Short Commentary on Eight-Verse Attitude-Training
Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey
Dharamsala, India, November 1975
Based on notes taken by Alexander Berzin from the oral translation by Sharpa Rinpoche
Edited by Luke Roberts
This text was composed in eight verses by Geshe Langri-tangpa (Langtangpa). This teaching can be traced back to the Kadam masters. Geshe Potowa, who was an incarnation of Manjushri, passed it to Geshe Sharawa and then to Geshe Langri-tangpa. These two are called the sun and moon of Kadam disciples.
It is traditional to explain a brief biography of the author to develop faith in disciples and to show the valid source of the teaching, but there is no time to give the full story.
The one who searched for this teaching was Geshe Chekawa, the author of the Seven-Point Attitude-Training. While visiting a friend, he saw in a small pamphlet the line that says, “Give others your profit and take their blame on yourself.” In a flash he realized the usefulness of this in these degenerate times. He asked for its source and was directed to Penbo district to see Geshe Langtangpa, who had written it. When he got there, he found that Geshe Langtangpa had already passed away, and so he couldn’t get the oral transmission. He was dissatisfied with the condition of the monastery there, so he went to another place.
Then he went to a monastery where Geshe Sharawa was giving a discourse on Shravakabhumi – Shravaka (Listener) Stages of Mind – a Hinayana text. The discourse didn’t interest him much. He hoped to hear Mahayana words, but he heard none, so he was disappointed. After the discourse, Geshe Sharawa went to circumambulate the monastery, and Chekawa went to meet him. He took his monastic cushion cover with him, placed it on a platform, and asked him to stop and teach. Sharawa said, “I settled my disciples’ doubts on my throne at the discourse. Why stop me at such an odd place?” So Chekawa explained about the teaching that had impressed him so much and asked to hear more about it. Sharawa stopped reciting his mantra, wrapped his rosary around his wrist, and said, “Whether you’re impressed with this teaching or not, it is the only path to attaining enlightenment.” Chekawa asked, “Why didn’t you use any Mahayana words at the discourse earlier?” Sharawa said, “What is the use of wasting my words for those who aren’t going to put them into practice?”
Although Chekawa was impressed with the interview, he asked for further sources about this teaching. He wanted to know where it derived from. Sharawa said, “Nagarjuna is recognized by all Mahayanins as the pioneer of their tradition. They all accept him. This teaching is based on his verse ‘Accept the defeat on oneself and give the victory to others’ at the end of Ratnavali (The Precious Garland).” Then Chekawa made prostrations and said, “Please give me teachings on that.” Sharawa accepted. When Chekawa went home he read Ratnavali and found this verse, as Sharawa had said. Chekawa spent fourteen years with Sharawa and became a great bodhisattva who meditated always in charnel grounds – the places where people dispose of corpses by chopping them up and feeding them to the vultures.
Attitude-training (lojong, mind-training) is helpful since it encourages us to improve ourselves. Atisha praised attitude-training, saying, “Following attitude-training and having respect for all traditions, being nonsectarian, taking the good points from all traditions – this is how to improve yourself.” If we want to attain enlightenment, we must know these eight points of practice, because otherwise we’ll be lost.
The text reads:
(1) May I always cherish all limited beings
By considering how far superior they are
To wish-granting gems
For actualizing the supreme aim.
Wish-granting gems can fulfill wishes only in this life, but cherishing limited beings (sentient beings) brings benefits in this life and in the future. By cherishing all other limited beings, we are able to attain ultimate benefit for self and others, i.e. attain enlightenment.
Your own attainment of enlightenment is based on two things – the kindness of limited beings and the kindness of gurus. These two are equal. One master said, “The attitude of people is very poor. They ignore limited beings and pay too much attention to gurus, but the kindness of both is the same.” Geshe Chengawa said, “As Dharmic people, we need to do the opposite of ordinary people who cherish important people and ignore unimportant people. Therefore we need to cherish limited beings more than Buddhas.”
(2) Whenever I come into anyone’s company,
May I regard myself less than everyone else
And, from the depths of my heart, value others
More highly than I do myself.
If we have this attitude, then it automatically stops us belittling and looking down on others. By remembering their good qualities, we can generate a positive attitude of compassion to all whom we meet. Kadam masters really put these teachings into practice:
Drom (Dromtonpa) once travelled to a monastery where they were giving a great reception for him. On the way, he met a person coming from a puja who was too tired to carry his own shoes. He didn’t recognize Drom, who was dressed poorly, and so he asked Drom to carry his shoes for him. Drom received them with both hands and said, “Of course,” and put them on his shoulders. He was met at the monastery with a huge procession. The person who asked him to carry his shoes was so embarrassed, he ran away.
Once there was a person who always talked about Dharma. When Drom passed by, the man called out, “Hey, you! Prostrate to me and I’ll teach you.” Drom did so and listened to his limp Dharma talk. Drom politely kept asking questions, and in the end Drom talked more than the man. The man had doubts and said, “Maybe you’re Drom.” Drom said, “That’s what they call me.”
We are all worried that others don’t know our qualities. We produce curriculum vitae and show off to others before we speak. Drom was never ostentatious. He had a wealth of attainment inside, but outside was very ordinary. Drom practiced according to this dictum: “Low positions are a city of happiness; high positions are a city of unhappiness.”
(3) Whatever I am doing, may I check the flow of my mind,
And the moment that conceptions or disturbing emotions arise,
Since they debilitate myself and others,
May I confront and avert them with forceful means.
Whatever you’re doing – whether you’re sitting, walking, or sleeping – examine yourself. Don’t examine others all the time. Examine yourself. The business of a true Dharmic person is to examine themselves, not others. But we are professional detectives of others. We always find faults in others. We don’t look at our own delusions. It’s like we have a flashlight illuminating others, not ourselves. The Eighth Dalai Lama said, “We look out so much to find the faults of others and pay so little attention to our own faults, there’s little chance to lead others to a high place.” If our neighbors fight and we just watch and then talk about it to others, we will be of no help to anyone. Now is the time to turn the flashlight on ourselves and begin to see our own faults.
Dharma is required when we have disturbing emotions. It is the opponent for them. If we don’t use Dharma when we have disturbing emotions, when else will we use it? Gungtang Rinpoche said, “You shouldn’t be a Dharmic person in appearance only, like a person who acts Dharmicly when well fed but in bad circumstances acts worse than an ordinary person.”
(4) Whenever I see beings instinctively cruel,
Overpowered by negativities and serious problems,
May I cherish them as difficult to find
As discovering a treasure of gems.
It is a rare opportunity to be able to help someone, so we should not withdraw from it but cherish the opportunity like a treasure. Objects of giving and objects of patience should be treated like objects of refuge.
(5) When others, out of envy, treat me unfairly
With scolding, insults, and more,
May I accept the loss upon myself
And offer the victory to others.
Objects of patience are rarer than objects of giving. There are plenty of beggars in the world; but for someone to do something bad to you and become an object of patience, you have to do something bad to them first. So when someone volunteers to be an object of patience, don’t lose the opportunity to be patient with them.
[(106) Alms-seekers are plentiful in this life,
But scarce are those who cause (me) harm,
Because no one will cause me harm
If I haven’t harmed them like this (in past lives).
(107) Therefore, I shall be delighted with an enemy
Who’s popped up like a treasure in my house,
Without having had to be acquired with fatigue,
Since he becomes my aide for bodhisattva behavior.
Bodhicharyavatara chapter 6]
Thus don’t be impatient when receiving criticism. It helps us see our own faults. If we are always praised, our faults become hidden, and then we can develop pride. Criticism makes you think about what you’ve done wrong, and then you can correct your own faults.
Geshe Langtangpa said in a different work, “All faults described in the Mahayana teachings are my own, and all good qualities belong to others.” Later masters said this showed his full understanding of the practice of exchanging self and others.
The Kadam masters said that bodhisattvas treat both praise and criticism like echoes. If praised, they realize that others are just as likely to blame them, and vice versa. Thus bodhisattvas are very stable and lead an even life – not too elated if praised or depressed if blamed. That’s why attitude-training is called the “city of liberation.”
(6) Even if someone whom I have helped
And from whom I harbor great expectations
Were to harm me completely unfairly,
May I view him or her as a hallowed teacher.
People you’ve been kind to and who are nasty in return are teachers of cause and effect. We’ve done something bad to them in the past, and thus their nastiness is a result of our previous destructive actions toward them. Thus we need to promise ourselves to always recognize the connection between cause and effect. Also promise that whatever reaction people have to our acts, we won’t get discouraged or angry; we will do even more good for others. When anything happens, don’t think in terms of this life. Examine what we have done in the past to bring this about, not just what have we done now to deserve this. Be grateful that the consequences are not worse for all the negative things we’ve done in the past.
Gurus have said we should never be discouraged by the destructive things we’ve done in the past. Also, if someone else was bad in the past and has improved now, if we harp on about their negative actions, it shows we have no faith in the Dharma and its power to improve. Therefore don’t judge in terms of the past but in terms of the present.
Also, whatever good you do should not be done with the motivation of expecting something in return. Regard these people as gurus teaching us about the mistakes of self-cherishing, revealing our selfish nature of how we feel when we get no positive response to the good we do. As it says in the Wheel of Sharp Weapons, take these as teachings to examine your own nature and develop the courage to continue practicing in a non-selfish way.
The Kadam masters say there are many ways that people can be your gurus. They don’t have to say anything or be a robed monk in a monastery, and so on. Even sickness and unfavorable circumstances are gurus too, teaching us that if we don’t want suffering we need to do constructive actions.
(7) In short, may I offer to all my mothers,
both actually and indirectly,
Whatever will benefit and bring them joy;
And may I hiddenly accept on myself
All my mothers’ troubles and woes.
This refers to the great bodhisattva practices of giving and taking (tonglen) and exchanging self and others. Whatever practice we do, it shouldn’t be for the sake of appearances. We need to do it sincerely with a heartfelt motivation of compassion. For example, don’t give food to a beggar so that others will think you are compassionate.
Up to this point, the text has involved attitude-training in terms of conventional bodhichitta. The next verse is about attitude-training in terms of deepest bodhichitta. Having conventional bodhichitta first and then deepest bodhichitta is for people like us who have dull intelligence. Those with sharp wits can be taught deepest bodhichitta first.
(8) Through a mind untarnished by stains of conceptions
Concerning eight passing things, throughout all of this,
And that knows all phenomena as an illusion,
May I break free from my bondage, without any clinging.
The practices of the preceding verses should never be carried out in an external way mixed with concern for the eight transitory things in life. This is described as a sign of immaturity and is the behavior of children.
Nagarjuna’s Suhrllekha (Letter to a Friend) lists the eight transitory things in life – gains or losses, things going well or badly, praise or criticism, and hearing good or bad news. The eight transitory things in life can be difficult to recognize. There are three degrees of them – black, white, and mixed. [It is black when these feelings arise because of attachment to the happiness of this life together with a self-cherishing attitude and grasping for a truly existent me. It is mixed when they arise without any such attachment, but still with the second two motivations. It is white when they arise without either attachment to the happiness of this life or self-cherishing, but solely because of grasping for a truly existent me.]
Whether we are the agent or the recipient of any of these eight, we usually overreact and lose our balance, becoming excited, depressed, or uncomfortable. Giving up the eight transitory things in life means giving up concern for these eight things, not giving up our parents, wife, children, home, and so on. It’s not about trying to escape from our daily lives and responsibilities. There are teachings about equalizing and balancing these opposite feelings in the Drugpa Kagyu tradition of the six spheres of equal taste.
Once when Milarepa was meditating in a cave, he saw it was leaking, and so he tried to block up the holes and make the cave nice. Then he realized that concern for the eight transitory things in life had followed him into his cave.
A child became sick, and the mother consulted an astrologer to find out what to do. The only way to save the life of the child was to take it to a lama and have him claim the child as his own. While he was giving a discourse to thousands of disciples, the mother handed her child to Geshe Langtangpa and said, “Here, this is yours.” He happily accepted it and said, “For all my lives, you’re my child.” Half of his disciples lost faith in him and thought he had fathered the child. The rest stayed. At the end of the discourse, the woman made offerings and apologized, and he gave the child back to her. He had complete equilibrium. The faith of the half of his disciples who stayed remained the same – complete equilibrium. But we wouldn’t have been able to bear this; we would have made a big scene and tried to prove ourselves innocent. But to Geshe Langtangpa it made no difference. If we maintain purity within, we don’t have to impress people externally that we are pure – like acting holy in a phony way or trying to hide ourselves away from the world.
The contents of all sutra and tantra teachings are categorized as either (a) bringing benefit to limited beings or (b) preventing or restraining ourselves from harming others. To do this requires the practice of patience. If we don’t practice patience, we feel we must return harm that we receive from others, and thus we cannot benefit them. When we hurt others back, we can forget how it all started – it becomes an endless cycle of revenge. The way to end the cycle of revenge is to end it right there when we receive harm from someone. Therefore we need to follow the four methods of practicing patience given in the traditional oral teachings – target-like patience, love and compassion patience, teacher and disciple patience, and the sphere of voidness patience.
When we are the target for harm, criticism, and so on, it is because of our destructive actions in the past. If we hadn’t set up a target of destructive actions in a past life, nobody would have shot at it in this life. So whenever we receive criticism, instead of getting angry we need to think about our present and previous lives and what we might have done to deserve criticism. An Indian mahasiddha said, “If we don’t apply opponents when we need them, what is the use of them?”
If someone is angry with you, regard them as being mentally disturbed and under the influence of their own delusions – they have no real intention of harming you. And remember that you have delusions too. If a crazy person chases you and shouts at you and threatens you, if you react back with anger then you’re crazy too.
Of course there are more stabilized types of craziness like insanity and mental debility, but a momentary fit of anger is like a flash of insanity. An angry person gets everything topsy-turvy – they can smash their most cherished possessions; they can forget the value of life and then kill others or even commit suicide. Therefore we must treat them with love and compassion as if they were crazy.
Without a teacher, a disciple cannot learn anything. If no one acts as an object of patience for us, we cannot develop patience. Therefore anyone who gets angry with us is a teacher of patience. Shantideva said we should make offerings to enemies. In Bodhicharyavatara, an object of patience is said to be rarer than an object of generosity. The world is full of beggars; but for someone to act as an object of patience, we have to do something to them first.
Meditate on the lack of self-established existence of anger, patience, and so on. No truly existent object exists to cause harm or be harmed, cause anger or be angered – like that. Say to yourself, “All these enemies appear to me due to my own ignorance, delusions, and grasping for true existence. Buddhas and bodhisattvas never have enemies. I have them because of my delusions.” See the void nature of them. See them without delusions.
In other texts it says to treat enemies and harm as if in a dream. In a dream, everything seems real, but when we wake up we see that nothing has happened.
Of course we get angry, but at least we can try to shorten the length of our anger and not hold grudges for a long time. Shantideva said there is no negative force as serious as anger and no better practice of asceticism than patience. Anger is much worse than attachment. Attachment doesn’t involve violence and is internal to one person. But anger is violent, it affects self and others, ruins the environment, and so on. One of the main reasons we commit destructive actions is because we’re always getting angry. If we are angry, even the tastiest food has no taste. If we are angry, no matter how much makeup, jewelry, and fine clothes we wear, we look ugly – our face changes color, etc. For bodhisattvas, the downfall of having a little anger is much worse than a hundred downfalls of attachment.
This concludes this discourse, which has come from an unbroken lineage. It is important to keep the lineage straight. It’s a lineage of inspiration going all the way back to Buddha. There is a joke about a lama who said at a discourse, “I’ve never received the oral transmission, but now I’ve given it to you.”
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