22 Points to Train In

Point 7

Point seven, the last point, consists of 22 points to train in for cleansing out attitudes:

(1) Do all yogas with one

Whatever we do, we should do it on order to be able to help others. An example often used in India, where people frequently have worms, is the inspiration, “When I eat, may I nourish all of the microorganisms in my body.” Even if we can’t sustain this type of motivation throughout the meal, we start off like that. The dedication verse written by Nagarjuna, “I take this food not out of attachment and greed, but as a medicine to help others,” is very helpful.

(2) Do all the quashing of what’s distorted with one

This can be explained in several ways, one of which is to get rid of our disturbing emotions we have through tonglen – taking on the disturbing emotions and sufferings of others. It’s not that we take on the anger of others, and then we become angrier ourselves. Instead, as with all tonglen teachings, we do not hold on to what we take from others solidly inside ourselves, but we use our ability to overcome these things, to actually overcome them.

It can be helpful to see that when our disturbing emotions arise, it’s a good sign, because to get rid of all our hidden disturbing feelings, they need to come to the surface first. We get all of our repressed anger and so on to the surface, so we can get rid of it. It’s a bit like when we start practicing zhinay, because when we first try to quiet down, we notice more and more mental wandering. Actually, it’s not that there is more going on in our minds, it’s just that previously we’d never paid attention to it. In the same way, when we’re training our attitudes and start to observe our minds, we discover a lot of anger and attachment that we never really noticed before. Actually, this is a very good sign.

(3) At the beginning and the end, have the two actions

The two actions are, at the beginning to have the intention to help others, and at the end to dedicate any positive force. This can again be illustrated with Geshe Ben Gung-gyel and his black and white stone. As soon as we wake up or before we do something difficult, we need to set the strong intention to cherish others and not be selfish. At the end of the day, we look back to see how we did, dedicating the positive potential from our constructive actions, and regretting an purifying ourselves of the negative ones.

(4) Whichever of the two occurs, act patiently

Whether happiness or unhappiness occurs and regardless of whether we encounter fortunate or unfortunate circumstances, we should be patient and consistent in wishing to give happiness to others, and take on their problems. When things go well, we shouldn’t be proud or arrogant or self-satisfied, and when things badly, it’s important not to get depressed and feel like we can’t do anything. If we have wealth then we should use it to actually help others, but if we have nothing, we can at least use our imaginations to give. In both circumstances, we can practice tonglen.

(5) Safeguard the two at the cost of my life

This refers to the commitments that we take on, specifically the close bonding practices to train our minds. We need to safeguard these very strongly, so strongly in fact, that the text says even at the cost of our lives. That’s why we should check out the Buddhist vows before we take them, because a lot of people jump into advanced practices and initiations without having a clear idea of what the commitments are, and whether they’ll be able to keep them. They do it because everyone else is, and they want to be an “advanced” practitioner.

Before we ask masters for advanced practices, we should ask ourselves about our own morality. Can we actually keep self-discipline? Are we able to keep commitments? If not, then we simply shouldn’t ask for advanced practices. Some people might do a Chenrezig puja once a week but find it a real pain and aren’t enthusiastic about it at all, yet when a high lama visits they’re anxious to take whatever big initiation is given, regardless of how long the daily sadhana is. If we find doing something once a week burdeonsome, how could we possible do it every day?

(6) Train in the three difficult things

When disturbing emotions arise, there are three difficult things. The first is to recognize the emotion and remember what opponent force is needed to get rid of it. The second is to actually apply the opponent, and the third is to maintain mindfulness of the opponent so that the disturbing emotion doesn’t continue to arise. In other words, we need to break the continuity of disturbing emotions such as anger and greed, and disturbing attitudes such as selfishness.

(7) Take the three major causes

The three major causes are those for being able to practice this training of our attitudes. The first is to meet a spiritual teacher who can give us teachings and inspire us to follow them; the second causes is to actually practice the teachings; the third is to have favourable circumstances for practicing the teachings. These favorable circumstances are basically to be satisfied with modest food, modest housing, modest clothing and so on, and not being preoccupied with how much we can get for me. If we’re earning a sufficient amount of money, for example, we should be satisfied with that rather than wanting more and more, so that we can use our energy to focus on helping others.

(8) Meditate on the three undeclining things

The first undeclining thing is conviction in our teacher’s good qualities, and appreciation of his or her kindness. If we have this, then it transfers to everyone else. We’ll be able to recognize the good qualities of other people, and so will respect them. Also, we’ll appreciate the kindness of others, even if they don’t do anything directly to help us. They help us just by the fact of being available for us to help them.

One of the big hindrances to developing bodhichitta is that we often look down on others. We only see their bad qualities and feel that we’re better than them. For example, if a great scholar or professor is very learned but also arrogant, then their knowledge doesn’t really benefit anyone – not even themselves, let alone others. Everybody is turned off by their pride and no one wants to listen to them. When with pride or arrogance we reject other people’s thoughts and opinions, then we’re not open to learning from anybody else. We impose our ideas, even if they’re wrong, on others, and we reject everyone’s advice. If we’re humble and listen to others, then we can learn even from people with very little education, like children. Looking at good qualities and appreciating kindness opens us up to learning from everyone. The opposite of this is ignoring and rejecting other people’s word simply to protect and defend out own positions.

The second undeclining thing is our willingness to practice, so from the start it’s important that we don’t feel as if training in cherishing others is being forced on us. We should think, “I should do this to be good, if I don’t then I’m a bad person!” When people are forced to do something, they usually rebel and do the opposite. If we really reflect on the advantages of cherishing others and the disadvantages of selfishness, then naturally we’ll have great enthusiasm for the practice, and be totally willing to do it.

The third undeclining thing is to have our commitments and close-bonding practices stable and steady.

(9) Possess the three inseparables

This means to have our body, speech and mind be conscientious and devoted to the practice of thinking about and helping others. The example used for the body is to not sit fidgeting all the time, but to remain mindful and collected. Our speech should not just be non-stop babble about nonsense, but needs to be directed towards helping others. The mind must be filled with thoughts of helping others rather than all sorts of crazy silly stuff. No matter what we’re doing, whether it involved body, speech, or mind, there has to be a constructive connection.

Tibetans say that when we sleep, we shouldn’t sleep like an ox, which just drops on the ground and that’s it. Instead, before we go to bed, we should do three prostrations as a reaffirmation of our safe direction in life, and of our bodhichitta aim. If we hold the aspiration, “May I sleep to be refreshed in order to continue in this direction,” then even something like our sleep can become an extraordinary act.

(10) Act purely, without partiality to objects

This means that we should train with everybody, and not just with our friends and relatives. It’s similar to point six from the last article. This not only applies to people, but to animals as well. Some people can be very nice to cats and dogs, but then they don’t carry this caring attitude over to insects or rodents. This is partiality; we’re just nice to animals we like, and dismissive or actively hostile to the one’s we don’t like.

It’s difficult, but actually when we talk of bringing all beings to enlightenment, it’s important to realize that no being has an inherent, permanent identity in terms of the particular rebirth state they’re in right now. No one is inherently a human being, a cockroach, a woman, or a man. We all have mental continuums with no beginning, and we’ve all taken innumerable rebirth states depending on our karma. Of course we need to relate to others on a conventional level as they are now – as a human, a dog, a cockroach – but on the deeper level, we see that they all equally have Buddha nature. They could have been our mother in our last lifetime, and they could be in our next too. In this way, we can start to extend our practice to all beings.

This wish to cherish others and benefit them needs to be coupled with an understanding of beginningless mind and Buddha nature. This is why the practice of cherishing others and overcoming selfishness starts with building up equanimity, where we see everybody as our mother. This brings us back to the basis of beginningless mind and everyone being equal from this perspective.

(11) Cherish (applying) wide and deep training toward everything

Training our minds means we have to do it towards everything – that means inanimate objects as well as beings. We shouldn’t only not get angry at people, but also at our car when it doesn’t start and the bus when it’s late. We need to avoid becoming attached not just to people, but also to ice cream and money. We’ve got to do all of this from the depths of our heart, not simply superficially.

(12) Always meditate toward those set aside (as close)

We’ve got to apply these practices towards our parents and the people we live with. Often people do meditation to generate feelings of love for all beings, but then can’t even get along with their own parents! So this point is important, and we need to put a lot of effort into it. We need to work with those we’re closely connected to, and also those for whom we feel an immediate attraction or dislike at first sight, because there is a strong karmic connection there.

(13) Don’t be dependent on other conditions

Whatever happens, we need to work on out attitudes. If we wait until we’ve got the perfect conditions to practice, then most likely we’ll be waiting forever. One great Tibetan master said that when things go well people show a spiritual face, but when things are bad, they show their true faces. Everything’s nice and easy when things go smoothly, but when the situation turns sour, many people get depressed and go out and get drunk, instead of turning to their practices. Regardless of how things are going, we need to be steady in our practice.

Nagarjuna said that we can’t be just picked out of samsara like fish are pulled out of the water by fishermen. Great lamas and Buddhas can’t just pull us out of our difficult situations, but they can help and inspire us. They can’t snap their fingers and, all of a sudden, our selfishness and problems disappear. Rather, we need to stand on our own two feet and put the effort in ourselves. If we do nothing and just expect our guru to do it all, then nothing will happen.

(14) Practice primarily now

One lama has said that we shouldn’t be like a professional tourist in samsara, thinking we have lots of time to go around and experience everything. We don’t! We must try to work on our attitudes now, and put our effort into this, and developing bodhichitta and attaining enlightenment.

It’s helpful to imagine that we’re basically on temporary leave from the lower realms. We’re on a short holiday from being a cockroach or a dog, and so we should use this time effectively. Our primary interest should be the Dharma and trying to overcome our selfishness, rather than being involved with worldly aims that increase selfishness.

We also need to keep in mind future lives, which most of us don’t think about or even believe in. If we practice now and don’t make good progress, we get discouraged. Then we hear of tantra and are told we can achieve enlightenment in this very life, which seems very tempting! However, most tantric practitioners will not attain enlightenment in this life, as it’s very rare. We can strive for it, but we shouldn’t think that our chance is lost forever if we don’t make it. We think in terms of lifetime after lifetime, being able to continue our practice. It’s not just all or nothing now. All of this needs a correct understanding of what Buddhism means by “future lives,” which is by no means simplistic.

(15) Don’t have reversed understandings

There are six types of reversed understanding that we need to avoid:

Reversed compassion. This is where instead of having compassion for well-dressed people who are acting destructively, we have compassion for poorly-dressed practitioners who are actually engaged in constructive acts. We think, “Oh those poor meditators in their caves, they have nothing to eat!” It’s good to give them food if they’re hungry, but the people who really have problems are the wealthy businessmen who go around cheating everyone. They’re acting in a way that will bring them more and more suffering, while the meditator is creating future happiness, and ultimately liberation, for themselves. There’s a story of three wealthy sisters who saw Milarepa and said, “Oh we feel so sorry for you!” and he replied, “No, actually I feel sorry for you; you are the objects of compassion, not me!”

Reversed patience. This is being patient and tolerant towards our disturbing attitudes and selfishness, rather than those who get angry at us. Then, there are those who have no patience to sit in a Dharma class or do a meditation session, but have great patience to stand in line for hours in the freezing cold to buy tickets for a rock concert. Now that is reversed patience!

Reversed intention. This is where our main intention is worldly gain, money, pleasures and so forth, instead of wanting to gain inner happiness.

Reversed taste. This is wanting to visit faraway exotic lands, or getting a taste of exotic drugs and sex, rather than wanting a taste of spiritual experience from listening to, thinking about, and meditating upon the teachings.

Reversed interest. Instead of encouraging others to take an interest in spiritual practices, reversed interest is where we encourage them to make more money in business and so forth.

Reversed rejoicing. Rather than rejoicing in our own and others’ positive actions, we rejoice if our enemy or someone we don’t like gets into trouble or has difficulties.

(16) Don’t be intermittent

This means to practice one day and not the next. We need to be consistent! Also, if we’re not strong in one practice, we shouldn’t just skip it and move on, but be steady like a large river.

(17) Train resolutely

If we’re going to work on overcoming our selfishness, we should do it straightforwardly. My mother used to say, “Do it straight up and down, don’t do it sideways.” We don’t want to be in a state of mind where we half want to practice and half can’t be bothered. We need to go straight to the heart of the matter and not fool around.

(18) Free myself through both investigation and scrutiny

We should check carefully on both a rough and minute level, to see if we’ve changed our attitudes. Are we just repressing selfishness, or have we really rooted it out? Another meaning is to investigate teachings in a non-superficial way. If we look in a general and careful way, then we’ll have a clear idea of what needs to be done. Then, we can do it without hesitation.

(19) Don’t meditate with a sense of loss

Often in our practices we mentally give everything away, but if in real life when people come to receive it, we hold back, this is called practicing with a sense of loss. When we give things away, they belong to other people and not us. When I lived in India, I had a beautiful flower garden and in my meditation I would make flower offerings to everybody. But, when local children would pick them to take them home, I noticed that I would get very uptight. This is what a “sense of loss” refers to.

Also, we shouldn’t remind others of the favors we’ve done for them, or how much we’ve sacrificed to help them. Even more importantly, we should never boast about our own practices, telling others that we’ve done 100,000 prostrations or whatever it may be. We build up positive force by doing the prostrations, not telling others. If we do a long retreat and come out only to look down on our old friends as “poor pitiable creatures of samsara,” then something went wrong! We should simply practice sincerely, without feeling sorry for ourselves or getting puffed up.

(20) Don’t restrict myself with hypersensitivity

We should not get angry at the slightest provocation. We need to be able to take abuse, even in public. Shantideva’s advice is that even if someone is yelling at us, we should remain quiet, like a log. Eventually, he said, the person will run out of nasty things to say or will get bored and stop. This has to be done with a pure motivation, not thinking about how we’re going to get revenge later.

(21) Don’t act for merely a short while

This means not to be fickle, always changing our mind. The slightest praise makes us happy, but somebody looking at us with a frown makes us depressed. If we act like this then others will regard us as unstable and unbalanced, and it will hinder our ability to help them. Shantideva provides the best advice: be easy-going with people; don’t spend the whole day in gossip and idle chatter, but don’t be completely silent either. If we don’t talk to the people we live with, it can be more disturbing than playing loud music! It’s good to be flexible, which will allow us to practice for our entire lives, and not just for a short time.

(22) Don’t wish for (any) thanks

We mentioned this before in not expecting a thank you or any appreciation or recognition for helping others. This point includes avoiding the eight worldy Dharmas, which are four pairs of opposites:

  • Getting excited at receiving some gain and depressed at receiving some loss
  • Getting excited at things to go well and depressed at things to go badly
  • Getting excited at receiving praise and depressed at receiving criticism
  • Getting excited at receiving good news and depressed at receiving bad news.

This concludes the seventh point.

Concluding Verses

(Like this,) transform into a path to enlightenment this (time when) the five deteriorations are rampant.

It is said that we live in a time of the five deteriorations.

1. Deterioration of lifespan – life spans are getting shorter and shorter. Many people are dying at a younger age, and there seem to be more illnesses like AIDS and different drug-related deaths and accidents. Children hardly have a childhood anymore, and by the time they’re thirteen, some have already experimented with drugs and sex. In this way life seems to be getting shorter.

2. Deterioration of disturbing emotions – even those who become monks and nuns still have very strong anger, desire, attachment, naivety and so forth.

3. Deterioration of outlook – laypeople have no respect for monks and nuns. In fact, it sometimes seems like no one has much respect for anything nowadays. People in the highest political and spiritual positions are involved in all sorts of scandals.

4. Deterioration of beings – we’re less capable of taking care of ourselves than before. We’re so dependent on electricity, internet, machines, computers and so forth, that if there’s the slightest failure we can hardly cope. Fifty years ago, everyone did perfectly well without computers, but now we get scared when the internet doesn’t work for a few minutes. We have a decline in good health, intellect, physical form and so forth.

5. Deterioration of the times – there are more and more natural disasters. We’ve got climate change problems, huge hurricanes, earthquakes, and so on. This is the time that we really need this type of practice to transform these difficult situations into ones conducive for enlightenment.

The text continues:

This essence of nectar of quintessence teaching is in lineage from Serlingpa.

Quintessence teachings are the teachings on bodhichitta and so forth, which are like an immortality-bestowing nectar, because they lead to Buddhahood. The teachings come from Serlingpa, a teacher of Atisha from Sumatra.

The author concludes:

From the awakening of karmic remainders from having previously trained, my admiration (for this practice) abounded. And due to that cause, ignoring suffering and insult, I requested the guideline instructions to tame my self grasping. Now even if I die, I have no regrets.

If we’ve really trained our minds and attitudes and have rid ourselves of selfishness and self-preoccupation, then we’ll die happily. We’ll have built up causes to be able to continue helping others in future lives. On an immediate level, we’ll die in a relaxed state of mind, or at least with no regrets.

This is the teaching on Seven Points for Attitude-Training, which I received many times from my various teachers: from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, from his teacher Serkong Rinpoche, and from Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey. I hope they may be of benefit to all beings.


What if we’re afraid to practice some of these teachings?

Like I mentioned, these teachings are very advanced, and are not meant for beginners. Before we start, we need to have a healthy ego, in order to overcome low self-esteem. Gampopa’s Jewel Ornament of Liberation starts with Buddha nature, meaning that we need to become convinced that we do have all the qualities that allow us to achieve Buddhahood. This is the starting point, and it really helps us to overcome low self-esteem. Without that, going on to more advanced practices is inadvisable.

What’s a healthy ego? Well, in Buddhism, we try to get rid of the inflated ego, not the healthy ego. It’s on the basis of a healthy ego that we take interest in our lives and our practice, and we actually get up in the morning and go to work and meditate. Without a healthy ego, we wouldn’t be able to function in the world, let alone practice Dharma, because we wouldn’t have any sense that we could gain results from anything. An inflated ego is a distortion of this, where upon our healthy ego we project the feeling that, “I’m the most important one in the world and I always have to have my way.” That’s what we need to get rid of.

Buddhism is always the middle path; the most famous logo of Buddhism is the middle path. In terms of ego, this means a healthy ego, not inflated to “I’m the center of the universe,” but not deflated into, “I can’t do anything by myself,” where we feel despondent and hopeless. That’s just as dangerous and extreme as an inflated ego. We always speak of avoiding two extremes of making everything into solid eternal things, and totally denying everything to the point of nihilism.

How do we know if we have a healthy ego?

We need to investigate ourselves a bit first, by asking if we really care about ourselves. Not in a selfish way, but do we really care about what we experience and feel, or do we have such low self-esteem that we simply don’t care? If we don’t care, then we feel that if we act destructive, then it doesn’t matter. This attitude of “nothing matters” is totally different from equanimity. We start to have a healthy ego when we take some responsibility for our lives, and when we take ourselves, our actions and our feelings seriously.

We don’t need to completely overcome low self-esteem to practice Dharma, because to do that is a very long and difficult process. At least we can recognize the disturbing attitude as a source of suffering, and have the idea that it’s something we want to overcome. Then we have to work out whether it can be overcome or not. Finally, we get involved with Buddhist practices to overcome it.

One of the founders of the Sakya tradition Sonam Tsemo, wrote an important text called Entering the Gateway of the Dharma. He was a contemporary of Gampopa and he taught that to really get involved in the Dharma, we need three things:

  • First, we need to recognize suffering and the problems in our lives.
  • Then, we need to have some determination to be free.
  • Finally, we have to have some basic knowledge of the Dharma.

With these as the basis, we’ll get involved in the Dharma because we’ll recognize our problems and have the motivation to overcome them. We’ll also know the methods to do so, otherwise why would we get into it at all?

Recognizing suffering and wanting to be free of it also requires a healthy ego. If we don’t have that, we don’t care or look for ways to improve our situation. If we do have these three prerequisites, then it indicates that we do have a sufficiently healthy ego to get involved with the teachings.

Of course we want to improve our situations. The texts say, “Practice without hope or expectation,” but this refers to avoiding the extreme of practicing with an inflated ego, for “me, me, me.” It doesn’t mean we go to the other extreme because then we’d never do anything. We need to feel, “I’m not going to get upset by things going up and down as I practice, but I’ll still care enough o continue doing my practice because I’m aiming for enlightenment.” Without a healthy ego, we can’t aim for any goal, let alone liberation and enlightenment.