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Discourse on the Main Points of Dharma, Based on the First Panchen Lama’s Root Text for the Gelug-Kagyu Tradition of Mahamudra

Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche I
Barnet, Vermont, USA, August 1982
Translated by Alexander Berzin
Edited by Lucy Costa and Alexander Berzin

Part II: Commentary on the Text

Session Seven: Review of the Common Preliminaries

The text begins with the salutation and promise to compose:

Namo mahamudraya: Homage to mahamudra, the great seal of reality. I respectfully bow at the feet of my peerless guru, lord of that which pervades everywhere, master of those with actual attainment, who expounds, in a denuding manner, the diamond strong vajra sphere of mind, parted from (what can be expressed in) speech, inseparable from mahamudra, the great seal of reality, the all-pervasive nature of everything.

Gathering together and thoroughly condensing the essence of the oceans of sutras, tantras, and quintessence teachings, I shall write some advice concerning mahamudra from the Gelug-Kagyu tradition of the fatherly Dharmavajra, a mahasiddha with supreme actual attainment, and his spiritual offspring.

For this, there are the preparatory practices, the actual methods, and the concluding procedures.

The text then speaks of the common preliminaries, which is what we have been discussing up until now:

As for the first, in order to have a gateway for entering the teachings and a central tent pole for (erecting) a mahayana mind, earnestly take the safe direction of refuge and develop a bodhichitta aim. Do not have these merely be words from your mouth.

Safe Direction

As the text says, the entranceway for becoming a Buddhist is putting a safe and sound direction in your life, namely taking refuge. The gateway for being a vast-minded, or Mahayana, practitioner is dedicating your heart to others and to achieving enlightenment, in other words, developing bodhichitta. Concerning the point of taking refuge or taking a safe and sound direction in your life, this involves thinking about the precious human rebirth that we have as our working basis, complete with all its respites and rich opportunities, and then thinking about death and impermanence and that this situation will not remain static. Then, there are thinking about the lower realms in the worst states of rebirth that you can fall to and then the actual taking of a safe and sound direction out of the predicament of falling to that. The fifth point is the actual way to do this, which is to think about behavior and its results, the laws of karma. These five points we’ve already discussed.

For taking a safe and sound direction or refuge it’s very important to know what are the causes or reasons for doing so. This also has been discussed already. Now we can have a little quiz. Can you tell me what are the causes for taking refuge?

Participant 1: One cause is finding oneself in a negative karmic situation that one desires to be released from.

Serkong Rinpoche: First of all, you should just be able to list the causes. So first, how many causes are there?

Participant 2: As I understood it, there are two. One is fear, including fear of the suffering result, the suffering one has now and the suffering of the future rebirth. The second is faith that the practice of refuge and taking refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, the practice of preventive measures, will remove us from going in the direction of causing ourselves to suffer.

Serkong Rinpoche: What you say is correct. In terms of taking a Mahayana or vast minded way of taking safe direction or taking refuge, what do you need in addition to that?

Participant 3: Fear for the welfare of others?

Serkong Rinpoche: Well, actually it’s not so much having fear for their suffering, but wishing to free them from their suffering, wishing that they not have that suffering, which is the definition of compassion; so, compassion. If you know what are the causes and reasons for seeking a safe direction, then your actual taking of it will be much firmer. Then the actual attitude with which you entrust your mind completely to this direction is what it actually means to take that safe direction. It is entrusting your mind to it.

You can understand through an example, if we had a lot of material goods and things in here, we would fear a thief coming and stealing them. If you are afraid of being robbed, what is the next thought that comes to your mind? What do you do, what do you think follows from that? You are in a region notorious for having a lot of thieves and robbers and you’re afraid that you are going to be robbed, what do you do?

Participant 4: You try to find a safe place to put those things so they can’t be stolen?

Serkong Rinpoche: Maybe you would look for some friends or someone to help protect you. It’s the same thing when you think about death and the fact that you could fall to a horrible lower rebirth, then likewise you look for some help or some friends who can help you out in that. If you are afraid of being robbed and you get a tiny little kid to help you out, how would that be? If a thief is coming and you set a pussycat to guard your house, how would that be? What would happen? So what kind of friend do you need to protect you from getting robbed?

Participant 4: A big strong friend.

Serkong Rinpoche: Likewise, when you think of the fact that you are going to die and can be reborn in a lower realm, and you look for someone to protect and help you out of that situation, you don’t want somebody who is like a little pussycat. You want somebody who is strong and can actually do something to help you. Likewise, when you get somebody who is very strong to help you out and guard your house, if you can’t trust that person and you don’t have full confidence in them, then in fact you might just have invited a strong thief to come in your house, but you can get robbed by him. So you not only need somebody who is strong and can help you, but also someone you can trust and have confidence in; otherwise you don’t know whether or not this person is going to turn out to be a thief as well.

There are three different types of faith that you can have in someone, there is a simple, pure-hearted type of faith, there is an aspirational faith and then there is a confident type of faith. The type that’s required here is one that is based on full logical confidence. Getting back to the example of the thief, once you have confidence in the person you’ve asked to help, then what happens?

The next thing that would follow from that is that, once you have placed your confidence in this person, you can entrust your worries into the hands of this person and you can feel at ease because you have set your mind fully into trusting this person. Now if you didn’t have confidence, there would be no way that you could actually relax and put the key to your house and your important papers and things into the hands of this person. So the question is, if you didn’t have confidence in someone, would you entrust everything to that person? That’s the real reason why you need to have confidence in the person, because once you have confidence, then you will entrust the care of your house to that person. Whereas if you didn’t have the confidence, you wouldn’t entrust it and just leaving it without actually entrusting it, you haven’t gotten anywhere. You have to actually entrust the task of protection to that person.

So the actual order of how it develops, in terms of taking refuge or taking a safe direction, is that first you have fear and dread of a certain situation happening and then you have confidence in the possibility that you can be helped out. Once you have confidence in that, then you actually entrust the task to the one in whom you have confidence. Do you understand the example? Is it a good example, does it fit each point of what’s involved in taking safe direction? This is really an important point and not one that you should skip by. This whole taking of a safe direction in your life, taking refuge, is important.

Bodhichitta

The gateway for having a vast-minded scope of Mahayana is actually dedicating your heart with bodhichitta. So what is bodhichitta, what is a dedicated heart? It is a heart with which you aim at achieving a state of full enlightenment in order to be able to benefit everybody. To have a totally dedicated heart of bodhichitta, two things are involved. Simply wishing to benefit all limited beings, in itself, is not a fully dedicated heart of bodhichitta. Neither is it simply the wish to achieve enlightenment; this also is not a fully dedicated heart. You must have both, the wish to help all limited beings and, in addition, the wish to achieve enlightenment in order to be able to do so; you need both. Then, when you have that, this wish, this dedication with which, in order to help all beings you want to achieve enlightenment, acts as a cause.

When we talk about these two things that are involved, when you say, “in order to benefit all limited beings” or “to be able to work for their benefit” or “for their sake” – all these have the same connotation – this acting as the cause. The actual wish to achieve enlightenment would be like the result and that would be the actual thought that accompanies having a dedicated heart. So when you speak about a dedicated heart, the fact that it’s for the sake of helping all limited beings is what precedes it. When you actually have that state of dedicated heart, what it is aimed at is achieving enlightenment.

This is an important point because one mind or attitude can’t be aimed at two things at exactly the same time; it can’t be aimed both at all beings and enlightenment simultaneously. So it is simply aimed at enlightenment and it has come about by being for the sake of all beings. First you think in terms of being able to help all beings and then it’s actually aimed at enlightenment in order to do that, so it’s aimed specifically at enlightenment at the time when you have that. So although it is aimed for the sake of all limited beings, or sentient beings, it’s not actually aimed at them themselves. It is for the sake of being able to help them, but it is not specifically aimed at them as your focal object. When you hear the expression “for the sake of all limited beings,” the connotation of “for the sake of” is that it is the thought that immediately precedes having this dedicated heart. What it is actually focusing on, however, is the state of enlightenment, the state of becoming totally clear-minded and fully evolved. This is what it’s actually focused on. When we talk about its involving two intentions, the first intention being for the sake of helping everybody, this is the cause that precedes; the intention of achieving enlightenment is the intention that comes along simultaneously with the dedicated heart, at the same time as you actually have that thought of the dedicated heart.

In the Abhisamayalamkara, “A Filigree of Realizations,” Maitreya said that when it talks about “this and this” from the sutras, this comes from the expanded, intermediate and brief versions. What this means is that “this and this” refers to these two aspects that are involved in a dedicated heart, namely, the intention to be able to benefit all beings and the intention to achieve enlightenment. The source where this comes from are the three versions of the Prajnaparamita Sutras, the sutras on the “Perfection of Wisdom” or “Far-reaching Discriminating Awareness,” which is in three versions: the large, intermediate and brief versions. Of these three, the expanded is the Prajnaparamitra Sutra in one hundred thousand verses, the intermediate is in twenty thousand verses and the short is the one referred to as the eight thousand verses. The discussion of “this and this,” referring to the two intentions involved with the dedicated heart of bodhichitta, comes from the three versions of what is called “The Mother of the Triumphant Ones.” This also refers to the Prajnaparamitra Sutras and the three versions, expanded, intermediate and brief, refer to the versions in a hundred thousand, twenty thousand and eight thousand verses. So can you repeat what was just said to you?

Participant 1: Well “this and this” refers to the wish to benefit others and the wish for enlightenment.

Serkong Rinpoche: What are the two intentions?

Participant 1: The wish to help all others and the wish for complete enlightenment.

Serkong Rinpoche: And the dedicated heart of bodhichitta is one that has these two intentions. And what is the source from which the teachings on that derive?

Participant 2: “The Mother of the Triumphant Ones,” the PrajnaparamitraSutras.

Serkong Rinpoche: And there are three versions of them, what are they?

Participant 2: The large, intermediate and short in one hundred thousand, twenty thousand and eight thousand verses.

Serkong Rinpoche: So that is straightforward, the expanded one is one hundred thousand verses because that is a very large number, the intermediate one is the twenty thousand verses because it is less than a hundred thousand, and the short one is the eight thousand verses which is short in comparison to the other two. If you know very precisely just one point like this in terms of the source of a certain teaching, then that’s very good. Otherwise you may claim to have studied a great deal in your education and to know a lot of things, but when you’re actually put on the spot and have to give a fact about something you are not able to say anything. So it is much better to know just a little bit of teachings very well.

Now, when it says it is for the benefit of others, because you want to help others, that implies a certain type of practice that you would do.

Participant: I have a question. Did Rinpoche say that the sentient beings were not the actual object?

Alex: That’s what he said, not the focal object.

Serkong Rinpoche: It’s a focal object, but it’s not the actual focal object in the sense that it’s not the focus of what it’s aimed at specifically. Although bodhichitta is aimed at being for their sakes, so they are a focal object for whose sake it is, they are not the actual focus when the mind is thinking of bodhichitta. At that moment, the mind doesn’t have beings as its object; its object is the enlightenment that you are looking forward to achieving. Thinking of all beings comes first, as a cause, then you think of the enlightenment that you want to achieve in order to help them.

So the way that you actually do it in terms of, let’s say, your reciting some Om Mani Padme Hum’s, is: first you think of all beings, that for their sake “I want to be able to help them all.” Then you think that to do that “I need to achieve enlightenment” and then, in order to achieve enlightenment for that purpose, you recite the Om Mani Padme Hum’s. Since the number of beings is countless, then when you aim at being able to benefit them all, the type of positive potential you have built up by even just saying Om Mani Padme Hum once is equal in force to this countless number of beings, therefore, it too becomes countless as its aim is so vast. Since it is aimed at being able to achieve enlightenment and the potentials are directed toward that end, then the potential won’t exhaust or run out until you actually achieve that enlightenment, so it also becomes endless looking in that direction .

When you are trying to apply this, there is no great benefit in just reciting the words of the bodhichitta prayer, “I dedicate my heart to others and enlightenment,” and it is not sufficient to think this as an intellectual thing. You must actually in your mind direct the force of what you’re doing in that direction and, from the depth of your heart, really dedicate your heart toward those things. Then you are actually practicing and you’ll actually reap the benefits of it.

It is extremely important in the morning, when you wake up, to think that “everything that I’m going to do today is going to be for the benefit of others, is going to be for the benefit of all limited beings.” In this way, you set the direction from the very beginning of your day. You rededicate your heart so that all the positive and constructive things that you do during the day will go for this vast aim. So, the type of thought and dedication you have in the morning when you wake up is extremely important. And at the end of your day you review all the positive things that you’ve done and you dedicate the potential built up from it toward actually achieving enlightenment, to be able to benefit everyone. So you begin your day by rededicating your heart to others and achieving enlightenment, and at night you dedicate the positive potential that you’ve built up toward actually achieving that enlightenment to help everyone. This is the practice of the dedicated heart of bodhichitta.

If you rededicate your heart each morning toward being able to help all beings, and to achieving enlightenment to be able to do that, whatever you do during the day will be pulled along by the force of that dedication that you’ve set in the morning. So it is something that is very important to do. A simile for this would be, for instance, if you’ve chopped down a tree on top of a mountain and wanted to get the log down to the valley, if you have a clear path all the way down, when you start rolling the log from the top all you need to do is just push it in the right direction. Then, by the force of the initial push, the log will go all the way down without straying off the path; it will just continue down. It is the same thing if you push yourself off in the morning with a strong rededication of what you’re doing toward others and toward achieving enlightenment to help everyone. Then, whatever you do in the course of the day, let’s say you come here and listen to teachings, will be carried along with this dedication of doing it to help everybody and achieve enlightenment. Even if your mind goes slightly astray during the day, the force of that dedication will still carry you through the day, so it’s an important thing to do in the morning.

Developing a Dedicated Heart of Bodhichitta

Such a dedicated heart of bodhichitta arises out of a strong feeling of compassion. Compassion is when you look at all limited beings and you look at the problems and suffering they have, and you wish for them all to be free of their suffering and problems. That is compassion. The feeling of wanting everybody to be happy is called love. The term “exceptional resolve,” sometimes called “the pure selfless wish,” is when you accept the responsibility and say, “I myself am going to work to solve everybody’s problems and eliminate their sufferings. I myself am going to work to make everybody happy, bring everybody happiness.” That is “exceptional resolve,” you resolve decisively to do it yourself.

However, even if you have this exceptional type of resolve of wanting to do all of this, if you don’t actually have the ability to do so it’s not going to get you very far. If you look around and ask yourself, “Well who does have the ability to solve everybody’s problems and bring everybody happiness?” Only a completely enlightened Buddha has that ability. Therefore, you strive to become enlightened yourself, to become a Buddha yourself so you can actually do it. This type of attitude and heart that is involved in this whole process is described as “a heart that is like that of a king.” The reason why it’s called this is not that a king would have this feeling, but just speaking in terms of ourselves. If we wanted everybody in the country to be happy, that would be like love, and if we wanted there to be no trouble or disasters in the land, that would be like compassion, and when we have the feeling that “I’m going to try to make everybody in this land happy and eliminate all their suffering and problems,” that would be an exceptional state of resolve. But even if you have that exceptional resolve just as a regular person you’re not able to actually bring all of that about. The only way you’d be able to do it is if you were the king of this land, then you’d actually have the power and ability to change things and bring all this about. And so the wish to become the king in order to do all of this would be the dedicated heart. That’s why it’s called a heart like that of wanting to become a king. Do you understand the example? So now repeat it.

Participant 1: If we had love for everybody we would want them to be happy, if we had compassion we would want them to be free from suffering and then we would have to have the power to do that.

Alex: That’s sort of the other way around. That if you had the wish for everybody to be happy that would be love.

Participant 2: Using the example of the king, we would need the power in order to be able to do that.

Alex: First you have to have the resolve that you want to actually make them happy and eliminate their problems yourself.

Participant 2: So you’d have to have the resolve to do it yourself and, with that resolve, you would want to be the king, for example.

Alex: Then you check “do I have the ability to do it? I don’t have the ability, only a king would have the ability to do that, therefore, I want to become a king.” That’s the dedicated heart. So start over from the beginning.

Participant 2: It’s the compassion that would be….

Alex: Start with what the feeling is and give its name.

Participant 2: The wish to free all beings from suffering, that’s compassion. The wish that all people be happy is love. Then you would need the resolve to take it upon yourself to make them happy and free them from suffering and with that resolve you would wish to be the king.

Alex: Then you would check, do I have the ability to actually make them happy?

Participant 2: Do I have the ability to make them happy?

Alex: Do you?

Participant 2: No, you don’t.

Alex: So who does?

Participant 2: The king, he has the ability and so you would wish to be the king in order to be able to realize your aims.

Recalling the Kindness of Others

Serkong Rinpoche: Now before you would even think “it would be great if everybody were free of all their problems,” you have to become concerned with them. The way to do that is to become mindful of the kindness of others. The way that you do that is you look at all the creatures around you, like looking at those goats out there that provide us with our milk, and it is very kind that they perform that function for us. Likewise, look at all the bees that you have out there. They do all this work of going around collecting pollen from all the flowers so that we can have honey from them, so they are very kind to do all that work that we can benefit from. If you look at the example of the goats, for instance, and the goats are out there eating the grass; we don’t have to do that type of work or activity. We can just sit back while they are out there eating. The same thing with the bees, they’re out there and we don’t have to collect the pollen or do any of that, they do all this work for us. Then we just go out and take the milk and honey from them.

So, in fact, they are very kind to save us all that work and bother and, from our side, we don’t have to do very much for the goats. It’s not like taking care of a person, to take care of a goat we don’t have to drive and go around town doing various things for it. We don’t have to prepare tea and food and other things for the goat. It’s very simple: they just go out and eat the grass in the field. When you look at the chickens in the chicken prisons over there, where they have to sit all the time in those horrible little cages and are not free to walk around or do anything, and we just get the eggs from them. If you think about the horrible lives the chickens lead, it makes you feel very compassionate toward them.

And look at the animals in the circus, at all the difficulty they have to undergo to be trained to do some stupid little trick so we can sit there and get a laugh from them and be amused. It makes you think about the kindness and all the hardships that the animals have to go through for our sake. If the tables were switched and all these animals were out in the audience and now we were the ones who had to be trained, beaten and whipped in order to learn how to perform some silly tricks to amuse them, wouldn’t that be quite awful for us? We’d find that extremely difficult and not very pleasant. If we had to live in cages like the bears and tigers and people came round and poked us and cracked whips at us, how would you like it? So you should think a lot about these situations in order to become mindful of the kindness of the animals and all creatures that have to undergo all these things for our benefit.

Cultivating Patience

You might think that enemies are no fun, that they don’t help us because they just cause us a great deal of harm, but if you think about it, enemies are very kind to us. Annoying people, people that you really can’t stand, provide us with a good opportunity to practice patience and tolerance, and in order to become fully enlightened you need to develop patience and tolerance. This is not something you are going to develop with Buddhas or people who are always nice to you. You develop it with enemies and people who are terrible to you. So in fact these types of people are extremely kind to provide you an opportunity to train in patience and tolerance.

If you are really a Dharma practitioner and someone comes up and slaps you in the face or hits you, then you’ll be able to just take it and be tolerant and patient and not hit back. Not only that, but you can be nice and kind in return to the person who slapped you, which is even better. But if in response to being hit you just hit the other person back, then you run the danger of being hit a second time. And if you continue like that, you run the danger of being beaten to death. So if you really get into a brawl like that, then there’s a danger of either you being beaten to death, or you killing the other person, which would really build up a very strong negative consequence. So it is much better to just accept the first blow and then leave it at that without hitting back, not starting anything.

So this is the way that a dedicated being, a bodhisattva, practices in terms of developing compassion; and so you work to lessen your anger and gain patience and tolerance. If you find yourself in a situation where you run the risk of getting really angry and you can’t control yourself, the best thing to do is to go outside and take a walk or try to relax with some sort of amusement and in some way calm yourself down. You’ll find that, in this way, you’ll be able to handle your anger better and better and, eventually, you won’t get angry at all. If you don’t hit back when you are struck, this is something that will please very much the Buddhas the bodhisattvas, the dedicated beings, even if ordinary people might look at you and consider you a coward.

Now let’s take it further, if somebody hits you with a stick, then would you get angry in that situation? If you think about the reason why you get angry, it’s because now your head hurts and the actual thing that caused the pain in your head is the stick. But in fact you don’t get angry at the stick, you get angry at the person who hit you with the stick. If you think about it, the stick was manipulated by a person, and why did the person hit you? Because the person got angry and so that person was manipulated by his or her anger. Therefore, there was no reason to be angry at the stick because it was manipulated by that person and, therefore, you would be angry with the person. However, since the person was manipulated by his own anger there’s no reason to be angry with the person, you should be angry at his anger. If you think about it further, this person’s anger arose because of something annoying that you yourself did that made him angry and so, in fact, you should get angry with yourself for having done something to annoy this person and make him so angry that he hit you. And so you are just left with getting angry with yourself. So if you think about it, these are methods for being able to control your anger.

Alex: For example, Rinpoche ran away from the Chinese invasion in Tibet and so he is able to be here and have a very pleasant time with all of you here.

Serkong Rinpoche: Now in the situation in which you are being beaten and there is no way for you to escape or avoid that situation, it’s better to just die. In that type of situation, if you think in terms of future lives, the future life that will result from having practiced such intense patience and tolerance will be a very excellent rebirth because this situation of you being beaten to death came about from karma. And if it’s the case that you are meeting with some karmic thing that you’ve built up, some potential that you’ve built up for this to happen to you, if it is this type of situation, then there’s very little that can be done and, therefore, it’s better to just accept it. If there’s no way that you can get out of it, then that’s a situation in which the karma is there for that to happen and there is nothing that you can do. So your time is up and it’s better to die in a state of patience than in a state of fighting. If you’ve met with the ripening of a karma, of a potential, then even if you were to hit back it wouldn’t help the situation. If your time is up, then your time is up and hitting back is not going to affect it.

An example of this is from the account of Maudgalyayana, one of the disciples of the Buddha, who was noted for having powers of miraculous emanation. Maudgalyayana used his powers to go and visit the hell realms now and then, and sometimes when he visited there, various beings who had been reborn there would give him messages to bring back to people on earth, advising them to stop doing certain things because they would also end up in a hell. So he went there once and met a non-Buddhist teacher who had been reborn in one of the hells. The non-Buddhist teacher said, “Go back and tell my disciples to stop acting the way that they are because it’s really horrible in this hell and they will also be reborn down here.” So Maudgalyayana came back to earth and told all these non-Buddhist disciples of the teacher that their former teacher had given them this message from a hell. The disciples got very upset with him for daring to say that their teacher had been reborn in a hell and they all started beating him up. They beat him up so severely that he was near death, and he died afterwards from that as its cause.

The other disciples asked Maudgalyayana after this beating, “Why didn’t you do something? You have all these powers of miraculous emanations, why didn’t you use them to get out of the situation?” And he said, “In that situation, let alone being able to demonstrate any powers, it didn’t even enter my head to emanate myself in any type of different form.” This is an illustration of a case in which he had built up the karma to be beaten to death and at the time it didn’t even enter his head to do anything about it, he was just overwhelmed by a potential ripening.

Participant: I have heard in other situations, in other teachings, that it’s considered right to defend yourself, because if somebody else is acting upon you in that way and they kill you, that is a very heavy karma on their part. If you can prevent them from creating that in some way, that’s a positive thing and it’s good, not necessarily to kill that other person, but to defend yourself in some way, and that it can very much be an act of compassion to do that?

Alex: Can you repeat your question?

Participant: I was referring to other occasions when the subject of whether one should defend oneself, or how to deal with a situation where you are being physically attacked, has been brought up in teachings. I have heard it stated that if somebody is beating you and that they’re going to kill you or beat you very badly, or whatever, that is a very negative act on their part and, therefore, it would be an act of compassion if you were to stop that from happening in some way. Moreover, that not every time somebody comes to attack you in some way necessarily means the end of your life, and you just sort of lay there. I’ve been told that defending yourself on some level is a positive thing, not to kill the other person but to prevent them from creating a very negative action. And so now I’m a bit confused because it sounds like what I’m hearing now is the opposite.

Serkong Rinpoche: The difference, or what you need to investigate in that situation, is whether or not you can actually affect the situation and whether or not you have the power to help this person. If someone is beating you and you have the ability to stop the person, that’s one matter. If you do have the ability to stop that person, then it’s quite all right, out of the power of compassion, to stop this person because it’s beneficial for them and also you don’t lose your life. But if it’s a situation in which you don’t have the power to stop your attacker and if it’s a choice then between dying fighting or dying without fighting, it is much better, in terms of the potential you build up, to die without fighting if you really don’t have any ability to stop the person. So it’s a matter of investigating whether or not you can in fact affect the situation. For instance, if there’s a dog coming from across the room attacking you and about to jump on you and bite your throat, then obviously, you do have the ability to stop the dog’s attack by picking up a stick and smacking the dog. If you just sit on the ground and let the dog come and eat you up, that that wouldn’t be at all sensible.

Another example would be for instance, if you are in a group like here and somebody comes up and hits you over the head. In that situation, it’s much better for you not to do anything in return because there are all these other people in the room who will in fact restrain this person from continuing to beat you up. Whereas it’s much worse if you get into a brawl with this person, you’re making a much bigger scene. But if you are in a situation where this person is about to do big damage to you and you have compassion for this person, wishing that they do not build up such a terrible negative thing from doing that, and in addition you do have the ability to actually help the situation, then there’s no fault in doing so. The point is to investigate whether or not you in fact can do anything. But in that situation it’s very important not to strike back and defend yourself out of anger and hatred for that person, it should be out of compassion for that person.

There’s an example in Tibet of this thing. There was a monk who was carrying a volume of the Kangyur, the translated works of the Buddha. The volumes in Tibetan books are wrapped between two thick pieces of wood and the loose pages are tied together with a string. So he was carrying this when a huge vicious dog started running after him and was about to jump on him and bite him. Normally monks aren’t allowed to hit or strike animals, but he said that the necessity outweighs the prohibition, which is saying that this situation calls for me not to follow the prohibition and rules. So he took this volume of the Kangyur and used it to smack the dog over the head, and while doing that he recited a verse which rhymes in Tibetan, saying that the necessity outweighs the prohibition, may it go auspiciously for the dog with this volume of the Kangyur.

In Tibet they had unbelievably huge vicious watchdogs, huge mastiffs, and they would have them sometimes in iron chains in order to hold them down, and these would be posted in front of people’s houses. Sometimes it was extremely dangerous to go visit somebody if you were a stranger, because these dogs were so huge that they could break the chains and just kill anybody coming in. This is how this story comes about of the monk who was visiting carrying a volume of the scriptures and he used it to clout the dog. So does that satisfy your question for the moment?

We are dealing with the subject of having a dedicated heart of bodhichitta and it arises from having compassion for others, which arises from being mindful of everyone’s kindness. Now, look at why you get angry in various situations, for instance, you have a very nice cup and you happen to break it and you get angry. Or if you lost ten thousand dollars, you would get quite angry. There’s no reason to get angry in those situations because if you work hard you can get a new cup, or get more money, and, first of all, you should have been more careful and put them in safe places so as not to lose them. Once you’ve actually lost them, you should try not to get angry because that doesn’t help. If you can just laugh at the situation and think, “Well, I’ll work hard and replace it,” then you are much better able to handle the situation. If you become angry and very upset, it will cause you a lot of suffering and unhappiness and it won’t help at all. Whether you have that unhappiness or not, you still are going to have to work to replace what you lost, so you might just as well laugh at the situation and take it in a happy state of mind and then proceed with working to replace it.

Getting upset and unhappy isn’t going to help at all, because if you look at the long-term future, you will come to an end at some point, all the possession that you own will come to an end, the country you live in will come to an end and eventually the whole world will end. So what’s the big deal if a cup is broken? There’s no reason to make a big deal over breaking a cup or something like that because you can easily replace it.

Think about what the most terrible situation that could arise in terms of losing something. It would be when you have a terminal sickness and there’s nothing that can be done about it and you are about to lose your life. The time when you are going to be most miserable and unhappy is when there’s no longer anything that can be done with medicine and doctors and hospitals, nothing that can help and you are on your way out. So there’s no point in getting upset about losing some material object that you have. When you think of it in the light of that, then there’s really no reason to be upset about losing some trivial possession that you have. If you keep this in mind then you’ll find that you’ll get along much better with the people that you live with, you’ll be more harmonious.

This thing of dedicating your heart to others and to enlightenment is an extremely important point, and that’s why it says in the text that you must decisively take a safe and sound direction in life and develop a dedicated heart of bodhichitta.

The Uncommon Preliminary Practices

The text continues:

Then, since seeing the actual nature of mind is indeed dependent upon strengthening the enlightenment-building networks and purifying yourself of the mental obscurations, direct (toward your root guru) at least a hundred thousand repetitions of the hundred-syllable mantra and as many hundreds of prostrations as possible, made while reciting The Admission of Downfalls. In addition, make repeated, heartfelt requests to your root guru inseparable from all Buddhas of the three times.”

This refers to the uncommon preliminary types of practices, those not shared in common with sutra practice. When you have the opportunity and you are in places with these great relic monuments or stupas in the East, you should make offerings of various things like water bowls and butter lamps and circumambulate around these monuments with the feeling and recognition that these are the actual remains of the Buddhas. Then do many recitations of the Vajrasattva hundred-syllable mantra and also the Om Mani Padme Hum, and do all this very sincerely. Likewise, if you are familiar with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, either you’ve met him or you’ve seen a picture, you can visualize him and imagine that lights and nectars flow from him and purify you – the type of visualizations we were discussing the other day – with many recitations of Om Mani Padme Hum, that as well is very beneficial.

The Methods for Meditating on Mahamudra

There are many actual techniques for being able to meditate on mahamudra, the great seal of reality, and so as it says in the text:

As for the actual basic methods, although there are many ways of asserting mahamudra, there are two when divided according to the sutras and tantras.

So there are these two main divisions. With respect to the second of these, which refers to the tantric methods of mahamudra, the text says:

The latter is a greatly blissful, clear light mind manifested by such skillful methods as penetrating vital points of the subtle vajra-body and so forth. The mahamudra of the traditions of Saraha, Nagarjuna, Naropa and Maitripa…

These are all Indian masters:

it is the quintessence of the anuttarayoga class of tantra as taught in The (Seven Texts of the) Mahasiddhas and The (Three) Core Volumes [of Saraha].

These are the methods that are taught in tantra and these are the sources from which they derive. As for the first, the sutra methods of mahamudra, the sources for these are the same as we mentioned before, the three versions of the Prajnaparamitra Sutras, the “Perfection of Wisdom” or “Sutras on Far-reaching Discriminating Awareness.” Therefore, the text says, “The former” referring to the sutra methods:

The former refers to the ways of meditating on voidness as directly indicated in the expanded, intermediate and brief (Prajnaparamita Sutras). The supremely realized Arya Nagarjuna has said, “Except for this, there is no other pathway of mind leading to liberation.” Here I shall give relevant instruction on mahamudra in accord with these intentions of his and discuss the methods that lead you to know the mind, face to face, in keeping with the exposition of the lineage masters.

As for actually being able to gain a stilled and settled state of mind or shamatha, there are methods for doing this in terms of the nature of the mind and then being led to know, face to face, the nature of the mind in terms of the meditations on voidness.

To be able to recognize what the mind is, first you have to try to get to know the mind, face to face. You have to investigate and try and find out what is mind, what is consciousness, and so please go outside, look around in the forest and try to find mind. You should go around and try to find out what is mind and when you find out something, come back and report that. Do that, and then we will meet again at our next session and try and figure out what is the mind, what is consciousness. This isn’t a joke; you should think about it and come up with some answers of what you think the mind is. Go out and try to find it.