The seven-point mind training is based on the teaching of Atisha on bodhicitta. Encapsulating hundreds of years of experience, it gives us effective methods for practicing wisdom and compassion, in meditation and in daily life. It also shows us how to avoid pitfalls and overcome obstacles in our practice. It is down-to-earth and practical; whatever is happening in your mind or in your life, it can help. If you want to get to the heart of the matter of how to put an end to suffering and benefit others, these teachings are for you.
Vessantara wished to explore this text in more depth than one retreat will allow, so these recordings are from the first retreat – Part 1. The retreat works on its own as it includes precepts from several of the seven sections, although obviously catching up on both will give you the most complete teaching.
Below you will find helpful resources (click the heading to expand the resources section) and below that, video recordings of all the content from the retreat.
Retreat Resources and Information
Those who attended this retreat live also participated in an additional session each day (Session 1) which was an unled meditation with the Adhisthana community every morning. This session was not recorded, hence the titles of the YouTube videos from each day do not include Session 1.
The version of the text used throughout the retreat:
The Lo Jong commentary that Vessantara used on the 3-year retreat is The Great Path of Awakening by Jamgon Kongtrul, translated by Ken McLeod.
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A preliminary meditation is followed by a background explanation of the text. Practicing and thus, ‘inheriting the fruits of practitioners over the last 1000 years.’
1:3 Qualities of Awakening
The Tonglen Practice, gathering a sense of lineage.
1:4 Train in the preliminaries
The mind training changes our relationship and attitude to experience, and the four mind-turning reflections motivate.
Resources from Day 1
Ku, Ngok, and Drom asked Atisha, “What is the final goal of the teaching?”. Atisha replied, “The final goal of the teaching is possession of the essence of voidness and compassion (shunyatakarunagarbha). Just as in the world there is a panacea for all sickness called the solitary heroic medicine, there is the realization of voidness which remedies all the fettering passions”. “But many say they have realized voidness. Why do their anger and attachment remain?”. “They are speaking empty words, for when you fully realize the meaning of voidness, your body, speech, and mind react with pleasure, like slipping fresh butter into barley soup. The great sage Aryadeva said:
The nature of existence –
Is it empty or not?
Merely feeling this doubt
“Therefore, when you realize the correct meaning of voidness, it is just like the solitary heroic medicine, for all the path is included in that realization.”
The Door of Liberation Kadampa Precepts
2:2 Training in the BOdhicitta
Invoking our refuge and connecting out to others, we ‘think of things as dream-like’ – being aware of our assumptions creating our world.
2:3 Relative bodhicitta: Line 10
‘Start the process of exchange with yourself’.
2:4 Poison as Catalyst
Line 8: ‘Three objects, three poisons, three roots of virtue’ + Line 9: ‘In all activities, train with sayings’.
Resources from Day 2
‘Here be Dragons‘ – Vessantara
Note from VessantarA
‘Earlier in the retreat, in discussing number 9) In all activities, train with sayings I quoted something that I’ve used a lot over the years from Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara (Chapter 6, verse 10): If something can be done about it, why worry? If there’s nothing to be done, why worry?
Bodhipaksha discusses this quote on his Fake Buddha Quotes website, as people often attribute it to the Buddha. He points out that it’s a misquotation of the original in Shantideva, which actually says: If a problem can be solved, What reason is there to be upset? If there is no possible solution, What use is there in being sad?
He also mentions that the Dalai Lama sometimes includes the general meaning of this quote in his teaching. For example: If you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it; if you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry.’
Once, the venerable Atisha was staying at Nyeythang, southwest of Lhasa. He was asked by the teachers of Shangnachung, Kyur, and Lhangtsang, “What are the teachings of logic (pramana)?”.
Atisha replied, “There are many, both Buddhist and non-Buddhist, all of which are endless chains of ideation. They are not necessary, and there is no time to be wasted on them. It is time to condense the essential meaning of the teaching.”
One of the teachers then asked, “How do you condense the essential meaning of the teaching?”.
“Practice love, compassion and bodhi-mind toward all sentient beings. Make effort to accumulate merit and wisdom on behalf of them all. Dedicate all roots of virtue to attain Buddhahood together with all sentient beings, whose number would fill the sky. Understand that all these things are empty of self-nature, like a dream or a magician’s illusion.”
3:2 Transforming Bad Circumstances
The session opens with a meditation. The talk is on section 3: ‘Transforming Bad Circumstances into the Way of Awakening’, focusing on two aspects.
When the world is filled with negativity, transform all adverse conditions into the path of Awakening.
Blame everything on one culprit.
3:3 Be GrAteful to Everyone
Acknowledging the benefits received from the wider web of living beings and recognising those we find challenging bring about our growth and development.
3:4 The Condensed Heart
The talk explores Line 17, five powers: impulse/intention, habituation/familiarization, potential, renunciation, and wishing prayer.
4:2 Finding our own way
‘Examine the nature of unborn awareness’: turning attention back to the perception of experience itself.
Watch from the talk or the second meditation.
4:3 Pausing to recap
Exploring 3 ways the body-mind can operate.
Skip to the questions or the meditation.
4:4 Levels of selfing
Moving from wrong view to right view to perfect vision, and precepts 23 – 25 on commitments.
Skip to the meditation.
Resources for Day 4
4:4 Vessantara recommends The Great Path of Awakening by Jamgon Kontrul (2005). Participants mention the Heart of Compassion, Dilgo Khyentse (2007), and The Intelligent Heart (2016) by Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche and Joseph Waxman.
One day an old gentleman was circumambulating the Radreng monastery. Geshe Drom said to him, “Sir, I am happy to see you circumambulating, but wouldn’t you rather be practicing the Dharma?”
Thinking this over the old gentleman felt it might be better to read Mahayana sutras. While he was reading in the temple courtyard, Geshe Drom said, “I am happy to see you reciting the sutras, but wouldn’t you rather be practicing the Dharma?”
At this, the old gentleman thought that perhaps he should meditate. He sat cross-legged on a cushion, with his eyes half-closed. The teacher Drom said again, “I am happy to see you meditating, but wouldn’t you rather be practicing the Dharma?”
Now totally confused the old gentleman asked, “Geshe-la, please tell me what I should do to practice the Dharma.”
The teacher Drom replied, “Renounce attraction to this life. Renounce it now. For if you do not renounce attraction to this life, whatever you will do, will not be the practice of the Dharma, as you have not passed beyond the eight worldly concerns. Once you have renounced this life’s habitual thoughts and are no longer distracted by the eight worldly concerns, whatever you do will advance you on the path of liberation.”
Geshe Drom on Renunciation
5:2 Who am i practicing with?
‘Who am I practicing for?’, allowing the heart to respond to difficulty – relative bodhicitta in Tonglen. The nature of mind and investigating experience from a wisdom perspective.
Precept 26, ‘Don’t concern yourself with others’ shortcomings’.
5:4 Don’t keep score
Lines 27-30 and negative emotion seen through a wisdom perspective.
Geshe Sha-bo gay-pa chastised himself:
“You old fool – you wish for high teachings, though your nature is low. You charlatan – you desire to improve others, but do not improve yourself. You sham – you act as if Dharma were meant only for others to follow, and not for yourself. You blunderer – you have charged others to act correctly, but act incorrectly yourself. You shiftless bum – each rise precedes a greater fall. You politician – you make extensive promises but abbreviated applications. You rascal – you seek fettering passions and at the same time pretend to apply their countermeasures. You coward – you are fearful of others seeing your faults and hope that they will see only your good qualities.
You involve yourself with your relatives instead of cultivating spiritual friends. You involve yourself with fettering passions instead of cultivating their antidotes. You leave practice for future lives instead of cultivating it in this life. You involve yourself with those who help you rather than cultivating those who harm you. You idiot – you harm others, not knowing you harm yourself. You do not know that to help others is to help yourself. You do not see that misery and harm which come to you are conducive to practicing Dharma. You do not see that desire and happiness are non-conducive to practice of Dharma. You say to others that practicing Dharma is very important, yet do not follow the Teaching yourself. You despise others who are sinful, yet do not stop your own wrongdoing. You see the slightest faults in others, yet do not perceive great faults in yourself.
You soon stop helping others when you get nothing in return. You cannot bear to see other teachers receive respect. You are subservient to those in high positions while contemptuous of those beneath you. Talk of future lives is not pleasing to your ears. You act holy and disdainful when corrected by others. You want others to see your virtues and are content when they do not see your faults. You are satisfied with a good facade though what is inside is not so good. You like to be given things. Not seeking happiness within yourself, you seek it externally. Having vowed to learn Buddha’s Teaching you learn worldly affairs instead.
Though you agree with the advice of the Bodhisattvas, your actions are preparing you for hell. Though you have dedicated your body, enjoyments, and virtuous activities of past, present, and future for the benefit of all living beings, you refuse to give up your ego. You like sinful friends, forgetting they lead to ruin. You do not know that the anger of a spiritual friend is helpful. Do not waste time in pointless debate. Do not build castles in the air, increasing your craving. Do not delight in dangerous activities. Do not do many things which senselessly hinder virtuous work.”
Feeling self-reproach, he scolded himself in this way.
6:2 doing with one intention
One’s self is not separate from all beings; exchanging self and other.
Stable, unshakable, equanimous, regardless of circumstance.
6:3 guidelines for mind training
Lines 44 and 45; three disciplines, three principal causes.
6:4 Heart like the Ocean
Lines 46 – 48. ‘May the deep Broad dharma descend on me line rain, May the deep broad dharma descend on us all like rain’