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Home > Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism > Level 2: Lam-rim (Graded Stage) Material > Explanation of The Foundation for Good Qualities > Session Six: An Engaged Dedicated Heart of Bodhichitta

Explanation of The Foundation for Good Qualities

Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche I
translated by Alexander Berzin
Ulverston, England, October 1982

[edited transcript]

Session Six: An Engaged Dedicated Heart of Bodhichitta

The Five Trainings from Developing Pledged Aspiring Bodhichitta

The text continues:

(8) Even if I have developed merely this resolve,
   if I lack the habit
Of the three types of ethical self-discipline,
   I will be unable to attain
A (supreme) purified state.
   Seeing this well, I request inspiration
To train with strong efforts in the bodhisattva vows.

When we have the wish or aspiration to achieve enlightenment to be able to benefit others, this is known as “aspiring bodhichitta.” When we pledge that we shall never give that aspiration up until we actually achieve that state of enlightenment, that is “pledged aspiring bodhichitta.” When we have such a pledged aspiring dedicated heart, there are five points with which we train.

The first of these is to think over and again of the benefits of dedicating our heart to others and to achieving enlightenment for their sake. It has been said that the benefits of dedicating our heart for even a moment like this is much greater than the positive potential that might be built up by offering the entire world full of gems to all the Buddhas of all the various realms in the ten directions. All the benefits of dedicating our heart to others and to enlightenment have been described in the sutras.

The next is that three times each day and three times each night, we rededicate our heart to others and to enlightenment. If we do this by reciting the four-lined verse: “I take safe direction, till my purified state, from the Buddhas, the Dharma, and the Highest Assembly. By the positive force of my giving and so on, may I actualize Buddhahood to help those who wander,” that is sufficient.

In addition, we train ourselves to build up our bountiful store or network of positive potential, our “collection of merit,” by making offerings to the Triple Gem, participating in charitable activities for the poor, and so on. As another aspect of that point, it is also necessary to build up our bountiful store or network of deep awareness, our “collection of insight,” through thinking over and again about the correct view of reality.

The next point for training is that we promise never to give up on any limited being. We never say that any person or being is too much or that we cannot work for their sake. That is the next point: never to give up on anyone.

Then the next point is to give up the four murky actions and to rely on the four glowing actions. The first of the murky, dark actions is to deceive, fool or cheat our spiritual masters or parents, even as a joke. Instead, we put into the practice the glowing action of always being honest with them, especially about our motivation and the help we are giving to others.

The second murky action is saying nasty or harsh things or get angry at a dedicated being, a bodhisattva. As we can never tell actually who is a dedicated bodhisattva, we must never use harsh language with anyone. The glowing action that is the opposite of that is to try to see everyone with a pure appearance and to recognize and take everyone as our teacher.

The next type of murky action would be to cause anyone to feel regret about the positive things that they might have done. The glowing action that is the opposite of that is, if we come across someone who has the potential to be helped or tamed by us, to encourage and teach them in a vast-minded Mahayana manner.

The fourth murky action is to have ulterior motives with other beings. In other words, instead of having an exceptional resolve with respect to them, to act with hypocrisy and pretension, showing off and boasting to be able to help them when we cannot. The opposite glowing action is to always be honest with others and admit our limitations. 

[For more detail, see: Actions for Training from Developing the Pledged State of Aspiring Bodhichitta.]

An Engaged Dedicated Heart of Bodhichitta

Once we have actually developed a pledged state of an aspiring dedicated heart, we need to try to go on to the next stage, which is to develop an engaged dedicated heart of bodhichitta. This is not merely to aspire to be able to help everyone and to achieve a state of enlightenment in order to be able to do so, and pledging never to turn back from those goals, but also actually to engage in the various practices that will bring us to that state and engage in actually helping others. This involves training ourselves to have the six far-reaching attitudes (the six perfections) – generosity, ethical self-discipline, patience, joyful perseverance, mental stability, and discriminating awareness – and also to train in the four ways that gather others under our positive influence – being generous, speaking kindly, giving encouragement regarding the points of the Dharma, and setting ourselves as an example by acting in accord with those points.

Not only that, but it is also necessary to train ourselves in the three types of ethical self-discipline. The first is the ethical self-discipline to work for the benefit of others. We try to do whatever we possibly can to be of help to others. The next is the ethical self-discipline with which we refrain from all types of faulty actions. This is the discipline of keeping the various vows that we might have taken. The third is the ethical self-discipline with which we try to train and do everything that we can that is positive and constructive, such as studying and meditating. These are the three types of ethical self-discipline.

When we look at the connotation of the syllables of the Tibetan word for bodhisatttva, chang-chub-sem-pa – literally, “purification growth minded being” – each of the three main syllables indicates one of these three types of ethical self-discipline. “Purification” indicates keeping the ethical self-discipline of refraining from all faulty actions. “Growth” indicates the discipline of doing everything that is constructive; while “minded-one” implies the ethical discipline of helping others. In this way, all three can be understood from the syllables of the Tibetan word for bodhisattva. 

When we actually develop an engaged dedicated heart of bodhichitta, this entails taking the vowed restraints for a dedicated being – the bodhisattva vows. There are eighteen root vows to avoid the eighteen actions that constitute a root downfall, and forty-six secondary vows to avoid the forty-six faulty types of behavior. The forty-six are divided according to guidelines for training in the six types of far-reaching attitudes. The topic of these various vowed restraints are discussed in the chapter on ethical self-discipline in Asanga’s Bodhisattvabhumi (Byang-chub sems-dpa’i sa, Bodhisattva Stages of Mind). This is something that you can study with your teachers, the learned Geshes here; it is too extensive for me to be able to go into in detail at this time.

[See: The Root Bodhisattva Vows, and also: The Secondary Bodhisattva Vows.]

In short, then, it is not sufficient to develop merely an aspiring dedicated heart of bodhichitta, with which we merely aspire to be able to help everyone and to reach enlightenment. We need also to engage ourselves in the practices that will enable us to reach these goals. The way to do this is to devote ourselves to building up as a habit the three types of ethical self-discipline and, specifically, the six far-reaching attitudes. This is extremely important to do.

The six far-reaching attitudes (the six perfections), which are necessary to train ourselves in, are, once more, far-reaching generosity, ethical self-discipline, patience, joyful perseverance or positive enthusiasm, mental stability or concentration, and discriminating awareness or wisdom. It is especially necessary to train in these last two, mental stability and discriminating awareness. This is done through trying to develop a stilled and settled state of mind (shamatha, mental quiescence, calm abiding) and an exceptionally perceptive state of mind (vipashyana, special insight) with which we see clearly and understand that there is no such thing as a true identity for anything. In particular, we try to develop the path of mind that combines the two – a mind, aimed at voidness and which is both settled and stilled as well as exceptionally perceptive. This is what is discussed here in the next verse:

(9) I request inspiration quickly
   to develop on my mind-stream a path
That combines the pair: a stilled, settled mind

   and an exceptionally perceptive mind,
By stilling mental wandering toward objects of distortion

And properly discerning the correct meaning (of voidness).

A Stilled and Settled Mind of Shamatha

To develop a stilled, settled state of shamatha, we need to train ourselves through the nine stages of settling the mind. To do this we rely on the six powers and the four types of attention and so on. These are various points and details that we need to study.

[See: Achieving Shamatha.]

In order to be able to truly help others in the best way possible, it is necessary to have ESP, extrasensory perception. Once we have the various types of ESP, we will really be able to help others most effectively. In order to develop the different types of ESP, we need to achieve a stilled and settled state of mind; they come from that wonderful attainment. To develop this stilled, settled state, we need to gather together all the circumstances and conditions that will be most conducive for developing it. Once we have assembled all those conditions, then this state of mind can actually be gained within six months.

It is not sufficient merely to have a state of mind that is stilled and settled as well as exceptionally perceptive. That is because this state of mind can be directed at any object. What we need is to develop a state of mind with this joined pair that is focused on a correct understanding of reality. With such a state of mind, we have correct discriminating awareness of the fact that there is no such thing as true identities – in other words, a correct understanding of voidness (emptiness), the total absence of impossible ways of existing.

The Lack of True Identities

Everything lacks a true identity. This includes both persons and all phenomena. Thus, there are presentations of the lack of true identities of persons and the lack of true identities of all phenomena in general.

Normally, we have the type of grasping for true identities that automatically arises. This entails a misconception of reality. More specifically, it misconceives that something exists that never existed at all. Thus, it is extremely important to identify the object of that misconception – what it is misconceiving, what it imagines to exist – and to recognize that correctly as the object to be refuted. Such an impossible object doesn’t exist at all.

There are two types of objects involved with the mind that grasps at a true identity of our “self” or “me,” and it is crucial to differentiate them clearly. There is the object at which that consciousness is aimed and the object that appears to that consciousness. The object at which that consciousness is aimed is the “me” that actually does exist – the conventional “me” and the five aggregate factors of experience on which that “me” is labeled. What appears, however, is an appearance of a true identity of such a “me.” That which appears doesn’t, in fact, exist at all. It is what is to be refuted – a true identity of our “self” or “me.”

Although the various aggregate factors of our experience do not exist from their own side, we nevertheless grasp at them as if they did. For instance, if we are walking along a road when it is getting dark and there is a striped rope on the ground, it may appear to us that it is a snake, whereas in reality there is no snake there. It is not a snake, yet it appears to us as if it were a snake. On the basis of that appearance, we develop great fright. From the side of the striped rope, there is no snake – it doesn’t exist as a snake. So the false appearance or misconception that there is in fact a snake present there is what is to be refuted. It is the same way, when we imagine that there is a “me” with a true identity that exists and is established from the side of the various aggregate factors of our experience – that “me” is likewise the object to be refuted.

When we want to abbreviate all our aggregate factors, we can abbreviate them down to our body and our mind. We might imagine, for instance, that our body is “me”; our body is our “self.” But, if the body were “me,” then when the body ceases to exist, the “me” would likewise cease to exist. Then it would follow that the “me” would not take rebirth; there would be no such thing as the “me” being reborn in a heavenly realm as a god or anything like that. All that would not follow.

But, alternatively, if the “me” were the mind, then since I sit and walk and do various things, we can’t say, “The mind eats and walks.” So it would also be absurd if the “me” were simply the mind. Furthermore, because we have the expression “my mind,” it implies that “me” and “mind” are different. They can’t be the same, just as when I say “my clothes,” it implies there are two things, “me” and the “clothes.”

If the “me” were both the body and the mind, then the “me” would be two things. If the “me” were the collection of the body and mind taken together, then another problem arises. The collection of the body and the mind is merely the basis for labeling “me,” while the “me” itself is merely what the word or label “me” refers to when labeled on that basis for labeling. If what the label refers to – namely, the “me” that actually does exist – and the basis for labeling that “me” were exactly the same, there would be many faults. What the label “me” refers to cannot be the same as the basis for labeling it.

Analyzing in this way, we might conclude, “I don’t exist at all!” and then become very frightened. But to say, “I don’t exist at all” likewise will not do. That is because the actual object at which our consciousness is aimed when we think about ourselves – the “me” in “I am walking” and “I am eating” definitely does exist, there is no question about it. How does that “me” exist? It is merely on the basis of the collection of the body and mind that we can speak about “me.” The “me” is merely what the word or label “me” refers to when labeled on the basis for labeling it: namely, the body and the mind functioning together.

It is necessary to meditate and build up as a positive habit of mind seeing both the conventional truth about things (the superficial truth that conceals something deeper), as well as the deepest truth to be ascertained (ultimate truth). We need to see that these two truths about everything – conventional and deepest – don’t contradict or harm each other. Likewise, we need to understand the middle way view that avoids the two extremes of nihilism and eternalism. In other words, we need to gain the correct view of voidness. This is what the last line of the verse refers to, “properly discerning the correct meaning (of voidness).”

These are the trainings in the last two of the six far-reaching attitudes: mental stability and discriminating awareness. It is important to develop all of this. This subject matter, particularly the correct view of voidness, is discussed deeply and profoundly in the chapter on the exceptionally perceptive state of mind in the Lam-rim chen-mo by Tsongkhapa. There we can find this explained extensively in the section that has a separate title, A Grand Presentation of the Exceptionally Perceptive State of Mind (Lhag-mthong chen-mo). Actually, if we study the following four texts of Tsongkhapa, we will get a very clear understanding of the correct view of reality:

  • A Grand Presentation of the Exceptionally Perceptive State of Mind

  • A Grand Commentary on (Nagarjuna’s) “Root (Stanzas on the Middle Way, Called) ‘Discriminating Awareness’” (rTsa-she tik-chen)

  • Clarifying the Intended Meaning (of Chandrakirti’s “Supplement to [Nagarjuna’s ‘Root Verses on] the Middle Way’” (dBu-ma dgongs-pa rab-gsal)

  • The Essence of Excellent Explanations of Interpretable and Definitive Meanings (Drang-nges legs-bshad snying-po).

By studying these four texts, we can gain a correct view of reality or voidness without any confusion.

Entering Tantra

It is necessary to train ourselves to develop these paths of the mind that are held in common with someone of the initial and intermediate levels of motivation, and then to develop as well the paths of mind that are the actual main points here. These are the paths of mind of someone of advanced scope – mainly, a dedicated heart and a correct understanding of voidness, and then these two combined as a pair. Although the best thing to do is, of course, to actually develop on our mind-streams these various paths of the mind, but even if we can’t do that, we need at least to gain some general understanding of what these paths entail.

Once we have accomplished this, we have the type of mind that is properly prepared for entering into the practice of tantra, the hidden measures to protect the mind. The entranceway is through receiving an empowerment (an initiation) from a fully qualified spiritual master. Without an empowerment there is no way to enter into these practices to protect the mind. This is mentioned here in the next stanza of the text:

(10) When I have trained myself through the common paths
And become a vessel, I request inspiration easily to board
The Diamond-strong Vehicle, the supreme of all vehicles,
The sacred fording passage for those of good fortune.

Keeping the Tantric Vows

Once we are prepared with the proper preliminary state of mind and have entered tantra through receiving a proper empowerment from a fully qualified spiritual master, we are told at the empowerment that the most important thing is to uphold the tantric vows – the vowed restraints of these hidden measures. These include fourteen root vows to avoid the fourteen root downfalls and eight secondary vows to avoid the eight thick actions.

[See: The Common Root Tantric Vows, and also: The Secondary Tantric Vows.]

Unless we uphold and keep purely these vows and the closely bonding practices (dam-tshig, Skt. samaya), there is no way that we can achieve the two types of actual attainments (siddhi) through these hidden tantra practices. There are eight common actual attainments and the supreme actual attainment of enlightenment. So, to achieve these attainments, it is totally essential to keep all the vowed restraints and close bonds with the practices.

That was explained in the next verse:

(11) Then, when I have found uncontrived certainty
   in what has been said,
That the foundation for realizing
   the two types of actual attainments
Is the closely bonding practices
   and vowed restraints kept totally pure,
I request inspiration to uphold them
   even at the cost of my life.

The Two Stages of Tantra Practice

Each of the four classes of tantra deity practice has two stages of practice. The three lower classes have the stages of practice with a sign and without a sign. The highest class of tantra, anuttarayoga, has the generation stage and the complete stage. With each class of tantra, it is important to progress through its two stages, in their proper order, following all the actual procedures of that class of practice, in order to achieve the results. This is referred to in the next stanza:

(12) Then understanding correctly
   the essential points of the two stages
That are the essence of the tantra classes,
   I request inspiration,
To actualize them in accord
   with the Holy One’s enlightening speech,
Never straying from the conduct
   of four (daily) sessions of yoga.

Final Requests and Dedication

Then, we request inspiration and offer prayers that all the spiritual masters who have indicated these excellent paths of the mind, and likewise all our Dharma friends who help us with their practice, may have their feet remain firm for a very long life. Likewise, we pray that the various types of external and internal hindrances and interferences may be stilled. External interferences come from sickness and misleading friends, while internal ones come from our various disturbing emotions and attitudes. This is referred to here in the verse:

(13) I request inspiration for the feet of the spiritual mentors
Who indicate the excellent path like this
And of friends for proper practice to remain firm,
And for the masses of outer and inner interference
   to be stilled.

The text concludes with the dedication. We dedicate all the positive potential built up by this, so that we may never be separated in all our lives from pure and perfect spiritual masters. We also dedicate it so that we are able to make proper use of the all-around perfect spiritual measures and practices, to gain all the good qualities of the various levels of the mind, and quickly achieve the enlightened state of a Vajradhara, a Holder of Everything Diamond-Strong – the form in which Buddha appears in the tantras. The verse then reads:

(14) May I never be parted for all my lives from perfect gurus;
May I put to good use the all-around perfect Dharma;
And by achieving in full all good qualities
   of the stages and paths,
May I quickly attain a Vajradhara supreme state.