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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 Sunday, April 18, 2021 Class
Class began with a reminder from Geshe-la that if we only practice calm abiding meditation for a few minutes once a week and not outside of class, we are unlikely to see many benefits. However, if we practice consistently, even though we might think nothing is happening, our minds will definitely change, little by little. Whenever one does this practice, the most important objectives are clarity and stability. It is also important not to fall into mental sinking or mental excitement. Many people mistake mental sinking for actual meditation because it is a calm state of mind. Though we might feel like we are meditating, our mind is drowsy and sleepy, and the object is not clear. Mental excitement is easier to recognize since our attention repeatedly moves off the object. Geshe-la likened proper calm abiding meditation to using a lamp to view a portrait in a dark room. To see the portrait clearly, the light must be steady and bright. Our aim in meditation is similar – stability and clarity.
Additional advice was to continue focusing on the same meditation object used in previous weeks, to not to recite mantras either verbally or mentally while meditating and to not think “I’m not going to think about xyz” as it is likely we will then think more about it! It’s like safely driving a car - we don’t need to constantly think “I shouldn’t hit anyone” but just focus on driving.
We began with a brief focus on the breath and then moved to calm abiding practice.
Geshe-la next asked us to practice a short analytical meditation on the topics of Seven Point Mind Training discussed during our previous classes:
1) The preliminary topics, including visualizing one’s guru in front by and requesting their blessings for the success of our practice
2) Conventional and ultimate bodhicitta
3) Utilizing difficult conditions for our benefit
4) Practices to do for one’s entire life including at the time of death
5) The measure of successful practice
6) Commitments of mind training
He advised us to be like a small bird that collects tiny bits of mud to build a nest. Slowly, slowly, if we make effort and don’t give up, our positive actions will increase, and our negative ones will go away. We can be like the small flame that gradually heats up a large pot.
Review and Explanation of The Eighteen Commitments of Mind Training
Geshe-la continued his explanation of 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.)
If we sincerely practice mind training, we will be able to follow the advice in The Eighteen Commitments. In this way, they are valuable measures of how effectively we are applying the advice in the text. There are many examples of how moral discipline and rules lead to stability even in non-spiritual life, such as in a country or between spouses. If we follow guidelines, there is harmony. If we do not, there will be disharmony. Similarly, in spiritual life, it doesn’t matter how much practice we do - we won’t get results if we don’t follow moral discipline.
The initial Commitments of Mind Training practice are:
1) Don’t use mind training as an excuse to ignore basic vows, even the Pratimoksha vows.
2) Don’t let mind training become a mere travesty, such as engaging in improper behavior with the excuse that it is fine because one is a mind training practitioner.
3) Don’t let your mind training become partial, that is, being patient only with friends and family but not with enemies.
4) Change your aspirations, but preserve your old manner. Change should happen in our own minds, not necessarily in our outside behavior in an improper way. Check to see if your mind has changed for the better since starting your Dharma practice.
Geshe-la told a story about the great scholar Acharya Chandrakirti. When herding cows, he appeared as an ordinary herder, but he could draw a picture of a cow on the wall, milk the picture and take the milk to the owner. While appearing very ordinary on the outside, he was actually highly realized.
While it is the Tibetan custom not to speak about one’s practice, Westerners may not show the same hesitancy and will sometimes list the retreats, initiations and spiritual practices they have done over the years. Generally, this shows the mind has not been tamed and is driven by the eight worldly concerns. Of course, one must consider the motivation behind this. Perhaps one is hoping to inspire others, such as when His Holiness the Dalai Lama says he has recited so many malas of the Mani mantra, but if it is done with a motivation of bragging about one’s own accomplishments, that is not good.
5) Do not mention others withered limbs. Don’t call out other’s defects, either physical or mental. In some Asian cultures, people have a habit of giving nicknames to others based on their defects, such “Limpy” or “One-Armed”.
6) Do not think of other’s faults. If we look for faults, we see only faults, whether it is with our teacher, our spouse, friends or children.
Geshe-la next shared advice from Lama Atisha. Lama Atisha came to Tibet to teach at the request of King Jangchub O, who asked for practical teachings useful for day-to-day life. The Lamp on the Path to Enlightenment was composed by Lama Atisha and is the source of Lamrim teachings & Mind Training practices. Although, at this time in Tibet, the prevailing attitude was to view the teacher as ordinary person, the first advice in the text is to always devote yourself to your spiritual teacher. If you view your guru as ordinary person, you will never gain blessings or realizations, whereas if you respect your guru and follow their advice, you will benefit. Like a child being guided by parents who want the best for them, we must both respect and listen to our guru’s instructions to gain realizations. Study is not enough. We must put into practice what we study.
How do we practice what we study? By staying away from actions of body, speech and mind that harm oneself and others and stay close to actions of body, speech and mind that are beneficial for oneself and others. So, we must observe ourselves closely until we attain stability in virtuous actions, speech and thought. At the end of the day, dedicate the merit of any virtuous actions for the benefit of all sentient beings. According to Lama Atisha, if we do this, in a short time we will receive realizations.
7) Purify the greatest delusions first. If we have lots of anger, then follow the advice from Chapter Six of Guide to a Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. If we are miserly, meditate on impermanence so we can understand that things will change whether we want them to or not. For attachment, for example by looking into our own closets, we can see for ourselves if we have more than we need. We tend to tell ourselves that we will need things sometime in the future. Geshe-la said that even he has more robes, jackets, slippers and outdoor shoes than he needs, despite giving some away. Most people die with a mind of attachment to material things, and this leads to negative rebirths.
During the time of the Buddha, his two disciples Sariputra and Maudgalyāyana asked the Buddha questions about the effects of actions motivated by delusions and how it affected the rebirth of particular people. We don’t have an omniscient Buddha here to answer these questions, but we can still learn about the karmic effects of particular actions. Most importantly, we must work hardest on reducing our primary delusions.
8) Abandon all hopes of a result. A worldly motivation will produce a worldly result - don’t hope for benefits in this present life from doing practice. If we do this, once the benefit is experienced, it’s finished. It is better to dedicate virtuous actions to reaching enlightenment to benefit others, as this way the benefit will last until you achieve enlightenment.
9) Abandon food with poison. The self-cherishing attitude is like poisonous food. We need to beware of our self-cherishing attitude, which can trick us into thinking delusions are “good friends.” If someone treats you with anger, and you react with anger because you feel it is justified, you are involved in the same misguided behavior.
It is always crucial to remember that what creates our miseries is any behavior motivated by afflicted thoughts and emotions. Consider both the motivation and the actions before doing anything, and stay away from actions and words that would be harmful to others.
Geshe-la concluded his teaching by reminding us we must do more than just learn and recite the list of the commitments. It would be more beneficial to think “I should not do this” and “I should not do that” and apply each one to our own minds.
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.