Denver Center Study Group Outline for 9-11-2011 (Vivid Awareness 4)
Quote of the Week:
All the practice and all the Dharma study that you do is wasted if it doesn’t make you a better person.
— Adzom Rinpoche
Suggested Dharma Practice for the Week:
Below we have the four ordinary foundations. The practice is to memorize these four verses (in English or Tibetan) and then to briefly repeat them before any practice session and contemplate them. These four thoughts will help motivate you in your practice.
Note: We will meet at Jody Sherpa’s house next week.
Review notes for Last of Chapter 2 of Vivid Awareness
Page 23 Last week we didn’t get time to discuss what is meant by: “What we mean by mind instructions is that we don’t really analyze external appearances. We instead look directly at the nature of our internal mind itself. When we see that, the emptiness of all phenomena is just that.”
I also asked to give examples of mind training and realized that I myself could not answer the question. So I thought I give it a try. While I was doing Shamatha my mind just kept flying off on something I was writing. I tried doing the 9 cleansing breaths and that didn’t work. I then got the urge to just get up and go to the computer and simply write everything out so I couldn’t keep thinking about it. Then I stopped, looked at my mind and realized that really I was just bored. I then recalled Thrangu Rinpoche saying—it doesn’t matter if thoughts are good or thoughts are very bad, just keep on meditating. I also thought of being told that Guru Rinpoche had said that if students were having problems in their practice, they should say the Guru Rinpoche mantra and he would help. I did this and most of the discursive thought just vanished.
Why does it say mind training practice is effortless? Why can anyone do it?
Page 26 Last paragraph and first paragraph of page 27. Why should comprehending the true condition of the world (Samsara) make us happy rather than sad and discouraged?
Review notes for Chapter 3 of Vivid Awareness
The Mind Instructions have three different phases: The first is doing the common and then the uncommon preliminary practices. The second is to have the nature of mind “pointed out” to us. The third is “subsequent application” which is often called “post-meditation” ie. being off our cushion.
Bodhichitta is impartial compassion which includes everyone (not just our friends, race, or countrymen) and also animals and non-human beings such as the unfortunate ones in the hell realms. Bodhichitta has two types: relative and ultimate bodhichitta. Khenpo Gangshar makes the point that relative and ultimate bodhichitta for the Foundation vehicle practitioners is simply to give up unvirtuous behavior and accept virtuous behavior. For the Mahayana vehicle practitioners relative bodhichitta is also giving up unvirtuous habits and accepting good ones, while ultimate bodhichitta is realizing the meaning of emptiness. Finally, for the Vajrayana practitioners [in Tibetan this is always called “secret mantrayana” even though Thrangu Rinpoche has said there is nothing “secret” about the Vajrayana so I call it just the Vajrayana] that relative and absolute bodhichitta is understanding the essence (or nature) of mind.
The Four Common Preliminaries (page 31)
The four common preliminaries are called “preliminaries” because we should contemplate these four thoughts before doing any practice. They are called “common” because they are common to all practice including Shamatha, not just special advanced practices. These four common preliminaries are also called, “four thoughts that turn the mind” towards Dharma.
Thrangu Rinpoche has written a 68 book on just these common preliminaries called, Four Foundations of Buddhist Practice. Available from Namo Buddha Publications.
In the Uncommon preliminaries or ngöndro, these four are summarized in a very poetic way:
First, contemplate the preciousness of being free and well-favored. This is difficult to gain, easy to lose; now I must do something meaningful.
Second, the whole world and its inhabitants are impermanent. In particular, the life of beings is like a bubble in water. Death comes without warning and this body will be a corpse. At that time, the Dharma will be my only help. Therefore, I must practice with exertion.
Third, when death comes, I will be helpless. Because I create karma, I must abandon evil deeds and always devote my time to virtuous actions. Thinking this, every day I will examine myself.
Fourth, the homes, friends, wealth, and comforts of samsara are the constant torment of the three sufferings. Just like a feast before the executioner leads you to your death. I must therefore cut desire and attachment and attain enlightenment through exertion.
[The three sufferings are: simple suffering, suffering due to having something or status and then losing it, and all-pervasive suffering which is the overall suffering of life (or samsara)]
In the first common preliminary, do we have to believe in reincarnation to understand this preliminary?
In the second common preliminary, how does Dharma help when one dies?
In the third common preliminary, what is karma and why does doing virtuous or good deeds lead to happiness?
In the fourth common preliminary, why does cutting desire and attachment lead to enlightenment?
The Four Uncommon Preliminaries (Tibetan is ngöndro)
These four preliminaries are called “uncommon” because they are connected to advanced Vajrayana practices. For example, you don’t need to do (although it is always highly recommended) ngöndro to do Shamatha and Vipashyana, Chenrezig, Medicine Buddha, or the White Tara practice in the practice book. But you would do this for Vajrayogini or Chakrasamvara.
The uncommon preliminary practices we use were written by the 9th Karmapa in the 1600s (good article on him in Wikipedia) when most Vajrayana practitioners were monks or yogis who had a great deal of time to practice. This ngöndro practice can be gotten from KTD in pecha form in 122 pages. One does 100,000 refuge prayers with prostrations, 100,000 Vajrasattva mantras, 100,000 mandala offerings, and 100,000 guru yoga prayers.
In 2006, the 17th Karmapa was requested to make a shorter ngöndro version which Westerners who worked could do (monks still have to do the original one). This 6 by 6 inch booklet has only 24 pages and still has all the essentials of ngöndro (including the 100,000 of each preliminary). There is also a longer instruction booklet that goes with the practice booklet.
To do ngöndro practice, you have to get permission for a qualified lama and get instructions beyond what is in the practice booklet. Thrangu Rinpoche says his Western students can do either one.
Picture (or Chart) of the week: The Four Common Preliminaries from the Ngondro Text.
CLICK ON PICTURE FOR ENLARGEMENT