Category Archives: Teachings

The Result of Shamatha and Vipashyana

Seven : The Result of Shamatha and Vipashyana

The result of accomplishing shamatha is that mind becomes completely pure, that all the gross disturbing emotions are subdued and purified. The result of accomplishing vipashyana is that wisdom becomes completely pure. This means that basic ignorance is purified and removed, and disturbing emotions are also removed.

Another way to express the results of these two practices is by the removal of the two kinds of bondage or veils. One veil is to be trapped by concepts or neuroses. The other is to be trapped by ignorance or illusion, and therefore continuing to be reborn in samsara. Shamatha releases the veil of concepts and vipashyana liberates from the veil of ignorance. Another result is that shamatha removes attachment to phenomena. It overcomes hopes, doubts and worries. We hope to get what we want, but when we don’t get it, we worry. This comes from desire and attachment. The result of shamatha is that even if you try to achieve something, you never need to hope, doubt or worry, because attachment and desire have been overcome.

When you achieve true shamatha, there is also all the extraordinary play. From shamatha you achieve clairvoyance. You can see past lives and know the minds of others. But advanced meditators discourage us from playing with that, because there is a great risk of becoming attached to shamatha, and then our problems will increase. But if someone is strong enough, they can control it without attachment.

Devadatta was a cousin of the Buddha, and he was very wicked. He wanted to compete with Buddha, so he went to an advanced student of Buddha, an Arhat named Kashyapa, to learn shamatha. Arhats have the fault that they cannot use their powers except while they actually meditate. In his post meditation he could not see Devadatta’s negative motivation. So he thought, “Before this man was very evil. Now he wants to learn meditation. I should teach him properly, so he may change.” So he taught him shamatha, and Devadatta learned it very well. He achieved a powerful level of shamatha, and then used his powers against Buddha. First he deceived the king of that area, and then split the sangha into two, taking the old king on his side. Then he encouraged the young prince to revolt against his father, and with his monks he attacked Buddha. He did all this because he was jealous of Buddha, and he used powers accomplished through shamatha. That is why teachers encourage their students to do shamatha for liberation, but then discourage them from going too far. Special disciples such as Bodhisattvas with pure motivation will not misuse these powers.

The result of vipashyana is quite straightforward.
It is liberation and enlightenment.

The Order for Practicing Shamatha and Vipashyana

Five : The Order for Practicing Shamatha and Vipashyana

Generally, first you practice shamatha and after that you practice vipashyana. That is according to the Theravada tradition. But in the Mahayana, Vajrayana or Mahamudra tradition, it is not always the case. Sometimes they can be practiced simultaneously depending upon the individual practitioner. Your teacher should decide what is best for you, as long as the teacher is qualified in meditation.

One result of accomplishing shamatha is to know the minds of other beings. An accomplished teacher uses this ability to see what is best for their students. The method for doing this is the same as remembering the past, but here the teacher concentrates on the minds of others instead of on themselves. This is of course easy to say, but not so easy to do.

The normal order is to practice shamatha first then vipashyana, and it is best to do it this way.

Six : The Levels of Shamatha and Vipashyana

How to unite shamatha and vipashyana? It is possible to practice vipashyana without shamatha, but it is not advisable. You can go to a teacher and receive vipashyana instructions, and use your confidence and intelligence to accomplish the practice. Even though you can have direct experience of the nature of things, this experience will not become stable without first accomplishing shamatha. This is also true for practicing vipashyana without a shamatha practice that has become natural. It is comparable to a candle in the wind; although it provides light, it is very unstable. Similarly, you can have a direct experience through vipashyana, but without shamatha it remains unstable.

On the other hand, if you practice only shamatha without ever practicing vipashyana, you cannot become liberated from samsara. This was explained before, in the obstacles to meditation. Accomplish shamatha without practicing vipashyana carries the risk of being reborn in long-lasting meditation states, which are still in the domain of ego. In the final achievement of shamatha, mind is in a profound rest. It is deeply relaxed, beyond what we can now imagine. But ignorance, the root of illusion, has not yet been removed. That explains the necessity for practicing both shamatha and vipashyana.

How can we unite them into one practice? This is not something we can accomplish yet. You can work with them in certain ways, but it is only when you have achieved the highest level of shamatha, that you can unite them completely. The ninth level is to rest the mind in equanimity. At that point, vipashyana develops naturally, and the two practices become one.


The Levels of Shamatha and Vipassana

Four : The Levels of Shamatha and Vipassana

This point will only be touched upon here, as it is explained completely in the detailed explanations which follow. There are nine levels of shamatha and four levels of vipashyana, which describe the stages of meditation.

The nine levels of shamatha are:

  1. to settle the mind inwardly
  2. to settle the mind continuously
  3. to settle the mind intactly
  4. to settle the mind intensely
  5. to tame the mind
  6. to pacify the mind
  7. to pacify the mind completely
  8. to make the mind one-pointed
  9. to settle the mind in equanimity
  10. The four levels of vipashyana are:
  11. to distinguish phenomena
  12. to distinguish completely
  13. complete examination
  14. complete analysis

In Tibetan there are two different words for examination and analysis, where examination means a coarse examination and analysis implies a more profound and detailed analysis. So there is a difference between these two words in Tibetan which does not come across in English, that one is more subtle than the other. When shamatha has become natural, you can accomplish the four levels of vipashyana.


The Essence of Shamatha and Vipashyana

Three : The Essence of Shamatha and Vipashyana

The third point is a concise explanation of how shamatha and vipashyana become natural. In the beginning stages of shamatha and vipashyana, our meditation is not natural. It is somewhat contrived. Meditation is only completely real when it is natural, as I explained briefly in point two.

What is meant by genuine shamatha? In the beginning of shamatha practice, the mind is directed on the object of meditation which is to keep the mind concentrated, rather than following thoughts. When meditation is natural, in true shamatha, effort is no longer required to keep the mind concentrated. At first one has to apply effort, but later it becomes completely natural.

I will give an example which illustrates the difference between contrived and genuine shamatha. There is a special kind of meditation which results in very clear recollection of the past, even to the extent of remembering previous lives. Mind never stays the same. It only exists moment to moment. The mind constantly changes. If we look at one moment, it first comes into existence, then stays, and finally disappears. It consists of past, present and future in this way. One moment arises, then it ceases in order to create space for another moment to come into existence, and so on. In this way, mind goes on as a continuous stream of moments of awareness. In this type of shamatha, the practice is to remain aware of each moment as it arises. Do not analyze, just focus and observe the moments arising, one at a time. Without missing any or mixing up their order, simply observe them passing by. Concentrate completely; stay focused on that. Again, this is how we could meditate now, in the fashion of contrived shamatha.

This becomes genuine shamatha when it becomes natural, when we no longer apply effort to keep the mind focused. There will simply be a natural awareness of the moments passing by. You become so used to it that once you focus on that awareness, it continues automatically, without the need to apply force. It just continues naturally.

When we achieve this level, a special kind of memory appears. We can remember the past and even former lives, the same extent that meditation has become natural. Memory expands in this way: first you remember everything in childhood, then the experience of being in the mother’s womb, and after that, past lives. Since you have experienced all this before, it is possible to remember it, just as you remember what you did yesterday. When shamatha has become natural, this memory arises automatically.

What then is meant by true vipashyana? To continue with the same example, where you focus on each moment, vipashyana means to analyze the nature of each moment. During shamatha you only observed the moments without analyzing them, but now you examine them analytically. Vipashyana becomes natural when the analysis stops being intellectual. You have a direct experience of the nature of each moment, an experience where names and ideas do not apply.

When you look at something, in the very first moment there is a direct experience of it and only afterward do you name it. The Buddhist teachings distinguish between different kinds of direct experience. For example, right now we also have direct experiences, but we immediately project our ideas onto things, even though these ideas are not real. For example, in seeing a white piece, of paper, we mix up that direct experience with our concept of whiteness. The concept white is a general one that applies to many other things such as white cloth, white flowers, etc. The direct experience is much more complete than this. In real vipashyana, you have direct experience, of the world, you see the true nature of things. This is also called yogic direct experience.

To put it very simply, true shamatha and vipashyana are related to the removal of the meditation obstacles discussed in point two. Shamatha becomes genuine when heaviness, dullness and sleep have completely disappeared from meditation. Real vipashyana develops when agitation, regret and doubt have been completely neutralized. They then never arise during meditation. In post-meditation they still may occur, since you are not yet enlightened, and there still is a difference between meditating and not meditating. But when you experience the mature fruition of shamatha and vipashyana, meditation is free from these obstacles. This concludes the third point, the essence of shamatha and vipashyana.


Obstacles to Practicing Meditation

Two : Obstacles to Practicing Meditation
The second of the seven main points is an explanation of the eight obstacles or mistaken states of mind that can prevent us from meditating properly.

Agitation. The first obstacle is agitation. Here mind becomes very active with wanting or disliking something. The mind then goes on and on thinking about it. Thinking and worrying about other things instead of meditating is called agitation.

Regret. The second obstacle is regret. Regret is thinking about something that has already occurred. It has passed and cannot be changed. Still we feel enormous regret.

Heaviness. The third obstacle is heaviness, which is connected to karma. Heaviness here means that you want to do something positive such as to meditate, but you feel that you can’t. You immediately feel tired and heavy both physically and mentally. But when you want to do something negative, you suddenly become very active and feel very fresh.

Dullness. The fourth obstacle is dullness or lack of clarity. Here we should distinguish between feeling heavy and feeling dull. Both are connected to karma, but dullness is more closely related to our health and physical state. An example is eating sugar. Sugar first brings the blood sugar way up and then it drops very low. Then you experience this kind of dullness.

Doubt. The fifth obstacle is doubt. This is fundamental problem for practicing both shamatha and vipashyana. Doubt means that we feel uncertain. For example, we may think, “Maybe there is enlightenment, but maybe there isn’t.” Then you will not meditate properly, because this doubt will drag you down. Sometimes you progress, but then doubt pulls you back. Doubt is a very tenacious obstacle.

Wishing harm. The sixth obstacle is to wish on others or to think negatively. This means being ruthless, selfish, or arrogant. You become jealous and start to dislike others intensely. This is also a serious obstacle for meditation.

Attachment. The seventh obstacle is not quite as serious, which is to be greedy or attached. This simply means having many desires.

Drowsiness. The last obstacle is drowsiness, becoming completely unaware and falling asleep.

For shamatha and vipashyana, there is another set of obstacles. These are called the five kinds of distraction.

Engagement. The first distraction is to abandon the Mahayana. The meditation practices of the Mahayana are extremely vast; hearing about them you might feel discouraged. Receiving teachings on the Hinayana, you mistakenly think you can achieve liberation in this lifetime through Hinayana practices. Thus, even though Hinayana meditations are not as expansive as Mahayana, you are deluded to think that you can achieve results much faster. Abandoning the Mahayana for the Hinayana is a great distraction.

Outer distraction. The second is outer distraction, meaning that you are overly concerned with sense pleasures such as wanting to become wealthy, to obtain luxury and so on.

Inner distraction. The third is inner distraction, to the different states of mind which disturb meditation. These are especially agitation and dullness. Another inner distraction arises in more advanced practice. Becoming adept in meditation develops a pleasant inner tranquility. This feeling of mental pleasure is one of comfort or relief, since mind has become very tranquil. Attachment to that tranquility is an obstacle.

Miraculous powers. The fourth distraction is connected to understanding the nature of things. We could also call it distraction of miraculous powers. From accomplishing shamatha, you can concentrate very deeply on the physical nature of things and can manipulate how they appear. It is control through concentration. In Buddhism it is taught that physical things are made up of four elements: earth, water, fire and air.

Concentrating in the way of shamatha, you change the elements. Water becomes fire; fire becomes air, and so on. In our present -state of development, we cannot understand how such a power could function. It is not something to be explained through the laws of physics. If you become attached to this miraculous power, this becomes an obstacle.

Negative state of mind. The fifth distraction is that of a negative state of mind. When one accomplishes shamatha it becomes very deep and stable. But shamatha is limited to resting the mind; ego clinging is actually still present. It is only through practicing vipashyana that ego clinging is eliminated. Therefore, continuing to practice shamatha, making it deeper and vaster, without applying vipashyana, brings the distraction of a negative state of mind.

At the present time, we have been reborn as humans and our bodies have been produced by actions from previous lives. When the karma for a human being is exhausted, we die and are reborn elsewhere in a state determined by our previous actions. If in this life we only practice shamatha without vipashyana, this creates the karma of being reborn in a state similar to deep meditation, which is still within samsara. Such a state of meditation can last a very long time. It is very peaceful, but it is not liberation. So when the karma for being in that state is exhausted, you will again fall back into the other realms of samsara. This distraction is described as a negative state of mind because meditation that is misused in this way does not lead to liberation but leads to rebirth within conditioned existence.

There are four meditation states that are fixated on tranquility. The first is an experience of endless space, the second is to experience mind as infinite, the third is an experience of nothing at all, and the fourth is an experience that things are neither there nor not there. But this is still not liberation, only experiences arising from mind. One can remain in these absorptions for millions of years. In one way this is of course pleasant, but it is not of any benefit, because eventually one can fall out of this state back into other realms of samsara.

The Remedies

The first obstacle is agitation. Why does agitation occur? It comes from ordinary attachment to this life. We are born with a human body, we are naturally attached to that and concerned about it. Due to the habit of attachment we start to worry about it. However, in this human life there is nothing we can really achieve. Once we are dead, our likes and dislikes do not exist. Remembering this, there is no reason to grasp or to be so irritated with what happens. Therefore, the remedy is to contemplate impermanence. Understanding this calms agitation.

We can contemplate impermanence both during meditation and during daily life. This can be done on a coarse level by meditating on the impermanence of the world and on the beings who live there. To contemplate the impermanence of the world, think about how the world changes over time. The years pass, and every year consists of different seasons: winter spring, summer and autumn. The seasons consist of months. The months consist of days. The days consist of hours. The hours consist of minutes. The minutes consist of seconds, and so on. Every moment the world changes.

We can also contemplate the impermanence of beings who live in this world. Here we can think that we and all other beings constantly grow older, and we are all going to die. First comes childhood, then adulthood, then old age, and finally death. No one has escaped death so far.

You can also contemplate impermanence on a more subtle level. If we consider physical matter, it consists of tiny particles or atoms. These particles never remain the same but move around constantly. As they change all the time, each moment the particles cease in order to produce new particles in other combinations. Every moment of matter is therefore new, because its particles have changed since the previous moment.

The meaning of shamatha is to concentrate. The result of shamatha is to produce tranquillity of the mind. Although concentrating on impermanence is not the main shamatha practice, it also results in tranquillity.

In our daily life we can also contemplate impermanence to decrease our attachment, by training ourselves to consider impermanence. Whatever happens, do not feel hurt or find things sensational. No matter what the problem, it helps to contemplate impermanence. Otherwise, you might be shocked when sudden obstacles arise. The problem itself may not change, but understanding impermanence softens your reaction to it.

When feeling regret we should simply understand that it is a pointless feeling, because the past is already gone. We cannot change it even if we think a great deal about it. Therefore, we should just let it go and forget about it.

The best way to overcome physical and mental heaviness is to develop strong confidence and trust in the qualities of the Three jewels. Contemplate the superior qualities of the Buddha. Consider the qualities of the teachings that bring us to realization, the profound methods. The teachings are true; they actually work. Finally, we consider the qualities of the practitioners, the sangha. Here, sangha does not refer to ordinary monks or lay people, but to practitioners who have achieved realization. Through developing trust and confidence in the Three jewels we can overcome the obstacle of heaviness.

The next obstacle was dullness or lack of clarity. The way to work with this is to refresh yourself by encouragement and stimulation. When a general prepares for war, he begins by building up the morale of his people. If the soldiers hesitate, they could become fearful and petrified. But when properly encouraged they become quite brave, and can attack effectively. Dullness is a very subtle enemy arising in meditation, so you have to encourage yourself to defeat it.

The remedy for doubt is simply concentration. Initially it is better not to follow your doubts, but to just continue to practice. Another way to remove doubt is to use logic. For example, if we doubt whether there actually is a path towards enlightenment, we should ask ourselves what does such a path consist of? The path is to remove ignorance. What is ignorance? Ignorance is a product of mind and is caused by clinging to an ego. By continuing to analyze in this way, you can clarify doubts and finally eliminate them. This is precisely the purpose of study. Not everyone has time to study, but then those who have studied a lot can help others by explaining things to them in a simple way.

For the problem of wishing harm to others you should contemplate kindness, which can be done in two ways. One way is to look for the true nature of kindness. Kindness is not something solid. Even though it is empty in essence, a feeling of kindness arises. Another way is to generate kindness, first toward those you like, such as parents, children or friends. Gradually, extend this feeling out to more and more beings. These meditations on kindness are very powerful practices. Accomplishing them, you can even affect others. If a meditator practices alone in a cave, he could affect all the beings living in that area. People and even animals could naturally start to feel kindness also.

Attachment or having many desires can be remedied by considering problems involved with having wealth and possessions, by contemplating cause and effect. If you are attached to your possessions, you have to put in a lot of hard work to preserve them. When you see how much effort this takes, your greed will naturally decrease. Another method is to contemplate the feeling of contentment, to understand how much freedom there is when you are content with what you have.

The next obstacle is drowsiness. Here it helps to imagine light, like the red autumn sky at sunset. It is a clear, soft, red light. Do not imagine light which is strong and direct like sunlight; this doesn’t help.

Actually, once you get used to meditating and it has become completely natural for you, you are no longer bothered by all of these problems and obstacles. Meditation has become a part of you. When the mind has achieved this level, it also affects the body.

All the energies in the body become peaceful and tranquil; you feel very comfortable meditating. Normally we think that the body controls the mind, but at a deeper level, the mind really controls the body. Therefore, when meditation has become natural, the tranquil mind takes over our system and makes the body fit for meditation.

To develop natural meditation, we need two qualities: mindfulness and remembrance. Mindfulness is to be aware of what occurs in the mind, not missing anything. Through mindfulness, when you notice a problem in meditation such as agitation, then you must remember which remedy to apply. Mindfulness and remembrance always go together; they are essential in making meditation a part of you. When you become adept at meditating, you will understand how they work together.

Generally, all obstacles fall into two categories: agitation and dullness. As protection from these two obstacles some general advice is useful. Avoid having addictions to smoking, drinking, etc. Avoid eating too much, which develops dullness. People who work of course have to eat, but you can be aware of what you eat. Serious practitioners who sit a lot do not need as much to eat. That is why during the time of the Buddha, monks would not eat after one p.m. This brings success for shamatha practice and helps the mind. At this level, to forgo dinner does not affect your sleep. Normally monks are forbidden to drink alcohol, but vipashyana meditators are advised to drink a little. Of course you cannot get drunk. Vipashyana develops a lot of energy, and that energy can cause insomnia, which does not occur in other practices. Another piece of advice is to sleep at the proper time: go to bed after ten in the evening and get up at five. If you go to bed after midnight, although you may sleep eight hours, it is not really of benefit. So go to sleep before midnight.


Seven points on meditation

Published in Buddhism Today Volume 1 & 2, 1996

The purpose of meditation is to realize the true nature of mind, the achievement of Buddhahood. Mind is the basis for both our present experiences of conditioned existence and of enlightenment. Enlightenment is realizing mind’s true nature, whereas ordinary life is unaware of this nature.

How should we understand everything to be an appearance of mind? Presently we experience confused states of mind which result in disturbing emotions such as anger, attachment, stupidity, jealousy and pride. The true nature of mind is unaffected by disturbing emotions. When we experience disturbing emotions, we tend to act them out. These actions create imprints in our mind, like habits or tendencies to experience the world in a particular way. When such a tendency later is activated, it creates the appearance of an illusory world.

Even a tiny imprint in the mind can create a lifetime of illusion. The world we experience now is based on such created by former actions. This is how mind perpetuates illusion. There is no limit to how many imprints can be stored in our mind, each of which will continue to create illusion. Conditioned existence, or the world as we experience it now, is therefore without beginning or end. In this way, everything we experience is a product of our mind.

The point of meditation is to provide skillful means for removing this illusion. When we can eliminate ignorance in one moment, then naturally all of the endless imprints of karma will fall away by themselves.

Different Buddhist lineages emphasize different kinds of meditation. In the Kagyu tradition, it is Mahamudra. In the Nyingmapa tradition the main practice is Maha Ati (Tibetan: Dzogchen). In the Gelugpa and Sakyapa traditions, the practice of yidam (deity) visualization involves a completion phase of dissolving the wisdom aspect of the yidam into oneself. This is a style of insight meditation, similar to Mahamudra. In the Theravada tradition, the first practice is to rest the mind on the breathing or on a statue of the Buddha, after which is the main practice of contemplation on egolessness.

All of these different kinds of meditation can be summarized into two general categories. The first is resting meditation. In Sanskrit this is called shamatha (Tibetan: shi’nay). The second is insight meditation, or in Sanskrit, Vipashyana (Tibetan: Ihagthong). So all Buddhist meditation practices can be grouped into resting and insight, or shamatha and vipashyana. What follows is the general presentation of shamatha and vipashyana, which are explained in seven points.

One : The Conditions for Practicing Meditation

The first point is the outer condition – the basis for practicing shamatha and vipashyana. This is to have a proper place to meditate, a place without obstacles. For example, in some places people are prejudiced against meditators, which can create problems. The best place for meditation is one that is blessed by great meditators of the past. We also need certain inner conditions to meditate properly. The first quality is to not be too attached to outer sense objects and not so concerned about getting what we want. We simply should have few desires.

The second quality is to be satisfied or content with the situation we have. How to encourage these two qualities can be illustrated by how parents talk to their children about meditation. If the parents are good practitioners, they will encourage their children by saying, “Try not to be too ambitious. Don’t strive too much for outer things. Be content and be satisfied with what you have. In this way you will be able to practice meditation. Otherwise you’ll be wasting your time.” Parents who do not practice meditation give the opposite advice: “You should strive very hard and be very ambitious. You should try to become very rich and get ahead. Acquire property and hold on to it. Otherwise you’ll be wasting your time.” So we can see here how to encourage these qualities properly.

The third quality is not to be involved in too many activities or responsibilities. If we are too busy, then we will not be able to practice meditation.

The fourth quality is to have good conduct. This means that we avoid negative actions which bring harm to others. All Buddhist vows are concerned with avoiding actions that produce negative karma. There are different kinds of vows, those of a layperson, a novice monk, a fully ordained monk, and a Bodhisattva. When lay people practice meditation, it is good to have taken the five-layperson vows, which in Sanskrit are called the upasaka vows. These are to avoid killing, stealing, lying, harming others sexually, and drinking alcohol and taking drugs.

Since our main practice is the Bodhisattva path, it is important to take the Bodhisattva Vow, which can be practiced as a layperson. Monks and nuns also take the Bodhisattva Vow. Both lay and monastic practitioners can combine the practice of a Bodhisattva with the upasaka vows. For example, Marpa the translator was a lay Bodhisattva, whereas the Indian master Nagarjuna was a monk Bodhisattva. Both were enlightened.

Now we will discuss the requirements for practicing vipashyana. It is essential to follow and rely on a proper teacher, someone who can explain the teachings correctly. In the Theravada tradition a teacher must be able to explain meditation on selflessness from his own experience. In the Mahayana tradition a teacher must have an understanding of emptiness–the Madhyamaka or Middle Way teachings-and be able to explain it clearly.

The second quality for practicing vipashyana is to properly analyze the teachings we have received. If we have received Mahayana teachings on emptiness, then we should study different commentaries and receive instructions from our teacher on how to understand them. We then need to analyze and contemplate these teachings and instructions, which will greatly benefit our vipashyana practice.



From A Talk Given By Shamar Rimpoche In Los Angeles On October 4, 2002

There are two levels of benefit experienced by the practitioner of meditation. The first benefit is the immediate improvement in the conditions of daily life. The practice of meditation leads to a mind that is more peaceful, more tranquil and more at ease. Because the mind is more relaxed, events that usually disturb us seem to take on less importance and we stop taking them in such a serious way. Likewise, through meditation the mind gradually learns to be independent of external conditions and circumstances. This mind that is unaffected by outer conditions is then able to discover its own stability and tranquility. A stable mind, one that is not disturbed, leads to the experience of less suffering in our lives. These are the immediate benefits that come from regular meditation practice.

The long-term benefit of meditation is that when the mind is pacified, this gradually leads to purification of the mind’s basic ignorance, which ultimately leads to buddhahood or enlightenment. In this state of enlightenment, the confusion of ordinary, everyday life no longer exists.

To experience pacification and tranquility, the mind must learn how to remain still. This is not our usual experience of mind. The mind is usually agitated, always in motion, thinking about many different things. We need to look deeply at the causes of this. Since beginningless time to the present moment we have cultivated a perception, a way of seeing things that is based on duality. We have a strong sense of ‘I,’ of personal existence due to what we call ego-clinging. This gives rise to the perception of external objects that are separate from the ego. This misconception inevitably involves a relationship between ‘self’ and the world around us, the objects with which we interact. This is the dualistic experience of the world that we all share. This fundamental sense of duality gives rise to all sorts of thoughts, ideas and movement in the mind. Therefore, when we initially sit down to meditate our experience of the mind is far from being peaceful or at ease. This is because the mind is completely distracted by strong activity in relation to external objects. This is the basic cause; this is how mental distraction comes about.

We need to apply a method to train this unstable mind to remain stable in one place. In this way, the mind becomes accustomed to the experience of stability. For this reason, in meditation we give the mind one single object to rest upon.

Before we begin to meditate, we should understand something about the qualities of mind, what the mind actually is. The mind is not a thing – it is not a material substance, a fixed object. It is comprised of the nature of knowing. It has this capacity. The mind is simply a succession of moments of consciousness, moments of awareness or moments of knowing. In essence, the mind is without obstruction, it is vast, it is unlimited. The mind is not an entity that exists as such and that lasts for a certain length of time. As the mind enters into relationship with objects, there arise a series of ever-changing instances of perception; therefore, the mind is not one continuous thing – it is impermanent. Thus, this mind, which has the capacity to know and is by nature unobstructed, must be trained to remain stable.
We need stability in order for the mind to recognize its true essence. Without this stability the mind is unable to recognize itself. The mind has the capacity to know or to recognize its own instability, its own impermanence. Because it is by nature something that knows, it can have knowledge of itself, i.e., knowledge of the fact that it is not stable. It is on the basis of that knowledge, that understanding of itself that the mind can then learn to be stable. So this mind, even though it is agitated, always in motion, nonetheless, it recognizes this instability and can transform it. This is quite different than the wind, for example. The wind is also constantly moving, but, because it is not comprised of mind, it cannot know that it is moving and therefore cannot calm itself down. It cannot stabilize itself. It is this knowing aspect of mind that allows the mind to work on itself.

The instability of mind will not be permanently removed simply by a meditation technique. In order to stabilize the mind, we need the mind to recognize its own nature. Once the mind has recognized its own nature it can reach true stability. Mind can experience itself directly. This means that the mind is capable of experiencing its true nature, unobstructed, free from grasping and fixation on the endless stream of mental content – our thoughts, perceptions and concepts. We habitually grasp at mind’s appearances as if our own version is quite solid and real, thus losing the perspective to recognize the unobstructed quality of mind. We say that mind’s true nature is emptiness. By empty, we mean that mind is clear; that it is empty of anything that is solid, permanent, or inherently self-existent.

If we do not meditate on the mind as it is, that is our personal experience of mind as it is in the moment, we will not be able to clearly see how the mind is agitated, how it is constantly distracted with an endless stream of thoughts. Once we realize that we are unable to experience a stable mind, we understand the necessity to train the mind, to tame it to bring it to a state of tranquility and stability. However, in order to train the mind, we need a reference point. We need to give the mind something to focus on. In the Buddha’s teachings are explanations about the different supports or reference points to help stabilize the mind. Among those supports, the Buddha emphasized the method of resting the mind on the breath. The Buddha explained that in living beings, the mind is closely connected to the body. Therefore, mind and body are in close relationship, particularly mind and the subtle energy system of the body. This means that one way to experience tranquility is through working with the breath, because breathing is related both to the body and its subtle energies. This is why the initial meditation instruction recommends counting the breath.

The first meditation technique we use to tame the mind is called shamatha (Sanskrit) or shinay (Tibetan) meditation, which means ‘calm abiding.’ Shamatha consists of six steps – counting the breath, following the breath and resting on the breath are the first three steps. After you practice these for a long time, the mind will become tame. Then you progress to the next three steps that develop from concentration on the breath. Here we use analysis to see the connection between mind and the breath. Through this analysis you will realize the emptiness of the mind’s nature. You can develop an intuitive feeling for the mind and then you can play with it. You can change the concentration, the image upon which you focus and know that the mind is like a mirage – you can play with. After that you concentrate upon the nature of objects to see the essential emptiness of phenomena. This is how you complete shamatha, the concentration practice that trains the mind.

The purpose of a one-day teaching such as this is to give an overview of the different steps in meditation practice. When it comes to actually learning a meditation technique, then it is better to have a systematic series of explanations on a regular basis so that one can gradually develop one’s understanding of the practice of meditation.

When we are using the meditation method of counting the breaths, we count the breathing cycles (in-breath and out-breath being one complete cycle). We initially count continuously from one through five, the idea being to rest the mind on the breathing without any distraction until we reach five cycles and then continue to repeat the process. When we feel we can do this easily, we increase the number of cycles we count, but only for the duration of time we’re able to remain undistracted. All the time the mind is resting on the breathing and is not distracted elsewhere. With time we can actually reach a count of one thousand using this method without the mind wandering away from the breathing during that time. This constitutes the measurement of a certain level of stability wherein the mind is definitely under our control. This is what we call the pacified mind, tranquil or tamed mind.

Through this practice we develop in our meditation an inner experience of tranquility. As we improve our skills in this meditation technique, this ease and tranquility becomes an ongoing experience of the mind. This is the result of shamatha practice.

In general, when we receive teachings on meditation it is not customary to describe all the various different meditation techniques in the space of one single lecture. We have to systematically learn the practice of meditation, beginning with being able to sit in the correct posture. Sitting properly in meditation is the first subject that is taught. This is followed by a second series of explanations that describe how the mind learns to rest on the meditation object. This is followed by a third level of explanations where we learn to distinguish faults of incorrect meditation and how to prevent these kinds of defects from arising in our meditation. We also learn to recognize the qualities that arise in correct meditation. Actually, the initial meditation instruction is of very important because it provides the foundation for which development of our future meditation practices rest. Thus, the instructions on experiencing a mind that is tranquil and pacified are of utmost importance.

After practicing shamatha meditation where we’ve learned to develop the mind’s tranquility and stability, we then move into the second phase of meditation called vipashyana (Sanskrit) or insight meditation. This is a meditation practice in which we gain a profound insight into the true nature of mind. When we look into the mind we discover what is called primordial awareness. This primordial awareness is non-dualistic and it is only through insight meditation that we can access or recognize this non-dual mind. Without insight meditation we will always be caught up in dualistic clinging and the mind’s true nature – the wisdom or primordial awareness aspect – will remain obscured and we will not be able to access it at all.

Once we have seen into the nature of mind, then through further insight meditation we improve the quality of our experience of primordial awareness. With time, this becomes natural, something that will develop by itself. This is the point where there is spontaneous growth of our experience of primordial awareness. If the mind is agitated, however, we will not be able to see this primordial awareness. This is why it is important in the initial practice of meditation to cultivate mental calm, tranquility and stability.

This, then, is how one experiences through meditation the growth of primordial awareness in the mind. The method to develop this is the practice of insight meditation where we learn not to grasp at the reality or the fixed existence of external objects. Inwardly we recognize that the mind itself is not something that is dull or obscured, but is in fact the nature of clarity. When we encounter directly in our meditation the non-grasping at objects and the inner clarity of mind, these two work together to allow us to see the essence of mind. We can only see the essence of mind if the mind is unobscured by thoughts. A thought arises through the contact or the relationship between the mind as subject and an object that is being related to by the mind. Thus, thought is necessarily a dualistic process. When the mind is in a state of dualistic clinging it will think. When, however, the mind knows its own essence and can recognize its true nature, then this is the experience of non-dualistic, primordial awareness. In fact, the mind at that point is seeing itself.

To illustrate this process at this level of meditation, when we wake up in the morning the sunlight is already beginning to filter into the world and the day is getting lighter. As the day goes by the light increases as the sun gets higher and as the light increases the darkness is dispelled. This is the automatic effect of sunlight. This is analogous to what happens in our meditation. The more we see the nature of mind, the more clearly the nature of mind shines. This all happens because the mind has the capacity to know itself. It can initially recognize what is already there in the mind and because of that, the mind is no longer affected by uncontrolled thinking. This is like the unobscured, cloudless sky. The sunlight is free to shine without hindrance; just as through the gradual continuance of our insight meditation practice, the ability to light up or to see the nature of mind increases without interruption. Gradually, the practice becomes completely natural.

It is through the practice of meditation as outlined that we accomplish the last two of what are referred to as the six paramitas or the six transcendental virtues. These two are the practice of meditative concentration and the practice of full knowledge or full understanding, wisdom. Paramita is a Sanskrit word that means literally something that has reached its fulfillment. Here, we are talking about these two qualities of meditation and wisdom having reached their full achievement, their full accomplishment. The transcendental or fully accomplished meditative concentration, the fifth of the six paramitas, is related to the practice of tranquility meditation as explained earlier. It is through training the mind and the gradual development of our experience that we come to the complete fulfillment of this quality of mental stability or meditative concentration.

When we discuss the stability of mind, we often refer to the three stages of stability. The first stage might not seem like stability at all because it is in fact the recognition of just how agitated our mind really is. Our experience in meditation may be that there seems to be an increase in thought, that the mind is greatly agitated like a river flowing down a rocky mountain. This, however, is not a defect in our meditation. It just means that the mind is now calm enough to be able to recognize its own agitation. Not being involved in that agitation, it can actually recognize just how agitated it is.

Once we recognize this, we should not become stuck on it, but move on with our tranquility practice until the mind becomes more trained. At that point, we will experience mind as a constantly flowing river, gently moving along. This is the result of the mind being more pacified and trained. This is followed by a third stage of practice during which the mind is able to remain in a state of stability for as long as it likes. Here, one has complete control or mastery of the state of stability.

These three stages of meditative concentration are called the three stabilities. In the first stage we still need to teach the mind to stabilize itself by resting on an external reference point – some kind of object. This is absent in the second and third stages where there is no longer any need for a reference point.

In the second stage, while we do not have a reference point, there is still certain watchfulness. We need to observe when the mind is stable and when it is moving and thinking. We need to recognize these states and gradually stabilize the mind further. There’s a certain amount of deliberate effort required in this phase in order to maintain the quality of our meditation.

By the time we reach the third stage, mental pacification and tranquility automatically occur without any effort whatsoever. The second stage leads to the third stage without any intervention on our part. This third and final stage corresponds to the accomplishment of tranquility meditation. This is the equivalent of the accomplishment of meditative concentration or what we call the fifth paramita, the transcendental virtue of meditative concentration. It is from then on that we can enter into the phase of insight meditation.

The stage of insight meditation is much more difficult for us to actually judge or measure because it is endless. In fact, we continue insight meditation practice right up until the very moment of enlightenment. Therefore, it is not a practice that can be judged to last for a certain amount of time and then we do something else. Insight meditation will take us to enlightenment itself.

Insight meditation is so vast it is difficult from our point of view to comprehend what it really is; it is a realm of meditation that takes us beyond dualistic manifestation. Initially, insight meditation brings some minor experience of reality or the true nature of things. As we continue with this practice it expands and grows – it develops beyond our current ability to follow its progress. That’s why we say it is endless. Insight meditation is the perfection of wisdom, the sixth paramita or the sixth perfection.

Presently, we are unable to see the nature of mind, even though mind has the capacity to see its own nature. Right now our mind is full of obscurations. However, these very obscurations can become the means through which we can access the genuine qualities of mind. The minds of most all living beings are currently in a state of ignorance. This ignorance forms the basis upon which the obscurations of the mind appear. However, all of these obscurations can be purified and lead to the attainment of enlightenment. The capacity to transform obscurations into qualities is what we refer to as buddha-nature. Each and every living being has this capacity to transform their mental obscurations into the qualities of enlightenment.

To better understand obscurations, we will briefly discuss karma, the law of cause and effect. This will help us to understand the relationship between our actions and the results we experience. The practice of virtue is the remedy that allows us to purify all past karmic actions.

Karma is the accumulation of actions based on thoughts in our mind and actions that are produced by that thinking. If we look at how the mind thinks, or the ideas or concepts that come up in the mind, we see that they are based upon the interrelationship between mind and objects that is produced by the emotions. Sometimes the mind is influenced by ego-clinging or selfishness. Sometimes the mind is influenced by strong anger or aggression and sometimes by strong desire or attachment, pride, or jealousy. All of these emotional states cause the mind to create ideas and to perform actions that create what we call a karmic potential, a karmic seed. These karmic seeds are collected in the mind where they continue as habitual tendencies. As these tendencies ripen, as the karma created by confused thought or action comes to full fruition, this produces the experience of an event in our impression of the world around us. This is our karma, the manifestation of the confused mind. So karma can be either in the consciousness as a potential; it can be in the process of ripening; or it can be fully-ripened karma.

If instead of developing negative emotions in the mind such as desire, anger or jealousy, we develop the qualities of love and compassion, then we have good motivation as a basis for the actions we perform. The result will then be that all our actions will strengthen the quality of virtue. All actions that are motivated by genuine love and compassion are inevitably going to result in virtuous actions. There is no way that a genuine loving or compassionate action could produce a non-virtuous result. These virtuous actions are also collected in the mind stream and they will ripen into an experience of the world – an illusion or a manifestation around us that contains positive qualities and fortunate circumstances.

When we talk about positive and negative we have to view or understand these terms in relation to attaining enlightenment. We define fortunate karma as conditions that help us move closer to enlightenment and negative karma as unfortunate conditions that compromise our opportunity to reach enlightenment.

We talk about existence as being either fortunate or unfortunate. A fortunate existence is to be born as a human being with a human body in a human world with human friends. Our experience of life is a very positive one, giving us many opportunities to further our progress towards enlightenment. An example of an unfortunate rebirth is if we manifest as a ghost rather than as a human being. In that case we would have the body of a ghost; we’d live in a ghost world; we would perceive the world around us as the kind of manifestation experienced by a ghost and all our friends would be ghosts. Life would be very unfortunate indeed. However, things could get worse – we could have the karma to manifest as an insect. Even though the insect may be flying through the human world, it doesn’t have the ability to contact human beings and benefit from the human world. The world in which the insect is living is not a human world; it is a world that is experienced from the point of view of an insect. This means that in order for the insect to make meaningful contact with another living being, such a contact can only take place when it makes contact with another insect. If the insect makes contact with a human being the insect doesn’t perceive that as beneficial or of any use whatsoever. This is the life of an insect. The insect has various faculties and sense perceptions, as well as certain tendencies. Driven by its instinct to survive, an insect can easily commit a negative act; whereas, even though all beings have buddha-nature, in the insect realm accomplishment of virtuous actions is of extremely difficult.

Therefore, we can see how important it is to have a fortunate existence with all the faculties, potential and capacities to develop toward enlightenment. It is highly beneficial to have this kind of rebirth, this human situation. What do we do to ensure that it continues? We need to engage in actions and behaviors that are motivated by love and compassion. For instance, one of the kinds of actions that we can engage in is the practice of generosity, cultivating generosity based upon the motivation of love and compassion. If we practice generosity with this kind of pure motivation then everything we do will continue to create good fortune and fortunate conditions. This means that from year to year, from life to life, we will be getting closer to attaining enlightenment. That is the practice of generosity, the first paramita, the perfection of generosity.

The second paramita is the perfection of ethical conduct. This affects everything we do, including all the other paramitas. Here we work within the illusion that we are caught in order to develop something positive within that illusion. In these practices, whether it is meditation where we are dealing directly with the causes of the illusion, or the practice of generosity where we’re dealing with the situation of the illusion, we should not harm living beings by our actions. This is the essence of ethical conduct. It means that whatever our practice we should avoid causing any harm to living beings. Even in our practice of virtue, we must ensure that it doesn’t cause harm to others. If we do this, then the mind can be more firmly rooted in positive karma and this will mean that our meditation progresses, the confusion of mind diminishes, the mind becomes freer and ultimately becomes more able to see its own true nature. All this is the result of the perfection of the paramita of ethical conduct.

The discipline of ethical conduct is to enable us to give up or renounce anything that can be harmful to our practice and to encourage all things that can be beneficial to our practice. The practice of ethical conduct becomes the basis for purification and improvement in whatever practice we are doing.

Concerning the third paramita, the practice of patience, there are two categories. Patience or tolerance can be exercised in relation to outer circumstances or to inner circumstances. If we look at outer circumstances, this means not replying in kind when we are attacked or insulted in some way, but instead reacting from the basis of love and compassion. We must learn to respond to aggression with love and compassion. As for the inner kind of patience, there is a strong practice and a more subtle practice. The more obvious practice of inner patience is accomplished when we cut off thoughts and feelings of anger as soon as we are aware they are arising in the mind. We don’t follow or engage with these thoughts and emotions. The more subtle practice of patience is related to overcoming the darkness of ignorance in the mind. This means that when any thoughts or ideas of a dualistic nature develop in the mind, we exercise the practice of wisdom – the practice of complete understanding of the nature of thoughts so as to not get caught up in dualistic thinking. In this way we see through or into the very nature of our thoughts. This is also patience.

Concerning the fourth paramita, the practice of perseverance, initially this is quite simply the exercise of cultivating exertion or will power in more circumstances and applying it. This is followed by a second stage that involves constant effort. That means our efforts to do anything should be continual, not off and on, but regular. There is then a third phase where our ability to persevere, to exercise energy and to deal with a situation is something that is easy, automatic and completely untainted by any deliberate effort because this is a natural functioning of the mind. This kind of ingrained or innate perseverance will lead us as we continue with this practice to the very threshold of enlightenment. As we travel the path it will allow us to be of great benefit to living beings.

The cultivation of the perfections of ethical conduct, patience and perseverance will be of great benefit to our practice of the other three perfections – generosity, meditation and wisdom. It is through the gradual accomplishment of all six paramitas that we progress on the path towards enlightenment.

The Seven Points of Mind Training of Atisha

Part II

III. To transform all unfavourable circumstances ino path of the Buddha

To transform the unfavorable conditions, we must first be aware of karma, the law of cause and effect. We make use of the unfavorable conditions or obstacles as the object of meditation (bodhicitta relative) in the same way that we did it with the thoughts of the mind (bodhicitta ultimate). We can thus transform all the negative circumstances into something positive.

Generate the relative bodhicitta when you encounter difficulties. First of all, recognize that the difficulties are not caused by the fault of others, that they are created by your own ego. If you have no ego clinging, then no difficulty will have any negative effect on you. When you face physical problems such as diseases, or when somebody tries to harm you, recognize that they are created by your own karma. By letting them ripen in this life, you will not have to experience them hereafter where they would pose greater karmic effects. This transformation relies on a solid foundation of bodhicitta and will facilitate the exhaustion of all negative karma through the forbearance of small nuisances in this life. For example, just prior to enlightenment, an Arhat often suffers from headaches or stomachaches. Indeed, the power of his meditation has completely transformed the negative effects of his former karma into smaller troubles thereby putting an end to them all. If you practise the sending and taking each time you encounter difficulties, by thinking that you are taking the sufferings of others and letting them dissolve into your own experience, then they will really be purified when supported by pure motivation. It is this pure motivation that can create an energy ever more grand than that of an Arhat.

The transformation based on ultimate bodhicitta means to make use of the realization that you have obtained from the practice and apply it to your difficulties. Face each difficulty by trying to recognize that its essence is not related to the thoughts that it generates. Try to realize that the essence of the suffering is completely independent from the feeling of suffering.

There is another method specific to transforming all unfavorable conditions into the path of the Buddha. It comprises of four stages:

Each time you are confronted with difficulties, realize that they are produced by the negative karma that you have created before, and this will cause you to accumulate more positive karma.

Feeling the suffering makes you recognize the need for purifying your negative karma, otherwise, there will be more bad effects in the future.

The human life is more precious than any other forms of life. Therefore if you still have difficulties even in this good life, it means that you will have even more troubles in the future if your negative actions are not purified now. You must do practices of purification like Dorjé Sempa.

Pray fervently to all the Buddhas to receive their blessing so you can ripen all the negative karma of all living beings, all the difficulties that will face them. Each day, in your practice, pray like this, “May all the suffering of the living beings come into me.” Do not hesitate to take onto yourself the suffering of others. Accustom yourselves to this wish.

IV. Condensed practice of mind training in five points

Very firmly promise to commit you to Bodhicitta until enlightenment is attained.

Engage yourself in bodhicitta on all occasions.

Since the greatest obstacle to bodhicitta is ego clinging, as soon as you see it, recognize it, and fight it until it is destroyed.

Pray that you will succeed in developing bodhicitta. Think and rethink, again and again, the suffering of others to develop the compassion so that it appears automatically.

Neutralize the influence of the ego and develop the bodhicitta.

V. Measurement of mind training

In your daily activities, be aware of the disadvantages of ego clinging and the need for practising compassion towards all living beings. When you meditate, examine the way in which emotional thought patterns arise in your mind. Look at their essence and let them dissolve into the emptiness of their essential reality. Use these two methods alternately; they are like skilful means and wisdom. You will know by yourself the extent of your own training. In examining it, you will say, “yes, a little pride”. One indication of how you are doing is when someone says something unpleasant to you, you don’t get angry. If you are praised, you don’t feel proud. These are signs of a good training. Continue until it is like that.

What are the advantages of a good training? Each time the emotions arise, you will overcome them and therefore you will not fall deeper into the cyclic existence. You will be free. You will no longer fall victim to the imperfections of samsara or of the negative emotions. The obstacles cannot block your progress towards enlightenment. When a snake is coiled up, it can uncoil itself. In the same way, as soon as an emotion arises, you will be able to spontaneously release yourself of it. Then the mind is really happy, because neither the impairment of the disturbing emotions, nor the suffering they cause would ever be harmful again. When the mind is naturally untouched and happy, it is a sign of success of the mind training. The mind is continuously peaceful, calm and happy. It is not a state produced by something, but a natural and spontaneous happiness which does not know any suffering. Such is the true measure of successful mind training.

VI. Engagement of mind training

Engagement means to exert yourself in everyday life until your character is completely imbued with the right attitudes. In general, it means to convert your aspirations. In the moment when you wish to do something basically negative, you exhort yourself, “I must improve.” When this transformation takes place, you can treat the suffering of others. Once the mind is firmly transformed, there is no longer a need to prove it. The actions of your body, and your speech must necessarily be beneficial for others, little by little. You do not emphasize your contribution, you do not care to show it, nor do you wish to be recognized by others. Here are some examples of the engagements of mind training.

“Do not criticize the faults of others while being unaware of your own.”

“Examine your own mind and make use of the strongest emotion as material for mind training.”

“Do not practise the mind training to become a famous Bodhisattva, or a famous siddha, or a Buddha…this motivation is impure; you will not become a pure Bodhisattva.”

“When you are wounded, bear no resentment.”

“Do not employ malicious means to take advantage of others. For example, if a group has some goods, do not use various means and ways to divert them into your own possession.”

To observe these engagements is not the same thing as in observing a law. It could be said that to do the opposite of the stated engagements is to go against the practice of mind training – the practice is then spoiled. The essence of each engagement is to help develop the mind training so that one does not transgress from the training itself. It is easy for you to realize by yourself. For example, it is said, do not practise mind training for your own growth or to gain the respect of others. If you follow the guideline of the engagements, wouldn’t you find real meaning of the practice of mind training? Yes, of course. It follows from the engagement of avoidance.

VII. Precepts of mind training

You must think of the importance of benefiting others and develop a motivation that will sprout forth spontaneously. All living beings in all the universes created all the problems that they now have by themselves. They are the results of their egoistic fixations and of their negative emotions. Develop compassion for all these beings. Be ever aware that all the sensory pleasures and material comforts are illusory and are the same in nature as dreams. They are completely without meaning and impermanent. Realize that to attach even to a tiny part of it is insane. Start by being aware of the ideas or negative emotions which appear in your mind as soon as they arise. Eventually, you will be able to give them up; then finally, you will be able to neutralize them if they appear again.


Enjoy the necessary training to become virtuous. Be happy to practice virtuous actions. Be happy about the need to create conditions that favors the accomplishment of virtuous actions. You now know how to use this precious human existence, so don’t think that life has no meaning.

In brief, the substance of the practice of mind training is to rejoice each time that something beneficial for another being is accomplished or fulfilled, and to feel sadness when someone abandons that which is beneficial to him.

These explanations are a condensed version on the practice of mind training. More elaborate commentaries exist, but this is the essence. Whether or not you obtain the fruit does not depend on a more detailed explanation but on the practice that you do.

The Seven Points of Mind Training of Atisha

Translated from the French titled, ‘Lodjong’ from Dhagpo Kagyu Ling

“Easy to explain, but very difficult to realize”

The Seven Points of Mind Training is at the heart of the Sutra and Tantra teachings in the Mahayana tradition; they are the skilful means of practice. The Indian sage, Atisha, composed the text later introduced in Tibet. There it spread widely and became the essential teaching practised by all the lamas. Whatever our practice is, this mind training consists of advice which will definitely deepen it. Whether we meditate in the tradition of Mahamudra, Dzogchen, or the yidam practice of Dorje Phagmo, or Khorlo Demchok – in fact all tantric practices at whatever tantric level (be it charya, kriya, yoga, or anuttarayoga), our practice does not have real significance without the mind training. Such training is essential for any tantric practice, since it ensures the removal of obstacles along the path.

What are the seven points?


The meaning of the preliminaries is to reflect on the Four Thoughts that turn the mind towards Enlightenment. No further elaboration is given here, as most of you are already very familiar with it.


There are two aspects to Bodhicitta. They are the ultimate and relative bodhicitta representing the union of wisdom and skilful means. To develop ultimate Bodhicitta, we have to meditate. Meditation comprises of three phases: the introduction, the body of the practice, and post-meditation.

Ultimate Bodhicitta – the introduction

In the introduction, first reflect that you are really in the presence of your Lama or the Deity of meditation. If you are in a temple, you will likely be facing Buddha statues on a shrine. Think that all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are appearing in front of you and offer them the Seven-Branch Prayer. Then straighten your body and sit in the seven-point posture. Let your mind rest on your breathing for twenty-one complete breaths so as to calm and stabilize the mind.

Ultimate Bodhicitta – the body of the practice

Think that all the events, manifestations, and movements of mind are illusory as in the nature of a dream, unreal and false. For example, when we are sleeping, our dream seems real to us when it is absolutely unreal: if it were real, then the dream would really be happening. In the same way, our world and the beings in it in all their diversities are but the illusive manifestations of mind. While the illusion is taking place, it is “real”, but its essence is unreal like a dream. Therefore regard all phenomena as insignificant, similar to a dream, and rest your mind in this perspective in the moment.

Ask yourself, “is mind itself real, or not?” This is your own experiment to lead you to recognize mind. You have to meditate on the mind and ask yourself: What color is it? What is its form? Where does it come from? What is its purpose? Is it inside or outside of the body? What happens when it experiences heat or the cold? Reflect on the mind in this way. You may come to the conclusion that the mind defies any such determination and that is the essence of mind. You must meditate on this point.

When a thought arises, look at it directly and ask yourself, “What is its true nature?” Remain in the understanding that “it is nothing.” It is said that all the thoughts are stored in the alaya. The alaya is the mind unconscious, the thinker of the mental confusions. It is the one who runs after the sounds, the forms, the odors, the tastes and the feelings. The mind is seen when one remains in a state free of running after something. For example, when one has work has to do, the mind is thus engaged and thinks, for example, “What will I cook today? or, “I will clean…”,etc. When the mind is no longer carrying on with such thoughts, it is the alaya. The body of the practice is to remain in this kind of meditation for as long time as possible. In fact, it is a meditation similar to the way of Mahamudra.

Ultimate Bodhicitta – post-meditation

During your everyday life, exert yourself to recognize everything as illusory-like and unreal.

Relative Bodhicitta

The training of relative Bodhicitta is “Tonglen” (to send and to take). This is a very important practice because it can purify our obscurations and deepen our capacity for meditative absorption. We have to get used to the exchange of self for others. By this method, we can cut right through to the roots of the ego. We begin first by reflecting on the defects of ego clinging. It is on account of our fixation to a self that we experience the five disturbing emotions. From the moment when there is “I”, we have like and dislike. We are attracted to what we like and we feel aversion towards what we dislike. This dualistic interplay is at the core of all our problems, and it will continue to create problems for us until we put an end to ego clinging.

The next step is to exert ourselves in being compassionate towards others. We begin by using the self as the subject of reflection. What do we feel when we are hot, cold, hungry, thirsty, or when we are sick? It is this same suffering that every living being feels. Our compassion must be directed towards all animals as well and not exclusively towards humans. Animals suffer indeed much more than humans do, mainly because of their own inadequacies and limitations. However, some sufferings are inflicted on them by humans. Fish are perfectly happy in water, without disturbing men. Nevertheless, for the sake of sport, men catch them with hooks and then leave them to die on the sand. How would we feel if the same thing were done to us? If someone is starving and eats fish, there is at least some reason for his action – though still negative but excusable. Recently, I was at the seaside. People there were all well off. They were far from dying of hunger. For them fishing is a source of recreation. They threw them on the ground to die. Some even trampled the fish to death. Also, think of the lobsters, the way in which they are plunged alive into boiling water in the restaurants. How would we feel if we were the lobsters? It is by such reflections that we develop compassion. The sadness and sorrow in all of us when we remember the vast number of people killed in the two World Wars is compassion. But compassion must be extended to the animals as well. Day and night, animals are being killed. When the compassion is directed only towards humans then it is not true compassion, but a form of attachment.

What should be our mental attitude during the practice of sending and taking? We must ask ourselves what would happen if we personally experienced all the suffering of all the living beings. This reflection must take place in a relaxed state of mind without any erroneous views as in: “Oh, perhaps then, I will know this suffering indeed!” And then let the mind take on the anxiety. It is not necessary to bring up the suffering, it is enough to think of it. Then gradually, our attitude will improve. For the moment, our minds are confused and dull, making us an easy prey to pride. This pride must be overcome and the method for that is to think of the suffering of others.

Emotional suffering is also a form of suffering experienced by living beings. Nowadays, many people suffer from mental disorders caused by the disturbing emotions: pride, anger, jealousy, desire and ignorance. Moreover, it is the emotions that condition and shape the world that we experience. How can that be? The world that we live in is nothing more than the illusory appearances of our confused mind. The appearances are produced by our karma. How is karma created? The movement of the emotions in the mind creates it.

When bodhicitta is developed, the illusory manifestations become positive. For example, when one is in a hell realm, one can awake from this state and be reborn among the human beings. All humans know the emotions of pride, of desire, of anger, etc; it is through them that unlimited negative karma is accumulated. Therefore in the future, when the effects of the negative deeds mature, living beings will inevitably experience the negative conditions and results in the various forms This is why we need to develop compassion towards all beings.

Hell is not a place though there are many kinds of hell. The Tibetan word for hell simply means “suffering”; so hell is “a world of suffering”. The other manifested worlds are places where the experience of happiness and suffering are both present. Our own world is one such example. There are also worlds that know only of happiness: they are produced by beings having only positive karma. Do not believe that these pure worlds, such as Dewachen (the pure land of Amitabha Buddha), are imaginary. Compared to our “real” world, it is just as real.

Thus to practise sending and taking, think of all the suffering of all forms of living beings. To help you become familiar with this practice of compassion, you can use another method, and it is concentration on the breathing. This latter method has two advantages: it will improve the calming of the mind and it will increase your compassion. For this practice, sit in the same posture as before and place your attention on your breathing. When you exhale, think that you are sending your happiness to all the living beings and it penetrates them. When you inhale, take into yourself all their suffering. Do that for as long as you can. When you feel a mental suffering, think about the suffering of another person, and think that his suffering penetrates you. Now apply the ultimate Bodhicitta practice that you have learnt and look directly at the concept that you have taken in another’s suffering. Realize that this thought has no real existence. You have thus entered into the meditation of ultimate Bodhicitta. The development of ultimate and relative Bodhicitta alternately will usher in benefits that are limitless. This is the body of the practice. Then, in your daily activities, reflect like this: “May all living beings be released from all the disturbing emotions in all their forms; and may the resultant sufferings from the activities caused by these emotions mature on me rather than on them.”

Part 2 >>>

Mastering the mind

This is an extract of teachings given by Shamar Rimpoche. This section of the teaching was preceded by Rinpoche’s explanation of the reasons for practice (why we meditate) and the required conditions that we need to get together in order to practice various types of meditation.

The following teachings define the two stages of meditation practice : samatha and vipassana. Rinpoche then goes on to elucidate some of the obstacles that we may encounter on the path of meditation.
The fruit of Dharma practice is known as “cessation”, a state in which all the emotions are completely overcome. This state of cessation is not only something coming to an end, but also something which takes place. On the one hand one experiences a state of wellbeing, joy, and happiness and on the other peace and a calm clarity.

Stabilising and Pacifying the Mind

In order to realise the nature of mind and to stabilise meditative absorption there are two stages that we must go through. The first is the ability to stabilise the mind in a state of calm which is known as the samadhi of shi’nay, in Tibetan, or samatha in Sanskrit. This is sometimes translated as mental pacification. The second stage is to increase this meditative concentration, to expand and develop it. This second aspect, lhakthong or vipassana is often translated as penetrating insight or profound insight.

Samadhi, a Sanskrit word, is translated in Tibetan as tignédzin. In English, we can translate it as meditative absorption or contemplation. When we are accustomed to and have mastered this type of meditation, we will be able to achieve all kinds of miracles and we will have the faculty of clairvoyance. In the Buddha’s time, his disciples practised these meditations a great deal and the resulting accomplishments were widespread amongst them.

Since all phenomena is the projection and play of mind, this means that if we control our minds, we gain mastery over phenomena. By mastering the mind we are able to work with outer phenomena. This is why there are types of meditative absorption relating to water, fire, air and earth – the basic elements which constitute phenomena. The accomplishment and mastery of these samadhis render us capable of controlling the elements. For example, we can transform water into fire. In the Vajrayana, the practice of the Tantras, we meditate on syllables or on mandalas while reciting mantras. We meditate on ourselves as deities and on the world as being the deity’s mandala. Using these meditations we can derive the same capacity to transform and control phenomena. This has nothing to do with magic, because magic is artificial and fabricated. These special abilities are the natural results of meditation when samadhi is stabilised. Since everything is the mind, if we can gain mastery over it, we can then have control over external phenomena.

We can take an example of this from the life stories of Milarepa. Once Milarepa entered into a yak’s horn to illustrate a point to his disciple Rechungpa. Milarepa was able to do this without shrinking his body and without the horn growing any bigger. This was possible because Milarepa had dissolved all dualistic grasping. Smallness and largeness, or any size for that matter, are all produced by duality, i.e. the result of grasping to phenomena as if they were really existing. Once this dualistic grasping is dissolved, “large” and “small” no longer have the same meaning and are no longer so fixed. As long as there is duality, large remains large and small remains small : everything is solidified, and we cannot change anything. But once we have dissolved this grasping or fixation, there are no longer any limits. The relative reality is no longer solidified and anything becomes possible. That is how Rechungpa was able to see Milarepa entering into the horn of the yak. Milarepa did this in order to help Rechungpa understand the mastery of phenomena. This example is used by numerous masters to illustrate this aspect of teaching and notably by Gendun Chöpel. It demonstrates that when the grasping of reality as truly existing ceases, phenomena can then easily be manipulated.

Samadhi and shi’nay >>>