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Home > Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism > Level 3: Lojong (Mind Training) Material > Explanation of Seven-Point Attitude-Training > Session Five: Point Three Continued: Transforming Adverse Circumstances with Our Actions, and Point Four

Explanation of Seven-Point Attitude-Training

Alexander Berzin
Berlin, Germany, June 2004

Session Five: Point Three Continued: Transforming Adverse Circumstances with Our Actions, and Point Four

Unedited Transcript
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We have covered how to transform adverse conditions into a path to enlightenment with our thoughts, and now we discuss it in terms of our actions, what we can actually do. What we can do is explained with the last lines of this section:

The supreme method possesses four actions of use,
(So) instantly apply to the meditation whatever I happen to meet.

That sort of summarizes that whole section – we practice with whatever happens. There are four actions that we can use, or apply, in any type of situation. These four are: (1) building up more positive potential; (2) purifying negative potential and disturbing attitudes; (3) making offerings to spirits, and ghosts, and demons, and this sort of thing; and (4) making offerings to Dharma protectors.

The first two are not so difficult to understand or to apply. In order to avoid suffering in the future, we would do all sorts of actions to build up more positive force – helping others, the seven-part practice, this type of thing. So when we’re in difficult situations, use that as a circumstance to work more toward doing positive things, and also to purify ourselves of negative potentials, do the various purification practices, which there is no need or time at the moment to go through all of that – Vajrasattva purification and so on.

Making offerings to spirits and ghosts – this is not so easy for us as Westerners to get into. Basically, we make them offerings, thanking them for causing us trouble, for causing us problems, and we ask them to give us even more, “Give me even more here! Thank you. Let me take on the suffering of everybody,” this tonglen type of practice.

For this, an actual action that we can do, and Tibetans do this, is put a little bit of bread outside the door, or some leftovers. Usually the Tibetans will give leftovers to the harmful spirits – hungry ghosts and so on can’t eat anything which is good. People make a big mistake at tsog offerings when they give a lot of their offerings, a whole apple or something like that. A hungry ghost could never eat something like that. You have to give something that is a leftover. You’ve taken a bite out of it and you give a little bit. They’re obstructed from being able to eat, so you give a little bit, of the worst quality – you hear the descriptions – they’re only able to eat snot that somebody blew out of their nose or something like that. That’s what they’re able to eat, so you give them what they can eat, not the most magnificent meal. You put it not on a nice plate – this type of thing, and you imagine that they come, and they eat this little piece that’s left over, and you let the dogs or the birds or whatever eat it.

That, as opposed to, which would be a positive practice, the first thing, which would be to – your stale bread, feed it to the birds outside, don’t throw it in the garbage; or your leftovers as well, rather than throwing them away, as many people do, give them out to the insects or the pigeons or whatever. For many people living in the city that would be difficult, and many people would find that difficult to do, but Tibetans do this practice here. If it’s too hard to do that, at least we make some sort of offering to them, and try to develop compassion, and feel to work for their welfare.

“Please don’t cause further interference” – when we’re experiencing interference and problems, they are causing that, so “I make you an offering, so that you don’t cause more” – if it’s too difficult for us to say, “Thank-you, please give me more. Great, give me more!” That would be the full version of it. I remember Ngari Rinpoche, His Holiness’ brother, was staying one place, we were traveling with His Holiness in India and he’s getting bitten by mosquitoes and he sort of just went out and just offered himself, “Come on, all of you, come, eat me,” he really yelled at them, sort of, “Come and get it.”

Sometimes you have these days, I have these days, where everything breaks – your computer crashes and all sorts of things – and so the attitude is, “Come on, give me more, what else is going to break today?” Thinking in terms of the harmful spirits, “Thank-you, give me more. Let’s get it all over with.” I find that very helpful on days like that. “Come on, what else is going to break, bring it on,” and then you laugh.

This is referring to an action, a way in which we transform our actions, it’s referring to actually putting out offerings for them, but offerings of bad quality, what they can actually eat. You don’t think, “Well, this is the part that I don’t want to eat, because it’s dirty. I’ll give it to the ghosts.” It’s with compassion for them, because that’s what they would like, that’s what they can eat. The point of this is not to feed the birds, who are the ones that will actually eat it, but to feed the ghosts that are causing you harm. Teachers say that we can even make an offering when we go to the toilet, that this is what the hungry ghosts can eat. So every action can be transformed into something that can help us on the path to enlightenment.

What I find is very helpful here is a practice that one Dharma colleague, a friend of mine, the Western teacher Tsultrim Allione, developed from the chod (pronounced “chö”) practice, some people mispronounce it as “chot” practice, the “cutting up and giving,” which she calls “feed the demon.” It’s an excellent practice. Let me explain it briefly:

You focus on, “What is your big problem?” that’s haunting you inside, always bothering you. Identify that, and then imagine that it takes the form of a demon. Use your imagination to imagine what that demon must look like, whether it is large, or small, slimy, does it have many arms, many legs, big fangs, horns, or what does it look like? Whatever that particular problem might be – loneliness, or fear, or whatever; that “Nobody loves me,” or “I’m not good enough,” or whatever demon it is that haunts us. Then this demon comes outside and sits in front of you. You can put a pillow on the floor in front of you. It’s almost like a Gestalt therapy. You put the demon there, and the demon sits there, and you ask the demon, “What do you want?” and the demon says what it wants, “I want everybody to love me,” “I want people to pay attention to me,” “I want...” whatever it is that the demon wants, “I want more self-confidence,” whatever. Then you imagine feeding the demon, you imagine giving that to the demon. So you love the demon, or you pay attention to the demon, or whatever it is that the demon wants you give to the demon, you feed the demon. And what you find is that, eventually what happens is, the demon is satisfied and goes away.

This is a very profound, very effective type of thing, because what it demonstrates is that you’re capable of giving that. You give it to yourself. You don’t need, “Oh, others should pay attention to me,” this type of thing. This, I think, is a very practical application of this “feeding the demon” practice that Tsultrim Allione developed and teaches. We may have many demons that we have to feed, not just one. Do one at a time.

The fourth action of use that we can use is making offerings to Dharma protectors. This is also to bring us more suffering and destroy our self-cherishing. Of course, as we were saying with tonglen practice, it’s just to provide circumstances for our own karma to ripen.

There are two ways in which Dharma protectors can help us: one which is a very dangerous way. An unreliable Dharma protector is one that provides circumstances for our positive potentials to ripen quickly. There are some Dharma protectors that are very unreliable. You rely on them, and you get a lot of money, and things go very well, very quickly. But what happens as a result is that the positive karmic potentials are burned off and then you crash terribly, because you’re left just with the negative ones. This is an unreliable type of Dharma protector.

The reliable ones are the ones that bring the circumstances for your negative karma to ripen first. They ripen in usually a very trivial, annoying but trivial type of thing, and then the obstacles, the bigger obstacles that could have happened during the journey or whatever it is that you’re undertaking, are finished – burn them off quickly like this and then you’re left with just all your positive potentials that allow for whatever you’re doing to go well.

For instance, this is the way with the Nechung (gNas-chung) protector, and Serkong Rinpoche always used to have a big puja done for Nechung before our world journeys. Just to give an example: we were going down to Delhi from Dharamsala to catch the plane. We take the train from Pathankot and there was some mix-up with our train reservation, and we didn’t have a reservation, and the only place that we could get on the train, because we had to get down to Delhi, was two sleeper berths were available in third class – those were the days when they still had third-class trains – right next to the toilet, and so we took those. Rinpoche took one berth, and I took the other berth, and the two Tibetan attendants had to sit on the floor by the toilet for the whole night. It was very unpleasant, very uncomfortable, but everything else on the trip went absolutely well.

The second journey, similarly, there was a mix-up with the train, and we couldn’t get on the train at all. We had to – it was in the middle of the night – take a bus to Chandigarh, and then about three o’clock in the morning change buses and bring down all the luggage and jump on another bus to go to Delhi, and it was very, very unpleasant, but ultimately trivial. Nobody slept that night, except Rinpoche who could sleep anywhere, and then everything went very, very smoothly.

This is the type of thing that we do – make offerings to Dharma protectors for, “Bring on the negative circumstances, let them burn off.” That’s what this practice is referring to. When these things came up on our journeys – with the train and the bus and so on – everybody was just absolutely delighted. They were so happy that this was happening, because it was clear what was going on. So whenever things are going poorly, you think that, “This is wonderful. This is the blessing of my Dharma protectors. They’re burning off obstacles in these more trivial ways so that things aren’t much worse.” That’s very helpful. Very, very helpful, if one thinks in those ways. And it’s not just pretending, but one actually has conviction in all of this; otherwise it’s complete nonsense if you don’t think in these terms, believe in them as it were. If you do, it’s an excellent way of transforming adverse conditions and circumstances.

The fourth point of the seven points is the condensation, or gathering of the practice in one lifetime, condensing it all down into the essence of the practice. This is divided into what we do during one lifetime, and then what we can do at the end of this lifetime, when we die. So [first,] during our lifetimes. The text reads:

In brief, the essence of the guideline instruction is applying the five forces.

This is talking about forces that we can apply every day, all day long. It’s the essence of the practice. The first of these is the force of the intention. When we wake up, it’s very important to set the intention for the whole day to try to work with bodhichitta and strengthen my bodhichitta resolve, or aim to always be kind, not to get angry. We can do this before we go shopping to the supermarket – not to be greedy, not to buy things that I don’t need, just because I’m right there, I see some candy, or biscuits, or chocolate. Or when we have to be with people that are quite difficult to be with, we set the intention not to get angry.

The Kadam Geshes used to help themselves with this. They would write on the walls of the caves in which they meditated and lived, “Don’t let your mind wander.” “Don’t get angry.” “Develop bodhichitta” – these sort of reminders to help set the intention. Put on the refrigerator, “Don’t eat, Fatty!”

The second force is the force of the white seed. This is to try everyday to build up more and more positive force – the so-called “white karmic potential” – and to purify and get rid of negative potential. This will act as the seed for changing our circumstances. It is said that a brave person can’t kill enemies with just bravery. A brave person needs weapons, a shield, helpers, and so on – Buddha belonged to the warrior caste, so Buddhism always is using these images of warriors, it’s not surprising – and so we need this positive force and we need to diminish our negative potential. It can’t just be on the basis of the resolve, “I want to be able to overcome it and I want to be able to benefit everyone.”

The third force is the force of acquaintance. We need to acquaint ourselves more and more and more with this everyday. Whatever we do, we use that to help us to build up the habit, this acquaintance, of concern for others, not just concern for ourselves. So when we eat, we think, “I’m eating in order to make myself strong and healthy, so that I can help others.” When we put on warm clothing, we think, “By doing this may my body be more fit and not sick, so I can help others.” As we said before, when you walk into the room, “May I bring all beings into liberation,” and when we help somebody, and not just the trivial help that we might be giving them, but, “May I help them reach enlightenment,” and all of that. The force of acquaintance. We can acquaint ourselves every minute. This way we’re able to transform even very neutral actions into things that can help us on the path.

The fourth force is the force of eliminating all at once. Sometimes it’s translated as “disgust,” but literally it means “to get rid of something at once.” We’re so disgusted during the day when our self-cherishing and our selfishness arises, that “I can’t wait to get rid of it,” and, “I just want to get rid of it all at once.” It’s like if there’s a mosquito or a fly buzzing around our face, so “I can’t wait, I just want...” just totally disgusted with it, “I want to get rid of it immediately so that it stops,” We have no patience with it, no tolerance of it. We won’t rest until we catch it and get rid of it. That’s the attitude we’re talking about. The more we reject our selfishness, the weaker it becomes. If we think of all the disadvantages of selfishness when it arises, we’ll reject it. It’s quite effective if you can think of that when you’re acting selfishly, self-cherishing, that it’s like a mosquito or a fly buzzing around your face.

I think more and more we can appreciate how advanced these practices are. These are not at all beginner, easy practices. These are the actual real bodhisattva type of practices, what we need to do. Not that, “Everything is just so nice, and so pleasant, so easy.” Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey used to say, “If we want that, that is a sign of our laziness.” We want to get enlightenment cheap. It’s on sale today.

The fifth force is the force of prayer. At the end of the session, at the end of the day, we pray, “May I never be separated from the two bodhichittas.” As an example of this, Kadam Geshe Ben-kungyel used to have a collection of white and black stones, and he used to put a white stone for every time that he had positive thoughts or positive actions, and a black one for every time he had selfish and negative thoughts or actions. And at the end of the day he would tally it up and see how he had done. If there were more black, he resolved to try to do better, more white – congratulate oneself, although not be proud of it, and make prayers like that to be able to improve more and more.

When we ask the guru to pray for us, what’s not proper is to just ask for a prayer, “May we have no sickness, may my business go well, may my daughter find a good husband.” But it’s best to ask the guru to pray for us, a teacher to pray, that we’re able to develop bodhichitta as quickly as possible.

At the time of death, we also can apply these five forces. That is described with the next verse:

The guideline instruction for the Mahayana transference of mind
Is the five forces themselves,
While giving importance to my path of deportment.

Deportment means how I act, referring here to how I act at the time of death. So one has a good deportment if they act properly in a situation.

This is referring to the best type of Mahayana transference of mind. Transference of mind is powa (‘pho-ba) in Tibetan. The best type of powa is not when you imagine your mind shoots off the body and goes to some pure land, but to apply these five forces themselves. That’s the best transference of the mind into better circumstances for following the bodhisattva path in future lives. It’s important to remember actually. So when we die, we apply these five forces again.

The intention – dying prayer, “May I be able to develop bodhichitta, and have bodhichitta in the bardo realm in between lives, and in my next lives – even if I haven’t developed it so fully in this lifetime.” That’s the best way to transfer the consciousness to a rebirth state conducive for developing bodhichitta.

This is how Geshe Chaykawa died, even with a stronger bodhisattva intention, which was, “May I be reborn in one of the hell realms in order to be able to help others there.” But the prayer has to be really sincere, because what usually happens as a result of such a prayer is that you’re born in one of these hell realms just for a very short time, and then immediately after that you get a very wonderful rebirth as a result of all the positive force that you built up. But if that’s the aim with the prayer, to just bounce into a hell briefly, and then get a really good rebirth after that, then this is not going to count as a bodhisattva practice. This is just for one’s own selfish purposes. One has to be really sincere with this type of practice, that one really wants to be reborn in one of the hells and really wants to help the beings there. Then it really is a bodhisattva practice. That’s very, very advanced. That’s very difficult. “Even if not in the hell realms, may I be born in a place where there is no Dharma, to be able to help and teach others there.” That’s the force of intention at the time of death.

Question: Does the text mean that we practice these five forces at the moment of death, or does it mean practicing them until we die?

Answer: This is referring to what we do at the time of death. We die with that intention, to try to develop bodhichitta in the bardo, to try to develop it further in future lives, and the stronger form: to be reborn in the worst situations so I can help others there.

Question: And Geshe Chaykawa did not succeed, did he?

Answer: He did not succeed. He was very unhappy – when he died he saw that his prayer was not going to be fulfilled, because he had signs that he was going to be reborn in some wonderful situation, so he was quite sad. His disciples asked him why he was sad, that’s how the story came out. He said, “I was always praying to be reborn in a hell, and now I see it’s not going to happen.” The rebirth in this wonderful state is the result of the altruistic thought, of course, but still you want to be willing to go there. In this lifetime as well – Serkong Rinpoche always went to the worst places to teach, [places] that nobody wanted to go to, like the Tibetan soldiers that were on the border, it’s part of the Indian army. He used to go on yak – he was old and fat – up to the high mountains to teach these Tibetan solders. It was in that tradition that I started, when I was traveling around to go try to teach Dharma in the communist countries, when it was communist, and then around South America, and Africa, and the Islamic Middle East, and so on – go to the most difficult places, go to the place where nobody wants to go.

The second force is the force of the white seed at the time of death, which is to give everything away to others, so that we don’t die with heavy luggage, as it were. Because all our possessions and so on are just going to be considered junk and thrown in the garbage by our relatives who don’t want to have to deal with this. It’s much better to give it away now, while we can; and to not be attached to our own bodies – to give it away to the worms, or whatever it is that’s going to eat our bodies if we’re going to be buried in the ground, rather than being attached to it. If we’re very attached to our bodies – to use a horrible example – then we can be reborn as a worm ourselves, crawling in and out of our skeleton, and eating our flesh. To avoid that type of situation, it’s best to give now, while we can. That’s the force of the white seed.

The third force is the force of acquaintance. What we try to do is – as we’re dying – stay acquainted with bodhichitta, so as the consciousness gets more and more subtle, to always keep our focus – as much as possible – on bodhichitta, which means to keep our focus on our individual future enlightenments that we’re aiming to achieve, with the intention that we set before, that, “I want to continue to work toward it in all future lives.” We try to keep that acquaintance with it, as we go through the dying process, if we’re able to do that with some clarity of mind, and it happens slowly, rather than just being hit by a truck.

It’s very important that we do this acquaintance during our lifetime as well, because often what happens is a truck might be coming, and the first thought that comes to my mind is “Oh, shit!” And to die with the thought “Oh, shit!” is not the most wonderful thought to have as our last thought. If we’re really acquainted with taking refuge, safe direction, in terms of bodhichitta, then – in times of real danger, when we don’t have so much time, particularly at the time of death – that’s the thought that’s going to come up, rather than “Oh, shit!” and then we’re born as a fly in a pile of shit, if I may be a bit graphic.

The Tibetans, instead of accustoming themselves in having this explicative “Oh, shit!” what they all say is “konchog sum” (dkon-mchog gsum), which is the “three jewels of refuge.” So it’s a little bit equivalent to say “Jesus Christ!” in some difficult situation. And although that certainly isn’t done with the most positive state of mind, yet it is a far better thought to die with than “Oh, shit!” because at least there is the hope, the possibility of it being with a little bit more positive meaning. That’s the power of acquaintance.

The fourth force at the time of death is eliminating all at once. This is the self-cherishing to our own body. They say we should try to die like a bird taking off from a rock, without looking back – just fly off; [feel] disgust with our past negative actions before we die, try to take bodhisattva vows again freshly, or if we’ve done a tantric retreat, then we can do the self-initiation – try to purify ourselves and just leave.

The fifth one is the power of prayer at the time of death. It can be, as we suggested before, to be reborn in the hells, to take on the suffering of all others. But what might be a little bit easier is the prayer not to be separated from bodhichitta and the opportunity to work toward enlightenment in all our lifetimes – prayer at the time of death. Doing this, it says:

While giving importance to my path of deportment.

This refers to what we’re actually doing while we’re dying. The Tibetans consider the position in which we die as quite significant, and I really forget, I don’t have written down here why. But it’s best if our head faces north and our face is facing toward the west; and to die in the position the way that Buddha died and also to try to sleep in that position, on the right side. Usually it’s the right hand underneath the face and the left hand along the side, and the left leg on the right leg, forming a straight line with the body; and to try to die with all these thoughts while doing tonglen. Actually Serkong Rinpoche who died doing tonglen died in that position, although he had his hands crossed more in a tantric version of it.

Obviously this way of dying is only appropriate for somebody who has practiced all of this type of attitude-training and bodhisattva practice very intensively during their lifetimes, not somebody that is unacquainted with all of this. This is the fourth point then, which is the gathering together of all the practices for one lifetime, or condensation of the practices of one lifetime.

Question: Isn’t it also OK to be reborn in a pure land?

Answer: Prayer to be reborn in a pure land is a pure land practice. That’s another practice. So there are many, many practices that we can do, which are considered bodhisattva practices, but that’s not the tradition of lojong.

Question: In the lojong tradition, we don’t pray to be reborn in a pure land?

Answer: No, you pray to be reborn in a hell.

Question: Or to have a human life?

Answer: Well, there are the prayers to continue to have the precious human life to be able to benefit others, but, “May I be a bodhisattva strong enough to be able to go to the hells and help everybody there.”

Being reborn in a pure land – which of course is a whole big topic of discussion of what that actually means – is basically like having a time out from having to deal with all the difficult situations of samsara to do intensive practice non-stop, so that one can really make further and further progress, more unhindered. But that’s in many ways the opposite of the lojong tradition, which is to not take time out, but to transform the negative and difficult circumstances. But obviously both [practices] are done to benefit others, so it’s just a different practice, a different tradition. So which one you do? That’s your choice.

Question: But it’s such a great risk to be born in samsara...

Answer: That’s why I said it’s a very advanced practice, a very, very advanced practice. I’ve said this several times. This is a super-advanced practice, not at all for beginners, not at all for the weak-hearted, or those who are not stable already in their practice – but the whole tonglen is to develop the courage to do all of this, the willingness. Whether you’re able to do it or not, as it says, a fox doesn’t jump where a lion can jump. Don’t attempt to do practices that are much too advanced and difficult for you when you’re not ready. Lojong is a very advanced practice, not an easy practice – people trivialize it, “Oh, this is sutra” – an incredibly difficult and profound practice. But if you’re at the stage where you can do it, it’s unbelievably effective, and it’s certainly what the great masters do.

Question: What if we train in lojong, but at the time of death we realize that we’re not ready for a difficult rebirth, but we and all beings would be better off if I went to a pure land...

Answer: If that’s sincere – but often it’s mixed. The wish to be born in a pure land is the wish to go to a paradise, where everything is nice and easy, and we don’t think that there we’re going to work in intensive practice non-stop twenty-four hours a day. We think we’re going to sit and relax by the swimming pool and enjoy ourselves, play cards with our friends – retire to Florida. It’s not like that. It’s not a paradise in that sense. You don’t go there to have a good time. You go to do work, unbelievably.

But it depends on the person. I personally have never been attracted to pure land things. What I find more attractive is a precious human life over and over again, so that you can work to help others as much as possible now, on the way. It doesn’t matter if it takes three countless eons, at least try to benefit others as much as you can now. Continue to have a precious human life. I’ve always been more attracted to that.

So yes, there’s a danger in both, that you get caught in really difficult situations, but that’s why you train in these practices, to transform difficult situations. As I say, the big danger of powa to a pure land is just to go to paradise, which is self-cherishing, basically.

Question: But I think it’s not necessarily so?

Answer: No, of course it doesn’t have to be like that. It can be pure.

Question: If you work for others, you can also do it for your ego; and sometimes it’s better to say, “No, it’s better to rest and work on myself.” I think also we need to check different situations to see if we’re really fit for a particular situation.

Answer: Absolutely. Sometimes when we’re working to help others it can just be a big ego trip, and we certainly need to work on overcoming that; and everything depends on the person, the situation, and so on, absolutely. That’s why we learn many, many different methods.

When we’re learning one particular method, this lojong method, we try to just learn it for itself, not think, “Well, but wouldn’t applying another method be better or more suitable for me?” That’s not the point. The point is to learn this method so you have that in your repertoire. Then, according to the circumstance, you see what is fitting for you personally to practice. The more possibilities you have, the better; the more flexibility you have. Who knows what level of development you’ll be at when you’re about to die.

“May I be reborn in one of the hells” – that’s the most advanced level, but normally we say the best prayer to die with, “May I never be separated from bodhichitta. May I never be separated from fully qualified, perfect gurus in all my lifetimes. May I always have a precious human life. May I always work toward reaching enlightenment for all.” That’s the dedication and prayer to say at the end of every day and all your practices. Those are the basic prayers, absolutely.

And “May I be reborn in whatever situation would be best for that. Whether it’s a pure land, whether it’s in a hell, whether it’s in... wherever – without specifying, because what do we know what’s going to be best? What do we know? We don’t know. So leave it open. In other religions you’d say leave it in God’s hands, but leave it up to what would follow appropriately from our karma and level of training, what would naturally follow next. That’s an important way to make the prayer, “May whatever would be the best circumstance, the most conducive circumstance, whatever it might be, I’m happy to accept it.” I think that’s the best, and then it’s open.

Question: Yes, then it’s open, and it’s the same if you have bodhichitta, then we can work, whether it’s in a pure land, on earth, wherever, then it’s OK.

Answer: Yes, “Whatever would be the most efficient and beneficial for me at this point in my development, because I don’t know. Because what happens if you’re not successful? You pray to go to a pure land, and you don’t, and you end up in a difficult situation. You better have trained in lojong beforehand, so that you can handle it.

Even if we can’t do it now, if we’re not at that level, at least prayers to be able to reach that level where we can sincerely practice like this, because we see how powerful it can be. Because if we’re born in a situation in which things are too easy, like it’s described for the gods realm, you’re not motivated to do anything, [you] become very lazy. It’s when you’re really in a more difficult situation and really challenged that you grow.

Let’s end with a dedication. We think whatever understanding, whatever positive force has come from this, may it go deeper and deeper, and help us to always go on this bodhisattva path, and reach enlightenment as quickly as possible, for the benefit of all.

OK. Thank you very much.