Points for Training the Mind

Other languages

Overview of the Twenty-Two Trainings

Last in our discussion is the seventh point, which consists of the list of the twenty-two trainings, or points that train the mind in cleansing our attitudes.

The first of these trainings is:

Do all yogas with one.

This refers to, no matter what we do, trying to make it for the purpose of helping others. When we eat and sleep, we do them so that we’ll be nourished and refreshed in order to help others. For instance, before we eat, we can say the verse, “I take this food not out of greed or desire, but as a medicine to be able to help others.” There’s also a practice when we eat that we’re going to feed the eighty-four thousand germs, bacteria and microorganisms in our bodies. If we can’t sustain this kind of motivation throughout the meal, at least we try to start off with this intention.

The second training is:

Do all the quashing of what’s distorted with one.

Here, quashing means to put down something, to step on it. In order to get rid of our disturbing emotions – as well as everything that is distorted – we primarily use the practice of tonglen. We take on more suffering of others, so that we can directly experience it and deal with it through the proper means.

If when doing tonglen, our suffering seems to grow even stronger before we can get rid of it, this is a good sign. In order to get rid of things that are unmanifest or hidden within us, they have to first rise to the surface before they can burn off. It’s like the saying: if you build a fire and there’s a lot of smoke to start with, it’s going to be a good fire; if there’s only a little smoke, then it won’t be a good fire. Further, it’s similar to the process of gaining shamatha, the stilled and settled state of mind with perfect concentration. In the beginning, there seems to be more thoughts and mental wandering than ever before, but it’s only because we’re noticing them now; before, we never really paid attention. As we can see, by taking on more suffering through tonglen, it seems as though we’re having disturbing emotions all the time that we weren’t even aware of. It’s actually a very good sign that these emotions are coming up. They have to come up before we can really work to get rid of them.

Sometimes we’ve been working with Dharma for many, many years and we thought we had taken care of a problem, “I don’t get so attached, fall crazy in love, and become out of control, and so on, anymore. I’m able to deal with very strong disturbing emotions.” And then ten, fifteen, or twenty years later, we experience another episode of this strong disturbing emotion, coming up again. It’s best not to get disturbed by this, but to accept it and simply say, “Give me more! Bring it on, because obviously there’s still some unmanifest trace of it that I haven’t dealt with, so great! Bring it on, so that I can work with it even further.” Thinking like that, we don’t get discouraged.

This is a very helpful attitude to take. Undoubtedly this return of issues happens with long-term practitioners. I’ve certainly experienced it myself. We think we’re not going to get angry; we feel that we’ve dealt with our anger enough. We don’t really get upset by anything anymore and then twenty years later something happens, and we get really upset. It’s important to remember that we’re not going to be free of all these disturbing emotions until we’re an arhat, so what do we expect?

The third training is:

At the beginning and the end, have the two actions.

The intention here is to help others beforehand, and then dedicate the positive force, or merit, afterwards. To help us maintain this kind of intention, we can use Geshe Ben Gungyal’s white and black stones technique that I mentioned previously. Some people do this and find it helpful.

The fourth training is:

Whichever of the two occurs, act patiently.

Whichever of the two refers to no matter whether we’re happy or suffering, we act patiently, giving the happiness to others and taking on their suffering. Whether we are wealthy or poor – these two extremes – we don’t change; we maintain the same attitude. For example, if all of a sudden, we get a lot of money, and then all of a sudden, we lose it, we don’t become proud and arrogant on the one hand or depressed on the other. If we’re wealthy, we can use our money to help others, and if we’re poor, we can at least imagine having the abundant resources to give to others. Basically, we can use either circumstance to help others and develop bodhichitta. So, when we’re happy, we imagine sharing our happiness with others: “May others have this happiness.” However, we do so without making a show of it, or by constantly seeking confirmation, “Aren’t we having fun?”

The fifth training is:

Safeguard the two at the cost of my life.

The two here are: our general commitments and vows, and the close-bonding practices and trainings from the mind training. It’s very important to check whether we can keep any vows before we take them and see if we can keep them for our entire lives. This is especially true when taking a tantric initiation – not just the vows, but also the commitments to do a daily practice. We should ask, “Am I really willing and able to do this every day for the rest of my life?” If we don’t keep our vows and yet we want to go on to advanced practices, it’s very dangerous. “Someday, this foundationless house will collapse,” as Geshe Dhargyey explained. So, before we ask masters for advanced practices, we need to ask ourselves about our own self-discipline.

The sixth training is:

Train in the three difficult things.

The three difficult things refer to situations when our disturbing emotions arise. The first difficult thing is to be mindful of the opponents, the second, to reverse them by applying the opponents, and the third, to cut the continuity of these disturbing emotions. Don’t just let them arise over and over again. We do all of this by trying to remain mindful of the disadvantages of disturbing emotions, like self-cherishing.

The seventh training is:

Take the three major causes.

The three major causes for the success in our development are meeting with qualified spiritual teachers and relying on them; practicing the teachings that we receive from these teachers, actually putting them into practice in our daily lives; and gaining the favorable circumstances for the practice. The most favorable circumstance is contentment – for example, being satisfied and content with modest food, modest housing, a modest amount of money, and so on. Obviously, we need enough to be able to live, but when we’ve achieved this level we should then be satisfied and content. We don’t constantly try to get more and more or better and better; instead, we use what we have, particularly if it’s quite sufficient and adequate as a circumstance for practicing.

The eighth training is:

Meditate on the three undeclining things.

Meditate also means to habituate ourselves, to make it into a habit. The first undeclining thing that we need to have is confidence and admiration for our spiritual teachers – obviously this is referring to properly qualified spiritual teachers – but it can also mean to have respect and admiration for everyone. It’s extremely important to practice with humility. One reason that we can’t develop bodhichitta and focus on helping others is because we look down on some people, feeling that we’re better or we’re the best. Consider, for instance, a scholar who has great learning and is very arrogant: that scholar’s knowledge is not going to be of benefit to anyone, not even to himself or herself. People are often turned off by just the vibrations of somebody who is very proud; they won’t even listen to such a person.

With pride, we reject others’ thoughts; we can’t really learn from them. We try instead to impose our own ideas on others. Even if we’re wrong, we push away others’ advice. But if we’re humble and listen to others, we can learn much from people with very little education and learning, or even from children. With pride, we ignore others’ words and we become very defensive. So, it’s important to have this undeclining respect – not just for teachers, but also for everybody.

The second undeclining thing is our willingness to practice. It means that we shouldn’t take this mind training as something that’s being forced on us, doing it out of duty to please our teacher, or something like that. But if we have enthusiasm and joy for it, it can be of great benefit. When we feel that we’re forced to do something or feel obliged to do it, we usually find ourselves doing the opposite. We have to watch out for this.

The third undeclining thing is our commitments from this mind training, to have them be undeclining.

The ninth training is:

Possess the three inseparables.

The three inseparables are body, speech, and mind. We should try to always have all three of these be connected to the practice. For example, we try to be conscientious and practice so that we don’t sit fidgeting or moving all around. We also try not to just babble away, talking absolute nonsense, or have our minds filled with all sorts of strange thoughts. Instead, we try always to keep a connection with constructive and positive actions. As Geshe Dhargyey used to say, “Don’t go to sleep like an ox that just drops down and collapses,” but rather do three prostrations before going to sleep and when waking up in the morning.

The tenth practice is:

Act purely without partiality to objects.

This refers to training with all beings, to have these constructive attitudes with everybody – not just with our friends.

The eleventh training is:

Cherish (applying) wide and deep training toward everything.

This means to train in these positive attitudes very extensively toward everything, with both animate and inanimate objects. For example, we don’t get angry at our car or at our computer when it won’t do what we want and it just crashes, these types of things. The point here is in connection with doing tonglen in these circumstances, “May the suffering of everybody’s crashing computer come to me, I’ll deal with it.” “May the spam of the universe come to my computer. I’ll take on all the spam of the universe,” this type of thinking. “Send me more!”

The twelfth training is:

Always meditate toward those set aside (as close).

Set aside means those that we’re closely related to – people that we live with, our parents, our spiritual teachers – and not only close in the sense that we like them, or that we have a positive relationship with, but also with our actual enemies as well or with people that don’t like us. There are certain people that we instantly seem to like or instantly dislike at first sight; that’s due to a karmic relation. People who hurt us obviously have a very close karmic connection with us. All of these people are very difficult to train with in the sense of having equanimity toward them. So, we need to practice especially well with these that are set aside as close.

The thirteenth practice is:

Don’t be dependent on other conditions.

In other words, if we wait until we have perfect conditions in order to practice and do this training, we’re never going to find them. As one Tibetan saying goes: “People show the whole religious side of themselves when everything is going well, but they show their true forms in difficult, bad situations, when things are not going well.” We shouldn’t be like this. If we truly want to attain enlightenment ourselves, we can’t depend on external circumstances.

As Nagarjuna said, we can’t be taken out of samsara like a fisherman taking a fish out of water. Spiritual teachers can only help so far. We cannot expect that we’re going to find a great guru and gain immediate liberation, like a magic flash from the guru. The responsibility lies on us. We have to stand on our own two feet. As Geshe Dhargyey used to say, if we do nothing and just leave everything up to our gurus, all he or she can do is pat us on the head and say nice words. Our practice will go absolutely nowhere. What are we going to do, just sit and wag our tails?

The fourteenth practice is:

Practice primarily now.

This means not to become a tourist of samsara, to experience everything of samsara or tour around to every single practice and every single teacher. We have to choose this training of our attitudes, deciding to put all our effort into developing the two bodhichittas and attaining enlightenment. Don’t procrastinate. Have the focus be on the Dharma and not on worldly things; in future lives, not in this life; on liberation, not in samsaric things; and on others, not on the self – as in the teaching of “parting from the four clingings.”

The fifteenth training is:

Don’t have reversed understandings.

This refers to a list of six types of things that are reversed, which we should not practice.

The first is reversed, or opposite compassion. For instance, we have compassion and feel sorry for poorly dressed Dharma practitioners, rather than compassion for well-dressed, destructively acting, rich worldly people. For example, there were these three wealthy sisters who when they first saw Milarepa said, “Oh, we feel so sorry for you, we have such compassion for you, you’re so poor.” Milarepa responded, “No, actually I’m the one that has great compassion for you.”

The second is reversed patience and tolerance. Instead of having patience and tolerance for others who get angry with us, we are more tolerant of our own disturbing emotions and don’t do anything about them. Or we have no patience to sit in a Dharma lecture for several hours, but we have perfect patience to go fishing for hours or to stand in a long line for a rock concert, this type of thing.

The third is the reversed intention. This is for worldly things rather than for Dharma. Instead of working toward inner happiness, we have the intention to try to get worldly gain.

The fourth is an opposite or reversed taste. This is when we don’t truly want to have the spiritual experience of listening, thinking and meditating on the Dharma, but want to have a taste of exotic sex, drugs, food, and so on.

The fifth is a reversed interest, which means encouraging others to take interest in things other than a spiritual practice. For instance, we encourage them to enter the business world, to make more money, or to keep up with the latest fashion and trends, and so on.

Finally, the sixth is reversed rejoicing. This would be to rejoice in the suffering of people we don’t like, rather than rejoicing in their happiness.

So, these are all of the six reversed understandings.

To continue, the sixteenth training is:

Don’t be intermittent.

Intermittent means to practice one day and not the next, or to only practice sometimes. We need to be consistent. Also, we should try to avoid moving onto new practices when we aren’t strong in the ones we are already doing. Don’t jump around from practice to practice but stay steady like a large river.

The seventeenth practice is:

Train resolutely.

This means to practice decisively or straightforwardly with resolute determination, don’t be half and half. As my mother, Rose Berzin, used to say, with great mothers’ wisdom, “If you’re going to do something, do it straight up and down. Don’t do it sideways.” Don’t be half into practice. If you’re going to do it, do it correctly, and do it as fully as possible.

These mother wisdom sayings sometimes can be very helpful. My grandmother, Jennie Berzin, had another one, which applies to these teachings, about being arrogant and proud of our high position. She would say, “Your high title and five cents will get you a ride on the bus.” In other words, our high position or job title doesn’t make any difference in day-to-day life. No matter who we are, it still costs us two euros to take the subway.

The eighteenth training is:

Free myself through both investigation and scrutiny.

We need to use investigation to examine our attitudes on a gross level; and through scrutiny, check really closely to see if we have actually trained our attitudes and truly cleansed out our negative ones. Overall, we need to determine if we’ve dealt with our disturbing emotions and self-cherishing thoroughly and effectively, and not just suppressed them. The only way that we’re going to get rid of and fully liberate ourselves from these is through close introspection.

The nineteenth training is:

Don’t meditate with a sense of a loss.

This point can refer to several things. For example, in our minds we make offerings, “May all sentient beings enjoy this,” “I give this to everyone,” but then when somebody comes to receive or take something from us, we begrudge it. In India, I used to imagine making flower offerings in my meditation, but one day when the local children came to my garden and picked all the flowers, I got really angry about that. But I had made the offering to others, so if people come and take it, it’s really already theirs, not mine.

Also, this practice refers to not reminding others of the favors we’ve done for them. We shouldn’t say, “I’ve been working for your sake.” Nor should we boast and broadcast about our own practice, “I did so many prostrations,” or feel that it was a loss, in the sense of how hard it was, “What a high price I had to pay to try to become enlightened.” This is not proper at all. If we do, for instance, 100,000 prostrations and we do it with the proper motivation, then of course we’re going to gain some positive force from that. But we don’t gain any more positive force or potential from bragging to people about what we’ve done. This is especially true if we go into a long retreat, and then when we come out of it, we look down on our old friends and relatives as, “You poor pitiable creatures of samsara.” This is no good.

We need to do all our practice quickly and quietly, without boasting. We should practice not in a flashy way. A flashy way would be, for instance, we come a little bit late to a teaching, and we prostrate in front of the crowd so that everybody can see how devoted we are, rather than prostrating at the back door where nobody can see us.

Further, we should not rely or count on others for help. Rely only on the Dharma – the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Don’t think, “Poor me, nobody is helping me. I’m suffering so much from being a Dharma practitioner.” If we’re sincere in our practice, then things will go well – although I’m always reminded of the Persian saying here, “Trust in God, but tie your camel.” Don’t be naive and think that God will provide, without us doing anything. Although it says in the texts that there is no sincere meditator who’s ever starved to death, but nevertheless don’t be too rosy-eyed either and certainly don’t complain about how difficult Dharma practice is. This would be meditating with a sense of a loss by complaining, “It’s so difficult to understand these teachings on voidness,” or “It’s so complicated!” and so on.

The twentieth training is:

Don’t restrict myself with hypersensitivity.

This means getting angry at the slightest provocation. Oversensitivity really cripples us. We should try not to be so limited, “I can take some sort of criticism when I’m alone, just one-to-one, but I can’t take it when I’m in a crowd.” In these situations, Shantideva said to remain like a log, like a block of wood when somebody is insulting us. Eventually the person who is insulting and yelling at us will run out of things to say or get bored and stop. It’s like the neighbor’s dog will eventually stop barking, rather than us making a big thing to try to get the dog to shut up. However, all of this needs to be done with a good motivation. If it’s a negative or a neurotic motivation, then we’re just holding the negative thoughts inside and suppressing them. As a result, we might get an ulcer or try later to seek revenge. Remember, suppressing doesn’t work; negative thoughts and emotions usually come out later.

The twenty-first training is:

Don’t act for merely a short while.

In other words, don’t be fickle, always changing. The slightest praise makes us happy, but when somebody frowns at us, doesn’t say hello or good-bye, we get all depressed. If we’re like that, others will regard us as unstable and imbalanced. On the other hand, if we get overexcited or angry with anybody who says the slightest thing wrong, we’re really a strain to be around. We need to be easygoing, take it easy with others. When we’re with others we should conform with the general mood. We should not waste all our time on gossip, but greet our friends, ask after them, smile, and be friendly. And we shouldn’t disturb others that we’re living with by making a lot of noise or playing music really loudly or, on the other hand, always staying silent and not communicating with them.

If we’re flexible, easygoing, and relaxed with our Dharma practice, we can sustain it for our whole life, not just for a short time. However, when we’re inflexible and stiff, we usually give up after a while. Also, we shouldn’t become too fanatic or strained in our Dharma practice. We know what people are like when they’re very uptight about their Dharma practice and stressed out about it. It’s because they’re inflexible that they give up with burn out.

The last training, the twenty-second is:

Don’t wish for (any) thanks.

This refers to not desiring any fame, gratitude or anything like that, or expecting any thank you from doing this training of our attitudes.

In connection with this, we need to try to practice without going up and down over the eight transitory things in life, the so-called eight worldly dharmas. Sometimes I refer to these as the eight childish feelings. For example, when receiving gifts and so on, we’re all happy, but we’re unhappy when we don’t receive any; or we become all excited when things are going well, but depressed when they’re not; or when we hear nice things or it’s peaceful and quiet we get all happy, but if we hear unpleasant things or it’s noisy we get all upset; or we get all excited when we’re praised, but really upset when we’re degraded. It’s only when we expect and hope that we’re going to receive things, that things are going to go well, and that people are going to speak nicely to us, praise us and so on, that we get into trouble in our practice. It’s these eight transitory things ­– praise, blame and so on – that cause our moods to go up and down, to have all of these childish feelings in response. Basically, we want to avoid overreacting no matter what happens.

Why do I call them the eight “transitory” things? Well, that’s how Serkong Rinpoche would explain them. The Tibetan term usually translated as “worldly,” jigten, consists of two words. The second means “the basis of something” and the first means “falls apart.” This is what worldly means, something that doesn’t have a basis that can support us, because it falls apart, it perishes. This is opposed to the state of an arya, when we’ve had non-conceptual cognition of voidness. That’s beyond, “extra-worldly” is how it’s usually translated, but it means that it’s stable, it’s not something that’s transitory, “that its basis will crumble.” That makes a lot of sense.

This completes the list of the twenty-two points for training our attitudes, and the seven points of this mind training. Geshe Chekawa ends the text with two verses. The first verse says:

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

In other words, with these practices we’ll be able to transform difficult situations in the time of the five degenerations. The first deterioration is that our lifespan has declined. So many people are dying younger than before. Although people do live longer as well, this point refers to how – with wars, accidents, heroin overdoses, diseases like AIDS, and so on – many people are dying younger and younger. Or, if we examine in a more modern sense, people are going through their lifespans much more quickly. Kids are not allowed to have a long childhood anymore. These days, by the time they’re thirteen, they’ve already experienced drinking, drugs, sex, etc.

The second degeneration is disturbing attitudes. This refers to those who leave their households to become a monk or a nun. Even they have the three poisonous attitudes, or poisonous emotions, which consist of longing desire, anger and naivety.

The third is a deteriorated outlook or view and refers to householders. They have no respect for anything or for anyone in degenerate times.

The fourth refers to degenerated beings and the fact that people and animals are less able to take care of themselves – for example, the animals that need to live in a zoo and cannot survive in the wild anymore. Also, many animals are becoming extinct.

Finally, the fifth, degenerate times, is when there are a lot of natural disasters. We can see this today as a result of global warming.

So, transform into a path to enlightenment this time when the five degenerations are rampant. As I’ve mentioned previously, everybody always considers themselves to be living in the worst of times.

The second verse says:

This essence of nectar of guideline instruction is in lineage from Serlingpa.

We’ve already discussed the lineage of this teaching, so there’s no need to repeat. The word nectar in Sanskrit, amrta, is something that prevents death: the nectar of immortality. The Tibetan word, dutsi, has the connotation of something that suppresses or presses down Mara – Mara is the demon of death. This practice of bodhichitta and cherishing others brings us Buddhahood and with that we overcome the ordinary type of samsaric death.

Concluding Remarks

Geshe Chekawa ends the text with a verse that sums up how he received these teachings, and how they have helped him. He says:

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 teachings to tame my self-grasping. Now even if I die, I have no regrets.

As a result of Geshe Chekawa’s strong karmic instincts from previous lives, his admiration and interest in this practice were very strong. As soon as he heard about it, he knew that he really wanted to study it. During the six years that he spent studying it, he didn’t mind the suffering and the insults that he got for asking for these types of teachings. On the contrary, he found them to be quite beneficial. As he says in the last line, Now even if I die, I have no regrets about what I’ve done.

If we train well, there are three ways in which we can die. The best way of dying is with a happy state of mind – that we are happy because we’ve trained ourselves well and that we will continue to make progress in future lives. The intermediate way would be to die with a relaxed state of mind; and the least way, the minimum way, is to die with no regrets.

At the end of this teaching, Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey used to give the advice that we need to do our best to train very strongly in Dharma, particularly this mind training. If we do so, our instincts for it will arise strongly in future lives, similar to what happened with Geshe Chekawa. This advice is important for being able to die with a happy state of mind. If we’ve put so much effort to train ourselves very well, we can feel confident that those instincts will ripen further in our future lives.

Further, whatever situation we’re in, we need to try to develop bodhichitta. If we’re going to be in difficult situations, we need to practice beforehand and train so that we’ll be careful and protected from these circumstances. It’s like when we drive a car, if we see that there is a curve ahead, we’re careful and we slow down. Similarly, if we’re careful about training properly to deal with the difficult situations in life, then we’ll be able to make steady progress – although, of course, from day to day it goes up and down.

As I’ve previously stated, what I’ve explained in this nine-part series is primarily based on an explanation from Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, which he gave on several different occasions. I’ve also combined it with commentaries by Serkong Rinpoche and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. These teachings are quite advanced, yet incredibly helpful and profound.

Read and listen to the original text “Seven Point Mind Training” by Geshe Chekawa.