Four Thoughts That Change The Mind

Four Thoughts That Change The Mind December 11, 2023

The preliminaries are our support for practice. We need a solid foundation for our mind training practice and this is where it begins. For the preliminaries we contemplate a teaching called The Four Thoughts That Change The Mind. This is a list of things that motivate and inspire us. That’s our foundation. When we feel discouraged, when the path seems like it won’t be for us, reflecting on these things can help us stay on track and remind us why all of this is important.

(if you’d rather listen to a podcast on this subject click here: Four Thoughts That Change Your Mind)

At all times – when first being led, when preparing to engage in the reflections, when plagued by loss and enthusiasm, and when distracted – contemplate these points and be motivated by them.”-Sangye Gonpa

The Four Thoughts That Change The Mind are:

1) This precious human life

2) Impermanence

3) Karma (cause and result)

4) The dissatisfactory nature of existence (suffering)

The motivation that comes from these four is what will inspire us to learn how to let go of the things that cause us to suffer and to adopt positive thoughts and actions that will lead us to real and lasting happiness and a sense of well-being. We have to want to be free from suffering in order to be free from suffering, this helps us and reminds us why we want that freedom. The more we become aware of the preliminaries, the more motivated we are on the path.

In ‘The Power of Mind’ Khentrul Lodro Thaye says, “Each of these four thoughts can be applied in a formal meditation setting or simply be related to any aspect of our daily life. They give us a unique perspective on our life and on specific situations, which then enables us to apply the other trainings and leads us to a growing sense of certainty as to the nature of existence and the wish to be free.”

I’ll talk about each of these briefly here and I’m going to address them in more detail later on.

1) This precious human life:

We are lucky to be here. We have a rare opportunity to train our minds because we were born as human beings in this time and place. So let’s not waste it. We can use these teachings to add more vibrancy and joy to our lives. This motivates us because we are reminded that we have a big opportunity here and we shouldn’t want to waste it just pursuing pleasure and making enemies out of everything all the time.

2) Impermanence

Everything is changing all the time and you can’t hold onto anything. We know this but we tend to try to forget. This path may not add years to your life, but it will add life to your years. We can live in a way that brings peace and harmony to ourselves and others.

3) Karma (cause and result)

Let’s not get caught up in that word “karma.” It means that actions have consequences, which is something we all know. We know that when we indulge our negative emotions and engage in harmful actions, consequences come upon us later. The consequences of harming someone may not be what you expect, but there are always consequences.

4) The dissatisfactory nature of existence (suffering)

We suffer and struggle in this world. This is a natural and inescapable part of life. But we can do something. With mind training we can learn how to manage our suffering by putting down the disturbing emotions that plague us. The truth is that life brings us suffering, but also we create a lot of our own.

It’s said that the more we become aware of and understand the preliminaries, the more motivated we are on the path.

I hope this teaching has been helpful.


Here’s a video:

Four Thoughts That Change the Mind


Click the bowl for a guided meditation:


About Daniel Scharpenburg
Daniel Scharpenburg (Gegan Kelsang Dakpa) is a Buddhist Meditation Teacher. Daniel completed Meditation Instructor Training under Lama Chuck Stanford at the Rime Buddhist Center in 2011. He volunteers at the Rime Buddhist Center as a Class Facilitator and Meditation Lead. He was given the title “Gegan” or teacher and he has taken Bodhisattva Vows. Daniel also ordained as a Zen Priest in the Five Mountain Zen Order with Ven. Wonji Dharma in the Korean Zen Tradition You can read more about the author here.
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