Essential Mind Training - Selections

Tibetan Classics, Volume 1

Seven Points

Seven-Point Mind Training is perhaps the earliest work organizing the assortment of root lines on mind training attributed to Atiśa into a systematic framework of instruction and practice. Prior to the emergence of the Seven-Point, it appears that these root lines remained scattered, giving rise to at least several different compilations referred to as “the root lines on mind training.” In addition to the one above, Mind Training: The Great Collection includes another distinct set of such root lines.

As a simple comparison of the Seven-Point to the Root Lines on Mind Training above reveals, the two works are closely connected. In fact, some Tibetan authors make the point that Chekawa (1101–75) should be considered more as the compiler rather than the author of the Seven-Point, since all the key lines of that text, if not all, are attributable to Master Atiśa himself. Even the organization of the root lines into seven points is said to come from the instruction of Chekawa’s teacher Sharawa. From a very early stage, however, the famed Seven-Point came to be hailed as “Chekawa’s Seven-Point Mind Training.”

As noted in my general introduction, Chekawa’s discovery of the mind training instruction began with his intrigue upon hearing Eight Verses on Training the Mind, especially the lines “May I take upon myself the defeat / and offer to others the victory.” Having heard these lines, Chekawa went on to seek out the full teaching as well as its sources. This quest took him to Sharawa’s monastery, where one day he saw the master circumambulating a stupa. Laying down his shawl-like upper robe on the floor, Chekawa asked Sharawa to be seated so that he could request some instructions. Thus began Chekawa’s full discovery of the mind training instruction, which led to his presentation of it in seven points. After Langri Thangpa’s Eight Verses, Chekawa’s Seven-Point came to be the most well known and widely disseminated mind training teaching. Judging by the enormous volume of commentaries it attracted, it could be argued that the Seven-Point came to define what mind training is.

In terms of its literary genre, a unique characteristic of the lines of the Seven-Point is their pithy, aphoristic nature. Unlike Eight Verses, there are very few, if any, actual stanzas in the Seven-Point. Most of the lines are stand-alone maxims capturing an essential instruction or a specific spiritual practice. It’s no wonder, therefore, that today some contemporary Western teachers of Tibetan Buddhism refer to these lines of the SevenPoint as “slogans.” Furthermore, there is a certain orality to the lines in this text, as if they were meant to be recited aloud as you embark on the various practices presented in them. As the Seven-Point puts it, “In all actions, train by means of the words”; this constant use of maxims as an integral part of one’s spiritual practice is an important feature of the mind training approach.

We are fortunate to have, through the commentary of Sé Chilbu (1121–89), access to the earliest exposition of Chekawa’s Seven-Point Mind Training. That the author of this commentary studied and practiced at the feet of Master Chekawa for over two decades assures us that he knew the thoughts of his teacher quite intimately. In fact, there is no doubt in my mind that the commentary we have in our present anthology was compiled on the basis of lecture notes taken directly from Chekawa’s exposition of the seven points. For example, throughout this commentary, the author frequently inserts the verb sung ( gsungs), which can be translated as “said” or “taught,” at the end of a sentence or paragraph. This is quite characteristic of a specific genre of Tibetan spiritual writing called sindri (zin bris), which are effectively lecture notes taken at a teaching or teachings and later compiled into a coherent text. So the verb “said” or “taught” at the end of a sentence or paragraph should be read as “the master taught” or “the master said,” and “master” here refers to Chekawa.

Master Chekawa, whose personal name was Yeshé Dorjé, was born in central Tibet in the first year of the twelfth century. Although he was inspired initially to pursue a nonmonastic yogi’s life and received teachings from Milarepa’s disciple Rechungpa, at twenty he took ordination and became a monk. The turning point in his spiritual career came when he first heard Eight Verses from the Kadam master Chakshingwa and, more specifically, when at thirty years old he met Sharawa. With the founding of the monastery of Cheka, from which the epithet Chekawa is derived, he appeared to have ensured the continuation of the lineage of his teachings. On the personal level, he combined life as a hermit with his duties as the head of a monastery.

Although most renowned for his Seven-Point Mind Training, Chekawa is known also for another set of mind training instructions, all aimed at taking adversities onto the path of enlightenment. These instructions entail (1) taking obstacles onto the path of enlightenment through the cultivation of patience, (2) taking suffering onto the path through equalizing and exchanging self and others, (3) taking adverse conditions onto the path through turning one’s adversaries into friends, (4) taking the afflictions onto the path through application of their relevant antidotes. In addition to his more practically oriented mind training works, Chekawa also composed one of the earliest works of the druptha genre, which contrasts the central tenets of various classical Indian philosophical systems.

Seven-Point Mind Training

Chekawa Yeshé Dorjé

I. Presentation of the preliminaries, the basis

First, train in the preliminaries.

II. Training in the awakening mind, the main practice

  1. Training in ultimate awakening mind
    Train to view all phenomena as dreamlike.
    Examine the nature of the unborn awareness.
    The remedy, too, is freed in its own place.
    Place your mind on the basis-of-all, the actual path.
    In the intervals be a conjurer of illusions.
  2. Training in conventional awakening mind
    Train alternately in the two—giving and taking.
    Place the two astride your breath.
    There are three objects, three poisons, and three roots of virtue.
    In all actions, train by means of the words.

III. Taking adverse conditions onto the path of enlightenment

When the world and its inhabitants boil with negativity, transform adverse conditions into the path of enlightenment.
Banish all blames to the single source.
Toward all beings contemplate their great kindness.
With the three views and treasury of space, the yoga of protection is unexcelled.
By meditating on illusions as the four buddha bodies, emptiness is protection unsurpassed.
The fourfold practice is the most excellent method.
Relate whatever you can to meditation right now.

IV. Presentation of a lifetime’s practice in summary

In brief the essence of instruction is this:
Apply yourself to the five powers.
As Mahayana’s transference method is the five powers alone, their practice is vital.

V. Presentation of the measure of having trained the mind

The intent of all teachings converges on a single point.
Of the two witnesses uphold the principal one.
Cultivate constantly the joyful mind alone.
If this can be done even when distracted, you are trained.

VI. Presentation of the commitments of mind training

Train constantly in the three general points.     
Transform your attitudes but remain as you are.
Do not speak of the defects [of others].
Do not reflect on others’ shortcomings.
Discard all expectations of reward.
Discard poisonous food.
Do not maintain inappropriate loyalty.
Do not torment with malicious banter.
Do not lie in ambush.
Do not strike at the heart.
Do not place the load of a dzo onto an ox.
Do not sprint to win a race.
Do not abuse this [practice] as a rite.
Do not turn the gods into demons.
Do not seek misery as a means to happiness.

VII. Presentation of the precepts of mind training

Accomplish all yogas through a single means.
Overcome all errors through a single means.
There are two tasks—one at the start and one at the end.
Whichever of the two arises, be patient.
Guard the two even at the cost of your life.
Train in the three difficult challenges.
Adopt the three principal conditions.
Contemplate the three that are free of degeneration.
Be endowed with the three inseparable factors.
Train constantly toward the chosen objects.
Do not depend on other conditions.
Engage in the principal practices right now.
Do not apply misplaced understanding. 
Do not be sporadic.
Train with decisiveness.
Be released through the two: investigation and close analysis.
Do not boast of your good deeds.
Do not be ill-tempered.
Do not be fickle.
Do not be boisterous.
Through this proliferation of the five degenerations transform [every event] into the path of enlightenment.

Because of my numerous aspirations, I have defied the tragic tale of suffering and have taken instructions to subdue self-grasping. Now, even if death comes, I have no regrets.

 

How to cite this document:
© The Institute of Tibetan Classics, Essential Mind Training (Wisdom Publications, 2011)

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