The Four Mind Changings (lodok nam shyi) contemplation represents a classic method of self-investigation taught in Tibetan Buddhism. These reflections are designed to change our habitual patterns of thinking, to “change” or even more literally to “turn” the mind away from our ignorance.
In this brief presentation, Phakchok Rinpoche leads students step-by-step through these reflections. He encourages us all to gain familiarity with these by repeatedly contemplating these four facts. And, Rinpoche demonstrates that we don’t need to do this for long periods at a time. Instead, we can repeatedly return to the topic, examining these thoughts from different angles.
1. The Freedoms and Advantages of Our Present Situation
Rinpoche explains that it is very important that we feel lucky and blessed. We can remember to cherish what we have and appreciate the fortune we have. We begin our contemplations from an uplifted and positive ground.
2. Life Is Impermanent
Next, we consider the notion of impermanence. As we do this, we ask ourselves serious questions. Is it true that things are changing every moment? Look around and acknowledge that this is true. Then, accept the fact that nothing is steady—the only reliable thing is Dharma practice.
3. Cause and Effect
The third contemplation is karma. By karma, we mean cause and effect. How do we reflect on this? We think about our actions and their consequences. As we do this we can remind ourselves what constitutes wholesome or unwholesome actions or thoughts. What is our intention? When we reflect on karmic consequences we become mindful of our actions and their results.
4. Faults of Saṃsāra
Finally, we examine the faults of saṃsāra. What does that mean? We come to understand that saṃsāra, or cyclic existence, is not external. Cyclic existence means how we think—how we relate to our experience. Thus, we can learn to observe our thinking minds. We develop familiarity with the five poisons. If we understand how these manifest, we can see how they cause trouble for us and others.
Three Core Poisons
Rinpoche also explains how these five negative emotions can be subsumed into three. The three core poisons are the first three:
- Ignorance or Delusion
Classic texts describe jealousy as a combination of attachment and ignorance. And pride arises from a mixture of anger and Ignorance.
When we realize that we have these afflictions we can develop a strong wish to be free of these. And we can come to see how these poisons are the true defects of saṃsāra.
To explore this topic in more depth, you may wish to listen to Khenpo Gyaltsen’s talk on how we can benefit from contemplating the four thoughts.
It only takes five minutes to review these mind changings. But to make these stick in our hearts we need to do this every day. Remember that we are dealing with very old habits. We can slowly shift if we replace our tired old habits with new patterns.
Repeated short periods of practice allow us to slowly improve. Rinpoche in this video describes several ways to practice contemplation. He advises that we need to work with our minds in this skillful way. First, he suggests a very gentle way, and then with more intensity. Which one of those sounds like it will work best for you?
We know our own personalities, so we can be smart about how we train. We could begin with a gentle contemplation to gain familiarity with the practice. And then as we develop more stability and continue to practice, we will develop a greater sense of urgency, and then we might be more dramatic in our approach.