Read an Excerpt
This book is a translation
by the Nalanda Translation Committee of
Root Text of the Seven Points of Training the Mind
Chekawa Yeshe Dorje, with a commentary based on oral teachings presented by
Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche. In his teaching on this subject, Trungpa
Rinpoche utilized as a central reference the commentary by Jamgon Kongtrul the
Great, entitled in Tibetan
Shunglam (The Basic Path toward Enlightenment),
which was included in the collection of the principal teachings of Tibetan Buddhism that the latter compiled, known as
Rinpoche's own teacher, Jamgon Kongtrul of Sechen, was an incarnation of this leading nineteenth-century teacher.)
The seven points of mind training are attributed to the great Indian Buddhist teacher Atisha Dipankara Shrijnana, who was born of royal heritage in Bengal in
the list of mind training slogans compiled by Chekawa is often referred to as the Atisha Slogans. Having renounced palace life as a teenager, Atisha studied and practiced extensively in India and later in Sumatra, with his principal teacher, Dharmakirti (also known as Serlingpa in Tibetan), from whom he received the instructions on bodhichitta and mind training. Upon his return to
India, he began to reestablish these once-lost teachings and took a post at
Vikramashila, a famous Buddhist monastic university. Invited to bring the teachings on mind training to Tibet, he taught there for about thirteen years,
until his death in approximately 1054,
having transmitted this body of wisdom to his closest Tibetan disciple, Dromtonpa, the founder of the Kadam lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. For some time, the Atisha slogans were kept secret and transmitted only to close disciples. The first to write them down was the Kadampa teacher Lang-ri Thangpa (1054–1123).
They became more widely known after they were summarized by Geshe Chekawa Yeshe
Dorje (1101–1175) in
Root Text of the Seven Points of Training the Mind.
Chekawa encountered many lepers in the course of his teaching and instructed them in mind training. It is said that several of them were thereby cured of their disease. His teachings were thus sometimes referred to by the Tibetans as
"the dharma for leprosy." When Chekawa noticed that these teachings even seemed to benefit his unruly brother, who had no interest in the dharma,
he decided that it would be appropriate to make them more widely available.
Atisha's teachings on mind training are thus now practiced by all the major lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, and have been for centuries.
Root Text of the Seven Points of Training the Mind
is a list of fifty-nine slogans, which form a pithy summary instruction on the view and practical application of mahayana Buddhism. The study and practice of these slogans is a very practical and earthy way of reversing our ego-clinging and of cultivating tenderness and compassion. They provide a method of training our minds through both formal meditation practice and using the events of everyday life as a means of awakening.
This volume is not based on a single seminar, but rather is a compilation of teachings and remarks given over a period of years. The Vidyadhara
first presented the mahayana teachings of the Kadampa slogans in 1975,
at the third annual Vajradhatu
one of thirteen three-month advanced teaching programs he taught between 1973
and 1986. In subsequent seminaries he further elaborated upon the theory and practice of mind training.
Mind training, or slogan practice, has two aspects: meditation and postmeditation practice. In Tibetan, the meditation practice is called
or sending and taking, and is based upon the seventh slogan: "Sending and taking should be practiced alternately. / These two should ride the breath." Trungpa Rinpoche introduced the formal meditation practice of tonglen to his students at the 1979 Seminary and he encouraged them to incorporate tonglen into their daily meditation practice. He also encouraged them to work with the postmeditation practice of joining every aspect of their lives with meditative discipline through the application of the slogans.
In working with his own students, Trungpa Rinpoche placed great emphasis on the practice of formless meditation, the development of mindfulness and awareness,
as the foundation. He initially transmitted tonglen practice only to senior students who already had extensive experience in sitting meditation and the study of Buddhist teachings. When the study and practice of mind training are presented in such a context, the danger of interpreting these teachings in a moralistic or conceptual fashion is reduced.
Later the practice of tonglen began to be introduced to students upon the occasion of taking the bodhisattva vow, a formal statement of their aspiration to dedicate their lives to the benefit of others. Over time, tonglen practice was introduced in a variety of contexts. The Naropa University, a Buddhist-inspired university in Boulder, Colorado, includes tonglen training in its clinical psychology program. This training has also been offered as an aspect of the
Buddhist-Christian dialogues offered at the Naropa University. Participants in one-month-long meditation intensives, called
Tibetan, are now regularly introduced to tonglen practice, and if they desire more intensive training, they may take part in specialized tonglen dathüns. Tonglen is included in a monthly practice for the sick as well as in Vajradhatu funeral ceremonies.
Through slogan practice, we begin to realize that our habitual tendency, even in our smallest gestures, is one of self-centeredness. That tendency is quite entrenched and affects all of our activities, even our so-called benevolent behavior. The practice of tonglen is a direct reversal of such a habit pattern and is based on the practice of putting others before self. Starting with our friends, and then extending to our acquaintances and eventually even our enemies, we expand our field of awareness to accept others and be of benefit to them. We do this not because we are martyrs or have suppressed our self-concern, but because we have begun to accept ourselves and our world.
Slogan practice opens up a greater field of tenderness and strength, so that our actions are based on appreciation rather than the ongoing cycle of hope and fear.
Coming face to face with this most basic contrast of altruism and self-centeredness takes considerable courage and daring. It gets right to the heart of the spiritual path and allows no room for even the slightest deception or holding back. It is a very basic, nitty-gritty practice.
Tonglen is a particularly powerful way of dealing with pain and loss. In relating to illness or death—our own or another's—tonglen helps us overcome our struggle with and rejection of such experiences and relate more simply and directly.
The formal practice of tonglen, like mindfulness-awareness practice, works with the medium of the breath. In order to begin, it is essential first to ground oneself by means of mindfulness and awareness training. That is the foundation upon which tonglen is based. Tonglen practice itself has three stages. To begin with, you rest your mind briefly, for a second or two, in a state of openness.
This stage is somewhat abrupt and has a quality of "flashing" on basic stillness and clarity. Next, you work with texture. You breathe in a feeling of heat, darkness, and heaviness, a sense of claustrophobia, and you breathe out a feeling of coolness, brightness, and lightness—a sense of freshness. You feel these qualities going in and out, through all your pores.
Having established the general feeling or tone of tonglen, you begin to work with mental contents. Whatever arises in your experience, you simply breathe in what is not desirable and breathe out what is desirable. Starting with your immediate experience, you expand that to include people around you and other sentient beings who are suffering in the same way as you. For instance, if you are feeling inadequate, you begin by breathing that in and breathing out your personal sense of competence and adequacy. Then you extend the practice,
broadening it beyond your personal concerns to connect with the poignancy of those feelings in your immediate surroundings and throughout the world. The essential quality of this practice is one of opening your heart—
wholeheartedly taking in and wholeheartedly letting go. In tonglen nothing is rejected: whatever arises is further fuel for the practice.
Rinpoche stressed the importance of the oral tradition, in which practices are transmitted personally and directly from teacher to student. In that way students participate directly in an unbroken wisdom tradition, going back many generations to the time of the Buddha himself. The essential living quality of practice being conveyed is a very human one and cannot be acquired simply from books. Therefore, it is recommended that before embarking on the formal practice of sending and taking, if at all possible, one should meet with an experienced practitioner to discuss the practice and receive formal instruction.
The postmeditation practice is based upon the spontaneous recall of appropriate slogans in the thick of daily life. Rather than making a heavy-handed or deliberate effort to guide your actions in accordance with the slogans, a quality of spontaneous reminder is evoked through the study of these traditional aphorisms. If you study these seven points of mind training and memorize the slogans, you will find that they arise effortlessly in your mind at the oddest times. They have a haunting quality, and in their recurrence they can lead you gradually to a more and more subtle understanding of the nature of kindness and compassion.
The slogans have a way of continually turning in on themselves, so that any attempt to rely on these sayings as crutches to support a particular moral view is undermined. The approach to moral action here is one of removing obstacles of limited vision, fear and self-clinging, so that one's actions are not burdened by the weight of self-concern, projections, and expectations. The slogans are meant to be "practiced." That is, they need to be studied and memorized. At the same time, they need to be "let go." They are merely conceptual tools pointing to non-conceptual realization.
As is usual in Buddhist teachings, there is an element of playfulness and irony in the way one slogan often undermines its predecessor and thereby enlarges one's view. They form a loop in which nothing is excluded. Whatever arises in one's mind or experience is let go into the greater space of awareness that slogan practice generates. It is this openness of mind that becomes the basis for the cultivation of compassion.
The view of morality presented through the Kadampa slogans is similar to that of
Shakespeare's famous lines, "The quality of mercy is not strained, it falleth as the gentle rain from heaven." There is no notion of moral battlefield in which we ward off evil and fight for the right. The traditional
Buddhist image for compassion is that of the sun, which shines beneficently and equally on all. It is the sun's nature to shine; there is no struggle.
Likewise, compassion is a natural human activity, once the veils and obstacles to its expression are removed.
Vidyadhara encouraged his students to include tonglen in their daily meditation practice and to memorize the slogans. He would have individual slogans beautifully calligraphed and posted at Vajradhatu seminaries. You never knew when you might come across one. For instance, you might find "Be grateful to everyone" posted in the kitchen, or "Drive all blames into one" hanging from a tree. The slogans are meant to be contemplated—one by one. For that reason the Vidyadhara encouraged students to use printed slogan cards as daily reminders and provocateurs.
In their earthiness and simplicity, may these teachings inspire us to cultivate kindness and compassion, and not to give up on ourselves or others. May they provoke fearlessness in overcoming the tenacious grip of ego. May they enable us to put into practice our most heartfelt aspirations to benefit all sentient beings on the path of awakening.