Introduction to the text
Introduction to the text
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.
- Goals of mind training practices
- Lineage of the source of the text
MTRS 01: Introduction to the text (download)
Let’s begin by cultivating our motivation. We could be doing many other things right now, in fact we could have been born in many other different kind of realms right now. But we weren’t, we’re human beings with a precious human life, the ability to hear and understand the teachings, and the ability to do something that animals are not able to do—which is to conscientiously and deliberately train our mind, purify our mind, develop our good qualities. Let’s really take advantage of this opportunity and not squander it by spending time on objects of attachment or objects of anger. Instead let’s really dedicate ourselves to developing equanimity, love, compassion, and joy for all living beings; and to generating the altruistic intention aiming for full enlightenment for their benefit. So make that kind of determination now.
Happiness or misery “on the tip of a thought”
That awareness of our fortune is something that’s quite important so that we can really use our time wisely. Otherwise the appearances of this life are so strong that we get completely caught up in them. There might be something that happens during the day, in fact most everyday there is something that happens during the day, isn’t there? That we don’t like, that we’re annoyed at, that we’re irritated by, that we wish that obnoxious person would change their ways. It happens every day, multiple times every day, doesn’t it? And we can spend a lot of time just chewing them out in our mind, or sitting there going over, “They said this. I said this. I should have said that. Why did they say this? Next time they do this, I’m going to say that.” We can spend a lot of time doing that. We could spend a lot of time trying them in the court of our own heart, where they’re the defendant; and we happen to be the judge, jury, prosecutor, and district attorney, and the police. We arrest them, prosecute them for this remark they made to us, sentence them to death, and throw them in prison—all within our own heart! Then we say, “Ah, job well done!” It happens every day, doesn’t it? Some one person or another that we get irritated at.
We could spend our whole life like this. Life just becomes one irritation after another irritation—with certain little spurts of anger and outrage when the irritation gets really intense. But at the end of the day what do we have to show for that, for indulging the mind in that kind of anger? What do we have to show? We’re pretty miserable, aren’t we? We’re pretty miserable—so just holding onto that angry thought is the best way to make ourselves miserable.
Then we seek relief from the anger by seeking an object of attachment. Have you ever noticed you get irritated and the first thing you want to do is go to the refrigerator and get something to eat? Like, “I’m irritated, I want some pleasure! Give me pleasure!” So we head for the refrigerator, we head for the shopping center, we head for the television, we head for the bar. Maybe the bar is in our own house. But we seek something that’s going to deliver us from the pain of the anger, the pain of not getting what we want, or the pain of getting what we don’t want. Then we just spend our whole day like this—day after day.
Meanwhile we have this precious human life with the ability to practice the path and gain realizations. The real tragedy is that we’re squandering it. I say this because it’s hard to get; we can’t go back in time and relive things and do them differently. So it’s important from this moment to really assess, “What is a wholesome virtuous idea? What is an unwholesome, non-virtuous idea?” And with this clear in our mind, really steer our mind in a positive direction. If we do so it brings happiness now and creates the karmic cause to have happiness in future lives. If we don’t do that, then we’re just rerunning the same old, “Can’t they do this? Why did they do that?” We’re so miserable. Or, “I want this. I deserve that. They aren’t giving it to me. Nobody appreciates me.” What’s that thing that we learned as kids? That, “Nobody wants me, everybody hates me, think I’ll eat some worms.” Remember that? What did we do? We played hopscotch to that, or jump rope, or something?! And then we just go off and sulk. I mean how many hours have we spent sulking in our life?
Could you imagine if there was something that tabulated the amount of time we spent doing different activities? We could open this little book every morning and, “This is how many hours in your life you’ve spent sulking. This is how many hours you’ve spent getting angry. This is how many hours you’ve spent being dissatisfied. How many hours you’ve spent sleeping when you shouldn’t have been, and how many hours you’ve spent in attachment.” Then we just tally it. Maybe even it’s in the form of an Excel spreadsheet. Each day somebody fills it in for us and then we just highlight the whole thing and automatically get the total. But we’re not very happy living that way—and it’s not very fruitful for our own spiritual practice, or for what our higher aims in our life are.
It’s better just to notice that and see that we can change. In other words, don’t get mad at ourselves for that, but instead see we can change. Then really put the mind on the kindness of living beings, on their suffering, and generate some compassion for them. And then, seeing the opportunity to become a Buddha, really generate the aspiration to become one for the benefit of all beings. If we do that then our life becomes meaningful, our mind becomes happy, everything is completely changed. It all depends not on other people but on how we think. That’s the whole thing, isn’t it? We keep thinking that our happiness and suffering is due to other people and it’s not, it’s due to what we think. So it all hinges on, Lama Zopa had the expression: “The tip of a thought.” I’m not quite sure how thoughts have tips but it just all hinges on a little way that we’re thinking—whether we’re happy or miserable. It’s not outside. It’s how we’re looking at it.
Introducing Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun
This new book that we’re going to begin, Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun, really goes into depth on this whole topic. It’s called mind training or sometimes it’s called, another way to think of it, it’s translated as thought transformation. The word lo means mind or thought; and then jong can mean to train, to purify, to habituate—so this whole idea of deliberately transforming the mind. That’s what this text is about, is how to transform the mind through transforming how we think. Then of course, on deeper levels of realization getting rid of thoughts altogether and just having direct perception of the nature of reality; but in so much of our daily life just learning how to think correctly.
Some people, they come into the spiritual path and you hear all this stuff about discursive thoughts and conceptions. It’s like, “Okay, I’ve just got to stop having so many conceptual thoughts, and leave them, and I just rid my mind of conceptual thoughts.” But it isn’t that. It isn’t just squashing thoughts—because there are good thoughts and there are good motivations, and we need to learn how to generate them. Eventually at the stage of Buddhahood we go beyond conception. But in the meantime between now and then, there’s a lot of good thoughts that we can generate that will really transform our mind. So it’s not just a question of not thinking. It’s a question of learning how to think in a correct way, learning how to think in a realistic way, learning how to think in a beneficial way; because what makes us unhappy is all of our unrealistic thoughts—all of our non-beneficial thoughts.
This text in particular has a whole section on how to transform adversity into the path. That’s a very precious teaching because we’re always finding adverse circumstances, aren’t we? Nothing ever turns out the way we want it to so it looks like the whole world is adverse—so many adverse circumstances. How do we transform those into the path? If we don’t transform them, then we’re just going to sit and sulk, or whine, or get angry—or all three. But if we know how to transform the way we’re thinking, then that situation which initially seemed so disturbing can actually begin something that we relish because it gives us the opportunity to transform the way we’re thinking. So like I said, these kinds of situations come all day everyday, don’t they?
History of the genre—Lama Atisha in Tibet
The Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun—there’s a whole genre of teachings called thought training and they include a wide variety of texts. But one of the principle texts is called The Seven-Point Thought Transformation. There are several different versions of this text put together by Geshe Chekawa, by Gyelsay Togmay Zangpo—there are many different versions of the text. Although the whole history isn’t totally clear, it seems that a lot of these little phrases—because they’re little phrases, short sentences. That’s what The Seven-Point Thought Training is; it’s only like a few pages long, not a big deal. And it’s just very short phrases on how to practice. It seems like those were maybe oral instructions that Lama Atisha gave to his disciples that were then collected afterwards and concentrated and made into a text. Also there seem to be different reductions of this text, so maybe different disciples wrote down these things. They’re pretty much the same, the points are pretty much the same, but sometimes they’re in a different order, sometimes a few different points. It could be that different people wrote down different things so there were different lineages of it. But it seems to have been something that started as an oral tradition.
What I find very interesting, I was thinking about it this morning, because Lama Atisha is such an important master in the Tibetan tradition. Buddhism had initially spread into Tibet beginning in the 6th century. Then in the 8th century there was a huge persecution. In the 8th and 9th depending on how you count the calendar years there’s a huge persecution. Buddhism almost died out. Then Lama Atisha, who lived in the 10th and 11th centuries, came to Tibet and from him are the descendants of what’s called the New Translation schools. He was a chief person who was invited to Tibet to teach the Dharma in the time when the Dharma had degenerated there. He was one of the great Indian masters at the Vikramasila monastic university.
In addition to Nalanda, most of us have heard about Nalanda—it’s a very famous monastic university not too far from Bodhgaya. But there were others at Advuntaparia, at Vikramasila. Atisha was from Vikramasila. Some kings in western Tibet invited him. One of them had even to give up his life to invite Lama Atisha to Tibet. Lama Atisha was a great scholar, he had studied all these incredible deep philosophical texts and was a master of all of them, and he also did tantric practice. But when he came to Tibet the whole lineage of teachings that we have from him is basically lamrim (the stages of the path) and lojong (these mind-training teachings). It seems like when he came to Tibet he really concentrated on very practical teachings. Things that people could put into practice fairly easily without having a lot of outlines, and complicated debates, and vocabulary, and things like this. So while the great Indian texts—many of them are written in the form of debates. Lama Atisha’s teachings and the lineage that came after him, much of it is just explaining the Dharma. I think because so many people were already Buddhist there was no need to refute so many wrong ideas. But also he taught things that were very practical and so it’s said that Lama Atisha, his two favorite topics were refuge and karma. He talked about them all the time—how to take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha; how to trust them as our spiritual guide; what their qualities are; and then actions and the effect of actions—so the whole teachings on ethical conduct. These teachings are descended from Atisha.
The Indian source of the thought training—Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland
There’s a very nice story again tracing the roots of these teachings. Geshe Chekawa, who was one of the Kadam Geshes—Kadampa was the lineage that stemmed from Lama Atisha. Geshe Chekawa was reading the Eight Verses of Thought Training and he came upon the one verse that talked about taking defeat upon oneself and giving the victory to others. And he was so shocked by that, “How is that possible?” When you’re in a relationship with somebody and you’re not getting along to give them the victory and take the defeat upon yourself? So he went on to search out the source of this teaching and different people referred him to Geshe Sharawa. Chekawa went to find him and Sharawa was giving a teaching on one of the Fundamental Vehicle texts of the hearers and solitary realizers path—so he wasn’t mentioning anything about bodhicitta. Then Chekawa was really kind of disappointed. After the teachings he tracked Sharawa down and said, “Can I ask you a question?” He asked him about this verse that he had read in Langri Tangpa’s Eight Verses of Thought Training and said “What’s the source for this?” He said this because everybody wants to know that the source came from India. Then Sharawa quoted two lines from Precious Garland. Those two lines are:
May their evil bear fruit for me
May all my virtue bear fruit for others.
There are different translations of this line, but the basic essence of it is the taking-and-giving practice. In other words, may I take upon myself all the wrong doings and unhappiness of other beings, may they ripen upon me, and may I give them my possessions, my body, my virtue, and may all that goodness ripen for them in terms of good circumstances. When Chekawa heard that that teaching was from Precious Garland of Nagarjuna then he was satisfied that it had an accurate lineage. He went on and studied Precious Garland for many years and meditated on it until he gained some realizations of it.
It seems like before Geshe Chekawa this teaching on thought training was considered a secret teaching. We usually think of tantra as the secret teaching even though it’s out all over the place nowadays. But these thought training teachings were considered secret. We might wonder why, “Why are they secret?” Well, if you think about it, the whole notion of taking adversity into the path, the whole notion of, “May I experience the sufferings of others, may I give my happiness to them,” those are pretty far-out ideas. “May I give the victory to others and take defeat upon myself,” those kind of ideas? They’re things that, first of all that ordinary people could easily misunderstand. Also people who don’t have very high aptitudes or very sharp faculties, they just would not understand it at all and go, “What kind of craziness is this? Why in the world should I take on other’s suffering? I have enough of it myself, thank you very much!” And, “Why should I take on defeat and give the victory to others, when it’s so clear that they’re wrong and I’m right? What kind of nonsense is this?” So you see that it’s easy for people to misunderstand these kinds of things.
But Geshe Chekawa accumulated these different statements from Atisha and then began to teach it as a text and explain it. Due to his great kindness then we have these many different versions of the seven point thought transformation that we see now. Then later masters started writing commentaries on The Seven-Point Thought Transformation.
This text here, Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun, is a commentary that was written in the 15th century by Nam-kha Pel, who was one of the disciples of Je Tsongkhapa. It’s a commentary on The Seven-Point Thought Transformation that combines the lamrim teachings with the thought training teachings. So it’s considered quite special in that regard.
It’s made into a book here. It’s not a short text like The Essence of Refined Gold. I received this text from the lineage, the oral transmission of this text, from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who received it from Kyabje Yongzin Ling Rinpoche. And so I was thinking that I could give the oral transmission of the text, reading it to you, and then stopping periodically to make some comments on things.
The thing is I was reading the introduction and the first chapter, and there’s a lot of these Tibetan names in it that I don’t know about you but [yawning gesture]. Maybe if we could get through that chapter the rest would lighten up a little bit. Are you in for the oral transmission? Because it’s nice to read a book from beginning to end. Sometimes when His Holiness the Dalai Lama gives oral transmissions some of these parts he reads really fast. I can’t even read English that fast. So I’ll do it a little more slowly. The actual text of The Seven-Point Thought Transformation is embedded in this larger text, which is a commentary on it.
Brief preview and commentary on the seven points
Actually before I start the oral transmission, let’s just go over the seven points so that we know what they are as there’s some introduction that explains the qualities of the teachings and so on.
Explaining the preliminaries as a basis for the practice
But then the first point is explaining the preliminaries—so first thing is to practice the preliminaries.
- The actual practice, training in the awakening mind
- How to train in the ultimate awakening mind
How to train in the conventional awakening mind
And then the second one is the actual practice. There is where we talk about conventional bodhicitta (which is the aspiration to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all beings), and ultimate bodhicitta (which is the wisdom realizing the true nature, the ultimate nature of phenomena).
Transforming adverse circumstances into the path to enlightenment
Then the third point is transforming adverse circumstances into the path to enlightenment. We all want to go to that one a.s.a.p., don’t we? But actually doing the first one—the main practice where we’re developing the two bodhicittas—that will show us how to transform adversity into the path.
The integrated practice of a single lifetime
The fourth point is the integrated practice of a single lifetime, so how to put the thought training teachings in practice in your life.
The measure of having trained the mind
The fifth is the measure of having trained the mind.
The commitments of mind training
The sixth is the commitments of mind training.
The precepts of mind training
And the seventh is the precepts of mind training.
All these teachings really center upon the two bodhicittas and of the two bodhicittas they really emphasize the conventional bodhicitta—the aspiration for full enlightenment for the benefit of beings. They particularly emphasize that because there are two ways to develop that conventional bodhicitta, remember? What are the two ways? The seven-point instruction of cause and effect, and equalizing and exchanging self for others.
This text is primarily the second method—equalizing and exchanging self for others—and that method has roots in Nagarjuna and also in Shantideva. Shantideva’s Chapter 8 is a brilliant exposition of that teaching. Actually I was just working on something by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and going over some notes I received in some teachings he gave. It really struck me. At one point he said, “My fellow Buddhists, brothers and sisters, please, if you really want to practice, study Shantideva’s text Guide to a Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.” That really touched me, the way he said, “My brothers and sisters,” it’s like he was addressing us very personally.
So this equalizing and exchanging self for others, what it hits at, what it really directly strikes at, is our self-centered mind. That mind that says “Me first! I am the most important one.” Now some of our self-centered mind is very gross and it falls into the realm of attachment. There’s other kinds of self-centered mind that is more subtle, and this is the self-centered mind that says, “My liberation. My liberation is more important than others’. My spiritual practice is more important than other people’s spiritual practice.” We can easily fall into this, can’t we? “My spiritual practice is most important! My liberation is the most important!” But that’s a more subtle form of the self-centered attitude. The very gross forms, the forms that we see all day—our common slogan of “I want, what I want, when I want it.” That’s the gross self-centeredness and that’s kind of the level most of us are at right now, aren’t we? “I want, what I want, when I want it. And I don’t want, what I don’t want, when I don’t want it.”
It’s this self-centered thought that causes us so much pain because we interpret everything in the universe on the basis of me. Just even in this planet there are what, five billion human beings? I don’t know how many gazillion sentient beings if you include all the animals and insects. That’s just on our planet. Then what about in this whole universe? How many limitless sentient beings are there? And we say, “Who’s the most important of all? Well, it just happens to be me. Imagine that! Of all these sentient beings, I am the most important. How did I ever get to be so lucky? Now the trouble is that all of you think that you’re the most important. And you see that how just how stupid you are, because the first rule of the universe is that I am the most important and everybody should realize it. And that’s why I have so many problems is because I’m surrounded by all these stupid people that don’t realize that I’m the center of the universe and that they should do everything to please me and cater to what I want. Oh, these sentient beings! And I’m working for their enlightenment and look how they treat me!”
So this self-centered mind, in which we self-reference everything, every small thing that happens is in reference to the self—so any small thing that irritates you. Today I was irritated because somebody else used my bath towel and it’s the second time it happened. And I gave the red towel. I was really nice, you know. I was using the red towel, then somebody else started using it, I didn’t know who. I said “Give the victory to others, they can use the red towel.” So then I pulled out a green towel, and now somebody else has been using my green towel. Oh, now I had it, you know? [Laughter] And then the self-centered mind says, “They did that deliberately. Somebody’s really so insensitive and trying to get me.” Then I’m carrying a thing of yogurt out to my cabin and somebody looked and says, “Looks like you’re hiding something.” And I was! I was hiding this little thing of yogurt. He was deliberately, I told him—deliberately trying to catch me in the act of being selfish. He doesn’t know that when I’m being selfish nobody’s supposed to notice it. Deliberately exposing my selfishness, ah! [Laughter] And so you go through the whole day and every small thing is self-referenced, isn’t it? “This person did this deliberately to make me unhappy.” It’s not just that they were mindless, is not just that they were hurrying, it’s not just that they were busy and had a lot of things in their mind, or that they were suffering; but, “They’re out to get me.” And then every small thing—referenced in terms of me. So then we become easily offended, any small thing people say we’re offended, “They don’t trust us, they don’t respect us, they don’t appreciate us.” We become really quite prickly and the whole source of it is the self-centered attitude. That’s the source of the whole thing—just the self-centered attitude.
It would be very nice, we should actually be the ones that keep that tally of how many times we get aggravated or irritated or annoyed each day. Each time we make a little mark and say, “My self-centered thought fooled me again.” And five minutes later, “My self-centered thought fooled me again!” And five minutes after that, “Self-centered thought fooled me again!” Maybe if we did that it might sink into our mind that it’s not other people that are the cause of our suffering, it’s our self-centered mind. When we realize that, then we can start giving all the pain, and worry, and aggravation to the self- centered mind. Then taking on the suffering of others and giving that to the self-centered mind. Then with an attitude of kindness and compassion and cherishing others, giving them our body and possessions and three-times virtue. If we’re able to practice that we become so much more relaxed and happy.
“So Henry, I think you made beans today just because you know that I can’t digest them! And you did it a few days ago too. George! Oh, he should know better, he’s even lived here longer. They have a conspiracy. They’re being passive-aggressive against me. And I’ve been thinking about it all afternoon.” So this is exactly what I was talking about, how we waste our whole life.
So let’s read.
If we have beans tomorrow, I’ll hope they’ll make me tofu.
You see what the mind goes to? Completely ridiculous!
The author’s homage and request
Here is Nam-kha Pel’s introduction. It says homage and his request. So he says:
At all times I take refuge in, and prostrate at the feet of the sublime and infinitely compassionate spiritual masters. Out of their immense love, may they care for me in every moment of my life.
Isn’t that beautiful? Now how do our spiritual mentors care for us in every moment of our life? Do they come and bring us tea? Do they come and bring us chocolate cake? Do they praise us and tell us that we’re the best disciple they’ve ever had? That’s what we think about how they should take care of us, isn’t it? When we do the smallest thing our spiritual mentor should come and say, “Oh, you sacrificed so much. You’re wonderful.” I mean that’s what we think. But how is it that our spiritual mentors take care of us? They teach us. It’s the chief way that they benefit us—is they teach us the Dharma. And by teaching us the Dharma they guide us on the path.
It doesn’t matter whether they’re teaching to a crowd of several thousand people or to us individually, we have to hear the teachings as personal instructions. It’s so funny when we hear teachings to the whole crowd, like if I teach this, then somebody could say, “Oh, she was talking to so-and-so when she said that, it didn’t really apply to me.” And so we get of it that way. Or if something is a hard teaching it’s like, “Well, you know, I want my own personal teachings according to my own level.” We expect the teacher to stop everything they’re doing and give us our personal teachings—because we’re the most important one. But then of course when we get some kind of personal advice we feel that our teacher is attacking us. “Oh, they said to be careful about the eight worldly dharmas. Are they seeing how much attachment and aversion I have? Is that obvious? How dare they point that out to me?”
I remember one time Khensur Jampa Tegchok wrote me a letter—I don’t know why, and we were corresponding about something—but in it he just said, “Be very careful when you’re teaching about the eight worldly concerns.” My mind went, “I’m doing something wrong. I must be doing something awful and he saw this and he’s pointing this out. I’m a failure.” There I went into this all self-centered trip—because that’s all that self-denigration is. It’s more self-centeredness, isn’t it? Then I finally calmed down and realized, “You know, I don’t know why he said that. But in any case it’s good advice and I need to hear it.” I mean stop projecting all this stuff on how terrible I am and he must be saying this to me because of that and just realize, “Hey, this is very good advice, and I need to pay attention,” regardless of the state of my mind—because, you know what? Until I reach the path of seeing, and I’m a long way from the path of seeing, the eight worldly concerns are going to be something I have to be careful of.
So whether we have individual teachings or whether they’re teachings for the whole group, it’s something that we need to listen to. Some teachings of course may be too advanced for us like if the teacher’s teaching some very advanced texts. Then we still take it as personal advice, but we see that we don’t necessarily have to force ourselves to practice every aspect of it right now. This is because we see that the best way of practicing it is to create a good foundation, and so to go back to the ABCs.
Then Nam-kha Pel gives a prayer of devotion and he says:
Arising from the source of love and compassion
The ship of the awakening mind is well launched: [Awakening mind is bodhicitta, that’s how it’s translated here.] 1
Above it billow the great sails of the six perfections2 and the four ways of amassing disciples
Which are driven by the wind of enthusiastic effort that never slackens;
Perfectly it carries embodied beings across the ocean of cyclic existence
Landing them on the wish-fulfilling jewel island of omniscience.
I prostrate, placing my head at the feet of the leaders of the spiritual lineage:
The Subduer who is our supreme navigator, the powerful [one] (Buddha Shakyamuni);
Maitreya and his (spiritual followers) Asanga, Vasubhandu and Vidyakokila;
Manjushri and (his followers) Nagarjuna and the supreme wise saint Shantideva
The ruler of the Golden Isle (of Sumatra) and (his disciple) the noble Atisha;
And (his Tibetan disciple) Dromtönpa and his three spiritual brothers (Potowa, Phu-chung-wa and Chen-nga-wa)
I prostrate at the feet of the great emanation of Manjushri,
Tsongkhapa, the second conqueror of these degenerate times,
So prostrating to the whole, all the major teachers in the lineage, starting from the Buddha, and then going to…. There are two major lineages, one of the profound teachings, one of the vast teachings. The vast teachings emphasize bodhicitta more, and that’s the lineage through Maitreya, and Asanga, Vasubhandu, Vidyakokila. On the painting in the meditation hall as we face the painting those teachings are on the Buddha’s right, so they’re on left as we face the painting. That’s that lineage—the vast or expansive lineage of bodhicitta. Then on the other side on the Buddha’s left, or on the right as we look at the painting, is the lineage from Manjushri, Nagarjuna and the supreme wise saint Shantideva. Actually Shantideva is sitting in back, but anyway, Manjushri, Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Buddhapalita, Chandrakirti, all the masters of the wisdom lineage, the profound teachings—profound meaning the ultimate nature of reality. So from both of those teachings. Then prostrating to the ruler of the Golden Isle of Sumatra. So it’s not a political ruler, it’s referring to Serlingpa, who was one of Lama Atisha’s three main teachers on bodhicitta. Serlingpa lived in Indonesia.
There’s this incredible story about how Atisha went on a boat ride from India to Indonesia. It took thirteen months and there were water monsters and hurricanes and everything, and he almost died many times just to get there. Then he spent twelve years checking out Lama Serlingpa before deciding to receive teachings from him. That’s why it says in the lamrim that you might want to take up to twelve years to check the qualities of the teacher. Of course I guess Atisha was young and Serlingpa was young, and had that time to spare.
Then Atisha came back from Sumatra and was in India. After that, that’s when the Tibetans invited him to go to Tibet. There his primary disciple was a layman, Dromtönpa, who was seen as a manifestation of Chenrezig. Then Dromtönpa had many disciples. But the three that carried on the Kadampa teachings are called the three spiritual brothers: Potowa, Phu-chung-wa and Chen-nga-wa. And then Je Tsongkhapa took these three lineages of the Kadam teachings and brought them together again. For this reason Je Rinpoche’s teachings sometimes are called the New Kadampa teachings—this is not to be confused with the NKT—a totally different ballgame.
So making prostrations and paying homage to all the leaders of the tradition who practiced and actualize these teachings. We continue:
Who propound the individual spiritual paths
Of these great pioneers with extreme lucidity and coherence.
Supreme among all his wonderful teachings
Are the means for activating the awakening mind.
I shall expound his perfect teaching with absolute accuracy;
Those fortunate to follow the way of the Great Vehicle should
pay close attention for true appreciation.
This exceptional oral transmission of the great vehicle mind training, an instruction for cultivating the precious awakening mind of bodhicitta will be explained in two main parts: an introduction giving an historical account of the lineage of these teachings including their unique qualities which will encourage the intelligent to appreciate them with genuine interest;
In other words the advertisement for the teachings, telling you all the good qualities and how they’ll help you so you get all revved up and you really want to get them. And then the second is,
and the explanation of the actual teaching, a most royal instruction.
So now we’re going into the introduction:
The background to these teachings can be presented in two ways. Firstly, by relating the common greatness of the teaching and the historical account of the lineage, the authenticity of the teaching is clarified.
So making sure that the teachings are authentic, that they can be traced back through a valid lineage to the time of the Buddha is something very important. That’s why there are so many prayers of lineage lamas and why the lineage is emphasized so much. It’s because if you can trace the teaching back to the Buddha, then you know that it originated in the mind of an enlightened one. It’s not a teaching that somebody made up last month and then advertised in the New Age Times for $99.99, special price for you, it’s on sale. It’s not a teaching that somebody made up last week.
This is something that’s very important, especially nowadays when we have such a spiritual supermarket. I mean you go anywhere and everything is just advertised and it’s really using the Western marketing skills to grab people in and make them feel that if they don’t get this teaching they are missing something big time. That’s not why we should approach the teachings—because we like this kind of glisty advertising that we see nowadays.
But the advertising that Nam-kha Pel is giving is the advertising that it’s a teaching that comes from the Buddha through a valid lineage, that’s why you should listen. Not because this guy can walk on coals and can juggle eggs and read minds and do whatever, but because the teachings come from the Buddha.
Secondly, through expressing the particular eminence of the instruction with regard to its extraordinary function, a respect and appreciation of the spiritual value of the instruction will be created.
When we hear about the good qualities of the instructions in this text and how they function to lead us to enlightenment, then we’ll also see their value.
An historical account of the teachings
So now we go into the historical account. So this begins the first two lines of The Seven- Point Thought Transformation which I said were the introduction. Here they come:
The text says,
“The essence of this nectar of secret instruction
Is transmitted from the master from Sumatra (Ser-ling-pa).”
So those are the lines in The Seven-Point Thought Transformation and what follows is Nam-kha Pel’s commentary on it. So:
In general, the eighty-four thousand collections of Buddhist teachings or the three progressive turnings of the wheel of the doctrine taught by the Buddha can all be condensed into two intentions: to put an end to all types of mental distortion with regard to the “I” or the misconception of self and thereby to acquaint ourselves with an altruistic attitude through which we take responsibility for the welfare of others.
So all the teachings are aimed towards realizing emptiness and generating an altruistic intention; that is, towards wisdom and bodhicitta. So:
The former theme [which was destroying the misconceptions of self] was expounded in the spiritual paths of the two vehicles of the Hearers and Solitary Realizers. [So, teachings on selflessness we can find in the Fundamental Vehicle teachings, in the Pali Canon.] This was expressed in the corpus of the fundamental3 vehicle teachings for the benefit of those belonging to those categories [people with that kind of aptitude]. The theme of the latter [the teachings on bodhicitta] involves the causal relationship between the great vehicle teachings in the general discourses and the secret teachings of tantra.
So it talks about the relationship between the Mahayana teachings that are found in the general Sutrayana approach and the Mahayana teachings in the Vajrayana approach. So generating very strong bodhicitta that will make you fit to be not only a Mahayana disciple, but also a Vajrayana disciple.
Here, for those who are fortunate, are explained the teachings on the practice for cultivating the awakening mind. It is the entrance into the practices of the great vehicle and means for attaining the fully awakened state of complete omniscience.
Good advertising? You want the state of fully awakened omniscience?
Moreover, all the teachings of Buddha, the Transcendent Subduer, pertaining to activating the awakening mind are found in the three systems introduced by the great pioneers. All these are sacred and ultimately supreme spiritual nectar capable of revealing the non-abiding state transcending sorrow, the nirvana which destroys the eighty-four thousand kinds of disturbing emotions and their creations, even all such misery as birth, aging, sickness and death.
So these teachings are leading us to non-abiding nirvana. Non-abiding nirvana is different than ordinary nirvana. Ordinary nirvana is attained by the hearers and the solitary realizers and it’s the liberation from samsara, bodhisattvas also attain that. It’s the liberation from samsara. But the non-abiding nirvana is very special because it doesn’t abide in the two extremes of samsara and pacification. The two extremes: samsara and pacification. Living in cyclic existence is one extreme because there our minds are completely overwhelmed by afflictions and the karma that causes rebirth. Pacification refers to the nirvana of the hearers and solitary realizers. It’s a peaceful state where you’ve attained liberation for yourself, but you’ve forgotten about other living beings. So the non-abiding nirvana doesn’t abide in either of these extremes, either the extreme of still being caught with all our mental afflictions and cycling in samsara, or the extreme of having removed the afflictions but still having this subtle self-centered thought and thus not having full omniscience. Non-abiding nirvana goes beyond those two and it’s actually the state of full Buddhahood. Remember that because that tends to come in a lot of different teachings.
In general, the term “nectar” in the text refers to the elixir which provides immortality. So it is here, just as a proficient doctor when diagnosing an illness prescribes a medicine that can relieve the patient of his sickness and even prevent his death, so the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras tell of the finest type of medicine, even the smell of which is said to drive away the most venomous of snakes.
A doctor looks at the patient, diagnoses, and prescribes medicine. The Buddha as the doctor diagnoses our illness of cyclic existence and here the special medicine is the Perfection of Wisdom teachings, even the smell of which is said to drive away the most venomous of snakes. So if you practice even a little bit of the Perfection of Wisdom teachings it challenges all the self-grasping.
These teachings constitute the universal panacea that can provide true immortality.
Now, do they really mean immortality in the ordinary sense of immortality? That if you listen to these teachings you’re never going to die? Do you want to live in this body that gets old and sick forever? Here immortality doesn’t mean that you never die, what it actually means is that you’re no longer born in cyclic existence, and so therefore you never face death in cyclic existence. Because why do we die? What’s the source of death? Birth. If we weren’t born, we wouldn’t have to face death. What’s the source of birth in cyclic existence? It’s ignorance, mental afflictions, and karma. If we banish the ignorance, mental afflictions, and karma then we do away with birth in cyclic existence; and then we attain the deathless state which is nirvana. So immortality refers to nirvana—the deathless state. It doesn’t mean living forever in this body.
So, by developing the intention to realize the attainments of the Hearers and Solitary Realizers we can familiarize ourselves with all aspects of that spiritual path, which can result in the attainment of the state free from birth, aging, sickness and death. Yet, developing the intention to realize the unsurpassable fully awakened state of being, the ultimate goal of existence, together with total acquaintance with the entire scope of its spiritual path, can result in the omniscient state of full enlightenment, the state of one who has Gone Beyond to Thusness, the state of a Tathagata.
He’s saying, “You could attain arhatship, but if you really want the higher attainment, if you really want the supreme bliss, go for Buddhahood.” It’s harder, it takes longer, but it’s more worthwhile for everybody in the long run.
This is the point of complete cessation [the state of a Tathagata] of every disturbing emotion, which even the worthy saints, the Arhats among the Hearers and Solitary Realizers and even the great Bodhisattvas, the Bodhisattvas on the pure stages, have not completely eliminated.
Now here I wish I had the Tibetan text, my Tibetan is not great, but it seems to me there’s some mistranslation here, because it’s saying that this teaching will bring you to the complete cessation of every disturbing attitude, which even the arhats and the bodhisattvas on the pure stages don’t have and that’s not true. I say this because all the arhats and the bodhisattvas on the pure stages have eliminated all the afflictions. They’re never born again in cyclic existence. So I think here when it says every disturbing emotion, it’s not just meaning the afflictions, it must also be meaning the imprints of the afflictions—so the cognitive obscurations. Because the cognitive obscurations, the imprints of the afflictions, the appearance of true existence: these are things that the arhats and the pure level bodhisattvas have not yet abandoned. But I don’t have the Tibetan text, so I can’t check it. Maybe somebody out on the web has it and can check it.
Okay, so let’s stop there tonight. We already went a little bit over. If you have questions maybe write them down and send them in.
Short commentary by Venerable Chodron appears in square brackets [ ] within the root text. ↩
Venerable Chodron says six far-reaching attitudes here. ↩
“Fundamental” is used rather than “low” in this transmission. ↩
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.