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24 Nov 2018
46 min 41 sec
Isabelle Foley
Audio Overview
Marcia Schmidt

Teaching on the preliminary practices of the Künzang Tuktik cycle of the Chokling Tersar tradition.

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  • [Trülku Urgyen speaking]
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] The four topics, which we have just covered by means of the four-lined poetry found here, are called the ‘four mind-changings. These four mind-changings are at the very core of all Buddhist practices. A superior practitioner, in a retreat setting, would spend one month reflecting on each of the four topics. He or she would reflect for a full month on the difficulty of obtaining a precious human body endowed with the freedoms and riches.
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] [Recording cuts out, the following is not on the tape] He or she would spend another full month reflecting on death and impermanence, a full month reflecting on karma, cause and effect and a full month reflecting on the defects of samsara. Whether we are a superior practitioner or not, we should spend, at least, a week reflecting on each topic during a retreat situation. We should really take these teachings to heart. If a proper practitioner has truly taken the four mind-changings to heart, the insight he or she gains from these reflections will make him or her eager to practice the Dharma day and night. For such a practitioner, [the opportunity] to undertake the so-called preliminary ngon-dro practice of four times 100,000 will seem a great privilege, rather than a punishment or hardship. Many people perceive preliminary practices as the latter, whereby they think
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] [SOUND COMES BACK IN] they are somehow paying their dues to the Guru. It’s not like that. Some people even think, ‘Oh, if I just take it easy, lie on my back and watch TV, eat good food and drink booze, then that’s real comfortable! Why should I put myself through all the hardship of prostrations, mandala-offerings and so forth?’ This is 100% a sign that one has not taken the most basic Buddhist teachings to heart.
  • [Trülku Urgyen speaking]
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] So, the four mind-changings are the very foundation of all Buddhist practices. If one has not taken these four reflections deeply to heart, Dharma practice will not work. It’s like building a skyscraper. From this foundation upward, one builds one’s practice career. Lacking this base, one cannot go any further. It's like building a skyscraper.
  • [Trülku Urgyen speaking]
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] These days, everyone is talking about the ‘view.’ The view is like shooting an arrow into space — it just flies off. But we should be realistic. We are ordinary people and we still just walk on the earth. We cannot fly [unaided] through space. Therefore, it is most advisable to start from the ground, where we happen to be right now, and slowly proceed through the levels [of understanding]. The four mind-changings are at the very root of all teachings; if we build upon this base, we can slowly progress upwardly. There is a quote from the Buddha, himself. He said, "Just as a newborn child slowly grows and progresses until he becomes a fully-developed adult, my teachings [should be understood] in the same way from the very first step of the shravaka teachings until the time of reaching complete perfection."
  • This set of teachings, called the 'Heart-essence of Samantabhadra,' is a terma or hidden treasure from Guru rinpoché. All the [Buddhist] teachings from the very beginning to the very end are included here. Therefore, this set of teachings begins the four mind-changings. When you really take those four mind-changings to your heart, then all of this life’s practice will go very smoothly. Practice will be perceived as very comfortable and easy, not as a hardship at all.
  • Many people say, "Oh, the view! The view!" because they are fooled by this nice-sounding word [‘view.’] People say, "I don’t need those four mind-changings, and I don’t need to undergo the hardship of the four preliminary practices either. I don’t need to do any Vajrayana ritual practices, I only need to practice the view." These people have made one basic error. They read the story of the first human vidyadhara, Garab Dorje, who received the teachings and, from that moment on, remained undistracted. But we are just ordinary people, and among ordinary people, we are very ‘ordinary.’ So, please accept reality. Of course, it can happen that there are some extraordinary beings whereby, as was the case of Garab Dorje, the perfect teacher encounters the perfect student and transmits the perfect teaching. From the moment the teaching is received [by such a perfect student,] he or she encounters smooth sailing by remaining in nondistraction.
  • But since most of the time we are dwelling in dualistic mind, this is a very good reason for us to proceed from the basics of the four mind-changings and to progress gradually through the whole path.
  • [Trülku Urgyen speaking]
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] Within the set of teachings found in the Heart-essence of Samantabhadra, specifically within the preliminary practices, all three yanas can be practiced in one session, on one seat. The teachings on refuge comprise all the essentials of the Hinayana teachings, the teachings on engendering bodhichitta comprise all the essentials of the Mahayana teachings, and the teachings on meditation and recitation of Vajrasattva comprise the very quintessence of all the Vajrayana teachings. Within a single session, we can go through these preliminary practices and cover all three yanas — do the complete Buddhist practice.
  • If we want to do an extensive practice, there are, of course, hundreds of thousands of Buddhist teachings in the entire canonical collection, but it is impossible to practice them all in a single lifetime. Guru rinpoché, himself, kindly extracted the essence of all the teachings and compiled them so that they include all the instructions of the scholars and accomplished beings of India and Tibet. Not a single Vajrayana tradition looks down upon the preliminary practice — they all engage in it and recommend the preliminary practice — in fact, they say that, compared to the main practice, the preliminary practice is considered more profound. Why? Because they condense the essence of the three yanas’ teachings into one easy set of instructions that are comfortable to practice.
  • When you take these teachings deeply to heart, the preliminary practices are like plowing the field of your own mind. Other teachings that subsequently are given are like planting seed in a well-plowed field. If you have not taken the preliminary teachings deeply to heart and have not applied them to your own experience, then all the high teachings about the view, the view, the view are just like seeds placed on a flat stone. They will remain there for hundreds of years without ripening into flowers. But if you have taken the preliminary teachings very well into your experience, then the teachings on that famous ‘view’ will very well ripen.
  • [Trülku Urgyen speaking]
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] The last line of the verses on the mind-changings says: "I will accomplish perfect enlightenment for the sake of all." This is basically the bottom-line of all those teachings. [We attain enlightenment] not for our own sake, but for the sake of all sentient beings. So, today we covered the four mind-changings in a very brief way.
  • [Trülku Urgyen speaking]
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] Rinpoché was convering today the four mind changings in a very brief way. He was giving us a very brief teaching of what the four mind changings are about, and that will be the teaching for today. There is one last line of small writing.
  • [Trülku Urgyen speaking]
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] We should really apply these teachings to our own mind and endeavor in practicing them.
  • [Trülku Urgyen speaking]
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] There is one last thing, which rinpoché is going to teach today.
  • [Trülku Urgyen speaking]
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] Now, we have reached the second part which comprises the ‘extraordinary preliminaries.’ There is a quote from one of Guru rinpoché’s terma, the root-text called Tukdrub, which starts out: "If a person, endowed with faith in the Three Jewels and compassion for all beings, Wishes to attain, in this very lifetime, the supreme accomplishment of enlightenment, And the common siddhis, He should mature his mind through receiving empowerments and keep all the samayas with purity. Then that person should go for refuge in the Three Jewels, Which is the root of all paths, And develop the essence of the path, Which is the two types of bodhichitta — awakened mind."
  • [Trülku Urgyen speaking]
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] So, today rinpoché has the four/mind changings, which are the general preliminaries and tomorrow he will teach us the extraordinary preliminaries, which are the four times and the one-hundred thousand practices.
  • [Trülku Urgyen speaking]
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] When you go back home to America and ask yourself, ‘What should I actually do now?’ the first step would be a one-month retreat contemplating the four mind-changings. Stay at your own home or in a hermitage or somewhere in seclusion, and spend one whole week reflecting on the difficulties of attaining the precious human body, one whole week reflecting on death and impermanence, one week reflecting on karma, cause and effect and one week reflecting on the defects of samsara. Structure each day into four sessions of (contemplation) each day.This is the first approach to practice and rinpoché asks you to really do this in a very sincere way.
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] The text covers this whole subject in poetry. Later on, when you proceed with the preliminary practices, you should recite this poetry, as a reminder, once at the beginning of each session, or at least once a day. This reminds one each day of the four mind-changings, but first you should do a retreat on them. This is very important.
  • [Trülku Urgyen speaking with Erik Pema Kunsang]
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] How long you structure your meditation day — or, in this case, your ‘reflection day’ — depends on your own capacity, whether you spend four times an hour or two hours. There is also a very good commentary by Paltrül rinpoché on the Dzokchen preliminaries called the Kunzang Lamé Zhelung. Currently, there is an English translation available by Sonam Kazi . In Dordogne, France Tulku Pema has translated the whole book into French and that is being translated into English right now. If you really want to get more of an idea about how to reflect on the mind-changings, you can read this text and gain some inspiration from this book.
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] Erik has also translated a very valuable book from rinpoché’s own tradition where all the quotes we have mentioned are from. It’s called "The Great Gate". This is a commentary on the preliminary practice of the Chokling tradition, which is rinpoché’s family tradition. You can get a lot of background information on how to do a ngöndro.
  • [Trülku Urgyen speaking]
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] There is a final sentence here [about the four mind-changings]. The English is not quite right, but it’s on the bottom of page 25. It should read: "Train yourself in this — to be sure that the meaning has mingled with your stream-of-being." This is not something very profound. It is not that we cannot understand that having a human life is extremely precious and rare. If we think about this, it is not impossible to comprehend. Most people understand that everything is impermanent, that life is running out. We can all understand that. If we have some degree of intelligence, and feel we can trust that karmic actions have their effect, [we will agree] that everything is the cause and effect of our karmic deeds. Finally, all samsaric states, being impermanent and unreliable, can never offer us permanent happiness.
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] This is, of course, something we can understand, but comprehending this is not really enough. We must take to heart and really assimilate that understanding acutely within our stream-of-being. This is how all the great masters of the past actually practiced. They gave up all worldly concerns and attached as much importance to worldly aims as we do (to the sputum) we spit on the ground — no one ever thinks of picking it up again. We should try to cultivate that same lack of attachment toward all samsaric states — giving up our homeland, wandering in unknown lands, being a child of the mountains, wearing the mist as our garments, keeping companionship with wild animals in jungles, forests, caves and mountain retreats.
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] How were practitioners able to do this? Was it just by pushing themselves into hardships? No, it was simply due to taking to heart, clearly and genuinely, these four mind-changings. When we really reflect, as mentioned yesterday, on these four points and truly take them to heart, then practicing them in an authentic way is not difficult at all. So, what is the measure of having taken to heart the four mind-changings? It is like a beautiful, but vain, maiden who notices that her hair has caught fire. She will not rest at ease for a single instant, but will immediately try to extinguish the flames. In the same way, if we really take to heart the four mind-changings, we won’t hesitate for a single second, but will immediately try to practice the sacred Dharma.
  • [Trülku Urgyen speaking]
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] Longchen Rabjam meditated for three years in a place called Gangri Tukar, or White Skull Snow-Mountain, where he lacked even a cave but took shelter for three years under a cliff overhang. His only possession, in terms of bedding and garment, was just a single hemp-cloth sack.
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] During the day, he wore this as his garment, while at night it became his bedding. This single scrap of sack-cloth also served as his meditation seat during his meditations. At the entrance to this rock overhang, grew a huge thorn bush. Whenever he had to go out and relieve himself, he would catch himself on the thorns which would pierce his body in numerous places. While he was urinating outside, he would think, ‘It’s really uncomfortable having to push passed this thorn bush every day. I should really hack it down now.’ But then, on his way back he would think, ‘On the other hand, maybe this is the last day of my life. Why should I spend it cutting down a bush? That’s meaningless — I’d rather do something that has real significance, such as train myself in the view, meditation and action.
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] If this is my last day, I should spend my last day really practicing. One never knows how much time one has left in life.’ So, he would forget about cutting down the bush, but go inside and continue his practice session.This went on day after day, and after three years he attained complete realization — yet, he never cut down the thorn bush. This is an example of how the reflection on impermanence can manifest itself even in a great realized master like Longchenpa.
  • [Trülku Urgyen speaking]
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] As stated, taking refuge avoids wrong paths and is the general foundation for all the vehicles. Forming the bodhisattva resolve of bodhichitta is the special quality of Mahayana. In this way, taking refuge and developing bodhichitta is the very core or heart of both the Hinayana and the Mahayana paths.
  • [Trülku Urgyen speaking]
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] After the four general preliminaries, which are the four mind-changings, there are the extraordinary or special preliminaries. What is the reason for training further in these? The first aspect, taking refuge in conjunction with performing prostrations and engendering the bodhisattva vow, is for the purpose of purifying the misdeeds and obscurations that we have created by means of our body throughout all our past lives, including this present life. Afterwards, the meditation and recitation of Vajrasattva is for the purpose of purifying the karmic misdeeds and obscurations created by means of our speech throughout all our lives. Mandala-offerings are for the purpose of purifying the mind, while Guru-yoga is for the purpose of purifying the misdeeds and obscurations created by means of the combination of body, speech and mind accumulated throughout all lifetimes. These are the special inner preliminaries called the ‘four times one-hundred thousand,’ and their purpose has just been stated.
  • [Trülku Urgyen speaking]
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] "In the sky above my own place and surroundings, visualized as a pure land."Here, ‘pure land’ means vast, open and level. There are no protrusions or indentations in the landscape — it’s just vast and smooth, very pure.
  • [Trülku Urgyen speaking]
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] What we should now try to picture is that, within this vast landscape of pure land, there is a perfect lake which consists of water possessed of the ‘eight sublime qualities.’ In the middle of this vast lake, is a huge tree which grows up with main trunk and five major branches. On the central branch, is a lion-throne, meaning a platform of jeweled material supported by eight lions. Atop this, is a lotus flower with a sun disk and a moon disk. Here sits our root-guru in the form of Guru Padma, meaning Padmasambhava who appears as a nirmanakaya buddha wearing his usual attire.
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] Above him, are the other gurus of the three lineages, which are here called the ‘mind lineage,’ the ‘gesture or sign lineage’ and the ‘hearing lineage.’ This includes all the gurus of the lineages all the way up to the dharmakaya buddha, Samantabhadra. Not just a few are present, but enormous cloud-banks of (gurus) are present. On the four branches in the four direction, we imagine that, to Padmasambhava’s right, is Buddha Shakyamuni who is also seated on a lion-throne. He is surrounded by all the buddhas of the ten directions and three times — in other words, all the buddhas of all times and directions appear in a great gathering.
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] Behind Padmasambhava, is another lion-throne with many volumes of scriptures containing all the sacred Dharma teachings of the nine vehicles, without exception. Their pages are composed of refined lapis lazuli, while the script is in pure gold. Each syllable on every page resounds with its own sound. In this way, all the books resound.To the left of Padmasambhava is Manjushri who is (seated on a lion-throne) and is surrounded by the other eight chief bodhisattvas. Surrounding them, are all the other bodhisattvas as well as the shravaka and pratyekabuddha arhats. In other words, the noble sangha is present here on Guru rinpoché’s left.
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] In front of Guru rinpoché, is Vajrasattva surrounded by all the yidam deities of all levels of tantra — both the outer and inner sections (of tantra).
  • [Trülku Urgyen speaking]
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] To reiterate, all the gurus of the lineage are in the center (of the tree). To the right of the gurus, are all the buddhas. Behind the gurus, are all the Dharma teachings. To the left of the gurus, are all the noble sangha. In front (of the gurus), are all the yidams headed by Glorious Vajrasattva. He is surrounded by the yidam deities of the inner and outer tantras of secret mantra Vajrayana. According to the old school, (the Nyingma tradition) the outer tantras are called Kriya, Upa and yoga, while the inner tantras are called maha, Anu and Ati. According to the new school, these are called the father tantras, mother tantras and nondual tantras. These are simply different terms for the same principles. We should imagine that all these are present. Even in between the branches and in all directions, there are dakinis, celestial beings and loyal guardians — the Dharma protectors who have taken the vow to guard the teachings.
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] They are gathered like cloud-banks in innumerable numbers. They include Dharma protectors of both the male and female classes. We should imagine the male classes as facing outward in a broad circle to counter any possible intrusion by obstacles and interferences. We should imagine that the female Dharma protectors face inward to prevent the accomplishments, blessings and siddhis from dissipating outwardly. All these (beings) are present as though in person, alive and full of the power of compassion and blessings. They radiate great splendor and lights as they gaze upon us. We should imagine that we are actually in their presence, in person. But we are not alone.
  • [Erik Pema Kunsang] To our right and left, are our mothers and fathers of all past lives standing in huge lines. To our right, are all our fathers and to our left, all our mothers. Chiefly, between the objects of refuge and ourselves are all our enemies who are objects for cultivating compassion. Our friends, which is the same word in Tibetan for relative, are also present. In one way, all sentient beings are our relatives because throughout all our past lives there is not a single being whom we are not related to. Enemies are in front of us, our friends behind, and in all directions are the sentient beings of the six classes. We are acting as the head-chanter, or lead singer, because we lead the flock in asking for protection from Three Jewels just like when ... (TAPE ENDS)