The Five Strengths


Khenpo Gyaltsen begins by welcoming his vajra brothers and sisters and reminding us to set our motivation on bodhicitta. In this talk, he explained the importance of using the five strengths to ensure our Dharma practice is effective.

The 5 strengths according to the Kadampa tradition are the key points of practice. All 5 must be complete to have authentic practice.

Geshe Chekawa said we need to cherish these five powers :

  1. Propulsion
  2. Familiarization
  3. The White or Virtuous Seed
  4. Refutation or Discrediting
  5. Aspiration

1. The strength of propulsion. One first needs to know what you are aiming for. This is true in both mundane life and Dharma. We need to have a clear goal. Mind & motivation need to be united in going after a goal. It’s a strong declaration that prevents procrastination.

In Dharma, we give rise to the motivation to establish all sentient beings in total and complete enlightenment. In essence, it boils down to motivation. Motivation helps us accomplish our aim.

Based on our intentions as Buddhists, we attain different goals. Some are shravakas who wish to escape from the lower realms. So they attain the goal of arhatship, or liberation.

An individual of middling capacity wishes that oneself is free of samsara. This results in the attainment of a Pratyekabuddha. Then the individual of the greatest capacity wishes that all sentient beings are brought to the level of complete awakening. These three motivations bring 3 levels of results.

Every Dharma practitioner has a different level of courage. And that brings different results. We can also talk about motivation in terms of what we need to abandon. We each have different strengths of negative emotions. Thus, on an individual basis, we set a goal to abandon those that are the biggest problems for us.

2. The strength of familiarization or meditation means we have to go beyond wishing. We must familiarize ourselves with the antidote to our negative emotions. And as bodhisattvas, we need to work to complete the two accumulations of merit and wisdom.

Many of us call ourselves practicing Buddhists. We say this because we do certain Dharmic activities. But if we don’t train using the five
powers, then we’re not really practicing the unity of method and wisdom.

Khenpo explains that these five powers apply also to the path of Vajrayana. If we think we take an empowerment and immediately we will receive special powers we are mistaken. Only receiving an empowerment and chanting a practice is also not enough. There is no guarantee that recitation or many years of retreat will bring results. You need to familiarize yourself and do the practice genuinely. We can’t rely on others to do practice for us. We need to transform ourselves.

We have strong karmic habits. In this lifetime we may have the merit to develop the understanding that self cherishing and negative emotions cause suffering. But knowing is not enough. We need authentic familiarization which means applying the correct antidote. If we meditate on emptiness we will definitely let go of clinging.

3. The strength of the white seed refers to the accumulation of merit. We need to strive for this. Merit is what creates the positive conditions for realizing emptiness. The two accumulations are the tools that are needed to give rise to primordial wakefulness.

Some people avoid the ritual practices that can help us to accumulate merit. We talk often about luck and we want to attract it. But we don’t always think about attracting merit. Khenpo also reminds us that we need to recognize blessings. We may not be good at seeing positive conditions and rejoicing in them. A cool breeze when it is hot is a blessing from the buddhas. If we rejoice in that, we accumulate merit quite easily.

4 . The strength of renouncing or disparaging something comes down to recognizing obstacles. Not all obstacles look scary, bad, or negative. Some obstacles may look very attractive and we don’t realize them.

Normally we think of obstacles as the enemy. We think of outer obstacles or inner obstacles of illness. But the real obstacle is self-clinging. If we overcome that obstacle then outer and inner obstacles can’t arise. We can’t exorcise self-clinging through a ritual! Khenpo gives the example from Milarepa’s conversation with a demon. The demon told him that if he abandoned self-clinging, he, the demon, would also disappear. The maras cannot harm us.

5. The strength of aspiration is a necessary ingredient. When we go on pilgrimage or meet blessed people, we need to make authentic aspiration prayers. We don’t ask for things for ourselves. We reflect on our good fortune and make the aspiration to become a genuine practitioner. And may all sentient beings also attain complete and perfect enlightenment.

For additional teachings from Khenpo Gyaltsen on Mind Training and the importance of the five strengths, please see below.

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