Four Preparatory Thoughts for Tonglen: Giving & Taking

We’re going to start the weekend seminar on a very important and essential text (which is found in all the Tibetan traditions) from India called Seven Point Mind Training, which I received teachings on primarily from two of my main teachers: Serkong Rinpoche and Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey. But I’ll follow primarily Serkong Rinpoche’s way of explaining especially since he was absolutely an expert in this type of practice, especially tonglen (gtong-len), “taking and giving” He was one of the teachers of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The type of literature that this comes from usually is called “lojong” in Tibetan and that is usually translated as “mind training,” but that’s a rather misleading translation as Serkong Rinpoche pointed out, and especially when I explain the connotation. “Training the mind” sounds as though we’re training the intellect and that’s not really what’s it’s all about. The word “lo” (blo) people translate as “mind” actually means our attitudes. And the word “jong” (sbyong) has two meanings. One is to cleanse, purify out; so we are purifying out our negative attitudes. And it also then has the connotation of – once we have done that – then training, learning, more positive attitudes. So that’s why I call it “cleansing of attitudes.”

So if we ask where do these teachings come from, particularly teachings on changing our attitudes towards self and others (that’s really what this is all about), this comes from two sutras of Buddha. One is called the Gandavyuha Sutra, it’s A Sutra Spread Out Like a Tree Trunk, a tree trunk of a huge tree, that sends out branches everywhere. This gives a tremendous amount of teachings on bodhichitta and bodhisattva activity. And the other one is, in Sanskrit, Vajradvaja-paripriccha Sutra, which I don’t expect you to remember, but Buddha went to many, many people’s houses – he was invited for lunch, together with his monks. And then different patrons who invited him requested a teaching, and that’s where a great many of the sutras come from. So this is a sutra that was requested by someone called Vajradvaja, and it’s also about bodhichitta.

And then the two great Indian masters who spread the Mahayana teachings, who actually made them accessible to everyone, were Asanga and Nagarjuna. They also have the lineages and the teachings of these sutras, so it comes through them. And eventually they came down, after some centuries, to the great Indian master Shantideva, who wrote Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior, which speaks even more about these teachings. And these great Mahayana teachings, these lineages, were spread outside of India as well, and they went to Indonesia – the island of Sumatra (called the Golden Isle).

A few centuries later, at the time of Atisha, there were some difficult times in India and many of the more specific Mahayana teachings were no longer available there. And so Atisha heard that the lineages and the teachings were available with a great master in Sumatra, and so he undertook a very long and very difficult journey by sea from India to Sumatra. There, after many difficulties and not rushing to this teacher, but taking a lot of time to examine about him and ask other disciples there, and so on, he studied with a great master there called Dharmakirti or Dharmapala, who also is called Serlingpa.

So Dharmakirti had these lineages of Nagarjuna, Asanga, and Shantideva, and now Atisha brought them back to India – which really teaches us a very great lesson, which is that the authentic teachings are really the most absolutely precious thing in the world. And if they’re not available in our country or in our situation, that we don’t just sit around and say, “Well, I’ll take whatever is available” – the second best, or third best – but we really check up who has the authentic teachings; who has the authentic realization? And no matter how difficult it is, no matter how much time it takes and effort to build up the money and get the resources and everything to go get the authentic teachings. If we really are serious about our practice, we’ll go to the authentic sources.

And then Atisha didn’t just keep these things for himself, he taught it. And he was invited to come to Tibet, which was a very, very difficult journey, and the people in India weren’t terribly pleased that he was going, but he took again an incredibly difficult journey in those times. And so there in Tibet he gave these teachings – primarily on bodhichitta – he gave these teachings to primarily one of his disciples, the main one, Dromtonpa, and Dromtonpa gave them to another one of his disciples, Geshe Potowa.

This in the Kadam tradition, and when we hear about these Kadampa Geshes, a Geshe isn’t what it became later in the Gelug tradition – somebody who has gone through the full monastic training. It doesn’t mean that, but what it means is – they sometimes translate it as “spiritual friend,” but that’s very weak – it’s first of all like a friend and relative, brother, who is very, very close to us, with a very loving relationship and who then inspires and leads us through his or her example to be constructive, in constructive ways.

And always this huge emphasis, of course, on voidness and these other things, but super emphasis on bodhichitta. What you have to remember is historically at that time in Tibet things were pretty chaotic and difficult, and this was really what people needed.

And Geshe Potowa had two main disciples; they were called the sun- and moon-like disciples. One of them was Langri-tangpa, the other was Geshe Chekawa. And Langri Tangpa, he was always very serious. It’s quite interesting, the stories about him – I won’t go into details since we don’t have very much time – but he was the one (you might have heard stories) that only laughed three times and the rest of the time he was very – not serious like stern, but always thinking of others and compassion for others, and filled with sadness and compassion to be able to help others. “I didn’t have time to joke around.” And he wrote the Eight Verse Mind Training, the text of this genre that is very, very famous.

And so the disciple Geshe Chekawa came across a copy of it at some other great Geshe’s house, and he was especially drawn to one line in it. This is the line, “Give the victory to others and accept the defeat on himself.” This really, really struck him very, very deeply. Like the rest of his life was influenced by this line. And so he said, “Well, who wrote it?” And this Geshe whose house he was at said, “Well, it was Geshe Langri Tangpa.” So Geshe Chekawa undertook a long journey to Lhasa to try to find him and get teachings on this. Actually he didn’t know, but Geshe Langri Tangpa had died. So he went to Central Tibet, to Lhasa, to try to meet him and get teachings, but when he got there he found out that he already passed away.

So again it’s a good example here, that he wasn’t just, “Oh, this is interesting. I’d like to study it,” but then he doesn’t do anything. He had to try to find these teachings. So a big long journey, and he got there and the teacher is no longer alive, so he asks, “Who can I get these teachings from?” And so he was told Geshe Sharawa, another Kadampa Geshe. So he went and he found Geshe Sharawa and he didn’t want to teach him at first – a long story which we don’t have time to go into – but eventually Geshe Sharawa told him where the teachings came from: the line, the lineage of this. Geshe Chekawa wanted to not just, “Well maybe somebody just made it up. It sounds nice,” but he wanted to know that it was authentic. And so Geshe Sharawa showed him in a text by Nagarjuna, The Precious Garland, that this is where it comes from.

So then Geshe Chekawa was convinced that this was an authentic teaching going back to India and back to the Buddha. But again it teaches us a very important lesson, that there may be teachings available that sound very, very attractive and somebody is advertising them as teachings of the Buddha, but unless we really are sure that this is authentic – the actual teachings of the Buddha, that it is it based on the great texts – then, be careful. Don’t just go for something because it’s attractive.

This shows us the preciousness of bodhichitta teachings and the teachings on changing our attitudes about self and others, and cleansing these attitudes, how these great masters considered it so incredibly precious, that they underwent so many hardships actually to get these teachings. Nowadays things are very easily available. Sometimes because of that we tend to trivialize the teachings and that really causes us not to take them seriously, not to respect them and really apply ourselves. It’s for this reason that often the texts are written in a style which is very cryptic: only a few words, and really difficult to understand from just reading the texts. And it’s filled with words like “this” and “that”; you have no idea really what they are referring to.

I have trained and worked as a translator, and Serkong Rinpoche saw my rather arrogant attitude that I was a bit critical of the style of these texts: they did not write them clearly, and they wrote with so many this’s and that’s. And he said, “Don’t be so arrogant to think that these great masters like Nagarjuna couldn’t write clearly and they were stupid, bad writers, and so on. That’s really arrogant. If they wanted to write clearly they would have. Obviously they wrote this way on purpose.”

Serkong Rinpoche explained that the great masters wrote the texts like that so that if you wanted to understand them and practice, you had to put in a tremendous amount of work and effort to get the explanation for it. And it weeded out disciples who weren’t so serious. And even when you’re explaining it, he said, the first time you explain, you don’t explain very clearly. Because again then many people will leave and say, “That’s enough!” But those who are really serious will ask for more and go deeper and put in all the work and effort.

Of course I’m a bad disciple; I don’t do that. In terms of I’d like to try to make things more clear, at least to make it a little bit easier. But this is necessary – to put in work in order to actually get the teachings and get clarity on the teachings; otherwise you don’t develop your character. It’s not just a matter of getting information. We really do live in the age of degeneration. And in many places you have Dharma centers which need to get the money from many people coming; otherwise they can’t pay the rent and they can’t pay the expenses, and so on. So they don’t want to scare away people. That really is a sign of an age of degeneration, isn’t it?

Anyway, Geshe Chekawa spent then six years (according to one account) studying with Geshe Sharawa, and practicing and meditating to try to actually internalize and realize these very, very difficult advanced teachings. Now Geshe Chekawa was no beginner and no dummy when he went there, and so it took him six years (another account says fourteen years) of working on bodhichitta. And then he wrote this text that we will be studying and he taught it to a number of his disciples, but particularly to one master Lhadingpa, who taught it to Togme Zangpo. Togme Zangpo is the author of Thirty-seven Bodhisattva Practices which also is taught very extensively in the West. He also wrote a very wonderful commentary on Shantideva’s Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior.

From this Lhadingpa there were other lineages and so on, and eventually it went to all the different schools of Tibetan Buddhism, and eventually it came down to Tsongkhapa and then it goes down in the Gelug tradition and it became incorporated into many, many different texts. And what is very confusing is that in all these different lam-rim texts or the Lama Chopa (The Guru Puja) and so on, you get different versions of the text – these seven points. So Pabongka Rinpoche, who was a master in the early half of the twentieth century, looking at all the versions made what he considered as a standard text (only in the Gelugpa, of course). I mention this because from all these various versions there are many texts, at least translated into English; and so when you look at them, a lot of them are this Pabongka edition, but there are many others as well. So don’t be confused. Most of these versions, they are not adding anything that seems inappropriate. Because often what happens is that somebody gives an oral commentary and you get a little bit confused about what’s actually in the text and what the lama is explaining from an oral tradition. Things get added or changed around in their order and so on.

The version that I’ll follow is the one that Serkong Rinpoche always used to teach, which is one of the oldest versions of the text. It is the text that is from Togme Zangpo, actually going way, way back to – the dates of Togme Zangpo are not so terribly clear – but something like the 13th century. I’m mentioning this because I know you have the Spanish translation of the text. You have a Spanish translation of the Pabongka version. That is not the version that I’m going to teach. So there are slight differences. I’m sure Serkong Rinpoche had a very strong reason of why he always taught this version, but I never asked him, actually. I was never aware actually at that time that there were other versions. But if he was good enough to be the teacher of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, that’s good enough, no question about that.

I am giving you all this history and things not just to tell you stories, but I think that all of this helps us to approach this material, because this material is actually incredibly advanced and incredibly difficult. We should definitely not trivialize these teachings and also not get discouraged by them. Because as we listen to the teachings, for many of us, we’re going to think, “Come on, this is impossible to really do!” But there are certain aspects of these teachings that are more accessible than others, and so we try to put in practice what we are ready to practice, not sort of pretending to take on more advanced practices that really we are not emotionally ready for. So we need to have really gotten digested the basic teachings, and not just know them but really feel them on an emotional level. This is saying if you really want to train and cleanse your attitudes, that there are some very, very drastic ways of doing this, and if you are not emotionally prepared to do it, it can be damaging if you try to do some of these things before you’re emotionally mature enough to do it.

But, as I said, not all the points are so strong, but many of the points within this are. Okay, so when we receive the teachings, then what it can do, perhaps, is inspire us. This is – this is real bodhisattva training. It’s really how you become a bodhisattva, how you develop yourself in the bodhisattva path. So if this is seriously what we really want to do, really seriously want to reach enlightenment and benefit all others, well this is what I can aspire toward, some idea of what’s lying ahead and you’re not naive about it. We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that the path to enlightenment is so nice and we’ll go on a nice Disneyland trip to enlightenment: All the Buddha lands, it’s so pretty! And everybody is so loving and kind – like that. So let’s not be children about it. It requires great courage to follow the bodhisattva path; we will see that a little bit here.

Now, the text begins:

Prostration to great compassion.

Great compassion is not just: “May beings be free from their suffering and the causes of suffering.” And it’s certainly not “Oh, you poor thing!” But it’s a larger scope. The word “great” here is very important. So first of all it’s not just limited to some beings, but all beings. Now often we say “all sentient beings,” but that doesn’t mean anything to us. It’s very easy to say, but how many of us really seriously are thinking about the suffering of every insect in the universe; and we really want to work to help every single insect in the universe not only to get over the suffering of this life, but to achieve liberation and enlightenment? This is not kid’s stuff. When they say “everybody”, they mean everybody. So that type of compassion, in which you really sincerely feel this for everybody, equally, that’s one aspect of great compassion. Now another aspect is being convinced that it’s actually possible for all of them to get out of their suffering. If you didn’t think it was possible – just to feel sorry for them, that’s not much help.

And so this really requires understanding voidness and the nature of the mind, and the mind isn’t stained by this confusion and disturbing emotions, and so on – and that it’s really possible to get rid of it, and it’s possible for everybody – and Buddha-nature, all of that. And it’s not just sitting in your cave or in your room and having this compassion, but also feeling some responsibility to somehow do something.

So in some versions (not in the original version) it says the text is like a vajra diamond, it helps us to cut through all our disturbing emotions; and it’s like the sun, so it eliminates the darkness of self-cherishing and selfishness – just working for ourselves; like a potent medicine, a medicine tree or medicine herbs, to cure, again, our self-cherishing. So much of this cleansing of attitudes is to get rid of self-cherishing. And that would be through the exchange of our attitudes about self and others.

Then the text continues:

First train in the preliminaries

Now when we hear preliminaries, it is important to not trivialize them. Preliminaries means what comes, what you do, or what has to go, before – literally. So if you think of it with the following image, I think it’s helpful: If you’re going on a caravan – let’s talk about Tibetans – if you’re going on a caravan to some place and there’s going to be a long and difficult journey, you have to pack all your bags. You can’t just get on your yak and go. It’s not like: we can go on a journey and well, there’s going to be a pharmacy everywhere and a store on every corner and we can buy whatever we need. It’s not like that. So these preliminaries you have to do first. It’s like packing your bags with everything you’re going to need on the journey, because you can’t make the journey without them.

So these preliminaries are absolutely essential and this is usually explained – and mind you, these texts come before the Gelugpa tradition, the Gelug version of lam-rim – so it’s usually explained in terms of the four thoughts, the four common preparatory practices. Now you get teachings here on that. There’s no need for me to go into detail about these: the realization of having a precious human rebirth; and thinking about how it’s not going to last, impermanence and death, and therefore putting a safe direction in our life of refuge; and then thinking of karma, the laws of cause and effect, changing our behavior; and then the disadvantages of samsara.

Now the point is that, as in the lam-rim (the Gelugpa lam-rim), you can follow these teachings and try to develop them with different grades of motivation. Gelugpa lam-rim just elaborates Atisha’s points of putting it in terms of three levels of motivation. These can be seen (the first three) in terms of the initial scope of aiming for a more fortunate rebirth, and then the disadvantages of samsara, intermediate level of aiming for liberation. So we might ask, well, where is the advanced level in these four thoughts, right? But it’s preparing us for that, it’s preliminary to that; it’s common. In Hinayana it’s common, right? Common not only for sutra and tantra Mahayana, but for Hinayana and Mahayana.

Now once we have internalized the insights of these four points in terms of the initial and intermediate levels of motivation, that’s not sufficient. We have to go back and do it again, and again and again. But now, as we’re trying to follow the bodhisattva path, do it with an advanced level of motivation, with bodhichitta, compassion and bodhichitta.

So we think of this precious human life that I have – this precious human life to be able to develop bodhichitta, to practice bodhichitta, to really help others, at whatever level we’re at. And how much can we really help others in a lifetime as a cockroach? Not very much. With a precious human life with the ability to learn, to study, to meditate, not having such gross suffering or too much happiness, we can really work not only on ourselves, but specifically work to reach enlightenment – helping others.

And it’s not going to last: it’s impermanent, it’s changing all the time, and we are going to die. So we want to use the time what we have as strongly as possible, because we’re going to get sick, we’re going to get old, we’re going to die, and so these are things that are undoubtedly going to happen. We want to learn the methods which are taught here, of how to transform and use those sorts of situations to further our practice, to further help others, to further advance on the bodhisattva path toward enlightenment. And we want to use all these horrible situations as well, because as a human, with the precious human life, we can actually use them – not just like a sick dog. So if we don’t take seriously that these things are going to happen to us, we wouldn’t really, seriously, train now – when we have the ability, when we’re not sick and senile or dying – to train to be able to use these type of situations, and cleanse our minds of fear and feeling sorry for ourselves and all this self-cherishing that goes together with usually when we’re sick or old or dying.

So we want to really very strongly to go in the safe direction of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, working on ourselves – the examples, these fine examples of the great Buddhas, and the Arya Sangha, those who have actually achieved true stoppings of the causes of suffering. We want to go in that direction really strongly in our lives to reach enlightenment to benefit others. Every moment of our life, no matter how difficult it is, we want to always be going in that safe direction. So that is why we have to transform difficult situations into things that can help us go further on the path and help others, which is what this is all about.

We’re very secure and we’re very stable in our direction. Otherwise, if you’re not really so stable in your safe direction, like when difficult things come, you might go to something else: you freak out; you feel sorry for yourselves; you take refuge in food, chocolate, friends, whatever.

Now the next one is karma, behavioral cause and effect. It’s very important to understand, to really understand, that when we’re having difficult things that this is the ripening, the karmic aftermath, of destructive actions that we have done. And that we really need to cleanse that; we have to get rid of that. So we want to get rid of it, we want to, in a sense, have it ripen and be over with. And the amount of positive force that we have from our constructive actions, well, this is quite limited now. We don’t want all of that to just ripen, with everything going nicely, and so on, because then what? And so we want to really, somehow, transform. When these negative things are ripening, transform that; so instead of just building up more negative things by, “Oh, how terrible! Poor me,” we can use it as a way to build up more positive things so that we can help others – the whole point is to be able to help others. And Shantideva speaks about this a lot in the second chapter of Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior, that when these negative things ripen, what happens is we’re filled with fear and terror. “Oh, poor me! What’s going to happen to me?” and so on. And so we really, really want to avoid that.

By having very safe and sound direction in your life and, here, transforming that into something positive, because then otherwise we’re lost; and if our motivation is we want to do this to be able to help others in the process, making this transformation, then it gives us very strong motivation to do it. So this requires really good understanding of karma, which is based on the understanding of voidness. Without that, it’s hopeless. Because what happens is that we say, “Well, whatever happens to you, this is the ripening of your karma,” then if you’re grasping onto a solid “me,” then, you know, “I deserve this suffering,” and “I’m a bad person,” and all of that. That totally destroys this type of cleansing process.

So when we’ve gone through it the first time, these preparatory practices, and then we get to Mahayana, we get a little bit in terms of bodhichitta and the understanding of voidness. Then we have to go back and apply that to each of these steps in the preparatory preliminary practices, so that it really has a firm foundation and basis for really getting into bodhisattva practice. In other words, without some understanding of voidness we can’t really understand that it is possible to transform our attitudes and transform these circumstances.

And if we think in terms of “my suffering” and “your suffering,” and it has nothing to do with me because it’s a solid “me” and solid “you” – there’s no relation whatsoever – then how can we really deal with other people’s suffering. You can’t take on others’ suffering with tonglen if you think that it really belongs to them and not to me, and everybody else’s suffering is due to karma, but it’s not in terms of a solid “me” of anybody who’s built up this karma. So it’s very important, otherwise it’s very, very difficult to really emotionally feel comfortable with these practices and not be really frightened or really feel really artificial.

So, again, studying karma (the law of cause and effect) with this bodhichitta aim, really internalizing: how can I use this in order to reach enlightenment and not be overwhelmed by it. And how everybody else, in their situation, is the same. Where we are now, we’re going to be constantly experiencing the ripening of our karma, so we have to deal with it. The more people that we know, we come to realize that everybody has their samsaric horror show going on. Some are more dramatic shows than others, but everybody has a horror show going on. And so rather than the self-cherishing “poor me” attitude: “I don’t want to deal with your horror show; my horror show is bad enough.” And so we need to – by understanding karmic cause and effect – then we need to accept our situation. Okay, this is my samsaric karmic situation, for whatever reasons there are, and so now how can I use that, take the best advantage of it, because I have a precious human life. No matter how much horror show I’m going through, I still have a precious human life to reach enlightenment to benefit others. We don’t simply want to take advantage of our precious human life. That’s not enough. We want to take advantage of our samsaric horror show in order to use that like we would use a precious human life – to reach enlightenment to benefit others. But how can I transform it? How can I use it? That’s what we learn here.

So, understanding of karmic cause and effect, it’s very, very important as a preparation. Where is this horror show coming from, and is it possible to actually cleanse it; is it possible for others to cleanse it, purify, and so on. Very important. And when others are acting horribly toward us, and horribly toward everybody else, well you need to understand that they didn’t have any control over it by this point. It’s just the ripening of their karma. So you don’t say, “You’re a bad person,” or something like that, but given the samsaric horror that is going on all around us, how can we transform that into a path that will actually not just help ourselves, but help everybody?

And then the last preliminary, the disadvantages of samsara. We need to also realize in order to help everybody and reach enlightenment, we have to not just think in terms of my own difficult samsaric situations, and I want to get out of all of that for myself. It’s very easy to be attracted to other people’s samsaric situations, but we don’t really look closely enough. You’re envious of this rich person over there, or this person who has a nice partner. But when you look closely, you see the horror show that’s there with everybody in one form or another. So you think of the disadvantages of everybody’s samsaric trip. Just as I want to get out of my samsaric horror show, so does everybody else. So the more that we work with the disadvantages of my own samsara, and take it really, really seriously – why are we taking it seriously is so that we can apply it and really appreciate other people’s horror shows, so that it acts as the cause for compassion.

Okay, this is the first of the seven points – train in the preliminaries.

The second point is the actual ways to develop the two kinds of bodhichitta. Now I know it’s already nine o’clock and so I don’t want to push this further. I know a lot of people have traveled and it’s very hot in this room as well. But just let me give a very brief introduction and then tomorrow morning we will deal with this point.

Bodhichitta is a mind and a heart – both of these are included in one word – that is aimed at enlightenment. Not enlightenment in general, it’s aimed at our own individual enlightenment that we are aiming to achieve in the future based on all the potentials that we have now. And the intention – what we are going to do once we’ve gotten that – is to benefit everybody as much as possible.

So if we think in terms of what is this enlightenment, we think of the four Buddha-bodies that we are aiming to achieve. So there are two bodies (or corpuses) of lots and lots of different appearances that we would have, to benefit others. Also we need to achieve the omniscient mind of a Buddha, the Deep Awareness Dharmakaya, as well as the Essential Nature Dharmakaya, the Svabhavakaya, namely the voidness realized by such a mind – specifically, the voidness of the omniscient mind itself – and the true stoppings on that mind, attained by such realization. The deepest bodhichitta is aimed at that voidness, which according to the Gelug Jetsunpa textbooks, is equivalent to the true stoppings. The Gelug Panchen textbooks doe not assert such an equivalency, but let's leave aside that debate. With the attainment of a Svabhavakaya, we fulfill our own aim or purposes, which is to attain enlightenment. 

[See: The Relation between True Stoppings and Emptiness.]

These are the two aspects of bodhichitta that we’re aiming at. With the relative, or conventional, or superficial aspect of bodhichitta, we aim at the aspects of enlightenment with which we are actually being able to help everybody – namely, with all our appearances and forms that we take and our omniscient awareness of the extent of all phenomena, especially of behavioral cause and effect, enabling us to know how to benefit each being individually while appearing in these forms. With deepest bodhichitta, we aim at the aspects of enlightenment with which we fulfill our own purposes – namely voidness, as non-conceptually cognized by our omniscient awareness of how all things exist, especially how it itself exists. Of course, with enlightenment, our omniscient mind non-conceptually cognizes inseparably both the full extent of what exists and how all things exist. And also, we can't separate the voidness cognized by an omniscient mind from the omniscient mind that cognizes it. So whether we include the attainment of a Deep Awareness Dharmakaya as the aspect of enlightenment we emphasize attaining with relative bodhichitta or attaining with deepest bodhichitta, or with both is a topic for debate. If we explain relative bodhichitta as being aimed at the relative or superficial truth of our enlightenment and deepest bodhichitta as aimed at the deepest truth of our enlightenment, the debate hinges on whether we consider the mind of deep awareness of voidness as a relative truth or a deepest truth. Let's leave that debate aside and just treat deepest bodhichitta as focusing on the voidness of the omniscient mind and implicit is focusing on attaining this voidness with an omniscient mind. 

So which one do we work with first? Deepest bodhichitta, or the relative or superficial bodhichitta. There are obviously two traditions concerning which you work on first. In this text we work on the deepest bodhichitta first – the understanding of voidness – and then the bodhichitta to reach enlightenment and help everybody, and so on. But starting with Tsongkhapa in the Gelug tradition, he changes the order around. We do the relative bodhichitta first and then the deepest bodhichitta, and obviously there are reasons for that. There are reasons for the first position as well. What I’ll explain here is the order that it is in the original text: deepest bodhichitta first.

In summary, the important point is to really appreciate the preciousness of these teachings. How seriously the great masters who actually achieved enlightenment took them. And seeing how well we really need to be prepared to be able to sincerely put them into practice so that we can learn something about them now. These are not things to play around with.

Remember Geshe Langri Tangpa who wrote the eight stanzas. He didn’t joke around, didn’t make light of things and entertain his disciples by telling jokes and laughing. He took it totally seriously. It was not that he was grim. Although we might like entertainment and jokes and laughing, and sometimes it can be useful to sort of calm down, that’s not the purpose of coming to teachings – to be entertained. Serkong Rinpoche said, “If you want entertainment, go to the circus. If you want to see somebody in the center do tricks and amazing things, go to a circus.” That’s not what the Dharma teachings are about. If you see His Holiness the Dalai Lama, he’ll smile, and if things strike him funny, he laughs; he’s not uptight. But when he teaches he is very, very serious.

Let’s end with a dedication: We think whatever understanding we have gained, whatever positive force we've built up, may it go deeper and deeper and act as a cause for reaching enlightenment for the benefit of all.

This is very important because some positive force that we build up without dedicating it, what does it do? It just acts as karmic positive force. So it will ripen in being able to have an entertaining conversation around a coffee table about Dharma. That’s not the point. So we don’t want it to just ripen in some samsaric positive way, and everybody thinks we’re so clever. That’s why you have to dedicate it very consciously, so it acts as a cause not just for samsaric happiness, which it would automatically do, but act as a cause for reaching enlightenment for the benefit of all. So it acts as a cause for reaching enlightenment to bring everybody else also to enlightenment, so it acts as a cause for everybody’s enlightenment. And it’s best to put it in your own words, your own feelings; don’t just recite some formula that eventually just becomes empty words.