The Seven Points of Mind Training of Atisha
Translated from the French titled, 'Lodjong' from Dhagpo Kagyu Ling
"Easy to explain, but very difficult to realize"
The Seven Points of Mind Training is at the heart of the Sutra and Tantra teachings in the Mahayana tradition; they are the skilful means of practice. The Indian sage, Atisha, composed the text later introduced in Tibet. There it spread widely and became the essential teaching practised by all the lamas. Whatever our practice is, this mind training consists of advice which will definitely deepen it. Whether we meditate in the tradition of Mahamudra, Dzogchen, or the yidam practice of Dorje Phagmo, or Khorlo Demchok – in fact all tantric practices at whatever tantric level (be it charya, kriya, yoga, or anuttarayoga), our practice does not have real significance without the mind training. Such training is essential for any tantric practice, since it ensures the removal of obstacles along the path.
What are the seven points?
I. THE PRELIMINARIES
The meaning of the preliminaries is to reflect on the Four Thoughts that turn the mind towards Enlightenment. No further elaboration is given here, as most of you are already very familiar with it.
There are two aspects to Bodhicitta. They are the ultimate and relative bodhicitta representing the union of wisdom and skilful means. To develop ultimate Bodhicitta, we have to meditate. Meditation comprises of three phases: the introduction, the body of the practice, and post-meditation.
Ultimate Bodhicitta - the introduction
In the introduction, first reflect that you are really in the presence of your Lama or the Deity of meditation. If you are in a temple, you will likely be facing Buddha statues on a shrine. Think that all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are appearing in front of you and offer them the Seven-Branch Prayer. Then straighten your body and sit in the seven-point posture. Let your mind rest on your breathing for twenty-one complete breaths so as to calm and stabilize the mind.
Ultimate Bodhicitta - the body of the practice
Think that all the events, manifestations, and movements of mind are illusory as in the nature of a dream, unreal and false. For example, when we are sleeping, our dream seems real to us when it is absolutely unreal: if it were real, then the dream would really be happening. In the same way, our world and the beings in it in all their diversities are but the illusive manifestations of mind. While the illusion is taking place, it is "real", but its essence is unreal like a dream. Therefore regard all phenomena as insignificant, similar to a dream, and rest your mind in this perspective in the moment.
Ask yourself, "is mind itself real, or not?" This is your own experiment to lead you to recognize mind. You have to meditate on the mind and ask yourself: What color is it? What is its form? Where does it come from? What is its purpose? Is it inside or outside of the body? What happens when it experiences heat or the cold? Reflect on the mind in this way. You may come to the conclusion that the mind defies any such determination and that is the essence of mind. You must meditate on this point.
When a thought arises, look at it directly and ask yourself, "What is its true nature?" Remain in the understanding that "it is nothing." It is said that all the thoughts are stored in the alaya. The alaya is the mind unconscious, the thinker of the mental confusions. It is the one who runs after the sounds, the forms, the odors, the tastes and the feelings. The mind is seen when one remains in a state free of running after something. For example, when one has work has to do, the mind is thus engaged and thinks, for example, "What will I cook today? or, "I will clean…",etc. When the mind is no longer carrying on with such thoughts, it is the alaya. The body of the practice is to remain in this kind of meditation for as long time as possible. In fact, it is a meditation similar to the way of Mahamudra.
Ultimate Bodhicitta - post-meditation
During your everyday life, exert yourself to recognize everything as illusory-like and unreal.
The training of relative Bodhicitta is "Tonglen" (to send and to take). This is a very important practice because it can purify our obscurations and deepen our capacity for meditative absorption. We have to get used to the exchange of self for others. By this method, we can cut right through to the roots of the ego. We begin first by reflecting on the defects of ego clinging. It is on account of our fixation to a self that we experience the five disturbing emotions. From the moment when there is "I", we have like and dislike. We are attracted to what we like and we feel aversion towards what we dislike. This dualistic interplay is at the core of all our problems, and it will continue to create problems for us until we put an end to ego clinging.
The next step is to exert ourselves in being compassionate towards others. We begin by using the self as the subject of reflection. What do we feel when we are hot, cold, hungry, thirsty, or when we are sick? It is this same suffering that every living being feels. Our compassion must be directed towards all animals as well and not exclusively towards humans. Animals suffer indeed much more than humans do, mainly because of their own inadequacies and limitations. However, some sufferings are inflicted on them by humans. Fish are perfectly happy in water, without disturbing men. Nevertheless, for the sake of sport, men catch them with hooks and then leave them to die on the sand. How would we feel if the same thing were done to us? If someone is starving and eats fish, there is at least some reason for his action – though still negative but excusable. Recently, I was at the seaside. People there were all well off. They were far from dying of hunger. For them fishing is a source of recreation. They threw them on the ground to die. Some even trampled the fish to death. Also, think of the lobsters, the way in which they are plunged alive into boiling water in the restaurants. How would we feel if we were the lobsters? It is by such reflections that we develop compassion. The sadness and sorrow in all of us when we remember the vast number of people killed in the two World Wars is compassion. But compassion must be extended to the animals as well. Day and night, animals are being killed. When the compassion is directed only towards humans then it is not true compassion, but a form of attachment.
What should be our mental attitude during the practice of sending and taking? We must ask ourselves what would happen if we personally experienced all the suffering of all the living beings. This reflection must take place in a relaxed state of mind without any erroneous views as in: "Oh, perhaps then, I will know this suffering indeed!" And then let the mind take on the anxiety. It is not necessary to bring up the suffering, it is enough to think of it. Then gradually, our attitude will improve. For the moment, our minds are confused and dull, making us an easy prey to pride. This pride must be overcome and the method for that is to think of the suffering of others.
Emotional suffering is also a form of suffering experienced by living beings. Nowadays, many people suffer from mental disorders caused by the disturbing emotions: pride, anger, jealousy, desire and ignorance. Moreover, it is the emotions that condition and shape the world that we experience. How can that be? The world that we live in is nothing more than the illusory appearances of our confused mind. The appearances are produced by our karma. How is karma created? The movement of the emotions in the mind creates it.
When bodhicitta is developed, the illusory manifestations become positive. For example, when one is in a hell realm, one can awake from this state and be reborn among the human beings. All humans know the emotions of pride, of desire, of anger, etc; it is through them that unlimited negative karma is accumulated. Therefore in the future, when the effects of the negative deeds mature, living beings will inevitably experience the negative conditions and results in the various forms This is why we need to develop compassion towards all beings.
Hell is not a place though there are many kinds of hell. The Tibetan word for hell simply means "suffering"; so hell is "a world of suffering". The other manifested worlds are places where the experience of happiness and suffering are both present. Our own world is one such example. There are also worlds that know only of happiness: they are produced by beings having only positive karma. Do not believe that these pure worlds, such as Dewachen (the pure land of Amitabha Buddha), are imaginary. Compared to our "real" world, it is just as real.
Thus to practise sending and taking, think of all the suffering of all forms of living beings. To help you become familiar with this practice of compassion, you can use another method, and it is concentration on the breathing. This latter method has two advantages: it will improve the calming of the mind and it will increase your compassion. For this practice, sit in the same posture as before and place your attention on your breathing. When you exhale, think that you are sending your happiness to all the living beings and it penetrates them. When you inhale, take into yourself all their suffering. Do that for as long as you can. When you feel a mental suffering, think about the suffering of another person, and think that his suffering penetrates you. Now apply the ultimate Bodhicitta practice that you have learnt and look directly at the concept that you have taken in another’s suffering. Realize that this thought has no real existence. You have thus entered into the meditation of ultimate Bodhicitta. The development of ultimate and relative Bodhicitta alternately will usher in benefits that are limitless. This is the body of the practice. Then, in your daily activities, reflect like this: "May all living beings be released from all the disturbing emotions in all their forms; and may the resultant sufferings from the activities caused by these emotions mature on me rather than on them."