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The Buddhist Archives of Dr. Alexander Berzin

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Explanation of Seven-Point Attitude-Training

Alexander Berzin
Berlin, Germany, June 2004

Session Seven: Point Six Continued

Unedited Transcript
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We are in the sixth part and the fifth one:

Don’t speak of (others’) deficient or deteriorated sides.

This means, basically, [not] to make fun of other people. The example that they use is calling a fat person fat, or a blind person blind, these type of things. Basically, don’t say things that are going to hurt other people’s feelings. Don’t swear or yell at each other, make fun of them, embarrass them in front of other people, call them stupid if they actually are not very intelligent, or make fun of them. Even if we think it’s a joke, and we think that the other person knows that it’s a joke, it still hurts. Even if the other person is a bodhisattva already, and we say, “Well, I can say anything to them, because they’re not going to get hurt by it,” still don’t say it, “You’re my good friend, so I can treat you like shit, like garbage, because you can take it. I don’t have to be on good behavior when I’m home.”

To speak about others’ deficient sides,” Serkong Rinpoche always called me “Dummy.” He called me that in front of a lot of people as well, but I gave him permission to do that. I told him, “Please do that, help me overcome being an idiot.” His Holiness does this as well. He points out things, but makes it into a joke, laughing at all the people who have fallen asleep during the teaching and stuff like that. If it’s done in a light way, that’s not going to hurt. Then sometimes it can be effective, but you have to be very careful, you have to be quite skilled, being able to get people to laugh at themselves. At the end of a teaching say, “I hope you’ve had a refreshing sleep and good dreams,” this type of…

The next one is:

Don’t think anything about others’ (faults).

This means not to criticize or make judgments about others, always looking for their faults, and trying to pick fault in what they do, and always criticizing, and this type of thing. If we see faults, they may be our own projections. We don’t know whether what we see reflects the way the person usually acts, and we certainly don’t know the mind-streams of others. So how do we really know?

The seventh one is:

Cleanse myself first of whichever disturbing emotion is my greatest.

We know ourselves what is our biggest problem, although we may have more than one; and what is the main thing that we have to work on, and work on that. If it’s attachment and desire, even if we don’t have any deep understanding of voidness that we can apply, we can apply what are known as the temporary remedies that can help on the way – thinking of impermanence, and the ugliness of the human body, and precious human life, and these sort of things; and for anger we can use love and compassion. Whatever it is, try to work on the biggest problem, or the biggest block first.

The eighth one is:

Rid myself of hopes for fruits,

which is saying that we shouldn’t have any hope or expectations of getting anything in return for helping others – that they’re going to help us in return, or they’re going to be grateful, or they’re going to thank us, or anything like that. Or that we’re going to become famous, or I’m just doing this as an investment, because I want to get a better rebirth and not an unfortunate rebirth, just sort of doing it in a sense paying for something, in order to get something in return. Or I want others to love me. Or you go on a power trip that they’re going to be dependent on me and need me, this type of thing. We simply help others to help them.

Question: Do they explain some meaning about Dharma fruits? I mean from daily practice, I should not expect any fruit?

Answer: Yes, from daily practice we shouldn’t expect results, because, as I say, if you don’t have any hopes or expectations you won’t have any disappointments. Don’t expect dramatic results, because the nature of samsara is that goes up and down. Until we become an arhat – a liberated being – some days it’s going to go well, some days it’s not. It’s going to go up and down. Some days we feel like practicing, some days we don’t. Some days we’re in a good mood, some days we’re not. What do you expect from samsara?

In general, if we’re, as I say, in a happy mood all the time, or a great deal of the time, that’s showing we’re making progress. Even if we’re in a terrible mood, if we’re able to transform it very, very quickly, not just get lost in it, give in to it, “I don’t feel like practicing,” but you practice anyway. It’s like expecting like every day it’s going to get better and better and better. It’s not.

The ninth one is:

Give up poisoned food.

This means even if we’re involved in doing something very constructive, or having constructive thoughts and so on, if we sense that it’s mixed with self-cherishing, drop it and correct the motivation and then start fresh – it’s like reboot the computer – and don’t let it go on and on with a partially selfish motivation – as much as possible. As much as possible, because obviously we don’t get rid of self-cherishing completely until we’re a liberated being. His Holiness always says that often our positive actions are with some self-cherishing that’s there, or with some grasping for true existence of a “me,” but we try not to have that be the dominant motivation, the dominant thing that’s there. At least be aware of it and minimize it. Yet it comes back. Don’t pretend to be such a great bodhisattva when you’re not, “My motivation is so pure.”

Number ten is:

Don’t rely (on my disturbing thoughts) as my excellent mainstay.

“Mainstay” also means like a main highway, the main thoroughfare. So it means don’t give the major superhighway in our mind to our disturbing thoughts and our disturbing emotions, but have positive, constructive thoughts and emotions, and cherishing others, give that the major highway or the major thing that we rely on in our minds, in our hearts. It’s always said, “Don’t be kind to the disturbing emotions,” and Shantideva said that as well, “Why do I make such a comfortable home for the disturbing emotions in my mind and heart? Instead of being kind to them, be kind to sentient beings.” As soon as anger, or attachment, clinging, desire, and so on arises, don’t play around with it. Stamp it out immediately, get rid of it immediately. If we take it easy and play around with it and give it the major thing in our minds, then it grows very strong, and we lose our mindfulness and control, and they take over.

Number eleven is:

Don’t fly off into bad play.

That means if somebody insults us, or says something really nasty to us, don’t search for even worse things to say back, that’s getting into bad play, “Who could hurt the other person more?” If we have to vent our anger, and we can’t keep quiet, just try to say something mild, don’t try to say something worse. Like, “That really hurt me,” for example, as opposed to insulting the person back.

The next one, number twelve:

Don’t lie in ambush.

In other words, we can’t hurt somebody back right now, but we wait for a time when they’re weak, and then we’ll get back, we’ll retaliate and do something to hurt them. Keeping a grudge and wait until the opportunity is there to get even, that’s “lying in ambush,” waiting to attack.

The next one, number thirteen:

Don’t put (someone) down about a sensitive point.

That’s sort of like what we say in English, “Don’t hit below the belt.” In other words, pointing out somebody’s faults or weak points in a crowd, this type of thing, hitting them and hurting them in the place where they’re most vulnerable and most sensitive. “To put someone down about their sensitive point” means to, in a sense, control them, but if we need to point out something that’s difficult, when the person is particularly vulnerable, we can use skillful means.

One example is, when I was translating one of the first times for His Holiness, it was actually Bodhicharyavatara, Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior in Bodhgaya. Serkong Rinpoche had been up in Nepal for some months and he came back and was there at the teaching. I was pretty nervous at this whole thing of translating, obviously I was having also difficulties in certain things. And so I visited Serkong Rinpoche one day, and he went to the text of Shantideva and pointed out three different words in the text and asked me if I knew what those words meant. And I didn’t have a very clear idea of what it was, and he explained them very well to me. Those were three points – exact points – that I was having difficulty with in those days. So instead of going directly to it, when I was in a vulnerable emotional situation, very skillfully he did it like this.

That’s actually very important if we are an older person dealing with a younger person, or in any type of situation in which there’s an imbalance of power, experience, age and so on, to take advantage of that as the older one or the more experienced one to manipulate the younger, more inexperienced one.

Another interpretation of this line is, don’t use black magic, or any such methods, when the other person is vulnerable, to either harm them or to get them under our control, and get them under our power. We may not have black magical means, but when someone is very susceptible to becoming dependent or these sort of things, to do a power trip on them and take advantage of that sensitive aspect, either to hurt them, or to do a power trip over them and control them to do what we want.

Then the fourteenth one is:

Don’t shift the load of a dzo to an ox.

A dzo is a cross between a yak and a cow, or a bull, and a very, very strong animal. An ox is not as strong as a dzo. And that means to, we have the English expression “to pass the buck,” to put something onto the other person for them to do, just because we don’t want to do it. [Something] that we’re perfectly capable of doing, and which would be very, very difficult for them to do, that we can handle much better; send other people to do our dirty work for us, “pass the buck” is the English idiom for that. Or to blame others for what we’ve done that was wrong, that’s also putting a load of a dzo onto the ox, blame others for our mistakes, place it on them.

Number fifteen is:

Don’t make a race.

This means, don’t run to get the best seat at a Dharma teaching, or a theater, or whatever. Don’t push to get the best portion of food, worrying that if others take that piece that you like, you’re not going to get it, or it’s going to run out, that type of thing. Even in our thoughts we’re making a race for things. It’s better to accept the worst and come out last. But if you do that, it’s important not to do that pretentiously, not to make a show of that, “Oh, you take the good portion, I’ll take the worst. That’s OK, I don’t mind,” this type of thing. Or if we’re sharing something with others like we’re sharing a toilet or something like that, taking it to get it for ourselves first – I mean, unless it’s an emergency, obviously – then taking our time inside, and taking much longer than we need.

The sixteenth one is:

Don’t reverse the amulet.

You hold up an amulet, which is a talisman or something like that, in order to ward off harmful spirits, to protect you against harmful spirits. Likewise, we’re doing this training of our attitudes to get rid of self-cherishing, but if we turn it around, and make it reversed, and use it instead to build up our self-importance, then that’s turning the amulet backwards, or reversing the amulet. Examples for this would be to accept a temporary loss now, because we know that eventually we’ll win, “it’ll be better for me.” Or doing this training so that we’re not going to be harmed by others, by spirits they say in the commentaries, or practicing bodhichitta so that we’ll be liked by others, so that we’ll have many friends. This is using the training backwards.

Number seventeen is:

Don’t make a god fall to a demon.

This is, in general, mixing the practice with self-cherishing. In other words, using the Dharma practice, and as a result of it what happens is we develop pride, and arrogance, and self-righteousness, this holier-than-thou type of attitude. Or meditate in a cave so that everybody is going to think we’re so wonderful and such a high practitioner and make offerings to us, show respect to us. Or study Dharma and write a book in order to make money. Or do a three-year retreat to get the name “lama” and to get disciples and this type of thing. It’s always best to regard ourself as the lowest, to be humble, as it says in the Eight-Verse Attitude-Training. One practitioner said: “When I read the Dharma texts, I see all the faults described as my own and all the good qualities as others’.”

The eighteenth one, the last one in this list is:

Don’t seek suffering (for others) as an adjunct for (my) happiness.

“Adjunct” means help. If we’re wishing for our parents to die so that we’ll inherit their money, this type of thing, or competing with somebody hoping that they’ll trip and fall, or something like that so that we’ll be on top. “I’ll get ahead by putting you down, and throwing something in your way to stop you.”

OK? This is the sixth point, the eighteen close bonding practices, and you can see that these are like bodhisattva vows, although they’re not taken as vows, but how helpful they can be in terms of dealing with others and avoiding problems.