Explanation of Eight-Verse Attitude-Training
Session One: Source of the Teachings and Cherishing Others; Verse One
This weekend we’re going to look at and discuss a very wonderful text, which is a very central type of text that is studied in all the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, called the Eight-Verse Attitude-Training by Langri-tangpa.
Now, this term “attitude-training” is lojong in Tibetan. And when we look at what it means more carefully, lo is “attitude.” Sometimes people translate it as “mind,” but it’s not really just the mind in general, but implies really the attitude with which we look at things, with which we deal with the world.
And the second syllable jong is a very interesting word actually, because on the one hand it means “to train,” but on the other hand it also means “to cleanse.” And so what that implies is that in order to train ourselves, to make progress, what we need to do is basically cleanse ourselves of all the negative attitudes, of the disturbing emotions, of the various hindrances, and so on. And it’s by cleansing these out, getting rid of them, that we actually train ourselves. And so this is the meaning of the word jong.
Similar to when you speak of the word yonten, which means “good qualities.” Yonten, literally what it means is “straightening out some deviation.” So it’s a correction of some way in which we’re going off in the wrong direction. And to correct that and come to the right direction, that’s what the word “good qualities” means. So it’s very much in keeping with the Buddhist idea that what we want to do is get rid of suffering and the causes of suffering. And so to develop the good qualities, basically we need to get rid of the negative qualities.
And actually this type of explanation of “training” or “cleansing” and of “good qualities” as a correction of deviations, then allows for the two basic approaches that we have particularly emphasized in Tibetan Buddhism. On the one hand you have – as typified for instance by the Gelug tradition – that in addition to cleansing you have to actually build up positive qualities, good qualities from their potentials. And Buddha-nature consists of the potentials of the good qualities.
And on the other hand, you have the explanation that you find very much in Nyingma, for example, in which the good qualities are there, not just the potentials; but they’re not functioning, because of the overlay of these negative qualities, of these “fleeting stains,” they call them. And so basically what you need to do is get rid of the stains and then, as is explained in dzogchen, all the qualities are actually there.
Of course one can debate whether or not every type of training that’s done in the Nyingma tradition is just a cleansing, and don’t they actually also meditate on love, and compassion, and bodhichitta, and these things, which are actually building up some positive quality. But in any case, the two ways of formulating how you proceed on the path, both can come from this understanding of what it means to have good qualities and what it means to cleanse, or train attitudes.
So, this whole tradition of attitude-training, or mind-cleansing, or attitude-cleansing, or mind-training – I mean however you want to put it together – is something that obviously comes from Buddha’s teachings, but was emphasized very much by Shantideva in the text Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior. There he says in the fifth chapter – it’s the chapter on safeguarding with alertness – verse ninety-seven:
(97) Out of all the boundless bodhisattva behaviors
That have been spoken of,
I shall definitely put them to practice (at least) to the extent
Of the conduct for cleansing my mind.
It’s lojong. So Shantideva already mentions it, and most of what follows could be understood as the forerunner of this whole lojong tradition, this attitude-training tradition, as we’ll see as we go through the text.
So, when we look at the lineages of the teachings that come from Buddha, we often speak of the “lineage of the profound teachings” – these would be the voidness teachings that come through Manjushri, Nagarjuna, and so on, and eventually through Shantideva. And also the “vast teachings” – the vast teachings are the teachings on bodhichitta that come through Maitreya to Asanga, and then also through Shantideva.
But then there’s also a third lineage that’s sometimes spoken of, which is more like this lineage of the lojong, of the attitude-cleansing. I mean also, of course, you can also speak of the lineage of tantra, and the mahasiddha lineage, that’s in addition – that’s not sutra, that’s tantra – but there’s this tradition and lineage of the attitude-training.
Atisha studied this with Dharmarakshita, this was the name of his teacher. And Dharmarakshita is the author of a very great attitude-training text called The Wheel of Sharp Weapons. And so Atisha brought this to Tibet. And Atisha himself wrote The Bodhisattva Garland of Gems, and that is sort of in this tradition.
So, Atisha passed it to his main Tibetan disciple Dromtonpa, and Dromtonpa passed it to Potowa, a very famous Kadampa master. And Potowa had two disciples; they’re called the sun- and the moon-like disciples. One was Langri-tangpa who was the older of these two and he wrote this Eight-Verse Attitude-Training, this Eight-Verse Lojong, and the younger disciple was Chaykawa. And Chaykawa wrote the Seven-Point Lojong.
These Kadampa masters were called “Geshes.” Geshe not in the sense of somebody who has passed the full study program in sutra and gets the title “Geshe” at the end of that, which was basically instituted by the Fifth Dalai Lama, so it’s quite late; but Geshe is actually the translation of the Sanskrit word kalyamamitra – a spiritual friend, a friend for positive actions or positive behavior. That’s what a spiritual friend is; it’s a friend that leads you to positive or constructive behavior and engages in constructive behavior with you. And so we have these Kadampa Geshes.
So Gesehe Chaykawa read this Eight-Verse Lojong, and in it he came across the line “May I accept the lost on myself and give the victory to others.” He was at the house of another Kadampa Geshe, Geshe Changshipa he’s called. And he was really totally taken by this line, you know, this is really fantastic. And so he asked, “Where could I study this?” And Geshe Changshipa said, “Well, the author is Langri-tangpa, this other disciple of Geshe Potowa. So why don’t you go to Lhasa, where he is, and you can meet him.”
And so, Geshe Chaykawa went to Lhasa, but when he got there, Geshe Langri-tangpa had already passed away. And so he went to another one of Geshe Potowa disciples – Geshe Sharawa. And Geshe Sharawa was giving some discourse of some text, and when he finished he asked him, “Where does this line come from, what the source of it? I want to know the valid source of it.” And so Geshe Sharawa said, “It comes actually from Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland,” and so it has a real old valid Indian source there. Nagarjuna wrote: “May their negative force ripen on me and may all my positive force ripen on them.” This is actually exchange of self with others – a very, very early version of it. And Geshe Sharawa explained that, “May their negative force ripen on me,” that implies, “May I accept the lost on myself”; and “May all my positive force ripen on them,” that’s giving the victory to others.
So, Geshe Chaykawa then studied with Geshe Sharawa for six years – basically this lojong type of the tradition and bodhichitta teachings. And at the end of those six years he wrote this Seven-Point Lojong or Attitude-Training. And it passed from him to Lhadingpa, and from Lhadingpa it passed on to Togmey-zangpo. And Togmey-zangpo is the author of the Thirty-seven Bodhisattva Practices, which is also very much in the flavor of this lojong.
And Togmey-zangpo explained and taught very much this Seven-Point Lojong from Chaykawa, wrote a big commentary on it. And then it comes down from there. Togmey-zangpo also wrote a commentary on Shantideva’s text as well. So we can see that this whole emphasis on lojong really is very, very much connected with Shantideva’s presentation of the bodhisattva path.
And I think it’s very noteworthy that Geshe Chaykawa studied this lojong for six years with Geshe Sharawa. Geshe Chaykawa was no beginner, he was obviously a very advanced type of practitioner. And I think it indicates very well how much effort is necessary to really train our attitudes, to get rid of the selfishness, and the self-cherishing, and all these sort of things.
When you look at the word nirvana – it’s very interesting – the word “nirvana,” when you look at the old etymology, it’s used for “going out of a fire.” The fire here is the suffering, which comes from the disturbing emotions – attachment, anger and naivety. And when there’s no more fuel, then the fire goes out. That’s nirvana, and that’s the way it’s explained from the etymology of it.
And so to get rid of these disturbing emotions – which is what we’re trying to do with cleansing the attitudes, to get rid of all the self-cherishing, and so on – well the final step of it is that you’ve reached nirvana, you’ve reached liberation. So we shouldn’t think that it’s an easy process, or something that’s going to happen very, very quickly. It’s a long-term endeavor. And these texts give us the guidelines of how to do it. And so you can see here how the idea of “cleansing” and “training” go together. To cleanse your attitudes, you have to train, you have to practice over and over and over again.
Question: In which relation is it in time from Shantideva?
Alex: In which relation is it in time from Shantideva? Shantideva lived in the early seven hundreds, it was a little bit before Guru Rinpoche; and Atisha went to Tibet approximately around the year one thousand; and Langri-tangpa was three generations later. Shantideva was first, so Langri-tangpa and Chaykawa would be somewhere in the eleven hundreds, about four hundred years later.
Question: You talked about the vast teachings of the Buddha, that of bodhichitta. Is there actually also lines like that in the sutras?
Alex: Of exchange of self and others? Undoubtedly there is, I mean Shantideva says that the source for these type of teachings are the Gandavyuha Sutra. Gandavyuha Sutra is a part of the Avatamsaka Sutra – Sudhana is this “searcher for the truth,” who goes and visits fifty different teachers. And it’s this huge, huge text that speaks about all the different ways of learning bodhichitta that he learned from these fifty teachers, and Gandavyuha Sutra is one of these fifty, a part of the Avatamsaka. And that was only preserved in Chinese; it was one of the few texts translated from Chinese into Tibetan. So that’s the source of this type of teaching; and also a sutra called Vajradvaja-paripriccha Sutra, The Sutra Requested by Vajra-dvaja. And that I’m really not very familiar with.
But when you say that the vast lineage, the bodhichitta lineage, comes from Maitreya and Asanga, this is talking about, on the one hand, the way to developing bodhichitta of recognizing everybody as having been your mother, and the kindness of mother, and so on. I mean, there’s the two ways: that lineage; and here we have the exchange of self with others, and also the vast lineage is primarily dealing with the mind that understands voidness.
So you have voidness teachings of the profound lineage, and then the vast teachings on the mind that understands that, first of all with Buddha-nature. So you get from Maitreya and Asanga the Buddha-nature teachings, like in Gyulama, Uttaratantra, The Furthest Everlasting Stream. It’s the stages of the development of the mind that understands voidness, so that’s Abhisamayalamkara, or in Tibetan Ngontog-gyen, The Filigree of Realizations, that presents the huge aspect of the Bodhisattva path and what is studied on it, and then all the different levels of it; and then also this way of developing bodhichitta. That’s the vast teaching. And it seems as though this is another stream, probably you could say within the vast teachings, but a sub-stream of another way of developing bodhichitta – equalizing and exchanging of self with others.
So, let’s start with the text.
The first verse:
May I always cherish all limited beings
By considering how far superior they are
To wish-granting gems
For actualizing the supreme aim.
So, a wish-granting gem can grant us all sorts of worldly things – money, house, and property, and fame, and so on – but it can’t grant us enlightenment, that’s the supreme aim. And the point here is that limited beings, or sentient beings, are the ones who can give us enlightenment.
So how can they give us enlightenment? It’s by practicing with them. In other words, developing generosity and developing the far reaching attitudes – discipline with them, bodhichitta to benefit them, patience with them, perseverance to work with them, concentration while working with them, discriminating awareness of how they exist and how to help them, and so on. It’s all from working with others that we’re actually able to achieve any attainment.
And so therefore it’s very, very important to cherish them, I mean cherish them more than any other worldly type of thing. And already in this first verse Langri-tangpa is using the word “cherish,” which is the word that we’re going to see in terms of getting rid of self-cherishing and cherishing others, where cherishing others is the source of all benefit, and happiness, etc.
Well, this actually gives us quite a lot to think about, and of course each of these verses can be a very profound topic to meditate on. And so I think it’s quite important to check our attitudes in terms of, what do we actually value? What do we think is the most precious thing? Do we think in terms of money? Do we think in terms of possessions? Do we think in terms of position? Or do we think in terms of people? And not just people, but all beings – I mean including mosquitoes and all limited beings, all beings with limited minds. What importance do others have in our life? What role do they play? What’s our attitude when we actually meet somebody? Or we meet somebody new?
You look at someone like His Holiness the Dalai Lama. As he travels around and he meets different people – the police who are stationed at the halls where he’s teaching, or any of the people in the crowd – he looks at somebody and it’s exactly like he’s seen a treasure. He lights up and he’s just so totally delighted to meet another living being.
This is the type of attitude that one is trying to develop here; to cleanse our attitude that “Uh! I can’t be bothered,” and “Leave me alone,” and “Who wants to get involved with you?” or “with this one.” We see more and more people and we just get turned off. And so the attitude to develop here is to overcome that, is to see how precious they are. Because it’s with working with them that I’ll be able to achieve enlightenment.
It’s not that we learn the good qualities from others as if they were teaching us mathematics. The person who teaches us mathematics has to know mathematics, whereas here the person who teaches us patience doesn’t have to know patience at all. It’s the other way around; we develop patience with them, because they’re usually acting in a very difficult manner. And so it’s by practicing patience with the other person, directed at the other person, that we develop the good quality of patience ourselves.
Of course, somebody else can inspire us who’s very patient and who has great perseverance and so on, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Although one could indirectly understand that – of course, you need a teacher and the teacher is somebody else, in the sense of somebody actually instructing you, like in mathematics, or inspiring you by their example. But in any case we couldn’t develop this very easily by ourselves. Even if you just read it in a book, somebody else wrote the book. Even if you’re a pratyekabuddha, and not studying with anybody or working with books, and you just work with your instincts – where do those instincts come from? From previous lives when you did work with people.
Alex: The question is, “Isn’t it one of the refuge vows that says that you should stay away from certain people?” Well, actually that’s one of the tantric vows, and that refers to not having love, in other words not befriending and spending all your time with those who are very negative. Not get intimate with foolish people, Shantideva says that as well, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t achieve enlightenment through developing patience with them. To develop patience with them, and not get angry with them, doesn’t mean that we have to stay with them. We can develop that being away, especially when we’re weak and we could be negatively influenced by the person or by the beings.
You can watch them from a distance, but who do you develop patience with? Some political leader that you find really very, very difficult – well, I don’t hang out with them, but staying away, I try to develop some patience and not get angry. That’s true with people who are screaming and yelling, and drunks on the street, and so on – we can develop patience without necessarily getting involved with them, that’s true. But this isn’t saying that you have to get involved with everybody physically, hands on. What this is saying is that how you develop along the path? You develop along the path by being focused on sentient beings, on limited beings. Whatever practice that you’re doing, needs to be directed at others.
When we talk about voidness, well, it’s not going to get you so terribly far in terms of just “the voidness of the pillar or the vase,” although that’s used in examples in texts. But what do you really aim it on? You aim it at the voidness – as Shantideva says – of other people’s bodies you might be attracted to; voidness of feelings you have, in terms of this person or that person and so on. I mean, in short, how do we develop bodhichitta? It’s the wish to benefit all beings, and to reach enlightenment so we can benefit them best. So obviously, reaching enlightenment depends on other beings, developing this attitude toward them.
I mean first we want to benefit all beings. Then, we want to reach enlightenment in order to be able to do that the fullest. Get the order straight. And it’s because we want to benefit all beings that we get the energy, the motivation, the strength, and in many ways the inspiration, to be able to actually work through all the difficulties, and reach enlightenment.
This is why Shantideva says in chapter six, verses a hundred-twelve and hundred-thirteen:
(112) Thus, the Sage has spoken of the field of limited beings,
As well as the field of Triumphant,
(For,) having made them happy, many have gone, thereby,
To the far shore of excellence.
(113) When the acquisition of a Buddha’s Dharma (attainments)
Is equally due to (both) limited beings and the Triumphant,
What kind of order is it that the respect shown to limited beings
Is not like that to the Triumphant?
In other words, how do we achieve enlightenment? It’s due to the inspiration, not just from the Buddhas, but inspiration from limited beings; not just from the kindness of Buddhas, but from the kindness of limited beings that we can actually practice with them. And so Shantideva says the respect that one shows to both should be equal.
So he says in short in chapter five, verse eighty:
(80) When my eyes behold limited beings,
I shall think, “Depending on them,
I shall attain Buddhahood,”
And look with a sincere and loving manner.
I’d like to point out how all these verses really do come out of Shantideva, and that these eight verses are just putting together some of the main essence of Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior.
So, I think it can be helpful to meditate for a few moments, a few minutes, on what really is our attitude toward other beings. And how do we actually regard them? And can we regard them with this type of attitude? I mean this is attitude-training. Whenever you see anyone, even a fly in your room, or a mosquito, as Shantideva said, “Depending on this being I shall attain Buddhahood,” and try to identify, and not only identify, but try eventually to feel inspiration.
It’s obviously very difficult. One of the things that Atisha was famous for was, as he traveled to Tibet, whenever he saw an animal or any being, he always called them “my mother.” And it wasn’t that he was putting on, but it was very, very sincere.
And try taking it one step further, to practice as we do in the sensitivity training, which is to look around the room with the attitude toward each person, that “Depending on this person I can achieve enlightenment,” and that “This person is more valuable to me” – this is really difficult – “more valuable to me than a million Euros.” This is what the verse is asking us to do. This is the first of these eight points. These aren’t easy. It’s an incredible changing of attitudes, if one can view others like this. And a very good example is, as I said, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Whenever he meets somebody – utterly filled with bliss and joy, just came across a treasure.
And even if we can’t develop it toward everybody that we meet, which obviously we won’t be able to do in the beginning, if we can develop it at least with some people that we meet, that’s a start. And it has to do with the attitude, it’s totally our attitude toward others – how we regard them.
So try looking at each other.
And I think in doing this, we start obviously with the people that we meet during the day in our own lives, and with the people that we know, obviously. And with the people that we know, then I think that with each person, as we can see looking around the room here, that there’s a different way of practicing with this person, and a different way of practicing with that person, and it’s by developing this quality – patience with this one, love with that one, not getting angry at this one, trying to inspire that one – with each one, this is actually the way to achieve enlightenment. It’s by responding to them, and their needs, and how they are – this is how I develop myself further and develop these good qualities, getting rid of these shortcomings that you know, “Oh, I don’t care about you.” And then you could extend it to the people that you see on the U-Bahn – the subway – just anybody. Then you really start to value the other people, especially people that you really are able to help.
Question: Probably if you’re not so much into luxury or stuff like that, maybe the comparison with one million dollars – with some people at least, you can pass that test. But what about appreciation and getting a pat on the back, or this kind of “gain” for yourself…?
Alex: Well, the appreciation, the gain, and so on – Langri-tangpa says in later verses. This comes up – this is just the first verse; all these points do come up there. Are we doing it for a thanks? And what about people that we help, and then they hurt us in return? And so on, but here we’re just starting – it’s basically to cherish others, to see how valuable and important others are. And as I said, Chaykawa practiced for six years before he even started to write something about it, and so we can’t expect that we are going to have an equal equanimity attitude toward absolutely everybody. But at least if we can develop it with some people, that’s a start.
Question: And you make it as specific as possible?
Alex: Specific. I’ve always found that if you work with specific beings, you get the inspiration. If you, you know, “All the hell creatures, and all the hungry ghosts”, and so on – for most people that’s too amorphous. It’s just too general, too vague.
Question: And the contact with you, I would like to develop single-minded concentration, and based on that attain enlightenment, or…?
Alex: You would see or hear somebody and, “I’m not focused and my mind wanders, and so on, but by practicing with this person, trying to actually help them, trying to listen to them when they’re talking to me, I can develop concentration, based on interest, and seeing the value of it, and the value of this person. Then I will listen to them. That inspires me to have the concentration, because ‘you’re a human being and you have feelings and so on, just as I do, and want to be taken seriously just as I would.’” And so that inspires us to develop the concentration, which we wouldn’t be able to do just sitting in our room looking at the wall.
Question: But isn’t it the thought, “How precious…?”
Alex: Right, how precious they are – this is what it’s saying here, “Is more precious than a wish-granting gem.” That when I meet this person, here is the perfect opportunity to be able to practice, and gain inspiration; “May I be able to help this one, may I be able to help the drunk in the street,” even if we don’t know how to do it now.
Alex: If you see the drunk in the street and you say, “I can develop patience with this person, how precious” – wouldn’t that also be rather an ego thing, that we’re doing it just for ourselves and we don’t make any contact? That’s not taking it far enough, if you just put it that way. I mean it’s not that I want to develop patience, because then, you know, I’ll get ten points on the scale. I want to be able to help this person. I want to be able to help not just this person; I want to be able to help all beings. And in order to help all beings I need to develop compassion and patience, and the willingness to get involved with messy situations. “Like a swan plunging into a lotus pond,” Shantideva says – jump into the messy situations. So this person is precious because I think, “Oh my goodness, someone who’s suffering so much like that. I wish that I could really help such a person.” So you develop compassion, you develop bodhichitta, “In order to really help them, I’m going to have to develop myself.”
Question: But I mean, from this kind of thoughts I would imagine that some kind of actions would result…
Alex: Yes, you do, certainly action result from that, then you try to actually help them as much as you can, at whatever level we’re at. So what action comes from this? Does that mean that we become a super social worker in the streets of Berlin with all the drunks, and so on? Not necessarily. We’re not at a stage where we can multiply our body into ten million forms and help everybody simultaneously. We’re not. And so we do what we can, and so with the drunk person, at least don’t have a negative attitude toward the person.
I often see that in the U-Bahns here, I find that quite amazing. Because where I come from, if there’s a drunk or somebody like that, they’d call the police, and people would stay away and they’d be very hostile. Whereas I’ve seen people on the U-Bahn, somebody’s drunk and they actually talk with the person. The person is talking completely crazy, and the people don’t give the appearance of being uptight, and they just speak to them like to a normal person. You don’t move to the other side of the car, or these things, which, from my cultural background, people would do that. They would move away. So that doesn’t mean that you take the drunk home and all of that.
Participant: Maybe the first thing to start with is to regard the person differently and to think, “Well, this person is precious and he’s no asshole.” And even if it’s not one hundred percent serious, but the first thing to start with is to get away from this aversion.
Alex: Yes, that’s exactly what I was saying. One can see in terms of Buddha-nature, I mean there’s many, many ways of working with this. And you don’t start with being a good street worker, but changing one’s attitudes. All of this is attitude-cleansing, changing our attitudes. It depends where one’s talents are, of course, how one can help; but what we’re looking at here is our attitude toward other beings.
When we consider somebody precious, or more precious than a wish-granting gem – certainly not in terms of, “Well, I can benefit from them, because I’ll achieve enlightenment.” But we start with the people that we actually are able to help. Let’s say you’re taking care of sick people, or you’re helping somebody in a store, making things available to them, or designing beautiful things for them, or helping find some cure for a sickness, helping people find books that they need, or whatever it is – these people that I’m helping, that you value them, you take them so seriously and, I mean, I can only use the word “cherish.”
And value them – why are they so valuable? What makes it so special? “Because by helping you, I’m going to be able to help more and more people, more and more beings. Depending on what I’m able to do with you, the help that I’m giving you will expand my ability, expand my experience, so I can help more and more and more.” This is the emphasis, not, “Oh. I’ll reach the goal of enlightenment and I’ll be so blissful.” It’s not like that.
So if we are in a position in our lives to actually help some people in whatever way it is that we help them, according to our abilities and talents and so on – this is fantastic, really cherish that. “That’s fantastic, that I have an opportunity that I can actually be of help to anyone, because through that I’ll be able to help more and more and more.” So even if we’re helping in a very mundane way, it builds up tremendous positive force.
So, I think maybe we end here this evening with a dedication. We think, whatever positive force has come from this, may it act as a cause for reaching enlightenment, for the benefit of all.
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