Happy Tsog Day: Prostrating to the Spiritual Guide’s Pervasive Nature

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 7 of a 44-part series.

Prostrating to the spiritual guide as the Truth Body

Abandonment of all faults together with their imprints,
Precious treasury of countless good qualities,
And sole gateway to all benefit and happiness,
O Venerable spiritual guide I prostrate at your lotus feet.

Our spiritual guide’s Truth Body is the ultimate nature of all phenomena. All things are equally empty. From the point of view of their lacking inherent existence, all emptinesses are the same nature. There is no object that is any more or less empty than all the others. Our spiritual guide imputes their I onto the emptiness of all things, which is why we can correctly say that he is the ultimate nature of everything. Everything that we see or perceive, including whatever device we are reading this post on, is ultimately our spiritual guide. With this understanding, when we look at any object, we can see our spiritual guide looking back at us. What appears is a form, but this form is by nature emptiness – it is the emptiness of our spiritual guide appearing as form. With this verse, we prostrate to our spiritual guide as the Truth Body of all the Buddhas. With the first line, we prostrate to both the cause and function of the Truth Body. The way we attain enlightenment is by meditating on the emptiness of our very subtle mind. This concentration functions to purify our very subtle mind of all contaminated karmic imprints. When our mind is free from them all, it naturally transforms into the omniscient clear light mind of a Buddha. The second line explains that all good qualities emerge from the Truth Body, just as all waves arise from an ocean. The third line indicates that the realization of the Truth Body is the gateway to all happiness for ourself and all living beings. By realizing it, both ourself and all living beings can enjoy eternal joy. And the last line reminds us that even though the Truth Body is very subtle and does not assume any particular form, we should remember it is our spiritual guide. Sometimes we can think of emptiness as a “state” and forget that the Truth Body is a person.

Prostrating to the spiritual guides as the synthesis of all Three Jewels

Essence of all Guru-Buddhas and Deities,

Source of all eighty-four thousand classes of holy Dharma,

Foremost amongst the entire Superior Assembly,

O Kind spiritual guides I prostrate at your lotus feet.

There are two ways we can understand that our spiritual guide is the synthesis of all three jewels. The first is to understand that he is the source of all three jewels, they are all his emanations. He emanates all Buddhas, all Dharma teachings, and all Sangha, like limbs of his body. The second way is to understand that our spiritual guide is an “I” imputed upon all the Buddhas, all the Dharmas, and all the Sanghas. Geshe-la has said on numerous occasions that “I am the NKT.” His meaning is that he imputes his “I” onto all the Buddhas in the NKT, all the Dharma in the NKT, and all the Sangha of the NKT. When we look at any of these, it is our spiritual guide. Practically, this means our bodies are Geshe-la’s bodies in this world, our speech is Geshe-la’s speech in this world, and our Dharma realizations are his wisdom in this world. Where does his body, speech, and mind come from? Lama Tsongkhapa’s. In exactly the same way, in the first line of this verse, we recognize that our spiritual guide is all the Buddhas and deities. The second and third lines reveals he is the source of all Dharmas and all Sangha. Recognizing our spiritual guide in this way, we prostrate to him.

Prostrating to the lineage Gurus and Three Jewels

To the Gurus who abide in the three times and the ten directions,
The Three Supreme Jewels, and all other objects of prostration,
I prostrate with faith and respect, a melodious chorus of praise,
And emanated bodies as numerous as atoms in the world.

Our spiritual guide, who we have been prostrating to, did not emerge out of nowhere, but arose out of an unbroken lineage of realized masters all the way back to Buddha Shakyamuni. To be a lineage Guru means to have attained all the realizations that are taught within that lineage – to have personal experience of the truth of the instructions. Within the Kadampa Lineage, the principal lineage Gurus are Buddha Shakyamuni, Atisha, Je Tsongkhapa, Je Phabongkapa, Trijang Rinpoche, and our own Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Each lineage Guru taught the Dharma and had Sangha followers. Towards this great ocean of three jewels moving through the three times, we prostrate. This verse also indicates that when we engage in this practice of prostration, we should imagine that every one of our hair pores emanates bodies, and each one of those bodies emanates countless more, filling the entire universe. All these countless bodies prostrate.

Mother’s Day for a Kadampa

As Kadampas who practice the Lamrim, every 21 days is Mother’s Day.  We are all quite familiar with the various contemplations of how all living beings are our mother and how kind they were to us as our mother, therefore we should develop a profound feeling of gratitude towards our mother of this life and all our mothers of our past lives.  Very often though, primarily because we make our meditations intellectual exercises of recalling certain points as opposed to exercises of the heart where we change our feelings, these contemplations on the kindness of our mother no longer really move our mind.  We might recall them, but we don’t internalize them and let them touch our heart.  On actual Mother’s Day, we should take the time to reflect deeply and sincerely upon them so that our heart moves and we genuinely feel gratitude and a wish to repay our mother’s kindness.

Have we always neglected our mothers?

I sometimes wonder if ancient Tibetan culture was the same as our modern culture.  In modern culture, particularly in modern psychology, the trend is to blame our mother for all of our problems.  We are encouraged to go back into our childhood and find all the different ways our mother made mistakes and how that is “the underlying cause” of why we are the way we are today.  We likewise completely take for granted everything our mother has done for us.  As kids, we are completely blind to it. 

We think it is “normal” that our mothers do everything for us, and we feel “justified” in getting angry with them when they don’t do it perfectly.  In truth, our mother could have just abandoned us on the street.  She owes us nothing.  Nobody owes us anything.  It is our expectation that they do that actually prevents us from appreciating all that she did for us.  It is the very nature of modern motherhood to give everything you have to your kids only to have them take your kindness for granted, blame you for all of their problems, and want to have nothing to do with you because you are such an embarrassment.  Perhaps it has always been such, which is why the meditation on the kindness of our mothers has always been taught.

It’s time to apologize for being such a jerk

On Mother’s Day, I think it is important to not just express our gratefulness, but to sincerely apologize for what a jerk we have been to her over the years.  Explain that when you were a kid, you didn’t understand, and now it is only as an adult (and perhaps a parent yourself) that you are beginning to realize all she did for you.  Apologize for yelling, apologize for disobeying, apologize for being embarrassed by her, apologize for ignoring her, and apologize most of all for taking for granted all that she has done for you.  Explain to her that all of your good qualities now come from her. 

My father once said about his mother, “everything good in our family comes from Grandma.  That’s the truth.”  This is a perfect attitude.  It is the truth.  The truth is mother’s really struggle with the fact that everything they do is taken for granted and that they are blamed for everything.  Yes, it is good for them in terms of being able to learn how to give love unconditionally, but it is hard.  All it takes is one honest conversation where you admit you were a real butt with her, and where you express sincere gratitude for everything you previously took for granted.  Such a conversation can heal decades of grief.

No, our mothers aren’t perfect, but why should we expect them to be?

Sometimes when we encounter the meditation on the kindness of our mothers we develop all sorts of objections because it is true, our mother did make a lot of mistakes.  My mother had all sorts of serious mental health issues, we had an off and on terrible relationship until eventually she likely killed herself on my wedding day.  I had all sorts of resentments towards her for years, then I had guilt after her suicide, and now I find it difficult to think anything good about her.  All I see is her many faults and delusions.  Most of us have problems of one kind or another with our mothers.  I personally feel it is vital that we identify the delusions we have towards our parents, in particular our mother, and work through them.  We need to get to the point where our mind is completely healed of all delusions towards them.  This is not only a way of repaying the kindness of our mother, it is a way of healing our own mind.

Our mothers were not perfect, they made many mistakes, and they were full of delusions.  This is also true, and acknowledging that fact is not a denial of their kindness.  We can hold the view that they were emanations of Buddhas who appeared to make the mistakes that they did to give us a chance to grow.  Every child grows up cataloging the many mistakes their parents make and resolves when they are parents they won’t do the same thing; only to find when they do become parents they wind up making many of the same mistakes.  The power of osmosis with our parents is the most powerful force shaping our lives and shaping our mind.  It is not enough that we heal our mind of all the delusions we have towards our mother, we also need to look into our mind and identify all the delusions we received from her. 

Venerable Tharchin once told me the only reason why the people in our life appear to have delusions is because we ourselves possess the same delusions within our own mind and we therefore project beings who have the same faults.  Our task, therefore, is to identify within ourselves the delusions that appear in others and then root them out completely.  When we do so, he said, several amazing things will happen.  First, our relationship with the person will improve.  Second, we will have less delusions in our own mind.  And third, the faults we see in the other person will gradually “disappear.”  Why?  Because they were never coming from the other person in the first place.  He concluded by saying, this is how Bodhisattva’s ripen and liberate all beings.  When we attain Buddhahood, he said, it appears to us as if everybody attains Buddhahood at the same time with us.  In fact, we see that they have always been so.  If we love our mother, this is essential work.

Tara is our eternal mother

Mother’s Day, though, is about much more than just our relationship with our own mother of this life, or even recalling the kindness of all our past mothers.  I think on Mother’s Day we need to recall the kindness of our Spiritual Mother, Guru Arya Tara.  Tara promised Atisha long ago that she would care for all Kadampas in the future.  The fact that we have a spiritual life today is due to her kindness.  She gave birth to our spiritual life.  Like all mothers’ kindnesses, we don’t even see it.  She operates unseen, and we take it for granted.  But there is no doubt, it is thanks to her that we have a spiritual life.  She gave birth to it, she has nurtured it, and she cares for us now even if we never think of her.  For some, she appears herself as Vajrayogini, and therefore serves as our Highest Yoga Tantra Yidam.  Tara is one of the Buddhas who often appears early in our spiritual life.  Almost everybody has a very positive experience with encountering her.  But then, over time, we tend to forget about her as we move on to other practices.  But like any mother, she never forgets her spiritual children.  We should remember this, and generate our thanks to her for it.

Viewing all living beings as our children

Finally, I think it is worth recalling that just as all living beings have been our mother, so too we have been the mother of all living beings.  We can correctly view all living beings as our children, and love them as a good mother would.  The contemplations on the kindness a mother shows to her child are not there just to help us develop gratitude towards our mothers, they are also examples of the attitude we should have towards all of our children.  How many of us would be willing to remove the mucus from a stranger’s nose?  Our mother did that for us.  We should love others so much that we would gladly, and without hesitation do the same for others.  Of course, we shouldn’t go around offering to others to do so, but training in the mind that is willing to help any living being in any way we can is the real meaning of Mother’s Day.

Happy Tara Day: Causing the three worlds to shake

This is the fifth installment of the 12-part series sharing my understanding of the practice Liberation from Sorrow.

Praising Tara by the light that radiates from the letter HUM

Homage to you who strike the ground with the palm of your hand
And stamp it with your foot.
With a wrathful glance and letter HUM,
You subdue all seven levels.

This also refers to Tara’s ability to engage in wrathful actions and can be understood from the above.  I’m not sure what the seven levels are.

Praising Tara by her Dharmakaya aspect

Homage to you who are happy, virtuous and peaceful,
Within the sphere of the peace of nirvana.
Fully endowed with SÖHA and OM,
You completely destroy heavy evil actions.

This verse refers to definitive Tara.  The conventional Tara is the green deity we know and love.  She manifests this form so that living beings can more easily develop a relationship with her.  But actual Tara is Dhamakaya Tara, or Truth Body Tara.  This is definitive Tara.  The Dharmakaya is a Tara’s realization of great bliss mixed inseparably from the emptiness of all phenomena.  She is referred to as the mother of all Buddhas because all Buddhas arise out of her Dharmakaya – she gives birth to them from her realization of bliss and emptiness.  What does the Dharmakaya feel like?  Happy, virtuous, and peaceful.  This is her inner pure land, and anytime we ourselves feel happy, virtuous, or peaceful, we are experiencing a similitude of her pure land.

Praising Tara by her divine actions of peaceful and wrathful mantras

Homage to you who completely subdue the obstructions
Of those who delight in the Dharma Wheel;
Rescuing with the array of the ten-letter mantra
And the knowledge-letter HUM.

Peaceful actions refer to a Buddha’s ability to pacify negativity, delusions, or their imprints in either ourselves or in others.  All living beings possess Buddha nature.  What does this mean?  It means we all possess within ourselves the potential for an enlightened mind, and all we need to do is purify our mind of all that defiles it and our natural enlightened state will be unleashed or uncovered.  What is our mind defiled by?  Principally three things:  negative karma, delusions, and their imprints.  Technically negative karma is also an imprint of a delusion which is why we normally say the “two obstructions,” referring to delusions and their imprints.  But from a practical point of view, we place particular emphasis in the early stages of our practice on purifying our negative karma (lower scope meditations), then overcoming our delusions (intermediate scope meditations), and finally the remainder of our contaminated karma (great scope meditations).  Tara can help us pacify all three of these, as explained by her ten-letter mantra whose principal function is to bestow all of the Lamrim meditations.  According to Tantra, the two main objects to be pacified are ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions.  Ordinary appearances are phenomena appearing to exist independently of our mind (the things we normally see), and ordinary conceptions are grasping at the wrong belief that objects do in fact exist in the way that they appear.  For example, when we think of ourself, we see our ordinary body and mind.  This is an ordinary appearance.  When we grasp at them actually being ourselves, this is an ordinary conception.  Tara also has the power to pacify all our ordinary appearances and conceptions.

Praising Tara by her divine actions of wrathfully shaking the three worlds

Homage to TURE, stamping your feet,
Born from the seed in the aspect of HUM,
Who cause Mount Meru, Mandhara and Vindhya,
And all the three worlds to shake.

Buddhist cosmology is incredibly vast.  The universe as we know it actually only one world system.  There are the thousand worlds, which is a thousand world systems or universes as we know them.  There are the two thousand worlds, which is a thousand of the thousand worlds, or one million universes.  And there are the three thousand worlds, which is a thousand of the two thousand worlds, or one trillion universes.  In truth, there are countless universes, and the three thousand worlds is a shorthand for implying countless that makes it somewhat easier to grasp.  Just as the stars in the sky form galaxies, super clusters, and so forth, the three thousand worlds also cluster together and are arranged in different ways, so too the three thousand worlds cluster together and are arranged in particular way.  In the center of the three thousand worlds is Mount Meru, which is actually comprised of countless different pure lands at different levels of purity, such as the Land of 33 Heavens where Buddha went to teach his mother after she took rebirth there.  At the top of Mount Meru is Heruka’s celestial mansion.  Surrounding Mount Meru are the four major and eight minor continents, like an archipelago of different clusters of universes – they can be likened to superclusters of galaxies.  The universe that we live in is simply one of many universes in what is known as the Eastern continent, but is in reality just a cluster of universes.  Traditional cosmology as we know it just talks of our one universe where the Big Bang unfolded, but this one universe is as insignificant as our own planet is in our universe.  The vastness of Buddhist cosmology is almost beyond comprehension.  Interestingly, some astrophysicists have a similar view arguing we live in a multiverse, or a n-dimensional multiverse, but they have no idea how these universes are shaped.  Just as the science of quantum physics is gradually catching up with Buddha’s teachings on emptiness, it is only a question of time before science catches up with Buddha’s teachings on cosmology.  Tara’s blessings and power pervade everywhere.  Vajrayogini and Tara are actually the same being, just appearing at two different levels – Action Tantra version as Green Tara and Highest Yoga Tantra version of Red Vajrayogini.  Vajrayogini is in union with Heruka inside his celestial mansion atop Mount Meru and her wisdom is able to cause all three thousand worlds to shake!

Praising Tara by her divine actions of dispelling internal and external poisons

Homage to you who hold in your hand
A moon, the lake of the gods;
Saying TARA twice and the letter PHAT,
You completely dispel all poisons.

Conventionally, Tara’s blessings are particularly powerful at dispelling external poisons, such as those we might ingest.  I personally suffer from terrible allergies, some of which are deadly.  When I have a strong allergic reaction to something I eat, I of course take my Benadryl or other allergy medications, but I also recite with great faith Tara’s mantra requesting that she protect me.  Those who have allergies can do the same, even allergies as light as hay fever.  But principally, Tara’s blessing dispel the inner poisons of our delusions.  Outer poisons can at most harm us in this one life, but the inner poisons of our delusions harm us in all our future lives.  Considering our delusions to be inner poisons is a particularly powerful way of thinking of them.  If we ingested an external poison, we would do everything we can as quickly as we could get rid of it from our body or to take an antidote.  But we would never think that the poison is us, we see clearly the difference between the poison and ourselves.  In the same way, our delusions are not us, but they do terrible harm to us, and we should feel great urgency to purge them from our system.  Tara is the antidote to all of the inner poisons of delusions.  She is known as the Lamrim Buddha because she helps Atisha’s followers and her blessings specifically function to bestow Lamrim realizations.  Lamrim is like a net of virtuous minds that functions to oppose all delusions directly or indirectly.  By weaving the Lamrim within our mind, we protect ourselves against any possible combination of delusions, and thus achieve protection from all inner poisons.  

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: The mind of patience is a pure land

With the mind of patience, it is as if we are in a pure land right now, while remaining in samsara.  I would say the mind if patience is a pure land.  In a pure land, there is no manifest suffering and everything functions to lead us to enlightenment.  With the mind of patience, there is no manifest suffering because we wholeheartedly welcome everything as useful.  Things may still be painful and difficult, but we do not experience these feelings as “suffering.”  These experiences are helping us attain enlightenment.  With the mind of patience, we create the pure land right here right now.

(7.2) Effort is a mind that delights in virtue.
Its opponents are the laziness of indolence,
The laziness of being attracted to non-virtuous actions,
And the laziness of discouragement.

We need to learn to distinguish clearly these three types of laziness.  We need to distinguish them clearly in our own mind. We need to know our own laziness of indolence, our own laziness of being attracted to non-virtuous actions, and our own laziness of discouragement.  We also need to identify how these forms of laziness prevent us from enjoying virtuous activity. 

(7.3) The laziness of indolence develops
When, through being attracted to worldly pleasures,
And particularly to the pleasures of sleep,
We fail to become disillusioned with the sufferings of samsara.

If we check we are all attracted to a greater or lesser extent to a life of ease.  If it requires any hardship and effort, then we’d rather not do it.  In fact, we’d rather not even think about it.  For example, setting our alarm – do we enjoy setting our alarm so we can rise early in the morning?  When we do wake up, whether it be naturally or unnaturally, are we eager to get out of bed and start our day?  It seems this is a metaphor for our samsaric life.  Just as we’d rather stay in bed, so too it seems we’d rather not bother doing what it takes to get out of samsara.

We have to be careful that we don’t simply enjoy our present conditions and use up our merit.  There was a teacher once who was simply enjoying his conditions, Ven Geshe-la said he used up his merit and lost everything.  It seems as if the goal of worldly life is to burn up as much merit as we can – to get as much worldly enjoyment out of this life as we can.  In personal finance, there is a rule ‘never consume your capital’.  If you do, then you have nothing at the end.  Instead, you invest it and then can consume the interest that is kicked off.  As Bodhisattva’s, we never consume, we always invest.  When our merit ripens, we reinvest it in the accomplishment of our spiritual goals.  In this way, we always increase our merit.

We live our life constantly with the thought, ‘I really must do …, but …’  This thought is all pervasive in our mind.  We say we really must do or Heart Jewel and Lamrim, we really must do our Dakini Yoga, we really must study for FP, we really must do some task for the center, we really must deal with the things that have been dragging on in our life.  But we always give in to the ‘but.’  We do other things, and never do what we have to do.  These things drag on, pile up, and overwhelm us.  The problem with this strategy is we have limited time.  In our ordinary activities, there are generally deadlines by which we have to get things done.  But for our spiritual practice, there is a real ‘dead’line that we can’t be late for – our death.  If we allow this habit of ‘I really must, but’ to remain in our mind, it is guaranteed that we will waste our precious human life and when we arrive at our death, we will be filled with regret. 

Why do we do this?  There is a very simple reason – we don’t want to do what is spiritually required of us.  There is resistance in our mind.  There is no real enjoyment at the prospect of engaging in our spiritual practice, there is no enthusiasm.  When we do engage in that virtuous action, we are often not delighting in it.  There is often no joyful effort in our mind.  Sometimes we feel we simply cannot be bothered, don’t we?  We can’t be bothered to pick up a book and study or do our practice.  Because we are too attached to doing nothing or to indulging in our worldly enjoyments.  At other times, we can even feel more strongly that we actually don’t want to engage in virtue.  We think and arrive at a conclusion, “In fact, I’m not going to. I’m not going to.” Such is the strength of our resistance, the strength of our laziness, actually.  We need to know the various types of resistance or reluctance that comes up in our mind and how to overcome it.  If we do not do this, it is guaranteed we will never make progress on the spiritual path, and we will never get out of our samsara. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: If you’re not enjoying yourself, you have no effort

The success of our spiritual training depends upon effort. Effort is not, as we will see, just engaging in the training itself but the enjoyment of it, delighting in it, even.  If we are delighting in it then we will maintain an enthusiasm for it, and we will always look forward then to opportunities to train in formal and informal ways.  We will come to enjoy formal training, such as studying, meditating, teaching, doing puja, and so forth. We look forward to such opportunities.  But we will also appreciate too any opportunities that arise during our daily activities to train. For example, we can appreciate the opportunity to train in being of service to others, showing a good example to others, and so forth. In general, our main job is to bring lamrim into our daily life. With effort, we’ll happily take every opportunity to do so.

We know too well that when we go to practice – whether it is our daily meditations, attending classes or pujas, going to festivals, or even just looking at our daily life through a lens of Dharma – we sometimes meet with resistance in our mind.  Sometimes we have obstacles and sometimes we just don’t want to do Dharma things.  Over these next verses, we will be looking at the obstacle of laziness that prevents us from joyfully putting effort into our training.  

The old Kadampas used to say that our main job is to help others as much as possible and harm our delusions as much as possible.  Shantideva’s Guide is our primary manual for how to do so.  He is ruthless with our delusions.  If we are not careful to differentiate between ourselves and our delusions, we can feel like Shantideva is attacking us or judging us.  In reality, he is trying to free us from the tyranny of our delusions.  In the last chapter, he trashed our anger.  In this chapter, he eviscerates our laziness.  Just wait until Chapter 8, when he takes on our attachment – especially our sexual attachment!  It is important that it feels like our delusions are being bashed, not us.   It is hard to feel joy in our practice if it is an exercise in self-flagellation.  Over the next several posts we will discuss this obstacle of laziness that we have in our mind that is opposing our efforts. And we will as well discuss the four powers that we can use to strengthen and increase our effort.

(7.1) With the practice of patience I should train in effort
Because the fruit of enlightenment depends upon it.
Just as a candle flame cannot move without wind,
So the collections of wisdom and merit cannot grow without effort.

It is important to further explore the link between patience and effort.  Patience gives us freedom to enjoy ourselves.  We will see through our practice of patience that we can enjoy ourselves even whilst in samsara. How does patience then give us such freedom?  At present there is an imbalance in our mind. Mainly our attachment on one hand, and aversion, anger, hatred on the other. A severe imbalance. We know the stronger the one, the stronger the other.  If we weaken our aversion, anger, hatred, and so forth, through the practice of patient acceptance, it will weaken our self-cherishing and self-grasping.   Without a doubt, this will make our mind a lot more peaceful.  And the more peaceful we are feeling, the more we are able to enjoy what we are doing.  In this way, patient acceptance gives us freedom to enjoy.

When things are difficult for us, we generally cannot enjoy ourselves.  All day long, we face one difficult situation after another.   We must be careful because we can be pushing things away all day long. From when the alarm goes off in the morning until we go to bed at night, we are pushing away things that we don’t like.  This prevents our enjoyment.  We end our day feeling that we haven’t enjoyed ourselves throughout the whole of that day. We feel difficulties come along and they end our enjoyment. They bring our enjoyment to an end. There are difficulties. Why?

We can ask ourselves now. Why is our enjoyment either prevented or stopped?  It is because we are not accepting difficulties with a patient mind.  What is definite is without acceptance, there can be no enjoyment. Without such acceptance, how can there be any enjoyment? It is only when we accept, when we have a patient acceptance that we can then enjoy or continue to enjoy.

With acceptance we can enjoy whatever happens or comes our way.  Normally if we are enjoying ourselves doing what we wish and somebody comes to us with a problem or with something for us to do, we think, “oh no.”  There is a mind of rejection.  Now, if we were to welcome the person with a problem, without any resistance, then we can maintain the peaceful, happy mind that we had whilst we were enjoying ourself. Now we can enjoy being with and helping others.  That is patience.  What we need to understand is patience gives us the freedom to enjoy ourselves, whatever we may be doing.

We reject things because we don’t know how to use them to accomplish our goals.  We easily accept things that we do know how to use to accomplish our goals.  Because our goals are presently largely worldly, there are some things we can use and some things we need to push away.  If our goals our primarily spiritual, where we genuinely want to train our mind to become a Buddha, then we can use everything.  Because we can use everything, we can accept everything with a peaceful mind.  Because we can accept everything with a peaceful mind, we can enjoy everything, all day long, without break. 

Happy Protector Day: Preliminary practice of the Guru Yoga of Je Tsongkhapa

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is part 4 of a 12-part series aimed at helping us remember our Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden and increase our faith in him on these special days.

Within the Kadampa tradition we are advised to practice the sadhana Heart Jewel as our daily practice as explained in the book by the same title.  If we are a Tantric practitioner, we engage in the Tantric version of this practice known as Hundreds of Deities of the Joyful Land According to Highest Yoga Tantra as explained in the Oral Instructions of Mahamudra.   In either case, the sadhana begins with the Guru Yoga of Je Tsongkhapa.  I will explain things from the perspective of Heart Jewel since it is a common practice. 

In general, the practice of Heart Jewel is the method for practicing the entire path to enlightenment.  There are three main parts – affectionately called a ‘Heart Jewel Sandwich.’  The first part is the Je Tsongkhapa part – the function of this part of the practice is to be able to draw closer to Je Tsongkhapa, the founder and source of the Dharma of the New Kadampa Tradition.  Through reling upon him, we receive his external and internal guidance to be able to realize his Dharma of Lamrim, Lojong and Vajrayana Mahamudra.  The second part is our Meditation on Lamrim, Lojong and Vajrayana Mahamudra.  We do this in the middle of the practice.  And the final part is the Dorje Shugden part – this creates the causes to be able to receive Dorje Shugden’s care and protection for being able to gain the realization of Lamrim, Lojong and Vajrayana Mahamudra.  This series of posts is primarily about how to rely upon Dorje Shugden, but I will nonetheless give a brief explanation of how to engage in the first two parts of the Heart Jewel sandwich. 

To actually engage in the Je Tsongkhapa part, we do as follows.  First, we generate the mind of refuge and bodhichitta – here we establish our motivation for engaging in the practice:  “With the wish to become a Buddha so I can help all the beings around me attain the same state, I will now engage sincerely in the practice of Heart Jewel, trying to generate the minds indicated by the words.”  Then, we engage in the prayer of the seven limbs and the mandala.  This accomplishes two main functions:  First, we accumulate merit – merit is positive spiritual energy.  It is like gasoline in our spiritual car.  Second, we purify negativities – negative karma prevents us from engaging in spiritual practices and is the substantial cause of all our suffering.  It is like lots of traffic and debris on the roads.  On this basis, we then recite the Migtsema prayer and prayer of the stages of the path.  These two enable us to receive the blessings of all the Buddhas through our living spiritual guide Je Tsongkhapa.  Blessings are like spark plugs which ignite the gas of our merit to push us along the road to enlightenment.  The migtsema prayer draws us closer to Je Tsongkhapa and enables us to receive the blessings of the wisdom, compassion and spiritual power of all the Buddhas.  The prayer of the stages of the path is a special prayer for requesting the realizations of the Lamrim.

At this point in the sadhana we typically engage in meditation on Lamrim.  Usually people use the book the New Meditation Handbook and cycle through the 21 Lamrim meditations explained there, one each day.  Alternatively, we can practice the 15-day cycle explained in Mirror of Dharma.  Instead of engaging in a daily Lamrim meditation, it is also possible for us to recite with deep faith one of the longer prayers of the stages of the path.  There are three main Lamrim prayers – the short prayer as explained in Heart Jewel, the middling prayer as explained in Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, or the extensive prayer as explained in Great Treasury of Merit.  When we recite the Lamrim prayers as our main Lamrim practice, we should do so slowly and from memory, trying to sincerely generate in our heart and without distraction the Lamrim minds indicated by the words.  For more information, we can also attend classes on the Lamrim at our local Dharma centers, including Foundation Program on the book Joyful Path of Good Fortune, which is our principal Lamrim text.  After our meditation, we recite the dedication prayer from the Je Tsongkhapa part of Heart Jewel.

For more detailed information, we can read in the book Heart Jewel which provides an extensive commentary.  Geshe-la has said that this is his most important book, yet sadly it is often overlooked.  It is available for sale at www.tharpa.com

We should also take advantage of the opportunity to attend courses on Heart Jewel at our local Kadampa center, and we should make many requests that our local teacher grant the empowerments of Je Tsongkhapa and Dorje Shugden.  What is an empowerment?  An empowerment in general is method for establishing a very close connection with a particular enlightened being.  The closer our karma with a given enlightened being, the more ‘bandwidth’ they have for being able to help us.  It is a bit like making a connection with a very special friend.  When we meet somebody very powerful and we have a close connection with them, we can more easily call upon them and ask them for help.

An empowerment is like receiving a personal deity within our mental continuum.  We can all appreciate the qualities of the different Buddhas, and think how wonderful it would be to know them and be able to call upon them.  But how much more wonderful would it be to have a personal emanation of a Buddha who is available for us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  During the empowerment, we receive our own personal emanation of Dorje Shugden into our mental continuum.  We will be able to develop a personal relationship with this Dorje Shugden and he will care for us.  Geshe-la once told a very senior teacher about the Dorje Shugden empowerment, “people need this empowerment, they need this protection.”

Happy Tsog Day: Prostrating to the Spiritual Guide’s Form Bodies

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 6 of a 44-part series.

Prostrating to the Spiritual Guide as the Enjoyment Body

Spiritual guide with a jewel-like form,
Who out of compassion bestow in an instant
Even the supreme state of the three bodies, the sphere of great bliss,
O Vajra Holder I prostrate at your lotus feet.

Prostration is wishing faith in action. There are three types of faith: believing faith, admiring faith, and wishing faith. Believing faith believes the good qualities of holy objects and arises in dependence upon contemplation of valid reasons or personal experience. It differs from blind faith in that it has valid reasons supporting the correct beliefs. Admiring faith generates a sense of wonder and amazement at the good qualities we believe in. Wishing faith wishes to acquire those good qualities ourselves. We cannot develop wishing faith without admiring faith, and we cannot develop admiring faith without believing faith. In dependence upon wishing faith, we develop an aspiration, and this in turn moves us to action towards the accomplishment of our aspiration. When we prostrate towards the holy beings, we have two key recognitions in mind. First is wishing faith, as just described. Second is humility, understanding we currently lack the good qualities we are prostrating towards. We humbly wish to gain the good qualities we are prostrating towards.

The act of prostration itself is karmically very similar to rejoicing. Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path that when we rejoice in somebody’s good qualities or actions, it creates the causes for us to obtain those same good qualities. The effect similar to the cause of prostrating is to gain the good qualities we are prostrating towards. The tendency similar to the cause is to always have faith in that which we are prostrating towards. The environmental effect is to always have the holy object we are prostrating towards continue to appear in all our future lives. The ripened effect is to be reborn ourself as a holy being possessing the good qualities we are prostrating towards.

We can prostrate with our body, speech, and/or mind. In the context of Offering to the Spiritual Guide, we prostrate with our body by placing our palms together at our heart as we recite these verses of the sadhana. We prostrate with our speech by chanting the verses of the sadhana, either verbally or internally. We prostrate mentally by generating the mind of prostration described above.

It is important to note that all these verses are prostrations to our spiritual guide. Normally we grasp at Buddhas as somehow being separate from our spiritual guide, like they are different beings. According to the Lamrim teachings, the sign we have gained the realization of reliance upon the spiritual guide is when we think of Buddha, we think it is our spiritual guide; and when we think of our spiritual guide, we think Buddha. Viewing deities, such as Lama Losang Tubwang Dorjechang, as an emanation of our spiritual guide is called “Guru yoga.” Guru yoga is the actual quick path to enlightenment. There are two reasons for this. First, of all the Buddhas, the one we are karmically closest to is our spiritual guide. This makes their blessings in our mind more powerful than blessings from a Buddha who is karmically more distant. Second, our spiritual guide is like a portal to all the Buddhas. When we make a prostration to our spiritual guide, it is as if we are making a prostration to all the Buddhas, when we request blessings from our spiritual guide, it is as if we are requesting blessings from all the Buddhas. In this way, our spiritual guide acts as a merit multiplier, making any action towards our spiritual guide karmically equivalent to engaging in the same action countless times – one towards each of the countless Buddhas.

This explanation on what is prostration and how to prostrate is equally applicable to all the prostration verses that follow. In them, we prostrate to the principal good qualities of our spiritual guide and thus, create the karmic causes to become just like him.

In this verse, we prostrate to the spiritual guide as the Enjoyment Body. The Enjoyment Body is generally understood as the Buddha’s actual vajra body. This is because its nature is our very subtle indestructible wind that remains with us in life after life. It is principally our Enjoyment Body that sends out Emanation Bodies which in turn pervade the whole world. The Enjoyment Body is the source of these emanations. The first line reveals how our spiritual guide’s Enjoyment Body is like a diamond that has many facets. Each facet is like a different Emanation Body (Heruka, Tara, Dorje Shugden, etc.), but they are all by nature the diamond of our spiritual guide. The second line indicates how the Enjoyment Body sends out emanations. When the sun of a Buddha’s compassion meets the rain of our faithful mind, a rainbow-like Emanation Body spontaneously appears “in an instant.” The third line explains how a Buddha’s three bodies (Emanation Body, Enjoyment Body, and Truth Body) are all by nature great bliss of our indestructible wind. In this light, we can understand that a Buddha’s body is bliss. The last line refers to him as the Vajra Holder. Vajra refers to great bliss, so this line indicates he is never separate from great bliss. Recognizing all this with wishing faith, we prostrate.

Prostrating to the spiritual guide as the Emanation Body

Exalted wisdom of all the infinite Conquerors
Out of supremely skilful means appearing to suit disciples,
Now assuming the form of a saffron-robed monk,
O Holy Refuge and Protector I prostrate at your lotus feet.

Here, we are prostrating to our spiritual guide’s principal Emanation Body. In truth, a Buddha’s emanations pervade the whole world, and we can correctly say there is not a single thing that is not an emanation of a Buddha. But Buddhas typically also have a principal Emanation Body with a distinct visual form – in this case, our spiritual guide. The first line reveals that the omniscient wisdom of all the Buddhas takes the form of our spiritual guide’s Emanation Body. What appears is a monk, but by nature we recognize this form as a manifestation of the exalted wisdom of all the Buddhas. The second line explains the uncommon characteristic of our spiritual guide’s Emanation Body – namely, it can appear directly to us. Other Emanation Bodies, such as Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara, Vajrapani, and so forth, are still too pure for us to be able to perceive them with our ordinary samsaric eyes. But our spiritual guide is able to appear directly to us in a form we can see, hear, and so forth. Geshe-la explains in Great Treasury of Merit that despite the spiritual guide being the synthesis of all the Buddhas, he is nonetheless able to appear directly to our ordinary mind – this is his greatest miracle power.

The third line explains the form our spiritual guide takes, namely that of an ordained person. We may think this is a contradiction because elsewhere Geshe-la explains that our spiritual guide can be lay or ordained. There are several different types of ordination – pratimoksha, bodhisattva, and tantric. The essential meaning of the pratimoksha ordination is the vow to not harm living beings, the essential meaning of the bodhisattva ordination is to put others first, and the essential meaning of the tantric ordination is to maintain pure view. A lay spiritual guide can equally keep all these vows, and ultimately the bodhisattva and tantric vows subsume the pratimoksha vows. Regardless, in the context of this sadhana, we are viewing our spiritual guide as Je Tsongkhapa in recognition of him as founder of the New Kadampa Tradition. The last line reminds us of the function of our spiritual guide, namely to serve as both our refuge and protector. We recognize we have a deluded mind, and we turn to him for assistance and protection.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Without patience, there is no effort

Before we dive in to the actual verses on the perfection of effort, I want to first say a few words about the relationship between the perfection of patience and the perfection of effort.  All of the six perfections mutually reinforce one another – strengthening our experience and realization of one makes all of the others easier.  Likewise, we can say that the earlier perfections are the foundation for the later perfections, for example giving is the foundation of moral discipline because giving counters our attachment, the principle cause of our non-virtue.  In the same way, patience is the foundation of effort. 

How can we understand this?  Patience is a mind that is able to welcome wholeheartedly whatever arises, including adverse conditions or unpleasant feelings.  It can do this because it knows how to transform whatever arises – the good, the bad, and the ugly – into spiritual fuel.  Effort is taking delight in engaging in virtue.  It does not mean working hard, gritting our teeth and grinding on, it means genuinely enjoying ourselves as we travel the spiritual path.  The Kadampa path is called the “Joyful” path, and the joyful here comes from our joyful effort.  We cannot “enjoy” things we are pushing away with aversion, we are pushing them away precisely because we don’t enjoy them.  Since we encounter unpleasant things all of the time, if we are encountering them with an unhappy mind, we necessarily do not have joyful effort, even if it seems we are “practicing” Dharma in response to what is arising.  So at least half of our time is not “joyful.” 

But as we saw in our discussion of the last chapter, we need the mind of patience acceptance to also spiritually transform so-called pleasant experiences, such as wealth, happiness, praise, and a good reputation.  Normally, our attachment hijacks these experiences and transforms them into “enjoying samsara” not “enjoying our spiritual practice.”  There are many people who think the mind of renunciation is a tight, unhappy mind that deprives itself of joy.  After all, aren’t we renouncing samsara’s pleasures?  Without the mind of patient acceptance, we do not know how to wholeheartedly welcome pleasant conditions with a spiritual mind.  We just welcome them with our ordinary mind of attachment.  Further, when good things happen, we normally show no interest in spiritual practice.  We are happy to enjoy our pleasant life, and only feel the need to practice when samsara shows its ugly head.  

But effort is not just joyful, it is also energy that powers our practice forward – in other words, it is fuel.  The wisdom of the perfection of patience knows how to transform everything into spiritual fuel, and this fuel in turn powers our practice forward with effort.  We need to differentiate effort in our Dharma practice into two types:  impure and pure.  Impure effort is effort we put into our Dharma practice for the sake of this life and pure effort is for the sake of our own or other’s future lives.  Pure effort and spiritual effort are synonymous, because they concern things beyond this life.  Pure effort itself has three levels – effort aimed at escaping lower rebirth, effort aimed at escaping samsara, and effort aimed at becoming a Buddha to liberate all beings from samsara. 

All three of these types of pure effort depend upon patience.  Many people deny the existence of lower realms and many people live in denial about all of the unpurified negative karma that remains on our mind.  To patiently accept also means to mentally be at peace with the truth of Dharma.  When we don’t know how to process facts such as lower rebirth, we tend to push such teachings away.  But we need to embrace the horror of what they imply before we will feel a burning energy to do something about it.  Likewise, patience is the foundation of renunciation.  As long as we push away samara’s sufferings and chase after its pleasures, our real motivation is to find a comfortable place within samsara, not escape it.  The wisdom of patient acceptance accepts the truth of samsaric existence and it is able to transform all of its experiences into spiritual fuel propelling our practice.  Others still become very attached to those they love not suffering, and when they go down, we go down with them.  We alternate between the extremes of indifference to others suffering or being crushed and discouraged by it.  Just as we need to accept the truth of our own suffering before we will generate renunciation, so too we need to accept the truth of others’ suffering before we will be compelled to seek to become a Buddha to do something about it. 

For all of these reasons, we can see clearly without patience, then, we have no effort.   

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Abandoning meaningless activities

We continue with an explanation of the bodhisattva downfalls related to the perfection of effort. 

Indulging in senseless conversation out of attachment

Here the main point is the following:  Do you seek your enjoyment in the meaningless activities of samsara or do you seek your enjoyment in creating good spiritual causes?  Senseless conversation is just an example.  Our training in effort is learning how to derive all of our enjoyment from creating good causes and not from samsaric effects. 

One of the most common expressions in the Dharma is “meaningful” and “meaningless.” We use this in all sorts of contexts, from activities to our whole life.  In the beginning, when we hear these terms, because we are still grasping at external activities as being inherently “meaningful” or “meaningless” we can quickly feel judged by the Dharma that it is calling our life and our activities meaningless.  Because we have very little experience of transforming daily appearance into the path, when we grasp at inherently existent meaningful or meaningless activities, we can fall into despair thinking “to practice Dharma” means going to all the teachings and festivals, getting ordained, moving into the center, working for the center, etc., and everything else is somehow “meaningless.”  Since most teachers and center administrators are people who have done exactly that, their own language choices can unwittingly reinforce this view, creating all sorts of anxiety for people in the center.  They start to think, “my wife, my job, my kids, these are all ‘obstacles’ to me practicing Dharma…”  Ridiculous!  But quite a common view. 

What makes an activity meaningless is our intention, not the activity itself.  Any ordinary activity can be in reality a pure spiritual practice, and any spiritual practice can be a mundane activity depending on our motivation.  The test is:  what do you consider to be your job – rearranging the furniture on the Titanic of Samsara or training your mind (overcoming your delusions and cultivating virtues)? 

To help us generate the wish to overcome our laziness, we can consider that since all things are empty, in fact we are the creator of this world of suffering, so if we do not exert effort, we leave the beings in this world of suffering to suffer and drown.  Since this world is our creation, if we don’t fix it, it will never be fixed.  A powerful request we can make to Dorje Shugden would be, “Please don’t let me not attain enlightenment in this life time.”  If we can make this request with sincerity and faith, it is certain we are keeping our bodhisattva vow here.

This has to come from within, not imposed from the outside.  Our vows and commitments are not things imposed on us from the outside, and we are not externally accountable to anybody if we break our vows.  They are internal promises we make to ourself because we see the value of such behavior and the faults of opposite behavior.  We make the promises in front of the Buddhas (or preceptors) to show to ourselves the sincerity of our commitment and to have them bear witness, much in the same way we get married in front of others who rejoice in our commitments.  We need to ask ourselves:  “what am I doing with my life?” “Why am I doing this?”  We need to realize ourselves how we are completely wasting our precious human life.  Then, from our own side, we will make the most of it.  If it comes from the outside, we just become defensive and engage in self-justification for our meaningless activities and develop resentment because we feel judged.

We should not motivate ourselves by guilt or others by shaming them – this is a type of laziness.  Motivating ourselves by guilt or others by shaming them does not give rise to effort because there is no joy – we or they are engaging in virtue to avoid feeling bad, which is a worldly concern.  I originally started in Dharma centers in the United States, but then later went to France, and finally Switzerland.  It is interesting to see how different cultures react to vows, commitments, and center responsibilities.  In the U.S., if you made vows, commitments, FP commitments, center responsibilities, etc., obligatory, you would have a riot on your hands, and everybody would reject them just because they were made obligatory.  In instead, you left people free to make their own choices and gave people the opportunity to assume responsibility if they competed in an election for it, then everyone naturally stepped up.  France was the exact opposite.  If something was not obligatory, the conclusion was “it doesn’t matter” and could be ignored completely.  If you held an election for center officers, nobody would run and everybody would try to avoid having to assume the responsibility, so a more heavy hand was necessary to get people to do anything.  Not because they were any more lazy, it was just different cultural contexts.  Switzerland was about halfway in between these two.  You couldn’t make anything obligatory for fear of rebellion, but you did need to provide a good deal of structure and clear expectations (without emotional penalty).  That seemed like a good balance, frankly.  The point is, every culture is different and will relate to these things in different ways.  What matters for us as practitioners, though, is regardless of what culture we are in we view our vows, commitments, and responsibilities as personally adopted based upon our own wisdom. 

Happy Buddha’s Enlightenment Day: We can do it too

Happy Buddha’s Enlightenment Day everyone!  April 15th of every year we celebrate and remember Buddha’s enlightenment.  It is one of the most special days on the Kadampa calendar and provides us an excellent opportunity to deepen our understanding of what enlightenment is, recall Buddha’s kindness in attaining it, and make a clear determination to attain enlightenment ourselves.

Understanding How Holy Days Work

There are certain days of the year which are karmically more powerful than others, and the karmic effect of our actions on these days is multiplied by a factor of ten million!  These are called “ten million multiplying days.”  In practice, what this means is every action we engage in on these special days is karmically equivalent to us engaging in that same action ten million times.  This is true for both our virtuous and non-virtuous actions, so not only is it a particularly incredible opportunity for creating vast merit, but it is also an extremely dangerous time for engaging in negative actions.  There are four of these days every year:  Buddha’s Englightenment Day (April 15), Turning the Wheel of Dharma Day (June 4), Buddha’s Return from Heaven Day (September 22), and Je Tsongkhapa Day (October 25).  Heruka and Vajrayogini Month (January 3-31), NKT Day (1st Saturday of April), and International Temple’s Day (first Saturday of November) are the other major Days that complete the Kadampa calendar. 

A question may arise, why are the karmic effect of our actions greater on certain days than others?  We can think of these days as a spiritual pulsar that at periodic intervals sends out an incredibly powerful burst of spiritual energy, or wind.  On such days, if we lift the sails of our practice, these gushes of spiritual winds push us a great spiritual distance.  Why are these specific days so powerful?  Because in the past on these days particularly spiritually significant events occurred which altered the fundamental trajectory of the karma of the people of this world.  Just as calling out in a valley reverberates back to us, so too these days are like the karmic echoes of those past events.  Another way of understanding this is by considering the different types of ocean tides.  Normally, high and low tide on any given day occurs due to the gravity of the moon pulling water towards it as the earth rotates.  But a “Spring tide” occurs when the earth, moon, and Sun are all in alignment, pulling the water not just towards the moon as normal, but also towards the much more massive sun.  Our holy days are like spiritual Spring tides.

What is Enlightenment?

Fundamentally, the entire Buddhist path is about attaining enlightenment.  This is a word that is used in many different contexts, even in modern society, but sometimes we lack a clear understanding of what exactly it means.  Geshe-la provides several different definitions or explanations to help us understand.

According to Sutra, Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path, “any being who has become completely free from the two obstructions, which are the roots of all faults, has attained enlightenment.”  The two obstructions are the delusion obstructions and the obstructions to omniscience.  Delusion obstructions are the presence of delusions in our mind.  The root delusion is self-grasping ignorance, which thinks we are the body and mind that we normally see.  From this comes self-cherishing, which thinks this self is supremely important and is willing to neglect or sacrifice others for its sake.  From these two, which are sometimes referred to collectively as our self-centered mind, come attachment and aversion.  Attachment mistakenly thinks some external objects are a cause of our happiness and aversion thinks other external objects are a cause of our suffering.  These four delusions together are the root of all of our other delusions, such as anger, pride, jealousy, deluded doubt, and so forth.  The obstructions to omniscience are the karmic imprints from our previous delusions and their corresponding actions.  Every time we engage in an action, it creates karma that gets planted on our very subtle mind.  Actions motivated by delusion create contaminated karma – karma that ripens in the form of samsaric experience.  These contaminated karmic imprints on our very subtle mind prevent the omniscient mind of a Buddha from arising.  When we remove the two obstructions from our mind, our pure potential, or Buddha nature, becomes completely unobstructed and we become a Buddha.  From this perspective, we are all Buddhas in waiting, we merely need to remove all that obstructs such a state from arising.  When we permanently overcome our delusion obstructions, we attain liberation; and when we permanently overcome our obstructions to omniscience, we attain full enlightenment.

According to Tantra, a Buddha is someone who has completely overcome ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions.  Ordinary appearances are all of the things we normally see – our bodies, minds, enjoyments, others, worlds, etc.  These are the samsaric appearances that arise from our past contaminated actions.  Samsara is nothing more than a contaminated karmic dream.  When we purify our ordinary appearances so that they never arise again, samsara simply ceases to appear.  It dis-appears because, in fact, it never was.  Ordinary conceptions occur when we grasp at ordinary appearances as being true.  All ordinary appearances appear to exist from their own side, as being completely real and existing independently of our mind.  Things exist “out there” waiting to be experienced or observed, and it appears to us as if our mind has absolutely nothing to do with bringing these objects into existence.  Ordinary conceptions think things actually exist in the way that they appear – they really do exist out there, independently of our mind.  When we overcome our ordinary conceptions, we attain liberation; and when we overcome our ordinary appearances, we attain full enlightenment.  For somebody who has overcome their ordinary conceptions but not yet overcome their ordinary appearances, things will still appear to their mind in the way that they normally do, but the very appearance of these things will remind the person that such inherently existent things do not exist at all.  For example, if we look at a picture of the New York City skyline before 9/11, the very appearance of the World Trade Center will remind us that it no longer exists.

In the Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, Geshe-la provides a functional definition of enlightenment when he says, “Enlightenment is the inner light of wisdom that is permanently free from all mistaken appearance, and whose function is to bestow mental peace upon each and every living being every day.”  This definition not only explains what enlightenment is but also provides us with the definitive reason why we should attain it.  Since Mahamudra is a Tantric instruction, it too says enlightenment is permanent freedom from all mistaken appearance.  But this definition also describes what unique abilities we gain when we attain enlightenment, namely the ability to use our blessings to bestow mental peace upon each and every living being every day.  Happiness is a state of mind, therefore its cause must come from within the mind.  We can observe from our own experience that when our mind is peaceful, we are happy even if our external circumstance is terrible; whereas if our mind is not peaceful, we are unhappy even if our external circumstance is terrific.  Therefore, inner peace is the cause of happiness.  Buddhas are sometimes referred to as “inner beings,” or beings who live within the mind.  As inner beings, they have the power to directly touch the minds of other living beings (since despite all appearances our minds are not actually separate from each other) in such a way that their minds become more peaceful.  And they are able to do this directly to each and every living being every day forever.  Just as the sun shines equally upon all things, Buddha’s blessings shine forth into the minds of all living beings directly and simultaneously.  We attain enlightenment to gain that ability.

Buddha is So Kind Because He Teaches the Truth of Suffering

One of the hardest things for people to come to accept is that happiness cannot be found in samsara.  We are convinced that it can be, and we resist thinking that it can’t be.  There are two main causes of this resistance.  First, our attachment has been duping us since time without beginning that external objects are a cause of our happiness.  There are all sorts of pleasant things like a beautiful sunset, a delicious pizza, or great sex.  We have seen countless TV shows or movies, and almost without exception, they all have happy endings; so we think samsara must be the same.  When we hear that samsara is the nature of suffering and happiness and freedom are impossible to find in it, we think, “that’s just not true.”  The second reason we resist this is it seems to be an incredibly depressing thought.  It seems so pessimistic and negative to always talk about suffering and how terrible everything is – how about a little optimism here so we can retain some hope?  Things may be bad, but better to not think about it too much, otherwise, we will become overwhelmed by sadness and despair. 

When people first hear the teachings on suffering they think, “how can this possibly be a ‘Joyful Path,’ and how can thinking about so much suffering ever lead to happiness?”  We might think Buddhists are all “Debby Downers,” and Buddha’s teachings are actually preventing us from enjoying even the very modest happiness we are able to find in life by pointing out how such pleasures are not real happiness.  So we are left with nothing.  Buddha does not seem kind, he seems like the ultimate ‘buzz kill.’ 

How can we happily understand the teachings on the truth of suffering?  First, we have to be clear on their meaning.  Buddha is not saying there is no happiness, he is simply pointing out that we can’t find it in external things.  Ultimately, happiness comes from within the mind, namely through inner peace.  He further explains what destroys inner peace (delusions and negativity) and what causes inner peace (wisdom and virtue).  So he does not deprive us of happiness, he simply points out what works and what doesn’t – very useful knowledge!  Second, these teachings save us from wasting our time looking for happiness where we will never find it.  If we lost our keys, we might spend hours and hours looking all over our house to find them.  But if our daughter sent us a text message saying she accidentally walked off with them, we would not waste our time looking for them because we would know she has them.  We have been looking for the keys of happiness in samsara since beginningless time – searching, searching, but never finding.  Buddha comes along and tells us, “you’ll never find them in samsara, but you can find them by getting them from me,” we are incredibly relieved.  Third, he is not saying we can’t enjoy the sunset, pizza, or sex, he is saying from their own side they have no power to bring us happiness, but if we relate to them in a pure way, we can come to enjoy a far greater pleasure than we ever could have through ordinary means alone. 

But for me, his greatest kindness is he has provided us with a permanent solution to aging, sickness, death, and uncontrolled rebirth.  In the life story of Buddha Shakyamuni, Prince Siddhartha is given everything he could possibly want – riches, enjoyments, loving parents, a beautiful family, and adoration from all of his subjects.  Yet he realized that none of these things can provide him (or any of us) from the seemingly inescapable sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, and death.  Seeking a solution, he wanted to leave the palace and go attain enlightenment.  His father tried to stop him, and the Prince said, “if you can provide me with a solution to these problems, I will remain in the palace,” but his father had to admit, he could not.  The Prince then said he would leave the palace and return with a solution so that he could help his parents, his subjects, and indeed all living beings with a permanent method to escape such sufferings forever.  He then began his spiritual journey, and eventually attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.  He conquered the cycle of death itself.  Instead of being reborn in samsara, he discovered methods to permanently wake up from it into the pure lands of the Buddhas.  The practices we have today are those that he taught, and if we sincerely put them into practice, we too can attain the same state.

Deciding to Become a Buddha Ourselves

Compassion is said to be the mother of all Buddhas since all enlightened beings are born from it.  Buddha attained enlightenment out of compassion for us – he wanted to help us also permanently escape the sufferings of samsara, the two obstructions, and ordinary appearances and conceptions.  Without his compassion for us, he would not have been able to purify his own mind to attain enlightenment and he never would have begun turning the Wheel of Dharma for us. 

But our ability to attain enlightenment depends upon ourselves generating compassion for others, just as Buddha did.  How do we generate compassion?  We first generate love for others, then we consider how they suffer.  It is said if we do this, compassion will naturally arise, but this is not entirely correct.  If we lack faith in a solution, then when we consider the suffering of those we love we will become overwhelmed with grief and sadness.  But if we realize there is a solution, then when we consider the suffering of those we love we will find their suffering difficult to bear because we will realize none of it need be.  They could be completely free. 

To transform this powerful mind of compassion into the personal determination to attain enlightenment ourselves, we need to add three things.  First, a feeling of personal responsibility for leading others to everlasting freedom ourselves.  We generate this mind by thinking, “if I don’t do it, who will?”  We might think, “well, Buddha will.”  But Buddha attained enlightenment so that we could do the same so that we could help these people who are karmically close to us. 

Second, we need to add confidence that we ourselves can attain enlightenment just like Buddha did.  Sometimes we think attaining enlightenment is just too difficult and we are too incapable to ever even contemplate beginning such an undertaking.  But as explained above, we all have a Buddha nature, we simply need to remove the two obstructions or ordinary appearances and conceptions from our mind, and our enlightened state will naturally be unveiled.  We each have enlightenment within us, we just need to remove all that obstructs it.  Further, we all have experience of being able to remove our faults somewhat and replace them with similitudes of inner qualities.  If we can do this a little bit, there is no reason why we cannot do so completely.  The methods we have are the exact same ones Buddha taught and have been practiced by millions of practitioners since.  Geshe-la calls them “scientific methods,” meaning everybody who investigates for themselves by sincerely putting the instructions into practice will likewise enjoy the exact same results – he guarantees it!  There is nothing we can’t do without persistent effort.  Our delusions are just bad habits of mind, but with effort, we can change our habits and thereby change our karma. 

Finally, we need to add an understanding of the special abilities of a Buddha to help others so that we see our becoming one is the only way we can rescue all living beings from their suffering.  Buddhas are fearless in helping others.  We tend to hold ourselves back for fear of what others might think or lack of confidence in our abilities, but Buddhas have overcome all delusions and all fear.  He fearlessly teaches the truth of suffering and worries not what others might think.  Buddha is also a deathless being.  In our present state, we can at best help a limited number of people in this one life, but a Buddha has transcended death, and so is able to continue to help living beings in life after life, gradually guiding each and every one of them to the enlightened state.  Buddha possesses omniscient wisdom.  We are quite ignorant and often have no idea how to help others.  We don’t understand karma, delusions, nor the causes of happiness or suffering.  But Buddhas see all three times directly and simultaneously, so they know exactly why people are experiencing the suffering they are and they know exactly what others need to do to make their way to the city of enlightenment.  Buddhas also have perfected their skillful means of helping others.  It is not enough to simply know everything if we are not able to actually skillfully help people come to realize the same things.  Buddhas know how to present the Dharma to others in a way that they can easily understand and practically put into practice, thus opening the door to liberation for them.  They know how to gradually guide people to enter, progress along, and ultimately complete the path to enlightenment.  If we become a Buddha ourselves, we too will develop the fearlessness, deathlessness, omniscient wisdom, and skillful means necessary to gradually lead everyone we love to the same state. 

When we combine our compassion which cannot bear the suffering of others with a feeling of personal responsibility, the confidence we can do it, and a firm understanding of the many qualities of a Buddha, we will naturally develop a strong determination to attain enlightenment ourselves for their sake.  This mind is called “bodhichitta,” or the mind of enlightenment.  It is the most virtuous mind a living being can generate.  In Joyful Path, Geshe-la says:

“Bodhichitta is the best method for bestowing happiness, the best method for eliminating suffering, and the best method for dispelling confusion. There is no virtue equal to it, no better friend, no greater merit. Bodhichitta is the very essence of all eighty-four thousand instructions of Buddha. In Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life Shantideva says: It is the quintessential butter that arises when the milk of Dharma is churned. Just as by stirring milk, butter emerges as its essence, so by stirring the entire collection of Buddha’s scriptures, bodhichitta emerges as its essence. For aeons Buddhas have been investigating what is the most beneficial thing for us. They have seen that it is bodhichitta because bodhichitta brings every living being to the supreme bliss of full enlightenment.”

Today is Buddha’s Enlightenment Day, which means if we strongly develop this supreme mind of Bodhichitta today – making the firm decision to work for as long as it takes to attain enlightenment ourselves – it will be the same as doing so ten million times.  Such a pure mind has the potential to permanently redirect the trajectory of our mental continuum and powerfully propel us towards the City of Enlightenment.  From there, we will be able to help everyone attain permanent freedom from all of their suffering for all of their lives.  What could be more meaningful than this?