Celebrating 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: Attachment enables anger to spread like wildfire

(6.70) If, for example, a house caught fire
And there was a danger of the fire spreading to an adjacent house,
It would be advisable to remove anything, such as dry grass,
That might enable the fire to spread.

(6.71) In the same way, when those to whom I cling are harmed,
My attachment to them enables the fire of anger to spread to me.
Fearing that this will consume all my merit,
I should definitely abandon such attachment.

(6.72) How fortunate is a person condemned to death
Who is spared with having just his hand cut off;
And how fortunate are we if, instead of the agonies of hell,
We have to experience only the sufferings of the human realm.

It is surprising, but not surprising, how easily we become angry and retaliate when those we are attached to are harmed in any way.  This is especially true for parents.  When our kids are harmed in some way, we leap into action and are ready to go to war on their behalf.  I have too many stories to tell where this has happened to me, but the point is because we are attached to those we love being happy, when they are harmed in some way, we quickly become angry.

Why do we do this?  Because we have attachment to others being happy.  This seems like a just and normal reaction.  But we need to make the distinction between attachment to others being happy and compassion and love.  On the surface, they seem like the same in that they both wish others are happy and free from suffering.  What is different is for whose sake we want them to be happy and free from suffering.  Attachment to others being happy is concerned about ourselves, and becomes unhappy when others are not happy. We think our happiness depends on them being happy, so when they become unhappy we become unhappy, so anything that causes them to be unhappy, we also get angry with. 

When we have attachment to others being happy, we are not able to help them when they are down because we fall with them, so we become useless to them.  When we have attachment to others being happy, we can’t do what we need to do to actually help them.  Sometimes we have to do things that will make people unhappy when we don’t go along with their dysfunction, but we do it for their own benefit, even if they don’t realize this.  Parents have to do this all the time.  Unconditional love and compassion is concerned about others, and when they are unhappy we just love them more and so are still happy.

But it seems almost wrong to abandon our attachment to those we love being happy.  Won’t that make us indifferent to their plight and a cold and heartless person?  The opposite is actually the case.  It is our attachment to them being happy which actually gets in the way of us loving them purely, especially when they need us the most. 

We think instead of give up our attachment to our friends and family and children, can we just try hard not to get angry? We can even make promises to do so.  But is it possible if we have attachment to others being happy for us to not to get angry when they are harmed? If we have attachment, then is it definite that at some time we will get angry?  Of course it is. 

Our attachment to others being happy also can turn us into emotional tyrants.  We so can’t bear them being unhappy that when they are, we become angry with them and get upset at them for not being happy.  We then think we know what they need to be happy, and we will use our anger to try manipulate them into doing what we think they need to do to become happy.  Of course, this never works, but it doesn’t stop us from trying. 

We also, frankly, like our attachment to others.  Society fails to make the distinction between love and attachment, which is why there are so many poems and songs about how painful love is.  If we find ourselves getting angry often at those we have the most attachment to, is there a connection between the two?  We need to look at these things.  We don’t want to lose our object of attachment.  Do we have to?  When we abandon the mind of attachment, what happens to its object?  Does it cease altogether? Does part of it remain?  In truth, when we abandon our attachment, the object of our attachment disappears.  This doesn’t mean the person disappears, rather they turn into an object of love.  Objects of love are so much more pleasant than objects of attachment, so we can abandon our attachment without fear.

Of course we don’t want to experience hardship of abandoning the objects of our attachment.  But as Shantideva indicates, abandoning our attachment is nothing compared to the suffering we’ll experience if we keep our attachment, especially if we continue to get angry in dependence upon that attachment.  If we are not willing to pay the short-term price of abandoning our attachment we will never know the long-term rewards of permanent freedom.  A Dharma practitioner is somebody who is willing to do this because they know it is worth it.  The difficulty we experience does not come from the fact that we are now making the right decision, rather it comes from having repeatedly made the wrong decision in the past.  When we see this clearly, the more difficult it is, the more determined we will be to get free from it. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Becoming magic crystals

(6.67) If one person causes harm out of ignorance
And another gets angry with him, also out of ignorance,
Which person is at fault
And which one is not?

We read all of the teachings on the faults of anger, and how angry people are just so awful, so we tend to think it is justifiable to get angry with angry people, or at least we find it easy to do so.  In reality, the person who gets angry and the person who gets angry back are the same – they’re both as bad as one another.  No one can be right in getting angry.  It is wrong, always wrong, to get angry.  In many ways, you can say that we are more wrong for getting angry at people for getting angry, because we know better. 

(6.68) Out of ignorance, previously I committed actions
That now result in others causing me harm.
Thus, all the harm I receive is related to my own actions,
So why get angry with others?

(6.69) Seeing this to be the case,
I should practise what is meritorious,
Impelled by the wish that all living beings
Will develop love for one another.

It is important that our Dharma communities and our families show the example in this world of living with one another, being with one another, in harmony – or at least trying to.  We need to show the example of accepting and loving one another. Being able to accept one another and to love one another, regardless of differences, regardless of difficulties that we may experience.

Kadam Lucy once said we shouldn’t be too concerned about other’s relationships with us, but rather about their relationships with each other.  We work out of the wish that all living beings have love for one another.  Very often we criticize one person as a means of getting closer to the other.  I did this with my parents, teenagers do it all the time.  We need to do the opposite.  We need to say only good things about each person to all the others.  It starts with us, we need to do this for our Sangha and within our families.  We need to show patience, and we need to show love for them.  They will then be a bit kinder with those around them, and outward it spreads like the magic crystal (see Eight Steps to Happiness).  Within our centers, our families, and our places of work, we create mutually loving communities.  Then gradually the much larger community, society, will be influenced by the example of our micro communities.  In this way we transform our world into an enlightened society.  It is also good to praise the people in our world for being friendly and happy with others.  This draws these characteristics out.  We need to make people feel like they are a light in other’s lives, then they become such a light.

Happy International Temples Day: The Embassies of the Pure Land in this World

The first Saturday of every November is International Temples Day where we celebrate the creation and maintenance of Kadampa temples around the world.  On this day we principally try to recall why temples matter.  On this basis, we become inspired to do what we can to become part of the International Temple’s Project – and don’t worry, there are many other ways we can help besides just donating money.

What is the International Temples Project?

One of the central legacies of Geshe-la in this world is the International Temples Project.  Launched in the mid-1990s, it is Geshe-la’s vision for there to eventually be a qualified Kadampa temple in every major city of the world.  Geshe-la’s wish is for the Kadam Dharma to pervade everywhere, and these temples are like iron frames upon which buildings are built.  They provide the basic structure sustaining and supporting the development of Kadam Dharma in the minds of the beings of this world.

The very first temple was opened in 1997 at Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Center in Ulverston, England.  It is the mother center of the NKT, and this temple is the mother temple for all the others.  Later, another temple was opened in Glen Spey, New York.  I was fortunate enough to be at the opening of both temples.  Since then, temples have sprung up in Brazil, Arizona, Spain, and more are planned until eventually, they will be everywhere.

Gen Losang once told me, “temples are like Embassies of the Pure Land in this world, and our Dharma teachers are like the Ambassadors of all the Buddhas.”  An Embassy is like a portal through which another country can express its culture and share its experience in a foreign land.  The goal is to improve relations between the two countries and their peoples.  By coming into contact with temples, the beings of this world are introduced to the pure worlds of the Buddhas.  Through temples, the wisdom of all the Buddhas is brought into this world.  Those who are interested can enter into these spiritual Embassies and be transported to new worlds.

Geshe-la explained that each temple is by nature Heruka’s celestial mansion in this world.  One of our refuge commitments is to regard any statue of a Buddha as an actual Buddha.  We are supposed to see past the craftmanship, no matter how beautiful it may be, and with our eyes of faith see a living Buddha.  In exactly the same way, when we see or enter into a temple, we should recognize it as an in essence Heruka’s celestial palace in this world, where we are transported to the pure land, can receive the blessings of all the Buddhas, and can learn all of the stages of the path.  Without a portal, we cannot enter.  Temples are an outer portal that leads us to the inner portal to lands of eternal peace.

Geshe-la has said that our Kadampa temples are our places of pilgrimage.  We are not always able to make it to every Kadampa festival or Dharma celebration, but we should make an effort to go at least once in our life.  One of the commitments of Muslims is to make a pilgrimage to the Haaj at least once in their lifetime.  Personally, I think this would also make a wonderful commitment for all Kadampas.  One cannot help but be moved by the experience, and karmically speaking the experience quite literally stays with us our whole life.

Geshe-la explains that the karma we create by helping a Dharma center continues to accumulate for as long as that center exists, and it continues to expand as the center expands.  In the early days, there was no center in Los Angeles, just a small, rented house in Santa Barbara.  There was a woman who lived in the center named Lea, who helped keep the center afloat financially with her rent payments and who dedicated her time to organize classes and other center activities.  In the beginning, it was basically just her, and without her, the center would have never gotten off the ground.  Later, a branch was opened in Los Angeles, which grew and grew until eventually now there is a vibrant spiritual community.  Eventually, I have no doubt, there will be a Manjushri-style temple there.  I don’t know whatever happened to Lea, she was likely just an emanation of Tara sent to help, but the karma she accumulated from that initial help continues to multiply today.  The temples we build are built to last.  There are churches in Rome that are over a thousand years old.  We are at the very beginning of the International Temples Project, and the help we provide now will be like Lea’s, and the karma we accumulate will serve us in all our future lives.

Why do temples matter?

Everyone appreciates a beautiful temple, even non-religious people.  All over the world, tourists flock to churches, temples, mosques, and other sites of worship.  They are living testaments to the faith of the practitioners who built them and serve as a point of focus for practitioners.  Normally we might think it is a sign of degeneration that these places of worship become tourist attractions, but Geshe-la explains this is one of their greatest advantages.  Why?  Every time we see a Buddha image, it creates a non-contaminated karmic potentiality on our mind which can never be destroyed and will eventually become a seed of our future enlightenment.  Angulamala had killed hundreds of people and when he went to ordain, seers said he could not because they could find no virtue on his mind.  Buddha, however, looked into his mind and saw that in a previous life he was a fly who landed on some dung next to a stupa (a representation of Buddha’s mind).  This seed could not be destroyed, even by all his evil deeds, and later became the foundation for his spiritual life.  When busloads of children and tourists come and visit our temples, they behold hundreds of images of Buddhas, each time planting the seeds of their future enlightenment on their minds. 

Gen Losang once famously asked who is more important, those who come to the center and stay or those who come to the center and leave?  If we look at how centers are organized, it seems our implicit answer is those who come and stay.  But Gen Losang said it was those who come and leave who are more important because they are more numerous.  Some practitioners might think they don’t need temples and they wonder why so much emphasis is placed on creating them, but this is because they are thinking primarily about their own needs and not the larger function temples serve in the world.

Kadam Lucy said the most important thing people discover when they come to a temple or Dharma center is not the building, but the people.  Everyone is looking for happiness but rarely do we find genuinely happy people.  If when people come to visit our Dharma centers they find happy people, others will naturally want to stay and find out what the secret to their happiness is.  Everyone is looking for unconditional love and lightness, and we can provide that.  Seen in this way, we – the practitioners of this tradition – are equally part of the Temple’s project simply through the force of our example and our welcoming attitude.  The essence of the Kadampa Way of life is “everybody welcome.”  This does not just mean nobody is excluded, it means everyone is made to feel welcome as if they are coming home.

My teacher in Paris said when we work to flourish the Dharma, we need to avoid the extremes of external and of internal flourishing.  The external extreme is when we focus exclusively on external developments, like buildings, temples, ritual objects, and other external manifestations of being a “Dharma practitioner.”  The internal extreme is when we completely neglect these things and only focus on gaining inner realizations, thinking the external manifestations are unnecessary or even anti-spiritual.

Venerable Tharchin said the real temple is the inner realizations and interpersonal connections of the practitioners who practice there.  While of course, outer temples are important, inner temples are their main cause.  He explains that since our minds are not separate from others, our inner realizations are like a beacon of light in the darkness of the minds of the beings of our community.  All living things are naturally drawn towards the light, and the more realizations we gain and the closer the karmic connections we create with our fellow sangha, the brighter our light shines.  The spiritual light in each one of us is like a single candle flame, but when we put our lights together, it creates a blazing spiritual sun in our communities.  Venerable Tharchin explains that when the inner temple is right, the outer temple will spontaneously appear, almost like magic.

Venerable Tharchin also explains that every time we do a spiritual practice with others we create the causes to do the same spiritual practice with the same people again in the future.  When we do a puja in a temple, for example, we create not only karmic connections with the Buddha of the given practice, but we create karma with all of the other practitioners engaging in the practice with us.  This karma will ripen in the future in the form of us reuniting with these same people engaging in the same practice.  It is in Temples that our international Kadampa family gathers together as a global sangha to engage in teachings and practices together.  Without the temples, we could not gather together and create this karma.  Seen in this way, temples are also like an insurance policy for finding the Dharma and our spiritual family again and again in all our future lives. 

How Can We Celebrate International Temples Day?

The main way we celebrate this day is by contemplating why temples are so important to generate an appreciation for them.  Sometimes we might hold ourselves back from doing so because we are afraid if we do so, we might then have to give some of our money, and we are extremely reluctant to do that.  We wonder whether all of this talk about temples and the International Temples Project is really just a clever scam to get our money!

There are many ways we can contribute to the flourishing of Kadampa temples in this world without having to part with any of our money.  Many people volunteer their lives and their skills to building temples.  They travel the world offering their labor and their time to help build the temples the rest of us enjoy.  How wonderful it would be to let go of our worldly concerns and live the life of an international temple builder!  But even if that is not possible for us, we might be able to offer a Saturday afternoon using whatever skills – be they building skills or office skills – we might have to help advance the project.

All of us can rejoice in those who can donate their money or their time to the project.  Rejoicing costs us nothing, but in doing so we create very powerful karma similar to that of those who are actually doing it.  This karma will ripen in many ways.  The ripened effect will be to be reborn either as a temple benefactor or a temple builder.  The environmental effect will be to have temples appear in our lives in all our future lives.  The effect similar to the cause will be to have the means in the future to be able to more easily give to the project.  And the tendency similar to the cause will be to always appreciate the good qualities of Kadampa temples and those who make them happen.

We can additionally dedicate the merit we accumulate from our spiritual practices to the realization of Geshe-la’s vision for a Kadampa temple to appear in every major city of this world.  One of the uncommon characteristics of pure wishes is the karma we dedicate towards them can never be destroyed and never ceases to work until our pure wish is fulfilled.  This does not mean one prayer alone is enough, but each dedication we make adds energy towards the realization of this wish, and this energy can never be destroyed.  When enough energy has been created, the result will spontaneously arise.  All of us engage in spiritual practices every day, but how often do we decide to dedicate that merit to the fulfillment of Geshe-la’s vision for international temples?  At a minimum, International Temple Day gives us an opportunity to make such dedications; and even better, to decide to start making such dedications every day.

Perhaps our city doesn’t yet have a temple.  We might even become jealous of those cities that do have one or think we can’t advance in our practice unless we too have a temple, transforming them from an object of refuge into an object of attachment.  Or perhaps we think our city is far away from having a temple because our Sangha is so small, so why should we help support the development of temples somewhere else where we won’t receive any benefit from it ourselves?  None of us would admit to having any of these minds, but they do arise and they are as ridiculous as they sound.  So what should we do?  First, we can recall that by helping others have temples, we create the causes for ourselves to have one.  That’s how karma works.  Second, we can imagine that, even though our center might currently be a classroom we rent out one night a week in a local massage school, our actual center is Heruka’s celestial palace, a fully qualified temple.  While our physical eyes might see plastic chairs in a room, our eyes of faith can imagine we have gone to the pure land and are receiving teachings in a temple.  This imagination is very similar to generation stage of highest yoga tantra and creates the causes for our correct imagination to eventually become a reality.

One of the best ways we can contribute to the International Temples Project is to build within ourselves the inner temple of realizations Venerable Tharchin refers to.  We can become the kind-hearted happy Kadampa who makes everyone feel welcome that Kadam Lucy extols.  We can build close karmic connections with our Sangha friends so we can unite our candles together into a blazing spiritual sun.  We can make a point of attending classes and putting our guru’s teachings we have received in temples or centers into practice.  All of these actions create the deep substantial causes for temples to appear in this world.  Without them, we fall into the extreme of the external flourishing of Dharma. 

And yes, some of us can donate money. 

The reality is temples cannot appear in this world without financial resources.  It is not a scam or a cult, this is simply a fact about how the world works.  Yes, the Dharma should be made freely available to all, but how is that to happen if nobody gives to them?  There is a very special offering called a torma offering.  The meaning of a torma offering is we are mentally willing to give everything we have for the sake of Dharma realizations because we recognize them as that valuable.  Geshe-la’s books are filled with examples of practitioners willing to cut off their flesh or undergo incredible hardship for the sake of gaining access to teachings.  He tells us these stories not to encourage us to do the same but to realize that it would be worth it even if we had to do so.  Such practitioners, from their own side, value the Dharma more than they do their material belongings, including their own bodies. 

Perhaps we don’t have any money now to give.  No problem, we can give in all the other ways described above, or at a minimum, we can rejoice in those who do have such ability.  We can also think about including the International Temples Project in our last will and testament so that when we die, whatever resources we have accumulated go towards spiritual purposes.  In Joyful Path, Geshe-la tells the story of somebody who was extremely attached to their money when they died and was later reborn as a snake inside their money jar.  He encourages us to give everything away before we die so that we are not attached to anything.  Of course, we need to provide for our families, but we can also use some resources we have for spiritual purposes.  Universities around the world accumulate vast endowments from such giving, which continues to support opportunities for students for generations to come.  Why can we not do the same?  Similarly, if our parents or relatives pass away, instead of keeping the money for ourselves, we can give some or all of it away to the Temples’ Project.  Why keep it for ourselves when we can create so much better karma by giving it away?  Such giving also helps our deceased relative because they get a fraction of the good karma of our giving away their money to spiritual causes.

My teacher in Paris once said, “We should give until it hurts.”  Wow!  What a statement.  While it is perhaps unskillful to say, she makes a valid point.  It is easy to give away things we don’t need or don’t use anymore, but it cuts into our self-cherishing to give more than that.  What is bad for our self-cherishing is good for us.  Geshe-la explains in the teachings on emptiness that an effective way to identify the self that we normally see is to think of it in a situation where it is particularly manifest, such as imagining we are standing on a high precipice.  At such times, we clearly see our I.  In the same way, sometimes we are forced to confront our demon of self-cherishing straight in the face, and others asking for donations is usually one of the most manifest examples.  Our self-cherishing roars in protest and comes up with a thousand reasons why we shouldn’t give or feels like we are being spiritually manipulated out of our money, so we reject doing so as a matter of principle. 

But are we being manipulated here?  Is that the motivation and goal?  Or are we merely being given an opportunity to accumulate amazing merit while benefiting countless future generations?  Is our resistance to giving a matter of principle, or is it our self-cherishing rationalizing our miserliness?  We need to be honest with ourselves.  We talk all the time about the evils of our self-cherishing mind, but when we are presented with an opportunity to go against its wishes, how do we feel about that?  Venerable Tharchin says it is better to give one penny a day for 100 days than $1 on one day.  Why?  Because the point is not the money, it is training in the mind of giving.  There is something we can give, so why not do so?  If we can’t part with our money, then no problem, there are still so many other things we can do that cost us nothing.  We shouldn’t feel guilty or beat ourselves up for not being able to give money, it is just where we are at.  No problem.  We can recognize that and do what we can.  When we do, we will find helping in greater and greater ways becomes easier over time. 

In any case, we can meditate on the many good qualities of international temples and rejoice in their arising in this world.  This is the essence of International Temples Day.  The rest flows naturally from this.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Why do we get most angry at those we love?

(6.66) Embodied beings are harmed
By both animate and inanimate objects;
So why become angry only with animate ones?
We should be patient with both types of harm.

When there is bad weather, or some device isn’t working properly, we don’t get angry at the weather or the device.  We might be frustrated, but we realize the futility of getting angry at inanimate things.  It’s not the weather’s fault it is bad, it just is.  We don’t get mad at our device because we know it will make no difference, though we might get mad at whoever made the device.  The point is we can see in our life that we don’t get angry – or at least not as angry – at inanimate things as we do animate ones. 

Yet, generally we find it more difficult to be patient with people. I believe we are particularly impatient with people who are closest to us, especially our family.  On the surface it is odd that we usually get more angry at those we love the most.  I believe this comes from three factors.  First, we expect more from our family, so they fail to meet our expectations more easily.  Second, we tend to take out our frustrations on those we know are more likely to forgive us or who are kindest to us.  And third, because we spend more time with our family, so their behavior is a slight irritant at first and absolutely intolerable after the 37th time! 😊

We also tend to get most angry at our family during the holiday season.  During the holidays, we have this unrealistic expectation that everything go perfectly, and so life’s minor annoyances are seen as a much bigger deal.  We also have higher expectations of others, thinking because it is the holidays they should be on better behavior, but delusions know no calendar.  In particular, it is very easy to expect gratitude around the holidays.  We work so hard to create a good experience for everyone, and they inevitably complain or focus on what is wrong.  The truth is all of this is normal.  As a general rule, we should expect problems, difficulties, and inconveniences.  That is the norm.  If we are at peace with this fact – it is the nature of samsara, after all – then when these things happen it won’t be a problem because we don’t expect it to be any different.

We make great effort to gather family and friends around us and then we become angry with them when they don’t act according to our wishes.  That’s terrible.  A bodhisattva doesn’t need others to change at all.  He accepts others as completely perfect just the way they are.  Because he doesn’t need people to change for his own purposes, he is able to accept others and help them according to their wishes.  Others will be unhappy, deluded, and grumpy.  So why should that be a problem for us?  It is just another opportunity for us to practice Dharma.  Somebody with the mind of patient acceptance doesn’t need others to act in any particular way – we can accept them as they are.  This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t respond normally or stop them from harming others if we can.  The point is we don’t get angry with them because we don’t expect it to be any different and because we view their behavior as an opportunity for us to train. 

As well we need to take into account, seriously take into account, the capacity of the people around us.  We shouldn’t take into account only what needs to be done, but also the karma and capacity of the people around.  If we don’t accept the karma in play, we can easily expect more than is possible and become angry when it doesn’t happen.  By listening to others, we can come to know where they are coming from, and in this way find the balance between encouraging them and expecting too much from them.  We have the Dharma and have been practicing for many years, yet we still get upset and deluded.  How much harder is it for somebody who doesn’t have the Dharma and hasn’t been training?  We don’t expect a baby to be able to lift up a couch, yet we expect others to be able to emotionally lift up their mind when life gets difficult for them.  That’s not fair. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Talking with Christians about God

Another potential source of anger about what others say is when we discuss religion with our Christian friends and family.

This can also come up in our daily lives, especially if we are practicing Buddhism in predominantly Christian societies or families.  Geshe-la once gave some advice about engaging with our Christian friends.  He said, there will appear to others, including Christians, to be differences between their teachings and the Kadampa teachings.  And they will possibly want our opinion on those differences. He said we must be very skillful in what we say and what we teach in such circumstances.  Some people may feel threatened thinking we disbelieve the existence of God, and we could be asked our view on the existence of God.  He said of course we shouldn’t answer “God doesn’t exist.” We can answer that different people have different conceptions of God, even Christian scholars have different thoughts.

But the Kadampa teachings are very clear in saying “there is no creator other than mind,” and many Christians and others say God is the creator of the world.  What should we say when somebody asks this?  Geshe-la was very clear, he said we should say, “in reality, I believe there’s no contradiction.”  How can we understand this?

Many years ago at a festival, Geshe-la talked about the Dharmakaya being creator of all – God.  Usually the objection to the conception of God is there is a contradiction between all powerful and perfectly good.  If God is all powerful, then why is there suffering?  It is true for an inherently existent God, this is an impossible contradiction.  But when you understand the emptiness of God – his actual mode of existence – this contradiction falls away.  The Dharmakaya is all knowing, perfectly good and all powerful in that the mind is the creator of all. When our own mind is fully purified it will be all knowing, all powerful and perfectly good.  The Dharmakaya does not exist from its own side, but is our own mind fully purified.  It is something we need to make manifest within our mind.  We need to bring God to everything by viewing everything as inseparable from the Dharmakaya.  The kingdom of heaven is not something that exists from its own side, but something each one of us has to create.

When we understand the emptiness of the creator, Buddhism and Christianity merge perfectly.  In Buddhism, because we understand emptiness, we understand that we are uniquely responsible for everything that happens because our mind is its creator.  Our job is to become a good God for our karmic creation.

If Kadam Dharma is to flourish within predominantly Christian societies, we must now be very skillful in what we teach, especially in relation to Christian principles.  We need to try to show people that in reality there is no contradiction so that their interest in Buddhist teachings grows. Over time they may become more influenced by Buddha’s teachings, or maybe not.  Either way, the choice is theirs. Geshe-la is encouraging us a little to think about what we say and what we teach in the future if the Kadam Dharma is to grow in Western society. We need to think carefully about the answers that we will give.  There are many many different levels to this, and it is worth considering and discussing.  If individually we practice in this way, seeing the non-contradiction between Dharma and Christianity, then the obstacles coming from Christian corners or our families will gradually fade away and this will become a society in which Kadampas are a natural part of the fabric.  This is quite a special way of practicing.

There are three things I find useful to contemplate when thinking about the relationship between the Kadam dharma and Christianity.  First, Mike Garside said that Christ prepared the west perfectly for the arrival of Kadampa Buddhism.  It is as if Christ took the people of the West up a certain distance of the mountain, and then from there Kadampa Buddhism can take them the rest of the way.  Perhaps we can say that Kadampa Buddhism is like ‘enhanced Christianity.’  Christian principles are part of our common path, we just move beyond these principles to a deeper level without being contradictory.  Kadampa Buddhism explains many of the deep inner mechanisms as to how Christianity works, such as blessings, taking and giving, etc.  Kadampa Buddhism introduces a Mahayana element, we seek to become God ourselves so that we can care for our creation.  Kadampa Buddhism eliminates all remaining obstacles to uniting with God by realizing his lack of inherent existence.  Then there is no separation between him and us.  We become inseparably one with him.  We become one and the same.

Second, there is a parallel between when the Dharma came to Tibet and when the Dharma came to the West.  When the Dharma came to Tibet, the local culture and religion was Bon.  Spiritually things were degenerate, but culturally people were Bon.  Out of culturally Bon and spiritually Buddhist emerged ‘Tibetan Buddhism.’  When the Dharma came to the West, the local culture and religion is largely Christian.  Spiritually things are degenerating, but culturally people are primarily Christian.  Out of a culturally Christian and spiritually Buddhist context emerged ‘Modern Kadampa Buddhism’.  One of my teachers once said that one of the uncommon characteristics of Kadampa Buddhism that separates us from Tibetan Buddhism is we do not reject our Christian background, but we take it as a starting point.  Just as Tibetan Buddhism took ‘Bon’ as its starting point, Kadampa Buddhism in many ways takes Christianity as its starting point.

Third, I believe that Kadampa Buddhism has an important role to play in the revival of Christianity as well.  It seems to me that Christianity fell on the rocks for two principal reasons:  First, most people have difficulties with Christianity because it comes down to ‘believe me because God said so.’  This just doesn’t work in modern times with highly educated people.  Second, it got mixed with politics – especially anti-LGBT politics.  There is considerable evidence that Jesus taught a Mahayana path, but when the state hijacked the church, such teachings were removed or reinterpreted for political ends.  Mixing religion and politics destroys the religion as it gets coopted for worldly aims.  My experience has been that the more I study Dharma, the more I understand how Christianity works, and I can explain to my Christian friends our understanding and this helps them improve their faith in their Christianity.  As Kadampa thought infiltrates into Christian culture, effectively becoming a Kadampa society, it will provide Christians with powerful reasons demonstrating why their religion is valid, and this will help them increase their faith in it.  So we have an important role to play not just in the flourishing of Dharma but also the revival of Christianity.

Happy Je Tsongkhapa Day: I rejoice in the great wave of your deeds

In many ways, October 25th, or Je Tsongkhapa Day, is my favorite day of the Kadampa calendar.  Why?  Because he is the founder of our tradition, our living spiritual guide, and the source of all good.  On Je Tsongkhapa Day, we can remember his great kindness, strive to emulate his example, and ultimately decide to mix our mind inseparably with his.  I pray that all those who read this develop unchanging faith in Guru Tsongkhapa, and in dependence upon this faith, effortlessly follow his joyful path.

Understanding How Holy Days Work

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

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

Je Tsongkhapa is the Founder of the New Kadampa Tradition

Buddha Shakyamuni is the founder of Buddhism in this world, and all of the different types of Buddhism (Zen, Theravadin, Kadampa, etc.) are all different presentations of his teachings.  Buddha gave 84,000 different instructions, but different traditions will place different emphasis on different aspects to correspond with the karmic dispositions of those who follow that tradition.  We cannot say one tradition is better than another in some absolute sense, rather we can say, “this tradition is better for me,” and “that tradition is better for her,” etc.  In this way, we can each cherish our own traditions while respecting all others.

Atisha is the founder of the Kadampa tradition.  ‘Kadam’ means a special presentation of Buddha’s 84,000 teachings called the “Lamrim,” which the Buddhist Master Atisha introduced when he went from India to Tibet in 1042 AD.  ‘Pa’ means somebody who puts into practice.  A Kadampa, therefore, means somebody who takes Atisha’s Lamrim as their main practice.  Atisha is primarily known for uniting the vast and profound paths together.  The vast path refers to the accumulation of merit, the principal cause of a Buddha’s body; and the profound path refers to the accumulation of wisdom, the principal cause of a Buddha’s mind.  By practicing the union of the two, our practices of the vast and profound paths reinforce each other and we create the causes to attain a Buddha’s body and mind simultaneously.  His path is generally presented as the Three Principal Aspects of the Path, namely renunciation, bodhichitta, and the correct view of emptiness.  Renunciation is the wish to escape from samsara ourselves, bodhichitta is the wish to become a Buddha to lead others to liberation, and the correct view of emptiness eradicates the root of samsara, self-grasping ignorance.

Je Tsongkhapa (1357 to 1419 AD) is the founder of the New Kadampa Tradition. Just as Atisha presented the union of the vast and profound path, Je Tsongkhapa introduced the union of Sutra and Tantra. Like the old Kadampas, practitioners of the New Kadampa Tradition also take Atisha’s Lamrim as their main practice. The difference is New Kadampas can practice the Lamrim at the gross level (Sutra) and the subtle level (Tantra) as completely non-contradictory. Sutra is how we practice Buddha’s instructions with our gross mind, Tantra is how we do so with our subtle and very subtle minds, but both are methods of practicing Lamrim.

Ultimately, Tantra is much quicker than Sutra because our gross minds arise from our subtle and very subtle mind. If we pull weeds but fail to take out the roots, the weeds will grow back; in the same way, if we pacify our gross minds but fail to purify our subtle minds, the delusions will keep coming back. Tantra is a special spiritual technology for purifying our root mind, or our very subtle mind, of all of our delusions and their karmic imprints, thus eradicating samsara at its root. We purify our very subtle mind by meditating on its emptiness. This one meditation functions to simultaneously uproot all of the contaminated karma we have accumulated since beginningless time. Je Tsongkhapa showed how the paths of Sutra and Tantra are not only completely non-contradictory, but are mutually reinforcing, and by practicing them together in the context of Atisha’s Lamrim, we can quickly attain enlightenment.

The New Kadampa Tradition has five main aspects of the path: renunciation, bodhichitta, the correct view of emptiness, generation stage, and completion stage. These can be understood as there is one action on the path: changing the basis of imputation of our I from our ordinary samsaric body and mind to the completely pure body and mind of a Buddha. There are two reasons why we do it, renunciation (for ourselves) and bodhichitta (for others). And there are two levels at which we do it, the gross body and mind of a Buddha (generation stage) and the subtle body and mind of a Buddha (completion stage). Je Tsonkghapa is the founder of this way of practicing.

Since Je Tsongkhapa, there has been an unbroken lineage of his teachings down to our present-day lineage gurus, including Je Phabongkhapa, Trijang Rinpoche, and our very own Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.  There is no difference in meaning between the Dharma Je Tsongkhapa taught and what we currently practice, the only difference is the cultural presentation, analogies, and languages used to express that meaning.  Everything we practice, directly or indirectly, comes from Je Tsongkhapa.  We are Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition.  The New Kadampa Tradition – International Kadampa Buddhist Union (NKT-IKBU) was founded by Geshe-la to present Je Tsongkhapa’s teachings to the modern world. 

Je Tsongkhapa is our Living Spiritual Guide

One of the hardest parts of the Buddhist path for modern people is relying upon a “guru.”  At first, it all seems very “cult-like.”  I remember telling my first teacher Gen Lekma once, “I’m down with all of the Dharma teachings except this whole reliance upon the spiritual guide thing!”  When I told her this, she was in the middle of swallowing some tea, and she nearly spit it out in a laugh.  After collecting herself, she looked at me and said, “I have found that the things we struggle the most with at first later become the things that have the biggest transformative impact on our mind.”  Truer words have never been spoken. 

To understand why reliance upon the spiritual guide is the root of the path, we have to back up a bit.  Why do we need teachers in general?  Because we are ignorant and don’t know.  Why do we need spiritual teachers?  Because we are ignorant of the spiritual path, not knowing its destinations nor how to follow the path to these destinations.  Why do we need a root guru or root spiritual guide?  Because we need somebody who has completed the path and can guide our mind to the same state.  It takes humility to learn from any teacher, it takes great humility to rely upon a Spiritual Guide. 

Normally, we say Geshe-la is the root guru, or Spiritual Guide, of the NKT.  It is true everything we study and practice comes from him, and he has created for us all of the conditions we now enjoy for our practice, such as temples, centers, teachers, sangha friends, books, sadhanas, and so forth.  But what does he say?  He says don’t look at me, rather look at Je Tsongkhapa at my heart.  We view Geshe-la as an emanation of Je Tsongkhapa, but Je Tsongkhapa is our actual Spiritual Guide.  What does Je Tsongkhapa say?  He says don’t look at me, rather look at Buddha Shakyamuni at my heart.  What does Buddha Shakyamuni say?  Don’t look at me, rather look at Heruka at my heart.  Guru Heruka is our actual spiritual guide.  He appeared as Buddha Shakyamuni to introduce the Dharma to the people of this world.  He later appeared as Je Tsongkhapa, who in turn is now appearing as Geshe-la.  From one perspective, it is the same person – the same mental continuum – appearing at different points in time according to the karmic dispositions of the people of this world.

But from another perspective, Je Tsongkhapa is still our Spiritual Guide today. His emanation bodies may change, but the jewel in the lotus remains the same person. When Buddhas attain enlightenment, they become deathless beings. Their emanation bodies may pass away, but they do not, they continue to live. We can continue to develop a living relationship with these holy beings because they are still with us today. He is still here, guiding us, teaching us, blessing us, and so forth. Geshe-la, the Gen-la’s, and all of our other spiritual teachers are essentially spiritual telephones which connect the pure world of Je Tsongkhapa with our present samsaric reality. When we rely upon our outer spiritual teachers they explain to us how to develop a relationship with our inner spiritual teachers who then take us to enlightenment. The outer teachers and the inner teachers are not separate beings, but different layers of the same being appearing to different levels of purity of mind.

Whenever we engage in any Guru Yoga practice, our main job is to feel we are in the living presence of our spiritual guide – seeing all of the Buddhas as inseparable from our guru and our guru as inseparable from all the Buddhas.  Every practice we engage in is about creating a close karmic relationship with our spiritual guide in his different karmic aspects.  In dependence upon this karmic relationship, we gain greater and greater access to our spiritual guide’s blessings, until eventually, it is almost as if we gain the ability to download their enlightenment into our own mind.  In the end, we mix our mind with our guru’s mind, where we make no distinction between our mind and his enlightened mind.  From one perspective, it is like a mind transplant where his mind becomes ours; from another perspective, it is like removing the obstructions to our own root mind and discovering that our actual mind was his enlightened mind all along. 

Because Je Tsongkhapa is the embodiment of his Dharma, by mixing our mind with his, we mix our mind with his special union of Sutra and Tantra and eventually come to see ourselves as a wave inseparable from the ocean of his omniscient mind.  We view all phenomena as arising from emptiness, all emptinesses as the nature of our mind of great bliss, and the union of our realization of great bliss and emptiness as inseparable from our guru’s Truth Body, or Dharmakaya. 

Je Tsongkhapa is the Source of all Good

This is somewhat harder to understand.  All good things come from good karma.  All good karma comes from virtuous actions.  All virtuous actions arise due to receiving blessings from the holy beings.  Je Tsongkhapa is the synthesis of all the Buddhas, therefore he is the source of all blessings, virtuous actions, good karma, and ultimately good results. 

Sometimes, we like to take credit for our good deeds, therefore we think Je Tsongkhapa is not the source of all good, we are. Or maybe it is a mixed affair, where he helps us with his blessings, but mostly it comes from our own effort. This doubt comes from grasping at a duality between ourselves and our ultimate nature. Our good deeds arise from our good intentions, but where do they arise from? They pour into our mind when we open it up to the sun of our pure potential. Just as the sun pours in whenever the blinds are opened, so too virtuous intentions come into our mind when cracks in the layers of the karmic obstructions on our mind appear. But what is our pure potential? By nature, it is Guru Tsongkhapa. All Buddhas impute their I onto the truth body or Dharmakaya. What is this? It is a mind of great bliss that realizes directly and simultaneously the emptiness of all phenomena. A Buddha’s body and mind are the same entity, the same nature, which means their truth body pervades all phenomena. Because we too are empty, we have a pure potential. This pure potential fully realized is Je Tsongkhapa. Every time we access or ripen this potential, we are releasing some of Je Tsongkhapa into our mind. Thus, he is inseparable from all of our good intentions – he is our good intentions manifesting in our mind.

There are many prayers to Je Tsongkhapa, but the most famous is the Migtsema prayer, which explains that Je Tsongkhapa is the synthesis of Buddha Shakyamuni, Vajradhara, Avaolokitehsvara, Manjushri, and Vajrapaini. There is also the single-pointed request which explains he is the guru, he is the yidam, he is the daka, and the Dharma protector. If all of the goodness in all of the universe were gathered together, it would produce the appearance of Je Tsongkhapa. Put another way, Je Tsongkhapa is a holy being who has managed to successfully impute his I onto the synthesis of all goodness. Thus it is perfectly correct to say he is the source of all good because he is all goodness itself.

But how can we understand he is the source of all good, including that of non-Buddhists?  Everything we perceive is ultimately created by our mind, arising from our mind.  There is no creator other than mind, and there is nothing that exists outside of our mind (if it did, that thing would be inherently existent).  This means that everything is part of our karmic dream. Any good we perceive in the world is a reflection of the goodness in our mind.  We created the karma for that goodness to appear.  We already established that all goodness that arises in our mind comes from Je Tsongkhapa, thus any goodness that arises in our karmic dream also arises from him. 

Remembering Je Tsongkhapa’s Kindness

On Je Tsongkhapa Day, our main practice should be to remember his kindness.  We can do this by contemplating what Geshe-la said about Je Tsongkhapa Day.  I find it particularly helpful to remember his kindness in my own life.  He has given me my spiritual life.  Without my Dharma practice, I don’t know how I would have turned out in the wake of my mother’s suicide on my wedding day or all of the other challenges I have faced in my life.  Je Tsongkhapa’s way of thinking has come to dominate my way of thinking, and I am much happier for it.  It suffices to ask myself what my life would be like if I had never met his Dharma to see the profound impact it has had. 

More importantly, he has provided me with the spiritual tools I need to close the door on ever taking lower rebirth again through purification and refuge practice.  Through his kindness, I have found the door to liberation that will enable me to once and for all cease the samsaric nightmare I have been trapped in since beginningless time.  He has shown me not only that I can attain enlightenment and thereby be in a position to help all those I love who are also drowning in samsara, but he has provided me with incredibly simple step-by-step instructions for how to do it.  In what can only be described as a miracle, I have found qualified tantric teachings of generation and completion stage through which it is possible to attain enlightenment in one life or barring that, at least getting to the pure land where I can complete my spiritual training.  His blessings flow into me day and night, even while I sleep, holding me back from quite literally going insane.  Without him, I would be lost.  With him, I have been found.  By relying upon him, I can fulfill all my own and other’s pure wishes.  He is a true wish-fulfilling jewel who has kept alive the holy Kadam Dharma in this world, and it is my job to do all that I can to internalize it and then pass it on to future generations.

Emulating his Example

If I were trapped on a desert island and only allowed one book, it would be Great Treasury of Merit. Normally we say Joyful Path of Good Fortune is like the hub of the wheel of Dharma, and all of the other books are like spokes of that wheel. But the axis around which Joyful Path turns is Great Treasury of Merit which presents the very synthesis of Je Tsongkhapa’s Dharma by showing how all the essential meanings of his teachings fit together with exactly the right proportionalities of how important each teaching is. In truth, the book is about 70% how to rely upon the Spiritual Guide and 30% everything else, which is exactly correct. The sections on visualizing the spiritual guide explain the meaning of his holy form. Buddhas can manifest their inner realizations as outer forms, and Je Tsongkhapa’s body is quite literally all of his realizations as form. By generating faith in his holy form, we mix our mind with all of his realizations. The sections on prostrations, praises, and making requests explain his many good qualities and special functions in our life. Reading these with faith, one cannot help but be amazed.

There are two aspects of his example which appeal to me most.  The first is how he demonstrates the practice of moral discipline and the second is the great wave of his deeds. 

His outer form is of a fully ordained monk, revealing the practices of the vows of individual liberation. His inner form is Buddha Shakyamuni, revealing the moral discipline of a Bodhisattva. And his secret form is Vajradhara, demonstrating the moral discipline of a tantric master. At my very first Kadampa festival, when Geshe-la first opened the temple in Manjushri, he gave a three-day teaching on essentially one subject – overcoming distractions. He explained that we have everything we need to attain enlightenment, the only thing that is missing is our practicing these instructions without distraction. The practices of moral discipline are how we overcome our gross distractions by letting go of each object of abandonment. Moral discipline is not wishing to engage in negativity, but holding ourselves back from doing so. Rather, it is realizing we no longer wish to do so, and so we “let go” of wanting the objects of our transgressions. Normally, we think moral discipline is a list of ‘don’ts’ that deprives us of our freedom. We have everything backward. The practice of moral discipline is a profound shift in our mind that is experienced as a “release” into greater and greater levels of inner freedom by leaving behind the chains of samsara.

Every day in our Heart Jewel practice, we rejoice in the great wave of Je Tsongkhapa’s deeds. What exactly is this great wave? We can say it is his special method for eventually liberating all beings. He attained enlightenment. What did he do with his enlightenment? He formed new spiritual guides for carrying forward the tradition. What did those spiritual guides do? Create more spiritual guides still. In this way, his virtuous deeds multiple exponentially until eventually the wave of his kind actions will carry every single living being to the state of full enlightenment. He has set in motion a spiritual self-perpetuating machine whose function is to liberate all beings from all suffering forever. In one short life, he initiated a wave that will never stop until all of his pure wishes are fulfilled.

We have the incredible good fortune to not only receive benefit from him but to become ourselves part of his great wave. He has laid at our feet exactly the same Dharma he taught and realized. By picking up the Dharma he has given us and bringing it into our mind, we too can become a fully qualified spiritual guide able to carry forward this great lineage for the benefit of all those we have a close karmic relationship with. If we do not do this for those we love, who will? It may be aeons before his wave comes around again to these beings, but we can carry them with us right now. Venerable Tharchin says the beings who we generate bodhichitta towards as bodhisattvas are among the first we lead to enlightenment when we attain the final goal. Look around at everyone you love, see how they are drowning, and now remember Je Tsongkhapa has given you the means to do something about it by becoming part of his great wave.

Deciding to Mix our Mind with His

In the final analysis, attaining enlightenment is very simple:  all we need to do is mix our mind inseparably with somebody who has already attained enlightenment.  In this way, the duality between their mind and our mind vanishes, and their enlightened mind becomes our mind and our mind becomes their enlightened mind.  Everything else in the Dharma is why we should do this and how to do it.  As practitioners of the New Kadampa Tradition, whose mind do we mix ours with?  Lama Tsongkhapa’s.  It’s as simple as that.

Every object of meditation is an aspect of his mind.  Every instruction we practice comes from his mind.  Every realization we gain is an infusion of his mind into our own.  Every practice we do is changing the basis of imputation of our I from our ordinary contaminated body and mind to his completely pure body and mind.  Every deity we rely upon is like a facet on the diamond of his mind.  Every phenomenon we see is a wave on the ocean of his mind.  He is everything.  Our job is so simple:  just mix our mind with his.  Whatever we mix our mind with, we become.  Since he is the synthesis of all the Buddhas, all Dharmas, and all Sanghas, by mixing our mind with his, we too become the source of all good.

The only thing that is missing is deciding to dedicate our lives to this goal.  There are so many things we do in life, but how many of them do us any good?  Only deciding to mix our mind with his will free us.  We can reach the point where our every thought, word, and deed is him working through us.  We need not struggle in our spiritual practice, we merely need to request his blessings.  We need not invent the path, we can simply follow the one he has laid out for us.  We need not ever doubt, we can internally request his wisdom.  There is nothing he cannot provide us, all we need to do is decide to rely upon him.

Today is Je Tsongkhapa Day.  Every decision we make today is karmically equivalent to making that same decision ten million times.  What better way to mark this holy day than making the firm internal decision to dedicate our life to mixing our mind with Lama Tsongkhapa’s, our living Spiritual Guide.  I pray that everyone who reads this transforms their life in this way.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Not getting angry at those who attack our tradition and Dorje Shugden practice

(6.62) “At least you should retaliate when people speak ill of you
And cause others to lose their faith in you.”
In that case, why do I not get angry
When people speak ill of others?

(6.63) If, mind, you can forbear such loss of faith
When it is related to others,
Why are you not patient when others speak ill of you,
For that is related to the arising of delusions?

(6.64) Even if someone were to insult or destroy the Dharma,
The holy images, or the stupas,
It would still not be appropriate to get angry with them,
For how could the Three Jewels ever be harmed?

(6.65) We should also prevent anger arising towards anyone
Who might harm our Spiritual Guide, our friends, or our relatives
By seeing that such harm also occurs in dependence upon conditions
In the way that was just explained.

It is very easy to think it is justifiable to get angry against people who seek to harm the three jewels.  Even if we don’t think it is justifiable to get angry, it is easy to actually get angry when we feel others are attacking us, our tradition, Geshe-la, or our faith.  We receive a lot of criticism from a lot of different directions, and even the most secure in their faith can easily become discouraged or angry at those who keep falsely accusing us or unfairly criticizing us.  This is part of our karma, no doubt because we did this to others in the past.

I have actually spent a good amount of time “defending the tradition” against those who would attack it.  This started for me way back in the mid-1990s when the Dalai Lama started to aggressively attack Dorje Shugden practice and practitioners.  What was being said didn’t jive at all with my experience of Dorje Shugden practice, teachings, or our tradition, but I was still relatively new.  I wrote Geshe-la about what I had read/heard expressing concern, and he wrote back saying, “Dorje Shugden could never have anybody.  Investigate for yourself.”  So that’s what I did.  I read through everything that was written on the web at the time, including all of the speeches by the Dalai Lama, statements made by the Tibetan parliament, and others.  The more I looked, the more it made no sense.  Each of the arguments lodged fell apart upon investigation.  By investigating myself and comparing it with what I had learned, it became very clear to me that the Dalai Lama’s position was full of contradictions.  I helped Venerable Tharchin prepare a book to try answer some of the arguments lodged against us.  It never got published, but it did clarify my own thinking. 

It was very easy for me to get angry about all of the criticism against Dorje Shugden and the NKT because my in-laws, who were already skeptical about my involvement with Buddhism thinking I had joined some cult, found all of this stuff and it created all sorts of obstacles.  I had had obstacles with them before and also had written Geshe-la about how to deal with this.  He replied that “they might have a problem with external manifestations of Dharma practice, but everyone appreciates a good heart and a good example.  You will need to be skillful.” 

A second wave of this happened about 10 years later when the criticisms started up again, and so did our protests in response.  I spent the entire summer at TTP writing a website that answered every single argument made against us.  My goal was to enter into a debate against all those who opposed us.  I invited all of our main critics to engage in the debate, line by line, with the agreement of whoever loses the debate has the intellectual integrity to at least admit it.  Unfortunately, nobody took me up on my offer.  But the website still exists, and I believe it can be a useful resource for somebody new encountering these questions to help them work through the arguments made on both sides.  You can visit this site at:  https://dorjeshugdendebate.wordpress.com/  But I also remember discussing with these people on a variety of different on-line forums, and while I was strong in my faith, it really wore on me (and others), and I eventually had to step away because it was just so negative.

A third wave happened about 5 years ago.  The criticisms started up again, and so did our protests.  I was in China at the time, and found it so absurd how those accusing us used my presence in China as proof that we were working for the Chinese.  No, actually, I was working in the American embassy, but facts didn’t matter.  One of our chief critics then published a manifesto of why we are so bad and why Dorje Shugden is so bad, so I decided to try once again and debate with them – this time on their medium.  It turned into this absolutely massive discussion.  I tried to be fair and objective in my arguments, admitting it when we were wrong.  My hope was by being reasonable I could at least soften things up a bit.  I tried to move people – on both sides – towards agreeing the resolution to the conflict was for everybody to practice their bodhisattva vows.  In the end, my efforts failed.  But I can say that I tried.

These same folks, 20 years later after their original dispute with the NKT, are still at it.  My theory is they are unable to let go and get on with their lives because somewhere inside of them, they know they are wrong.  So they are battling within themselves and keep coming back.  Of course they would howl in protest at such a characterization, but the core question remains – why haven’t you moved on with your life yet?  If the NKT isn’t for you, fine, it doesn’t need to be.  You have your bread, we have ours.  Why decades of relentless attack?  Why are they so threatened by us thinking what we do?  I’m fine with them thinking whatever they want.  But it still functions to activate anger and defensiveness in me when I see their attacks.  I try accept this as purification.

Many people have their own story with all of this.  It’s not easy for people to work through.  But working through it is a fantastic way to become solid in our own Dharma understandings and confidence in our path. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Will it matter on my deathbed?

Shantideva continues with the various objections our mind comes up with for why we are justified in retaliating when others speak to us harshly.

(6.55) “If people dislike you, that might prevent you
From acquiring wealth or status.”
But I shall lose all my worldly acquisitions when I die –
The only thing to remain will be the non-virtue I create.

(6.56) It would be better for me to die today
Than to live a long life filled with non-virtue;
And, even if I have a long life,
I shall still have to face the suffering of death.

(6.57) If one person were to awake from a dream
In which he had experienced a hundred years of happiness,
And another were to awake from a dream
In which he had experienced but a brief moment of happiness,

(6.58) Once awake, the situation would be the same for both
Because neither could ever return to that happiness.
In the same way, whether our life is long or short,
At the time of death everything ends just the same.

(6.59) Even if I live happily for a long time
And acquire great wealth and possessions,
I shall still have to leave this life empty-handed and naked,
As if I had been robbed by a thief.

As our merit and influence in the world grows, we stand to gain a lot of wealth and high status. Over the years our wealth will increase as will our status. And we wouldn’t want anything to get in the way of that, would we? Are we interested in money, respect, status?  Should we be interested in such things?  If so, for what reasons?  Once again, there are valid reasons for wanting these things, but the main point Shantideva is making is “I shall still have to leave this life empty-handed and naked” no matter how much wealth and status I have achieved. Atisha himself says we have to leave behind everything we have, so do not be attached to anything. 

The death test is a powerful tool of wisdom to identify what is and what is not important.  If we can take something with us beyond death, such as our mind and karma, then it is important; if we can’t take it with us beyond death, in the cosmic scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter, so why make a big deal out of it?

(6.60) “Even so, acquiring wealth will support your life
So that you can purify non-virtue and accumulate merit.”
But if in acquiring that wealth I generate non-virtues such as anger,
It will be my non-virtue that increases and my merit that declines.

(6.61) What is the point of a life
In which we commit only non-virtue?
Non-virtues are the main cause of our suffering,
And suffering is the main object to be abandoned!

Of course we need good conditions to support our spiritual life, our Dharma practice, our functioning successfully as teachers, parents, etc.  But how much do we need? How much do we need to support our life as a Dharma practitioner?  Sometimes those who depend upon others’ sponsorship to sustain their practice can become frustrated with their benefactors, thinking, “don’t they realize I am trying to become a Buddha for their benefit?  Why do they leave me in such poverty?”  There are several flaws with such thinking.  First, perhaps we want more than we actually need.  Second, either we have faith Dorje Shugden is arranging the conditions we need or we don’t.  If we are in poverty, perhaps it is what we need.  Third, the cause of our poverty is our lack of past giving, so we have nobody to blame but our own past delusions.  Fourth, perhaps our poverty is a good thing because it means we are not burning up our merit. 

Atisha says since you will definitely have to depart without the wealth you have accumulated, do not accumulate negativity for the sake of wealth.  Much of the modern economy is based upon seeking profit through information asymmetries.  Bankers and others take advantage of people who don’t know any better.  Such theft and manipulation creates terrible karma for the perpetrators.  Finally, if we are bodhisattvas and we have accumulated merit thanks to our practice, what rights do we have to use it for ourselves?  Haven’t we already given it all away to others?

Touched by Grace: Dream with Venerable Tharchin

I had a dream two nights ago where I met Venerable Tharchin. He was very, very old, and with the help of about 4-5 assistants holding up each limb, he was doing Tai Chi with what I understood to be him fine tuning his very last last inner winds before his death. I spontaneously went to hug him and did so for several seconds, which I can still feel now like a direct lived experience. Then, in the dream, I thought I had woken up and I ran into a dear Sangha friend who was also very close to Tharchin. I told her that I had just had a dream with Venerable Tharchin and, surprised, she said that she too just had one. I asked her what she had dreamt, and she was about to tell me, but then I woke up from that dream into my normal waking state.

I was then left with a clear feeling that Venerable Tharchin might be near his death (how near, very hard to say) and that I should contact my Sangha friend about this dream. She replied that at almost that exact time of my dream, somebody was falsely accusing her of something, and instead of retaliating as she normally would have done, she felt touched by grace and responded with wisdom instead. Around that time, she also for some reason thought of me and was feeling warm and close (we haven’t seen each other in years and have had little contact).

What does this dream mean for me? Clearly some sort of karmic convergence occurred.

In my dream, I was left with the feeling that he might be near the end, but he was just in the final stages of fine tuning his mind and his winds before he does. With Thich Nhat Han dying and everything else happening in 2020, it wouldn’t surprise me if he soon passed. I’m left thinking perhaps everything happening in the world is actually just pre-purification of them practicing taking and giving in the world before they do. I remember Venerable Tharchin once saying it only takes a handful of truly holy beings in this world to create a safety net preventing the world from completely sinking into samsara. Them dying doesn’t mean this protection will disappear any more than Jesus dying did; in fact, it might be when their protection rises to the next level.

I’m also reminded of what Venerable Tharchin once said about Sangha. He said the inner Dharma center is the realizations of the people who attend the center bound together by the love they feel for each other and the closeness of the karma they have together. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Kadampas have been deeply touched by Venerable Tharchin’s presence in this world. I have always for very inexplicable reasons had a very close connection with many of his former students, especially the Sangha friend of my dream. Tharchin lives on in this world through us and our connections with each other. I think his former students have a responsibility to stay close to one another, even if life takes us apart. We have special bonds.

I’m also reminded of the story of the last time I saw Ven. Tharchin. It was 2 years ago at the Summer Festival. He has terrible Parkinson’s right now. I walked into his room, he was lying on his bed shaking uncontrolledly, drool running down his mouth, he could barely speak above a whisper, etc. We started talking, this went on for a while, and then I asked him, “so how are YOU?” He then said without missing a beat, “despite all appearances, I’m doing quite well thanks.” He had always spoken of, advocated for, and taught extensively retreat. He was on a long retreat once and he felt like he was close to attaining enlightenment, and he went to Geshe-la and said if he could stay in retreat a little bit longer, he could do it. Geshe-la told him, “if you stay in retreat, you could attain enlightenment, but you would become a ‘useless Buddha’ because you have no karmic connections with others.” Geshe-la then asked him to leave his retreat and go teach. From that, many of our most Senior teachers have emerged. I’m guessing in his mind, he was going to spend his twilight years in deep retreat, or at least that is what I had always imagined. Then he got Parkinson’s. But after speaking with him, I felt that learning how to transform his Parkinson’s was his final retreat, just in a different form. Such is the power of his mind and example for us all.

I’m reminded that Venerable Tharchin stayed at my friend in the dream’s house when he visited Geneva for teachings and empowerments, and we all had lunch together once on her patio. My wife was pregnant at the time with our third child, and he blessed the baby. Shortly before my wife became pregnant, a nun and former student of Tharchin’s died of cancer, and after my child was born, another Sangha friend – also a close student of Tharchin’s – said she had a strong feeling our child was this nun reborn. My wife did her Vajrayogini close retreat while pregnant with this child, and literally not 20 minutes after she finished her retreat, she went into labor.

I’m sharing all of this first to record it so I don’t forget, but also I know many people have a close connection with Tharchin and might want to know. My friend in the dream concluded her reply message to me by saying “a dream within a dream.” So many layers of truth in so few words.