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Making our minds receptive to the Dharma

Second in a series of talks suggesting how to modify the steps in a 12-step program to fit into a Buddhist framework.

  • What we’re doing when we ask (or pray) for inspiration from the Buddhas
  • Requesting inspiration is a collaborative effort

Buddhism and the 12 steps 02 (download)

To continue on with his questions about the Buddha and the 12-step program.

He said: “Recently at the end of one of your Bodhisattva Breakfast Corner talks you said that we should ask the Buddha for inspiration. I feel I’m close to understanding what this actually means, but I would like some help in understanding what we’re actually doing and hoping to achieve by asking the Buddha for inspiration.”

So the word that I’m translating as inspiration is chin lap, and Jeffrey translates it literally, meaning “transform into magnificence.” The idea that it’s our mind being transformed into magnificence.

So how does this work? Is it just we just sit here and then the Buddha goes *poof* and our mind is transformed into magnificence? [Laughter]

A collaborative effort

No, this is actually a collaborative effort. When they talk about the Buddha’s awakening activities, they’re talking about what the Buddha does physically, verbally, and mentally to be able to benefit sentient beings. And so physically a Buddha may appear in different forms according to the karma, the dispositions, the interest, the temperaments of sentient beings. They speak different teachings, and like I was saying before, the teachings are the principal way that the Buddhas help sentient beings. Giving us the teachings so that we know what to practice and what to discard so that we can go ahead and do that. And then the Buddha’s mind, of course, kind of knows all the phenomena, and it is what gives the Buddha the capacity to be able to teach and to manifest many bodies in the way that the Buddha’s do.

Awakening influence of the Buddhas

So this awakening influence of the Buddha is all around us all the time. The things is that we aren’t always tuned in. So the radio wave is going out and our radio is either turned off (sleeping) or turned on another channel. The chocolate channel. Or maybe the enemy channel. Or maybe the wrong view channel. Or something like that. So what we need to do is to get ourselves aligned so that we can be recipients of the Buddha’s enlightened activities. So like the example I always use is the sun shines everywhere but if a vessel is upside-down or if it’s only a little bit up then the sun can’t enter. This isn’t a problem with the sun or the sunlight, it’s a problem with the bowl. So what we’re trying to do is upright our mind to make it receptive.

Putting teachings into practice

So how do we do that? We do that through practicing whatever teachings we have received. So keeping ethical conduct, developing concentration, meditating on wisdom, doing the bodhicitta meditations, and so forth. So that’s one way. Because the more we understand the teachings the more open we are to increase the depth of our understanding and receive more teachings.

Making requests

Another way that is important, that helps us to understand the teachings, is the process of making requests. And not just the process of making requests, it’s… If you look at a whole puja, like the Lama Chopa Puja—which is basically an expanded Seven-Limb Prayer—you see that all those seven limbs are involved in somehow purifying our mind and fertilizing our mind, and transforming it into a receptive vessel. So we do the seven limb prayer: prostration, offerings, confession, rejoicing, requesting teachings, requesting the Buddhas to remain in samsara, and dedication. We do those as part of our practice of purification and creation of merit. And then we also make requests. Because you can see like in the Lama Chopa there’s a big section on prostration, a big section on offerings, and the rest of the seven limb prayers, then another big section on requests. When we are requesting inspiration, or as it’s usually translated, blessings, or according to Jeffrey’s way, requesting to be transformed into magnificence, what we’re really doing is thinking of the qualities of the holy beings, and by doing that that expands our mind to appreciate them, to appreciate the path that they have practiced to become who they are. It helps us want to become like them, want to learn and practice the path that they themselves have actualized in their own minds.

Making our minds receptive

So when we’re requesting inspiration it’s a psychological method to open our mind towards the Three Jewels through seeing their qualities, seeing the benefits of following their example and following the teachings.

So even though the requests are worded “please grant me inspiration” or “please bless my mind” or whatever it is… It’s actually psychologically functioning as a way for us to verbally state what it is we value. And what it is we want to actualize. And what path we’re following and who is guiding us. And so by doing that that makes our mind so much more open and receptive.

So we have that section of requests—actually, those verses, the ones that are listed as requests, those end with sol wa deb. So actually, the jin gyi lop ones, which is inspiration or blessings, those are all the verses, let’s say, on the stages to the path to enlightenment that we recite after we do the tsok offering, where we’re saying “please inspire me to understand the relationship with the teacher” or “please inspire me to understand my precious human life and it’s purpose and meaning.” And so we go through there all the different stages of the path requesting the inspiration of the Buddha, the entire lineage, which is the Sangha and of course the Dharma which is the true cessations and true paths in their mindstream. And so again it functions as a psychological method for us to get very clear in our mind what realizations we want to develop. And those verses synthesize the key points that we need to know to develop those. So those are also the key points that the Buddhas and the Sangha have in their mind, they’re the Dharma realizations. So it’s all a method to open our mind to receiving the Buddha’s enlightened activities.

And so that’s what receiving inspiration means, that our mind is receptive, it’s open. We’re not shut down. We’re not sitting there like this [arms crossed, scowling] going “prove to me that rebirth exists. Why should I practice that? I don’t like this.” You know? Because we can see that that state of mind, what does it do?

So it’s producing in us an open state of mind that really marvels at the realizations that the holy beings have, respects them for it, aspires to develop those realizations ourselves. And by extension we want to hear the teachings and the instruction, and to receive the guidance so that we can develop those. So that’s the whole process of what it means to receive inspiration or blessings, or to transform the mind into magnificence.

Dual effort

So it’s this dual effort between us opening our mind and becoming receptive, and the Buddhas, on the basis of their realizations, automatically, spontaneously, effortlessly, without any thought, all the time radiating out their enlightening activities. And we’re trying to put up our antenna, turn the radio on, and tune into that station.

So that’s what’s happening. You can tell that you’ve received the blessings if your mind is transforming. If you’re understanding things that you didn’t understand before. If you’re mind is calmer than it was before. If you have more faith and confidence in the path than you did before. If you’re beginning to understand emptiness or renunciation… Then you know that you’re receiving the blessings.

So receiving the blessings doesn’t mean, like, you just go, “Ahhhh, it shot through my nervous system and I got it!” Or you know, “The Buddha appeared before me!” Or you know… Those are nice things, but those things happening doesn’t mean that you’ve received the inspiration and blessings of the Buddha.

So is that clear for people? Okay. To be continued tomorrow.

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.