The basic practices of Mahayana
These four preliminary considerations will get us a firm mind in aspiring towards the Dharma and its practice. Our main interest will then be to escape all these sufferings and defects of the wheel of existence (Samsara), which nature one will have reflected on for a long time.
But it would be a serious mistake if we only desired this liberation for ourselves. Traditionally it is said, if one summarises, that the Buddha has become Buddha because he was preoccupied with the benefit of others, whereas ordinary beings remain immersed in Samsara, because they are only concerned with their own selfish interest.
How could one possibly desire the happiness of peace for oneself alone without any concern about all the other beings? All of them have been our parents during the course of our limitless past existences; doing this, they have taken all possible forms of life. However, due to successive deaths, which wipe out our memory of their kindness, we now cannot recognise each other.
We will thus form the aspiration to gain liberation for the benefit of all beings, in order to be able to lead them to liberation in turn.
This motivation should be the basis of all practice in the Mahayana or Great Vehicle, and in Vajrayana.
In order to develop this motivation, one should first apply oneself to the meditation on love, which is the desire for the happiness of others, then to the meditation on compassion, which is the desire to relieve others from suffering, and, finally, to the meditation on the thought of enlightenment, which is the desire of enlightenment for the sake of all beings.
1. The meditation on love
If one summarises the meditation on love, we will first try to develop love towards those who are dear to us, our mother and father, then towards those who are close to us. We will do this by remembering the great kindness they have shown to us by giving us life, raising us, etc ...
Then, we will also strive to develop love towards those we felt neither affection nor aversion to, and, finally, we will meditate on love towards those we consider as enemies. During our limitless existences. they have equally been our loving parents. It would be shameful indeed, if having forgotten their past kindness due to successive deaths which have separated us, we now treated them like enemies. although they are still kind to us !
In fact, they represent an opportunity for us, because they can make us recognise the ridiculous nature of our anger and our conceit, they can help us destroy this anger and thus progress in the Dharma.
We will meditate like this until we develop heart-felt love even for our enemies.
Finally, we will extend this love to all beings in the six realms of existence without discrimination, who have all been our parents, desiring that they may obtain happiness and the causes of happiness.
2. The meditation on compassion
This meditation on love is naturally followed by the meditation on compassion. Following the same order, we visualise the beings. They are subject to the various sufferings and unsatisfactory conditions of Samsara. We will form the firm resolution and desire to free them from this.
We will reflect that the cause of these sufferings is the profound ignorance of the true nature of emptiness of everything - all these things we take to be real and which we get unreasonably attached to. We will desire that they should be freed from this ignorance and attachment to ego, the source of all suffering. Until this attachment to ego is cut, sentient beings cannot help being reborn in Samsara under the power of karma.
We will meditate on this compassion until we develop a mind unable to bear this suffering of beings any longer, as if it was our own suffering.
3. The meditation on the thought of enlightenment
Through this cause of great compassion we will naturally be led to its result, the development of the enlightenment mind. This is being practised in three stages :
a) the thought of enlightenment of wishing for the fruit for the sake of others :
Having developed this great love and compassion which are the causes of the thought of enlightenment, we will consider that, even though we earnestly wish to establish beings in happiness and free them from suffering, we do not have the power to do so. Only the omniscient Buddhas possess this power by means of their example, their teaching and their blessing. Therefore it is this state that we must endeavour to obtain at all costs in order to help beings.
b) the thought of enlightenment in action
The thought of enlightenment in action, the actual training on the path for the sake of the fruit, consists in accomplishing the benefit of others through our actions.
We will progressively train following three stages :
ba) the oneness of myself and others
We meditate on the oneness of myself and others by seeing that all equally want happiness and do not want suffering.
We then transform our mental habits by training to consider others as non-different from ourselves, as if they were a part of us, just as we consider our own body as being our own, although, in reality, it is derived from the drops of liquid and blood of others (our parents). By training like this, we will, little by little, be able to accomplish the benefit of others on a large scale.
bb) the exchanging of self and others
This means that we take the suffering of others upon ourselves and give them our own happiness. We will thus progressively be led to overcome the compulsive desire of self-favoring. Taking the suffering of others upon ourselves will not create any additional suffering for us; on the contrary, it will be of great help to our training; to others, it will be of genuine benefit. We will therefore meditate on this "taking the suffering of others" and "giving our own happiness'' for all beings proceeding step by step as we did before.
be) training in the Bodhisattva activities
We now need to train to usually act in accordance with our desire to benefit others, i.e. we should learn to be able to give to others whatever is dearest to us, as we can see it in the stories of Buddha's past lives, for instance.
We should also train in the six perfections which will make us spiritually ripen, and in the four actions which attract others and make them ripen.
These six perfections or Paramitas are :1. The perfection of giving (giving to others what pleases them and is in accordance with Dharma).
2. The perfection of moral discipline (abandoning whatever is harmful to others and upholding one's own vows and practice)
3. The perfection of patience (remaining without anger and serene, if others harm us or if we meet unfavourable circumstances).
4. The perfection of effort (having a joyful and eager mind with regard to virtue and our own practice).
5. The perfection of meditation (having a mind which is easily and perfectly concentrated on virtue and one's practice).
6. The perfection of wisdom (being able to discriminate accurately in each action and choice).
The four actions which attract others to the Dharma are :1. The practice of pure giving to please others.
2. Teaching them in accordance with their inclinations and capacities.
3. To skilfully make them practise.
4. To set an example ourselves by harmonising our words and actions.
The ultimate thought of enlightenment
The ultimate thought of enlightenment, which is free from the distinction between subject and object, refers to meditating in the union of calm abiding and insight.
Calm abiding meditation pacifies all thoughts of grasping at characteristics and leads to resting one's mind in its natural state. This profound and serene concentration is obtained either by specific practices or by practising Saddhanas This latter method is richer because it encompasses the whole of the path.
In insight meditation one can achieve seeing the profound nature of mind-emptiness of all dharmas (phenomena), having cut through all obstructions of attachment to form without, however, losing the ability to discriminate between them.
Calm abiding meditation is the necessary foundation for the development of insight and is obtained by giving up worldly attachment.
Insight is the wisdom that understands that the ultimate nature of all dharmas (phenomena, the universe and the beings within it) is the inseparability of clarity (manifestation) and emptiness.
By practising in the union of these two meditations of calm abiding and insight, we endeavour to realise the most profound benefit of others.
This has been a short summary of the path of practice in the Mahayana or Great Vehicle.
As holds true for the whole of Buddhism, it is important that the student should not stop at understanding these teachings intellectually, but constantly apply these principles until this application becomes wholly spontaneous and his being is effectively being transformed.
This basic Mahayana practice also forms the necessary foundation for entering and for success on the Tantric Path.
As this text is designed for general information, we have only given a brief outline of these meditations here. But disciples who genuinely apply themselves to the path, may receive each of these teachings from a lama (master), and each of them may constitute a main practice to be continued until it is perfectly accomplished, which can take several months or even years.