Teachings on The Eight Verses of Mind Training
An International Gathering
Saturday 17 November saw people gather from as far away as Mexico to receive a day of profound dharma teachings from Lama Jampa in the beautiful surrounds of the London Wetland Centre in Barnes on the River Thames.
History of the Teaching
As traditional Lama Jampa began with a short history of the teachings. This style of teaching was first brought to Tibet from India by the great Atisha (10-11th centuries CE). Two main strands of mind training are represented by this text, and by the ‘Seven Points’, the commentaries on the latter being usually more extensive in their presentation of detailed instructions on the view and the meditation on the view.
Everyday Practice for Everyone
The Eight Points of Mind Training present, in concise form, the general principle that the way to enlightenment is to cease self-cherishing and to take up cherishing others. The teachings focus on how we can apply this mind training principle in our daily lives, and the only pre-requisite for practising them is the presence of the neurotic habit of self-clinging!
Giving Victory to Others
Lama Jampa explained the way that this teaching gives us the opportunity to stretch our ability to be patient with difficulties. He reminded us that there is no greater negative force than anger, that it is the most destructive thing that can affect our mind, and that therefore patience is the greatest antidote. In order to grow spiritually, and develop the potential to open our hearts to people with all kinds of dispositions, we need to give up this habit of self-clinging, of defending ourselves and trying to gain some kind of victory over others.
By taking blame and defeat upon ourselves we let go of any grudge or resentment, and in doing this we purify masses of negative karma associated with our present habit of self-cherishing. With this practice we can come to see our enemies as our benefactors, as they give us this chance to transform, to relinquish our negativities and build the strength of our virtue. Those who attack us give us the opportunity to go wider – to expand our limits of tolerance. When we’re comfortable we feel like we have limits, but by practising these teachings, when challenges arise, we will expand and develop powerful patience.
The Causes of Suffering
The next verse deals with our response to disappointment. Our habitual response is to feel hard done by and annoyed. Lama Jampa explained how the teachings invite us to reflect on events in a very different way. First, we should consider that since (ultimately) we create our experiences through our previous actions, if someone treats us badly we must have done the same to them in the past, so there’s nothing unfair about what is arising. Furthermore, the fault for the suffering that they will experience as a result of what they do to us now, in a sense, lies with us. In which case we should eliminate our negative reactions and convert them into compassion – ‘drive all blame into one’. What happens is all a result of our self-clinging.
Training in Warm-heartedness
But by training in warm-heartedness towards all we will feel happy, will not bear grudges, and we will be free to develop kindness. We could also consider that if we had no negative karma then this apparently challenging situation would not have arisen: one would be a Buddha. And on top of all this we can reflect on the fact that the harm-doer may end up in a lower realm as a result of their actions - actions which our previous negativity has caused! Hence, the one who appears to be our enemy becomes our principal object of concern, and instead we wish them to share in our path to enlightenment. We become filled with gratitude for the opportunity they give us to practise the dharma, to accumulate merit and to purify negative karma. By letting go of our resentment the freedom we can gain is enormous. (deletion)
How to Have a Happy Mind at All Times
The lojong shows how we can have a happy mind at all times if we learn from whatever arises. When we respond to difficult situations by letting go, then our mind is trained. The dharma not about changing the external world. It is about transforming our mind: if our mind is changed then there is no suffering.
Taking Away Suffering, Sending Happiness
The next verse describes the practice of sending and taking (‘tonglen’ in Tibetan), the condensation of everything taught in the previous verses. Lama Jampa explained this to mean that in an everyday way we should give support to others and aspire to take on their sufferings. This exchange is the basis both for happiness and for enlightenment itself. Even if we are unable to give physically we can do this practice through the mind.
The Radical Way is the Only Way
From a worldly point of view this might seem crazy, but from the point of view of the spiritual path, for the achievement of enlightenment this radical way is in fact only way. True happiness only comes about when we forget ourselves through concern for others. To step outside of thinking about oneself is such a freedom, an unburdening, a true joy. Should we approach this in a grim, heavy way it won’t work, but will only reinforce our self-clinging. We need to focus on the simple joy that comes from giving up self-clinging.
Lama Jampa then went onto the final verse, concerning how to keep the practices pure, free from self-interest and worldly concerns. This verse uses the perspective of ultimate bodhichitta to preserve the relative bodhichitta that we have already been practising.
Avoiding the Worldly Dharmas
Verses 1 to 7 reference the conventional truth perspective but if we view virtue and non-virtue, suffering and happiness, self and other as possessing intrinsic reality then this will subvert the teachings. So we must combine these practices with the right view, the view that there is no truly existent self or other, virtue or non-virtue. All are mutually dependent, relying upon the network of causes and conditions. There are no truly existent things so I cannot develop pride about the practice. This is also the remedy to the possible subversion of the practice by the ‘eight worldly dharmas’. If they are tainted by worldly concerns our practices become poisonous, and the holy teachings turn into maras. Instead of remedying the demons they become demons. So one should not not project solidity onto any of this.
Who is really giving? The recipient of our generosity is giving too - all is interdependent, like an illusion, one thing being contingent upon another. So we mustn’t take ourselves too seriously. We must always let go; be light and flexible and not use the practice as an adornment. Through the perspective of ultimate bodhichitta we are more open to whatever arises and it provides the space for conventional bodhichitta practices to occur naturally, evenly and lightly.
Prayers of Aspiration
Lama Jampa reminded us that at the end of the formal practice we can pray to our teachers and to the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the three times to bless us so that the meaning of these verses will arise in our minds. We can also make such a prayer as a monlam (prayer of aspiration) after whatever other practices we do in order to create the imprints for bodhichitta.
Initiation of Manjushri, Embodiment of Wisdom
Lama Jampa introduced the initiation by explaining how the category of tantras relates to the other categories of dharma teaching, and in addition gave a brief overview of the ‘five superiorities of the mahayana’. Before bestowing the initiation Lama Jampa gave the history of the transmission together with details of the category, source and lineage of the initiation in order that students could gain a clear understanding of what they were to receive.
A Date for your Diary in 2019
Lama Jampa closed the day by confirming that he would be giving further teachings in London on Saturday 9 March 2019. Please see lamajampa.org or dechen.london for details nearer the time.