Big Sky Mind 3rd Saturday Retreat - February 17, 2018

This past Saturday we gathered for another of the 3rd-Saturday-of-the-month retreats we’ve been doing this past year. The theme of the last several retreats has been Mind Training. The text we’ve been using is The Great Path of Awakening.

The Fifth Point of Mind Training

Of the Seven Points of Mind Training, this Saturday we focused on the fifth point, “The Extent of Proficiency in Mind Training.”

The fifth point has four slogans:

1. All Dharma has a single purpose.
2. Of the two judges, rely on the principal one.
3. Always have the support of a joyful mind.
4. You are proficient if you can practice even when distracted.

The Great Path of Awakening includes a translation of the Tibetan text of the Seven Points as well as a commentary by a great 19th-century master, Jamgon Kongtrul. In addition to this text, Saturday we used the book by the remarkable contemporary Tibetan lama, Ringu Tulku, entitled merely Mind Training.

Evaluating the Practice—Explanation by Ringu Tulku

In his discussion of the fifth point entitled “Evaluating the Practice,” Ringu Tulku says, “When we have learned how to practice the Lojong [mind training] meditation, we need to assess  whether we are carrying it out correctly and properly. This point gives us something to measure by.

Slogan 1:
Regarding the first slogan--which he translates “All dharmas agree at one point”--he comments,
“Every school and tradition agrees that the benefit of dharma practice is to reduce ego-clinging
and the illusion of self. This is the path, the goal and the purpose of our spiritual life.”

Slogan 2:
Of the Two Judges, rely on the principal one.
Ringu Tulku says “ this training we need to develop faith and trust in our estimate of ourselves, regardless of what people around us think.”

Slogan 3:
Always be sustained by cheerfulness.

Ringu Tulku writes, “The effectiveness of our practice can be measured by looking at our mood.”

And “We can endure (setbacks) because we have a great end in mind: to benefit all sentient
beings. Remaining good-natured and enthusiastic shows that our efforts are succeeding.”

Slogan 4:
“You are well trained if you can practice even when distracted.”

Ringu Tulku says, “The training will be going very well if the demands and complications we
meet in everyday life turn our mind spontaneously to the (Mind Training) meditation.”

Further Studies

  • In the course of the day, I referred to Dzongsar Khyentse’s teaching on Mind Training found on YouTube.
    It can be found at 《Seven points mind training 01》Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
  • I also shared a brief reading from Seneca the Roman Stoic philosopher. In his
    Epistle V., The Philosopher’s Mean, he writes to his friend:

“I commend you and rejoice in the fact that you are persistent in your studies, and that, putting all else aside, you make each day your endeavor to become a better man. I don’t merely exhort you to keep at it; I actually beg you to do so.”

Later, in this letter, Seneca writes,

“The first thing philosophy undertakes to give is fellow-feeling with men; in other words, sympathy and sociability...Our motto, as you know, is ‘Live according to Nature.’”

A bit further along in the letter we see this:

“I find in the writings of our Hecato that the limiting of desires helps also to cure fears: ‘Cease to hope,’ he says, ‘and you will cease to fear.’ But the chief cause of both these ills is that we do not adapt ourselves to the present, but send our thoughts a long way ahead.”

And finally

“...we...torment ourselves over that which is to come as well as over that which is past...The present alone can make no man wretched. Farewell.”

I wrote this thinking it might serve as a helpful reminder to those who attended, and a useful summary for those who weren’t able to join us this past Saturday.

I highly encourage everyone to study these resources, the books and videos mentioned, and to give the Mind Training practice a try. It might prove a very useful tool for you on your journey through this mysterious life.

Your friend on the path,

Big Sky Mind

Glacier Mountains #2.jpg


I recently mentioned to a friend that I planned to teach about “Living Joyfully in the West.”  She said, “That’s impossible.” Her point was that in the face of the overwhelming crises of modern life— the suffering, the unhappiness, environmental problems, political problems —the idea of living in joy is just a joke. She may be right. But still, I’m going to try.

It occurs to me that the key to “living in joy” means uniting wisdom and compassion in our lives and our practice, even in a world filled with suffering and problems.

As my students know, my favorite Buddhist quote is from Kalu Rinpoche:

You live in Illusion and the appearance of things.
There is a reality. You are that reality.

Though there is a great deal that could be said about this quote, I’d like to focus on just one thing. The quote makes the point that there are two realities: our daily worldly life with its ups and downs, pleasures and sorrows, joys and frustrations; and the greater, transcendent reality which we could call the spiritual dimension. Tibetan Buddhist masters refer to these two realities as the relative and the absolute.

We all live our lives in both of these two realities all the time. However, the tragedy of the modern, corporate-capitalist world view is that it denies the spiritual dimension of life. In fact, most contemporary people have grown up schooled in the “absence of the sacred.”

Buddha pointed out that when we live in fixation on one reality, and ignor-ance (sic) of the other, we have difficulty. The ills of our times can all be traced to this short-sightedness.

Albert Einstein is articulate on the matter:

A human being is part of the whole called by us ‘universe’—a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us.

Laboring under this delusion of the separateness of self and other has allowed us to exploit the assumed ‘other’: the feminine, the earth, etc. Buddha taught that this dualistic outlook not only separates us from other people, but also from the sacred, including our own true sacred nature. We find ourselves constantly at war—with the annoying neighbors, our partners, events turning out in ways we don’t like. In other words, the “other” in all the ways it manifests.

Einstein is echoing the Buddha when he refers to this separateness of self and other as an “optical delusion . . . [of our] consciousness.” His phrase also reminds me of Kalu Rinpoche’s words, “you live in illusion and the appearance of things.”

What is the solution?

The Buddha, Kalu Rinpoche, Einstein, and many other masters from the East and West (another dualistic illusion by the way, but that’s another discussion) agree on the solution.

Einstein continues by saying that we have work to do:  

Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and with the whole of nature and its beauty.

This illusion, this dualistic split, must be overcome. We must reintegrate ourselves with the other: with nature, with all beings, but most of all with the sacred, with the divine.

Kalu Rinpoche goes on to say:

When you understand this you will see that you are nothing and being nothing you are everything. That is all.

When we realize the non-dual nature of reality, our ego-based, alienated, suffering self dissolves and we awaken to our true selves, to reality, to the divine within.

The poet Deanna Metzger has said of our task:

There are people trying to set the world on fire.
We are in danger.
There is only time to work slowly.
There is never time not to love.

In recent years, many people have become aware of this problem. A few understand its origin, and still fewer see how to solve the problem and stop the suffering. These few authentic seers have always been with us. 2400 years ago Buddha spoke of our need to drop the selfish ego-fixation approach and open to the sacred, welcome it into our lives, fully integrate it into our being.

This is our task - this is how we become buddhas rather than prisoners. One of the words for a buddha is “One who has Gone to Bliss.” By following this path, we can, even in these crazy times, and certainly in the West, live meaningfully, live joyfully.