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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 11, 2021 Class
Following a few words of greeting with the class, Geshe Tenley briefly reviewed instructions for our calm abiding meditation and reminded us that repeated practice can bring a sense of peace to one’s daily life. He said that In the daytime, there are so many things that happen which disturb our minds, so it is best to practice calm abiding in the morning. Doing short sessions more often is much better than sporadically doing long sessions. The main thing is to keep one’s attention clear and tight on the object. It is helpful to practice a few moments of attention to the breath before turning to one’s object of meditation.
Geshe-la next asked us to do an analytical meditation or brief review of the main points of The Seven Point Mind Training. Before we began, he listed the first six points:
1) Preparatory practices including requesting blessings from one’s teacher and the Three Jewels for our practice to be successful and contemplation on perfect human rebirth, death and impermanence, and karmic cause and effect
2) Ultimate and conventional bodhicitta
3) Transforming difficulties into opportunities to enhance one’s practice
4) Maintaining a bodhicitta motivation throughout our life, even at the time of death
5) Signs of effective mind training
6) Eighteen commitments
Geshe-la advised that a good daily practice would be to remember all of the above points in order to remind ourselves, either in a detailed or a short way. We then spent five minutes silently reviewing these points. If we repeatedly familiarize ourselves with these points and apply them to our daily life, we are then taking the “medicine” prescribed by the Buddha. Like a patient who is ill with disease, even if the doctor identifies the appropriate medicine, the disease will not be cured unless the patient takes it. The Buddha was clear that he cannot transfer his wisdom to us. What he can do is lay out the path to happiness, but we must put it into practice. It is possible to change, even when it seems unlikely. Like the trees that seem lifeless and barren in the winter and then turn green with the change of seasons, we too can change. If we find ourselves thinking that these methods don’t work, it is because we are not making enough effort.
One might wonder about the personal benefit of meditating on the two bodhicittas. By developing ultimate bodhicitta or the understanding of emptiness in which we increasingly see the world as it really is, our mind becomes happier and more relaxed. Right now, we have a lot of doubt in our minds, so our minds are disturbed. How do we understand emptiness? By understanding interdependence. Learning how all things exist due to causes and conditions and are interdependent eventually helps us become more relaxed. There are many different levels of understanding interdependence, gross and subtle. For example, noticing that the weather changes because there are four seasons helps us understand that things change over time and reduces our fear.
Conventional bodhicitta is the wish to attain enlightenment in order benefit all sentient beings. When we develop it, there is no difference between how we view ourselves and how we view others. Although it is easy to agree with this and to say the words, it is harder to practice, especially when we encounter others, friend, stranger or enemy, who do not share our view.
Geshe next turned to Point 6, The Eighteen Commitments of the Mind Training Practice, from our text Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, Day Nineteen, Outline 360 (page numbers vary according to the edition of the book). He reviewed the first six points covered in last week’s class:
1) Don’t look down on others
2) Don’t harm others by excusing oneself as a mind training practitioner. This applies to both students and teachers. Buddhists have a good reputation, so follow the basic rules of morality so as to not ruin that reputation.
3) Don’t use mind training to justify bias in one’s mind. An example of this is a leader who is fair towards everyone, not just those he likes.
4) Change your aspirations, but preserve your old manner. Mind training should reduce our delusions and change our internal minds, not our external looks. We change when we develop virtuous thoughts, bodhicitta, and the correct view, which happens when we contemplate the disadvantages of the three poisonous delusions (attachment, aversion and ignorance). It is only us that can bring about changes in our minds. Geshe-la also reminded us of HH the Dalai Lama’s advice that it is fine to learn about Buddhism and apply its advice, but it is best to stick with the faith one was brought up in.
Geshe-la also made the analogy of Buddhism being like an object in a shop. If it is something you want, you must make the effort to obtain it. It will not come to you. Geshe-la said as Buddhists we should not sell or promote the benefits of Buddhism. How then do people learn about places such as Kurukulla Center? Through the force of karmic connections - not through advertising. As an example, many people in the neighborhood do not know about the center while others from far away do and are actively involved.
5) Do not mention others’ withered limbs. Normally we are advised to not slander or criticize others. There may be special cases where one sees someone committing extremely negative deeds. Out of compassion for that person, to prevent a lower rebirth, it is appropriate to criticize and even wish for them to die soon to reduce their future suffering. However, it is vital that we consider if our words could cause harm to others, discord and possibly a schism in the community. If so, it is better to remain silent.
6) Do not think of others at all. Rather than thinking about others’ faults, we should think about our own. If you look for faults in others, you will always find them. Consider Devadatta who even saw faults in Shakyamuni Buddha. HH the Dalai Lama and other great leaders from our past are also criticized by many. To prevent one from developing a critical attitude to one’s spiritual teacher, it is important to thoroughly check their qualities before considering them as your guru.
Geshe-la next answered a question about the difference between points five and six. He also advised us that if someone is misbehaving, to put the blame on their delusions, not on the person. We concluded with prayers.
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
A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life by Shantideva, translated by Vesna & Alan Wallace
The Way of the Bodhisattva
by Shantideva, translated by Padmakara Translation Group
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.