An Account of Geshe-Chekawa, from “Lojong-Nyimai-Hoeser.”
All of the extensive teachings given by Buddha Shakyamuni, the collection of 84,000 teachings are meant for removing our mistaken attitude, the misconception of self, and for training our minds to benefit others. All these teachings are meant for removing the collection of 84,000 mental-afflictions, as well as birth, aging, sickness and death by the force of karma and mental-affliction. Such instructions are, in the text, referred to as nectar. The Sanskrit term for nectar means “that which grants immortality.” Therefore this practice of mind training, which is a mean to generate Bodhicitta, is actually the essential practice. The cultivation of bodhicitta, complemented by other practices, is the only way to attain the state of Buddhahood. This instruction is called the essence of nectar because by following it you can achieve the state of immortality, which is actually liberation.
Geshe Chekawa succinctly states and condenses Mind-Training teachings in “Seven Points Mind Training.” All these traditions were held by the great teacher from Sumatra, known as Serlingpa. Atisha (982-1054 C.E.) received his training in Bodhicitta especially from Serlingpa. Atisha had countless disciples in India, Kashmir, Nepal, and Tibet, but the greatest one was Dromtonpa (1005-1064). He was the real holder of the lineage of Atisha. It is due to his kindness and strenuous effort that the Kadampa tradition came into being in Tibet. Dromtonpa had many outstanding disciples, but there were three main ones, Po-to-wa, Chen-nga-wa, and Phu-chungwa.
They were known as the three Kadampa brothers. Chief among them was the great spiritual master, Potowa (1031-1106), who inherited the mind-training lineage. Potowa was very successful in developing the Buddhist doctrine and focused primarily on the thorough practice of the six principal texts of the Kadampas.
Potowa’s main practice was cultivating bodhicitta. He had more than two thousand disciples from all regions of Tibet determined to attain liberation. Two from central Tibet were compared to sun and moon, the great Langri Tangpa Dorjee Sengge (1054-1123) and Sharawa Yonten Drak 1070-1141) Sharawa possessed the complete instruction and transmitted his lineage to more than 2,800 monks. Of his four principal disciples who were responsible for passing on his lineage, Chekawa was responsible for the teachings on mind training and generating bodhicitta.
Chekawa once heard the “Eight Verses for Training the Mind” by Langri Tangpa that inspired him to develop a strong interest in this teaching. He visited Lhasa in search of more teachings on mind training. Some of his wise friends told him that because a spiritual master of the Great Vehicle tradition should be worthy of esteem, he should seek out either the great Sharawa or Jayulwa. Accordingly, he visited Sharawa, who was staying at the House of Sho in Lhasa.
When Chekawa arrived, Sharawa was giving a teaching on the levels of those who aspire for personal liberation. At first Chekawa was not very impressed, because he didn’t find what he was seeking. The mind training practice of exchanging oneself with others in order to develop altruism was not even mentioned. Afterward, he felt confused and began to wonder whether such a practice of mind training still existed and whether this master possessed the lineage.
The next day, while the monks were making their alms round, Chekawa found the great master circumambulating a stupa. He immediately spread out a mat and asked him respectfully to sit
down, saying, “I would like to discuss with you certain things about which I am unclear.
Sharawa replied, “Since you are the great teacher of yourself, what is it that is still unclear to you. I explained everything very clearly when I was seated on the Dharma throne.”
Chekawa recited the “Eight Verses for Training the Mind” and said, “There are practices here that are useful when, because of my untamed mind, I sometimes face problems like not finding a place to stay or being harassed by others. If I do this practice of mind training, giving the benefit to other people and accepting defeat for myself, I find it useful. Sometimes, of course, it is extremely difficult to put such mind training into practice, so what I want to ask you is: is mind training appropriate to practice, and can it become a cause for attaining Buddhahood?”
Then Geshe Sharawa, who was actually turning the beads of his mala, said, “There is no doubt about the usefulness of the practice of mind training. Of course, whether it is suitable for you or not is a different matter. If you do not desire Buddhahood, that is one thing, but if you really wish to attain enlightenment, then this practice of mind training is essential.”
Chekawa thought that since his reply was so forthright, Sharawa must have great personal experience of the teaching. Next he asked, “Since this mind training instruction is an authentic teaching there should be scriptural references for it. Can you tell me what the source is?”
Sharawa replied, “Who wouldn’t regard it as derived from the work of the Aryan Nagarjuna? The authentic source of this teaching is to be found in his Precious Garland, where it says, ‘May their unwholesome deeds bear fruit for me. May all my virtue bear fruit for others.’”
Chekawa responded, “I like this teaching. Kindly give it to me.” Sharawa advised, “The practice of this instruction requires constant effort over a long period of time, but if you are prepared to make such an effort, you can take this teaching from me.”
Chekawa then enquired, “If this practice is imperative for attaining Buddhahood, why didn’t you refer it earlier when you were teaching? Why did you make no reference to mind training then?”
Sharawa responded, “What is the use of giving a great teaching like mind training if no one wishes to practice it.” After making three prostrations, Chekawa went back to where he was staying and, opening a copy of Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland, found the quotation that Sharawa recited. Then setting aside all negative thoughts, he spent more than two years at the place called Sho putting these teachings on mind training into practice. Then he spent six years at a place called Gye-gong and another four years at a place called Shar-wa. All together, Chekawa spent fourteen years engaged in developing the mind of bodhicitta under his teacher’s guidance. Chekawa gained a perfect realization of bodhicitta through emphasizing the exchange of oneself with others. Later he said, “All the sacrifices I have made and the hardships I have undergone have now borne result.”