A Commentary on Attitude-Training Like the Rays of the Sun
by Namkapel (Nam-mkha’ dpal)
His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama
to an audience with many new arrivals from Tibet
translated by Alexander Berzin
Dharamsala, India, May 9 – 15, 1985
Full transcript edited by Pauline Yeats and Alexander Berzin
with clarifications indicated in violet between square brackets
Abridged, edited version by Jeremy Russell published originally as Namkapel. “The Mind-Training Like the Rays of the Sun:
A Commentary by Tenzin Gyatso,
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.”
Chö-Yang (Dharamsala, India), vol. 1, no. 1 (spring 1986)
Day One: Introductory Discussion
To differentiate from the non-Buddhists, there is the taking of refuge or safe direction, and to differentiate from the Hinayana path, there is the taking of the Mahayana refuge. We look to the Buddha Shakyamuni as our main example of a source of safe direction. The most kind and compassionate Guru Shakyamuni came to this world 2500 years ago. He enacted the various deeds of an enlightened person and gave full indications of all the methods of Dharma. The many followers of the Buddha put them together and followed the practice of the three higher trainings in ethical discipline, concentration, and discriminating awareness or wisdom. These methods spread widely in India and were brought to Tibet. There, they flourished during an earlier and a later period of translation, so that now we have all the well-preserved teachings of the Buddha and of the upholders of his teachings who followed.
Although it seems I might not have all the qualifications; nevertheless, as a holder of these teachings of the Buddha and because of my wish to benefit people, my awareness of my responsibility sometimes gives me great courage; while at other times I have a feeling of trepidation. But, if I can benefit others, then I try my hardest to practice these teachings and try to give them to others.
This, of course, all depends on the motivation, the reasons for what we do. In my case, although I don’t have all the great abilities, I try to approach all this in a down-to-earth and practical manner. Let’s take the example of an army. If it is weak, it can’t afford to miss an opportunity to attack; whereas if it is very strong, it can stand back and relax and let an opportunity slip by. In the same vein, if we have a lot of expensive material things, we don’t have to get upset if we lose something. So here, if we compare ourselves to this example, we have an opportunity. We need to use it.
If we have accumulated a lot of material objects, but don’t use them and just hang on to them, we are considering them very important although they are of no benefit. Take, for example, things we have inherited from our parents. If they have no practical use now, we need to let them go. That is the nature of things. Just like the example of hair and nails from our bodies, we don’t hang on to them; we just let them go. Similarly, we need to be very practical and look at the situation in the world and the actual situation that confronts us, and accord all our practices and ways of explaining with that. We must not hang on to old customs and outworn ways that have no practical application to the actual situation now. That is pointless.
Going back to taking safe direction, when we do prostration, reciting the verses is the prostration of the speech, and remembering the meaning is the prostration of the mind. If we fold our hands, that is the prostration of the body. I try to follow the tradition of Kunu Lama Rinpoche and recite verses of prostration and praise to the Buddha Shakyamuni at the beginning of the teachings.
As the guru has tremendous importance, particularly in tantra, when we take safe direction (go for refuge), we first say, “I take safe direction from the gurus,” then to the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. It is not that there is a fourth source of safe direction. The gurus incorporate all the qualities of the Three Jewels of Refuge.
This is a text for cleansing and training our attitudes (mind-training), called: Attitude-Training Like the Rays of the Sun, by an actual direct disciple of Tsongkhapa: Namka-pelzang, sometimes called simply Namkapel. I received these teachings from Kyabjey Ling Rinpoche and also from an Amdo Lama. I’ve received them several times.
Some people have a very coarse and rough attitude, so that even their parents and friends want to be apart from them. But we can develop a kind and warm heart, and then gradually we will see day by day that our good qualities increase and our ability to bring happiness to others increases also, and of course, we ourselves will be happier. If we’re good and kind people, then all the things that we need in life will come to us. We will eventually be able to gain all the good qualities and things that we need both on the ultimate level and the relative level. If we are very coarse and rough people, and always act in a mean way, then we will never get any of the things that we wish for.
As with physical training, to develop new, different attitudes we need to do various exercises to train our minds and hearts day by day and month by month over a long period of time with sustained effort to be able. A good heart and a good mind don’t come just by wishing for them, but from training and building them up. The teachings of the Buddha do not accept a creator. They say that everything dependently arises. So whatever happens comes about in a rational and orderly manner, by means of cause and effect. It is not that there is some creator that just wills things to happen. Everything comes about by causes and circumstances and if we try to identify the causes, we would have to say that things come from karma. Karma, in turn, comes about in terms of various people’s minds and the various things that they do, particularly how they benefit or harm others.
The root of all this is whether our minds are tamed or not. If they are untamed, we commit various destructive actions, and in keeping with those destructive actions, disasters, unhappiness and so forth come about. If our minds are well tamed, then these things won’t happen. So if misfortunes occur, we can’t point our finger at the Buddha, nor can we put the blame on somebody else. Similarly, we can’t say that our happiness came from someone else. All these things arise depending on whether our minds are tamed. When our minds are tamed, we engage in constructive actions, build up positive force (merit), and happiness comes as a result of that. If we want to get rid of our problems, of our sufferings, then we have to work on our attitudes and tame our minds well.
Similarly, happiness and the absence of problems and suffering aren’t going to come from just praying to the Buddha to give them to us. They come from our own efforts in terms of whether we have cleansed our minds of negative attitudes and trained them to have positive ones. In other words, it all depends on whether or not our minds are tamed. If we want happiness, we have to tame our minds; if we want to get rid of problems, we have to tame our minds. So the main point when considering how to bring about happiness and get rid of problems and suffering is whether or not we train and purify our minds.
So we don’t explain that there is some god who gives us happiness through his blessings and grace, but rather that the power of individual people and the power of the Buddha are equal. Although we can gain inspiration from the Buddhas, the basic thing we have to do is tame our minds. This is why we have this type of teaching, of attitude-training (lojong). Everybody has to work on their own minds, work on their own hearts, on their own attitudes. This is what will bring about happiness.
No matter what the situation is, whatever we do, it is very important to have the proper motivation. With the proper motivation, whatever we do can become constructive activity. To think that we are doing something positive, such as listening to these teachings, just in order to be free of sickness, to get rid of this relatively little type of thing – that is a big mistake. We need to avoid thinking of small purposes, just wanting to benefit this life, or get rid of sicknesses, or gain more happiness for ourselves in the future. Even listening to these teachings just to gain liberation from samsara is a big mistake. Rather, we need to develop a bodhichitta aim, thinking: “I’m listening to this to bring me closer to enlightenment so that I can be of best help to everybody” – this is the type of motivation we need to have.
There are teachings about how the disciple needs to listen, using the analogy of a vessel. To hold anything, a vessel must not be upside-down, have a hole in its bottom, or be dirty inside. Thus, we need to be very open and retain what we hear, and not mix it with prejudices.
We need to listen to order to learn things we’ve never learned before, and whatever we learn from them, we need to put them into immediate practice. This is how the training of the mind comes about. We don’t strain doing hard work at home and then rush to get up here to the temple and when we arrive, take this as just a place to sit around and relax. When we have this rare opportunity to listen to teachings, we cannot be lax. We need to make good use of every moment to benefit our own minds.
Be mindful of what it means to receive an oral transmission: it’s not just letting sounds go in. Things are being explained here and we need to try to digest them, not just sit there. Further, we don’t just think, “Yeah, yeah, that’s right,” and then do nothing about it to change our behavior. That’s a big mistake. Whatever we hear, we must not be satisfied just with the fact that it makes sense. We need to actually put it into practice. If we’re listening to the teachings and it makes sense at that moment, and we think, “Well, I’m going to put it into practice here,” and it only stays with us a few hours at the discourse, and when we leave it’s finished, that also is incorrect. If we were studying for an exam at school, we would try to understand very thoroughly and try to understand the full scope, and all of that would be merely to get a degree for the benefit of this life! So here, we need to do the same with even greater dedication and enthusiasm.
When we study the Dharma, it’s important that things be explained very properly and that people listen very properly. We need to follow procedures like in regular schools. We need careful checks to see whether there are any mistakes and whether we understand things correctly. If listening to the Dharma is the sort of exercise in which a lama gets up and explains things, and the people sit there and listen and try merely to get inspiration from it, well, we might get blessings. But that’s not likely to leave any significant imprint on our minds. When lamas teach, it need not be restricted to giving long-life initiations and blessings. It needs to be actually trying to educate people.
We really have to act very carefully, and put all our effort into sharpening our minds. Studying the Dharma is really a process of education in the fullest sense; it is not just a matter of receiving blessings. The benefit of following a discourse, of listening to the Dharma, is not for the Buddha, nor for the lama. Kyabjey Ling Rinpoche often said, “It is not for my benefit that you are following the Dharma. If you think it is good for you, then follow it.” This is the essence. When practicing the Dharma, there’s no need to boast of it to others. We are not doing it for the benefit of the Buddha, we are doing it for our own benefit, to improve ourselves. If it is for the benefit of some higher beings, it is a great mistake in attitude toward the practice of the Dharma,
It doesn’t matter where we are, in China or in Tibet, among the Indians or in the West where there is great material progress. Whatever happiness there is in a situation, it comes from whether the mind is tamed. No matter what the external situation is, if the mind isn’t tamed, we’re not happy. Everything comes from our attitude of mind.
If we look at a small insect, even a tiny bug tries to separate itself from problems and difficulties and to improve its own situation. Everybody has the intention and wish to be happy, of wanting to get rid of their problems, and on that basis and according to their own ideas of what the actual method is, they go about trying to achieve it. Some think that they are going to get this happiness from hurting people and taking advantage of them so that they can get some profit. Even if they act like that, we can see that the root of their actions is this basic wish that all beings have, which is to be happy and to be parted from their problems. Now, whether they are successful depends on whether their minds are well-trained, well-tamed, and whether they follow the proper methods that actually bring about happiness.
Everything really depends on our attitudes. If we’re sick, for instance, and on top of being sick we feel very sorry for ourselves, then we just cause ourselves more unhappiness in addition to the physical pain that we have. If I take myself as an example, I have extreme confidence and faith in this whole process of the exchange of self for others; this is really the basis of happiness. This is something that I try from the depths of my heart always to put into practice. Working with that kind of attitude, no matter what situations come up in life, of course there’s going to be suffering, of course there is going to problems. What do we expect? Buddha himself pointed that out when he spoke about the true sufferings that exist in this world. But, by changing our attitudes and thinking of others instead of ourselves, happiness comes as a bonus on top of this basic situation of problems and suffering that we all have. If we only think in terms of trying to benefit ourselves in this lifetime, then our thinking is too small. If we think only of our future lifetimes, again it is too small. If we think just in terms of gaining liberation ourselves, that is also too small a scope. If we think in terms of working to benefit everybody, if we think in terms of becoming a Buddha, then this is something far more extensive. Then of course, on the way, we’ll be happy in this life too, and in the future as well.
So now we think, “I am going to listen to this teaching in order to benefit all beings, to develop myself to the point where I can benefit all beings.” While listening to this, we try to have a happy and joyful state of mind, and to feel enthusiastic. Really want to be able to benefit everybody and be happy and feel positive about this! As much as we can, we need to examine our attitude, our motivation, and make it a good one.
The name of this text is Attitude-Training Like the Rays of the Sun. I’ve already explained what the training of our attitudes means. “The rays of the sun” signify that this teaching has the ability to remove the various stains from the mind, so that the mind becomes bright like the sun.
First are the homage verses, together with praises, and then the promise to compose. The author first pays homage, makes prostration and takes safe direction from his root guru. Then he pays homage and praises the Buddha, who has developed love – wishing others to be happy – and compassion – wishing others to be free from their sufferings. This is the root for developing a bodhichitta aim to reach enlightenment for the benefit of all and for following the practices of the six far-reaching attitudes (perfections) and the four ways of gathering disciples. Practicing them is the way to remove all stains, develop all good qualities and become a Buddha. Namkapel makes prostration to the Buddha as the great navigator of the ship that will bring everyone across the ocean of samsara. The main emphasis here is on the bodhichitta aim, having as its root love and compassion.
The author then makes prostration to and praises the great masters of the profound and the extensive lineages that passed from Buddha. The extensive lineage came through the bodhisattva Maitreya to his human disciples: Asanga, Vasubandu and his disciple Sthiramati. The lineage of profound view came from the bodhisattva Manjushri to Nagarjuna and passed down through Chandrakirti and so forth. Namkapel also makes homage to the third lineage, coming through Shantideva, which is the lineage of the great waves of practice. These are the various teachings on practices such as exchanging self and others, coming from The Precious Garland (Rin-chen ‘phreng-ba, Skt. Ratnavali) of Nagarjuna and the teachings that Shantideva received from Manjushri.
These three lineages passed through various lamas to Serlingpa and it is from this great master that Atisha received them. Atisha transmitted them to Dromtonpa of the Kadam lineage, who was a nomad from the same place as I come from, and then to the three Kadam brothers and on to Langri-tangpa and so on.
Namkapel undoubtedly received this teaching from many lamas, the main one being Tsongkhapa himself, who was guided by Manjushri. In the text there is a verse of praise to Tsongkhapa and his qualities. If we read his eighteen volumes of teachings, we will see how great his qualities were. He did not write merely ritual texts; he wrote detailed, clear explanations. There is nothing amazing about the number of volumes he wrote; it is their content and clarity that is really extraordinary.
After the verses of praise comes the promise to compose. The author says he will explain, as best as he can, the way to develop bodhichitta, as his gurus taught him. Then he encourages us to read this text very carefully. The main source is Manjushri, who gave these teachings to Shantideva, who then wrote the Compendium of Trainings (bsLab-btus, Skt. Shikshasamuccaya) and Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior (sPyod-’jug, Bodhisattvacharyavatara). Especially the latter text explains the basic teachings found here and specifically it explains changing our attitudes by exchanging self and others.
So this text derives from the quintessence teachings on bodhichitta. Tsongkhapa himself points out very clearly that quintessence teachings and lineages passed from mouth to ear are not something separate from the great texts. They simply make things easier to understand that are not found explained explicitly in the great texts. They are the actual keys enabling us to understand what is really in the great texts, and thus they derive totally from the great texts themselves and are not to be thought of as something separate from them. This text gives the guidelines for the bodhichitta teachings, coming from Shantideva.
The basic text of the tradition of attitude-training that it belongs to is Geshe Chaykawa’s Seven-Point Attitude-Training (Blo-sbyong don-bdun-ma). For this, there is a root text and then many, many commentaries. The way that Tsongkhapa versified it in his version is different from the way it appears in the root text.
[Namkapel follows Tsongkhapa’s versification. Namkapel’s text itself has several different commentaries. His Holiness is explaining from just one of them, which unfortunately the present translator did not get the name of.]
Similarly, in the collection called A Hundred Attitude-Trainings (Blo-sbyong rgya-rtsa), compiled by the Sakya master Muchen Konchog-gyeltsen, slightly after Tsongkhapa, we find some versions that accord with the original root text and others that differ slightly and have different ways of commenting on it.
[For example, Namkapel and Pabongka begin the root text with the line: “This essence of nectar of quintessence teaching is in lineage from Serlingpa.” In the much earlier Togmey-zangpo edition, this line appears at the end of the root text.]
In all these versions, Geshe Chaykawa teaches the various methods to eliminate the unawareness (ignorance) that conceives of things to truly exist in an impossible manner and the various methods for attaining a state of liberation, or nirvana – it is called by many different names. It is not enough, however, just to have liberation or nirvana – that is, to be rid of the grasping at truly established existence, the cause of all our problems and suffering. To benefit everybody, we need to know the actual situation of all that exists. There is nothing that cannot be included in these two topics: how things exist and the extent of what exists.
To teach us how to achieve liberation, Buddha turned the Dharma wheel of Hinayana, the modest-minded vehicle – in other words, he transmitted the round of Hinayana teachings. To teach how to achieve the omniscient state of a Buddha, he transmitted the Mahayana teachings. Within Mahayana, there are two divisions: sutra and tantra. Mahayana is the vast-minded vehicle with the motivation of bodhichitta to benefit all beings and is the one involved here.
Those of us who are from Tibet can think in terms of three classes of people. One that accepts religion or spirituality, whichever type it might be, one that thinks religion is the cause of all problems, and one that is indifferent, which does not say that religion is good or bad, but just feels, “Forget about it.” Most people have this type of thought.
Now, religion is something that is supposed to bring us happiness. So, if it doesn’t bring happiness, there is no use in keeping it. We can just throw it away. But the people who have given up the Dharma or who don’t accept it, thinking it is the opiate of the masses – they haven’t found happiness, have they? They live in constant fear, tension and competition. So, if we evaluate those who drop religion and those who follow it, and ask which are happier, it is definitely those who keep and practice religion. This is because the true point of religion is to tame the mind and make it more peaceful. So those who follow religion are more peaceful and happier.
The introduction of communism in Tibet was to be for the benefit of the people. But if it is forced on them, there can be no individual or collective benefit. The wish to work for society is not something that can be pushed onto people from the outside. It has to develop from within, from people’s own minds and their own feelings. You can’t force social consciousness on people; it just doesn’t work.
The exercise of class struggle to bring about changes in the whole social system of Tibet is a process based on anger, hatred, and resentment. It doesn’t work at all. But if it were based on the Mahayana attitude of intense concern for other people and really wanting to benefit them, then it could be beneficial in helping people to improve. But being based on hatred, it is disastrous.
Buddhism originated in India and Buddha Shakyamuni spoke out of the need that arose from its multi-caste social system. That system created suffering on many levels, as well as many kinds of disturbances and problems within secular society. So Buddha sought the means to eliminate these kinds of deep differences and discrimination. He spoke of the path of the Buddhas as something that does not attach any importance to the caste system. The Buddha ’s original teachings say not to make differences of class or caste in terms of people having big noses or a particular occupation or things like this. That it is absurd. People don ’t have this type of class or division innate in them when they are born.
Because of this, the people in India who are interested in Buddhism now are the people of low caste. Why are they interested in Buddhism? It is not because of the attitude of compassion, or the possibility of benefiting future lives. It is not because of the view of voidness that is found in Buddhism. It’s because we don’t have the differentiation of castes in Buddhism.
In disclaiming the caste system, Buddha was not criticizing another religion. As in the other religions, Buddha taught genuine respect for other religious traditions. They all teach positive qualities for the benefit of mankind. Islam, for example, has sects that base their religious practice on compassion. There are mullahs in Iran who receive donations from the rich and distribute them freely to the poor and underprivileged. This shows that even in countries like Iran where there are great difficulties and suffering at present, such as from the war with Iraq, which have arisen even in the name of religion, they still have, as shown by this example of generosity, an attitude based on compassion.
If we look at the various religions that assert the existence of God, all of them say that basically we need to be good persons. We need to make requests to God and what happens is in God’s hands. But, nevertheless, we still need to act in a decent and religious manner and that will be beneficial. In the teachings of Buddhism, it appears even more strongly that improvement in things is not going to come simply from making requests to a god, but that we ourselves need to put our emphasis on our own efforts, on our own work.
So there are religions that put the emphasis on God and although in Buddhism, we don’t have such an emphasis, nevertheless we do have different types of deities. We do make requests to them and we do receive various “blessings” and inspiration from them. But that is only one aspect of the methods; it’s not the entire source of how things come about. In the theistic religions, it seems as though we don’t really have any power over things. We can make requests to God and, just in the same way as God creates the universe, God creates our happiness and unhappiness. Based on the prayers that we say, we may perhaps receive some blessings and become happy, but we really don’t have the ultimate power. Whereas in Buddhist teachings, although we can make requests and prayers to receive the “blessings” and inspiration of the Buddhas and so forth, we ourselves have to do what the Buddhas did. We have to employ the many methods that Buddha taught for achieving happiness. Hence, all the power depends on us.
The protection and refuge in theistic religions comes from outside: everything comes from above down to us. In the Buddhist religion, the actual refuge and protection comes from within, by developing ourselves to reach the state of a Buddha. Rather than coming from on high down to us, everything works from our efforts down here going up. Just to sit back and pray to Buddha, “May I be happy; may I be liberated” is not going to be of great help. As we ourselves need to develop, we make prayers and requests to the Buddha, “May I be able to develop myself to achieve the state of a Buddha.”
To achieve this, we need to work on the mind, not just on the body. This is because, while being physically happy, it is still possible to be very miserable mentally. But, if our minds are very happy, then even if the body is uncomfortable, we’re not going to be upset. For instance, if our minds are very unhappy, we’re likely to develop hypertension and high blood pressure, we’re likely to become nervous. All these things will cause us physical discomfort and suffering; whereas if our minds are happy, it will affect the way that we feel in a positive manner.
What is the highest state and aim described in Christianity? It is something similar, but not quite the same as our pure lands – in other words, being born in heaven, in a celestial paradise. The best that you can achieve by all your requests is being reborn in heaven, where you will be very happy. In contrast, when we speak of liberation, the ultimate point of Buddhist practice, it is not merely rebirth in a nice heaven. Rather, it is getting rid of all the various delusions and negative emotions that disturb our minds and getting rid of the karmic impulses that come up and cause us to act in an unruly fashion, which in turn brings us unhappiness. The actual way to achieve liberation is not just to pray to be reborn in a heaven, but to actually work to tame the mind, to remove the various disturbances in the mind and the impulses that come up and cause unhappiness. And it’s not based on just training and improving the body; Buddhism is based on training and improving the mind.
To improve the mind, we have to be very deeply aware of what reality is. It is true that if we use the various physical means such as prostrating, doing the fasting practice, saying the mantras and practice of the speech, we can build up positive force (positive potential, merit). This is very useful. But the main basis for achieving liberation is working on the mind. It is the mind that is in the nature of what the actual results will be.
If we are going to make some object out of metal, for instance, if the final product is made out of iron, then the cause is also going to be made out of iron. We simply work on the causal material, shaping it, bending it and making it into the object we want. Likewise, whether we think of the final product as enlightenment or liberation, we need to purify and shape the mind to the point where it is operating fully in accord with its basic nature. That’s the material we have to work with, the mind.
The mind has various stains, but these are fleeting, they are not part of the basic nature of the mind. So, we have to understand what the basic nature of the mind, the primary minds, the mental factors, and so on is, and work with that. We need to have in mind the final product that we wish to achieve, that we want to mold. Then we can work with the materials that each of us actually has, molding them into the shape that we would like the product to have, just as if we were working with iron to make an iron product.
For this, it is important to know which are the valid and which are the invalid states of mind within us. The invalid minds are distorted ways of knowing, indecisive wavering or doubt, and presumptive understanding. But, on the other hand, we have the valid minds of inferential understanding and bare perception. These are different ways in which we might be aware of things, and we can work to improve the mind and bring it to a stage where it can understand things exclusively in valid ways. For training the mind, it is very important to know how it operates, how the mind knows things, as we have to actually work with our minds. We need to train our minds to achieve the actual final products: the state of a Buddha, enlightenment, which is also produced from the mind; it’s a shaping of the mind.
As I was saying, there are three groups: those who are interested in religion, those who are very much against it, and those who are indifferent. Within the category of those who are religious, there are those who are theistic: they believe in a creator god. They explain that happiness will come from just making requests and prayers to an almighty god who will grant it to you. Buddhism is within another division of religions, those that don’t assert an almighty creator god, but which just say that happiness comes from our own karma, from the tendencies, seeds and habits built up on our mental continuums. This is why Buddhists call themselves “insiders” – happiness and the power to affect our futures lie within. The focus is on “inside.”
Buddhists think in terms of previous lives. So do some other religions. Some talk of a concrete self, a concrete soul that comes from previous lives, which incarnates in this life and goes on to future lives. Others say that although there is rebirth, there is no concrete self or soul that goes on from one lifetime to the next. Within these two categories, Buddhism asserts that we do not have concrete, unchanging selves or souls that go from past 1ives to future lives and that are the basis for liberation.
Thus there are many various types of religions. We, as Buddhists, do not assert a god as a creator or as a source of happiness. Also, we say that there is no concrete self or soul that goes on to liberation. Within Buddhism, the mode of conduct is one that is based on compassion, and the view of reality is one that is based on dependent arising, cause and effect. On that foundation, the Mahayana teachings put the main emphasis on compassion and developing a bodhichitta aim.
Within Mahayana, there is the division into sutra and tantra, and here we are speaking in the sutra manner. Within sutra, there are three lineages: one from Asanga, one from Nagarjuna, and one from Shantideva. The one from Nagarjuna, especially from his text, The Precious Garland, speaks of taking the loss upon ourselves and giving the victory to others.
What are the differences here among these lineages? We could say that the Asanga lineage talks about the seven-part cause and effect way of developing bodhichitta, while the one coming from Shantideva uses the exchange of self and others. But that latter one is in Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland as well. I wonder how we could explain the difference between Nagarjuna’s and Shantideva’s presentations? I guess we could say that Nagarjuna speaks primarily about the profound view of voidness, and it is only incidentally that he mentions developing a bodhichitta aim through exchange of self and others. Shantideva, on the other hand, explains this method primarily by putting all the emphasis on bodhichitta.
This first section of the text, an historical account of the teachings, initially discusses the importance of developing bodhichitta. It says that in Hinayana, the emphasis is on the three higher trainings. While it is definitely possible, on the basis of these three higher trainings, to achieve liberation and eliminate the various things that we need to rid ourselves of; yet, in order to rid ourselves of everything that has to be got rid of, we also need to develop bodhichitta.
The text continues with an account of its history, referring to Atisha and Dromtonpa, and mentions commentaries on attitude-training teachings written at Radreng, the monastery that the pair founded in Tibet. Among all the disciples who lived at Radreng, the most distinguished were the three brothers of the Kadam tradition, particularly the great Geshe Potowa, who was skilled in the complete teachings, both sutra and tantra. Of the three Kadam lineages coming from Dromtonpa, one is the tradition of the great classics, another is lam-rim (the graded stages of the path), and the third is the quintessence teachings. I’ve read in one attitude-training text that the Gelug tradition comes primarily from the Kadam great classics tradition. The Kadam lam-rim tradition passed primarily into Kagyu, which had come through Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa, and Milarepa. Its explanation of tantra came from the presentation of the view of reality in the mahamudra teachings and, in the teachings of Gampopa, those were combined with the lam-rim tradition of the Kadam.
Now among the various disciples of Geshe Potowa, such as Sharawa and so forth, each had his own specialty. Geshe Chaykawa was the specialist in bodhichitta. He had heard a discourse on the Eight-Verse Attitude-Training (Blo-sbyong tshig-brgyad-ma) by Geshe Langri-tangpa and had developed great interest in it.
[See: Eight-Verse Attitude-Training .]
To hear further about these teachings, he went to the great teacher Geshe Sharawa, at a time when Geshe Sharawa was giving a teaching on The Shravaka (Listener)Stages of Mind (Nyan-sa, Skt. Shravakabhumi). He wondered whether this Geshe Sharawa, who undoubtedly had the lineage of these teachings on attitude-training, was a specialist in them. Geshe Chaykawa didn’t know for sure, but thought it was worthwhile asking him. After the teaching, as Geshe Sharawa was circumambulating a stupa, Geshe Chaykawa approached the older lama and addressed him, “Gen-la.” Geshe Sharawa asked, “What is it that you didn’t understand from the discourse today? I cleared everything up. What is there left that you didn’t understand?” Geshe Chaykawa answered, “I have heard this verse of attitude-training, that one needs to give the victory to others and take the loss upon oneself. I heard this line and it struck my mind so much that I thought it would be of great benefit to learn more about it and to put it into practice. So I want to ask if you know more about this, how to actually develop this attitude, and I’d like to know the source of these teachings, what text they come from, and whether it is appropriate to put them into practice.”
Geshe Sharawa answered, “It is not a matter of whether or not it is something for you to practice; the point is that if it is practiced, it will definitely bring you enlightenment.” Geshe Chaykawa realized that undoubtedly Geshe Sharawa had insight into all of this; otherwise he would not have been able to reply so cleverly and so he asked him, “What is the scriptural source of this teaching?” Geshe Sharawa told him that it came from The Precious Garland of Nagarjuna, to which Geshe Chaykawa said, “Of course, Nagarjuna is the second Buddha after Buddha Shakyamuni, and anything he says obviously has great scriptural authority.” Suddenly, everything fell into place for Geshe Chaykawa and he made up his mind decisively, saying, “This is what I have to put all my efforts into!”
He asked for the teachings and Geshe Sharawa said, “We’ll see when the time might come for me to give them to you as we go along with what I’ve been teaching. I was explaining The Shravaka Stages of Mind and if I were to give these other teachings here that you asked for, I really wonder if anybody would be interested or would actually practice them.” At this, Geshe Chaykawa became very happy that eventually he would be able to receive these great teachings on attitude training from such a great master as Geshe Sharawa. Meanwhile, he practiced reaffirming and strengthening his bodhichitta aim on the basis of exchanging self and others.
Next, the great benefits of the teachings are explained, how bodhichitta is like the sun, like a precious jewel and like medicine. Jewels eliminate the unhappiness of the poor. Similarly, because bodhichitta eliminates the poverty that is a lack of realizations, it is like a diamond. If we had a huge diamond, it could eliminate an enormous amount of poverty. But even if we had just a small diamond, it would eliminate our own poverty. Similarly, even if we have just a small aspect of a bodhichitta aim, it will be of great benefit. So it is like a diamond.
It is like the sun, for just as the rays of the sun eliminate darkness, so, if we develop bodhichitta, it will eliminate the darkness of disturbing actions and delusions within us and within all beings. Even if there are just a few rays of the sun coming from behind a cloud, they will eliminate darkness. Similarly, even if we have only a little bodhichitta shining through the clouds of our disturbances and delusions, that will also cause a light to shine within our minds.
Bodhichitta is like medicine, for while all the parts of a medicinal tree, the roots, the bark, the fruit, the branches and the leaves are of benefit, even if we have only one part it will still have medicinal value. Similarly, if we have fully developed a bodhichitta aim, it is of great benefit; but even if we have only a small part of it, it will still be beneficial. This is true not only in terms of general bodhichitta, but also in terms of attitude training.
Further advantages are that bodhichitta causes everybody to rejoice; it eliminates jealousy and so forth. This is especially important these days, when the delusions and disturbing emotions and attitudes of people are on the increase. Even here in India, in our situation as refugees, although we don’t have great material progress, we do have some. We’ve been able to build schools, some small businesses, such things as that. But they can also be the basis of jealousy and competition. So it is not enough to have material progress; spiritual progress is needed at the same time. Developing a bodhichitta aim eliminates all these jealousies and delusions, and that is very important and relevant now when there is the danger that even though we have a little bit of progress here in India, we might think that external circumstances are going to solve all our problems. That is a real delusion. I’ve seen people in situations of great material comfort and, often, they are absolutely miserable, with disastrous consequences. So it is important to work both externally and internally.
[The lines in the root text that His Holiness is explaining here are: “ Understanding that the significance of this text is like a vajra diamond, a sun and a medicinal tree, transform into a path to enlightenment this (time when) the five deteriorations are rampant.” They appear both in Namkapel’s and Pabongka’s editions. In Togmey-zangpo’s edition, from “ Understanding” to “medicinal tree” does not appear at all, and from “transform” to “rampant” appear at the end of the text, before rather than after the line, “This essence of nectar of quintessence teachings is in lineage from Serlingpa.”]
We can see how if people don’t work on their attitudes to make them more altruistic and just work for material progress instead, they can cause a great deal of suffering to everybody. Take, for example, the many areas where they carry out a lot of construction work and industrial activities. These cause a lot of problems as a by-product: smoke, soot and pollution, which ruin the air and cause environmental damage. This occurs in situations where there is a great deal of material progress. Of course, material progress is something important. But people need to think, “ What are the consequences? What is going to happen in a few years, in 200 years, in 1000 years from now?” The same goes for nuclear fuel and reactors: How are you going to get rid of these things? What are you going to do with them in the future? Some nations are building up armaments, and this is an additional cause of suffering, like hitting your head with your own stick, and will cause further unhappiness in the world.
When the Chinese invaded Tibet and Tibet lost its independence, the local spirits seemed to have also lost their influence and the power of protection, due to the degeneration of the positive force (merit) of the Tibetans. There’s a story that a certain spirit in Amdo claims to have stayed in prison. Even the spirit had to stay in prison in China before coming to stay in India for ten years. When, after his stay in India, the spirit went back to Amdo, he was offered freshly killed meat again but he refused, saying that he had pledged before me not to accept any more animal sacrifices. I don’t know whether this is true or not, but when I travel in the Himalayan regions, I tell people there it is wrong to make animal sacrifices. So maybe there is some connection. The spirit couldn’t accept animal sacrifices any more, because in the places where I gave the Kalachakra initiation, I said it would be advisable not to sacrifice animals any more. Maybe the spirit was there at one of these empowerments.
If we have properly trained minds, there is no need to seek physically blissful states of rebirth. If we train the mind fully, then we carry within us all the blissful states. We have Sukhavati pure land within us.
Another advantage of developing bodhichitta is that not only do we have happiness when the various causes and circumstances of happiness come about; even circumstances that would normally cause problems and unhappiness will become circumstances for gaining happiness. These are the great benefits and advantages of having a bodhichitta aim.
For all those of you who have come on a visit from Tibet, it is very important while you are here to say a lot of manis (the mantra Om mani padme hum), pray “may I develop a kind heart,” and think a lot of the Buddha Shakyamuni.
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