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 video recordings of all the content from the retreat. Helpful links are provided for resources and to navigate through the recordings.
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PLEASE NOTE: Those who attended this retreat live also participated in an additional session each day (Session 1) which was an unlead 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. If there are any errors, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The version of the text used throughout the retreat is available here:
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.
For the first session of this Retreat Vessantara introduces us to the theme of the retreat, leads us in a preliminary meditation followed by a background explanation of the 7 Point Mind Training text.
Through the practice of this text, ‘we are inheriting the fruits of practitioners over the last 1000 years.’
This session finishes with a second meditation connecting us to what our hearts respond to in our dharma practice.
The talk on Atisha that is mentioned is here.
For this session, Vessantara starts with introducing the Tonglen Practice, followed by a 30-minute sit, gathering a sense of lineage and the qualities of awakening, and Tonglen.
To skip to the start of the meditation, click here.
After a recap of the previous session, Vessantara explains how the mind training changes our relationship and attitude to our experience. He then introduces the first point, to ‘train in the preliminaries’.
This comprises the four mind-turning reflections as a source of motivation, as well as the practice of guru yoga which connects us to the qualities and energy of enlightenment. The session closes with a meditation exploring inspiration and drawing these motivating forces into the heart.
Reading from The Door of Liberation Kadampa Precepts
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 session begins with a meditation invoking our refuge and connecting out to others. The teaching moves on to point 2 and the main practice of the mind training, ‘training in Bodhichitta’ and the first advice, ‘think of things as dream-like’ – being aware of how our assumptions create our world and touching on the dangers of alienation and nihilism.
Vessantara then addresses a question from the previous session regarding the strength of inspiration in our early dharma life: appreciating its value, minding its risks, and integrating it effectively. The session closes with some pointers on Tonglen and a second reflective meditation.
‘Here be Dragons‘ talk by Vessantara.
In this session, Vessantara introduces Line 10 of the mind training verses ‘start the process of exchange with yourself’. This is then followed by a short meditation session.
Vessantara talks us through two more of the mind training lines, 8 -‘Three objects, three poisons, three roots of virtue’ and 9 ‘ In all activities, train with sayings’.
He explores catching a poison and using it as a trigger to remember our refuge, to use it to open out into empathy and compassion. The root poisons then become a catalyst for the positive, using them as a trigger we find the refuge and qualities of awakening. The session then goes into a meditation that brings these themes in and allows you to explore what this could look like in practice.
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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.”
The session opens with a meditation, arriving into our experience, gathering ourselves individually around our refuge before moving out collectively. Vessantara then introduces point three of the mind training: ‘Transforming Bad Circumstances into the Way of Awakening’. He explores the first two pieces of advice, ’11) When the world is filled with negativity, transform all adverse conditions into the path of Awakening’ and ’12) Blame everything on one culprit.’ The session closes with a second meditation, using a foundation of embodied, kindly awareness to enquire into our experience.
Vessantara introduces line 13 of point three – ‘Be grateful to everyone’, including acknowledging the benefits received from the wider web of living beings who contribute to our comfort. The discussion then expands to include those who we find challenging and in doing so bring about our growth and development. The session closes with a meditation comprising reflections on each of these areas.
Skip to the gratitude meditation.
Vessantara explores Line 17 in the fourth section of the mind training verses. ‘The condensed heart instructions are the five powers’ the Five powers being; the power of impulse or intention, the power of habituation or familiarization, potential power (white seed), the power of renunciation, and the power of wishing prayer.
Following this exploration, there are 2 questions followed by a meditation practice to bring the day to a close.
The session opens with meditation before Vessantara takes stock of the retreat so far and recaps the last session. He discusses being sensitive and active in our responses to the material and his teaching, encouraging us to find our own way through. The teaching moves on to line three of point two – ‘Examine the nature of unborn awareness’, turning our attention back to the perception of experience itself. The session closes with a meditation exploring ways of relating to awareness.
Vessantara recaps a little and goes over the different levels of ‘sefling’, and how we can move from wrong view to right view to perfect vision. He then starts on section six by discussing precepts 23 – 25 on commitments. He recommended a version of the text titled The Great Path of Awakening by Jamgon Kontrul (2005), while some participants mentioned the Heart of Compassion, Dilgo Khyentse (2007), and The Intelligent Heart (2016) by Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche and Joseph Waxman. We end the day with some meditation.
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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 concerns4. 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
The session opens with a meditation exploring the questions ‘who am I practicing with?’ and ‘who am I practicing for?’ before Vessantara discusses working with bodhichitta on the relative level in Tonglen, allowing the heart to respond to difficulty. A question is answered regarding ‘the unborn nature of awareness’ and the different presentations of the nature of mind across the early and later traditions. Vessantara then explores investigating our experience from a wisdom perspective, before a closing meditation.
Vessantara briefly recaps the day so far before answering a question regarding the distinction between Tonglen and bodhichitta practice. The teaching then moves on to precept 26, ‘Don’t concern yourself with others’ shortcomings’. The session closes with a meditation imaginatively exploring and reflecting on this precept.
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In this session, Vessantara flows through 4 more of the mind training precepts, lines 27-30. Starting with line 27 ‘Work on the strongest defilements first’ He unpacks why this is suggested, followed by the lines ‘Give up all hope’ and ‘Reject poisonous food’ and ‘Don’t keep score’.
The session closes with a meditation practice looking at a negative emotion through a wisdom perspective, bringing in the areas explored within the teaching section of the session.
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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 leasing 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.
In the first teaching session today we start with looking at the first 5 of the Guidelines of mind training (point 7). Starting with doing all things with one intention Vessantara explores ‘being of benefit’ to all beings without separating one’s self from that equation, leading into talking about exchange of self and other and going on to intention and motivation. This is followed by a Tonglen meditation practice.
In the second part of this session, Vessantara explores the 43rd line of the mind training around patience, becoming stable, unshakable equanimous in our practice, allowing that to feel inspiring in an unshakable sense regardless of the good or bad circumstances. After this, there is a second meditation practice to close the session.
In this session, Vessantara continues unpacking point seven, ‘Guidelines for Mind Training’. He discusses two precepts: ’44) Train in three hard disciplines. [Prevent delusions arising; once a delusion has arisen, do not allow it to continue; try to eliminate delusions completely.]’ and ’45) Concern yourself with the three principal causes. [Rely on your lama; guard your mind; provide yourself with conducive conditions.]’ The session closes with a meditation.
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In the final session of the retreat, we start with a question before Vessantara takes us through 3 more of the guidelines for mind training, Lines 46 – 48. We then have a short meditation practice focusing on cultivating a heart like the ocean followed by upcoming retreats and thanks to the team, to Vessantara and to the whole retreat.
‘May the deep Broad dharma descend on me line rain, May the deep broad dharma descend on us all like rain’
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