Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The precepts of mind training

The precepts 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.

  • Beginning of the commentary on the section “The Precepts of Mind Training
  • How we tend to view others as objects or commodities for our own happiness rather than as individuals who also seek happiness
  • The importance of setting motivation in the morning and reviewing our activities at the end of the day

MTRS 49: Precepts of mind training, part 1 (download)


Let’s rejoice at our fortune to be able to listen to teachings and even in this lifetime to have met the Buddhadharma, because encountering the teachings is very difficult. We can see numerically how many people are going to have the opportunity to meet the teachings. And then even amongst those who do meet the teachings, how many people have their hearts touched? How many people have the karma to be attracted to the teachings, and to have some kind of faith based on reason? Then of those who do have the karma and the aptitude to have faith and interest, how many actually get around to listening to teachings and sitting on the cushion in this life with so many distractions?

So, while we have this rare and precious opportunity, let’s make use of it. It’s incredibly important in the long run in terms of what happens to our mental continuum—whether we experience happiness or suffering, whether we’re able to be of benefit to others or harm them. It’s important to set our priorities with the Dharma and make the Dharma a priority. Specifically, it’s important to make bodhicitta a priority and to generate that loving, compassionate thought that wants to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, and is joyful and courageous in going about doing that.

We all want happiness and not suffering

We’re still working with the text Mind Training Like Rays of the Sun. Did you think about any of the topics we talked about last week—some of those bad habits that we have? Is there anything you want to share?

Audience: Don’t seek others’ misery as a way to be happy.

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): Don’t seek others’ misery as a way to be happy. Did you find that sometimes you do that?

Audience: There’s a lot that goes on in my head.

VTC: Yes, a lot goes on in our head, and then some of it comes out of the mouth. Of course, even if a little bit comes out of the mouth, it’s still difficult for the person on the receiving end. And then how do you feel afterwards?

Audience: Sometimes there’s a whole bunch of agitation in my mind—I’m just jealous or I’m mad or something. I’m thinking something I shouldn’t be thinking. It makes me feel good at first, but then there’s this kind of queasy feeling. I have enough Dharma now in my mind to know better.

VTC: Very often I think jealousy can be a big cause of seeking others’ harm to make us feel better. They have something that we want: “They shouldn’t have that. We should have it, and the universe should just see this.” So, we’re upset and jealous, and we feel that if we destroy their happiness in one way or another, that will make it even. Because it’s been drastically unfair that they have a better opportunity, better talent or better something than we do. Then, like you said, initially we might feel some satisfaction—kind of like the lepper when they burn their itching flesh—but afterwards you feel kind of queasy. You have enough Dharma to know that what you did isn’t good. And at the end of the day we have to live with ourselves and the feeling in our own mind about our own actions.

Audience: [Inaudible]

VTC: You’re saying that when there’s jealousy and attachment in the mind, we’re really treating other people like objects, like commodities. “I want this relationship with you. You shouldn’t have this relationship with the other person.” It’s all revolving around me. Then this other person is just an object—a commodity in the game of my own jealousy and attachment. And when you see that, it makes you feel kind of sick to your stomach.

How often do we treat other people like objects? They’re just objects, and if they make us happy we want them, but if they make us unhappy get them away. Our whole perspective towards them is just in terms of how they make us feel. It’s like our perspective on tissues: “Is it useful to me or not useful to me?” Sometimes other people become like that: they’re useful or they’re not useful to me. We don’t even see them as human beings with feelings because our own afflictions are clouding the situation so much.

Here’s where I think the meditation on equanimity is very, very helpful. We really sit down and think about other people having feelings. They want to be happy and don’t want to suffer. That’s something very important to them. They aren’t just objects, commodities or things that are put on this earth for the sole purpose of my pleasure.

It’s actually realigning our vision of how we see ourselves and our position in this planet. So often the self-centered thought feels, “I’m the first and most important one on this planet.” But when we really look we realize, “Everybody wants happiness and nobody wants suffering. I’m just one little speck here. I’m just one little speck, so maybe I’m not such a big deal after all.” Talking that way to our self-centered thought can be very effective.

We should not talk to ourselves that way when we’re trying to develop confidence and a strong mind to go ahead and do something difficult. We have to know when to apply what antidote to our own mind. When the self-centered thought is rampant, that’s when we need to really cool it and make ourselves more humble.

But when we’re trying to do something that takes a lot of effort that’s for the benefit of many people, we need to make our mind strong and confident. Of course, jealousy and attachment don’t play any role in making the mind strong and confident, so don’t think that I’m saying that.

Do everything with bodhicitta

We got to the precepts of mind training last time. We’re on the explanation of what appears in the text in verse. It says,

Every yoga should be performed as one.

The explanation is,

Ensure that the yogas of all activities such as eating, dressing and residing are assimilated into the single practice of training the mind.

Another way to translate that line is,

Practice all yogas or activities by one.

And the “one” that we’re trying to make all our activities into, or that should be at the source of all of our activities, is bodhicitta. It’s saying to bring bodhicitta into whatever we happen to be doing—eating, putting on our clothes, sleeping, talking or whatever we’re doing. Instead of thinking, “I’m doing this because it makes me feel good,” we think, “I’m taking care of this body or I’m taking care of this situation so that I can be of benefit to sentient beings.”

Bringing bodhicitta into our daily activities means changing our motivation for them. So, when we’re putting on clothes we’re not thinking, “How do I look? “Look at these nice clothes. I don’t think anybody’s seen me wear these before. I’ll be the hit of the party. I look really good and people will be attracted to me.”

Instead of that kind of mind, when we put on clothes in the morning we think, “I’m just protecting this body from heat, from cold, from insects so that I can use it to benefit others.” Similarly for eating, instead of thinking, “I just want to eat because it gives me pleasure,” we think, “I’m taking care of this body so that I can use it for Dharma practice and use it to benefit sentient beings.”

So, it’s saying to try and think about bodhicitta even in all these small actions that we are doing. I think this is especially important for people who work at a job. Here at the abbey we recite a verse that I wrote generating bodhicitta before we start offering service. I think this kind of thing is very important, especially if you’re working at a job and spend many hours there. You have to have a good motivation to do it. Otherwise, in terms of your Dharma practice it’s not going to be helping you, and in terms of your regular life you’re going to be kind of miserable, too.

So this means really thinking about bodhicitta before you go to work in the morning. It means taking care of your clients, customers or your colleagues with an attitude—whether you work at a service job or in a factory producing something—that whoever is on the receiving end benefits and has a happy life. It’s about integrating bodhicitta with all these different things.

It can be a practice in our life that whenever we see some new sentient being, or even old sentient beings that we’ve known for a while, to deliberately try and cultivate a positive thought about them. It’s like the grouse around my cabin a couple of days ago. I was giving them many little talks about not being born in the lower realms, hoping that they’re not born in an animal rebirth like that again and that they can meet the Dharma and come to the Abbey as human beings and practice well and so on and so forth.

Even the UPS man who puts the fresh pears in the container that’s out in twenty-degree weather, we can wish him well, too. We can wish him a happy, peaceful life with good ethical conduct and a good rebirth. So, it’s helpful whenever you see anybody like that, to generate a positive thought. I think it’s especially true with people we see on a daily basis or that we work with a lot. Sometimes those are the people that we make more solid than anything. So, it’s important to keep reminding ourselves of a bodhicitta motivation to be of benefit to them. And it’s important to practice the Dharma so that we increase our capability of being of benefit.

So, this is saying to try and do all these activities in our life with a bodhicitta motivation, not with a motivation of the eight worldly concerns. It all depends on our thought. Two people can be doing the exact same activities during the day, and one person is creating the cause for enlightenment and the next person is creating the cause for an unfortunate rebirth. They’re doing the same thing, but it all depends on the motivation with which they’re doing it. What is the thought that is controlling the mind, that makes the mouth move, that makes the body act? It’s really important to take care with that, and that’s the big thing in Dharma practice, isn’t it?

Setting a morning motivation

The next line says,

There are two activities at both beginning and end.

Another way to translate it is,

There are two duties at the beginning and at the end.

The explanation is,

Just as explained above concerning the power of intention, you should set a strong resolve to eliminate unwholesome activities and acquire their antidotes. You should do this when you wake every morning throughout your life. When you go to sleep at night, if you find that the behavior of your body and speech has been in accord with your resolve, you can rejoice, thinking that your having found a life as free and a fortunate human being, met with the teachings of the great vehicle and come under the care of spiritual masters has been worthwhile.

This is another one of those long sentences.

But if you have not done as you have resolved, reflecting that you will have worthlessly wasted your leisure and opportunities and that your meeting with the profound teachings has been without purpose, determine not to do the same in the future.

The two activities are: at the beginning of the day to set our motivation, and at the end of the day to review how things went. I think most of you have heard me talk about this quite a bit before but maybe some people listening haven’t. In the morning, before we even get out of bed, generate a good motivation. I think this is especially important when we wake up, because one day we’ll wake up to a new life, and what’s going to be our first thought in our new life?

So, it’s important now to wake up and really make the determination, “Today, as much as possible, I won’t harm anybody by what I say to them or about them, what I do to them or even what I think.” In other words, I won’t let my mind pick up on something and just run off with a tirade against that tyrant. I won’t let my mind be completely angry and upset and go on and on about what somebody did. I’ll make a determination not to harm anybody with my body, speech, or mind.

The second determination is to benefit others as much as possible. It could be in a big way, or it could be in a small way. It’s the whole idea of training the mind to see what the situation of other sentient beings is and how we can influence it in a good way. This isn’t minding others’ business and being a rescuer—saving other people or something like that. It’s being aware of what their situation is and how we might be able to offer some assistance. It might be in terms of the Dharma, or like they’re carrying something or they have some work or a project to complete, and we offer our assistance.

The third motivation in the morning is to really generate the bodhicitta as the previous slogan said. It’s to generate the bodhicitta and keep that as the foremost thing in our mind: “Why am I alive today? It’s to progress along the path to attain enlightenment for the benefit of others, and to benefit them even here and now in whatever way I can.”

So we set our intention very, very strongly in the morning before we even get out of bed, and it makes a huge difference on how the rest of the day goes. It’s certainly better than when the alarm rings going, “Where’s my coffee? Oh, I’m at the Abbey. I can’t even have coffee here. Oh, boy. Oh, what misery.” And then we go into some kind of trip.

Instead, we can train the mind to be happy when we wake up, to think about how fortunate we are, to generate that positive intention and then throughout the day check in with ourselves. “What’s the state of my mind? Am I in a bad mood? Uh-oh. If I’m in a bad mood, I need to be careful because when I’m in a bad mood, the stage is set for me to say or do something that’s going to create negative karma and damage somebody else. So, I’ve got to be really careful if I’m in a bad mood. Am I in a good mood? Well, what kind of good mood is it? Is it a good mood with attachment or is it a good mood with the Dharma?” Those are different kinds of good moods. It’s important to transform the mind into a good mood in terms of the Dharma so that we feel good about our life and what we’re doing during the day.

Checking up

Then in the evening we really stop, check up and evaluate. “I set these intentions during the day in terms of how I was going to relate to myself and others and so on. How did I do? Did I keep those intentions or did I just forget about them? Was my mind off in la-la-land dreaming about Prince Charming? Or was my mind in the computer hell, the car hell or the insurance company hell?” There’s numerous hells that we can get stuck in. In that case, what kind of karma was I creating during the day letting my mind just hang out in hell for a while? We feel like this bad mood—this hellish situation—is imposed on us, but actually it’s by the way we’re thinking that results in that mood. It’s not being imposed on us from outside. It’s the way we’re thinking.

If I’m in a bad mood for a long period of time, it’s saying something about the way I’m letting my mind think, and what I’m believing in when my mind is thinking different things. Do you know what I mean? Usually with a bad mood, the mind is telling some story, so I believe in the story, aggrandize the story and repeat it over and over and over to myself. Actually, it’s so boring, isn’t it? You’re all doing retreat, and I’m sure that you’ve listened to the same old stories in your mind many times, even during this one retreat. Aren’t you bored? Isn’t it boring? You worry about the same old thing, one meditation session after another.

Do you remember at Cloud Mountain where everybody had to write down their issue, throw it in a bucket and you had to pick out somebody else’s problem? Whenever your mind got distracted, you had to worry and obsess about their problem. Maybe we should do that. Okay, tonight write down your problem, and we’ll bring a bowl in—we have lots of aluminum bowls, so you can put more than one in.

Because you might have a little bit of variety in the things that you’re obsessing about. You write out a few things with enough information so that the other person can really do an excellent job at worrying and obsessing and getting unhappy just as you do, okay? And if I don’t see certain problems in there…because some of you, I know what you obsess about, so don’t just put down, “Well, I’m upset because the book at the library isn’t checked out” or something. Let’s do the ones that we all know you have and put them in there.

You just write them out, put them in this thing and then everybody is going to pick up a new problem and a new thing to obsess about. And then you’ve got to be really diligent and strict with yourself. Like I said, write out a couple of problems so that other people can pick up two or three of them, so they have a little bit of variety when they’re obsessing. Try that and see how it works.

You can have maybe one good worry about somebody else’s problem, couldn’t you?  You could have one meditation session where you’re really thinking, “Oh, this is terrible.” But then try and do it the next day and the next day and the next day and see if their problem is as fascinating as your own. Then, realizing how boring your problems are to other people, ask, “Why are my problems so interesting to me? Why do I derive so much out of worrying and obsessing about the same thing again and again, day after day?” It’s really very fascinating. Are you up for it?

So, at the end of the day, you check up and ask, “How well did I do? I had this motivation to be of benefit. Was I able to do that, or did my self-centered mind sidetrack me and make me go in all sorts of other directions that I didn’t want to go in, but because of this habitual energy, again and again and again, I just do it?”

First of all, it’s important in the evening to rejoice at what we did well and rejoice at the virtue we created. That’s extremely important to do. Remember that one of the seven limbs is rejoicing at our own and others’ virtue, so it’s very important that we do that. Then when there’s something we need to purify, we apply the four opponent powers: regret, refuge and bodhicitta, making a determination not to do it again and then some kind of remedial practice or remedial activity. We do that to purify whatever things we don’t feel good about having done. Then we set a very strong intention, which is part of the four opponent powers: making the determination not to do it again. But it’s also setting positive intentions for how you want to be in the next day.

If we do this over a period of time and really start to work on areas where we repeatedly get stuck, it will definitely have an effect, and we’ll start to change. If we really work at it in the evening—making that determination to try and do something different in the next day—and then the next morning remind ourselves of that intention and try to practice it again and again and again and again, we really start to change. It’s guaranteed because it’s the force of causes and conditions.

If you repeatedly create this virtuous cause, this virtuous intention, the result of that is going to come. If we say, “Oh, that was a nice, interesting teaching,” and then don’t do it—if we don’t create the cause—we won’t experience the result. It’s the same kind of thing. So, it’s important to really make an effort in this. For example, the last few days I’ve been working very hard on this editing I’ve been doing for Khensur Rinpoche. I’ve been working really hard, and when I go to bed at night I feel really good. It’s like, “Oh, this was good. I’m doing something worthwhile.” Then when I wake up in the morning, it’s like, “Oh, I get to do something worthwhile today.”

 When you practice like this, with your motivation and the activities that you’re doing, your mind becomes light and you start to change. So, I just have to start feeling this way dealing with everything else. Even when I hit a very rough spot in the editing and was feeling like, “woah,” having turned the corner, I was feeling good about it and going ahead. This can happen with many different things in our life where we’re kind of stuck in some area and then we really make some effort and generate a good motivation and things change.

Those are the two duties at the beginning and the end. Remember when you did the little things around the house with the “Thirty-seven Practices”? It would be very good to remind people to do the motivation and hang it on the bathroom mirrors—in this house, in Ananda Hall, in Gotami House. I think that’s quite good because people go in the bathroom periodically throughout the day, so instead of looking in the mirror at ourselves, there it is right in front of us about generating and coming back to our motivation. I think it could be very good, don’t you?

Going in circles

Audience: How do these two practices relate to joyous effort?

VTC: When you set your intention in a good way, your mind feels joyous about what you’re doing. Joyous effort is taking delight in virtue. When you set a virtuous intention you take delight in doing that, and that intention inspires you during the day to take the opportunity to do more virtuous activities. Does that answer your question? Or do you have any thoughts on that?

Audience: No, they just seemed very, very closely related.

VTC: Yes, I think they are. Our intention is one of the best ways to make the mind joyous. Because you can see when our intention is contaminated by anger, jealousy, greed or something like that, the mind is not joyous at all, is it? It’s still the mental factor of intention, but there are other mental factors kind of swaying it one way or the other. And then we just get crabby, don’t we?

Audience: [Inaudible]

VTC: This is good because now I get to refine what I was saying. You’re saying that during the retreat you’ve been taking the time to think about some of the difficulties in your life and some of your problems and working through them. That has been very helpful to think about these things and apply the Dharma to them and so on. But at a certain point you feel like you just have to say, “Stop, enough.” I think that’s true.

Very often in retreat we finally do have the time to think about things that have been disturbing our mind for a long time. We can focus on things that we haven’t had a chance to really think about, work out and settle, make our mind peaceful about, come to some kind of resolution about, forgive, let go of or something like that.

Having that opportunity in retreat to think about things we may have been carrying around for years and decades even is very beneficial. I have no doubt that’s true. Because that’s really an element of purification: being able to take the things that normally make our afflictions flare up and coming to some kind of resolution through using the Dharma. That’s very useful and very helpful.

When I’m talking about putting our problems in the bowl, I meant that sometimes we’ll settle something and then our mind, just for the fun of it, will let ourselves get all upset again and spin around about it. That’s the time where as you said, you just have to cut it off and put it down. That’s the time too when I’m saying you have to put it in the bowl in the middle of the room and give it to somebody else. Because we can work certain things out only so far, and then we have to let it be for the time being. Things will come up again later when they’re ready to and we can go deeper in a certain issue, but we can’t push something. We can’t sit there and force it.

Also, letting our mind go in circles about something is what often happens when we’re distracted in our meditation. Our mind is just going in circles, do you agree? It’s not the productive kind of thinking that you’re talking about. It’s not applying the antidotes. It’s just the mind going in circles. That’s what we really have to stop because it wastes so much time, and it makes us quite miserable.

 It makes all those worries and things seem even harder, more concrete and more pronounced. So that’s the time when it’s very good to write it down and give it away. You say, “Why am I so interested in obsessing about this? Is somebody else going to find it really interesting to obsess about this? Probably not. So, why do I stay on it for so long?”

We have to be careful about the mind spinning with the same problem again and again. Because that’s exactly what’s happening: we’re just spinning. We’re not trying to apply the antidote, because if we were trying to apply an antidote we would get somewhere with it. Or, we’re not visualizing Tara’s green light washing away and purifying it. No, we’re just sitting there going over the same story again and again. That’s where we get stuck and where it’s not at all helpful.

You usually come out of those sessions feeling awful too, don’t you? Those are the sessions that when the bill rings you go, “Oh, thank goodness.” Then you think, “What was my mind doing during that session? Ugh, I feel so yucky now.” Well, that’s what it was doing. It was just focused on: “Me, I, my and mine; me, I, my and mine; me, I, my and mine.” It was just going in circles. This is what I mean when I say that at some point you have to laugh at yourself.

Audience: [Inaudible]

VTC: Yes, my mother used to say that one a lot: “You sound like a broken record.” I’m realizing all these things my mother used to say were true. Sometimes that’s what our mind sounds like, isn’t it? Our mind sounds like a broken record. Of course, you young ones who grew up in the digital age don’t know what that means, do you? [laughter]

Audience: Every day if it isn’t one thing, it’s another.

VTC: That’s another one of our mother’s sayings, and it’s true. “If it’s not one thing, it’s another.” Our mind will make some big deal about some inconsequential thing somewhere along the line.

Finding a balance

The next one says,

Train first in the easier practices.

Oh, you like this one! This is one we like:

Train first in the easier practices. If you feel that it is difficult to take on the miseries of others and to give away your own happiness and merit, recall that at present you are training in these practices only on a mental level. When due to acquaintance you have gained prowess, actually engaging in giving and taking will not be difficult.

This meditation of taking on the suffering of others and giving them our body, possessions and virtue is one of the foundations of this whole thought training technique. Sometimes we feel like, “Well, this is just too difficult. I can’t do it.” Or, we try and do it kind of like, “I’ll do somebody’s chore today—oh my goodness, what misery. I’ll try taking their misery on from them doing their chore.” We sometimes think something like this. We try and we feel like, “Oh, that’s just really too hard.”

Well, don’t get discouraged, throw the whole practice away and say, “Oh, it’s just too hard.” Rather, realize that you’re doing it on a mental level. So, just do it on a mental level, let your mind relax and know that when you gain skill in this—when your mind becomes strong, when your love and compassion become strong—then it will be possible to actually do it. Don’t push yourself to do something that your mind isn’t ready to do yet.

On the other hand, don’t be lazy when your mind is ready to do something. Don’t give it the easy way out when you know that you are ready.  This is this delicate line that we hardly ever seem to catch. I think starting with what seems easy to our mind, what seems comfortable to our mind, is very good. And then we can add on as we go. So, instead of setting a bar that’s too high for ourselves, let’s set a bar that we can actually accomplish and then add on to it slowly, slowly, slowly.

Audience: I kind of wonder why that is so hard. One thing I was thinking about was if I don’t want to be so overly-sensitive then I’ll just go to, “I don’t care about people.”

VTC: Right. So, how do we work skillfully with our mind to get it in a balanced state? Because you’re saying sometimes the mind is very sensitive, and then when we say, “Okay, I want to be less sensitive,” we go to being very cold, aloof and indifferent. Then when we say, “Oh, I’m too cold and aloof and indifferent,” we go to being maudlin and tearing up at everything. We’re like a ping-pong ball going back and forth. So, how do we balance it?

I think it’s just working with our mind and learning. “Okay, I went too far this way this time. Let’s try and get a little bit back towards the middle.” It’s just a thing of learning how to rebalance ourselves when we’ve gone too far in one direction or the other. And instead of using it as an opportunity to criticize ourselves for failing, seeing it as an opportunity to learn.

We often tend to go to extremes, but then as we work with our mind over time, we can learn how to rebalance. Like when the mind is being too sensitive: instead of saying, “Okay, I’m just not going to feel anything,” because that’s going to push you over to the other extreme, say, “Okay, I’m going to do the taking and giving meditation and take on the suffering of all people who are overly sensitive.” Imagine taking on their suffering, and giving them happiness. And think of the people that you know specifically who are overly sensitive and all the other overly sensitive people you don’t know, and think of taking on their misery and giving them your happiness.

So, instead of telling yourself to feel something different—which is hard to do because then you just get too cold—this is actually doing something that practices changing how you’re feeling. Or, when we have problems and we’re sitting there thinking, “Nobody understands me. They’re criticizing me, and I have too much work to do,” we can instead think, “Oh, it’s so good I have problems. It’s so good because now this negative karma is ripening. It’s finishing, so it’s good. It’s good people are criticizing me because sometimes I get too arrogant anyway. A little bit of criticism does me some good.”

Or we can think, “It’s good I’m not getting my way because sometimes I’m like a spoiled brat, and if I learn to not get my way so much as this opportunity is teaching me, I’ll be able to benefit others so much better because I won’t be always getting diverted by wanting to get my way all the time.” So, it’s taking some situation and applying a Dharma antidote to it. That itself can help transform your mind. I think that can work better than just trying to clamp down on your feelings and saying, “I shouldn’t feel that. I should feel something else.” Try some kind of antidote or meditation along this line.

Audience: [Inaudible]

VTC: You have a very busy life and you’re very good at multi-tasking, thinking of many things at a time and not really being present for anything you’re doing. One thing you’re learning by coming to do retreat is that you need to slow down and pay attention. Do one thing at a time, and pay attention to the one thing at a time that you’re doing. But you’re saying that certain parts of the sadhana make you feel like you’re back to multi-tasking. Because you have to visualize Tara, visualize the light, visualize the sentient beings, visualize the light from Tara going into the sentient beings, feel purified yourself, feel they’re getting purified and say the mantra—all at the same time.

There’s a couple of points here. One is that if you feel that it’s too much to do all those things at the same time, then in one session emphasize one part, and in another session emphasize another part. Do this so that you become familiar with all the different things. As you become more familiar it becomes easier to do them. But you could make one thing stronger, and put the other on the back burner for a session if you find it’s doing too many things at the same time.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama always tells us that in terms of our own self-interest, we shouldn’t be very busy. We should be very relaxed and slow in terms of doings things for the self-centered mind. But in terms of doing things for others, we can be busy if we want to—if we’re working with a good motivation and we’re not losing track of ourselves. I think sometimes these meditations in which we have to keep track of several different things at a time are training our mind to be more aware of many things at the same time, and to be peaceful with all those different things going on.

Instead of scurrying around and thinking, “Oh, I’m not saying the mantra. I’d better visualize. Oh, I forgot the mantra, better go back to the mantra. Oh, I forgot the visualization. Oh, the light’s not going into this person over here, so I’d better get it over there.” It’s not getting like that but just learning to enlarge the mind to hold more things in a very peaceful way.

But then there’s also certain times in the sadhana where you really are just focusing on one thing—like just visualizing Tara, and that’s it. Like I said, during these other times you can pick out just one aspect of the visualization and focus on that. You don’t want to get yourself into a frenzy. But it’s very good that you’re seeing that.

Keeping a steady mind

Whichever occurs, be patient with both. Whether happiness or suffering befalls the body and mind, as was explained in the context of transforming adverse conditions into the path, you should transform it into a factor conducive to accomplishing enlightenment.

This is basically what I was just saying. Be patient with whatever is occurring—good circumstance, bad circumstance, happiness, suffering, getting your way, not getting your way. Whatever is occurring, be patient with both of those. Being patient means applying the Dharma to both of those situations. We can see that that’s very important. I think you’ve heard me comment before that sometimes somebody has a change in their life and all of a sudden they drop their Dharma practice. We don’t want to be like that where there’s some change and then it’s, “Bye bye, Dharma practice.”

We want to be able to keep our practice steady whether we’re experiencing happiness or suffering, whether we’re getting what we want or not getting what we want. So we have to be able to keep our practice and maintain it without just saying, “Oh, everything in my life changed, and I’ve got to pay attention to it. I can’t pay attention to the Dharma anymore.”

The Dharma is going to help you with whatever changed. So, instead of throwing the Dharma out, how are you going to adapt to a change in a good way if you don’t use the Dharma to help you? So, it’s important to keep this in mind and then whatever circumstance happens, practice through it.

We’ll have times in our life where things are going very well, and instead of getting complacent and conceited, we need to keep practicing. Instead of getting full of ourselves and thinking, “Look how successful I am,” just keep practicing, keep working, keep doing what we need to do. Don’t get overly excited about things going well.

Then when you have a lot of problems that all kind of come at once and things are pulling you in every which-way, instead of getting panicking and thinking, “Arrrh, I’ve got to fix it all,” just say, “Okay, just take one thing at a time; let’s work with this.” And then we make it happen. So, this is talking about being able to greet different situations with calm.

Boy, wouldn’t that be nice? Wouldn’t that be so nice if whatever happened in your life on a particular day, you were able to greet it with some kind of calm. Wouldn’t it be nice to understand that the whole world isn’t going to end because one bad thing happened, and the whole world isn’t going to live happily ever after because one good thing happened.

Wouldn’t it be nice not going up and down but staying steady and remembering our long-term purpose in practicing—in generating bodhicitta, generating wisdom and so on? We can hold on to that and use that as the rudder that helps keep us steady. There’s more to say on this one, so we’ll go through it next week hopefully. But I think and hope that there’s something to practice here.

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.