Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Transforming delusions into virtues

To enhance our experience of exchanging self with others, Shantideva now goes on to describe a special method where we put ourself in the place of others who may seem to have deluded minds towards us.  Where previously we have learnt to identify with the basis of others, that is their body, now it seems we learn to identify with the basis of others that is their mind.   In dependence upon their mind of jealousy, or their mind of pride, and so forth, we think I. We are imputing I upon that basis, aren’t we? We are bringing to mind their jealousy for example, and thinking I.

It is quite funny.  Normally we dislike people who have such delusions.  Here we learn how to love them. It seems we love them for those faults!  Then no matter what people are like, no matter how deluded their behavior, no matter how they feel towards us, we just love them. We love them. We love them as they are. A jealous person, we love. A proud person, we love. Competitive person, we love.  It is just three examples, but we can take any other delusion and regard a person with that delusion as someone whom we dearly love. Even, or especially, if that deluded behavior is directed towards us.

It is interesting how we normally distance ourselves from jealous, competitive, or prideful people.  Here we are doing completely the opposite — drawing closer and closer to them through identifying with the delusion that they have in their mind, a delusion they have towards us.  The fact is that beings in our world are deluded, aren’t they?  If we cannot like or love deluded beings in our world, then there will be no one to love!  We have to love them not despite their delusions towards us, but because of their delusions towards us.  If we don’t, then there is no one to love otherwise.  And it is worth asking ourselves once again, where do these deluded, childish beings come from in the first place?  Here, Shantideva shows us how to take those people who have deluded minds towards us, and love them for it.

This practice is unusual because generally we’re encouraged to focus on the good qualities of others, and in that way, love them.  That is what we normally do, focus on the good qualities of others, and then naturally a mind of love will arise towards them.  We can’t help it, we naturally will like, even love, people possessing those qualities.  And now Shantideva is giving us a method to love those with apparently bad qualities.  Then, it doesn’t matter how they are – we focus on people’s good qualities, naturally we come to love them; we focus on their bad qualities, naturally we come to love them.  With this wisdom, it doesn’t matter what they’re like anymore, we can love them.

I think what is extraordinary about these meditations is that out of one’s own self-centeredness, naturally delusions such as jealousy, pride, and so forth arise, but when we identify with others’ self-centeredness, their delusions, jealousy, pride, and so forth, naturally virtues arise in us.  If we identify with our delusions, they are delusions; if we identify with others’ delusions, they are virtues.  Interesting how that works.  Jealousy normally thinks, for example, that we want what others have.  If we generate jealousy, we have a delusion.  But the jealousy of somebody else wants them to have what we have, so if we identify with that, we will want them to have what we have.  In other words, we will want to give.  A virtue.  The same is true with all the other delusions (except ignorance).  By identifying with the delusions in somebody else’s mind, it functions to oppose the delusions in our own mind.  Amazing!

By doing these meditations, we find out a lot about ourselves.  We see ourselves from somebody else’s perspective, and this helps us realize how we are and how we should change.

(8.140) Putting myself in the place of those who are lower than, equal to, and higher than me,
And then regarding my former self as “other”,
With my mind free from the crippling conception of doubt
I should meditate on jealousy, competitiveness, and pride.

In Eight Steps to Happiness Geshe-la says that through the force of meditations such as these, we become more open to others’ point of view, more tolerant and more understanding, and we shall naturally treat others with greater respect and consideration.  This will help us improve our communication with others and our knowing how to help others.  We must try to free ourself from doubts, any hesitation, or resistance to these meditations for whatever reason.  We should not worry that if we identify with the delusions of somebody else, we will become a deluded being ourselves.  If we adopt the delusions of others as our own, they are virtues as far as we are concerned.  We must try to increase our faith and, in this way, remove any doubt or hesitation and resistance to engaging in these meditations.  Then we will get some experience, we will gain some glimpse of the incredible meaning behind these meditations that will inspire us more and more to exchange ourself so completely with others, even those whom we find difficult or dislike, or even hate.

We put ourself in the place of those who are lower, equal to, and higher than us.  There are those of course who we consider to be lower than, equal to, or higher than ourselves. not in all respects of course, but in certain respects.  We can divide others into those three categories.  First of all, we put ourself in the place of those whom we regard to be in some respect lower than us (that’s just about everybody since we have so much pride) and then we look back to our former self with jealous thoughts.

Happy Protector Day: Helping the Pure Kadam Dharma Flourish

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is part 9 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.

All my harmful thoughts and actions
That have offended your mind, O Great Protector,
I confess from the depths of my heart.
Please purify them swiftly, and care for me with love, like a mother for her child.

With this verse, we can purify all the negative karma that obstructs our ability to receive the care and protection of Dorje Shugden.  Such negative karma is like interference preventing a reception of our mobile phones or junk clogging up the arteries of a person.  We can generate a regret for whatever we have done in the past which has created negative karma preventing us from receiving the care and protection of Dorje Shugden.  Then we strongly imagine from Dorje Shugden purifying light rays and nectars flow down and touch all the beings inside the protection circle, ourself included, purifying all of the negative karma obstructing us from receiving Dorje Shugden’s care and protection.  We then strongly believe that all of these being are now without obstruction.

I beseech you from the depths of my heart, O Supreme Deity,
Please cause the tradition of Je Tsongkhapa to flourish,
Extend the life and activities of the glorious Gurus,
And increase the study and practice of Dharma within the Dharma communities.

We can understand this as follows:  The key point here is we realize how the Dharma of Je Tsongkhapa is the solution to all the problems of all beings.  The reason why beings suffer is because they too are trapped in a dream-like world of suffering created by their own self-centered minds.  They need to wake up from this dream into the pure world of the Buddhas.  The Dharma of Je Tsongkhapa provides a solution for destroying this self-centered mind, thereby enabling all beings to wake up from their worlds of suffering.  This is the solution to all of their problems.

Please be with me always like the shadow of my body,
And grant me your unwavering care and protection.
Destroy all obstacles and adverse conditions,
Bestow favourable conditions, and fulfil all my wishes.

Here we request Dorje Shugden to accomplish his main function, namely to arrange perfect conditions and to eliminate obstacles to our practice.  There are two types of condition:   When we are confronted with a situation which we think could be better, we request Dorje Shugden to arrange whatever is best and imagine that a protection circle radiates out accomplishing this function.  If the external situation changes, then we know the situation was beyond our capacity and we can use that to develop bodhichitta, wishing later to have a capacity that can transform anything and everything.  If the external situation remains the same (or gets worse) then we can know that we need to work on the delusions that this situation generates for us.  We can equally do this with internal conditions.  An important thing worth noting at this point is Dorje Shugden will arrange what is best for our practice, not what is necessarily best for our worldly concerns.  We might even say Mick Jagger is actually part of Dorje Shugden’s mandala when he sung ‘you don’t always get what you want, but you get what you need.’

Now is the time to show clearly your versatile strength
Through your four actions, which are swift, incisive, and unobstructed,
To fulfil quickly my special heartfelt desires
In accordance with my wishes;

Here we request Dorje Shugden to arrange whatever is best in general, in his own mysterious ways and imagine that a protection circle radiates out accomplishing this function. Ask people their Dorje Shugden stories when you are at festivals, and you will be amazed.  If our motivation is pure, he can arrange anything.

Now is the time to distinguish the truth and falsity of actions and effects;

Here we request him to make clear the relationship between cause and effect for all the beings within the protection circle.  At present, we think negativity is entertainment and exciting and we think virtue is boring.  In reality, negativity creates the cause for enormous suffering and virtue is the cause of all happiness.  Here we request that Dorje Shugden to bestow special wisdom blessings on all beings within the protection circle so they naturally, from their own side, make good choices.

Now is the time to dispel false accusations against the innocent;

Here we request Dorje Shugden to enable all beings within the protection circle to stop making mistaken and false imputations on others, but to correctly impute onto everybody ‘emanation of my spiritual guide’ and imagine that a protection circle radiates out accomplishing this function.  At present, we impute onto others ‘object of attachment’ ‘object of aversion’ or ‘irrelevant.’  These are false accusations we impute on others, and we relate to them as if they were really these things from their own side.  This creates all our problems.  The only valid imputation of anybody is ‘emanation of my spiritual guide.’  The ultimate nature of all things is the Dharmakaya, so it is correct to say that everybody is an emanation of my spiritual guide.

Now is the time to protect the pitiful and protectorless;

The reason why people are pitiful and protectorless is because we have been neglecting them.  Their experience is what we have karmically created for them in our empty dream.  So here we request that he provide protection for all the beings we have been neglecting and imagine that a protection circle radiates out accomplishing this function.

Now is the time to protect Dharma practitioners as your children.

It is particularly important to provide care and protection for Dharma practitioners because by helping them directly, indirectly it helps all living beings since they have vowed to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all.  It is like opening up a second cash register at the supermarket.  Everybody gets through the line twice as fast.

In short, from now until I attain the essence of enlightenment,
I shall honour you as the embodiment of my Guru, Deity, and Protector.
Therefore please watch over me during the three periods of the day and the night
And never waver in your actions as my Protector.

The biggest fear of a Dharma practitioner is the fear of losing the path.  If we do not lose the path, we have nothing to fear; but if we do lose the path, we have all of samsara to fear.  When we recite this verse, we are creating the causes to be able to meet Dorje Shugden and rely upon him again in all our future lives.  In this way, we maintain the continuum of our practice and go from joy to joy until we attain enlightenment.

Happy Tsog Day: How to practise the perfection of effort

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 38 of a 44-part series.

I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of effort
By striving for supreme enlightenment with unwavering compassion;
Even if I must remain in the fires of the deepest hell
For many aeons for the sake of each being.

Effort is taking delight in engaging in virtue, like a child at play. The perfection of effort is engaging in effort with a bodhicitta motivation. The method for generating effort is simple. First, we generate faith in our spiritual practices understanding their benefits. This gives rise to an aspiration wishing to engage in the practice and attain these benefits, and that aspiration naturally leads to joyful effort. For effort to be qualified it needs to be joyful. We need to be happy to engage in the virtue, not do so begrudgingly out of some sense of obligation.

Some people relate to their Dharma practice as hard work and they struggle to be able to do it. They have to force themselves to sit down to practice, attend classes, and so forth. Once again it is useful to recall that we are desire realm beings, which means that we have no choice but to do whatever it is that we desire. If we do not want to practice Dharma, and we force ourselves to do so against our will, then it may work for a short period of time, but in the long run our desire to not practice will win out and eventually we will come to resent our Dharma practice and even perhaps abandon it altogether. Just as the practice of moral discipline requires us to dismantle our negative tendencies and to actively construct virtuous tendencies, so too with the practice of effort we need to actively deconstruct and dismantle our laziness of attachment which prevents us from joyfully engaging in Dharma practice and then create within our mind a wish to practice through generating faith in the benefits of our practices.

The laziness of attachment is a mind that thinks happiness can be found by doing non-Dharma things. Because we want to be happy and we think doing these non-Dharma things is how we become happy, we wish to do so. For some, Dharma practice can seem like the ultimate buzzkill destroying all our fun. Once again, we have everything backwards. Shantideva says that we run towards the causes of suffering as if they are a pleasure garden, and we run away from the causes of happiness as if they were monsters to be feared. We need to recognize that our attachment to the pleasures of samsara are like giant hooks that bind our flesh to inevitable sickness, aging, misery, and death.

I once had a vision while meditating about being on a disk floating in space. There were all sorts of beautiful beings enticing me to move towards them, I did so and, not realizing, fell over the edge. As I did, the enticing beings then removed their disguise revealing they were in fact demons who then said “gotcha” as I fell into the lower realms. This is exactly how samsara works. We spend our whole lives chasing after attractive forms, wasting our precious opportunity to attain permanent freedom from all suffering, and then at the moment of our death when it is too late, it is as if everything we had ever worked towards were these enticing creatures who then say gotcha as we fall to the lower realms.

When we chase after our objects of attachment they never give us the happiness that we hoped for. And even after enjoying them, we feel we never feel satisfied and can often feel guilty about what we have done. In the process of chasing our objects of attachment, we accumulate all sorts of non-virtuous actions, engage in deceit, and break our vows. In the Lord of all Lineages prayer it says, “like mistakenly thinking a poisonous drink to be nectar, attachment with grasping at objects of desire is the cause of great danger.” We are like a prisoner who has found a way out of the prison, but chooses not to leave because it is macaroni and cheese day in the cafeteria!

There was once a Tibetan who had practiced sincerely throughout his life and reached the moment of his death knowing he was bound for the pure land and he suddenly had a doubt about whether he wanted to go. He developed a strong attachment to Tibetan butter tea and was worried he might not ever have it again. His spiritual guide reassured him, “do not worry the tea is even better in the pure land.” He was then able to let go of his attachment and he was then able to go to the pure land. The same logic can be used for all our objects of attachment. No matter how good we think they are, they are even better in the pure land. If we truly want pure enjoyments, the best thing we can do is to abandon our laziness of attachment.

Normally we consider someone to be mature if they consider the welfare of their future to be more important than their present. For example, we consider someone who studies hard in school or who saves their money for the future to be mature because they are preparing for a better future. By working hard now, we can enjoy an even better future later. But if we fail to work for the future and only live for our present happiness, life will get harder and harder overtime. In exactly the same way, if we use this life only for the sake of happiness in this life, we will waste this precious opportunity we have to prepare for our future lives. Understanding all this, we can dismantle our laziness of attachment, and instead choose instead to realize that true happiness lies on the other side of engaging in Dharma practice. Because we want to be happy both now and in the future, we then happily engage in practice. Joyful effort does not mean sacrificing our present happiness for the sake of future happiness, rather we are delighted to engage in virtue now because it makes our mind peaceful, and we are even more delighted knowing that we are building a better future for ourselves.

I have always found this verse to be particularly inspiring. We need to generate a mind that is willing to take rebirth in the fires of the deepest hell for the sake of each being. Effort is not simply about willing to do the work it takes for ourselves to attain enlightenment, our real motivation is to work endlessly for the benefit of all living beings, even if that means we must go into the fires of the deepest hell for many eons for the sake of each being. Venerable Tharchin said that he wishes to attain rebirth in the lower realms because that is where all the living beings are and he wants to help them. Such is the courageous mind of the perfection of effort.

In truth, if we truly wish to lead an effortless life, then attaining enlightenment is the best course of action. Once we attain enlightenment, all our actions become effortless. In Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, both the mandala offering and the migtsema prayer emphasize being able to effortlessly benefit all living beings. This comes primarily through applying effort now to be able to benefit them effortlessly later. One way of understanding this is to think about how spaceships travel in space. Because there is no friction in space, if they first apply effort firing their rockets, they set the spaceship in motion. Once set in motion, it continues without obstruction forever. In the same way when we remove the two obstructions from our mind, we remove all sources of friction in our mind, and all the virtuous actions we created while a bodhisattva are like the rocket fuel getting us started and then making all our actions as a Buddha effortless.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: What I have is yours

As a summary to the previous verses, Shantideva says:

(8.137) I completely dedicate myself to the happiness of others.
From now on, mind, you must understand this clearly
And not think of anything
Other than benefiting all living beings.

(8.138) Because my eyes and so forth are now at the disposal of others,
I should not use them for my own purpose;
Nor should I use them in any way
That is contrary to the welfare of others.

(8.139) Being principally concerned for others,
I will take anything
That I regard as belonging to myself
And use it to benefit them.

What I have is yours. That is what we must feel. What I have is yours.  In these three verses we give away everything.  My mind in the first of these verses, my body in the second, my everything in the third. My mind, my body, my everything.  It sounds like a love song, doesn’t it?  It is.  I have given myself to others, therefore we should think, I am yours, and what I have belongs to others, what I have is yours.  We ourself, our possessions, are the property of others.  We have given ourselves to others. What we have is the property of others. We have given what we have to others. Perhaps our self-cherishing is squirming right now. 

What happens then when we have given our self to others in this way? What happens to our normal sense of I? What happens to our sense of I as possessor?  This meditation really is liberating in the sense that we actually lose our “self.”  But perhaps it is more accurate to think that it is enlightening, in the sense that we lose ourself in others.  We don’t just lose ourself, we lose ourself in others.

The best thing we have to give to others is our own experience of Dharma.  Worldly things help people at most in this life, but the Dharma will help them in all their future lives.  If we do not have Dharma to give, we need to gain experience of it so that we have something to share.  If we do not have anybody to give the Dharma to, then we need to make connections with people and in the meantime build up the Dharma within our mind.  Naturally, as we gain experience of Dharma, people will appear to receive help from us.   Geshe-la also encourages us to improve our ability to communicate with others and to improve our appearance.  Part of cherishing others is appearing pleasant to others. 

We can also give our time to our Dharma center by working for it.  By giving our time to the center, we give our time to all living beings.  We complain about not having enough time, but that is because we have been selfish with our time.  The cause of receiving is giving, so the more you give your time to others, the more time you will have.  It’s karma.  Mentally you can do this when you go about your job, or any other time you are serving others.  Do not view it as ‘your time’, but instead a practice of you giving your time.  Giving is a mental act.  Giving time to the center gives time to all living beings, and as a result we create the karma to have all the time we need to get whatever done.  Time is infinitely compressible, there is literally no limit to what can be done.  To gain infinite time in every moment, in every moment give your time to infinite beings.  Its magic!

People must feel that we are there for them. A Bodhisattva has a sincere wish to be there for everyone at all times.  When they become Buddha they know that they can be with people, all people, at all times.  People must feel that we are there for them, people need Bodhisattvas, they need Buddhas in their life.  It is by generating this mind that wishes to be with all beings all of the time that will take us there.  We think, “I would like to be with everyone all of the time, but I currently can’t.”  But if I become a Buddha, then I can be.  This wish will take us to enlightenment.  Our spiritual guide is with us all the time because previously he had the wish to be with us all the time.  We can do the same for those we have the karma to help.

That is what happens when you’re in love.  You want to be with each other as much as possible.   Do the people in our life have that feeling from us.  Do they feel that we want to be with them all of the time, or do they feel like we have no time for them?  There is nothing worse than the feeling that ‘we bother others.’  Sadly, I sometimes make my kids feel this because I am always so busy.  Every time one of my daughters asks something of me, she said, ‘sorry for bothering you, etc.’  Breaks my heart that I have made her feel that she is a bother.  The only thing that is bothersome is the fact that she says this.  We need to put everybody at ease around us.  One of the unique characteristics of Je Tsonkghapa is he makes everybody feel completely at ease and comfortable when they are with him.  As followers of Je Tsongkhapa’s doctrine, we need to do the same.

It is true that we need to interact with people and become a part of their lives, but we need to be careful to not ourselves become ordinary by doing so.   As the saying goes, we need to be in this world, but not ‘of’ this world.  We are here to help, but we are always aware of the bigger picture.  It is true we need to make a connection with people, but if they see us as ordinary and no different than everybody else, then there will be no way they can make any changes.  This is a skill to learn, to be able to be with everybody, have them feel completely comfortable with us, yet be different, going in a different direction, looking for different things.

Happy Buddha’s Return from Heaven Day: Returning to Help Those Less Fortunate

September 22 is Buddha’s Return from Heaven Day, one of the special holy days on the Kadampa calendar in which all of our virtuous actions are multiplied by ten million.  After Buddha Shakyamuni attained enlightenment, he went to the Land of 33 Heavens where his mother had taken rebirth, gave teachings to the beings of that realm, and then returned to this world to turn the wheel of Dharma here.  On this day, we can generate compassion for beings in the upper realms and generate the wish to return to this world as Buddha did so that the Dharma may flourish forevermore.

Understanding How Holy Days Work

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

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

Generating Compassion for Beings in the Upper Realms

The vast majority of beings in samsara are in the lower realms.  In this world, we talk often about the 1% and the other 99% of the wealth distribution.  Samsara’s demographics are quite similar.  The Wheel of Life image sometimes gives a distorted perception that the six realms of samsara (gods, demigods, humans, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell beings) are roughly equally distributed, but in reality, roughly 99% of the beings in samsara are in the lower realms, whereas only about 1% are in the upper realms.  We know this to be true because roughly 99% of the actions of living beings in samsara are negative, and only about 1% are virtuous – meaning a cause for upper rebirth.  We might object that our actions are at least 50% positive – we are a good person after all – but the actions of beings in the lower realms are almost universally negative, so they remain trapped. 

When we talk about the 1%, we usually do so from a position of jealousy, resentment, and condemnation.  We are jealous of their wealth and power, resent the control they have over our lives, and condemn the many selfish and negative actions they engage in that harm the rest of us.  Wars, climate change, nuclear weapons, pollution, structural inequality, etc., are all caused by the decisions of the 1%, but the rest of us have to suffer the consequences.  Our natural instinct is to dislike or even hate the 1%.  Considering all the harm they do, generating compassion for them seems misplaced at best and twisted at worst. 

One of Buddha’s first acts was to go to the Land of 33 Heavens to give teachings, not just to his mother, but to all of the beings who had taken rebirth there.  In other words, he showed the example that we should also have compassion for the 1% – both in this world and in samsara. 

The method for generating compassion is the same for all beings – first, we generate a mind of love, considering their happiness to be important; and then we consider how they suffer.  The beings of the upper realms are also our mothers and so they are equally objects of our love.  Why should we resent them for whatever happiness and pleasant conditions they enjoy?  They created the karmic causes for such experiences, did they not?  They are also “living beings” and so are worthy of our love.  If Buddha loves them, why can’t we also?

How can we understand the sufferings of beings in the upper realms?  First, it is important to recall that we ourselves are among that elite group since we are human, and the human realm is considered an upper realm.  We are part of the 1%.  Human sufferings are quite manifest – we all get sick, if we are lucky we get old, and we all will die.  All of us already took rebirth.  All of these sufferings are inescapable and traumatic.  We also frequently encounter things we do not like, are separated from things we do like, and experience pervasive uncertainty about what happens next.  We all know these teachings, but we need to personalize them.  My mother in law had a terrible stroke that nobody wanted to encounter, much less her.  I have been separated from my family due to working in another country.  The whole world experienced pervasive uncertainty due to the Coronavirus.  All humans are experiencing these sufferings, regardless of how rich or powerful they might be.

Geshe-la explains in Modern Buddhism that demigods experience more mental pain than humans do.  We can see and understand how by considering the 1% of this world.  The 1% are extremely jealous of the 0.01%, and no matter how much they have, it is never enough.  My kids have had the good fortune to attend these amazing international schools around the world, but the vast majority of the families who put their kids in these schools are miserable.  They are constantly competing against one another, obnoxiously bragging about their kids in an effort to feel better than others, and worrying about their husbands running off with somebody younger and more attractive.  They work insanely long hours, experience tremendous stress at work, face constant criticism from others when the majority of them don’t do anything wrong, and they live in constant fear of losing it all.  I know hundreds of these people from all over the world, and I quite literally can’t think of one who is genuinely happy, and certainly nowhere near as happy as Aunt Paulette who doesn’t have a penny to her name, lives alone after her husband of 40 years died in a small apartment with little heat and faulty plumbing, in a tiny village in France. When you travel the world and see people of different levels of wealth, you can’t help but notice there seems to be an inverse relationship between having and being happy. 

The gods are no better off.  Venerable Tharchin explains that Greek Mythology is not myth, but rather a fairly accurate description of god realm society.  They are in constant conflict with each other, and their actions have terrible repercussions on millions in the other realms – creating horrific karma in the process.  There is a saying when an American sneezes, somebody in the developing world gets a cold.  Americans have tremendous power in this world and everything they do has spillover effects on the rest of the world.  The instability we create with our economic policy, wars, and negligence in controlling pandemics have echo effects around the world.  We are like the Hunger Games, living blithely in the capital while much of the world struggles to get by supplying our excesses. 

From a karmic perspective, those in the upper realms are quite unfortunate.  Sure, the karma that is ripening might be nice, but they are burning it all up and later will have nothing.  We get complacent when things are good and it is only when we suffer do we feel any motivation to practice Dharma, now try to imagine being a demigod or a god.  Bonfire of the vanities.  And even those who do take rebirth in the upper realms still have on their mental continuum all of the negative karma from when they were in the lower realms, and if they die with a negative mind, it will activate this negative karma and they will fall.  We respond to even mild adversities in life with negative minds, so it goes without saying that many people in the upper realms will likewise generate negative minds when they face the greatest adversity of all – their own death.  It is said gods can see their next rebirth.  Imagine the horror of reaching your death and knowing how far you will fall.

We may have studied these sorts of teachings many times in the past, but have we let them touch our heart?  We still, deep within our desires, wish for even a similitude of what the demigods and gods have.  We chase after these dreams, wasting our precious time, only to arrive at death and realize it was all for nothing.  We feel resentment or jealousy towards those whose good karma is burning up faster than ours.  How ridiculous.  What we need is compassion – just like Buddha had when he went to the 33 Heavens in the first place.

Returning to this World to Spread the Dharma

Buddha did not just go to the upper realms, he returned to help us.  Think about that.  How many of those who are in positions of great wealth, pleasure, or power return to help those less fortunate than they are?  The vast majority just wall themselves off from the unclean masses and try to turn a blind eye to the suffering around them, often while looking down on all those who are not as lucky as they are.  But Buddha returned.  Many people escape from poverty and enter into the middle or even upper classes; many people get out of their small towns and move to the big city where they enjoy great success; many people are the first in their communities to get a good education and go on to enjoy a life beyond the wildest dreams of those they grew up with; many people leave their country and move to rich countries; but very few of these return for the sake of those who were left behind.  The entire nationalist populist movement in the world today is a backlash against those who have enjoyed the fruits of globalization by those who were left behind.  Of all people, it was Trump who bothered to look back and even see these people.  Of course, he did so just to con them, but still – at least he looked back.  The rest of us…  But Buddha, he returned.

One of the best aspects of Jesus’ example is he made a point of seeking out those society had left behind, judged, and condemned.  He renounced the hypocrisy of those with wealth and power and lifted up the spirits of the downtrodden.  Despite being the Son of God, he returned and dedicated his life and his teachings to those less fortunate, those on the receiving end of oppression.  He returned. 

And so should we.  For us as Kadampas, it is an increasing time.  We are better off now than we were before.  There are many who we grew up with who have been left behind.  Maybe not in material terms, but certainly in spiritual terms.  When we are at our Dharma centers or festivals, we happily rejoin our friends, but think little of those who might feel alone or lost in the crowd.  When we start to gain some mental peace and stability, we start to become frustrated with “deluded people,” even using the Dharma to judge them in a sub-conscious effort to feel superior.  We start cocooning ourselves into smaller and smaller circles of like-minded people and view it as a chore to have to return to our families on the holidays.  The root of all negativity is self-cherishing, which is not just a mind that puts ourselves first but also neglects to bother caring for others.  We sometimes forget that latter part and content ourselves with not directly harming others.  Our failure to help when we otherwise could do so is a subtle form of harming others.  For somebody who travels Mahayana paths, they equally fear samsara and solitary peace, the latter being content to be absorbed in our own liberation while neglecting everybody else.  Buddha returned. 

If we are honest, it is terribly easy to call ourselves Mahayanists, but actually just be interested in our own freedom and happiness.  We generate ourselves as the deity in the pure land, but do we remember our compassionate reasons why we are bothering to emanate pure forms?  We may even be able to bring our winds into our central channel, but is our motivation bodhichitta or a wish for the bliss of mental suppleness?  Buddha returned.

On Buddha’s Return from Heaven Day, we should honestly examine our own behavior and see all of the different ways we neglect others.  We may not harm anybody, but we neglect almost everyone just in different ways.  We should ask ourselves, how can we return?  Who should we be returning to?  How can we emulate Buddha’s example?  We might think we will return when we become a Buddha, but if we never develop the habit of returning as a budding Bodhisattva, how will we want to return when we attain liberation? 

Returning doesn’t have to imply any physical action even, it is a mental attitude.  Do we give back?  Do we engage in our practices genuinely for the sake of others?  Do we say prayers?  Do we do powa for others?  Do we put others first in our daily actions?  All of these are returning.  Buddha returned, and so should we.

Returning to Spread the Dharma

The most important way in which we return is by dedicating ourselves to ensuring the Dharma flourishes forevermore.  Buddha did not just return to help people in worldly samsaric ways, he returned to help people escape from samsara as well.  Most people who escape from prison will not return to the prison to help everybody else escape as well.  Buddha does not seek for us merely that we enjoy a more privileged position in samsara, but he returned to tell us there is no happiness to be found anywhere within it.  He trains us to become qualified spiritual guides so we can help others likewise escape.  While we may leave samsara behind, like a good soldier, we leave nobody behind. 

Venerable Tharchin says we should each assume our place in the lineage.  The responsibility is on us to internalize the Dharma, then “return” to pass it on to the next generation.  We may not all do that as Dharma teachers, but we can do so as center administrators or even the person who secretly cleans all the toilets without anybody knowing.  Even if we do nothing physically to help others, through the power of our inner spiritual actions, we can bless the minds of everyone and pray for their well-being.  Some people think such actions are meaningless compared to “practical” (meaning physical) help, but Geshe-la explains that our mental actions are thousands of times more beneficial to others than anything we can do with our body or speech. 

At the end of every spiritual practice we do, we recite the prayers for the virtuous tradition.  Aligning our life with the meaning of this prayer is the actual meaning of Buddha’s Return from Heaven Day.  As Geshe-la explains, Je Tsongkhapa represented Buddha’s teachings, and his Dharma is Buddha’s Dharma.  Geshe-la has done the same for the modern world.  He returned.  This is the deeper, spiritual meaning of returning. 

So that the tradition of Je Tsongkhapa, the King of the Dharma may flourish, may all obstacles be pacified and may all favorable conditions abound.  Through the two collections of myself and others, gathered throughout the three times, may the doctrine of Losang Dragpa flourish forever more. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Exchanging self with others makes everything easy

Making the right choice is only a challenge because, as Shantideva has explained, we are holding so rigidly to self and other.  We are holding so rigidly to my suffering and happiness, others’ suffering and happiness.  We have to take the step of — it’s a big one, but we have to make it — regarding others’ suffering and happiness as our own. We have to. By moving into their space, entering into their life, by taking their basis as our own – their happiness and suffering, then, is my own.  How are we going to get to this mental space?  By moving into the place of others, entering their lives, by choosing and regarding their basis as our own.  

Likewise, we need to consider the suffering and the happiness that we experience as that of other’s.  This helps in several different ways:  Normally we think what happens to others does not matter, so if we think that ‘self’ is ‘other’, then what happens to our old “self” will not matter at all.  It will not be a problem.  We can break our identification with our suffering.  It is not our own, and since we are not identifying with it, we do not suffer from it.  Overcoming our suffering then becomes imbued with great meaning.  We feel by overcoming our suffering, we believe we are overcoming the suffering of all living beings.  We feel we are freeing them from their delusions, etc.  When we engage in our Dharma practices from the perspective of having already exchanged self with others, everything we do will create the karma of helping all living beings instead of the karma of just helping oen person.  This practice of exchanging self with others truly is a ‘magical mystery.’

(8.132) Never mind what will happen in future lives;
With employees not providing adequate service
Or employers not giving proper reward,
Even our wishes in this life will remain unfulfilled.

(8.133) By not cherishing others, we lose the excellent qualities of our human life
That allow us to attain happiness both now and in the future;
And if we actually inflict harm on others,
Out of ignorance we shall bring unbearable suffering upon ourself.

(8.134) If all the torment in this world –
All mental fear and physical pain –
Arise from cherishing oneself,
What use is this fearful spirit to us?

(8.135) Without destroying fire,
We cannot stop being burned;
Likewise, without destroying self-cherishing,
We cannot stop experiencing suffering.

For as long as there is self-cherishing in our mind, we are going to suffer.  Suffering ends when we destroy self-cherishing.   Why not self-grasping then?  Isn’t self-grasping the source of all fear, pain, and suffering, and it’s only through destroying self-grasping that our suffering will come to an end?  No, the actual cause of our suffering is self-cherishing.  Self-grasping is just projecting, fabricating an inherently existent self, inherently existent other, inherently existent world. That is all it is doing.  Self-cherishing is what acts on this ignorance, thus creating all the karma for suffering.  It will not even let us meditate on emptiness, will it? Self-grasping does not prevent us from meditating on emptiness, does it?  Self-cherishing prevents us meditating on emptiness.  Self-cherishing functions to protect the I created by self-grasping. Self-cherishing, as we know, is self-grasping’s best friend, protecting its creation. Self-grasping creates an inherently existent I, self-cherishing protects, cherishes that I, faithfully.

It is self-cherishing that gets us in all the trouble.   It is self-cherishing that creates all the problems.  It is through cherishing and protecting the self that is merely created by self-grasping that we bring upon ourself suffering now and in the future.  We destroy self-cherishing, we bring an end to our suffering, we bring an end to all our problems.

(8.136) Therefore, to eliminate my pain
And pacify the suffering of others,
I will give myself completely to others
And consider them as precious as I now consider myself to be.

We try to abandon our self-cherishing, replace it with a mind that cherishes others. We give ourselves completely to others, thinking, “I’m yours.”  We have to feel that with respect to everyone, “I’m yours.”  When we are at work, with our families, at the Dharma Center, etc, “I’m yours.”  That is true love, isn’t it? That is true love. I am yours. When we think, I am yours, with respect to everybody, then we have love, true love for everybody.    I’m yours, whatever I have is yours. This is the kind of love that we need to get.  Geshe-la once said we feel that we belong to others.

Shantideva’s wording here is very precise – I will give myself completely to others.  We quite literally give our “self” to others through exchanging self with others, identifying with them as the basis of imputation for our self.  That’s the degree of giving of ourself we need.  Literally, my “I” is yours. 

If we give ourself completely to others, then what is left of it for us?  Nothing.  It seems here, there is no self, we become selfless. Because we have given it to others. We become self-LESS, we have no self any more, we’ve given it to others completely.  We literally give our ‘self’ to others because we impute ‘self’ onto others.  There is no self we normally see remaining at all, we’ve given it completely. You have it, everybody has it — others now have our self. The pain of my self is eliminated, because self has moved to another place where it cannot be harmed. Isn’t that amazing? The pain of my self is eliminated because self has moved to another place, the place of others, where it cannot be harmed.

A Pure Life: Abandoning Intoxicants (In particular alcohol and marijuana)

This is part nine 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.

One of our Mahayana precepts is to abandon intoxicants.  This includes drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, or taking drugs.  This is often one of the toughest ones for us to follow.  The object of this vow is obviously any intoxicant, whether it is legal or not.  Some people ask the question whether caffeine counts, after all it is highly addictive and many people relate to it no differently than other drugs.  And if coffee is an intoxicant, then aren’t all of the centers and festivals and World Peace Cafes constantly encouraging others to break their Pratimoksha vows?

Some people don’t like the answer I am about to give, but I will give it anyways.  Yes, I think caffeine can be considered an intoxicant.  I think nothing is really an intoxicant from its own side and everything can be an intoxicant for us depending on how we relate to it.  Sugar is not an intoxicant from its own side, but if we adopt an addictive attitude towards it, then for us I would way it is and likewise should be brought under control.  Likewise, many people get addicted to porn.  This is a very common addiction in the modern world, especially with the ease of access on-line.  This too can be a form of intoxicant for us depending on how we relate to it.

Some objects, like cigarettes, alcohol and drugs are in a somewhat different category because their express purpose is to alter our mind.  This is the main point.  If we understand that our problem is our mind and alcohol and drugs help us change our mind, then can’t we argue that with them we are at least solving the right problem?  From one perspective, I guess we can say that.  But it is still a completely wrong thought.  Yes, we need to change our mind, but we need to change our mind with our mind.  We can think of our mind as like a muscle.  The more we exercise it, the stronger it gets.  The more we become dependent upon other things to change our mind, the weaker that muscle becomes.  Ultimately, we need a very strong mind.  Further, alcohol and drugs function to render our mind uncontrolled.  Our goal is to make our mind controlled.  So these things may change our mind, but they do so in a way that makes our mind more uncontrolled, and thus they take us in the opposite direction of where we want to go.

Let’s talk about alcohol

Alcohol in particular generally just makes us stupid.  The reason why alcohol is so dangerous is it primarily functions to undermine our inhibitions.  Our inhibitions are often what hold us back from engaging in negativity.  If we harbor in our heart a good deal of negative impulses, then when we consume alcohol, it erodes those inhibitions and our negativity is given free rein.  We all know stories.  Now, some people say that there is nothing wrong with being an occasional social drinker, especially if is done in moderation.  It is true that it is less bad, but that does not necessarily make it good.  It is true that it is good to be social, but how will you grow more as a person, by using the crutch of alcohol or doing the deep inner work of overcoming those delusions which prevent you from being a socially engaged person?  I am now a diplomat and I attend quite a number of social gatherings where virtually everyone is drinking.  I walk around with a glass of water or even orange juice in my hand.  At first, I hated these gatherings because I have never liked parties.  But I forced myself to learn how to become socially engaged, to let go, relax and have a good time.  I learned how to be able to have a good conversation easily with anybody.  The secret to this is not complicated:  take a genuine interest in what others have to say.  Everyone has a lifetime worth of experiences waiting to be tapped, and all you need to do is be interested in finding out what they have to say.  Usually people only want to talk about themselves anyways, so it is not difficult to get the conversations started, and what you will find is because you have all of your mental faculties about you, you are better able to cherish the other person and occasionally pepper the conversation with some wisdom. 

Other people object saying having a glass of red wine every day has been medically proven to be good for your health.  I am not a doctor, so I cannot say whether this is true or not, but let’s just assume it is.  My question is simple:  isn’t moral discipline also good for your health?  Let us take a wild exaggeration of the benefits of drinking a glass of wine every day and say it adds 10 years onto your human life.  Surely that is extraordinary, is it not?  Surely that is enough justification to do it.  But every time we engage in the practice of moral discipline we create the substantial karmic cause for a rebirth in the upper realms, for example as a human.  If we assume an average lifespan of 80 years, what extends our experience of human life more, the 10 years or the 80?  And, just to take this a little further, if you practice this moral discipline every day from age 21 to 80, then that is 21,535 instances of moral discipline, each one of which creates the cause for at least another human rebirth of say 80 years, then keeping this vow will extend our experience of human life by 1,722,800 years!  Do the math.  Logic doesn’t lie. 

Let’s talk about marijuana

Some people agree that drinking alcohol just makes us stupid and taking hard drugs is just too dangerous, but they then ask what about marijuana?  People who have smoked almost all agree that it makes them more mellow and often gives them insights which are very similar and profound like what we realize with the Dharma.  There are also a great number of medical studies about the health benefits of this drug.  Let us face it, a very high percentage of Dharma practitioners have smoked pot in the past. 

Here the case is much harder, but still it is not worth it.  Why?  First, just as alcohol functions to undermine our inhibitions, marijuana functions to undermine our desire to do anything other than more marijuana.  This is true, and anybody who has smoked knows what I am talking about.  Conventionally, people usually all agree that people who regularly smoke have less ambition and drive than they used to.  Whenever free time arises, their first impulse is to light up.  As we know from the lamrim teachings, desire is everything.  All of the lamrim meditations are ultimately about building up within us an unquenchable desire for liberation and enlightenment.  Marijuana deflates our desires, and the more we smoke the less we desire anything else. 

Second, if we are even slightly prone to psychiatric disorders, marijuana is downright dangerous.  When I was in Geneva, there were three different practitioners who were mentally completely normal prior to smoking marijuana, but they had latent potentials for psychiatric disorders, and after smoking regularly for a period of time, they all three developed very serious psychiatric issues, so much so that all three of them have spent a fair amount of time in mental hospitals.  We do not know what latent potentialities we have lurking under the surface, and smoking could activate them.  Perhaps we have smoked a few times without a problem and therefore think we are immune to this problem.  But we never know if we are just one joint away from tripping over some invisible karmic wire we did not know was there.

Third, marijuana is a gateway drug.  It is like crossing the Rubicon, and once we have done so the other drugs which before we said we would never even consider trying suddenly no longer seem that different.  Marijuana seems to be OK, perhaps Ecstasy, opium, or a little blow might be OK too.  Geshe-la explains in the teachings on delusions that the easiest way to stop delusions is to do so early before they have gathered up steam.  Once we allowed them to run a little bit in our mind, they can seemingly take on a force of their own and become unstoppable in our mind.  It is the same with drugs.  Just as they say it is easier to attain enlightenment once we have become a human than it is to become a human if we have fallen into the lower realms, so too it is easier to avoid marijuana now than it is to avoid using other drugs once we have started using marijuana. 

Finally, sometimes people object saying that when they smoke marijuana it gives them deep insights into the Dharma, so how can that be bad.  Perhaps it is true that when we smoke up, suddenly emptiness makes sense.  We see all the connections between the different Dharma teachings.  Such experiences can quickly and easily be used to justify doing it some more “for valid Dharma reasons.”  So again, just like with the health benefits of drinking a glass of wine every day, let us assume for the sake of argument that there are deeper insights to be had by smoking marijuana.  Once again, my question is simple:  isn’t have a precious human life also good for gaining spiritual insights?  Every time we practice moral discipline for spiritual reasons, we create the karmic causes for an entire precious human life.  So what gives us greater opportunities to gain spiritual insights, 80 years worth of a precious human life or a few hours each week for 80 years?  And this is setting aside the fact that there are diminishing returns.  Perhaps the first time we get high we feel the subtle vibrations of the cosmos, but do we get that same feeling the 20th time we get high?  Eventually, it starts to do very little for us.  So again, let us assume you smoke once a week for your whole life.  By taking this vow, you will train in this moral discipline 3,120 times (assuming you are 20 and live until you are 80).  3,120 actions of moral discipline translates into 3,120 precious human lives or another 249,600 years’ worth of precious human existence.  What will give you the opportunity to gain greater spiritual insight, 250,000 years’ worth of precious human life or a few random insights from being high?  Again, math does not lie.

The final thing I want to address is the situation of what happens if despite all of the above, we are ready to take the Pratimoksha vows for everything except this one related to intoxicants.  We just can’t bring ourselves to do it.  Should we hold off on taking the vows?  I have heard some people within the tradition say yes.  This is wrong, and a dangerous wrong at that.  It runs exactly counter to everything Geshe-la teaches about the working gradually and skillfully with all of the vows.  It makes absolutely no sense to refrain from all moral discipline just because you cannot do one act of moral discipline perfectly.  How is that any better?  Now it is true that we cannot take all of the Pratimoksha vows except the one regarding intoxicants, we need to work with all of the vows, but we can work with each one at different levels according to our capacity.  Just as Buddha skillfully encouraged the butcher to no longer kill animals at night, so too we can skillfully promise to refrain from taking intoxicants in some circumstances, such as never do so while alone.  Or not on Tuesdays, whatever.  Start somewhere, and then gradually expand the scope.  What matters is that mentally you understand the value of moral discipline and you maintain the intention to one day keep even this vow purely.  It is better to get incomplete benefits from imperfect Pratimoksha vows than it is to get no benefit from no Pratimoksha vows.  So don’t let this wrong understanding prevent you from getting started on the path of improving your moral discipline.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: The keys to the universe

(8.129) All the happiness there is in this world
Arises from wishing others to be happy,
And all the suffering there is in this world
Arises from wishing ourself to be happy.

If this is only one verse from this chapter worth memorizing, it is this one.  Venerable Tharchin said this verse is the key to the universe and the fulfillment of our every wish.  We are simply confused about what is the cause of happiness.  In fact, we have it exactly backwards.  We can’t just choose to cherish others, we have to have reasons for doing so.  This verse provides all the reasons we need.  When we find ourselves in difficult situations, we can recite this verse like a mantra.  It will be like an inner spiritual guide that always reveals to us the correct path out of whatever difficult circumstance we find ourselves in. 

There are two main levels we can understand this:  At the conventional level, we can understand that through cherishing ourself we engage in negative actions and our mind is not peaceful, so it is the cause of all our unhappiness, and the same for positive actions arising from cherishing others.  But at a an ultimate level, literally all suffering in the whole world comes from our cherishing ourself, because the self-centered mind projects a world of suffering.  And literally all happiness in the whole world comes from our cherishing of others, because it will project a world of happiness.

Geshe-la explains in Eight Steps to Happiness that attaining enlightenment is really very simple, we need only change the object of our cherishing from self to others, then everything else will flow naturally from this.  This verse provides the core reason why we make this change.  Again, we should memorize it and repeat it like a mantra as we go about our day, especially in difficult circumstances.

(8.130) But what need is there to speak at length?
The childish work only for themselves,
Whereas the Buddhas work only for others –
Just look at the difference between them!

We know this, at least intellectually and actually from experience to some extent, we know the truth of these words.  In dependence upon our understanding and experience of this, we need to show an example to others that our happiness comes from working for others.  This is one of the most important examples we need to show as Kadampas.  It is important that we are to be seen to be happy working for others.  There are many, many people in this world now already showing this example.  Now is the time for Kadampa Buddhists to show this example out in the world.  Our tradition has broken out of the monasteries and the mountain caves, and it now lives in our homes, our places of work, and in the towns and nations we live in.

Kadampa practitioners must be seen in the world, taking responsibility in the world. Working hard in this world.  Seeking little gain for themselves other than a happy mind. We are taking responsibility, working hard, and seeking little gain other than a happy mind.  Because we seek no gain, because we are not concerned for our own happiness, we don’t experience problems like everybody else, and we’re able to maintain a peaceful happy mind, unlike anybody else.  As Kadampas, I think two of the most important examples that we must set are, (1) having no external enemies, and (2) seeking and finding happiness from a different source.  In this context, that means seeking happiness from the virtue of cherishing others and working for their happiness. That is the source of our happiness.

This next verse is great:

(8.131) If we do not exchange our happiness
For the suffering of others,
We shall not attain the state of a Buddha
And even in samsara there will be no happiness.

Imagine if we put on our publicity:  learn how to exchange your happiness for others’ suffering.  Nobody would come.  Self-cherishing would not normally think that was a good deal, would it?  Your suffering, for my happiness.  Generally, we think as long as we are happy, then it doesn’t matter if others in the world are suffering.  We think as long as we are happy, it doesn’t matter if other people in the world are suffering. If we continue to think like this, we will never be truly happy.  When we exchange self with others, we think, as long as other people are happy, it does not matter if I suffer.  If we think like this, we will eventually experience true happiness, the happiness of a Buddha.  Somehow we have to reach the stage where we feel that it is better that I suffer rather than others suffer. It is better. It is better that I suffer rather than others. It is better that others are happy rather than myself being happy. It is better.  This is a big mind.  Mothers have it for their children.  Bodhisattvas have it for everybody.

And we have to take this attitude right now into our work as bodhisattvas in this world.   We have opportunities to practice this day after day after day.  For example, if I can relieve the suffering of just one person, even if I have to undergo some hardship myself, then I will do so because it is better that they are happy.  Even if I have to undergo some hardship myself, if I can relieve the suffering of another or others, so be it. If I can make even one person happy, then even if I have to forsake my own happiness, so be it.  If we are enjoying ourself and somebody comes to ask us to help them in some way, are we bothered by this or delighted with the opportunity?  Our response depends on who we are cherishing.  We encounter this situation again and again and again. How many times have we had to make that choice?  Hundreds … is it me or them? And have we always made the right choice?

Happy Tsog Day: How to practise the perfection of patience

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 37 of a 44-part series.

I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of patience
So that even if every single being in the three realms,
Out of anger were to abuse me, criticize me, threaten me, or even take my life,
Undisturbed, I would repay their harm by helping them.

Geshe-la explains in How to Solve our Human Problems, “Patience is a mind that is able to accept, fully and happily, whatever occurs. It is much more than just gritting our teeth and putting up with things. Being patient means to welcome wholeheartedly whatever arises, having given up the idea that things should be other than what they are. It is always possible to be patient; there is no situation so bad that it cannot be accepted patiently, with an open, accommodating and peaceful heart.” This definition is worth memorizing. The perfection of patience is engaging in the practice of patience with a bodhichitta motivation.

There is no virtue greater than patience and there is no evil greater than anger. Thus, if we were to take only one thing as our main practice, it should be abandoning anger and practicing patience. Because we live in degenerate times, the causes of suffering and adversity are growing. As a result, our opportunities to practice patience are increasing as well. Patience is the cause of great beauty. We may wonder why we want beauty? Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path of Good Fortune that beauty creates the causes for others to be pleasantly disposed towards us, to naturally generate faith in us, and to wish to be around us. All these help us to become a more qualified spiritual guide capable of leading many living beings along the path. Patience is also one of the most profound causes of inner peace. If we are able to accept whatever happens, then our mind remains peaceful all the time. A peaceful mind is a happy mind.

Anger is like a communicable disease that remains in this world and spreads like wildfire. When one person gets angry, they hurt others, those people in turn get angry, they then hurt others and so forth. Further, when we express anger and frustration, such as on social media, we are likewise inciting others to also get angry and generate such negative minds. Some families have deep currents of anger. There may be for example one extremely angry person in a family who then infects everyone else in the family with anger, and that becomes the only way they know how to deal with problems that arise in life. It could take many decades of difficult inner work to undo the destructive effects of growing up in an angry home. But if we apply effort to eliminate anger, we can put an end to the lineage of anger in our family. And create a new lineage of patience within our family that continues for generation after generation.

Our ability to accept difficult circumstances depends primarily upon our ability to transform them into the path to enlightenment. If we know how to transform adverse circumstances into the path, then when they arise, they will not be a problem for us, rather they will be an opportunity. This only works, however, if our primary motivation is to make progress along the spiritual path. If our worldly desire to never encounter adversity is stronger than our spiritual desire to make progress along the path, even if we know how to transform adverse conditions into the path, it will not matter and things will still be a problem for us. But if our motivation is primarily spiritual, and we possess experience on how to transform adverse conditions into the path, then nothing will be a problem for us and there will be no basis for anger.

For me, I resolve about 90 to 95% of my otherwise anger-provoking problems through my reliance upon Dorje Shugden. With a motivation to make progress along the path, I request Dorje Shugden with faith to arrange the perfect conditions for my swiftest possible enlightenment. I then am able to accept whatever subsequently arises as the perfect conditions he has arranged for me. This faith will open my mind to receive his blessings to be able to understand how and why whatever has happened is perfect for my spiritual training. I will know what I need to do and be motivated to do it. In this way, nothing is a problem for me, and there is no basis for generating anger.

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

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

Offering the mandala

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

Requesting fulfilment of wishes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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