After a year of focus on shamatha-vipashyana practice, the Nalandabodhi Path of Meditation broadens to include the practices of mind training (lojong in Tibetan). At this stage you rely on instructions from the Indian and Tibetan Buddhist traditions to train in the qualities of loving kindness, compassion, and bodhichitta, the heart of awakening. For example, the “Seven Points of Mind Training” is a classical Buddhist system involving slogans that you can memorize and use to reverse habitual patterns of self-centeredness. Mind training, or lojong practice, nourishes our ability to cherish others as much as we cherish ourselves.
Another method called tonglen, or “sending and taking,” utilizes the rhythm of breathing to take in the suffering of beings and send out care, love, and wishes for happiness to them.
The heart-opening practices of mind training, combined with the settled mind of shamatha and the bold insights of vipashyana, soften the heart and bring about the recognition of fundamental compassion, which is inherent in everyone despite the confusion that often keeps us from experiencing it fully.
The Four Reminders
Next, as a Nalandabodhi student you engage in contemplation by reflecting on the “four reminders.” These are four thoughts that enliven our practice and inspire us to continue on the path of liberation:
1. The precious human birth
2. Death and impermanence
3. Karma, cause and effect
4. The shortcomings of samsara (confused, cyclic existence)
By repeatedly reflecting on these four reminders, we deepen our conviction that our freedom to hear and practice the Buddhist teachings is not only rare, but also fleeting. We elicit a feeling of urgency, which in turn helps us seize the precious opportunity we find ourselves in (having the freedom and tools to practice the dharma). In this way we encourage ourselves to take steps in the direction of freeing our mind from confusion and negative habitual patterns. At the same time, we also cultivate a sympathetic heart, recognizing our commonality with all beings who suffer as a result of confusion.
After completing a two-week contemplation of each of the four reminders, you discuss the personal significance of each reminder with your Practice Instructor (PI). This discussion usually takes the form of an essay written by the student and sent to the PI.