Ancient Wisdom for Modern Minds: A Monk’s Guide to True Freedom

If we get into the habit of listening to teachings but not applying them, we are in danger of becoming desensitized to the dharma. In Tibet, we say such people have become chötrey, that is, blasé, or hardened to the dharma. Such people might think, “Oh, I’ve already heard this teaching,” or they might think they already know what’s being taught. If, for example, we’re sitting in teaching about the four thoughts but saying to ourselves, “I’ve already gotten this message on precious human birth. I know everything is impermanent. I wish this lama would talk about something more profound,” that’s not a good sign. It suggests that we have become jaded. If the teachings feel dry and hard instead of juicy and inspiring, then it will be difficult to use them to tame the mind. 

Milarepa said a person who has become hardened to the dharma is like a butter bag. In Tibet, we store butter in bags made of leather. When the bag is new, the leather is pliable, but over time it hardens because of the constant exposure to oil. Similarly, a person who receives the teachings but does not practice becomes like a piece of leather that has been hardened by overexposure to oil. And just as this leather won’t be made softer by applying more oil to it, no matter how many teachings a person receives, the dharma won’t soften or tame their mind.

Khentrul Lodrö T’hayé Rinpoche

Born in Tibet, Khentrul Lodrö T’hayé Rinpoche is a highly accomplished Buddhist scholar who dedicated three decades to mastering the Nyingma lineage. Now based in the US, Rinpoche wears many hats, including that of an abbot, director, retreat leader, teacher, and global traveller. Yet, what he is most passionate about is the dissemination of mind training, which has earned him the affectionate moniker “the mind-training khenpo.”

The Power of Mind: A Tibetan Monk’s Guide to Finding Freedom in Every Challenge is a modern-day guidebook to the ancient teachings called the Seven Key Points of Mind Training, introduced to Tibet by the revered master Atisha. This book was inspired by transcripts Rinpoche’s students in Connecticut put together following a 2006-7 retreat, as they were deeply moved by the teachings of Atisha and Rinpoche’s own insights.

The teachings are centred around lojong, a series of meditative practices aimed at cultivating compassion and wisdom through bodhicitta – a Buddhist form of contemplative alchemy arising from the human mind, intended to translate meditation into actions that benefit all beings.

While modern secular teachers like Dr. Joe Dispenza and Dr. Rick Hanson might have caught your attention, Rinpoche’s book serves as a reminder that over a thousand years ago, Eastern sages already grasped the importance of rewiring unconsciously formed mental habits. The saying “neurons that fire together, wire together” illustrates the physical outcome of any repeated action or thought. Just like athletes, developing instinctive actions comes through practice.

However, when our habits begin to overshadow healthy and desired qualities, we must consciously unlearn what is unwanted and create new, deliberately chosen practices and habits.

Our inherent sentience and consciousness, though ultimately indescribable and pure, can be accessed once we manage to dissipate the fog of delusional experiences. The reality we perceive is a persistent illusion, as evidenced by our understanding of the quantum scale. If consciousness does not reside in our physical brain, and if we are all part of the same etheric pool, then purifying our minds and reflecting that back into the pool ultimately benefits everyone.

While this book clearly presents a Buddhist approach to mind training, it does contain cultural references that some may find challenging. The author emphasizes that we must practice within our limits, and although there is no clear advice for complex situations, the overarching message is to practice when and where we can.

Rinpoche also underscores the importance of impermanence, urging us to cultivate as much compassionate wisdom as possible and share it with the world. Even small acts, like embracing our loved ones and expressing our love, are accessible practices for most people.

The Power of Mind is a well-organized book, that provides a comprehensive yet concise framework for reconditioning our minds. Rinpoche offers key points and mental exercises for meditation, contemplation, and daily life integration, along with practical advice on how to actualize the teachings. This invaluable resource also includes detailed meditations, prayers, historical context, and more, making it an essential guide for anyone seeking to transform their mind and life.

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