons It was an Indian guru of Atisha’s who wrote The Wheel of Sharp Weapons.

Audience: [inaudible]

VTC: Oh, really? If you look in the beginning of Peacock in the Poison Grove, Geshe Sopa’s book, they have an explanation there about Dharmarakshita. Some people say Dharmarakshita was a Vaibhasika, he was a Mahayana practitioner.

Audience: [inaudible]

VTC: Were there times when we’re not labeled degenerate? There probably was. There’s a Buddhist legend or an old Indian legend about the origin of the universe—this old Indian legend—even there things were degenerating.

Audience: [inaudible]

VTC: Okay, so another one of the Buddha’s legends is that our time is known as the time when the lifespan is 100 years, and eventually because of people’s negative actions it will decrease to 10 years. And she wants to know if this practice is a long-life pill. So you want to live longer in the time of the five degenerations. The lifespan decreasing to ten years isn’t going to happen in our lifetime; don’t worry about that. I would worry more about creating negative karma that makes us have a shorter life.

Audience: Can you list the five degenerations again?

VTC: Can I list the five again? Yes, the time, sentient beings, views, afflictions and lifespan.

People sometimes get all excited about the five degenerations because what does it spark in our mind? Oh, armageddon. The Buddha’s version of the apocalypse. And how can I make it through? Don’t get into that way of thinking, okay, because the thing is, that whether we live a long time or a short time it’s due to our karma, and our karma’s created by us. We’re the creators of it, so if we do harmful actions, we create the cause for a shorter life span. Even if you live in a time when there’s all sorts of medicine available, you’d live a long time if you didn’t create negative actions. Then later on, in another rebirth, at least you would have that kind of result.

Training in the preliminaries

Okay, so we just have a few minutes. So let me read a little bit. Okay. Now we’re going to start with the first of the seven points:

The text says,

“First, train in the preliminaries.”

Our mind goes, “Preliminaries, I want to get to the high stuff.” But the author says to first train in the preliminaries. And if we sit and listen to the preliminaries, we’ll realize that they’re already challenging enough. Let me read the first paragraph:

This involves contemplating the significance and rarity of life as a free and fortunate human being, contemplating impermanence and death, which leads to the realization that our lives can end at any time, and thinking about the causes and results of actions and the vicious nature of cyclic existence.

So these are the four preliminaries:

  1. understanding our precious human life;
  2. death and impermanence;
  3. actions or karma and their effects;
  4. the defects or miseries of cyclic existence.

So we’re about to get into that topic.

From these basic practices up to the training in the ultimate awakening mind, the practice can be divided into two: the actual meditation session, and the period between sessions. The actual session is also divided into three—preparation, meditation and [it says] behavior [but it means dedication].

So, what this is talking about is that from these basic practices, these four—precious human life, death and impermanence, karma and its effects, and the miseries of cyclic existence—from there all the way up to the wisdom that understands emptiness—or what’s called the ultimate bodhicitta—all those meditation sessions can be divided into two: the formal meditation session and the break time. So, our Dharma practice consists of both our formal meditation and our break time. And this is very very important because if we get locked into thinking that practicing Dharma is only our formal meditation time, then as soon as we stand up from the cushion, we leave everything we gained behind. If we think that, “Oh, who needs formal meditation, I’ll just practice Dharma in my daily life,” our practice is going to be very limited because we also need that quiet time to look inside more deeply and really spend that time understanding the Dharma. So we need those two phases of practice: formal meditation and the break time—and to practice both of them. And within the actual formal meditation time there’s three stages: The preparation, the meditation and the dedication. So next week, we will start talking about the preparation, the meditation and the dedication of the formal meditation sessions.

(Dedication prayers ended the teaching)

  1. Venerable Chodron’s commentary appears in square brackets [ ] within the root text. 

  2. Original text reads, “There is no place or time when darkness directly covers the sun and there is no darkness anywhere when the sun is shining.” 

  3. Original text reads, “…for all these ailments.” 

  4. Original text reads, “This is the action of a wise man.” 

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.