The Measure of Having Trained the Mind
The fifth point concerns how we measure our progress in the Mind Training. What are the indications that the practice is working successfully?
All Dharma is included in one purpose.
Through hearing, reflection, and meditation, we explore the issue of personal identity and, as Sechibuwa says, we find upon investigation that this “I” as an intrinsic entity, existing in dependently of conceptual designation, is no more real than the horns of a hare. Since beginningless time, this illusion has brought us suffering and discontent. Seeking to be free of the suffering and to find greater meaning and fulfillment in our lives, we practice Dharma. Many of us have by now encountered a wide range of practices-breath awareness, mindfulness, loving kindness, the Lam Rim practices, meditation on emptiness, meditative quiescence, and even tantric practices. All these practices, all the teachings of the Buddha, all the commentaries, serve one purpose: to subdue self-grasping.
We are now challenged to investigate for ourselves the quality of our lives, and to see how our actions of body, speech, and mind have influenced the level of our self-grasping. We may find that the practice is in fact enhancing the so-called eight mundane concerns—pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame, honor and dishonor. If our practice does not diminish self-grasping, or perhaps even enhances it, then no matter how austere and determined we are, no matter how many hours a day we devote to learning, reflection, and meditation, our spiritual practice is in vain.
A close derivative of self-grasping is the feeling of self importance. Such arrogance or pride is a very dangerous pit fall for people practicing Dharma. Especially in Tibetan Buddhism, with its many levels of practice, the exalted aspirations of the bodhisattva path, and the mystery surrounding initiation into tantra, we may easily feel part of an elite. Moreover, the philosophy of Buddhism is so subtly refined and so penetrating that, as we gain an understanding of it, this also can give rise to intellectual pride.
But if these are the results of the practice, then something has gone awry. Recall the well-known saying among Tibetan Buddhists that a pot with a little water in it makes a loud noise when shaken, but a pot full of water makes no noise at all. People with very little realization often want to tell everyone about the insights they have experienced, the bliss and subtleties of their meditation and how it has radically transformed their life. But those who are truly steeped in realization do not feel compelled to advertise it, and instead simply dwell in that realization. They are concerned not to describe their own progress, but to direct the awareness of others to ways in which their own hearts and minds can be awakened.
As Tibetan wisdom points out, vegetation does not grow on top of a high mountain, but grows luxuriously in the valleys; and, similarly, a person who feels superior to others learns very little from them and assumes they have nothing to offer someone so far above them. But a person who looks up to others, not just intellectually but from the heart, is ready to listen to their wisdom. And just as the valley accumulates the good top soil from above, so likewise this person is receptive to wisdom, again and again.
Although we all try to engage in spiritual practice according to our own abilities, it is very helpful to have some criterion by which we can estimate our progress. Here is the crucial test: how has our sense of personal identity been influenced? The stronger our self-grasping, the more easily it gives rise to irritation, anger, and resentment. It gives rise also to attachment, and actually forms the basis of self-centeredness. We can check the level of our own self-grasping by checking on the derivative mental distortions and obscurations that arise from its root.
On a more optimistic note, if we find that our practice results in decreased self-grasping, we can recognize its authenticity. This too distinguishes a true Dharma practitioner from one who is merely practicing a facsimile. Keep in mind that one can be a great scholar and articulate speaker, or spend many hours in meditation, without being an authentic Dharma practitioner at all.
The Seven-Point Mind Training: A Tibetan Method for Cultivating Mind and Heart, by B. Alan Wallace