The commitments of training the mind
There are many benefits of following the 18 commitments and 22 precepts. Keeping them is the supreme method for establishing and improving our moral discipline. Moral discipline is the field from which all the crops of lojong realizations grow. Keeping these commitments is also a profound method for keeping our vows. It protects us from falling into wrong paths and keeps us on correct paths in this and future lives.
The purpose of describing the benefits of our vows is to motivate us to practice them. If we lack the desire to keep our commitments, then we should contemplate the benefits again and again until we want to keep them. Training in the commitments and precepts of training the mind is the supreme method for strengthening our moral discipline. In general we say that moral discipline has three main parts. The commitments and precepts of training the mind enable us to accomplish all three. The moral discipline of restraint is refraining from non-virtue when we would otherwise give in. Each time we do this, we create the cause for a higher rebirth. The only reason why we are enjoying our precious human life now is because in the past we refrained from being negative in the past when we otherwise would have been. The moral discipline of practicing virtue is intentionally engaging in virtuous actions understanding the benefit of doing so, and the moral discipline of benefiting others is any virtuous action which brings benefit to others.
The commitments and precepts are a practical means by which we can put into practice all of the Lojong instructions. Training in the commitments and precepts themselves is the principal way in which we put the Lojong instructions into practice. These commitments and precepts prevent us from taking a wrong turn. They are like road signs that point us in our chosen direction. They are like spiritual friends who always give us good advice. They function as a fence which protects us from all suffering.
Always train in the three general points.
The first of the three general points is do not allow your practice of training the mind to cause inappropriate behavior. We should always act in a manner that is appropriate to our spiritual development, and not unnecessarily act recklessly or inappropriately thinking we are advanced practitioners.
This is very important advice. If we don’t understand the Dharma correctly, it is easy for us to develop Dharma neuroses, where the more Dharma we understand the more problems we have. Usually this comes from our taking the instructions to an extreme beyond our current capacity. We have this big disjoint between our intellectual understanding and what we can actually do. This disjoint can cause pain if we have expectations of actually being able to already do all that is described. Dharma practice is not generating the minds of Dharma, it is trying our best to do so. Problems can also arise if we become self-critical and angry at ourselves because we can’t do everything. To overcome this, we need to separate our delusions from ourselves, and we need to just be content to try our best.
Our practice should never feel forced, but should evolve naturally and gradually. We should take each instruction in the context of the whole, not an individual instruction to an extreme. The instructions as a whole function like a net, and we practice everything within the context of everything else. This prevents us from taking things to crazy extremes.
The second of the three general points is do not allow the practice of training the mind to contradict your vows. We should not abandon our other vows thinking that the commitments and precepts of training the mind are sufficient. We need to work with all of the vows. We can think that our main vows are the pratimoksha, bodhisattva, and Tantric vows. The commitments and precepts of training the mind are like supporting friends for our main practice of the three vows.
The third of the three general points is do not practice training the mind with partiality. We should practice cherishing others, etc., without partiality. We should not say “I will cherish these people, but not those.” Geshe-la says that we need to start with our close friends and family and then gradually extend the scope of our practice. Why is this? If in the beginning we try to “cherish all living beings” we will lack any feeling for what this means because it is too abstract and removed from our daily experience. But if we just limit the scope of our compassion to our immediate family and friends it will not be enough to free us from samsara. So we start with our immediate family and friends and generate authentic and qualified Dharma minds towards them, and then we gradually expand this feeling for more and more beings. When we start to lose the feeling, we have gone too far, and when it feels insignificant, we have not gone far enough. The optimal balance we are trying to strike is between the maximum number of people while still preserving some feeling.