The Song of the Four Mindfulnesses

Lama Yeshe Jinpa
The Song of the Four Mindfulnesses and the Five Fold Path
January 14, 2013

‘The Precious Garland and the Song of the Four Mindfulnesses by the Seventh Dalai Lama/Nagarjuna; trans. Jeffrey Hopkins ©1975 Harper and Rowe
‘The Four Noble Truths – the Foundation of Buddhist Thought Volume 1’ by Geshe Tashi Tsering; ©2005 Wisdom Publications

Lama Jinpa: From ‘The Song of the Four Mindfulnesses’, they are:

~Mindfulness of the Teacher
~Mindfulness of Bodhicitta – the altruistic aspiration to enlightenment
~Mindfulness of one’s body as the divine body
~Mindfulness of the view of emptiness

I don’t have copies of this text for everyone, unfortunately. Traditionally, you could look at a text and see for yourself if I’m making sense, you could check to see if I got it right. But really, even though you don’t have a text, you don’t actually have to have one in front of you. You need to listen – this is how it’s really done.

Lama Tsongkhapa received an oral transmission of this teaching from from Manjushri.

Later the Seventh Dalai Lama received oral transmission and wrote it down. This is how it’s done.

Some of you went to Long Beach and took the Yamantaka empowerment. That’s an oral transmission. And that’s what I’m doing tonight.

This is seen as a mature teaching – to give this teaching, someone should have a realization.

The first mindfulness is Mindfulness of the Teacher. (reads from Hopkins’ text)

“On the seat of the immutable union of method and wisdom
Sits the kind guru who is the entity of all the refuges,
A Buddha who has perfect abandonment and wisdom is there.
Forsaking thoughts of defects, make a petition with pure perception,
Not letting your mind stray, place it within admiration and respect,
Making your attention unforgetful, maintain it within admiration and respect.”

This guru yoga, this piece of tantric practice, can be very confusing to Western students.

We don’t have a lineage tradition in the West, and because of that there seems to always be problems with gurus, confusion on how to relate to the Lama. It’s correct to investigate the teacher – to take time to check them out, to make sure they’re authentic. You should listen to their teachings, see how they interact.

Why do we say, “I take refuge in the Lama?”

Traditionally, it’s because one’s Lama introduces you to the teachings, and guides you on the Path. In the Vajrayana tradition, we Lamas do rituals and have pure vision. When we talk about our Lama’s qualities, we aren’t talking about ordinary life; we’re seeing their enlightened qualities. We see them as a Buddha.

This also means when we are talking about enlightened qualities, we aren’t talking about personal ownership of those qualities. As students, we want to identify with those enlightened qualities, and to do so, first we have to take away their personal qualities. Then we can clearly see the Buddha qualities of our Lama. It’s different than we’re used to in the West.

I’m generally friendly. (laughter) But this doesn’t mean I’m personally friendly. The point isn’t, “Does the Lama like me or not like me?”

I wanted my root teacher to like me – but that’s an impediment! What we really want is a connection with our Teacher’s fundamental image.

In general, we’re seeing ourselves through self image. We feel we own our consciousness – “This is me.” In Buddha dharma, we do not own our self image except by pure designation.

Traditionally, students don’t know about their teacher’s personal life preferences. I’ve gone in the opposite direction, a little bit. But that doesn’t change things; we need to separate the Buddha’s qualities from the teacher’s personal preferences.

In the lower schools, it looks like we want to collapse everything into daily life. But in tantra, we want to bring out the contrast with everyday life. It’s like going to the opera and dressing up. In Vajrayana, colors, images, and sounds all combine until a vividness of form and emptiness manifest together.

(Reads from text by Jeffrey Hopkins)
The second mindfulness is the mindfulness of the altruistic aspiration to highest enlightenment, bodhicitta.

“In the prison of the suffering of limitless cyclic existence
Wander the six types of sentient beings bereft of happiness,
Fathers and mothers who protected you with kindness are there.
Forsaking desire and hatred, cultivate endearment and compassion,
Not letting your mind stray, place it within compassion,
Making your attention unforgetful, maintain it within compassion.”

So, the six types of sentient beings are:

Gods (Devas)
Animals (including birds, fish, reptiles, mammals, insects etc.)
Titans or demons (Asuras)
Hungry ghosts (Pretas)
Denizens of the hell-realms

And here Manjushri is talking about bodhicitta, cultivating and practicing bodhicitta.

From a Buddhist point of view, the human realm is the best realm because now we have the ability to hear, study, comprehend and practice the Dharma. We can actually find a way out of Samsara. But there are also drawbacks, right? Humans get annoyed when things don’t work out. We want maximum pleasure and minimal pain.

This proclamation encourages people to see their own Buddha nature, and to take the form of Buddhas, to manifest their enlightened qualities.

Even though we’ve done lots of work on ourselves, many of us feel maybe we’re not worthy of that. We feel like maybe it’s impossible. We think, “Maybe if I lived in Dharamshala…”

In Vajrayana, we’re saying that this is what you need to do if you want to help beings. You need to awaken your Buddha qualities. But on some level, we think sort of stoic Buddhism is probably as good as it gets. We’re mildly depressed and think, “How can I be happy when there’s so much suffering?”

Vajrayana says that this, generating Bodhicitta, recognizing our Buddha nature, is the best way to help people. Being miserable inside ourselves is not true empathy. And in Samsara there’s a strong pull to be miserable, but to help people, we visualize a divine body. We visualize ourselves as Buddhas. It’s joyful.

The third mindfulness is the mindfulness of one’s body as the divine body.

Particularly in Buddhism, in highest yoga tantra, we aren’t bemoaning our body. We have a perfect body, just as it is. We have this body within this precious human lifetime – it’s an opportunity you don’t have in the other realms. And in Vajrayana, there’s an emphasis on taking care of the body.

You need to do self care. You need to take care of this body, to be healthy to do dharma. We pledge to take care of our aggregates. We pledge not to put poisons in our bodies. I hope everyone here wants to live as long a life as possible.

The fourth mindfulness is the mindfulness of the View of emptiness.

“Throughout the circle of appearance and occurring objects of knowledge
Pervades the space of clear light, the nature of phenomena, the ultimate,
An inexpressible mode of being of objects is there.
Forsaking mental fabrications, look to the entity of immaculate emptiness,
Not letting your mind stray, place it within the nature of phenomena.
Making your attention unforgetful, maintain it within the nature of phenomena.

At the crossroads of the varieties of appearance and the six consciousnesses
Is seen the confusion of the baseless phenomena of duality,
The illusory spectacles of a deceiving magician are there.
Not thinking they are true, look to their entity of emptiness,
Not letting your mind stray, place it within appearance and emptiness,
Making your attention unforgetful, maintain it within appearance and emptiness.”

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that episode from the series Twilight Zone where William Shatner thinks he sees a demon on the wing of an airplane, and of course he can’t convince anyone else it’s there, remember that one?

Here, it’s sort of the same thing. In Emptiness, there isn’t a demon out there on the wing – there’s nothing there. And if we tell someone this, they may not be able to hear it, because to them the demon seems so real.

The most direct teaching is that the demon has never been there and is not there now. The demon only exists conventionally.

When Buddha gave the ‘Heart Sutra’ talk, even some of the arhats had heart attacks. There’s a new commentary on the Heart Sutra out by Karl Brunnhlzl called ‘The Heart Attack Sutra.’

The Heart Sutra is so direct in speaking about emptiness. It’s sometimes translated as voidness, zero. “No eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue…” It’s totally outrageous when you first hear it, it’s revolutionary. It’s really pulling the rug out from under us, our ordinary view.

The way dharma was taught in Tibet, each generation heard it in a new way.

So the Eightfold Path, first is right view, what are the rest, everyone?

Yes, there’s right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

These paths are taught in a pattern, a certain order, but this doesn’t describe how we learn, it doesn’t necessarily go this way, in that specific order. Describing the Path this way is meant to let you know the essentials, but this isn’t how most of us come to the dharma.

(Holds up a copy of The Four Noble Truths by Geshe Tashi Tsering) I’ll be referring to this excellent book now.

Some of us are working on Geshe Tashi’s two year program. Venerable Tenzin has completed the program. Susan and Debbie are currently working on it. They’re staying with it.

This is the path.

The Five-fold Path as taught by Asanga is the path of accumulation, the path of union (emptiness), the path of seeing, the path of meditation, and the path of no more learning.

Some students want to start with number 5, no more learning (laughter)

Most of us are on the path of accumulation. We’re going to the gym and working out. This is supposed to be your gym. We’re gaining strength, stability, and flexibility.

This is formal training. We’re on the path of accumulation. We’re understanding the positive things to accumulate and the negative things to avoid.

1) Path of Accumulation –

“This is where we ‘accumulate’ merit and wisdom. Or in other words, we develop our mind through mind training, we cultivate good conditions to practice and hear the dharma. Most of our path could be said to be in this one.”

The path of accumulation is important because we immediately want to go help others, but you need some training to do that, to be effective. We test our realizations through our practice. It takes lots of training and lots of practice if we want to begin guiding others.

Q & A:

Question: What does “sentient being” mean?

Lama Jinpa: “Sentient being” means someone who has consciousness on some level. It’s a broad designation. Even a worm has consciousness.

Sometimes students, practitioners have an experience that doesn’t last, a glimpse. Over time, those things can begin to happen. Then there’s inspiration, often some disappointment and sometimes grandiosity. Sometimes someone with a little glimpse may feel ready to start teaching. You need a broader view.

Question: Does Buddhism teach that there are no evil spirits? Because I’ve been in the presence of evil…

Lama Jinpa: Evil does not exist substantially from its own side.

If we believe that the earth is flat, we will operate from that view, but this is a delusion. Demons in a way are like the flat earth. If we believe in them we will function from that convention. There is some functional reality in the conventional world, but ultimately those things do not exist.

Question: Do I exist conventionally?

Lama Jinpa: When looking for essence, I feel like I want to find essence of solid self, right? I want to find something that exists on own and would not exist dependent on other things – something that’s me. But you can’t find that – everything arises from something else. Therefore there is no independent existence from our own side.

It’s easy to talk about outer objects – a chair, a laptop. It’s very difficult when it comes to self.

We’re tested when someone threatens us or insults us or ignores us. I’m not saying that we don’t need a conventional reference, because without one we’d go psychotic.

From Buddha’s view, the good news is we are inherently free. And it’s the deep sense of misperception of the self that’s causing this suffering.

Initially, emptiness is a downer. It seems dry. Luminosity of mind sounds like fun!

Question: Is the Five-Fold Path one directional? Can you regress?

Lama Jinpa: At a certain level, as a bodhisattva, you don’t backslide. That question can only be answered through your own practice. The question isn’t whether you do backslide, but what is your confidence level.