Mind Training is a comprehensive practice that is suitable for all types of students. It contains the entire path and does not depend on a person’s background. Mind Training nurses and cultivates the Buddha Nature, that pure seed of awakening that is at the very heart of every sentient being. It has the power to transform even egotistical self-clinging into selflessness. Put into practice diligently, it is enough to lead you all the way to awakening.
In The Path to Awakening, Shamar Rinpoche gives his own detailed commentary on Chekawa Yeshe Dorje’s Seven Points of Mind Training, a text that has been used for transformative practice in Tibetan Buddhism for close to a thousand years.
Clear, accessible, and yet profound, this book is filled with practical wisdom, philosophy, and meditation instructions.
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The Path to Awakening
How Buddhism's Seven Points of Mind Training Can Lead You to a Life of Enlightenment and Happiness
By Shamar Rinpoche, Lara Braitstein
DELPHINIUM BOOKSCopyright © 2014 Lara Braitstein
All rights reserved.
Homage to the Great Compassionate One!
Ja Chekawa Yeshé Dorjé, author of the root text, begins by paying homage to Avalokiteshvara, the great Awakening Being esteemed as the very embodiment of the compassion of all Buddhas.
Instructions on the lineage:This is the key instruction, the essential nectar generated by Serlingpa.
Now we come to the main subject: the Seven Points of Mind Training. This is the key instruction of the Kadam school, the lineage of which comes from Atisha Dipamkara Srijnana (982-1054 C.E.). Though of course this key method comes from Buddha, for a long time it was passed on as a secret oral tradition along a long lineage of great bodhisattvas.
It is called dütsi nyingpo, or essential nectar. The nectar is a liquid so pure that even one drop can purify a vast body of water. These instructions are like the very essence of that purifying, healing nectar. This nectar is not only able to purify the mind, but when Atisha received these instructions he effectively purified the transmission of Buddhism as well. In the 11th century, Buddhism slowly started declining in India. This was exactly as Buddha had predicted. When he was teaching he repeatedly told his disciples that his teachings would definitely disappear so it was critically important for them to practice diligently immediately. At every sojong (ceremony for purifying monastic precepts), he repeated this warning. So it happened that during Atisha's time there began to be indications that this disappearance of the Buddha's teachings from India was starting to happen. For example, during Atisha's life, the combined lineages of the bodhisattva vow—the Maitreya-Asanga lineage and the Nagarjuna lineage—had already disappeared from India. Everybody was practicing one or the other, but not the two together. As a great bodhisattva, Atisha saw that in the future he could benefit beings in Tibet before Buddhism declined in India. He understood that by sowing the seeds of buddhadharma there, when it declined in India it would live on in Tibet. For that reason, he went all the way to Indonesia to meet Serlingpa, the only master who still held that combined lineage of the bodhisattva vow.
The second son of a local king, Atisha was born in an area along the border between present-day India and Bangladesh. His parents named him Chandragarbha, the Essence of the Moon. At the age of twenty he received all the vinaya vows (monastic vows) and was named Dipamkara Srijnana. It was not until his more senior years, during his teaching days in Tibet, that he became known to the people there as Atisha.
Atisha traveled to Sumatra by ship on a journey that took over a year. On the way he was faced with tremendous obstacles such as storms and aggressive sea creatures. At one point he was attacked by Maheshvara. Maheshvara took the shape of a gigantic, terrifying monster and caused a treacherous storm to descend upon the ship: lightning, thunder, huge waves and an enormous whirlpool that very nearly caused the ship to sink. From the midst of the whirlpool emerged the sea monster, threatening to devour all on board. Atisha established himself in a profound, stable meditation and generated compassion and loving kindness. The entreaties of Atisha's terrified travel companions combined with Atisha's tremendous merit caused Amrita Kundali, the wrathful Buddhist deity, to manifest and destroy the sea monster. In his wrath, lightning generated by Yamantaka also struck Pashupatinath (the ancient Shiva temple complex in Kathmandu), the Bön kingdom of Shangshung, and Mongol invaders who were bent on attacking Bodhgaya. Finally, overpowered by Atisha's love and Yamantaka's lightning, Maheshvara took the form of a young boy and begged forgiveness. Events like these plagued Atisha's journey, but in the end he was successful.
He eventually arrived in Sumatra and was given a warm welcome by Serlingpa, a prince in Sumatra who had become a great Buddhist master. Atisha, who was himself a prince, spent twelve years there and received all of Serlingpa's teachings, including, of course, his key instructions. The Mind Training teachings contained in this book are the very same key instructions, most especially the exchanging of self and other. It must be mentioned here that even today some things are kept hidden from all but the most serious practitioners. Here, when it comes to the teachings on ultimate bodhicitta, much will remain unwritten.
Before Atisha left to return to India, Serlingpa gave him six texts, which contained the condensed essence of the Mahayana (Great Vehicle). Atisha, being well versed in both the sutras and tantras (exoteric and esoteric teachings of the Buddha), realized that he had, in effect, been given the keys to the treasury of the Buddha's teachings. Atisha felt deeply grateful to his spiritual mentor and rejoiced in the good fortune of sentient beings. From then on, he always traveled with the six texts.
When Atisha was already sixty years old, the local kings in Tibet invited him to their country. After much convincing, Atisha traveled there to teach. The Tibetan prince, Jangchup Ö, impressed upon Atisha the urgent need to restore Buddhism, which had deteriorated in the land. Charlatans and magicians were misleading his people. The Prince asked Atisha to clear up the misconceptions and superstitions. He especially requested that the teachings be presented in simple layperson's terms for the benefit of the populace. From the six texts of Master Serlingpa, Atisha condensed the teachings. On a few pieces of paper, he wrote down 68 verses of the now famous: A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment (Bodhipathapradipa in Sanskrit). The genre of teachings is also known as Lam Rim (Lam: path; Rim: stages), or The Gradual Path to Enlightenment.
One of two principal disciples of Atisha was Dromtönpa (1005-1064). Together, they translated Serlingpa's text, The Wheel of Sharp Weapons that Effectively Strikes the Heart of the Foe, from Sanskrit into Tibetan. At first, Atisha only taught Lam Rim to a select few disciples, of whom Dromtönpa was one. When Dromtönpa asked him why, Atisha replied that it was because only he was a worthy and qualified vessel.
After Atisha's death, Dromtönpa organized the transmissions he had received from his guru and started the lineage that came to be known as the Kadam. Mind Training was the very heart of these teachings. However, these Kadam teachings were mainly kept secret in the beginning, transmitted orally from master to disciple. From Dromtönpa, the lineage transmission passed to Potowa. From Potowa, the transmission passed to his two disciples, Langri Thangpa (1054-1123) and Sharawa (1070-1141). Chekawa (1101-1175), the author of our root text, received the transmission from Sharawa.
Born in a place called Lura in the southwestern part of Tibet, Chekawa first met a teacher called Loro Rechung. He later received his monastic vows from Tsarong Joten and Tsangdulwa, both Kadam lamas of Atisha's lineage. For the next four years, he studied and practiced. One day, Chekawa heard a disciple of Langri Thangpa reciting his master's Eight Verses for Training the Mind. What he heard was, "I will learn to take on all defeat, and to offer all victories to others." These words affected him so profoundly that he became determined to obtain the teachings. When he learned that the author of the verses had already passed away, he pressed on to find out who else would be able to teach him.
Chekawa then learned that it was Atisha who had introduced these teachings of the Buddha to Tibet. After learning about the illustrious lineage of teachers, most of whom had already passed away, Chekawa was relieved to discover that Sharawa was still alive. According to information given to him, Chekawa traveled to an area called Zho in central Tibet. There he found Master Sharawa and became his disciple. He remained there and studied with his spiritual teacher for six years. He then practiced for thirteen years, until all traces of selfishness in him had dissipated. Now a master of the Kadam lineage in his own right, Chekawa started to teach.
Chekawa passed away in the female wood sheep year (1175 C.E.) at the age of 75. He had accomplished his wish to practice, preserve and offer to as many people as possible these very precious lojong teachings.
Today, even though the Kadam lineage of Atisha's teachings is not considered a separate school in Tibetan Buddhism, it nevertheless forms an integral part of the lineage teachings of all four schools. This essential Mahayana practice has gained wide popularity in Tibet and as a result the collection of written works in Tibetan on lojong and Lamrim is now extensive.
How great the practice is:The five degenerations are happening now; you should convert them into the path of awakening.
We are currently in the era of the five degenerations, a time when the good eon is finishing. By "we" I am not referring to our generation, or even to a time that includes a generation or two before our own. Our own eon is the same as that of Shakyamuni Buddha: he himself was also born and taught during this degenerate time. The good eon had its own Buddhas, the first four. We are most fortunate to have had a Buddha in this difficult eon. For many, many generations, sentient beings have lived and continue to live under very difficult conditions. These adverse conditions have been termed "the five degenerations", or the five crises. They are as prevalent today as they were two thousand years ago:
Physical life: the human life span is limited to about 100 years. Even with the advances of modern medicine and the availability of healthy foods, our lifespan is still limited. Our physical bodies are susceptible to many diseases that may cut our lives short.
The times: People are exposed to the precarious conditions of the environment that are the results of collective karma. We are subject to many natural disasters that can strike at any time, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, fires, and sudden wars created by foolish people.
Imperfect beings: Our current nature is not perfect. Even though we have the potential to develop in a positive way, we tend not to. The reason is that our many flaws (such as aggression) impede our chances to change for the better.
We live in a time when the majority of people are harming each other. We find ourselves in the midst of wars, violence, and exploitation. Many people suffer terrible atrocities at the hands of fellow humans. We are equally cruel to animals, and the animals also attack one another. The harm that living beings inflict upon each other is at its worst.
Wrong views: The trouble with wrong views is that they create many problems in the world. The imperfect views of the masses are rooted in ego grasping, confusion, and selfishness. These errors in thinking perpetuate injustice and harmful discrimination in society. Unfortunately, wrong views have found their way into all facets of life—in social, religious, cultural, political, and legal systems alike.
Disturbing emotions: People everywhere are dominated by negative emotions. In fact, disturbing emotions surface quite naturally all the time. Even though there are remedies for them, administering those remedies is rather an uphill battle. If we wish to develop even a tiny virtue, on the other hand, we have to exert great effort because most of the time the negative emotions simply overwhelm us.
We can observe that our own time is particularly bad. Nearly every single living being acts almost exclusively propelled by his or her afflicted mind. Most of the time, even the first impulse to act is grounded in afflicted mind and connected to bad karma. What we do, we do for our own good alone. Even those who try to do good in their lives, dharma practice or something else positive, will encounter many obstacles in life. Compare this to those who live dishonestly and are motivated by negativity, and we see that they do tend to live long and experience success. A terrible leader might be reelected, for example! In this dark time, there is almost no dharma method that can be a good remedy, except for the practice of exchanging self and other. So this key instruction of exchanging self and other is the only way that even the five degenerations can be used for the path to awakening. Once you know this, everything is useful. Even things that would usually be considered bad are suddenly good, and can be used towards a positive result. That also means that this method will overtake all bad karma, as well as the afflicted mental states and their consequences. It will all be taken over and used for enlightenment. Everything will be transformed, and you will find yourself falling into enlightenment.
Like the diamond, the sun, the medicinal tree, it is the principal, ever precious discipline.
The Buddha gave many different teachings and instructions according to the abilities and propensities of his students. The methods vary in levels of difficulty and of accomplishment, but among the countless dharma practices, lojong is the superlative discipline. It is as priceless as a perfect diamond. Its worth cannot be measured because it is the very key that opens the inner door to enlightenment.
Another simile distinguishes the brilliance of lojong: these very precious teachings are said to shine as brightly as the sun itself. We have at our disposal all kinds of artificial light such as candlelight, gaslight, or electric light. But in the sun, all artificial lights are redundant. The sun completely dispels darkness and everything is shown clearly in its presence. Similarly, lojong clears away the ignorance of our mind and reveals everything as it is.
A third simile highlights the special power of lojong to accelerate our progress on the path: Mind Training is like the roots of a medicinal tree. The roots hold all the healing ingredients and these curative essences in turn permeate the entire tree: its trunk, branches and leaves, etc. Every single cell of the tree contains the medicines and we can harvest them through any of its parts. Similarly, Mind Training forms the best root for all dharma practice. When lojong has taken root in us, it imbues any practice we do with the same power to bring us swiftly to enlightenment.
By these three similes, you should understand, know, and remember the superior qualities of lojong which attest to its being the most valuable and meaningful practice in your life.
THE FIRST POINT
Learn the Preliminaries
The First Point: Learn the preliminaries; furthermore, be trained in not conceptualizing the three spheres.
Any explanation of the preliminary instructions must include an understanding of the purity of the three spheres. The three spheres are the agent, the object acted upon, and the action itself, and they must be understood to not be substantially real. In whatever actions one is instructed in, these three must not be conceptualized as truly existent. This will become more clear shortly.
First, train in the preliminaries; think that all phenomena are like a dream.
The first step toward awakening is taking refuge in the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Before even taking that first step of taking the refuge vow, however, you must learn the four thoughts that turn the mind towards enlightenment: this precious human birth, impermanence, karma, and the defects of samsara. It is important to really reflect on them in order to gain lasting benefit. You have to understand the meaning of the Four Thoughts as they relate to you. What is their significance in your life now? See what difference they make when you reflect on them and apply them in everyday situations. In this way, you will begin to appreciate their qualities.
Detailed explanations of the Four Thoughts are readily available in many written works so here I will present only a very general discussion of them.
Excerpted from The Path to Awakening by Shamar Rinpoche, Lara Braitstein. Copyright © 2014 Lara Braitstein. Excerpted by permission of DELPHINIUM BOOKS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
A Note on Transliteration,
The Buddha's Teachings: An Introduction,
Homage to the Great Compassionate One!,
Learn the Preliminaries,
Train in the Two Bodhicittas,
Convert Adversities into the Path of Awakening,
Implement Mind Training in This Life,
The Measure of Mind Training,
Commitments of Mind Training,
Advice for Mind Training,
List of Illustrations,