There is a teaching in the Dzogchen Buddhist tradition that I want to share with you. It is a form of mind training, but different from some other teachings in its depth. This is a preliminary lesson, but it goes all the way through some difficult concepts that aren’t generally considered accessible to beginners. For this reason, it is a good teaching to study if one has been practicing for a long time or if one is just starting out.
This teaching is called The Seven Mind Trainings and it is a list of things to contemplate.
In “The Seven Mind Trainings: Essential Instructions on the Preliminary Practices” by Longchen Rabjam, he labeled them this way:
2) Transient and lasting happiness
3) The different circumstances that lead to death
4) The uselessness of all worldly enterprises
5) The virtues of the Buddha
6) The Guru’s Instructions
I will do a few writings based on these teachings over the next few weeks, but we will explore each of them a bit now.
We tend to think we can hold on to things, but we can’t. The truth is we lose things all the time and we all know it. You can’t hold anything back in this world. It could really scare us, or we can work to keep in mind that it means the things we don’t like pass too. Thinking about impermanence helps us not to try to hold on tight to everything all the time. It also helps our tendency towards self-obsession.
Longchen Rabjam says, “Without being distracted even for a moment, ask yourself with all your heart: ‘I wonder if I will die tonight, or maybe tomorrow?’ All the sentient beings you see will also die, so meditate on the thought ‘When will these beings die?’ Contemplating in this way will help you to see that all conditioned phenomena are impermanent in nature. Seeing them as examples of impermanence will help your mind become more focused. The purpose of meditating in this way is to distract your mind from impermanence.
Contemplate fleeting and lasting happiness
The joys of life are fleeting. When you buy a new car, you really like it and enjoy it for a short time, and then it just becomes a regular part of your life. We think about many things in life like this. We tend to think, “if I can just get this partner, or this job, then I can finally be happy.” The truth is, when we have great things that we think will finally bring us happiness, it’s usually not as wonderful as we think. And sometimes we get what we want and it turns out… we should have wanted something else.
Longchen Rabjam says, “When you wholeheartedly believe that all activities eventually cause suffering, you will have familiarized yourself with the training of the mind. The purpose of meditating in this way is to bring about a feeling of disenchantment and disillusionment with the suffering of samsara.
Contemplate the various circumstances that lead to death
It all sounds very dark, doesn’t it? You could die tomorrow. How does thinking about it help?
Like the impermanence and fleeting nature of happiness, thinking about it helps us try to stop being so self-centered all the time. But it does more than that. Knowing that we’re all in this situation where we could die at any moment, that we’re all in this together, should really make us kinder to others. This should help us avoid fighting over things that are ultimately not so important. We don’t usually think that way, but we might. We can learn to stop doing things that harm ourselves and others and to stop engaging so much in negative behaviors like gossiping.
Longchen Rabjam says, “Do you think, ‘I should concentrate only on virtue!’ With that in mind, reflect on all the good and bad circumstances of the past, what you are doing in the present, and what you will be doing in the future. Cultivate a sense of disenchantment and focus your mind. When compassion for the six classes of beings arises and you enthusiastically think of all your activities as an offering to the Three Jewels and to your guru, you will have mastered this mental training. Meditating in this way serves to elucidate the prerequisite of faith.
Contemplating the futility of all mundane efforts
It is a question of comparing our ordinary life with our spiritual life. If we engage the teachings, spiritual enlightenment could be within our reach. If we engage the teachings, we could suffer less and love more. It would be a wonderful thing for us. So what we do is compare the ordinary, normal things that we do with the spiritual things that we might do. I can do my meditation practice in the morning instead of taking the time to scroll through Facebook before going to work. So can you.
Longshen Rabjam said, “What a waste to have spent your time in useless pursuits: to be caught up in attachment and aversion, to quarrel with others, to expect to hear pleasant things and hear nothing unpleasant, to seek pleasure and avoiding pain, hoarding and hoarding things, and so on.
Contemplate the virtues of the Buddha
The historical figure we call the Buddha overcame suffering and learned to live enlightenedly. He was just an ordinary person like us, so we have the ability to achieve what he did.
Longchen Rabjam says, “Tell yourself, ‘Since Buddhahood cannot be attained without meditating, it is essential that I do so. I must practice with perfect concentration, following the example of the amazing and accomplished masters of the past, who endured hardships and lived in isolated places in their quest for liberation. This will serve to strengthen your resolve in meditation.
Contemplating the Guru’s Instructions
I’ll be honest, it’s the one I struggle with. The message I take from this is that we really should take it seriously when we receive spiritual teachings. And anyone who shares spiritual teachings with us should be held in high esteem.
Longchen Rabjam says, “For this training of the mind, think about the reasons for practicing the guru’s instructions. Consider how the guru is the one who will guide you through the boundless ocean of samsara to liberation. The guru’s instructions, like a great vessel, will set you free.
This is the mind blowing part. We’re just going to talk about a mind free of concepts. How can we even talk about it? In his teaching, Longchen Rabjam includes three forms of non-conceptuality: bliss-emptiness, clarity-emptiness and reality. It gives a brief orientation on thinking about each of them and I will include them here.
The non-conceptuality of bliss-emptiness: “Imagine the syllable HAM at the upper end of your central channel and an AH symbol at your navel. The fire springs from the AH and strikes the HAM, causing a flow of nectar to descend, filling the four root chakras and all the secondary chakras. This, in turn, causes bliss-emptiness to arise. As you visualize this, pull the lower energy up, press the higher energy down, and focus on a white AH syllable in your heart center. It will produce the empty knowledge which uses the skillful means of bliss.
The non-conceptuality of clarity-emptiness: “Begin by expelling the stale breath three times. As you inhale, imagine all outward appearances and objects merging into the light, merging with blue space, and then completely filling your entire body. Finally, join and hold the energies. This will generate void-clarity.
The non-conceptuality of reality itself: “Relax the body and mind from deep within. Without moving your eyes, meditate in a state free from the comings and goings of thoughts. By meditating in this way, you will be able to concentrate on whatever you direct your attention to, after which you will be able to rest for longer and longer periods in a non-conceptual, space-like state. When this happens, you will have mastered this practice.
I’ll leave that there without comment from my side for now. I will write something about this heavy idea later.
I will end with another quote from Longchen Rabjam.
“The merits of realizing impermanence are endless:
You will abandon the defects of samsara and naturally accumulate all the virtues.
You will be liberated from grasping the concepts of eternity and dissolve attachments to loved ones and hatred to enemies.
You will quickly attain the immortal nectar-like state (buddhahood)”
The quotes from this article and the teachings referenced can be found in the book “Steps to Great Perfection” by Jigme Lingpa. This book can be found here: https://www.shambhala.com/steps-to-the-great-perfection-15118.html