Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Exchange self with others, then self-generate

Exchanging self with others according to Tantra follows the same logic as in our tantric practice where we change the basis of imputation of our I from the self we normally see to the self-generated deity.  Because our I is empty, we can do that.  When we fully and completely identify with the deity as ourself, we will be the deity.  In exactly the same way, when we exchange self with others according to Tantra, we learn how to impute our I onto all living beings, and then we cherish our new self fully and completely.  When all living beings are the basis of imputation of our I, there is absolutely no fault in having very strong “self”-cherishing, because at that time, our self is all living beings.  In this way, we don’t really have to reduce or even eliminate the mind that wishes for ourself to be happy and considers our own happiness and well-being to be important, rather we simply need to change who we think we are.  If we are identifying with all living beings as our self, we can – and should – have very strong “self”-cherishing.  But this is completely different from the self-cherishing we abandon.  That self-cherishing takes as our self the self that we normally see.

When we think about things in this way, we discover something amazing about Heruka, Vajrayogini, and indeed all of the Buddhas.  We can be certain that every Buddha has completed the exchange of self with others in the way Shantideva describes – actually changing the basis of imputation of our their I to all living beings.  And then, “as all living beings” they attained enlightenment.  Thus, to identify with Heruka directly is necessarily to indirectly identify with all living beings.  Because they have exchanged self with others, and we then identify with them, we too are exchanging self with others according to Tantra.  This means when we engage in our self-generation practice, make offerings, request prayers, etc., we don’t do so “as Ryan, the aspiring disciple trying to practice Tantra,” but we do so “as all living beings.”  This one change in recognition massively multiples the power of our tantric practices, where everything we do we feel we are doing it as all living beings, thus multiplying the karma of our virtues as if we were engaging in these practices countless times ourselves.  We get the karma multiplying benefits of bodhichitta at the exchanging self with others stage, not just when we attain bodhichitta.

We need to cultivate an intention certainly to love others purely, and then we realize over time that to remove any separation entirely so that we can literally be one with others, and with the whole universe.  With this desire, we strive to realize emptiness.  Normally we believe we are here and others are there, and that there is an intrinsic difference between ourselves and others.  When we realize emptiness, we understand that our self is just a projection of our mind, an idea.  We also understand that others are likewise just projections of our own mind.  Both are equally projections of our mind, so both are equally us.  Here we have a valid reason for the view of exchanging self with others.  We go further to realize that others are karmic appearances.  Others are the beings of our own dream that arise from our karma.  They suffer because we have karmically constructed them to suffer.  We can set them free by karmically reconstructing them to be free.

We go even further by realizing that these karmic appearances are the very nature of our own mind.  They are our own mind in the aspect of these beings.  Since we naturally impute our I on our mind, when we feel all of these beings to be the nature of our mind, we experience ourselves as inseparably one with everyone.  All gaps have been removed.  With this view, we come to love others as a good God would.  We realize that we are responsible for the experiences of every living being because they are all our creation.    We view others as the creation of our own mind, and so we care for others and lead them to attain union with us.  We love as a God would who realizes his creation is inseparably one with the creator – the gap between creator and creation falls away.  Everything is united in inseparably purity. 

When we understand the emptiness of others, we realize we have the power to purify all beings with Tantra.  We strive to realize emptiness, and then we understand, in order to gain that direct realization of emptiness, we must generate a blissful mind through the force of Tantric practice.  But then in order to free ourselves completely, entirely, from any separation whatsoever, then with that loving mind, even with that blissful mind from our Tantric practice, we try to gain a direct realization of emptiness. Then, all separation is removed.  Practicing in this way, our training in Tantra is coming out of a love, a wish, a wish actually, to be so close to others that we’re inseparable. Inseparable, therefore I must engage in Tantric practice and realize emptiness directly. Then separation ends. 

A Pure Life: Please Don’t Kill

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

The first precept is to abandon killing.  Geshe-la explains the object of killing is any other being from the smallest insect to a Buddha.  In the chapter on karma in Joyful Path, four factors must be present for the action to be complete.  First, for our intention, we must have the correct identification of the person we intend to kill.  We also need a determination to kill the person we have correctly identified.  Killing by accident is not a complete action, though this doesn’t mean there are not negative consequences of accidental killing.  Our mind must also be influenced by delusion, specifically anger, attachment, or ignorance.  It is possible to kill out of compassion to save the lives of others, but this requires great wisdom and courage.  Killing out of compassion is not a downfall since compassion is not a delusion.  The action also requires preparation, namely we prepare the means to engage in the action.  This includes having others do the action for us or engaging in the action as a group.  Finally, it requires the completion – the action must be completed, the person actually is killed and dies before we do.

The reality is we are killing all of the time.  Every time we scratch our arm, we are no doubt killing thousands of tiny bacteria or microbes.  Even if we do not eat meat, we are indirectly killing thousands of insects who died in the rice paddies or to the pesticides sprayed on our food.  Samsara is a slaughterhouse, and everything we do essentially kills.  This doesn’t mean we are doomed and it also doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bother trying to not kill because it is unavoidable.  What it means is we need to do our best to lead as low impact of a life as we can.  We should work gradually to kill less and less while working within our capacity and the karmic conditions we find ourselves in.

There are also many forms of negative actions that are adjacent to kill it that we should also try avoiding. For example, rejoicing in negative actions is karmically similar to engaging in those actions ourselves. Virtually every day on the news there are reports of people being killed in some form of military conflict. The United States, for example, has been at war nonstop for essentially the last 25 years. Our soldiers are killing people on an almost daily basis and the news is typically reported as a success story of having killed some “terrorists” or some other perceived enemy. These reports are designed to generate a mind of rejoicing in such killing. While this is not us killing ourselves, when we rejoice in such activities, we create karma similar to killing others.

There are also many subtle forms of killing that we may not even be aware of nor our role in perpetuating the systems that engage in such killing. Social scientists have coined the term structural violence to refer to societal structures that function to shorten the lives of particular groups of people. For example, due to structural racism in the United states, people of color tend to have worse access to health care, higher rates of poverty, lower rates of education, suffer from higher rates of crime, and so forth all of which contribute to shortened life spans compared to most white people. One study estimates that 8,000,000 African Americans are missing compared to what should be if structural racism did not exist. These are the victims of a form of unintentional slow-motion genocide.

Once we are aware that such structures exist and inflict violence, even if a subtle form of violence, against certain populations and then we do nothing to correct for it or we even seek to rationalize away such effects by denying it is occurring or it is justified based upon some arbitrary criteria, then we are participating in or enabling a subtle form of killing.  We may even be voting for such policies.  Even simply benefiting from such structures and not using our surplus privilege associated with being at the top of such structures to dismantle them, is a form of perpetuating them. These things would not be a violation of our Mahayana precepts per se, but they do move in a direction similar to the action of killing.  As Mahayana practitioners, we should be striving to move in the direction of not killing. And we should cast the net wide to avoid even subtle forms.

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Exchanging Self with Others According to Tantra

When attachment is in our mind, we try to pull things towards us which leads to suffering.  The more we grasp at things being separate, the more we suffer.  The stronger our attachment, the more we actually create a separation because we grasp at this gap or distance.   But then, of course, we try find someone who we can feel safe to be close to because we are so desperate to remove that separation.  What happens, generally, is that there is an attachment arising in our mind because people appear to exist from their own side.  Our attachment does not draw us close actually because the stronger our attachment, the stronger our self-grasping, then the greater distance, and that is so frustrating. It is a suffering state.

We then try to push things away from us, which also leads to suffering.  Sometimes there are people who when we are around them it hurts, so we want to separate ourselves from them.  We feel so overwhelmed that when others put demands on our time, we want to push them away.  Also, we are convinced that they are causes of our suffering.  When we are with them, we suffer, so we think they are the cause of our suffering.  When in reality, the problem is they are at that time an object of delusion for us, so when they are present it gives rise to delusions in our mind which causes us to suffer.  The problem is not them, it is the delusion within our own mind.  But when we push others away, we create even greater separation, and we suffer even more.  We go further from the natural state, but are unable to, so just become more frustrated, etc.

What can we do to address this?  We can exchange self with others, which is the next topic in Shantideva’s guide.  Out of a wish to remove that separation we feel with others, out of a wish to no longer be separated, or no longer feel separated from others, from the whole world, actually, we cultivate the mind of exchanging self with others.  In order to reduce to a great extent the distance, the gap, we must exchange self with others.  We must develop a pure love, a pure love for others. That pure love will enable us to draw close to others – even identifying with them as ourselves.  When we impute our I onto others, there is no longer any separation, no gap, but there is also no self-cherishing and attachment.  Then, we can be inseparably one with others, but without the delusion.

Because this practice is so related to wisdom, our self-grasping itself will reduce, and then we will sense over time that distance will reduce, until finally it will feel like there’s no gap between ourselves and others.   According to Sutra, exchanging self with others is exchanging the object of our cherishing from self to only others.  According to Tantra, which is Shantideva’s explanation, to exchange self with others means to exchange the basis of imputation of our I to all others.  We literally identify with others as ourselves.  We come to view each being as an aspect or part of ourselves.  Just as our hand removes the thorn from our foot because it is part of the same living whole, so too we care for all others because they are part of the same living whole.  When we see others, we see part of ourselves.  If they are suffering, part of ourself is suffering.  If they are happy, part of ourselves is happy.  If they are not enlightened, part of ourselves is not enlightened.  With this sort of view, we can love others from the inside, as opposed to from the outside. 

Ultimately, our ability to complete this exchange of self with others according to Tantra, we need to realize the emptiness of both ourself and others.  When we grasp at ourselves and others as being some inherently independent from one another, it is impossible to complete the exchange.  We need to realize our I is just a label that we can impute onto anything.  It does not adhere to the self we normally see.  Only habit keeps it there.  Likewise, when we look at all living beings, they are not inherently “other,” that too is just a label.  We can take the basis of all living beings, and impute our I.  We can change the basis of imputation of our I from the self we normally see to all living beings.  Then, we will have completed the exchange of self with others. 

Happy Tsog Day: Destroying our Greatest Inner Demon

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 29 of a 44-part series.

Equalizing self and others

In that no one wishes for even the slightest suffering,
Or is ever content with the happiness they have,
There is no difference between myself and others;
Realizing this, I seek your blessings joyfully to make others happy.

As explained above, there are two methods for generating bodhicitta: considering how all living beings are our mother and exchanging self with others. Meditation on equalizing self with others is the first meditation of the second method. The second method for generating bodhicitta is more powerful than the first method because we cherish ourselves more than we cherish our mother. Since it is more powerful, the practice Offering to the Spiritual Guide dedicates five full verses to the practice.

When we equalize self with others our objective is to generate the same degree of cherishing for others as we have for ourselves, in other words, to cherish others as we cherish ourself. This is not that uncommon of a mind. Political leaders who view their job as serving the public interest consider the happiness and welfare of all their citizens as being equally important. If some politicians can generate this mind, then surely we can generate this mind as a would-be-bodhisattva. We likewise find this mind in many families that consider every person in the family to be equally important and make decisions based upon what is best for the family as a whole. Some teachers do the same with the students in their classroom and some employers do the same with the people who work at their company. Even in normal society, we would say a political leader, a parent, a teacher, or an employer who puts their own interest ahead of the interests of those they serve is a corrupt person.

There are several different methods we can use to reach this mind. One method for doing so is to realize that all living beings have an equal wish to be happy all the time. There is nothing about our own happiness that makes it more important than the happiness of anybody else. Since we all share an equal wish, and there’s nothing that makes us more important than anybody else, it follows that we should cherish the happiness of each and every living being equally. A particularly powerful way of generating this mind is to consider how all living beings are like cells in the body of life. Just as we would not say the hand does not care what happens to the foot, so too when we have equalized self with others, we cannot say that we do not care about what happens to other living beings because we are all part of the same body of life. The definitive way of generating this mind is to consider how all living beings, including ourselves, are all equally empty and therefore equally projections of our mind. There is no basis for cherishing one appearance in our mind over another since they are all equally appearances to our mind. Whichever line of reasoning works for us, the goal is the same, namely to generate a feeling that cherishes all living beings equally.

The dangers of self-cherishing

Seeing that this chronic disease of cherishing myself
Is the cause that gives rise to unwanted suffering,
I seek your blessings to destroy this great demon of selfishness
By resenting it as the object of blame.

In the teachings on training the mind, we are encouraged to gather all blame into one. The meaning of this practice is every time we experience any problem, or we see anybody else experiencing any sort of suffering, we blame it entirely upon the mind of self-cherishing. In the Lord of all Lineages prayer it says, “since beginningless time the root of all my suffering has been my self-cherishing mind, I must expel it from my heart, cast it afar, and cherish only other living beings.”

How can we understand self-cherishing to be the cause of all our suffering? All our suffering comes from our negative karma, and all our negative karma is committed with a mind of self-cherishing. Self-cherishing considers our own happiness to be more important than the happiness of others and is therefore willing to sacrifice the happiness of others for the sake of ourselves. All non-virtuous actions fundamentally are willing to harm others in some way for the sake of ourselves.

Further, what happens to us is only a problem because we consider our own happiness to be important. If we did not consider our own happiness to be important, then what happens to us would also not be important, and therefore not a problem. From this we can see the only reason why we have any problems is because we cherish ourselves.

Intellectually this is not difficult to understand. The practice is to develop the habit of gathering all blame into one. We need to do this again and again and again throughout our life, whenever we see ourselves or others suffer, we do the mental exercise of identifying exactly how and why it is the fault of self-cherishing. The more we do this, the more determined we will become to destroy this demon within our mind.

Mother’s Day for a Kadampa

As Kadampas who practice the Lamrim, every 21 days is Mother’s Day.  We are all quite familiar with the various contemplations of how all living beings are our mother and how kind they were to us as our mother, therefore we should develop a profound feeling of gratitude towards our mother of this life and all our mothers of our past lives.  Very often though, primarily because we make our meditations intellectual exercises of recalling certain points as opposed to exercises of the heart where we change our feelings, these contemplations on the kindness of our mother no longer really move our mind.  We might recall them, but we don’t internalize them and let them touch our heart.  On actual Mother’s Day, we should take the time to reflect deeply and sincerely upon them so that our heart moves and we genuinely feel gratitude and a wish to repay our mother’s kindness.

Have we always neglected our mothers?

I sometimes wonder if ancient Tibetan culture was the same as our modern culture.  In modern culture, particularly in modern psychology, the trend is to blame our mother for all of our problems.  We are encouraged to go back into our childhood and find all the different ways our mother made mistakes and how that is “the underlying cause” of why we are the way we are today.  We likewise completely take for granted everything our mother has done for us.  As kids, we are completely blind to it. 

We think it is “normal” that our mothers do everything for us, and we feel “justified” in getting angry with them when they don’t do it perfectly.  In truth, our mother could have just abandoned us on the street.  She owes us nothing.  Nobody owes us anything.  It is our expectation that they do that actually prevents us from appreciating all that she did for us.  It is the very nature of modern motherhood to give everything you have to your kids only to have them take your kindness for granted, blame you for all of their problems, and want to have nothing to do with you because you are such an embarrassment.  Perhaps it has always been such, which is why the meditation on the kindness of our mothers has always been taught.

It’s time to apologize for being such a jerk

On Mother’s Day, I think it is important to not just express our gratefulness, but to sincerely apologize for what a jerk we have been to her over the years.  Explain that when you were a kid, you didn’t understand, and now it is only as an adult (and perhaps a parent yourself) that you are beginning to realize all she did for you.  Apologize for yelling, apologize for disobeying, apologize for being embarrassed by her, apologize for ignoring her, and apologize most of all for taking for granted all that she has done for you.  Explain to her that all of your good qualities now come from her. 

My father once said about his mother, “everything good in our family comes from Grandma.  That’s the truth.”  This is a perfect attitude.  It is the truth.  The truth is mother’s really struggle with the fact that everything they do is taken for granted and that they are blamed for everything.  Yes, it is good for them in terms of being able to learn how to give love unconditionally, but it is hard.  All it takes is one honest conversation where you admit you were a real butt with her, and where you express sincere gratitude for everything you previously took for granted.  Such a conversation can heal decades of grief.

No, our mothers aren’t perfect, but why should we expect them to be?

Sometimes when we encounter the meditation on the kindness of our mothers we develop all sorts of objections because it is true, our mother did make a lot of mistakes.  My mother had all sorts of serious mental health issues, we had an off and on terrible relationship until eventually she likely killed herself on my wedding day.  I had all sorts of resentments towards her for years, then I had guilt after her suicide, and now I find it difficult to think anything good about her.  All I see is her many faults and delusions.  Most of us have problems of one kind or another with our mothers.  I personally feel it is vital that we identify the delusions we have towards our parents, in particular our mother, and work through them.  We need to get to the point where our mind is completely healed of all delusions towards them.  This is not only a way of repaying the kindness of our mother, it is a way of healing our own mind.

Our mothers were not perfect, they made many mistakes, and they were full of delusions.  This is also true, and acknowledging that fact is not a denial of their kindness.  We can hold the view that they were emanations of Buddhas who appeared to make the mistakes that they did to give us a chance to grow.  Every child grows up cataloging the many mistakes their parents make and resolves when they are parents they won’t do the same thing; only to find when they do become parents they wind up making many of the same mistakes.  The power of osmosis with our parents is the most powerful force shaping our lives and shaping our mind.  It is not enough that we heal our mind of all the delusions we have towards our mother, we also need to look into our mind and identify all the delusions we received from her. 

Venerable Tharchin once told me the only reason why the people in our life appear to have delusions is because we ourselves possess the same delusions within our own mind and we therefore project beings who have the same faults.  Our task, therefore, is to identify within ourselves the delusions that appear in others and then root them out completely.  When we do so, he said, several amazing things will happen.  First, our relationship with the person will improve.  Second, we will have less delusions in our own mind.  And third, the faults we see in the other person will gradually “disappear.”  Why?  Because they were never coming from the other person in the first place.  He concluded by saying, this is how Bodhisattva’s ripen and liberate all beings.  When we attain Buddhahood, he said, it appears to us as if everybody attains Buddhahood at the same time with us.  In fact, we see that they have always been so.  If we love our mother, this is essential work.

Tara is our eternal mother

Mother’s Day, though, is about much more than just our relationship with our own mother of this life, or even recalling the kindness of all our past mothers.  I think on Mother’s Day we need to recall the kindness of our Spiritual Mother, Guru Arya Tara.  Tara promised Atisha long ago that she would care for all Kadampas in the future.  The fact that we have a spiritual life today is due to her kindness.  She gave birth to our spiritual life.  Like all mothers’ kindnesses, we don’t even see it.  She operates unseen, and we take it for granted.  But there is no doubt, it is thanks to her that we have a spiritual life.  She gave birth to it, she has nurtured it, and she cares for us now even if we never think of her.  For some, she appears herself as Vajrayogini, and therefore serves as our Highest Yoga Tantra Yidam.  Tara is one of the Buddhas who often appears early in our spiritual life.  Almost everybody has a very positive experience with encountering her.  But then, over time, we tend to forget about her as we move on to other practices.  But like any mother, she never forgets her spiritual children.  We should remember this, and generate our thanks to her for it.

Viewing all living beings as our children

Finally, I think it is worth recalling that just as all living beings have been our mother, so too we have been the mother of all living beings.  We can correctly view all living beings as our children, and love them as a good mother would.  The contemplations on the kindness a mother shows to her child are not there just to help us develop gratitude towards our mothers, they are also examples of the attitude we should have towards all of our children.  How many of us would be willing to remove the mucus from a stranger’s nose?  Our mother did that for us.  We should love others so much that we would gladly, and without hesitation do the same for others.  Of course, we shouldn’t go around offering to others to do so, but training in the mind that is willing to help any living being in any way we can is the real meaning of Mother’s Day.

Happy Tara Day: Causing the three worlds to shake

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

Praising Tara by the light that radiates from the letter HUM

Homage to you who strike the ground with the palm of your hand
And stamp it with your foot.
With a wrathful glance and letter HUM,
You subdue all seven levels.

This also refers to Tara’s ability to engage in wrathful actions and can be understood from the above.  I’m not sure what the seven levels are.

Praising Tara by her Dharmakaya aspect

Homage to you who are happy, virtuous and peaceful,
Within the sphere of the peace of nirvana.
Fully endowed with SÖHA and OM,
You completely destroy heavy evil actions.

This verse refers to definitive Tara.  The conventional Tara is the green deity we know and love.  She manifests this form so that living beings can more easily develop a relationship with her.  But actual Tara is Dhamakaya Tara, or Truth Body Tara.  This is definitive Tara.  The Dharmakaya is a Tara’s realization of great bliss mixed inseparably from the emptiness of all phenomena.  She is referred to as the mother of all Buddhas because all Buddhas arise out of her Dharmakaya – she gives birth to them from her realization of bliss and emptiness.  What does the Dharmakaya feel like?  Happy, virtuous, and peaceful.  This is her inner pure land, and anytime we ourselves feel happy, virtuous, or peaceful, we are experiencing a similitude of her pure land.

Praising Tara by her divine actions of peaceful and wrathful mantras

Homage to you who completely subdue the obstructions
Of those who delight in the Dharma Wheel;
Rescuing with the array of the ten-letter mantra
And the knowledge-letter HUM.

Peaceful actions refer to a Buddha’s ability to pacify negativity, delusions, or their imprints in either ourselves or in others.  All living beings possess Buddha nature.  What does this mean?  It means we all possess within ourselves the potential for an enlightened mind, and all we need to do is purify our mind of all that defiles it and our natural enlightened state will be unleashed or uncovered.  What is our mind defiled by?  Principally three things:  negative karma, delusions, and their imprints.  Technically negative karma is also an imprint of a delusion which is why we normally say the “two obstructions,” referring to delusions and their imprints.  But from a practical point of view, we place particular emphasis in the early stages of our practice on purifying our negative karma (lower scope meditations), then overcoming our delusions (intermediate scope meditations), and finally the remainder of our contaminated karma (great scope meditations).  Tara can help us pacify all three of these, as explained by her ten-letter mantra whose principal function is to bestow all of the Lamrim meditations.  According to Tantra, the two main objects to be pacified are ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions.  Ordinary appearances are phenomena appearing to exist independently of our mind (the things we normally see), and ordinary conceptions are grasping at the wrong belief that objects do in fact exist in the way that they appear.  For example, when we think of ourself, we see our ordinary body and mind.  This is an ordinary appearance.  When we grasp at them actually being ourselves, this is an ordinary conception.  Tara also has the power to pacify all our ordinary appearances and conceptions.

Praising Tara by her divine actions of wrathfully shaking the three worlds

Homage to TURE, stamping your feet,
Born from the seed in the aspect of HUM,
Who cause Mount Meru, Mandhara and Vindhya,
And all the three worlds to shake.

Buddhist cosmology is incredibly vast.  The universe as we know it actually only one world system.  There are the thousand worlds, which is a thousand world systems or universes as we know them.  There are the two thousand worlds, which is a thousand of the thousand worlds, or one million universes.  And there are the three thousand worlds, which is a thousand of the two thousand worlds, or one trillion universes.  In truth, there are countless universes, and the three thousand worlds is a shorthand for implying countless that makes it somewhat easier to grasp.  Just as the stars in the sky form galaxies, super clusters, and so forth, the three thousand worlds also cluster together and are arranged in different ways, so too the three thousand worlds cluster together and are arranged in particular way.  In the center of the three thousand worlds is Mount Meru, which is actually comprised of countless different pure lands at different levels of purity, such as the Land of 33 Heavens where Buddha went to teach his mother after she took rebirth there.  At the top of Mount Meru is Heruka’s celestial mansion.  Surrounding Mount Meru are the four major and eight minor continents, like an archipelago of different clusters of universes – they can be likened to superclusters of galaxies.  The universe that we live in is simply one of many universes in what is known as the Eastern continent, but is in reality just a cluster of universes.  Traditional cosmology as we know it just talks of our one universe where the Big Bang unfolded, but this one universe is as insignificant as our own planet is in our universe.  The vastness of Buddhist cosmology is almost beyond comprehension.  Interestingly, some astrophysicists have a similar view arguing we live in a multiverse, or a n-dimensional multiverse, but they have no idea how these universes are shaped.  Just as the science of quantum physics is gradually catching up with Buddha’s teachings on emptiness, it is only a question of time before science catches up with Buddha’s teachings on cosmology.  Tara’s blessings and power pervade everywhere.  Vajrayogini and Tara are actually the same being, just appearing at two different levels – Action Tantra version as Green Tara and Highest Yoga Tantra version of Red Vajrayogini.  Vajrayogini is in union with Heruka inside his celestial mansion atop Mount Meru and her wisdom is able to cause all three thousand worlds to shake!

Praising Tara by her divine actions of dispelling internal and external poisons

Homage to you who hold in your hand
A moon, the lake of the gods;
Saying TARA twice and the letter PHAT,
You completely dispel all poisons.

Conventionally, Tara’s blessings are particularly powerful at dispelling external poisons, such as those we might ingest.  I personally suffer from terrible allergies, some of which are deadly.  When I have a strong allergic reaction to something I eat, I of course take my Benadryl or other allergy medications, but I also recite with great faith Tara’s mantra requesting that she protect me.  Those who have allergies can do the same, even allergies as light as hay fever.  But principally, Tara’s blessing dispel the inner poisons of our delusions.  Outer poisons can at most harm us in this one life, but the inner poisons of our delusions harm us in all our future lives.  Considering our delusions to be inner poisons is a particularly powerful way of thinking of them.  If we ingested an external poison, we would do everything we can as quickly as we could get rid of it from our body or to take an antidote.  But we would never think that the poison is us, we see clearly the difference between the poison and ourselves.  In the same way, our delusions are not us, but they do terrible harm to us, and we should feel great urgency to purge them from our system.  Tara is the antidote to all of the inner poisons of delusions.  She is known as the Lamrim Buddha because she helps Atisha’s followers and her blessings specifically function to bestow Lamrim realizations.  Lamrim is like a net of virtuous minds that functions to oppose all delusions directly or indirectly.  By weaving the Lamrim within our mind, we protect ourselves against any possible combination of delusions, and thus achieve protection from all inner poisons.  

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Learning lessons from Gen-la Samden’s story

It is entirely natural that we want to be close to others.  In reality, we are all inseparable interrelated.  There’s no fault in wanting to be close and wanting relationships with others in which we are inseparably one.  There’s nothing wrong, quite the opposite, it seems quite natural, really, to want to be close to others.  There’s a yearning for close relationships with others because it is only our ignorance that grasps at a separation. 

It is unnatural to want to be separated. Being separate from others is unnatural when there is a dependent relationship. It is like an independence which we know does not actually exist. There is no independent object existing anywhere. We long to be close to other people and we cannot bear to be separated.  That seems natural since we are in fact inseparably interdependent with one another.  Being close with others is our natural state, actually, because there is a dependent relationship.

Because we do not understand the nature of things, in response to this natural feeling we suffer.   We think things exist from own side, so feel separate.  Due to our self-grasping, we feel like we are separate from one another.  Due to the force of our self-grasping then we experience fear and mental pain due to the feeling of separation.  There’s a distance, isn’t there, between ourselves and others, so naturally there is some fear in our mind.  Why is it, why do we experience so much suffering?  It is because what we experience at the moment is a separation due to our self-grasping, and with that a fear or an attachment arises?

This is where the problems start.  Because we are attached – we want to mix with the other person or the objects of our attachment.  I believe this is how people in the past have gone down the wrong road with allowing their sexual attachment to hijack their Dharma understanding to then pervert the teachings.  How far is it really from recognizing we want inseparably close relationships with others to breaking our moral discipline all under a rationalized pretext of engaging in “tantric practice” with an action mudra?  I think, but of course do not know, that this is how Gen-la Samden, Gen Lodro, and others eventually lost everything.  There is no way they would intentionally do anything against their vows.  They just got tricked by their attachment into thinking they were able to eliminate that sense of “separation” from others by engaging in Tantric union.  It was all in the name of realizing emptiness, so certainly that’s not breaking our vows, right?  Well we all know how that ended. 

This is how our delusions work.  They take our Dharma understandings and then subtly twist them over a long period of time until what was once “unthinkinable” becomes “natural,” and pretty soon we have lost our spiritual life and brought the entire tradition into disrepute.  The same is true for the rest of us, just in our own way.  How many different ways have our delusions hijacked our Dharma understanding?  How many different ways have we been willing to sacrifice our spiritual life, even if only on the margins, for the sake of following the “logic” of our delusions.  Are we really that different?  If not, then we are in no place to cast stones.

Venerable Tharchin said that our primary refuge must be in the Dharma, not the person.  If it is in the person, and the person does something stupid, then we lose everything.  But if our refuge is in the Dharma, and the person does something stupid, then we learn powerful Dharma lessons.  For me, when I look to the stories of Gen-la Thubten, Gen-la Samden, Gen Lodro, and others, I see powerful Dharma warnings about how all this works and can quickly go off the rails.  In many ways, we can say that these were their most powerful teachings to us.  Whether they intended them to be their most powerful teachings is actually irrelevant, for us they can be.  We can then generate a strong, compassionate wish that they realize and learn from what happened and find their way back. Gen-la Thubten has.  I heard former Gen Lodro has (I don’t know his lay name).  I pray one day former Gen-la Samden does as well.  He was an amazing teacher and had a very pure heart. 

But we need to be careful to not over-learn their lesson in the sense of allowing separation to remain so as to avoid it getting kidnapped by our attachment.  They are right – we do need to get to this stage of inseparability with all living beings – but we need to do so without attachment.  Attachment is the problem, not our longing to be inseparably one with others. 

Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: How the six perfections reinforce each other

At this point, I think it might be helpful to review everything Shantideva has explained so far, to see how it all fits together into one coherent story.  This will enable us to better appreciate how we got to this point, and provide the proper context for understanding the remainder of Shantideva’s guide.  We essentially have two main parts left – exchanging self with others as the engine of our bodhichitta and to overcome our self-cherishing; and the perfection of wisdom realizing emptiness, to overcome our self-grasping.  These two – our self-cherishing and our self-grasping together – make up our self-centered mind.  This self-centered mind is the very root of our samsara.  All of our suffering comes from this self-centered mind, and all of our freedom will come from abandoning it.  Everything Shantideva has explained so far is really just preparing the conditions in our mind for our main task – abandoning our self-centered mind, abandoning both our self-cherishing and our self-grasping.  In this light, I will spend the next several posts summarizing the main points of all we have previously done.

Our responsibility as Bodhisattvas is essentially to guide all the beings of our karmic dream back to the source from which they come, the Dharmakaya of all the Buddhas, so that they can bathe eternally in an ocean of purity and bliss.

Why are beings trapped in samsara?  The living beings we see around us are karmic appearances to our mind.  They are trapped in contaminated aggregates because we have created the karma for them to be trapped in such aggregates.  We create this karma every time we assent to them existing outside of our mind and we engage in contaminated actions towards them.  Each one of us is the creator of everything we know.  They are actual beings, our creation, suffering due to our ignorance and self-cherishing since time without beginning.

To free these beings, we need to create the karma necessary to guide each of these beings back to the source from which they came, the Dharmakaya.  So how do we do this?  By practicing the bodhisattva’s way of life as explained by Shantideva.

First, we need a mind of total acceptance for how things are.  When we get angry at the appearances of our mind, we just make them more turbulant.  By grasping at them as existing inherently, we reimprison others into their contaminated aggregates, and worse, we create the karma for them to be ‘enemies.’  They then act in harmful ways and create a new hell for themselves.

The mind of patient acceptance is a special wisdom that is able to accept everything that happens without any resistance.   It is able to do this because it sees how it can use whatever arises to lead ourselves or others to enlightenment.  Since everything can be used for our path, everything is perfect, so everything can be accepted and there is no basis for anger to arise.  By accepting whatever arises, we gradually exhaust the negative karma giving rise to such appearances, and because we do not create new turbulent appearances, gradually this world filled with enemies disappears.  Instead, everyone becomes our kind mother, and indeed our kind spiritual guide.

It is especially important to accept others as they are without any judgement.  When you do not accept others, they feel judged and get defensive.  When they are defensive, you block them from deciding from their own side to change.  But when you accept others as they are, and have no personal need whatsoever that they change, then it creates the space for them to decide from their own side that they need to change. If they do not themselves engage in the actions that will lead them back to the source, they will never get there.  Our impatience with them blocks them from deciding to change.

Then, we need a mind of joyful effort.  The mind of joyful effort is a mind that is happy to just create causes.  It does not seek results, it is simply happy to create causes.  It is not that it is only happy when experiencing the effects of our practice, it is happy simply to create causes for a better future.  What enables us to have this mind is faith in the law of karma.  We know that if we create the causes, the results will eventually come.  It is just an issue of joyfully building a new and better future, completely confident in the knowledge that nothing can stop us.  The appearance of this world of suffering is just that, a karmic appearance.  If we change our actions, we can change our karma, and in this way, we can change what world appears.

We commit to ourselves to happily go about our training, knowing that when we are finished, all the suffering of all these beings will never have been.  When we attain enlightenment, all three times are completely purified, so it is as if everyone had been a Buddha from the very beginning.  When we see others suffering terribly, we can know that soon their suffering will never have been.

We need to engage in the actions necessary to bring all of these beings back to the source from which they come.  When we engage in our tantric practices or we engage in powa, we create the karma to completely free the living beings of our dream from their contaminated aggregates and for them to emerge in the Dharmakaya.  Since there other living beings other than the ones projected by our mind, at a deep karmic level, our actions will actually free others.  When we do powa for somebody, for example, we bring one of the beings of our dream to the Dharmakaya in such a way that they never return to this world of suffering.  We need to do the same with each and every being, especially through our Tantric practice.

And we need to concentrate single-pointedly on creating good causes.  It is not enough to create one cause, but we need to create many, many causes.  It is not enough to create superficial causes, but we need to create high quality causes.  Our concentration enables us to do this.  The primary obstacle to developing concentration is our attachment to samsara, this contaminated dream, this world of suffering.  Because we think there is something to be had or accomplished within this dream, we never develop the wish to get ourselves or others back to the source of the Dharmakaya.  Out of attachment for what takes place in this contaminated dream, we engage in actions that keep ourselves and others trapped within it.  The mind of renunciation and great compassion is a mind that realizes there is nothing that can be accomplished within this contaminated dream, so the only thing that remains is to wake up from it.

It is true that this is a big job to free all beings, but when we understand the bodhisattva’s way of life, everything becomes easy.  When we understand patience, when we understand joyful effort, when we understand concentration, when we understand the relationship between self and others, and when we understand that our mind is the creator of all, we realize that we can change everything by changing our own mind.  Everything becomes feasible.  When things are seen to be feasible, effort becomes effortless, and we enter into a truly joyful path that we know with total certainty will lead to the freedom of all those we love and care for.

Our homework in life is simple:  Various things will appear to our mind.  We should view all of them as mere karmic appearances ripened by our spiritual guide to give us an opportunity to create good causes.  Then, respond well – create good causes – to whatever appears.  To do this, we just respond with as much love and wisdom as we can, joyfully creating causes knowing we are definitely emerging.

Happy Protector Day: Preliminary practice of the Guru Yoga of Je Tsongkhapa

The 29th of every month is Protector Day.  This is part 4 of a 12-part series aimed at helping us remember our Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden and increase our faith in him on these special days.

Within the Kadampa tradition we are advised to practice the sadhana Heart Jewel as our daily practice as explained in the book by the same title.  If we are a Tantric practitioner, we engage in the Tantric version of this practice known as Hundreds of Deities of the Joyful Land According to Highest Yoga Tantra as explained in the Oral Instructions of Mahamudra.   In either case, the sadhana begins with the Guru Yoga of Je Tsongkhapa.  I will explain things from the perspective of Heart Jewel since it is a common practice. 

In general, the practice of Heart Jewel is the method for practicing the entire path to enlightenment.  There are three main parts – affectionately called a ‘Heart Jewel Sandwich.’  The first part is the Je Tsongkhapa part – the function of this part of the practice is to be able to draw closer to Je Tsongkhapa, the founder and source of the Dharma of the New Kadampa Tradition.  Through reling upon him, we receive his external and internal guidance to be able to realize his Dharma of Lamrim, Lojong and Vajrayana Mahamudra.  The second part is our Meditation on Lamrim, Lojong and Vajrayana Mahamudra.  We do this in the middle of the practice.  And the final part is the Dorje Shugden part – this creates the causes to be able to receive Dorje Shugden’s care and protection for being able to gain the realization of Lamrim, Lojong and Vajrayana Mahamudra.  This series of posts is primarily about how to rely upon Dorje Shugden, but I will nonetheless give a brief explanation of how to engage in the first two parts of the Heart Jewel sandwich. 

To actually engage in the Je Tsongkhapa part, we do as follows.  First, we generate the mind of refuge and bodhichitta – here we establish our motivation for engaging in the practice:  “With the wish to become a Buddha so I can help all the beings around me attain the same state, I will now engage sincerely in the practice of Heart Jewel, trying to generate the minds indicated by the words.”  Then, we engage in the prayer of the seven limbs and the mandala.  This accomplishes two main functions:  First, we accumulate merit – merit is positive spiritual energy.  It is like gasoline in our spiritual car.  Second, we purify negativities – negative karma prevents us from engaging in spiritual practices and is the substantial cause of all our suffering.  It is like lots of traffic and debris on the roads.  On this basis, we then recite the Migtsema prayer and prayer of the stages of the path.  These two enable us to receive the blessings of all the Buddhas through our living spiritual guide Je Tsongkhapa.  Blessings are like spark plugs which ignite the gas of our merit to push us along the road to enlightenment.  The migtsema prayer draws us closer to Je Tsongkhapa and enables us to receive the blessings of the wisdom, compassion and spiritual power of all the Buddhas.  The prayer of the stages of the path is a special prayer for requesting the realizations of the Lamrim.

At this point in the sadhana we typically engage in meditation on Lamrim.  Usually people use the book the New Meditation Handbook and cycle through the 21 Lamrim meditations explained there, one each day.  Alternatively, we can practice the 15-day cycle explained in Mirror of Dharma.  Instead of engaging in a daily Lamrim meditation, it is also possible for us to recite with deep faith one of the longer prayers of the stages of the path.  There are three main Lamrim prayers – the short prayer as explained in Heart Jewel, the middling prayer as explained in Oral Instructions of Mahamudra, or the extensive prayer as explained in Great Treasury of Merit.  When we recite the Lamrim prayers as our main Lamrim practice, we should do so slowly and from memory, trying to sincerely generate in our heart and without distraction the Lamrim minds indicated by the words.  For more information, we can also attend classes on the Lamrim at our local Dharma centers, including Foundation Program on the book Joyful Path of Good Fortune, which is our principal Lamrim text.  After our meditation, we recite the dedication prayer from the Je Tsongkhapa part of Heart Jewel.

For more detailed information, we can read in the book Heart Jewel which provides an extensive commentary.  Geshe-la has said that this is his most important book, yet sadly it is often overlooked.  It is available for sale at www.tharpa.com

We should also take advantage of the opportunity to attend courses on Heart Jewel at our local Kadampa center, and we should make many requests that our local teacher grant the empowerments of Je Tsongkhapa and Dorje Shugden.  What is an empowerment?  An empowerment in general is method for establishing a very close connection with a particular enlightened being.  The closer our karma with a given enlightened being, the more ‘bandwidth’ they have for being able to help us.  It is a bit like making a connection with a very special friend.  When we meet somebody very powerful and we have a close connection with them, we can more easily call upon them and ask them for help.

An empowerment is like receiving a personal deity within our mental continuum.  We can all appreciate the qualities of the different Buddhas, and think how wonderful it would be to know them and be able to call upon them.  But how much more wonderful would it be to have a personal emanation of a Buddha who is available for us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  During the empowerment, we receive our own personal emanation of Dorje Shugden into our mental continuum.  We will be able to develop a personal relationship with this Dorje Shugden and he will care for us.  Geshe-la once told a very senior teacher about the Dorje Shugden empowerment, “people need this empowerment, they need this protection.”

Happy Tsog Day: Understanding the Truth of Samsara for Ourself and Others

In order to remember and mark our tsog days, holy days on the Kadampa calendar, I am sharing my understanding of the practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide with tsog.  This is part 28 of a 44-part series.

Developing the wish to gain liberation

Being violently tossed by the waves of delusion and karma
And tormented by the sea-monsters of the three sufferings,
I seek your blessings to develop a strong wish for liberation
From the boundless and fearful great ocean of samsara.

Even if we take an upper rebirth, our situation is only temporary. It is just a question of time before we burn up the virtuous karma giving rise to our upper rebirth and we fall once again into the lower realms. Beings in the upper realms primarily just enjoy their good karma ripening. We can see this in our world with those who are extremely fortunate. How many dedicate their lives and their good karma to helping others? Besides Bill Gates, there is virtually no one. Taking an upper rebirth is extremely dangerous from a karmic perspective because we essentially create a bonfire for all our virtuous karma. Once it is burned up, all that remains on our mind is negative, and then we once again fall into the lower realms. Thus, to be in samsara is to be in the lower realms with only very temporary exceptions.

It is helpful to consider what exactly is samsara. In truth, it is a karmic nightmare that we are trapped in that we believe to be true. Everything we normally perceive does not exist, but we think it does, and as a result we suffer. To wish to escape from samsara, therefore is the wish to wake up.

How to practise the path that leads to liberation

Forsaking the mind that views as a pleasure garden
This unbearable prison of samsara,
I seek your blessings to take up the victory banner of liberation
By maintaining the three higher trainings and the wealths of Superiors.

All the so-called good experiences we have in samsara are in reality changing suffering – the temporary reduction of our discomfort. Eating temporarily reduces the suffering of hunger. Sleeping temporarily reduces the suffering of fatigue. Companionship temporarily reduces the suffering of being alone. The list goes on and on. And even if we were able to experience good things for all this life, we would still all inevitably get sick, get old, and die. We are imputing our “I” onto a sinking ship. From a tantric perspective, samsara is identifying with contaminated aggregates of body and mind. More profoundly, it is ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions. These have all been explained in detail in previous posts. The point is, there is no lasting happiness to be found anywhere in samsara. If we contemplate this deeply, we see our only rational choice is to escape.

What are the three higher trainings? They can properly be understood as the process of letting go of samsara. The three higher trainings are higher moral discipline, higher concentration, and higher wisdom. They are called higher trainings because they are motivated by renunciation, the wish to escape from samsara. With higher moral discipline, we let go of deluded behavior. With higher concentration, we let go of our distractions being fascinated by samsaric objects. With higher wisdom, we let go of grasping at the things we normally see existing from their own side. In particular, we let go of grasping at our ordinary body in mind as ourself. Once we let go of samsara, it will gradually exhaust itself because it was never anything more than mere karmic appearance.

How to generate great compassion, the foundation of the Mahayana

Contemplating how all these pitiful migrators are my mothers,
Who out of kindness have cherished me again and again,
I seek your blessings to generate a spontaneous compassion
Like that of a loving mother for her dearest child.

Just as we are trapped in samsara, so too are all other living beings. But frankly, we generally do not care. Why? Because we do not think these other living beings are important, or that their happiness matters. Once we consider them to be important, then we consider how they too are suffering, and we will naturally generate a compassionate wish that they too escape from samsara. In the Lamrim teachings there are two principal methods taught for how to consider the happiness of others to be important. The first is to consider how all living beings are our mothers, and the second is to engage in the practice of exchanging self with others. In this verse, we train in the first method.

The logic here is very simple. Because we have taken countless rebirths in the past, we have had countless mothers. Where are all these mothers today? They are the beings around us. Buddha said there is not a single living being who has not been the mother of all the others. This is difficult for us to understand only because we fail to grasp the infinite past of our lives. We tend to think in very narrow terms just the human world on this planet. Time is without beginning, therefore there has been plenty of time for each and every living being to have at one point been our mother.

Some people also struggle with this meditation because they have a bad relationship with their mother of this life. For these people, considering how everyone is our mother does not help us to generate compassion for them because we do not like our present mother. There are two answers to this problem. The first is to see things in perspective. No matter how much harm our mother caused us after we were born, the truth is we would not even have this life if she had not kept us and kept us alive when we were younger. Thus, everything we have in this life is indirectly thanks to our mother. And even if she was abusive with us, this has taught us how not to be with others, and so even her negative actions have brought us benefit. The second way of avoiding this problem is to consider that all living beings are equally our child. We have been the parent or mother of all living beings at one point in the past. It is because our mother so mistreated us that we now wish to not repeat her mistakes and instead to care for all living beings as a good mother should that we can consider everyone as our child who we must care for. The point is to realize each and every living being is someone important whose happiness we should care for. It does not matter whether we reach this destination by considering how everyone is our mother or by considering how everyone is our child.