Happy Tsog Day: How to Give Everything to Others

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 35 of a 44-part series.

Blessing the offerings to the spirits

At this point we can send out the left-over substances to the spirits.

HUM Impure mistaken appearances are purified in emptiness,
AH Great nectar accomplished from exalted wisdom,
OM It becomes a vast ocean of desired enjoyment.
OM AH HUM  (3x)

Next in the sadhana comes the practice of the perfection of giving. To emphasize the practice of giving, we offer the tsog offering to all the spirits. Who are the spirits? For the most part, we can say that they are the spirits of the hungry ghost realm. Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path of Good Fortune that the only food hungry spirits are able to find is that which is dedicated to them by Dharma practitioners. Besides this, they are unable to find any food or drink. This is why it is customary for Dharma practitioners to leave one bite of food remaining on their plate at the end of every meal that they then mentally offer to all the spirits. When we do the dishes after a meal, there is often a good deal of wasted food. It is a good idea to have a special garbage can where we put all our uneaten food. We can then offer all this food to the hungry spirits. If we live in the city, we can sometimes recycle this extra food by placing it in special bins. If such bins do not exist, we can still mentally dedicate the food, and then put it in the regular trash. If we live in the countryside or in the suburbs, we can create a compost heap where we put all our unused food. This compost heap can become our offering to the hungry spirits and later become excellent fertilizer for our yard. Even when we put it down as fertilizer, we can imagine that we are creating a rich ecosystem for all the insects who live in our yard. In addition to offering food to the spirits, it is also important to offer food to the poor or the homeless. Every person we encounter is a karmic mirror of a future life we are likely to have. By giving food to these people now, we create the causes for others to give food to us when we are in similar need.

But before we can offer the tsog offering to the spirits, we first need to re-bless the offerings. A long time has passed since we blessed the offerings earlier, and we may have forgotten their purity. For this reason, we re-bless the offerings.

Actual offering to the spirits

HO This ocean of remaining tsog offering of uncontaminated nectar,
Blessed by concentration, mantra, and mudra,
I offer to please the assembly of oath-bound guardians.
Delighted by enjoying these magnificent objects of desire,
Please perform perfect actions to help practitioners.

We offer the tsog offering to the spirits in exactly the same way as we do all the other beings in the field of merit. We imagine that countless offering goddesses emanate from our heart, scoop up the offering, bring it to the spirits who then partake of the offering through straws of vajra light. We then imagine that they are fully nourished and experience great bliss. We then request them to help practitioners. By befriending the spirits in this way, they can become powerful allies for us in our spiritual path. They can help us arrange conditions for our practice and dispel obstacles from obstructive spirits.

In the practices of Dorje Shugden, we imagine that he enlists the help of all the spirits into countless armies of Dharma protectors who work to protect living beings and their spiritual practice. This is one of the kindest things we can do, because by virtue of “giving them a job” as Dharma protectors, they will come under the care and protection of all the Buddhas as well as create the karma for themselves to be able to find the Dharma in the future.

Send out the offering to the spirits.

O Guests of the remainder together with your retinues
Please enjoy this ocean of remaining tsog offering.
May those who spread the precious doctrine,
The holders of the doctrine, their benefactors, and others,
And especially I and other practitioners
Have good health, long life, power,
Glory, fame, fortune,
And extensive enjoyments.
Please grant me the attainments
Of pacifying, increasing, controlling, and wrathful actions.
You who are bound by oaths please protect me
And help me to accomplish all the attainments.
Eradicate all untimely death, sicknesses,
Harm from spirits, and hindrances.
Eliminate bad dreams,
Ill omens, and bad actions.
May there be happiness in the world, may the years be good,
May crops increase, and may the Dharma flourish.
May all goodness and happiness come about,
And may all wishes be accomplished.

By the force of this bountiful giving,
May I become a Buddha for the sake of migrators
And through my generosity may I liberate
All those not liberated by previous Buddhas.

These verses describe the different ways in which we request the spirits to help create favorable conditions for our own and others’ Dharma practice and for the fulfillment of all their wishes. It is very difficult for beings in the lower realms to engage in virtuous actions. Animals occasionally do when they care for their young. Beings in the hell realms almost never engage in any virtuous actions. Hungry spirits for the most part also engage only in negativity because they are constantly so deprived of resources. We can understand this by looking at areas of extreme poverty in the world today. They are often ghettoized into small areas, left with virtually no resources, and naturally a war of all against all begins to take place. But through pure dedications and prayers by Dharma practitioners, we cannot only give spirits food and nourishment, we can also provide them with opportunities to create virtue for themselves by enlisting them to become Dharma protectors in the ways described above.

How to practise the perfection of giving

I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of giving
Through the instructions on improving the mind of giving without attachment,
And Thus, to transform my body, my enjoyments, and my virtues amassed throughout the three times
Into whatever each sentient being desires.

Giving is the cause of receiving. The perfection of giving is giving with the bodhicitta motivation. There are four types of giving: giving material things, giving love, giving fearlessness, and giving Dharma. We give material things when we provide others with what they need. We give love primarily through giving our time and helping other people feel like they matter to us and we are willing to work for their well-being. We help others feel good about themselves. We give fearlessness by helping others overcome their fear or protecting them from dangers. The ultimate way to give fearlessness is to help others realize no matter what happens they can transform it into the path, and so therefore there is nothing to fear from anything. And we give Dharma anytime we give others good advice. It does not have to take the form of Dharma teachings, it can even just simply be showing a good example. Dharma advice is different than ordinary advice. Ordinary advice explains to people what they should do to change their external circumstance. Dharma advice explains to people how they can change their mind with regards to whatever is happening. It takes as is starting point that our problem is our mind; and this is distinct from our outer problem, which is whatever is happening in the world.

Venerable Tharchin explains one of the best ways of practicing giving is to abandon completely the conceptual thought “mine.” If we do not impute mine on anything and instead consider everything as belonging to others, then we are able to give away absolutely everything. When we think mine with respect to some object, we burn up our merit of having the thing. If we impute “others’” and mentally give it away to them, then we accumulate merit by having those things. A doubt may arise if we give away everything how will we take care of ourselves? The answer is we can practice the giving of keeping. Sometimes the best way to give to others is to keep something in our protection or custody until we are able to give it to others or they are ready to receive it. For example, we can view our home as something we are temporarily maintaining so that we are able to give it away to others later. Even if we later sell our home, we can do so with the intention of giving the money away, using it for the benefit of others, or maintaining our precious human life so we can attain enlightenment for others. We can keep our body so that we can offer it in service to others. We can gain Dharma wisdom with the intention of giving it away to others. Even when we attain an enlightened body, we do not have to think it is ours but rather something we are using to be able to benefit others. In banking, there is something called having a fiduciary responsibility. While they are managing others money, they are supposed to do so for the benefit and for their sake of their clients. In exactly the same way, we can view ourselves as having a fiduciary responsibility to all living beings and manage everything we own for their sake.

Happy Tara Day: Bringing our seven-limb prayer to life

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

Prayer of seven limbs

To Venerable Arya Tara
And all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas
Residing in the ten directions and the three times,
I prostrate with sincere faith.

Actual prostration is an inner wish to become just like whatever we are prostrating to.  When we prostrate to the good qualities of Buddhas, we are not trying to flatter them, rather we are humbly acknowledging that they have qualities we aspire towards, and our prostration is a commitment that we will rely upon them until we gain these same qualities ourself.  When we recite this verse, we should imagine that all of the countless Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of all three times are joining us in prostrating towards Arya Tara, our common spiritual mother.  Every Buddha and every bodhisattva is different, but we all share a common respect for our kind spiritual mother, and we pay respect to her wishing to become just like her.  We might wonder why Buddhas need to prostrate to other Buddhas since they have already attained every good quality.  They do so for two reasons, as a sign of respect recognizing all of the good that Tara does and to show a good example to everybody else by reaffirming that she is the spiritual mother of us all. 

I offer you flowers, incense, lights,
Perfumes, foods, music and other offerings,
Both actually set out and mentally imagined;
Please accept these, O Assembly of Aryas.

Buddhas do not need offerings from their own side since they already have everything they need.  We, however, need to make offerings because we need the merit, or good karma.  Gaining Dharma realizations depends primarily upon three conditions:  a mind free from negative karma, an abundance of merit, and a steady flow of blessings.  This can be likened to sea lanes free from obstacles, good sails, and plenty of wind.  When we recite this verse, we should imagine that ourself and all living beings surrounding us all fill the entire universe with countless breathtaking offerings.  We should imagine that the assembly of Taras accepts our offerings out of delight, knowing that we are now karmically closer to her and our minds our rich with merit she can subsequently bless.

I confess all negative actions,
The five heinous actions and the ten non-virtues,
That I have committed since beginningless time
Through my mind being overcome by delusions.

The strength of our purification depends upon the extent to which we generate the four opponent powers.  The power of regret is admitting that we have made mistakes and recognizing that if we do not purify, we will suffer the karmic consequences – not as a punishment, but more an issue of spiritual gravity.  This primarily purifies the effects similar to the cause.  The power of reliance means we turn to the three jewels for purification of our negative karma and to seek their help so that we can change our ways.  This primarily purifies the environmental effect of our negative karma.  The power of the opponent force is some virtuous action we engage in to counteract or oppose the negative karma we previously created.  Venerable Tharchin explains that negative karma is like tiny vibrations on our very subtle mind, but if we send an opposite wave towards it, we can neutralize our past negative deeds.  This primarily purifies the ripened effect, or the substantial cause of future lower rebirth.  The power of the promise is a personal commitment that we will not repeat our past mistakes, but instead do something positive.  This primarily purifies the tendency to engage again in negative actions.  If all four powers are assembled, we can quickly purify all of our negative karma, but if we fail to generate these four causes, then our purification will be incomplete.  Any virtuous action can be an opponent force if performed motivated by regret. 

To purification in this context, we should first generate regret for all the negative karma that remains in our mind which can result in lower rebirth, create obstacles to our practice of Lamrim, and interfere with our ability to generate pure faith in Arya Tara.  We then recall the assembly of Taras in front of us and generate faith and reliance in them.  When we engage in the opponent action of confession, we are coming clean with our mistakes acknowledging them as mistakes, without our typical rationalization or minimization for why they don’t matter.  Understanding them clearly as the wrong way to go, we then commit to both ourself and Guru Tara that we will change our ways.  We can then imagine that countless purifying nectars stream down from Tara’s heart, filling our heart and purifying all of our negative karma.

 We can sometimes confuse Buddhist confession with Catholic confession.  In Christian traditions, we confess our wrong deeds in the hopes that God will forgive us.  In Buddhism, we do not need some outside power to forgive us, but we do need to receive purifying blessings.  Receiving Tara’s purifying blessings does not depend upon her forgiving us, rather they will spontaneously come down every time the conditions for them to occur arise, just like sunlight will flood in each time we open the blinds without the Sun having to decide to fill our room with light.

I rejoice in the merit of all the virtues
Collected throughout the three times
By Bodhisattvas, Solitary Conquerors,
Hearers, ordinary beings and others.

When we rejoice in virtue we create a similitude of the virtuous karma we are rejoicing in, as if we engaged in the virtuous action ourself.  Since Tara is the Lamrim Buddha and she has committed herself to protecting the followers of Atisha, when we engage in this practice, we should particularly rejoice in all of the virtue of the Kadam lineage gurus and the millions of old and new Kadampa practitioners.  All of these virtuous deeds are inspired by Tara and rejoicing in these Kadampa virtues aligns us with not only her blessings, but the karmic current of the Kadampas.  We can then ride the “great wave” of their deeds all the way to enlightenment.

Please turn the Wheel of Dharma
Of the great, small and common vehicles,
According to the different wishes
And capacities of living beings.

Buddhas appear in countless Buddhist and non-Buddhist form depending upon the karmic dispositions of different disciples around the world.  We don’t in any way need more Buddhists per se, we are content with anybody moving in virtuous directions depending upon wherever they are starting from.  But here, since this is a practice of Tara, in particular we request the turning of the wheel of Kadam Dharma, the Kadam Lamrim.  Geshe-la says everyone needs Lamrim, whether we are Buddhist or not.  Lamrim is inseparable from living with wisdom.  If we look at the world and social media, we can find countless examples of Lamrim-like wisdom appearing in a variety of different forms that are acceptable to different audiences.  This is a wonderful thing, and is the direct result of Kadampa practitioners praying for the turning of the wheel of Kadam Dharma.  Likewise, Milarepa said he does not need Dharma books because everything reveals to him the truth of Dharma.  Part of the Buddhas turning the Wheel of Dharma includes blessing the minds of living beings to learn Dharma lessons from whatever arises in the world.  When we recite this verse, we should strongly request Tara continue to pour down the wisdom of the Kadam Lamrim in this world in whatever form living beings can accept – which usually means Facebook quotes or funny memes!

For as long as samsara has not ceased,
Please do not pass beyond sorrow;
But with compassion care for all living beings
Drowning in the ocean of suffering.

A Buddha is a deathless being.  They have quite literally conquered death and have the ability to remain in this world, life after life, gradually guiding living beings along the path to enlightenment.  They can do so without ever being subject to samsara’s sufferings.  Their emanation bodies will be born, age, get sick, and eventually pass away, but the actual Buddha remains in this world forever.  When we recite this verse, we pray that Buddhas emanations continue to appear forever.  Buddhas are everywhere, but whether they can help living beings depends upon whether they appear or not.  Them appearing helping living beings is a dependent arising, dependent upon our creating the karma for them to appear.  When we recite this verse, we create the karmic causes for them to continue to appear.  It is important that when we recite this verse we do so for the sake of others.  We can sometimes think, “well I’ve already found the Dharma, so why do I need to pray for this?”  The answer is (1) other living beings matter too, and (2) by praying that emanations continue to appear for others we create the karmic causes for them to continue to appear to us in all of our future lives.

May all the merit I have collected
Become the cause of enlightenment;
And before too long may I become
The Glorious Guide of migrators.

Dedicating our merit is like investing our money.  We put it away in for a particular cause and then it continues to work towards the fulfillment of that cause.  There is a big difference between investing our money and spending it on our present needs.  Here, we dedicate all our merit to our swiftest possible enlightenment so we can then help others attain the same state.  In this way, we ourselves become part of the great wave of Tara’s family.

All my appearances in dreams are the supreme instructions of my Guru

In the Lord of All Lineages Prayer it says, “All my appearances in dreams teach me that all my appearances when awake do not exist; thus for me all my dream appearances are the supreme instructions of my Guru.” This verse can be understood at two levels: interpretative instructions and ultimate instructions. Interpretative instructions derive teachings from the substance of what appears in our dreams and ultimate instructions derive teachings from considering the nature of the dreams themselves.

How to interpret our dreams as Dharma instructions

Long-time followers of this blog know that I occasionally have very vivid dreams which reveal to me a host of Dharma lessons which I then write up and share here. Normally, these postings discuss how the substance of what appears in my dreams teaches some Dharma lesson. There are many books about how to interpret our dreams and it is a subject of much fascination in the world. Interpreting what appears in our dreams as Dharma lessons is the first level of understanding this verse. My experience has taught me that what exactly appears in our dreams doesn’t really mean anything – seeing a raven in and of itself has no fixed meaning. For one person, it could mean one thing; and for somebody else it could mean something entirely different. Most – if not all – of the books or popular understandings of interpreting dreams that say this appearance means this and that appearances means that in some fixed way for all people are simply an example of grasping at inherently existent things and meanings. If any appearance can mean anything, then how can we accurately interpret our dreams? The answer is simple: we ask ourselves what did we understand it to mean? If we understood either during the dream or shortly after waking up that the raven we dreamt of meant revealing the two wings of wisdom and compassion, then that is what the raven meant to us and that is the Dharma meaning or teaching our guru is trying to reveal to us through our dream. And if we understood the dream to mean we have perhaps watched a bit too much Game of Thrones and it is becoming a strong object of attachment, then that is the meaning our guru is trying to teach us. The same logic can be used for interpreting any dream. The main point is don’t over-think it. Simply ask yourself, “what did I understand it to mean?” That is your instruction from your guru. But it is not the supreme instruction of your guru, it is the interpretative instruction of your guru.

Contemplating the nature of dreams reveals the ultimate instructions of our Guru

The supreme instruction of our guru is the teachings on emptiness. Venerable Geshe-la has said on many occasions the real meaning of meeting him is discovering the truth of emptiness, and understanding the nature of our dreams is the supreme instruction among the teachings of emptiness. Why? Because we all instinctively understand the nature of dreams is mere appearances to mind. Geshe-la says all the appearances when awake are just like these. The only difference between our dream appearances and our waking appearances is the mind to which they appear – our gross waking mind or our subtle dreaming mind. In terms of their nature of being mere karmic appearances to mind, they are exactly the same.

So let’s dive in a bit to flesh this out by looking at the classic example of a dream elephant. Now mind you, I have never personally dreamt of an elephant, but apparently in ancient India, this was a thing! We all know that even though the elephant appeared vividly to us in our dream, there was no elephant actually there. We don’t go looking for the elephant when we awake, but instantly realize that we were just dreaming and when we awoke, the elephant simply dis-appeared – it ceased to appear to our mind. There was never any elephant there. What was there? There was an appearance of an elephant, nothing more. That is why we call it a mere appearance. There is an appearance of something there, but there is nothing, in fact, actually there. It is merely an appearance to mind.

But it appears to be real…

A particular characteristic of this appearance is despite it being a mere appearance, the elephant nonetheless appears to be a real elephant. When we are in the dream, we do not doubt at all the existence of the elephant. It appears to actually be there and we believe it to be there. Now of course, in truth, there is no elephant there – it is just a mere appearance – but in the dream, we believe without a doubt it is there and can generate a wide range of emotional reactions in response to the elephant, perhaps we marvel at its majesty or we tremble in fear if it is charging us. Because we believe (or grasp at) it is real, we experience it as a real elephant and can even be harmed by it, even though both the elephant and ourselves in the dream are nothing more than mere appearances to our mind. When we wake up, we then know without a doubt there was never anything there and we were never actually in any danger. Sure, our dream body was in danger, but we were not.

Communicating with others

If we encounter our friend in our dream, we can even have a very in-depth conversation about the elephant – what it looks like, what it is doing, how it makes us feel, and so forth. We both seem to see, more or less, the same elephant and as long as we do not investigate further into its ultimate nature, we are able to discuss it. If we are satisfied with its mere name, we can communicate with others about it. In truth, we are discussing nothing. There is nothing actually there that we are talking about, but relative to the dream world, we can nonetheless discuss it, have all sorts of opinions about it, and devise elaborate plans for how we are going to ride it and take selfies atop it.

Differentiating ordinary appearance from conception

Sometimes when we are dreaming we are aware of the fact that we are dreaming and we know that what is appearing to our mind is just dream appearances. This is often referred to as lucid dreaming. The things that appear still appear to actually be there doing their thing, but we know this to be false. Though they appear, we know they do not truly exist. Just knowing that they are false appearances does not give us the ability to make the appearances themselves cease to appear. Despite knowing better, they still appear, but we are not afraid because we know they are just appearances. They can’t actually harm us, though they can still harm our dream self. So it is quite natural and indeed appropriate to not provoke the beast and to avoid its charge if we can.

Understanding the relationship between karma and appearance

Where does the appearance come from? It comes from our karma. All appearances are “karmic appearances,” meaning they arise from our past karma. If we gave somebody a rose in the past, we planted the karma on our mind to have the appearance of somebody giving us a rose in the future. Karma shapes the emptiness of our mind into appearance. There are two types of karma – contaminated and uncontaminated. Contaminated karma is karma created with a mind that grasps at objects existing inherently, from their own side, independent of our mind. We believe that something is actually there and that we are actually there, and in dependence upon these beliefs, we engage in some action with respect to that object. In doing so, we create contaminated karma. This karma will later ripen in the form of appearances of something actually being there, us actually being there, and us actually doing something towards that object. None of it is true or real – but it vividly appears to be so, just like our dreams. In contrast, when we know the objects that appear to us, ourself, and our actions are all just mere appearances like in a dream, we create uncontaminated karma. This karma will ripen in the future in the form of appearances that we know to be just mere appearances to our mind, just like a lucid dream.

Most of the time we do not dream about the same things more than once. We see an elephant, but we don’t see that same elephant tomorrow night. Why not? Because every karmic seed only has the potential to ripen as appearance for a certain duration. Some seeds produce appearances that are long-lasting and other seeds produce appearances that are fleeting. This is primarily due to the degree of concentration the mind had when it created the karma in the first place – deeper concentration producing longer-lasting appearances. I have a friend who has narcolepsy. Unlike us, he sleeps maybe 16 hours a day and is awake only eight hours per day. For him, his dream world is more his reality than his waking world. When he dreams, he returns to the same home, the same life, the same family – night after night. He has a job, relationships, experiences, everything. It all appears to him to be real and he experiences it in that way. For him, it is quite common to encounter night after night the same appearances in much the same way as it is normal for us to encounter day after day the same appearances. His dream appearances are not, in fact, any more real than ours are, the only difference is the karmic seeds producing those appearances are of longer duration and waking up doesn’t exhaust that karma. The same is true for us with our waking appearances, they are just as un-real as our dream appearances, but their karmic duration hasn’t exhausted itself, so we continue to see more or less the same things day after day.

Do things cease to exist if they don’t appear directly to our mind?

Sometimes people wonder what happens to the waking world while dreaming and what happens to the dreaming world while awake. When we fall asleep, does the world that appears to our waking mind simply cease to exist at all? Does it shift into a state of utter non-existence? What happens to my narcoleptic friend’s dream world when he is awake? Some people argue that yes, both cease to exist at all when we shift from one world to the other. Their argument for why is if there is no dream mind, there can be no dream objects because an object cannot exist without a mind apprehending it. Similarly, if there is no waking mind there can be no waking objects. When the waking mind ceases, the waking world ceases as completely and irrevocably as last night’s dream. These people say if there is some trace of the dream world that remains while awake or the waking world while dreaming, then we would have objects that exist without a mind, which would be inherently existent objects – something we know doesn’t exist at all.

But others argue that is absurd. When I move from one country to another, the former country I lived in no longer appears directly to my mind. Does that mean that entire country ceases to exist at all when I am not seeing it? Do all of the people I knew and interacted with cease to exist at all when I’m not seeing them? When I remember them, do they then go from a state of total non-existence to a state of existence; but then when I’m not thinking about them anymore, do they cease to exist and function at all? If so, when I call them, how are they able to tell me about all of the things they did since we last spoke? When they engage in actions when I’m not looking, do they produce no results? If I put a message in a bottle and send it out to sea and nobody sees it for six months until somebody discovers it on a faraway shore, what happens to the bottle during this time? Nobody sees it or perceives it. Does it not exist at all? Does our heart cease to function when I’m not thinking about it? There are all sorts of absurd consequences that follow from saying these things cease to exist at all when they are not appearing directly to our mind.

Both sides of this debate have valid points. So how can we resolve this apparent contradiction? The answer lies in understanding there are two types of object – manifest and hidden. Manifest objects are objects known directly by a mind and hidden objects are objects known indirectly by a mind. My friends in China used to be manifest objects to my mind, but now that I have moved to India they have become hidden objects. They still exist and function, but as hidden objects and they are known indirectly. For example, if I saw my daughter enter her room and close the door, she no longer appears directly, but if I have been outside her room the whole time and never saw her leave, I can know without a doubt that she is still in her room even if I don’t give her another thought. If my wife asks where she is, I can answer, “she’s in her room,” and this will be valid and correct, even though she doesn’t appear directly to either one of us. At that time, she is a hidden object to me (but a manifest object to herself). When she comes out of her room, she transitions from being a hidden object to a manifest object for me, just like the bottle arriving on the other shore. She does not transition from being non-existent to existent, she transitions (for me) from being hidden to manifest. But in both cases, whether she is manifest or hidden, she remains equally empty – a mere karmic appearance to my mind. She appears directly or she appears indirectly (even if I am not thinking about her, my mind that saw her enter her room “knows” her to be in her room, thus maintains her existence). There is no my daughter that exists independently of my mind, thus this view avoids the problem of an object existing without a mind apprehending it.

This answers the question of what happens to the waking world when I’m dreaming. It transitions from being a manifest object to a hidden object, and then when I awake, it becomes manifest again. Because the karmic duration for seeing my wife, home, job, and so forth have not exhausted themselves, when I awake, there they are again. They did not cease to exist at all while I slept, they simply made the transition from being manifest to hidden, but in both cases, they remained empty of existing from their own side independent of my mind. This also answers the question of what happens to the dreaming world of my narcoleptic friend when he is awake. It doesn’t cease to exist entirely, it merely transitions from being manifest to hidden. The karmic duration of those appearances has not been exhausted, so he will return to his home when he dreams again, but the karma for them to appear directly has ceased while he is awake. They still exist – as dream appearances – but they are simply hidden. This is no different really then how, when we dream, what appears is only a small fraction of the world we understand those appearances to exist in. Our dream moments can have complete pasts and complete futures, even though neither appear directly to our mind. They exist and appear as hidden objects.

Another example worth considering is what happens to a friend who dies but I didn’t know it? I recently learned that a dear college friend died about a week ago. I haven’t seen him in years, but I assumed he was still alive. When I learned that he had already died, I realized I was wrong to think he had been alive. What happened here at a karmic appearance level? When I saw him last years ago, he transitioned from being a manifest object to a hidden object, but he did still continue to exist in this world and had all sorts of experiences with my other friends. When he died, he ceased to exist at all in this world, he transitioned from being a hidden object to an utter non-existent. The karma for him to exist in this world exhausted itself. How he appeared to different people (as a hidden or manifest object) varied, depending upon their karmic relationship to him. My thinking he was still alive was mistaken with respect to conventional appearance. My believing he existed inherently before was mistaken with respect to ultimate truth. In exactly the same way, the people I see in my dreams cease to exist at all when I awake because the karmic duration of those appearances is fleeting, whereas the people who appear in my narcoleptic friend’s dream world continue to exist because the karma hasn’t exhausted itself. But sometimes, people in his dream world die, at which point they cease to exist at all in his world – either as a manifest or a hidden object. But in all cases, these beings have never been anything more than mere appearances to mind, regardless of how they appeared.


Interpreting what appears in our dreams can provide us with many profound Dharma understandings and insights, but these are not the supreme instructions of our guru. The supreme instructions of our guru are the teachings on emptiness, and considering the relationship between what appears in dreams and what appears in our waking state, how things transition from one state to another, and when they exist (as mere appearances) or cease to exist at all reveal to us the meaning of the profound truth of emptiness.

Why does this matter? There are two main reasons – according to Sutra and according to Tantra. First, according to Sutra, by considering these things, we can gain a very accurate understanding of the meaning of the teachings on emptiness. By contemplating this meaning day and night, with respect to both our dream and our waking appearances, we will gradually be led to the final view or intention of Buddha. This wisdom will free us permanently from samsara.

Second, with this understanding, we can understand how Tantra works. When we received the empowerments, our spiritual guide placed within our mind an enlightened being and a pure world. Our future enlightened self and world were born and they came into existence. It is like our dream world we do not see directly very often, except when we are engaging in our tantric meditations. When we arise from meditation (and forget our tantric pure view), our pure world does not cease to exist entirely, it merely transitions from being manifest to being hidden. It is sustained both by our Guru’s compassion and our knowledge that we received the empowerments, even if we are not thinking about either. By engaging in our tantric meditations, we create new karma that will later appear directly to us as our pure world. That pure world is not created anew, it is discovered – our meditations make it manifest, but it has been there all along (as a hidden object) ever since we received the empowerment. The karma creating the appearances of our normal waking samsaric world will gradually exhaust itself and not be replenished since, as our tantric practice deepens, we will stop creating new karma for samsara to appear. We will at some point have “lucid dreaming” experiences of our samsaric world, where it will continue to appear, but we will know it is just a mistaken appearance. Though it still appears, we will know it does not truly exist. We will have overcome ordinary conceptions, even though we still have ordinary appearances. Eventually, through creating enough karma in our new pure world, it will also start to appear directly to us as a manifest object. We will move into the pure world, which is our guru’s pure dream for us. It will become our manifest reality, and we will be able to communicate with him about it, even though we both know everything that appears to us is just a pure karmic dream. Finally, we will be able to help others join us in purity forever.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: How to stop holding back

Shantideva is encouraging us to go further, to keep moving on, further and further and further, because we hold back.  We know we are holding back.  We are holding back on cherishing some of ourself. We are also still keeping some distance from others, it’s clear.  Perhaps, we are reaching or we have reached the stage where we do cherish others.  Of course we do. But do we care only for others?  Is our interest in others actually a self-interest?  Do we calculate everything through the lens of how things affect us?  We have to keep going forward until finally we have left altogether the world of the self-centered mind.

These times, especially in our societies, people really do need our love, they need to feel that our heart is totally open to them.  If we are really to help the people in our life, they need to feel that our heart is totally, totally open to them.  It is so important.  They must feel that we want to let them in. But there is still a part of our mind does not want to.  We have to overcome this, otherwise they sense it, and there is an obstruction for others, too.  With respect to the people we are to help, we have to open our hearts to them, they have to open their hearts to us.  When this happens, beautiful things will come then. Otherwise, there remain obstructions.

To protect themselves, people keep in place so many barriers, don’t they?  Everybody does.  There are so many barriers that we are keeping firmly in place.  How can we expect others to take down and remove their barriers, if we are not prepared to do so ourselves? They are not going to take down their barriers if we don’t take down ours. They sense, we sense, they sense.  If others are to be open with us, if they are to open their heart, which they need to do, then we have to open ours.   Opening our heart in this way is actually part of our Tantric practice of loosening the channel knots.  We need to invite everybody into our heart, literally, where we see all of reality taking place within our indestructible drop. 

Geshe-la and Shantideva are encouraging us to ‘forget our object of self-cherishing.’  We know that there is fear in our own mind at the prospect of that.  It seems dangerous to forget about the object of self-cherishing.  What would that mean? What would happen? Just forget about myself?  That seems dangerous, doesn’t it?  It seems dangerous as well, highly dangerous to go completely into the worlds of others.  What are we going to find there?  We do feel afraid, don’t we?  We believe that we would be so exposed, so vulnerable, so we hold back, even just a little bit, we hold back thinking we are protecting ourself. We keep a little bit our distance. We do not completely open our heart.  We have got to overcome this one, go further and further. This is what Shantideva is encouraging us to do, through familiarly, applying effort. 

We need a tremendous amount of faith, a tremendous amount of trust. We need to trust this Dharma jewel of equalizing and exchanging self with others.  Geshe-la says in Eight Steps to Happiness to transform our mind in such a radical way, we need deep faith in this practice, an abundance of merit, and powerful blessings from a spiritual guide who has personal experience of these teachings.  And he says with all these conducive conditions, the practice of exchanging self with others is not difficult.

These last two or three verses help us to overcome any fear.

(8.118) Out of his great compassion,
Arya Avalokiteshvara even blessed his own name
To relieve living beings from the fear of self-cherishing;
So I should recite his name mantra to receive his blessings.

(8.119) Do not turn away from learning to cherish others because it is difficult.
For example, a person’s lover may once have been her enemy, the mere sound of whose name induced fear;
But now through familiarity she cherishes him
And becomes unhappy when he is not around.

(8.120) Thus, whoever wants to swiftly protect
Both themselves and others
Should practise this holy secret
Of exchanging self with others.

Geshe-la describes samsara as the experience of a self-centered mind.  The samsaric world is a reflection of such a mind, in no way existing from its own side.  And we know the samsaric world is a suffering world. It is a world inhabited by suffering living beings who also in no way exist from their own side.  How can we bring such a world to an end? Only by destroying the self-centered mind. We do this through exchanging self with others and the wisdom realizing emptiness – chapter 8 and chapter 9 of Shantideva’s Guide.

Through compassion, naturally arising from exchanging self with others, conjoined with wisdom, we create an enlightened world in which there is no suffering.  If we think deeply from the point of view of emptiness, this is the only way to bring suffering to an end. There is no other way.  We cannot bring an end to suffering in samsaric world because that is its very nature, isn’t it?  Therefore, we must end the samsaric world itself.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: We are parts of a living whole

After describing the practice of equalizing self and others, and giving us encouragement to train in this practice, describing its benefits, special advice and so forth, now Shantideva goes on to describe the practice of exchanging self with others.

(8.113) Seeing the faults of cherishing myself
And the many good qualities of cherishing others,
I should completely forsake self-cherishing
And become familiar with cherishing others.

(8.114) Just as I regard the hands and so forth
As limbs of my body,
So should I regard all living beings
As limbs of a living whole.

Again, Shantideva is helping us develop a new view of ourselves, as part of the body of all living beings.  Because all the parts of a body are united in a single whole, each part takes care of all the others.  In the same way, if we view ourselves as a part of the living whole, we care for each part.  The main point is this is a view we need to train in.  We have to apply effort to come to see ourselves as inseparably part of the same whole.  The hand does not think it is just a hand, it considers itself the body.  Every being, including ourself, is part of the fabric of our mind.  Others are literally parts of us, each being is part of our life.

(8.115) Through the force of familiarity, I generate a mind
That grasps at I with respect to this non-self-existent body;
So why, through familiarity with cherishing others,
Should I not develop a mind that grasps at I with respect to others’ bodies?

The main practice of exchanging self with others is to identify with all living beings.  Our “I” is just a label, we are what we identify with.  At present, we identify with something that does not exist at all, an inherently existent I.  But with familiarity, we strongly believe it to be ourselves.  This is just a question of familiarity, there is nothing about this non-existent that is us other than the fact we identify with it.  If we train in identifying with others, we can gradually come to literally feel ourselves to be all living beings, and to consider each being as part of ourselves.  Since we naturally cherish whatever we consider ourselves to be, if we consider ourselves to be all living beings, we will naturally cherish all living beings. 

If we make this one change in recognition, the entire Mahayana path falls into our laps almost effortlessly, and with it enlightenment.  Geshe-la says in Eight Steps to Happiness that the path to enlightenment is very simple:  all we need to do is change the object of our cherishing from self to others, and everything else follows naturally.  This means to attain enlightenment, all we really need to do is take as our main practice identifying with all others as ourselves.  When we see others, think “this is me.”  When we see ourself, think, “that is others.”  Again and again and again, we train.  With familiarity, this will become our view.  Then, everything else comes naturally.

(8.116) Although I work for others in this way,
I should not develop pride or pretension;
And, just as when I feed myself,
I should hope for nothing in return.

We discussed this in detail in an earlier post, but I find it important that Shantideva repeats it again.  We shouldn’t think we are special because we are training in exchanging self with others or that we are on the bodhisattva’s path.  This is a trick, a deception.  Our self-cherishing hijacks our Dharma to make us feel special and important.  Many great spiritual leaders – and many local resident teachers – easily fall into this trap.  I know I did, I know I still do. 

(8.117) Therefore, just as I protect myself
From anything unpleasant, however small,
So should I become familiar with
A compassionate and caring mind towards others.

It is familiarity that will take us to the point where we have exchanged self with others.   That is what we do over these next few verses.  We try to become more and more familiar with cherishing others and letting go of the cherishing of ourself.   At the end of the day, the practice itself is quite simple:  we keep thinking I with respect to others’ bodies, until we have actually forgotten altogether the object of our self-cherishing.  The object of your cherishing becomes only others.  At first the object of cherishing will become others.  With equalizing self and others, still to some extent there will be some self-cherishing.  But we learn to cherish only others. We continue with this training, until finally we cherish only others. That is the difference.  Geshe-la said in Eight Steps to Happiness that we need to forget our object of self-cherishing.  We can just forget it completely and think only of others.  This is what we are striving for.  Again, that doesn’t mean we don’t still take care of ourself.  We just take care of ourself so that we are of better service to others.

Happy Protector Day: Tapping into Dorje Shugden’s Power

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is part 7 of a 12-part series aimed at helping us remember our Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden and increase our faith in him on these special days.

The remainder of the sadhana is largely making requests to Dorje Shugden.  Before we get into the specifics, I want to now explain some general advice on how to increase the power of our making requests to him.  These apply equally to the meditation break as well as the meditation session. 

First, the extent to which he can help us depends on the degree of faith we have in him.  If our faith is weak, his protection will be weak.  This is not because he is holding back it is because our mind remains closed so he has few points of entry for bestowing his blessings.  If our faith is indestructible and infinite, then his protection of us will be infinite.  If we understand this we will realize that our primary training in the practice of Dorje Shugden is increasing our faith in him.

Second, he can help us to the extent that our motivation is pure.  When our motivation is pure, it is like we align the crystals of our mind perfectly with the light of the deity.  To improve our motivation, we need to train sincerely in Lamrim.  The main function of Lamrim is to change our heart desires from worldly ones into spiritual ones.  Once we get our motivation right, everything else naturally falls into place.  It is the mental factor intention that determines the karma we create, so intention is the most important.

Third, he can help us to the extent that we realize that he, ourselves and everything else are empty.  The main point is this:  Dorje Shugden isn’t anything from his own side.  He is as powerful as we construct him to be.  We can construct him as an ordinary being or as an infinitely powerful protector.

After the invitation to Dorje Shugden, which has already been explained, we then make offerings and requests as follows:

Respectfully I prostrate with body, speech and mind. 

Here we imagine that from ourself and from all the beings we previously put within the protection circle, we emanate all of our past and future bodies.  Then with all of these past, present and future emanations of ourself, we prostrate.  This creates special merit with him so that he can provide us protection in all our past, present and future lives.  How Dorje Shugden protects us in our present and future lives is easy to understand.  But how can he provide us protection in our past lives when they have already passed?   He can bless our mind so that everything that happened to us in the past also becomes a cause of our enlightenment. We view our past differently in such a way that it teaches us lessons of Dharma.  In this way, no matter when we start our practice, even if it is when we are very old, it can be as if we effectively have practiced our whole life.  When we go to normal psychological therapists, they help us process our past so that it is no longer a drag on us.  In the same way, by requesting Dorje Shugden to transform our past experiences into a cause of our enlightenment, we receive special blessings to view these events differently.  We may even come to view our greatest past trauma as our greatest life blessing.  Such is the power of Dorje Shugden and the truth of emptiness.

I offer a mass of inner and outer offerings, blissful tormas,
Alcohol, tea, cakes, milk, and curd,
Both actually set out and mentally imagined, filling the whole of space.

The basic idea is this:  whatever we offer to Dorje Shugden, he can then use for our swiftest possible enlightenment.  For example, if I offer my house to him, then everything that happens in my house will be emanated by him for my practice, etc.  So mentally, we offer everything because we want to use everything for our attainment of enlightenment. 

Happy Tsog Day: Generating a Supreme Good Heart

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 34 of a 44-part series.

How to meditate on superior intention and generate bodhichitta

Through love, compassion, and superior intention,
And the magical practice of mounting taking and giving upon the breath,
I seek your blessings to generate the actual bodhichitta,
To free all migrators from this great ocean of samsara.

This verse explains how all the previous verses combined together into the practice of generating bodhicitta. Love refers to the mind of cherishing others, considering their happiness and freedom to be important. Compassion is the wish to protect other living beings from their suffering. Superior intention is the mind that assumes personal responsibility to protect others from their suffering. The magical practice of taking and giving up on the breath is a method for ripening our bodhicitta by bringing the future result of liberating all living beings into the path. In this verse, we request blessings from the spiritual guide to generate the actual bodhicitta in our mind. Bodhichitta has two wishes. The principal wish is to free all migrators from the ocean of samsara. The assistant wish is the wish to become a Buddha so as to be able to fulfill our principal wish. Geshe-la gives the analogy of wishing to have a cup of tea. Our principle wishes to have a cup of tea, and the assistant wish is to get a cup. If our principal wish is strong, we naturally get a cup without giving it much thought, and certainly without forgetting our principal wish to have a cup of tea. Our principal wish is not to get a cup, it is to drink tea. We need the cup in order to do so. In the same way, our principal wish is to free all living beings from samsara. Since this wish is so burning within us, we naturally attain enlightenment because that is the only means of being able to do so.

An often overlooked ingredient of generating the mind bodhicitta is accepting our present inability to help others. As our compassion grows, we naturally want to protect others from their suffering, but as a result we come face to face with our current inability to do so. This can cause us to become frustrated and discouraged. This discouragement or frustration comes from our failure to accept that for as long as beings remained in samsara, they will continue to suffer. The mind of compassion wishes that living beings not suffer. The mind of attachment to others not suffering has the same wish. But these are two fundamentally different minds. The former is motivated by cherishing love, wishing others to be happy; whereas the latter is motivated by attachment, wishing ourselves to be happy while thinking that others need to be happy in order for us to be happy. We need to abandon our attachment to others being happy and free from suffering in order to generate authentic love and compassion for others. This depends upon us being able to fully accept beings will continue to suffer for as long as we do not attain enlightenment. We have to come to peace with this fact before we will then be able to not be crushed by the suffering around us. What enables us to be at peace with the fact that others suffer is the knowledge that we have found a final solution that will enable us to in the future once and for all free all living beings from all their suffering. Seen in this way, accepting our present powerlessness and helplessness is an essential foundation for the exalted mind bodhicitta.

Sometimes we also doubt it is possible for a being such as ourselves to become a Buddha. Bodhichitta simply becomes words we say, not something we feel in our heart. We struggle to even get through the day, much less take on their personal responsibility to free all living beings. We see how despite having been around the Dharma for many years, we remain highly deluded. This causes us to doubt our ability to become a Buddha, and if we do not think it is possible to become one, it will be impossible for us to generate authentic bodhicitta. To overcome this doubt, we need to have unshakable faith in our pure potential. Geshe-la explains in Oral Instructions of Mahamudra that our indestructible wind and our indestructible mind at our heart are our indestructible body and mind. They are our deathless body and mind that go with us from life to life, and will eventually transform into the body and mind of a Buddha. The ultimate nature of this indestructible wind and indestructible mind, in other words the emptiness of these two, is our naturally abiding Buddha nature. Because it is empty, it can become anything. If we create the karma to become a Buddha, we will. All it takes is sufficient patience and perseverance to continue for as long as it takes. We all have experience of having changed ourselves a little. If we can change ourselves a little, we can change ourselves completely. It is only our attachment to results and our impatience with wanting to be farther along than we are that causes us to become discouraged. We need to accept where we are at and then grow from there. This is the well-balanced mind of a steady practitioner.

How to take the vows of aspiring and engaging bodhichitta

I seek your blessings to strive sincerely on the sole path
Traversed by all the Conquerors of the three times –
To bind my mind with pure Bodhisattva vows
And practise the three moral disciplines of the Mahayana.

Once we have generated the wish to become a Buddha, we then need to do something to become a Buddha. The foundation of the Mahayana path is the practice of the bodhisattva vows. These vows and commitments provide us with guidelines for how to ripen our Buddha nature and to put into practice our bodhichitta wish. An extensive explanation of the vows the body sought for vows could be found in the book The Bodhisatta Vow. You can also read about how to integrate these into our modern life through the series of posts I did earlier. Every Buddha attained enlightenment independence upon generating the mind of bodhichitta, maintaining their bodhisattva vows, and practicing the six perfections.

It is important to renew our vows daily. In general, we can say we only break our vows if we make the decision to no longer follow them. But practically speaking, if we do not remember them, we will not be able to practice them. It is also not sufficient to generate the intention to observe the bodhisattva vows once, we must become deeply familiar with this wish. For this reason, we should retake our bodhisatva vows every day. In Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, Geshe-la explains how to do this in the context of the practice Hundreds of Deities of the Joyful Land according to Highest Yoga Tantra. Each time we retake our bodhisattva vows, we should strongly believe that we have purified all the negative karma associated with transgressions of our vows, and that we have received fresh vows upon our mental continuum.

It is particularly important to die with fresh vows upon our mind. As explained before, our vows function to maintain the continuum of our Dharma practice without interruption between now and our eventual enlightenment. When we are on our deathbed, it is important to refresh all our vows – our refuge vows, our pratimoksha vows, our bodhisattva vows, and our tantric vows. We can restore our refuge vows and our bodhisattva vows with the practice of Hundreds of Deities of the Joyful Land. We can restore our pratimoksha vows with the short sadhana for doing so. And we can restore our tantric vows through engaging in self-initiation. In order to engage in self-initiation we have to have previously completed a close retreat of either Heruka or Vajrayogini. Once we have engaged in a close retreat, we can retake our tantric vows anytime we wish. This is one of the principal advantages or reasons for engaging in a close retreat. When one of Venerable Tharchin’s students was about to die, he went to the hospital and engaged in self-initiation with the person so that they could die with fresh tantric vows on their mental continuum. Within the context of the self-initiation practice, we can retake all our vows. I pray that all Kadampas are able to engage in self-initiation just prior to the moment of their death. If we are able to do so, we can be guaranteed to find once again the tantric path to enlightenment in our next life.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Closing the gap between self and others

We all know from the lamrim texts the analogy of ‘this mountain’ and ‘that mountain.’  Everything is relative to our point of view.    In the same way, we currently impute self on this body and other on others’ bodies.  We reverse that.  Reversing this gives rise to a profound love for others, which we will explore over the next several posts.

At present we feel a gap, a large gap between ourselves and others.  We know already from what Shantideva said, there exists a relationship between ourselves and others. There is a relationship. We are denying that when we regard ourselves and others as independently existent. We are denying that relationship.  In effect we are separating, we are separating others from ourselves, aren’t we? We are grasping at ourselves and others as independently existent. We are separating others from ourselves. We are creating a false distinction.  It is unnatural, because there is naturally a relationship between ourselves and others. We are not different in the way we appear to be. We are certainly not separate in the way we appear to be.

When we are training in cherishing others as we do, there is a danger we love, but at a distance.  We are afraid of getting close because then attachment arises, aversion arises, relationships get complicated.  So we love at a distance, thinking this is maintaining equanimity or something.  But is this what Geshe-la does?  He has invited all of us to generate the closest possible relationship with him – where we become inseparably one.  He has invited us into his heart, and he enters into our heart.  Our goal is to eliminate all gaps, all distance.  A genuine love, surely, draws as close to others as possible.  We seek to close that gap. If we really do love people, we’re closing that gap, we want that gap to close, don’t we?   If we have a genuine love for others, we feel close to them. The more we love another person, the closer we want to be.  

But we need to make the distinction between wanting to be close to others out of attachment and wanting to be close to others out of love.  Failing to make this distinction, we think we should not get close to others.  But how can we love them, really love them with all our heart, when we are maintaining this distance?  With attachment, we want to be close to others, that’s what attachment does.  It pulls objects to us, attractive objects to us, pleasant objects.  With love, we perceive beauty in others, others appear beautiful, attractive, and we want to draw close, closer and closer. So on the one hand we can fool ourselves into thinking that it’s just attachment, but on the other hand when we have attachment we can fool ourselves into thinking that it’s love.  We need to be clear.

How do we resolve this apparent contradiction, this tension?  Shantideva’s answer is we exchange self with others – we literally identify with others as ourselves, and then we love “ourself” with all our heart.  Then, no problems.  All gaps between ourself and others fall away – completely – but there is no delusion of attachment because we are not trying to draw this inherently existent self we normally see closer to these inherently existent others we normally see.   

When we are loving others, we want to reduce the gap that appears between ourselves and others.  For as long as there is grasping in our mind, self-grasping, we cannot remove completely that gap. Self-grasping creates that gap.  But what is special about this practice of exchanging self with others is we can remove that gap entirely.  By letting go of grasping at ourself and others, and changing the basis of imputation of our I onto all others, we close the gap completely.  This is a wisdom lineage. 

When we have a self-centeredness, and of course there will naturally be a gap between ourself and others. There is me here, trying to love you over there. But with this practice, it seems that self-centeredness ceases, actually ceases. There no longer remains a self-centeredness.  What happens to the gap between ourselves and others?  We are using our wisdom to become familiar with cherishing others. To deepen our love for others.  We are able to draw others closer and closer to us. How? Through choosing others’ bases as our own.  This is how we do it.  Applying wisdom to bring about an extraordinary love for others where we feel so incredibly close to them, as if there really is no distance anymore, no gap anymore.  How do we do that? Through choosing others’ bases as our own. Imputing I upon the bases of others.

Identifying “I” with the bodies of others is a wise mind.  Identifying with the body and mind we normally see gives to self-cherishing, self-centeredness, and all its sufferings.  Identifying with the bodies and minds of others gives rise to cherishing others, profound love for others, and all the happiness that that brings.  Is it not then unnatural not to love? It is unnatural not to love everybody.  I think people feel it’s unnatural, which is why people so want, so need to love and be loved.  This is our job – to give them the love that they want. But also to receive the love that they want to give.  With this practice we really do move more and more and more into the world of others, identifying I with the bodies of others.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: All we care about is others

Even if people appreciate our efforts, often we feel it is not enough and we become disappointed, we become discouraged, even irritated, angry.  We must follow Geshe-la’s example, and make our giving completely unconditional, and expect nothing in return, no reward, simply, we enjoy, we enjoy benefiting others in whatever way we can.  Our joy is coming from our beneficial, meaningful activities. We should just want to make others happy and stop their suffering.  What we feel at any time does not matter. What matters is that others are happy and that they are free, relatively free from suffering. That is all that matters. We might not succeed, but at least we try with a happy heart.

(8.110) And just as I protect myself
From anything unpleasant, however small,
So should I act towards others
With a compassionate and caring mind.

If we are concerned for others’ feelings, at least as much as our own, then we will care for them, we will care about what happens in other people’s lives. We must care more and more and more until finally all we care about is others. We must reach the stage where we only care about the people in our life and the world. We only care about the people of our town, our city. Finally, we only care about everyone else. We do not care about ourselves anymore.  Not caring about ourselves doesn’t mean we don’t still need to care for ourselves.  Of course we need to care for ourselves in the same way an ambulance driver takes good care of their ambulance.  We need a healthy body, adequate rest, and to not push ourselves unsustainably so that we can be of service to others.  If we are getting sick, breaking down, or burning out, we are useless to others. 

Through this training, we can see how we are becoming more and more selfless, if we’re showing more concern for others, if we’re showing more care for others, then we’re becoming more and more selfless rather than selfish.  This is the first step.  And just as we protect and cherish ourself, to the same extent, we must protect and cherish others. Equalize, we equalize self and others in this way.  We are developing a genuine interest in others, for example with respect to the people in our lives, we’re developing a genuine interest.

Generally speaking, we still have a lot of self-interest.  Even in relation to other people, we show interest to the extent that these other people can help us in some way.  That’s not selflessness, that is just clever selfishness.  Clever selfishness is better than crass selfishness, but is not as good as pure selflessness.  When we are angling for how others can help us, we might become very interested in their well-being, but we will find there is attachment in our mind. An attachment born of self-interest. What we have to do is develop an interest that is not in any way mixed with attachment, and that interest must be a genuine interest.  With this training in equalizing self and others, that is what happens. We become actually interested in other people, what is happening in their life. For their sake, not our own.  Genuinely, not superficially.

(8.111) Although there is no I there,
Through the force of familiarity
I cling to an I within a body
That arose from the drops of others’ sperm and blood.

(8.112) In the same way, why can I not
Identify “I” with the bodies of others?
Equally, I should not find it hard
To identify “other” with my own body.

Here we start to discuss exchanging self with others according to Tantra.  In Sutra, we simply exchange the object of our cherishing from self to others.  In Tantra, we actually change the basis of imputation of our I from our current body and mind to the bodies and minds of all living beings.  This is very clever spiritual technology.  When we identify with all others, we don’t actually have to abandon our “self” cherishing, in fact, we can increase it!  The difference is our “self” is now imputed on the basis of all others.  We can likewise impute “others” onto ourself, and then completely not care what happens to “others.”  This is much easier to do than according to Sutra where we need to recognize the disadvantages of self-cherishing, the advantages of cherishing others, and so forth until we complete the exchange.  Here, we can just go directly – identify with others, then amp up our “self”-cherishing as much as we want.  We can neglect “others” (now us) as much as we did before. 

A Pure Life: Abandoning Sexual Activity

This is part seven 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.

The actual Mahayana precept we take on precepts days is to abandon all sexual activity. Ordained people take a vow to not engage in sexual activity with other people, in other words they have a vow of celibacy. I am not ordained and so therefore I am certainly not qualified to definitively interpret the vows of ordained people, but I have been told an ordained person’s vows do not prohibit masturbation, though doing so is considered to weaken the vows but not actually break them. In contrast, when we take the Mahayana precept to not engage in sexual activity, it does include not masturbating.

Many people misunderstand vows of celibacy and abandoning sexual activity as saying that there is something inherently wrong with sexual activity. They argue that sexual activity is entirely normal and healthy, and such vows are misguided and guilt-inducing, and therefore harmful. In truth, there is nothing wrong with sexual activity itself. But there is something wrong with the mind of sexual attachment. Attachment is a delusion that believes happiness comes from external objects. Sexual attachment is a specific form of attachment related to sexual activities. Engaging in sexual activities without attachment is not a problem, but engaging in sexual activities with sexual attachment is a problem.

The reason why we take a vow to abstain from sexual activity on precepts days is to force us to confront the tendencies of sexual attachment within our mind. Because we have taken a vow to not engage in such activity on this day, when the temptation arises to do so within our mind, we will see the power of our sexual attachment. It will actually be painful or difficult to not follow the impulses we are feeling. All sorts of rationalizations will arise as to why it is a good thing to follow our sexual attachment. When this occurs, we can then recall the disadvantages of the mind of attachment in general, and sexual attachment in particular, and we can contemplate the benefits of having a mind that is completely free from such attachment to strengthen the desire within our mind to become free of this extremely powerful delusion. The point of taking this precept is not to say sexual activity itself is bad, but rather to create the karmic habits of not being a puppet on the strings of our sexual attachment and to instead become free from it.

Driven by sexual attachment living beings engage in all sorts of negative actions, including killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, divisive speech, and so forth. We also waste so much of our precious human life and our hard-earned resources in pursuit of satisfying our sexual attachment. Most of our most shameful behavior can be traced back to our sexual attachment. Much of the conflict we have with those we love comes from sexual attachment. This mind creates so much suffering in the world and within our own mind, yet we still continue to follow it believing happiness can be found in doing so.  Imagine how much easier our life would be if we were not a slave to our sexual attachment. These are the sorts of things we need to consider when the temptation to break our precept arises within our mind. Engaging in these contemplations gradually weakens the hold our sexual attachment has over us enabling us to become more free.

While on precepts days we vow to abstain from any sexual activity, every other day we should strive to abandon all forms of sexual misconduct.  The object of our sexual misconduct is if we have a vow of celibacy, it is any other person; if we are not celibate and we have a partner, it is anyone other than our partner; if we are not celibate and do not have a partner, it is anyone else’s partner, our own parent, a child, anyone with a vow of celibacy, pregnant women, animals, or anyone who does not consent.  As far as the intention is concerned, we must know that they are an object of sexual misconduct.  We must be determined to commit sexual misconduct.  And we must be motivated by delusion.  Usually, it is committed out of desirous attachment.  As far as the preparation is concerned, there are many ways to engage in this action but we already know all of those!  This action is complete when sexual bliss is experienced by means of the union of the two sex organs.  This last point on the action being completed sometimes gives rise to the question, “well then is it sexual misconduct if our sex organs do not come into union?”  The answer to this question is very simple:  if you think your partner would object, then it is not OK.  Full stop.

Please note, within Kadampa Buddhism, heterosexuality and homosexuality are treated in exactly the same way, there is no difference.  Please note, it also does not include masturbation.  Finally please note, this also doesn’t say it is wrong to engage in sexual activity for reasons other than procreation, it says nothing about anything wrong with birth control, etc., etc., etc. 

I have posted in the past why people engage in affairs (you can find it by doing a search of the archive).  The short version is we relate to our partner and to sexual activity in the same way we relate to any other object of attachment, like pizza.  The first few pieces are good, but the more we eat the less we enjoy it.  Other foods start to look more appealing, so we switch to eating something else.  This is the completely wrong understanding of sexual actions.  Sexual actions are opportunities to cherish others and give them happiness, not something we consume for ourselves.  We derive our enjoyment from loving others and making them happy.  Sexual activity is an opportunity to draw very close to somebody else and deepen a relationship.  If we do not get our attitude towards sexual activity correct, then even if it is not sexual misconduct, it is still not necessarily a good thing for us. 

It is not at all uncommon for one partner in a couple to have stronger sexual desire than the other, and this can be a source of frustration and a temptation to go elsewhere.  Aside from the fact that there are other means to relieve oneself, we should view these gaps in sexual desire as emanated by Dorje Shugden to give us an opportunity to bring our sexual attachment a bit more under control.  In this sense, it is a similitude of the ordination vows of celibacy.  We are essentially saying we will be celibate with everybody except our partner.  Bringing our sexual attachment under control is not easy, but it is still necessary.  Buddha said the three biggest chains holding us in samsara are sex, drugs and rock n’ roll (well, those weren’t his exact words, but the meaning was the same).  If we do not bring our sexual attachment under control, it will be very difficult to escape from samsara.  So from this perspective, the difference between an ordained person and a lay person in a committed relationship is not that different.  We have much we can learn from each other.

If we have strong sexual attachment, we can pursue a multi-prong strategy.  First, we should read Chapter 8 in Meaningful to Behold again and again to help us reduce our exaggerated notions of the attractiveness of another human body.  I love breasts, I will admit it, but if we check they are just bags of fat.  Second, as best we can, we should avoid things that fuel the fire, such as pornography, etc.  But the reality is sexual imagery is omni-present in our society, so there is no avoiding it.  But there is a difference between encountering it as we go about our life and seeking it out compulsively. 

Third, and this is the most important, we need to get to the point where we want to get out of samsara more than we want its pleasures.  We are desire realm beings, which means we have no choice but to pursue our desires.  If in our heart, our desire is still dominated by sexual attachment, if we try to force ourselves to avoid making contact, etc., then all we will do is just repress the desires.  They will build up, and eventually we will give in and do something we subsequently regret.  This is not Dharma practice.  Dharma practice is a very active process of picking apart and reducing our desirous attachment primarily by (1) reducing our exaggerated attitudes down to something in line with the underlying reality of what is actually there, and (2) considering the disadvantages of following the delusion. 

There are few delusions that create more problems for living beings than sexual attachment.  Just open any newspaper or consider your own life for more than 3 seconds and you will have plenty of material to work with.  At the same time, we need to consider the advantages of not following the delusion.  Every time a delusion arises but we choose to not follow it understanding it to be deceptive, we are engaging in the practice of moral discipline.  Each action of moral discipline creates the cause for a higher rebirth.  So quite literally, if in a given 5-minute period we successfully see through the lies of our sexual attachment and not follow it, say 20 times, then we just created 20 causes for 20 future higher rebirths.  What will bring more happiness, five minutes of some porn video or an entire lifetime in the upper realms?  Are we ready to sacrifice one for the other?  If so, which one will we sacrifice?  If we value the happiness of our future lives as much as we value our present happiness (the definition of a spiritual being) then the choice becomes obvious. 

There is much more that can be said, but I will stop here.