Khenpo Gyaltsen begins by asking all listeners to give rise to the mind of awakening, wishing to bring all sentient beings as vast as space to the state of complete and perfect Buddhahood.
In this teaching, he introduces more mind training or lojong teachings from the Kadamapa master Geshe Langri Thangpa. These are considered to be extremely profound and applicable teachings from within the Kadampa teaching. Khenpo first explains the lineage of masters who propagated these teachings. The lineage begins with the Serlingpa (also known as Dharmakīrtiśrī in Sumatra and the great master Atisha. The author of the Eight Verses of Mind Training was the teacher of Geshe Chekawa Yeshe Dorje, the author of the Seven Verses of Mind Training.
The students in Penang also requested that Khenpo give some advice on training in the contemplation of impermanence. He explains that the contemplation of death and impermanence is not meant to scare us or make us depressed. Instead, the point is to give us a sense of urgency to practice the Dharma. It is said in the Tibetan tradition that often death comes before our planned future Dharma practice. We tend to think that “tomorrow” or in the future, we will have time to practice. But the reality is that death may come first. The time of death is uncertain. If we understand that, we will not postpone our practice.
These Eight Verses of Mind Training address the topic of bodhicitta. Khenpo explains that the first seven verses discuss relative bodhicitta while the final verse describes ultimate bodhicitta.
The first verse reminds us to think of all sentient beings as more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel. The modern Tibetan version includes a word that makes this an aspirational wish although the English translation does not reflect that. However, the author, Geshe Langri Thangpa instead closed this verse with the emphasis that this is how one should train. This distinction, Khenpo points out is important. The author is telling us how we need to practice. We must hold sentient beings as the most precious. This is how we give rise to the mind that cherishes others and relinquishes our self-cherishing. We cherish kind sentient beings by helping, serving, and fulfilling the wishes of others. Without this altruistic mind, there is not even liberation. There certainly is no perfect and complete enlightenment.
When we speak of benefiting others, we can consider this from the perspective of the Hinayana. One takes vows of individual liberation with the motivation to at least not harm others. When we do this, we are benefiting beings. On top of that, if one practices the Mahayana, one trains in directly helping sentient beings in whatever ways are necessary. The wish-fulfilling jewel here is a worldly example of something that accomplishes all our wishes. From a Dharma perspective, sentient beings are more valuable because, through them, we accomplish the spiritual goal.
When we train to cherish others more than ourselves, it eliminates our self-clinging at the same time that it causes us to give rise to bodhicitta.
When the mind of awakening is generated, it is what allows us to abandon our self-clinging. From beginningless time, we have had the habit of belief in self-existence. While there is no true self, personality, or identity, we continue to cling. It is compared to demonic possession because this clinging is what causes our suffering. Based upon clinging, our afflictive emotions and negative thoughts arise and continue. We don’t exist, but we believe that we do. The instruction is to analyze our five aggregates until we come to the conviction that these are not the self. And the self is also not outside the five aggregates. Through analysis, we will come to the conviction that there is no truly existing self to be found. Is the self that I cling to the same as the five aggregates? Or is different? Is it within the aggregates? Or is it in all the aggregates together? We often identify ourselves with either the physical body or the mind. When we analyze either of those, we can’t find a self that is either of these. Yet, we can’t find a non-existent self either. The self we identify with is a mere label or imputation that we attach to the five aggregates. If this is so, what is it that accumulates karma? What continues to the next life? Khenpo explains that there is no inherently real self. Yet, there is a vehicle that continues.
Khenpo gives the traditional example of the analysis of a chariot. We deconstruct the chariot, checking each of the parts to see which is the chariot. It is not the wheel or the axle, yet we call the collection of parts a chariot. If we can have a direct realization of this that is wonderful. An inferential realization is also good. But even if we just have an intellectual conviction based upon contemplation, we gain great benefits. We will reduce our self-clinging.
In the context of this text, we need to investigate the existence of a self for the verses of instruction to make sense. We need to do this analysis ourselves and not just accept Khenpo or some other teacher’s word for it. But once we develop confidence through investigation, we are stable in our conviction.
Khenpo then poses a question—will a non-existent self-experience the results of bad karma? Who will experience the result? The Buddha says that we cannot escape the results of committing negative karma. Khenpo asks us to reflect carefully on that question!
The third verse of the text advises us to watch our minds carefully. We train in the mind that cherishes others. Of course, as beginners, our emotions may overwhelm us from time to time. We need to watch our minds and remind ourselves that our afflictions are the cause of suffering. We train our minds by being vigilant, and applying the antidote when negative states arise in our minds. Our mistaken mind is the mind of self-clinging. And this is the mind that gives rise to negative emotions.
Khenpo then gives some examples of how we can come to acknowledge that things are not truly and solidly existent. He emphasizes the fact that all of us react differently to an outer object such as a red flower. If the red flower was solidly self-existent, then we would all see it the same way. In the same way, he uses the example of mistaking a rope for a snake. If we make that mistake, we become fearful and then we suffer. There is no real snake there at all—but because we cling to the rope as a snake, we may become terrified. This is an example of how we suffer do mistaken mind.
Khenpo returns to verse number two. Here, Geshe Langri Thangpa reminds us to think of ourselves as lower than all our companions. This is an effective remedy against the problematic affliction of pride. Our self-cherishing mind normally makes us think we are better than all others. With a mind full of pride and arrogance, we cannot cherish others authentically. We train to “take the lower seat” by valuing others. It is often said that on the ball of pride, no qualities can remain. If we are proud, we cannot receive the teachings from our master or other teachers. We can’t relate properly to our parents or our friends either. Pride is a big obstacle to developing our understanding. Khenpo reminds us here to be very careful in remembering respect for monks as this is a breaking of our refuge vows.
In the fourth verse, we hear that whenever we encounter difficult people we should cherish them as precious. We can either take this verse as an aspiration—may I have this mindset, or we can take it as practice advice. We will have situations where those we help end up harming us or not appreciating us. We usually find this difficult, don’t we? But meeting with angry or ill-natured people is a perfect opportunity to practice patience. We can see that these people are like this due to heavy negative karma. And because we understand that, we can feel empathy and compassion for those beings. We see the situation as very beneficial instead of unpleasant.
Khenpo explains that Sakya Pandita said that those who have pride will never bow down to others. They are like straight trees with no fruit. But a humble person is like a healthy fruiting tree. They bend over and hang down with humility because of their qualities. We can see a humble person as possessing beautiful qualities.