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Geshe Tenley continues his teachings on the lam-rim, making use of Pabongka Rinpoche's Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand. The text is the seminal lam-rim text of the 20th century. It is a transcription of a twenty-four day lam-rim teaching given in 1921. Offered as a "practical teaching," it is less scholarly than Je Tsongkhapa's Jangchub Lam-rim Chen-mo or The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment and as such it is the text from which most modern lamas teach lam-rim.
Recently, Geshe-la has been focusing on actualizing the teachings through meditation, and spending a good portion of each class guiding us in specific meditations on the lam-rim topics we have been studying to help us understand what is meant by “meditating on the lam-rim” and show us how we can integrate these meditations into our daily practice. As our teachers repeatedly stress, we will not make progress if we only ingest the teachings intellectually. It is only engaging in the three wisdoms (listening, reflecting and meditating) that we will actually make changes in our minds. Receiving this type of practical guidance from an experienced teacher such as Geshe Tenley is a great blessing, and we are very fortunate to benefit from his guidance.
Summary of April 4, 2021 Class
Geshe Tenley and class attendees briefly exchanged greetings and then Geshe-la began with the calm abiding meditation we have been practicing over the past several months. He asked if we are seeing any improvement in our ability to stay focused on our meditation object and reminded us that this improvement definitely happens if we practice consistently. Geshe-la also described various options of keeping the eyes open or closed. Generally, beginners fare better with eyes half-closed and gazing at the space at the tip of the nose in order to avoid visual distractions and drowsiness. Other techniques to improve concentration involve concentrating on the sound of a mantra, either mentally or by reciting verbally and concentrating on the visual appearance of the letters of a mantra.
Geshe-la then talked about the benefits of calm abiding meditation. When we train in focusing our minds, over time we will experience more pleasure and bliss in whatever we do. Rather than our minds leading us here and there, we will be able to direct and keep our minds on whatever we want. Our minds will become flexible.
We next turned to the discussion of the lojong teachings in our text Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, Days Seventeen – Nineteen, Outlines 344-359 (page numbers vary according to the edition of the book). Geshe-la summarized the points we previously discussed in Seven Point Mind Training.
Before beginning the actual practice of mind training, we should strongly request blessings and assistance in this practice from the Guru-Deity with whom we have a strong connection.
Then, review the Preparatory Practices: perfect human rebirth, death and impermanence, the karmic law of cause & effect and the difficulties of continual rebirth in samsara. The purpose of thinking about death is not to be macabre but to prepare ourselves for the inevitable. This will happen to all of us, so we must prepare. We are changing constantly, just like the weather, the trees, plants and the environment, which changes every day. Although we know death and major life changes are inevitable, when they happen, they are hard to accept. In a recent online teaching, when asked about the pandemic, His Holiness the Dalai Lama referred to a verse from Chapter 6 of Shantideva’s Guide to a Bodhisattva’s Way of Life* – Why worry about something if it can be changed, why worry about something if it cannot be changed? Geshe-la encouraged us to read both Chapters 6 & 8 from this text.
Generating Conventional Bodhicitta by equalizing & exchanging oneself with others: aim to be like a mother who undergoes all sorts of difficulties for her child without any hesitation, due to her love. If you have a very strong wish to benefit others, when you experience difficulties yourself, you won’t consider them a burden.
Generating Ultimate Bodhicitta by contemplating the emptiness of inherent existence.
Converting Unfortunate Circumstances into the Path: if obstacles to our practice arise, it’s important to engage in purification practices such as Vajrasattva mantras or Prostrations to the Thirty-Five Confession Buddhas.
Applying the Practices During our Lifetime and at death as described in the Five Powers: set up a proper motivation every day by thinking to ourselves “I will never let this practice of mind training/bodhichitta degenerate.”
The Criteria of Having Trained the Mind: when whatever you are doing works against your delusions, that is a sign that your mind training practice is working.
Geshe-la then described in more detail Point 6, Outline 360, The Eighteen Commitments of the Mind Training Practice. The first three we discussed earlier:
1) Don’t look down on others by seeing yourself as a mind-training practitioner (don’t be arrogant)
2) Avoid socially inappropriate acts
3) Be as patient with enemies as we are with friends – see them both equally. Also, see human beings, spirit beings and animals equally.
His explanation then focused on the succeeding points:
Point 4 – Change your aspirations but preserve your old manner.
He reminded us of the advice in the text to be like Shantideva and Arya Chudapanthaka who appeared unexceptional on the outside but inwardly had developed many realizations. Shantideva was even described by his fellow monks as only doing three things: eating, sleeping, and defecating.
Point 5 – Do not mention others’ withered limbs.
Do not analyze and criticize others. For laypeople, this means not to find fault with our friends, neighbors, and co-workers.
Point 6 – Do not think of others at all.
Strive to point out the faults of oneself, not others. If you look for faults, you’ll start seeing faults even in the Buddha.
Point 7 – Purify the greatest delusion first.
When we have strong dislike, our view becomes exaggerated. Even if we do not physically or verbally harm others, the delusions in our minds will increase. Better to “just leave a stinking object alone.”
We concluded with prayers and a brief celebration of Geshe Tenley’s 52nd birthday.
Seven Steps to Train Your Mind by Gomo Tulku
Advice from a Spiritual Friend by Geshe Rabten & Geshe Dhargyey
The Seven Point Mind Training by Alan Wallace
*Available from Shambhala Publications.
Geshe Tenley is the Resident Teacher at Kurukulla Center for Tibetan Buddhist Studies in Boston. He was ordained by the late Gyume Khensur Geshe Urgyen Tseten Rinpoche in 1990 and began the program of studies to become a geshe at Sera Jey Monastic University. During the course of his studies, he has received many teachings from His Holiness the Dalai Lama as well as many other highly qualified masters. In 1998, he received his full ordination (gelong) vows from His Holiness and received his geshe degree in 2008. He began teaching at Kurukulla Center in 2005 and was appointed the Resident Teacher by Lama Zopa Rinpoche in 2010. Geshe Tenley is well-known for his approachability and kindheartedness. His extensive activities in the US and around the world bring great joy and benefit to everyone he meets.