The Path of Accumulation

Geshe Sonam Rinchen once told me that the essential element in Dharma practice was converting negative minds into positive minds. I think that this takes many forms and at a recent retreat I suggested that one could look at the Path of Accumulation as the transformation of negative minds into positive minds. 

The Path of Accumulation is the first of five sequential paths leading to Buddhahood. It is followed by the Path of Preparation, the Path of Seeing (i.e., seeing emptiness directly), the Path of Meditation and finally the Path of No More Learning, which is Buddhahood. The mantra gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha in the Heart Sutra encompasses these five paths.

Buddhism has adapted to every culture in which it has taken root. In the USA this adaptation has included a sort of "psychologization".  I think there are many reasons for this, but one certainly is the contemporary practice of psychotherapy as a means for mental transformation.  So the potential connection with Buddhism seems fairly obvious.

A retreatant showed me these notes she had taken about the process of mental transformation developed by an anthropologist by the name of Angeles Arrien:
  • Whenever my critic is usually present I have compassion work to do.
  • When I'm impatient I have loving kindness work to do.
  • When I'm competitive & jealous I have empathetic joy work to do.
  • When I'm over extended & out of balance I have equanimity work to do. 
These practices seem like a good synthesis of traditional Buddhist and modern psychological approaches to mind transformation. I don't think that Buddhists wrote or taught about the "inner critic" which disturbs our own mental equilibrium and our relationships with others, but they would understand the process in their own language. Those of us who are doing the work of self awareness and change will recognize how we project our mental states onto those around us, that there is no fundamental difference between the critical attitudes we have toward others and toward ourselves, and that improving our relations with others depends on dealing with the critical attitudes we have toward ourselves.  The inner critic of me expresses itself as the critic of you. Looked at from another perspective, the Dalai Lama notes that actually we can't love others unless we first love ourselves. 

So, again, it seems to me that modern psychological "work on oneself" is, for western Buddhists, practice of the Path of Accumulation, as what is really accumulated in this work are good mental habit patterns.

Today is Saka Dawa, which in the Buddhist tradition is the commemoration of Buddha's birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana (passing from this world).  An email I received from the Gyuto Foundation, in California, comments that 

it is the holiest day of the year for Buddhists around the world. It is our belief that because Buddha Shakyamuni prayed for all sentient beings to achieve enlightenment, and he achieved enlightenment on this day, the merits of our virtuous and positive actions will be multiplied 100,000 times over, especially good deeds done on the full moon of Tuesday, June 2, 2015.

The Gyuto Monks would like to ask all of our friends and members to participate in this very important occasion by making a concerted effort to take positive steps in helping others in whatever small ways possible. 

Sometimes "work on oneself" may seem self-centered. But if we understand our deep interconnections, work on oneself is seen to benefit everyone we encounter.  So today seems a particularly auspicious day for those on the Path of Accumulation.

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