Preliminary Teachings to the Kalachakra Initiation
by His Holiness the Dalai Lama
on The Thirty-seven Practices of Bodhisattvas
Translator: Jeffery Hopkins
Santa Monica, California
As I said yesterday, because this subtle consciousness is not permanent, unitary nor independent it is different from the soul or atman. This subtle consciousness is a product produced by causes and conditions.
There are two types of permanence; one that is called permanent in that the continuum of phenomena exists forever and the other meaning of permanence is that it is unchangeable. In this case the subtle consciousness is changeable but its continuum goes on forever. From this point of view it is called permanent.
If the mind is basically pure and unobstructed where does ignorance come from? If ignorance comes from karma, where does karma come from first? How can pure mind produce bad karma?
Even on the conventional level a consciousness has a nature of being luminous and cognitive. Thus the afflictive emotions or ignorance and so forth can not abide right in the very nature of mind itself, in the entity of mind itself. Therefore ignorance is said to be adventitious to the basic nature of the mind. However this does not mean that ignorance didn’t exist before and then later comes into existence. There is no beginning to ignorance. Thus the meaning of adventitious here is that ignorance does not subsist in the very nature of the mind and indicates that ignorance can be separated from the basic nature of the mind.
In terms of the levels of consciousness when the fundamental, innate mind of clear light, the most subtle level of consciousness, the innermost consciousness is manifested, there is no way that ignorance can manifest at that time. Ignorance and so forth can only manifest when the level of conceptuality called the eighty conceptions becomes manifest.
If one can accept that heat or energy can be generated from matter as in a nuclear reaction, why is the body’s generation of the mind considered a discordant cause and effect? My reference was to the substantial causation of a consciousness that this must be a former moment of consciousness. Speaking more in general including cooperative conditions it probably could be said that consciousness can be produced in dependence upon matter. It can be said that the mind is produced in dependence on the brain or that a sense consciousness is produced in dependence upon the sense organ.
Question: You have spoken on the importance of building a strong foundation on the Sutra Path before moving on to the Tantra Path, how should those of us who are new to the Sutra Path participate in the Kalachakra initiation?
Answer: It is a mistake to take the initiation in such a condition when one has not trained in the Sutra Path. Usually in order to receive initiation I make some sort of condition. At least five years since you have become a Buddhist. Without having the qualifications even if you attend the Kalachakra initiation in reality you will not receive any blessing, any actual initiation. Because of different spiritual experiences, one initiation ceremony performed by one lama, there will be a variety of experiences because of each individual capacity to experience it.
Question: What is the difference between thinking and analytical meditation?
Answer: It’s the same isn’t it? Just because different terminologies are used the impression that appears in the mind can be different but the basic meaning is the same.
Question: If someone is suffering very much and asks to be killed is it always improper to grant someone their wish? If I am suffering too much can I ask to be put out of my misery without negative karma?
Answer: This is a very complicated situation. One has to make an individual decision. If there is no hope to recover and it is not only painful but usual mental function is not present which means the person can not generate positive thoughts and if to keep them alive it is expensive and a hardship on others then to cause their death may be an exception to not killing. Generally despite pain which is due to one’s own previous karma as a result, sooner or later one has to face it. So in general that should be one’s attitude.
Question: If one is not to accept teachings on the basis of authority alone, what attitude should a beginning practitioner develop towards those Buddhist tenets such as original Buddha-nature that are beyond one’s direct experience and do not apparently lend themselves to analysis?
Answer: There are reasons behind the teachings of a pure Buddha-nature. As is said in Maitreya’s Sublime Science beings want happiness and do not want suffering. The reason or how they can want this indicates itself that it is possible to remove suffering entirely and to increase happiness infinitely.
Certain subjects are beyond what we can figure out. I usually point to the fact that in our daily life there are things that we see with our own sense consciousnesses. There is another level of things, which we figure out or infer from other facts. Finally there is a level with respect to which we must rely on the word of another person.
For instance my own birth date is not something I could attest to myself but about it must depend on the word of my mother. In this case there are certain things we can not know through thinking about it and rely on a third person. In order to rely on that person’s word we need to check whether that person is truthful, reliable or not.
In order to rely on the authority of a third person, it is vital here to first examine whether that person is reliable or not. This examination or analysis can not be performed on the basis of the thing for which you are relying on his or her authority. So how do you determine their reliability? It is through judging their position or understanding on facts or things on which you through logic or inference can understand yourself properly. If on these matters you find the person has never proved unreliable through that process, also see that this person has always proved themselves right, has no reason to deceive you or mislead you and their position has no internal inconsistencies then this person is an appropriate authority for the third category of phenomena being something you can not know oneself.
Question: In this country we have a large problem of drug and alcohol abuse. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions for this problem?
Answer: People usually consider these things not good for one’s health. Everyone is concerned about one’s own health. Listen to the doctor’s advice more carefully. Other than this I have no experience with these drugs. Some say that through these drugs they have extraordinary feeling or vision. This is really mistaken, as it is a hallucination.
Our present situation is that we are being deceived by false appearances of objects as if they inherently exist. We are building afflictive emotions upon them and we are trying to get out of this position of falseness. To rely then on something which is even more false is even a bigger mistake. For practice it is essential that our minds be very clear, very alert. Therefore alcohol and drugs which can reduce alertness of mind is very harmful.
Question: Does the subtlest consciousness always cognize emptiness?
Answer: No. However it is said that when the subtle consciousness manifests, emptiness appears to it.
Question: What is the connection between mind and brain? If mind is separate from the brain how can something like removing part of the brain affect the mind so much?
Answer: On the grosser level of consciousness, mind totally depends upon the brain. On this level if you remove a certain part of the brain it effects the mind.
Question: With respect to abandoning bad friends, what about a bad family? Families, which encourage drug use or racism. Should they be abandoned?
Answer: Here abandon does not mean that you give them up. Abandon means that you don’t come under their influence. We are seeking to take care of all sentient beings so no one is to be given up. We need special compassion towards those who are wrongdoing. A strong feeling must develop.
Question: As Buddhism grows in the West, does His Holiness see a relationship developing between the methods used in Western psychology and Tibetan Buddhism in working towards overcoming afflictive emotional states of mind? Could it be useful to use techniques such as psychotherapy and counseling in a Tibetan Buddhist center?
Answer: According to what I have heard there are already some who are doing this. I am not sure about the results yet. I do not know the Western way of psychotherapy but since it is dealing with the mind or mental afflictions, some Buddhist ways may be of use.
Question: If the nature of the mind of all Buddhas pervades all sentient beings naturally from the beginning, why is it not possible for an animal to achieve full and perfect enlightenment?
Answer: Animals can gradually achieve enlightenment not just humans. Even with human beings if you take retarded people they are not able to make full use of the human potentiality. Animals in general have a lower potentiality than humans do. In the subtle mind there are no differences, all sentient beings are the same. Because of different bodies and different brains the grosser level of consciousness is very different. Therefore we consider the human body to be very precious.
Question: Is it appropriate for Dharma centers to charge for teachings in order to support its directors living expenses or to acquire property?
Answer: Money gained through religious activity is a wrong livelihood. It is considered very bad to sell the Dharma. If this is what is happening then this is completely mistaken. For practical reasons you need money. Given human weakness even if at the beginning there is sincere motivation as times passes it can very easily be spoiled. Religious centers must be very cautious. This is very important.
Question: How and at what age do we introduce the practice to children?
Answer: I don’t know. The subject is very important. The development of the future generation’s selves is very important and much depends on the atmosphere in the home and classes. The behavior of the teachers and parents is a crucial factor besides the lesson. In order to develop a good human being not only is the development of the brain or knowledge important but the whole person this being mainly a good heart. Children learn from their parents and relatives at home and teachers. Teachers not only teach the lesson but also show responsibility, some real concern about the future of the student. This sort of attitude makes an impact on children’s minds. Happiness leads to a feeling of security and then develops in a healthy way. Everyone has a responsibility but the details in how to teach or how to introduce these things I don’t know. We need a lot of discussion and experiment.
Question: During the period of vacuity between world-cycles what happens to the consciousnesses of sentient beings?
Answer: They have gone to other world-systems. The number of world-systems is infinite.
Question: The text mentions the need for going into isolation. Please comment on the appropriate application of this instruction to those of us who are householders and have families.
Answer: As I have been explaining the main purpose of these practices is not to generate desire and hatred. Occasionally you should have a short retreat.
Question: How do we gain cooperation and world peace between religions when some religious people regard other religious people as evil and going to hell?
Answer: This is due to a lack of knowledge, lack of contact. For example when we were in Tibet we thought Tibet was a really big country and everything about it was very good. We thought Buddhism was very great and other religions were worthless. Then we came to the outside and met different people and realized there were many good people, cultures and religions.
Question: Do we have a social obligation towards animals on the same par with meditation and prayer?
Answer: From a Buddhist viewpoint we use the words mother sentient beings, all sentient beings. Sentient being means any being with mind, have experiences of pain and pleasure. All are the same. Naturally we have to take care of animals. The use of animals in medical research is very complicated. If humans use their human abilities the right way then human bodies are precious. From that viewpoint in order to save precious human life some sacrifice if there is no other way, no alternative of animals may be appropriate.
Sometimes the human body is not precious at all but even worse that an animal. Animals no matter how powerful are usually innocent even meat-eaters. They attack other animals purely for food besides this there is no other ill feeling. Humans can be the most cruel and destructive.
I am very happy to hear more concern about animal rights. More and more people are taking an interest in vegetarianism. These things are very positive. We must encourage these activities. One advantage of Tibetan medicine is no involvement in animal experimentation.
Question: How does tantra deal with intense sexual desire?
Answer: When anger or sexual desire arises the negative emotion is accompanied by an energy. Tantric technique neutralizes the negative anger and sexual desire but uses the energy for practice. This is very difficult to practice. Tantric practice, especially Annutarayoga, is not at all easy. For these reasons it is even more important to practice the sound basic foundation, the groundwork.
The Subduer said that the sufferings of bad transmigrations
Very difficult to bear are the fruits of ill deeds.
Therefore, it is a practice of Bodhisattvas never to do
Ill-deeds though it comes down to their life.
With this stanza the text starts speaking about what kind of practice to engage in upon having taken refuge. When one takes refuge as was explained yesterday, one is primarily taking refuge in true cessations and in true paths. The true cessations are states of abandonment of defilements and the true paths bring them about. Therefore to actualize the meaning of taking refuge one has to engage in the practice. The first level of practice is to restrain ill deeds and engage in virtue.
The ill deeds of body, speech and mind are summarized or condensed down into the Ten Non-Virtues. When one considers the opposite of these Ten Non-Virtues there are the Ten Virtuous practices. Among the ten the first three are physical, the next four are verbal and the last three are mental.
The first non-virtue is killing which in its worst form is to kill humans right down to killing bugs. Killing is in regard to another sentient being. With regard to suicide this is not considered murder however it is considered very, very bad. Even in the practice of the transference of consciousness this must be done after the signs of death definitely occur. The practice then is done while one still has a clear, strong consciousness that is able to do the practice. If you do it before that, before the signs of death are clear, then it is a great misdeed, actually suicide.
The next is stealing, taking what is not given. Whether you steal something small or something large, you are still a thief. Sometimes it seems if someone steals a great sum that they are not called a robber. The same is for killing. If someone kills one person they are a murderer but often if they kill many they are called as hero. The next is sexual misconduct. With regard to sexual misconduct there are basically four types; with regard to the person, with regard to the time, with regard to the place, with regard to which orifice.
The next is lying. Now in the world isn’t it true that when people tell small lies we say those are lies. When someone tells huge lies then we think that the person is so skillful. For a religious practitioner you shouldn’t think this way, you should not lie at all. Next is divisive talk followed by harsh speech. This is followed by senseless chatter.
Harmful intent is next followed by covetousness. Last are wrong views. In all religions are prohibitions against wrong views but the definition of what those wrong views are differs. All of the other misdeeds are very similar in all religions.
These wrong deeds need to be known in great detail in terms of the different factors that are involved in the actions; the motivation, the various types of situations, objects and so forth. If one engages in non-virtues then the result is that one must undergo unwanted suffering. When one kills one harms others’ lives. When one steals one harms or damages others’ resources. When one engages in adultery one harms others’ companions. Thus in all of these cases one is harming thus the result of it is harm to oneself.
On the opposite side which refers not only to the absence of killing but engaging in the antidote of killing and refraining from killing in that context. The same applies for stealing and sexual misconduct. These are all helpful to others and the result is that one receives help or benefit.
Thus with regard to the relationship between actions and their effects, if an action or karma is helpful then its effect for oneself is good. If an action is harmful then the effect will be bad. This is a natural law that from helpful actions comes good effects and that from harmful actions comes bad effects. This is the situation naturally. This is an explanation about karma and the effects of karma.
Karma basically means action. All of these things that are produced externally and so forth come by way of actions. Daily life is the result of daily action. Today’s experience is the result of a previous time’s actions. One must accept this pairing of action and experience. This is the law of karma.
When one refrains from indulging in negative actions as a consequence of that restraint one will be freed from undesirable suffering. From one point of view even if one can not now overcome the afflictive emotions oneself, one can restrain the ill deeds that come from afflictive emotions. The effect of doing this is one achieves a high lifetime, a lifetime of high status in the future. It is like a guarantee for bringing about a good life support in the future. If as a result of your having observed restraint over indulging in negative actions then it will give you the guarantee to take rebirth in a high status in the future thus providing you the opportunity to carry on the task set forth in this lifetime.
This makes it possible for you to carry on with your practice and make progress in spiritual development leading eventually to the attainment of full enlightenment. So far the text has been concerned with the practices on the level of persons with small capacity. The next verse begins to speak about not only restraining ill deeds that are produced by afflictive emotions but the restraint of the afflictive emotions themselves.
The happiness of the three realms of cyclic existence,
Like dew on the tip of a blade of grass, disintegrates after
a brief time.
[Therefore] it is a practice of Bodhisattvas to seek
The supreme state of immutable liberation.
Take as an example an illness. When one engages in the practice of avoiding the Ten Non-Virtues and engages in the Ten Virtues, this is like taking a painkiller. It reduces the pain but does not remove the illness from the root. One has to go on and take other medicine to overcome the illness from the root.
First of all it is necessary to identify afflictive emotions as great troublemakers. If you don’t know the disadvantages of afflictive emotions and continue to engage in them of your own accord, then there is no way you could possibly achieve liberation. What are the disadvantages of the afflictive emotions? The very sufferings of cyclic existence themselves are the disadvantages of afflictive emotions.
When the Buddha set forth the Four Noble Truths, first is the truth of suffering. He spoke of the four attributes of true suffering these being impermanence, misery, emptiness and selflessness. With regard to impermanence, this refers to the disintegration of things moment by moment. The disintegration of things is brought about by the causes of things themselves. It takes no further cause to bring about the disintegration of an object other than the causes that produced that very object. Production itself leads to things having a nature of ceasing, disintegrating. The fact that things have a nature of impermanence indicates that they are not under their own power. They are under the power of other causes and conditions.
In this context since we are talking about the suffering of sentient beings the cause upon which they depend is ignorance which underlies the root of all sufferings and delusions. All sentient beings and their environment are dependent upon causes and conditions which are ignorance and delusion induced by ignorance.
The word for afflictive emotion in Tibetan is very meaningful. It has the sense of being any attitude or consciousness which when produced causes the person to become afflicted, unpeaceful and uncomfortable. The general definition of an afflictive emotion is a phenomenon that produces unpeacefulness. When we generate strong desire, hatred, pride or whatever we are restless. This is why in the definition it refers to an afflictive emotion as being phenomena that brings about disquiet. A mind that was quiet once an afflictive emotion is generated can’t stay still until the desired object is achieved.
When one comes under the influence of such afflictive emotions then there is no way that one can be happy. It is like being under the control of some awful master, a bad dictator. What one needs to do is to identify clearly that as long as one is under the influence of afflictive emotions there is no way that one can be happy.
Buddha set forth true sufferings and the sources of suffering. These are the effects and causes within the class of phenomena that are thoroughly afflicted. As soon as he set this forth he immediately thereafter set forth the alternative that is true cessations and true paths. The very purpose for identifying suffering and its causes is because there is an alternative. If there weren’t an alternative why should we bother ourselves or make trouble for ourselves thinking about suffering.
Once there is an alternative one has to make effort at that alternative. To make effort one has to aspire towards making that effort. In order to have that sort of aspiration one needs to see the disadvantages or faults of cyclic existence, know them well.
The text compares the happiness of cyclic existence to dew on the tip of a blade of grass, which disappears very quickly. Thus it indicates that such happiness is impermanent, that it is under the control of other forces, these being afflictive emotions. It also shows that there is no way of making everything right and that no matter what one does, one does not pass beyond the nature of suffering.
When one overcomes the root of cyclic existence, the afflictive emotions, one then has a factor of having removed those afflictive emotions. This factor of abandonment is called liberation. The types of productions that are produced by the afflictive emotions are changeable this way and that way. Thus when one overcomes the afflictive emotions the liberation which is obtained is immutable, unchangeable.
There is a limit to cyclic existence because that which produces cyclic existence, the afflictive emotions, have as their root a mistaken type of consciousness. This mistaken consciousness can be counter-acted through its antidote. Thus it is possible to remove the afflictive emotions and overcome cyclic existence from its very root.
With regard to the path for achieving liberation, one should motivated by the wish to get out of cyclic existence assume a code of ethics. If possible one should take on the code of ethics of one who has left the householder way of life as a monk or a nun. If this is not possible then one should assume the code of ethics for householders or laypersons.
In the process of cultivating the path, one cultivates the thirty-seven harmonies for enlightenment and within them is a very powerful practice, the four establishments in mindfulness. These are the mindfulness of body, feeling, mind and other phenomena. For instance with regard to mindfulness of the body one reflects that the body is made from impure substances, impermanent, miserable and so forth.
The next set of four are the four thorough abandonings. These refer to the abandoning indulgence in negative actions, restraining from potential negative actions, increasing the potential within oneself for engaging in positive actions and the accumulation of positive imprints. These four practices of abandonments led on to high states of practices whereby the meditator or practitioner engages in systems of paths where one is able to cultivate a heightened state of mind through channeling one’s attention upon a chosen object of meditation. This practice or technique is called the miraculous faculty of lakes (?). On the basis of that single-pointedness of the mind, the practitioner is equipped to engage in the very powerful practice of wisdom, penetrating the nature of reality.
These thirty-seven aspects of the path leading towards enlightenment involve all the essential points of the path that is required for a person to attain liberation from cyclic existence.
It is from this point of view that Nagarjuna said that ethics is the basis of all practice just as the earth is the basis of everything that moves or is unmoving. The earth serves as the basis for everything.
This pattern of training in the path, training first in ethics then in meditative stabilization and then in wisdom is not just a pronouncement of the Buddha but accords with the actual fact of experience in training the mind. In order to generate the view realizing emptiness in any strong form, never mind that special level of mind called special insight realizing emptiness, it is necessary that the mind not be distracted, that it be channeled, that it be brought together and made powerful. Thus in order for the wisdom consciousness to be powerful and to be capable of acting as an antidote, it is necessary for the consciousness itself to be channeled. Thus meditative stabilization is needed for wisdom.
In order to have meditative stabilization, in which there is a quieting of internal mental distractions, it is necessary prior to that to restrain coarser types of distraction of body and speech. Thus one engages in practices of ethics that involve restraint of these coarser activities of body and speech in order to lay the groundwork for meditative stabilization. Thus ethics is first, meditative stabilization second and wisdom is third in the order of the three trainings. This is certified by experience.
Indeed it is very good to leave the householder’s life and become a monk or nun but it is very important to take the time to analyze, to see whether this is appropriate to one’s situation. I often say that the Christian practice of giving prospective monks or nuns a long period of self-examination is very valuable, a good practice. Once one has become a monk or a nun it is very important to do the job well. You have to wear the habit of a monk or nun well.
At the time of the religious kings of Tibet there was a division into two; lay clergy who wore white robes and the monk or nun clergy who wore yellow and maroon robes. It is necessary for someone who has become a monk to shave off his beard. Among Tibetans monks there are indeed some who have beards but there is no source for this at all. They should shave off their beards.
The transmission of the vows of individual liberation as they are known in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand and Tibet are different transmissions. There is the Theravada transmission and the Sarvastivada transmission. Although there are minor differences between these two transmissions, they are basically the same practice and it is very good if we keep these the same.
In Buddhism there is the question of whether one should or should not eat meat. According to the Vinaya system of Sutra there is clear reference to certain meat which is prohibited. Certain other meats are all right. This means there is no general prohibition against eating meat according to the Vinaya sutra. Theoretically I think the principal idea is the monk is to go out with the begging bowl. One family who are vegetarian will give food according to their way. Someone who is non-vegetarian and gives the monk must accept.
Then in the Mahayana there is clear prohibition, complete restriction against eating meat. The three lower Tantrayana also prohibit eating meat. In Annutarayoga Tantra with particular reason sometimes eating meat and other certain substances connected with a commitment are allowed. Generally speaking according to the Tibetan Buddhist system if one can remain vegetarian that is best. If for health or other reasons one can not then that is all right. I think it is better to be a vegetarian and the Buddhist community should work towards that way of life.
As far as monks are concerned, quality is more important than quantity. So this finishes the last stanza which explains the level of practice of middling capacity. Up to this point it is just the same as Theravadin practice. From my own experience when I visited Thailand when we discussed the monk’s role, activities and process of becoming fully ordained there was complete agreement. According to the Sarvastivada moksha there are 253 rules for monks or bhiksu and for bhiksuni there are 364 rules or precepts. According to the Theravada system for monks or bhiksu there are 327. There are differences on minor points. The main points are completely the same.
Next is the section on the practices of beings of great capacity or those engaged in practice of the Great Vehicle. It is called the Great Vehicle because the attitude one has in practicing the Great Vehicle is vast or great. It’s greatness or vastness comes from the fact that one is not primarily concerned with oneself but is concerned with other sentient beings. What one has is a special type of compassion that is not just a pity for other sentient beings but which induces a wish oneself to help other sentient beings. This special compassion or altruism induces the practice of activities of special altruistic deeds. These deeds then make it possible to accumulate vast collections of merit. Due to the accumulation of vast collections of merit one achieves a greater goal, a greater effect or fruit of practice. For these reasons it is called the Great Vehicle.
Thus it is said that the door of entry to the Great Vehicle is altruistic mind generation or making the mind more vast. The self-centered mind is small, it is not vast. One is expanding the scope, the range of the mind and extending one’s concern to all beings. The text says:
What is the use of one’s own happiness if mothers
Who were kind to oneself since beginningless time suffer?
Therefore, it is a practice of Bodhisattvas to generate the
altruistic intention to become enlightened
In order to free limitless sentient beings.
With regard to training in developing this altruism, there are basically two types of methods that were transmitted from India. These are the Seven Quintessential Instructions of Cause and Effect and the Equalizing and Switching of Self and Others. In Tibet a very fine practice developed which combined these two into one.
First one cultivates equanimity, and then one recognizes all beings as friends or mothers. One is recognizing beings as having been one’s closest of friends. An illustration of this is one’s mother. Following this one develops mindfulness of the kindness of other beings when they were one’s closest of friends such as one’s mother. The next is to reflect on or to develop special mindfulness of kindness. This refers specifically to the value of the assistance of others that is involved in all of the good things that can be obtained, whether worldly or enlightenment. These arise in dependence upon the contributions made by others. This is the greatest of causes to bring about an altruistic attitude.
It is very clear that even among external, concordant circumstances, external factors that are helpful to oneself, that these came about in dependence upon many, many other sentient beings. Even fame, people think they are famous in their own right however if there weren’t other people to pay attention to you, there isn’t anywhere you could be famous. If you go out to an empty place and think you are famous, there isn’t anything is there?
Food, clothing, good name, good conversation and so forth all of these arise in dependence on many other sentient beings. Our very livelihood depends on other sentient beings. Our comfort depends on other sentient beings. Our happiness in future lifetimes arises in dependence upon practicing virtue in this lifetime. One practices virtue only within the context of altruism for other people. For instance the virtue of restraining oneself from murder, for that one needs an object which could be murdered. Similarly also the virtue of restraining from stealing needs those from which one could steal. Thus one can use this as an illustration to understand that all virtues arise in relation and in dependence upon others.
Also in order to have a long life span; in order to be in a position of power or to have resources the main cause is by way of other people. Other sentient beings have to take care of you.
The most precious thing is compassion as I am always talking. This compassion without other beings does not develop. This is the most important thing. This special compassion only develops because of other sentient beings. Therefore without other sentient beings we can not practice and develop this special compassion. Therefore Buddhahood depends essentially on others. Without the other sentient beings for whom one is seeking to obtain Buddhahood, there is no way one can achieve Buddhahood. This is the point of view from which one develops special mindfulness of the kindness of sentient beings.
When one has this special mindfulness of the kindness of others then the next step is to develop a special intention to repay their kindness. To increase even further this force, this attitude, one engages in the next step, the equalizing of self and others. One thinks, reflects, from many points of view on the disadvantages of self-cherishing. One then reflects on many points of view on the advantages of cherishing others.
When you have thought this way then the next step comes which is the actual thought of switching self and other. The next step is out of compassion to take upon oneself others’ suffering. After this, out of love, one gives one’s own happiness to others. The next step is to generate the special resolve or unusual attitude, which comes from reflecting on the fact that at one’s present stage it is extremely difficult to help others. One takes upon oneself the responsibility of freeing others from suffering and joining them with happiness. This induces the last step, actual altruistic mind generation.
This is a mode of practice in which these two transmissions are combined into one. The next stanza gives the essential meaning of this.
All suffering arises from wanting happiness for oneself
Whereas the perfect Buddhas are born from altruism.
Therefore, it is a practice of Bodhisattvas to switch completely
Their own happiness for others’ suffering.
Up to this point it is set forth the actual way of generating the altruism of seeking enlightenment for the sake of others. Now the text turns to setting forth how between formal sessions of practice one can make use of bad circumstances that arise in a positive way on the path. Adverse circumstances which practitioners need to transform into positive conditions for enhancing their practice refers to situations that normally produce unhappiness, depression or excitement. When confronting such adverse circumstances, Bodhisattvas use their special training to transform them into factors, which assist their practice.
Since it is the usual worldly way of living to become happy when you get something and unhappy when you lose it or don’t get it, here the stanza speaks to the situation where one doesn’t get what one wants or loses what one has. One is seeking to transform the situation into a positive aid on the path. The stanza says:
Even if someone out of great desire steals all their wealth
Or sends another to steal it away,
It is a practice of Bodhisattvas to dedicate to that person
Their body, resources, and virtues of the three times.
Once when Geshe Togmey Zangpo was heading back to the monastery with many offerings and was robbed. As the robber was leaving he was heading back towards where Togmey Zangpo received the offerings. He warned the thief to go a different route as he might be captured.
Never mind generating a sense for this life or worrying about the resources for this life, one generates even a greater sense of altruism for helping the other person. For instance sometimes we lose objects and when we lose objects we feel upset. If right at that point you think, “I’ve lost it but if someone else gains it how nice that will be for the other person!” This makes you happy doesn’t it?
The next stanza sets forth the situation in which the feeling of suffering arises and one uses that as a positive way to enhance one’s practice of the path.
Even if someone hacks away at their head
When they do not have the slightest fault
It is a practice of Bodhisattvas out of compassion
To take to themselves the ill deeds of that person.
As I discussed the other day Bodhisattvas attitudes towards others who harm them or others is that the attacker has to face the undesirable consequences of their ill-deed and can be seen as worse off than the victim who already has faced the consequences of their past actions. This was noted by the great Bodhisattva Santideva in his Compendium Of Deeds when he stated if one feels anger towards the one doing harm then for whom should we feel compassion or mercy?
It is the general practice in the world to feel happy when one becomes famous and to become depressed, sad or disturbed when one hears bad things about oneself. Here the practice is to take the situation of ill repute and put it to use on the path.
Even if someone proclaims throughout the billion worlds
Various types of ill-repute about them,
It is a practice of Bodhisattvas to speak with a mind of love
Of the good qualities of that person.
It is the general practice of the world to be happy; to be pleased, when one is praised and to be displeased, unhappy, when one is insulted. However because there is a danger when one is insulted of becoming discouraged, it is a practice of Bodhisattvas to make use of this situation in a positive way.
Even if someone crowds into the middle of a gathering
of many beings
And accusingly speaks bad words about them,
It is a practice of Bodhisattvas to bow respectfully
With a discrimination of that person as a spiritual guide.
Next the text sets forth two situations that are usually difficult to stand, difficult to take. One seeks in practice to transform these into positive circumstances.
Even if a person sustained dearly like their own child
Views them as an enemy,
It is a practice of Bodhisattvas to be greatly merciful
Like a mother to her child stricken with illness.
Aryadeva said in his Four Hundred Verses on Madhyamika that the Buddhas perceive the delusions as the real enemy and not the persons who have these delusions. This is very true and a very valuable teaching. Who we perceive as an external enemy is due to a small factor. Our current enemy may become a good friend tomorrow. Friends and enemies are very relative and there are many possibilities. As long as negative thoughts or motivation such as hatred or anger are present then even a friend is seen as an enemy. When negative thoughts towards an enemy disappear then the enemy becomes a friend.
The real enemy is the internal enemy. The practitioner must point the finger inside. One who always blames those around them is not a true spiritual practitioner. When something bad happens do not blame others. This is true spiritual practice. The practitioner will be happier, calm.
From the point of view of the future also, if one is not accumulating bad karma now, one will not have to undergo the suffering produced by that bad karma in the future. So in both the future and the present it is helpful. In the present you haven’t disturbed your mind and you can live well.
Even if a being equal with or below them
Derides them out of pride,
It is a practice of Bodhisattvas respectfully to take
That person to the crown of their head like a guru.
The next stanzas refer to situations that can serve as obstacles to the development of the path. These being extreme poverty or being extremely rich. When one is extremely poor or sick, miserable, this can serve as a reason to become discouraged about practice. If one becomes very rich it is also easy not to practice. These are dangerous situations as far as cultivating the path and need to be transformed into positive circumstances.
Though they are bereft of livelihood, always despised
And afflicted by awful illness and demons,
It is a practice of Bodhisattvas without discouragement
To take all beings’ ill deeds and sufferings to themselves.
Though they are famous, respected by many beings,
And have attained the likes of the wealth of Vaishravana,
It is a practice of Bodhisattvas to be uninflated,
Seeing the essencelessness of the glory and wealth of
Because the situations of generating hatred or desire serve as great obstacles to one cultivating the path, one needs to take these situations and transform them into positive circumstances.
If the internal enemy of hatred is not tamed,
When one tries to tame external enemies they increase.
Therefore, it is a practice of Bodhisattvas to tame their
By means of the soldiers of love and compassion.
The attributes of the Desire Realm, like salt water,
Increase attachment no matter how much they are used.
Therefore, it is a practice of Bodhisattvas to abandon
Things generating attachment and desire.
This finishes the discussion of the class of method, the class of compassionate method. Now begins the discussion of a Bodhisattvas practice of wisdom, cultivation of the ultimate mind of enlightenment.
The discussion of the topic of the view of emptiness is around the two states of meditative equipoise and states subsequent to or out of meditative equipoise. The next stanza deals with meditative equipoise.
Whatever appears is one’s own mind; the mind itself
Is free from the start from the extremes of elaborations.
It is a practice of Bodhisattvas through knowing just that
Not to take to mind the signs of object and subject.
The presentation of the view of emptiness in this text accords greatly with a text on altruistic mind training by the great Tibetan master Chekawa in which he presents the view in accordance with Yogacara-Svatantrika Madhyamika system. The first line here, whatever appears is one’s own mind, refers to the fact that objects appear as if they are external entities, that is to say as different entities from the consciousness that is apprehending them whereas they are not. They are empty of being different entities from the mind that apprehends them.
That mind itself is not asserted in this system the way the Cittamatrins assert it to be truly existent, rather the mind is asserted to be without true existence. Thus the text states the mind itself is from the start free from the extreme of being truly existent. In the sphere of reality in which all conceptual elaborations have been pacified, there is no appearance of subject and object in this state of meditative equipoise. Thus this is called the space-like meditative equipoise.
If the stanza is interpreted from the point of view of the Prasangika system of Buddhapalita and Candrakirti, even though they would not say that whatever appears is of the same entity as one’s own mind, whatever appears is posited by the mind. Whatever appears exists designatedly, whatever appears exists in dependence upon conceptuality. This conceptual, designating mind itself, does it truly exist? Does it exist from its own side? No. It does not exist from its own side thus it is from the start free from the extreme of being inherently existent.
The sphere of reality, which is the mere negation of inherent existence, is the basic nature of all phenomena. Phenomena appear to be their own final mode of being. Phenomena seem to be their own mode of subsistence. However they are not. When you analyze with reasoning you understand that phenomena seem to exist from their own side but do not exist from their own side. Phenomena are not their own final mode of subsistence. This sphere of reality, which is the mere absence of inherent existence, is their mode of subsistence. This is known in the space-like meditative equipoise.
We notice phenomena as producing help or harm. When we notice that they produce important effects, helping or harming, then it is easy to have the thought that if these aren’t true, if these don’t inherently exist, if these aren’t true, then what is true? We are impressed by the fact that phenomena produce effects, bring about help or harm. We have the sense from this that it serves as a sign that they inherently exist. However if they do inherently exist then when one investigates the process of production whether from the point of view of the cause or whether from the point of view of the effect, that production should become clearer and clearer. When one uses these reasonings to investigate production in terms of the causes or the effects, it does not become clearer rather one finds an absence of the inherent existence of such production.
Thus it becomes clear that when one analyzes the causes by the way of the reasonings called the diamond fragments; whether things are produced from causes that are the same entities as the effects or different entities or both or neither, or when one examines the effects whether existent effects are produced or non-existent or both or neither, or when one analyzes the entities of objects by way of the reasoning of looking into whether they are singular or plural, when one analyzes in this way one understands that there is no object that is independent. Objects are devoid or empty of independence.
When one analyzes in this way what finally appears is a mere absence of inherent existence, a mere absence of that which is being negated. Inherent existence is what is being negated and its absence appears to the mind. At this point one sets one’s mind in stabilizing meditation on that absence of inherent existence. This is an emptiness, which is shared in common between the Sutra and Tantra systems. This is a mode of cultivating the view of emptiness without making distinctions of levels of consciousness.
Transcribed and typed by Phillip Lecso from audiotapes obtained from Thubten Dhargye Ling entitled The 37 Bodhisattva Practices. I take full responsibility for all mistakes that have occurred, through hearing and writing incorrectly what was taught, for these I apologize. May all be auspicious. May any merit from this activity go to the long life and good health of His Holiness. May all sentient beings quickly attain the state of the Glorious Kalacakra even through these imperfect efforts.