Guidelines for the mind training
by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
Here is some further advice on how to apply the Mind Training to ourselves, consolidating and enhancing our compassion and Bodhichitta. Do everything with one intention.
We should try to think altruistically. For example, as regards our food and the way we dress ourselves, when we are given something delicious to eat, we should think: ‘May all beings also have good food to enjoy; would that I were able to share this meal with all who are hungry.’ Likewise, when we receive good clothes, let us think, ‘May everyone have good clothes like these.’
Apply one remedy in all adversity.
In the course of our Mind Training, when we fall sick or are a prey to negative forces; when we are unpopular and suffer from a bad reputation, when we have increasingly strong emotions and lose the desire for Mind Training: at such times we should reflect that in this world there are many who are afflicted in the same way and whose conduct is at variance with the teaching. Even if we were to explain the doctrine and the methods to develop good qualities, nobody would want to listen-our words would fall upon deaf ears. On the other hand, people take to lying and stealing naturally without having to be taught. Their actions conflict with their desires-where else could they be but in samsara and the lower realms? We should therefore feel sorry for them and, taking all their defects upon ourselves, we should pray that their negative actions might cease and that they might start upon the path of Freedom. We should pray that they might become weary of samsara and want to turn from it, that they might generate Bodhichitta and that all the effects of their laziness and indifference to the Dharma might fall upon us. In other words, we should practise the exchange of good for evil.
Two things to be done, at the start and at the finish.
In the morning, on awaking, we should make the following pledge:
‘Throughout the whole of today, I will remember Bodhichitta. Eating, dressing, meditating, wherever I go, I will practise it constantly. Should it slip my mind, I will remind myself. Mindful of it, I will not allow myself to wander into states of anger, desire or ignorance.’ We should make a concerted effort to keep this vow and at night before going to sleep, we should examine ourselves as to how much we have been able to generate Bodhichitta, how much we have been able to help others and whether all our actions have been in accordance with the teachings.
If we find that we have acted against the teachings, we should reflect that though we have entered the Buddhadharma and received the teachings of the Great Vehicle from our Teacher, we are still incapable of putting them into practice. This is because for countless lives we have turned our backs on the doctrine. If we carry on like this, there will be no end to our wandering in samsara and the lower realms. We should chide ourselves in this way, confessing the day’s faults and resolving that, from the next day onwards, within twenty four hours, or a month, or at least within the year, we will have some signs of improvement. We should steel ourselves so as not to be daunted by the work of abandoning defects. If during the day our actions have not been contrary to the teachings and we have maintained an altruistic attitude, then we should be happy, thinking, ‘Today has been a useful day, I have remembered what my teacher has taught me and this is to accomplish his wishes. Tomorrow I will do better than today, and even better the day after.’ This is how to ensure the growth of our Bodhichitta.
Bear whichever of the two occurs.
Through faith in the Three Jewels and the practice of generosity, it could happen that, by way of karmic fruit, we become rich, gain a high position in society and so on. This might lead us to think, ‘I am rich, I am important, I am the best, I have come out on top.’ If we practitioners have this kind of arrogance, our clinging to this life will increase and a demon will enter our hearts. If, on the other hand, we manage to enjoy happiness, possessions and influence without pride, we will understand that they are nothing but illusions, insubstantial dreams, all of which will one day fade away. For as it is said of all compounded things, ‘what is accumulated will be used up; what is raised up will fall; what is born will die; what is joined together will separate.’
‘Who knows,’ we should tell ourselves, ‘perhaps tomorrow I shall have to say goodbye to all of this. Therefore, I will offer to my Teachers and the Three jewels the best of my contentment and possessions. May they accept it with joy and bless me so that I might have no obstacles on the path. All of it is just a pleasant dream, but may all beings experience such happiness as mine, and even more.’
On the other hand, when we are in such poor shape that we cannot even practise, that we have strong emotions and feelings of irritation, fighting and quarrelling with everyone, we should reflect: ‘I know that everything is illusory; I will therefore not allow myself to be carried away by my feelings. I will not be a coward! I will shoulder the weakness, poverty, illness and death of other beings.’ To put it briefly, we should be able to think that, provided that the precious Bodhichitta does not decrease in us, who cares if we have to go to the lower realms, who cares if we lose our possessions? Come what may, like beggars with a precious jewel, we will not forsake Bodhichitta.
Even if it costs you your life, defend the two.
This refers in general to the vows of the Shravakayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana and particularly to the special vows of Mind Training. The vows of the Mind Training are: to give victory and benefit to others and to take all loss and failure, especially that of our enemies, upon ourselves. If we act accordingly, the Mind Training will take effect. On the other hand, if we fail to practise these two vows, we will achieve neither the short term benefit of happiness in this life and rebirth in the realms of human beings or of gods, nor the long term benefit of rebirth in a pure field. We should therefore observe these vows at all costs, just as we guard our eyes from thorns when we are walking through the woods.
Train yourself in three hard disciplines.
These are the difficult practices of mindfulness, of expulsion and of ‘interrupting the flow.’
As for the first of these, the difficult practice of mindfulness, it is necessary to recognise afflictive emotions as soon as they arise and it is hard, at first, to remain sufficiently aware to be able to do this. However, when negative emotions arise, we should identify them as anger, desire or stupidity. Even when emotions have been recognised, it is not easy to drive them out with the antidote. If, for instance, an uncontrollably strong emotion comes over us, so that we feel helplessly in its power, we should nevertheless confront it and question it. Where are its weapons? Where are its muscles? Where is its great army and its political strength? We will see that emotions are just insubstantial thoughts, by nature empty: they come from nowhere, they go nowhere, they remain nowhere. When we are able to repel our defiled emotions, there comes the difficult practice of ‘interrupting the flow.’ This means that, on the basis of the antidote described, defiled emotions are eliminated just like a bird flying through the air: no trace is left behind. These are practices in which we should really strive.
Have recourse to three essential factors.
The three essential factors on which the accomplishment of the Dharma depends are: to meet with a qualified teacher; by receiving his instructions, to cultivate the correct attitude; and, finally, to have the necessary material conditions.
If we do not follow a genuine master, we will never know how to practise the teachings. If the Buddha had not turned the Wheel of Dharma, we would not know what actions we should do and what actions we should refrain from. How can we, who have not had the fortune to meet the Buddha in person, practise the path of liberation if we do not follow a master? How else could we recognise paths which are mistaken and inferior? Moreover, just as we treat stiff leather with oil to make it smooth and supple, so too we should practise the teachings correctly, with a calm and docile attitude, undisturbed by afflictive emotions. Finally, living in the realm of desire, as we do, we find it impossible to practise the Dharma if we lack food to fill our stomachs and clothes to cover us against the wind. If we have these three essential factors complete we should be happy at the thought we have all that is necessary to practise the teachings. It is as though we have been equipped with a good horse for an uphill journey – the way will be without difficulty. And we should pray that all beings might be just as fortunate.
If, however, we do not possess all of these essential factors, we should reflect that though we have entered the Buddhadharma and received plenty of teachings and instructions, we still lack the conditions suitable for practice.
As a matter of fact, there are many disciples who are unable to practise properly because of this shortcoming. They have what is known as ‘good karma going wrong.’ As was explained before, ‘Old yogis getting rich; old teachers getting married.’ We should feel sorry for such people and pray from our hearts that the cause of their not having such favourable conditions might ripen upon us and that, as a result, their situation might be improved.
Meditate on three things that must not deteriorate.
These are devotion, enthusiasm and Bodhichitta.
Devotion to our Teacher is the source of all the qualities of the Mahayana. If the Buddha himself were to appear in front of us and we were lacking in the devotion to see his qualities, his blessings would be unable to enter us. The Buddha’s kinsmen, Devadatta and Lekpe Karma, failed to see him as an enlightened being; they mistook and criticised all his actions and, abandoning themselves to their jealousy, were reborn in the realms of hell. If we have perfect confidence and devotion to see as positive all the activities of our Teacher – even if he is not a superior being-the wisdom of realisation will effortlessly arise in us, as it did in Sadaprarudita, who through devotion to his Teacher realised the nature of emptiness. Thus our devotion is something that we must never allow to deteriorate.
This Mind Training is the quintessence of the Mahayana. It is the butter which comes from the milk of the doctrine. Of all the eighty four thousand teachings expounded by Buddha, if we can but practise the Bodhichitta, that is sufficient. Actually, it is like an indispensable medicine: it is something we simply cannot do without. It is the distilled essence of all the teachings. To hear it is fortunate indeed, and great is the kindness of the teacher who explains it, for its greatness is simply inconceivable. By contrast, if we were to use the instructions on the four tantric activities, for the purpose of lengthening our lives or getting the better of our enemies, bandits and so on, we should be working only for our present lives.
But this precious teaching of Bodhichitta! If only we can experience it just a little in our minds! One instant of negative thought will bring us suffering for innumerable ages. Conversely, one instant of Bodhichitta can obliterate the effects of all the evil acts of infinite kalpas. All accumulations of merit and all acts of purification are gathered in a single thought of Bodhichitta. Any action grounded in this attitude partakes of the ocean-like activity of the Mahayana. Therefore we should practise Bodhichitta with joy and enthusiasm which we must never allow to lessen.
To accustom oneself to Bodhichitta is like keeping a garden neat, without undergrowth, insects, lumps of wood and weeds. Let us practise it, bringing together all the qualities of the greater and lesser vehicles, so that we are like containers gradually filled with grain, or pots with drops of water. Whether we practise Pratimoksha, the Bodhisattva training, or the stages of generation and completion of the Mantrayana, all that we do should act as a support for our vows of Bodhichitta. Even if we practise the Mantrayana, it should uphold and confirm our commitment as Bodhisattvas.
Whatever we do, listening to the teachings, contemplating or meditating upon them, we should take it all as an aid in our training. If we are able to use the Bodhichitta to bring everything onto the path, wholesome states of mind and positive thoughts will develop extraordinarily. By using the antidote, we should reverse all negative emotions that have so far arisen. In that way we should keep the Bodhichitta as our constant friend. Three things maintain inseparably.
Our body, speech and mind should always be engaged in positive activity. When we are performing virtuous actions such as prostrations, circumambulations and the like, our speech and mind should be in harmony with our bodily movements. When accumulating positive actions of speech, recitation for instance, our body and our mind should also be engaged. If we undertake some positive mental act, the body and the speech should also be in attendance. For example, if, while performing prostrations or circumambulations, we chatter, or entertain a lot of negative emotions, this is just like eating polluted food. Therefore, while performing virtuous actions, our body, speech and mind should act inseparably and in unison. Train impartially in every field; Your training must be deep and all-pervading.
We should practise the Mind Training impartially without picking or choosing, and in relation to everything, whether animate or inanimate. We should practise so that whatever thoughts arise, they will serve as a path for the Mind Training, rather than being occasions for hindrances. Let this not be something that we merely talk about, but something deep within our hearts which we actually do.
Always meditate on what is unavoidable.
We should constantly meditate on difficulties that we cannot escape. Towards people, for instance, who do us harm, who want to compete with us, who are at one moment friendly but who suddenly turn against us unprovoked, or towards people who for no apparent reason (due to our karma) we simply do not like, we should try to generate the Bodhichitta even more intensely, especially when it is difficult.
We should serve and reverence our elders, parents and teachers. As Guru Padmasambhava said, ‘Do not be a sorrow to your elders; serve them with respect.’ If we help them and those who are in need of help, we are treading the path of the Bodhisattvas. We should give up whatever is at variance with that attitude.
Do not be dependent on external factors.
When we have enough food and clothes, enjoy good health, have whatever we need and are without troubles of any sort, we should not become attached to these benefits nor dependent on them. Conversely, when we do not enjoy such good conditions, and when everything is going badly, we should use such a situation as a trigger for our courage and take them as the Bodhisattva path. We should not give up when conditions are difficult; on the contrary, that is precisely when we should practise the twofold Bodhichitta, bringing all our experiences onto the path.
This time, do what is important.
Throughout our many lifetimes in the past, we may have taken many different forms. We have been rich. We have been beaten by our enemies and lost everything. We have had all the pleasures of the gods. We have been victims of political oppression. We have been lepers or have suffered from other diseases. All those experiences of happiness and suffering have brought us nothing. But now, in this present life, we have entered the path set forth by the Buddha, we have met many learned and accomplished spiritual teachers: this time we must make such circumstances meaningful and do what is important.
If a merchant, visiting an isle of jewels, were to return empty-handed without his cargo of gems, he would be ashamed to show his face in public. It is the same for us, who at this very moment, have such favourable conditions for the practice. If we can give rise to genuine Bodhichitta, it does not matter if we are poor, unknown and of no account.
The Dharma has two aspects: exposition and practice. Exposition is only the work of the mouth, and many there are who do not practise the teachings explained. As the saying goes: ‘Many have heard the doctrine but those who implement it are few. Even those who have practised a little, are sidetracked and get lost.’ As far as the Dharma is concerned, practice is more important than teaching and talking about it; the Dharma is something that we really have to do. Furthermore, we may recite millions of mantras, and do any number of good works, but if our minds are distracted, nothing beneficial will come of it; the teachings will not have benefited us and Bodhichitta will have had no chance to grow. Let us adopt Bodhichitta, therefore, above all other practices.
As it is said:
One deity, Chenrezig, embodies all Buddhas;
One mantra, the six syllables, embodies all mantras;
One Dharma, Bodhichitta, embodies all practices of
the development and completion stages.
Knowing the one which liberates ll, recite the six syllable mantra.
Bodhichitta is thus the chief of practices; it is better moreover to follow single-mindedly the instructions received from our Teachers than to practise on the basis of our own book-learning and intelligence. To the extent that they are processed and refined, gold and diamonds become pure and proportionately more precious. So too through the assiduous practice of the instructions received from our Teacher, our understanding of them will become increasingly profound. The Buddha himself said, ‘Treat my words like gold, cutting, melting and refining; examine my doctrine well, for it is not to be accepted simply out of respect for me.’ Just as with the smelting and refinement of gold, likewise the teaching of Buddha: by listening, we gain an understanding, which, the more we meditate, will become increasingly profound and vast. It is most important therefore to practise with a steady concentration. Of all our activities, the most important is to sit and practise. We should not move around too much, we should just remain on our seat. We will only stumble if we get up! We should sit properly, not too stiffly, and remember that the best practitioners wear out their meditation cushions, not the soles of their shoes. Indeed, to apply the antidote to the emotions is even more important than to leave our homeland. For, if, on leaving home, we have even stronger attachment, desire and anger, our actions have not helped, but only harmed, our practice. The most important thing, therefore, is to use the antidote.
Do not make mistakes.
There are six errors or misconceptions which we should guard against.
Mistaken patience or endurance. Religious people, who bravely put up with hardships and persevere in the practice even though they have nothing in the way of food and clothing, suffering from cold and so on, may well be a sorry sight. They may in fact lack material possessions, but they do not need us to feel sorry for them. After all, their discomforts will be short lived and are the means through which they will finally come to liberation. Quite different from that sort of courage is the mistaken bravery of ordinary heroes who, in order to destroy their opponents and protect their own side, undergo unbearable hardships in the fight against their enemies, or suffer the cruel discipline and fury of their leaders.
Misplaced interest. It is also a mistake to be intent on the accumulation of wealth, power and comfort for this life at the expense of Dharma practice.
If you wish to practise properly,
Sustain yourself with Dharma,
Your Dharma with a humble life,
Your humble life with the thought of death,
Your thought of death with a lonely cave.
Our intention should be to help all sentient beings, who have been our mothers, and to bring them to the state of Buddhahood. We should never be self-satisfied and rest on our laurels, thinking that we have meditated well, that we have done retreat and are familiar with the rituals, or that we can chant and know all there is to know about the practice. This is an obstacle on the path.
Taking delight in worldly pleasures instead of in the Dharma. This is also mistake. ‘Learning comes from listening to the teachings; evil is reversed through listening to the teachings; futile ways are shunned by listening to the teachings.’ Bear this in mind. We should try to understand whether the teachings are expressed in the relative or the absolute sense, and we should make an effort to grasp the ultimate meaning beyond the words. Then we should practise it with an undivided heart. That is how to make sure progress. However, having experienced a taste of the Dharma, most ‘experts,’ armed with their intellectual knowledge, allow themselves to be side tracked into arguments and disputes with opponents, all for worldly satisfaction. Their taste of Dharma has played them false.
Misplaced compassion. It is a mistake to feel sorry for practitioners who endure a lot of difficulties for the sake of the Dharma, staying in lonely mountain hermitages without much food or warm clothing. It is incorrect to worry and think, ‘These poor practitioners! They are going to die of starvation!’ By contrast, the ones we should really feel sorry for are those who commit evil actions, such as army leaders and military heroes who kill hundreds and thousands of people, and whose hatred will drag them down into the realms of hell. We should show compassion to those who need it.
Being helpful in the wrong way. It is a mistake, too, to introduce our relations and dependants to worldly happiness and success instead of bringing them into contact with the Dharma. If we really care for them, we should help them to meet religious teachers and instruct them in the practice. Day by day, we should show them how to tread the path of liberation. Good people are like medicinal trees: whoever frequents them becomes good also. But if, by contrast, we teach people how to do business, how to trick others and stand up to their enemies, they will become as vicious as we are.
Rejoicing inappropriately. It is wrong to rejoice at the sufferings of enemies instead of at whatever is joyful and virtuous. By contrast, when people engage in work for any kind of good cause, or when Dharma practitioners undertake innumerable nyungne fasts, when they do a lot of work, building temples, constructing stupas and images or printing books, we should pray: ‘In this life and their lives to come, may they always practise virtue, may their good actions bring about the birth of Bodhichitta in their minds.’ This is the proper way to rejoice. But if, on the contrary, we feel pleasure and satisfaction when someone we dislike is punished by his superiors, or even killed-thinking that he only got what was coming to him, we are rejoicing wrongly.
These, then, are six wrong actions that we should forsake if we wish to follow the unmistaken way.
Be consistent in your practice.
When we are content and our lives are going well, we feel inclined to practise; but when, for instance, we are hungry and have nothing to eat, we lose interest. This is because we lack perfect confidence in the teachings. As the saying goes, ‘Well fed and warm in the sun: that’s when we look like practitioners. But when things go wrong, we are very ordinary people. The Dharma and our minds never seem to mingle. Bless us with the proper attitude!’ And it is said too, ‘Meditators whose behaviour has drifted into ordinary ways will never be free. Reciting many mantras for the sake of appearances will not help us on the path.’
Be zealous in your training.
Let us train ourselves wholeheartedly, completely saturating ourselves with the Mind Training: sometimes meditating on emptiness, sometimes on detachment from this life and sometimes on compassion towards beings. Through investigation and examination, we should endeavour to practise the methods of cultivating the Mind Training more and more.
Free yourself by analysis and testing.
Let us first examine which of our emotions is strongest. Then let us make a concerted effort to generate its antidote, investigating whether the emotion increases when we are confronted by certain specific situations. We should observe whether it arises or not, recognise it and, with the help of the antidote, rid ourselves of it, persevering until it no longer arises.
Don’t take what you do too seriously.
If we help others by providing them with food and clothing, by freeing them from prison, or by promoting them to some position of importance, it should not be with the expectation of some kind of recognition. If we practise intensely and for a long time, or if we are knowledgeable and disciplined, we should not expect to be respected for it. If, on the other hand, we find that others know a great deal, we should pray for them to become really learned; if they are very disciplined, we should pray for them to be like the disciples at the time of Buddha; if we see people practising, we should pray that their minds be blended with the practice, that their practice be without obstacle and that their paths might lead to the final goal. That is how we should meditate, caring more for others than for ourselves. But if we manage to do so, we should not congratulate ourselves on having done something great or extraordinary. ‘Do not rely on other human beings; just pray to the yidam.’ Such was the advice of Radreng. Therefore, do not count on others for help with food, clothing, etc. Rather have a confident faith in the Three Jewels. As it is said: ‘Trusting in the Teacher is the ultimate refuge, working for the benefit of others is the ultimate Bodhichitta, therefore do not brag about your accomplishments.’ We should always have this attitude, because if we depend on others, the results may not be as we wish…
Do not be bad tempered.
If it happens that we are slighted in public, we should never think to ourselves that despite the fact that we are such good practitioners, people have no regard for us and do not come to pay respects or to receive our blessings. We should not react with annoyance and harsh words. At the moment, because we have not used the teachings as an antidote for ego clinging, our patience and forbearance are more fragile than a blister and we are as irritable as a bear with a sore head. All that because we have failed to use the instructions as an antidote.
Do not be temperamental.
Because of its transparency, a crystal ball takes on the colour of whatever it is standing on. In the same way, there are some practitioners, who, if they are given a lot of money, will have all sorts of positive thoughts. ‘Oh, this is such a kind sponsor,’ they will say. But if they get nothing, they will say bad things and hold a grudge. We should not be swayed by such trivial things.
Do not expect to be rewarded.
If we have been of help to others or have managed to practise, we should not expect thanks, praise or fame. If we practise the two Bodhichittas all our lives, perform our meditation and post-meditation properly, and if we mingle our minds with the view of meditation, our experience in day to day life will not be ordinary. Furthermore, if we are not distracted in our daily lives, this will help our meditation to progress. If, however, we meditate single mindedly during the sessions, but afterwards are completely distracted, we will not gain confidence in the view of meditation. Conversely, if we develop virtuous habits in post-meditation but during the meditation session engage in useless activities, again our practice will be meaningless. Therefore we should make sure to train ourselves correctly.