By Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
Extracts from ‘Eight Steps to Happiness: The Buddhist Way of Loving Kindness (New Age Books), revealing profound yet practical methods to enable a powerful opening of the heart, the source of all happiness
Composed by the great Tibetan Bodhisattva Langri Tangpa as ‘Eight Verses of Training the Mind’, this short text reveals profound yet totally practical methods to enable a powerful opening of the heart, the source of all true happiness. For centuries these liberating methods have brought lasting peace, inspiration, and serenity to countless people in the East. Now, at the dawning of the new millennium, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has skillfully introduced these ancient pearls of wisdom into our modern lives.
In Eight Steps to Happiness: The Buddhist Way of Loving Kindness, Gyatso presents an inspiring explanation of one of Buddhism’s best-loved teachings, practical instructions on how you can transform life’s difficulties into valuable spiritual insights; essential advice on how to awaken your potential for limitless love, compassion and wisdom. Gyatso is an accomplished meditation master and world renowned teacher of Buddhism. He is the author of a series of highly acclaimed books that transmit the ancient wisdom of Buddhism to our modern world.
According to Langri Tangpa, every human being has the potential to become a Buddha, someone who has completely purified his mind of all faults and limitations and has brought all good qualities to perfection. Our mind is like a cloudy sky, in essence clear and pure but overcast by the clouds of delusions.
Just as the thickest clouds eventually disperse, so too even the heaviest delusions can be removed from our mind. Delusions such as hatred, greed and ignorance are not an intrinsic part of the mind. If we apply the appropriate methods they can be completely eliminated, and we shall experience the supreme happiness of full enlightenment.
The Root Text: Eight Verses of Training the Mind
With the intention to attain
The ultimate, supreme goal That surpasses even the wish- granting jewel, May I constantly cherish all living beings.
What is the ‘ultimate, supreme goal’ of human life? For some people it is material possessions, such as a large house with all the latest luxuries, a fast car, or a well-paid job. For others, it is reputation, good looks, power, excitement or adventure. As an end in themselves worldly attainments are hollow; they are not the real essence of human life.
Of all worldly possessions the most precious is said to be the legendary wish-granting jewel, which existed when human beings had abundant merit. Such jewels, however, could only fulfill wishes for contaminated happiness—they could never bestow the pure happiness that comes from a pure mind.
Furthermore, a wish-granting jewel only had the power to grant wishes in one life—it could not protect its owner in his or her future lives. Thus, ultimately even a wish-granting jewel is deceptive. The only thing that can never deceive us is the attainment of full enlightenment. So, whenever we are with other people we should be continuously mindful that their happiness and wishes are at least as important as our own.
Of course, we cannot cherish all living beings right away, but by training our mind in this attitude, beginning with our family and friends, we can gradually extend the scope of our love until it embraces all living beings. When in this way we sincerely cherish all living beings, we are no longer an ordinary person but have become a great being, like a Bodhisattva.
Whenever I associate with others,
May I view myself as the lowest of all;
And with a perfect intention, May I cherish others as supreme.
In the first verse, Langri Tangpa explains how to cherish all living beings, and in this verse he now shows us how to enhance this mind of love. The best way to do this is to fami-liarise ourselves with cherishing all living beings by putting our determination to cherish them into practice day and night.
If we wish to attain enlightenment, or to develop the superior Bodhichitta that comes from exchanging self with others, we must definitely adopt the view that others are more precious than ourself.
This view is based on wisdom and leads us to our final goal, whereas the view that regards ourself as more precious than others is based on self-grasping ignorance and leads us along the paths of samsara.Here Langri Tangpa is encouraging us to develop the mind of humility and to see ourself as lower and less precious than others.
One of the advantages of humility is that it enables us to learn from everyone. A proud person cannot learn from other people because he feels he already knows better than them.
On the other hand, a humble person who respects everyone and recognises that they may even be emanations of Buddha has the openness of mind to learn from everyone and every situation. Just as water cannot collect on mountain peaks, so good qualities and blessings cannot gather on the rocky peaks of pride.
If, instead, we maintain a humble, respectful attitude towards everyone, good qualities and inspiration will flow into our mind all the time, like streams flowing into a valley.
Examining my mental continuum throughout all my actions,
As soon as a delusion develops
Whereby I or others would act inappropriately, May I firmly face it and avert it.
Whereas the first two verses explain the practice of equalising self and others—cherishing ourself and all living beings equally—this verse shows us how to exchange self with others. This means that we give up our self-cherishing and come to cherish only others.
Because the main obstacles to gaining this realisation are our delusions, Langri Tangpa explains how we can overcome our delusions, and in particular our self-cherishing. Normally we divide the external world into that which we consider to be good or valuable, bad or worthless, or neither. Most of the time these discriminations are incorrect or have little meaning.
For example, our habitual way of categorising people into friends, enemies, and strangers depending on how they make us feel is both incorrect and an obstacle to developing impartial love for all beings.
Rather than holding so tightly to our discriminations of the external world, it would be far more beneficial if we learnt to discriminate between valuable and worthless states of mind. To overcome a particular delusion we need to be able to identify it correctly and distinguish it from other states of mind.
It is relatively easy to identify delusions such as anger or jealousy and to see how they are and how they are harming us. Delusions such as attachment, pride, self-grasping, and self-cherishing, however, are more difficult to recognise and can easily be confused with other states of mind.
For instance, we have many desires but not all of these are motivated by desirous attachment. We can have the wish to sleep, to eat, to meet our friends, or to meditate, without being influenced by attachment.
A desire that is attachment necessarily disturbs our mind, but since it may affect us in subtle, indirect ways we may find it difficult to recognise when it arises in our mind. In summary, through practising the Lojong instructions, Langri Tangpa and countless other practitioners of the past have attained profound realisations, including the complete realisation of exchanging self with others.
At the beginning the practitioners of these instructions were self-centred people just like us, but through perseverance they managed to eliminate their self-cherishing completely.
If we practise these instructions wholeheartedly and patiently there is no reason why we too should not attain similar realisations. We should not expect to destroy our self-cherishing immediately, but through practice it will become weaker and weaker until it ceases altogether. The complete eradication of self-cherishing is an uncommon Mahayana realisation that can only be accomplished through the practice of exchanging self with others.
Whenever I see unfortunate beings
Oppressed by evil and violent suffering,
May I cherish them as I had found
A rare and precious treasure.
Pure compassion is a mind that finds the suffering of others unbearable, but it does not make us depressed. In fact, it gives us tremendous energy to work for others and to complete the spiritual path for their sake. It shatters our complacency and makes it impossible to rest content with the superficial happiness of satisfying our worldly desires, yet in its place we shall come to know a deep inner peace that cannot be disturbed by changing conditions.
It is impossible for strong delusions to arise in a mind filled with compassion. If we do not develop delusions, external circumstances alone have no power to disturb us; so when our mind is governed by compassion it is always at peace.
This is the experience of all those who have developed their compassion beyond the limited compassion normally felt for a close karmic circle into a selfless compassion for all living beings. Developing compassion and wisdom, and helping those in need whenever possible, is the true meaning of life.
By increasing our compassion we come closer to enlightenment and to the fulfillment of our deepest wishes. The indication that we have mastered the meditations on cherishing others and compassion is that whenever we meet another person, even someone who is harming us, we genuinely feel as if we had found a rare and precious treasure.
Even if someone I have helped
And of whom I had great hopes
Nevertheless harms me without any reason
May I see him as my holy Spiritual Guide.
The purpose of this verse is to teach us how to develop and improve our experience of wishing love. It is important to understand the relationship between actions and their effects. Our normal reaction when faced with a problem is to try and find someone to blame, but if we look at the situation with wisdom we shall realise that we created the cause of that problem through our negative actions.
The main cause of all our problems is necessarily a negative bodily, verbal, or mental action that we ourself created in the past; other people’s actions are only secondary conditions that enable our negative karma to ripen.
If they do not provide the conditions for our negative karma to ripen, someone or something else definitely will; for once the main cause has been established, unless we purify it through purification practice, nothing can stop the effect from occurring sooner or later. Instead of blaming others for our problems we should use our misfortunes to deepen our understanding of karma.
By training our mind to recognise the spiritual lessons in all our experiences, we can come to view everyone and everything as our Spiritual Teacher, and we can turn any and every situation to our advantage.
When others out of jealousy
Harm me or insult me,
May I take defeat upon myself And offer them the victory
This sixth verse reveals that having gained some experience of love and compassion for all living beings we now need to put this good heart into practice in our daily life. For instance, when someone out of anger or jealousy harms or insults us, with our mind abiding in love and compassion we should happily accept the harm and not retaliate. This is the meaning of accepting defeat and offering the victory to others. This practice directly protects us from discouragement and unhappiness.
Langri Tangpa’s intention in this verse is to encourage us to practise patience. We may think that if we patiently practise accepting defeat all the time, our suffering and problems will multiply and completely overwhelm us; but in fact the practice of patience always lessens our suffering because we do not add mental pain to the difficulties we are having.
Suffering, worry, depression and pain are feelings—types of mind—so, they exist inside and not outside our mind. If while experiencing adverse conditions, our mind remains calm and happy through the practice of patience, we do not have a problem.
We may have a challenging situation, and may even be sick or injured, but we are free from pain. By controlling our mind in this way we experience a cessation of our pain, worry and depression, and find true inner peace. Furthermore, by keeping a peaceful mind in difficult situations we are far more likely to find solutions and respond constructively.
Buddhist practice is very gentle. It does not require physical deprivation and hardship but is mainly concerned with the internal task of controlling and transforming the mind. In summary, if we wish to help others effectively, we need to be able to accept our problems without getting angry or discouraged. Helping others is not always easy—it often involves considerable hardship and inconvenience, and going against the wishes of our self-cherishing mind.
Unless we are able to accept this, our commitment to benefit others will be half-hearted and unstable. However, once we develop the ability to accept our own problems patiently we shall have the strength of mind to practise taking on the suffering of others and giving them happiness.Gradually we shall develop the inner realisation of accepting defeat and offering the victory.
In short, may I directly and indirectly
Offer help and happiness to all my mothers,
And secretly take upon myself All their harm and suffering.
In this verse Bodhisattva Langri Tangpa explains the practices of taking by means of compassion and giving by means of love as a conclusion to the preceding verses. ‘In short’ in the verse therefore means ‘in conclusion’. When we first meditate on taking and giving we cannot actually take on the suffering of others nor give them our happiness, but by imagining that we are doing so now we are training our mind to be able to do so in the future.
The word ‘directly’ refers to actually taking on the suffering of others through our imagination. When we start our practice of taking and giving, we do not need to think too much about how it is possible to relieve others’ suffering through the power of mind alone.
Instead we should simply practise taking and giving with a good motivation, understanding it to be a supreme method for increasing our merit and concentration. This practice also purifies our non-virtues and delusions, especially our self-cherishing, and makes our love and compassion very strong.
Through gradual training, our meditation on taking and giving will become so powerful that we shall develop the ability to take on the suffering of others and give them hapiness. We can reflect that since beginningless time we have had countless lives and countless bodies, but that we have wasted them in all meaningless activities. Now we have the opportunity to derive the greatest meaning from our present body by using it to engage in the path of compassion and wisdom.
Furthermore, through all these method practices,
Together with a mind undefiled by stains of conceptions of the eight extremes
And that sees all phenomena as illusory,
May I be released from the bondage of mistaken appearance and conception.
The first line indicates that the ultimate Bodhichitta is not an isolated realization but depends upon all the method realisations explained in the first seven verses. For a realization of ultimate truth to be ultimate Bodhichitta, we need the realisations of cherishing others, great compassion, and so forth. Moreover, for our study and meditation on emptiness to have a deep impact on our mind, it must be motivated at least by renunciation, the wish to attain liberation from samsara by abandoning our delusions.
If we are motivated only by philosophical curiosity the best we can hope to achieve is a superficial, intellectual understanding of emptiness; we shall never achieve a deep and liberating experience. All our problems arise because we do not realise the ultimate truth. The reason we remain in samsara is that we continue to engage in contaminated actions because of our delusions, which stem from self-grasping ignorance. Ignorance is the source of all our negativity and problems, and the only way to eradicate it is to realize emptiness.
Emptiness is not esay to understand, but it is important that we make the effort. Ultimately our efforts will be reawarded by the permanent cessation of all suffering and the everlasting bliss of full enlightenment.
Since ‘Eight Verses of Training the Mind’ come from the wisdom of a fully enlightenend being, it is reliable and of tremendous value. By putting these instructions into practice we shall experience ultimate happiness, purify all our negative karma and obstacles, and eliminate the ignorant minds of self-cherishing and self-grasping, the principal cause of suffering.
Extracted With Permission From Eight Steps To Happiness: The Buddhist Way Of Loving Kindness, By Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, (New Age Books)
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