Born in Tibet, Khentrul Lodrö T’hayé Rinpoche attained a rarely achieved three khenpo degrees in Buddhist philosophy after 30 years of training and study in the Nyingma lineage. Abbot, director, retreat leader, teacher, and global traveler (now US-based), what Rinpoche is most passionate about is the sharing of mind training, which is why he is affectionately known as “the mind-training khenpo.”
The Power of Mind: A Tibetan Monk’s Guide to Finding Freedom in Every Challenge is a contemporary manual to the thousand-year-old teachings known as the Seven Key Points of Mind Training brought to Tibet by the great master Atisha. This book was drawn from transcripts prepared by Rinpoche’s Connecticut students following a 2006–7 retreat. They had been so motivated by the teachings of Atisha and Rinpoche’s personal insights that they organized and structured his wisdom into something that they could continue studying.
The teachings focus on a concept known as lojong: a system of meditative practices for cultivating the compassion and wisdom of bodhicitta—a sort of Buddhist contemplative alchemy, forged in the crucible of each human’s mind, for putting meditation into action for the benefit of all beings.
If mind discipline interests you, then you may be aware of modern secular teachers such as Dr. Joe Dispenza or Dr. Rick Hanson. However, Rinpoche’s book reminds us that, more than a millennium ago, sages of the East already understood that unconsciously formed mental habits need conscious rewiring. The adage “neurons that fire together, wire together” is an explanation of the physical manifestation of any repeated action or thought. And like any athlete, the way to make an action instinctive is to practice it repeatedly. I practiced a martial art and self-defense for several years, and at the zenith of my training, I had such confidence in my body’s knowing that I no longer needed to think about what move came next. Similarly, a seasoned musician no longer searches for the next note, and an experienced driver no longer fumbles over which foot, which peddle, which gear, which signal, easily avoiding cars, pedestrians, and cyclists, without speeding, stalling, or crashing. One day one realizes that driving is simply, done.
But when our habits obscure healthy and desired attributes, we must consciously unwire what we don’t want and form new, consciously considered practices and habits.
Sentience and consciousness are intrinsic to our experience of being human and are ultimately ineffable and pure. This uncorrupted awareness is something to which we all have access, once we are able to clear away the fog of delusional experiences. The reality we perceive as real is an impressive and persistent illusion—at the quantum scale, we know this to be the case. And if consciousness does not reside in our physical brain (because “physical” doesn’t inherently exist), and if we actually drink from the same etheric pool—are actually part of the same pool, in fact—then purifying our mind and radiating that back into the pool will ultimately benefit us all. We are practicing for everyone, not merely ourselves. (That said, if everyone “out there” is merely a manifested projection of consciousness, then we actually are doing it for ourselves, it’s just that “ourself” is not constrained to one biological meat-sack.)
Anyway, as the title of this book clearly states, this is a Buddhist approach to mind training. It contains references that some may consider culturally relevant. For example, try telling a young single parent at their most impoverished and desperate moment that it’s better to give their money away to support a monk than to pay the rent or buy food for their child. Yet, a parent will often give food and shelter to their child at the expense of themselves, therefore is the act not already benevolent? When we’re thinking of others beyond ourselves it surely cannot be confused with being submissive to the happiness of someone who would cause harm?
Or say you find yourself in a relationship in which one partner is very happy, yet the other knows that they are not. Do you stay in the relationship knowing that you are both being deprived of true happiness? If we accept the idea of always putting oneself below the wants, needs, and happiness of others, this is missing the point of the Buddhist teachings. And yet finding the benevolence that we have for our loved ones and extending it to all beings is a great way to, at the very least, remind ourselves that to benefit others is to benefit our loved ones. Because our loved ones are us.
The author states that we must practice within our capabilities. While there is no obvious advice for complex situations, the overriding reminder is to practice when and where we can. As such, while most of us do not have the luxury of an obligation-free life, and these obligations often bring chronic stress and strain when we feel like a victim of circumstance, Rinpoche brings wisdom from an archaic era of life into modernity and within the Buddhist lexicon, reminding us to assume the mind of a bodhisattva. We are not doormats.
Without negating our experiences of this (apparently) physical world, we are asked to remember ultimate truth; to transcend the relative truth of dualistic reality into the space between the particles of the quantum realm (my terms, not Rinpoche’s). This space, like the pauses between musical notes, allows room for a transient form to become apparent, with our mind nothing more than a radio transmitter disseminating signals at various frequencies (our thoughts) and at a high volume. None of it inherently exists, but to attain this state of being while remaining present and responsible is a challenge for most of us.
Rinpoche also reminds us of impermanence. During each lifetime we can recall a sense of pressing urgency as our time on this Earth is so limited. It behooves us to cultivate as much compassionate wisdom as we can and to extend this into the world as an imperative. Even seemingly small things, such as hugging our loved ones and reminding each other of our love, is a practice accessible to most of us. We are also reminded that any time someone walks out of the door, it could be the last time we see each other. It might sound depressing, even morbid, and certainly a bit “doom and gloom,” but it can also provide the impetus to grow something more beautiful and alive during our time incarnate.
This book on mind training is clearly organized, even including an early explanation on how best to read and use it. Rinpoche shares key points and mental practices that we can meditate on, contemplate, and bring into everyday life. We are offered a detailed yet concise framework with which to remap our mind-state. A framework worth pinning to the refrigerator door and the bathroom mirror, worth framing and hanging above the mantle, as constant reminders to bring our unconscious habitual thinking back to conscious life, until old and stale neuron networks dissolve.
We are also offered reminders on mental extremes and deep self-reflection. Along with each of these fundamental insights, Rinpoche shares his own thoughts on how these key points and experiences may manifest in our contemporary world; practical advice on how to actualize the teachings—almost like lesson plans that span a scholastic term. And as if these weren’t already enough, included within the pages of this compendium are detailed meditations, prayers, history, and even more useful information.
This is a worthy book, especially for those new to these Buddhist concepts, or reasonably new to Buddhism in general, and equally worthy for those who might already feel they know it all. As Rinpoche states:
If we get into the habit of listening to teachings but not applying them, we are in danger of becoming desensitized to the dharma. In Tibet, we say such people have become chötrey, that is, blasé, or hardened to the dharma. Such people might think, “Oh, I’ve already heard this teaching,” or they might think they already know what’s being taught. If, for example, we’re sitting in a teaching about the four thoughts but saying to ourselves, “I’ve already gotten this message on precious human birth. I know everything is impermanent. I wish this lama would talk about something more profound,” that’s not a good sign. It suggests that we have become jaded. If the teachings feel dry and hard instead of juicy and inspiring, then it will be difficult to use them to tame the mind.
Milarepa said a person who has become hardened to the dharma is like a butter bag. In Tibet, we store butter in bags made of leather. When the bag is new, the leather is pliable, but over time it hardens because of the constant exposure to oil. Similarly, a person who receives the teachings but does not practice becomes like a piece of leather that has been hardened by overexposure to oil. And just as this leather won’t be made softer by applying more oil to it, no matter how many teachings a person receives, the dharma won’t soften or tame their mind.(174)
No one wants to be a butter bag. Don’t be a butter bag.
Khentrul Lodrö T’hayé Rinpoche. 2022. The Power of Mind: A Tibetan Monk’s Guide to Finding Freedom in Every Challenge. Boulder, CO: Shambhala Publications
The Power of Mind (Shambhala Publications)
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