The Foundation and Deepest Bodhichitta

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I’d like to explain a very important text in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, which is called The Seven Point Mind Training. This is by a great master from the Kadam tradition, Geshe Chekawa.

This teaching is primarily based on the whole practice of changing the viewpoint of self and others, which is instead of always thinking about ourselves and cherishing ourselves, and ignoring others, then we reverse that and always cherish and think of others, and how to benefit them, without thinking selfishly about ourselves.

The sources of this in the sutras of Buddha are two. One is the Gandavyuha Sutra, which is part of a much larger text called the Avatamsaka Sutra. The Gandavyuha Sutra tells about someone seeking for enlightenment, who goes to fifty different bodhisattvas, and each of them teach him a different type of bodhisattva way. This text and the larger one, Avatamsaka Sutra, was one of the few texts that were translated actually from Chinese into Tibetan, because the Sanskrit was lost by the time it was transmitted, and Tsongkhapa said that if it weren’t for this literature, that Tibet wouldn’t really have the full teachings of the bodhisattva way. The other sutra that it’s based on is the Vajradvaja paripriccha Sutra. It’s the sutra which was requested by the person called Vajradvaja, so it does come from sutra teachings. A lot of people always question where these teachings come from in the sutras, so Serkong Rinpoche explained where they came from.

They were explained quite extensively by Shantideva in Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior, Bodhisattvacharyavatara, as we’ve seen in the concentration chapter on mental stability. We’ve been studying it, by the way, for many years here together at the center, so the others are familiar with that. This lineage Atisha got from Dharmarakshita, and he was the author of The Wheel of Sharp Weapons, which many of you might know. Then Atisha brought them to Tibet, and he transmitted them along in his Kadam tradition that followed, so it went to his main disciple Dromtonpa, and from him to Geshe Potowa.

Geshe Potowa, who was also very well-known, he had two main disciples. One was Langri Tangpa, who wrote the Eight Verses of Mind Training. He was the older disciple, and then the younger disciple that he had was Geshe Chekawa. He is the author of this text.

Geshe Chekawa came across this text later on at the house of some other Geshe, Chagshinpa was his name, and he was actually drawn to the line, “Give the victory to others and accept the fault on yourself.” He asked who wrote it, and he was told Langri Tangpa. And he went to Lhasa to find him, but Langri Tangpa had passed away, and so he was told that he could get it from another disciple, Geshe Sharawa, and so he went to Sharawa.

It’s a long story, but eventually he convinced Geshe Sharawa to teach him, and he did. And Geshe Sharawa said that that line actually came from Nagarjuna’s text, Ratnavali, which is The Precious Garland, also a well-known text. Geshe Chekawa spent six years studying these teachings with Geshe Sharawa, and then wrote this text we have now.

Then it was passed on to Lhadingpa, and Lhadingpa, from him comes two lineages. One went from him, he taught it to his disciple Togme Zangpo, who is the author of 37 Bodhisattva Practices.

So, you see, all these early texts on the bodhisattva practices, the authors were all basically in a lineage with each other. The other line that went from Lhadingpa, I don’t have a list of the disciples, but it was another line, and after about two centuries it got to Tsongkhapa. The lineage that comes from Togme Zangpo, that’s the one that is followed by the Sakya, Nyingma and Kagyu traditions, and the one that went to Tsongkhapa is the Gelug tradition. He gave it to his disciple Namkapel, who is the author of the Mind Training like the Rays of the Sun, which is another well-known text that you might have heard of. So, all of these fit together.

One thing that’s quite noticeable with this text is that there are many, many different versions of it and editions of it. There is the Togme Zangpo side and the Tsongkhapa side, and those have many lines, which are different, slightly rearranged – some are added, some are left out. And within each lineage itself there are many versions with small, little differences. Especially what I’m more familiar with is down in the Gelugpa line, there you find it in so many different versions and different texts that it appears in, and it’s always slightly different. This can be sometimes very confusing when you read, because there are so many commentaries to this, given by different teachers, which have been translated and are available in European languages, and it will be very confusing, because every one you read, the lines are slightly different, and the order is slightly different.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama was asked about this and he said, particularly concerning this lojong tradition, that sometimes this happens with the transmission of texts and it really doesn’t make any difference. The main intention is the same, and they’ve just added a few things from oral tradition or taken away, and you can always rearrange some lines in one way or another. That’s quite unusual, I must say, it can be quite confusing. But he said it’s OK; otherwise you have this big hassle of, “which is the correct one,” which you’re never going to be able to decide, because this whole tradition is really based very much on practice and practical application to life. So, when different people have taught it or written versions of it, and commentaries on it over the history, then obviously when you work with a text, you don’t work just as a scholar, academic about the text, but how do you apply it, and what makes more sense fitting it all together. That’s probably how all these differences arose.

My own teacher, Serkong Rinpoche, the teacher of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, taught the Togme Zangpo version, the older version, and that’s the one that I’ll follow and teach here, following primarily his way of explaining it. Although I’ve also received teachings on it from His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, my other main teachers, but I’ll follow Serkong Rinpoche’s way of explaining.

We need to understand the term “lojong.” It’s usually translated as “mind training,” but “lo” means not just “the mind,” and not just “the emotions,” but also our “mental attitude,” and “emotional attitude” toward life and toward dealing with situations – here particularly difficult situations that we come across. “Jong” has two meanings. One meaning is “to cleanse.” That doesn’t mean to clean them like to wash them; it means to clear them out, clean out, like you clean out dirt. It’s not that you make the dirt clean, you clean out the dirt, so it’s no longer there. Likewise, you clean out the mind of the negative attitudes. “Jong” also has the meaning “to train,” and so you want to build up, and learn, and develop, and train in positive ones. So lojong is cleansing out the negative attitudes, and training in positive ones. That’s the meaning of lojong – not easy to translate it into any European language with two words.

This teaching, by the way, is quite an advanced teaching; it’s not a beginner teaching. It assumes really that already we’re following the bodhisattva path, with bodhichitta. Bodhichitta is a mind and a heart, which is aimed at our own future enlightenment that we haven’t obtained yet, but with the intention to achieve it, and the intention to benefit all beings. Because we want to benefit all beings, then we want to achieve it. Once we achieve it, what we’re going to do is benefit all beings. [This teaching] assumes that we already really have that, so it doesn’t go so much into detail about the preliminaries for that, or for the actual way to develop that bodhichitta. It starts from there.

Because the text has many, many points in it, I don’t want to give a long explanation of all of those preliminaries and how to develop bodhichitta, because most of you have received teachings on that before. I’ll just mention it very briefly, so we get to the main parts of the text that follow from that.

The text here starts with:

Prostration to great compassion,

Compassion is the foundation for all of these bodhisattva practices. Compassion in general, is the wish for others to be free of their suffering, and problems, and the causes of it. Great compassion is aimed at everybody, not just a few people, that means all the insects, that means everybody in the universe to be free. And it’s without favorites, equal to everybody, and entails also the willingness to do something about it as well. Although that comes more in the extraordinary resolve, that I’m actually going to do something, but it also implies this willingness and the courage to actually help them. That’s great compassion.

The first of these seven points is the preliminaries. That is this one line:

Train first in the preliminaries.

That’s all it says. This refers to the preliminaries that we find in all the traditions, which are preliminaries to bodhichitta. In lam-rim that covers the initial and intermediate scopes. It starts with the precious human life, and then impermanence and death. It’s not going to last forever, so we take safe direction, or refuge, and then we think about the karmic cause and effect and resolve to act in a positive way and avoid negative ways in order to improve future lives. Then, thinking of the disadvantages of uncontrollable rebirth in samsara altogether, we develop renunciation to gain liberation from it. These are the preliminaries here.

What’s significant is that it’s not that we are starting with them as beginners, going through them and developing ourselves from the very beginning, without any background. But this is going back to them when we already have the bodhichitta aim, and going through all of these in terms of bodhichitta. That’s important. You don’t go through the lam-rim just once, these graded stages, you always go through them again and again with a deeper understanding, based on what you’ve learned first time going through. Each time gets deeper and deeper, and more and more fits together.

So, the precious human life, what makes it so precious? That we have all the freedoms from situations that would prevent us from practicing and developing ourselves, and we have all the opportunities that will allow us [to practice and develop]. What’s so precious about it is that we can use it with bodhichitta to work toward enlightenment and to help others as much as possible. I mean, we can’t help others so much if we’re an animal, or if we’re starving to death, and so on, but we can use our precious human life to benefit others, and to work to reach enlightenment, so it’s with bodhichitta.

It’s not going to last forever, and death can come at any time, and so, because death can come at anytime, we don’t want to waste our time. Everybody experiences difficult circumstances, difficult situations with the impermanence, and so we need to be able to transform them. With a bodhichitta motivation, it gives us more energy to do this type of attitude-training, with clarity of why we’re doing it and why this time is precious. That’s the reason why we have this safe direction or refuge. It’s not just because we’re afraid of worse rebirths and have confidence that this direction will enable us to improve, but with compassion for others, that going in this direction from lifetime to lifetime, working toward enlightenment, is the way the Buddha has reached, and Dharma teaches, and the Arya Sangha has realized in part. “This is what I want to do, because of bodhichitta.”

We have these negative circumstances, so we have to transform them, such as impermanence and death. So, then we think in terms of future lives, and wanting to continue to have the circumstances to be able to work toward enlightenment – because it’s going to take a long time – and to continue to be able to benefit others. Then what we need to do as much as possible is to refrain from acting destructively and actually do something which is helpful. So, again, this whole discussion of karma, and wanting to improve future lives, and trying to work toward that, is very much connected here with bodhichitta, and very much connected on a very practical level.

It’s going to take a long time, many lifetimes, and so we need to really make sure that we continue to have all the opportunities in our future lives. And not just leave it very vague, but make very careful preparations, very strong connections with teachers, very strong connections with study, with the practice, with the meditation, with actually helping others, so that instinctively as a child in the next life – we’re praying for a precious human life over and over again – that we’ll be drawn to being kind by nature, because our instincts are so strong, instinctively be kind, and want to help others, and want to develop ourselves more and more in a spiritual way, and are interested in these things, rather than being born – if we happen to be a human – as instinctively cruel, and selfish, and so on. So, this whole preliminary thing of thinking of karmic cause and effect also very much emphasized here, and doing that with bodhichitta in mind.

The last preliminary is thinking that no matter what type of rebirth we have, that it’s always going to be filled with samsaric problems, up and down, and any situation, even the most ideal, is still going to have – you get sick, and you grow old and all these sort of things, and you have to somehow make a living, and so on – there’s always these problems. Everybody has these problems and that this is really a hindrance to being able to help everybody fully, because, in each life you have to start as a baby again, and you can’t do terribly much helping others when you are a little baby, for example, or when you’re really very old and become senile or sick or these sort of things. And so really we’ve got to overcome all of that and gain liberation.

“I’ve really got to overcome all these adverse circumstances of any samsaric rebirth, and transform that, and with renunciation work toward gaining liberation from all of this, because once I’m liberated from samsaric rebirth, from uncontrollably recurring rebirth, then I can really, without having to go through all of the samsaric garbage, work the rest of the way to really reach enlightenment to benefit others fully.” So, again, what’s covered in the intermediate level of lam-rim can be done again, with the emphasis of bodhichitta.

That’s the first point of this Seven Point Mind Training, which is to go through the preliminaries. But as we can see, we can go through them from the point of view of bodhichitta, and it really strengthens our bodhisattva practice more and more. So that’s important, because so many of us studied these graded stages of lam-rim, not to just think, “Well, now I’ve gone through it, and I’m in the advanced level, and so stay with the Mahayanatraining,” but it’s very important to go back over the earlier stages and reinforce them, because they reinforce our bodhichitta and they help very, very much.

The second point is the actual training in bodhichitta. Here there are two ways of training in bodhichitta; there are two types of bodhichitta. There’s the relative or conventional bodhichitta, which is the heart or mind which has the intention to benefit others as fully as possible, and so it’s aimed at our future enlightenment with the intention to achieve it and thereby to help everybody as much as possible. Then there’s the deepest bodhichitta, which is aimed at voidness, the way in which things exist, also of course the aim to understand it, but it’s ultimately with the understanding of it. You go into a big discussion about those two, but basically we’re dealing here with the causes for building up a Dharmakaya, a mind of a Buddha that would be always focused on voidness, the understanding of all phenomena, and relative bodhichitta, would result as the main cause – I mean, you need both for both – but for the Rupakaya, the body of forms to actually help others. So, we need the two.

There are two orders for developing them. One, which you find in the lam-rim, the graded stages, is that, even though in order to gain liberation you need the understanding of voidness, but still you want to not emphasize it so much there, but get the bodhichitta motivation and then do the understanding of voidness. Because that gives the stronger energy to the understanding of voidness, so that it breaks through the obstacles, not just the obstacles that prevent liberation, but also the obscurations that prevent becoming a Buddha, omniscience. That’s one order of it.

The other order is doing the deepest bodhichitta first, gaining the understanding of voidness first, and then developing the relative bodhichitta. His Holiness explains this very nicely. The explanation I’ve heard from him is that with the understanding of voidness, you do become convinced of the void nature of the mind and of all the disturbing emotions and attitudes, and that it’s possible to actually get rid of them, and that it’s possible to actually achieve liberation and enlightenment. Unless you have that confidence from the understanding of voidness, that it’s possible to achieve liberation and enlightenment, unless you have that, it’s very difficult to really put your heart into working to achieve enlightenment with relative bodhichitta.

So, for the more intelligent disciple, rather than the more emotional type, it’s recommended to develop the deepest bodhichitta first, at least to some level. Then you can be more confident that it is possible to achieve liberation and enlightenment, and then you develop the strong motivation to achieve it for the benefit of others, and then you can go and get the final understanding of voidness.

The order of the text, the older version, Togme Zangpo’s version, is to have the voidness, the deepest bodhichitta, explained first, and then relative bodhichitta, but Tsongkhapa, who emphasized the lam-rim very much, put the order the other way. He said that according to the oral tradition that he follows, that he received, you do the relative bodhichitta first. And so Namkapel, his disciple, who wrote the Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun, which is basically a commentary on this, puts the deepest bodhichitta verses at the absolute end, after all the seven points. Pabongka, who lived in the first half of the last century, Pabongka made an edition of this and he tried to edit from all the different versions, and so he made a compromise, and he put within the second point first the verse of relative bodhichitta and then the verse of deepest bodhichitta.

So, we find these three variations of how it goes, but Serkong Rinpoche explained it, and the Sakyas, Nyingmas, and Kagyus all follow this, explaining the deepest bodhichitta verses first, and we’ll do that.

Togme Zangpo, as I said, the author of 37 Bodhisattva Practices, also wrote a very popular and well-known commentary to Shantideva, Bodhicharyavatara. He was from the Sakya tradition, basically, so he explains these verses according to the standard Sakya way of meditating on it, and then the Gelugpa has another way of explaining these lines. So, the lines are:

Ponder that phenomena are like a dream. Discern the fundamental nature of awareness that has no arising. The opponent itself liberates itself in its own place. The essential nature of the path is to settle within the state of the all-encompassing basis.

The Sakya explanation of the first line, which is what most people follow, other than the Gelugpa, is:

Ponder that phenomena are like a dream.

This is basically the Chittamatra, the mind-only position, which is where the Sakya meditation on voidness begins. All objects are appearances that come from the same karmic natal source as the consciousness of it, so they come from the mind, like a dream, appearances that we perceive, these mental holograms. The person as well, who perceives them is also something which can be labeled by the mind on the aggregates that make up our experience of that. Also it can be understood in terms of the mind that does labeling it, and so non-dually both the subject, the one that perceives things, and the objects that are perceived, like a dream, come from the mind.

It’s a non-dual thing. Both the objects that are perceived and the person that does the perceiving them are both the play of the clarity of the mind, of the appearance-making function – basic Chittamatra, which many of you have studied with me in the Shantideva class. It doesn’t mean that they’re one, but it means that both are in the nature of the mind, appearances of the mind.

The second line:

Discern the fundamental nature of awareness that has no arising.

The mind itself, this appearance-making function, can’t be found – it has no true arising, no true abiding, no true ceasing, it lacks true findable existence – this is the basic Prasangika understanding, which is the second step in the Sakya way of meditating on voidness. All things are the appearance of the mind, it comes from the karma; and then: the mind itself has no true findable existence – going to the Prasangika understanding.

All of this is, of course, very important, and connected with relative bodhichitta as well. You want to help others, and so you have to realize that the appearances of what they are doing, and what I am doing, and “me” as a person, and the other persons, that all of that is coming from karma and mental labeling and so on, and the mind as well that’s producing all these things – the appearance of me helping them, the appearance of them being helped, and so on – the mind as well doesn’t have true findable existence, so that in helping others you don’t have all this clinging and grasping. That’s very relevant to the bodhisattva path, namely that the appearances of true existence are baseless, that the mind that’s producing them, what is being produced and the mind that is producing all these appearances – “I’m the great bodhisattva helping everybody, and you are this miserable being that I’m helping, and the situations that I’m seeing,” and all of that – all of them are coming from the mind, from karmic seeds, and so on. It’s happening to them, happening from my own way of training and so on, and the mind itself doesn’t have true existence. None of it has true findable existence.

So, you don’t become attached, and then angry if it doesn’t work and so on. Or “All my problems, and disturbing emotions, and me, poor me suffering from them,” that also is coming from karma, coming from the mind and the mind has no true findable existence. And so it’s possible to get rid of all of it and actually reach liberation and enlightenment. There are many ways in which it’s very relevant to the bodhisattva path, and this way of going through the Chittamatra to the Prasangika is very helpful – that’s Sakya meditation on voidness.

The third line:

The opponent itself liberates itself in its own place.

This is speaking about the opponent, which is voidness. Voidness as well is something which is imputable by words and concepts, and the conceptual understanding of that, as well, has to be… you have to go beyond that to get the non-conceptual cognition of it, which liberates itself in its own place, which means that this understanding, this conceptual understanding simultaneously arises, abides, and ceases, which is the basic mahamudra, dzogchen type of approach, mahamudra in Sakya as well, and so it’s beyond words and concepts, and you get here to the non-conceptual cognition of voidness – that’s the opponent.

The conceptual understanding of voidness liberates itself in its own place, and from that you can go to the non-conceptual cognition of voidness, which is the next step in Sakya meditation on voidness. That understanding itself, that voidness itself is beyond all these extremes of true existent, non-true existent, both, neither, and so you get to, what they call, the “non-conceptual cognition,” which is voidness beyond words and concepts, what the Gelugpas would call the “voidness of voidness.”

The fourth line:

The essential nature of the path is to settle within the state of the all-encompassing basis.

What is this non-conceptual meditation on voidness? It’s to settle into the clear light mind and its voidness. That’s what is in Sakya called “the causal alaya,” the causal all-encompassing basis, it’s the word “alaya,” this is referring to the clear-light mind, which is the clear-light foundation mind that’s the cause of all appearances, both pure and impure. That’s the fourth step in the Sakya voidness meditation, so these lines are very clearly Sakya.

The Gelug explanation of these lines is:

Ponder that phenomena are like a dream.

This refers to all phenomena that are known by the mind – they lack true findable existence, and:

Discern the fundamental nature of awareness that has no arising.

That refers to the voidness of the mind, and:

The opponent itself liberates itself in its own place.

The opponent is the one who is doing the meditating. That’s the person, so this line refers to the voidness of the person who is doing the meditating.

All three lines are referring to analytical, or what I call discerning meditation, and the last line:

The essential nature of the path is to settle within the state of the all-encompassing basis.

That’s stabilizing meditation on voidness. Voidness here is taken as the all-encompassing basis, so you get a quite standard Gelugpa way of interpreting these lines as well.

That’s the discussion of deepest bodhichitta. What we’ve particularly learned is that all the other sections, besides the actual teachings on relative bodhichitta, from lam-rim, including the initial and intermediate scope before, and the voidness teachings that come after, all of them very much are things that we need to incorporate into our bodhisattva practice.

These voidness teachings are especially relevant. We need to become convinced that it’s possible to achieve enlightenment, which means become convinced that it’s possible to clear out the negative attitudes and develop positive ones. That’s impossible if the mind itself didn’t have voidness as its nature, no true findable existence. The appearances of all these disturbing things – even while I’m helping – all of that’s coming from the mind, karma. The person who is acting as well is void, and the mind itself is void. The whole bodhisattva practice then can work, and does work, only because of the voidness of the mind, basically. Don’t just stay with the conceptual understanding, but go to the non-conceptual understanding of it. All of that is very, very relevant.