The Marriot Conference Hall, Tysons Corner Marriott, Tysons, Virginia
July 12, 2018
His Holiness began by extending his greetings to all who had come, particularly to the Capitol Area Buddhist Association and Tibetan community members in the DC area who had organized this event. He also extended a warm welcome to the Chinese and Vietnamese brothers and sisters, and to all Dharma friends. The Karmapa noted that the event today had been organized in conjunction with the birthday celebration for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, which took place in the Capitol Visitor Center of the US Congress with several members of the House of Representatives in attendance.
The Karmapa then turned to the topic of his talk, the Eight Verses on Mind Training by the Kadampa master Langri Thangpa. This is a key instruction on how to give rise to the mind of bodhichitta, the wish to attain awakening for the sake of all living beings.
The first verse reads:
Considering all living beings
More precious than a wish-fulfilling gem,
To accomplish the highest aim,
I will always hold them dear.
“This verse.” His Holiness explained, “teaches how to connect with all the living beings who share this planet with us. It is critical to know how to relate with others in a compassionate and Dharmic way. If we harm them, it will only lead to our own suffering. On the other hand, if we can generate bodhichitta and respond to them in a harmonious way, that can bring us to the level of buddhahood or omniscience. In brief, what this verse teaches is that attaining full awakening depends on other living beings: the attitude of wishing to benefit them opens the path and brings us to enlightenment. Therefore, those who seek complete realization should value others and see them as supreme.”
The second verse states:
When in the company of others,
I will see myself as lowest of them all,
And from the depths of my heart
Cherish others as supreme.
“Here, from the depth of our hearts, we are encouraged to consider that others are superior to us and that we are lower,” the Karmapa explained. “A good example for this is the oceans, which lie at the lowest altitude, known as ‘sea level.’ Due to this position, the oceans are able to receive the waters of the world as all the rivers eventually flow into them. Likewise, if we can lose our pride and develop true humility, we will be able to appreciate the qualities of others and receive knowledge from them, which will flow into us as rivers into the ocean. No matter where we might go, no matter whom we might meet, and no matter what the circumstances might be, we can always learn something. If we can work with our pride and remain humble and open at all times, then every occasion presents an opportunity to experience and learn something new.”
The third verse runs:
In everything I do, I will watch my mind.
As soon as afflictions arise,
I will face them squarely and turn them around,
For they endanger others and myself as well.
“The previous verses,” the Karmapa continued, “counseled that we should hold others to be superior and important; however, this is hard to put into practice and sometimes we cannot accept that all living beings are higher than we are. At this point, we need to look at this attitude and realize that it comes from our afflictions. We should then think about the afflictions and about all the times that they have taken over and caused us so many problems. If we clearly consider how troublesome they are, this will clear away the attitude of thinking we are superior to others. Relying on being vigilant, mindful and aware, we can catch the afflictions just as they start to appear.
“If we look at the experience of people who have trained their minds and those who have not, the difference is clear. For example, when anger begins to appear in our mind, we have a chance to stop it, but once it becomes full blown, this is very difficult, as the affliction has taken control. However, those with the experience of mind training can see the process of anger’s arising, so they will have a short time to reflect before the anger manifests. Most important here is to reply on our experience and ability to be vigilant, mindful and aware. As soon as we see an affliction beginning to arise, we stop it immediately and forcefully. Without the experience of practice, this is very difficult to do.”
The fourth verse speaks of exchanging ourselves for another.
Whenever I see ill-natured people
Or those oppressed by grim misdeeds and misery,
Like discovering a precious treasure,
I will cherish them as valuable and rare.
“The second verse counseled us to consider others higher than ourselves. This present verse gives an example—a precious treasure, which can alleviate the suffering of poverty. If a beggar finds this, their poverty will disappear. Likewise by seeing others as precious, we can overcome our difficulties.
“The first line speaks of people who are ‘ill-natured,’ which refers to someone who has a difficult character or who has done many negative things. It could even be someone who transcends our capacity to understand. Due to their character and actions, they are constantly suffering. What should we do when meeting such a person? Seize the occasion as a rare opportunity to learn something. As if we had found a priceless treasure, we are thrilled since meeting an ill-nature person is an exceptional opportunity to train our mind.
“Truly engaging in mind training develops our capacity to deal with difficult situations. But this cannot happen by merely sitting on a cushion in a peaceful place of meditation and thinking, ‘May all living beings be happy. May they be free of suffering.’ We have to move out of our comfort zone to face difficult situations in real life and see if our mind training actually works.
“Soldiers are challenged with tough training that mimics a real battle. Later, when they are on an actual battlefield, they are fully prepared. Likewise, when engaging in mind training, we can imagine stressful, frustrating, or upsetting situations, and fire up our strength to deal with them. If we can practice like this, then later we will be able to deal with difficult situations. Otherwise, if we prefer to hang out and relax in some seemingly peaceful state, we will have a hard time facing actual problems.
The fifth verse reads:
Whenever someone caught by envy
Does me wrong by scolding or demeaning me,
I will take defeat upon myself
And give victory to others.
“After discussing the preliminaries of cherishing others and being humble, the text now speaks of the actual practice of exchanging oneself for another. There are two aspects here—using our imagination and actually engaging in the practice, which are similar to relying on just the words or the actual meaning.
“I will take defeat upon myself / And give victory to others” is the key message of this verse and it is expressed in worldly terms, using everyday language. Here, we could think of a court case, in which one person wins and the other loses. To appear as a good person in the eyes of others, someone might lose the court case on purpose, but in fact this person does not have the real capacity to give victory to others and take on defeat for themselves. It might appear as Dharma practice, but actually it is not, so we have to examine carefully.
The sixth verse advises:
Even when someone I have helped
And placed my great hopes in
Harms me most unfairly,
I’ll see them as a true spiritual friend.
The seventh verse reads:
Briefly, in direct or indirect ways,
I will help and bring happiness to all my mothers
While secretly taking upon myself
All of their hurt and suffering.
“The sixth verse treats the situation in which someone we have helped returns the favor by harming us. Not to waste an opportunity to train our mind, we see that person as our spiritual friend. The seventh verse continues this thread of thought and encourages us not only not to harm this person, but to return their harm with help.
“How do we actually take defeat on ourselves and give victory to others? Another way of looking at our thoughts is to divide them into two categories: those based on cherishing ourselves and those based on cherishing others. In fact, when we truly accept defeat, we are crushing this self-cherishing. When we truly offer victory to others, we are merging together with them. Ultimately, mind training is working with the cause of our thoughts while relatively, in our daily lives, we are continually watchful for thoughts that fixate on our own benefit. The essence of mind training is to develop the frame of mind (and its causes) that cherishes others.
“The main that practice for doing this is known as sending and receiving (tonglen). Many of you already know this visualization. As we inhale, we imagine that all the illness and suffering of living beings dissolves into us. As we exhale, we image that all our virtue and everything positive goes out to all living beings. In effect, what we are doing here is increasing our power to cherish others and decreasing the influence of cherishing ourselves.
“Some people, however, misunderstand sending and receiving. For example, they turn the practice into something that benefits them or they fear that the practice will harm them. Actually, this worry is a good sign as it means that they take the practice seriously and have been thinking about it. Whatever these misunderstandings might be, basically, tonglen is a practice that will not harm us but train our mind to cherish and benefit others.
The Eighth and final verse states:
I will keep all of these practices untainted
By thoughts of the eight worldly concerns.
Recognizing all things to resemble illusions,
May I be free of attachment and released from bondage.
“It is possible that all the practices mentioned in the previous seven verses could become tainted by thoughts involved in the eight worldly concerns (wishing for happiness, fame, praise, and gain while fearing their opposites, suffering, insignificance, blame, and loss) and so turn into faults. The remedy here is to reflect on emptiness by “recognizing all things to resemble illusions.” Commentaries state that the first seven verses are concerned with relative truth and this final verse relates to ultimate truth.
“This concludes our brief discussion of the Eight Verses on Mind Training by Geshe Langri Thangpa. It would be good to memorize these eight stanzas and reflect on their meaning. When we are going through hard times, we can recall them and they will help us to face whatever difficulties we are going through and to truly practice training our minds.”