Geshe Chekawa and “Training the Mind”

Geshe Chekawa (1102–1176)
Geshe Chekawa (1102–1176)

Geshe Chekawa and “Training the Mind”

Geshe Chekawa (or Chekawa Yeshe Dorje) (1102–1176) was a prolific Kadampa Buddhist meditation master who was the author of the celebrated root text Training the Mind in Seven Points, which is an explanation of Buddha's instructions on Training the Mind or Lojong in Tibetan.

These teachings reveal how sincere Buddhist practitioners can transform adverse conditions into the path to Enlightenment, principally, by developing their own Compassion.

Before Geshe Chekawa's root text this special set of teachings given by Buddha were secret teachings only given to faithful disciples.

The instructions on Training the Mind (Lojong in Tibetan)
were originally given by Buddha Śākyamuni.
He passed them to Mañjuśrī, who transmitted them to Śāntideva.
From Śāntideva they passed in unbroken succession
to Elladari, Vīravajra (Prajñendraruci), Ratnashri,
Serlingpa (Dharmakīrti), Atiśa, Dromtönpa,
Geshe Potowa, Geshe Sharawa (1070–1141) ,
and Geshe Chekawa.

Geshe Chekawa composed the text Training the Mind in Seven Points and spread the study and practice of training the mind throughout Tibet.

He transmitted the instructions to the Bodhisattva Tse Chilbuwa and from him they passed through a succession of realized Masters to Je Tsongkhapa.

Several versions of the root text, Training the Mind in Seven Points, were compiled from notes taken by Geshe Chekawa's disciples.

Later, Je Tsongkhapa gave teachings on Training the Mind in Seven Points and, without contradicting other sources, clarified the meaning of these instructions according to the view and intentions of Geshe Chekawa and Atiśa.

The notes of Je Tsongkhapa's disciples were collected into a text, known as Sunrays of Training the Mind, which is regarded as one of the most authoritative commentaries on Training the Mind.

From Je Tsongkhapa the instructions on training the mind have come down in an unbroken lineage to present-day Teachers.

Training the Mind in Seven Points begins with the introductory lines:

Homage to great compassion.
This essence of nectar-like instruction
Is transmitted from Serlingpa.

Geshe Chekawa begins the root text by paying homage to great compassion. His purpose is to show that because all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are born from the mother, great compassion, anyone wishing to become a Buddha or Bodhisattva must keep compassion as their main practice.

The second line likens the instructions on training the mind to the essence of nectar. The nectar enjoyed by gods and some humans produces only ordinary happiness, but the instructions on training the mind can provide the extraordinary bliss of full enlightenment.

The third line shows that from the many different instructions Atiśa received and handed down through Dromtönpa and other Teachers to Geshe Chekawa, this particular instruction came from his Spiritual Guide Serlingpa.

It is said that Geshe Chekawa originally belonged to the old tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, the Nyingma tradition:

Although he was well-versed in the teachings of both the old and the new traditions of Dharma, he was not entirely satisfied with his practice.

He sought teachings from Rechungpa (1083/4-1161), one of Milarepa's main disciples, and later from the Kadampa Teacher Geshe Chagshinpa.

One day, when in Geshe Chagshinpa's room, he found a short text entitled Eight Verses of Training the Mind. Two lines in the 6th verse caught his attention:

May I accept defeat
And offer the victory to others.

Even though he already possessed a profound knowledge of Dharma his mind was deeply affected by these words.

Seeking to discover their real meaning he asked Geshe Chagshinpa the name of the author. Geshe Chagshinpa replied that the text was written by Geshe Langri Tangpa.

Immediately upon hearing this, Geshe Chekawa developed a wish to receive teachings from Geshe Langri Tangpa, and he set out at once for Lhasa where he hoped to meet him.

When he arrived he discovered that Geshe Langri Tangpa had passed away and so he decided to find one of Geshe Langri Tangpa's disciples who could give him an explanation of this verse.

He met a man from the province of Lang Tang who told him that one of Geshe Langri Tangpa's main disciples was Geshe Sharawa.

Encouraged by this, Geshe Chekawa set out to find Geshe Sharawa: When he found him, Geshe Sharawa was teaching a course on philosophy to a vast audience.

Geshe Chekawa listened to the teachings, which went on for several days, but he heard no mention of accepting defeat and offering the victory to others.

After the teachings had finished, Geshe Chekawa approached Geshe Sharawa as he was circumambulating a Stūpa

and, putting his upper garment on the ground as a seat, requested him
'Please sit down for a while. I have something to ask you.'

Geshe Sharawa replied rather abruptly:

'I have just given extensive teachings from the throne,
did you not understand them?

Geshe Chekawa answered 'I have one special question.'

Geshe Sharawa then sat down and Geshe Chekawa asked:

'How important is the practice
of accepting defeat and offering the victory to others?

Geshe Sharawa replied:
'If you want to attain Enlightenment, this practice is essential.'

Geshe Chekawa then asked where this practice was taught in the scriptures, and Geshe Sharawa replied by quoting 2 lines from Nāgārjuna’s Precious Garland of Advice for the King:

May their negative actions ripen upon me,
And may all my virtues ripen upon them

Implicit in these words is the wish to accept defeat oneself and offer the victory to others.

Geshe Sharawa gave further sources that convinced Geshe Chekawa that this teaching was authentic.

Geshe Chekawa then requested Geshe Sharawa to give him full instructions on this practice.

Geshe Sharawa replied: 'If you stay with me for several years I will teach you.'

Geshe Chekawa stayed with Geshe Sharawa for 12 years, and within 6 years he had become very skilled at training his mind. Other Kadampa Geshes recognized that he had attained the Mahāyāna path of seeing by completely abandoning self-cherishing. 

Until this time the instructions on training the mind had not been taught openly but had remained a secret lineage:

Since it was necessary to possess a certain degree of faith before practising these instructions, Geshe Chekawa at first taught them only to his closest and most receptive disciples.

This was a time when leprosy was widespread in Tibet because doctors were unable to cure it.

One day Geshe Chekawa met some lepers and decided to instruct them in the practice of training the mind, and especially in the practice of taking and giving.

Through engaging in these practices many of the lepers were quickly cured of their disease.

News of this spread rapidly and many other sufferers came to see Geshe Chekawa, whose home soon took on the appearance of a hospital. As a result, Geshe Chekawa's teachings became known among Tibetans as the 'Dharma for leprosy'.

Geshe Chekawa had a brother who disliked Dharma intensely and had no faith in Geshe Chekawa himself:

One day he happened to overhear some of the teachings on training the mind that Geshe Chekawa was giving to the lepers and was impressed by what he heard:

Some time later Geshe Chekawa noticed from his brother's behaviour that he was practising the instructions on training the mind.

Geshe Chekawa thought that if a disbeliever such as his brother could benefit from these teachings, many other beings could also be helped by them,

and so he decided that it was no longer appropriate to keep the instructions secret.

Accordingly, with a sincere wish to help all living beings,
he composed the text Training the Mind in Seven Points:

Because of his great kindness in composing this text and teaching it openly we now have an opportunity to receive these instructions and put them into practice.

Therefore, we should remember with gratitude the kindness of Geshe Chekawa.