Happy Protector Day: All the Attainments I Desire Arise From Merely Remembering You

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is part 11 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.

In the last post I explained most of the things we request Dorje Shugden to do.  In this post I will explain the summary requests from the sadhana.

Please remain in this place always, surrounded by most excellent enjoyments.
As my guest, partake continuously of tormas and offerings;
And since you are entrusted with the protection of human wealth and enjoyments,
Never waver as my guardian throughout the day and the night.

All the attainments I desire
Arise from merely remembering you.
O Wishfulfilling Jewel, Protector of the Dharma,
Please accomplish all my wishes.   (3x)

This verse is the synthesis of the entire Dorje Shugden practice.  Everything is contained within this verse.  We can understand this verse as follows:  The first line refers to our pure wishes, not our mundane wishes.  The second line refers to wherever we imagine a Buddha, a Buddha actually goes, and where ever they go, they accomplish their function.  If we remember Dorje Shugden, he will infuse himself into the situation and transform it into something we see as perfect for our practice.  The third and fourth lines explain how Dorje Shugden can become a wishfulfilling jewel.  Since he accomplishes all our spiritual wishes, if we make all of our wishes spiritual ones, he will accomplish all our wishes.

Whenever we are in a difficult situation, we can recite this verse like a mantra requesting him to provide us immediate protection.  Then we should strongly believe that he has infused himself into the situation and everything is now perfect.  We may wonder why is it that all the attainments we desire arise from merely remembering Dorje Shugden.  The reason for this is Dorje Shugden is a wisdom Buddha, which means he primarily helps us by blessing our mind to be able to see how the conditions we have are perfect for our practice.  When we remember him, we recall that everything is emanated by him and thus perfect.  Just believing this to be the case with faith opens our mind to receiving his powerful blessings.  Sometimes we understand immediately how the situation is perfect for our spiritual training, other times it is not so clear.  But even when it is not clear why the conditions are perfect, our remembering him gives us the faith that things are perfect, so we can more easily accept them.  Understanding exactly why things are perfect for our practice is obviously best, but sometimes simply understanding that things are perfect is good enough to set our mind at peace.

If we do not have time to engage in the whole Dorje Shugden sadhana, we can just recite this verse three times and this will maintain our commitments.  One verse said out of deep faith and a pure motivation is far more powerful than hundreds of hours of sadhana practice with a distracted, unfaithful mind.  If we offer our life completely into his care, it does not matter how much recitation we do.  But with that being said, reciting the full sadhana is obviously more effective than just reciting this last verse assuming our faith and motivation are equal in both situations.

After reciting the “all the attainments I desire…” verse, it is customary to pause and make personal requests for ourself and the people we care about.  The following are some example requests we can make.  General requests can include, “May I gain all the realizations necessary to lead all those I love to enlightenment.” This is the essence of our bodhchitta wish.  We can also make the request, “Please arrange all the outer, inner and secret conditions so that all those I love may enter, progress along and complete the path to enlightenment in this lifetime.”  This request fulfills our superior intention to lead all beings along the path to enlightenment.

Some specific requests we can make are:  When we do not know what is best, we can request “Please arrange whatever is best with respect to _____.”  When we think something is best, but we have some attachment to getting it our way, we can make the request, “With respect to ____, if it is best, please arrange it; otherwise, please sabotage it.”  When we have some situation that needs transforming, we can request, “May my/his experience of _____ become a powerful cause of my/his enlightenment.”  Finally, we can request anything that has a pure motivation, but we shouldn’t become attached to getting things the way we think is best.  We do not know what is best, which is why we need an omniscient Dharma protector managing these things for us.

After we have made our requests, we can maintain three special recognitions.  We can hold these recognitions in the meditation session and the meditation break, and indeed for the rest of our life.  First, we can think, from now until we attain enlightenment, and especially in this lifetime, everything that appears to us physically is emanated by Dorje Shugden for our practice.  Certain appearances will be for us to overcome certain delusions.  Certain appearances will be for us to generate virtuous minds.  But we can be certain that from this point forward, there is not a single physical appearance that has not been emanated by him for us, so we can correctly see everything as an emanation of him for our practice.

Second, from now until we attain enlightenment, and especially in this lifetime, everything that we hear is emanated by Dorje Shugden to teach us the Dharma.  Obviously, this includes all the Dharma teachings we receive.  But it also includes conversations we overhear, songs we hear, even the wind blowing through the leaves.  But we can be certain that from this point forward, there is not a single sound that has not been emanated by him to teach us the Dharma.  We can correctly imagine that all sounds are mounted upon his mantra, and that when we hear the sounds they teach us the Dharma.

Third, from now until we attain enlightenment, and especially in this lifetime, everything that arises within our mind will be emanated by Dorje Shugden to provide us an opportunity to train our mind.  Obviously, this includes every time we generate virtuous minds with our Dharma practice.  He will also help us generate the virtuous minds of the stages of the path.  This additionally includes all the delusions that arise within our mind.  For example, if strong anger arises, we can believe it is emanated by him so that we can practice patience.  If strong jealousy arises, we can think it is emanated by him so we can practice rejoicing, etc.  This also applies to what others think, for example what they think about us, etc.  We can view everything that others are appearing to think to be emanated by Dorje Shugden for our practice.  We can be certain that from this point forward, there is not a single thought that will arise within our mind or the mind of others that has not been emanated by him to provide us an opportunity to train our mind, so we can fully accept everything that happens as perfect for our practice. 

In the next post I will explain how we can increase the power of our practice of Dorje Shugden.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Overcoming attachment to worldly life

Joyful effort also helps with our concentration.  It is impossible to direct our mind towards virtue if we have any of the three types of laziness (indolence, attraction to what is meaningless or negative, or discouragement).  We recognize that training our mind in concentration is like training our body.  We are getting our mind in shape.  Choice of mind is like a muscle, the more we exercise it, the stronger it gets.  By making our choice of mind strong, we gain control of everything and every situation, including death.  We gain the ability to choose how we respond to any situation in a way that moves us to enlightenment.  This is real freedom.  In this respect, exercising our choice of mind is the most important thing we can do, because doing it will accomplish everything else.

We want concentration, because it is only through concentration that we can mix our mind with our virtuous objects.  The cause of happiness is inner peace, and the cause of inner peace is mixing our mind with virtue.  The more we mix our mind with virtue, the more peaceful our mind will be, and thus the happier we will be.  If we can mix our mind 24/7 with virtue, then eventually we will be happy all the time, regardless of what happens.  When our mind is taken to other objects by distractions and attachments, then it destroys our inner peace and thus our happiness.  The most important object of meditation is the wisdom realizing emptiness.  By mixing our mind with this virtue, it uproots all of our delusions because the object of all delusions is a contaminated object.  We will look more at emptiness when we get to Chapter 9 of Shantideva’s text. 

In particular, we need to overcome our attachment to worldly life.  We are constantly distracted due to our attachment to worldly life. What we do now, in these next verses, is take a long look at worldly life and develop a strong wish, a determination, to leave it behind. Shantideva helps us to let go of our attachment to worldly life in these next verses.  For the moment we can take a look at worldly life and our attachment to it.  We tend to confuse two things, a Bodhisattva’s life amongst worldly beings and a worldly life itself.  We mix these two thinking they are the same.  They are not.  We need to be able to distinguish the two so that we are not following a worldly life. We cannot follow the example of worldly people. We cannot lead a life like theirs because it leads to suffering, doesn’t it? It leads to further lives in samsara, which are the nature of suffering.

The work we do can sometimes be mundane in its aspect.  But that does not make it worldly.  It is spiritual work if we do it with a spiritual motivation.  There are two ways we can make our mundane activities into spiritual ones.  First, we can have them be directed towards the accomplishment of spiritual goals, such as spreading the Dharma.  Or second, we can engage in them to work on our mind.  Our job is to do these things we normally do in our modern life without delusion.  Our job is to work on our delusions that come up as we do our external work.  Doing work in this way accomplishes two things:  it accomplishes our preliminary practices of accumulating merit and purifying negativity and it also helps connect people with the Dharma. 

We ourselves must reduce and finally overcome our own attachment to worldly life, and instead adopt a spiritual way of life.  We must stop turning to objects of attachment and stop pursuing objects of desire. Otherwise, we end up helping no one. We do not make any spiritual progress and we don’t help anybody else to make progress. We remain trapped within the fangs of delusions like everyone else. 

We can have an interest in people, possessions, and reputation. We must have an interest in things because they can be useful for accomplishing our spiritual goals, but we should not have an attachment to them.  How can we distinguish between the two?  An attachment to these things means we think that our happiness depends upon them, that without them, we cannot be happy.   An interest in them means we realize the value of these things for the accomplishment of our spiritual goals.  But if we do not have them, our happiness is not destroyed, rather we are motivated to do better.  If we have attachment to these things, then they will disturb our concentration in meditation.  If we have a spiritual interest in them, we will be able to set them aside and concentrate on the object of our choice.

Thanksgiving as a Kadampa

Getting together with family

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States.  Thanksgiving is part of modern life and one of the most important days on the American calendar. Therefore, it is our job to figure out how to celebrate it in a Kadampa way.

Traditionally on Thanksgiving, extended families get together and have a big feast and give thanks for the things and people in their life.  Even if people live far away, they travel to reunite with their family.  It is really only at Thanksgiving and Christmas that most Americans make a point of coming together as a family.  But that is often where the trouble starts!  We all have our uncle Bob or Grandpa John who just can’t help themselves saying offensive things.  Because it is supposed to be a “special day,” Mom and others get all stressed out that everything has to be “perfect,” but it is their anxiety about perfection that ruins it for everybody else.  Then of course, there is always the cynic – the person who is “too good” for Thanksgiving and feels the need to lambaste everyone else for their hypocrisy, fake friendliness, and consumerism come tomorrow.  Or perhaps we are Uncle Bob, the Nervous Nellie, or the cynic ruining the holiday for everyone else.  So the first things a Kadampa needs to do on Thanksgiving is to (1) fully accept and love our obnoxious relatives for who they are without feeling the need to change them in any way, and (2) make sure we are not the one ruining the holiday for everyone else.  As a cultural tradition, getting together with your family to give thanks is something to be rejoiced in, so we should throw ourselves into it and do what we can to make it good for everybody else.

Next, of course, comes the question about being vegetarian – or even more difficult, a vegan – on Thanksgiving.  What’s a good Kadampa to do with a giant Turkey carcass on the table, butter on the bread and mashed potatoes, and a hungry hoard ready to dig in?  Here, it entirely depends upon circumstance.  If your family is accepting of your vegetarianism, then make a vegetarian dish that you can share with everybody, and you eat what you can.  If your family does not understand and will feel offended or judged by your dietary choices, then I would advise to not make a stink out of it.  Take a small piece, eat a few bites without commentary to be polite and not hurt the cook’s feelings who prepared this big elaborate meal, and get on with your day.  But under no circumstances should you get on your soap box and make everybody else feel judged or guilty about their choices.  It is not our place to tell other people what dietary choices they should make.  Say some prayers for all the turkeys slaughtered on Thanksgiving, then transform everything into a giant Tsog offering and imagine you are offering up completely purified nectar to all the heroes and dakinis gathered around the table.

Giving Thanks

Usually during Thanksgiving, often during the meal, there comes a time where everyone explains what they are grateful for.  If your family is not accepting of your Buddhist path, now is not the time to profess your gratitude for your guru and the three precious jewels!  Internally, you should of course generate such gratitude.  But externally, you should express gratitude for things everyone else at the table can likewise generate gratitude for.  Why is this important?  If you express gratitude for something others are not grateful for, they may politely smile while you say your thanks, but in their heart they will be generating a critical mind towards your object of thanks.  You may feel like you have made your point, but they will have accumulated negative karma of holding on tightly to wrong views.  If you focus your thanks on things that everyone can be grateful for, then it is like you are leading a guided meditation in gratitude for all our kind mothers.

One of the hardest parts about Thanksgiving is, if we are honest, we don’t necessarily like our family very much.  Of course this isn’t true for everybody, but it is true for many people.  We are all just so different – different views and different priorities in life.  The members of our family have unique abilities to say all the wrong things which upset us in so many different ways, whether it is the irresponsible brother, controlling mother, judging father, obnoxious uncle, or embarrassing aunt, we find something we don’t like in all those closest to us.  One thing I have seen quite frequently among Kadampas is a very pure love for all the living beings they have never met, but general aversion for those closest to them in their life.  It’s easy to love all living beings in the abstract, loving actual deluded and annoying people is a different thing altogether.  Geshe-la tells us in all of his books we should start by learning how to love our family and those closest to us, and then gradually expand the scope of our love outwards until it encompasses all living beings.  Thanksgiving is a good day to start doing it right.  Love them, accept them, stop judging them.

Some people, though, find themselves alone on Thanksgiving. Perhaps there is so much conflict in their family that they just don’t get together anymore. Perhaps they would like to be with their family, but they lack the financial resources to join them. Perhaps there is a pandemic, preventing people from gathering. Perhaps their whole family has already passed away. Depression and suicide rates are often highest during the holidays. We attach so much importance to these holidays, and then when people find themselves alone or unloved, they fall into despair. When we were little, my mom was a single mother and the holidays were very important to her. Fortunately, some kind person always found a place at their table for us. It was annoying for me and my brother because we had to spend Thanksgiving with people we didn’t know nor particularly get along with, but it made a big difference for my emotionally fragile mother. If we know somebody who is alone on Thanksgiving, we should invite them to join us. There are so many people hurting out there, and most people just want to feel loved. So create a space at your table for them as my mother’s friends did for her. Don’t underestimate the difference such a gesture can make.

Celebrating Thanksgiving in Dharma Centers

I also think it would be wonderful if every Dharma center in America had a Thanksgiving party in which everyone was welcome.  Geshe-la often talks about Dharma centers as belonging to the community.  Why can’t a Dharma center have a Thanksgiving celebration?  This could be a private affair for the people of the center, or it could even be an open house community celebration for anybody to come.  In addition to a great meal and quality friends, discussions can be had about the kindness of all our mothers.  It doesn’t matter if the people who come never come back, or perhaps they only come on Thanksgiving because they have nowhere else to go.  We are grateful for all living beings, so Thanksgiving is our chance to give some love and kindness back.  Gen-la Losang once asked who is more important, the people who come to the center and stay or the people who come and never come back?  If we look at how most centers are run, it seems our answer is the people who come and stay.  But he said the correct answer is those who never come back for the simple reason they are more numerous.  If somebody comes once, but walks away thinking, “hey, those Buddhists ain’t bad,” then they have just created the karma to find the path again in the future.  If our centers belong to the community, there is no reason why our centers can’t start doing community service.  Perhaps this isn’t currently the tradition at our center, but there is no reason why it can’t become a tradition next year.

Internally, for me, Thanksgiving is a reminder that for the most part I am an extremely ungrateful individual and I take for granted the kindness of everyone around me.  As those who have been following my blog for a long time know, I have had lots of difficulties with my father over the years.  At the core of it, he simply finds me ungrateful for all that he has done for me.  Historically, I have disagreed and protested, but if I’m honest, he is right. I take for granted all of the kindness others have shown me, and I feel as if I am entitled to him showing me kindness. No matter how much kindness he or my mother have ever showed me, my general view has been “not good enough.” I might even conventionally have been right that he should have done more, but what good does such an attitude do. If others find me ungrateful, then instead of becoming defensive, I should use that as a reminder that I need to be more grateful.  How could that be a bad thing?  

Gratitude as the Foundation of the Mahayana Path

If we think about it, a feeling of gratitude is really the foundation of the entire Mahayana path. It is not enough to just generate a feeling of gratitude once a year on Thanksgiving, nor is it enough to generate such a feeling once every 21 days when we come around to it on our Lamrim cycle. Rather, gratitude should be our way of life. Venerable Tharchin says that the definition of a realization of Dharma is when all of our actions are consistent with that realization and none of our actions are in contradiction with it. A feeling of gratitude towards everyone is a stage of the path, and one we should carry with us every day of the year.

But Thanksgiving is about more than just feeling grateful, it is also about “giving” back. Giving is one of our basic virtues, and one of our perfections which will take us to enlightenment. Venerable Tharchin says the thought “mine” is the opposite of the mind of giving, so the way to perfect our giving is to stop imputing “mine” on anything. Instead we should mentally give everything we have to others. We mentally think everything, including our very body and mind, belong to others. We give them to others. Of course we may still retain control over certain things, but we should have no sense of ownership over anything. We are custodians of things for others, but our intention is to use them all for their benefit. We offer our body, our mind, our money, our time, our family, our careers, everything, to others. We commit that we will use everything we have for their sake. At the very least, we can offer a good meal and a warm heart. In the end, what most people want is to feel loved. This is something we can give if we put a little effort into it.

Most of all, on Thanksgiving, I try give thanks to those closest to me. Before I got married, I had a vision where Tara came to me and handed to me a child. As she did so, she said, “this is where you will find your love.” My children may be a lot of work, insanely expensive, and they may be maddening at times, but I love them with all my heart. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for them. If they were not in my life, I wouldn’t know what it means to really love another person and put their interests first. The path would remain quite abstract. I am also extremely grateful for my wife. I have to work all the time, but she takes care of our kids and she takes care of our home. She is my best friend. Before I received highest yoga tantra empowerments for the first time, I met with Venerable Tharchin for the first time. I explained to him all of the troubles I was having with my then girlfriend, and he told me two things. First, view all of her apparent faults as reflections of the faults within my own mind, and then purge those faults like bad blood. When I do, he said, they will “magically” disappear from her because they aren’t coming from her side anyways. Second, he said, “never forget she is an emanation of Vajrayogini sent to bring you in this life to the pure land.” Of course, at the time, I didn’t understand emptiness enough to understand that my now wife is or isn’t anything from her own side, but thinking she was an emanation saved our relationship and enabled me to transform my relationship with her into the path. Later, when I came to understand emptiness a bit more, I realized it didn’t matter what she was, it was beneficial for me to believe she is an emanation. Now, after more than 20 years of marriage, I’m starting to come back to Venerable Tharchin’s words – she is an emanation, not in an inherently existent sense, but in the same sense that any emanation is an emanation. Every day, her every action and her every word, functions to ripen me on the path. Externally, she appears to act entirely normally, gets angry or sad like everybody else, but her normal is now my blessing. All of us can get to the same point with our partners no matter how they act or what they might do. Our partners have come to get us and take us to pure Dakini land, even if they don’t know it! Be grateful for them entering into your life in this way.

I think it is very important that we also learn to be genuinely grateful for our suffering. If we are honest about our spiritual practice, we usually only really get serious when we are experiencing some type of suffering. Then, when the difficult period in our life has passed, we go back to enjoying samsara and going through the motions with our practice. The solution to this problem is to “know suffering,” not just intellectually, but with our heart. We need to actually see our samsaric happiness as nothing more than a temporary reprieve from the endless slaughterhouse of samsara. We need to know our ordinary body and mind – our contaminated aggregates – as a cage that will torment us until the day we die, only to be thrown into a new prison cell which is likely to be far worse. We need to know our delusions are like devils duping us to follow paths that all end only in the fires of the deepest hell. We need to know all of the negative karma on our mind that we have not yet purified are like time bombs that can explode at any moment, shattering our lives and everything we hold dear. Such suffering is inevitable unless we end it as a possibility. It will never end on its own. When we actually “know” our suffering in our heart, then we will be motivated to practice sincerely, day and night, from this day until we are finally out. When we are grateful for our suffering, we are able to “accept” it. When we accept our suffering, it is no longer a “problem” for us. It may still be unpleasant, but it is not a problem, and so in many ways, we no longer “suffer” from it. Suffering comes primarily from non-acceptance of unpleasant feelings. But if we can develop an attitude of gratitude towards our difficulties, we will be able to accept them and realize that they are actually our most important fuel for our spiritual life.

Most of all, I am thankful for Geshe-la entering into my life.  He found me at my darkest hour, pulled me up, gave me a purpose, taught me what my real problem was (my own deluded, unpeaceful mind), gave me methods that work to heal my mind, provided me with perfectly reliable outer and inner advice, opened up my heart, revealed to me the magic of faith, provided teachers and centers who could help me bring the Dharma into my life, gave me the opportunity to teach the Dharma, and has been with me when I have felt otherwise alone.  He has created for me a vajra family of Sangha Brothers and Sisters who are some of the dearest people in my life, even though I rarely am able to see them.  He has shown me the root of my suffering and a doorway out.  He has provided me with everything I need to enter, progress along, and complete the path.  He has blessed my mind with countless empowerments, and has promised to remain in my heart helping me along until I attain the final goal.  Most of all, he has introduced me to Dorje Shugden and defended him when anybody and everybody else would have abandoned him.  Dorje Shugden is my guru, yidam and protector who helps me in this life and will be with me when I need him most – at the time of my death.

On Thanksgiving, I am grateful for all of this.  And I offer myself as a servant to my guru and to all living beings.  Please keep me in your service for as long as space exists.

Happy Tsog Day: Receiving the blessings of the four empowerments

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 20 of a 44-part series.

Through the force of requesting three times in this way, white, red, and blue light rays and nectars, serially and together, arise from the places of my Guru’s body, speech, and mind, and dissolve into my three places, serially and together. My four obstructions are purified and I receive the four empowerments. I attain the four bodies and, out of delight, an emanation of my Guru dissolves into me and bestows his blessings.

At this point we meditate briefly on receiving the blessings of the four empowerments according to the commentary. Then we imagine that an emanation of Lama Losang Tubwang Dorjechang comes to the crown of our head and, entering into our central channel, descends to our heart. We imagine that our subtle body, speech, and mind become of one taste with our Spiritual Guide’s body, speech, and mind, and meditate on this special feeling of bliss for a while. After this we recite the mantras according to the commentary.

The single-pointed request also has the function of requesting the spiritual guide to bestow the four empowerments. The four empowerments are the empowerment of the body; speech; mind; and the body, speech, and mind together of Je Tsongkhapa. The first empowerment bestows the body of a Je Tsongkhapa, which has the ability to emanate countless forms according to the needs of living beings. The speech empowerment bestows upon us the vajra speech of Je Tsongkhapa, which has power to guide all living beings to enter onto, progress along, and complete the path to enlightenment. By attaining the vajra speech of Je Tsongkhapa, our every sound will function to teach the truth of Dharma. The mind empowerment bestows the vajra mind of Je Tsongkhapa, which possesses the five omniscient wisdoms and can see clearly and directly all phenomena in all three times. The empowerment of the body, speech, and mind together functions to unite the vajra body, vajra speech, and vajra mind of Je Tsongkhapa so that they function together in harmony. Receiving the empowerments in this way is exactly the same as receiving the Je Tsongkhapa empowerment. In this way, the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide has the same function as self-initiation of Je Tsongkhapa.

We can also understand the empowerments at a deeper level where the vajra body empowerment is the similar in nature as the vase empowerment of Heruka that has the result of enabling all the meditations on the profound generation stage of the body mandala and leads to the final resultant attainment of the Emanation Body. The speech empowerment is similar in nature as the secret empowerment of Heruka, which empowers us to meditate on the completion stage of illusory body and have the good fortune of attaining the resultant enjoyment body. The mind empowerment is similar in nature to the wisdom mudra empowerment which empowers us to meditate on the completion stage of the clear light of the Mahamudra and will give us the good fortune of attaining the resultant Truth Body. And the body, speech, and mind empowerments together is similar in nature to the precious word empowerment, which empowers us to meditate on the completion stage of inconceivable and have the good fortune to attain the resultant union of Vajradhara.

When we receive the empowerments, we imagine that from the crown of our spiritual guide comes white wisdom lights that bestow the body empowerment; from the throat of our spiritual guide come red lights that bestow the speech empowerment; from the heart of our spiritual guide come blue lights which bestow the mind empowerment; and then from the body, speech, and mind of our spiritual guide simultaneously come white, red, and blue lights which bestow the body, speech, and mind empowerment together. As these light rays and nectars descend, we should feel as if we are receiving a subtle infusion of our Guru’s body, speech, and mind into our own body, speech, and mind bestowing upon us all the attainments.

After receiving these blessings, we then imagine that the entire field of merit dissolves into our spiritual guide in the space in front of us, who then comes to our crown, descends through our central channel down to our heart, where he mixes in separably with our indestructible wind and mind. It should feel as if his mind has entered into ours, and our mind is now his. Essentially, we receive a mind transplant where his enlightened mind becomes our own. Since the ultimate nature of our Guru’s mind is the union of great bliss and emptiness, we feel as if our mind has merged with an ocean of bliss and emptiness. Perceiving only the clear light, experiencing great bliss, and seeing directly the mere absence of all the things that we normally see, we recognize this clear light emptiness as our definitive spiritual guide and we impute our “I” upon it, strongly believing that we are Truth Body dharmakaya of our spiritual guide.

How to Engage in Sadhana Practice with the Four Pervasive Qualities and all Five Aggregates

Sadhanas are called ”methods for receiving attainments.” We spend the vast bulk of our formal meditation time engaging in them. If we are to receive attainments, we must train in engaging in them in increasingly qualified ways. For me, this consists of infusing each word of the sadhana with four pervasive qualities and meditating with all five aggregates. Practicing in this way enables us to bring all of the Dharma practices of Sutra and Tantra into each word of our sadhana practice. Through training in these four pervasive qualities and learning to engage in our sadhanas with all five aggregates, we become like a spiritual gymnast who can joyfully spend countless hours perfecting their routine, yet still feel like their routine has much room for improvement. We can spend our whole life, indeed countless lifetimes, perfecting our spiritual routines (our sadhanas), content in the knowledge that by doing so we will fulfill the ultimate wishes of ourself and others. How to do so will now be explained.

Sadhanas are Meditations Guided by the Guru

Much of our Dharma practice is reciting sadhanas. Some people mistakenly feel sadhana practice is just a preliminary for meditation, or even a distraction from meditation, thinking we spend all our time reciting sadhanas and therefore have very little time for meditation itself. This confusion comes from making a false distinction between sadhana practice and meditation. Sadhana practice is meditation.

Meditation is mixing our mind with virtue. We all wish to be happy all the time. Our happiness depends upon inner peace. If our mind is peaceful, we are happy even if our external situation is very challenging or indeed painful. If our mind is unpeaceful, we will be unhappy even if our external situation consists of everything our worldly desires ever wanted. Sadhanas are meditations guided by the guru. Engaging in them is a supreme method for mixing our mind with virtue. They are special meditations we are encouraged to memorize and then engage in every day as the very core of our practice. They are written by our Guru – they are our emanation scriptures. We are encouraged to engage in them every day as the principal method for progressing along the path. It would be hard to find anything more important than learning how to engage in sadhana practice in a qualified way. The more we mix our mind with the sadhana, the more completely we will mix our mind with virtue and the more quickly and powerfully we will receive attainments, including the supreme attainment of enlightenment.

Avoiding the Fault of Treating our Sadhanas Like Objects of Attachment

Some people grow bored engaging in sadhana practice, feeling like they are eating the same bread every day, and eventually it grows tiresome. When we first discovered them, they would blow our mind and fill our heart with joy, but now they have gone flat and just don’t do anything for us anymore. Yeah, yeah, we know this, we want something new. This reaction comes from relating to our sadhanas in the same way as we do any external object of attachment – we think these external things have some power to do something to us, and over time their ability to do so wanes.

It is incorrect to say they do anything to us since they do not exist from their own side. Rather, if we want to receive attainments through sadhana practice, we need to do something with them. For myself, what follows is how to engage in our sadhana practice with all of our being. We can quite literally spend our entire life training in improving the quality with which we engage in sadhana practice and still feel we have only scratched the surface of their depths.

Infusing our Sadhana Practice with Four Pervasive Qualities

The power of our sadhana practice depends primarily upon the extent to which we infuse them with the four pervasive qualities of faith, a pure motivation, single-pointed concentration, and an understanding of emptiness. We need to do this with each word of the sadhana. These are being called pervasive qualities because our goal is to have them pervade every word as we engage in the sadhana practice.

Faith. Our faith primarily functions to open our mind to receiving the guru’s blessings. Blessings are what give our practice divine power. Many of our practices are called ”guru yogas.” What, exactly, does this mean? Guru Yoga is a special way of viewing our spiritual guide. We view all the Buddhas of our practices as emanations of our spiritual guide and we view our spiritual guide as an emanation of all the Buddhas. In the beginning, these seem like two different things, but when they fuse into one we have found ”guru yoga.” Why do we want to do this? Because through guru yoga we can receive the blessings of all the Buddhas. Receiving the blessings of a single Buddha has the power to transform our mind from a negative state to positive state, or more generally send our mind in the direction of enlightenment. Receiving the blessings of all the Buddhas multiplies the power of these blessings by the number of Buddhas, which are countless. These blessings supercharge our mind. As explained above, each word of the sadhana is a meditation guided by our guru – the words themselves were written by our lineage gurus. More profoundly, each word of the sadhana is itself an emanation of our guru functioning in our mind. We need to practice “guru yoga” with respect to each word of the sadhana, viewing it as an emanation of our guru, and as we mix our mind with the word we are directly mixing our mind with the realizations of our guru’s mind. Our spiritual guide has already gained all the realizations referred to by each word of the sadhana. By viewing each word as his realization emanated in our mind appearing as the word, by mixing our mind with each word we release our guru’s realization into our own mind. Removing the many layers of doubts we have about this is how we deepen our faith behind each word.

A pure motivation. Our motivation is the ’why’ we are engaging in our practice – and more specifically, why do we recite each word of the sadhana. Without a clear why, our practice has no purpose and therefore no meaning. The vast path of the Lamrim is primarily about getting our ’why’ right through improving our motivation. When we first start meditating, our main goal may be to find some peace in this life – we are stressed out and we hope to become happier in this life. There is nothing wrong with starting here, it is very good in fact. But there are much more powerful reasons we can develop to meditate. Just because there are more powerful reasons doesn’t mean our wish to be happy in this life is wrong. It is good, but there are even better reasons. We don’t need to abandon our wish to be happy in this life to expand the scope of our why to include much more. As we train in Lamrim, we first learn that we can die at any point and we are in grave danger of falling into the lower realms where we can remain trapped for countless aeons. This is not ”fire and brimstone,” this is fact. Just because such a prospect is terrifying doesn’t mean it is wrong. Engaging in sadhanas can function to create within our mind a safety net preventing us from falling into the lower realms. It can plant the karma on our mind to continue to find the spiritual path uninterruptedly in all our future lives until we attain enlightenment. This is a good why behind each word.

Similarly, as we deepen our Lamrim training, we realize it is not enough to avoid lower rebirth, we must escape permanently from any form of samsaric rebirth. As it say in the Lord of All Lineages Prayer, ”and if, as it is said, the tears I have shed from all this suffering are vaster than an ocean I still do not feel any sorrow or fear, do I have a mind made of iron?” Our sadhana practice can deliver us from the ocean of samsara by destroying its root, self-grasping ignorance and the other delusions. In exactly the same way, “all of our mothers who have cared for us with great kindness are drowning in the ocean of samsara.” If we are to free them from suffering and mistaken appearance, we must become a Buddha ourselves who has the power to be with them every day, bestowing blessings in life after life until they are eventually led to enlightenment themselves. How can we become a Buddha? Through engaging in our sadhana practices. All of our sadhanas, especially our Highest Yoga Tantra sadhanas, are methods for transforming ourselves into an enlightened being who has this power. This is their ultimate why and function. When we engage in our sadhanas with the motivation of bodhichitta – wishing to become a Buddha so that we can lead all beings to enlightenment – we multiply the power of our practice by the number of living beings, which are also countless. Since each word of the sadhana can be engaged in with any (and all) of these whys, we can literally spend our whole life building up the power of our ”whys” behind our recitation of each word. We can infuse all of the Lamrim into each word.

Single-pointed concentration. Meditation is mixing our mind with virtue. The more we mix our mind with virtue the more profoundly it transforms us. Whatever we mix our mind with, we become. Since the sadhana itself is an emanation of our guru, if we mix our mind with it completely, we attain his enlightened mind. Geshe-la said when he opened the temple at Manjushri that we have been given everything we need to attain enlightenment, all that remains is learning to engage in our practices without distraction. There are two main faults to pure concentration, mental sinking and mental excitement, each of which has two levels, gross and subtle. Gross mental excitement is when our mind goes to an object of attachment and we forget our object of meditation entirely, and subtle mental excitement is when part of our mind remains with the object and part of our mind is on an object of attachment. Gross mental sinking is when we hold the object, but its clarity decreases; and subtle mental sinking is when the clarity remains, but our grip on the object loosens. Our goal is to engage in each word of the sadhana free from gross and subtle mental sinking and excitement. Depending upon our karmic history with each word of the sadhana, we may have a different nexus of faults of our concentration on different parts. Learning to engage in every part, every word, with faultless concentration is our goal.

An understanding of emptiness. Due to countless aeons of mental habit, we tend to grasp at a chasm between ourselves and, well, everything, including the words of our sadhana. As a result, our sadhanas remain ’there’ while our mind remains ’here,’ and a gap between the two remains. This grasping prevents a complete mixing of our mind with the sadhana. Realizing the emptiness of each word of the sadhana, the emptiness of our guru (which each word is an emanation of), and the emptiness of our own mind will eliminate these gaps so that our guru’s realizations, the words of our sadhana, and our mind mix like water mixing with water. In some traditions, practitioners engage in special spiritual dances. The dances themselves are divine sequences that reflect the functioning of the ultimate in this world. By engaging in the dance perfectly, the dancer comes into alignment with the divine and produces profound spiritual experience in the dancer and all those who watch the dance. In exactly the same way, our sadhanas are a dance of emptiness our mind performs that functions to channel the guru into this world. By eliminating our grasping at the differences between our guru’s realizations, the words of the sadhana, and our own mind, we bring ourselves into alignnment with his spiritual dance. There are many levels of grasping and many levels of realizing emptiness. Our training is to eliminate completely all dualities with respect to every word.

Meditating with All Five Aggregates

When we engage in our sadhana practice, we should strive to do so with all of our being, not just our mouth or just our intellectual mind. This takes a lifetime of training. What, specifically, does it mean to engage in our sadhana practice with all our being? It means to learn how to do so with all five aggregates. What are we? We are an “I” imputed upon five aggregates – form, discrimination, feeling, compositional factors, and consciousness. This is all our being. Attaining enlightenment, quite simply, is changing the basis of imputation of our “I” from the five contaminated aggregates of a samsaric being to the five completely purified aggregates of a Buddha. The five main stages of the path are renunciation, bodhichitta, the wisdom realizing emptiness, generation stage, and completion stage of highest yoga tantra. How can we understand these? There is one activity on the path – changing the basis of imputation of our I from a samsaric being to an enlightened being. There are two reasons why we do this – for ourself (renunciation) and for others (bodhichitta). There is one thing that makes it possible – everything is empty. To engage in our sadhana practices with all our being does not just mean learning how to do our practices with all five of our aggregates, it means learning how to do them with the five completely purified aggregates of our guru! Therefore, we can say meditating with all of our being – meaning all five aggregates – has two levels: according to Sutra and according to Tantra. Doing so according to Sutra means learning how to do so with our present five aggregates and doing so according to Tantra means learning how to do so with the five completely purified aggregates of our guru.

Learning to meditate with our aggregate of form. According to Sutra, our aggregate of form is essentially our body. Technically, it is all forms in the three thousand worlds, but due to our self-grasping we relate to our aggregate of form primarily as the body that we normally see. When we engage in our sadhana practices, we want to do so with our body in the correct meditation posture as explained in the Lamrim texts. At a minimum, we want to try keep our back straight and our hands in the appropriate postures – such as together with our thumbs touching at our navel or with our palms pressed together at our heart or engaging in the various mudras of our tantric practices.

According to Tantra, our pure aggregate of form is viewing every aspect of our pure visualizations as emanations of our guru. When we engage in our sadhana practices, there are always visualizations that accompany each aspect of them. Buddhas have the ability to manifest their realizations in the aspect of forms. What we see is the visual form, but we understand these forms are by nature the realizations of our guru’s mind. We should view each word of the sadhana as a form of checking meditation on the visualizations we are engaging in. As we recite each word of the sadhana, we should recall a specific aspect of the visualization that ”speaks to us” as representing the meaning of the mind we are generating as we recite the word of the sadhana. In the commentaries to the different sadhanas found in our Dharma books, Geshe-la explains how each aspect of the visualization symbolizes specific Dharma realizations. Where such explanations exist, as we recite each word, we should mentally recall this aspect of the visualization while understanding that these visual forms are actually the realizations of our guru appearing in the aspect of form. Where such explanations do not exist, we can just mentally recall whichever aspect of the visualization represents for us the meaning of the word of the sadhana. In this way, our sadhana practices are all checking meditations. Ultimately, with a bodhichitta motivation and single pointed concentration, we can recall that all of these visualized forms are manifestations of our guru’s mind of bliss and emptiness.

Learning to meditate with our aggregate of discrimination. Our aggregate of discrimination is the ability to differentiate one object from another by realizing its uncommon characteristic. The way we ’know’ anything is by differentiating the object from everything else by realizing what makes that object uniquely it – its defining characteristics. Functionally speaking, we can say our aggregate of discrimination is our intellectual understanding. Sometimes we criticize intellectual understandings of the Dharma, as if they are somehow bad. An intellectual understanding of the Dharma is good, a heart-felt understanding is even better. Just because a heart-felt understanding is better doesn’t mean an intellectual understanding is bad. Indeed, the intellectual understanding of the Dharma is almost always the foundation, or pre-requisite, for being able to realize the Dharma in our heart. We gain an intellectual understanding of the Dharma primarily through the power of listening to and studying Dharma. According to Sutra, therefore, we can say that learning to meditate with our aggregate of discrimination means we need to listen to many Dharma teachings and study our Dharma books to gain an intellectual understanding of what exactly we need to do in our practices and what do these things mean. It also means memorizing our sadhanas so that we can engage in them without having to keep our eyes open or listen to their sounds. We have the ability to engage in all our practices and intellectually know exactly what we are doing and why. We may not feel everything in our heart yet, but we know exactly what we are trying to do. According to Tantra, we learn how to engage in the sadhana with our guru’s aggregate of discrimination. This is a form of bringing the result into the path. With deep faith, we imagine we have our guru’s perfect understanding of the practice and the meaning of each word, and we see all of these individually as manifestations of his mind of bliss and emptiness. We don’t just self-generate as the deity, we learn how to meditate as the deity with his aggregate of discrimination as our own.

Learning to meditate with the aggregate of feeling. Generally speaking, our aggregate of feeling refers to how we experience objects. Contaminated aggregates of feeling experience objects as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Pure aggregates of feeling experience all objects as all the different flavors of great bliss. Just as there are many different flavors of ice cream, a pure aggregate of feeling experiences each object as a different flavor of great bliss. Practically speaking, meditating with our aggregate of feeling means learning how to meditate with our heart. There is a qualified difference between meditating just with an intellectual understanding and heart-felt meditation. Our job is to learn how to meditate with our heart, where we feel in our heart the realizations implied by each word of the sadhanas. How do we do this? There are two principal methods. First, through blessings. We request our guru to bless our mind so that we may realize each word in our heart – that we may recite each word of the sadhana from our heart, that each word of the sadhana is “giving voice to” what we genuinely feel in our heart. With our guru’s blessings, we can accomplish anything, including, bringing the Dharma into our heart. Second, through contemplation. Geshe-la explains in Mirror of Dharma that the purpose of contemplation is to bring the Dharma to our heart – to have the Dharma touch our heart. Contemplation is decidedly not an intellectual exercise, though our intellectual understanding is the starting point of our contemplations. Qualified contemplation is making the Dharma our lived truth. A shortcut to qualified contemplation is to ask ourselves, ”if this Dharma was true, what would it change?” For example, if we really were standing on the precipice of hell, what would it change about how we experience our lives. We then get a ”feeling” in our heart. The Dharma has touched our heart. But we then may still have doubts about whether that Dharma is in fact true. So then we can test the truth of the Dharma instruction through checking our own lived experience or examining whether it makes sense, is logical and consistent with everything else we know. Venerable Tharchin says the wisdom arising from listening is primarily gaining an understanding of how the enlightened beings see things and the wisdom arising from contemplation is transforming this Dharma into our own understanding and experience of the world.

Practically speaking, then, according to Sutra learning to meditate with our aggregate of feeling means contemplating deeply each word of the sadhana until it touches our heart. As we go through the sadhana, we build and then recall the mental pathways from our intellectual understanding to our heart, so that with each word of the sadhana we are touching our heart much in the same way a master pianist touches the keys of their most treasured piano. According to Tantra, it means doing so with our guru’s aggregate of feeling. We bring the result into the path and, with deep faith, imagine that we are feeling in our heart each word of the sadhana as our guru does. Ultimately, it means experiencing each word of the sadhana as a different flavor of our guru’s mind of great bliss.

Learning to meditate with our aggregate of compositional factors. Generally speaking, we say that we have a body and mind. Our body is our aggregate of form, and our mind is the other four aggregates of discrimination, feeling, compositional factors, and consciousness. Compositional factors are essentially all of our different mental factors except for discrimination and feeling. In How to Understand the Mind, Geshe-la explains all of the different mental factors, primary minds, and so forth. These are traditionally called Lorig teachings. In simple terms, we can say mental factors know the aspects of an object whereas the primary mind knows the mere entity of the object itself. For our present purposes, we can say that the aggregate of consciousness is the primary mind and the aggregate of compositional factors is all of our mental factors except discrimination and feeling.

More specifically, there are fifty-one mental factors. Geshe-la explains all of them in detail in How to Understand the Mind. They can be divided as follows: (1) The five all-accompanying mental factors, (2) The five object-ascertaining mental factors, (3) The eleven virtuous mental factors, (4) The six root delusions, (5) The twenty secondary delusions, and (6) The four changeable mental factors. The five all-accompanying mental factors include discrimination, feeling, intention, contact, and attention. Discrimination and feeling have already been discussed. Intention is our ”why,” which was explained above in the four pervasive qualities under a pure intention. Contact, attention, and the five object-ascertaining mental factors refer to the mental factors we employ to concentrate single-pointedly on our objects of meditation, which was explained above when we discussed concentration. The eleven virtuous mental factors are minds we try bring to each word of our sadhana, and the six root and twenty secondary delusions are mind we try abandon completely as we recite each word of the sadhana. Therefore, to learn to meditate with our aggregate of compositional factors according to Sutra means to cultivate each of these mental factors according to their respective instructions as we recite each word of the sadhana, and to do so according to Tantra means to bring the result into the path, imagining with deep faith that we are meditating with our guru’s fully qualified and pure mental factors. In this way, we bring our entire practice of Lorig into each word of our sadhana.

Learning to meditate with our aggregate of consciousness. As explained above, our aggregate of consciousness knows the object itself. The aggregate of consciousness knows the tennis racket itself and the mental factors know the attributes of the tennis racket. Upon the basis of seeing the attributes, the basis of imputation, we impute the mere name ”tennis racket,” which is the object itself. To meditate with our aggregate of consciousness means our primary mind becomes the realization referred to by the word of the sadhana. If the aggregate of discrimination is the wisdom arisen from listening and the aggregate of feeling is the wisdom arisen from contemplation, the aggregate of consciousness is the wisdom arisen from meditation. I mentioned above that Venerable Tharchin said with listening we gain an intellectual understanding of the guru’s point of view and with contemplation we make the guru’s view point of view our own, but he went on to say with the wisdom arisen from meditation we make the guru’s realizations ”an acquisition of our personality.” Whatever we mix our mind with, we become. When we meditate with our aggregate of discrimination, we understand what we are doing; when we meditate with our aggregate of feeling, we touch our heart; and when we meditate with our aggregate of consciousness, we become our objects of meditation. The realizations referred to by the words of the sadhana become part of our basis of imputation for our I. They become acquisitions of our personality or our self. Once again, according to Sutra, learning to meditate with our aggregate of consciousness is to transform our primary mind into the realizations referred to by each word of the sadhana; and to do so according to Tantra means with deep faith strongly imagining that the duality between our guru’s realizations and our own mind has completely dissolved. In short, we impute our I onto his realizations. Each word of our sadhana practice becomes a training in self-generation.

Putting it All Together

It is my experience and understanding that training in sadhana practice is the gradual process of improving the quality with which we engage in our sadhanas by infusing them with the four pervasive qualities and learning to meditate with all of our being – all five of our aggregates. Each one of these alone is an enormous practice that we could profitably spend our whole life training in. Until we have fully qualified faith, motivation, concentration, understanding of emptiness, and fully harnessed all five aggregates behind each and every word of our sadhana, we still have work to do. Viewed in this way, we can joyfully train our whole life in our sadhanas, understanding them to be our guru’s heart advice for how we can gain all the mundane and supermundane attainments. I pray that all those who read this may, day by day, year by year, life by life, improve the quality of their sadhana practice, finding ever deeper levels of joy until they become fully centered in the supreme omniscient bliss of full enlightenment.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Being on Retreat is a State of Mind

We now can turn to Shantideva’s verses.

(8.1) Having generated effort in this way,
I should place my mind in concentration;
For a person whose mind is distracted
Is trapped within the fangs of the delusions.

(8.2) Distractions do not arise for those
Who abide in physical and mental solitude.
Therefore, I should forsake the worldly life
And abandon all disturbing thoughts.

(8.3) Attachment to people, possessions, and reputation
Prevent me from forsaking the worldly life.
To abandon these obstacles,
I should contemplate as follows.

(8.4) Realizing that delusions are thoroughly destroyed
By superior seeing conjoined with tranquil abiding,
I should first strive to attain tranquil abiding
By gladly forsaking attachment to worldly life.

What does it mean to abide in physical and mental solitude?  If this is what we long for, how do we not start to view our family, friends, work, and other responsibilities as “obstacles” to our training in concentration?  What does it mean to abandon the “worldly” life?  How it is possible to train in the way Shantideva explains and still attain the union of Kadampa Buddhism and modern life that Geshe-la encourages us to do?

There are two levels at which we can answer these questions:  conventionally and ultimately.  Conventionally speaking, we can say that these instructions on concentration refer to those times when we are able to go on retreat and focus on our practice.  It is very important that we do so.  Retreat is like doing a deep dive into our mind, where we find both terrifying sea monsters but also priceless Dharma jewels.  We should train alternately in retreat and our daily practice.  We go into retreat from time to time to discover new spiritual wonders or take our practice to the next level, and then we train in our daily practice to consolidate and solidity what we discovered during our retreat.  Even physically being on retreat is not enough if mentally we bring our normal world with us in our mind.  We remain distracted and preoccupied with our normal life and are therefore not able to truly and fully mix our mind with our Dharma objects.  We therefore sometimes need both physical and mental solitude, and we need to leave our family, friends, work, and normal concerns completely behind. 

Ultimately, though, we do not need to limit our training in concentration according to Shantideva’s instructions to when we are able to get away on solitary retreat.  There is nothing stopping us from being on retreat right now – with our families, at work, out in the world.  Being on retreat is a state of mind, not an external condition.  We can externally be on retreat, but still mentally in the ordinary samsaric worlds; or we can be in our normal modern lives, but mentally be on retreat.  How can we have physical solitude while out in the world?  By being inside our indestructible drop at our heart with our guru as we go about our day.  The world still churns around us, but we remain with our isolated body (maybe not yet of completion stage, but a similitude of it) inside our heart.  Mentally we can remain in solitude by believing we are on retreat and viewing everything that happens to us during our day as part of our retreat.  We can be certain (or can we?) that we are the only one in our office with this mental view, so in this sense we are in mental solitude on retreat even while at work.  Our work and family are only “worldly” if we relate to them in a worldly way.  If instead, we view everything that happens to us during our day is part of our retreat emanated by Dorje Shugden for our spiritual training, then nothing will be worldly for us, even though conventionally what is happening around us is just another Tuesday in samsara.  

Sometimes we go from one extreme to another.  We either grasp at our normal modern life as inherently “not retreat” and only being on solitary retreat at Tharpaland as being “on retreat.”  Or we go to the other extreme of thinking we can transform our every day into our long retreat by adopting the mind of retreat as we go about our day and then conclude we don’t also need to, from time to time, do conventionally normal retreat.  In truth, we should be on retreat all the time – the only thing that varies is whether we are on retreat in the context of our normal modern life or at a Kadampa retreat center.  We should always be in physical and mental solitude and we should always leave behind worldly life, again regardless of whether we are at Tharpaland or not. 

We can understand the importance of the training we have studied so far in achieving success in concentration. Mindfulness and conscientiousness.  These helps us to become aware of what is going on in our mind and develop an attraction towards and appreciation of virtue and a distaste for non-virtue.  This redirects our mind towards virtue since our mind is naturally drawn to what it considers to be a cause of happiness.  Patient acceptance.   When we are trying to concentrate and we discover that we have lost our object of meditation, we can often enter into a ridiculous dialogue of guilt and discouragement about how we cannot concentrate.  We should just accept what has happened and redirect our mind back towards our object.  How can we accept it? We can study what our mind goes to to show us what we still need to abandon, etc. We can accept it as Dorje Shugden giving us another chance to create the karma of generating our object of meditation, and thus create the tendencies on our mind to do this.

How I Experience Dorje Shugden’s Mandala


We know in general that Dorje Shugden eliminates all obstacles and arranges all the conditions necessary for our practice. Geshe-la provides some explanation in Heart Jewel how all of the different elements of Dorje Shugden’s mandala help us, but mostly we are encouraged to rely upon him with faith and develop a personal relationship with him. In this way, we come to experience directly how Dorje Shugden enters into and helps with our life. Here, I would like to share how I experience Dorje Shugden’s mandala.

The way I think about it is our Dharma centers exist on the shores of refuge on the island of enlightement surrounded by the ocean of samsara. The Eight Guiding Monks are like our Dharma teachers inside our centers. The Ten Youthful and Wrathful Assistants are like an outer perimeter in the shallows of the ocean of samsara where they both gather living beings and bring them into our Dharma centers and they serve as guards against those in samsara who would obstruct the practice of Dharma within the centers.

The Nine Attractive Mothers are then deeper inside the island enticing practitioners into the forest to practice Tantra. There is a more profound way of understanding the nine attractive mothers as permeating all four elements and the five objects of desire of samsara and nirvana.

Within the charnel grounds there are countless guardians who assist practitioners with their practice, all of whom are, from a certain perspective, also part of Dorje Shugden’s mandala. They guide us through the charnel grounds and deliver us to the iron fence and wisdom fire protection circle which marks the entry into Keajra Pure Land proper. Technically, there is no place that is not Keajra, but conventionally the iron fence and wisdom fire protection circle are like the pure walls around the city of enlightement, within which are the four continents, Mount Meru, and Heruka’s Celestial Mansion.

Kache Marpo is like a spiritual Rambo of Dorje Shugden’s mandala who can go anywhere in samsara or nirvana and rescue, inspire, or protect anybody. In my mandala, a former student named Taro and Kache Marpo are the same being. There are many reasons why for me this is true. Those who knew Taro, who died in Summer 2021, would likely have the same view.

Surrounding the Ocean of Samsara is Dorje Shugden’s protection circle. Everything that happens inside the protection circle is exactly perfect for the swiftest possible enlightenment of all living beings. The beings of samsara do not understand what appears to them in this way, but due to our faith in Dorje Shugden, we receive special wisdom blessings that enable us to see things in this way. When others share their problems with us, we see and understand how whatever has ripened is perfect for their practice. We can then share our perspective with others, helping them see their life through a different lens. In this way, we are able to help them transform their samsaric experience into the quick path to enlightenment.

The Five Lineages of Dorje Shugden each specialize in ripening one of our five aggregates into the five omniscient wisdoms of a Buddha. They do this at the level of Sutra, Generation Stage, and Completion Stage. Dorje Shugden himself is one nature with Lama Tsongkhapa – like a hologram. From one perspective my spiritual guide appears as Guru Sumati Buddha Heruka, but from another he appears as the Great King Dorje Shugden depending on the angle from which I view him. From one perspective, the interpretative appearance of the five lineages is as described in Heart Jewel and as we see at the temple in Manjushri, but from another perspective they permeate the three thousand worlds wherever the respective aggregates they ripen appear. In my mandala, they circle in the space above the four continents around Mount Meru, serving in many ways the function of Chakravatin Kings and their retinues, so that all my guests in the pure land may quickly be ripened in the paths of Sutra and Tantra.

Dorje Shugden is my spiriutal father, caring for me in life after life, providing everything I need for my swiftest possible enlightenment. Like a hologram appearing differently depending on how you look at him, he is my guru, Yidam, and protector. Practically, he is my best friend and his mandala are my closest sangha.

Some may ask, as some always do, “where does Geshe-la explain all of this, where does this understanding come from?” The nature and function of Dorje Shugden are explained in Heart Jewel. Venerable Tharchin explained about his protection circle surrounding the ocean of samsara. The rest is the composite of my understanding after 25 years of daily reliance upon him. There are three types of wisdom – the wisdom arisen from listening and reading, the wisdom arisen from contemplation, and the wisdom arisen from meditation. These three, especially the wisdom arisen from meditation, are primarily experiential understandings – insights gained from our direct personal experience with the instructions and our direct personal relationships with the holy beings. They are living and evolving things. Just because some elements are not explained directly in Geshe-la’s books does not mean they are not part of the body of his teachings waiting for us to discover as we connect the dots he has given us though our personal practice. I do not claim any of this is objectively existent. But it is my honest subjective personal experience based upon my practice of and reliance upon Dorje Shugden. I pray all who read this directly come to experience Dorje Shugden and his mandala in their lives.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Abandoning Attachment to Results

Bodhisattva Downfall:  Being preoccupied with the taste of mental stabilization

Here taste refers to the experience of bliss, peace, and suppleness induced by concentration.  If we become attached to this and regard it as the ultimate result of concentration, we incur a downfall because this attachment diminishes our wish to help others.  The real value of concentration is it is a means by which higher realizations can be achieved.

For most of us, we have very little experience of the taste of actual mental stabilization, so from one perspective this downfall can seem remote to our experience.  But it drives at a deeper point in terms of how we approach our practice of meditation.  There is a fundamental difference between meditating in search of results and meditating in pursuit of creating causes.  The former is an example of this downfall and the latter is the correct way of practicing. 

What does it mean to meditate in search of results?  Quite simply it means our intention of meditation is to enjoy pleasant inner experiences while doing so.  In other words, we treat meditation as simply another means of fulfilling our worldly concern of experiencing pleasure.  We like to feel “blissed out” or we want to forget our troubles or we simply become attached to experiencing results while we meditate.  Or we become despondent when our practice is a struggle, we can’t seem to focus, find our objects, and we feel nothing in our practice.  All of these are examples of this downfall.  The definition of pure practice is practicing for the sake of our future lives.  Clearly practicing for the sake of the time during our meditation session is not that. 

Attachment to experiencing results while meditating is very common and can be very subtle.  We perhaps want to experience some sort of “ah ha” moment, or perhaps we are attached to attaining a certain level of mental concentration, such as the second mental abiding.  In our Tantric practice, it is very easy to become attached to the imagery and the visualizations, relating to it as some form of spiritual pornography.  At a subtle level, it can simply be a subtle form of wanting to harvest the results of past efforts and judging the success of our meditation against the standard of whether or not it was a “good meditation” (by which we mean one that was pleasant and easy going).  Such attachment to results while meditating quickly destroys our practice.  Attachment functions to separate us from the objects of our attachment, so the more attached to results we become the more distant they will be.  Likewise, when results do not come, we quickly become frustrated with our practice and can falsely conclude that it doesn’t work.  Many have completely abandoned their practice for this reason.  This can especially be a problem for people who do retreat.  In my view, attachment to results during retreat is the single biggest problem people face during retreat, and if they do not learn how to overcome it retreat time can be a living hell creating all sorts of bad habits they then carry into their daily practice.

The correct way of practicing is to completely forget about any results.  Our only goal in engaging in practice is to create good causes, not harvest their results.  We seek not to experience any results, rather we seek to progressively improve the quality with which we create good causes for ourselves.  Like a training gymnast, we strive to perfect the internal gymnastics routine that is our sadhana.  Like someone diligently saving up their money, we view our daily practice as our rare opportunity to put away some good causes for a better future.  Like a squirrel, we go about the work of stocking up inner resources for the long winter ahead.  For a practitioner free from attachment to results, difficulties during meditation are greeted with enthusiasm since we know we are working through our greatest obstacles.  The greater the inner struggle, the happier we are because we know it is by persevering through them that we will make it to the other side.  Retreat for a pure practitioner is not engaged in with any hope for results, rather it is viewed as an extremely rare and precious opportunity to create countless good causes for the future.  Venerable Tharchin said we should think that everything that happens in this life was caused by actions of our past lives, and everything we do now will not ripen in this life but only in our future lives.  While of course this is not strictly true, there will be some effects which ripen from causes created in this life, as a mental outlook this is perfect. 

Happy Tsog Day: The Synthesis of All Dharmas

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 19 of a 44-part series.

Single-pointed request

You are the Guru, you are the Yidam, you are the Daka and Dharma Protector;
From now until I attain enlightenment I shall seek no refuge other than you.
In this life, in the bardo, and until the end of my lives, please hold me with the hook of your compassion,
Liberate me from the fears of samsara and peace, bestow all the attainments, be my constant companion, and protect me from all obstacles.  (3x)

In many ways the single-pointed request is the very synthesis of the entire Buddhadharma. In the Lamrim teachings it says that bodhichitta is the quintessential butter that comes from stirring the milk of all 84,000 of Buddha’s teachings. In the same way, from a practical view, according to the union of sutra and tantra, the single-pointed request is the very essence of all our practices.

We sometimes refer to the Wheel of Dharma. If all Geshe-la’s teachings were the Wheel of Dharma, we would normally say that Joyful Path of Good Fortune is the hub of the wheel and all his other books are like the spokes. But from my perspective, the book Great Treasury of Merit is the actual axle around which the hub of Joyful Path of Good Fortune turns. In other words, Joyful Path of Good Fortune is the sutra condensation of all Geshe-la’s teachings, and the book Great Treasury of Merit is the union of Sutra and Tantra condensation of all Geshe-la’s teachings. The book Great Treasury of Merit is a commentary to the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide, which this series of posts is a my personal understanding of. But just as Offering to the Spiritual Guide is the Synthesis of Je Tsongkhapa’s New Kadampa Tradition, the single-pointed request is the synthesis of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide. It is the very center of the axle around which the wheel of Dharma turns. If we were only to have one verse of Dharma, it should be the single-pointed request. By directly engaging sincerely in the practice of the single-pointed request, we are indirectly engaging in all the practices that we have been taught. There is no more important request in all the Dharma. If we were to only have one mantra, it should be the single-pointed request. We can and should recite it day and night, year after year, life after life.

When I recite the single-pointed request, I like to do so with the visualization of myself as Heruka surrounded by the deities of the body mandala in Keajra pure land as the basis of making the request. Venerable Tharchin said we can imagine that Dorje Shugden’s protection circle surrounds the entire supported and supporting mandala of Heruka. In other words, Keajra is inside Dorje Shugden’s protection circle.

When I recite “you are the Guru,” I recall Lama Tsongkhapa at my heart. When I recite “you are the yidam,” I recall myself generated as Heruka. When I recite you are the Daka, I recall all the deities of Heruka’s body mandala. And when I recite “and Dharma protector,” I recall that the entire visualization of Keajra pure land is inside Dorje Shugden’s protection circle. When I recite “from now until I attain the essence of enlightenment,” I recall that my greatest wish is to maintain the uninterrupted continuum of my Dharma practice between now and my eventual attainment of enlightenment. If I fall into the lower realms or fail to find the Dharma again, I will quickly become lost and it could be aeons before I find the path again. When I recite “I shall seek no refuge other than you,” I recall that it is not enough to simply attain a precious human life where I find the Dharma again, I also need to maintain the continuum of my faith in the three jewels. There are many people who meet the Dharma in this world but have no faith in it and so therefore cannot receive any benefit from it. Here I am requesting that I always maintain faith so that when I find the Dharma again, I am eager to once again put it into practice.

When I recite “in this life, in the bardo, and until the end of my lives please hold me with the hook of your compassion,” I am specifically requesting that my spiritual guide continue to appear to me in all my future lives and that he never lets go of me with the hook of his compassion. Whether the spiritual guide appears to us in our future lives depends upon whether we create the karma for him to do so. By requesting that he always hold us with the hook of his compassion, we create the karma for him to continue to appear to us in all our future lives.

When I recite “liberate me from the fears of samsara and peace,” I recall that the principal function of the Guru is to do precisely that. I am directing this request specifically to my spiritual guide in the aspect of Lama Tsongkhapa at my heart that he perform this function. The function of Heruka is to bestow all the common and uncommon attainments of the realizations of the stages of the path. When I recite “bestow all the attainments,” I am requesting Heruka to perform this function in my life. The function of the Daka is to be our vajra sangha. The deities of the body mandala are our supreme sangha friends. When I request “be my constant companion,” I am requesting the deities of the body mandala always appear to me in all my future lives as my supreme sangha friends. The function of Dorje Shugden is to arrange all the outer, inner, and secret conditions necessary for our swiftest possible enlightenment. He is our Dharma protector. By relying upon him, nothing is an obstacle because we see with wisdom eyes how everything that arises can serve as a cause of our enlightenment. So when we request “and protect me from all obstacles,” we are requesting Dorje Shugden to perform his function for us.

Seen in this way, we can understand how the single-pointed request is the synthesis of all the stages of sutra and tantra. By reciting this request, we are practicing in one short verse everything Geshe-la has ever taught us. I pray that all Kadampas memorize this verse, recite it day and night, and remember it at the time of their death. May its power echo in eternity.

Happy Tara Day: How to increase the power of our mantra recitation

This is the 11th installment of the 12-part series sharing my understanding of the practice Liberation from Sorrow.

Mantra recitation

OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SÖHA   (21x, 100x, etc.)

The meaning of this mantra is: with ‘OM’ we are calling Arya Tara, ‘TARE’ means permanent liberation from the suffering of lower rebirth, ‘TUTTARE’ means permanent liberation from samsaric rebirth, ‘TURE’ means the great liberation of full enlightenment, and ‘SÖHA’ means please bestow. Together the meaning is: ‘O Arya Tara, please bestow upon us permanent liberation from the suffering of lower rebirth, permanent liberation from the suffering of samsaric rebirth, and the great liberation of full enlightenment.

The power of our mantra recitation depends upon four key factors: the degree of our faith, the purity of our motivation, the single-pointedness of our concentration, the depth of our wisdom.  The stronger we make these four factors, the more powerful will be our mantra recitation.  This is true for all mantra recitation.  These will now be explained in turn.

The degree of our faith:  Faith is to Dharma practice like electricity is to our electronic devices.  Without power we say our devices “are dead.”  The same is true for our spiritual practices.  But it is not like an on/off switch, but rather more like a volume knob, where the more we turn it up, the more powerfully the Dharma will resonate in our mind.  As discussed at the beginning of the 21 homages, there are three types of faith:  believing faith, admiring faith, and wishing faith.  Believing faith believes in the good qualities, admiring faith develops a sense of wonder understanding their meaning, and wishing faith wishes to acquire these good qualities for ourselves.  When we recite the 21 homages, we are building up the strength of our faith.  We should carry it with us into our mantra recitation.  The mantra is the condensation of the 21 homages.  By reciting the mantra with faith, we accomplish the same function as reciting the 21 homages.  We should believe in Tara’s amazing good qualities, develop a feeling of wonder and amazement that she is in our presence, and then wish to acquire all of her good qualities ourselves. 

To increase our faith in the mantra of Tara, we need to consider its primary function.  As Geshe-la explains in the sadhana, the primary function of Tara’s mantra is to protect us from lower rebirth, rebirth in samsara, and to bestow full enlightenment.  In other words, her mantra functions to bestow upon us the realizations of Lamrim.  This is why she is called the Lamrim Buddha.  For this function to move our mind, we must first understand our samsaric situation:  we are barreling towards lower rebirth, where we will become trapped experiencing unimaginable suffering for countless aeons.  This is our present destiny, our inevitable fate if we do not change course.  It is not enough for us to just avoid lower rebirth, because even if we attain upper rebirth, we risk falling back down into the lower realms; and even while born in the upper realms, we continue to experience problems like waves of the ocean.  And it is not enough for just ourselves to escape from samsara, but all our kind mothers are likewise drowning in its fearful ocean, and if we do not rescue them, they will continue to suffer without end.  As it says in the Lord of all Lineages Prayer, “if we give no thought to their pitiful suffering, we are like a mean and heartless child.” 

The purity of our motivation:  Our motivation for mantra recitation determines the final karmic effect of our recitation.  According to the Lamrim, living beings can be divided according to the scope of our motivation.  Specifically, it explains there are three types of being:  beings of initial scope, beings of intermediate scope, and beings of great scope.  Being of initial scope are of two types – those who wish only for happiness in this present life and those who wish to avoid lower rebirth in their future lives.  Beings of intermediate scope wish to not only avoid all lower rebirth, but to permanently free themselves from any type of samsaric rebirth.  Samsaric rebirth occurs when we uncontrolledly impute our I onto the contaminated bodies and minds of the six realms of samsara – hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, demi-gods, or gods.  Beings of great scope are not satisfied to merely attain their own liberation from samsara, but they wish to gain the ability to gradually lead each and every living being to the ultimate state of full enlightenment.  Any virtuous action can be performed with any of these motivations. Generally speaking, we say that our motivation becomes “pure” if we engage in the action for the sake of our own or others future lives.  Somebody whose primary motivation is to attain happiness in this life is considered a “worldly” being, and those who are looking to attain happiness in their own or others future lives are considered “spiritual” beings.  This does not mean spiritual beings do not also wish to be happy in this life, rather they wish for happiness in this life AND all of their future lives.  In this way, as we expand the scope of our motivation, we subsume the lower levels of motivation with our higher level of motivation.  There is no contradiction between being entirely dedicated to the enlightenment of all and being happy in this life. 

The teachings on karma explain it is primarily the scope of our motivation that determines the type of karma we create.  If we recite the mantra with a motivation of initial scope, the karmic effect of our recitation will be to avoid lower rebirth in our future lives; if we recite the mantra with a motivation of intermediate scope (otherwise known as renunciation), the karmic effect of our recitation will be to escape from samsara; and if we recite the mantra with a great scope motivation (otherwise known as bodhichitta), the karmic effect of our recitation will be not only our own full enlightenment, but the full enlightenment of all.  This does not mean with one recitation, we will attain enlightenment.  Rather, it means the karma we create will continue to function until the final goal is attained.  It is like a locomotive gradually building up momentum – the more power we add, the more momentum is built up moving it down the tracks.  Great scope karma keeps powering us along the path until its final goal is realized.  As we recite the mantra, we can request blessings that Tara expand the scope of our motivation for reciting her mantra, thus greatly increasing the power of our recitations.

The single-pointedness of our concentration:  The definition of meditation is the mixing of our mind with virtue.  The more we mix our mind with virtue, the more we create the causes for future inner peace.  Inner peace is the inner cause of happiness – when our mind is peaceful, we are happy, regardless of our external circumstance.  The more thoroughly we mix our mind with virtue, the more peaceful our mind will become.  There are three levels at which we can mix our mind with virtue:  listening, contemplating, and meditating.  Venerable Tharchin explains when we listen to or read the Dharma, we come to understand a spiritual perspective; when we contemplate the Dharma, we transform our own perspective into a spiritual perspective; and when we meditate on the Dharma, we become ourselves a spiritual being.  In other words, whatever we mix our mind with, we become.  Applied to the practice of mantra recitation, when we read about Tara’s mantra, we can come to understand that it functions to bestow upon us Lamrim meditation.  When we recite the mantra understanding its meaning, strongly believing we are requesting her to bestow these realizations on our mind, we are reciting while contemplating.  When we understand by mixing our mind with the mantra we are mixing our mind directly with Tara’s Lamrim realizations so that her realizations become our own, we are reciting while meditating. 

It is important that we try recite the mantra with single-pointed concentration.  Geshe-la explains in Joyful Path that according to Sutra there are three types of faults to our concentration:  mental wandering, mental excitement, and mental sinking.  Mental wandering is when our mind wanders to some object of Dharma other than the mantra.  While still virtuous, this other object is not our object of meditation.  Mental excitement is when our mind moves towards some object of attachment – typically any object that is not our mantra and not some other object of Dharma.  Mental sinking is when our mind sinks into a degree of non-awareness of anything, an extreme form of which is falling asleep.  Concentration free for mental wandering, excitement, and sinking is calm, collected, relaxed, and absorbed into our object of meditation – in this case the mantra. 

In Sutra, we concentrate with our gross mind, in Tantra we learn how to concentrate with our subtle and very subtle minds.  The key to understanding how is to understand the relationship between our mind and our inner energy winds.  Our inner energy winds are like the deep currents of our mind that flow through our inner channels.  The channels of our subtle body are like the scaffolding of our mind – the structure which holds it all up and together.  Our channels and winds are not physical phenomena that can be detected with x-rays or microscopes, but are rather mental phenomena that are experienced energetically primarily in the aggregate of feeling.  Wherever we direct our mind, our winds follow.  Since our mind is scattered around countless object of samsara, our winds scatter everywhere outside of our central channel.  If the object of our mind is contaminated, the wind it is mounted on also becomes contaminated.  Conversely, if our winds are pure, the minds mounted upon them also become pure.  There are two ways to purify our winds.  The first is to bring them within our central channel.  Our central channel is like a purifying bath for our winds.  As our contaminated winds cease, our contaminated minds – including all of our delusions – cease as well.  The second way is to mix our mind with pure objects.  If the object of our mind is pure, then it functions to purify the wind that is its mount.  Pure objects are those that exist outside of samsara – such as Buddhas and motivations that wish to get ourself or others outside of samsara. 

Mantras are, by nature, the purified wind of the Buddha.  When we recite Tara’s mantra, we mix our mind with her pure winds.  A Buddha’s mantra is like a subtle emanation of the Buddha.  Their pure winds appear in the aspect of their mantra.  When we recite the mantra, we mix their pure winds with our own, like water mixing with water.  In effect, their pure winds become our own.  The minds mounted on Tara’s pure winds are the Lamrim realizations of the initial, intermediate, and great scope.  By bringing her pure winds into our mind, mixing them with our own, the realizations of Lamrim will naturally arise in our mind.  Gathering mantra into our winds and our winds into mantra is how we concentrate on mantra recitation according to highest yoga tantra.  The highest form of mantra recitation is called “vajra recitation.”  Geshe-la explains in Tantric Grounds and Paths and Clear Light of Bliss that with vajra recitation we don’t “recite” the mantra with our gross mind, rather we “hear” it emerge within our mind, recognizing it as Tara infusing her pure winds into our very subtle mind. 

The depth of our wisdom:  The goal of mantra recitation is to mix our winds with Tara’s pure winds.  The primary obstacle to being able to do so is grasping at the inherent existence of her, her mantra, our winds, and ourself.  We grasp at these things as being four distinct things, completely separate from one another, like there is some chasm between them and they cannot interact.  This grasping prevents us from seeing Tara as inseparable from her mantra, her mantra as mixed with our winds, and all of this as our own.  When we let go of this grasping, we experience her mantra as her pure winds mixed inseparably from our own, arising within our mind.  The duality between her mantra and our pure winds dissolve completely, and her vajra speech becomes our own.  Single pointed concentration explained above brings our mind to the mantra recitation, realizing the emptiness of Tara, her mantra, our winds, and ourself is how we mix completely with her mantra.  When our absorption into mantra recitation is complete, it will feel as if we are her mantra being recited, accomplishing the function of bestowing Lamrim realizations.  It is like the whole world is absorbed into or, more deeply, appears as her mantra.

These four key factors for powerful mantra recitation are equally true for all mantras – Vajrayogini, Heruka, Dorje Shugden, and so forth.  When we engage in close retreats, while our primary practice is engaging in mantra recitation, most of our inner work is building up the strength of these four factors.