The Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche:

The Seven Points of Mind Training


" Easy to explain, but very difficult to realize"

The Seven Points of Mind Training is at the heart of the Sutra and Tantra teachings in the Mahayana tradition; they are the skilful means of practice. The Indian sage, Atisha, composed the text later introduced in Tibet. There it spread widely and became the essential teaching practised by all the lamas. Whatever our practice is, this mind training consists of advice which will definitely deepen it. Whether we meditate in the tradition of Mahamudra, Dzogchen, or the yidam practice of Dorje Phagmo, or Khorlo Demchok – in fact all tantric practices at whatever tantric level (be it charya, kriya, yoga, or anuttarayoga), our practice does not have real significance without mind training. Such training is essential for any tantric practice, since it ensures the removal of obstacles along the path.

What are the seven points?

I. THE PRELIMINARIES

The meaning of the preliminaries is to reflect on the Four Thoughts that turn the mind towards Enlightenment. No further elaboration is given here, as most of you are already very familiar with it.

II. BODHICITTA

There are two aspects to Bodhicitta. They are the ultimate and relative bodhicitta representing the union of wisdom and skilful means. To develop ultimate Bodhicitta, we have to meditate. Meditation comprises of three phases: the introduction, the body of the practice, and post-meditation.

Ultimate Bodhicitta - the introduction

In the introduction, first reflect that you are really in the presence of your Lama or the Deity of meditation. If you are in a temple, you will likely be facing Buddha statues on a shrine. Think that all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are appearing in front of you and offer them the Seven-Branch Prayer. Then straighten your body and sit in the seven-point posture. Let your mind rest on your breathing for twenty-one complete breaths so as to calm and stabilize the mind.

Ultimate Bodhicitta - the body of the practice

Think that all the events, manifestations, and movements of mind are illusory as in the nature of a dream, unreal and false. For example, when we are sleeping, our dream seems real to us even though it is absolutely unreal: if it were real, then the dream would really be happening. In the same way, our world and the beings in it in all their diversity are but the illusory manifestations of mind. While the illusion is taking place, it is "real", but its essence is unreal like a dream. Therefore regard all phenomena as insignificant, similar to a dream, and rest your mind in this perspective at this moment.

Ask yourself, "Is mind itself real, or not?" This is your own experiment to lead you to recognize mind. You have to meditate on the mind and ask yourself: What color is it? What is its form? Where does it come from? What is its purpose? Is it inside or outside of the body? What happens when it experiences heat or the cold? Reflect on the mind in this way. You may come to the conclusion that the mind defies any such determination and that is the essence of mind. You must meditate on this point.

When a thought arises, look at it directly and ask yourself, "What is its true nature?" Remain in the understanding that "it is nothing." It is said that all thoughts are stored in the alaya. The alaya is the unconscious mind, the producer of mental confusion. It is the one who runs after sounds, forms, odors, tastes and feelings. The mind is seen when one remains in a state free from running after something. For example, when one has work has to do, the mind is thus engaged and thinks, for example, "What will I cook today?" or, "I will clean…" etc. When the mind is no longer carrying on with such thoughts, it is the alaya. The body of the practice is to remain in this kind of meditation for as long as possible. In fact, it is a meditation similar to the path of Mahamudra.

Ultimate Bodhicitta - post-meditation

During your everyday life, exert yourself to recognize everything as illusory and unreal.

Relative Bodhicitta

The training of relative Bodhicitta is "Tonglen" (to send and to take). This is a very important practice because it can purify our obscurations and deepen our capacity for meditative absorption. We have to get used to the exchange of self for others. By this method, we can cut right through to the roots of the ego. We begin first by reflecting on the defects of ego clinging. It is on account of our fixation to a self that we experience the five disturbing emotions. From the moment there is "I", we have like and dislike. We are attracted to what we like and feel aversion towards what we dislike. This dualistic interplay is at the core of all our problems, and it will continue to create problems for us until we put an end to ego clinging.

The next step is to exert ourselves in being compassionate towards others. We begin by using the self as the subject of reflection. What do we feel when we are hot, cold, hungry, thirsty, or when we are sick? It is this same suffering that every living being feels. Our compassion must be directed towards all animals as well and not exclusively towards humans. Animals suffer indeed much more than humans do, mainly because of their own inadequacies and limitations. However, some sufferings are inflicted on them by humans. Fish are perfectly happy in water, they don't disturb anyone. Nevertheless, for the sake of sport, men catch them with hooks and then leave them to die on the sand. How would we feel if the same thing were done to us? If someone is starving and eats fish, there is at least some reason for his action – though still negative, it is excusable. Recently, I was at the seaside. People there were all well off. They were far from dying of hunger. For them fishing is a source of recreation. They threw the fish on the ground to die. Some even trampled the fish to death. Also, think of the lobsters, the way in which they are plunged alive into boiling water in the restaurants. How would we feel if we were the lobsters? It is by such reflections that we develop compassion. The sadness and sorrow in all of us when we remember the vast number of people killed in the two World Wars is compassion. But compassion must be extended to the animals as well. Day and night, animals are being killed. When the compassion is directed only towards humans then it is not true compassion, but a form of attachment.

What should our mental attitude during the practice of sending and taking be? We must ask ourselves what would happen if we personally experienced all the suffering of all living beings. This reflection must take place in a relaxed state of mind without any erroneous views such as, "Oh dear, maybe then I will truely experience this suffering!" And then let the mind become anxious. It is not necessary to literally evoke the suffering, it is enough to think of it. Then gradually, our attitude will improve. For the moment, our minds are confused and dull, making us an easy prey to pride. This pride must be overcome and the method for that is to think of the suffering of others.

Emotional suffering is also a form of suffering experienced by living beings. Nowadays, many people suffer from mental disorders caused by the disturbing emotions: pride, anger, jealousy, desire and ignorance. Moreover, it is the emotions that condition and shape the world that we experience. How can that be? The world that we live in is nothing more than the illusory projection of our confused mind. The appearances are produced by our karma. How is karma created? The movement of the emotions in the mind creates it.

When bodhicitta is developed, the illusory manifestations become positive. For example, when one is in a hell realm, one can awake from this state and be reborn among the human beings. All humans know the emotions of pride, desire, anger, etc; it is through them that unlimited negative karma is accumulated. Therefore in the future, when the effects of the negative deeds mature, living beings will inevitably experience the negative conditions and results in various forms This is why we need to develop compassion towards all beings.

Although there are many kinds of hell, hell is not a place. The Tibetan word for hell simply means "suffering"; so hell is "a world of suffering". The other manifested worlds are places where the experience of happiness and suffering are both present. Our own world is one such example. There are also worlds that know only of happiness: they are produced by beings having only positive karma. Do not believe that these pure worlds, such as Dewachen (the pure land of Amitabha Buddha), are imaginary. Compared to our "real" world, it is just as real.

Thus, to practise sending and taking, think of all the suffering of all forms of living beings. To help you become familiar with this practice of compassion, you can use another method, concentration on your breathing. This latter method has two advantages: it will improve the calming of the mind and it will increase your compassion. For this practice, sit in the same posture as before and place your attention on your breathing. When you exhale, think that you are sending your happiness to all the living beings and it penetrates them. When you inhale, take into yourself all their suffering. Do that for as long as you can. When you feel mental suffering, think about the suffering of another person, and think that his suffering penetrates you. Now apply the ultimate Bodhicitta practice that you have learnt and look directly at the concept that you have taken in another’s suffering. Realize that this thought has no real existence. You have thus entered into the meditation of ultimate Bodhicitta. The development of ultimate and relative Bodhicitta alternately will usher in benefits that are limitless. This is the body of the practice. Then, in your daily activities, reflect like this: "May all living beings be released from all the disturbing emotions in all their forms; and may the resultant suffering from the activities caused by these emotions mature through me rather than in them."


III. TO TRANSFORM ALL UNFAVOURABLE CIRCUMSTANCES INTO PATH OF THE BUDDHA

To transform the unfavorable conditions, we must first be aware of karma, the law of cause and effect. We make use of the unfavorable conditions or obstacles as the object of meditation (relative bodhicitta ) in the same way as with the thoughts of the mind (ultimate bodhicitta ). We can thus transform all negative circumstances into something positive.

Generate relative bodhicitta when you encounter difficulties. First of all, recognize that the difficulties are not caused by the fault of others, that they are created by your own ego. If you have no ego clinging, then no difficulty will have any negative effect on you. When you face physical problems such as diseases, or when somebody tries to harm you, recognize that they are created by your own karma. By letting them ripen in this life, you will not have to experience them hereafter where they would pose greater karmic effects. This transformation relies on a solid foundation of bodhicitta and will facilitate the exhaustion of all negative karma through the forbearance of small nuisances in this life. For example, just prior to enlightenment, an Arhat often suffers from headaches or stomachaches. Indeed, the power of his meditation has completely transformed the negative effects of his former karma into smaller troubles thereby putting an end to them all. If you practise sending and taking each time you encounter difficulties, by thinking that you are taking the sufferings of others and letting them dissolve into your own experience, they will really be purified when supported by pure motivation. It is this pure motivation that can create an energy even more powerful than that of an Arhat.

The transformation based on ultimate bodhicitta implies making use of the realization that you have obtained from the practice and applying it to your difficulties. Face each difficulty by trying to recognize that its essence is not related to the thoughts that it generates. Try to realize that the essence of suffering is completely independent from the feeling of suffering.

There is another method specific to transforming all unfavorable conditions into the path of the Buddha. It is comprised of four stages:

  1. Each time you are confronted with difficulties, realize that they are produced by the negative karma that you have created before, and this will cause you to accumulate more positive karma.
  2. Experiencing suffering makes you recognize the need for purifying your negative karma; otherwise, there will be more harmful effects in the future.
  3. Human life is more precious than any other form of life. Therefore if you still have difficulties even in this good life, it means that you will have even more troubles in the future if your negative actions are not purified now. You must do purification practices like Dorjé Sempa.
  4. Pray fervently to all the Buddhas to receive their blessing so all the negative karma of all living beings, all the difficulties that they'll be faced with can ripen within yourself. In your daily practice, pray like this, "May the suffering of all living beings come into me." Do not hesitate to take onto yourself the suffering of others. Accustom yourselves to this wish.

IV. Condensed Practice of Mind Training in Five Points

  1. Promise very firmly to commit yourself to developing Bodhicitta until enlightenment is attained.
  2. Engage yourself in bodhicitta on all occasions.
  3. Since the greatest obstacle to bodhicitta is ego clinging, as soon as you see it, recognize it and fight it until it is destroyed.
  4. Pray that you will succeed in developing bodhicitta. Think and rethink, again and again, of the suffering of others, developing compassion until it appears automatically.
  5. Neutralize the influence of the ego and develop bodhicitta.

V. MEASUREMENT OF MIND TRAINING

In your daily activities, be aware of the disadvantages of ego clinging and the need for practising compassion towards all living beings. When you meditate, examine the way in which emotional thought patterns arise in your mind. Look at their essence and let them dissolve into the emptiness of their essential reality. Use these two methods alternately; they are like skilful means and wisdom. You will be able to judge your own training. In examining it, you will say, "yes, a little pride". One indication of how you are doing is when someone says something unpleasant to you, you don’t get angry. If you are praised, you don’t feel proud. These are signs of a good training. Continue until it is like that.

What are the advantages of a good training? Each time emotions arise, you will overcome them and therefore you will not fall deeper into cyclic existence. You will be free. You will no longer fall victim to the imperfections of samsara or of the negative emotions. The obstacles cannot block your progress towards enlightenment. When a snake is coiled up, it can uncoil itself. In the same way, as soon as an emotion arises, you will be able to spontaneously release yourself of it. Then the mind is really happy, because neither the impairment of the disturbing emotions, nor the suffering they cause can ever be harmful again. When the mind is naturally imperturbable and happy, it is a sign of the success of mind training. The mind is continuously peaceful, calm and happy. It is not a state produced by something, but a natural and spontaneous happiness which does not know any suffering. Such is the true measure of successful mind training.

VI. COMMITMENT OF MIND TRAINING

Commitment means to exert yourself in everyday life until your character has completely integrated the right attitudes. In general, it means to convert your aspirations. The moment when you wish to do something basically negative, you tell yourself, "I must improve." When this transformation takes place, you can treat the suffering of others. Once the mind is firmly transformed, there is no longer a need to improve it. The actions of your body and your speech must necessarily be beneficial for others, little by little. You do not emphasize your contribution, you do not care to show it, nor do you wish to be recognized by others. Here are some examples of the commitments of mind training.

"Do not criticize the faults of others while being unaware of your own."

"Examine your own mind and make use of the strongest emotion as material for mind training."

"Do not practise mind training to become a famous Bodhisattva, or a famous siddha, or a Buddha…this motivation is impure; you will not become a pure Bodhisattva."

"When you are wounded, bear no resentment."

"Do not employ malicious means to take advantage of others. For example, if a group has certain goods, do not use devious ways to divert them into your own possession."

To observe these commitments is not the same thing as observing a law. It could be said that to do the opposite of the stated cpmmitments is to go against the practice of mind training - the practice is then spoiled. The essence of each commitment is to contribute to developing mind training so that one does not digress from the training itself. You can easily gain this realisation yourself. For example, it is said, do not practise mind training for your own growth or to gain the respect of others. If you follow the guideline of the commitments, won’t you find the real meaning of the practice of mind training? Of course you will.

VII. PRECEPTS OF MIND TRAINING

You must think of the importance of benefiting others and develop a motivation that will spring forth spontaneously. All living beings in all the universes have created all the problems that they now have by themselves. These are the results of their egoistic fixations and of their negative emotions. Develop compassion for all these beings. Be ever aware that all the sensory pleasures and material comforts are illusory and are of the same nature as dreams. They are utterly without meaning and impermanent. Realize that to be attached to even a tiny part of it is insane. Start by being aware of the ideas or negative emotions which appear in your mind as soon as they arise. Eventually, you will be able to give them up; then finally, you will be able to neutralize them if they appear again.

CONCLUSION

Enjoy the necessary training in becoming virtuous. Be happy to practice virtuous actions. Be happy when conditions arise that favor the accomplishment of virtuous actions. You now know how to use this precious human existence, so don’t think that life has no meaning.

In brief, the substance of the practice of mind training is to rejoice each time that something that is beneficial for another being is accomplished or fulfilled, and to feel sadness when someone abandons that which is beneficial for him or her.

These explanations are a condensed version on the practice of mind training. More elaborate commentaries exist, but this is the essence. Whether or not you obtain the fruit does not depend on a more detailed explanation but on the practice that you do.