Enlightened Courage

Barbara Stewart

ENLIGHTENED COURAGE: An Explanation of Atisha's Seven Point Mind Training Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche Padmakara Publications: Peyzac-le-Moustier, France, 1992. 120 pp., $20.00 (paperback).

SHORTLY BEFORE HE DIED, Dilgo Khyentse, old man master of the Tibetan Nyingmas, taught for a month in the south of France, in the Dordogne. Enlightened Courage, the book of his talks, makes one envy the people who were there. It is conversational and a clear, witty outline of the heart of Mahayana Buddhism-the Seven Point Mind Training, some sixty slogans carried from India to Tibet by the Buddhist master Atisha in the eleventh century, and written down by his disciple, Chekawa Yeshe Dorje.

Khyentse's principal topic is bodhicitta, awakened mind, and the absolute and relative ways of uncovering it in oneself. The discovery and continual rediscovery of bodhicitta, the conjunction of emptiness and compassion, is central to Mahayana-indeed, is the heart of all dharma. "If one has bodhicitta (the mind of enlightenment)," Khyentse says, "everything is complete, and nothing is complete without it."

Thus Enlightened Courage, which opens with sayings on the absolute and progresses to the problems of everyday life, is a handbook on the nature of life and living it. "Consider all phenomena as a dream," Khyentse instructs in one of the first slogans, and adds: "If we continue to think that everything will remain just as it is, then we will be just like rich people still discussing their business projects on their deathbeds!" He gives instructions on meditating, on controlling one's temper, one's panic, one's selfimportance.

The Mahayana path of putting oneself before others--of loss and blame to oneself, gain and praise to others--is both conventionally irrational and heroic-sounding. But Khyentse makes it seem like common sense from the beginning, "Consider all phenomena as a dream," to the end, "Be consistent in your practice." His stories and explanations make living with some realization of emptiness and compassion appear eminently possible, down-to-earth, buoying.

As he works his way through the Seven Point Mind Training, he not only inspires, he is breezy and funny:

Once, in one of his previous lifetimes, the Buddha was a universal monarch whose custom it was to give away his wealth without regret. He refused nothing to those who came to beg from him and his fame spread far and wide. One day, a wicked Brahmin beggar came before the king and addressed him, saying, 'Great king, I am ugly to look upon, while you are very handsome; please give me your head.' And the king agreed. Now his queens and minister had been afraid that he might do this, and making hundreds of heads out of gold, silver, and precious stones, they offered them to the beggar.

'Take these heads,' they pleaded, 'do not ask the king for his.'

'Heads made of jewels are of no use to me,' the beggar replied. 'I want a human head.' And he refused to take them.

Eventually they could no longer deter him from seeing the king. The king said to him, 'I have sons and daughters, queens and a kingdom, but no attachment do I have for any of them. I will give you my head at the foot of the tsambaka tree in the garden. If I can give you my head today, I shall have completed the bodhisattva act of giving my head for the thousandth time.'

To sum up, the king, of course, cuts off his head. Darkness covers the earth, the gods weep, the queens and ministers mourn, and Indra, the lord of gods, offers a life-restoring ambrosia. But the king refuses-he can replace his head simply by the power of his prayers.

'If in all the thousand acts of kindness of giving my head away beneath the tsambaka tree there was nothing but the aim of benefiting others, unstained by any trace of self-seeking, if I was without resentment or regret, then may my head be once again restored. But if regrets there were, or evil thoughts, or intentions not purely for the sake of others, then may my head remain cut off.'

The head is immediately restored, the queen and ministers rejoice, and all administer the kingdom according to the dharma.

Khyentse's talks on Seven Point Mind Training move logically from the broad philosophical questions of what, precisely, is true, is real, to the purpose of meditation and the sensible and compassionate ways of behaving toward oneself and others. This slim book, little more than one hundred pages, is deceptively simple, delightfully clear. It is also a book to keep and reread, a book to jolt one out of oneself and back to one's senses.

Barbara Stewart is a freelance writer in Florida.

 

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