An explanation of the practice as a way of life
by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
The pith instructions briefly summarised:
Put the five strengths into practice.
If we possess these five strengths, Bodhichitta will arise in us. They are as follows: The power of resolution, the power of familiarisation, the power of the positive seed, the power of revulsion and the power of aspiration.
The power of resolution. This is, for example, the taking of a firm decision that, for this month, this year, until we die or until we attain enlightenment, we will not abandon Bodhichitta; even though hurt or injured by others, we will not give way to anger. And this strong resolution should be reinforced again and again.
The power of familiarisation. In the beginning, meditation is difficult but it becomes easier if we persevere in it. For as the saying goes, ‘There is nothing that one cannot get used to.’
Once upon a time, there was a very miserly person unable to give anything away. He went to see the Buddha.
‘It is impossible for me to be generous,’ he said, ‘what shall I do?’
‘Imagine,’ the Buddha replied, ‘that your right hand is yourself and your left hand a poor unhappy person. Give from your right hand to your left some old food, which you don’t like or need. Try hard to get used to this. Do it until you are no longer miserly.’
The man began the practice, but he was so tight-fisted that at first, he could give away only a few left-overs or food he did not like. Gradually, however, he acquired the habit so that the day arrived when he did not feel so niggardly. Thereupon, he went to see the Buddha and reported, ‘Now when I give food from my right hand to my left, I don’t feel so miserly.’ Buddha replied, ‘Now, with your right hand, which you take to be yourself, give some gold, silk or fine clothes to your left hand, which you imagine to be a beggar. Try to see if you can give open-handedly, without avarice.’ The man tried and when he got used to it he went again to see the Buddha. ‘Now, you can be a benefactor,’ the Buddha said, ‘you are free from attachment; you can give away food and clothing to those who lack them.’
Freed from his miserliness, the man thus came to help many beggars and poor people. He gradually practised and in the end, his generosity was steady, without any wavering. He understood that there is no point in being parsimonious or attached to riches. He became a monk and attained the level of an arhat. Through persistent practise one may likewise become accomplished in the two Bodhichittas.
The power of positive seeds. This is, in fact, the accumulation of merit. Going to temples and monasteries, performing prostrations and devotions before sacred objects, we should pray, ‘May I be able to cultivate the two types of Bodhichitta. May I be peaceful and without anger towards those who do me harm. May I be free from one-sided attachment for friends and relatives.’ By repeatedly praying in this way, and through the power of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, we will be able to accomplish these qualities.
The power of revulsion. Through careful thought, it is possible to see that all the suffering and afflictive emotional states experienced in life are the results of the devastating flood of ego-clinging. Ego-clinging is the cause of every ill. Therefore when it arises, even if only for an instant, we should apply the antidote, like the doctor who gives us healing medicine when we are sick. As the saying goes, ‘Hit the pig on the nose; clean the lamp while it is still warm.’ When an angry pig rears up at us, if we hit it on the nose with a stick, it will immediately turn round and run away, unable to bear the pain. If we clean the butter-lamp while it is still warm, the job is very easily done. In the same way, if we apply the antidote before our ego-clinging has gathered strength, we shall not fall under its influence.
The power of aspiration. Whenever we have completed some positive action we should pray, ‘From now on until I attain enlightenment, may I never abandon the two Bodhichittas. Whatever conflicts I may encounter, may I be able to use them as steps along the path.’ Praying in this way, we should make offerings to the Teacher, the Three Jewels and the Dharma Protectors, asking for their assistance.
It is said of these five powers that they are the whole of the teachings condensed into a single syllable HUNG. The meaning of this is that all the profound and elaborate instructions of the Mind Training are contained within the five powers. Therefore we should practise them fervently, as did the Buddha himself when once, in a previous life, he was the royal hermit Kshantivadin, the Forbearing.
The story goes that he had withdrawn into the forest as an ascetic whereupon his younger brother had succeeded to the throne. One day the king, the younger brother, went on an expedition and at some point, he took his rest and fell asleep. Meanwhile his queens, the ministers and attendants went off to see hermit Kshantivadin, whom they knew from before and requested him to teach them. When the king awoke, he found that he was alone and, thinking that the queens, ministers and attendants had abandoned him, became very angry. He arose and searched and found them grouped around the hermit. Not realising that the holy man was teaching the Dharma, the king thought that he was leading his queens and ministers astray and corrupting them.
‘Who are you?’ cried the king. For he had been very young when his brother had renounced the world and did not recognise him.
‘I am hermit Kshantivadin,’ replied his elder brother.
‘Well,’ said the king, ‘let us see if you are worthy of such a name. Let me see how much you can bear.’ So saying, he cut off the sage’s right hand. ‘Well, can you bear that?’ he said.
‘Yes, I can,’ came the reply.
Cutting off the hermit’s left hand, the king said, ‘Are you still Kshantivadin, can you still bear that?’
‘Yes,’ he said.
Then the king struck off the hermit’s head, saying, ‘Can you still bear that?’
‘Yes,’ he said.
And so it was that he cut off the hermit’s hands and head. But from his wounds, instead of blood, there flowed a white milky substance. The king calmed down, and thinking that this could not be an ordinary being, he asked his retinue who it was. ‘It is your brother, Kshantivadin,’ they told him, ‘who in the past renounced the kingdom to go to the forest.’
Thereupon, the king felt great remorse and began to weep. Now Kshantivadin was a Bodhisattva, and so, although his head had been cut off, he could still talk. He said: ‘My hands and head you cut off as you asked your questions, therefore in the future, when I become a Buddha, may I be able to cut off your defilements as you question me.’ In fact, Kshantivadin was later to become the Buddha Shakyamuni. After the Buddha’s enlightenment, the first five disciples (one of whom had been Kshantivadin’s brother in a previous life) asked him: ‘What is samsara?’
The Buddha said: ‘Samsara is by nature suffering.’
Then they asked: ‘Whence does suffering arise?’
Buddha said: ‘Suffering arises from defiled emotions.’
Then they asked: ‘How can we eradicate the cause of suffering?’
Buddha said: ‘You must follow the path.’
Then they asked: ‘What is the good of following the path?’
Buddha said: ‘All karma and emotions come thereby to cessation.’ And it was through this teaching that the five disciples attained arhatship. So, although the head of Kshantivadin was chopped off in anger, yet, through the power of his aspirations for enlightenment, he was able to transform that evil karmic connection into the positive cause of the king’s becoming his disciple later on. We can see from this why the Dharma teaches the necessity of making prayers of aspiration.
We will now speak about the instructions for dying according to this Dharma tradition. For the practice of the transference of consciousness according to the teachings of the Mind Training, it is as the root verses say:
On how to die, the Mahayana teaches
These five strengths. It matters how you act.
These five strengths are the same as those just mentioned: positive seeds, aspiration, revulsion, resolution and familiarisation.
The power of positive seeds. When we practitioners realise that we are about to die, that we are in the grip of a fatal disease, and that there is no way that we can prolong our lives, we should make an offering to our Teacher and the Three Jewels of all our possessions, giving them away wherever it is most beneficial and meritorious. We should deal with all our unfinished business and have no attachment or aversion for anyone or anything.
The power of aspiration. Making the seven branch offering to our Teacher and the Three Jewels, we should pray as follows: ‘May I be free from fear in the bardo, and in all my future lives may I be blessed with the practice of the twofold Bodhichitta. May the Victorious Ones bless me, especially the master who has taught me the Bodhichitta practice, the Mind Training instructions.’ We should pray like this again and again, confident that our Teacher will take care of us.
The power of revulsion. We should remember that ego-clinging has brought us sorrow in the past. Even now, the hope that we might continue to live, attachment to our bodies as something precious, worries as to the way in which our wealth will be used: all this might still occasion a lot of suffering. If even now we are unable to rid ourselves of such clinging, we will never have peace. We should let our bodies go like earth and stones, thinking that they are not worth holding on to. We are suffering just because of our attachment to them. Just look!-on the outside they are skin, inside they are filled with flesh, blood, bones and all sorts of disgusting substances. They are actually nothing but bags of dirt and there is no need to identify them as ourselves. Let them be burned; let the birds or dogs devour them! Reflecting in this way, we rid ourselves of self-cherishing.
The power of resolution. We should remind ourselves that when we have to pass through the bardo, by meditating on the precious Bodhichitta, we will in fact be meditating on the heart essence of all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. It will be impossible for us to fall into the lower realms. By resolving to practise Bodhichitta constantly with strong determination, we guard ourselves from the terror of the bardo.
The power of familiarisation. We should constantly be mulling over the techniques just described: how to practise the twofold Bodhichitta, how to exchange happiness for suffering, how to develop compassion towards those who are hostile. We must live in such a way that, through remembering the Mind Training constantly, we will be able to apply it when the time comes for us to die and we are in a lot of pain.
Now when the moment of death arrives, this is what you should do. Just as the Buddha did when he passed away, lie on your right side, rest your head on your right hand. Breathe in through your left nostril, blocking your right nostril with the little finger of your right hand. Meditate on love, wishing happiness for all beings, numerous as the sky is vast, and generate compassion with the desire to free them from every suffering. Using the support of your ingoing and outgoing breaths, imagine that you exhale all your happiness, comfort and wealth, sending them to all who suffer. And inhale all the diseases, evil, negative emotions and obscurations of other beings, taking them upon yourselves.
Afterwards, you should reflect that samsara and nirvana are themselves illusory, just like a dream or a wizard’s magical display. Everything is devoid of self-existence. Everything is but the perception of the mind and where nothing exists, there is no cause for fear, here or in the bardo. Try to remain in that conviction, without any mental grasping.
An old lady and her daughter were once swept away by a river. The lady thought to herself, ‘If only my daughter could be saved, I do not care if I drown!’ The daughter thought, ‘What does it matter if I die? Only let my mother be safe!’ They were both killed, but, because their final intentions were those of such a powerful love, they were reborn in the realms of the gods. And so we should have loving thoughts like this all the time, and when we come to die, we should meditate alternately upon the two Bodhichittas.
There are many well-known and celebrated instructions on how to transfer the consciousness at the moment of death, but none are so sublime, amazing or wonderful as this.