Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Channeling the joy of an elephant plunging into a refreshing pool

Now we turn to the power of joy.

(7.63) Like a Bodhisattva, I should long to work for others
With the same enthusiasm as that possessed by someone
Who thoroughly enjoys playing a game.
I should never tire, but experience uninterrupted joy.

(7.64) Although it is uncertain whether the result will be happiness or suffering,
Worldly people still work hard to make themselves happy;
So why do we not derive joy from the practice of Dharma,
Which definitely results in happiness?

(7.65) I have a strong wish to pursue objects of desire,
Which, like honey on a razor’s edge, give no real satisfaction;
But it would be far better to develop a strong wish to pursue virtuous actions,
Which result in the everlasting happiness of liberation from all suffering.

(7.66) Therefore, to complete the virtuous actions mentioned above,
I will engage in them with the same enthusiasm
As that with which an elephant, tormented by the heat of the day,
Plunges into a cool, refreshing pool.

Oh, to enjoy in this way!  Imagine if we enjoyed our Dharma practice and our Dharma activities like a child at play. When we practice Dharma, we should strive to have a lightness in mind, the joy of a hot elephant plunging into a cool, refreshing pool.  We have been given such a special opportunity to once and for all free ourselves from all suffering and put ourselves in a position to help others in the same way.  We have a truly unique opportunity. Why do we not enjoy it?  We need to check what exactly within our mind prevents us from deriving such enjoyment from the opportunity that we’ve been given?   If we are too serious, especially if we worry, then we can become unhappy, and we can lose our enthusiasm until there is none left.

But with joy, results come easily and quickly.  Why?  Because our mind is focused 100% on creating causes.  Because we are creating lots of causes, it is inevitable that results will come.  With joy, there is no attachment to results.  When we have attachment to results, we create the causes to be separated from results.  But with joy, our mind is naturally faithful, simply happy to create causes.  If we knew the results of our actions were rebirth in a pure land, how could we not be happy?  In dependence upon our faith, we receive a constant flow of blessings.  This makes everything easier and everything work. 

Some people think either we have joy or we don’t, but like all things it is a dependent arising.  If we create the causes for joy, we can grow it.  There are several things we can do.

First, the most important thing we can do is change our desires to be spiritual ones by practicing lamrim.  It is intention that determines the karma we create, and it is lamrim practice that transforms our intentions into spiritual ones. 

Second, we need to connect our study and practice of Dharma with the problems we are experiencing in our life.  Geshe-la explains in Transform your Life that we need to make a distinction between our outer problem and our inner problem.  Our outer problem may be somebody we love is suffering greatly or our boss things we are doing a terrible job, but our inner problem arises from our deluded reactions to these external developments.  If we instead were able to view these external developments as Dharma teachings or opportunities to train in overcoming our delusions, then the external situation would still be what it is, but we would not internally have a problem with it.  We turn to the Dharma not because we “should,” but simply because it works to solve our problems.  We feel joy at knowing we have real solutions that work.  One possibility is to use whatever is our lamrim meditation of the day to solve everything that comes up that day.  For example, if our meditation object of the day is death, we can ask ourselves with respect to whatever arises, “will this matter to me on my death bed?” 

Third, we need to be careful to not treat our Dharma practices like we do a samsaric object that have some power to do something to us, rather we need to realize that our Dharma practices are something we ourselves need to do.  For example, when we do our sadhanas, we shouldn’t wait for the sadhana to do something to us, rather it is a mental regimen we ourselves need to do.  Our focus should not be on trying to experience results from the practice, rather to be like a guitar player focusing on improving the quality with which they play their song.  Each time we practice, we try to do a little bit better than the last time.  After every failure, we patiently examine what went wrong, make strategies for what we will do differently, and then meditate on the determination to do better. It is important that we accept where we are at.  We expect ourselves to already be farther along than we are, or perhaps we are puffed up with pride thinking we are much better than we thought we were.  It’s perfectly OK to be exactly where we are at.  If it is not good enough for others or not good enough for our pride, so be it.  We accept where we are at, and we joyfully grow from there.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Delusions are like spam

(7.60) When I find myself assailed by a host of delusions,
I will oppose them in a thousand ways.
Like a lion among a group of foxes,
I will not allow myself to be harmed by delusions.

(7.61) Just as people protect their eyes
When in dangerous situations,
So, whenever there is a danger of the delusions,
I will protect myself from their influence.

(7.62) It would be far better for me to be burned to death
Or to have my head cut off
Than it would be for me ever to submit
To the enemy of the delusions.

This is an expression of the kind of self-confidence that we need in overcoming the delusions.  We need this sort of courage and feel as if we are in a fight for our life.  In truth, it is more than a fight for our life because if we develop a habit of giving in to our delusions, they will harm us not only in this life, but all our future lives.

Here it is important to make a crucial distinction – we cannot overcome our delusions with will-power alone.  Instead, we need to stop wanting to follow them because we realize they are wrong, indeed deceptive.  They promise one thing, but deliver the exact opposite.  Most of our delusions are simply wrong desires fueled by ignorance.  Attachment wants terribly our objects of attachment because we are convinced that they are causes of our happiness, and we want to be happy.  Anger very much wants to harm its object because we are convinced that it is the cause of our suffering.  We are desire realm beings, which means we have no choice but to do what we desire.  We can use our will power for a short period of time to resist the pull of our delusions, but eventually our delusions will win because they remain our dominant desire.  We still want to follow our delusion, so eventually we do.  When we use will power, we simply repress the delusions until they gradually build up in strength until we eventually give in. 

To actually oppose our delusions we need to dismantle their inner logic with wisdom.  When we know somebody is trying to scam us, such as receiving an email from the Nigerian prince who wants to transfer his fortune to us “for safe keeping” is only we send him our bank account numbers, we are not easily tempted.  We know it is a lie, a scam, so we are not fooled.  Indeed, reading the email knowing it is a scam reinforces our desire and determination to not be tricked by others out to fool us.  We need to be exactly the same with our delusions.  When we don’t want to follow them, we won’t, just like the scam email.

There are two ways to expose the lies of our delusions so that we actually don’t want to follow them anymore.  The first is to see the lie of the delusion itself.  All delusions are by nature deceptive.  They promise us happiness, but always leave us more miserable.  We need to go through the specific delusions in our life that come up again and again and see how they have deceived us time after time.  For me, a very common one is hitting “send” when I’m still angry.  Damnit, I want to say something.  My anger gives me the courage to say it.  But every time, it just makes things worse and I always regret doing so and then have to exert a great deal of effort cleaning up the mess my anger created.  Sometimes its jealousy.  Often it is attachment.  Our attachment tells us we will feel better if we give in to it, but then it never works out the way we hoped and we remain forever addicted. 

Second, we need to not want to be under the influence of the delusion itself.  We take the example of wanting to smoke a cigarette when we are trying to quit.  If we just think of things in terms of the harm of the cigarette to our health versus the relief we might feel from smoking, we might conclude the benefits of smoking outweigh the costs of smoking.  Even though we know it is bad for our health, we want to do it anyways.  But if we consider the faults of giving in to the delusion itself, the calculus changes.  Every time we follow what our delusions tell us to do, it grows stronger in our mind.  Venerable Tharchin likens it to feeding the Dragon who will eventually devour us.  If we give in now, we will give in again and again and again in the future and we will never break free.  Yes, the immediate relief of smoking might be better than the harm an individual cigarette will do to us, but it won’t just be once – it will be time and time again, forever until we stop.  If we give in to one delusion, we will give in to others, and pretty soon they will have complete control over us.  Either we gain control over our delusions or they will forever control us – in this life and in all our future lives.  Seen in this larger light, we can then not want to follow the delusion for long-term considerations, not just the immediate circumstances. 

Happy Tsog Day: Getting to the Heart of the Matter

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 15 of a 44-part series.

The Nine-line Migtsema Prayer

It is customary to recite the nine-line Migtsema prayer at this point.

Tsongkhapa, crown ornament of the scholars of the Land of the Snows,
You are Buddha Shakyamuni and Vajradhara, the source of all attainments,
Avalokiteshvara, the treasury of unobservable compassion,
Manjushri, the supreme stainless wisdom,
And Vajrapani, the destroyer of the hosts of maras.
O Venerable Guru-Buddha, synthesis of all Three Jewels
With my body, speech, and mind, respectfully I make requests:
Please grant your blessings to ripen and liberate myself and others,
And bestow the common and supreme attainments.

The Migtsema prayer is essentially a method for invoking Lama Tsongkhapa to accomplish his function in this world. We typically recite it at the end of every practice. When we recite the prayer, we are directing it to Je Tsongkhapa in the space in front of us. We can imagine he is in front of all living beings who have been around us throughout the sadhana, engaging in the prayers with us. If we are at a festival or receiving a Dharma teaching, we can direct the prayer to the Je Tsongkhapa inside the person giving the teaching. We should strongly believe that we receive all our teachings from Je Tsongkhapa, not the ordinary person appearing in front of this. Reciting this prayer in this way strengthens our pure view recognitions.

Specifically, we can imagine as follows:

When we recite, “Tsongkhapa,” we can recall the living Je Tsongkhapa in front of us (either in the space in front of us or at the heart of the spiritual teacher). When we say, “crown ornament of the scholars of the land of the snows,” we imagine that from Je Tsongkhapa’s heart countless emanations of Je Tsongkhapa radiate out transforming all living beings into the aspect of Je Tsongkhapa, strongly believing that by doing so we are bestowing upon them the qualities of a fully qualified Kadampa spiritual guide in the aspect of the body and mind of Je Tsongkhapa. When we recite “you are Buddha Shakyamuni and Vajradhara,” we recall the living Buddha Shakyamuni and Vajradhara in front of us; and when we recite “source of all attainments,” we imagine that from Buddha Shakyamuni and Vajradhara in front, countless emanations of themselves go out to all the beings generated as Je Tsongkhapa, strongly believing that by doing so we are bestowing upon them all the qualities of a fully qualified Sutra and Tantra spiritual guide in the aspect of Buddha Shakyamuni and Vajradhara respectively.

When we recite, “Avalokiteshvara,” we recall the living Avalokiteshvara in front of us at the throat of Je Tsongkhapa; and when we recite, “treasure of unobservable compassion,” we imagine that from Avalokiteshvara countless emanations of Avalokiteshvara go out to all living beings, bestowing upon them all the compassion of all the Buddhas and all the realizations of the vast path in the aspect of Avalokiteshvara at their throats. We do the same with Manjushri and Vajrapani, imagining countless emanations radiate out bestowing upon all living beings the wisdom and spiritual power of all the Buddhas in the form of and all the realizations of the profound path in the aspect of Manjushri at their crowns and Vajrapani at their hearts.

When we recite “O venerable Guru Buddha,” we are directing our request to all the Lama Losang Tubwang Dorjechangs now generated around us. When we recite “synthesis of all three jewels,” we recognize the body, speech, and mind of all these beings collectively to be all Sangha, Dharma, and Buddha jewels respectively. When we recite “with by body, speech, and mind, respectfully I make requests” we imagine the pure body, speech, and mind of all the emanations now around us are making the requests. When we recite, “please grant your blessings to ripen and liberate myself and others,” we recall that to ripen means to ripen fully onto the path and to liberate means to attain liberation. And when we recite, “and bestow the common and supreme attainments,” we imagine that Lama Losang Tubwang Dorjechang bestows full enlightenment on all living beings and we strongly believe that they are now all enlightened. This is powerful tantric technology, indeed Geshe-la explains the Migstema prayer is the synthesis of the entire practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide.

Offering the Mandala

If we wish to make a mandala offering together with the three great requests we may do so at this point.

Great and powerful golden ground,
At the edge the iron fence stands around the outer circle.
In the centre Mount Meru the king of mountains,
Around which are four continents:
In the east, Purvavideha, in the south, Jambudipa,
In the west, Aparagodaniya, in the north, Uttarakuru.
Each has two sub-continents:
Deha and Videha, Tsamara and Abatsamara,
Satha and Uttaramantrina, Kurava and Kaurava.
The mountain of jewels, the wish-granting tree,
The wish-granting cow, and the harvest unsown.
The precious wheel, the precious jewel,
The precious queen, the precious minister,
The precious elephant, the precious supreme horse,
The precious general, and the great treasure vase.
The goddess of beauty, the goddess of garlands,
The goddess of music, the goddess of dance,
The goddess of flowers, the goddess of incense,
The goddess of light, and the goddess of scent.
The sun and the moon, the precious umbrella,
The banner of victory in every direction.
In the centre all treasures of both gods and men,
An excellent collection with nothing left out.
I offer this to you my kind root Guru and lineage Gurus,
To all you sacred and glorious Gurus;
And especially to you, great Lama Losang Tubwang Dorjechang together with your retinues.
Please accept with compassion for migrating beings,
And having accepted, out of your great compassion,
Please bestow your blessings on all sentient beings pervading space.

The ground sprinkled with perfume and spread with flowers,
The Great Mountain, four lands, sun and moon,
Seen as a Buddha Land and offered Thus,
May all beings enjoy such Pure Lands.

I offer without any sense of loss
The objects that give rise to my attachment, hatred, and confusion,
My friends, enemies, and strangers, our bodies and enjoyments;
Please accept these and bless me to be released directly from the three poisons.


We can understand the meaning of mandala offerings from the explanation given earlier in this series when we offered a mandala after the outer offerings. For me, the main point is a mandala offering is a promise that we will work for as long as it takes before we transform the world we normally see into the pure land we are offering. We will not stop until all living beings have been delivered to the pure land. Geshe-la explains in many places that mandala offerings are one of the best methods for attaining rebirth in a pure land. If we are offering to deliver all living beings to a pure land, we create countless karmic potentialities to attain a pure land ourselves.

Geshe-la explains in Essence of Vajrayana that there are four different types of mandala offering – outer, inner, secret, and thatness:

“We offer the inner mandala by mentally transforming our aggregates and elements into the form of the outer mandala. We offer the secret and thatness mandalas by imagining that our mind of indivisible bliss and emptiness transforms into the mandala. From the point of view of its having the nature of great bliss the mandala is the secret mandala, and from the point of view of its being a manifestation of emptiness it is the thatness mandala.”

We can offer the mandala in these four ways simultaneously by offering our self-generation as Heruka in Keajra as our mandala offering. The outer aspect is Keajra pure land with all the deities, we recognize this pure land as our aggregates completely purified and transformed into the aggregates of the pure land that we are offering, we experience this mandala as great bliss, and we recall it being emptiness in the aspect of the mandala offering. Offering mandalas in general is the best method to attain the pure land, but offering them in these four ways simultaneously is substantially more powerful.

Also, if we wish to receive blessings so as to gain the realizations of the Mahamudra, we may recite the Prayers of Request to the Mahamudra Lineage Gurus and/or The Condensed Meaning of the Swift Vajrayana Path at this point.

It is important to recall that the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide is a preliminary practice to Mahamudra meditation. The definitive path of Je Tsongkhapa is Lamrim, Lojong, and Vajrayana Mahamudra. Lamrim transforms our motivation into bodhichitta, Lojong enables us to transform adverse experiences into the path to enlightenment, and Vajrayana Mahamudra enables us to transform pleasant experiences into the path. Vajrayana Mahamudra has two stages – generation stage and completion stage. With generation stage, we generate ourselves as the deity through our faith and imagination; in completion stage we directly transform our subtle body into that of an enlightened being.

Happy Tara Day: May there be the auspiciousness of her presence

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

Offering the mandala

When we make a mandala offering, we imagine the entire universe is transformed into a pure land.  The highest offering we can make is one of our practice. For me, a mandala offering is a promise that we will work for as long as it takes before we actually transform the world we normally see into the pure land we are offering.  We will not stop until all living beings have been delivered to the pure land.  Geshe-la explains in many places that mandala offerings are one of the best methods for attaining rebirth in a pure land.  If we are offering to deliver all living beings to a pure land, we create countless karmic potentialities to attain a pure land ourselves.  Just as Tara was born from the tears of the protector of the three worlds, and arose to tell Avalokitshvara to not worry, she would help him; in the same way, when we make a mandala offering, we are telling Tara to not worry, we will help her.  We share the same wish to lead all beings to the pure land, and we promise to work towards that aim.

Requesting fulfilment of wishes

O Venerable, Blessed, Compassionate Mother,
May I and all countless living beings
Quickly purify the two obstructions, complete the two collections,
And attain the state of complete Buddhahood.

All living beings have Buddha nature.  This means that if we purify our Buddha nature of everything that is not enlightened, our natural Buddhahood will emerge.  In some respects, we don’t need to construct our Buddhahood, we just need to uncover it.  Our very subtle mind, once completely purified, transforms into the enlightened mind of a Buddha.  There are two obstructions on our very subtle mind – our delusions and their imprints.  Every action creates four karmic potentialities:  a tendency similar to the cause, an effect similar to the cause, a ripened effect, and an environmental effect.  The first is a tendency to generate delusions again – basically our bad mental habits to respond in deluded ways.  These are our delusion obstructions.  The other three are the imprints of our past delusions, also known as obstructions to omniscience.  They are so called because they ripen in the form of ordinary appearances – things appearing to exist from their own side.  Another way to think about this is there are two types of karma: contaminated and non-contaminated karma.  Contaminated karma is of two types:  negative and positive.  Negative karma ripens in lower rebirth and positive karma ripens as upper rebirth in samsara.  Non-contaminated karma, or pure karma, ripens as a pure rebirth outside of samsara.  To close the door on lower rebirth, we need to purify all of our negative karma.  To close the door on our personal rebirth in samsara, we need to purify all of our negative karma and all of our delusion obstructions.  To attain full enlightenment, we need to purify all of our contaminated karma.  Tara can accelerate the rate at which we do all of this. 

The two collections refer to the collection of merit and the collection of wisdom.  The collection of merit arises primarily from our practices of the vast path (all of the Lamrim meditations up to bodhichitta), and the collection of wisdom arises primarily from our practices of the profound path (specifically the meditation on emptiness).  According to highest yoga tantra, the collection of merit also includes generating the very subtle mind of great bliss that we use to meditate on emptiness.  Once we have completed the collection of merit, we attain a Buddha’s form body. Once we have completed the collection of wisdom, we attain a Buddhas mind, or truth body. The union of these two is full enlightenment. Since Tara is the Buddha of Lamrim, she can help us complete both collections. Understanding this, when we recite this verse, we generate a strong wish to rely upon Tara understanding she can help us from where we are now all the way to full enlightenment.

Throughout all our lives before we reach Buddhahood,
May we attain the supreme happiness of humans and gods;
And so that we may accomplish the omniscient mind,
Please quickly pacify and eliminate all interferences,

It is said that it is easier to attain enlightenment once born human than it is to attain a human rebirth if we have been reborn in the lower realms. There is no guarantee we will attain enlightenment in this lifetime. Therefore, it is vital to ensure that we do not fall into the lower realms. If we do, there is a danger we may not re-find the spiritual path for countless eons. All of the beings who we would have otherwise been able to help if we had attained enlightenment earlier will have to continue to suffer for all that time. Not to mention the fact that we ourselves will have to experience all of the sufferings of the lower realms. Sometimes we think generating fear of lower rebirth is a meditation for beginners. We want to engage in higher meditations, and indulge ourselves in the fantasy that we are somehow exempt from lower rebirth. Geshe-la explains in Oral Instructions of Mahamudra that the main reason why we have not yet generated qualified refuge is because we lack fear of lower rebirth.  If we do not have even qualified refuge, it goes without saying we have no chance of gaining higher realizations. Geshe-la further explains we should be as terrified of lower rebirth as we would be if we were trapped in a circle of fire. Understanding this, we should generate a very strong fear of lower rebirth and then, with faith in Tara’s ability to protect us from lower rebirth, we request her protection. In dependence upon this, if at the time of our death we remember Taro, she will bless our mind and we will avoid lower rebirth, and remain in the human and god realms until we reach Buddhahood.

Evil spirits, hindrances, epidemics and sickness,
As well as the various causes of untimely death,
Bad dreams, ill omens, the eight fears
And all other forms of danger.

Samsara is a dangerous place.  In the Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, Geshe-la says Samsara is like a vast ocean of suffering and at any point we can be eaten by the sea monsters of the Lord of Death.  We never know what sea monster may arise and pull us down into the deep ocean of suffering.  Even if we avoid death for awhile, we are nonetheless buffeted by the violent waves of suffering.  There is no safety anywhere in samsara.  Nobody saw the Coronavirus coming, but in a very short period of time, it changed everything.  It is just a question of time before we wind up with some incurable sickness.  Tara can protect us from all of these dangers.  How?  First, by generating faith in her, we open our mind to receiving her blessings which prevent the negative karma already on our mind from ripening.  Second, she can help us purify our negative karma directly, much in the same way Vajrasattva can.  And third, if adversity does strike (which is inevitable), she will bless us with the wisdom to know how to transform it into causes of our enlightenment. 

May all mundane and supramundane collections
Of good fortune, happiness, goodness and excellence increase,
And may every beneficial purpose without exception
Be effortlessly and spontaneously accomplished.

Supramundane collection, I believe, refers to spiritual collections as opposed to worldly ones.  Normally we differentiate between worldly vs. spiritual, the former referring to things of this life and the latter referring to our future lives.  For example, if we engage in our spiritual practice for the sake of this life, it is said to be worldly; but if we are training for the sake of our future lives, it is said to be spiritual.  In other contexts, supramundane refers to virtues attained by superior beings – those who have attained a direct realization of emptiness.  Regardless, this verse clearly calls for all good things to increase.  When we rely upon Tara, for us, it will be an increasing time when spiritual development comes easily, even if for the world it remains a degenerate time, when bad things come effortlessly.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Looking in the mirror of our self-importance

(7.56) Anyone who is governed by the view of self-importance
Is under the influence of delusion, not self-confidence.
Such a person has succumbed to the enemy of the self-important view,
Whereas one with self-confidence has not.

(7.57) Those who are inflated by the deluded view of self-importance
Will be reborn in the lower realms;
And, if they later take rebirth in a human form,
They will be poor and miserable, like slaves eating others’ food.

(7.58) Stupid, ugly, and feeble, they will be despised by everyone.
So-called “tough people” who are puffed up with pride
Are also counted among the self-important –
Who could be more pathetic than they are?

(7.59) By contrast, whoever develops the self-confidence to conquer the enemy of the self-important view
Is a self-confident one who is a true conquering hero;
And whoever completely eradicates the enemy of the self-important view
Will be able to fulfil the temporary wishes of living beings and bestow upon them the fruit of enlightenment.

We need to make a distinction between self-cherishing, self-importance, and self-confidence.  Self-cherishing is the mind that thinks that our happiness is supremely important.  We think that only our happiness matters, and since our happiness is really important what happens to us is really important.

Self-importance is self-cherishing with pride.  We have an exaggerated and exalted view of ourselves as being somebody special and important.  When we have self-importance, we feel like we deserve recognition for how wonderful we are, and when others don’t give us the recognition we think we deserve, we feel easily slighted.  We demand a certain respect from others and feel perfectly justified in getting angry with people when they do not provide it.  Self-importance can also take the form of a feeling that the whole world needs us, but we do not need them. We can accomplish things well, we can look after ourselves, our world, and we feel others need us rather than we need them.  We influence rather than are influenced. Others listen to us, we don’t need to listen to them.  An extreme example of this is so-called “tough people,” who are not only self-important, but they also make a big show of it all.  They make sure that everyone knows they are there and how special and important they are.

Self-confidence, in contrast, makes a distinction between our contaminated aggregates and our true self.  We are completely humble with respect to our contaminated aggregates.  We realize that they are broken and useless.  To have confidence in our contaminated aggregates is pride.  Anytime we think anything good about our contaminated aggregates, it is pride.  We can look at Geshe-la.  There is nobody more confident than he is, but he is not in the slightest bit proud.  But we can be completely confident with respect to our true self.  We realize that by nature we are the Spiritual Guide, and anything he can do, we have the potential to do.

If we have self-importance, we don’t really take notice of anyone else, to some extent even our spiritual guide.  As a result, we gradually lose everything.  There is a story Geshe-la gives of a disciple who took rebirth as a God, and the spiritual guide went to try help him in the god realm, but the former disciple just ignored him because he was so busy enjoying his godly delights.  We see this also with people who rise to important positions in society.  They no longer have time for “the little people.”  Those who strongly have this view of self-importance often only have self-reliance.  For them, they are the Guru, and they don’t need anybody else

If we think carefully with our wisdom, we realize that we have accomplished nothing on our own and everything in dependence upon others.  The meditation on the kindness of others reveals how everything comes from others.  We can also consider that any good fortune that ripens does so as a result of good karma.  How were we able to create good karma?  Through the blessings of the enlightened beings.  We need others for anything good.

In life we have many things that we call our own.  Like our job, our house, our children, and our friends.  Thinking “mine” with respect to things just reinforces our feeling of self-importance.  A Bodhisattva who has perfected the perfection of giving has no feeling of anything being theirs.  We should give everything we have away right now, so that we no longer consider anything to be our own.  Some things we can directly give away, other things we retain possession of, but now ownership.  We feel our things belong to others and we are using them for their benefit.

One of the best ways of doing this is to offer everything to the Spiritual Guide or to Dorje Shugden.  To the Spiritual Guide, we feel like all the beings in our life are Geshe-la’s children that we are taking care of.  To Dorje Shugden, we offer everything to him so that he can use it for our spiritual practice and that of others.  We may fear offering everything in this way, but it is only our self-cherishing that fears this.  The guru will use things in the way that is in fact most beneficial for us.  It is our self-cherishing that will use things in a way that is the most destructive for us.

Happy Protector Day: Fulfilling our Heart Commitment to Dorje Shugden

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is part 8 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.

Commitment, fulfilling, reliance, and appropriate substances,
Outer, inner, secret, attractive, and cleansing offerings, filling the whole of space,
I offer these to the entire assembly;
May I fulfil the heart commitment and restore my broken commitments.

This refers to an offering of our practice of the Heart Commitment of Dorje Shugden.  What does this mean?  It means to not be sectarian with our spiritual practice.  If we are sectarian in our practice, it will bring the Dharma into disrepute and it will create many problems for people being able to practice the path that leads to enlightenment, so it is very important for us to not be sectarian.  Gross sectarianism is when one tradition claims to have a monopoly on the truth and all the other traditions are wrong.  Many wars and much suffering have taken place due to this.  Subtle sectarianism is when we mix and match different traditions together.  Here, instead of saying one tradition is better than another in a general sense (as in gross sectarianism) we are saying that individual instructions from one instruction are better than individual instructions from another. 

To avoid sectarianism, Geshe-la encourages us to ‘following one tradition purely without mixing, while respecting all other paths as valid for others.’  Buddhas emanate many Buddhist and non-Buddhist paths depending on the karmic disposition of beings.  Different people will respond to different instructions, and so we are happy for anybody to follow any authentic spiritual path. 

This can be understood with an analogy of being trapped in a burning room.  If we were trapped in a giant burning room and there were many doors out, what would we do?  We would find the door closest to us and head straight out.  We would not start towards one door, then change to another, then change to another still because that keeps us trapped in a room.  We would not head towards the average of two doors because that would bang us straight into a wall.  We also would not judge other doors as being wrong for somebody else who is standing right next to it, instead we would encourage them to go out the door closest to them.  In the same way, if we are all trapped in the giant burning room of samsara and there are many different spiritual doors out, what do we do?  We find the one that is karmically closest to us and we head straight out.  We do not follow one path, then another, then another because then we complete none of them and remain in samsara.  We do not mix together two different traditions because this amalgam of our own creation does not lead to an actual door out.  We do not tell people who are closest to the door of another spiritual tradition, such as a Christian, that they should abandon their Christian path and follow our Kadampa path, instead we encourage them to go out through the emergency exit closest to them.  If somebody criticizes our practices and says that their practices are superior, we should not become defensive.  We can just say, ‘I am happy for you that you feel you have superior practices.  I hope you enjoy them.’ We then continue to do what seems best for us.  This avoids all problems.

So what is the Kadampa door?  It can be summarized in one sentence:  “relying upon guru, yidam and protector, I practice the path of Lamrim, lojong and Vajrayana Mahamudra.”  If we are doing this, if we have chosen this as our path and we are following it purely without mixing while respecting all other paths as valid for others, then we are keeping our heart commitment to Dorje Shugden.  Taking such a commitment is our personal choice.  Nobody can force this on us, we do so voluntarily.   This is not a commitment of the empowerment, it has to be something from our own side we decide to do.

One of the core principles of the NKT is while respecting all other traditions, to follow one tradition purely without mixing.  This is an extremely vast subject.  Venerable Geshe-la (VGL) explains in Ocean of Nectar that we need to be careful when introducing the subject of emptiness to those who are not ready because doing so can lead to great confusion.  I would say even more so, we need to be careful when introducting the subject of following one tradition purely without mixing, as this is a special spiritual instruction that can easily give rise to much confusion and doubt, including thinking that such an approach is closed-minded, anti-intellectual and sectarian.  The attached document attempts to explain the rationale behind this instruction so that people can be happy with putting it into practice. 

To provide you with a snapshot, the attached document is organized as follows:

  1. References within VGL’s teachings on this advice
    1. On following one tradition purely without mixing
    2. On sectarianism
  1. The mind with which we examine this question
  2. How to understand this instruction
  3. Rationale for the spiritual advice to follow one tradition purely without mixing
    1. Considering valid reasons
    2. Contemplating useful analogies
  4. Refutation of objections to not mixing
a.      Objection 1.  We can gain a better understanding of a subject when explored from multiple perspectives
b.     Objection 2:  We can gain a higher and deeper understanding of universal truth through synthesizing multiple systems of thought.
c.      Objection 3 :  All religions say the same thing, just with different metaphors and means.  So what is the problem with me studying and reading other traditions.  Does that not also take me in the direction of enlightenment ?
d.     Objection 4:  OK, I agree we should not mix traditions.  I am 100% committed to VGL, I know what we are all about and I don’t want to mix.  So what is the problem with me reading other sources ?
e.      Objection 5:  But I do not have freedom because I cannot be an NKT teacher or officer of an NKT center if I still want to go to other things.  So I am not free to choose.
f.      Objection 6:  But it can be argued that just because one is in a relationship with somebody else does not mean that they cease to be friends with other people and other women.  In the same way, it is not mixing or violating my commitment to my spiritual path by reading other books, etc., as long as I am clear as to who is my Spiritual Guide.
g.     Objection 7: But we are Buddhist, so everything depends upon the mind.  Reading other sources is not from its own side mixing, it depends upon the mind with which we do it. 
h.     Objection 8:  Come on !  Certainly you are exaggerating to say it is a fault to even read or be exposed to teachings from other traditions.  Don’t be so paranoid !
i.       Objection 9:  It still seems very closed-minded to be so categorical in shunning anything that is non-NKT.
j.       Objection 10:  OK, even if I agree with all of the above, certainly it is more skilful to say nothing, since people will misunderstand and leave the Dharma as a result of this misunderstanding.
k.     Objection 11:  OK, I agree, something needs to be said.  But why do you have to do it in such a foreceful way. 
l.       Objection 12:  OK, point taken.  But what makes an action skilful is whether the action does not undermine the faith of the other person when you engage in it.
m.   Objection 13:  OK, fine !  Just tell me what I can and cannot do.
n.     Objection 14:  If that is the case, then why do different teachers have different policies and standards on this one ?
o.     Objection 15:  But how does your standard compare to that of the NKT as a whole ?  Are you more strict ?
p.     Objection 16:  Wait a minute !  I can understand why there would be an issue with Tibetan Buddhism in general, but certainly it is not a problem with Mt. Pellerin.  After all, their teacher was also a student of Trijang Rinpoche, he is friends with VGL, and they are Dorje Shugden practitioners.  Are they not basically a Tibetan version of us, and we are a Western version of them ?  So their teachings can help improve our understanding of VGL’s teachings.  We are all talking about the same thing, so there is no mixing going on.  So it should be OK.  It seems we should at least make an exception with them.
q.     Question 17:  OK, I understand all of this and it makes sense.  How practically then are we to implement all of this at the center given the sensitivities involved ?

In the next post, I will continue to explain verse by verse my understanding of the meaning of the Dorje Shugden part of the sadhana.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Be like Piglet

(7.52) If a snake lies dying on the ground,
Crows will act like brave eagles and attack it.
In the same way, if my self-confidence is weak,
Even the slightest adversity will be able to harm me.

(7.53) If, out of laziness, I give up trying,
How shall I ever attain liberation in such a feeble state?
But if, out of self-confidence, I generate effort,
It will be difficult for even the greatest adversity to harm me.

(7.54) Therefore, with a steadfast mind
I will overcome all downfalls
For, if I am defeated by a downfall,
My wish to triumph over all obstacles will be but a joke.

(7.55) “I will conquer all obstacles,
And none shall conquer me.”
Thus I, who will become a Conqueror,
Will practise with self-confidence.

Geshe-la says if we lack this self-confidence we will easily be defeated by discouragement or malevolent interferences.  It seems many of us give up too early and we give up too easily.  As soon as things are even remotely difficult, we give up trying.  One reason for this is our motivation for overcoming our delusions is still worldly.  We are doing it for this life, and indeed right now.  Delusions make us unhappy now, we want to be happy now.  As soon as it become “less fun” to not follow the delusions than to follow them, we give in.  This is very short-sighted because no matter how hard it is to overcome our delusions, it is always harder in the long run to not do so.  Another reason for this is pretty much every time in the past that we have stood up to our delusions, we have been defeated.  Anyone who has battled addiction knows this experience.  Since we “know” we will lose, we do not even bother putting up a fight anymore.  But if we never resist, there is no way we will ever win the war.  We have to use each defeat to strengthen our determination to eventually win the war.  We also give up due to attachment to results.  We want immediate results now, and if we do not get them, we give up.  Again, this is a question of spiritual immaturity.

All we need to attain enlightenment is the decision to never give up trying.  Samsara is a self-imprisonment.  We are here because we choose to keep coming back by taking refuge in samsaric objects or being dragged down.  We can generate self-confidence because we realize that if we never give up, nothing can stop us.  If we decide to leave, nobody and nothing can stop us.  If we decide to lead all beings to enlightenment and to never give up in that endeavor, nothing can stop us.  Enormous confidence comes from this understanding.

I think we need to take Piglet from Winnie the Pooh as our Yidam.  For those not familiar with Piglet, he is this tiny little pig with a big heart.  Everything is so big compared to him, but he never gives up.  When the wind blows strongly, despite him pumping as hard as he can to go forward, it pushes him back.  But he never gives up, he keeps trying, and eventually he gets there.  It is the same with our spiritual life.  If we never give up trying, even when we are blown back, we will eventually get out.  It is guaranteed.  The only way we can fail is if we give up trying.  The name of the game in the Dharma is the creation of causes.  The only thing we are interested in is creating good causes, and we create good causes by trying, not succeeding.  In this way, trying itself is success.  Not trying itself is failure.  If we try, we create good causes, and the future results are guaranteed because one of the laws of karma is if the cause is created the effect is guaranteed.

Very often, things are the most difficult when we are on the verge of a breakthrough.  When we are about to have a breakthrough, there is often significant obstruction before we finally push through.  People give up often when they are just about to break through.  This is a shame.  We see this in children when they are learning to walk, talk, etc.  The same process occurs in the Dharma.  When we are in a particularly difficult situation, we should recall this and use it to keep going and push through.  It is very useful to recite as a mantra these words from Shantideva, “I will conquer all obstacles, and none shall conquer me.”

Happy Tsog Day: Remembering What it is all For

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 14 of a 44-part series.

Requesting the spiritual guide not to pass away

Though your vajra body has no birth or death,
We request the vessel of the great King of Union
To remain unchanging according to our wishes,
Without passing away until samsara ends.

Technically, our spiritual guide never dies because he identifies with his deathless vajra body. Our indestructible wind and mind go with us from life to life and is our actual body and mind. Samsaric beings mistakenly identify with their contaminated aggregates (such as the body and mind of a human or an animal), and as a result, when these die, the person feels like they die too. But an enlightened being is somebody who has completely purified their indestructible wind and mind of all delusions and their karmic obstructions, and then they identify with this completely purified body and mind as themselves; thus, attaining immortality.

The problem is living beings still trapped in the hallucinations of samsara cannot see directly vajra bodies. They are too pure and too subtle for our contaminated, gross minds to perceive. In order to help those of us trapped in samsara’s nightmare, Buddhas and spiritual guides emanate forms which appear to us in our samsaric dream. They themselves never leave their vajra body, but they are able to project themselves into our karmic dream. When they do so, these emanations appear as normal samsaric beings who are born, get old, get sick, and die. They appear this way because we do not have the karma to see things any differently.

In order for these emanations to appear, we need to create the karmic causes for them to do so. There are two principal methods for doing this. First, we can view everything as an emanation with a mind of faith. This mental action is not only true, since the ultimate nature of all things is the Truth Body of all the Buddhas, but it also creates the karma for emanations to appear to our mind as emanations. Second, we request that the spiritual guide remain in this world until samsara ceases. This mental action, especially when motivated by great compassion or bodhichitta, creates the karmic causes for emanations of Buddhas to appear in this world, guiding beings along the path.


I dedicate all the pure white virtues I have gathered here, so that in all my lives
I shall never be separated from the venerable Guru who is kind in three ways;
May I always come under his loving care,
And attain the Union of Vajradhara.

As explained in one of the first posts of this series, Geshe Chekhawa said there are two activities, one at the beginning and one at the end. In the beginning, we generate a bodhichitta motivation wishing to engage in the practice for the sake of all living beings; and in the end, we dedicate any merit we accumulated through the practice towards the same goal. Intellectually, we know this, but we can sometimes not appreciate what is happening in our heart, and our practice and dedication seem flat.

To give us some feeling, I find it helpful to consider some analogies of things we do in life that are similar to dedication. The most obvious example is saving our money for some future use. We make the conscious decision to put our money in the bank or in some investment so that it can work towards providing at some future date. Another example is saving pictures or other nik naks around the house that remind us of somebody special. We lovingly place these things in our home for a long duration so that we can be reminded of them again and again in the future. We also save all sorts of information in our files so that we can find it again in the future when we need it. In the same way, we should feel as if we investing our merit, saving our karmic appearances, or storing away our “I”mportant karma for the future.

The merit we dedicate will continue to work towards the goal of our dedication until it is eventually realized. If we dedicate our merit towards something in this life, it will continue to work until that thing ripens. But if we dedicate it towards the attainment of enlightenment of all beings, it will not stop bringing benefit until that goal is realized. Further, dedication is the best method for ensuring that our past virtues are not subsequently destroyed by our anger. Anger functions to burn up undedicated merit, with the end result being it is as if we had never engaged in the virtue in the first place. But once we dedicate our merit, it is safe and protected, even if we later get angry. Understanding the value of dedication, we dedicate all our merit to the goals explained in the dedication verse.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Become whatever others need us to be

With respect to self-confidence, we can think, “I’m going to try, I’m going to try in my Dharma practice, my Dharma activities and so forth, for the sake of others. I will do these things because I want to help others, because I want to free others from their suffering.”  This thought will definitely give power to our actions.  We think, “no matter what I’m doing, I’m going ahead with my Dharma practice, I’m going ahead to overcome my delusions because sentient beings need me.”

(7.50) Unlike me, worldly beings are powerless.
Being under the control of delusion and karma,
They are unable to make their lives meaningful.
Therefore, I will practise virtue for their sake.

(7.51) How can I sit and do nothing
While others waste their lives on meaningless tasks?
Although it might seem like self-importance,
I should act out of self-confidence, which is quite different from self-importance.

Worldly beings are powerless, they are helpless, being under the control of delusion and karma.   Therefore, we have to take responsibility for them because we have been given all the tools we need, both externally and internally.  We know how to take responsibility for others who have no power – we can provide encouragement, we can set a good example, and we can pray.  If we do these three things for long enough, they will eventually be enough to liberate all beings. 

I like to recall that everyone I see is a being of my karmic dream.  If I am not responsible for them, who is?  Venerable Tharchin said we need to take responsibility for removing the faults we perceive in others.  Normally we think it is their responsibility to remove their faults, but it is our mind projecting them, so it is our responsibility.  Why are they helpless?  Because I have been neglecting them.  I have not given them the power.  They are just karmic appearance, they do what we have karmically created the causes for them to appear to do.  How do we remove the faults from their mind?  By removing them from our own.  Since they are a reflection of our own mind, if we purify our own mind of the faults we perceive in others, they will gradually – almost like magic – disappear in others. 

We need to find the right balance between waiting for them to come to us and going out to help them.  It is an extreme to just wait for them to come to us.  We do not wait for a drowning person to come to us, we just dive in and help.  What hope do others have other than us?  It is also an extreme to force our help on others – I am here to save you, I am here to help you.  Because if people are not asking for help and we give it, they will reject our help and this creates the tendencies for them to reject the solution of Dharma. 

The middle way is to become whatever others need us to be – not necessarily what they want us to be, but what they need us to be.  We look back at ourself from their perspective and ask what we need from that person (ourself).  Then we give them whatever they need, according to their needs and wishes.  In the beginning, we will help them with a lot of ordinary things, but this is OK, because in this way we become part of their lives.  Gradually we are able to help them with higher and higher spiritual objectives because they seek it from us.  What they really need us to be is a Buddha.  When we see that, bodhichitta will become effortless.

We should follow the example of our fellow Sangha, teachers, and Geshe-la.  We should have admiring faith for what others do.  As a result of this admiring faith, we will naturally develop the wish to do the same.  Then we can follow their example.  When we see that it works because we have good examples, then we can have confidence that if we try, we can do the same thing.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Practice without doubt

(7.49) I should maintain self-confidence in three things:
My Dharma practice, my Dharma activities, and overcoming my own delusions.
I should encourage myself by thinking, “I alone will lead all living beings to the happiness of enlightenment”,
And in this way sustain my self-confidence in these three things.

Perhaps we lack confidence in one, two, or possibly all three things. Our Dharma practice, our Dharma activities, and overcoming our delusions are all difficult.  Actually we need to cultivate each of these in turn.  We should also actively discuss with our Sangha friends how to overcome our lack of self-confidence in these three and how to improve our self-confidence for each of them.  If we have self-confidence in these three, we will accomplish everything; if we doubt we can do it, we will accomplish nothing.  There is little more important than cultivating these three types of self-confidence.

With respect to the first, our Dharma practice, in Guide to Dakini Land Venerable Geshe-la, in general whenever we practice Dharma, we should first overcome all doubts about the instructions we have received and reach a clear conclusion about them.  There is no doubt that if we do, we will become a lot more confident in our Dharma practice.  With a faithful mind, we need to apply the instructions we have received.  Through applying them, both our understanding and our familiarity with them will grow. And as they do, we will become more and more confident.  A good example is our practice of generation stage.  At first, it seems overwhelming, but with familiarity, it becomes much easier, even natural.  Many people receive the empowerments.  Those who have tried their best are now starting to get it and their confidence is growing.  Those who thought it was too difficult and did not even try are still stuck, and may have even abandoned their practice completely out of discouragement. 

Second, we need to develop self-confidence in our Dharma activities.  I have spent roughly 20 years of my life in the United States, 20 years in Europe, and 8 years in Asia.  In the United States, the cultural tendency is to dive in to things even if they are beyond our capacity, so sometimes we get in over our head, and then give up trying things we once failed at.  In Asia, people are generally afraid of trying anything unless they can do it perfectly.  They would rather do nothing than publicly try and fail.  In Europe, people often see how things can be done better than what they can do, and so they conclude if they cannot do it perfectly, they are somehow doing it badly.  They would rather do nothing than risk somebody pointing out their mistakes trying.  The point is, pretty much all of us have an unhealthy relationship with trying and failing.  Our job is to develop a healthy relationship.

The key to gaining confidence in our Dharma activities is to let go of attachment to results and realize that trying itself is succeeding.  It is the mental factor intention that creates karma, so even if we do not succeed in accomplishing specific results, we will succeed in planting seeds.  Because we have faith in karma, we know if the cause is created, the future effect is guaranteed.  We are just happy to be constructing a good future.  The definition of maturity is when we use today for the future.  Spiritual maturity is when we use this life for future lives.  There is a special satisfaction that comes from building for the future.

One thing we can do to increase our confidence in our Dharma activities is to rely more on our spiritual guide.  We need to feel the presence of our spiritual guide at our heart with everything you do.  The Spiritual Guide can do anything.  We simply need to realize the relationship between him and us.  He is our own pure potential fully developed.  When we realize this, everything he can do, we can do.  To develop faith in him is to develop confidence in ourselves.  If we try to develop confidence in our contaminated aggregates, it is just deluded pride and everything falls apart.  If we invest the time to learn how to rely upon the spiritual guide for all our activities, then we will realize everything is possible.  When we are involving our spiritual guide in this way, there is every reason to be confident.

And then the third, we need to develop self-confidence in our ability to overcome our delusions.  Again, we find it difficult because it seems our delusions are a lot stronger than we are. What can we do?  What I find helpful is to remind myself simply:  delusions and seeds of delusions are not an intrinsic part of my mind and they can be destroyed, my Buddha nature cannot be. We can also consider that Buddhas – like Vajrapani who has infinite spiritual power – are actually aspects of our own pure potential, so whatever they can do, we can do.