Buddhist Philosophy

Change: Why Do We Need to Practice the Four Mind Changings?


Why Do We Need to Practice the Four Mind Changings?

Khenpo Gyaltsen taught the four mind changings in São Paulo, Brazil. In this excerpt from his talk, Khenpo-la explains that first, we have to appreciate the need for change.

This teaching is in English with translation into Portuguese.

In his travels, Khenpo has observed that many people wish to practice high teachings such as Mahāmudrā or Dzogchen. However, he says that most of those students don’t actually have the firm basis to do those practices. That is why traditionally great masters instruct us to take time to contemplate the outer preliminaries: the four mind changings.

We can not merely stop at hearing the teachings. Listening to Dharma talks does plant a seed, but simply hearing does not bring liberation. Khenpo uses the example of taking medicine when we are sick. We would not stop at just receiving a diagnosis from a doctor. If we wished to become healthy, we would take the medicine he or she prescribes us. Similarly, when we hear Dharma teachings such as the four mind changings, we will only improve when we hear, reflect, and then put these teachings into practice.

Mind Changings are Outer Preliminary Practices

If we don’t practice these, then it is impossible for us to develop true renunciation. And if we don’t give rise to renunciation, we will not generate pure refuge and bodhicitta vows. But if we contemplate and truly embrace these four mind changings they will allow us to enter the door of the Dharma.

Meaning of the Four Mind Changings

Here, we briefly review these four reflections. In forthcoming blogs, we’ll post more of Khenpo’s teaching on this topic.

  1. Precious human birth
  2. Impermanence
  3. Karma and its result
  4. Faults of Cyclic Existence (samsara)

If we want to change our minds, we take time to seriously consider and reflect upon these four topics. Our mind shifts from negative to positive thinking. Right now, we are attached to things of this world. If we are attached to samsara, then we will never want to free ourselves. On the Buddhist path, however, we rely on the power of renunciation. Otherwise, we can’t possibly become bodhisattvas or buddhas. So we really must understand what we can change.

Meaning of Dharma


We also can reflect on what Dharma really means. “Dharma” is a Sanskrit word. The Sanskrit root of Dharma (dhṛ) means “to hold”. Thus, we can think of Dharma as ‘that which holds or protects us.’ Similarly, when Tibetan translators used the word chos, one of the definitions is change. Dharma practice can actively change us. But these days, we are often very lazy, and we don’t practice. There are many excuses in the modern world for not practicing. We can overcome this habit and practice the Dharma in order to change.

These days the number of non-believers, or followers of no faith, has grown a lot. Many people have become materialists. But if we really think about it, do these people not want to change? Wouldn’t most people prefer to change anger into non-anger? Most people do want to change their minds. They don’t want to remain just the way they are. We don’t need to turn our lives upside down or leave our jobs, but we do need to devote some time to practice. These days, unhappiness, desperation, anxiety, and depression reach everywhere and everyone. These problems do not affect only the poor. We can’t say that rich people don’t have these same issues. And when people face these problems, they often turn to drugs or alcohol to lose themselves. We all know that these things don’t bring benefits. They usually make things much worse. Instead, we can turn to Dharma and learn how to change our minds.

Daily reflection

Khenpo reminds us to check ourselves every single day. How are we developing our positive thoughts? What kind of motivation do we start with as we begin our day–how do we greet the morning? Are we really building our merit? These days, we often talk about having bad luck, but luck really comes down to merit. If we accumulate merit, then that brings us good circumstances or luck. Yet, if we don’t bother, then negativity can flow and that’s bad luck.

Instead, if we set virtuous intentions, then we automatically will experience positive results. Changing our minds can impact our daily life in this present life. If we want to live a happy daily life, then we need to change our minds and motivations.

Reflection Exercise

Now is a perfect time to begin or to re-start our commitment to self-inspection. Think about Khenpo’s words and spend a few minutes each morning setting your intention. It may help to write down a few notes to yourself: keep a journal, write a post-it note, or set a reminder on your phone. What is your positive intention for this morning, this day, this week? 

At the end of the day, look back gently at your actions and thoughts. Were you able to follow your motivation and intention? If so, give thanks and remember to dedicate the merit. And if you were not so successful, remind yourself that you can change. Improvement comes slowly. Try other methods to remind yourself.  

Please share your experience of this reflection with others in the box below.  We all benefit from helpful advice on the path!

3 responses on "Change: Why Do We Need to Practice the Four Mind Changings?"

  1. This feels like a release from the bondage I see in repeating moral damage, allowing it to echo threw our lives.

  2. The Four Mind Changings must be a very good medicine, worthy of focused practice. Thank You.

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Suggested Reading

Dudjom Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, trans. and ed. by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991), vol. 1, pages 468–474.

Ngawang Zangpo, Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2002.

Nyoshul Khenpo, A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biographies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage, trans. Richard Barron (Junction City: Padma Publishing, 2005), pages 41–48.

Padmasambhava, Legend of the Great Stupa, Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1973

Padmasambhava & Jamgön Kongtrul, The Light of Wisdom, trans. by Erik Pema Kunsang (Boudhanath: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1986-1999), pages 43-47 & Appendix 5.

Taranatha, The Life of Padmasambhava, Shang Shung Edizioni, 2005

Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Shambhala, 1996.

Yeshe Tsogyal, Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, translated by Kenneth Douglas and Gwendolyn Bays (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978, republished 2008).

Yeshe Tsogyal, Lotus Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2004.

‘The Life of Guru Padmasambhava’ in A Great Treasure of Blessings, The Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2004.