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Explanation of Seven-Point Attitude-Training

Alexander Berzin
Berlin, Germany, June 2004

Session Six: Point Five and the Start of Point Six

Unedited Transcript
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In our Seven-Point Attitude-Training we’ve covered the first four points. The first point was the preliminaries. The second point was developing actual bodhichitta, which we saw was developing deepest bodhichitta and then the relative bodhichitta. The third was transforming adverse circumstances into the path to enlightenment with our thought concerning our behavior, or our attitude toward our behavior, and with our attitude concerning our view of reality. In terms of that one we saw that the nature of the mind is the four Buddha-bodies.

I just wanted to add one thing to that, which is that what that means is that the nature of our minds – it’s talking about Buddha-nature – and so the nature of the mind has the qualities, the basic same type of conventional nature as the four Buddha-bodies, and that it doesn’t have a truly findable arising, abiding and ceasing. So, not only does that teaching indicate to us the path, in terms of how to achieve that, as we discussed in terms of the inseparability of those three and basic mahamudra type of meditation, but also it indicates the result, and shows that from the basic nature of the mind, the innate qualities of the mind, it’s possible to achieve enlightenment – so we have that basis there.

Then there was transforming adverse circumstances into the path to enlightenment with our actions, the four actions of use; and then, finally, we spoke of the condensation of the practice in one lifetime – in this lifetime and at the time of death – with the five forces.

Now we’re up to the fifth point, which is the measure of having trained our attitudes or our mind. This is the verse:

If all my Dharma practice gathers into one intention;
If, from the two witnesses, I take the main;
If I can continually rely on my mind being only happy;
And even if when distracted I’m still able;
Then I’ve become trained.

The first sign is:

If all my Dharma practice gathers into one intention.

That one intention is to get rid of the self-cherishing attitude and contribute to enlightenment. If all my practice actually helps to do that, rather than being, like often happens, that it’s just sort of a hobby that we do on the side. Particularly many people do these tantra practices, which is often just going off into fantasyland, and it doesn’t really help them terribly much to get rid of their self-cherishing attitude, and without really a good foundation – a solid foundation of renunciation, bodhichitta and voidness – doesn’t really contribute very much to enlightenment. If instead of that, our practice actually helps us, we know how to use it to be able to help us lessen and eventually get rid of that self-cherishing and contribute to enlightenment, then that’s a good sign that our mind is trained.

Also, in connection to this, there are signs that the basic preliminaries – and it’s not the same set of preliminaries as we had in the beginning, but basic preliminary practices – are working. That’s also very helpful to know.

So these signs about the four basic types of preliminaries that we’re trained in them:

The first preliminary is relying in a healthy, proper way on the spiritual teacher. The sign that that’s starting to work and we’re trained is when we feel that whatever positive spiritual growth that we have is due to the kindness and inspiration and guidance of my spiritual teacher – without being arrogant and these type of things – and this is a good sign.

In terms of appreciating our precious human life, if we feel that if I were to waste this precious human life, which I’ve gained just once and which is so rare, what a horrible disaster that would be. It horrifies us.

And then Tsongkhapa in The Three Principle Paths speaks of the two levels of renunciation. So, in terms of the first level of renunciation – turning our main concern away from this lifetime alone – it’s if we’re automatically turned off by the affluence of this life – by becoming rich and becoming famous – and we just see what a grand hassle that would be, and we have interest in future lives, and trying to bring about the causes, so that we’ll have conducive circumstances with the precious human life in our future lives, so we can continue with our spiritual practice, then this is a good sign that we’re trained.

The fourth one is – in terms of renunciation of samsara in general – not having our main concern with samsaric success and future lives. If we’re automatically turned off by the affluence of all worldly pursuits in any lifetime, and our main interest is in gaining liberation, then this is also a sign that we’re trained. These last two things don’t mean that we don’t enjoy being comfortable, but it isn’t a must. We don’t feel, if we don’t have it, that we’re upset.

Also, part of this is when we see our self-cherishing attitude and our selfishness as our worst enemy. That also is a sign that we’re trained, we’re having all our practice focus on that.

By the way, with that first point, it reminds me that all the spiritual growth and progress that we feel it’s come from the help of our spiritual teacher – yesterday we were discussing in the bodhichitta meditations that this step, which comes after remembering the kindness of motherly love that others have given us, that it usually had been translated as “repaying” that kindness, the wish to repay that kindness. I investigated the term more carefully and actually it means “gratitude,” “being grateful.” You’re really grateful, and that’s why it says it comes just naturally when you think of the kindness of others. You’re really grateful, and what goes with that is the wish to show your gratitude. That makes far more sense.

Similarly in terms of the spiritual teacher: you’re incredibly grateful, and any way that you can help the spiritual teacher to be able to teach and help others more is something that would have great, high priority. That’s why I saw my running around in trying to help Serkong Rinpoche to travel to the West and translating for him, I saw that very much as my preliminary practice – building up positive force and eliminating negative force. Rather than making a hundred thousand prostrations making a hundred thousand telephone calls, and writing letters, and going and getting visas, and running off to embassies, and stuff like that. Also one of the big motivations to become an oral translator was seeing how fantastic the teachings of Serkong Rinpoche and His Holiness were and being just absolutely horrified at how poorly they were being translated, and have to become an excellent, as best as I can translator to make the precious teachings that they were saying in Tibetan actually understandable. So that, I think, is an aspect of this gratitude, the appreciation.

In terms of those two levels of renunciation – which actually derive from the Sakya teaching of “Parting from the Four Types of Clinging,” two of which are clinging to this lifetime, clinging to future lives, and then clinging to self-cherishing and clinging to the appearance of true existence – even though it’s talking about turning our main concern, our main concern isn’t just improving future lives, but we certainly take care of it. It doesn’t mean that we ignore that, because we have to continue to have a precious human life and all the opportunities for practice.

The next line is:

If, from the two witnesses, I take the main;

The two witnesses to see if we’ve trained ourselves will be ourselves and others, and of that, the main witness is ourselves. We can tell ourselves whether or not we’ve trained. We don’t have to rely on somebody else to evaluate and tell us. In general, the way of seeing that is, if we’ve really trained and cleansed our attitudes, the sign of that is when we feel that we never have anything to be ashamed of in front of our gurus. That’s very profound, actually, that no matter what we say or do or think, there’s nothing in that that I would be ashamed of, if my spiritual teacher knew. The thing is that we’re not pretentious; we’re not pretending to be nice in front of our teacher, but when we’re back home we scream and yell at the people that we live with and say very insensitive things. So we need to be sincere.

Also if we are genuine inside, our so-called “vibes” are very relaxed, if we’re not tense, everything that we do is relaxing to others; it doesn’t annoy others and get on their nerves, this type of thing – we are the ones that are the witness for that. We can tell how we feel inside, nobody else can for us. It’s very profound, very helpful.

There are five types of things that we can witness ourselves to see if we’ve achieved these “five signs of greatness,” they’re called.

The first is to see whether or not we’ve become a “great-minded one.” A great-minded one, that’s mahasattva in Sanskrit – that you find in the Heart Sutra all the time, “the bodhisattva mahasattva...” A mahasattva is one who thinks only of others, or primarily of others, not of self. That’s a great-minded one.

Then, the “great one trained in positive things” is that we are always trained in the ten constructive actions, or the ten far-reaching actions, that’s the ten paramitas; or there are also ten constructive activities that we can do, like reading the Dharma texts and writing them out and these sort of things. There’s a list of ten, which I don’t have in my notes here.

Then to see if we are the “great ascetic.” “Ascetic” means somebody who is able to endure difficulties, literally. And so we’re the witness to see if we’re patient to fight against our disturbing emotions and to fight against adverse conditions – you don’t get completely frustrated and then angry you’re not able to deal with them and so on, but you’re patient, because it’s a difficult task. You’re able to endure the difficulties and just go on; you don’t feel like giving up, or having time out.

Question: Does anger cease completely? Anger is a tool; anger is useful also.

Answer: Anger and attachment, these sort of things you’re only rid of when you’re an arhat, a liberated being. They can be used on the path, but that’s very, very tricky. When you really are outraged at the injustice, as we would say in the West, of the suffering and these sort of things, if it moves you to act constructively and to do something to help it, then your motivation for actually acting is compassion, it can start you to move. This is how His Holiness explains how anger can be used on the path to get you moving. But it’s very tricky, because then often it carries over into when you actually act, you act out of anger and then that very often turns out to be a disaster, because you’re not thinking clearly.

The fourth one is the “great holder of discipline,” to see ethical discipline, to see whether or not we’re able to actually keep our vows, the various vows that we might have taken.

The fifth one is to see whether or not we’ve become a “great yogi.” The word “yogi” literally means somebody who is yoked or joined to the actual thing. And so, have we really merged our whole mind and way of being with bodhichitta? That would be a great yogi.

We are the witness, the main witness for judging whether or not we’ve achieved these five signs of greatness. There’s one point that needs to be added – in terms of being our own best witness – from Atisha, in Garland of Bodhisattva Gems he says: “In the presence of others check our speech, but when we’re by ourselves, check your mind.” This is what we need to watch, how we’re speaking to others and so on when we’re with them, and then when we’re alone, what’s going on in our minds.

[See: A Bodhisattava's Garland of Gems.]

The next line is:

If I can continually rely on my mind being only happy;

In other words, if it’s dependable that no matter what happens I’m not going to get into self-cherishing and continue to think of others, not get upset and so on; if it’s dependable, reliable, that’s a very good sign.

The example – that, I forget if it’s Serkong Rinpoche or Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, gave – is that if they’re passing out tea, if tea is prepared at teachings and so on, and if we don’t get any, if it runs out before it gets to us, then we’re not upset. We’re happy because then we won’t have to get up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet, for example – a Tibetan example.

Also, in terms of this, if we have the same, steady, happy mood all day long – it doesn’t mean smiling like an idiot, but – if we are calm and happy all day long, we have the same face, moods don’t go up and down, this is a good sign.

The next line is:

And if even distracted I’m still able
Then I’ve become trained.

If we’re able to practice when we’re not distracted – and everything is very calm and easy in our meditation room, and we don’t get upset, and we’re not self-cherishing, and so on – that’s no great accomplishment. But if we’re distracted by all sorts of annoying things and so busy with work or whatever, and if in that situation we’re able to not be self-cherishing and think more of others and so on, then we’re trained.

The example that Serkong Rinpoche gave was that it’s like being able to ride a horse anytime, anywhere, no matter what’s happening, even if you’re in a battle, or people are chasing you and so on. If you’re riding around a pony ring, then it’s easy, but if you’re able to ride no matter how dangerous the situation is – it comes automatically – then you’re well trained. Or being able to drive the car when there’s a lot of distraction and the children are screaming and yelling in the back, and so on. So that’s the fifth point of the seven points.

The sixth point are the eighteen closely bonding practices for cleansing our mind, cleansing our attitudes, or training our attitudes. “Close bond” – that’s the word “samaya,” or “dam-tshig,” that means something that will bind us closely to the practice.

This list here, there’s eighteen and the next point has twenty-two, these are absolutely fantastic points, like the bodhisattva vows. I remember when I learned these and the bodhisattva vows I was so thankful that here were guidelines of how to behave and how to deal with life and deal with other people, without making a complete idiot or a donkey out of yourself. Because, as I said, when I came to Dharma I was an absolute cripple in terms of social skills and dealing with others. I’m so grateful for learning these. These are really very precious.

The first one of the eighteen is:

Always train in the three general points.

And that is three points, so it’s the first three of the eighteen. The first of these is:

Don’t contradict what I’ve promised.

Don’t contradict what I’ve promised” is referring to when we have promised to do this Mahayana training – to train our attitudes and so on – to contradict it by thinking that we can ignore other types of practices, like avoiding the ten destructive actions, or there’s no need for us to do anything physical, like prostrations, and food offerings, and mandala offerings, and things like that. We don’t put down the other practices just because we say, “Oh, I’m doing this Mahayana training, and I’m just doing everything to overcome self-cherishing, but ignoring all these other things.” Because actually, when we ignore them that’s also a bit of self-cherishing there, “Well, I don’t feel like doing it. I’m too tired to make prostration,” or trivialize them – mandala offerings and so on.

The second one of these three general points is:

Don’t get into outrageous behavior.

Acting outrageously, this means that we think that, again, “I can change all adverse circumstances into positive ones, so I can do all sorts of harmful things like cut down trees,” and this is the example that is given in the commentaries, “...cut down trees where nagas live, and pollute naga places, and so on, because I’m impervious to harm.” Nagas are a type of half-snake half-human life form. It’s in the animal realm, and there’s many functions, but one of the things is that they protect the environment. So, when you pollute the environment, and then all the harm that we get from pollution is seen as due to the nagas, so you don’t want to offend them. It’s sort of like in the American Indian thing – offending the nature spirits; but the thing behind it is not to pollute the environment and think, “I can transform these harmful situations. I can live with the air pollution,” and so on.

Also, not be a hypocrite in the practice: we’re nice on the outside, but when we’re home, we hunt mosquitoes and take joy in killing them. We go on a safari with a pith helmet and the whole British outfit to hunt the mosquito in our room. I find that a helpful image when I start to get into that – how ridiculous it is.

The third of the three general points is:

Don’t fall to partiality.

The examples that are given is that when somebody that we feel is our inferior insults us or says something negative, that we don’t like it; but when somebody who is our superior says that, we’re willing to accept it. This is used as an example that we’re able to train ourselves, or deal with things, with only some people, but not with everybody – I don’t think it’s referring here literally to what the example has to say – it’s like not liking enemies, but only liking our relatives and friends. In other words, not liking people that are annoying to us, but only liking the people who are nice to us. That’s being partial.

The example of not being willing to accept insults from those who we feel are less than us, inferior, but being willing to accept it with those who are of greater.., I think also we can interpret that in terms of, we don’t train our minds to deal with it with lower people, but we only practice patience when it’s with somebody that’s higher. I think that’s the point of the example.

Another interpretation of this line is the feeling that the Vinaya – these are the lay and monastic vows – and tantra are mutually exclusive, that’s being partial.

The fourth [closely bonding practice] is:

Transform my intentions, but remain normal.

That’s a very important piece of advice. In other words, our training needs to be internal. We don’t need to make a big show of it externally, like I know people who become these what we call “Dharma freaks” that go around wearing Tibetan clothes, and always have a rosary in their hands, and have about ten dirty red strings around their necks, and stuff like that. And everybody just thinks that they’re really weird, and belong to some sort of cult, and are fanatics. It not only makes people not take you seriously, but gives a bad name to Buddhism as well. Externally it’s important to remain normal, so that people don’t think you’re strange, but to change your attitudes and everything inside, this getting rid of self-cherishing and so on.

This also is explained in terms of not making a big show of your compassion and concern for others – crying in public and like that. I mean, sometimes His Holiness when he teaches is moved to tears, but he doesn’t make a big show of it. Sometimes that actually is very inspiring – in fact, it is always very, very inspiring; but for most of us that would not be the case. If somebody is hurt and we hear, “Oh!” that they’re hurt and we’re really quite moved by it, if we carry on with a big emotional show, “Oh, that’s so horrible,” and we cry, and we’re so upset, and so on, that doesn’t help the other person at all. It just makes them feel very uncomfortable, “Why, you’re more upset than I am,” so just take care and help them. Don’t indulge your emotions by making a big show of them, even if you feel them inside.