The Way of the Authentic Practitioner
Eight Verses of Mind Training, Session 2
January 12, 2014
Monlam Pavilion, Bodhgaya
The Gyalwang Karmapa enters the Pavilion as usual from the right side, walking around to the front with security guards on all four sides, while monks with incense and jalings precede him. Going up the three stairs, he stops to make three bows before taking his seat on the throne facing the thousands who have gathered for this second talk. After a mandala offering, more than a hundred people fill the main aisle all the way out to the gate near the road; they hold their long scarves in white, and yellow and slowly walk down the aisle to make their offerings. The Karmapa relates to each one as they pass in front of him, sometimes reaching out his hand to touch their head, sometimes nodding, sometimes giving a slight smile. He then makes his own prayers and begins his talk with thanks to all who have been working so hard.
He begins with the second verse:
- Whenever I’m in the company of others,
I will regard myself as the lowest among all,
And from the depths of my heart Cherish others as supreme.
An authentic practitioner of mind training, no matter where we may be or with whom we may be, will always view others as superior. Practitioners will never be arrogant about some minor traits such as their appearance, youth, wealth, or education.
Pride is unacceptable and this is not just some baseless assertion. There is a very important reason why pride is unacceptable: all of our positive qualities ̶ our virtues, learning, and so forth ̶ as well as all of our possessions and resources come to us through the kindness of others.
Geshe Dromtönpa has said that the water of qualities cannot stay on the ball of pride. Like this ball, our minds are so packed with pride that nothing else can enter. We miss the opportunity to improve ourselves, because we think, “I’m just fine.” In the sutras, the Buddha said, “Pride is the root of complacency and makes you incapable of improving.”
Often confidence and pride are confused, but they are very different. Confidence is a virtue and something we really need. Pride is an affliction and something to discard. What is pride? Pride is when your mind becomes filled with a sense of your own accomplishments. Not only does this prevent improvement, but caught in pride, we compare ourselves to others and always find them lacking. This is the worst problem of pride.
We should remember that when we do good things, ultimately, we are doing them for our own benefit. Some people feel the need to advertise their virtues to others and may feel disappointed if others refuse to accept that they actually have them. We should be like children, who, not considering the tastes of the adult world, draw from their own sense of things. In the same way, our own practice is a reflection of our own needs and so forth; it is not designed to be presented directly to others.
Virtue should warm us like hand warmers. If our own virtue does not produce some heat or warmth for ourselves, we are left with nothing to share with others. The purpose of virtue is to improve our own state of mind. Confidence is important, because if our good intentions become frozen within us, we can become like a block of ice, lacking any warmth whatsoever. In sum, we need confidence, but not pride.
The Third Verse
- In my every action, I will watch my mind,
And the moment destructive emotions arise,
I will confront them strongly and avert them,
Since they will hurt both me and others.
Whatever practitioners are doing, walking sitting, or sleeping, they will always watch their mind alertly, actively investigating what it is doing and what state it is in. By paying close attention like this, as soon as affliction arises, they are committed to noticing it and casting it out instantly like a poisonous snake that has landed in their lap. Our mental afflictions are our worst enemies. They conquer us, harm other beings, and destroy our discipline. Whether dharma becomes authentic or not depends upon whether it serves as an effective remedy for the afflictions.
It is said that bodhichitta (the wish to attain enlightenment for the sake of all) is what differentiates the Mahayana from the Hinayana. This difference, however, is not found in the Dharma they teach but in the attitude of the practitioner. For example, we might chant the Four Immeasurables (May everyone have happiness and its causes, and so forth), but if the wish for it to really happen is not present within our mind, just chanting these lines does not make us Mahayana practitioners.
It is not enough for us to cultivate a mind of love and compassion and some kind of meditative state while safe in our shrine rooms. This alone will not remedy our afflictions: we need to continually cultivate a mind imbued with dharma. Especially, when our mind is disturbed, Dharma needs to arrive on the scene and it should make no difference where we are: at work, interacting with family and friends, and so forth. It is in these situations that the power of our Dharma practice and our aspirations must become evident. If this does not happen, being able to chant and mediate in our shrine rooms is not enough, because that type of Dharma practice is of no use in helping others.
Our training is analogous to that of warriors. Training a soldier is very expensive and involves many years of intense learning, the purpose of which is to defeat the enemy in an actual battle. If the warriors are successful, then all the training and sacrifice will have been worth it; if not, it was all a waste. Practitioners are also preparing to do battle with their enemy, the afflictions. When we feel good practicing in ideal circumstances, our competence in fighting the afflictions is not really tested. We cannot tell if Dharma has become a remedy or not. Courage and the power of the Dharma must arise in situations of crisis and mental disturbance. This is crucial.
Continuing the analogy of doing battle, we need to apply two remedies to the afflictions: a powerful external remedy, the invading army, and an internal remedy, inciting rebellion in the country we wish to invade. By analogy, we learn to understand that our afflictions are tyrants, so we incite our own rebellion against them. If we are successful with this internal remedy, the external one will be easy. While the strength of an invading army is important, it relies on the support of completely trustworthy rebels within the invaded country. Our biggest problem is that we have not rebelled one hundred percent against our afflictions: sometimes we recognize them as defects, but sometimes we let ourselves enjoy them. We are untrustworthy, lukewarm rebels. To become trustworthy rebels, we must become fully certain that the afflictions are defects and learn to dislike them. As long as we indulge the afflictions, we cannot get rid of them.
The Fourth Verse
- Whenever I see ill-natured beings,
Or those overwhelmed by heavy misdeeds or suffering,
I will cherish them as something rare,
As though I’d found a priceless treasure.
When we encounter people who are ill-natured or verbally abusive, rather than fleeing their company, we should recognize them as a tremendous and precious opportunity to practice mind training. Here in Bodhgaya, we are confronted with things we might find unpleasant ̶ extremely poor people without basic food or clothing, and some even lacking limbs ̶ so we might try to avoid them. Furthermore, we are temporarily thrust into inconvenient housing situations, perhaps with difficult roommates, who are extremely talkative and maybe most of what they say is negative. We should recognize all these difficulties as real opportunities to practice.
Skipping to the Sixth verse
- Even when someone I have helped,
Or in whom I have placed great hopes
Mistreats me very unjustly,
I will view that person as a true spiritual teacher.
In brief, this verse teaches us to repay harm with benefit. The great Drukpa Kagyu master Padampa Sangye said that when our lama is pleased with us, all of us feel devotion. But when our lama scolds us, it becomes clear whether or not we have real faith. We could just run out the door. When nothing is going wrong, anyone can seem a good person. But when adversity strikes, our faults are revealed. We practice dharma so that we can withstand great adversity. The test of the authenticity of our practice is: When faced with adversity, such as betrayal, can we face it in a Dharmic way or not? If we can, we are good practitioners.
The Fifth Verse
- Whenever someone out of envy
Does me wrong by attacking or belittling me,
I will take defeat upon myself,
And give the victory to others.
As a practitioner of mind training, we accept another person’s abuse or disparagement, recognizing it as a means of purifying our previous wrongdoing. We take the defeat, or inflict the loss, upon our own self-cherishing and attachment, and we give the victory to others’ needs and wishes. This does not mean, however, that we stay passive and unresponsive. For example, if someone sues us, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t defend ourselves. The question is: What is the state of our mind while doing so? Primary here is the training of our mind. A situation where we have no choice but to deal with aggression and opposition is an opportunity to train our mind under very real circumstances. Soldiers, for example, will sometimes engage in training exercises with live ammunition because it sharpens their skills in battle.
The Seventh Verse
- In brief, directly or indirectly,
I will offer help and happiness to all my mothers,
And secretly take upon myself
All their hurt and suffering.
As the most secret, pith instruction of mind training, we also take into ourselves all the roots of wrongdoing and the resultant suffering of beings. Before beginning this exchange of self with others, however, we must first practice recognizing self and others to be equal. Only then can we practice exchanging self and others, which was actually considered a secret instruction in the early Kadampa tradition and was not widely known or taught.
The Eighth Verse
- I will learn to keep all these practices
Untainted by thoughts of the eight worldly concerns.
May I recognize all things as like illusions,
And, without attachment, gain freedom from bondage.
The meaning of this verse is that all aspects of the accumulation of merit must be embraced by the accumulation of wisdom; otherwise, they will not lead to Buddhahood. We make the commitment to embrace all of these virtuous practices with the transformative elixir of emptiness.
The main point of mind training is that we are exercising our mind. The practice is not just words: it has to be carried out on a daily basis, just as we do physical exercise. It is also important to generate the momentum of a careful plan, setting a clear intention about what we will do with our mind throughout the day. In the evening we should assess whether or not we have stuck to our plan. If we do not plan our mental day, our minds will run wild.
At the end of his teaching, the Karmapa gave the instruction to meditate on exchanging ourselves with others, while reciting the aspiration for mind training. Since its words are especially powerful, they permit us to perform the meditation at the same time.