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Home > Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism > Level 2: Lam-rim (Graded Stage) Material > What Needs to Be Understood in Order to Have a Bodhichitta Aim > Session Four: Steps in Seven-Part Cause and Effect Meditation, and Questions

What Needs to Be Understood in Order to Have a Bodhichitta Aim

Alexander Berzin
Riga, Latvia, July 2004

Session Four: Steps in Seven-Part Cause and Effect Meditation, and Questions

Alexander Berzin
Riga, Latvia, July 2004

Unedited Transcript
Listen to the audio version of this page (23:01)

Seven-Part Cause and Effect Meditation

Although there's a lot to say about these two methods for building up bodhichitta, I think it would be better if we have some time for questions, since to explain these two methods would take quite a bit of time. The only thing that I would like to mention is that in that seven-part cause and effect meditation – recognizing everyone as having been your mother in some previous life, and remembering the kindness of motherly love that we have received – the third step is usually translated – I used to translate it as well – as "repaying that kindness." That's not a very accurate translation because it sounds as though we're obligated to pay it back – that's not really the meaning. A much better translation of the term is “appreciation.” If we remember all the kindness that we've received, then automatically we appreciate it. That's why they say you don’t have to have a separate step, a separate method to develop it. If you remember that kindness, you will appreciate it.

And then the next step is love, but actually there are two stages of that love and that also is not so frequently explained. First that we get – and this automatically comes from appreciating kindness that everyone has shown us – is what's called “heart-warming love.” It's a feeling of closeness with everybody – anybody that we meet, it just warms our heart. We feel close to everybody because we appreciate the kindness that everybody has shown us. Then comes the love that is wishing for everybody to be happy and to have the causes for happiness.

So again, don’t trivialize this. We're talking about a mosquito who's buzzing around your head and you are just so happy, it just warms your heart, “Oh, how wonderful, this has been so kind to me in a previous lifetime and now it's come back." That mental continuum now has this form of a mosquito – "Oh, how terrible, how much suffering my mother is having now as a mosquito.” It just warms our heart, we appreciate it, so happy to meet this mosquito. You don’t have to work yourself up into thinking, Well, it's been my mother in a previous lifetime," think about mental continuums and so on. You don’t have to think about all that, it just comes up, like that, automatically, uncontrived, spontaneously. That's what we're talking about here, so don’t trivialize this. It is very advanced. That's what a bodhisattva feels.


So, what questions do you have?

The Relationship between Liberation and Enlightenment

Question: [inaudible]

Alex: The question is concerning the relationship between liberation and enlightenment. If we're not aiming to achieve liberation, what does it mean? Where is liberation on the path to enlightenment? Well it's like we are not aiming as a bodhisattva to reach liberation, but we will reach liberation as a stage on the path to enlightenment. And so, if we're aiming to reach the third floor of the building, then of course on the way up to the third floor we get to the second floor. But that wasn't our aim, just to get to the second floor; our aim was to get to the third floor. So it comes along the way. But we're going to need a lot more energy to get to the third floor than to just get to the second floor. We're aiming to get rid of all the habits of the disturbing emotions, so of course in the process of doing that you can get rid of the disturbing emotions first. And you will.

The Bodhisattva Path in Sutra and Tantra

Question: So, what we are talking about is the way of a bodhisattva. This is a sutra teaching, not tantra teachings?

Alex: Oh, that's absolutely incorrect. This is common to sutra and tantra. Both sutra and tantra are divisions of Mahayana – we're talking about general Mahayana. And according to the various teachings, in order to reach the final, final stage of enlightenment, we need to get to the clear light level of mind. So even if we're following the sutra path of it, on the tenth bodhisattva bhumi right before enlightenment, we're going to have to follow the highest tantra practice to achieve the clear light mind, because it's only that that will actually be the immediate cause for enlightenment. So this is totally fundamental to the tantra path as well as the sutra path. Both are Mahayana. The only real difference is in terms of efficiency of the method of reaching enlightenment, but the development of the aim, the motivation – it's exactly the same.

Of course, in order to practice tantra we have to have developed the bodhichitta aim beforehand. Otherwise, tantra makes absolutely no sense. And so sure, we develop it beforehand, and all the things that we've discussed now are things that we would do before we practice tantra, but they are not things that we drop once we're practicing tantra.

It's totally improper to start practicing tantra too early on our spiritual path, when we are not prepared. But we maintain bodhichitta, otherwise visualizing yourself as a Buddha-figure – what in the world are you doing? It's because you are aiming to become that, and realize that you haven't achieved it yet. So the whole focus on oneself as a Buddha-figure is with bodhichitta, otherwise you might as well imagine that you're Cleopatra or Napoleon – a crazy person. “Now I'm Mickey Mouse and I'm going to lead everybody to Disneyland” – it's crazy.

Being Ready to Start Practicing Tantra

Question: So we put a lot of tantric initiations in our life, many teachers are coming here, but how do we define the moment that we have developed our bodhichitta and we are ready to be in tantra practice?

Alex: Well, the situation as it is, particularly in the West, is like that for many various reasons – it's quite complex. The various lamas are giving initiations and have been giving initiations very prematurely to people who are totally unprepared for it. Now, if the audience were Tibetans – Tibetans of course all believe (it's part of their culture) in future lives and so they all think, “Well, I'm planting seeds for future lives.” And the lamas think in terms of that. And so the vast majority of these lamas really don’t make such a differentiation between a Westerner and a Tibetan. Even if they do make the difference – even His Holiness the Dalai Lama, although he realizes that Westerners don’t believe in future lives, but still [he feels] it's beneficial as an instinct. But what His Holiness always says is that [if you are not ready to practice tantra,] you have respect for this, you put it up on the shelf and wait until you're actually ready to practice it sincerely.

Most people go to these initiations just for inspiration; it's usually called “blessing.” They're not really prepared to take the vows and so they don’t receive the initiation. Now, when are we ready? When we actually have the foundation of renunciation and refuge to start with – sincerely, not just meaningless bla-bla-bla. With renunciation, bodhichitta and voidness – we don’t have to wait until it is uncontrived, but at least we have a correct understanding of what it is, and, going through the stages of the mediation to build it up to feeling it. We can do that even though it is contrived. And we're willing to keep the vows. Then we are ready. And we understand something about the tantra method, and we are convinced that this is a valid method, and we have respect for it – not just getting into something blindly, or with some fantasy idea of what it is. And we have great respect for the teacher who's giving the initiation. You feel some connection so that we're inspired by the teacher.

Also we have to take into consideration ngondro, the preliminary practices. The common preliminary practices are very necessary – at least to have a contrived state of the four thoughts that turn the mind to the Dharma, precious human life, death and impermanence, the workings of the karma, and the suffering of samsara. So we have renunciation of it, and then of course refuge and bodhichitta. And bodhichitta implies following the six far-reaching attitudes or perfections – concentration, understanding of voidness, and so on. That we need in order to proceed to tantra. Now, the special or uncommon preliminaries – the four thoughts that turn the mind to the Dharma are common to sutra and tantra – what's uncommon or special with tantra is that in addition all these a hundred thousands of this and that. The visualization does not matter – they're all the same whether we visualize it with Guru Rinpoche, Tsongkhapa, whoever; it does not matter, all the same. The point is to build up the positive force, the state of mind, and do some purification.

And so although it's best to have done that before receiving initiations, at least we are committed to do it to some extent after receiving the initiation because without that, you're not going to have very much success in your practice. You don’t have the force, you don’t have the energy; there's too much negativity. So we need a combination of both. With the common ones I think that we certainly do need some level of it before the initiation. The uncommon ones – depends on the tradition, depends on the teacher, depends on the circumstances; whether we've done it before or we do it afterward or we do it both. That's part of it as well.

As I say, most people, when they are unprepared go to an initiation. But if you're not really prepared, it's still inspiring. It's usually called you go "for the blessings," but that's a silly translation; you get inspiration from it – very helpful, very nice – but we should not fool ourselves into thinking that we've actually received the initiation. It states very clearly, Sakya Pandita says very clearly: without taking the vows, you haven't received any initiation. And to receive the vows we have to consciously take them. To be there and then later we found out, “Well, the Lama did it all in Tibetan. I had no idea of what was happening. I had no idea that I was taking the vows, and just like a parrot I repeated bla-bla-bla in Tibetan and now I'm stuck with these vows,” you haven't taken the vows. You don’t have the vows, you don’t have the initiation. Don’t fool yourself. To take the vows, you have to very consciously know what you're doing and very consciously accept them. Without that, no initiation actually took place. You just were there, and if you were open enough, you received some inspiration, like a baby or a dog that was there.

Attachment to One's Spiritual Teacher

So, we have time for maybe one more question if there is.

Question: So, the question is how should we deal with subtle levels of attachment, particularly with subtle levels of attachment to one’s spiritual teacher; because the methods we described yesterday, in this case they are not working. How to deal with these subtle levels of attachment to one’s spiritual teacher?

Alex: As His Holiness the Dalai Lama explains, if we have attachment to the spiritual teacher or attachment to enlightenment or attachment to our practice or meditation or something like that, you can't say that it is all negative because it does have a certain benefit: it keeps us focused on things which are very positive. And so that's not something that we have to attack very forcefully in the same way as we would attack, let's say, attachment to hunting – something negative; or attachment to ice-cream, which is neutral; or attachment to our husband or wife, which is slightly different.

The attachment we were explaining is exaggerating the positive qualities and then not wanting to let go. So, if not wanting to let go of following the teacher – of course it has to be a qualified teacher – and not letting go of the meditation and the practice and enlightenment and striving and all these things – that's perfectly fine. So what we have to modify here is the exaggeration. Well, you want to focus on the positive qualities of the teacher, so that's not a problem, but to exaggerate that the teacher literally is a Buddha and can read everybody’s mind and knows the telephone number of everyone in the universe – this is an exaggeration. This we have to watch out for.

Particularly with the spiritual teacher we have to be very careful because often what happens is that in focusing on the good qualities, especially if we exaggerate them, what often goes hand in hand with that is exaggeration of our own weak qualities. And so as a result of that, we become dependent on the teacher. That's very different from relying on the advice and inspiration of the teacher. Dependency, that, “I can’t live without you and I can’t do anything without you” – this is something that we have to work on. A proper spiritual teacher is one that is teaching us to stand on our own two feet and become a Buddha ourselves; it's not one that wants us to become dependent on him or her. Marpa, after all, told Milarepa after he had taught him: “Now, go. Go off to the mountains, go off to the caves. Now you have to do it yourself.” Milarepa relied totally on Marpa, totally appreciated everything that he gave, but he wasn't dependent on him.

And if we have a relation as you mentioned with another teacher, a non-Buddhist teacher, then we can learn a great deal from that teacher – provided that it's a qualified teacher for what they are teaching – we can get a great deal of inspiration, we can learn a lot from that teacher, have great respect for that teacher, focus on the good qualities of that teacher – that's very, very helpful. Buddhism says to regard everybody as our teacher – learn from them. But again, what we have to watch out for, which comes with the attachment, is exaggerating the good qualities, particularly to think that this non-Buddhist teacher can lead us to the Buddhist goal of enlightenment. They're not trying to lead us there, so we shouldn't exaggerate and think that they're going to bring us there. They may teach us something that's helpful along the path – that's quite possible. Learning from them, relying on them, not wanting to give them up in the sense of "Oh, This was stupid, this is a waste of time” – this is okay. The point is not to exaggerate and even in the case of our Buddhist teacher, like the case of Milarepa and Marpa, eventually we need to go on and stand on our own feet. Go back when we need the teacher, to clarify certain things, but not dependently I have to stay by you like a puppy dog.

So, why don’t we end here for today. We think whatever understanding we've gained may it go deeper and deeper, and act as a cause for reaching enlightenment for the benefit of all.