Happy Protector Day: Introduction to series

The 29th of every month is Protector Day, when we emphasize our reliance upon the Dharma Protector for the New Kadampa Tradition.  In order to strengthen our connection with him, increase our faith in him, and learn how to practically rely upon him, on the 29th of every month, I will explain my understanding of how to rely upon Dorje Shugden, our Dharma protector.  All of Dharma essentially has one purpose:  to bring the mind under control.  Delusions are that which make our mind uncontrolled.  For me personally, I overcome about 90% of my delusions “merely by remembering” Dorje Shugden.  In this series of posts I will explain how.

Our ability to rely upon Dorje Shugden depends primarily upon one thing:  are we a worldly being or a spiritual being.  If we are a worldly being, reliance on Dorje Shugden will not work.  If we are a spiritual being, reliance on Dorje Shugden will change everything for us – we will never be the same again.  All fear, all anxiety, all grasping will vanish.  Our mind will become smooth, balanced, flexible and peaceful all of the time. 

There is one question we need to ask ourself:  what kind of being do I want to be, a worldly being or a spiritual being?  A worldly being is somebody who is primarily concerned with securing happiness in this life.  Their actions are aimed at securing worldly happiness in this life.  A spiritual being is somebody who is primarily concerned with securing happiness of future lives.  Their actions are aimed at laying the foundation for happiness in future lives, up to the supreme happiness of full enlightenment.

It is important to understand whether our life is a worldly one or a spiritual one does not depend on what activities or job we do, rather it depends on what mind we do these activities with.  Sometimes we think that our families, jobs, vacations and so forth are necessarily ‘worldly’, but this is not the case.  They are only worldly if we engage in them with a worldly mind.  If we engage in these same activities with a spiritual mind, then they become spiritual activities and part of our spiritual life. 

What does it mean to live our life with a spiritual mind?  It means what we are looking to get out of a situation is different.  For example, I have a close friend who is a very successful businessman.  He views everything through the lens of the business opportunity.  We went to Magic Mountain together once (Magic Mountain is an amusement park with very big roller coasters, etc.).  For my friend, because he looked at things through the glasses of a businessman, what he took home from his trip to Magic Mountain was lessons in business. 

For a worldly being, what they are looking to get out of a situation is external happiness in this life.  Their actions are aimed at improving their reputation, increasing their resources, receiving praise and experiencing pleasure (and avoiding the opposite of these things).  For a spiritual being, what they are looking to get out of a situation is opportunities to train their mind and create good causes.  They view situations from the perspective of the opportunity they afford the person to train their mind and create good causes for the future.  To be a spiritual being doesn’t mean we do not care about this life, rather it means we also care about future lives.  We include future lives in our calculations for how we use today and how we use this life.

Before we can actually become a spiritual being, we have to have at least some belief in future lives.  Without such belief, it is difficult to view our life as a preparation for them.  So how can we develop some conviction, or at least some virtuous doubt, about the existence of future lives?  The definitive reason which establishes everything in the Dharma is emptiness.  Emptiness explains that all phenomena, ourselves included, are mere karmic appearance of mind.  ‘Mere’ means they are like appearances in a dream, and ‘karmic appearance’ means that these appearances arise from karma.  This life and all its appearances are just mere karmic appearances of mind that were triggered by previous minds.  The quality of our mind determines the quality of the karma activated.  Every karmic seed has a certain duration, and when it exhausts itself the appearance supported by that karma will cease.  It is just like during a dream. 

The nature of the mind is clarity and cognizing.  Clarity means our mind itself is without form, shape, color, etc.  If our mind had a color, for example, then everything that appeared to our mind would be that color.  It is because it lacks any color that it can perceive or know any color; because it lacks any form, it can know any form and so forth.  Cognizing means it has the power to know objects.  Lacking form alone is not mind – there are many things that lack form, but do not know.  Only something that both lacks form and knows is a mind.  Our mind is like a formless field of knowing.  It is like a giant container in which new karmic appearances are projected.  Think back to two hours ago.  What is appearing to our mind now is completely different.  What used to appear no longer appears at all, yet our mind itself remains clarity and cognizing.  In the same way, when the appearances of this life and this body cease, our mind itself will remain clarity and cognizing, it will just know new appearances.

If none of these ideas work for us, then it is useful to consider even if we are not sure, it is nonetheless better to live our life as if there are future lives.  Why?  If there are future lives, but we assume there are not, then we won’t be prepared for them when they come and our future will be uncertain.  It is like somebody denying that there is a tomorrow.  If there are not future lives, but we assume there are, then we will at least be able to have the happiest possible life during this life because a spiritual outlook on life is simply a happier way to relate to the world.  Why is this so?

Why is it a good idea to adopt a spiritual way of life?  Doing so can make every moment of our life deeply meaningful.  Our lives are as meaningful as the goals towards which we work.  If our goal is to lead each and every living being to the complete freedom of full enlightenment, then since this is the most meaningful goal, our life in pursuit of this goal will be felt to be full of great meaning.  We can find a true happiness from a different source – the cultivation of pure minds. 

External happiness, if we check, is really just a temporary reduction of our discomfort.   Even if it does provide us with temporary moments of happiness, we have no control over it and so our happiness is uncertain.  We feel we cannot be happy without our external objects.  In Buddhism, we have identified a different source of happiness – a peaceful mind.  If our mind is peaceful, we are happy, regardless of what our external circumstances are.  The cause of a peaceful mind is to mix our mind with virtue, such as love, compassion, etc.  When we engage in the actions of mixing our mind with virtue, we plant the karmic seeds on our mind which will ripen in the form of the experience of inner peace.  Understanding this, we have an infinite source of happiness just waiting to be tapped.  When our mind is at peace, we can then enjoy all external things, not just the ones we like.

We are all going to die, and the only things we can take with us are the causes we have created for ourself.  Everything else we have we need to leave behind.  The only riches we can take with us into our future lives are the karmic causes we have created for ourself.   When we think about this carefully, we realize that only they matter.  The rest of this life is not guaranteed to happen, but our future lives are, and they are very long.  Now is the time to assemble provisions for our future lives.  We do not know when we are going to die. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Understanding Emptiness Through Analogies

Preparation 4:  Understanding key analogies for realizing emptiness.

By way of further introduction, I think it might be helpful to discuss some of the main analogies Geshe-la uses to illustrate the meaning of emptiness. The most frequently used analogies are dreams, illusions, holograms, waves on the ocean, and the blue of the sky. I will now discuss each in turn.

Phenomena are like dreams:  One of the most effective analogies for illustrating the meaning of emptiness is all phenomena are like dreams. It is easy to understand how dreams are merely projections of our mind. If we dream of an elephant, we do not then go looking in our room for the elephant after we wake up. The appearances of our dream simply disappear when we wake up, and we understand that they never truly existed. They were simply projections of our mind. The only difference between last night’s dream and today’s waking world is the mind perceiving the appearances. Our dream mind is a subtle mind and our waking mind is a gross mind but the appearances in dreams, and the appearances in our waking state, are both equally mere projections of our mind.  The appearances themselves are exactly equal in nature. They have no existence other than projection of mind. If we go looking for something that is more than just mere projection of mind we find nothing. Even modern quantum physics confirms the truth of Buddha’s teachings 2,500 years ago. Quantum physics says objects come into existence when they are observed. The object itself is a projection of our mind, just like a dream.

Illusions:  Phenomena are also likened to illusions. An illusion is something that appears in one way but actually exists in another. The classic example is an illusory tiger manifested by an ancient magician. To the people in the audience, they see a living tiger; but for the magician, he understands it is an illusion. In the same way, all phenomena appear in one way but actually exist in another. They appear to be truly existent or existent from the side of the object, when in fact neither of these things is true. Perhaps a more modern example is taking psychedelic drugs. When people take LSD for example, all sorts of hallucinations appear vividly to their mind, but none of these things actually exist. Or another modern example would be someone with schizophrenia. People, places, and things appear clearly to their mind but they do not in fact exist.

Holograms:  Holograms are things that can appear in different ways depending upon how you look at them. For example, at Disneyland on the ride Pirates of the Caribbean, there is a room you pass through which has a bunch of faces. At the first angle they appear to be friendly, normal people; but when you move a little bit farther along, they then appear to be Pirates. So what is actually there? A kind person or a pirate? The truth is neither is actually there – from one perspective it is a kind person and from another perspective it is a pirate. The same is true for all phenomena. Different people looking at the same person, for example, can see a friend, an enemy, or a stranger. Their mother would look at the same person and see their child. A boss might see an employee, a child might see a parent, a con man might see a potential victim, and so forth. So who is actually there? Nobody. The person is neither child nor parent nor friend nor enemy nor any of these things.  Who and what they are depends upon the perspective with which we look at them. If the person was truly existent, then they would appear the same to everybody. The fact that they do not, shows but they do not truly exist.

Waves on the ocean:  One of my favorite analogies for emptiness is waves on the ocean. Each phenomenon is like a wave on the ocean of our mind. We can nominally differentiate one wave from another, but all of the waves are equally the ocean. You cannot ever separate the wave from the ocean, nor one wave from another – they rise and fall in dependence upon one another.  In the same way, all phenomena are like waves on the ocean of emptiness. We can nominally differentiate one phenomenon from another, but all phenomena are equally empty. They are all equally emptiness appearing in different forms. Or more specifically, when we look at phenomena, what we are seeing is emptiness appearing in different ways. Just as when we look at waves, we are seeing the ocean appearing in different aspects.  The prasangika view of emptiness says all things are manifestations of their emptiness, like waves are manifestations of the ocean. The tantra prasangika view goes one step further and says that all phenomena are by nature our mind of great bliss and our mind of great bliss is the nature of emptiness.

Blue of the sky:  In Mirror of Dharma, Geshe-la spends a great deal of time explaining the union of appearance and emptiness. The union of appearance and emptiness is Buddha’s final view. The analogy he gives for illustrating the relationship between appearance and emptiness is the blue of the sky. when we look at the sky, it appears blue. What we are looking at and seeing is the sky, and it appears blue. We certainly cannot separate the blue from the sky, but we also do not say we are looking at blue, we say we are looking at the sky. In exactly the same way, a Buddha looks at and sees emptiness everywhere appearing in myriad different ways. Their mind is never separated from the wisdom realizing the emptiness of all phenomena, but they nonetheless are able to see this emptiness appearing in all of its different manifestations. When I look at my shrine, for example, I see emptiness appearing as my shrine. As Geshe-la says in Mirror of Dharma, when we see our body, in truth we see only the emptiness of our body because the real nature of our body is its emptiness. He goes on to say, we realize the non-dual appearance and empty as an endless space of emptiness. In Essence of Vajrayana, Geshe-la explains that Heruka has serene eyes symbolizing that his mind never leaves emptiness, yet he remains omniscient knowing directly and simultaneously all phenomena.

Happy Heruka Day: Enjoying An Ocean of Bliss and Emptiness

Today is Heruka Day, which takes place during Heruka and Vajrayogini month (otherwise known as January), and is a special day when his blessings are particularly powerful.  Most of all, on this day we can recall his kindness and make an effort to bring him to life in our world.

Who is Heruka?

Heruka is the manifestation of the compassion of all the Buddhas.  Out of his Truth Body, he emanates himself as a complete path from the deepest hell to the highest enlightenment.  He is Keajra Pure Land, which is not some distant place but rather a different way of looking at our world.  He emanates in this world as Spiritual Guides who in turn introduce us to Keajra Pure Land.  We then begin to connect with it, and as we do, we are guided progressively to purer and purer states of mind.  Geshe-la once said the mind of Lamrim is Akanishta Pure Land – a revealing way of phrasing things, a mind as a place.  Heruka is the principal deity of Akanishta Pure Land.  Our Spiritual Guides first guide us into Lamrim (Akanishta), then conventional Keajra Pure Land through generation stage, then definitive Keajra Pure Land through completion stage.  Finally, we attain union with definitive Heruka, the omniscient mind of great bliss realizing directly and simultaneously the emptiness of all things.  Heruka is not just this final state, he is the entire path to it.  He is the compassion of all the Buddhas manifesting as the quick path to enlightenment.

My favorite description of Heruka is Chakrasambara.  As Geshe-la explains in Essence of Vajrayana:

“Another term for Heruka is ‘Chakrasambara.’  ‘Chakra’ means ‘wheel,’ and in this context refers to the ‘wheel’ of all phenomena.  ‘Sambara’ means the supreme bliss, which is called ‘spontaneous great bliss.’  Together ‘Chakra’ and ‘sambara’ reveal that by practicing Heruka Tantra we gain a profound realization that experiences all phenomena as one nature with our mind of great bliss.  This realization directly removes subtle dualistic appearances from our mind, and due to this we quickly become definitive Heruka.”

This realization is called “meaning clear light,” and Geshe-la explains in Guide to Dakini Land that if we gain this realization, we can attain enlightenment within six months.  This does not mean we can attain enlightenment in six months from the time we start practicing Heruka.  It will take a long time to gain the realization of meaning clear light, but once we do, we can attain enlightenment in six months.  Practicing Heruka is the quickest method for attaining the realization of meaning clear light.  At a minimum, through our sincere practice of Heruka in this life, if we can die with a mind of compassion and faith in Heruka, it is definite we can be reborn in his pure land.  From there, we will be able to quickly attain meaning clear light and then enlightenment.  This is our incredible good fortune. 

Recalling the Kindness of Heruka

The very heart of the sadhana Offering to the Spiritual Guide is the Single-Pointed Request, which can be understood as a prayer to Heruka as Keajra Pure Land. 

You are the Guru, you are the Yidam, you are the Daka and Dharma Protector;

From now until I attain enlightenment I shall seek no refuge other than you.

In this life, in the bardo, and until the end of my lives, please hold me with the hook of your compassion,

Liberate me from the fears of samsara and peace, bestow all the attainments, be my constant companion, and protect me from all obstacles.  

The first line reveals the vastness of Heruka.  Heruka is by nature our Guru and our Guru is Heruka.  All Tantric practices are fundamentally trainings in guru yoga – a special way of viewing the deity and the guru as inseparably one.  Saying Heruka is our Guru and our Guru is Heruka evokes different meanings, and both are true simultaneously.  Heruka is also our Yidam or our personal deity.  He is the Buddha we seek to become and our ultimate role model.  Christians ask, “what would Jesus do,” we ask, “what would Heruka do,” and we seek to do that.  Heruka is also the Daka, which here refers to the Heroes and Heroines of his body mandala.  These deities are his retinue, but also his spiritual limbs.  Heruka is also the Dharma Protector.  He manifests Dorje Shugden as the Protector of the Guru’s words.  Conventionally, Heruka appears as the totality of his Pure Land, from the HUM at his heart to the principal deity (Yidam); to the body mandala deities (Daka); to his celestial mansion, Mount Meru, and the continents (his gross body); to the charnel grounds (his perception of samsara); to Dorje Shugden’s protection circle surrounding it all transforming whatever appears into a perfect condition for the enlightenment of all beings within Heruka’s pure land.

The second line explains how we rely upon Heruka.  It begins with an understanding of both why we go for refuge to him and for how long our commitment to doing so is – namely to attain enlightenment and until we do.  Geshe-la explains Heruka’s power is only unleashed within us in dependence upon our motivation of Bodhichitta, the wish to become a Buddha for the benefit of all. 

The third line makes our reliance upon Heruka pure.  In Joyful Path, Geshe-la explains what makes our spiritual practice pure instead of worldly is whether we are engaging in it for the sake of all of our future lives or the sake of this life.  We rely upon Heruka in this life, in the bardo, and in all of our future lives.  What do we request of him?  That he always hold us with the hook of his compassion.  The ocean of samsara is vast and it is easy to get lost at sea and drown, but out of his compassion for us, he throws us a hook we can grab onto.  If we never let go, he will pull us to safety.  What is this hook and how does it appear in our life?  It primarily appears as our Spiritual Guide, but it also manifests as the Daka and the Dharma Protector. 

The fourth line reveals Heruka’s main function; or put another way, the principal benefits of relying upon him.  His aspect of the Guru functions to liberate us from the fears of samsara and peace.  Peace here refers to the solitary peace of individual liberation, which is nice for us but useless for others.  We pray to never get trapped in solitary peace but instead strive to become a Buddha who works until the end of time to free others from their suffering.  His aspect of the Yidam functions to bestow all the attainments.  Bestow is a beautiful word as it implies the giving of something precious.  In truth, we attain enlightenment by the Buddhas bestowing the realizations of their mind upon ours, like a gift.  Of course, we must do certain things from our side to open up our mind to receive these precious gifts, but by nature, our future realizations of the stages of the path are actually by nature aspects of our Yidam’s mind.  His aspect of Daka functions to be our constant companion.  In other words, the deities of the body mandala – Heruka’s retinue – are his companions who not only bless our own channels, drops, and winds, but similarly bless all living beings as they fulfill Heruka’s wishes in this world.  His aspect of Dharma Protector functions to protect ourselves and all the beings inside Heruka’s mandala from all obstacles to our spiritual practice.  Nothing is an obstacle from its own side.  Things only become obstacles when we relate to them in a deluded way.  Dorje Shugden is first and foremost a wisdom Buddha, meaning he grants us the wisdom to be able to see how whatever arises is perfect for our spiritual training.  Since his protection circle envelopes all of Keajra, from the Charnel Grounds to the HUM at Heruka’s heart, he is likewise bestowing similar wisdom blessings on the minds of all living beings.  This is why for Heruka samsara appears as the Charnel Grounds.  In the Charnel Grounds, even though conventionally horrific things appear, they are all understood and seen as powerful Dharma teachings propelling us towards enlightenment.  When we have this wisdom, when others come to us with their difficulties, we fail to even see a problem, we see only spiritual opportunity.  We then share our perspective with others, empowering them to transform their life into a joyful path of good fortune. 

For myself, I recite the Single-Pointed request with these recognitions day and night as I go about my day.  It is my daily mantra, and with every recitation, it draws me closer to Heruka.  In my meditation itself, I try to gain experience for what it feels like to be Heruka in Keajra.

Bringing Heruka to Life in our World

We can sometimes feel like Heruka is not in this world and our attainment of union with him is very far off.  Both of these perceptions are completely wrong.  Heruka is the ultimate nature of everything in this world and attaining union with him is simply one recognition away.  How can we bridge the gap between these two very different views?  Through the practice of the Eight Lines of Praise of the Father.  This is a special method for activating Heruka’s function in this world through us.  On the basis of this feeling we simply recognize ourselves as Heruka.  Through continual training in this practice, the gap between our normal perception and our enlightened perception collapses until eventually, we experience ourselves directly as Heruka in this world performing his enlightened deeds for the benefit of all.   As Geshe-la says in Essence of Vajrayana, “By sincerely reciting these praises we swiftly purify our ordinary appearances and reach Heruka’s Pure Land.”

The Eight Lines of Praise are almost like words of a magical spell, which function to invoke or activate the different functions of Heruka we are praising. 

OM I Prostrate to the Blessed One, Lord of the Heroes HUM HUM PHAT

When we recite this line, we request Heruka’s body to become active in this world.  His body is the form aspect of Keajra Pure Land.  In Keajra, every form that appears is understood as a powerful Dharma teaching by all those who behold it.  Heruka manifests as whatever living beings need to be led to enlightenment.  While Keajra Pure Land is shaped like a mountain, it’s spiritual gradient is more like a funnel.  No matter where you drop something in a funnel, it is eventually guided down into the center of the funnel.  In the same way, no matter where you find yourself in Keajra Pure Land – from the Charnel Grounds to the principal deity’s body – you are inexorably drawn towards the indestructible wind inside Heruka’s heart chakra.  By activating Heruka’s form body in our world, we are “inviting all beings to be our guests” in our Pure Land where we engage in the pleasing supreme practices of enlightenment.  We then strongly believe that whatever forms appear to the minds of any living being, they are by nature emanations of Heruka’s form body, revealing the truth of Dharma and guiding all beings towards his heart. 

In particular, when we recite this line, we can imagine that our body is Heruka’s majestic body.  Our eyes may continue to perceive the body that we normally see, but our mind’s eyes of faith see ourselves as Heruka.  In Essence of Vajrayana, it explains the symbolism of Heruka’s body.  The short version is it reveals all of the essential stages of the path to enlightenment.  Buddhas can manifest their inner realizations as forms.  The main point is we should disregard, even forget, our body that we normally see and believe that through our recitation of this line of the prayer we perceive our body to be Heruka’s body.

OM To you with a brilliance equal to the fire of the great aeon HUM HUM PHAT

When we recite this line, we invoke/activate Heruka’s speech.  In Keajra, every sound is arising from Heruka’s enlightened speech and it functions to reveal the truth of Dharma.  When we recite this, we imagine that every sound, even the rustling of leaves in the wind, is actually vajra songs teaching Dharma.  His speech burns away the ordinary conceptions and ignorance of living beings like a great wisdom fire that radiates out and burns away all delusions.  In particular, we should imagine that from this point forward all of our own speech is actually Heruka’s speech being spoken through us.  Instead of saying whatever comes to our mind, we get out of the way and let him speak through us.  If we are practicing this at the level of completion stage, we can recall that the nature of sound is wind, and so all sounds are actually the whistling of Heruka’s pure winds blowing through the world.

OM To you with an inexhaustible topknot HUM HUM PHAT

With this line we imagine we invoke/activate Heruka’s mind in our world, symbolized by his topknot.  There are two aspects of his mind in particular worth noting.  First, his mind sees all past, present, and future phenomena directly and simultaneously.  He sees everything that has been, everything that is, and everything that will be as one inseparable ocean.  This wisdom knowing the three times is extremely effective for being able to help people because we can see the karmic why they are currently facing the situations they are facing and all of the different possible futures they will experience depending upon how they respond to their present circumstance.  Heruka sees everything as currents and continuums, like spiritual winds blowing through time, not static pictures that seem arbitrary and bewildering.  Second, his mind has the power to bestow the realizations of Chakrasambara on others, in other words, his mind functions to gather and dissolve all phenomena into the ocean of bliss and emptiness.  When impure winds cease to flow, the waves of appearance subside, and the ocean of our mind settles into a blissful clarity.  Heruka’s mind naturally draws all phenomena back into this original source of all purity.  When we recite this line, we feel as if these two powers of his mind are now active.  We start to see the three times as Heruka does and we feel all phenomena settling down into the ocean of our mind of clear light emptiness.

OM To you with a fearsome face and bared fangs HUM HUM PHAT

When we recite this line, we imagine we gain Heruka’s great wisdom knowing clearly and unmistakenly what are the objects to be abandoned and what are the objects to be attained, not only for ourselves, but for all living beings.  Not being clear about this is our fundamental problem and the source of all of our suffering.  In Modern Buddhism, Geshe-la makes a clear distinction between our outer problem and our inner problem.  If our car breaks down, normally we think, “I have a problem.”  No, our car has a problem.  Our problem is our inner problem of relating to this appearance in a deluded way.  We need a mechanic to fix our car, and we need to change our mind to solve our inner problem.  Fixing our outer problem will not solve our inner problem.  If we continue to have our inner problem, we will just project it onto some other external circumstance and think now that needs to be fixed too.  Worldly beings are convinced their problem is what is happening externally, and they expend all of their energy trying to solve all of their outer problems, but no matter how many times they do, they continue to have the same sorts of problems just with different faces or different sets of external appearance.  The reason for this is they have not solved their inner problem.  Heruka’s great wisdom enables us to see clearly that our own and others’ actual problem lies within.  Once we are clear that our problem is our inner problem, then his great wisdom helps us see clearly our delusions as mistaken minds.  It is one thing to identify that we have delusions, but if we do not see why they are wrong or deceptive, we will continue to follow them believing them to be true.  His great wisdom also helps us easily know what is the correct way of looking at things that leaves our mind peaceful and calm.  We not only know the wisdom way of thinking, we actually think that way – or at least believe it to be correct, even if the winds of our mind are blowing in opposite directions. 

When we recite this line, we have this wisdom not only for ourselves but also for others.  When others talk to us, we see clearly the difference between their outer and their inner problem, and with respect to their inner problem, we know and can explain in a way they can understand the objects to be abandoned and the objects to be attained.  Traveling outer paths is accomplished through taking steps, inner paths are traveled through knowing what thoughts to believe.  The great wisdom of knowing the objects to be abandoned and the objects to be attained is like always knowing which paths to travel so that we never get lost.  It is like an inner GPS that is always set for the City of Enlightenment, and no matter where we find ourselves, we always know how to get to where we want to go.

OM To you whose thousand arms blaze with light HUM HUM PHAT

When we recite this line we imagine we invoke/activate countless emanations of Heruka who spontaneously burst forth from his heart of compassion to benefit living beings through acts of loving-kindness.  This line refers to how Heruka is the compassion of all the Buddhas, he is the highest yoga tantra version of thousand-arm Avalokiteshvara.  Some people wonder how Buddhas gain the ability to send out emanations.  The answer is their compassion wishing to protect all living beings from all suffering is so great, emanations naturally burst out of their hearts.  Because they realize emptiness of all phenomena, their compassion is like blowing air into the soap of their realization of emptiness producing countless bubbles of emanations.  Normally, when people come to us for help, we think, “I can’t help all of these people,” and we wish some of them would go away and stop putting so many demands on us.  But a bodhisattva thinks, “I would want to help all of these beings, but right now, unfortunately, I can’t.  That’s why I need to become a Buddha because then I will be able to be with each and every living being every day.”  We imagine that through reciting this line, we gain this ability to send out countless emanations and to be like thousand-arm Avalokiteshvara, able to help living beings in countless ways.

OM To you who hold an axe, an uplifted noose, a spear, and a khatanga HUM HUM PHAT

With this line, we imagine we gain Heruka’s ability to engage in wrathful actions, and we invoke his wrathful actions pervade the entire universe.  What are wrathful actions?  They are the ability to use force out of compassion.  They are of two types:  outer and inner.  Outer wrathful actions are when somebody is hurting themselves or others and we can stop them through using whatever power we have (physical, our position, our speech, etc.).  We do this not out of anger, but to protect the person they are harming and to protect the person committing the harm from accumulating negative karma.  Our wish is not to harm the other person, but to protect them.  Sometimes outer wrathful actions take the form of telling people the hard truths of their situation, such as they are acting like a jerk or the only reason why they are suffering is that they are jealous or attached to companionship, or whatever.  Whether our outer wrathful actions are effective depends upon whether our mind is truly free from anger and whether the other person has enough faith in us to take well what we are saying.  If either of these two conditions is not met, our wrathful actions will just be anger or they will just be self-defeating.  Inner wrathful actions are the ability to be utterly ruthless with our delusions, but kind to ourselves.  We can only successfully engage in them if we have truly differentiated between ourselves and our delusions and we have realized that renunciation is true self-love or self-compassion.  It is loving or having compassion for our true selves, our pure potential.  Inner wrathful actions of a Buddha are powerful blessings that help people see clearly the error of their ways, sometimes at an epic scale, but without inducing guilt causing the person to beat themselves up.  When we recite this line, we imagine we gain the ability to engage in such wrathful actions and we imagine we invoke Heruka to engage in such wrathful actions through the appearances of this world.

OM To you who wear a tiger-skin garment HUM HUM PHAT

This refers to Heruka’s ability to pacify anger and conflict.  There is no evil greater than anger.  Almost all of the harm in this world is caused by anger.  Hell realms are the nature of anger, and those who remain consumed by anger in life wind up taking rebirth in hell after death because that is the nature of their mind.  Anger prevents us from accepting samsara as it is, making us wish it was different.  It leads to frustrations, great and small, leaving us always internally uncomfortable, agitated, and unhappy.  Guilt is anger directed at ourself and is a major obstacle to our ability to view Dharma as refuge instead of a mirror we perceive to be judging us for all of our failures and shortcomings.  Conflict in the world ranges from large-scale wars to spats between siblings, but it leaves a wake of pain wherever it goes.  In Eight Steps to Happiness, Geshe-la says the mind of cherishing others is like a magic crystal that has the power to heal whole communities.  In Toronto, he said, “love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all enemies.”  Heruka’s compassion is his magic crystal and his love is his nuclear bomb that ends all conflict.  We imagine by reciting this line, we activate this power and it functions to pacify all anger, all guilt, and all conflict, not only in our own lives but in the whole world.  We feel as if his love radiates out, pulsing peace into the world.  In Transform Your Life Geshe-la says, “without inner peace, outer peace is impossible.”  We imagine through Heruka’s blessings, we bestow inner peace on all living beings, resulting in universal peace for all.

OM I bow to you whose smoke-coloured body dispels obstructions HUM HUM PHAT

In Essence of Vajrayana, Geshe-la explains:

“In the Condensed Root Tantra it is said that just by seeing a sincere Heruka practitioner we purify our negativities and attain liberation; just by hearing or being touched by such a practitioner we receive blessings and are cured of sickness; and just by being in the presence of such a practitioner our unhappiness, mental disturbances, delusions and other obstacles are dispelled.  Why is this?  It is because the actual Deities of Heruka abide within the body of the practitioner and therefore seeing the practitioner is not so different from seeing Heruka himself.”

When we recite this line of the Praise we recall this special quality of Heruka which makes merely being in their presence a cause of liberation for others.  There are two types of obstructions – the obstructions to liberation, or our delusions; and the obstructions to omniscience, or the karmic imprints of our past delusions.  Merely being in Heruka’s presence dispels both of these, just as being exposed to the sun will melt ice cream.  When we recite this line with faith, we imagine that our Heruka body attains these qualities and when others are merely in our presence, it functions as a cause of their enlightenment – even if we are doing nothing other than watching football together.  We further imagine that Heruka’s body pervades all phenomena, and while our ordinary eyes may perceive the things we normally see, our wisdom eyes see Keajra Pure Land, which is nothing other than Heruka’s pure form body.  By being in this world, the two obstructions of all living beings are dispelled away, all ordinary appearances and conceptions dissolve, and all beings awaken into a world of pure wonder. 

Through continuously engaging in the Eight Lines of Praise, we will gradually purify our mind and samsara will gather and absorb into the clear light, like clouds into a clear blue sky.  We will feel Heruka as Keajra Pure Land become increasingly manifest and we will realize it is not far away, but actually the true nature of all things.  Having activated these eight abilities of Heruka and feeling them work through us, we will have no difficulty generating a qualified divine pride thinking we are Heruka.  As our experience with these verses deepens, the duality between ourselves and our Yidam will dissolve away until we experience union with this marvelous being.  In this way, we will fulfill all of our own and others’ pure wishes.

Heruka day is a particularly auspicious day when Heruka’s blessings are especially powerful.  The karma we create familiarizing ourselves with Heruka in our life and drawing closer to him on this day will pay dividends for aeons to come.  If we have not yet memorized the Eight Lines of Praise, today is a perfect day to do so.  Once we have learned it, we can then practice it day and night and swiftly move out of samsara and into Keajra Pure Land! 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: 80% of Realizing Emptiness is Identifying the Object of Negation

Preparation 3:  Understanding clearly the object of negation

Before we dive into the actual verses of Shantideva’s explanation of emptiness, I first want to say a few words about the object of negation of emptiness. Gen Tharchin explains that 80% of realizing emptiness is correctly identifying the object of negation. If we know what exactly we are negating, then emptiness is simply the mere absence of that. The non-existence of that. If we do not correctly understand the object of negation, then our understanding of emptiness is merely fabricated and almost certainly wrong. Sometimes we are in a rush to get to the final object of emptiness, but this is a mistake. Instead, we should spend the majority of our time correctly identifying what exactly it is we are negating before we engage in the actual contemplations which dismantle our grasping at the existence of the things we normally see.

Geshe-la explains several different ways of understanding the object of negation. Each one is of course synonymous – there is only one emptiness. But each formulation of the object of negation reveals a different aspect of it that then enables us to better understand what exactly it is we are negating. Therefore, I thought it would be helpful to first explain each of these different ways of understanding the object of negation so that when we enter into Shantideva’s explanation, we know what exactly he is talking about. Geshe-la alternatively refers to inherent existence, true existence, existence from its own side, independently existent, and the things we normally see. I will now explain each one in turn.

Inherent existence:  The most common explanation of emptiness in the majority of Geshe-la’s books is the absence of inherent existence. Emptiness is the mere lack of inherent existence.  What exactly is inherent existence?  Inherent existence means that the existence of the object inheres in the object itself. In other words, there is no difference between the object and its basis of imputation. We think the object itself is its basis. The car is the car, the tree is the tree, its existence is inside itself – its existence is itself. When we engage in the traditional meditation as explained in the Meditation Handbook on looking for the body that we normally see, the I that we normally see and so forth, we are looking for where is the object. We say it can be found either as one of its parts, as the collection of its parts, or as separate from its parts. Inherent existence means we can find the object itself inside the object. The key point of the Prasangika view of emptiness is recognizing the distinction between the basis of imputation and the object itself. When we see the imputation as distinct from its basis, we see the lack of inherent existence. When we see the basis of imputation and the object itself as one in the same, then we are grasping at inherent existence.

True existence:  True existence is if the object exists in the way in which it appears. Objects appear to exist from their own side, independent of the mind. It seems as if objects exist “out there” waiting to be observed, and our mind has no role whatsoever in bringing these objects into existence. True existence, therefore, is assenting to this appearance. We conceptually believe that objects do indeed exist in the way that they appear. We do not think that the appearance of objects existing from their own side is incorrect, rather we think it is exactly correct – that is how objects exist. 

Existence from its own side:  existence from its own side means that the object exists on the side of the object itself and not on the side of the mind. Normally we say there are two things: subject and object.  The subject is the person who or mind that knows and the object is what is known. We say I know John. In this example “I” is the subject “John” is the object. How does John exist? When we believe in existence from its own side, we think that John exists on the side of John. We believe that our mind has no role whatsoever in bringing John into existence. Existing on the side of the object and objectively existing are synonymous. In our normal way of talking about things we refer to a subjective perception of something and an objective perception of something. The subjective perception of something is seen to be false and dependent upon the person who is looking at it, whereas an objective perception of things is supposedly neutral and accurate and true for how the object actually exists from its own side. For example, we could say that is objectively good. To say something is objectively anything is to say that its existence is established on the side of the object itself. In truth, nothing is objectively existent, everything is subjectively existent. Believing that there is such a thing as objective existence of anything is ignorance, and the object of negation of emptiness. All of modern science is based on the assumption that we can objectively describe things. Every other discipline nowadays is trying to be more and more like science. Economics, sociology, political science, etc., all of these things are trying to be more science-like and describe things objectively. We often say someone who is objective has a better view than someone who is merely offering their subjective opinion. We even place a value judgment saying objective is better when in fact objective does not even exist.

Independently existent:  Another way of understanding the object of negation is independently existent. Objects exist independent of other things. This is how things appear to us. We think that we exist independently of others. We think others exist independently of us. We think our computer exists independently from our table. The list goes on and on.  To exist independently means to not depend upon other things for being able to come into existence. Everyone knows that a rainbow is a dependent-arising. When water and sunlight come together at a particular angle it creates the appearance of a rainbow. Without the water and without the sunlight, there is no rainbow. We know that the rainbow exists in dependence upon these causes and conditions. Independent existence is thinking that things exist and arise independently of other things. Of course, even superficially thinking about things we recognize that nothing exists independently of anything else, but our ignorance nonetheless innately grasps at things as existing independently of everything else. For example, because we think our self exists independently of others, it makes sense to us to cherish only ourselves and not others. When things happen to other people, we think it does not matter because we believe it is not happening to us. We think this because we think we are independent of others and others are independent of us. In many ways understanding the dependent nature of all phenomena is the easiest way of understanding emptiness. That is why Shantideva spends so much time discussing how objects come into existence.

The things we normally see:  In recent years, Geshe-la has primarily focused on explaining the object of negation of emptiness as “the things we normally see.” In Mirror of Dharma, Geshe-la says everyone knows that emptiness is the lack of inherent existence, but despite having this intellectual understanding our delusions are not changed. We remain just as deluded as before. The object of negation simply is an intellectual abstraction, and not our actual innate ignorance. The phraseology of the things we normally see counters this. What is my self that I normally see? It’s Ryan. The Ryan that I normally see. What is the body that I normally see? It’s my body that I look at and see in the mirror. There is no need to make it more complicated than that. It is simply the body that I normally see. The same is true for cars, our friends, the world, and all other phenomena. Everything that we normally see is the object of negation. None of these things actually exist. Our intellectual mind likes to focus on the words “normally see,” to then re-impute our intellectual understanding of inherent existence. How do things normally appear?  They appear to exist from their own site, they appear to exist inherently, etc. But by doing this, we miss the point of this phraseology and it just winds up being a recreation of our intellectual understanding of emptiness. We need to take these words exactly as they are without extra commentary. What is the object of negation? All the things that we normally see – our computer, our home, our boss, our children, etc., etc., etc. The phraseology of the things I normally see do not exist is also particularly powerful in meditation itself. Even in our mind the world continues to appear. That world that appears inside our mind is the things that we normally see. None of that exists – it is all mere projections, illusions, hallucinations, holograms, and so forth of the mind. When we say the things we normally see do not exist in meditation, then all of these appearances inside of our mind dissolve into the clear light emptiness. We then look out into the clear light and see the mirror lack or the non-existence of all of the things that we normally see. 

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: What is the Final View of Emptiness?

Preparation 2:  Starting with the end in mind.

Before we begin, I want to give the final conclusion of where we are heading.  There are two main questions we are going to answer:  what does it mean that things are empty, and what are the main implications of this?  What does it mean that things are empty?  It means that everything is a mere karmic appearance of mind.  ‘Mere appearance’ – refers to the fact that things are nothing more than projections of mind, like a dream.  ‘Karmic appearance’ – refers to the appearances themselves arise from the ripening of karma.  Karma is like a ‘movie’ that when activated projects an image, or more modern and time-sensitive, karma is like a YouTube video that projects certain appearances for a certain duration (and most of it is crap!). ‘Of mind’ – refers to the conventional and ultimate nature of the appearance itself.

Conventional nature means the chair is the mind in the aspect of the chair.  The mind is like play dough, and the shape it is formed in is the chair.  This world is my mind in the aspect of this world – or more specifically, it is the emptiness of my mind in the aspect of the world.  This world is the body of my mind.  Ultimate nature refers to the ultimate nature of the mind, emptiness.  It is the emptiness of my mind in the aspect of the chair. 

Another simple way of getting to the same object is to understand that emptiness has three key recognitions to it.  First, things are projections of mind – this is the same as above, things are nothing more than dream-like projections of mind.  Second, things are taking place within the mind – everything that happens, happens ‘inside’ the mind.  And third, things are the nature of the mind – the objects are ‘made of’ the mind.

What are the main implications of emptiness?  For now, I would like to highlight four main implications.

First, we have choice.  When we consider karma, we sometimes think that everything is deterministic and we have no choice.  But when we understand emptiness, we realize we have complete choice over everything. The whole point of Dharma is to make manifest this choice.  We aim for choice of mind, choice of rebirth, choice of experience, choice of world.  Nagarjuna said, ‘for whom emptiness is possible, everything is possible.  For whom emptiness is impossible, nothing is possible.’

Second, we are responsible for everything.  If everything is a mere karmic appearance of OUR mind, then everything is coming from our mind and our karma, so we are responsible for everything that happens.  The duality between ourself and the creator falls away.  We realize that we have been a negligent creator because we have created a world of suffering, and we need to take responsibility for our creation and create a new, pure world.

Third, we need to become a Buddha because only a Buddha’s mind is powerful enough to free all living beings from suffering.  Suffering sentient beings exist because we are uncontrolledly projecting such beings in our karmic dream.  Only a Buddha’s mind is powerful enough to completely stop projecting suffering sentient beings and a samsara and to perfectly project a pure world filled with pure beings. 

Fourth, from a practical point of view, we need to simplify our life down to two things:  appearance and response.  Various things appear, like the waves of our karma.  What appears does not matter at all.  The only thing that matters is how we respond to those appearances.  If we respond to these appearances in a deluded way, they will become increasingly turbulent and distorted.  If we respond to them in a virtuous way, they will become increasingly pacified and pure.  Our job is to make cease this contaminated world of suffering.  It is like unraveling a giant knot of Christmas tree lights, until eventually this entire world of suffering subsides completely into clear light emptiness.

The final view we are striving for is the union of the Madhyamika-Prasangika school and the Chittmatrin school.  To establish this view, we first need to establish each one individually, and then we put the two together.  The Prasangika school quite simply says everything is like an illusion – there is nothing really there.  The Chittamatrins say ‘everything is mind.’  They would say there is something, but it is not ‘there’ like it appears to be.   There are no ‘external objects’, everything is inside the mind.  In fact, everything is mind.  It is mind in the aspect of the chair.   What is there?  The mind is there.  The union of the two says, ‘the illusions are the nature of an empty mind.’  It is the emptiness of the mind appearing in the aspect of the chair.

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.

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.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Making our Dharma Study Qualified

Bodhisattva downfall:  Making no effort to study Dharma. 

If, without a good reason, we make no effort to listen to Dharma teachings or read Dharma books, we incur a secondary downfall.

Venerable Tharchin explains that if we take full advantage of the spiritual opportunities we have been given it creates the causes for us to have even better opportunities in the future.  But if we waste the opportunities we have, we burn up the karma which created them and will find it increasingly difficult to find such opportunities again in the future.  When we understand we have stumbled upon the one door through which we can escape from suffering forever we will realize there is nothing more important we can do with our life or our time than train our mind in the Dharma.  This is doubly so when we realize we can die at any point in time and lose this opportunity forever. 

But at the same time, again, we need to approach our practice with a balanced attitude. It is better to do a little every day for the rest of our life than a ton of spiritual activity for a short period of time and then nothing after that.  We are running a spiritual marathon and we need to pace ourselves for the long haul.  We should not project onto ourself an arbitrary standard that 24/7 we need to directly be doing Dharma, and if we are not we are somehow committing some downfall.  Instead, we should practice comfortably and skillfully, improving a little bit each day, each month, each year.  Slowly but surely, drop by drop, the bucket of our enlightenment will be filled.

Bodhisattva downfall:  Preferring to rely on books rather than on our Spiritual Guide. 

If we neglect the practice of sincere reliance on our Spiritual Guide and prefer to acquire our understanding from books we incur a secondary downfall.

There are many people, especially in the West, who really struggle with the idea of reliance upon a “guru.”  The very sound of it just sounds cult like, and alarm bells go off every time we hear people speaking in this way.  It may be that we usually only talk with other Dharma practitioners who speak in a similar way, and so we inadvertently sound like we have joined some crazed cult when we speak with others and talk about our “guru.”

Geshe-la says externally we should treat our Spiritual Guides “exactly as normal.”  Outwardly, there should be no visible indications of us treating our teachers, including our root guru, differently than we would any other respected person in this world.  Geshe-la explains in Great Treasury of Merit that the Spiritual Guide’s true miracle powers are his ability to outwardly appear completely as normal, even though internally they have perfected every good quality.  At a Summer Festival once he explained that it is by relating to our spiritual teachers exactly as normal that we gain the realizations we are supposed to get.  If we act all weird with our teachers, we do not gain the needed realizations, others think we are crazy and so we bring the Dharma into disrepute, we set ourselves up for a fall when our teacher appears to make mistakes, and we are actually putting our teachers into a real personal bind.  In the early days of the tradition, everyone spoke of their teachers as if they were Buddhas without fault.  This then lead to the teaches pretending to be better than they are thinking it was helpful to the student’s faith.  The teachers would then repress their delusions, develop all sorts of strange forms of pride and then either implode from repression or explode by doing something stupid thinking it was divine to do so.  This is why Gen-la Khyenrab is such a good example.  There is not an ounce of pretention in him and he constantly encourages us to keep it real.  Such behavior is perfect.

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.