A Pure Life: Motivation for Series

This is part one of a 12-part series on how to skillfully train in the Eight Mahayana Precepts.  The 15th of every month is Precepts Day, when Kadampa practitioners around the world typically take and observe the Precepts.

Normally we think of our vows and commitments as an afterthought at best or as chains at worst.  We have all taken our vows many times when we receive empowerments or when we engage in our daily practice, but most of us still have not started to take our practice of them seriously.  We often swing from either the extreme of not even giving our vows a second thought to the extreme of beating ourselves up with them out of guilt for all the different ways we fall short.  We swing from the extreme of over-interpreting the words “do your best” to mean “don’t even bother trying” to the extreme of thinking in absolutist terms about what they mean and imply.  We quite often view them as rules or restrictions imposed from the outside, or we view them as constraints on our having any fun in life.  To us, vows and commitments seem to restrict our freedom, but we grudgingly accept we have to pretend to take them because we want to go to a given empowerment.  But the reality is most of the time we rarely think about them and we make almost no effort whatsoever to train in them.

This series of posts will attempt to reverse our attitude towards our vows and commitments, in particular with respect to the Eight Mahayana Precepts.  Instead of viewing them as restrictions on our freedom and fun, we can come to view them as an internal GPS guiding our way to the blissful city of enlightenment where the party never stops.  If we wanted to go to a particular city, we program our GPS, hit go, and start driving.  We happily follow the directions without feeling like we are being deprived of all the wonders on the side streets we could be exploring.  When we miss a turn, we usually say a curse word, but then the GPS plans a new route, and we happily continue on our way.  When we arrive at our destination, we think to ourselves, “this thing is great.  How did I ever get around without one?” 

It is exactly the same with our vows.  We want to go to the city of enlightenment (our good motivation), the Eight Mahayana Precepts are like the directions the GPS gives us along the way to keep us on our chosen route, and if we follow them happily but persistently, they will definitely deliver us to our final destination.  If we get lost or take a wrong turn, we don’t need to worry, because the GPS gives us new directions which we then follow.  No matter how lost we become, no matter how many wrong turns we make, we always know if we just keep following the directions it gives us, we will eventually get there.  It may take longer than what was originally planned (wrong turns), or there may be unexpected traffic (negative karma we need to purify), but if we just keep at it, we will get there. 

I know some people think their GPS gets upset at them when they make wrong turns.  But this is just our own anger at ourselves projecting our frustration onto the GPS voice.  But nowadays, we can program our GPS with all sorts of different voices to choose one more pleasant.  I actually know somebody whose GPS has the option of choosing the voice of a Porn Star (turn right, baby…)!  In the same way, we need to make an effort of giving the Eight Mahayana Precepts “the right voice” within our mind.  When we remember them or but up against them, we need to have them speak to us with the loving, understanding voice of our Spiritual Guide.  We need to hear him chuckle and say, “don’t worry, be happy, just try.”  The chuckle is important.  The sign that we have proper renunciation is we are able to have a good laugh at ourselves and our delusions.  It is OK and it is normal that we make a hash out of it.  When we make mistakes, we learn from them and move on.  We think beating ourselves up with guilt motivates us to do better, but it does not.  Guilt is anger directed against ourselves.  It destroys all joy in our training, and when we lose the joy, we lose our effort (effort is taking delight in engaging in our practices).  Without effort, we have nothing.  We might do our practice every day for aeons, but if we do not enjoy ourselves while trying, we actually have no effort and will therefore experience no results.  If we want, we can give the Eight Mahayana Precepts the seductive voice of Vajrayogini calling us to join her at her place! 

Our conception of freedom is completely wrong.  Freedom is the ability to choose.  But being a slave to every whim of our delusions is not freedom, it is bondage of an eternal order.  True freedom is the ability to choose to pursue what we know is actually good for us.  The Eight Mahayana Precepts run in exactly opposite of the direction our delusions want to go.  Since we are still fooled by the lies of our delusions, we think if we follow them they will lead us to happiness.  The reality is all delusions share the same final destination – the deepest hell.  They all eventually lead us to the same place, but they trick us by painting an image of an illusory paradise just over the horizon.  Duped again and again, we run towards suffering and away from true freedom. 

There are three main reasons why we should train in the moral discipline of the Eight Mahayana Precepts.  First, doing so creates the karmic causes to maintain the continuum of our Dharma practice without interruption between now and our eventual enlightenment.  Second, doing so strengthens the power of our mindfulness and alertness, which are the two most important muscles for strong concentration.  And third, moral discipline is the substantial cause of higher rebirth.  We seek the highest rebirth of all – enlightenment – but getting there is often like climbing many, many flights of stairs.  But it is a joyful climb, because the higher we go the more blissful we feel.  And it is certainly better than the alternative of falling down the stairs…

In this series of posts, I will first explain a skillful attitude to adopt towards our training in the Mahayana Precepts, then explain how we do so with a bodhichitta motivation, then I will provide a brief commentary for how to actually take our precepts on Precepts Day, and finally, I will provide some practice suggestions for how to practice to each of the Eight Precepts.  I will post these on the 15th of every month as a way of marking Precepts Day and a reminder/encouragement for people to take this practice to heart.  My hope by explaining all of this I might improve my own understanding and practice of the Precepts and then enjoy all the spiritual fruit that flows from this.  If others are also able to benefit from these explanations, then it is all the better.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Leaving Worldly People Behind (While Remaining in the World)

Continuing with the verses:

(8.22) Living beings have so many different inclinations
That even Buddha is unable to satisfy them all;
So what chance do I, an ordinary confused being, have?
Therefore, I should give up the wish to associate with worldly beings.

(8.23) They look down on those who do not have wealth
And despise those who do.
How can people who are so hard to get along with
Ever see anything but faults in me?

(8.24) Whenever their wishes are not fulfilled,
The childish become unhappy.
This is why the Tathagatas have advised us
Not to associate with them.

Sometimes we generate the thought that we have had enough with others and we just want to get away from them.  Maybe go into retreat.  But this is the opposite of the mind of a Bodhisattva.  A Bodhisattva wants to be with everyone all the time.  She wants to be able to be there for each being all the time.  A Buddha seeks to become inseparable with each and every being.  The closest relationship possible. The goal of a spiritual being is to close all the gaps between the spiritual being and others.

What does it mean to not associate with the worldly?  Does it mean we need to run away from our family, work, and so forth and hide out in a monastery or cave?  No, it means we stop mentally relating to people in a worldly way.  If we do not have a worldly mind, we will not be associating with the worldly because such beings will simply not exist for us.  With a spiritual mind, every being in our life will be viewed as part of our spiritual practice and all of our relationships will be spiritual.

This also does not mean we don’t from time to time go on retreat.  Of course we should.  But when we do, we should bring all living beings with us on retreat.  We engage in our retreat for their benefit.  We imagine them around us.  We engage in our retreat with them, considering ourselves to be with them.  At a more profound level, we can also exchange self with others, and then “as all living beings,” go on retreat.  Then we are not just going on retreat with them, we are going on retreat as them.

(8.25) When shall I withdraw into the forest
And live among the trees
With birds and deer who say nothing unpleasant
But are a joy to live with?

(8.26) Or dwell in a cave or an empty shrine,
Or abide beneath the trees,
With a mind unfettered by attachment,
Which never turns to look back?

(8.27) When shall I live in a place that no one calls “mine” –
A place that is naturally open and spacious,
Where I can act freely and do as I wish,
Without any attachment to body or possessions?

(8.28) With just a few possessions, such as a begging bowl
And clothes that no one else wants,
I shall be free from any danger of thieves and robbers.
In this way, I should live without grasping onto “I” or “mine”.

These verses helping us to develop a wish, a strong wish to withdraw into solitude, to go on retreat. We can imagine just how wonderful this would be.  But we don’t have to wait until we go on long retreat before this is our experience.  But it can be like this for us, right now, actually.  Being on retreat is a state of mind.  If we adopt the mind of retreat, we can view everything that happens to us as part of our retreat emanated by Dorje Shugden. 

But we shouldn’t go to the extreme either of thinking we don’t need to also conventionally go on retreat just because we can transform our normal life into retreat.  We should decide right now that our future includes retreat, long retreat even.  When?  We don’t know for sure, but we can generate the clear wish and pray every day to be able to assemble all the causes and conditions necessary to be able to go on long retreat.  If our wish is pure and our reliance upon Dorje Shugden strong, eventually the conditions will star to come together.  We shouldn’t hold back thinking “it will never happen.”  We have no idea what will happen, but it is certain if we don’t generate the wish, it will never happen.  Perhaps it won’t happen in this life, but generating the pure wish now will create the causes for it to perhaps occur in our future lives. Eventually, it will happen if we decide to make it happen. 

Happy Vajrayogini Day: Becoming the Vajra Queen

Today is Vajrayogini Day, which takes place every year on the first tsog day of Heruka and Vajrayogini Month.  On this day, we can remember her amazing good qualities and try to ripen them within ourselves.  By doing so, we can draw closer to her and eventually become her.

Our Vajra Queen

Within the Kadampa tradition, our highest yoga tantra deities are Heruka and Vajrayogini.  Heruka is great bliss inseparable from emptiness, and Vajrayogini is emptiness inseparable from great bliss.  Ultimately, they are the same person, differing only in aspect and emphasis.  Practically, they are our spiritual guide’s truth body inseparable from our own pure potential.  By relying upon Heruka and Vajrayogini, we can quickly ripen our Buddha nature and attain the union with their enlightened state.  Our highest yoga tantra deity is also known as our “yidam,” which essentially means it is the actual Buddha we want to become.  Venerable Tharchin explains we design our own enlightenment by the specific type of bodhichitta we generate.  In our tradition, we take Heruka and Vajrayogini as our yidam. 

Vajrayogini is known as the Vajra Queen because she is the highest of all the female enlightened deities for us.  Many people, both in movies and in real life, develop tremendous loyalty and respect for their political queen, willing to dedicate their lives to fulfilling the wishes of their noble queen.  How much more respect and devotion should we feel towards our Vajra Queen who leads us beyond samsara?

Venerable Tharchin once told me, several years before I married her, that my girlfriend at the time was an emanation of Vajrayogini.  He explained this to me at my very first Heruka and Vajrayogini empowerment.  Of course, she is not inherently so since she is inherently nothing, but he was unambiguous that I should view her in this way.  I then asked him again several years later if he meant it that she was an emanation of Vajrayogini, and he said, “without a doubt, for you, she is.”  When we got engaged, the ring she gave me had seven diamonds in it, and she said, “like seven lifetimes.”  She had never read Guide to Dakini Land where it explains by relying upon Vajraygoini, an emanation will enter our life within seven lifetimes to lead us to Dakini Land, yet I was flooded with a clear recognition that was the meaning of her engagement ring to me.  For me, she has been my spiritual muse – learning how to relate to her purely, learning how to help her, and overcoming all of the delusions her behavior would provoke in me. 

Vajrayogini practice has many uncommon qualities that surpass even Heruka practice.  First, her three-OM mantra is the king of all mantras.  Geshe-la explains in Guide to Dakini Land:

“By reciting this mantra we can help others to fulfill their wishes and gain peace, good health, long life, and prosperity. We gain the ability to avert others’ diseases, such as cancer, strokes, and paralysis, as well as all physical pain and dangers from fire, water, earth, and wind.  Some practitioners who have a strong karmic link with Vajrayogini, through their daily practice or by merely reciting this mantra attain outer Dakini Land before their death, sometimes even without engaging in close retreats or intense meditation. Some attain Dakini Land in the bardo by remembering as if in a dream their daily recitation of the mantra, thereby enabling Vajrayogini to lead them to her Pure Land. In Dakini Land these practitioners are cared for by Heruka and Vajrayogini and, without ever having to undergo uncontrolled death again, they attain enlightenment during that life. It is for these reasons that the three-OM mantra of Vajrayogini is called the `king of all mantras’.”

Vajrayogini’s body mandala is also unequaled.  Again, Geshe-la explains in Guide to Dakini Land:

“In the practice of Heruka’s body mandala, Deities are generated at the outer tips of the twenty-four channels, at the twenty-four inner places. In Vajrayogini’s body mandala, however, the Deities are generated at the inner tips of the twenty-four channels, inside the central channel at the heart channel wheel. This is the main reason why Vajrayogini’s body mandala is more profound than those of other Yidams.”

Finally, Vajrayogini practice has an uncommon yoga of inconceivability, which is the most profound practice of self-powa in existence, enabling us to transfer our consciousness to the pure land where we can complete our spiritual training without ever having to take another samsaric rebirth.  Through this practice, Geshe-la explains:

The uncommon yoga of inconceivability is a special method, unique to the practice of Vajrayogini, whereby we can attain Pure Dakini Land within this life without abandoning our present body.

By contemplating these incredible benefits of Vajrayogini practice, we can generate a strong faithful wish to rely upon her in this and all our future lives.

How we can activate Vajrayogini’s good qualities in our life

We do not consider the good qualities of Vajrayogini to simply think how amazing she is, the goal is for us to generate wishing faith, wishing to acquire these good qualities ourselves.  At first, it can seem like her good qualities are so far away that knowledge of them is more academic than anything else.  But there is a method for activating her good qualities within us right now, where we quite literally start to become her and fulfill her function in the world.  How?  Through faithful recitation of the Eight Lines of Praise to the Mother.

Becoming Vajrayogini is not like an on-off switch but is rather like a volume knob – the more we rely upon her, the more we come to embody her good qualities until eventually we gradually become her.  In our practice of divine pride, we train in imputing our “I” onto Vajrayogini, thinking, “I am Vajrayogini.”  If we impute “I am Vajrayogini” onto our ordinary samsaric body and mind, this is not only a mistaken imputation, it might land us in a psychiatric hospital!  For an imputation to be valid, the basis of imputation must be valid.  For an imputation to be valid, the name, aspect, and function must all be in alignment.  A tennis racket may be used to strain spaghetti noodles, but we would not call it a strainer.  In the context of Vajrayogini practice, her aspect is the beautiful red Dakini, her function is to bestow the qualities of her mind, and her name is Vajrayogini.  If we impute our I onto these three – her name, aspect, and function – we can validly say we are Vajrayogini.

Oftentimes, especially in our early years of Vajrayogini practice, we tend to place primary emphasis on the “aspect” of Vajrayogini, imputing our “I” onto this mere image.  But this rarely works to generate much feeling of actually being Vajrayogini.  In contrast, when we feel like this aspect is performing the function of Vajrayogini in our mind, then when we impute our I onto Vajrayogini engaging in her enlightened deeds, it is very easy to generate a qualified feeling of divine pride being Vajrayogini leading all beings to freedom. 

For me at least, the supreme method for generating a feeling of Vajrayogini accomplishing her function is using the Eight Lines of Praise as an invocation for her to accomplish her special function through us.  When we do this, we will feel her enter us and accomplish these eight special functions through us; and on this basis, it is easy to generate a qualified divine pride.

We can understand how to do this as follows:

OM I prostrate to Vajravarahi, the Blessed Mother HUM HUM PHAT

To prostrate means to wish to become, it is a form of wishing faith.  Vajravarahi refers to her function of destroying ignorance, recognizing her as the essence of the perfection of wisdom that destroys ignorance.  Blessed Mother means she is the mother of all the Buddhas, both in the sense of all Buddhas are born from bliss and emptiness (definitive Vajrayogini), but also in the sense of the actual mother of all the Buddhas in that they arise from her.  In this sense, she is simply the highest yoga tantra version of Mother Tara.  When we recite this line, we imagine we invoke this power to destroy the ignorance of all living beings and give birth to all the Buddhas, requesting that this function be accomplished within our mind.

OM To the Superior and powerful Knowledge Lady unconquered by the three realms HUM HUM PHAT

Superior means she can see directly the ultimate nature of all phenomena, powerful Knowledge Lady means she has the power to bestow great bliss, and unconquered by the three realms means she has the power to overcome all delusions of the desire, form, and formless realm.  When we recite this line, we imagine we invoke her to bestow bliss on ourselves and all living beings, which bestows a direct realization of emptiness on the minds of all, enabling them to completely abandon all the delusions of the three realms.  We feel as if this is actually happening inside our mind.

OM To you who destroy all fears of evil spirits with your great vajra HUM HUM PHAT

Nobody is an evil spirit from their own side, they only become evil spirits for us if we relate to them in deluded ways.  It is our delusions that create all evil spirits in our life, and we can say from one perspective all evil spirits are really just our delusions so condense that they take on a life or personality of their own and function like they are an “evil spirit.”  But through Vajrayogini’s blessings, we can come to experience all beings and all phenomena as manifestations of her mind of bliss and emptiness.  In this way, what was previously experienced as an evil spirit in our life is now experienced as the dance of bliss and emptiness.  Instead of harming us, we receive blessings.  All fear is destroyed because they are now seen as bliss and emptiness, and indeed we can say all “evil spirits” themselves are destroyed, not in the sense of they are killed, but in the sense that there is no longer a valid basis for imputing “evil spirit.”  When we recite this line, we imagine that we come to see all phenomena as manifestations of bliss and emptiness, and so we fear nothing and nobody has the power to harm us in any way.  We strongly believe our view of everything has changed and now we fear nothing because we experience it all as great bliss.

OM To you with controlling eyes who remain as the vajra seat unconquered by others HUM HUM PHAT

Vajra seat here means she is always in union with Heruka who is eternally filling her with great bliss as she bestows the realization of emptiness on his mind.  Her controlling eyes can subdue negative behavior simply by looking at others, much in the way a mother’s firm stare brings her children in line without saying a word.   When we recite this verse, we imagine that while in union with Heruka – being filled with bliss and bestowing upon him the realization of emptiness – we can look out onto all living beings subduing all of their negative behavior in an instant.  We feel this compassionate power coursing through us and that this function is actually being accomplished.

OM To you whose wrathful fierce form desiccates Brahma HUM HUM PHAT

This refers to Vajrayogini’s ability to subdue the pride of all living beings, even the highest gods.  Geshe-la explains that pride is the death of all spiritual learning.  If we are free from pride, we can use the Dharma to overcome all our other faults; but if we are consumed by pride, we cannot overcome any of our faults.  Subduing our pride is, in this sense, a prerequisite for all spiritual progress.  Vajrayogini does not merely subdue our pride, she desiccates it, which means to drain of emotional or intellectual vitality.  We generate pride when we observe some uncommon characteristic we have, and then think that somehow makes us better than others.  Perhaps a candle in a dark room provides some light but standing next to the blazing of the sun its luminescence is humbled.  In the same way, we may think we are special in some way, but standing before the Vajra Queen we are stripped away of all pretension and are drained of any emotional or intellectual basis for thinking we are special in any way.  Vajrayogini’s mere presence has this humbling effect on all living beings, opening their mind to generate faith in the spiritual path.  When we recite this line, we feel as if the pride of ourselves and all living beings has been thoroughly desiccated and everyone now bows down with humble faith in her magnificence, ready to learn from her.

OM To you who terrify and dry up demons, conquering those in other directions HUM HUM PHAT

This refers to the ability of her wisdom blessings to burn up the inner demons of ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions of all living beings.  According to Sutra, the root of samsara is self-grasping ignorance, but according to Tantra, the root is ordinary appearances and conceptions.  Ordinary appearances are, essentially, the things that we normally see – all of which appear to exist from their own side, independent of our mind.  They appear to have some objective existence that we believe our mind merely observes accurately.  Ordinary conceptions are believing these appearances to be true.  We think everything really does exist in the way that it appears.  Due to ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions, we remain trapped in the nightmare of samsara, and the same is true for all other living beings.  The fire of Vajrayogini’s wisdom blessings has the power to burn through all ordinary appearances and conceptions like the fire at the end of the aeon, stripping away samsara from everyone and enabling them to see directly pure worlds.  Samsara is nothing more than a dream that need not be.  Vajrayogini has the power to burn it all away.  When we recite this verse, we imagine we invoke the fire of her wisdom blessings to radiate out like a spherical burst in all directions stripping away the ordinary appearances and conceptions of all living beings, and then we strongly believe that as a result of this enlightened action all beings are now able to see directly her pure world, Keajra Pure Land.

OM To you who conquer all those who make us dull, rigid, and confused HUM HUM PHAT

This refers to her ability to protect us from evil spirits who would interfere with our spiritual practice by making our minds dull, rigid, or confused.  There are countless evil spirits who would interfere with our practice, and we have all experienced the effects of their interference in our practice.  Vajrayogini can subdue these spirits in four ways, the first of which was already explained above by viewing them as manifestations of bliss and emptiness.  The second is just as would-be attackers are deterred through knowing they are outmatched, so too evil spirits know they stand no chance against Vajrayogini and so they keep their distance.  The third is through the wisdom fire of her protection circle, the basis for any negativity is burned away as it approaches, and thus cannot even enter like a magical shield that disarms all those who would enter the realm.  Negativity simply can’t get through.  The fourth way is through the power of her love and compassion for evil spirits who would do harm.  Just as Buddha Shakyamuni under the Bodhi tree defeated all the spirits through the power of his love, so too Vajrayogini’s unconditional love defeats the evil intentions of all those who would interfere with our practice.  As Geshe-la famously said, love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all enemies.  When we recite this verse, we imagine we invoke Vajrayogini to dispel all interference from evil spirits in these four ways, and strongly believe as a result all interference is permanently subdued.

OM I bow to Vajravarahi, the Great Mother, the Dakini consort who fulfills all desires HUM HUM PHAT

This refers to Vajrayogini’s ability to fulfill all the pure wishes of living beings.  Buddhas do not fulfill our worldly wishes – nothing can since samsara is by nature contaminated.  But they can fulfill all our pure wishes.  Like a loving mother who helps fulfill all the pure wishes of her children, Vajrayogini works tirelessly to fulfill all the pure wishes of all living beings.  What are pure wishes?  They are spiritual wishes, such as wishing to abandon lower rebirth, escape from samsara, and gain the ability to lead all beings to enlightenment.  They also include any wish to overcome our delusions, purify our negative karma, or gain any of the realizations of the stages of the path.  Vajrayogini is the real wish-fulfilling jewel who possesses the power to fulfill all the pure wishes of all living beings.  When we recite this verse, we strongly imagine that she does so in an instant and everyone is spontaneously born into the pure land. 

We can recite these Eight Verses anytime, both in meditation and out of meditation.  We can also recite specific lines of the eight verses as targeted prayers for specific situations we find ourselves in.  The effectiveness of our recitations depends primarily upon the purity of our motivation, the depth of our faith, and the extent of our realization of emptiness of all phenomena.  The more we improve these three conditions, the more we will begin to feel Vajraygoini entering into us and accomplishing her function through us in the world.  With deeper experience, it will almost feel like she takes on a life of her own inside of us, spontaneously accomplishing her function in this world.  Once we have a taste of this experience, generating qualified divine pride both in and out of meditation is easy.

May we all come under Vajrayogini’s loving care and behold her sublime face.  May we become empty vessels through which she may accomplish her enlightened deeds in this world, bringing benefit and happiness to ourselves and all living beings in the process.  May she burn away all ordinary appearance and conception until we see ourselves directly as the Vajra Queen.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Making Our Relationships Immortal

(8.21) Why am I unhappy when someone criticizes me
And happy when I am praised?
Both criticism and praise are just empty words,
Like echoes in an empty cave.

Each one of the objects of worldly concern can either be beneficial or a mara.  It depends upon our mind.  In general, they are harmful if we become attached to these things, thinking that our happiness depends upon them.  They are also harmful if we think we have to avoid these things, thinking that they are necessarily obstacles. 

It is helpful to make a distinction between consume and invest.  If we consume or enjoy our worldly experiences as ends in themselves, then we burn up our merit and it is all meaningless.  But if we reinvest everything that comes our way into the accomplishment of our spiritual goals, then we actually accumulate more merit.  For example, if we offer our enjoyments or any praise we receive to our guru at our heart, we are accumulating merit, not burning it up. 

We also need to learn to appreciate the enormous value of having our worldly concerns frustrated.  Generally we don’t like it when that happens, but from a spiritual point of view, it is excellent.  We need to look at each of the worldly concerns and see how we can ‘use’ or transform not having our worldly concerns met.  If we do this, then we will develop a real equanimity with respect to what happens in our life, and everything will be perfect for us. 

For myself, it all comes down to my reliance upon Dorje Shugden.  His job is to arrange all the outer, inner, and secret conditions I need for my spiritual practice.  I long ago surrendered my life completely into his care and requested that everything that happens to me be perfect for my swiftest possible enlightenment and that of everyone I love.  With this faithful mind, I can then view whatever happens to me as exactly what I need for my practice.  Worldly concerns met or frustrated are equally perfect.  If they are met, I can use these things for my practice or the flourishing of Dharma.  If they are frustrated, I can use the absence of these things to train in Dharma minds and let go of my delusions.  Either way, perfect.

When somebody comes into our life, we have to make a strategic choice about the nature of our relationship with them.  We decide by our own actions and view whether our relationship with the other person is a worldly one, and thus meaningless; or a spiritual one, and thus mutually beneficial.  Of course, most of the people we meet in our life we will not be able to explain to them Dharma, but this does not prevent us from having a spiritual relationship with them.  If we adopt the view that this person is a Buddha appearing in the aspect of an ordinary being to give us an opportunity to practice, for us it will be spiritual relationship, even if the other person only gets worldly things out of the relationship.  At a deeper level, since the other person is empty, adopting this view will also karmically reconstruct them to appear to be a spiritual being in the future because there is no ‘other person’ other than emptiness.

A very beneficial view to adopt is ‘this person is my personal responsibility.’  We realize that we are spiritually responsible for the future of this person, and so we organize our relationship towards that end.  In the short run, we will primarily help people in ordinary ways, but through that we will draw closer to them and we will make dedications that we later be able to help them in a spiritual way.  We need to view our relationships from a very long term perspective, and we take people as far as we can in this life and pray to be able to continue helping them in their future lives.  A pure love for somebody can only be possessed by a spiritual being.  A pure love is wishing for the happiness of the other person in their future lives.  Pure love understands that all that matters are the causes they are creating, not what they are experiencing.  This view alone will transform all of our relationships with others into spiritual ones, even if on the outside everything still appears quite ordinary.

In particular, it is essential that we remove all attachment from our motivation of having relationships with others.  Our attachment tells us that it is thanks to our attachment that we can have any relationship with others at all, but in reality, it is the exact opposite.  Attachment functions to separate us from the object of our attachment, so the more attachment we generate towards others, the more we are accelerating our inevitable separation.  As Bodhisattvas, this should really scare us because it is through their relationship with us that they have access to the exit from samsara.  If their relationship with us is blown, they will wander in samsara for perhaps aeons before there is another such opportunity.  It is particularly important that we remove any attachment in our relationship with our sangha friends, teachers, and students (if we are a teacher ourselves).  As teachers, if we allow our relationships to be governed by attachment, it creates the cause to encounter false teachers who abuse our faith in the future; and as students, it creates the cause to lose our spiritual life.

Happy Tara Day: Getting to know our spiritual mother

The eighth of every month is Tara Day.  Geshe-la once said during a commentary to Tara practice that, “we should make our own commentary” based on our experience.  As my offering to her and to help celebrate her day and to deepen my own relationship with her, over the next twelve months, I will provide my own understanding of the practice Liberation from Sorrow.  Nothing I say should be taken as definitive in any way, I am simply sharing my personal experience of this practice.  I hope others might also share their own experience and understandings of the practice in the comments.  Then, we can all learn from each other.

In the introduction to the Sadhana, Geshe-la says:

Tara is a female Buddha, a manifestation of the ultimate wisdom of all the Buddhas. Each of the Twenty-one Taras is a manifestation of the principal Tara, Green Tara. Tara is also known as the ‘Mother of the Conquerors’.

The ultimate wisdom of all the Buddhas is the wisdom directly realizing the emptiness of all phenomena.  Sometimes we think of emptiness as a state that somehow exists on it’s own – everything is empty – but in reality, it does not exist without a mind realizing it.  Emptiness is also dependent upon the mind realizing it, and so is also empty.  Tara is a being who has imputed her “I” onto the ultimate wisdom of all the Buddhas – she is this ultimate wisdom.  She appears in the aspect of the twenty-one Taras, just like a single diamond can have twenty-one facets to it.  All other Buddhas arise from her ultimate wisdom, just as waves arise from an ocean.  In this sense, she is the Mother of all the Buddhas – they literally emerge from her, she gives birth to them all.

Tara is our common mother, our Holy Mother. When we are young we turn to our worldly mother for help. She protects us from immediate dangers, provides us with all our temporal needs, and guides and encourages us in our learning and personal development. In the same way, during our spiritual growth we need to turn to our Holy Mother, Tara, for refuge. She protects us from all internal and external dangers, she provides us with all the necessary conditions for our spiritual training, and she guides us and inspires us with her blessings as we progress along the spiritual path.

Our spiritual life can begin at any point in our life, sometimes when we are young or sometimes when we are older; but in either case, Tara is our spiritual mother.  She cares for us in the earliest stages of our spiritual life, nurturing it to make sure we eventually ripen into an independent, functioning spiritual adult able to sustain our practice on our own for the rest of our life.  This is why it is especially important for new practitioners to take Tara practice as their main deity practice.  Establishing an early relationship with Tara will ensure that we ripen onto the math in a mature and stable way.  All we need to do is put our faith in her and request that she nurture our spiritual life into spiritual adulthood.

In some New Age circles, they talk about us choosing our parents in this life.  Generally speaking, according to the Kadampa teachings at least, we are trapped in samsara, which means we necessarily take uncontrolled rebirth.  We did not “choose” our parents, we we karmically thrown into rebirth as their child.  It is true that we may have generated attachment for our mother as she was engaging in intercourse with our father, but that is quite different from “choosing” our mother.  Despite this, through reliance upon Tara in this life, we can choose to have her as our spiritual mother in all of our future lives.  The paths of future lives are very uncertain and samsara’s distractions and deceptions are endless, but our spiritual mother can care for us and guide us to the spiritual path, help us enter it, and then once again ripen us into spiritual adulthood.  People buy insurance policies all the time to protect themselves against eventualities.  Reliance upon Tara is like a spiritual insurance policy for making sure we once again find and enter the path in all of our future lives until we attain enlightenment.  Every day, I pray, “May Guru Tara be my eternal mother in all my future lives.” 

Tara’ means ‘Rescuer’. She is so called because she rescues us from the eight outer fears (the fears of lions, elephants, fire, snakes, thieves, water, bondage and evil spirits), and from the eight inner fears (the fears of pride, ignorance, anger, jealousy, wrong views, attachment, miserliness and deluded doubts). Temporarily Tara saves us from the dangers of rebirth in the three lower realms, and ultimately she saves us from the dangers of samsara and solitary peace.

There is a close relationship between the eight outer fears and the eight inner fears – indeed, the eight inner fears create the eight outer fears.  The eight outer fears are not just literal lions, elephants, snakes, and so forth.  Rather, these animals are symbolic of types of outer circumstances which give rise to fear.  Through relying upon Tara, we pacify the eight inner fears, and as a result we no longer fear the eight outer fears.

For example, pride is a mind that thinks we are better than we actually are, or that takes some characteristic we have about ourselves and generates a feeling of superiority over others due to this trait.  Lion-like outer fears are situations that call our exalted view of ourselves into question.  We fear others criticizing us or discovering that we are a fraud.  We try exert our domination or superiority over others and feel threatened by those who challenge our authority or position.  All of the outer things we fear as threats to our status, reputation, or position are fearful to us only because we have the inner fear of pride.

Ignorance has two types, conventional ignorance of not knowing what to do and ultimate ignorance of not knowing how things truly exist.  People’s lives are plagued by the elephant of insecurity and uncertainty.  We don’t know what the day will bring, and we have no idea what karma will ripen.  To try control against these fears, we try gain control and reduce uncertainty, and we fear anything that could increase our insecurity or uncertainty.  All of our outer fears associated with insecurity and uncertainty come from the inner fear of conventional ignorance.  If we knew clearly what objects are to be abandoned and what objects are to be attained, we would not fear an uncertain world because we would always know what to do and how to respond.  We would have confidence in the laws of karma that if we responded wisely to whatever arises, our karmic circumstance would definitely get better, so we would fear nothing.  Further, ultimately, the only reason why we fear anything is because we still grasp at things existing from their own side, independently of our mind as causes of our happiness or suffering.  But if we understood that everything depends upon how we look at it and everything can be transformed into a cause of our enlightenment, we would quite literally have nothing to fear at all.  Thus, eliminating the inner fear of ignorance removes all of our outer fears.

All of the other outer fears are likewise born from the inner fears of anger, jealousy, wrong views, attachment, miserliness, and deluded doubts.  We can think about all of the things that give rise to our anger, jealousy, wrong views, attachment, miserliness, and deluded doubts.  Normally we view these things as our “problems” because they give rise to feelings in our mind.  But if we eliminated these delusions from our mind, then we would no longer have outer fears.

If we rely upon Mother Tara sincerely and with strong faith, she will protect us from all obstacles and fulfil all our wishes. Since she is a wisdom Buddha, and since she is a manifestation of the completely purified wind element, Tara is able to help us very quickly. If we recite the twenty-one verses of praise, we shall receive inconceivable benefits. These praises are very powerful because they are Sutra, the actual words of Buddha. It is good to recite them as often as we can.

The power of any Buddha to help us depends almost entirely upon the strength of our faith.  Faith is like electricity for our spiritual life.  The entire modern world would come to a screeching halt without electricity, in the same way our spiritual life is inert without the electricity of faith.  Faith can also be likened to our sails, and the Buddhas blessings to winds filling our sails.  If our sails are raised and aligned with the pure winds of the Buddhas, we will be blown swiftly towards enlightenment.  Tara is the completely purified wind element, which means the winds of her blessings are particularly powerful and swift.  Through generating faith in her, we will enjoy all of the benefits and protections explained in the sadhana.  Through faith in her, we will come to feel her presence in our life and enjoy her protection, which will increase our faith further in her in a self-fulfilling cycle of enlightenment.

Dream about being reborn together as vajra family

I just had a very vivid, what I feel to be important, dream and want to write everything down before I forget.

All night before my dream, I kept waking up, and then going back to sleep training in the yoga of sleeping, imagining I was going through the eight dissolutions. This happened multiple times throughout the night. The dream started with me in Geneva at the center where I used to teach. My former students, who feel like family in my heart, were there, in particular Madhuri, Patrizia, Gabriella, Remy, and my wife were there. And there was this other student there, who I didn’t really know in the same way, but felt a good connection with. I lead a meditation for everybody and we had a good experience which corresponded with about the level of spiritual attainment we had at the time I was at the center teaching more than 10 years ago.

We finished the meditation and then this other student wanted to lead a meditation. He had a somewhat ethnically Indian feel to him. We then sat down in this circle in the middle of the floor, like a circular pit inside the floor with us sitting on the floor, but our feet were in the circular pit that wasn’t that deep. He then started leading the meditation and I tapped into the energy of it, and it was extremely powerful at a much deeper level of spiritual attainment. As I came out of the meditation, I was transported into the pure land (or something spiritually adjacent) that I could see directly and it was amazing, full of everything comprised of mult-colored lights, and it felt so happy and full of wonder. It then started coming into greater focus and at first was cartoon-like in aspect, and then it phased into some sort of beautiful city scape in the future. Madhuri, Patrizia, Gabriella, Remy, and Claudine were all there in the future in different aspects, but the same people and still very close emotionally and spiritually. I turned to Madhrui, who now no longer looked like Madhuri but still was her, and excitedly said, ”oh my god, I was just in the pure land, did you see all that,” and while she didn’t see exactly what I saw, she clearly likewise had a very powerful experience and was blown away.

The dream then shifted to me being at some future home, somewhat out in the country. It was in the future and I was in the kitchen/living room area with my wife, who looked very similar to my current wife Claudine, but different, still her in essence, but younger. We had just had a baby who was understood to be asleep in a maxi-cosy just off of the kitchen towards the hallway leading to the bedrooms. It felt very happy, calm, peaceful, and good as we were going about our business at home.

I then went towards the bedroom area, turned the corner into the hallway where the baby was sleeping, I looked down and it was the body of a baby but with the aging head of my mother in law who just passed way a couple of months ago. She was both the baby and the mother in law, and she was holding our daughter Kiara as a baby – a baby holding a baby, but it all made sense because she was also the grandma. My mother in law was dying as the head, but holding Kiara in her arms like a loving grandma, but still in the aspect of a baby herself. As I was walking by her in the hallway, she was singing the song, ”you gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run. You gotta count your blessings [she sang blessings even though the song normally says money at this point, which I found to be her being clever, which she was in life], when your sitting at the table. There’ll be time enough for countin’, when the dealin’s done.” By the time I got past her in the hallway, she was singing the last line and I was looking back at her, and I understood that she had just died peacefully with Kiara in her arms who now became the baby we had that had just been [re]born. [Note, my wife did her Vajrayogini close retreat when she was pregnant with Kiara. Kiara was born literally 4 hours after my wife finished her last mantra of her close retreat. Kiara’s middle names are the names of her grandma, they are very close both emotionally and in terms of personality.] When she sang ”there will be time enough for countin’ in when the dealin’s done,” I understood it to mean she died peacefully without any regrets as a content grandma loving her grandchildren, despite the incredibly difficult life she had lead. [Note, when she was buried, the flower arrangement that said ”Grandma forever” was placed on top of her coffin].

I then walked into the bedroom and I had phased back into my current life. I went over by the window where my desk was and was simply overcome with joy and amazement. I was totally amazed at what I had just seen, crying with joy, in particular knowing that the grandma had died without any regrets despite her hard life. When I phased into my current life when I walked into the bedroom, I no longer had any awareness of the future life I had been in and was just seeing the baby as grandma from the perspective of having just died singing holding Kiara in her arms.

My wife Claudine then walked into the bedroom, cleaning everything around her in a whirlwind as she usually does. I was so excited, I wanted to tell her what I saw – that I had seen her mother directly dying without regrets, holding Kiara in her arms – but I couldn’t get out what I wanted to say because she kept interrupting me every two words making a playful joke at every thing I was saying (also like she often does in life). This went on a couple of rounds of me trying to get out what I wanted to say and her not listening – she was making jokes, but I knew she was emotionally hurting but would feel better if she knew what I just saw – and I started getting frustrated at her (as I often do in life). I then got upset and with a moderate degree of anger said, ”I’m trying to tell you something,” and then I walked out into the hallway towards the baby, knowing she would follow. This then broke her out of her joking mood and she started crying, hurt at me having gotten angry at her.

I walked down the hall towards the kitchen and was standing where the kitchen connected with the hall, and my future wife, who I understood to be Claudine, looked a lot like her, but at the age of a young mother, looked at me without saying anything with this WTF face of horror of what was I doing getting angry at somebody who was mourning the death of her mother. I realized she was right, and then looked back at my old wife [who was at this point in the dream experienced as my current wife] Claudine who was crying coming down the hallway towards me right next to the baby. I saw everybody simultaneously at this point – my future wife, my current wife, my mother in law, and Kiara. Seeing my current wife was hurt, I said sincerely, ”oh my god, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to get angry, I was just trying to tell you something.” This pacified her hurt and she was then ready to listen. I then started telling her while pointing down at the baby, ”I saw your mom directly…” and then I woke up.

When I woke up, I was flooded with understandings of what the dream meant.

First, I recalled that it was Heruka and Vajrayogini month, and understood that my mother in law had now been reborn with a Kadampa family, thinking how auspicious that it happened this month, and of course it did given how wonderful of a human being my mother in law was. Timing wise, she has spent a period of time in something adjacent to the pure land and then came back and is now reborn (still in utero) with a Kadampa family somewhere. This family might not even know they are pregnant yet. Perhaps even somebody reading this post, who knows?

Second, that myself, Madhuri, Patricia, Gabriella, Remy, and my wife are all karmically deeply connected and we have been taking rebirth together in past lifetimes and will do so again in the future, remaining close.

Third, that my current wife Claudine has been my wife in past lifetimes and she will be my wife again in future lifetimes [Note, when she gave me my engagement ring, it had seven diamonds on it, and she said, ”like seven lifetimes.” This was before she knew about the benefits of Vajrayogini practice that Vajrayogini will find us within seven lifetimes, but I knew this and when she gave me the ring, I recalled what Venerable Tharchin had told me that she is an emanation of Vajrayogini].

Fourth, her future self was completely pyschologically and emotionally beyond the anger and guilt that has weighed my wife down in this life. She was still her playful self, but totally emotionally had her shit together, and it was in fact me she was guiding into becoming a better person, not the other way around as I typically assume when I forget what Venerable Tharchin told me. When she looked at me in the kitchen with the WTF look, I am reminded of the line from Vajrayogini’s Eight Lines of Praise “OM To you with controlling eyes who remain like the vajra seat unconquered by others” which symbolizes her ability to subdue living beings delusions simply by looking at them.

Fifth, that I need to be much more careful and sensitive to not so often get angry or frustrated with my wife, knowing it hurts her when I do. I also shouldn’t be attached to her listening to what I have to say.

Sixth, that my mother in law and Kiara are actually two souls that have been working together for many aeons who, out of their great kindness, are in fact spiritually speaking taking care of both my wife and myself, conspiring in a good way to keep my wife and I together across lifetimes. In the dream, they were like a bridge between these two lifetimes and at the very end, I saw my future wife, my old wife, my current child, my future child, and my mother in law all at the same time that was all three times simultaneously.

Seventh, that at the end of this life, I will make it at least to something very close to the pure land and then later be reborn still a Kadampa practitioner and my spiritual family of this life will remain close in my next life.

Eighth, that some of our seemingly unknown students of this life are emanations and they will later be our teachers in future lives. While the former student was leading the meditation, in the middle, he transformed by imputation into my teacher of the future life. My next assignment for my work is in India, so him having an Indian feel to him has some significance, but I don’t know what yet. Perhaps I will create karma with somebody there who will later be my teacher, I do not know.

I pray that I never forget this dream and that it change forever how I view my mother in law, daughter, wife, and close spiritual family who was in the dream. I pray we all remain forever spiritually close in life after life as we care for each other and gradually guide and support each other along the path. I also pray that sharing this dream may prove spiritually meaningful for some who read about it. May we too remain forever spiritually close in life after life as vajra family.

Happy Heruka and Vajrayogini Month: May the Dakinis Forever Dance in your Subtle Body

Every January is Heruka and Vajrayogini Month when the blessings of the Dakas and Dakinis are particularly powerful.  Traditionally, Kadampa practitioners do long retreats related to their Heruka and Vajrayogini practice during this month to take advantage of these special blessings.  If we can, it is a good idea to do retreat during this month, but even if we are not able to, there are many other things we can do to increase our familiarity with our highest yoga tantra practices.

Why do we need to practice Tantra?

Buddha’s instructions can be divided into two categories, Sutra and Tantra.  Sutra teachings are primarily about learning how to control, meditate with, and purify our gross levels of mind.  Tantra is primarily about learning how to do these things with our subtle and very subtle levels of mind.  Our gross minds arise from our subtle minds, and our subtle minds arise from our very subtle mind.  Purifying our gross mind is not enough because if our subtle and very subtle minds remain contaminated and out of control, they will push up into our gross levels of mind in the form of new delusions.  In other words, no matter how hard we try, our delusions will just keep coming back, like weeds not pulled out by the roots.

Tantra is said to be the quick path.  If we practice Sutra alone, it is said it could take tens of thousands of lifetimes before we attain enlightenment, but with Tantra, we can attain enlightenment in this one short human life.  While our human life may seem long compared to thousands of lifetimes, it is like attaining enlightenment in an instant. Why is Tantra so powerful and so quick?  This is primarily because with one single meditation – the emptiness of our very subtle mind of great bliss – we can purify ALL our contaminated karma directly and simultaneously.  If we imagine all the plants and trees on earth are our different contaminated karmic seeds, practicing according to Sutra is like pulling them all out one at a time.  But with Tantra, we can get inside of the center of the earth and with one meditation uproot all our contaminated karma simultaneously.

In the Sutra teachings, it explains the odds of attaining a precious human rebirth in which we find the Dharma and are interested in practicing it are likened to that of a blind turtle who normally lives on the bottom of the ocean the size of this world rising to the surface only once in every 100,000 years putting its neck through the middle of a golden yoke floating on the surface.  The earth is 510 trillion square meters, and we only get one shot every 100,000 years!  The odds are infinitesimally small.   While no similar analogy is given, the Tantric teachings are only taught by the fourth, eleventh, and the last of the 1,000 Buddhas of this fortunate aeon.  Buddha Shakyamuni was the fourth.  From this, we can perhaps say the odds of us finding the tantric path are one in 170,000 trillion!  Yet this is our present circumstance. 

Normally, we can say our gross minds are the minds we normally have during the waking state, our subtle minds are our dreams and subtle meditational states, and our very subtle mind is manifest during death and our very subtle meditational states.  Ultimately, all our contaminated karma is stored on our very subtle mind.  It is like a repository of all the karma we have previously accumulated that has not yet ripened.  We learn how to control our gross mind by identifying our delusions and applying opponents.  We learn how to control our subtle levels of mind through generation stage practice of highest yoga tantra.  And we learn how to control our very subtle levels of mind through completion stage practice.  There are more technical explanations, but this is close enough for our present purposes. 

In generation stage practice, through faith and imagination, we create our gross deity body and the pure land where we hope to take rebirth.  Once we take rebirth in a pure land, we never again take a samsaric rebirth and can complete our spiritual training.  From a practical point of view, it is as if we have escaped samsara, but technically speaking we have not since we still have self-grasping and contaminated karmic imprints on our mind.  But once we get to the pure land, we can receive teachings directly from the Heroes and Heroines and we can swiftly complete our spiritual training.  The main function of generation stage is to create the necessary causes for us to attain the pure land.  It is said that if we sincerely practice the generation stage of Vajrayogini, we can be guaranteed to attain pure Dakini Land within seven lifetimes, even if we are reborn in the fires of the deepest hell.  Why is this?  Because our practice of Heruka and Vajrayogini places uncontaminated karmic potentialities on our mind that can never be destroyed.  We may need to exhaust a good deal of negative karma before these seeds can ripen (which rebirth in the lower realms will do), but eventually these seeds will ripen and we will be met by the Dakinis who will guide us to the pure land.  Of course, it is better to not have to wait seven lifetimes through even more qualified practice in this lifetime, but the point is even if we do have to wait seven lifetimes before we get to the pure land, compared to beginningless time, we are almost there.

In completion stage we learn how to control and purify the channels, drops, and winds of our subtle body.  Just as oceans have currents that power the whole ocean, so too does our mind.  These are our inner energy winds.  Particularly strong currents tend to flow in tight densities, like rivers moving through the oceans.  This is like our channels.  The water that moves through these currents is like our drops.  The currents then create waves on the surface of the ocean that are like the different conceptual minds that arise and phenomena that appear in our mind.  As long as our winds are moving uncontrolledly, the waves of our conceptual thoughts will continue to arise.  But if we can learn to completely still our inner winds, the waves gradually cease, and the ocean of our mind becomes clearer and clearer until eventually, we realize the clear light nature of our mind.  With this clear light, we then meditate on the emptiness of all phenomena, which is easy because we directly see the absence of all of the waves we normally see.  This meditation on the emptiness of our very subtle mind of great bliss swiftly purifies our mind of all delusions and their imprints.  In Guide to Dakini Land, Geshe-la explains if we attain the direct realization of our very subtle mind of great bliss (meaning clear light), we can attain enlightenment in six short months! 

How does Tantra work?

All our minds are mounted upon inner energy winds.  These winds are what enable our mind to move to objects.  Our mind is likened to eyes without legs, and our winds are likened to legs without eyes, but together they can move to and know any object.  If our winds are impure, then the minds mounted on those winds will likewise be impure.  Therefore, the entire goal of tantric practice is to purify our winds.  We primarily purify our inner winds by either mixing them with mantra or by bringing them into our central channel, in particular at the level of our heart.

When we bring our inner winds into our central channel, our mind becomes increasingly subtle until eventually, we reach our very subtle mind of great bliss.  It is with this mind that we then meditate on emptiness and quickly attain enlightenment.  Thus, the whole goal of tantric practice is to generate the subjective mind of great bliss.  The way we do that is by bringing our winds into our central channel through completion stage practices. 

The problem is at present our winds are scattered everywhere outside of our central channel.  These winds get stuck outside of our central channel due to damage to the channels of our subtle body.  Every time we generate a delusion or accumulate contaminated karma, we do psychic damage to our subtle body.  It has taken quite a beating since beginningless time.  Imagine a city with a web of freeways running through it.  Our winds are like cars on the roads.  When we generate deluded or negative minds, we damage the roads, which slows down traffic.  Sometimes, the roads get so bad that traffic can no longer pass through, and blockages start to form.  These blockages eventually can turn into physical diseases, such as cancer.  Kadam Bjorn explained that all physical sickness comes from the sickness of delusions, and all delusions come from blockages within our subtle body.  To get the traffic flowing again, we need to repair the roads. 

How?  Through receiving the blessings of the Heroes and Heroines (or Dakas and Dakinis) of Heruka and Vajrayogini’s retinue.  Venerable Tharchin explains that the specific bodhichitta we generate as a bodhisattva shapes the type of Buddha we become.  For example, Avalokiteshvara specifically wanted to help living beings generate compassion, and so he became the Buddha of compassion.  The Heroes and Heroines of Heruka and Vajrayogini’s retinue are specialized enlightened beings who attained enlightenment for the specific purpose of healing certain aspects of our subtle body.  In this sense, they are all Medicine Buddhas.  In our body mandala practice, we imagine these deities enter into our channels, drops, and winds and heal them completely so that our winds can flow unobstructedly into our central channel at our heart. 

In the same way, we imagine Heruka and Vajrayogini themselves enter into our indestructible drop inside our heart chakra, blessing and purifying it so that the winds can flow inside.  Inside our indestructible drop is our indestructible wind, which is like our root wind from which all other winds arise.  We imagine that a very subtle emanation of Heruka in the aspect of his seed letter HUM mixes inseparably with our root wind, which then reabsorbs all our winds back into their source.  When this happens, all the gross conceptual thoughts and appearances which normally are mounted on these winds subside into clear light emptiness.  Our winds and conceptions become completely still, and the clear light mind manifests.  We then use this mind to meditate on emptiness and attain enlightenment very quickly.

From this explanation, we can see that without the blessings of the deities of Heruka and Vajrayogini’s mandala, it is almost impossible to attain enlightenment, but with their blessings, we can do so quickly and nearly effortlessly.  It is during Heruka and Vajrayogini month that these deities are particularly powerful at bestowing their blessings.  Our sincere practice during this time enables us to make very rapid progress along the tantric path.  This is why Heruka and Vajrayogini month is so important.

How can we take advantage of this month?

If we have the karma to do an intensive retreat on Heruka and Vajrayogini during January, we should.  We can do so at our Kadampa temples, retreat centers, our local centers, or even at home.  There is no place not pervaded by Heruka, so we can do our retreat anywhere.  Even if we are not able to physically be with others engaging in similar retreats, we can recall that thousands of Kadampas all over the world are also focusing on their Heruka and Vajrayogini practice this month, and collectively all of our practices are strengthening the practice of everyone else in the same way many bristles come together to form a brush.

Many of the major Kadampa centers organize close retreats of both Heruka and Vajrayogini during January.  But we are not limited to doing close retreats, we can also do any sort of retreat to familiarize ourselves with the practice.  What is retreat?  A retreat is just extensive meditation over a period of time without our normal distractions.  What is meditation?  It is familiarizing ourselves with virtue.  When we do so, our mind becomes more peaceful and controlled and we become happier and happier as a result.  But this does not mean retreats are all rainbows and unicorns!  Quite the opposite.  Going on retreat is like diving into the deeper recesses of our mind where we discover all sorts of powerful monsters lurking about.  These powerful deluded currents are always there, but it is in a retreat that we can bring them to the surface and eventually subdue them.  This is not always pleasant, but it is always therapeutic. 

If due to our karmic circumstances, such as our job or family responsibilities, we are not able to do a formal retreat, there are still many other ways we can take advantage of this month.  For example, instead of our normal Heart Jewel practice, perhaps we can do a more extensive Heruka or Vajrayogini sadhana.  Geshe-la has given us a wide spectrum of tantric practices that take anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours.  We can choose the level that our schedule allows and do the practice every day for this month.  Perhaps we can even wake up 30 minutes earlier than normal (by perhaps going to bed 30 minutes earlier) to do a more extensive practice than we normally do.  Most of us have a commitment to practice Dorje Shugden every day, we can just add this onto the end of our tantric practice before the dedication, even if we do it in abbreviated form by just visualizing Dorje Shugden and reciting the “all the attainments I desire arise from merely remembering you…” prayer. 

We can also make a point of taking advantage of the two tsog days during January, namely January 10th and January 25th, which are Vajrayogini and Heruka Day respectively.  If we have done our close retreat, these days make excellent opportunities to do self-initiation where we can renew our vows and the blessings of the empowerments.  At a minimum, we can do the Tsog offering in the context of our tantric practice for the month. 

If none of the above are possible, we can also perhaps recite more mantras than our normal daily commitment.  During the empowerment, we promised to recite our mantras a certain number of times every day.  During Heruka and Vajrayogini month, we can perhaps double our normal mantra commitment or agree to do a full mala of mantras every day. 

All of us can throughout the month try to remember Heruka and Vajrayogini throughout the meditation break.  Perhaps we have gradually lost our practice of six-session guru yoga where we self-generate and recall our vows six times every day.  Heruka and Vajrayogini months are an excellent opportunity to start again.  The trick to remembering is to connect it to things we do every day.  We all wake up, eat several times, go to the bathroom, and go to sleep every day.  If we make a point of doing our six-session guru yoga practice every time we do these daily activities, it will not be long before it becomes our habit.  As we walk about or drive, we can recite our mantras.  Normally our mind wanders to all sorts of irrelevant things, but during this special month, we can perhaps instead use this time to recite mantras.  We can also recall the three main recognitions of the yoga of daily activities, namely to view all phenomena as empty, all emptiness as the nature of our mind of great bliss, and the bliss and emptiness of all things as our truth body, Dharmakaya.  Or we can view everything we see as comprised of atom-sized offering goddesses, so instead of seeing samsara, we see the pure land.  Or we can simply throughout this month recall the benefits of our tantric practice or read our tantric books before we go to bed.  The point is – do something more than you usually do. 

If we practice in this way during Heruka and Vajrayogini month, there is a good chance we will be able to carry some of our new habits or understandings into the rest of the year.  Then our practice is better all year.  If we practice in this way, year after year, our familiarity with Heruka and Vajrayogini practice will grow and grow until eventually, we feel as if we are always in their presence and we never forget them.  In the end, we will attain union with them and become a Heruka or Vajrayogini ourselves. 

All of this depends upon a wish, and the wish depends upon understanding the benefits of this practice.  If we contemplate deeply how our tantric practice is the quick path to enlightenment and we consider how long living beings will have to suffer waiting for us to attain enlightenment, we will be very motivated to practice.  From this, everything else naturally comes.

Enjoy!

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Using Everything We Have for Others

And now Shantideva returns to the attachment we have toward objects of worldly concern, such as possessions, praise, reputation.

(8.17) If people think I have many possessions,
They will respect me and like me;
But if I harbour this kind of pride,
I shall experience terrible fears after I die.

(8.18) O thoroughly confused mind,
For as many objects as you accumulate,
You will have to endure a thousand times more suffering
Because of your attachment to them.

(8.19) Thus, because objects of attachment give rise to fear,
The wise should not become attached,
But remain firm in the understanding
That by their very nature these things are to be left behind.

We have so many possessions. So many.  No matter how much space you have, we always find a way to fill it.  Venerable Tharchin said objects become possessions when we impute “mine” on them.  In reality, we shouldn’t have any possessions, as in our heart everything we have should belong to “others.”  We might be temporary custodians of some objects, but from our perspective we are practicing the giving of keeping. If we relate to anything as “ours,” then at the time of death we will feel it being ripped away.  The only things we can validly say are “ours” are our indestructible wind, our indestructible mind, and our karma.  Everything else is like the child of a barren woman – a non-existent thing belonging to someone who does not exist.

As Kadampas, I think we live, and should be seen to live, humbly, not extravagantly. We avoid the two extremes of materialism and spiritualism.   The extreme of materialism thinks that only material things matter.  This is an extreme because material things have no power to give us happiness and we eventually need to leave them all behind.

The extreme of spiritualism is when we think material things don’t matter at all.   This is an extreme because we need certain physical conditions for our practice or to help sustain others’ practice.  Perhaps we do not need these conditions ourselves, but those we want to help do.  If they think to adopt a spiritual life means to live in poverty, etc., then nobody will be interested in the spiritual way of life.  It is similar to eating meat.  Many Buddhists are vegetarians, but we don’t say, “to be Buddhist, you have to be vegetarian.”  If we said this, then many people would conclude, “I don’t want to be a Buddhist,” and then they would walk away from the Buddhist path and continue to eat meat.  If instead we say, “some eat meat, others don’t, it is your choice,” then they become Buddhist, and some of those who become Buddhist stop eating meat eventually. 

The middle way is we should use everything we have for the enlightenment of ourself and of others.  Then we can have many things, but we are using them all as means to accomplishing spiritual ends.  This enables people to realize the changes that need to be made are internal.  Having or not having are equally irrelevant.  What matters is our mind.  At the same time, we need to have everything around us be attractive, clean, organized, welcoming because we are inviting people into a spiritual way of life.  This is especially true for our Dharma centers.  It is not a waste of money to have comfortable chairs and a pleasant environment since these things matter for people, especially when they first come into the Dharma. 

(8.20) Even if I have acquired many possessions,
Fame, and a good reputation,
None of these things
Can go with me when I die.

Atisha said you have to depart leaving everything behind so do not be attached to anything.  Many people might not have strong attachment to things, but they might be attached to their reputation or their legacy or how they are remembered.  We have to leave that behind too.  None of these things go with us when we die, so we shouldn’t be attached to any of them.

New Years for a Kadampa

New Year’s Day is of course preceded by New Year’s Eve.  The evening before is usually when friends get together to celebrate the coming of the new year.  Sometimes Kadampas become a social cynic, looking down on parties like this, finding them meaningless and inherently samsaric.  They mistakenly think it is somehow a fault to enjoy life and enjoy cultural traditions.  This is wrong.

If we are invited to a New Year’s party, we should go without thinking it is inherently meaningless.  Geshe-la wants us to attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life.  New Year’s Eve parties are part of modern life, so our job is to bring the Dharma into them.  Venerable Tharchin said that our ability to help others depends upon two things:  the depth of our Dharma realizations and the strength of our karmic connections with living beings.  Doing things with friends as friends helps build those karmic bonds.  Even if we are unable to discuss any Dharma, at the very least, we can view such evenings as the time to cultivate our close karmic bonds with people.  Later, in dependence upon these bonds, we will be able to help them.

One question that often comes up at most New Year’s Eve parties is what to do about the fact that most everyone else is drinking or consuming other intoxicants.  Most of us have Pratimoksha vows, so this can create a problem or some awkward moments for ourself or for the person who is throwing the party.  Best, of course, is if you have an open and accepting relationship with your friends where you can say, “you can do whatever you want, but I am not going to.”  It’s important that we don’t adopt a judgmental attitude towards others who might drink, etc.  We each make our own choices and it is not up to us to judge anyone else.  We might even make ourselves the annual “designated driver.”  Somebody has to be, so it might as well be the Buddhist!

If we are at a party where we can’t be open about being a Buddhist, which can happen depending upon our karmic circumstance, what I usually do is drink orange juice or coke for most of the night, but then at midnight when they pass around the glasses of Champagne I just take one, and without a fuss when it comes time, I just put it to my lips like I am drinking but I am not actually doing so.  If we don’t make an issue out of it, nobody will notice.  Why is this important?  Because when we say we don’t drink, they will ask why.  Then we say because we are a Buddhist.  Implicitly, others can take our answer to mean we are saying we think it is immoral to drink, so others might feel judged. When they do, they then reject Buddhism, and create the karma of doing so. We may feel “right,” but we have in fact harmed those around us. What is the most moral thing to do depends largely upon our circumstance. It goes without saying that others are far more likely to feel judged by us if in fact we are judging everyone around us! We all need to get off our high horse and just love others with an accepting attitude.

Fortunately, most Kadampa centers now host a New Year’s Eve party.  This is ideal.  If our center doesn’t, then ask to host one yourself at the center.  This gives our Sangha friends an alternative to the usual New Year’s parties.  We can get together at the center, have a meal together, do a puja together and just hang out together as friends.  We are people too, not just Dharma practitioners, so it is important to be “exactly as normal.”  If our New Year’s party is a lot of fun, then people will want to come again and again; and perhaps even invite their friends along.  It is not uncommon to do either a Tara practice or an Amitayus practice.   Sometimes centers organize a retreat weekend course over New Year’s weekend.  For several years in Geneva, we would do Tara practice in six sessions at the house of a Sangha member.  The point is, try make it time together with your Sangha family.  Christmas is often with our regular family, New Year’s can be with our spiritual family.

But it is equally worth pointing out there is absolutely nothing wrong with spending a quiet evening at home alone, or with a few friends or members of your family. Just because everybody else is making a big deal out of it and going to parties doesn’t mean we should feel any pressure to do the same. I personally have never enjoyed them party scene, even when others are not getting drunk, etc. I much prefer a quiet evening or a solitary retreat. There is nothing wrong with this, and if that is how we prefer to bring in the New Year, we should do so without guilt or hesitation.

What I used to do (and really should start doing again), is around New Years I would take the time to go through all the 250+ vows and commitments of Kadampa Buddhism and reflect upon how I was doing.  I would try look back on the past year and identify the different ways I broke each vow, and I would try make plans for doing better next year.  If you are really enthusiastic about this, you can make a chart in Excel where you rank on a scale of 1 to 10 how well you did on each vow, and then keep track of this over the years.  Geshe-la advises that we work gradually with our vows over a long period of time, slowly improving the quality with which we keep them.  Keeping track with a self-graded score is a very effective way of doing this.  New Years is a perfect time for reflecting on this.

Ultimately, New Year’s Day itself is no different than any other.  It is very easy to see how its meaning is merely imputed by mind.  But that doesn’t mean it is not meaningful, ultimately everything is imputed by mind.  The good thing about New Year’s Day is everyone agrees it marks the possibility for a new beginning.  It is customary for people to make New Year’s Resolutions, things they plan on doing differently in the coming year.  Unfortunately, it is also quite common for people’s New Year’s Resolutions to not last very long.

But at Kadampas, we can be different.  The teachings on impermanence remind us that “nothing remains for even a moment” and that the entire world is completely recreated anew every moment.  New Year’s Day is a good day for recalling impermanence.  Everything that happened in the previous year, we can just let it go and realize we are moving into a new year and a new beginning.  We should make our New Year’s resolutions spiritual ones.  It is best, though, to make small changes that you make a real effort to keep than large ones that you know won’t last long.  Pick one or two things you are going to do differently this year.  Make it concrete and make sure it is doable.  A former student of mine would pick one thing that she said she was going to make her priority for the coming year, and then throughout the year she would focus on that practice. I think this is perfect. Another Sangha friend of mine would every year ask for special advice about what they should work on in the coming year. This is also perfect.

When you make a determination, make sure you know why you are doing it and the wisdom reasons in favor of the change are solid in your mind.  On that basis, you will be able to keep them.  Making promises that you later break creates terrible karma for ourselves which makes it harder and harder to make promises in the future. We create the habit of never following through, and that makes the practice of moral discipline harder and harder.

Just because we are a Kadampa does not mean we can’t have fun like everyone else on New Year’s Eve.  It is an opportunity to build close karmic bonds with others, especially our spiritual family.  We can reflect upon our behavior over the previous year and make determinations about how we will do better in the year to come.

I pray that all of your pure wishes in the coming year be fulfilled, and that all of the suffering you experience become a powerful cause of your enlightenment.  I pray that all beings may find a qualified spiritual path and thereby find meaning in their life.  I also pray that nobody die tonight from drunk driving, but everyone makes it home safe.  Since that is unlikely to come true, I pray that Avalokiteshvara swiftly take all those who die to the pure land where they may enjoy everlasting joy.

Happy Protector Day: May the Doctrine of Losang Dragpa Flourish Forevermore

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

The most effective way of increasing the power of our reliance is to engage in sincere dedication prayers.  When we dedicate the merit we have accumulated it is like putting our spiritual savings in the bank where they can never be destroyed and they can earn spiritual interest.  Each sadhana has a different dedication prayer which summarizes the main function of the spiritual practice.  In the case or Dorje Shugden, the dedication prayers are as follows:

By this virtue may I quickly
Attain the enlightened state of the Guru,
And then lead every living being
Without exception to that ground.

This is the first effect of this practice.  This is the explicit strategy of Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition for emptying samsara.  Je Tsongkhapa is a spiritual guide who trains others to also become spiritual guides.  These new spiritual guides then train others still and so on.  In this way, generation after generation, the beneficial effects of Je Tsongkhapa’s deeds continue forever.  This is the “great wave of Je Tsongkhapa’s deeds.” 

The person who got me into spirituality was a close friend in college.  He opened the door for me and encouraged me to step through.  After several years of practicing, I thought back to the fact that without the kindness and encouragement of this one friend I would not have a spiritual life at all.  When I later saw him, I asked him, “how can I pay you back?”  His answer was a very powerful teaching:  he said, “do the same for others.  And when others ask you how they can pay you back, give them the same answer.  In this way, the kindness keeps going forever.”  Venerable Tharchin says that the highest spiritual goal to aspire to is to take our place in the lineage.  At some point, we will be the lineage guru whose responsibility it is to carry forward the lineage.  We must prepare ourselves for that responsibility in much the same way people prepare themselves for big missions or assignments.

Through my virtues from practising with pure motivation,
May all living beings throughout all their lives
Never be parted from peaceful and wrathful Manjushri,
But always come under their care.

This is the second effect of this practice.  If beings are never separated from peaceful and wrathful Manjushri, in other words Je Tsongkhapa and Dorje Shugden, then their enlightenment is just a question of time.

The following two verses, known as the Prayers for the Virtuous Traditon, were actually written by a previous incarnation of Dorje Shugden, and we recite them after every practice. 

So that the tradition of Je Tsongkhapa,
The King of the Dharma, may flourish,
May all obstacles be pacified
And may all favourable conditions abound.

This should be fairly self-explanatory by now.  It is the essential meaning of the entire Dorje Shugden part.

Through the two collections of myself and others
Gathered throughout the three times,
May the doctrine of Conqueror Losang Dragpa
Flourish for evermore.

The two collections are the collections of merit and wisdom, and the three times are the past, present and future.  In other words, we mentally invest all of the merit every accumulated into the flourishing of Je Tsongkhapa’s Dharma (Losang Dragpa is another name for Je Tsongkhapa). 

To summarize, the practice of Dorje Shugden can be reduced to the following:

  1. We renew our motivation as a spiritual being – we realize that the only thing that matters is the causes we create because they are the only things we can take with us.
  2. We request with infinite faith that Dorje Shugden provide us with perfect conditions for our swiftest possible enlightenment.
  3. We then accept with infinite faith that whatever subsequently arises is the perfect conditions for our practice that we requested.
  4. We then practice in these conditions to the best of our ability.  It doesn’t matter what appears, what matters is how we respond.  So we try to respond well.

If we do these four things, I guarrantee that we will be gradually lead to enlightenment.  It will just be a question of time.

There is much much more to say about the practice of Heart Jewel, but I wanted to keep things simple.  I strongly encourage everyone to read again and again the book Heart Jewel, which Geshe-la has said is his most important book.  We should also take advantage of the opportunity to speak with some senior practitioners about how to establish a daily practice and we should request teachings and empowerments on this practice from our local teacher.

I dedicate any merit I accumulated from doing this series of posts so that every living being joyfully establishes a daily practice of Dorje Shugden.  I pray that everything that happens to every living being is perfect for their swiftest possible enlightenment.  I request the wisdom to be able to understand how whatever happens to anybody is perfect for their enlightenment and I request that all of the conditions be arranged for me to share this perspective with others in a way that they can accept it.  In this way, we can all happily accept everything that happens in our life and swiftly make progress to enlightenment.  OM VAJRA WIKI WITRANA SOHA!