Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Why do we obsess over our body?

(8.178) My body is a frightening, impure form
That cannot move without depending upon mind
And that eventually will completely disintegrate;
So why do I grasp at it as “I”?

(8.179) Whether it lives or dies,
What use is it to me to grasp at this machine?
It is no different from grasping at a clod of earth;
So why do I not give up the pride of grasping “my body”?

Our body is no more than a guest house.  Eventually it will be no different from the earth itself.  Why should we identify with something we know we will be separated from?  Surely our true self would be something that goes on, no?  How is our body any different than our clothes?  We don’t identify with them, do we?

(8.180) As a result of attending to the body’s desires,
I have experienced much suffering without real meaning.
What is the point of generating anger or attachment
For the sake of something that is like a piece of wood?

(8.181) Whether I care for it in the way that I do,
Or allow it to be harmed by others,
The body itself develops neither attachment nor anger;
So why do I feel so attached to it?

(8.182) Since the body itself does not know
Anger when it is insulted
Or attachment when it is praised,
Why do I go to so much trouble for its sake?

How much of our attachment and our anger arise from thinking “I” with respect to this body, and showing so much concern for it? how much attachment how much anger and how much suffering as a result of our attachment and anger, just for the sake of this body?

(8.183) “But I want to cherish this body
Because it is very beneficial to me.”
Then why not cherish all living beings,
For they are very beneficial to us?

(8.184) Therefore, without any attachment,
I will give up my body for the benefit of all;
But, although it might have many faults,
I will look after it while I am working for others.

We need to give our body then into the service of other living beings.  We need to use it for their sake, not for our own enjoyment.  At present we’re very much anchored in this body, so we must stop now identifying with this body.  We must stop considering it to be mine.  We must consider it to be others’, we must consider it to belong to others, and in this way bring our self-centeredness to an end.

(8.185) I will put a stop to all childish behaviour
And follow in the steps of the wise Bodhisattvas.
Recalling the instructions on conscientiousness,
I will turn away from sleep, mental dullness, and the like.

(8.186) Just like the compassionate Sons and Daughters of the Conqueror Buddha,
I will patiently apply myself to whatever needs to be done.
If I do not apply constant effort throughout the day and the night,
When will my misery ever come to an end?

Here Shantideva’s saying it is time to grow up, isn’t he?  We need to put a stop to all childish behavior.  We have discussed before we’ve got to grow up, we’ve got to move on. We must be conscientious now, apply great effort, and become like the actual Bodhisattvas others need us to be, become the actual Bodhisattvas our spiritual guide is trying to create.

Finally:

(8.187) Therefore, to dispel both obstructions,
I will withdraw my mind from all distracting conceptions
And place it in constant meditative equipoise
On the perfect object of meditation, the correct view of emptiness.

The main point of this chapter is we need to withdraw into our mind, but not be self-centered.  To be able to mix our mind with emptiness, we need to be withdrawn and centered within our mind. It is our attachment and delusions, such as self-cherishing, which draw us out.  We need to be centered, but not self-centered.  Letting go of attachment to wanting things for the self of our self-cherishing is how we do this.  We can do this on the side of letting go of the object of our self-cherishing or at least moving onto the side of letting go of the self-cherishing.

The only way to identify with other’s body as our own is if we understand it is a projection of our mind, we are looking at the fabric of our mind.  It is us.  So the more we go inward, the more we discover others are ourselves.  Then we can be centered, but not self-centered.  It seems like a contradiction to withdraw into our mind, yet at the same time go out to others to cherish them.  But this is only because we grasp at others being outside, when in reality they are part of our inside.  They are most of our inside, actually.  Our ordinary self is only a small part.  Our self-cherishing mind just spends all of its time obsessing about this one small part.

We also need to practice the moral discipline of restraint.  Things will try to pull us out of being centered within our mind in our heart.  We need to realize there is nothing worth going out to because actually there is nothing out there at all.  This is difficult to do unless we become disciplined with our bodily, verbal, and mentally activity.  When we are withdrawn in our mind, we are happy.  When we get drawn out, we become unhappy.  We can experience this directly, and then we know.  When we can withdraw ourselves into our mind and never be drawn out by things, then we will experience our lives as if we are on retreat right now.  Our whole life will become a big retreat.  I once heard a story about a senior teacher having a meeting with Geshe-la.  He hadn’t seen him for several days.  He remarked on how well Geshe-la looked, and he looked at the teacher and said “that’s because I’m always inside.”

This concludes the eighth chapter of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, entitled “Relying upon Mental Stabilization”.

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: Don’t try go at it alone

We also should not try go it alone.  We need to enlist the help of the Buddha and Sangha jewels to help us put the Dharma jewel of cherishing others into practice.  We need blessings and support.  We cannot do it alone.  We need to choose to come under their influence instead of trying to have our Samsara and Dharma too.  Sometimes our self-cherishing is so strong that we do not even want to turn to Buddha and Sangha because we know they would encourage us to not do what our self-cherishing wants.  I always keep a picture of Geshe-la and Dorje Shugden on my desk.  When I feel tempted to do something wrong, I try look at them and ask, “would I do this in front of them?”  In fact, that is what I am doing.  But sometimes, my delusions are so strong, I intentionally do not look at them because I know if I did, I wouldn’t be able to do what my self-cherishing wants to do.  Ridiculous!  I start to view them as the problem because if they were not around, I could pursue my delusions with abandon.  When we have such thoughts, we need to ask ourselves the question, “if I follow this thought, where will it lead me?”  Sometimes we need to stare into the abyss before we decide to step back.

(8.171) If, out of non-conscientiousness,
I were not to give you to others,
You would certainly deliver me
To the guardians of hell!

(8.172) You have done this to me often enough in the past
And, as a result, I have suffered for a very long time;
But now that I have brought to mind all my grudges towards you,
I am determined to destroy you, selfish mind.

(8.173) Thus, if I want happiness,
I should not be happy with the self-cherishing mind;
And if I want protection,
I should always protect others.

We need to realize a very clear relationship:  the more we try to make this self happy, the more unhappy we become as our wishes go unfulfilled.  If our only wish is to work for the happiness of others, then we can be happy all the time regardless of what happens because we can always do what we want.  Karmically, the more we work for and protect ourself, the more we actually make our situation difficult because we are depriving our future selves of help and protection.  If we want freedom, happiness and protection, then we need to give these things to others.  It is that simple.  Our attachment to harvesting results instead of planting seeds is what prevents us from doing this.

(8.174) To whatever extent I seek
To fulfil the desires of the body,
To that extent I shall experience
A state of dissatisfaction.

(8.175) The desires of the self-cherishing mind
Cannot be satisfied
Even by all the wealth in the world –
So how can we hope to fulfil all its wishes?

(8.176) When our desires are not fulfilled,
We develop delusions and a dissatisfied mind;
But whoever becomes free from such distracting concerns
Will never know dissatisfaction.

(8.177) Therefore, I will never allow
The desires of the body to increase.
A person who has no attachment to attractive objects
Will find contentment – the best of all possessions.

One of our greatest problems, one of the greatest obstacles to removing self-cherishing is our attachment to our body and to our bodily feelings.  As much as we say we do not like our body, we do.  The fact is that we do have attachment to it.  One of my former students once told me, “most people live their life by the pleasure principle, seeking to do what brings them the most pleasure.  Not me man, I head towards what hurts because that is how we grow.” Our body is one of our biggest objects of pleasure.  Think about how much people do in this world to bring about pleasurable feelings within this body – attractive forms, sounds, smells, tastes and so forth.

But Shantideva is indicating that there is no satisfaction to be had in the body, ever.  We are not quite convinced of that one, are we?  We seek satisfaction, don’t we?  The fact that we seek satisfaction indicates that we are desirous, doesn’t it?  The fact that we are seeking means that we are desirous, which itself is a suffering and indicates that we have not yet found satisfaction.  Even when we do fulfil certain desires, others manifest themselves because the desirous mind remains – it just reasserts itself towards another object, so we remain forever dissatisfied.

If we reduce our desires, we will reduce our dissatisfaction because there will be less desires unfulfilled.  When we have eliminated all our external desires, we will experience pure contentment.  Someone who is content is truly wealthy because they lack nothing.  We will become the richest person on earth as far as our experience is concerned.  A person who has no attachment to attractive objects will find contentment, the best of all possessions.

Happy Tsog Day: How to Practise Completion Stage

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 42 of a 44-part series.

I seek your blessings, O Protector, that you may place your feet
On the centre of the eight-petalled lotus at my heart,
So that I may manifest within this life
The paths of illusory body, clear light, and union.

Completion stage is the method for directly purifying samsara and becoming a Buddha. Everything else is fundamentally a preparation for completion stage. Samsara is most commonly understood as uncontrolled rebirth. Without freedom or control we die and are then thrown into another realm of samsara. The totality of the Buddhist path is learning how to gain control of the death process, so that we are able to control our next rebirth and take a rebirth outside of samsara either in a pure land, as a liberated being, or as a fully enlightened being. In generation stage, we purify the death process through the practice called the three bringings. We bring death into the path of the Truth Body, the intermediate state into the path of the Enjoyment Body, and rebirth into the path of the Emanation Body. In completion stage, we purify the death process through the nine mixings. There are the three mixings while waking, the three mixings while sleeping, and the three mixings at the time of death. The three mixings are mixing with the Truth Body, mixing with the Enjoyment Body, and mixing with the Emanation Body. By training in the three mixings while waking, we are then able to train in the three mixings while sleeping, which prepares us to be able to engage in the three mixings at the time of death. By engaging in the three bringings and the nine mixings we can gradually purify the process of uncontrolled death and become an immortal deathless being. We quite literally purify the appearance of death and rebirth so that they never arise again. From our perspective, we become a deathless being, a deity who abides eternally in the pure land. More explanation on the three bringings can be found in Essence of Vajrayana and Guide to Dakini Land, and more explanation on the nine mixings can be found in Clear Light of Bliss and Tantric Grounds and Paths.

The final object of meditation of all our completion stage practices is clear light emptiness. This is a very subtle mind of great bliss that realizes directly the emptiness of all phenomena. All our completion stage meditations, such as learning how to control our inner winds and drops, are all methods for generating the subjective mind of great bliss. We then carry this bliss with us into the clear light and we use it to meditate on emptiness. Emptiness is a very subtle object, therefore it requires a very subtle mind to realize it directly. Our very subtle mind of great bliss is our most subtle mind. It is also the most stable mind we can generate and so therefore is the most powerful possible mind with which we can meditate on emptiness. When we meditate on the emptiness of all phenomena, in particular the emptiness of our very subtle mind, with the mind of great bliss we quickly purify all the contaminated karmic imprints that are stored on our very subtle mind. When all these contaminated karmic imprints are purified, we attain enlightenment.

The practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide itself is a preliminary practice for our main practice which is Vajrayana Mahamudra. Vajrayana Mahamudra is in essence completion stage practice. All our other practices – the Lamrim, Lojong, generation stage, and everything else – are all preparatory practices for our meditation of the union of great bliss and emptiness. To find the correct object of bliss and emptiness requires all this preparation. The more qualified we can generate these preparations and the more accurate our understanding of emptiness, the more powerful our practice of purifying our contaminated karma will be.

For many years I was reluctant to begin the practice of completion stage. I simply did not feel that I was ready, and I needed to do more preparations through Lamrim, Lojong, and generation stage practice. There is of course nothing wrong with this because these are essential preparations, but we must not mistake them for our main practice. Our main practice must be understood, even from the beginning, to be training in Vajrayana Mahamudra, in particular the meditation on the union of great bliss and emptiness. If we correctly understand this meditation on the union of bliss and emptiness to be our final spiritual destination, then all the practices that we do before them will correctly function as preparations for when we are able to start engaging in completion stage practice.

In truth, completion stage practice is not complicated. Anybody can visualize channels, drops, winds, and so forth. The visualizations are not complicated. What makes them powerful, though, is not the visualizations but the purity of our bodhichitta motivation, the degree of our faith in our spiritual guide, and the accuracy of our understanding of emptiness. It is these three – our motivation, faith, and correct view of emptiness – that give our completion stage practices their power. Once we have these three foundations in place, engaging in completion stage meditation is not difficult. We just need to have patience to gradually gain familiarity to begin to perceive and experience our central channel, indestructible drop, and so forth.

Geshe-la explains in Oral Instructions of Mahamudra that once we attain the fourth mental abiding on the indestructible wind and mind at our heart, we can cause all our inner winds to enter, abide, and dissolve into our central channel and be able to directly perceive the eight dissolutions culminating in the clear light. It is also not that difficult to attain the fourth mental abiding. Once we realize how doable these things our effort becomes, in Venerable Tharchin’s words, effortless. We know how it works, we see how it works, and we see how it is doable, so effort comes naturally. We are also filled with a great deal of confidence that we can indeed attain the path if we put these methods into practice.

It is said that it is possible to attain enlightenment in three years through instructions of the Ganden Oral Lineage. Many of us have been practicing for several decades and still do not feel as if we have begun our practice. Geshe-la once told Venerable Tharchin that if he had complete faith he could attain enlightenment very quickly. What we principally lack is faith. If we had faith, were able to set aside all our doubts, and really go for it, there is no doubt that we would make rapid progress along the path. Whether we attain enlightenment in three years or not is of secondary importance. What matters is that we give it the best shot we can. At some point it will be true that our enlightenment is only three years away. We do not know when that point will be reached, but it is good to live our life believing that if we really go for it, it is possible.

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.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Stop giving in to self-cherishing

Now Shantideva encourages us not to give in any longer to our self-cherishing mind, and its desires.

(8.167) In this way, selfish mind, you should avoid non-virtue.
If you do not observe this discipline,
I will bring you under control
Through the power of mindfulness and alertness.

(8.168) However, if you choose not to act
In the way that you have been advised,
Since you are the source of all my misfortune
I will completely annihilate you.

(8.169) The time when you could govern me
Has been consigned to the past.
Now that I see you to be the source of all my problems,
I will eradicate you wherever you appear.

(8.170) Now I will immediately cast aside
All thoughts to work for my own sake.
O self-cherishing mind, I have sold you to others;
So stop complaining and get on with helping them!

How much longer are we going to give in to our selfish or self-cherishing mind?  We still tend to go along with it.  Even after all these years of Dharma practice, we still think that our self-cherishing is our friend.  We need to feel that it is actually is our enemy, our worst enemy.   Our self-cherishing is like the devil – it has only one goal, to put us in the deepest hell.  If we follow it, that is exactly where it will lead us.  Perhaps we see this after it has burned us, where we have done something that we know we should not have, or have gotten angry, jealous, etc., and it created some problem.  But then slowly, it creeps back up and convinces us that we should do what it says.  It will help us.  We need to be burned several times before we finally say enough is enough.  Once this becomes clear, then it is just a question of time.

Our job is to destroy this inner enemy – we need to annihilate it.  If you knew you were possessed by some demon, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to exorcise yourself of it?  We should do the same with self-cherishing.  Our delusions are as strong as we make them, and we make them strong by believing them to be true.  The only way we will stop following this inner demon is we realize it is deceptive.  It promises us one thing, but delivers the exact opposite.  It is deceiving and betraying us.  And it always will.  The more we realize it is deceptive, the less power it will have over us.  It often hurts to go against the wishes of our self-cherishing.  This is like somebody blackmailing us.  If we give in to the emotional penalty they invoke, the blackmail will only continue and get worse.

We need to train strategically.  Our job is to completely eradicate every trace of self-cherishing from our mind.  The trick is making our desire to overcome our self-cherishing stronger than our desire for what our self-cherishing wants.  When the balance is tipped in this way, we will find the strength to oppose it.  Otherwise, we will lose every time.  We should focus on the easy things where our self-cherishing is weaker.  Here our desire to overcome our self-cherishing will be stronger than our desire for whatever our self-cherishing wants, and we will be able to weaken our self-cherishing.  We should also focus on the really strong self-cherishing, the one or two things that create big problems for us that we see clearly how our self-cherishing is our enemy.  The middle stuff we will get to with time.  For now, we should focus on the easy and the really strong or problematic.

Often overcoming self-cherishing is just an issue of identifying it clearly within our mind.   Once we see it, it is not hard to see how it is wrong, and then we can overcome it.  Identifying it is quite simple:  do we think about things from the perspective of how they impact us – in other words, is there self-centeredness in our mind, do we view things from the perspective of us being the center of our universe?  If we see how we do this, then we have identified our self-cherishing.  We see the bias and exaggeration in our mind.  The rest flows naturally from that.

One very important point is our self-cherishing will never go away on its own.  It will remain in our mind until we make the decision to eliminate it.  There are people who have been practicing Dharma for 20 or more years, but they have not made this decision, and so self-cherishing remains in their mind.  We need to come to a personal decision, realizing that we are possessed by the demon of self-cherishing, that we need to eliminate it from our mind.  With this intention, we will do so.  Without this decision, no matter how long we remain in the Dharma, we will leave the roots of our delusions intact, like the roots of weeds, and they will come back.  Once we make this decision, we will need constant mindfulness and diligent effort over a long period of time to rid our mind of this inner demon.

The biggest question our self-cherishing poses to us is ‘what is left for me?’  We need to have a good answer to this, otherwise we will feel like we are losing out and we won’t have the power necessary to really make this decision.  If we understand karma, the only thing we will want to be left with is the opportunity to work for others.  We will derive all our pleasure working for others because we will know we are building for the future.  The definition of maturity is when we use the present for the future.  We take great satisfaction in building for the future.  We should strive to become a spiritual Bill Gates, who acquires the inner wealth of Dharma so that it can be given away.  Our happiness comes from the satisfaction of doing that.

Sometimes our self-cherishing objects, ‘I understand I need to do it, but it is so damn hard.’  It is hard because we have so many obstacles.  Where do these obstacles come from?  They are a reflection of our own self-cherishing.  In other words, self-cherishing creates its own obstacles.  Seeing this will help us increase our desire to overcome it.  We have to compare how hard overcoming self-cherishing is with the alternative of remaining with it forever.  No matter how hard it is to overcome our self-cherishing, it is infinitely harder to not.  With self-cherishing, everything we do is hard and nothing works.  Without self-cherishing, everything is easy.  We have a choice, do one hard thing to make everything else easy, or don’t do that one hard thing and have everything else be difficult.  When we see this is our choice, we will naturally make the right decision.

Muhammad Ali’s is my father’s all-time favorite philosopher.  He said, “When a man says I cannot, he has made a suggestion to himself. He has weakened his power of accomplishing that which otherwise would have been accomplished.”  Samsara is a self-enforcing prison.  We remain in samsara because we have not decided to leave.  We decide to stay because we keep going back in for the attractive things of samsara.  Once we are sucked in a little bit with these attractive things, we then get pulled into the main body of samsara, which is the lower realms.   When our self-cherishing starts complaining, we have a choice:  to listen or not.  Because we listen to it, it has power over us.  But if we know it is wrong and see it as some blowhard know-it-all, we will naturally ignore what it says.  It will still be babbling in the background, but we don’t pay attention. 

Dream about the Death of my Son

I just woke up from a very vivid dream and I’m writing it down so I don’t forget it. Long-time readers of this blog know I occasionally do this.

In the dream, I had two other dreams that were premonitions that my son Riley was going to die. These were dreams I had inside my dream. In one of those dreams, he had been hospitalized for something and the doctors said it was 50/50 whether he was going to make it. This was similar to when he was a newborn and almost died of an infection. In the other, there was some water accident associated with my Dad’s boat and sea plane. Then, after these dreams, in the waking state of my dream, he had some sort of accident and died (it is unclear what exactly happened). I then understood my two previous dreams inside the dream to have been premonitions of what was coming.

I then wanted to go talk to my wife about it, telling her that even though he had died, he had not disappeared but simply gone somewhere else. This was the advice that Gen Lekma gave me when my mom died that made all the difference. As I approached my wife, her sister materialized in the background. My wife then became like an emotional echo of my sister-in-law’s thinking. It echoed into my wife in the form of all sorts of ways in which my wife was thinking it was her fault or my fault that Riley had died – if only we hadn’t done this or if only we had done that – and the guilt of this was eating my wife alive and I wasn’t able to get out my message that he had not disappeared, he was simply somewhere else. I just kept on trying to tell my wife, “don’t go there, it’s totally wrong, don’t go there.”

Then, my wife and I moved to somewhere else away from my sister-in-law where we could talk without anyone in the background, and I started to tell my wife Gen Lekma’s point, but then I started crying about how I loved my son so much and it hit me that he had died. I cried out several times while crying deeply, “I love him so much, I love him so much” and it just hurt more and more with each recitation. With each recitation of this, I then thought something else to myself. With one recitation, I recalled Gen Lekma’s point as advice to myself and my hurt subsided somewhat. I then recited it again, but then recalled how angry I have gotten at him during his life for his misbehavior and how much my anger has hurt him. I then started screaming, crying out of intense guilt and remorse at how much hurt I have caused him with my anger and now it is too late, he is no longer with me. The pain and hurt were among the most intense I have ever felt thinking this. I then cried out I love him so much again, and I recalled bodhichitta that I can still become a Buddha for him and help him even though I had hurt him so much, and this helped relieve some of the inner hurt and then I woke up.

When I woke up, my first thought was about how much I have hurt him in his life, and especially recently, and how, due to his being on the autism spectrum, he disassociates when he gets in trouble and goes somewhere else into another mental space/personality/behavior pattern because it is too painful for him to be in the present moment where he is. I then thought how I love him so much and I need to be kind with him, not crack down on him for his misbehavior.

I then thought about how my wife’s family is always consumed by guilt for all the different ways they think it is their fault something bad happens to somebody else, and this guilt drives them to unnecessarily beat themselves up irrationally for not having done enough (something my sister-in-law does about the death of her mother when in truth she had done so much for her) and this guilt also drives them into being incredibly controlling behavior of others in the family to not do things that could potentially prove harmful to them. This anger-enforced controlling behavior to avoid potential harm was at the core of much of my wife’s childhood trauma with her father (such as getting mad at her when she was hurt playing on the monkey bars), and it was this same anger-enforced controlling behavior that we have recently been using against our son for his wreckless behavior going on the roof of our house where he could have died in some accident. This corresponds very closely with something Kadam Lucy told me more than 25 years ago that my wife’s anger comes from having learned it within her family as how things are done, and the only way to heal the anger is to first heal the misplaced guilt.

Additionally, this dream gave me a deep emotional feeling of just how much I love Riley, and when I remind myself of that when I am in my hurt, it brings me somewhat out of my pain. First, it triggers guilt in me for how I have treated him with anger, but on the other side of that is bodhichitta for him that looks at my relationship with him across lifetimes. I don’t know what will happen to Riley in his life, but I suspect he will face a lot of hurt. I don’t know if he will ever have some sort of accident in which he dies, etc., but I do know I would deeply regret all the hurt I have caused him. Just as I may die today, he may die today, and I don’t want him to die with him not knowing how much I love him and I would feel deep regret for having gotten so angry at him so often. But I can use that deep love for him as fuel for my bodhichitta. Wanting to become a Buddha for all living beings is a very abstract concept, but seeing my son hurting by my hands and then losing him makes me want to become a Buddha for him so I can make up for the hurt I have caused him and one day lead him to freedom. This touches my heart and makes the path much less abstract and more personal.

A Pure Life: Abandoning Pride

This is part eleven of a 12-part series on how to skillfully train in the Eight Mahayana Precepts.  The 15th of every month is Precepts Day, when Kadampa practitioners around the world typically take and observe the Precepts.

The actual precept here is to avoid sitting on high thrones, but the broader meaning is to not develop pride or to try put yourself in positions of superiority over others.  Very few of us have opportunities to sit on thrones, but we often generate pride.

Sometimes people get confused thinking bodhichitta is a supremely arrogant mind.  Who do we think we are to aspire to become the savior of all?  It is like we have some Jesus-complex or something.  But actually, pride and bodhichitta are exact opposites.  Pride thinks our ordinary mind is somehow special.  Bodhichitta fully accepts and acknowledges the limitations of our ordinary mind and sees how a Buddha’s mind is far superior.  So humility with respect to our ordinary body and mind are actually prerequisites for generating bodhichitta. 

Faults of pride

From a practical point of view, pride is actually the most harmful of all the delusions.  Why?  Because pride functions to blind us to our own faults.  If we are unaware of our faults, then there is no way we can overcome them.  Our pride does not prevent others from being able to catalog clearly all of our faults, but with pride even when others point out to us our shortcomings we fail to see them and we instead see all of the faults of the person “attacking and criticizing us.”  When we suffer from pride, when we do become aware of our faults or limitations, we quickly become despondent, deflated and discouraged.  We swing from misplaced overconfidence to a wish to give up trying.  We somehow think we should be naturally endowed with perfect abilities, and we think we should enjoy great success without putting in the necessary preparatory work.  We would rather not try at all than give something our all and then come up short.  With pride we become obsessed with “winning” and “losing,” and most importantly with whether or not we are better than everyone else.  This introduces haughtiness towards some, competitiveness towards others, and jealousy towards everyone else.  With pride, we are loathe to look at our faults because doing so shatters our inflated sense of our own abilities, and we would rather knowingly live a lie than come down to earth and begin rebuilding.  If we have every delusion except pride, we can identify our faults and gradually overcome them all.  If we have pride, however, we can never go anywhere on the spiritual path.  We may even occupy a high spiritual position, be venerated by everyone, but inside we know we are a charlatan; or worse, we don’t even realize that we are.   

Pretentious pride

I have a long history of being attached to what others think of me, especially what my spiritual teachers think of me.  For many years (and even now, if I am honest), I try get my teachers to think I am better than I really am.  I do this because I think they will like me more if they think I am this great practitioner. 

Another common example is refusing invitations or gifts.  If someone with a good motivation invites us to do something and without a good reason we decline merely out of pride, laziness, or anger, we incur a secondary bodhisattva downfall.  Similarly, if we are given gifts and, without a good reason, we refuse them merely out of pride, anger, or laziness we incur a secondary downfall. 

Likewise, there are some people – myself included – who are too proud to accept the help of others.  Sometimes we need help to get out of a situation we are in.  If due to our pride we fail to reach out to others for help when we need it, who are we helping?  We are unnecessarily bad off, and sometimes we can be in over our head and our situation can become much worse.  When that happens, we then have to ask people for help, but now we are asking for much more.  We shouldn’t be like this.  Likewise, by seeking help from others we can sometimes accomplish much more than if we do everything ourselves, and so therefore we can help even more people.  So in an effort to accomplish great things, we ask for help from others.

In the early days of the tradition, everyone spoke of their teachers as if they were Buddhas without fault.  This then lead to the teaches pretending to be better than they are thinking it was helpful to the student’s faith.  The teachers would then repress their delusions, develop all sorts of strange forms of pride and then either implode from repression or explode by doing something stupid thinking it was divine to do so.  This is why Gen-la Khyenrab is such a good example.  There is not an ounce of pretention in him and he constantly encourages us to keep it real.  Such behavior is perfect.

In my last meeting with Gen Lekma as my teacher before I moved to Europe, I asked her for some final advice.  She said, “train in the three difficulties, in particular identifying your own delusions.”  The most dangerous thing about pride is it makes you blind to your own faults and delusions.  If you can’t see them, you can’t overcome them.  Once we become aware of a sickness in our body, we are naturally motivated to find a remedy and to apply it.  It is the same with the inner sickness of our delusions.  Most doctors all agree medicine is 80% correct diagnosis, 20% cure.  Once the illness is correctly diagnosed, the cure is usually self-evident.  Again, the same is true with our inner sickness of delusions.

Praising ourself and scoring others

The reality is this:  everytime we say anything even slightly negative or judgmental about somebody else, we are implicitly saying we are somehow better.  If we check carefully and honestly, we will see that virtually everything we say is directly or indirectly saying we are somehow better than others who make the mistakes we cite. 

One of the bodhisattva vows is we need to abandon praising ourself and scoring others.  In my own speech, I try live by three rules:  First, never say anything bad about anyone ever.  I don’t always succeed at this, but I do try.  My Grandmother, who lived to 104 years old, basically never said anything bad about anybody.  The closest I have heard her say anything bad about anybody was during the first Iraq war, and she said, “Saddam Hussein, ehhhh, …”  And then she cut herself off.  Second, I try to never make any comparisons – ever.  When I make any comparisons between people, invariably I am putting somebody down.  When I make comparisons between myself and others, I invariably develop pride, competitiveness or jealousy.  But if I never compare, then these minds don’t have as much occasion to arise.  Third, I try to never miss a chance to praise somebody for some quality I see in them.  Of course we have to be skillful with this.  Our compliments should be genuine and well grounded.  If somebody doesn’t actually have a good quality and we praise it, they usually know we are not being sincere and it just makes things worse.  Likewise, we can’t do this too much where it becomes obnoxious or uncomfortable for the other person.  But even though we might not be able to say all the compliments you would like to, mentally we can still think them. 

Pride in our Dharma practice

Few among us, though would actually outright belittle those who travel other paths, but there are many subtle levels where we do this.  First, it is not uncommon for Mahayana practitioners to, even if only internally, generate pride thinking they are somehow better because than those travelling another path that leads only to liberation.  This downfall can take the form of a pride in thinking the Mahayana practitioner is somehow superior to the Hinayana practitioner.  Does a roof think it can stand alone without its walls supporting it?  Can a mountain tower above without the earth underneath it? 

This can also take the form when we generate pride in our Dharma lifestyle.  There is sometimes a pride that develops in some Dharma practitioners who do live the more traditional Dharma life thinking that those who do not do so are somehow inferior or less serious about their practice.  Such practitioners think they are the real tradition, the real practitioners, and the only reason why people live a different mode of life is because they are too attached to samsara to let go of it, etc.  Such practitioners then unskillfully make others feel like they are somehow doing something wrong if they live a normal modern life, if they don’t make it to every festival, etc.  

Ordained people can feel like only they are the real practitioners and everybody else just can’t let go of samsara.  Prasangikas read there is no enlightenment outside of the wisdom realizing emptiness and then conclude they have the monopoly on the truth.  Mahayanists look down on Theravadan practitioners as being “lesser.”  Dorje Shugden practitioners look down on the Dalai Lama’s followers as having sold out the pure Dharma for Tibetan politics.  Buddhists look down on devout Christians with their grasping at an external creator and denials of basic science.  Resident Teachers look down on those who are not “committed enough” to follow the study programs perfectly.  Center administrators look down on those who contribute little to the functioning of the center.  So called “scholars” look down on those with a simplistic understanding of the Dharma.  So-called “practitioners” look down on scholars as just intellectual masturbators.  Those from more established, successful Dharma centers look down on those whose centers are struggling to survive.  Those who have not yet been fired by Geshe-la look down on those who have been.  Those who have been fired several times look down on those who haven’t yet.  Those who have been around for many years look down on those who are naively enthusiastic in the honeymoon stage.  Those on ITTP look down on those just on TTP; those on TTP look down on those just in FP; those on FP look down on those just in GP.  Those who go to pujas at the center look down on those who don’t.  Highest Yoga Tantra practitioners look down on those who are not.  The list goes on and on and on.  It’s all the same though:  people look at some good aspect of their Dharma practice as being somehow superior to that of others, and they use this as a basis for generating pride.

Do not be boastful  

 Our purpose in training the mind is to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all, therefore it is quite inappropriate to become conceited and boast to everyone what we are doing.

Those who suffer from pride, such as myself, often become very attached to what other people think of them.  Our sense of self-confidence and self-worth is based on an inflated perception of how great we are.  When others don’t share the same “exalted view” of us, then it threatens our self-narrative, and so we quickly become defensive.  Ultimately, of course, arrogance and pride are a reflection of deeper-seated insecurity.  Since we don’t want to confront that, we try get everyone else to likewise think we are so wonderful.

When we apply for jobs, we exaggerate our past accomplishments.  When we tell stories of particularly difficult situations we have dealt with, we almost always make it out worse than it really was.  We lie about our grades in school to our friends, we overstate the success we have enjoyed in our extra-curricular activities.  Especially among our Dharma friends, we put on a show of how we are free from delusions and are such a great Dharma practitioner.  

Many, many, conversations among work colleagues revolve around telling stories about how stupid our co-workers, clients or bosses are.  Every time we point out the faults of somebody else, what we are implicitly trying to say is that we are better than the person we are criticizing.  There is a very perverse logic in the world that thinks, “if I can criticize something good that everybody else likes, then it means I am even better.”  Rich people are praised for their “discriminating taste,” which essentially means they can’t be happy with anything but the very best of everything.  Why would we want to be like that, when the actual meaning of this is we are unhappy most of the time because rarely do we get the best of anything.  We see this dynamic all throughout our society:  criticizing famous people, disliking popular movies, judging those who eat fast food when who amongst us does not occasionally like a good burger!  Pride is so ridiculous, it can take any small personality characteristic we might possesses, and then use that as a basis for thinking we are better than everyone else.

Very often prideful and boastful people are not satisfied with knowing themselves that they are the best at everything they do, but they do not rest until everyone else agrees they are the best.  When somebody doesn’t agree, our mind is suddenly filled with an exhaustive list of all the faults of this insolent person!

Besides being absurd, what are some of the problems with such an attitude?  First, as a general rule, the more boastful we are with others, the more they dislike us and want to knock us down a peg or two.  Second, as a general rule, truly great people don’t talk about how great they are, they simply quietly do their thing.  Third, it feeds our dependency on what other people think of us, thus making us feel increasingly insecure.  Fourth, we close the door on ourselves of being able to ask for help from others, including our Dharma teachers.  I remember I used to be very attached to whether or not my Dharma teachers thought I was a great practitioner, so I actually didn’t want to go talk to them about what problems and delusions I was having because to do so might threaten their vision of me.  This makes our going for refuge impossible because we can’t admit we need help.  Fifth, pride in our contaminated aggregates makes renunciation, bodhichitta and our Tantric practice impossible.  It is only by coming to terms with the hopeless nature of our samsaric condition that we can make the decision to leave, become a Buddha and train in identifying with the pure aggregates of the deity.  Sixth, and worst of all, it makes it impossible for us to learn from anybody.  If we think we are better than others, we feel we have nothing to learn from them.  If we aren’t learning, how can we possibly progress along the path?

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Owning others’ faults as our own

(8.162) If others do something wrong,
I will transform it into a fault of my own;
But if I cause even the slightest harm to others,
I will declare it openly in the presence of many.

Of all the words of Shantideva, these in particular really stood out for me as extraordinary, most challenging. Basically what we are saying here is if we make a mistake, we own up to it as our own and not blame others for it.  And if others make a mistake, we take responsibility for them having done so.  Sorry, it is my fault.  We perceive faults every day, don’t we? Mistakes are made again and again by others.  We are the one who is perceiving fault, so are we not the one responsible for the faulty behavior we perceive?  We think we are seeing what is actually there. Where do these faulty people come from?  Why do people appear to have such faults and delusions?  They are reflections of our own faulty mind.

Gen Tharchin says we need to own others’ faults as our own.  A natural consequence of this is we need to take personal responsibility for removing the faults we perceive in others.  A senior teacher who has frequent contact with Geshe-la once said that very often when they would describe something that has gone wrong, Geshe-la says in all sincerity, “oh I am sorry.”  Due to our mistakes … he is sorry! This is something that we have to do, and maybe as a start we can at least utter the words … when somebody close to us makes some mistake … “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Even psychologists now are increasingly realizing that the faults we see in others are often just our own faults projected onto others.  Trump assumed everybody lied, cheated, and stole.  Perhaps that had more to do with his own mind projecting that onto others because that is what he himself does.  We tend to do the same – we assume others think and act like us.  We “see” this because these are the mental glasses through which we look at the world.

(8.163) I should spread the fame of others farther,
So that it completely outshines my own;
And, regarding myself as a lowly servant,
Employ myself in the service of all.

(8.164) Being full of faults, I should not praise myself
Just because of some superficial good quality.
I will not let even a few people know
Of any good qualities I might possess.

Do we do this?  Or do we do the opposite?  We need to check and see, and ask ourselves why.  Such humility is so important.  In Eight Steps to Happiness, Geshe-la says we need to practice humility because there is no inherently existent I.  Geshe-la goes on to say we should view our self or I as the lowest of all, as something we need to neglect or forget. And he says in this way our self-cherishing will become weaker, and our love for others will increase.  We can forget the observed object of our self-cherishing because it is nonexistent, whereas the observed object of the mind that cherishes others does exist.  I am not important at all.

An objection may arise if we think this way, how can we prevent ourself from feeling worthless? When we read this perhaps we think if we were really to adopt such an attitude it would be impossible to develop or maintain any self-respect, any self-confidence?

The reality is the exact opposite.  The reason why we cherish ourself is because we are insecure and needy.  Our self-cherishing makes us feel insecure and needy, it never has enough.  It takes enormous self-confidence to cherish others and praise them above us, and when we do put others up, we naturally feel even better about ourself.  When we take responsibility for the mistakes of our employees, for example, others respect us more for us.  It takes strength and confidence to do so, combined with a humility that is ready to learn.  Our self-cherishing will squeal and want to blame others, but that erodes everything.

(8.165) In short, may the harm I have caused others
For the sake of myself
Return and ripen upon me
For the sake of others.

(8.166) I should not be domineering
Or act in self-righteous ways
Rather, I should be like a newly-wed
Who is bashful, timid, and restrained.

We can follow the example of Venerable Geshe-la.  On one hand, he is restrained, almost shy, unimposing and soft.  He is not brash and overbearing.  On the other hand, he is very strong, powerful, confident, unimpeachable and he has huge spiritual ambitions.  Yet, he is not arrogant.  What an amazing combination of qualities.

Our job is to marry all of these qualities.  One important thing is we need to remain completely approachable.  People should not be intimidated by us.  That is the worst.  We also need to make people feel completely accepted as they are, without being judged at all for what they do or think.  Otherwise, they will not open up and come to us for help with their problems.  At the same time, we need to command respect, where people naturally practice consideration and respectfulness, especially towards the Dharma.  We also need to inspire confidence that we are not some wilting flower or doormat, but that we are unshakable and strong and we have our life together.   We also need to be persuasive, without being a salesman.  We respect the freedom of others to make their own choices, and we give them the information they need to be able to make the right choices.  We want people to want to come under our influence.  To do this, they must feel that we only have their best interests at heart, with no hidden agenda, and that we do not seek to control them at all.  We want to help them gain control of themselves.  We want to encourage people to grow into greater and greater responsibility, not just follow.  To do this, we have to give people the chance to make mistakes and learn from them – that too takes confidence, both in them and in ourselves.

Happy Tsog Day: How to Train in Generation Stage Tantra

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 41 of a 44-part series.

Becoming a suitable vessel for the profound path of Secret Mantra, and keeping the vows and commitments purely

And then the swirling ocean of the Tantras is crossed
Through the kindness of the navigator, the Vajra Holder.
I seek your blessings to cherish more than my life
The vows and commitments, the root of attainments.

It was explained above how the practice of our vows and commitments are the foundation of our Buddhist, Mahayana, and Vajrayana paths. Keeping them also creates the causes to find the path again in all our future lives between now and our eventual enlightenment. The essence of our refuge vows is to rely upon the three jewels to solve our inner problem. The essence of our pratimoksha vows is to not harm living beings, our self or others. The essence of our bodhisattva vows is to put others first. And the essence of our tantric vows is to maintain pure view out of compassion. All the individual vows are simply aspects of these main practices. We cannot properly maintain our tantric vows if we are not keeping our bodhisattva vows, and we cannot keep our bodhisattva vows if we are not keeping our pratimoksha vows, and we cannot keep any of our vows properly if we are not keeping our refuge vows. Therefore, we should see our refuge vows as the foundation for our pratimoksha vows, which are the foundation of our bodhisattva vows, which in turn are the foundation of our tantric vows.

The primary benefit of keeping and maintaining our vows is to create the causes to attain a higher rebirth. Our refuge vows create the causes for us to attain a rebirth in the upper realms of samsara. Our pratimoksha vows create the causes to take a higher rebirth outside of samsara. Our bodhisattva vows create the causes for us to attain full enlightenment. And our tantric vows create the causes for us to quickly attain enlightenment as the Highest Yoga Tantra deity. In short, maintaining our vows is the method for redirecting the trajectory of our mental continuum towards enlightenment.

Geshe-la explains that the practice of moral discipline helps us overcome our gross distractions of mind. Concentration helps us overcome our subtle distractions of mind. And our completion stage practices enable us to overcome the very subtle distractions of mind. In this way, we can understand how the practice of moral discipline is the beginning of our ability to concentrate our mind on the Dharma. Why is it important to concentrate our mind on the Dharma? Because the cause of inner peace is mixing our mind with virtue. The more we mix our mind with virtue, more peaceful our mind will become and the happier we will be. Our vows specifically oppose any tendency in our mind that is contrary to virtue. Keeping her vows enables us to gradually weaken the power of our negative tendencies over our mind and strength and positive habits of mind that move us in the direction of virtue.

The most important aspect of this verse is the phrase that we cherish our vows more than our life. This may seem extreme but that is only because we value our happiness of this life more than we value the happiness of our countless future lives. By maintaining our vows, we ensure we remain on the spiritual path until we attain enlightenment and we protect ourselves against any form of unfortunate rebirth. It would be better to die with our vows intact and continue with the path in our next life than it would be to break our vows, live a long life, and never find the path again. But we do not need to worry. It is almost unthinkable that there could be a situation where we have to choose between maintaining our vows and continuing to live. The point is in our mind we should consider maintaining our vows to be even more important than preserving our life. This is a mental attitude, not a choice we will likely ever have to make.

How to meditate on generation stage

Through the yoga of the first stage that transforms birth, death, and bardo
Into the three bodies of the Conquerors,
I seek your blessings to purify all stains of ordinary appearance and conception,
And to see whatever appears as the form of the Deity.

According to sutra, the root of samsara is self-grasping ignorance. According to tantra, the roots of samsara are ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions. Ordinary appearances are all the things that we normally see. They appear to exist from their own side in all sorts of ordinary samsaric ways. Ordinary conceptions are when we assent to these appearances and believe them to be true, thinking things do exist in the way that they appear. In this sense, we can understand how self-grasping ignorance is simply an example of ordinary conceptions. There is no contradiction between sutra and tantra, tantra simply has a more expansive view.

Our practice of generation stage is a powerful method for overcoming both our ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions. We learn how to dissolve all ordinary appearances into emptiness and then in their place generate pure appearances. We then, through the power of correct belief, believe that these appearances are true. We do not believe that they are inherently true because nothing is inherently true, rather we believe that they are conventionally true and correct beliefs in the sense that it is beneficial to believe and we understand that the ultimate nature of all phenomena is mere imputation to mind. By mentally generating pure appearances with our imagination and then believing them with our faith, we create the karma to later have pure appearances appear directly to our mind.

In the beginning, ordinary conceptions are more dangerous than ordinary appearances. For example, if our spiritual guide appears to us to be an ordinary being but we mentally conceive of him as a fully enlightened Buddha, then we receive the blessings of a Buddha through our spiritual guide. During the meditation break, we perceive all sorts of ordinary appearances, but we train in viewing them in a pure way as emanations of our spiritual guide or manifestations of bliss and emptiness. In this way, in both the meditation session and the meditation break we gradually purify all our ordinary appearances and conceptions and thereby escape from samsara.

From another perspective, generation stage is a method for generating the gross body of the deity. On the basis of generating the gross deity body, we are then able to complete the picture by engaging in completion stage where we attain the subtle deity body. It is also the principal method for attaining rebirth in the pure land. By attaining rebirth in a pure land, we are then able to continue with our spiritual practices and complete the tantric path.

We can find a general explanation of the difference between generation stage and completion stage in the book Modern Buddhism. Extensive explanations can be found in Essence of Vajrayana, Guide to Dakini Land, Clear Light of Bliss, Tantric Grounds and Paths, and the Oral Instructions of Mahamudra.