Measuring Progress in Mind Training

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So far in our Seven Point Mind Training discussion, we’ve covered four out of the seven points. The first point focused on the preliminaries. The second point was about developing actual bodhichitta, which involves developing deepest bodhichitta and then relative bodhichitta. The third illustrated how we can transform adverse circumstances into the path to enlightenment with our thoughts concerning our behavior and our view of reality. In terms of our view of reality, we saw that the nature of the mind consists of the four Buddha-bodies.

Before we go further, I’d like to emphasize one thing about the nature of our mind, our Buddha-nature. As we previously concluded, the mind has the same basic type of conventional nature and qualities as those of the four Buddha-bodies. We explored how the mind doesn’t have a truly findable arising, abiding and ceasing nature. As we discussed in terms of the inseparability of these three qualities and the basic mahamudra type of meditation, not only does this show us the path to enlightenment in terms of how to achieve it, but it also indicates the result, that it’s possible to achieve enlightenment on the basis of mind’s basic nature and innate qualities.

Furthermore, within the third point, we also explored how we can transform adverse circumstances into the path to enlightenment with our actions – the four actions of use. Finally, in the fourth point we discussed the condensation of the practice in this lifetime and at the time of death – through applying the five forces.

Measuring the Progress of Our Practice

Now we’re going to discuss the fifth point, which is how we measure having trained our attitudes or our minds. The verse says:

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.

The one intention is to get rid of the self-cherishing attitude and thus contribute to our attainment of enlightenment. In order for our practice to actually help us accomplish this intention, it has to be more than just a hobby that we do on the side, which often happens. This is particularly the case for many people that do tantra practices, as they often just go off with them into fantasyland. Overall, their practice doesn’t really help them to get rid of their self-cherishing attitude. Without a really good foundation – a solid foundation of renunciation, bodhichitta and voidness – this type of superficial way of practicing doesn’t really contribute very much to enlightenment.

If, however, we know how to use our practice to lessen and eventually get rid of our self-cherishing and thus it contributes to our attainment of enlightenment, then that’s a good sign that our mind is trained. In connection with this point, it is also a sign that the basic preliminaries are working – however, not the same set of preliminaries we reviewed in the first point, but the basic preliminary practices, which we’ll now discuss.

The four basic types of preliminaries and their corresponding signs are the following:

The first preliminary is relying in a healthy, proper way on our spiritual teacher. The sign that our practice is working and that we’re adequately trained is when we feel that whatever positive spiritual growth we have gained is due to the kindness, inspiration and guidance of our spiritual teacher. And if we can do this without a sense of arrogance, that’s another good sign.

Previously, in our discussion of the second point – the actual training in bodhichitta – we explored the kindness of motherly love that others have given us, and how what follows from it is usually translated as the wish to “repay” that kindness. I investigated the term more carefully and found that it actually means “gratitude” or “being grateful.” We’re really grateful, and that’s why a feeling of gratitude just naturally comes when we think of the kindness of others. Further, what follows is the wish to show our gratitude. In the end, this translation makes far more sense.

Similarly, in terms of this first preliminary concerning our spiritual teacher, because we’re incredibly grateful we prioritize any way that we can help him or her teach and help others. That’s why I saw my work with Serkong Rinpoche, running around and trying to help with his travels to the West and translating for him, as my preliminary practice – a way of building up positive force and eliminating negative force. Rather than doing the preliminary of 100,000 prostrations, making 100,000 telephone calls, writing many letters, arranging visas and running off to embassies, and stuff like that – these were by far my main preliminaries.

Also, one of my big motivations behind becoming an oral translator was seeing how fantastic the teachings of Serkong Rinpoche and His Holiness were and being absolutely horrified at how poorly they were being translated. I wanted to be the best translator that I could be so that I could make the precious teachings that they were offering in Tibetan understandable to as many people as possible. So, that, I think, is an aspect of the kind of gratitude and appreciation referred to in the first preliminary.

The second preliminary refers to appreciating our precious human life. The sign that we have mastered this preliminary is when we feel it would be a horrible disaster to waste this precious life. We strongly believe that once gained, it is so rare, and the very thought of wasting it horrifies us.

Then in connection to the third preliminary, renunciation, Tsongkhapa in The Three Principal Paths speaks of the two levels of renunciation. In terms of the first level, turning our main concern away from being for this lifetime alone, it’s as if we’re automatically turned off by the affluence of this life. For instance, we no longer seek to become rich and famous. Rather, we see what a grand hassle that would be. No one ever leaves you alone and you’re always suspicious that others are friendly just because they want something from you. Instead, we are more interested in our future lives, primarily focused on how to bring about the causes for conducive circumstances so that we can continue with our spiritual practice in the future. But of course, we still need to take care of this life, even though it would not be our main concern. We don’t ignore it, because having a precious human life provides us with all the opportunities to practice; so we need to take care of ourselves so we don’t lose it because of neglect. With this in mind, when we have properly renounced the concerns for this life, this is a good sign that we’re well trained in this preliminary.

Finally, the fourth one, in terms of renunciation of samsara in general, is not having our main concern be 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 only in gaining liberation, then this is a sign that we’re trained.

These last two points don’t mean that we don’t enjoy being comfortable, but it isn’t an absolute must. We don’t feel upset, for example, if we don’t have certain things. These third and fourth points derive from the Sakya teaching of “Parting from the Four Clingings,” the first two of which are clinging to this lifetime and clinging to future lives. The other two are clinging to self-cherishing and clinging to the appearance of true existence. Another good sign is when we see our self-cherishing attitude and our selfishness as our worst enemy.

The next line is:

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

The two witnesses to see if we’ve trained ourselves well are ourselves and others, with the main witness being ourselves. We can usually tell 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 if we’ve really trained and have cleansed our attitudes is when we feel that there is nothing to be ashamed of in front of our spiritual teachers. That’s a very profound sign, actually: no matter what we say, do or think, there’s nothing that we would be ashamed of if our spiritual teacher knew. The main thing is that we’re not pretentious or insincere. Basically, we’re not pretending to be nice only in front of our teacher and we become a different person when we’re back home, screaming and yelling or saying very insensitive things to the people we live with. We really need to be honest. We are the ones that truly know how we feel inside; nobody else knows this but us.

Also, if we are truly genuine inside, our so-called “vibes” will be very relaxed; and if we’re not tense, everything that we do will also be relaxing to others. This is a very profound, very helpful sign, as we can usually tell when we annoy others or get on their nerves.

The Five Signs of Greatness

To continue with ourselves as the main witness, there are “five signs of greatness” that indicate if we’ve really trained.

The first is to see whether or not we’ve become a “great-minded one.” A great-minded one, a mahasattva in Sanskrit, is a word that we often find in Mahayana texts like the Heart Sutra. A “bodhisattva mahasattva” is someone who thinks only of others or primarily of others, not only about the self.

Then the second sign, a “great one trained in positive things” is when we are always trained in the ten constructive actions, or the ten far-reaching actions, which are the ten paramitas. There are also ten constructive activities that we can do, like reading the Dharma texts, writing them out, and these sorts of things.

The third is to see if we are a “great ascetic.” “Ascetic” means somebody who is able to endure difficulties. We’re the main witness that determines if we’ve developed the patience to endure the difficulties in fighting against our disturbing emotions and adverse conditions. Basically, the sign would be we don’t get completely frustrated or angry when we’re not able to deal with difficult circumstances. Instead, we’re patient because it’s a difficult task. We’re able to endure challenges and just go on; we don’t feel like giving up or having time out.

However, with anger, attachment and these sorts of disturbing emotions, we’re only completely rid of them when we’re an arhat, a liberated being. They can be used on the path, but that’s very tricky to do. For instance, when we’re really outraged at the suffering and injustice in the world, if this anger moves us to act constructively to do something to help, then our motivation for taking action is truly a sign of compassion. This is how His Holiness the Dalai Lama explains how anger can be used on the path to get us moving. But it’s very tricky to actually do, as we often act impulsively out of anger, which turns situations into a complete disaster because we’re not thinking clearly.

The fourth sign is to see if we are a “great holder of discipline.” We examine whether or not we have the strong ethical discipline to keep purely all of the various vows we might have taken.

Finally, 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, authentic thing. And so, have we really merged our whole mind and way of being with bodhichitta? If yes, then we’ve become a great yogi.

Watching the Mind for Signs

In summary, we are the main witness for judging whether or not we’ve achieved these five signs of greatness. In terms of being our own best witness, there’s one point that needs to be added from Atisha. In A Bodhisattva’s Garland of Gems, he says: “When in the midst of many, let me keep a check on my speech; when remaining alone, let me keep a check on my mind.” In other words, when we’re with others, we need to be mindful of how we’re speaking to them, and when we’re alone, we need to watch what’s going on in our minds.

The next line in the text is:

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

In other words, if our minds are dependable, then no matter what happens, we’re not going to think or act with self-cherishing. We’ll never get upset, but always continue thinking of others. It’s a very good sign if our mind is reliable in this way.

One example I heard from Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey is when we’re attending a teaching and they’re passing out tea, if the tea runs out before it gets to us, we’re not upset. Instead, we’re happy because then we won’t have to get up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet. This is a typical Tibetan example.

Also, in relation to this point, if we have the same, steady, happy mood all day long, it doesn’t mean we go around smiling like an idiot. However, a good sign that we are truly calm and happy all day long is that our moods don’t go up and down.

The next line in the text is:

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

It’s really no great accomplishment if we’re able to practice when we’re not distracted or when everything is very calm and easy, like when we’re in our meditation room. Of course, we don’t get easily upset or have a self-cherishing attitude under these conditions. However, if we’re distracted by all sorts of annoying things and are so busy with work or whatever, and if in that situation we’re able to not be self-cherishing but think more of others, then we’re really 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 we’re in a battle, or people are chasing us and so on. If we’re riding around on a pony ring, then it’s easy, but if we’re able to ride no matter how dangerous the situation is, then we’re well trained. Or another example is when we’re able to drive a car that’s full of distractions, such as the children are screaming and yelling in the back. This concludes our discussion of the fifth of the seven points.