We continue with our discussion of the three non-denerations. The third non-degeneration is not allowing our mindfulness to degenerate. When Geshe-la first opened the temple in Manjushri, he spent three days teaching only one thing, namely we need to pay attention to what we are doing while we are practicing. He said the methods we have work perfectly, what is lacking is focus on our part while doing them. If we do them without distraction, they will swiftly produce all of the results we desire. If we continue to do them with distraction, they will never work even if we practice for many lifetimes. In short, we have been given everything, all we need to do is concentrate.
Distractions are like a thief which rob us of our spiritual life. Distractions are our main enemy. If we can overcome them, the rest of the path will come easily. Distractions are like samsara’s front-line defenses. If we can break through them, the rest of the war is easy. Geshe-la said in Portugal that distractions are like the clouds which obscure the sun of Dharma from illuminating the sky of our mind.
What is a distraction? A distraction in general is any thought other than what we have decided to focus on. If we have decided to focus on our sadhana, a distraction is anything else. More broadly, though, we can say a distraction is any non-Dharma thought. If throughout the day we encounter countless different objects, but we respond to them with countless different Dharma minds, then even though our mind did not remain on only one thing throughout the day, our mind was never distracted. In the meditation session, this would be known a mental wandering – moving from one Dharma object to another as opposed to focusing on our chosen one. But during the meditation break, we should content ourselves with just keeping our mind focused on the Dharma.
The two most important mental factors for training in concentration are mindfulness and alertness. Mindfulness essentially means remembering our Dharma understanding. If we consider the contemplations on emptiness and our mind is led to a clear conclusion that everything is a dream, then our mindfulness tries to “not forget” that conclusion for as long as possible. Our mindfulness maintains the continuum of our “not forgetting” or our “remembering.” The longer we remember this conclusion, the more familiar we become with it, and the more deeply it penetrates into the different levels of our mind. Venerable Tharchin explains that when we listen to or read Dharma books, we gain an intellectual understanding of somebody else’s wisdom. When we contemplate this intellectual understanding, we transform what was their wisdom into our own wisdom. We realize for ourselves, “yes, this is true.” We then familiarize ourself with this understanding again and again without forgetting until eventually this realization becomes what he calls “an acquisition of our personality.” Take wishing love for example. Through listening to and reading Dharma instructions we can gain an intellectual understanding of what it means to purely love others. Through contemplating this again and again, we can transform our own mind into a state of loving others. Through familiarizing ourself with this feeling of love through meditation, we make love into an acquisition of our personality – we become a loving person. All of this progression is essentially a deepening of our mindfulness of love.
Alertness is essentially being aware of what is going on in our mind. Distractions sneak up on us like a Tiger in tall grass. We don’t see them coming and then it is too late. Alertness cuts all of the grass within our mind so we can see distractions coming long before they make it to us. Distractions usually occur very subtly and slowly, in a way that we don’t even notice. We thought we were meditating on our precious human life, but we realize five minutes later we have been planning our day. Alertness protects against that. Alertness is like a security guard within our mind that is constantly on the lookout for any threats to our mindfulness. The key to alertness is simple: we need to want to focus on our object of Dharma more than we want to think about other things. It is as simple as that. So everything we become distracted, we should ask ourselves, “what is more beneficial to think about, this object of Dharma of my samsaric object of drama I was thinking about?” If we do this again and again, we will quickly rewire our focus away from distractions and onto our Dharma objects. We are desire realm beings, so we do what we want. We need to want to focus. If we do, alertness comes easy, and with alertness our mindfulness is left undisturbed.