Practicing the five powers has to do with the teachings that the Buddha gave after appearing in this world. In order to alleviate the suffering in the three lower realms and the entire wheel of samsara, the Buddha gave many teachings and instructions which cover ways that we can use in the way we behave and in our meditation practice.
They are quite extensive and include the Vinaya precepts, which define conduct, and the Prajna-paramita, which are the teachings on transcendent knowledge.
These teachings are part of the sutra teachings. The Buddha also gave the tantric teachings, of which there are many detailed sections, including kriya tantra, charya tantra, yoga tantra, anuttarayoga tantra, and many others as well.
The words of the Buddha were recorded in India and transmitted through the centuries, until they were translated into Tibetan, for the most part by eighth century Tibetan translators.
So we can say that for the most part they still exist today, with a few small exceptions. The main part of all the teachings the Buddha gave are collected in the Kangyur, or the precious collection of the Buddha's words, consisting of around 103 huge volumes of teachings.
All these scriptures on the teachings of the Buddha are laid out according to the sutra or the tantric perspective. How does one know this? From the explanations given in the treatises by the great learned and accomplished masters of India and Tibet.
The Indian masters, mahasiddhas, and other great teachers of the past condensed the teachings into treatises, explaining the meaning clearly and showing how to go about practicing them.
This was done in Tibet as well by practitioners who applied the teachings, reached a level of perfection themselves, and then wrote from their personal experiences of what proved itself to be valid. All these teachings are called "the treatises," and were collected in the Tengyur.
They still exist today. But when it comes to personal practice, there is what is called men-nag in Tibetan, which means "heart or pith instructions."
They are also called oral instructions and they are used for personal practice. Men-nag means something that is precise, applicable, effective and can be used immediately, therefore, the pith instructions are what people usually practice.
These heart instructions flowed into Tibet from many sources. Let us take the tradition of the Kagyu Lineage.
The Tibetan translator Marpa journeyed to India and connected with many great masters of those times: Naropa, Maitripa, and many others, from whom he received the heart instructions.
They prophesied that Marpa would propagate the lineage.
He not only received the instructions but practiced them personally to such an extent that he also attained realization and accomplishment.
He brought the instructions back to Tibet and passed them on to his disciple Milarepa, who then passed them on to Gampopa and others.
These three masters, Marpa, Milarepa, and Gampopa, are considered the foremost fathers of the Kagyu Lineage.
The achievements of Gampopa were predicted in the King of Samadhi Sutra where the Buddha stated that in the future there will be someone who will propagate the instructions and make The King of Meditation flourish, be understood, and realized.
Centuries later, Gampopa united the instructions from the Kadampa Lineage on mind training with the those from Milarepa, who received the teachings of Maitripa and Naropa through Marpa.
So Milarepa not only had the mind training instructions of the kadampa, but also the instructions from Naropa, as well as the Mahamudra teachings, all of which Gampopa had combined in one.
These instructions have been transmitted throughout the centuries until today.
A great master known as Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye insured that these oral teachings would not disappear from our world by writing them all down in a collection.
It contains the instructions transmitted through the Kagyu Lineage and also the eight primary lineages called "The Eight Chariots of the Practice Lineage."
He compiled them all into a collection of teachings known as The Treasury of Pith Instructions (dam-nag dzö).
In this collection of teachings, the seven points of mind training were placed at the front because he considered them very important.
Before Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye compiled his collection of works, another earlier master took up mind training and spread it widely. His name was Gyaltse Thogme; he also wrote his own commentary to clarify the seven points.
In his commentaries, we can find very precise and helpful instructions on how to begin mind training, how to carry on in the middle, and how to complete it in the end.
These heart instructions are of many types. Of course, it would be wonderful if you could practice all of them in a very vast and extensive way, but that is not always possible.
Therefore, the word "condensed" is added here: it means putting together the most important points so that we are able to use them. This is the teaching here, "the condensed heart instructions." What are they? They are phrased here as "the five powers."
The instruction for the first practice of how to engage in mind training in this life is to train in the five powers, which are a summary of the essential instructions.
We will now discuss these five powers as they relate to daily life, and then we will discuss these same five powers in terms of the time of our death.
Power of Goodwill
To strengthen this power of goodwill to bring about more benefit we make a pledge, "I will practice for a certain amount of time."
For example, when we do the preliminary practices, we say, "I want to complete these practices 100,000 times each, so I will begin with the 100,000 prostrations." That strengthens the power of benevolence or goodwill because we have made up our mind to do so.
When going into retreat, we make up our mind and formulate our resolution, "For this amount of a time, I will remain in retreat and practice one-pointedly." That is also very beneficial as a way of strengthening the power of bringing forth the benefit of goodwill.
Even if we are not able to spend three years in retreat, we can say, "For this amount of time, I will practice." Or it could be applied in a different way "As long as I am alive in this body, I will refrain from doing negative actions" also has great strength.
We may not be able to keep this pledge during our entire life, but at least we could say, "For this number of years, I will avoid these negative actions," or "For this number of months I will avoid them." That kind of mental resolve helps strengthen the power of goodwill.
Assume that we are bothered by a specific negative emotion, for example, the tendency to be angry, competitive, or jealous.
Wanting to improve, we can aim our practice toward progressing in this particular area. When we wake up in the morning, the emotions have the tendency to reoccur and we notice this. So that is an opportunity to make up our mind in the morning:
"Today I will work on diminishing this particular negative emotion (anger, for instance) which is problematic for me. I will try my best today."
Then we go about the day and before going to sleep at night we check, "How well did I do today? Was I successful or not?" Since we are an ordinary person, we may have been unsuccessful.
Then we say, "Well, I didn't do so well. I will try a little more tomorrow." Again we make the commitment the next day. In this way, we use the power of goodwill to form the wish to do better.
When we practice the seven points of mind training, the focus of the practice is to keep away from self-cherishing and trying to increase valuing others more highly in our lives.
That could be the pledge we make in the morning and the examination we make in the evening, resolving again to do better the next day. If we do not choose a specific negative emotion we take the general vow:
"From today until I reach enlightenment, I will not be parted from either relative or ultimate bodhichitta."
We can also make this vow for a shorter time, even for a day.
This gives power to our practice. For instance, if we are a very lazy person, we might wake up in the morning, thinking, "Today I really want to get this work done." Or if we have strong defilements and disturbing emotions, we would think, "Today I will not fall under the power of this."
It is this kind of determination that is being talked about here. If we make a promise to ourselves, our practice is empowered.
Power of Familiarization
The second power is that of growing familiar. We may think it is enough to have the first power of forming a good intention, but something more is necessary.
We need to grow familiar with the practice and this comes about through training, not only during the meditation session but also during daily activities in post-meditation.
We remind ourselves of the practice and stay alert to our behavior.
Through this kind of mindfulness, we can improve and come to a sense of familiarization and progress. It is not guaranteed that we become immediately successful, because we may make mistakes. But that doesn't mean that we should be disheartened.
The strength of the power of familiarization is that we are willing to continue the practice and grow.
What we set out to do here is to try to overcome the negative emotions that arise in our state of being by applying the remedies against them. We also have to increase the qualities of loving-kindness and compassion.
What causes us to progress in this endeavor is the power of growing familiar.
Here we think: "Whatever I do today, whether I am lying down, standing up, eating, walking around, or talking with friends, I will be extremely mindful not to let my bodhichitta diminish."
We start with this determination in the morning and based upon it, we remain as much as possible mindful of it all day long. Throughout the day, whatever situation comes up, we remember not to be parted from bodhichitta.
In this way we become accustomed to this wish to help all others.
Power of Virtuous Actions
The third power is called "the power of virtuous seeds."
It is like planting seeds to get a crop. This goes along with our training to diminish ego-clinging and self-cherishing and promote loving-kindness and compassion. Sometimes more fuel is necessary to help us move along.
This fuel is the virtuous seeds.
We do what is good, meaningful and wholesome in our physical actions.
In our words and our attitude, we try our best to do what is good and noble: being generous to those in need, paying respect to the noble objects, reciting the sutras and making prayers, chanting aspirations, mantras, and so forth.
Mentally we form the intention and let it settle in a state of equanimity, which is samadhi.
In this way, we create virtuous actions which, in addition to the former powers, help especially when we dedicate the virtue to diminishing self-cherishing and promoting loving-kindness and compassion.
We make that intention in the beginning and dedicate the outcome to that specific purpose in the end.
With this power, we should always strive to increase our virtuous activities of body, speech, and mind so that our bodhichitta is enriched.
We pray: "If bodhichitta has not arisen in my being, may it arise. If it is decreasing, may it increase. If it is increasing, may it grow yet further for ourselves and others."
Whatever suffering arises in ourselves or others, whatever
inauspicious circumstances, obstacles, or accidents come about, the only way to overcome them is by engaging in virtuous activity with our body, speech, or mind.
This can include doing circumambulations, offering the seven-branch prayer, and other positive actions.
These are the ways to overcome negativity.
With strong determination and familiarization as the basis, we can go further and recognize that the seed of virtue in body, speech, and mind is this wholesome activity. This is the only way to overcome all the unfortunate things that can happen to us.
Power of Remorse
The fourth power is the power of remorse. In these particular teachings remorse means identifying the trouble-maker, what causes conflict, suffering, and problems.
We look at what really prevents us from being liberated not only from the three lower realms but from all of samsara. People have a tendency to be selfish.
What is it that prevents us from being liberated and attaining complete enlightenment? It is this tendency to treasure "me" too much and too dearly.
This is the largest obstacle on the path and gives rise to all the negative emotions that take us in.
In other words, allowing this tendency to reign makes us unhappy again and again. When we are unhappy, we feel uncomfortable physically as well.
Anybody spending so much time being unhappy mentally and physically doesn't have a happy life. The tendency to cherish the self so highly is our greatest fault.
Once we are clear that ego and self-cherishing are to blame, it is much easier to deal with situations than simply accepting that we have a strong ego.
An individual with a strong sense of self finds it difficult to be free because he or she strengthens that tendency on a daily basis. But here the training, rather than strengthen ego more, is to make it diminish until it vanishes.
This is the outcome of the power of remorse.
When practicing mind training, sometimes obstacles arise and we feel that our bodhichitta is not increasing or that we aren't feeling compassion for others.
This is an obstacle that does not come from outside of us; rather, it stems from believing we are so important. Sometimes we think, "Oh, I can't stand it if something bad happens to me.
I can't stand this suffering. I only want to be happy." Or we are depressed, and think, "I can't do anything for others. This is too difficult.
I can't help myself, much less others."
The desire not to have anything negative happen to ourselves and the feeling that we can't possibly help others are the main obstacles to this practice.
We have to recognize that these obstacles come from the belief that self is very important.
When this happens, we should think: "From beginningless time I have wandered in samsara and experienced all sorts of suffering and difficulties.
They have come from believing myself to be precious, from taking a self to exist where, in fact, there is none.
"All the suffering and all the nonvirtuous actions I have committed come from this illusion of a self. Not only have I wandered in samsara since beginningless time, I am still doing so and, therefore, experience this difficulty. Taking myself to be so precious is the cause.
"Further, I have been cherishing myself for so long that I continue to amass negative karma. This will go on indefinitely if I don't stop.
"It is the thought of holding myself to more dear than others that has resulted in this suffering.
This habit of clinging to a self will continue if I let it and then there will never be any chance for true happiness.
"No matter what, I will destroy self-cherishing, which is the cause of all suffering."
This fourth power is often translated as "reproach," or "repudiation" of the fault.
Actually, the word in Tibetan is a compound in which the first syllable means "wearing away." So any time that you have a problem or an obstacle, you recognize the cause, which is the clinging to a self.
But you won't be able to get rid of your self-clinging immediately; you have to wear it away.
As you accustom yourself to that process and gradually efface the notion that you are precious, bodhichitta will increase.
The Power of Aspiration
The first four of the five powers serve specific purposes. When we begin, we are not yet able to engender virtuous qualities in our lives or in our spiritual practice, so at this point the power of good is important.
When we cannot reduce the tendency of selfishness, it is important to bring forth the power of remorse.
To develop remorse, there is a daily practice, which is the power of familiarization. Then there is the assistant, which is the power of virtuous seeds.
The fifth power is a natural background that brings about the strength of all four, and this is the power of aspiration.
The power of aspiration is the pure mental wish we can make. As ordinary people, our mind does not have the strength to make this wish of aspiration come true immediately, but that's all right.
The sincerity we put into the wish will insure that sooner or later the effect will materialize.
Therefore, the power of aspiration is that we repeatedly make the wish: "May I become capable of eliminating self-cherishing.
May I become capable of perfecting treasuring others as more important than myself."
As we approach the force behind this aspiration, it actually manifests more and more like that, until it becomes an actuality in our mind.
This power of aspiration means that whatever virtuous activity we do, whatever meditation we do, whatever training in the instructions we do, we pray: "May my bodhichitta increase and come to include all living beings.
May it also be born in all living beings.
May it increase in those in whom it has been born, and may this increasing bodhichitta really come to benefit all living beings."
We make this aspiration prayer for the benefit of all living beings at the end of any virtuous activity we perform or after any meditation we do.
These five powers are a means to improve our practice of bodhichitta and increase our ability to get rid of all the obstacles that arise in our dharma practice.
We should exercise these five powers throughout our lifetime.
To summarize, we can transform our behavior into a virtuous one by employing these powers.
The first power is recognizing that the negative things we have done are indeed negative.
Often when we perform a negative action, we are quite attached to it. For instance, if we have someone who is giving us a hard time, we may think, "Okay, today I'm going to go out and beat up that guy.
I am going to be a hero and he is going to be ground into nothing."
We become quite attached to this notion and we like it. So the first power is recognizing negative actions to be negative, which already decreases the force of that karma.
The second power is to confess nonvirtuous deeds to someone else.
If we are completely by ourselves, we can sit and think, "Oh, that was really bad. I confess it," That thought, however, has no great power.
On the other hand, if we go to someone else and say, "I did this really terrible thing," then the confession has more power. So going to a lama or spiritual friend and confessing our negative actions has more power.
If we can't do that, simply confessing in front of a shrine, a Buddha statue or stupa adds power to the confession.
The third power is relying on the remedy. This is the thought, "I did something really bad. To purify it I am going to do this which is really good."
The third power means relying on a virtuous action to help clear away past negative action.
The fourth power is the power of resolving not to repeat the negative action.
Sometimes we think, "I did this really bad thing in the past and I am truly sorry I did it, but in the future I might have to do it again."
That, too, is not very powerful, so the fourth power is that of resolving, "I will never do that again." These four powers are the best method for purifying previous negative karma.
by Thrangu Rinpoche.
Root text translation Michele Martin