Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  We have to choose, we cannot have both

(2.57) If it is necessary to exercise caution
When near a small, ordinary precipice,
How much more necessary is it when near the fathomless pits of hell
Into which I could fall for a very long time?

I had a dream once where I was in a seemingly beautiful place.  There were these beautiful women flirting with me, encouraging me to follow them for some fun.  I of course eagerly did so, and then all of a sudden I found myself stepping out over a ledge and began falling into fiery pits all around me.  As I did so, the beautiful women removed their masks – they were in fact demons – and as I was beginning to fall, they said “gotcha!” and then I woke up.  This is our very predicament, the only difference being when we wake up we will not find ourselves in our bed, but rather we will find ourselves having fallen into the lower realms.

Modern people like to think they are too sophisticated to believe in seemingly superstitious things like hell.  But we need only look to other parts of the world to realize what is possible – famine, war, genocide, mass rape, extreme poverty, terrible cold, scorching heat, terrible darkness.  Karma changes very quickly.  Most of us are only one paycheck away from finding ourselves on the street.  Wars break out, governments collapse, sea levels rise, heat waves destroy crops, new diseases emerge, we develop cancer, we become maimed in a car accident.  These are daily occurances, and they can happen to us at any time.

The lower realms are not far away places, they are simply terrible dreams that begin at death from which we don’t wake up.

(2.58) It is unwise to indulge in pleasures,
Thinking, “At least I shall not die today”;
For without doubt the time will come
When I shall become nothing.

(2.59) Who will grant me fearlessness?
How can I be freed from these fears?
If I shall inevitably become nothing,
How can I continue to indulge?

Most of us pursue a dual strategy of trying to get both the best of Dharma and the best of samsara.   We do this because we think by doing so we can get the best of both worlds.  But we need to check, are we getting the best of neither?  Is that how we feel — that we are getting the best of both worlds?   Is it enough to just get through this life OK?  What will we do when we die?

We have enormous inner tension because we are trying to hang on to both samsara and the Dharma.  We are holding on to contradictory desires.  We still have a taste for samsara’s pleasures.  We feel we can enjoy Dharma and enjoy samsara.  People say all the time that it is hard.  The only reason why it is hard is because we are trying to hold on to contradictory desires.

We have a choice, either let go of the Dharma and have all of the sufferings of samsara come crashing down on us or let go of samsara and go from joy to joy to enlightenment.   To let go of samsara we simply need to identify the deception.  When we know we are holding a burning pan, we have no difficulty letting go.  It is the same with samsara.  We just need to see samsara for what it is and we will have no difficulty letting go of it entirely.

The choice is ours.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Don’t forget to swallow.

(2.54) If I need to follow the doctor’s advice
When frightened by an ordinary illness,
How much more necessary is it to follow Buddha’s advice
When perpetually afflicted by the many harmful diseases of the delusions?

The more I study Buddha’s teachings, the more I come to the conclusion that we really only have one problem:  we have misdiagnosed what our problem is.  We spend all of our energy trying to solve the wrong problem, and we completely neglect addressing our real problem.

Yes, of course, we need to try improve our external circumstances, but if we change our circumstances without changing our mind, we will soon find ourselves with exactly the same problems as before, just with different faces.  There was a woman once who lived in L.A., and she convinced herself that Californians were the problem.  So she packed her bags and moved to North Carolina.  At first, she loved it, but within a year she was just as depressed as she was before, lamenting how everyone was awful in North Carolina as well.  She may have changed her environment, but she didn’t change her mind.  Her mind simply re-projected its problems onto a new canvas of karmic appearance.

If there is a smudge on a movie projector lens, it will project an image on the screen that looks smudged.  We wouldn’t go up to the screen and start scrubbing it to try improve the image, instead we would clean the lens.  In the same way, if the lens of our mind has the smudge of delusions, it will project an image on reality reflective of that delusion.  Changing the external appearance won’t solve the problem, only removing the delusion will.

Universities and libraries are filled with theories, methods and teachings for how to change and manipulate the external environment, but ultimately all such methods will fail to improve human happiness unless they address the real “projector” of the problems, namely our own deluded mind.  Buddha’s teachings explain to us how to do so.  This does not mean only Buddha’s teachings work.  Anything that opposes delusion is, directly or indirectly, Dharma, even if it is not presented in a Buddhist context.  The point is if we want to solve our real problem, namely our delusions, then we need to rely upon teachings that explain how to do so.

(2.55) If all the people living in this world
Can be greatly harmed by just one of these delusions,
And if no medicine other than Dharma
Can be found anywhere to cure them,

(2.56) Those who do not act in accordance with the Dharma teachings
Given by Buddha, the all-knowing physician,
Through which all pains of the delusions can be removed,
Are surely foolish and confused.

When any practice is done motivated by a mind of regret, it serves to purify.  Non-virtue can only remain in a deluded mental environment.  In a mind free from delusion, there can be found no cause of suffering.  Our task, therefore, is to cure our mind of the disease of the delusions by taking the medicine of Dharma. Without taking the medicine of Dharma we will not be able to put an end to non-virtue.  We will continue to experience all the harmful effects of non-virtue.

Many of us have been with the Dharma for a long time.  We have been taking the medicine of Dharma, but perhaps we haven’t been swallowing it, or swallowing it all.  We know the taste of the medicine of the Dharma from it being in our mouth. For example, we know the taste of renunciation, “this tastes like renunciation.”  We know the tastes of the different medicines of Buddhadharma.  But we have to ask ourselves, are we swallowing it?  Swallowing so that it is actually curing us of the diseases of the delusions?  Why is it self-grasping is still there? Why is self-cherishing still there? Why is attachment still there?

We need to ask ourselves, are we acting in accordance with Dharma teachings, or not?  Are we practicing Dharma or not?  We know all the Dharma teachings, we know all the delusions, we know their opponents, but we still experience mental and physical suffering.

So how do we stop it?  By taking the medicine of the Dharma.  By applying these opponents.  We know if we are to take the medicine of the Dharma we must be prepared to change. We are resisting like a child that has to swallow some medicine. Every day we’re tasting the medicine of the Dharma.  Are we swallowing, are we allowing the instructions to change us?  We default to the solutions to the temporary problems which don’t require us to change.  If our choice is take a diet pill or start exercising, we choose the pill.

What I learned in Toronto

Long ago, I used to be able to make it to every festival, teaching and event. I was a teacher, was able to go to the ITTP in the summer and fully plugged in to the tradition.  It was probably the best time of my life.  Then, in 2008, my karma totally shifted and all of that was taken away.  As I have explained before, there was a big landslide at my house, causing us to lose our home.  In the ensuing lawsuit, we lost all our money and I became heavily indebted to my brother.  They sold the school where my wife and I were working and the new owners got rid of free tuition for the kids of teachers – the result being we lost the schooling for our kids.  This forced us to have to return to the U.S.  I had to abandon being a resident teacher.  Losing all of this was really hard, but I was going to teach at least a GP when I got to Dallas.  But we got back to the U.S. and my wife unexpectedly got pregnant with twins.  We could no longer afford our life now with five kids, I had no spare time whatsoever to teach, so I had to abandon that as well.  I had a dream around this time where I died, was reborn in a completely different context, but was still a practitioner.  It was time to build a new life from scratch.   I had to find a new job.  I got a job with the State Department and became a diplomat.  We went to Brussels, there my wife almost died of multiple pulmonary embolisms, and it was a long, hard recovery.  We then went back to Washington and in the middle of my language training we were told my family can’t come with me to China, so we had to be separated for a year.  While separated my father flips out, says untold hurtful things towards me and my wife and concludes he doesn’t want to have a relationship with me anymore.  Not only was this very hard to manage emotionally, it unleashed in me a deep anger, indeed rage, that I had never known before.  This ruined or serverely damaged many of my other relationships with other members of my family, making it emotionally impossible to “go home” to where all my extended family is, so we lost any sense of home anywhere.  We were then transferred to Taiwan for another year of language training which required me to study 11 hours a day 6 days a week, plus all my responsibilities as a father and husband.  After we got settled, all of the cumulative stress of this long arc finally caught up to us and my wife fell into a deep depression.  It was a very heavy and dark time.  The lawsuit from the landslide finally ended, we won it but due to the Eurozone crisis the value of the euro plummeted but I had to pay my brother back in dollars – so I didn’t have enough money to pay him back by a huge sum.  Then in November of last year, the renters of the landslide house left and the house remains vacant to this day at a cost of $3,000 a month, so even though my salary is decent all of our money has to go towards this to avoid bankruptcy.  And all of this time, I have basically been alone in having to deal with this – no access to a Dharma center, teachings, Sangha, or really anybody I could turn to.

The karma miraculously arranged itself for me to come to Toronto.  About a week ago I had a dream where I learned that my mother is in hell due to her suicide and she is calling out to me for help but I am currently unable to do anything to help her.  All of the emotional blockage I had erected since I was 13 when she told me she was done being a mother came crashing down and I felt in my heart 30 years of repressed emotional pain about everything from my relationship with her.
I got to Toronto and during the morning meditation on bodhichitta, I completely broke down.  All of the emotional weight of these last eight years, plus everything with my mother, came crashing down on me.  But it did so in the context of a bodhichitta meditation.  Gen-la Jampa was encouraging us to imagine what it will be like when I am enlightened.  I saw all of this suffering around me – my wife, my kids, her sister, mother and father, my father, my mother and my heart cracked open.  I so wanted to help all of them, but I am unable to do so – I lack the ability, time and strength.  I just started crying uncontrolledly but knew why I was there.

I then had lunch with Kadam Lucy, where I proceeded to explain all of this and all that I had been through and how hard it had been on me, crying once again at all the suffering around me that I am unable to do much about.  It was really the first time I had been able to just talk and say everything that was on my heart to somebody who I know was filled with love for me and Dharma wisdom.  She has always been there for me, and that caused me to start crying as well.  But when I was done talking, I felt for the first time like I could taste the other side of this long arc of suffering.  It was all out and I no longer felt alone.

Then we did the Heruka empowerment preparations.  To be honest, I struggled the whole time to stay awake, exhausted from the jet lag and the emotional drain of the morning.  I then met with Gen Lekma, my first teacher.  As we were walking to find some place to talk, we kept running into old Sangha friends from my time in L.A.  I then explained everything above to Gen Lekma, and telling it a second time seemed less bad than the first time.  Lekma received my story with her love and understanding.  I felt more distance from my story.

While waiting for the puja, I was sitting at the table and saw my old friend Raj.  We used to hang out at ITTPs and talk deep Dharma.  Incredibly smart guy.  He told me his story, and he too basically had an 8 year arc of suffering and felt that this festival in Toronto was the first time in a long time that he had made it to the surface.  I felt like we were two planets who each went on an eight year orbit and we finally resynced up.  We then did the Wishfulfilling Jewel puja, again I struggled just to stay awake.  I gave up trying to do the sadhana itself, and instead just stared at Dorje Shugden recalling how he has been my rock throughout this entire period.  Without him, I would not have gotten through it.  With him, I was able to grow as a result of it.  Dorje Shugden is my man.

I then went to dinner with my very dear friend Jay.  We first met 15 years ago during the NKT-chat days.  I love Jay.  He is sincerity in all its forms, and just wants to give love to the world.  He is honest with himself about his struggles and he works hard to follow his wisdom even though our natural tendencies are to not.  He is my vajra brother and I love him dearly.

During the preparations for the empowerment, we receive blessed kusha grass to help us receive clear dreams.  I only remember one dream where underneath the surface of a stairwell were countless icky insects and then I woke up realizing I have a lot I need to purify.

The next day was the Heruka empowerment day, and as I was walking in I saw Maitri, my dear friend from my Santa Barbara days.  She is the one behind the scenes that makes all of the festivals run.  Everybody there might not know her, but without her none of us would have our festivals.  As I was chatting with her, my vajra sister Nicole – who was also with us in Santa Barbara – came up and gave us both a hug.  It was like a family reunion.  We were able to sit next to each other for the morning empowerment session.  Before the session, she told me her story.  In a very short period of time, 5 or 6 of the people closest to her in her life died.  As she told her story, I realized that all of my own suffering over these last many years was nothing – it all started to feel so insignificant.  She powerfully said, “for me, I can now condense the entire lamrim into two words – ‘Brian died.’  Sitting next to her, I realized she is the sister I never had.  Of anybody in this world who is not my family, there is no one who is more family than her.  I resolved from now on to always stay close and to know her as my eternal sister.

I then had lunch with a former student of mine from Switzerland.  She was able to tell me her whole story over the last seven years since I left Switzerland.  Like the rest of us, she has had her trials and tribulations.  Dorje Shugden creates for us the situations we need to realize and confront our delusions and our tendency to enter into a cycle of going to the extreme of Dharma but repressing our attachment to samsara until eventually it blows and we go to the extreme of samsara while feeling guilty that we should be doing some extreme version of Dharma.  Samsara eventually doesn’t deliver pleasure like it used to and we create these extreme intentions of becoming Milarepa and so the cycle continues.  She was able to share with me the latest news of Switzerland, all of my old friends and students, and how things were going with the center there.  While we were talking, the new teacher in Geneva came up.  It was basically all of my Geneva karma was ripening and I was getting a glimpse into how things have unfolded after that chapter in my life.

On my way back from lunch I ran into Maria Tonella.  Even though I have maybe spent a total of 15 minutes “live” with her, she has become a very close friend on-line through all of the Facebook groups.  Like Jay from the NKT-chat days, she has become a very dear Sangha friend.  She was there with her son, who is now Admin Director in Mexico, and her other son is ordained.  I always knew she was good, but then I met her son.  What a nice guy, pure kindness and pure heart.  Her son is an emanation of her love.

During the Heruka empowerment, I couldn’t help but realize just how flawless Gen-la Khyenrab has become.  There is not a single wasted word, and it feels as if everything he says is Geshe-la speaking through him.  He has gotten himself completely out of the way and has become an unobstructed conduit for Geshe-la in this world.  He really made me feel as if I had been transported to the pure land where he cleansed us as a vessel and placed within us everything we ned to become Buddha Heruka.

After the empowerment, I then went to dinner with my dear friend Kadam Olivier.  We also have not really had a good, long talk since before my life changed with the landslide.  I remember meeting with him at Manjushri, before any of the above happened, with this strange feeling that my life of being able to come to festivals, etc., was going to come to an end and it probably wouldn’t be until my 50s until I would be completely back.  I knew nothing of what was to come, but had this feeling.  Olivier was able to tell me his story of all that has happened to him in the last seven, eight years.  What a story!  He has been through an emotional roller coaster of death and rebirth not unlike my own.  I had told my story enough times at that point that I frankly didn’t really feel the need to do so anymore.  It was just a story and I felt like it was now mostly behind me.

The next morning, I went early to meet with a friend, but wound up being significantly earlier than I intended, which worked out well because I was able to ave a long conversation with Maitri.  Like Nicole, she is a dear friend from way back.  She was there my very first day of entering the Dharma.  It would be hard to find somebody more unassuming and kind.  Despite organizing all the festivals and have an important role within the NKT, she is always calm and kind, never frazzled.  She doesn’t even seem to see all that she does for others, all she sees is how great everyone else is.

I then met with Dominique, someone I first met in Paris almost 20 years ago.  We are very lucky to have a really close karmic relationship and no matter what is going on, he is always eager to learn more about the Dharma.  We were able to be next to each other during the Vajrayogini empowerment and he had all sorts of really tough questions about various paradoxes in the Dharma.  He even came with me all the way to the airport just so we could continue to discuss the Dharma.  Even though he is a great guy, he unnecessarily always feels like he is not good enough.  If he is reading this, all he needs to know is he is doing just fine.  Be happy with your practice.  Be happy with the person you are becoming.

The conclusion I have reached from this festival is my time prior to 8 years ago was like my time in school where I was able to learn some Dharma and forge some lifelong friendships.  Geshe-la then scattered us to the four winds, Dorje Shugden gave us all individually tailored lessons in the truth of samsara’s suffering.  But throughout it all, we held on to the Dharma, our faith in Geshe-la and we all grew through these terrible experiences.  We actually had to put into practice all that we had been taught before, and bring the Dharma from the head down into our hearts.  The net Geshe-la has cast is vast and we each have our own place in the mandala.  We do not need to live up to any predetermined vision of what it means to be a good Kadampa, but rather we just need to learn how to radically accept ourselves and accept our karma and bring the Dharma into our corner of samsara.

Before coming to Toronto, my good friend James Morgan, who has been my vajra brother side by side at festival after festival over the years, and who has been with me on-line in from NKT-chat to my blog to being willing to hold up the mirror showing me my stupidity, told me, “before you go to Toronto, watch Kung Fu Panda 3.”  Of course I thought that was a ridiculous thing to say, but when I got on the plane to come to Toronto there were no good movies, but there was Kung Fu Panda 3 so I said I might as well watch it.  In the movie, the hapless Panda somehow became responsible for defeating the big bad guy.  His teacher told him that now he needs to teach.  He tried to teach like his teacher taught him, but that didn’t work at all.  His teacher then said the Panda doesn’t need to become like the teacher, rather he needs to become the best him he can be and do things his way.  He realized the way to defeat the bad guy was to to train each person in his village to become the best them they could be.  It is the same with samsara.  Geshe-la doesn’t want us to all become the same, rather he wants us to accept ourselves and accept our karma and become the best us we can be by bringing the Kadam Dharma into our lives and using it to overcome our most challenging adversities.  We need to become the magic crystal of cherishing love in our little corner of samsara.  The net he has cast in this world is wide, and we are each part of it in our own way.  So yeah, James is right, watch Kung Fu Panda 3.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Have no fear

(2.52) I go for refuge to Arya Vajrapani,
Upon sight of whom all harmful beings,
Such as the messengers of the Lord of Death,
Flee in terror to the four directions.

In the previous posts we discussed the value of generating a healthy fear of our negativity and the lower realms.  The purpose of this fear is to encourage us to go for refuge – to seek our protection.  When a soldier is behind enemy lines, he is in constant danger, but when he comes back to his home base, he is able to feel safe and protected.  In exactly the same way, while the terrors that await us are real, they are no match compared to the infinite power of the Buddhas.

A very close friend of mine once said what I believe to be the best line of Dharma I have ever heard:  “stop telling your Spiritual Guide how big your problems are and start telling your problems how big your Spiritual Guide is!”  Not only are the Buddhas more powerful than our delusions and negativity they are utterly untouchable.  When we are under their protection, we have nothing to fear.  We need to feel their power and have confidence that with their blessings our delusions simply don’t stand a chance.  The enemies of the delusions metaphorically flee in terror in the face of the Buddhas.  The Buddhas are our champios, our defenders,  and our protectors. We need merely put ourself under their care and we will have nothing to fear.

(2.53) Previously I transgressed your advice,
But now, having seen these great dangers,
I go to you for refuge
To quickly dispel my fears.

There are two types of object we have engaged in negative actions towards and therefore two types of power of reliance:  We have engaged in negative actions against living beings.  To correct for that, we generate bodhichitta, which is the exact opposite.  We have also engage in negative actions against holy beings.  To correct for that, we go for refuge, which is the exact opposite.

In the Lamrim teachings, it explains that the mind of refuge has two main causes:  fear and faith.  We generate fear of our negative karma through the power of regret.   We generate faith by turning to the Buddhas seeing them as the solution to our problem of negative karma.  Each Buddha has the ability to bestow certain types of blessings, so we turn to Buddhas who specifically help with purification – Buddhas whose blessings function to purify.

Shantideva is serious about all of this, but we have to ask, are we? How seriously do we take what he’s saying?  Would we take refuge the way he’s doing here?  If we’re experiencing difficulties, suffering, we will sit down and pray to Arya Tara, Medicine Buddha, etc. But how often?  One of the commitments of refuge is to go for refuge again and again.  If we’re only going for refuge once in a while, will we be protected?

Shantideva is calling for help — “a desperate cry.”  Why don’t we? We don’t feel helpless! We don’t invite the holy beings into our daily life because we feel to a great extent that we have control over it without them.  We think, why ask for protection when genuinely from one day to the next we don’t feel any danger?  Generally people read these verses and think there’s something wrong with Shantideva!  We have to realize there’s actually something seriously wrong us.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Me, an evildoer???

(2.50) To Protector Avalokiteshvara,
Who acts unerringly out of compassion,
I utter this desperate cry for help:
“O Please protect me, an evildoer!”

Normally, when we hear language such as this we cringe.  It just sounds so fire and brimstone, Inquisition-esque, or worse it reminds us of George W. Bush!  But if we are honest, that is exactly what we are.  Let me explain.

If you look at the long arch of our mental continuum, we will see that we have spent virtually all of our past lives in the lower realms.  What do beings do in the lower realms?  The kill their prey, steal from the weak, and torture their enemies.  When we read the descriptions of the lower realms in books like Joyful Path, we shouldn’t think they are describing some distant place, rather they are a description of our own past deeds.  There is no reason to assume we were a saint in the lower realms, there is every reason to assume we were like everybody else.  If a prisoner spent his entire life committing horrific acts, but then one day acted nicely, would we not fairly describe the bulk of his actions as bad?  In the same way, if we spent our countless past lives engaging in evil, but have managed so far in this life to avoid anything that would throw us in prison, can we say we are not an evil-doer?  In this life, we have lied, stolen, cheated, killed insects, said hurtful things, grasped tightly onto wrong views, wished harm on our enemies, etc.  While we may not be as bad as beings in the lower realms, nor as bad as some in this realm, compared to the holy beings our actions are beyond the pale.

As was described in an earlier post, the number one obstacle to our engaging in purification is our total denial of our wrong-doing.  If we can’t admit our wrong deeds, how can we hope to purify them?

Admitting we are an evil-doer does not mean we need to fall into some extreme of guilt and self-hatred at how awful we are.  Self-flagellation is not a stage of the path.  An honest reckoning of our deeds is.  Beating ourself up for our mistakes is actually a form of distraction from actually changing our ways.  So we admit our mistakes without guilt, realize they were driven by being confused by our delusions and through the force of karmic habit, and then we try do better going forward.

(2.51) Seeking refuge, from my heart
I pray to Arya Akashagarbha,
To Arya Ksitigarbha,
And to all the compassionate Protectors.

For purification to be effective, it has to be heart-felt.  When I was a young child, my father was thinking of buying some land right on the edge of a bluff overlooking the city.  Since we were little, he was worried that we might not appreciate the danger the cliff represented.  So he took us literally to the edge, held us tight and safe so we wouldn’t fall, but showed us what lay below.  I do not remember much from my early childhood, but this memory was burned into me forever.  I have since always been wary of getting too close to the edge.

In the same way, we literally need to stare into the abyss of the lower realms and see what lays below.  The compassionate Buddhas, like my father, will take us to the edge, hold us tight and safe so we won’t fall, but then describe to us the terrors that lie below.  Every 21 days, we come to the meditation on the lower realms and do exactly this.  The point is not to scare us, the point is to warn us of the dangers that lie ahead if we do not change our ways.

Irrational fear is destructive, rational fear is protection.  We should have a rational fear of the lower realms.  If we look honestly, it is far more likely we will fall into the lower realms than take another fortunate rebirth.  When adversity strikes, we respond with delusion and negativity.  Delusion and negativity activate further negative karma.  There is no adversity greater than death.  If we generate big delusions with respect to small things, what chance do we have to only generate small delusions with respect to the biggest thing of all – our own death.  And even small delusions are not enough, we need to respond with virtue if we are to have any chance of remaining in the fortunate realms.  How often do we do that now?


“Wake me, wake me! Somebody is trying to kill me!”

Occasionally I have very powerful dreams which move my mind in significant ways.  I write about them here so that I don’t forget them and in case others find something useful out of them.

Last night, I was dreaming I was back in my childhood home.  It was night time, and I was asleep.  I was both still a child of around 13 and yet my current age.  I heard what sounded like screaming – terrified screaming – but I couldn’t make out what was being said and it was very faint since I was still asleep.  I then heard it again and realized I had ear plugs in which was why in part I couldn’t hear.  So I took my ear plugs out and then I could hear a little better.  I heard it again and realized it was my mother who was in her bedroom screaming, but I still couldn’t hear what she was saying.  I then tried a little harder to hear her, and then I heard what she was saying.  She was screaming like one does when they are having a nightmare and talking in their sleep, “wake me, wake me!  Somebody is trying to kill me.”  This struck a deep cord in me and I realized I had to go wake her up.  I then went to try go wake her up, but I was so sleepy myself, I couldn’t get up.  I was fading in and out of sleep, struggling to wake up myself.  I heard her again, and said to myself I have to get up to go wake her.  I then recited Avalokiteshvara’s mantra to wake myself up to go get her, but then instead of waking up in my dream to go get her I woke up into my normal waking reality (this world).  

I then immediately remembered something my Chinese teacher told me last year when I was going through a particularly difficult time.  In Taiwan, the local religion includes the worshipping of ancestors.  This is much deeper than a superficial, Western preconception about such a thought would allow.  My teacher, who knew my mother had committed suicide and who knew I was a Kadampa practitioner, told me, “Our ancestors, in particular our parents, have a karmic pull on us wherever they are, even after death.  Your mother, having killed herself, is most likely in a very bad place right now and she is reaching out from wherever she is for light and help.  As her son, and as somebody who is developing bodhichitta, she is reaching out desperately to you for help.  The problems you are having in your life right now, in particular with your wife, daughter and father, are the karmic waves of her reaching out to you for help from beyond the grave.  Instead of running away, you need to develop compassion for her and start using your practice to try help her wherever she may be.”    

I then remembered that I am going to Toronto for the Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments, so no doubt this was my message for why I needed to take the empowerments.  I then recalled that Heruka and Vajrayogini are called, Heruka “Father and Mother” and I remembered something that helped me when I was working through the issues with my father last year, namely that Heruka is my real father and Vajrayogini is my real mother.  I then thought about my Kadampa teachers of this life – Gen Lekma, Kadam Lucy, Gen-la Khyenrab and Gen Lhamo and I thought I should make a point to try see them in Toronto if possible.  I then hesitated with the idea of seeing Gen Lhamo because I had a very difficult and sometimes strained relationship with her.  Her Dharma was perfect, but my relationship with her was not.  I remember she once told me, “don’t impute your mother onto me.”  Then I thought, yes, I should see her too and not run away.  I then hesitated with the idea of seeing Gen-la since he will be so busy at the event itself, but thought I will put in the request and see what happens.  At the very least, I would write him to tell him.  

I then started thinking about what all of this means.  I realized my Chinese teacher was right.  I knew it was important when she originally told me, but its deeper meaning became clearer.  My mother most likely is in some sort of hell right now and, due to the close karmic connection I have with her, she is reaching out to me for help even if she doesn’t realize that is what she is doing.  Our problems in our relationship began about the time of the age I was in the dream, around 13 in that house where my mother spent most of her time in her room.  At that time, she basically told me I am now on my own and she kind of checked out of her responsibilities of being a mother.  I remember thinking, “good riddance” and equally thinking she was on her own now too.  Yet this hurt, because what child does not want love from their mother.  At first I couldn’t hear her because I had ear plugs in.  This is how mentally I have blocked out thinking about her because I want to run away and it hurts too much.  But plugging your ears to the screams of samsara is not a solution to them.  She was trapped in a nightmare and was begging to be woken up so she could escape it.  This is our samsaric condition.  I wanted to go help her, but couldn’t because I too was still asleep.  I couldn’t wake up myself.  This is my samsaric condition.  It was the heart-panging compassion I felt at the idea of my mother trapped in a terrifying nightmare that made me resolve I need to wake up myself so I can go help her.  This is my bodhichitta.  I couldn’t wake up on my own.  This is the truth of we can’t make progress on the path without the help of the three jewels.  But through the power of Avalokiteshvara’s blessings, I was able to wake up.  But I did not wake up in the dream itself, rather I woke up into this reality.  At first I thought, “oh, the dream suffering disappeared when I woke up, none of it was really happening” in typical understanding emptiness style.  But then I recalled what my Chinese teacher told me and realized even if it is all a dream, the real dream I need to wake my mother up from is the samsaric dream she is actually experiencing somewhere right now; and the dream I need to wake up from to be able to help her is the one I am having right here, right now.  To do this, I need to re-establish karmic relationships with my old teachers and with my Sangha friends.  In particular, in Toronto I hope to speak with my old teachers and also with my old friends, Kelsang Khedrub, Kelsang Pagpa, Kadam Olivier, Kelsang Wangden, among others.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Offering ourself as purification

(2.48) Likewise, I sincerely go for refuge
To the Dharma they have realized,
Which dispels the fears of samsara,
And to the assembly of Bodhisattvas.

Our self is imputed upon our body and mind.  Up until now, we have – unwittingly – offered both to our delusions.  We are slaves to our delusions and we do whatever they ask of us.  Our thoughts are ruled by them and our bodily actions are as well.  For as long as we continue to make this mistake, we will forever remain enslaved by them and liberation and enlightenment will be impossible.

Instead, we need to offer ourself – meaning both our body and our mind – to the three jewels.  The function of delusions is to deceive us into engaging in actions that damn us to the lower realms.  The function of the three jewels is to enlighten us into engaging in actions that free both ourself and all living beings from suffering forever.  The choice is ours, but we must choose.  There is no middle ground between delusion and wisdom.  They are necessarily mutually exclusive.

To offer our mind to the three jewels means to make our every thought consistent with the Dharma.  The Dharma is a way of thinking.  We adopt that way of thinking as our own.  It is not enough to simply start parroting the Dharma we have heard, we need to do the internal work to convince ourselves of its truth by dispelling all wrong views.  The essential meaning of contemplation is “testing the truth” of the teachings.  We engage in this exercise with intellectual integrity, prepared to change our views where proven wrong.  We then examine for ourself whether the teachings are true and reliable.  Everybody who has engaged in such an exercise with an open mind has come to the same conclusion – “yep, that’s right.”  It is also not enough to just have faith that the teachings are true when we don’t really understand why.  Faith is good, wisdom realizing the truth of things ourselves is better.  Only wisdom has the power to actually free us from the control of our delusions.

(2.49) Overcome with fear, I offer myself
To Arya Samantabhadra,
And I offer my body into the service
Of Arya Manjushri.

To offer our body to the three jewels means to offer it into their service.  What does this mean in practice?  Sometimes people think it means we need to go become a slave for the Spiritual Guide, bringing them dinner and tea, and working long hours for Dharma centers.  For some, that may be the case, but for most people that’s not realistic nor even desirable.  To offer ourself into the service of the three jewels quite simply means to offer ourself into the service of all living beings.  The Buddhas have only one objective – to benefit all living beings, indeed to eventually lead them all to everlasting happiness.  When we dedicate ourselves to the same purpose, we offer ourself into the service of the three jewels.

What are the advantages of doing this?  First, all of our actions become powered by all the blessings of all of the Buddhas.  If a sail on a sail boat is not aligned properly with the wind, the boat will not go anywhere even if the wind is howling.  But when the sails are aligned with the wind, the boat is pushed forward.  In the same way, the pure winds of the blessings of all the Buddhas are constantly blowing around us.  They always point in one direction:  the enlightenment of all beings.  When we align the sails of our mind with this objective, their pure winds fill our sails pushing us swiftly and effortlessly towards enlightenment.

Second, all of our actions become causes of our own enlightenment.  Because we work for the enlightenment of all beings, the karma we create while doing so is necessarily non-contaminated.  Since the final purpose of our actions is beyond samsara, the karma we create takes us beyond samsara.  It is as if our body becomes an extension of the body of all the Buddhas in this world, where they act through us but we get the karma.

Third, we are happy all of the time.  Our happiness, quite simply, depends upon whether our mind is at peace or not.  When our mind is controlled by delusions, our mind is rendered unpeaceful.  That is the function of delusions.  The root of all delusions is the self-centered mind (self-cherishing and self-grasping).  Working for all others is the opposite of all delusions, and so it functions to oppose all delusions.  Virtue functions to make the mind peaceful and controlled.  There is no virtue greater than cherishing others because all other virtues flow from it.  Dedicating ourself to the service of others fills our mind with virtue, which makes our mind peaceful and enables us to be happy all of the time.  Even a superficial look around us shows that the selfish are miserable and the selfless are happy.  The question is who do we want to be?