Monday, 12 November 2012

The Eight Verses for Training the Mind

I started talking to a Chinese lady at my school the other day, she teaches Chinese to secondary school kids. We were sitting in the staff room together and chewing the fat when she happened to mention that she was looking forward to going on a holiday to Tibet. This then triggered a very uncomfortable conversation that left me shocked and upset at this Chinese ladies views on the superiority of modern China over Tibetan Buddhism, and the insistence that China had not invaded Tibet.

She defended her view that China had liberated normal Chinese people (Tibetans), who happened to live in the Chinese region of Tibet, from the tyranny of the Tibetan Buddhist upper class. For the first time it really dawned on me that this is how Chinese people feel about Tibet. She laughed at my protests and said that I had been brain washed by the media into thinking that the real working class Chinese (Tibetans) didn’t want to be part of china. This made me think about a lot of things. It made made me remember Langri Tangpa's eight verses for training the mind and how Tibetan people might apply it to their current situation.

At the age of 18 I tried to live my life in accord with Langri Tangpa’s eight verses for training the mind. I did this for about 10 years. I subsequently hold slightly different views than what follows, but I will give you the information I used to believe in. Langri Tangpa was a Tibetan Buddhist master of the Kadampa and Gelug traditions. Some 900 years ago He wrote the eight verses for training the mind as a summary of the Lojong teachings of Mahayana Buddhism.

One must understand a few Buddhist concepts to be able to understand the eight verses for training the mind. The first concept is the law of Karma, simply put Karma is the same as the Christian teaching of “what you sow so shall you reap” the Buddhists say that our body, our family and indeed the environments we find ourselves in are a direct result of our past Karma. Karma starts with our thoughts and our intentions, our intentions become actions and then our actions create ripples that attract or repel everything we experience in our lives. The second thing to understand is the concept of rebirth, this states that when we die our consciousness survives and depending on our Karma we are reborn in a corresponding environment. I now have a very different view of Karma and how it works, if you want to know more just contact me.

The third concept is that everybody, every living creature in existence, from ants to blue whales have been our mothers an infinite amount of times in the past. This is because of the concept that time is beginning-less and endless, apparently we have been in existence for all of eternity, we have been reborn an infinite amount of times. To be reborn we need a mother so therefore we have been everybody’s mother countless times and also everybody else has been our mother countless times. The mother is chosen because it is felt that one loves ones mother more than anybody else, so if we can recognize that all beings are our mothers we can love all beings unconditionally and equally.

Anyway if you can stomach all of those interlocking concepts you are ready to apply the eight verses of training the mind. The thing that we are trying to achieve through applying these teachings is to destroy the ego.  The ego is a set of deeply ingrained habits that help to support a self-centered frame of mind. This state of mind erroneously believes that it is separate from others and the rest of the universe. The heavy ideas related to infinite time and infinite rebirth needn’t be taken literally. The concepts of infinite time, infinite rebirth and infinite mothers are used to try to expand the sense of one’s self. One’s true self is a boundless sky like awareness, the ego is like a cocoon that has built up around the awareness, and the eight verses of the mind are designed to break one free from the cocoon. They are instructions on how to turn suffering into happiness and deflate the ego by putting other people before ourselves.

The teachings directly attack the selfish, self-centered state of mind, they instruct us to exchange ourselves with others, to always put ourselves lower than others, to offer the victory to others and except defeat no matter how right we may think or know we are.  The teachings show us how to recognize difficult people as a great treasure. When somebody hurts us or betrays us or is just horrible to us they are giving us the opportunity to face our ego full on. In the light of such people the ego is fully revealed, it is then that we can begin to separate our sense of self from the ego. When the constant chatter and strong emotions of the ego are subdued our original sky like awareness can begin to be revealed. At first this can be shocking, like a great expanse of space is opening up to us, one can even begin to feel agoraphobic or almost suffering from vertigo as the true nature of mind dawns.

The trick is to learn to let go, let go more and more and expand into infinite empty space. The whole process of enlightenment is to break the cocoon of the ego and become the infinite sky like awareness, brilliant, lucid and without reference. Along with this spaciousness is an accompanying feeling of tremendous wellbeing and bliss. To let go and begin to expand in this way is to start flying, if one practices one will soon soar in the sky like nature of mind unimpeded by the claustrophobic shackling ideas of the ego.

It is ironic that a culture that preserved and best taught the idea of letting go and accepting change has been thrown onto the global stage to show others the actual physical practice of letting go. The invasion of Tibet by China is, if you apply the words of Langri Tangpa, Tibet’s greatest treasure. The Chinese are offering the Tibetans an unbelievably valuable opportunity to attack their ego’s.

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if the Tibetans just let go of Tibet? If they treated old Tibet in the same fashion they treat a sand mandala? If they used their situation to utterly embrace impermanence. Why don’t they declare themselves the first free people of the world? Refuse to go back to Tibet and continue to educate the world of the atrocities they suffered. Why not embrace what they have been preaching for years? Now could be the real opportunity to teach the west about the true value of the eight verses for training the mind. Tibetans could be showing everyone how to live with and overcome the ignorance of impermanence, negative emotions and the ego.

What if they created a new group and school, a fifth Tibetan Buddhist School based on the Rime* movement, but also a school beyond robes, religions and national identity.  They could merge the rituals and create new ones open to all. They could really start a coalition for real human freedom. Can you imagine how much support a movement like this would receive if it was headed by these famous Tibetan Gurus?

I think the Tibetan Gurus need to embrace their true position: the position of teachers. Forget about Tibet and spear head the next phase in human development: one family of humans united by a simple yet profound spiritual philosophy, a coalition beyond culture, race and countries.

However it seems that most Tibetan masters are clinging to the old world with dogged determination trying their hardest to build Tibetan Temples and schools everywhere. I begin to wonder if these Tibetan masters aren't equivalent to an upper class elite and that there motivation may be self preservation and financial gain. I must admit that I havent encountered a great deal of compassion from the Tibetan Buddhists I have met more aloof disinterest and condescension.

I apologize if this sounds a bit careless towards Tibetans, but maybe there is some truth in the idea that some of these Tibetan’s were a very privileged class of people who lost all of their wealth and position to invading communist China. Were they selfishly hoarding the Dharma, keeping it for only a privileged few? I for one am incredibly grateful for the invasion of Tibet (Whilst horrified at the purported atrocities). I currently have copies of most of the major texts from Tibetan Buddhism, including several translations and commentaries on the eight versus of training the mind. If Tibet had been allowed to continue as the forbidden kingdom hidden in the mountains I would never have had the opportunity to study the teachings. So for me the Chinese have given me the greatest gift ever.

Nothing is ours, not even our bodies are our own, they are with us for a few years and, if you believe the teachings, we will leave them behind forever and be reborn into a different body. Is it not the same with our families our identities and our countries? The plight of the Tibetans delineates precisely the condition we are in, we must let go of everything to progress towards enlightenment and that includes religion and national identity.
Here reviews of the 8 verses:

And here are the 8 verses:

With the heartfelt desire and determination to attain enlightenment for the welfare of all living beings, who are more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel for accomplishing the supreme goal, may I always cherish them and hold them dear.

Whenever I am with others may I think of myself as the lowest of all and from the very depths of my heart may I respectfully hold others as supreme.
In all actions, may I closely examine my state of mind, and the moment a disturbing emotion or negative attitude arises, since this may cause harm to myself and others, may I firmly face and avert it.
Whenever I meet people of unpleasant character or those overwhelmed by negativity, pain or suffering, may I cherish and care for them as if I had found a rare and precious treasure difficult to find.
Whenever others, because of their jealousy, treat me badly with abuse, insult, slander, or in other unjust ways, may I accept this defeat myself and offer the victory to others.
When someone whom I have benefited or in whom I have placed great trust and hope, harms me or treats me in hurtful ways without reason, May I see that person as my precious teacher.
In brief, may I offer both directly and indirectly all help, happiness and benefit to all beings, my mothers, and may I secretly take upon myself all of their harmful actions, pain and suffering.
May I keep all of these practices undefiled by stains of the eight worldly concerns (gain/loss, pleasure/pain, praise/blame, fame/dishonor), and by recognizing the emptiness and illusory nature of all existing things, may I be liberated from the bondage of attachment and mistaken views of reality.

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