Longchenpa is not only one the most prolific and brilliant philosophers in Buddhist Himalaya to appear in more than a millennium, he is also regarded as truly and completely enlightened. Many of his books describe how it is to be enlightened, seen from the inside. He could explain dharmakaya in incredible detail. This short text contains his last words, his testament, for all meditators who want to follow in his footsteps and attain the same level of realization. These words are regarded as pure gold, as he said, “Even if you were to have met me in person, I would have had no superior advice to give you.”
Mirror to Reflect the Most Essential Longchen Rabjam’s The Final Instruction on the Ultimate Meaning
Single embodiment of compassionate power and activities, in the infinite mandalas of all-encompassing conquerors, glorious guru, supreme lord of a hundred families, forever I pay homage at your feet.
Ema! Listen here, you fortunate yogis. At present we have achieved the perfect human body of freedoms and riches. We have met the precious teachings of the greater vehicle. We now have the independence to genuinely apply the sacred dharma, so do not squander your life on pointless things. Instead, pursue the lasting goal.
The categories of teachings are endless. The entrance doors to the vehicles are innumerable. The words to be explained are extensive. Even if you succeed in memorizing millions of volumes of dharma scriptures, unless you are able to practice the essential meaning, you can never be sure that they will help you at the moment of death. And even if your education in studies and reflections is boundless, unless you succeed in being in harmony with the dharma, you will not tame your enemy, negative emotions. Even if you succeed in being the owner of a trillion worlds, unless you can curtail your plans from within with the feeling that nothing more is needed, you will never know contentment. Unless you prepare yourself with the attitude that your death could happen at any time, you cannot achieve the great aim that is surely needed at the time of death.
You must tame your own shortcomings and cultivate impartial pure perception, for a biased attitude will not let you shoulder the Mahayana teachings. Since all the sentient beings among the six classes in the three realms have without exception been your own parents, unless you make pure aspirations with ceaseless compassion and bodhichitta, you cannot open the jewel mine of altruistic actions. Unless you generate a devotion toward your kind guru exceeding even that of meeting the Buddha in person, you will not feel the warmth of blessings. Unless you genuinely receive the blessings, the seedlings of experience and realization will not sprout. Unless realization dawns from within, dry explanations and theories will not help you achieve the fruit of enlightenment.
In short, unless you mingle your mind with the dharma, it is pointless to merely sport a spiritual veneer. Keep to the bare necessities for sustaining your life and warding off the bitter cold; reflect on the fact that nothing else is really needed. Practice guru yoga and supplicate one-pointedly. Direct every spiritual practice you do to the welfare of all sentient beings, your own parents. Whatever good or evil, joy or sorrow befalls you, train in seeing it as your guru’s kindness.
Within the vastness of spontaneous self-knowing, let be freely, uncontrived and free of fabrication. Whatever thoughts arise, be sure to recognize your nature so that they all dissolve as the play of dharmata. Even though you practice in such a way that there is not even as much as a hair tip of a concrete reference point to cultivate by meditating, do not stray into ordinary deluded diffusion, even for a single moment. Instead, make sure that every aspect of your daily activities is embraced by an undistracted presence of mind. Whatever occurs and whatever you experience, strengthen your conviction that they are all insubstantial and magical illusions, so that you can experience this in the bardo as well.
In short, at all times and in every situation, make sure that whatever you do turns into the sacred dharma and dedicate every virtuous action toward enlightenment. By doing so, you will fulfill your guru’s wishes and be of service to the Buddha’s dharma; you will repay your parents’ kindness and spontaneously accomplish the benefit of yourself and others. Please keep this in your heart. Even if you were to have met me in person, I would have had no superior advice to give you, so bring it into your practice in every moment and in every situation.
So how is death experienced on a personal level? What can we do? What will help us? Is there a set of methods we can familiarize with to such an extent that we are unafraid, confident or at least, without regrets? How do we handle losing everything we know? How can we deal with the intense and vast unfolding of the primal energies of consciousness? How do we find a secure place to be?
According to the Buddha experience continues. He explained that consciousness by nature is beyond nothingness and a concrete thing, because reality of mind is like that.Our understanding of what we are and what we experience should therefore also transcend those two extremes, because its nature is like that. This fact is directly proven by the experiences of dying and taking rebirth. Since mind is no thing in itself, nothing permanently sticks to it, which becomes evident during the actual process of dying, when all thoughts and emotions cease, even the sense of personal identity dissolves. It is here the meditator has the first major chance for liberation. Moreover, since mind isn’t nothingness, something entirely different begins to happen after everything dissolves: the nature of mind shines forth with tremendous color, light and sound.
The experience of passing on will not be a new event; we all have gone through it countless times. No one forces us to take one rebirth after the other. No one has done it to us, not a god, devil, fate or chance. So what makes the wheel spin? It is lack of realization of the nature of mind. When all thoughts and emotions have dissolved at the moment of death, for the one without meditation experience and insights, the vastness is terrifying, the natural displays are overwhelming, and the mind soon seeks safe surroundings, a shelter, a new rebirth. It is therefore of utmost importance to learn and grow familiar with a meditation experience that correspond to the nature of mind and reality, in its fullest sense, beyond nothingness and concrete things and which has a natural radiance of love.
We therefore need instruction in how to recognize the death process as it happens, in how to be at peace with leaving our body behind, and with the gradual melting away of everything we have ever known, all names and concepts. We also need an instruction for being at peace with the spectacular sceneries of lights, colors and sounds, which are infinite, multidimensional, omnidirectional and coming from all directions at once. To be liberated here requires a firm knowledge that all these displays are not real, and that they are our own nature at play. We also need instruction in how to take the right rebirth, rather than leaving it to chance or karma, so we can continue our spiritual path.
I am delighted to share with you a condensed version of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. The author is Padmasambhava, the Lotus-Born. It was written down by my teacher Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche’s great grand-father, according to vision-teachings he directly received from Padmasambhava. It is short and therefore easy to memorize. Tulku Urgyen always said that meditators would all benefit immensely from being familiar with these reminders. You can read them gently near the ear of the dying person who has been a meditator, as a reminder of something he or she already knows. You can also learn them by heart for yourself, in case you die alone. The reminders are more precious than gold and diamonds, because remembering them in the bardo states will free you.
Liberation Through Hearing in the Bardo:From the Six Wonderful Methods for Enlightenment Without Cultivation.
Here I [Padmasambhava] shall explain the profound meaning of liberation through hearing for the ones who have arrived at the time of death. Among the three kinds of bardos, the first is the time of the bardo of dying.
Fortunate one of noble family, listen one-pointedly. Pay heed. Do not wander. Every experience in this world is Mara’s dream-like illusion. Everything is impermanent, everyone is subject to death. Noble one, turn away from further painful states.
The experiences of whiteness, redness and blackness are all the magical display of your mind. These experiences are nothing other than yourself. Do not be afraid. Do not fear them.
Now it seems that you are losing consciousness. Outer appearances resemble the sky at dawn. Inner experience resembles a the flame of a butter lamp in a vase. Remain one-pointedly in the clarity of nonthought.
This luminosity of death is buddha mind itself. Rest naturally. Do not try to fabricate or change anything. Noble one, in this way you are liberated into dharmakaya.
Give this advice in a pleasant and clear manner. Those of the highest capacity will be liberated through this. Now comes the second bardo of dharmata.
Fortunate noble one, listen one-pointedly. Pay heed. Do not wander. Earlier, you did not recognize awareness. For the next seven days, all of your experience unfolds as rainbows and lights, as rays and spheres and as the bodily forms of deities. All are sublime displays of means and knowledge of the five buddha families. Do not be afraid, do not be terrified by the brilliant colors and lights. They are your natural expressions. Decide on that.
Together with these lights, there will also come dull colored lights and they may attract your mind. Do not be attached to them. They are the self-display of the five poisons, the pathways of samsara. Your experience will arise as both true and untrue paths. Do not mistake. Chose the right path.
From the heart centers of the male and female buddhas of the five families, shafts of light reach your eyes. This is Vajrasattva’s vast and direct path. While remaining quietly and aware, form this thought, Be kind, help! Call out with intense yearning. Do not approve or reject anything. Do not ward off anything; do not hold on to anything. Be the continuous state in which the divine forms are indivisible from yourself. Right here, as one deity dissolves into another, you are liberated into sambhogakaya.
Listen fortunate one! If you are not liberated now, know that time does not change though the displays do. Everywhere in the four cardinal and four intermediate directions, above and below, appear a roaring mass of flames and rainbow colors. In the middle of this appears is the Great Glorious Heruka. His retinue of deities and terrifying attendants shower cascades of sharp weapons. They shout hung, phat and roar with laughter. This fiery spectacle of immense variety makes one billion world systems tremble. Do not be afraid, do not be terrified. Acknowledge that everything is the display of awareness. Remain firm in this knowing. Settle indivisibly mingled with the natural state. Having entered this pathway, you are liberated.
In this way, those of the middle capacity are liberated. Thirdly, during the bardo of becoming, say to the dead person:
Listen, child of noble family. Pay heed. Do not wander. Your body is now comprised of energy-currentsand mind. Around it unfolds the displays belonging to the bardo of becoming. Recognize that you have died, and that you long to be alive.
You may be caught by the fierce servants of the Lord of the Dead. There may be horrible sounds. A steep abyss may open up before you. There may be many definite and indefinite signs. They are all your mind’s displays. This mind is ultimately open like the sky. Space cannot be harmed by space. So reclaim your unconditional confidence.
When consecrated substances are burnt and given to you, enjoy it as an inexhaustible feast. Enjoy this the sublime food of liberation through smell. Do not yearn for a new life. Direct instead your longing to your yidam deity and master.
To the west of here is the Blissful Realm where Lord Amitabha dwells. Whoever recalls his name will be born there. You, too, recall his name, make prayers. Generate devotion and think, Lokeshvara and Guru Rinpoche, help me! Have no doubt. Fly there with the spontaneous vajra leap. And within the hollow of a lotus bud, in that same buddha realm, you will be swiftly and miraculously born. Therefore, noble one, trust in this with deepest joy.
Those of the lowest capacity are liberated like this.If not, now comes the way of liberation once one has passed through to rebirth.
Listen, child of noble family. Since you have not closed the door to the womb, you may now see a log or a hollow space, a dark place, a forest or a palace. Cast away all desire and clinging. Make up your mind to be born on Earth; specifically in Tibet [a land with Dharma teachings] in the presence of your teacher. Visualize your future parents, from a virtuous family, to be Guru Rinpoche and his consort. Do not yearn for or resent them. Have trust and settle in the state of equanimity. You will become a vessel for the profound Dharma. And then you will swiftly realize timeless wakefulness.
Through these gradual instructions, no matter how low one’s capacity may be, one will certainly be liberated within seven rebirths.
Draw the session to a close with the dedication and aspiration prayers. Then settle in the natural state that is the sublime nature of all experience.
This immensely profound instruction is not dependent on cultivation; it liberates through hearing.
The essence of the Buddha's 84,000 teachings is bodhicitta: the awakening mind that aspires toward enlightenment, in order to have the perfect ability to free all beings from suffering and lead them to peerless happiness. On his two visits to Singapore in 1997, Venerable Lama Ribur Rinpoche taught extensively on how to generate that precious mind of enlightenment. Rinpoche also gave insightful teachings on lo-jong(thought transformation), the practice that enables us to transform problems into the causes for enlightenment.
Bodhicitta, the aspiration to attain enlightenment in order to benefit all sentient beings, is something that is truly inconceivable, truly splendid and marvellous. One of the great gurus of Lama Atisha told him that an attainment such as clairvoyance, or a vision of a deity, or concentration as stable as a mountain is nothing compared to bodhicitta. For us, these attainments seem amazing. If we ourselves, or if someone we heard of, had a visioon of a deity, achieved clairvoyance, or through practising meditation attained concentration as stable as a mountain, we would think this to be unbelievably wonderful. However. Atisha's guru said to him: "These are nothing compared to bodhicitta. Therefore, practise bodhicitta."
Even if you practised mahamudra or dzogchen or the two stages of highest yoga tantra [generation stage and completion stage] and even if you achieved the vision of many deities, these are not beneficial if you do not have bodhicitta.
As the great Bodhisattva Shantideva said, "If you churn the 84,000 teachings of the Buddha, their essence is bodhicitta." By churning milk we get butter, which is the very essence of milk. In the same way, if we examine and churn all the 84,000 teachings of the Buddha, their very essence is the practice of bodhicitta. Therefore, it is extremely important for us to strive to achieve the uncontrived, effortless experience of bodhicitta. At the very least, we should try our best to generate the contrived experience of bodhicitta, the bodhicitta that arises through effort.
There are two main lineages of instructions on the basis of which you can practise and generate bodhicitta. The first is the seven-point cause and effect instruction and the second is the instruction on exchanging oneself and others.
The first, the seven-point cause and effect instruction by which you generate bodhicitta on the basis of developing affectionate love towards all sentient beings, is a practice which was used by such great Indian pandits as Chadrakirti, Chandragomin, Shantarakshita and so forth. The second, the instruction on exchanging oneself with others, comes mainly from Shantideva. Whether you choose to train your miind in the seven-point cause and effect instruction or in exchanging oneself with others, the result is that you will generate bodhicitta in your mind.
The great saint Atisha showed extraordinary interest in bodhicitta. In order to obtain the complete instructions on the practice of bodhiciita, he embarked on a long journey to the Indonesian island of Sumatra to study with the great master Serlingpa, not caring about the many hardships he endured on the way. Today we can travel to Indonesia by a very fast ship or by airplane, but at that time it took Atisha thirteen months to reach Indonesia. Once he arrived, he received the complete expereintial instruction on both the seven-point technique and exchanging oneself with others from the master Serlingpa. He then practised for twelve years at his master's feet, until he fully developed bodhicitta. Thus Lama Atisha came to possess both instruction lineages: the seven-point technique and exchanging oneself with others.
Although he held both lineages, Atisha would teach only the seven-point technique in public, to large assemblies of disciples, and would teach instructions on exchanging oneself with others secretly to a select group of qualified disciples. When Atisha went to Tibet, he gave the instructions on exchanging oneself with others only to his principal disciple, Dromtonpa.
Later, the great Lama Tsongkhapa, the Protecor of all beings, incorporated the two sets of instructions into a single practice consisting of eleven points. When you are receiving teachings on bodhicitta, you receive the two sets of instructions separately, but when you are actually meditating on bodhicitta—training your mind—then you combine both instructions and meditate on the eleven points. Combining the two instructions into a single practice for the purpose of training the mind in meditation is said to be a particular greatness of the Gelugpa tradition.
In a prayer composed by Lama Pabongka Dorje Chang requesting to meet the doctrine of Lama Tsongkhapa, he wrote: "By merging the practices of the seven-point mind technique and exchanging oneself with others of the precious mind, this greatness which is not shared by others, may I thus be able to meet the doctrine of Lama Tsongkhapa." "Not shared by others" means that this merging of the two practices devised by Je Rinpoche is a unique approach which is not found in other traditions.
I first received these teachings from the holy mouth of the incredibly kind Lama Pabongka Dorje Chang, when he taught the eight great lam-rim texts over a period of four months at Sera Monastery in Tibet. At that time I was very young. When he reached the point of explaining exchanging oneslef with others, he gave teachings on The Seven-Point Thought Transformation. Later I received these teachings twice from the late Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche.
The Seven-Point Cause and Effect Instruction
As for the seven points of the cause and effect instruction, one begins by meditating on equanimity and then proceeds through the following steps:
1. Recognising all sentient beings as one's mother 2. Recognising the kindness of mother sentient beings 3. Repaying their kindness 4. Affectionate love 5. Great compassion 6. The extraordinary intention 7. Bodhicitta
The first six points, recognising all sentient beings as one's mother and so forth, are the casues which give birth to the result, bodhicitta.
The way in which these realisations come about, step by step, is that bodhicitta, the thought of attaining enlightenment in order to benefit all sentient beings, arises from and must be preceded by a sense of responsibility. In Tibetan the term is lhagsam, which is sometimes called "extraordinary intention", or "exceptional attitude, or "universal responsibility"—it is a feeling of responsibility to benefit all sentient beings. For this intention to come about you must have a powerful wish for all sentient beings to be free from suffering—that is great compassion. For that to arise you must have developed affectionate love towards all sentient beings. At the moment we have affectionate love for our dear ones, but we don't have affectionate love for those who are not dear to us. In order to generate this affectionate love for everyone, you must develop a deep sense of closeness toward sentient beings, and the way to do that is by recognising all sentient beings as your mother, recognising their kindness and generatiing the wish to repay their kindness. This instruction is called the cause and effect technique because the later points arise after genterating the preceding points.
You should not approach this practice with a short-sighted mind, thinking, "Oh, this practice is too advanced for me. It will require so much time and energy. I will not be able to develop such a precious mind." This is not the right attitude. You should not have such fears because these instrtuctions are very profound and powerful. If you continuously train your mind, step by step, with persistence, there is no doubt that you will succeed. Generally speaking, all the instructions from the old Kadampa tradition are very powerful and effective. On top of that, there are the instructions combined by the great Lama Tsongkhapa, whose experience was based on his special relationship with Manjushri, with whom he had direct communication. These instructions are extremely powerful and effective, so you should not think they are too advanced for you and that you will not be able to develop bodhicitta.
Before beginning to train your mind in the first step, recognising all sentient beings as your mother, you should develop the thought of equanimity. It is similar to painting a picture: if you want to paint a picture on a surface, you must first make sure that the surface is smooth and even and has no rough or uneven spots on it. In the same way, before you can train your mind in the meditation on recognising all sentient beings as your mother, you must make your mind even with equanimity towards everyone. In other words, you must learn to stop discriminating among sentient beings, feeling close to some and distant from others, and the way to do this is by developing equanimity.
Now I will explain the way to meditate in order to develop equanimity. Those who are familiar with these instructions, please meditate while I am explaining. Those who are new, please pay special attention and try to retain the instructions in your mind. All of you please try to have the intention to develop bodhicitta, thinking that you must generate this realisation in your mind. As I mentioned before, these instructions of the Kadampa lamas are so powerful and effective, especially the instructions on merging the seven-point cause and effect technique and exchanging oneself with others as taught by Lama Tsongkhapa. So please be attentive and generate this strong intention: "I am definitely going to practise and develop bodhicitta in my mind."
Visualise in front of you three people: first, someone who upsets you—just by seeing or thinking about him or her, your mind becomes unhappy. Next to him or her, visualise someone you love and are close to—just by seeing this person your mind becomes happy. And next to that person, visualise a stranger, someone who is neither beneficial nor non-beneficial. When you think about these people, you feel aversion towards the person you dislike, attachment towards the person who is close to you, and indifference towards the stranger.
Now, thinking about the person you dislike, ask yourself, "Why do I dislike this person? What is the reason I get so upset? What has he done to me?" You will realise that this is because he has harmed you a little bit in this life. At this point you should think about the uncertainty of friends and enemies as explained in the lam-rim, in the section for the person of intermediate scope. This is one of the disadvantages of cyclic existence: you cannot be sure of friends and enemies; sometimes a friend becomes and enemy and sometimes an enemy becomes a friend. Think in this way: "Although this person has given me a small amount of harm in this life for a very short time, in many previous lifetimes since beginningless time, this person has shown me great affection and has been very close to me for a very long time. The harm he has given me in this life is so small compared to the closeness and affection we have had since beginningless time, yet I treat him like my ultimate enemy, the ultimate object to be avoided. This is completely wrong!" You need to think in this way again in order to subdue your feelings of aversion for this person.
Next to him is the person you feel close to, who makes you feel so happy as soon as you see him or her. You regard this person as your ultimate friend, the person who is closer to you than anyone else. You have so much attachment for this person you may feel that you don't want to be separated from him or her for even a moment. If you examine the reasons why this is so, it is because in this life he has benefited you in some way such as with resources and so forth. On the basis of some very small benefits and for very limited reasons, your mind becomes so happy and excited. However, you should think, "Although in this life he has benefited me a little, he has not always been my friend. In many previous lifetimes since beginningless time, he has been my enemy. He harmed me so much that just by seeing him I felt very strong aversion. It is not reasonable for me to have so much attachment and desire for this person just because he has benefited me, is beneficial to me and will benefit me, because he has also been the opposite." By thinking in this way over and over again, you can subdue your feelings of attachment.
Now turn to the stranger. The attitude you have toward this person is: "I don't know this person and I don't care about him. He hasn't connected with me in the past, he is not connecting with me now and he will not connect with me in the future, so who cares." This attitude is also completely wrong, so you should think, "In this life, this person is neither an enemy nor a friend, but in previous lives he was my enemy many times, and also many times he was my dearest friend, someone I was very close to. Therefore, it is completely unreasonable to be indifferent to this person." Just as you equalised your feelings towards the friend and the enemy, you should equalise your feelings towards the stranger by thinking this way again and again.
Therefore when you meditate, you first think that there is absolutely no reason to be so upset and feel so much aversion towards the enemy who has been your dearest friend so many times. You need to think about this again and again in order to subdue your aversion and equalise your mind towards this person. Likewise, think that there is no reason to be so attached to the person you are close to, your friend, because he has been your enemy so many times. Think about this again and again to subdue your attachment and equalise your mind towards this person.
When we perceive these three different people, we perceive them in terms of these three categories: friends, enemies and strangers. However, none of them exists in this way forever—no one is a friend, enemy or stranger for all time. Therefore, they are all the same. There is absolutely no reason to feel attachment towards one person, to feel aversion towards another, and to feel detached and indifferent towards yet another.
If we examine what they actually are, from their side, they are sentient beings. And they are all exactly the same in that they all wish to be happy and free from suffering. Thus there is not the slightest reason to discriminate between them with attachment, aversion and indifference. They are all exactly the same. You must come to this conclusion and meditate on it again and again. By meditating on this over and over again, you will reach the point where you actuall develop equanimity towards all sentient beings. You will feel that they are all the same to you; your feelings towards them will be equal. This is the result that should come about.
Although you might recite every day the prayer of the Four Immeasurable Thoughts "May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes; may all sentient beings be free from suffering and its causes" and so forth—until you have actually developed equanimity, in reality it will be as though you are saying, "May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes and be free from suffering and its causes—but only those I like and not those I dislike." No matter how frequently and fervently you recite the Four Immeasurable Thoughts, until you have developed equanimity, they are only words. They don't become the actual Four Immeasurable Thoughts. Therefore, it is extremely important to develop equanimity, and even if you spent months and years meditating solely on equanimity in order to develop this realisation, it would be an extremely worthwhile method of practising meditation. If you can pacify your feelings of attachment and aversion towards friends and enemies, it will be very beneficial to your mind.
Recognising All Sentient Beings as One's Mother
The next point, recognising all sentient beings as one's mother, is actually the first step in developing bodhicitta. Lama Pabongka Dorje Chang said that this point is not easy and takes quite a long time to develop. However, it is crucial and indispensable, because only on the basis of this recognition can you develop the following steps. We cannot progress without it, so it is very important to give it a lot of attention.
In general, when you meditate you use perfect reasoning as well as quotations. Here, with this point of recognising all beings as your mother, it is very important to use reasoning. Although you can also develop the same understanding on the basis of quotations, there is a difference in the way the mind is activated on the basis of quotations and on the basis of reasoning—it is more powerful on the basis of reasoning. The specific reasoning to be relied upon here is the beginningless continuity of mind.
First you have to establish that the continuity of the mind is beginningless. Start by thinking that your mind of today is the result of the mind of yesterday. And yesterday's mind came from the mind of the day before yesterday. In that way, you go back, day by day. Each day's mind is the result of the mind of the preceding day. Also, the mind of each moment is the result of the preceding moment.
Continue to go back, all the way to the moment of conception, and think about how the mind of the newborn baby is also a continuity which needs a preceding moment of mind in order to be generated. The mind of the newborn baby is the continuation of the mind of the fetus which was in the womb of the mother. And if you go back in this way, you will not be able to find a beginning.1 You cannot find a moment which you can point to as the beginning of the mind and say, "The mind began there." this is because any moment of mind would need a preceding moment in order to be generated. In this way you can establish that the continuum of the mind is beginningless. There is no single moment of mind which you can point to as being the first.
Following these reasons, you conclude that the number of times you have taken rebirth is countless. Not only that, but in all those rebirths, just as in this life, you needed a mother. For one hundred rebirths, you would need one hundred mothers; for one thousand rebirths. you would need one thousand mothers, and so forth. Sinceyou have had countless rebirths, you have had countless mothers.
So if you think very carefully about these points, you will realise that not only have you had countless rebirths, you have also had countless mothers. Furthermore, although sentient beings are also countless, the number of sentient beings that exist is fewer than the number of mothers you have had. You have taken rebirth countless times in all different types of bodies, and the number of sentient beings you need to have been your mother is greater than the number of sentient beings in existence. Therefore, since the number of times you have taken rebirth and the number of mothers you have had is greater than the number of sentient beings, it means that every single sentient being has been your mother not just once, but countless times.
Start with your own mother, thinking that you mother of this life was your mother countless times in previous rebirths. When you have gained some expereince of this idea such that your mind is transformed towards your mother, then think about it in relation to your father—that your father has been your mother countless times. Following that, think about how your friends have been your mother countless times. Then think about your enemies—even your enemies have been your mother so many times. Finally, widen your scope to include all sentient beings—meditate on how all sentient beings have been your mother.
You have to meditate on this subject again and again over a long period of time. While you are training your mind in this subject, you should rely on different lam-rim scriptures which explain various points and ways of meditating and can give you a lot of inspiration. You should request your spiritual teacher to give you explanations to help clarify your mind, and you should also discuss the subject with your Dharma friends. By thinking in this way again and again, you will reach the point where you realise that all sentient beings have been your mother, even down to a tiny insect like and ant. Even when you see a tiny insect you will feel certain that many times this being has been your kind mother, who took the greatest care of you and in whom you placed your trust. It is said that the great Atisha—who completely realised this point —would be immediately filled with a deep sense of respect whenever he met any sentient being. He would fold his hands and say, "Precious sentient being, so kind."
Recognising the Kindness of Mother Sentient Beings
The next step in the meditation is recognising the kindness of mother sentient beings. It is not enough just to recognise that all sentient ebings have been your mother, you must also recognise the depth of their kindness. For example, your mother of this life was so kind, carrying you within her for nine long months from the time of conception, always being very careful about what she ate and drank, and doing everything with the sole thought of taking care of you. Even the fact that you are alive and are able to learn and practise the Dharma is completely due to the kindness of your mother, who caried you in her womb and took such good care of you since the time of conception.
She took care of you while you were in her womb, and also after you were born. When you were born you were completely helpless, like a little bug, unable to do anything. Nevertheless, your mother treated you as if you were a priceless jewel—continuously taking the greatest care of you, day and night, with no other thought in her mind than concern for your welfare. She fed you, bathed you, dressed you in soft clothing, took you here and there to make you happy, and even made funny faces or gestures to make you smile. Becasue of her constant feeling of love and concern for you, her mind was always full of worry that you might get sick or hurt—so much so that she would have difficulty sleeping at night.
You learned how to walk because of the kindness of your mother—she would help you stand up and take your first step, then the second step, and so forth. You also learned how to pronounce your first words because of the kindness of your mother and also your father. As time went on, you were able to study and learn many other things, but only on the basis of knowing how to walk and speak, which you learned because of the kindness of your mother.
In the preceding step you realised that all sentient beings have been your mother, and with this meditation you realise that not only has your mother of this present life been incredibly kind to you, but all the countless sentient beings have been just as kind.
Repaying Their Kindness
The next step is generating the wish to repay the kindness of all mother sentient beings. Ask yourself, "Am I able to repay their kindness?" Then think, "I should be able to repay their kindness because I'm in such fortunate circumstances: I have met the Dharma, I have met perfect teachers, I have met the path, and I have all the right circumstances to practise. Therefore I must do as much as I possibly can to liberate them from their suffering and to bring them the happiness that they wish for. I must do this in order to repay their kindness."
Of course, repaying the kindness of sentient beings includes helping them on a conventional level, by doing as much as you can to give food to those who are hungry, drink to those who are thirsty, clothing and other material things. But the most important way of helping is by completely relieving all sentient beings of all their sufferings and giving them all the happiness that they could wish for. You should bring this thought to your mind again and again.
The next step, affectionate love, is the kind of love that a mother feels when looking at her only child. When a mother looks at her child, he appears to her in a very beautiful way, and she feels great love for him. Here, you generate this same kind of affectionate love towards all sentient beings, perceiving all beings in a beautiful, glowing way.
Actually, if you generated to previous step of recognising all sentient beings as your mother, recognising their kindness and wishing to repay their kindness, then you won't need extra effort or extra thought in order to develop affectionate love. It will arise spontaneously, due to the force of the preceding realisations.
When you meditate on affectionate love, you also need to reflect on the fact that all sentient beings, although wishing to be happy, are completely devoid of happiness, especially pure, uncontaminated happiness. By meditating in this way, you generate the strong wish that all sentient beings posess happiness and its causes, and that they actually abide in happiness. On top of that, you should also generate the wish that you yourself will make that happen. From the depths of your heart, request your lama to grant you blessings to be able to do this.
The next step is great compassion. This is one of the special characteristics of the Buddha's teachings, and Lama Tsongkhapa in particular placed a great deal of emphasis on it as a very special cause that gives rise to very special effects. Also, the great Chandrakirti, in the introduction to his Entering the Middle Way, pays homage to great compassion, saying that it is extremely important at the beginning, in the middle and at the end. At the beginning, it is the seed which enables you to enter the Mahayana path. In the middle, while you are engaging in the bodhisattva's practice of the six perfections, it is the very soul of your practice. At the end it causes the result, Buddhahood, to ripen and makes possible all the Buddha's wonderful deeds for the benefit of sentient beings. Therefore, great compassion is praised as being extremely important at the beginning, in the middle and at the end.
It is said that in the beginning, in order to develop great compassion, it is very beneficial to observe and reflect on the way a butcher slaughters an animal—cutting the throat, ripping out its insides, pulling off its skin. Using this as an example is an easy and powerful way to meditate on great compassion. Here in Singapore,there is a market where we go to buy animals to liberate. It would be extremely beneficial to go there and observe the situation, reflecting both on the animals which are being slaughtered and those who are slaughtering them.
Once you have started to generate great compassion, then you reflect on the same meditations that you used while training your mind in the small scope section of the lam-rim, by thinking in detail about the sufferings of the three lower realms, the hells and so forth.2 However, this time you generate compassion by thinking of the sufferings of the specific sentient beings: the sufferings of extreme heat and extreme cold of the hell-beings, the sufferings of extreme hunger and thirst of the pretas, and the sufferings of the animals.
What is the measure or sign of having generated great compassion in your mind? It is that you feel towards all sentient beings the same wish for them to be free of suffering that a mother would feel for her only child. When a mother sees her child going through intense suffering, she feels an unbearable wish for the child to be completely free from this suffering. Feeling this same strong wish towards each and every sentient beings is the sign that you have generated great cmpassion.
The Extraordinary Intention
The next step is the extraordinary intention. This is when you have the feeling that you yourself, alone, have the responsibility of eliminating all the sufferings of all sentient beings. and bringing to them all the happiness that they wish for. It is the same sense of responsibility that a child would feel towards his or her mother—feeling responsible to make her happy and free from suffering. So when you feel that way towards all sentient beings and feel that you yourself alone will achieve this goal, then you have generated the extraordinary intention. It is "extraordinary" because it is more exceptional or supreme than the intention of the Hearers and Solitary Realisers, those who practise the individual vehicle.
The extraordinary intention is similar to being in the position of saving someone from falling off a cliff, where you feel responsible to save the person. In the same way, when you feel a deep sense of responsibility for eliminating the suffering of all sentient beings and for giving them all the happiness they wish for, that is the extraordinry intention. It can also be called the "exceptional attitude" or "universal responsibility".
The next step is the actual generation of bodhicitta, also called "the generation of the mind". This comes by reflecting, "Do I really have the capacity to accomplish this goal of eliminating all the suffering of sentient beings and bringing them to happiness? Actually, at this point I can't accomplish that even for one sentient being. And if I check who does have the complete capacity to accomplish this goal, it is only the Buddha. Only the Buddha has the right qualities, because of his power, his knowledge, and his capacity to accomplish spontaneously the benefit of all sentient beings." At this point you have to reflect on the qualities of Buddha as a worthy object of refuge, as you did in the lam-rim meditation of the individual of the small scope.
Following this, you generate the thought that you will accomplish the benefit of all sentient beings by achieving the qualities of the Buddha yourself. This means that you generate the mind of bodhicitta, thinking, "I must achieve the supreme enlightenment in order to benefit all sentient beings." This wish to become a Buddha is not just to abandon whatever has to be abandoned in order to achieve the complete purpose for yourself. Previously you generated great love and great compassion in order to achieve the benefit of all sentient beings, therefore it is for that purpose that you now generate the wish to become a Buddha.
You must also check: "Am I actually able to do it?" Yes, you are definitely in a position where you can become a Buddha for the benefit of all sentient beings. In fact, there is no better situation than the one you are in now. You have a precious human rebirth, and you have met perfect teachers and the Mahayana path. This means you are actually in the best situation to achieve Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.
Furthermore, you have met the perfect teachings of the great Lama Tsongkhapa. By relying on these incredible teachings, many practitioners of the past, on the basis of having achieved a precious human rebirth, were able to achieve the supreme realisation in that very lifetime. Some individuals, such as the omniscient Gyalwa Ensapa, were able to achieve this realisation in an even shorter period of time—twelve years or even three years. These practitioners had the same basis—the precious human body and other conditions— that you now have. Therefore you should feel a sense of confidence in having the basis that enables you to become a Buddha.
The contrived form of bodhicitta—the experience of bodhicitta which arises through effort—is known in Tibetan as "the bodhicitta which is like the outer layer of the sugarcane". The uncontrived form of bodhicitta is when the thought of wanting to achieve supreme enlightenment for the benefit of sentient beings arises spontaneously in your mind as soon as you meet any sentient being, no matter who he or she is. Having the uncontrived, effortless experience is the sign that you have achieved the actual realisation of bodhicitta. And once you have generated the realisation of bodhicitta, you earn the name "Child of the Victorious Ones".
This concludes the explanation on how to generate bodhicitta by way of the seven-point cause and effect instruction.
It’s hard to always show compassion — even to the people we love, but Robert Thurman asks that we develop compassion for our enemies. He prescribes a seven-step meditation exercise to extend compassion beyond our inner circle.
Transcript: I want to open by quoting Einstein’s wonderful statement, just so people will feel at ease that the great scientist of the 20th century also agrees with us, and also calls us to this action. He said, “A human being is a part of the whole, called by us, the ‘universe,’ — a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion, to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
This insight of Einstein’s is uncannily close to that of Buddhist psychology, wherein compassion — “karuna,” it is called — is defined as, “the sensitivity to another’s suffering and the corresponding will to free the other from that suffering.” It pairs closely with love, which is the will for the other to be happy, which requires, of course, that one feels some happiness oneself and wishes to share it. This is perfect in that it clearly opposes self-centeredness and selfishness to compassion, the concern for others, and, further, it indicates that those caught in the cycle of self-concern suffer helplessly, while the compassionate are more free and, implicitly, more happy.
The Dalai Lama often states that compassion is his best friend. It helps him when he is overwhelmed with grief and despair. Compassion helps him turn away from the feeling of his suffering as the most absolute, most terrible suffering anyone has ever had and broadens his awareness of the sufferings of others, even of the perpetrators of his misery and the whole mass of beings. In fact, suffering is so huge and enormous, his own becomes less and less monumental. And he begins to move beyond his self-concern into the broader concern for others. And this immediately cheers him up, as his courage is stimulated to rise to the occasion. Thus, he uses his own suffering as a doorway to widening his circle of compassion. He is a very good colleague of Einstein’s, we must say.
Now, I want to tell a story, which is a very famous story in the Indian and Buddhist tradition, of the great Saint Asanga who was a contemporary of Augustine in the West and was sort of like the Buddhist Augustine. And Asanga lived 800 years after the Buddha’s time. And he was discontented with the state of people’s practice of the Buddhist religion in India at that time.
And so he said, “I’m sick of all this. Nobody’s really living the doctrine. They’re talking about love and compassion and wisdom and enlightenment, but they are acting selfish and pathetic. So, Buddha’s teaching has lost its momentum. I know the next Buddha will come a few thousand years from now, but exists currently in a certain heaven” — that’s Maitreya — “so, I’m going to go on a retreat and I’m going to meditate and pray until the Buddha Maitreya reveals himself to me, and gives me a teaching or something to revive the practice of compassion in the world today.”
So he went on this retreat. And he meditated for three years and he did not see the future Buddha Maitreya. And he left in disgust. And as he was leaving, he saw a man — a funny little man sitting sort of part way down the mountain. And he had a lump of iron. And he was rubbing it with a cloth. And he became interested in that. He said, “Well what are you doing?” And the man said, “I’m making a needle.” And he said, “That’s ridiculous. You can’t make a needle by rubbing a lump of iron with a cloth.” And the man said, “Really?” And he showed him a dish full of needles. So he said, “Okay, I get the point.” He went back to his cave. He meditated again.
Another three years, no vision. He leaves again. This time, he comes down. And as he’s leaving, he sees a bird making a nest on a cliff ledge. And where it’s landing to bring the twigs to the cliff, its feathers brushes the rock — and it had cut the rock six to eight inches in. There was a cleft in the rock by the brushing of the feathers of generations of the birds. So he said, “All right. I get the point.” He went back.
Another three years. Again, no vision of Maitreya after nine years. And he again leaves, and this time: water dripping, making a giant bowl in the rock where it drips in a stream. And so, again, he goes back. And after 12 years there is still no vision. And he’s freaked out. And he won’t even look left or right to see any encouraging vision.
And he comes to the town. He’s a broken person. And there, in the town, he’s approached by a dog who comes like this — one of these terrible dogs you can see in some poor countries, even in America, I think, in some areas — and he’s looking just terrible. And he becomes interested in this dog because it’s so pathetic, and it’s trying to attract his attention. And he sits down looking at the dog. And the dog’s whole hindquarters are a complete open sore. Some of it is like gangrenous, and there are maggots in the flesh. And it’s terrible. He thinks, “What can I do to fix up this dog? Well, at least I can clean this wound and wash it.”
So, he takes it to some water. He’s about to clean, but then his awareness focuses on the maggots. And he sees the maggots, and the maggots are kind of looking a little cute. And they’re maggoting happily in the dog’s hindquarters there. “Well, if I clean the dog, I’ll kill the maggots. So how can that be? That’s it. I’m a useless person and there’s no Buddha, no Maitreya, and everything is all hopeless. And now I’m going to kill the maggots?”
So, he had a brilliant idea. And he took a shard of something, and cut a piece of flesh from his thigh, and he placed it on ground. He was not really thinking too carefully about the ASPCA. He was just immediately caught with the situation. So he thought, “I will take the maggots and put them on this piece of flesh, then clean the dog’s wounds, and then I’ll figure out what to do with the maggots.”
So he starts to do that. He can’t grab the maggots. Apparently they wriggle around. They’re kind of hard to grab, these maggots. So he says, “Well, I’ll put my tongue on the dog’s flesh. And then the maggots will jump on my warmer tongue” — the dog is kind of used up — “and then I’ll spit them one by one down on the thing.” So he goes down, and he’s sticking his tongue out like this. And he had to close his eyes, it’s so disgusting, and the smell and everything.
And then, suddenly, there’s a pfft, a noise like that. He jumps back and there, of course, is the future Buddha Maitreya in a beautiful vision — rainbow lights, golden, jeweled, a plasma body, an exquisite mystic vision — that he sees. And he says, “Oh.” He bows. But, being human, he’s immediately thinking of his next complaint.
So as he comes up from his first bow he says, “My Lord, I’m so happy to see you, but where have you been for 12 years? What is this?”
And Maitreya says, “I was with you. Who do you think was making needles and making nests and dripping on rocks for you, mister dense?” (Laughter) “Looking for the Buddha in person,” he said. And he said, “You didn’t have, until this moment, real compassion. And, until you have real compassion, you cannot recognize love.” “Maitreya” means love, “the loving one,” in Sanskrit.
And so he looked very dubious, Asanga did. And he said, “If you don’t believe me, just take me with you.” And so he took the Maitreya — it shrunk into a globe, a ball — took him on his shoulder. And he ran into town in the marketplace, and he said, “Rejoice! Rejoice! The future Buddha has come ahead of all predictions. Here he is.” And then pretty soon they started throwing rocks and stones at him — it wasn’t Chautauqua, it was some other town — because they saw a demented looking, scrawny looking yogi man, like some kind of hippie, with a bleeding leg and a rotten dog on his shoulder, shouting that the future Buddha had come.
So, naturally, they chased him out of town. But on the edge of town, one elderly lady, a charwoman in the charnel ground, saw a jeweled foot on a jeweled lotus on his shoulder and then the dog, but she saw the jewel foot of the Maitreya, and she offered a flower. So that encouraged him, and he went with Maitreya.
Maitreya then took him to a certain heaven, which is the typical way a Buddhist myth unfolds. And Maitreya then kept him in heaven for five years, dictating to him five complicated tomes of the methodology of how you cultivate compassion.
And then I thought I would share with you what that method is, or one of them. A famous one, it’s called the “Sevenfold Causal Method of Developing Compassion.” And it begins first by one meditating and visualizing that all beings are with one — even animals too, but everyone is in human form. The animals are in one of their human lives. The humans are human. And then, among them, you think of your friends and loved ones, the circle at the table. And you think of your enemies, and you think of the neutral ones. And then you try to say, “Well, the loved ones I love. But, you know, after all, they’re nice to me. I had fights with them. Sometimes they were unfriendly. I got mad. Brothers can fight. Parents and children can fight. So, in a way, I like them so much because they’re nice to me. While the neutral ones I don’t know. They could all be just fine. And then the enemies I don’t like because they’re mean to me. But they are nice to somebody. I could be them.”
And then the Buddhists, of course, think that, because we’ve all had infinite previous lives, we’ve all been each other’s relatives, actually. Therefore all of you, in the Buddhist view, in some previous life, although you don’t remember it and neither do I, have been my mother — for which I do apologize for the trouble I caused you. And also, actually, I’ve been your mother. I’ve been female, and I’ve been every single one of yours’ mother in a previous life, the way the Buddhists reflect. So, my mother in this life is really great. But all of you in a way are part of the eternal mother. You gave me that expression; “the eternal mama,” you said. That’s wonderful. So, that’s the way the Buddhists do it. A theist Christian can think that all beings, even my enemies, are God’s children. So, in that sense, we’re related.
So, they first create this foundation of equality. So, we sort of reduce a little of the clinging to the ones we love — just in the meditation — and we open our mind to those we don’t know. And we definitely reduce the hostility and the “I don’t want to be compassionate to them” to the ones we think of as the bad guys, the ones we hate and we don’t like. And we don’t hate anyone, therefore. So we equalize. That’s very important.
And then the next thing we do is what is called “mother recognition.” And that is, we think of every being as familiar, as family. We expand. We take the feeling about remembering a mama, and we defuse that to all beings in this meditation. And we see the mother in every being. We see that look that the mother has on her face, looking at this child that is a miracle that she has produced from her own body, being a mammal, where she has true compassion, truly is the other, and identifies completely. Often the life of that other will be more important to her than her own life. And that’s why it’s the most powerful form of altruism. The mother is the model of all altruism for human beings, in spiritual traditions. And so, we reflect until we can sort of see that motherly expression in all beings.
People laugh at me because, you know, I used to say that I used to meditate on mama Cheney as my mom, when, of course, I was annoyed with him about all of his evil doings in Iraq. I used to meditate on George Bush. He’s quite a cute mom in a female form. He has his little ears and he smiles and he rocks you in his arms. And you think of him as nursing you. And then Saddam Hussein’s serious mustache is a problem, but you think of him as a mom.
And this is the way you do it. You take any being who looks weird to you, and you see how they could be familiar to you. And you do that for a while, until you really feel that. You can feel the familiarity of all beings. Nobody seems alien. They’re not “other.” You reduce the feeling of otherness about beings. Then you move from there to remembering the kindness of mothers in general, if you can remember the kindness of your own mother, if you can remember the kindness of your spouse, or, if you are a mother yourself, how you were with your children. And you begin to get very sentimental; you cultivate sentimentality intensely. You will even weep, perhaps, with gratitude and kindness. And then you connect that with your feeling that everyone has that motherly possibility. Every being, even the most mean looking ones, can be motherly.
And then, third, you step from there to what is called “a feeling of gratitude.” You want to repay that kindness that all beings have shown to you. And then the fourth step, you go to what is called “lovely love.” In each one of these you can take some weeks, or months, or days depending on how you do it, or you can do them in a run, this meditation. And then you think of how lovely beings are when they are happy, when they are satisfied. And every being looks beautiful when they are internally feeling a happiness. Their face doesn’t look like this. When they’re angry, they look ugly, every being, but when they’re happy they look beautiful. And so you see beings in their potential happiness. And you feel a love toward them and you want them to be happy, even the enemy.
We think Jesus is being unrealistic when he says, “Love thine enemy.” He does say that, and we think he’s being unrealistic and sort of spiritual and highfalutin. “Nice for him to say it, but I can’t do that.” But, actually, that’s practical. If you love your enemy that means you want your enemy to be happy. If your enemy was really happy, why would they bother to be your enemy? How boring to run around chasing you. They would be relaxing somewhere having a good time. So it makes sense to want your enemy to be happy, because they’ll stop being your enemy because that’s too much trouble.
But anyway, that’s the “lovely love. ” And then finally, the fifth step is compassion, “universal compassion.” And that is where you then look at the reality of all the beings you can think of. And you look at them, and you see how they are. And you realize how unhappy they are actually, mostly, most of the time. You see that furrowed brow in people. And then you realize they don’t even have compassion on themselves. They’re driven by this duty and this obligation. “I have to get that. I need more. I’m not worthy. And I should do something.” And they’re rushing around all stressed out. And they think of it as somehow macho, hard discipline on themselves. But actually they are cruel to themselves. And, of course, they are cruel and ruthless toward others. And they, then, never get any positive feedback. And the more they succeed and the more power they have, the more unhappy they are. And this is where you feel real compassion for them.
And you then feel you must act. And the choice of the action, of course, hopefully will be more practical than poor Asanga, who was fixing the maggots on the dog because he had that motivation, and whoever was in front of him, he wanted to help. But, of course, that is impractical. He should have founded the ASPCA in the town and gotten some scientific help for dogs and maggots. And I’m sure he did that later. (Laughter) But that just indicates the state of mind, you know.
And so the next step — the sixth step beyond “universal compassion” — is this thing where you’re linked with the needs of others in a true way, and you have compassion for yourself also, and it isn’t sentimental only. You might be in fear of something. Some bad guy is making himself more and more unhappy being more and more mean to other people and getting punished in the future for it in various ways. And in Buddhism, they catch it in the future life. Of course in theistic religion they’re punished by God or whatever. And materialism, they think they get out of it just by not existing, by dying, but they don’t. And so they get reborn as whatever, you know.
Never mind. I won’t get into that. But the next step is called “universal responsibility.” And that is very important — the Charter of Compassion must lead us to develop through true compassion, what is called “universal responsibility.” In the great teaching of his Holiness the Dalai Lama that he always teaches everywhere, he says that that is the common religion of humanity: kindness. But “kindness” means “universal responsibility.” And that means whatever happens to other beings is happening to us: we are responsible for that, and we should take it and do whatever we can at whatever little level and small level that we can do it. We absolutely must do that. There is no way not to do it.
And then, finally, that leads to a new orientation in life where we live equally for ourselves and for others and we are joyful and happy. One thing we mustn’t think is that compassion makes you miserable. Compassion makes you happy. The first person who is happy when you get great compassion is yourself, even if you haven’t done anything yet for anybody else. Although, the change in your mind already does something for other beings: they can sense this new quality in yourself, and it helps them already, and gives them an example.
And that uncompassionate clock has just showed me that it’s all over.
So, practice compassion, read the charter, disseminate it and develop it within yourself. Don’t just think, “Well, I’m compassionate,” or “I’m not compassionate,” and sort of think you’re stuck there. You can develop this. You can diminish the non-compassion, the cruelty, the callousness, the neglect of others, and take universal responsibility for them. And then, not only will God smile and the eternal mama will smile, but Karen Armstrong will smile.