There are twenty-two instructions, or pieces of advice, on mind training.
1. Every yoga should be performed as one,
We should combine everything we do—coming, going, sitting, sleeping, eating and all other activities—with the practices of mind training.
2. All errors are to be amended by one means,
We should maintain our mind training practice no matter whether things are going badly or well.
3. There are two activities—at beginning and end,
When we start any activity, we should generate a positive motivation, especially bodhicitta. When we finish, we should dedicate the merit.
4. Whichever occurs, be patient with both,
We should practice patience whether things go badly or well.
5. Guard both at the cost of your life,
We should hold on to Dharma instructions in general and those of mind training in particular, even at the cost of our life.
6. Train in the three difficulties,
The first difficulty is remembering and being mindful of the antidote to a particular afflictive emotion; the second is stopping an afflictive emotion when it begins to arise; and the third is completely severing that afflictive emotion for all time.
7. Seek for the three principal causes,
The first principal cause is to meet a good spiritual teacher; the second is to make the mind suitable, or serviceable, for practice—to put it into good shape; and the third is to eat and drink the right amount, neither too much nor too little.
8. Don’t let three factors weaken,
We should not let weaken our faith in and appreciation of our teacher, our delight in mind training, or our conscientiousness in activities of body, speech and mind.
9. Never be parted from the three possessions,
There are three things we should possess by becoming inseparable from them. Physically, we should make prostrations, circumambulate holy objects and so forth; verbally, make requests, recite mantras and so forth; and mentally, never separate from bodhicitta.
10. Train consistently without partiality,
We should practice equanimity and impartiality with all beings and not just be pleasant to our friends, unpleasant to our enemies and ignore or forget those who are neither friend nor enemy. We should be impartial to all.
We might wonder how to do this because friends help, enemies harm and others do neither, but that’s only because we’re looking at just this one present life. If we take into consideration our countless past lives’ experiences, there’s every reason to be impartial.
11. Value an encompassing and far-reaching practice,
We should maintain our practice of mind training at all times, in all situations and places.
“Encompassing and far-reaching” means that instead of our mind training being just words we should practice it from the heart.
12. Train consistently to deal with difficult situations,
“Closely related” 28 is the translation of a Tibetan term that has the connotation of “the few singled out from the many.” Who do we single out? First, our relatives and friends; second, our enemies; third, those whom we have helped a great deal in this life but have harmed us in response; fourth, those for whom we feel an instinctive dislike because of some particular personal connection, even though they have done us no identifiable harm; and fifth, our parents. It is said to be more difficult to train with these five; therefore they are singled out for special attention.
Let us look at the first of the five—literally, “people at home”; primarily, our partner. Since we have to spend so much time with this person there’s a specific risk that things might get fractious. Couples easily get upset with each other, which can lead to all sorts of problems. For instance, one of them has a hard time at work and comes home and takes it out on the other because there’s nobody else to take it out on. If this happens we should not immediately get upset and complain, “I haven’t done anything. What are you picking on me for?” thereby allowing it to develop into an argument. Instead, we should think that our partner must have had a bad day and is somebody I normally care about and who cares about and helps me so much, and simply let it be, remembering mainly the positive things in the relationship. Let things be and don’t let them get out of hand.
With our enemies and those who have harmed us in response to our help, we should practice patience.
With those for whom we feel an instinctive dislike just by seeing them even though they seem not to have harmed us, we should reflect very carefully on the situation and recognize it as just a karmic obstacle.
Sometimes our parents might scold or nag us. Instead of getting angry we should try to remember that they have always cared for us and been very kind. Even when the children have grown up and the parents are quite old, they still worry about what happens to their kids. We should think that their scolding and nagging is simply a reflection of how much they care for us and not get annoyed or upset with them.
13. Don’t rely on other conditions,
We should be particularly careful when things are going well because such times are very dangerous. If, for example, we have no worries about food, clothing, housing and so forth, our mind can get too relaxed, then distracted, and finally let go of the mind training practice altogether. We should be especially vigilant at such times.
We should also be very careful when things are going badly and we’re facing many difficulties because again we’re in danger of letting our mind training practice go.
It can be quite difficult to practice every single aspect of mind training so we should try to understand the main points in general and train in those. Then, when challenging circumstances arise, because of our familiarity with the main points of the practice, we’ll more easily be able to recollect and engage in them.
14. Engage in the principal practices right now,
This means that our future lives are more important than this one and that from looking at our present mind we can get a general sense of what kind of future life we’re headed for. Through persistently moving our mind in a positive direction by generating positive thoughts and so forth we can be fairly confident of a good future life. If, however, our mind tends to be more negative than positive, we can be fairly certain of an unfortunate rebirth. This can come about if, through ignorance or apathy, for example, we neglect to practice mind training and as a result our mind is constantly full of negative thoughts and moving in a negative direction.
In general, we should put all the Buddha’s teachings into practice, but the mind training ones contain the collected essence of the key points. In this context we can figure out what our most important personal issues are and therefore which practices we should concentrate on.
15. Don’t apply a wrong understanding,
There are six kinds of things we do out of wrong understanding.
The first two are wrong enthusiasm and patience, whereby we neglect our Dharma practice and meditation in favor of worldly activities such as drinking, smoking and so forth and allow ourselves to do so.
The third is wrong compassion, which means that instead of feeling compassion for worldly people, who are constantly creating non-virtue and the causes for tremendous suffering, we feel compassion for Dharma practitioners, who are working hard meditating, studying and so forth and therefore wearing ragged clothing and not getting much sleep.
Once there was an old lama who looked terrible because of his meager diet. Whenever he went to Lhasa people would feel sorry for him because he looked so pitiful and poor, but he found this quite strange and would tell them, “Well, actually, I feel sorry for you and the way you live.”
The fourth is wrong interest, which refers to things like monks getting their students—or parents their children—interested in worldly, negative activities instead of spiritual pursuits and Dharma practice.
The fifth is wrong aspiration, which means aspiring to worthless, worldly aims and actions instead of positive ones.
The sixth is wrong rejoicing, which means rejoicing in others’ negative actions instead of virtue and good deeds; for example, thinking of a famous person who has killed thousands of people, “Oh, he was really brave!”
16. Don’t be sporadic,
Instead of working hard at our practice for a short period and then giving it up for days, weeks or months at a time because we feel tired or fed up, we should be moderate in everything we do. Moderation in practice means pacing ourselves and practicing at a sustainable intensity. This also entails getting enough food, drink and sleep, all of which are necessary to sustain our body in support of our practice. This is much better than working very hard for a while and then completely giving up. Try to keep going. Some days we might be too busy to do very much, but when this happens we should not give up completely but let go a little, temporarily, and then continue steadily into the future.
17. Practice unflinchingly,
The point here is that the intelligent way to practice is to first think deeply about the teachings to make sure that they’re really going to bring the results they promise. For example, we’re encouraged to give up the selfish mind, practice altruism and work for the sake of others, so we should investigate carefully to see whether or not it’s true that if we do that we’ll benefit.
If we examine the teachings like this we will, in fact, find that by practicing in this way our self-cherishing will gradually diminish, our altruism gradually increase and we’ll eventually attain enlightenment. Moreover, it is said that when we attain enlightenment our own and others’ welfare are achieved simultaneously. Thus by practicing Dharma we will definitely get the results we seek.
Because we’re sentient beings, working for the sake of all beings also benefits us; when we accomplish something that benefits all living beings we’ll benefit too, just as when we do something for an entire nation we also benefit because we’re a part of that population. Through the skillful methods of Dharma, bodhisattvas achieve their own and others’ welfare simultaneously. They understand that through completely dedicating themselves to others’ welfare their own is taken care of by the way. Thus, when we generate bodhicitta, the determination to attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, the purpose of others includes our own.
18. Release investigation and analysis,
Here, investigation means checking on a general level and analysis means checking in finer detail. Through checking in both ways we liberate ourselves from problems.
19. Don’t be boastful,
We should not show off when working for the benefit of others. When we generate bodhicitta we make a commitment to benefit others, so when we then do something that does benefit them we’re simply fulfilling our commitment, which is nothing to boast about.
20. Don’t be short-tempered,
We should not make a big fuss when somebody harms us in some small way.
21. Don’t make a short-lived attempt,
We should not be over-sensitive, getting euphoric when things go well or depressed when even small things go badly. Instead of always being up and down we should be steady, whether we’re dealing with our family, our partner, our workmates or anybody else with whom we’re in regular contact. Our emotions should not come and go like clouds in the sky.
22. Don’t expect gratitude.
We should not think how good it would be if people knew that we were practitioners in order to get their admiration and respect. Instead, we should keep our practice private. It’s OK if people happen to find out but we should avoid really wanting them to know about it.
When the Kadampa lamas of the past neared death they would say that they had spent their whole life practicing according to their teachers’ instructions as well as they could and that it was OK that the time of death had come. We too should try to practice like this.
28 Geshe Chekawa’s version of the root text in Advice from a Spiritual Friend has “Always meditate on those closely related” as the twelfth precept, which is presumably where this comment comes from. [Return to text]