釋迦牟尼佛本生傳 – 大乘修心七義
Gosok Rinpoche Monlam Chenmo Teaching 2021/02/23-26
English Translation by Rinchen Dakpa
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Teaching of His Eminence Jangtse Choje Kyabje Gosok Rinpoche
on the first day of celebration of Monlam
2021-02-23 in Phuntsok Choling monastery, Nepal
The Indian Master Aryadeva said in the Four Hundred Stanzas:
While this ocean of sufferings
Does not know any limit,
You childish being how is it that you do not fear
To be drown in it?
Since beginningless time until now, we have been taking rebirth inside samsara, the cycle of existence which is a vast ocean of sufferings. In this ocean without limit, we are afflicted by all kinds of pains, those of unfortunate rebirths and those of fortunate rebirths and we are not able to escape. Not to be frightened by all the sufferings that we will have to face again and again in the future and not trying to escape from then is really something foolish.
Since beginningless time, all along our countless previous rebirths, we have wandered in samsara going through the unfathomable sufferings of unfortunate paths of existence. Yet, today, thanks to the benediction of Masters and Buddhas and thanks to the merits we have accumulated in the past, we have obtained a human rebirth possessing both leisure and fortune. Such a support is difficult to obtain but it has a tremendous potential and notably enables us to realize the state of Omniscience, that is the state of Buddhahood.
We are now at a crossroad where we have the opportunity to choose the path that will enables us to get out of this ocean, to liberate ourselves and realize the Enlightened state. This is a unique chance and we should take advantage of it. But because of the power of impregnation of the obscuration of mental agitations such as the three poisons, we keep on with bad behaviors. Mental agitations pervade us so deeply that they keep on driving us to a path that is not the good one: the path where we only pursue happiness in this very life and where we are only concerned by eliminating the suffering of the present life. Since beginningless time, we are deceiving ourselves. We are exclusively focused on the small objectives of the present life, and we do not see that there is no real happiness inside samsara. What we consider as pleasure is nothing more than one of the three kinds of sufferings: the suffering of change.
Among these three, the suffering of suffering is much more evident. All sentient beings strive to eliminate it, even animals, we can clearly see it. But the suffering of change distracts us and deludes us. Not seeing its real nature, we conceive it as happiness and look for it.
Hence, although we aspire to happiness, we are afflicted by sufferings. Because of our acts, we are submerged by pains: we only act towards present life pleasures which are not authentic happiness but merely sufferings of change and thus, we do not accomplish activities that would become causes of true happiness. In fact, although we are currently enjoying a human rebirth with both leisure and fortune, we do not strive to obtain liberation and to realize the Omniscience of a Buddha. We are misleading ourselves and do not endeavor to liberate ourselves from the ocean of sufferings of samsara.
Today while we possess a human rebirth with leisure and fortune, it is important to stop such a behavior and to take advantage of this opportunity. To take advantage means to put into practice the Teaching of the Buddha whose basis is the Four Noble Truths. This means making efforts to develop what is positive and reject or eliminate what is negative. Hence, we will involve ourselves in the practice by relying on the Law of causality which links the enjoyment of happiness with virtuous acts and the burden of sufferings with non-virtuous acts. It is on this basis that the Buddha exposed in a very precise way the path that leads to liberation and to the realization of Buddhahood, and that is what we should practice.
During the celebrations of the Monlam chenmo (or Great Prayer) it is a tradition to read the Guirland of Previous lives (Jataka mala) composed by Aryasura. The reason is that these stories relate the extraordinary deeds that were accomplished by Buddha Sakyamuni. They show to people the practice of the Buddha and particularly how he devoted himself to the activities of Bodhisattvas and how this enabled him to obtain authentic happiness and to realize Buddhahood. Therefore, I will know read the beginning of this book.
(Kyabje Gosok Rinpoche then gives the reading transmission of this work).
Through his previous practice, the one that was to become Buddha totally purified his mind and saw the countless defects of desire. He rejected the life of a lay person like one rejects a disease and he went to an isolated place to practice.
In this world we give considerable importance to reputation and prestige. But because they have entered religious life and because they are infused with Dharma, Bodhisattvas do not value fame in anyway and are not delighted by a possible renown. They see samsara as a wide abyss fill up with flames and they just have one idea: to escape from it.
When we read the stories of the previous lives of the Buddha, what do they teach us? They describe the activities of the Bodhisattvas, and more specifically, they show the importance of benevolence, compassion and enlightened mind (bodhicitta). This is the main goal of these stories.
All the Teachings of the Buddha, that is the 84 000 points or the Three Baskets (Tripitaka), are found in the corpus of the Perfection of Wisdom and, among the treatises, in the Abhisamaya-alamkara. As for the method to put into practice each of these points, it is fully outlined in the Great Book on the Degrees of the Path to Enlightenment (Lamrim chenmo). This text perfectly exposes the way to put into practice the meaning of the Three Baskets. And if one wonders what is the essence of the Great Lamrim, it is the Enlightened Mind. The development of the Enlightened Mind is thus fundamental.
Today, at the request of several disciples, I will give a teaching on Mind Training (lodjong in Tibetan), and more specifically on the Seven points of Mind Training. Generally speaking, the goal of Dharma (chos in Tibetan) is to train the mind, to transform it. Our mind is entirely under the influence of mental agitations and the strength of this habit is great. Therefore, the Buddha urges us to transform our mind and to train it in the Dharma. We can say that all the Teachings of the Buddha are « Mind Trainings » in themselves. But the Training of the Mind that we are discussing here refers more precisely to the instructions whose goal is the development of Enlightened Mind. Among the two methods that make this development possible, we will speak of the one called « equality and exchange between myself and others « .
This teaching condenses the essence of the fundamental points of all the Words of the Victorious. It is the noble Path followed by the Buddhas and their Sons, the Bodhisattvas. It was perfectly pondered upon by the two great pioneers Nagarjuna and Asanga as well as by the eminent Bodhisattva Shantideva who more specifically exposed the activities of the Bodhisattvas in two works: Siksasamuccaya and Bodhicaryavatara.
The path that perfectly leads without error to the Omniscience of a Buddha is Mind Training of the Great Vehicle which is based on the instructions of the Noble Atisa. These instructions have their origin in the Buddha himself; they were transmitted to Nagarjuna, Asanga, then to Santideva and so forth from one Master to one disciple. Atisa himself received them from his Master Serlingpa.
These instructions on the Mind Training of the Great Vehicle expound the two aspects of the precious Enlightened Mind: the conventional one and the ultimate one.
Relying on the oral transmission of eminent Masters of the past who had practiced these instructions, the text of the Seven points of the Mind Training explains how to put them into practice. It has 7 parts:
It is difficult to deal directly with this teaching on the Mind Training. Without preliminaries, it is not possible to put it into practice. These preliminaries prepare the practitioner or make him « ripen » and be prepared to receive the instructions. There are 4 preliminaries: meditation on the preciousness of this rebirth possessing leisure and fortune, meditation on impermanence, meditation on the Law of causality and meditation on the sufferings of samsara, especially those of the unfortunate rebirths.
2. Training in Enlightened Mind
3. Transforming adverse conditions into the Path
4. Practices included in one life
5. Criteria testifying to the achievement of the Mind Training
6. Pledges implied by Mind Training
7. Precepts of Mind Training
This teaching was transmitted in Tibet by the Indian Master Atisa who had himself received it from his Master Sèrlingpa. The teachings of the Noble Atisa, especially his work known as the Lamp on the Path, are the basis of Kadampa’s instructions and the basis of the Lamrim.
Master Atisa came to Tibet at the invitation of the kings Yeshe Eu and Jangchup Eu who were reigning on the kingdom of Western Tibet. At this time, the Buddhist teaching which had spread in Tibet during the First diffusion in the 7th century had degenerated and this situation had created difficulties. That is the reason why these two kings from the region of Ngari strived to invite the eminent Atisa to Tibet. This brought great difficulties to them but finally, Atisa agreed to come. On the road to Tibet, he passed through Nepal and stayed over one year in a place nor far from the sacred place of Pakpa Shinkö. In fact, in ancient times, all the roads from India to Tibet passed through this place. I have tried to go there myself but till now I did not find a person who could guide me there. If you have the opportunity to go there on pilgrimage, that would be great. The Noble Atisa gave teachings in this place for almost one year.
From there, the Noble Atisa went to Thoding monastery in Ngari (Western Tibet). He stayed there for 3 years. Before coming to Tibet, he had promised to the head of his monastery in India to come back after 3 years. But war broke out on the road and prevented him from going back to India. Thus, he stayed in Tibet and mainly dwelled in the region of Nyethang. He left this world at this place at the age of 73.
He had several great disciples (Dromtonpa, Ngok Lotsawa, Rinchen Sangpo, Naktso Lotsawa and Jangchup Eu). Dromtonpa was the chief disciple. The Noble Atisa only transmitted to him the precious teachings on the « equality and exchange between myself and others ». When Dromtonpa asked him why he was giving to him these teachings, the Noble Atisa answered he had not found anyone else worth of receiving them.
Dromtonpa is like the patriarch of the Kadampa Teachings. He has established the foundation of this School. He had himself lots of disciples who contributed to the development of the School. Three major disciples were Potowa, Phu Chungwa and Jen Nawa. Dromtonpa gave the teachings on Mind Training to Potowa. Potowa had disciples from different regions of Tibet. Among them, he gave these teachings to Sharawa who was from Central Tibet.
Sharawa himself had four major disciples. Among them was Geshe Chekawa. Since very young, Chekawa had studied many traditions and had become an outstanding Buddhist scholar but one day, he came across the Eight Stances on Mind Training by Langri Tampa. He was extremely moved by the two following verses:
« May I offer benefits and victory to others. May I secretly take upon me sufferings and defeat ».
He was really moved: « take upon oneself all the sufferings and defeats and offer to others all victories and benefits ». He had never heard before such a profound instruction!
Indeed, it is really the essence of the practice. We are plunged in the ocean of sufferings of samsara since begininningless time, because we are not able to give victory and benefits to others and take upon ourselves defeat and sufferings. We only focus on ourselves, on our own happiness, on our own sufferings. We do not feel concerned about the happiness of others and sometimes, we even rejoice at their difficulties or whish something bad will happen to them. The only practice we have is the cultivation of mental agitations such as the three poisons, jealousy, and so on. Because of this self-cherishing we keep turning inside samsara. It is the very root of the cycle of rebirths.
By « offering to others benefits and victory and taking upon oneself sufferings and defeat », we reduce self-cherishing which is our true enemy. It is because of self-cherishing and because of our erroneous grasping of the self that we wander in the cycle of existences since infinite time. These instructions that target and hurt the root of all our sufferings are thus very important and profound.
That is the reason why Master Chekawa searched for the origin of this teaching. But Langri Tanpa, the author of the Eight Stances, had already left this word. Master Chekawa kept on searching and happened to know that Master Sharawa was the upholder of these instructions. He thus went to meet him. But to receive these instructions was not an ordinary or banal thing. When Chekawa met him, Sharawa was giving a teaching on the Sutras. He never mentioned the practice of « equality and exchange between oneself and others ». At this epoch, this teaching was kept secret and was only transmitted to those disciples that were regarded as appropriate recipients by the Master. It was not easy to obtain such a teaching. It was not like nowadays: when the request is made, instructions are given. There is no more the possibility to see whether the recipient is appropriate or not.
Chekawa stayed with Master Sharawa. One day, while all other monks had left to accomplish rituals in another place, Chekawa went to see the Master who was alone, doing circumambulations around a stupa. Chekawa laid a cushion on a rock and invited the Master to seat.
– « What kind of teaching do you want? » asked Sharawa.
– « I implore you, please listen to me. There is something I really want to tell you », answered Chekawa.
He then recited the two verses: « offering to others benefits and victory and secretly taking upon oneself sufferings and defeat ». Then he asked Master Sharawa if he himself possessed the teachings from which these verses originated. He concluded by saying he aspired to receive the transmission of these teaching. Sharawa answered he definitely held these instructions.
– Why don’t you teach them to your disciples? », asked Chekawa.
– I did not find disciples that were appropriate. So, it was not correct to reveal these instructions.
– I implore you to teach them to me.
– Stay here for a long time and I will give to you the transmission. But knowing this teaching is not enough, you will have to put it into practice. By merely listening, we know and we might think: « Well that’s it, I got all the instructions ». But we have only understood slightly the meaning of words; we have not put into practice these instructions; we have not realized that they enable us to develop realizations that will transform the mind. Stay quietly here with us.
In the same way that Atisa stayed for many years close to Serlingpa in order to put into practice the instructions that this Master has given to him, Chekawa stayed for many years close to Sharawa in order to put into practice the teachings he received.
Not far from the place where Chekawa was living, there were many persons who had leprosy. At this epoch, there was no treatment against this disease as we have now. When a person got infected, she was rejected and all the lepers ended up forming groups which the inhabitants avoided but to whom they gave some foods. In spite of the danger, Chekawa went to the lepers to give teachings. Through the instructions on « equality and exchange between oneself and others », he could cure many persons. Therefore, in this region people spoke about « the Dharma that cures leprosy ».
Chekawa then thought that a teaching that could bring so many benefits should not remain secret and, instead of a transmission from one master to one disciple, he decided to disseminate largely these instructions. From this time on, the transmission became « public ».
The root text of the Training in seven points starts by: « These instructions which are the essence of the nectar ». These instructions came down from the Noble Atisa. Formerly, there existed several versions of the root text because each disciple who had received the teaching had taken notes in his own way. Later, when a request was made to Master Pabongka Rinpoche to give a teaching on Mind Training, he took all the existing notes and organize them.
When the text says « These instructions which are the essence of the nectar », it refers to the nectar of Dharma. The Teaching of the Buddha which exposes all that must be developed and all that must be eliminated is like a medicine which can cure all the painful diseases that are caused by mental agitations.
We often recite the prayer where it is said: « I bow down to the precious Jewel of the Dharma which is the supreme remedy for the disease of sufferings ». The « disease of sufferings » refers to the sufferings caused by mental agitations. « Supreme remedy » means it is the best remedy ever.
Among the Three Jewels, Dharma is the true refuge because it utterly eliminates the origin of sufferings which encompasses two aspects: and mental agitations (klesas). Because mental agitations appear, negative karmas are produced and generate sufferings.
When the root text says « These instructions which are the essence of the nectar », it thus refers to the nectar of Dharma which like a supreme remedy cures all the sickness of mental agitations. The essence of this nectar of Dharma is the Enlightened Mind; thus, it is the instructions who lead to Enlightened Mind and among these instructions, it is the « equality and exchange between oneself and others ».
The root text declares that « These instructions which are the essence of nectar come from Master Sèrlingpa ».
Several images are used to characterize these instructions: diamond, medicinal plant and rays of sun. The metaphor of diamond is also used in Madhyamaka texts. Even when a diamond is broken, all the small pieces are still diamond and are still precious. In the same way, to put into practice a single part of this teaching on the Mind Training of the Great Vehicle or to put into practice a single element of these instructions on « equality and exchange between oneself and others » bring great benefits because they reduce self-cherishing and the erroneous grasping of a self.
The teaching on « equality and exchange between oneself and others » is also compared to a medicinal plant. In medicinal preparations, like for example in the making the small pills of Tibetan traditional medicine, we only use a tiny part of the plant, but still it possesses the curing potentiality of the plant. In the same way, to put into practice even a tiny part of this teaching on the Mind Training helps us to harm self-cherishing and thus to reduce it.
The teaching on « equality and exchange between oneself and others » is also compared to the rays of sun. When sunlight penetrates a house that was shrouded in darkness, even if it is through a small window, it will light the house and will reduce obscurity. In the same way, to put into practice even a small part of this teaching on the Mind Training will the reduce the darkness caused by self-cherishing.
This is the reason why this practice is so important. As said before, this practice comprises 4 preliminaries (reflection on the preciousness of our human rebirth, on impermanence, on the Law of causality and on the sufferings of samsara). But these 4 preliminaries should be preceded by a reflection on the correct way to rely on the Guru which is the basis. Without this foundation, how could we practice the 4 preliminaries! It would be impossible. Furthermore, it is very important to examine whether the Master is really a true Master. We have to be sure he possesses all the characteristics that authenticate him as a genuine Master. If we do not proceed to this investigation, there is a danger to rely on a bad master from the beginning and that will cause our situation to worsen more and more. When we are sure of the qualities of the Master, it is crucial to rely on him properly. I will not go further on this point here because this is a subject that has been often taught. I will simply mention the fact that serving properly the Guru encompasses the following points: reflection on the merits that derive from such a practice, reflection on the negative outcomes of not relying properly, and reflection on the ways to serve the Master with body and with mind.
To generate realizations, we need to « moisten » the seeds. If we put a seed in a place without any humidity, it will not produce any sprout regardless of the length of time it stays in this place. In the same way, our mind needs to be « moistened » by the blessings that result from serving properly the Master. We definitely need the blessings of the Master. To obtain them, we will invite the accumulation field (or « merit field ») which is composed of the countless Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the ten directions. Then we will make the seven-limb worship together with mandala offering. The main Deity of the accumulation field is the Buddha who embodies all the refuges, that is the Three Precious Jewels. He is inseparable in nature from our root Master. If we are thus absolutely convinced that the Master nature is Buddha’s nature, the blessings will be especially great and rapid. As a matter of fact, if we now can have access to the Teachings of the Buddha and to the instructions of eminent Masters, it is through the Master. He is the one who transmits them directly to us. Through this direct transmission we can receive blessings. We should be convinced that the nature of the Master is inseparable from the nature of the Buddha but also that his nature is indivisible from the nature of the Lineage Masters whose instructions he is conferring to us. In doing so, we will gain great blessings. We should accomplish these visualizations when making the seven-limbs prayers together with mandala offering. Then, with great devotion, we will make requests. There are different kinds of requests, but you will include all realizations if you say « May I quickly generate the realizations of both conventional and ultimate Enlightened mind ».