Discussion on 'Eight Verses on Training the Mind' : A Mystic's Journal Entry,Wednesday, October 10, 2007 by Laurie Conrad.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s visit to Ithaca: Meditation Class: Eight Verses on Training the Mind: A Mystic’s Journal Entry, Wednesday, October 10, 2007
It is said that the Dalai Lama often cites a favorite verse, found in the writings of the renowned eighth century Buddhist saint Shantideva:
For as long as space endures
And for as long as living beings remain,
Until then may I too abide
To dispel the misery of the world.
Wednesday, October 10
Tonight Trudy and I both were aware of the fragrance of flowers when Jackie first came in for meditation. As I went to get the book we would be studying in class, I asked Jackie if she was wearing perfume because the fragrance of flowers was again very strong. She laughed and said "no".
We decided to put Brunton’s book Emotions and Ethics briefly aside and talk about the Dalai Lama’s visit to Ithaca instead. His Holiness had given three lectures, one yesterday and two today. Almost everyone in class had heard him speak. I could not go to any of his talks this visit because it was far too hot both outside and in the lecture halls; more importantly, I felt that others who had never seen him should have the opportunity. As it was, all the tickets to his lectures were sold out within two hours, almost ten thousand tickets ...
The Dalai Lama’s lecture yesterday was on world peace. Pam said that the main message was: there cannot be world peace without each of us finding inner peace within ourselves. Years ago, when His Holiness had visited us at the Meditation Center in Valois, he had given us an exercise: first to send peace and love to those closest to us; then to the houses on our street; then to our town; then to our country; then to other countries near us; then to the rest of the world. In other words, begin the exercise sending Love and Peace to those nearest to us, and then slowly widen the circle until that Love and Peace embraces the entire world.
Diana added that in that lecture His Holiness had said that the human vehicle, the human body, is geared for peace, designed for peace. Our teeth are not made for harming others, and they show when we smile. Our hands do not have claws for tearing or harming; our hands and arms are made for hugging each other.
Trudy said that the Dalai Lama then stated that it is only our brains which can be aggressive. If we examine His Holiness’ statement: the other parts of our bodies obey our minds. Hands in themselves are not aggressive or dangerous - only when directed by the mind do they harm others. And that is why it is so very important to train our minds and be mindful of our thoughts. The Dalai Lama also said that we impose negativity, our negative thoughts and perceptions, onto people and objects - i.e. we impose qualities on them they themselves do not inherently possess. The example he gave was a simple one: when we have an argument with someone, we think they are a very bad person. And then when we make up with them, we think they are not so bad. Our judgement of them is only in our own mind, imposed on them, and dependent on our own wishes and thoughts about them.
Diana added that in the question and answer period a young man told His Holiness that he felt guilty because he lived in the United States, with all the luxuries we have here, when other countries still have so many lacks and needs. His Holiness told him to go to other countries and help them, and praised John F. Kennedy’s vision of the Peace Corps.
Today’s first lecture was an Interfaith service with many different religions and religious leaders represented. During his talk, His Holiness said we should choose a religion and do our best - and respect all other religions. Which is what Our Lady of Peace, the Madonna, has said to the visionaries in Medjugorje. His Holiness also said that we should not switch religions, but stay with our own religion - religion is a lifelong commitment, and a part of one’s entire life experience. His Holiness told a story about a visit to Fatima some years ago with a group of religious leaders of various faiths: they had all sat together and meditated, and when the Dalai Lama got up to leave he looked back at Our Lady’s statue - and She was smiling at him. The Dalai Lama added that either She had truly smiled at him, or it was only in his imagination. Pam said His Holiness then laughed and said that either Her Smile meant that he was a true believer or Mary had made a mistake. As usual, his talks were filled with both his laughter and deep humility.
The third lecture was again on World Peace, this time an intellectual talk on the Eight Verses on Mind Training written by Langri Thangpa (1054-93). Diana had brought the little booklet which gave the eight verses with her, and we decided to study them in class.
These eight verses appear to be eight vows given to monks when they enter the monastery:
With the wish to achieve the highest aim,
Which surpasses even a wish-fulfilling gem,
I will train myself to at all times
Cherish every sentient being as supreme.
I asked the class what the highest aim meant here, and we all agreed it meant Enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings; that all beings may pass out of Ignorance, find Truth. The Truths that 1. we are not merely the physical body with all its perceptions, thoughts and emotions and 2. that conventional, physical reality is not Ultimate Reality. In the past, the Dalai Lama has explained this second Truth with the Teaching of dependent-arising: i.e. every thing, every form in our physical, conventional reality is dependent on something else for its very existence. The table is dependent on the wood it is made of, the carpenters, etc. If we take the table apart - where is it? And if we look at a sliver of its wood under a microscope, it is merely made of atoms, and mainly space. Moreover, physicists of some schools of thought tell us that light is the substratum of all "matter"; i.e. nothing in form inherently exists.
Which surpasses even a wish-fulfilling gem: this Enlightenment, or Attainment, is more valuable and fulfilling than even an Aladdin’s Lamp. Nothing on this physical Earth can equal it - not in Beauty or Joy or Splendor or Power, nor in any other way or fashion.
I will train myself
This short phrase is an important one, and it parallels the work we have been doing in our studies of Paul Brunton’s volume of the Notebooks, Emotions and Ethics. The point being that we can train ourselves to think differently, and therefore to feel and act differently. In truth, we make these decisions every moment of every day, for we have so many thoughts, thousands and thousands of thoughts each day. This deciding how to think and how to feel is a choice we all have, and also a responsibility.
Cherish every sentient being as supreme.
We then had a brief discussion on this Teaching and the importance of true Humility on the spiritual path. In this verse, Thangpa uses the word cherish. In the next verse he will say: To hold others superior from the depths of my heart. First comes the cherishing of others as supreme; then comes holding others superior from a place of Love and Respect, i.e. from the depths of my heart.
Whenever I interact with others
I will view myself as inferior to all;
And I will train myself
To hold others superior from the depths of my heart.
This verse is similar to the previous verse, but here the vow has deepened.
This beautiful verse began a short discussion on the differences between humiliation and Humility: we decided that humiliation happens when we still stand in the ego, think we are our personality, our thoughts and emotions. When we attain true Humility, the Love and Compassion, the Power of the Universe can flow through us.
Pam said true Humility purifies us; M. said it keeps the ego at bay; Trudy said Humility keeps you focused on God. This reminded us of the phrase "we are nothing" that many of the great saints speak of; and I reminded the class that this is not nihilism. We are all ‘nothing’ compared to God or the Buddhists’ True Consciousness - but we are equal as human beings, we all share the same vehicle. We also spoke about not bowing before the egos of others, especially if they are harming themselves and others in some way. No, we bow before the pure and sacred Consciousness, what I would call the soul, in others - not before their individual perceptions and thoughts.
The phrase I will train myself appears again in this second verse, as it will in all eight verses. This training is accomplished through the various spiritual practices and exercises that we apply to our lives. Basically: we must train our minds, we must practice these Teachings.
Whenever. This one word, the word chosen to begin this second verse, tells us that we must always apply this Teaching.
During all my activities I will probe my mind,
And as soon as an affliction arises -
Since it endangers myself and others -
I will train myself to confront it directly and avert it.
During all my activities. Again, this Teaching applies to all activity, always. These Teachings must become our constant companions in order to bear true fruit.
I will probe my mind,
And as soon as an affliction arises -
This third verse is a bit more complicated than the previous two. Affliction, in this context, means any negative or harmful thought. It is only through mindfulness, i.e. the watching of our own thoughts, that we can ferret out these afflictions to the stream of pure Consciousness that is our True, Enlightened State and Being.
Since it endangers myself and others - This is a basic Buddhist Teaching: that negativity, which then leads to negative emotions and negative actions, is harmful to both us and to others. Therefore, negative thoughts should be immediately identified and stopped.
Jackie asked how to stop negativity or negative thoughts in others, and her honest question led to an interesting discussion. The answer is always the same: our thinking must be retrained. Diana said that people can get stuck in their negative thoughts; we could ask others why they are invested in their negative thoughts and perceptions and views. Or we could apply the antidote, i.e. give them positive thoughts to think about. Pam said not to absorb the negativity; instead nod your head and let the negativity float away. Or change the subject. I suggested seeing the negativity of others as just their egos, their thoughts - and to always remember that we are the soul and that they are the soul. Ask that they be Healed. D. added that in those situations she just gives out more Love; in that way she feels blissful even if surrounded by negativity. T. said: if possible, stay away from those situations, if they cannot be changed. I found all these suggestions useful.
I added that sometimes we have to confront the person and the issue head on, i.e. say the negativity must stop because it is harming both them and others.
However, this verse is focused on our own thoughts, and applying the antidote to any afflictions that should arise in our own minds.
By now it was late, so we decided to leave the other five verses for future classes.