Proper Motivation and Behaviour for Receiving Dharma Teachings
A Teaching by His Emminence Dezhung Rinpoche
Translated by Jared Rhoton (?)
Om svasti, Delek su chur chik! When teachers teach and disciples listen to the Dharma, students should understand and overcome the three faults and six mental pollutions and collect the four right attitudes.
The first fault is likened to an upside-down container, which means that one is not listening to the teachings. The second fault Is similar to a container with holes in it, which means that one does not retain the teachings in one's mind. The third fault Is that of a dirty container, which means that one's mind Is mixed with the poison of the defilements when listening to the teachings. These faults are not faults of the speaker, but are faults of the listener.
The first fault occurs when although one is in attendance at a Dharma teaching, one listens with a relaxed mind and doesn't pay careful attention to what the teacher is actually saying. In the metaphor of the upside-down container, no matter how much water you pour over the container, unless the container is positioned right-side-up, all of it will run off and not a single drop will be left inside. Similarly, if you don't pay attention and listen carefully, none of the meaning of the Dharma teaching will be retained in your mind. Therefore, it is important to pay close attention.
Once you are paying attention, both the words of the teaching and its meaning must be held carefully In your mind. make sure that you remember and understand what the teacher has said. Otherwise, although your body is present at the teaching and you give the appearance of paying attention, if your mind is relaxed, at the end of the teaching you won't remember either 'a single phrase or the overall meaning of the teaching.
The metaphor which illustrates this fault is that of a container with holes in it. Although the container is in the right position, and one has poured water into it, after a while all of the water seeps out and nothing remains. In the same way, the Dharma won't remain in your mind if you don't make a careful effort to remember It. Therefore, It is important that without distraction, you hold commit the teacher's actual words and the meaning of the teaching to memory.
Concerning the third fault, the great Nagarjuna said "Any product of desire, anger, and ignorance is non-virtuous. Any product of non-attachment, non-hatred, and non-ignorance is virtuous." As he says, although one may appear to be practicing Dharma, If desire, anger and ignorance cloud the mind, one is not engaging in pure virtue. If one listens to the Dharma with devotion and respect and without desire, anger, and ignorance one is engaging in virtue. Therefore, remove thoughts and feelings of desire, anger, and Ignorance. Otherwise, although you may be paying attention and remembering what is being said, your thoughts and Intention are defiled.
Whatever actions one performs with the mind filled with defiling thoughts, it is as though one has planted the seed of a poisonous plant. The leaves, flowers, and fruit will develop Into poison. When ever one practices the Dharma with a mind filled with devotion, faith, and renunciation, it is as though one has planted the seed of a medicinal herb. The leaves, flowers, and fruit will develop into medicine.
The metaphor for this third fault is a container which is soiled by traces of filth or poison. Even if we put wholesome food, such as milk, in a tainted container, the food will cause illness rather than health. If there were no taint of poison, the same food would nourish one's body and be of great benefit. Similarly, if received by a mind untainted by defilement, the Dharma is of enormous benefit. Therefore, it is important to free your mind from feelings of desire, anger and ignorance when listening to the Dharma,
These three faults are known as the faults of the container. We should try to rid ourselves of these faults as well as free ourselves of the six different types of pollution. The six types of pollution are: pride, disrespect, carelessness, distraction, mental laxity, and resistance.
Pride. Listening to the Dharma with an attitude of pride is of no benefit to one's mind. For example, during teachings, such thoughts run through one's head: "I've studied the Dharma a lot. I'm well educated, financially comfortable, and have a respected and skilled position in society. Today, I'm just here to check out this teacher and see what he's teaching. Actually, I'm probably just as knowledgeable as he." Abandon this attitude when listening to the Dharma.
Disrespect. One thinks "Although that teacher is preaching the Dharma, he isn't qualified. I've noted lapses in his moral conduct. He hasn't reached the highest stage of accomplishment of study, contemplation, and meditation. Be himself has a lot of faults, yet he is sitting there preaching the Dharma to us." Listening to teachings with this attitude will create no beneficial effects in one's mind.
Carelessness. Carelessness means thinking "Even if I don't understand, that's okay. It's not really that important." If one has this type of attitude, it's hard to make any progress. Even the most familiar phrases and their meaning should be kept carefully in one's mind. If one proceeds in this way, one will soon learn and understand a great deal. Sakya Pandita once said "Memorize one word of the subject you wish to study every day. Soon your learning will be as the bee's honey and the ant's house." This means that at the beginning of their studies, no one is a scholar. Everyone has to start from the ABC's. When you listen to the Dharma, keep even one word "Buddha", or "Dharma" carefully in your memory. Without forgetting, gradually increase the number of words, and slowly your mind will come to understand the meaning of the words, and you will become a great scholar.
For example, when bees accumulate honey, each bee can't bring very much. Each one continuously adds a tiny amount, and soon a large store of honey is accumulated, Ants build their houses in a similar manner. In the same way, if you carefully memorize even one word of the Dharma every day, then you will progress. The progress of the second month will be more rapid than the first, and each year will be faster than the previous one. In this way, you will gradually become learned in the Dharma. If you develop your learning in this way, you will have no difficulty in practice and meditation. Therefore, it is important that you carefully commit to memory the actual meaning of the teachings,
Distraction, 3istraction occurs when one attends a teaching, is sitting properly, and listening carefully to what is being said, but then one's eyes begin to examine the interior decorations, the structure of the room, etc. Sometimes, one becomes distracted by watching the behavior of one's Dharma friends and thinking 'He isn't acting properly' or 'He is sitting nicely.' Sometimes one begins to think "I have this or that to do tomorrow" or starts to make plans or dream about the future. When this happens, the words and meaning of the Dharma do not actually penetrate one's mind. You must free your mind from distraction when listening to the Dharma.
Mental Laxity. Mental laxity implies that even though one's mind may be free from distraction, you must exert effort to remain alert and remember carefully what is said. Sometimes, the five sense faculties contract inward and one's mind functions slowly. Then drowsiness follows and eventually sleep. When this happens, you can't remember how the Dharma teaching began, what the intermediate explanation was, and how the conclusion was arrived at. One comes awake for the dedication prayers, but not a single word of the teaching remains in one's mind. This is the fault of mental laxity.
Also, previous teachers have said that even if one is doing a lot of meditation, when listening to Dharma teaching, one should not meditate. Your mind should be free from distraction and laxity when receiving a teaching.
Resistance. The sixth of the mental pollutions is listening with an irritated or resistant mind. This happens when one begins the session by listening and remembering carefully what is being said, but after a while, due to pain in one's legs, knees, or back, feelings of hunger, and the like, one begins to feel "This Dharma teaching is endless. Why do they schedule such long sessions? Maybe he will stop here. How I wish this were over." Such thoughts cause an obstacle to listening to the Dharma and indicate that one feels resistance and discouragement toward the teachings.
In a sutra it is said "The Buddha appeared in this world only once. It is extremely rare to obtain precious human birth. Truly, the opportunity to hear the Dharma with a mind filled with devotion does not usually come even once In a hundred eons!" Reflect upon this. There are also stories from Lord Buddha's previous lives.
Just for the purpose of receiving one verse of the Dharma from his teacher, he melted his own flesh into fat to offer as an oil lamp. Another time, to receive four verses of the Dharma, he offered all of his ornaments and possessions to his teacher. Then, in obedience to his teacher's instructions, he leaped from a mountain peak to the rocks below. Many Bodhisattvas performed countless hardships and austerities and disregarded their bodies and their lives for the purpose of receiving Dharma teaching.
We do not have to undergo these hardships. Whatever teachings we wish, we have only to request, and teachers bestow them readily. We should realize our good fortune.
First of all, a Buddha only rarely appears in this world. It is rare that the Buddha's teachings are maintained for this many centuries. Even if the texts physically remain, it is extremely difficult to find teachers who accurately introduce us to the pure meaning of those texts. You have now met with all of these good opportunities and conditions. Rejoice in your extreme good fortune and your own accumulated merit. Listen carefully to the teachings with a clear and joyful mind. This is important.
I have described the attitudes which are to be abandoned. The four right attitudes are those which should be induced within your mind. These are; the teacher is the doctor, oneself is the patient, the Dharma is the medicine, and Dharma practice is the course of treatment.
For example, in everyday life, if you contract a serious illness, you don't
know how to cure it yourself. It is necessary to consult a doctor. After he
examines you, he diagnoses your illness and pre scribes a course of medication
and a regimen of proper diet and behaviour. It is necessary to follow his
instructions. If you follow the advice, you will be cured and regain mental and
In the same way, from beginningless time, due to the ignorance of self
clinging, beings in samsara suffer from the illness of karma and defilements.
Because of this, one experiences all of samsara's suffering. Therefore, regard
yourself as a patient.
One's teacher Is a great doctor who can cure the suffering and illness of
samasara. Therefore, regard your teacher as a doctor or pilot,' who can deliver
you from the suffering of samasara.
The teacher's instructions, which tell us to abandon this or accumulate that,
reveal the essence of the remedy. If you practice according to the teacher's
instructions, then the root of samsara, the ignorance of self clinging, will be
Furthermore, if you practice with this attitude, the suffering of the three
worlds of existence will be completely uprooted and you will attain the
unsurpassable liberation, the stage of perfect enlightenment, Buddhahood.
Therefore, just as a patient listens to the doctor's instructions, apply this
example to yourself and your relationship to your teacher.
From beginningless time, you have suffered In samsara from the illness of
karma and defilements. The teacher is a great physician. The Dharma, which is
his instructions, is the medicine, and your own practice of the Dharma is the
course of treatment which will soon bring to pass liberation and cure of your
illness. Listening to the Dharma with this type of attitude will be of great
benefit to your mind.
In all cases, when one listens to the Dharma, it is important to exhibit
proper behavior. The teacher should be invited to sit on a high throne, and
oneself should sit below him. Face the teacher and look pleasantly toward him
with a mind of faith and devotion. One should never exhibit a proud,
disrespectful manner when listening to the Dharma. Neither should one have a hat
or covering on one's head, put up an umbrella or parasol, or carry weapons.
If one is sick, ill, or incapacitated due to age, special allowances can be
made, such as stretching out one's legs. However, if one is healthy and still
reclines and stretches one's legs, it shows disrespect toward the Dharma and
accumulates more bad karma. Therefore, you should listen to the Dharma with a
devoted, peaceful attitude. This is important and will be of great benefit to
you and make it possible for you to receive great blessings.
These instructions are not meant only for special occasions, or only for
today, but should be applied to any Dharma gathering, such as when your receive
initiations, blessings, and transmissions. Remember them carefully. This is how
teachers should teach and disciples should listen to the Dharma.
In the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Lord Buddha says: "If one were to offer as many
worlds as there are grains of sand in the Ganges River, each filled with gold
and precious things, one would acquire great merit. However, teaching even one
verse of the Dharma in this degenerate age brings merit Incomparably greater
than that offering."
This means that if someone offered as many worlds as grains of sand in the
Ganges River, each completely filled with gold, to a Dharma practicioner, yogi,
or beggar, it would be said that he had accumulated enormous merit. But when
teachers teach the Dharma properly and disciples listen carefully, the benefit
and merit acquired is incomparably greater than even such an offering. If you
receive a pure Dharma teaching, contemplate and practice it, you will gain,
unusually sharp sense faculties, unwavering courage, and great wisdom.
Eventually you will attain perfect enlightenment.
Long ago in India, the great scholar Vasubandu used to recite from memory
99,000 verses of the sutra. There was a pigeon who for a long time sat in the
rafters of his cabin when he practiced his recitations. Finally, the pigeon died
and took rebirth as the son of a wealthy family. As soon as he had grown old
enough to speak, he told his parents, "I'm a disciple of Vasubandu" and
recounted his life as a pigeon. He said "Because I received a lot of Dharma
teaching from Vasubandu, I've obtained precious human birth. Please let me go to
my teacher, where ever he may be." So his parents sent him to where Vasubandu
was staying and Vasubandu accepted him as a disciple and gave him all the Dharma
teaching that he knew.
Vasubandu had countless disciples. However, among them were three special
ones who eventually became much more learned in specific areas than Vasubandu
himself. They were Gunapharba in the Vinaya, Dignaga in logic, and Lodu Tenba in
the Abidharma. Lodu Tenba is the one who had spent his previous life as a
pigeon, and it is commonly accepted that he became more learned than Vasubandu
in the Abidharma.
This is one example of gaining unusually sharp sense faculties related to
hearing due to devoted and attentive listening to Dharma. There are many other
stories like this. Therefore, it is important that you listen carefully to
Dharma teaching. Don't forget this.
Sakya Resource Guide
Vancouver, British Columbia